My Record Collection 185

Cat Stevens – was a late 60’s pop-star; at the time we never realised that he wrote all his own songs.   By the Seventies he was becoming disillusioned by the pressures to keep having ‘hits’ and changed his style completely and became a leading light in the burgeoning singer-songwriter movement.  He later converted to Islam but has made a slight comeback in recent years.  First up is his first album proper Mathew And Son (1967).  Full of great pop songs and ‘b’ sides.  Along with the well known stuff I really love ‘Granny’ and ‘Portobello Road’ and ‘I’ve Found A Love’.  His first album as a singer songwriter was the delightfully named (and great self-painted cover) Mona Bona Jakon (1970) {Apparently the title refers to his dick}.  A very different style, a small acoustic band featuring Alun Davies (see D) on lead guitar and a gentle vocal delivery and heart-felt lyrics. Best songs are ‘Lady D’Arbanville’ (about his ex-girlfriend Patti), ‘Trouble’, ‘Katmandu’ and ‘Lillywhite’.  A great album which sold poorly at first until his second album of 1970 Tea For The Tillerman – which really was the album that elevated him, strains of which could be heard from bedsitting rooms all over the country.  A heavenly album – the writing just got better and better.  There is the worldly-wise wisdom of ‘Father and Son’; the song about ‘Sad Lisa’; The questing and questioning ‘Miles From Nowhere’ and the haunting ‘Into White’.  Not a poor song on this album – and even the short one verse title closer is a tour de force begging to be heard again.  The following year he brought out a similar album, if slightly rockier Teaser and the Firecat  (possibly named after the painting on the cover.  Again, not a poor song – best of which maybe the nod to his Greek heritage, the lovely ‘Roby Love’, the sad and plaintive ‘How Can I Tell You’, the two big hits ‘Morning Has Broken’ and ‘Moonshadow’ – but possibly best of all was the closing track ‘Peace Train’ with it’s rousing chorus.  Almost impossible to improve on this and a change of emphasis with far more instrumentation came in ’72 with Catch Bull At Four, which may actually be my favourite of his albums; it has an air of excitement about it; the songs roll along. Cat seems to be enjoying himself and widening his palette, a lot rockier and more electric guitar and drums. Hard to pick a favourite really….maybe ‘The House Of Freezing Steel’, ‘O Caritas’, ‘The Boy with The Moon  and Stars On His Head’ and of course ‘Cant Keep It In.’ a wonderful album.  But in a strange volte-face he followed this with a pretty bad record – Foreigner.  Side 1 was one long and complex track ‘Foreigner Suite’ – a bit incomprehensible really, lots of music and not many words.  Side 2 has 4 tracks that are okay but not his best….maybe ‘Later’ is okay.  Cat was always looking for something spiritual, something more than fame and fortune.  He eventually found it in Islam.   But before that he released Buddha And The Chocolate Box in 1974.  Not his best effort; somehow the songs don’t have that charm of his first 4 albums.  In fact the only song I really liked was ‘Oh Very Young’.   So, two relative flops in a row.  Maybe it was the eternal pressure of the record business, the constant need for product, for hits.  It still seems amazing that back in the Sixties and Seventies artist were expected to produce at least one album a yar, as well as constant touring.  But his next album was far better – Izitso; (1977)

 a much happier sounding record – almost joyful – certainly much better.  (incidentally, he also released Numbers in 1975, a children’s fairy story – pretty uninteresting).  Cat was still using a lot of electronic synths, but still retaining the simplicity of his best albums.  Favourite songs are the big hit ‘Remember The Days of The Old School Yard’, ‘Killin Time’ and the autobiographical ‘I Never Wanted To Be A Pop Star’.  Just before the release of his final album as Cat Stevens he converted to Islam and changed his name to Yusuf Islam.  The album Back To Earth (1978) was his last under his (also assumed) early name.  the record is a bit subdued, even though there is a return to his earlier small acoustic band.  The songs just seem to lack that earlier magic.  It just shows what a fragile gift creativity really is.  Best songs ‘Father, Oh Father’, ‘Bad Brakes’ and the more upbeat ‘New York’ – but maybe best is ‘Never’.  28 years were to pass before Cat, or Yusuf as he was now known would release any “Western Music”. 

An Other Cup – came out in 2006.  Quite a shock to all his old fans who thought we had lost him forever.  W ell, a strange little record, an artifact almost.  A couple of re-recordings (I Think I See The Light), a slightly subdued version of the old Animals hit ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ and the other songs seem half spoken and are almost prayers; best of which is ‘Midday (Avoid City After Dark).  The whole album feels like a toe in the water, which maybe it was.  Better was 2009s Roadsinger.  The songs seemed a bit more rounded – but still a long way from his earlier output.  Best are ‘Every time I Dream’, ‘Roadsinger’ and ‘All Kind Of Roses’.  He ha released a couple more since but I am still catching up.

Lastly 2 of the many compilation albums….Remembering Cat Stevens (Whp could forget) and ‘Moonshadow’ – both similar and excellent.    One can only wonder what he would have had he not converted to islam….but maybe better this way.

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