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Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?: How Rod Stewart Flirted With Disco
MARKA / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?: How Rod Stewart Flirted With Disco

With a club-ready groove to swoon over, Rod Stewart’s 1978 disco-rock crossover, Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?, remains a timeless classic.

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Like many rock’n’roll legends, Rod Stewart must have felt like he was swimming against the tide at the turn of 1978. With disco all the rage with club-goers. and young punk-rock whippersnappers eager to break from the past, it would have been easy to assume that the 33-year-old mod icon’s best days were behind him. Thankfully, the Scottish songwriter had other plans. Galvanised by the commercial potential of disco-rock crossovers – uptempo pop hits that straddled the line between rock’n’roll energy and dance-oriented beats – Stewart decided to throw caution to the wind with his 1978 single Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?

Putting all his eggs in the disco basket was a huge risk that could have threatened to alienate his rock’n’roll fanbase, but the gamble would prove to be worth it: Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? not only became one of Stewart’s all-time best-selling hits, but it also transformed him into a worldwide sex symbol and arguably became his signature anthem. Here, then, is the story of how Rod Stewart flirted with disco and asked us: Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?

Listen to the best of Rod Stewart here.

The recording: “Disco was really big at the time, so he wanted to do some kind of disco-y song”

Aiming to craft a groove-based song tailor-made for the dancefloor of New York City’s flagship nightclub, Studio 54, Rod Stewart encouraged his songwriting partners to come up with a crowd-pleasing floor-filler with a vaguely satirical twist. Described by co-songwriter Duane Hitchings as “a spoof on guys from the ‘cocaine lounge lizards’ of the Saturday Night Fever days”, Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? was initially the brainchild of drummer Carmen Appice. “Disco was really big at the time,” Appice recounted to Songfacts of Stewart’s ambitions, “so he wanted to do some kind of disco-y song.”

A key influence on Stewart was Miss You by The Rolling Stones – a disco-inflected take on the blues that hit No.1 in the US – as well as the funk-guitar wizardry of Chic and the song Native New Yorker, by Odyssey. Having originally made his name as the wild-haired frontman of Faces, with Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? Stewart would move further than ever from his familiar rock’n’roll stomping ground. At the time, however, it wasn’t unusual for rock acts to flirt with the disco craze, with bands such as Bee Gees (Stayin’ Alive) and KISS (I Was Made For Loving You) falling prey to night fever in their attempts to score the biggest chart successes of their career.

Not wanting to be outdone, Stewart enlisted the production help of Tom Dowd, who had already worked with the singer on his three previous albums, Atlantic Crossing, A Night On The Town and Foot Loose & Fancy Free. Along with guitarists Gary Grainger, Billy Peek and Jim Cregan, bassist Phil Chen and drummer Carmen Appice, they worked on Da Ya Think I’m Sexy during recording sessions for Stewart’s ninth album, Blondes Have More Fun. With the singer cooking up a raunchy and libidinous set of lyrics backed by a hair-raising synth hook inspired by the string section on Bobby Womack’s (If You Want My Love) Put Something Down On It, Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? couldn’t fail to get listeners’ mojos working.

The release: “I got tired of pointing out that the lyric was written in the third person”

Contrary to what many may think, Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? was never intended to be an overt celebration of Rod Stewart’s sex appeal. “It wasn’t me, asking every Tom, Dick and Harriet in the world if they thought I was sexy,” the singer wrote in his autobiography. “There was a story being told here.”

In actuality, Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? was a character portrayal of a man spotting a girl he fancies a nightclub (“She sits alone, waiting for suggestions/He’s so nervous, avoiding all the questions”), and who ends up taking her home for a night of passion, only to wake up to find that she’s disappeared. Not that this held much weight with fans. “I got tired of pointing out that the lyric was written in the third person,” Stewart admitted.

However, it wasn’t as if the promotional campaign had made the song’s message obvious. Released on 10 November 1978 as the lead single from Blondes Have More Fun, Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? was adopted as a marketing slogan, with Stewart wearing spandex while posing on a billboard poster. Whatever Stewart’s lyrical intent, the imagery worked a treat, and the music video for the single – featuring a leather-clad Stewart serenading a blonde audience member while performing on stage – established him as the decade’s most unavoidable sex symbol.

Played with the joyous stomp of a Latin marching band, the summery vibe of Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? owes much to the time when Stewart went to the Rio De Janeiro Carnival earlier in 1978, frequenting nightclubs with like-minded party animals Elton John and Freddie Mercury. This inadvertently resulted in Stewart incorporating the melody from Jorge Ben Jor’s 1972 samba-rock song Taj Mahal, leading to an amicable agreement to share royalties. As a result, a hefty portion of sales from Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? found their way to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), helping to fund humanitarian aid to developing countries.

The legacy: “I love the song to bits and I’m fiercely proud of it”

Upon its release, Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? peaked at No.1 in both the US and UK, selling more than two million copies in North America and over 14 million copies worldwide. “You never really have a clue about how a song is going to be received or the journey it’s going to take,” Stewart wrote in his autobiography. “But what was quickly clear when Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? came out was that an awful lot of people liked it.” An awful lot of people except, perhaps, music critics, some of whom felt Stewart had made a mistake by betraying his rock’n’roll roots and joining the disco brigade. The singer has always sneered at such suggestions: “I make no apologies for the bum-wiggling in the video,” he joked, “though this too attracted some flak at the time.”

What cannot be denied, however, is that Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? truly captured the zeitgeist in 1978, and it continues to stand the test of time as a catchy and infectious party favourite. In fact, Eurodance act N-Trance scored a UK Top 10 hit in 1995 when they covered the song as a club anthem featuring rapper Ricardo Da Force; and later, in 2017, a remix with DNCE led to Rod Stewart performing the song at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards at the age of 72.

Fondly remembered as one of the best Rod Stewart songs, Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? has become a setlist highlight throughout the decades, with the singer admitting that his fans would be disappointed if he didn’t play it. “I felt I was selling them short by not doing it,” Stewart confessed. “So it’s back in the show now – late on, as a rule, where it tends to turn into a bit of a romp.” A song that many have embraced as a guilty pleasure, for Stewart it brings back fond memories of disco’s golden era and captures the magic of that period. “Ask me now, and I’ll tell you I love the song to bits,” he concluded in his autobiography, “and I’m fiercely proud of it.”

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