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20 years ago, Rod Stewart turned classic crooner with first ‘Great American Songbook’ album

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Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the release of an unlikely hit album: It Had to Be You: The Great American Songbook by Rod Stewart.

The raspy-voiced rocker surprised everyone by recording an entire album of standards including “That Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “The Way You Look Tonight” and “The Nearness of You.” Fans liked what they heard: The album reached number four on the Billboard album chart, becoming his first release to hit the top five since 1978.

In fact, the album was such a hit that it spawned no less than four Songbook sequels, all of which reached the top five. The third installment, 2004’s Stardust, was Rod’s first number one album since 1978’s Blondes Have More Fun, and it even won him his first, and to date only, Grammy.

After volume four of Songbook, Rod released yet another album made up of covers, except this one was rock: 2006’s Still the Same: Great Rock Classics of Our Time. That was followed by Soulbook, another covers album which featured him singing R&B and Motown hits, his final Great American Songbook album, 2010’s Fly Me to the Moon and a 2012 holiday album, Merry Christmas Baby.

Finally, in 2013, Rod, who’d always thought of himself as a songwriter first, released an album of original material: Time. He explained that he’d done all those covers albums because he’d been suffering from writer’s block, but reliving his life story for his 2012 autobiography led him to rediscover his love of songwriting.

Since then, Rod’s released no less than three additional albums of original material, the most recent being 2021’s The Tears of Hercules.

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