Monday, 19 June 2017

Cat Stevens/Yusuf: Non-Album Recordings 1966-2014

Non-Album Recordings Part #1: 1966

Sixteen-year-old Cat might have failed at every school exam he'd ever taken (with the exception of art) and been told by endless teachers that he'd never amount to anything - but he'd never lost his faith that he'd amount to something one day and, like his pal Alun Davies, knew he was meant for a career in music however long it took to happen. He'd  been writing and recording demos of his own songs across 1965, signing up with publishing company Ardmore & Beechwood and recording demo after demo in the hope that some other singer would have a listen and take an interest - sadly all these tapes seem to have since disappeared, probably chucked out as no one realised the 'Steven Demetreus Georgiou' on the tape-box was the same person as future star Cat Stevens. However Cat did win a lucrative meeting with Decca manager Mike Hurst, who'd once been Dusty's sidekick in 'The Springfields' and was coerced into recording yet more demos in 1966. We know for a fact that 'I Love My Dog' was one of them and probably 'Portobello Road' and 'The First Cut Is The Deepest' too, but to date the only demo that's appeared from this second batch of sessions is the otherwise unreleased  [1] 'Back To The Good Old Times'. A nice bluesy R and B style song, it's somehow typical that Cat begins his career, still at a tender young age, feeling nostalgic for times gone past. By Cat's own admission later, the lines in this song about 'making love like we've never done before' is pure fantasy (Cat won't get his first girlfriend until he's a 'star'), but he plays the part of someone whose had his heart broken like a professional. Cat's urgent guitar propels his Tom Jones-style gruff vocal along nicely and while the arrangement is a little bare even for a demo you can hear this song's promise had Hurst or Alan Tew added an orchestral arrangement to this song (probably something dramatic and intense, like the end section of 'A Bad Night'). Though not that deep by Cat's standards, every other trademark is in place: the catchy chorus, the long held notes, the intelligence of the lyric which is a cut above most love songs being recorded by lovesick teenagers in 1966. Cat sounds far more confident than he will on most of his early recording sessions too, suggesting these demo dates were a relaxed affair. Though no long lost classic, this was still a pretty major discovery when uncovered for the 'On The Road To Find Out' box set a full thirty-four years after it was recorded; one wonders why it didn't make the 'Matthew and Son' album as it's a lot more complete sounding than 'I See A Road' or 'When I Speak To The Flowers'. Find it on: the box set 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'In Search Of The Centre Of The Universe' (2000)

Non-Album Recordings Part #2: 1967

Here's a rather unfortunate song, where a soon-to-be advocate for peace and a future well regarded Islam fundamentalist gives in to his still-teenage mood swings and sings [28] 'I'm Gonna Get Me A Gun' because he'd feeling a tad cross. This song has followed Cat around somewhat since he released it, perhaps because it touches on a 'darker side' to his personality he'd rather keep hidden and which clashes so badly with his future values (see 'Killin' Time' on 'Izitso?' for this song's polar opposite about gun control), while giving idiots who don't understand Cat's role in the Salman Rushdie fatwah more ammunition. All that said, though, it's hard not to delight in this song's simple charms: who out there hasn't wanted to take revenge on 'those people who put me down' and get back control over them at some stage in their lives (and the song is fairly clear that it's all going on in the narrator's head - he's not really going to roam the streets looking for people to shoot). It's the despair in the song that comes over most: 'I've been demoralised too many times but now I realise - ah-ha - no more!' is the song's sighed opening, making it clear this song is in 'self defence'. A rollicking arrangement won't stay still for a second, mimicking the narrator's confused mind where they keep flying from one thought to another and won't let go of their main thought, which keeps returning to them (I suspect of all Cat's orchestral arrangements this is the one that would sound best heard on it's own, without the pop backing). We're a long way from 'Peace Train', but that's kind of the point: this is an artist experiencing his first critical backlash (the 'Matthew and Son' album wasn't universally liked) and he's too young to handle it yet (I wouldn't at 19 either). This is very much the sound of someone giving into his darkest fears rather than keeping it to himself as the older, wiser, living-above-it-'cause-I-nearly-died Cat would have done; the difference between them is huge, but then it would be - like so many of the teenage murderers we hear on the news the teenage Cat hasn't realised how universal or how temporary this feeling is yet and all he can feel is 'that' rage overwhelming everything else, even his sense of reason (chances are he's never had that sense of losing face and rejection before and it's hit him hard). A much misunderstood song that still sold well (top ten, if not quite a number one as before). Find it on: any decent Decca Cat Stevens compilation and the CD re-issue of 'Matthew and Son' (1967)

The rollicking B-side [29] 'School Is Out' came out a full five years before Alice Cooper's  better known song of the same name. A cute song about school-=leavers setting their sights high as they leave school, you can't help but feel that this song is slightly autobiographical (given that Cat was all of 19 here, his school-days weren't that far behind him - and, for now, his greatest hopes have come true). A kind of 'To Sir With Love' in reverse, this song doesn't try to prepare the students for the big wide world but instead encourages them to be anything they want (although some of Cat's choices sound odd - how many kids then or now dreamed of being a 'local surveyor' or 'a history maker who'll call myself Richard The Third?! These lines sound suspiciously like the only lines that would 'rhyme' with Cat's carefully constructed sentences, allowed through because it's 'only' a B-side). A sad, reflective wordless middle eight seems to add an extra layer of pathos to the song but it doesn't last for long: soon Cat's back dreaming of the big time. An odd song very much of its times, although another excellent orchestral arrangement and another lively Cat vocal raises this song a little higher than it deserves. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'Matthew and Son' (1967) and the 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'The Search For The Centre Of The Universe' box set (2000)

[36 ] 'A Bad Night' is an adventurous flop single released at the end of 1967 that deserved to do better - especially in amongst the 'Magical Mystery Tour' style climate (where songs got more and more complex but more and more spaced out, which is what happens on this one, Cat's only real 'psychedelic' song). The song starts as a simple love song: cute but dumb ('My baby you're cool and even though you've never been to scho-e-ool...') but then out of nowhere comes a sudden change in mood and a dramatic orchestral climax as she 'changed her mind'. This sudden switch is so violent that even now, after knowing this song really well, I don't always see it coming; it's as if Cat set out to write a different song altogether and then got 'dumped' in the middle of writing it. The song then rights itself, sort of, with a fiercely rattled fast-paced backing track a little like 'It's A Supa (Dupa) Life'  and another song where Cat and an orchestra breathlessly race each other to the finish. Cat's now in bed, tossing and turning, wondering if there was anything more he could have done (perhaps it isn't even him? 'Maybe if the weather was just a little better it might not have happened that way' he sings hopefully). A final surprise is revealed from Cat's box of tricks at the end as a backwards drum-part and some Hawaiian style guitar hit the 'phased' orchestra at its shrillest, making the end of this song the most overtly psychedelic moment in the Cat Stevens canon. Ironically both Cat and the arranger, Arthur Greenslade this time, are now fully working from the same page just as Cat's days with orchestras are about to come to an end, making the sound that bit 'younger' and more contemporary at just the point where they're about to part company. Like a lot of Cat's songs from the 'New Masters' period and the  handful of 1968 recordings this song is impressively inventive and really points the way way forward to how revolutionary and groundbreaking a third Cat Stevens album at the end of the year might have been. But alas it was not to be and groundbreaking psychedelia is the last thing on cat's mind when he finally returns to creating music in 1970 with a new look, a new sound, a new approach, a new record label and a whole lot of other 'new' things besides. As it turned out that 'Bad Night' turned out to be merely temporary - although for a while the nights got a whole lot worse. Released as Cat's fourth single, as a the follow-up to 'Gun' (and with 'New Masters' album track 'The Laughing Apple' on the B-side), it  struggled to #20 in the UK charts. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'New Masters' (1967)

Non-Album Recordings Part #3: 1968

The chirpy [31] 'Lovely City (When Do You Laugh?)' is much better. Cat had done a lot of travelling by 1968 - more than most lads his age - and it comes out in his writing, with references to 'Katmandu' and 'Ceylon City' in the years before he realises he can experience the world better using his mind and speaking with his 'maker'. Cat's view here is very much a Western tourist, 'an unexpected visitor whose dropped in for tea', slightly cross at being ignored by the locals (if this was Elton John he'd be exploding 'don't you know who I am?!? Rude vile pigs!' Cat though just gets a bit sulky). Cat clearly isn't enjoying himself wherever he is, with 'stony-faced people' who never laugh, although he loves the surroundings. A so-so song is rescued by a remarkable arrangement, featuring a lovely acoustic guitar in the right speaker (the first sign of Cat playing his signature instrument), some thumpy drumming that really pushes the song along and some excellent orchestrations that flesh out the song without getting in the way (the strings are closer to the 'eerieness' of 'I Am The Walrus' than the usual arrangers who worked with Cat, with the latest Lew Warbuton another good find in the singer's final days at Decca). The result is an under-rated song that finds Cat expanding his sound nicely. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'New Masters' (1967) and the 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'The Search For The Centre Of The Universe' box set (2000)

 [30] 'Image Of Hell' is a truly odd track, left in the vaults after being taped for a long time before release. Cat doesn't so much sing as groan over a slow blues backing dominated by the piano and complaining of a disappearing girl leaving him 'wearing nothing but a shell'. Could Cat mean his fading audience here? (The feeling that you're losing your touch is an 'image of hell' for several performers, aware of how quickly the music business moves on - it's hard enough picking up your life when you're an adult, but going back to a 'proper' job after tasting the high life at 17/18/19 is truly scary - ask any of the X factor/Pop Idol contestants a few years on). Of course we know from Cat's future life that very soon he'll be seeing what 'hell' is really like; that doesn't take away from this song's very real feeling of sadness and frustration though. It's just a shame that, in his sorrow, Cat couldn't come up with a better tune or some slightly better lyrics, with this being one of his weakest recordings so far. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'New Masters' (1967)

 [33] 'Here Comes My Wife' is very much intended as a return to the 'poppier' catchier songs of old (it's ever so nearly 'Here Comes My Baby') and in many ways is a backwards step for a writer whose been pushing his horizons to their limits. Cat won't get married until his late 30s and his Islamic bride will be very different to the angry, badgering one he imagines here: 'She haunts me, though she don't want me she follows badly...crying, looks like dying on me'. Cat is clearly imagining what his life might have been with one of his rather histrionic teenage girlfriends and realising he had a lucky escape, while simultaneously trying to sound a bit 'older' (this is a 'wife', not a casual girlfriend). Cat sounds unusually unsympathetic to his wife's threats of suicide and imagines himself telling her she's a 'bore' - although he's too nice to say it to her face (instead sounding like a put-upon parent: 'Come come, it's quite alright!') At one with the slightly aggravated and upset sound of 1968, 'Here Comes My Wife' isn't one of Cat's greatest ever songs but it's a surprise it didn't do better - perhaps it would have done had Cat not fallen deathly ill while promoting it. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'New Masters' (1967) and the 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'The Search For The Centre Of The Universe' box set (2000)

[34] 'It's A Supa (Dupa) Life' is one of my favourite of Cat's early songs, a complete meeting of the ways between his past and his future. For the most part this is a fun song, rushed off its feet with how great life is and then slowly unravelling like a coil with the title becoming gradually more and more ironic and less and less heartfelt. A busy Salvation Army style backing rushes along beside Cat as he first earns and then spends all his money ('You're broke you dope you!') And then at the end something most unexpected happens: a funeral march walks into the song from nowhere, cutting through this song's silliness and pointless rushing around with it's gloom and finality, walking towards the listener and getting louder and louder before 'switching off' mid-note. This is an eerie premonition of the 'partying too hard, getting ill' theme of 1970 that turns Cat's life around forever and sounds like his sub-consciousness trying to warn him (at least assuming it was his idea - it could conceivably be something arranger Mike Vickers added and Cat's ringing off 'supa' is exactly what singers do when they've expected a song to 'fade' and know people won't hear what they've just been singing - until 50 years later in the CD age at least). It's remarkably prescient too (take it from one whose been through way too many of these crashes and burns with his own illness - this is the song we wrote about in 'New Masters' as being the perfect musical allegory of a chronic fatigue syndrome crash; although sadly I'm still not allowed to submit in 'songs' format rather than 'forms' format, as it were, to describe the way I'm feeling to the benefits office!) The result is another excellent song, among Cat's best for Decca, and shows him fully mastering a whole new style. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'New Masters' (1967)

An unused song from the 1968 singles sessions (which starts off like a simple demo but then gets bigger, suggesting it's a 'real' take), [37] 'If Only Mother Could See Me Now' finds Cat back in the dark mood of the rest of the period. Cat appears to know that his time is over and is already critical of the way he's frittered away his success, referring to himself a 'devil boy' and cackling sarcastically that both mum and dad would be 'proud' to see him now, but he wouldn't feel proud inside. It's all a little bit over-written and self-awarely poetical and sounds as if Cat has been listening to a bit too much Simon and Garfunkel ('The night was long and lonely, everything inside was warm and tranquil, I took a walk along the dark deserted stones of some old chapel...'), but like the other songs released this year it's another stepping stone on the way to Cat singing from the heart and his vocal is a good one, despite cracking under the strain at times. It's certainly a more released state than 'Image Of Hell'! Find it on: the 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'The Search For The Centre Of The Universe' box set (2000)

Non-Album Recordings Part #4: 1969

The only release Cat made in 1969, [35] 'Where Are You?' is a curious way to say goodbye to Cat's 'Decca' years (actually taped back in September 1968 and held over - Cat was at the time lying dying in a hospital bed so this single didn't get much publicity, to say the least). Vocally this is the 'modern' Cat Stevens, singing with his deeper, 'realler' voice and with an acoustic guitar as his main support underneath the orchestral accompaniment and a harpsichord. Lyrically too this is almost 'Mona Bone Jakon' - 'The more I think, the more I know, the more it hurts'. But this is still very much a Decca period recording, with some horribly over-written lyrics ('How can I live without the love I cannot see?') and a general sense that the narrator is feeling sorry for himself. Cat is searching for someone - perhaps the soulmate he'll find in 'Sun/C79' - but hasn't met her yet. Funnily enough the next song but one - coming after a gap of some 18 months - will give 'her' a name: 'Lady D'arbanville'. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'New Masters' (1967) and the 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'The Search For The Centre Of The Universe' box set (2000)

 [32] 'The View From The Top' is another oddly sad song from a now world-weary 20-year-old which almost certainly touches on how upset he is at the way his records have stopped selling. 'Why am I always trying to be somebody else?' he sighs, as he pines after yet another girl who left him - possibly because his records have stopped selling. or the most part this is an average song by Cat's high standards, but listen out for a key line that even before his near-death experience points the way forward to his later sound: 'Even with the view from the top you could be missing such a lot!' Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'New Masters' (1967) and the 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'The Search For The Centre Of The Universe' box set (2000)

Non-Album Recordings Part #5: 1970

[62] 'I've Got A Thing About Seeing My Grandson Grow Old' is an oh so Cat Stevens song taped during sessions for 'Mona Bone'. Though it's not quite up to that album's high standard, it would have made a fine B-side, with a sweet song about Cat's determination to hold on to life and take care of himself properly. Clearly still affected by his recent brush with death, the twenty-two-year old dreams of the future when he's had not just children but grandchildren, determined to take it easy and not rush around - except when wasting time on 'silly chitter-chatter'. Cat's organised, he's been to the dentist and buys only the best things from the 'supermarket store' and wants to last long enough to see men on the moon, 'with air conditioned gardens that will play your favourite tune'. A clever, jovial tune keeps the mood 'up', while Cat throws in one of his trademark Buddy Holly hiccup 'growls' at the bottom of his register on the word 'old', but despite the easy-going humour (it's not lost on Cat that he's still so young to be thinking these things!) this is clearly also a heartfelt, serious song, too good to have languished at the bottom of a vault for thirty years. Find it on: 'The Very Best Of Cat Stevens' (the 2000 one, not the 1990 one) and the box set 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'The Search For The Centre Of The Universe' (2000)

A most unusual outtake, [38] 'Honey Man' is the only result of the close friendship between two singer-songwriters struggling to rebuild their careers in 1970. By this point Elton's released one flop album and found work as a sessionman (for The Hollies amongst others) but can't get any further up the career ladder, while Cat was a 'star' (and takes the 'lead' here) but hasn't had a top twenty hit in two-and-a-half years. In truth 'Honey Man' sounds more like Elton John's work than Cat's, with a jolly piano rag time beat and oddly lascivious lyrics that might as well be titled 'Candy Man'. Cat doesn't sound too convincing on the vocals, but then neither does Elton and the whole exercise smacks a little too much of yesteryear with the last orchestral part on a Cat Stevens record for many a long year ('Catch-Bull' in 1972 in fact). The song's just too far out of Cat's comfort zone and probably right to stick back in the vaults, but it still makes for a fascinating outtake. Elton's career will take off big time with the release of his second, self-titled album in April 1970 (with 'Your Song' out the following February) and will take off suddenly he had to bail out on a promise to record the soundtrack for a low budget film 'Harold and Maude' in 1971. He'll pass the job on to his old friend Cat instead who'll honour the commitment despite being an even bigger star than Elton by the following year with 'Tillerman' and 'Teaser' under his belt. Don't give up struggling singer-songwriters, your break might be around the corner - what a difference a year makes!...Find it on: the box set 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'The Search For The Centre Of The Universe' (2000)

[39] 'The Joke' is an oddly aggressive song taped early on in the 'Tillerman' sessions that would have sounded very out of place on the album. Noisy and full of electric guitar bursts alternating with horns, the lyrics are a list of complaints about how humans aren't taking their 'job' of looking after each other and their planet sensibly enough. 'There's too many schemers, not enough dreamers' snarls Cat, 'The world's disappearing - but nobody's caring'. Suddenly the joke doesn't sound very funny, with a yearning middle eight finding Cat complaining that nobody else seems fussed to put things right while he's impatient for change, but unfortunately unlike most Cat Stevens lyrics there's no pay-off or solution here either. Find it on: the box set 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'The Search For The Centre Of The Universe' (2000)

[  ] 'Love Lives In The Sky' is a fascinating outtake, recorded near the end of the 'Tillerman' sessions and patently unfinished, with a treacly work-in-progress lyric that sounds like the plot of a Care Bears film ('The looooove lives in the sky!') Both the melody and the first two verses, however, will be resurrected a full five years later for [  ] 'Land O'Free Love And Goodbye'. The biggest difference lyrically is that this original version is a laidback, slightly hippy lyric about some imaginary utopia, while the finished version is clearly meant to be some sort of afterlife/heaven, with the chorus now changed to 'and the God I love, loves me'. Musically, too, there are a few changes, with a less pretty production on this first version without so much gloss and a slower tempo that makes the song sound slightly sad and reflective. This is the only Cat Stevens song we know about that took so long to come into fruition and it's fascinating to compare the two versions, although this early take is clearly not in a released state. Find it on: the box set 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'The Search For The Centre Of The Universe' (2000)

Non-Album Recordings Part #6: 1971

Recorded in the 'Tillerman' sessions, [63] 'The Day They Make Me Tsar' is a most unusual Cat Stevens song. As the title suggests, this song has a nice Russian feel to it as Cat plays the part of a child prince dreaming of growing up to be king one day in the most perfect of backdrops, his head still 'too small for the crown'. Though there's no hint in the lyrics, 'we' know of course that the Russian royal family came to a sticky end and it seems Cat may be juxtaposing the Russian Prince Alexie's joyful innocence with what the audience know about his bloody assassination and future in 1918 as part of the 'Russian Revolution': he imagines 'strangers with no danger' for instance and dreams that it will be snowing on the day he's made Tsar, rather than the day he's buried instead. It's a clever idea for a song, but perhaps a little too clever without any sudden ending or twists in the lyrics. Find it on: the box set 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'The Search For The Centre Of The Universe' (2000)

As the B-side of 'Morning Hass Broken', there was a time when every fan knew the charming [64] 'I Want To Live In A Wigwam', which is even more Cat Stevens-ish than the A-side, but in time the song has been forgotten thanks to its non-appearance on any Cat Stevens album. Socialist Cat, his head now turned from his brush with death, is quite content to live in a wigwam, an igloo, a treehut or a commune ('Where people can call me a hippy!') but is scared of living in a barracks and would hate to live in a palace ('There's too many empty rooms!') The song's nursery rhyme feel becomes a big noisy jam-along with musicians adding one by one and with Gerry Conway's most prominent role on drums, thundering his way through centuries of supposed progress. The end of the song is a delight, Cat singing 'I thank God I'm alive!' and for the first time delivers his mantra 'We've got to get to heaven, get a guide!' The song ends ominously, suddenly fading away mid-sentence as if this is life and work still in progress, the fight for equality and sharing not yet over. Though it's simpler than every other way Cat spelt out his message of love for all (especially God) and a warning over the trappings of stardom that's a key theme in this period, this song sounds different to every other track in this era somehow, Cat laughing at himself as edits his message down to its bare essentials but still believing in it all the same. A most charming B-side, perhaps his best. Find it on: 'Footsteps In The Dark' (1987) and the box set 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'The Search For The Centre Of The Universe' (2000)

Cat's soundtrack for 'Harold and Maude' consisted of around half a dozen previously released songs and two new tracks especially written for the film. A black comedy about what stops humans from killing themselves straight away when they learn they'll only die one day anyway, Cat is particularly adept at getting into the head of the teenage protagonist whose increasingly scared of living and of growing close to people who won't always be there.  [75] 'Don't Be Shy' is the best of his two responses, Cat gently tugging at Harold to leave the prison of his bedroom behind and embrace the world. Urging the character to 'just lift your head and let your feelings out instead', Cat tries to show that feelings are natural, however strong and overwhelming they sometimes feel and that to 'wear fear' is to prevent anyone from having feelings for you too. Cat doesn't talk down to the character, he never pretends things are going to be ok and what's he worrying for - he just lures him out of his enclosed little room full of music with the promise that  'love is better than a song' and that 'it's where we all belong'. A chorus or another verse would have made a promising song better still, but this is pretty and effective enough with a lovely dancing piano part merrily leading the character on to the final transcendental repeat of the main verse, by which time it feels as if we've really been on a 'journey'. Find it on: the 'Harold and Maude' soundtrack (2007) and multiple best-ofs including the box set

[76] 'If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out!' is cut from the same tree, a jollier song that sees Cat encouraging Harold to be himself, to live however he wants 'because there's a million places to go'. A song about freedom, this song has none of Cat's usual angst as he suggests that if any of us really needed freedom we could get it 'today' and giving us the power to say 'yes' or 'no' as we see fit. Cat again plays the elder brother, encouraging a character out from his shell that he clearly feels some connection with (the young pre-fame Cat wasn't quite the party animal of lore either, preferring to sit up on rooftops and stare at London alone than attend discotheques and school get-togethers). Find it on: the 'Harold and Maude' soundtrack (2007) and multiple best-ofs including the box set

Non-Album Recordings Part #7: 1972

The lop-sided instrumental [87] 'Crab Dance' was the B-side to two separate singles released from 'Catch-Bull'. The song's title might refer to either the song's unusual rhythm (which really does sound like it's scuttling back and forth and sideways at different times) or Cat's horoscope (he's right on the Cancer-Leo cusp in fact!) Like many an instrumental this one goes on too long and feels like it needs some words, but is a jolly enough piece, suddenly shooting off in different directions line by line, Jethro Tull style. The closing moments with two guitars, an orchestra, a harpsichord, horns and an early use of synthesiser makes for quite an impact, though and quite an intense finale. Find it on: the box set 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'The Search For The Centre Of The Universe' (2000)

Non-Album Recordings Part #8: 1974

His last three singles, taken from three different records, having all flopped, Cat decided on a change of tack and dropped his usual intelligent original songs for a rock and roll Sam Cooke cover. [102] 'Another Saturday Night' is a fair enough song, with its sense of carnival in the music and suicidal thoughts in the lyrics, but it's not an obvious fit: Cat isn't this sort of vocalist and the song just shows up how much better he is at his slower, more thoughtful songs than this Mick Jagger style barking. Hearing Cat singing such stupid lines as 'If I don't help me find a honey to help me spend my money I'm going to have to blow this town!' also seems like a betrayal, somehow, of everything Cat's recorded up till now. The shrill mariachi horns and subdued multiple extras on the backing vocals don't help much either. Still, I suppose everyone needs some light relief - it's just a shame that was a high profile single release, rather than a B-side like it deserves to be. Most odd, but still catchy enough to be Cat's first top twenty hit since 'Sitting' so, hey, what do I know? Find it on: most Cat Stevens compilations starting with 'Greatest Hits' (1975) and including the box set 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'In Search For The Centre Of The Universe' (2000)

Non-Album Recordings Part #9: 1975

 [112] 'Two Fine People' is an unusual song, the second in a row released as a stand-alone single  (with 'A Bad Penny' from the 'Buddha' album on the flip-side). It starts off as if Cat was trying to write another 'Moonshadow' (the opening line has the same tune as the 'Now that I've lost everything to you' line), before the song explodes into perhaps the archetypal late-Cat era sound full of swirling synths and spit and polish; the difference between a lighthouse in the dark and a chandelier. The lyrics are amongst the simplest Cat will ever write in pure 'I love you' terms, although even these touch on postmodernism by referring to the song being written ('I'll love you and the song that I sing is the only way that I can explain!') The chorus then leaves this dreamworld where Cat's being Mr Lovely (the Mr Men the Hargreaves family haven't got round to inventing yet) and as romantic as he's ever been, to a stinging outcry of outrage and impatience: 'Two fine people should love each other!' Cat Cried, unable to comprehend why this perfect relationship isn't working out the way it did in his head. As the song moves on things get more and more surreal - Cat's love is now going to last until 'snowmen sleep in the sea' and he feels he's 'flying on the power of love', literally by the last verse - in a sort of metaphor language we haven't heard since 'Longer Boats' (thank goodness). The end result is a song that keeps defying description every-time you've just got a hang over what it all means, which may of course be what Cat was after in the first place. The timing seems odd though: while songwriters can of course dig into their past for inspiration, Cat was 'between girlfriends' at the time (one night stands on the other hand...) and this song doesn't sound at one with the songs of love for Patti D'arbanville and co either, which tend to be dreamier, more romantic and wracked with guilt than here. Instead, like 'Ready' from 1974, Cat's impatient for love - though at least he remembers what having all the time in the world sounded like too. Find it on: mult iple Cat Stevens compilations starting with 'Greatest Hits' (1975)

Taped the week the 'Numbers' album came out at Cat's last studio session for nearly eighteen months, [113] 'Blue Monday' is a Dave Bartholomew cover that sounds as if it was light relief from all those Pythagorean theory tales as well as a warm-up for the heavy rocking of the 'Majikat' live band. It's a sort of sequel to 'Another Saturday Night' but not even that good, with clichéd lyrics that run through how horrible the days of the week are until 'Friday when I get my pay' and Saturday is party night all over again. Cat plays this one as if he's trying to sound like his old friend Elton John: this is a thick, heavy piano song that features a much gruffer vocal than usual from Cat and that stilted sort of boogie-woogie sound. He was probably right not to release this one at the time. Find it on: the box set 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'In Search Of The Centre Of The Universe' (2000)

Non-Album Recordings Part #10: 1976

The chirpy instrumental [114] 'Doves' had an interesting life  in the more forgotten end of Cat's discography; it was the 'theme song' of the 'Majikat' tour and was played (to an earlier fade) most nights before the band came out to perform. Cat also released the song in some countries as the B-side of the 'Old School Yard' single in 1977, though not all. As a result it's become one of the most searched-for Cat Stevens songs down the years by fans, who remember the song's distinctive rhythmical sound and sci-fi mix of synths and tones but not necessarily how the tune goes or what the song was called. It's more interesting than most of Cat's instrumentals, mainly because it never keeps still and keeps flying around the musical room, 'landing' on each different instrument in turn (maybe that's why they called it 'Doves'?) Given that most of the instruments are played by Cat overdubbed, this tune must have been a nightmare to put together. Considering the name this track is oddly aggressive too, sounding like [  ] 'Whistlestar' played in anger rather than fun. Find it on: the box set 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'In Search Of The Centre Of The Universe' (2000)

Non-Album Recordings Part 11: 1981

Following the release of 'Back To Earth' in 1978, Cat's life was different in nearly every way. He officially changed his name to Yusuf Islam at the end of 1978 and got married to wife Fauzia Muburak Ali in September 1979 before retiring from music completely - well nearly completely. Not many fans realise it, but it while 'Back To Earth' represents the ending of Cat's first  (or is it his second?), he marked the opening of his next the only way he knew how, with a song. [135] 'God Is The Light', a one-off recording made in 1981 and released mainly within the Muslim community, isn't like Cat/Yusuf's past songs though. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Cat was a searcher, questioning everything and accepting nothing (except, occasionally, love) and though believing that life came with an extra 'dimension' not quite sure what that dimension is. Here he's no longer searching - he's just making a quick return to tell us that he's at the end of his road to find out and he's experienced everything he ever wanted to know. Yusuf sings in a slower, deeper, stiller way that's more in keeping with Muslim 'Anasheeds' (religious 'hymns') than his old music, while the backing features a great deal of backing vocals and a fluttering percussive sound perfectly in keeping with a mosque service. A song full of praise for 'The Creator', Yusuf fits in a quick lyric wondering why so many others won't open their eyes and hearts to see and understand everything he's felt, ending with a lyric that recalls 'Moonshadow' as Yusuf watches the sun go down and realises that even in the darkness he can sense his God around him. Musically this is a completely different to anything Cat/Yusuf has ever given us before, a more serene version of 'I Think I See The Light!' with the shouting and self-doubt removed; this is a man whose always known but now knows and the change in his demeanour is complete already. Yusuf's last recording for fourteen years, he'll be even further down his new road when we hear him next, his belief in the light undimmed. Find it on: the box set 'On The Road To Find Out' aka 'In Search Of The Centre Of The Universe' (2000)

Non-Album Recordings Part #12: 2003
As the 20th century came to a stuttering end, fans had become used to the idea that they would, in all likelihood never hear from the former Cat Stevens again. And that felt kind of OK: Yusuf had a school to run, a family to raise and was far from the recluse many papers pointed him out to be, appearing every so often to tell us all he was still contented whenever the media needed a go-to Muslim to talk to or the school was doing something interesting. Then in 2001 everything changed: until 9/11 religions had been living fairly happily (if ignorantly) alongside each other and had learnt to be as tolerant of each other as people with deeply held views can ever be, but the attack on the twin towers (itself, it could be argued, in response to American - and therefore largely Christian - meddling) turned Muslims into an 'alien race' overnight and everyone was under suspicion. Even Yusuf, who was temporarily deported from America in the days after the attacks until a public outcry and a rather embarrassed American Government press release about how Yusuf wasn't violent after all but was being allowed to go on his way after all...to attend a Nobel Peace Prize giving. Yusuf, feeling the responsibility of speaking out on behalf of the 'real' Muslim community, as shocked and stunned at the attacks as anyone else, gave an impromptu performance of 'Peace Train' in 2001 that became his first recording in twenty years (albeit only caught by press cameras). This feeling that maybe Yusuf could be doing some good by spreading the message of peace and that he was in a unique position to help the world came at the same time his son 'discovered' his dad's old music and asked to borrow his favourite guitar (still hanging on the back of Yusuf's bedroom door as a reminder of times gone by). Yusuf had gone twenty years without hearing music except during services, figuring that he no longer needed it in his life, but seeing it again through his son's eyes and how strong his musical genes must be (and therefore that he must have been created that way on purpose) Yusuf relented and tried to teach his son what he could remember. The lessons took place over two years sporadically, Yusuf regaining his enthusiasm as his son got better and better and asked to hear more of his dad's songs.
The first fruits the public heard was in 2003 when [  ] 'Peace Train '03' was released as a standalone single. Fans of the old single were in for a shock as the difference between the new and old was like the difference between steam and electric power. The song starts as a chant repeating the chorus before an older, sadder Yusuf speak-sings the first verse, ending with an extended passage, free of the uncertainty that the Peace Train might not arrive: 'Oh yes I know it's going to come', Yusuf now joined by his backing singers. It's not necessarily a pleasant listening experience, the original's happy go lucky freedom now curtailed by the weight of the world on its shoulders and the song smacks perhaps too much of Yusuf's 'new' world to appeal to those of the 'old' one, which was the original intention. But this slow and gloomy yet more sure-footed 'Peace Train' has its heart in the right place and played it's small part in calming the world post 9/11.  Find it on: 'Footsteps In The Light' (2006)

The B-side was [  ] 'Angel Of War' a percussive-heavy and dramatic track that sounds not unlike 'Lady D'arbanville' but delivered harshly rather than sweetly and in a noisy a capella 'n' drums style rather than the fragile beauty of the acoustic guitar. Yusuf's lyrics are good though, singing about how confused he feels despite the certainty of his beliefs and confused over 'whose my enemy' with Muslims attacking Muslims as well as other religions. He sums up the dichotomy of this fractured world well, turning to youngsters and telling them to put things right by defending their faith - that 'if peace is your wish then to battle you must go'. This track is a little too much like a sermon to be a song, though. Find it on: 'Footsteps In The Light' (2006)

Non-Album Recordings Part #13: 2004

By contrast Yusuf's next move was perhaps the highest profile thing he's ever done. By 2004 the former Boyzone singer was everywhere and inescapable, the new face of 'sophisticated pop' in the same way that The Beatles summed up everything great about the 1960s and The Spice Girls summed up everything bad about the 1990s. Like many former boy band members, Ronan's voice is at best average on its own, but at least unlike most boy band members he has an interest and sympathy for past singers and writers. A duet with Yusuf, now playing the elder role on 'Father and Son' to Ronan's youngster, is one of several canny career moves, embracing Ronan's role as keeper of the musical flame by introducing singers of the past to those in the then-present day while making his singles 'stand out' more than their competitors. 'Father and Son' was a career choice too, appealing to fans as a memory of the first song Keating sang in public, at the Boyzoine auditions. You sense in any other era Yusuf would have turned the idea down flat: he gave up hanging round with pop stars in 1968, really didn't want the publicity for himself and hadn't performed the song in 38 years. However, with so much Muslim-bashing going on and a chance to get people talking for the right reasons, Yusuf agreed to sing his 'father' lines, bagging the most-discussed they-didn't-did-they? single of the summer and a #2 UK hit. Yusuf even appears in the video, singing his lines much like he did on the 'Tillerman' original, just vaguer. The song deserves its success, if only because it's far better than the rest of the material Keating wasted even his average vocals on in this period and the song did lead to an increase of interest in Cat's back catalogue, which can be no bad thing. However fans of the original will find this re-recording hard to take: what was so sincere about the original is now cheesy and fake, with Yusuf's sincerity ill-matched to Keating's eager young pup trying to make a hit record and the synths are no match for Yusuf's guitar. However, perhaps that's how it should be: Yusuf was too self-aware and grown-up, even as a twenty-two-year-old in 1970, to play the part of a youngster wanting to discover life for himself; finally he's found someone whose as rich and famous as can be willing to play that part for him, even if Ronan was thirty-seven - fifteen years older than Cat - when he recorded it. Not recommended for fans with a love for the original or of a weak disposition, though it's a good halfway house to weaning your boy and girl-band pop loving relatives/friends/flatmates onto something deeper and less irritating. Believe me, I feel your pain. Find it on: The Ronan Keating record 'Ten Years Of Hits' (2004)

Non-Album Recordings Part #14: 2005

To these ears one of the best songs by the 'comeback' Yusuf is [  ] 'Indian Ocean', a track that touches not on religion or time past but on the very Cat Stevens theme of finding hope in the depths of despair. The song was inspired by the Boxing Day earthquake/tsunami in Indonesia which killed 230,000 people across fourteen different countries and left many millions of children homeless. Footage of the weeping children on TV, especially, got to Yusuf who figured that it was his duty as someone in the spotlight to put things right for them, with this track - surprisingly perhaps - his first ever 'charity single', the proceeds going via his own children's charity 'Small Kindess' to help those orphaned in the district of Banda Aceh. You can tell instantly that Yusuf 'means' this song more than any of his other comeback songs (at least until 'Roadsinger'), that this recording is less about 'us' trying to persuade 'them' what they're missing in an irreligious world and about the shock and heartbreak shared by everyone. Yusuf even puts his narrator in the action, playing the part of a holidaymaker promised fun in the sunshine 'going East' because it looked so good in the brochure. His wife doesn't agree, but he persuaded her: 'in life, this may be the only chance we get!' He comes to regret the irony of those lines, as three minutes (half of the song) in the track gets heavy and noisy and the first wave hits. Yusuf may well be remembering his own time fearing he would be washed away by a current before crying out for God that so changed his life back in the mid-1970s: this song matches the sense of panic and dread, tinged with a feeling of having properly understood how the world works for the first time. The family makes it back to a completely changed looking shore, completely changed themselves and doing their own part by taking in and looking after orphaned children in their holiday hut. Yusuf uncomfortably rhymes 'ocean' with 'lotion' as a sop to the pop audience, but musically this is the best hybrid yet of the 'old' and 'new' Cat, with heavy hypnotic percussion but also a strong tune, with the same quirky 'dance' as his percussive Catch-Bull period. This is a major stepping stone in Yusuf getting some of his old sound back again which did his own muse a lot of good, as well as raising some valuable money for a much-needed cause. Of all these 'extra' songs, it's probably the track on this list most substantial and worth hearing - at least since 1971. Find it on: 'Gold' (2005)

Non-Album Recordings Part #15: 2008

Yusuf's second charity release was a new song offered as a contribution to a various artist's album released to raise money for the support of indigenous tribes people around the Amazon river. The project was masterminded by Bruce Parry, who worked a TV series around the rights of these millennia-old tribes, plus Molly Oldfield, the son of singer-songwriter Mike (though you'll be pleased to hear there are no tubular bells across the album). Many of the tracks, though not Yusuf's, feature 'real' tribal drumming in a fascinating mixture of modern and ancient cultures, united in the same language. Yusuf's pre-recorded track [  ] 'Edge Of Existence' is still the album highlight though, another of his better 'comeback' recordings performed in the acoustic style of 'Roadsinger'.  This is a slow burning song, starting off simple and quiet with just Yusuf and his acoustic guitar before growing in scale and tone, with cutting electric guitars and heavy percussion coming in. Lyrically Yusuf imagines himself and perhaps humanity too going out on a limb, pushed further and further from what mankind ought to be doing and in danger of disappearing. Yusuf wonders what their ancestors might think if they had the chance to save the world (the tribe?) and didn't do anything, sighing 'it's too late now - history's dying and our names won't be found!' Yusuf's vocal is a little atonal here and hard to listen to, but the melody is a strong one, with the urgency of the acoustic and nonchalant swipes of the jagged electric guitars making for a particularly strong double act. Find it on: the Various Artists CD Bruce Parry Presents Amazon Tribe: Songs For Survival' (2008)

Non-Album Recordings Part #16: 2009

Though the religions both men ultimately chose may have been different, Cat Stevens and George Harrison had very similar careers, learning early the hard way that being a pop star wasn't what it was cracked up to be and looking for a chance to make life deeper and more meaningful. Yusuf was an obvious person to ask, then, when '42nd Beatle' Klaus Voormann (Hamburg friend, 'Revolver' cover artist and all round nice guy) put aside his days guesting on other people's albums and asked them to guest on his instead. Klaus was particularly close to George and a particular fan of his under-rated 'Living In The Material World' album from 1973, which is the Harrison record most like Yusuf's 'comeback' albums (especially the lecturing 'An Other Cup'). Yusuf is a natural fit for that album's composition [  ] 'The Day The World Gets Round' and, though no 'Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)' or 'Be Here Now', it's a pretty song that mirrors 'Peace Train' in longing for a better day when the world leaves petty grievances behind and starts getting on with running things properly. Yusuf's a good fit and performs well, delivering a song that was successful enough to be chosen as the project's single, credited to 'Klaus and Yusuf' (which sounds like the weirdest solicitors since Crosby, Stills and Nash!) Beatles fans may be excited to learn that the picture sleeve features a 'modified' version of Klaus' 'Revolver' cover, modified to feature a likeness of the early 1970s Cat. proceeds from the single went to Save The Children in order to raise money for war-torn Kosovo, though sadly not much: this fine single deserved to do better and all but disappeared without much publicity. How great would this project have been if George had still been alive to sing on it too?   Find it on: the original single or Klaus Voormann's album 'A Sideman's Journey'

The collaboration was successful enough for a second recording, the sadly much more obvious choice of [  ] 'All Things Must Pass'. Though a stronger song (it's one of George's best, dealing with the inevitability of change and death, but in a Cat-like way that it won't be as bad as we fear), this is an inferior copy, losing the original's sense of haunted longing, panic and restlessness and replacing it with a cheap synth sound and a slow tempo that has Yusuf singing in his clipped, insincere 'Foreigner' voice again. 'Beware Of Darkness' or 'Isn't It A Pity?', from the same album, would have been more original choices and much better fits for Yusuf's voice. Find it on: the original single or Klaus Voormann's album 'A Sideman's Journey'

Meanwhile, back in Yusuf's 'real' career, he surprised many by releasing his first stand-alone 'mainstream' single since 1978 with [  ] 'Boots and Sand'. The publicity leading up to this song sounded delicious: Yusuf was going to obliquely refer to the shabby way the Bush government treated him in the wake of 9/11 and the singer was going to be joined by two music legends in Paul McCartney and Dolly Parton. What could go wrong? Well, for a start when Yusuf said obliquely he meant it - this song about a walk through the desert would make no sense at all if you didn't know the story and still makes little sense if you do, the closest Yusuf comes to outrage as his treatment is a line of confusion as two sheriffs ask him to pass along. There's a strong second verse that feels like it belongs in 'Mona Bone Jakon' where Yusuf's idealistic young narrator arrives in America, the 'magical place' where 'records turn into gold' that's sung with the same self-deprecating sarcasm as 'Pop Star'. Ultimately, though, this is a self-indulgent song where the humour is for Yusuf rather than 'us' and instead of us laughing together it feels as if the joke lost it's punchline in translation somewhere. The nursery rhyme melody is beneath Yusuf too and the spoken word interjection in the middle ('What song is this? I think it's a good one!') so arch and awful you briefly wonder if you've stumbled accidentally into a Spice Girls song. As for the two guest artists, Yusuf must have barely said a 'hello, Dolly' as the country star sings about two lines the whole song and doesn't sound particularly interested in those (odd, as she does one of the better cover versions around of 'Peace Train' and 'Where Do The Children Play?' in 1996 and 2005 respectively). As for the second Beatle collaboration of the year (in all likelihood Yusuf plucked up the courage to ask Macca while making Klaus' album, which also features Paul) - he sings a lot, but none of it well and the pitching between two very different voices is awkward and unconvincing. Probably a good move to boot this odd song off the album, although it's strange why it made it onto a single at all. The music video - part cartoon, part what the? surrealism - is pretty bonkers too. Find it on: the single only having never appeared on album, although the music video appears as a bonus cut on the deluxe edition of 'Roadsinger' (2009)

Non-Album Recordings Part #17: 2011

A final standalone single from in between the 'Roadsinger' and 'Tell 'Em I'm Gone' albums,     [  ] 'My People' is the angriest we've heard Yusuf yet about the treatment of Muslims around the world. 'Stop oppressing us!' he yells, claiming they want 'bread, clothes, space to rest - and be left alone'. Though the singer is careful never to mention who 'my people' are (they could be all of humanity in the first verse), Yusuf goes on to ask for them to be let out of jail and for people to stop 'building walls' around them all which does suggest his religious followers. The music for this track is a sort of jazzy 'Give Peace A Chance', though without the catchy chorus. Politically, many people were quick to point out the 'Muslims did it to us first' syndrome, but like 'Give Peace A Chance' this isn't about who threw what first but why nobody should be throwing things at all. A bit disappointing, really, with the heartfelt words never quite progressing into the powerful statement you think they're going to be or coaxing any real sense of emotion out of Yusuf who may as well be reading a shopping list. And there wasn't even a B-side to go with it!  Find it on: A download single (2011)

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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