Rod.

Rod Stewart's book.

HE'S a strange figure, Rod Stewart: wildly successful but, despite having been in the Faces and the Jeff Beck Group, never quite cool. He doesn't feel central to the world of rock and pop - or at least never has in my lifetime - but he has sold a staggering number of records.

Did you know that in its first 24 hours MTV played 16 of his videos? Or that he held the Guinness world record for the biggest audience - 3.5 million on Copacabana Beach? It's all here in his book Rod: The Autobiography.

On paper he's the perfect rock star. His enthusiasms are fast cars, ridiculous clothes, oafish practical jokes, sex with models, private jets, drugs and alcohol, football.

Counting against him, perhaps, is that he's sensible with his money, seems to be completely demon-free, gargled and snorted without ever succumbing to addiction, and has remained on good terms with his exes and various children by same. Also, he's not afraid to admit that his great recreational passion is building model railways.

All this is amiably and self-knowingly told. The best rock star memoirs steer clear of nonsense about personal journeys, formulaic expressions of regret over drug use and sexual high jinks, or emetic tributes to the love that saved their lives. This book does clatter off to a good start. It also has a comprehensive index: ''Lumley, Joanna 177-9''; ''nuclear weapons 28, 29''; ''oral sex: Rod advised against 58; untrue stories of 232'' and so on.

I don't know whether Stewart wrote all of Rod himself but the writing is a cut above workmanlike, the tone pitched right and the jokes good. Each chapter is given a whimsical 18th-century-style subheading, beginning with: ''In which our hero is born, just over six years of global conflict ending shortly thereafter …''

Sprinkled hither and yon are digressions on various pet subjects. The first one is on the subject of his hair, and it's splendid. He's had the same hairstyle for 45 years (''It's what I have in common with the Queen''). He paints a delightful portrait of the early days: he and Ron Wood spending hours tenderly arranging each other's locks; or standing on the platform at a London tube station desperately trying to protect his bouffant from the pressure wave of the arriving train.

The heart of the book is in the opening 100 or so pages: the fierce excitement of young manhood and the crossing-over from fandom to performance; the exhilaration of American folk, blues and soul; the buzz of that germinal Stones/Who/Yardbirds/Faces/Jeff Beck Group scene. All are well caught. He writes articulately about music: where a drummer sits on the beat, or what makes a song bombproof. It's the work of someone who really knows his craft, and loves it.

There's plenty of sex. Blonde on blonde! At one point he swanks about cheating on one Playboy model with another Playboy model; at another, about sneaking out for a first date with Kelly Emberg while still married to his first wife, then leaving that date (smitten, he tells us) to climb into bed with his mistress.

What is his secret? ''Hello darlin' - what you got in that handbag?'' is the chat-up line he swears by, apparently. During his relationship with Britt Ekland he sent her the following telegram in response to her request for a love letter: ''Tired of pulling me plonker. Please come home.''

Romantic though such details are, you find yourself souring a little at quite how badly he behaved: ending long-term relationships by publicly and humiliatingly flaunting his infidelity. ''Less than gentlemanly,'' he'll concede in hindsight, or - of cheating on his heavily pregnant wife Emberg with ''another model'' - ''This, clearly, was the behaviour of an arsehole.''

Still, he's also kind of pleased with himself.

Rachel Hunter broke his heart. She was 21 when they met. They spent eight years together and she was the only woman to date he didn't betray: ''I've put my last banana in the fruit bowl,'' he assured reporters. Sadly, that fruit bowl went off in search of fresher bananas. Now, he assures us, he has found the love of his life in his third wife Penny Lancaster. We must wish him well.

Rod: The Autobiography by Rod Stewart is published by Random House.