Recovering from tuberculosis in the late 1960s caused Cat Stevens to reflect upon the meaning of his life.The disease gave him a new perspective on the world. His music became more intuitive and subtle as he began to explore his own spiritual journey. He signed with Island Records in 1970 with the production of his first United States album, Mona Bone Jakon. Six months later, Tea for the Tillerman, which contained songs “Matthew and Son,” Where do the Children Play, and “Miles From Nowhere” was released, elevating Cat into stardom. Chris Blackwell, the boss of Island Records, described the album as the “best album we have ever released.”
Cat Stevens recorded and released albums from 1967 until 1978. In 1977, Cat Stevens converted to Islam and ended his popular music recording career at the time. In 2006, Cat Stevens began releasing records again under his Islamic name Yusuf. In 2014, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. This list of 10 Essential Cat Stevens songs barely touches the surface of his music. His albums were deep and full of substance. However we have attempted to choose some that define the milestones in his career and fan favorites.
# 10 – The First Cut Is The Deepest
Many people associate this great Cat Stevens song with Rod Stewart. Released on the 1976 Night On The Town album, Rod Stewart slowed the groove down and had a major hit with the song twice as he also released it again on his Unplugged album in 1993. Close to twenty years later, Sheryl Crow recorded a wonderful version of the song on her album Sheryl Crow in 2003. We start our Top 10 Essential Cat Stevens songs list with this song because it defines the art of songwriting and the lasting power of a great song. In the old days we called them “standards.”
# 9 Father and Son
Cat Stevens trademark sound was established with the Tea For the Tillerman album. His vocal range allowed the expression of a broad spectrum of situations and characters. His greatest example was “Father and Son,” where he sang both baritone and tenor with equal authority. In the 70s, when I was a teen, I often listened, imagining myself as the son. Now, 40 years later, I find myself in the position of the father. Poetic justice at its finest.
# 8 – Moonshadow
In 1971, his fifth album, Teaser and the Firecat was released, hitting the charts at Number 2. Within three weeks of the album’s release, the record went gold. The album featured ten beautiful tracks including “Moonshadow,” Morning Has Broken,” and “Peace Train.” He wrote the lyrics to “Moonshadow” while in Spain, frolicking on the beach in the moonlight. How many of us have played on the sand at dusk and often felt our own Moonshadow?
# 7 – On The Road To Find Out
His songs often reflected on the listener’s emotions and their own experiences. Many listened and thought his songs were meant specifically for them. His classics, like “Wild World,” “Into White,” and “On the Road to Find Out” are all centered on seeking purpose. Many artists were moving from theatrics to finding inner purpose during this time, from Joni Mitchell to Carole King, yet Stevens was thought off as one of the most spiritually determined.
# 6 – Peace Train
With the baby boomers aging, many are finding that Cat Stevens songs are as relevant today as they were in the 1970s. “Peace Train” is one of those Cat Stevens songs that defined his brilliance in writing music that will be relevant generation after generation. There will always be wars and there will always be protests. “Peace Train” has become one of Cat Stevens most popular covered songs. Natalie Merchant recorded a very poignant version of the song in the 1987. Dolly Parton recorded the song in 1996, and Jane Arden did a spellbinding version of the song in 2007.
# 5 – Where Do The Children Play
was written in response to the issues of pollution in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The song was the opening track to Cat Stevens masterful album Tea for the Tillerman. Cat Stevens would re-record the song with Dolly Parton on her 2005 album Those Were The Days. It was a wonderful recording because Cat Stevens had long been out of the public eye within the music business for many years. It previewed his eventual return to the music business a year later with the release of his first album in 28 years entitled An Other Cup. The song’s meaning and depth was also recaptured by the passionate vocals and playing of the alternative band Garbage just recently on the benefit album Music To Inspire: Artists United Against Human Trafficking.
#4 – Oh Very Young
The great Cat Stevens’ song “Oh Very Young,” proved to become one of the biggest hits of Cat Stevens’ career. The song was released on the album Buddha and the Chocolate Box in 1974. One could not walk into a record store in 1974 and 1975 without seeing that album prominently displayed on the record racks. Everyone brought that record. The song opens with a beautiful acoustic piano, a Fender Rhodes electric piano and Cat Stevens’ signature guitar sound. The opening twisting line beautifully transcends into a melody of hope and concerns. The female backing vocals add an angelic quality that lifted Cat Stevens vocals into an arena that few songwriters visit. Simply, a magical piece of music.
# 3 – The Wind
“The Wind” examines faith and spirituality and is one of the shortest Cat Stevens Songs ever released running at 1:42 . The lyric “I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul. Where I’ll end up, well I think only God really knows,” is still relevant. The 1960’s and 1970’s were a philosophical time of soul searching and finding purpose. Everyone has their favorite Cat Stevens song, but “The Wind,” was one of those songs that touched everyone deeply. The song The Wind was released on Cat Stevens’ 1971 album Teaser and the Firecat.
# 2 – Wild World
“Wild World” speaks of peace and happiness in a crazed world. When it was written, the “wild” was drugs, sex, and rock and roll. Today, the world is still wild and crazy. Drugs are rampant. Racial tension is as high as it was in the 60s. Political unrest is still prevalent. “It’s hard to get by just upon a smile” takes on new meaning. Back then, a smile might get you out of a speeding ticket. Today, it may cause a bit of trouble.
# 1 – Morning Has Broken
One does not have to compose a song to make it their own. Frank Sinatra made a career out of making others peoples songs his own. So yes we know Cat Stevens did nit compose Morning Has Broken, But it doesn’t matter because Cat Stevens owned this one.
When most artist begin their careers, their main goal is to somehow release a song or an album that will become a big enough hit, or sell enough records that will allow them to get another shot at recording their second album. Achieving a top 10 single will usually set the way for an artists to enjoy a length career just on the success of one song. Yes there have been one hit wonders, but even those artists have had the opportunity to continue to perform just on the basis of their hit single.
Moving beyond the success of the one hit single are the artists that enjoy long careers releasing hit after hit, album after album. Most are hoping to achieve at least a five year run. The Holy Grail of songwriting is the release of a song that becomes bigger than the artist themselves. It rarely happens. We are not talking the mega hit single concept, but rather the song that becomes ingrained in culture. Cat Stevens song “Morning Has Broken,” is one of those songs that became bigger that the songwriter or artist that performed the song. The song became ingrained in mass culture on many different levels. Its deep meaning, friendly folk melody, and deep inspiration lyric achieved everything that Cat Stevens seemed to believe in. It was Cat Stevens’ masterpiece.