About The Song

“I Don’t Want to Talk About It” was only six years old when it reached number one in the UK singles chart, yet already it felt like a song from a lifetime before — which was precisely why it reached number one. The song had been written by Danny Whitten, who recorded it as the closing track on the first side of the debut album by his group Crazy Horse in 1971, but it was Rod Stewart who made it a hit.

Through the first half of the 1970s, across the albums he made for Mercury Records, Stewart had been one of the great interpreters of the songs of others, creating a distinctly British hybrid of soul, folk and rock’n’roll. In 1975, though, hede camped to Warner and to the US to record his Atlantic Crossing album. If this was, in retrospect, the start of his artistic decline, then that first Warner album still offered proof of his gifts.

“I Don’t Want to Talk About It” was a perfect song for Stewart. Crazy Horse’s original — as you might expect from a band best known for backing Neil Young — was a song that sounded less as though it had been written than drawn from a deep well of American music: mournful, with slide guitar weeping throughout. It had a lachrymosity that teetered on the verge of parodic — “If I stand all alone, will the shadow hide the colour of my heart / Blue for the tears, black for the night’s fears” — but never quite teetered over, because Whitten’s agony was wholly believable.

Crazy Horse’s version would have fitted easily on to Every Picture Tells a Story, Stewart’s own 1971 album. By the time of Atlantic Crossing, Stewart was softening his sound, and the album — played by the cream of American session musicians — was rather lusher than the records that made his name. His reading of “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” was delicate and filigreed, and — eventually — just a little gloopier than it needed to be, once the strings entered a couple of minutes in. But his voice, raspy and ragged and heartbroken, was a thing of wonder.

Stewart’s version was just an album track, but after its release, he and his label noticed that it had become a crowd favourite, a chance for thousands of voices to commune with melancholy. And so it was released as a single in 1977 (as a double A-side with “The First Cut Is the Deepest”), despite the fact that Stewart had released another album, A Night on the Town, in the meantime. It would always have been a hit — Stewart was at the height of his commercial powers — but it might not have reached number one without the intervention of punk rock.

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