Monday, 12 June 2017

Cat Stevens/Yusuf: The Best Unreleased Recordings 1969-2009





In years gone by this article would have been huge - though Cat Stevens isn't the first name to come up in bootlegging circles there's always been a fair flurry of his outtakes and alternate versions around in record fairs or online, especially from the 1970-1971 period when Cat was eager to share his music (and acetates) with anyone who asked (sadly there's never been anything leaked from his Decca period to the best of my knowledge - orchestra-less demos of 'Matthew and Son' and 'The First Cut Is The Deepest' et al would make a great set one day, if such recordings still exist!; equally I've never heard a demo or outtake from the Yusuf years - just a single song performed live that never came out on record - though presumably there are some).  However, little bit by little bit, the vast majority of these tapes have all come out: the deluxe editions of 'Tillerman' and 'Teaser' have rounded up the best of the demos and live recordings and the 'On The Road To Find Out' box set covered all the other eras pretty comprehensibly too. So in the end this article went from being one of the biggest when these books and articles were first planned around ten years ago to one of the smallest. Even so, there's still a small handful of songs you ought to at least know about out there:

It's So Good (Demo c.1969)

We don't know when this demo was recorded but it's at one with the title track of 'Mona Bone Jakon' and seems too frivolous for the later Cat while too 'acoustic' to be earlier. Cat sings about an emotional problem with innuendos too outrageous for a 'Carry On' film! 'It's so good, baby!' he cries before branching out to 'It's so nice, baby!' 'It's So Hard baby!' 'It's so soft, baby!' 'It's so fast, baby!' and ultimately 'It's so slow baby!' This isn't what you might call a 'song' but the tune is rather good and the acoustic playing is right up there with the 'Mona' vibe.

But I Might Die Tonight! ('Deep End' Film Mix 1970)

'Deep End' is a curious film, a joint effort between Britain and West Germany while the cold war was at a peak, though it's actually set in London. A coming of age tale between a 15-year-old boy and a 25-year-old woman who works at the same public baths, it's a good trial run for 'Harodl and Maude' with Cat filling in much of the plot by explaining what's going on in the character's heads. Mike, besotted and jealous but also led on by his new 'friend' goes a little bit mad and terribly depressed, which is where this favourite later re-recorded for 'Tillerman' comes in! This original mix, only ever heard in the actual film, is very different starting with the end and a crashing angry dramatic chord as Cat yells the title before the tune goes back to the softer beginning familiar from the record. There are some lovely ghostly harmonies in the background that Cat really should have stuck with, while the tempo is slower and Cat's vocal more 'acting' and in character and less 'honest' if that makes sense, the song ending not in a flurry of crashing chords but Cat's pained vocal yells. The track then cycles round with a lovely synthesiser instrumental before leading to a climax. What with all the angst, the shouting, the heavy drumming and the sound effects this sounds like a missing extract from The Who's 'Qaudrophenia'. The film was released on DVD in 2009 and is worth looking out for, though Cat's soundtrack to the film only runs a couple of minutes.

Plumpton Jazz and Blues Festival ('Changes IV' 'Time' 'Fill My Eyes' 'Where Do The Children Play?' 'Lady 'D'arbanville' 'Maybe You're Right' 'Father and Son' 1970)

One of Cat's first live appearances since his 'comeback' was in Plumpton in August 1970 where he and Alun Davies performed a number of new songs from 'Mona Bone Jakon' and previewed a few future favourites from 'Tillerman' in subtly different form to the records. 'Changes IV' isn't quite complete yet and has a whole verse of 'la la la' ing, the medley of 'Time' and 'Fill My Eyes' works very well considering it's only on acoustic guitars without the sound effects and one of the earliest performances of 'Father and Son' is wonderfully dramatic. Admittedly 'Children Play?' loses something without all the extra parts and 'Lady D'arbanville' quickly becomes a stomp and singalong rather than a song of great beauty, but even these songs sound different and are sung from the heart.  It's great hearing Cat fully acoustic - as good as the later band performances are, this feels more like the 'real' Cat, singing deep songs in the most simple way possible and this twenty odd minute show is better than any of the ones officially released so far.

If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out! ('Harold and Maude' Alternate Version 1971)

A cheery alternate take of the film soundtrack song, which is the one that actually appeared in the film soundtrack rather than the one on the soundtrack record. Cat is slightly higher pitched and sings with a really jaunty voice as he accompanies himself on a lovely strummed guitar part that sounds more like a ukulele. There are no harmonies on this version, but Cat tries his best to sing them anyway, breaking off for random 'ah-ah-ah's every so often. Dare I say it, I actually prefer this lo-fi version to the more famous one.

The rest of 'Saturnight - Live In Tokyo' ('Moonshadow' 'On The Road To Find Out' 'Where Do The Children Play?' 'Wild World' 'Miles From Nowhere' 'Longer Boats'  'Father and Son' 1974)

Goodness knows the original 'Saturnight' is hard to get hold of - Cat only ever released it in Japan to commemorate a Unicef benefit concert there and it's never come out on CD elsewhere, with the 1976 'Majikat' tour effectively replacing it in the rest of the world. However the full gig ran a lot longer than the original album and still exists, with a full 19 rather than 12 songs. You can see why some weren't used - Cat pops the microphone during an otherwise excellent 'Father and Son', while 'Longer Boats' is mad without the extras to help the sound and 'Moonshadow' is a little flat. Still, though, this is a good gig that could easily have become a double album back in the day with a particularly good version of 'Wild World' that really should have made the LP.

Looking For The Sailor (Unreleased Song 1976)
A relatively new find amongst the bootlegs, this 'Izitso?' outtake recorded in Denmark  got the forums chatting as it features a massive all-Starr line-up including Ringo (who yells out of earshot from his drum-kit across the song). More of a jam than a song, Cat never returned to the song although it does sound as if he at least had the few lyrics for the song already written. Musically it recalls the rough and funkier side of Cat's catalogue, last heard on 'The Joke' with Elton John and with similarly sexual lyrics (guest acts must bring out Cat's inner floozy). The full version of the song lasts for eight minutes and includes a detour into 'Hang On Sloopy' by The McCoys, though must bootlegs usually trim this bit out and keep the song at six minutes. Cat and Ringo allegedly jammed on 'Blue Monday' and Willie Dixon's 'I Just Want To Make Love To You' in addition, although these songs have not yet been heard.

Dublin (Unreleased Song 2009)

A 'new' song tested out for the 'Moonshadow' musical, 'Dublin' is an unusual song for Yusuf, starting out with a gospel chorus before slowing down into becoming a slow piano ballad. The melody sounds naggingly familiar and is a little too 'musicalified', sounding like it belongs in 'The Lion King' or 'Aladdin' or some equally artificial Disney film. The lyrics are good though: 'To be what you want to be, you have to give up what you are' warns Yusuf before urging his character to leave his home behind: 'What have I got to lose?' 'Everything' Yusuf, now playing the 'father' replies, 'But that's kind of the point!' 

Other Cat Stevens/Yusuf related articles from this website you might be interested in reading:

'Matthew and Son' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/cat-stevens-matthew-and-son-1967.html

'New Masters' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/news-views-and-music-issue-114-cat.html

'Mona Bone Jakon' (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-35-cat-stevens-mona-bone-jakon.html

'Tea For The Tillerman' (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-41-cat-stevens-tea-for-tillerman.html
'Back To Earth' (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/cat-stevens-back-to-earth-1978.html

'Roadsinger' (2009) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/news-views-and-music-issue-31-yusuf-aka.html

'Tell 'Em I'm Gone' (2014) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/yusuf-cat-stevens-tell-em-im-gone-2014.html


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