“Maggie May” expresses the ambivalence and contradictory emotions of a boy involved in a relationship with an older woman, and was written from Stewart’s own experience. In the January 2007 issue of Q magazine, Stewart recalled: “Maggie May was more or less a true story, about the first woman I had sex with, at the 1961 Beaulieu Jazz Festival.” The woman’s name was not “Maggie May”; Stewart has stated that the name was taken from “… an old Liverpudlian song about a prostitute.”
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.
The song was 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 “Maggie May” became the more popular 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).
The album version of “Maggie May” incorporates a 30-second solo guitar intro, “Henry”, composed by Martin Quittenton. The original recording has appeared on almost all his compilations, and even appeared on the Ronnie Wood retrospective, Ronnie Wood Anthology: The Essential Crossexion. 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.
In October 1971, the song went to number one in the UK Singles Chart (for five weeks), and simultaneously topped the charts in the United States. Every Picture Tells a Story achieved the same status at the same time, a feat achieved by only a handful of performers, most notably the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. Billboard ranked it as the No. 2 record for 1971. The song also topped the charts in Australia for four weeks at the same time.
The song re-entered the UK chart in December 1976, but only reached number 31.
“At first, I didn’t think much of “Maggie May.” I guess that’s because the record company didn’t believe in the song. I didn’t have much confidence then. I figured it was best to listen to the guys who knew better. What I learned is sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.” 
Rod Stewart – lead vocals
Ronnie Wood – electric guitar, twelve-string guitar, bass guitar
Martin Quittenton – acoustic guitar
Micky Waller – drums, cymbals
Ian McLagan – Hammond organ
Ray Jackson – mandolin