“Maggie May” expresses the ambivalence and contradictory emotions of a young man involved in a relationship with an older woman, and was written from Stewart’s own experience.
The song was recorded in just two takes in one session. Drummer Micky Waller often arrived at recording sessions with the expectation that a drum kit would be provided and, for “Maggie May”, it was – except that no cymbals could be found. The cymbal crashes had to be overdubbed separately some days later.
It was initially released as the B-side of the single “Reason to Believe,” but DJs in the United States (reportedly in Cleveland, Ohio and at WMEX in Boston) became fonder of the B-side and the song was reclassified, with “Maggie May” becoming the A-side. However, the single continued to be pressed with “Maggie May” as the B-side. The song was Stewart’s first substantial hit as a solo performer and launched his solo career. It remains one of his best-known songs. A live performance of the song on Top of the Pops saw the Faces joined onstage by DJ John Peel, who pretended to play the mandolin (the mandolin player on the recording was Ray Jackson of Lindisfarne).
Most versions of “Maggie May” (especially on some Rod Stewart compilations) incorporate a 30-second solo guitar intro, “Henry”, composed by Martin Quittenton. The original recording has appeared on almost all Rod Stewart compilations, and even appeared on the Ronnie Wood retrospective, Ronnie Wood Anthology: The Essential Crossexion, complete with “Henry” intro. A version by the Faces recorded for BBC Radio appeared on the four-disc box set Five Guys Walk Into A Bar…. A live version recorded in 1993 by Stewart joined by Wood for a session of MTV Unplugged is included on the album Unplugged…and Seated.