“Oh baby baby it’s a wild world. It’s hard to get by just upon a smile.”
Most of us first heard of Cat Stevens with his break-through single “Wild World”. It was the first hit from his album Tea For The Tillerman.
The album was released in November of 1970, and “Wild World” hit #11 in 1971. Cat Stevens (who was born Steven Georgiou in London in 1948) actually started his career in 1967. His debut album Matthew and Son did well in England, and the title track hit #2 there. He also wrote the hit by The Tremeloes, “Here Comes My Baby”, and “The First Cut Is The Deepest”, which many artists have recorded. He didn’t think his Greek name Georgiou would be very memorable, so he chose the stage name Cat Stevens…partly because a girlfriend said he had cat-like eyes.
In 1969, prior to his success in America, Stevens contracted Tuberculosis. This was a life-changing event. Not only did he nearly die, but the months of recovery in a hospital made him reflect on his life, and what type of music he wanted to write and perform. By the time he recorded Tea for the Tillerman in mid 1970, he had a less-produced, more acoustic style that fit in well with the singer-songwriter movement that had just emerged.
Tea for the Tillerman went on to sell over 3-million copies in the United States. It’s the kind of album you could drop the needle on and enjoy the whole thing. Many of its songs have become well-known over the years.
His 1971 follow-up album Teaser and the Firecat was another high quality album, and gave him back-to-back albums that few careers could match. It also sold over 3-million copies in the U.S.
Teaser and the Firecat (with another album cover featuring a drawing by Cat Stevens) gave us “Moonshadow”, “Morning Has Broken”, “The Wind” and “Peace Train”. I also bought his other albums in the 1970’s, but these two albums represent the best of his career.
Cat Stevens developed a unique style, sometimes punctuating his songs with staccato singing, and dramatic dynamics. But the main aspect of his songs is that they were well written, and hold up after all these years. In fact, 47 years later, his songs have been used in dozens of television shows like “This Is Us”, and in many movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”. “This Is Us” featured “Where Do The Children Play”, “The Wind” and “Moonshadow”. “Guardians” featured “Father And Son”.
Cat Stevens sings “Father and Son” using a low calm voice for the father, and a higher more excited voice for the son. The father is trying to convince his son to live by the dreams of the father’s generation, and the son knows he must live life in his own way.
Father: Take your time, think a lot, why, think of everything you’ve got…
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.
The son sees thing differently than his father’s generation.
Son: If they were right, I’d agree, but it’s them they know not me.
Now there’s a way, and I know that I have to go away, I know I have to go.
Since we were young at that time, it was easy to identify with the son, and now we know that the father wasn’t all wrong.
In 1977 Cat Stevens converted from his Catholic faith to the Islamic faith, and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. Then in 1978 he quit music completely, and for approximately 30-years simply lived life with his wife and son, rarely singing and playing music.
Slowly, about 10 years ago, Yusuf began recording and performing again, sometimes using the name Yusuf Stevens. In 2014 he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. The songs he selected to perform at the ceremony were…”Father and Son”, “Wild World” and “Peace Train”. He still sounded great. It was good to hear him sing again.
Update: (September 2020) For the 50-year anniversary of Tea For The Tillerman, Yusuf “Cat” Stevens has re-recorded the album with new arrangements and updated artwork.
For the song “Father And Son”, Yusuf (which is the only name he uses for the album) recorded the father’s part in his current voice, but used an old recording of him singing the son’s part. It’s a lot easier to sound like an old man when you’re young, than it is to sound like a young man when you’re old. Yusuf has the right to reimagine his songs from today’s perspective, and some of the results are interesting, but the original album is his masterpiece.