Skip to main content

Rod Stewart was singing a folk song about a prostitute when he started writing his classic rock song “Maggie May.” Stewart revealed the song was inspired by one of his sexual experiences. Listeners had a very strong reaction to the song.

Rod Stewart standing near a microphone
Rod Stewart | Ian Dickson/Redferns

Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May’ wasn’t the first song with that title

Stewart’s “Maggie May” isn’t the only famous song with that title. There’s a famous folk song from Liverpool called “Maggie May.” That song is about a prostitute who is found guilty of stealing from a “homeward bounder.”

The folk song “Maggie May” had a substantial impact on British pop culture. For example, it was part of Lionel Bart’s musical Maggie May. Notably, The Beatles performed a brief cover version of “Maggie May” for their album Let It Be under the title “Maggie Mae.” According to The Wall Street Journal, Stewart was singing the folk song “Maggie May” when he started writing his song with the same title.

What inspired Rod Stewart to write ‘Maggie May’

“Maggie May” was inspired by an experience Stewart had at the 1961 Beaulieu Jazz Festival. “That afternoon, we snuck into the festival through a large runoff pipe and eventually made our way to a beer tent,” Stewart said. “There, I met an older woman who was something of a sexual predator. One thing led to the next, and we ended up nearby on a secluded patch of lawn.”

Stewart felt this encounter could spell terrible consequences for him. “I was a virgin, and all I could think is, ‘This is it, Rod Stewart, you’d better put on a good performance here or else your reputation will be ruined all over North London,'” he admitted. “But it was all over in a few seconds. Her name wasn’t Maggie May, but the experience I had with her would influence the writing of the song 10 years later.”


The Beatles: John Lennon and Paul McCartney Used These 2 Words in Their Song Titles and Lyrics to Connect to Fans

The way the world reacted to the song

Regardless of what inspired “Maggie May,” the song had a huge impact. The track stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for 21 weeks, spending five of those weeks at No. 1. “Maggie May” became Stewart’s first No. 1 single in the United States. Its parent album, Every Picture Tells a Story, was a hit as well. Every Picture Tells a Story reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, lasting on the chart for 52 weeks.

Stewart’s “Maggie May” was a hit in the United Kingdom too. The Official Charts Company reports the song peaked at No. 1 in the U.K., lasting on the chart for 21 weeks. Meanwhile, Every Picture Tells a Story peaked at No. 1 in the U.K., staying on the chart for 81 weeks. Even though Stewart’s first sexual experience didn’t last very long, it inspired one of his classic songs.