In Defense Of: Rod Stewart’s ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?’
Plenty of classic rockers dabbled in disco During the '70s — including Kiss, Paul McCartney, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones.
But few of these detours were as popular (or as maligned) as Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" A No. 1 hit on the Billboard singles chart for four weeks in February 1979, the tune catapulted Stewart into another realm of pop stardom — but became one of his most polarizing songs.
Part of that had to do with the time period, and how fans of specific genres stayed in their lane. As Stewart observed in his autobiography, Rod, "music was strewn with battle lines in those days, in ways that (God be praised) it no longer is." And "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" was a far cry from recent Stewart hits, such as the tender ballad "You're In My Heart" or the leering rocker "Hot Legs." "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" was about two people meeting at a club and hooking up, a full-on dance-floor fire starter, featuring glittering guitars, a slinky bass line, seductive saxophone and syrupy strings nicked from Bobby Womack's "(If You Want My Love) Put Something Down on It." There was no doubt that Stewart was planting his flag firmly in the disco camp.
"Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?," which was co-written by Stewart, Carmine Appice and Duane Hitchings, doesn't sound like trend-hopping, however. That's partly because Stewart sounds comfortable singing — his raspy, soulful voice adds grit to the pristine instrumentation and arrangements — and partly because he applies his usual impeccable sense of dynamics to this vocal delivery. He adds dramatic sexual tension by teasing out the lyric, "His heart's beating like a drum / 'Cause at least he's got this girl home," and lurches, lounge singer-like, into each airing of the chorus: "If ya want my body, and ya think I'm sexy / Come on, sugar, let me know."
As the latter underscores, the innate cheekiness of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" makes it appealing; Stewart's delivery has a not-so-subtle winking tone. No wonder Hitchings noted in an interview with RockUnited.com that the song is "a spoof on guys from the 'cocaine lounge lizards' of the Saturday Night Fever days. We rock 'n' roll guys thought we where dead meat when that movie and the Bee Gees came out. The Bee Gees where brilliant musicians and really nice people. No big egos. Rod, in his brilliance, decided to do a spoof on disco."
However, the song isn't a joke: Stewart was very sincere in his disco fandom, and treated the genre with respect. That's evident by the airtight arrangements and construction of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?"; it's a well-crafted song that reverently uses elements of disco to underscore its point.
Watch Rod Stewart Perform 'Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?'
In Rod, Stewart pointed out that he had always "mixed things up" on his records, genre-wise, so incorporating disco felt like a logical progression. Plus, he noted that while the song was taking shape, he was listening to Chic, a soaring dance song called "Native New Yorker" by Odyssey and the Rolling Stones' 1978 smash "Miss You" — "a rock band's take on disco, a blend that really appealed to me. And so the question was 'Can we come up with something along the lines of that?'"
But "Miss You" got a pass since it still sounded like a Stones song between the prominent snaky guitars, vibrating bass and a sneering Jagger vocal delivery, and because the band always excelled at creating danceable grooves. In a sense, the Stones created a tune that amplified what people liked about them. Stewart, however, inadvertently created a song that embodied what detractors thought he was: a goofy playboy with an inflated view of himself. Yet even this gave Stewart freedom, as he could then play up this exaggerated reputation and leverage it in future music videos and promotional campaigns.
"Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" has had an impressively long shelf life. There have been other dance versions of the song — N-Trance did a hi-NRG, techno-inspired version in late '90s — while Ministry side project Revolting Cocks put their own lascivious, industrial-electro spin on the tune in 1993. More recently, Beck and Jenny Lewis also did a rather faithful, funky live cover of the tune in 2014.
And at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards, the modern electro-pop group DNCE teamed up with Stewart for a cover of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" (A studio version of the collaboration hit streaming services just days earlier.) Stewart held his own with the band, between a silver matte dinner jacket and his subtle but effective dance moves, and was clearly having a blast. As it turns out, "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" is an ageless empowerment anthem.
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