Sunday, 19 February 2012
Friday, 17 February 2012
When I went to see The Boss at Crystal Palace in 2003, I had been a fan for a few years but hadn’t quite listened to the albums enough times to remember everything he had recorded. So whilst I was quite impressed for the first two hours, hearing him do songs for which I couldn’t remember the titles meant it was a solid, rather than excellent, show as far as I was concerned. “Badlands” was quite good though.
However, things ramped up during the encore where everything just seemed noisier, raucous, and ridiculously good fun. When the band launched into the opening bars of “Born To Run”, the greatest song ever recorded in the history of music, I had never experienced anything that powerful at a gig in my life. It was exhilarating, but at the same time, I was nearly in floods of tears of emotion. Listening back to a bootleg I have of the show, I now realise just how incredible that set actually was that night. As regards “Born To Run”, the night I saw him play it, still remains the most incredible four minutes of my life at any gig I have ever been to.
A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about a website that allowed you to download a number of bootlegs every month from their site. It was all a bit “classic rock”, so I ended up with no bootlegs by The Donnas or Chicks, but loads by the Stones and Bruce. Just after I got married, I fell ill with a major bout of (man) flu, and was unable to do much other than lay in bed and try and recover for a fortnight. I ended up listening to these things I had downloaded “en masse”, and by the end, had managed to memorize a lot of these Bruce songs that previously I couldn’t place, as many of the shows dated from the E Street Reunion shows from 1999 onwards, including a number from the very same tour I had seen Springsteen on. The upshot of this was that I became well aware of things like “Light Of Day”, but still struggled to remember quite which album these things were on.
Of course, in the case of “Light Of Day”, well, it wasn’t really on an album at all. Bruce had written it years ago, given it away to someone else, but then took to performing it on stage just for fun. Same also for “Because The Night” and “Fire”. These bootlegs also revealed that Springsteen & The E Street Band would also do covers in the encores of things like “Devil With The Blue Dress On” and “Quarter To Three”, which had not appeared on studio records.
It is now ten years since “The Rising” was released. Partly, I guess, due to the fact that this was the record released just before the tour on which I saw him play, partly because, having listened to all those bootlegs, I seem to have memorized half the album note for note (he played the same seven or eight songs night after night on the accompanying tour), I do think it is something of a lost classic. As good as “Born To Run”, “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” and “The River”. To celebrate it’s anniversary, I figured I would look at The Boss on album, and attempt to detail when the “rarities” started to make their official appearances in the run up to this LP - if at all.
Although virtually every Springsteen studio album is credited to him as a solo artist, The E Street Band are actually present - in various incarnations - on many of them. A number of them were present on the 1973 debut album, “Greetings From Asbury Park NJ”, but that did not stop the follow up LP, “The Wild The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle”, from being credited as a solo LP as well, despite a photo of the E Street Band featuring as part of the album artwork this time around.
Even at this early stage, Springsteen was playing material that would remain (officially) unreleased - a 1974 Cleveland show featured a song variously known as “Tokyo” or “And The Band Played”. Whilst performing covers that would not get an official outing is par for the course, this was a Springsteen original. A 1975 show in Pennsylvania saw numerous ‘new’ songs played, such as “Mountain Of Love”, “I Want You” (the Bob Dylan song), “A Love So Fine” and “Back In The USA”. This show took place before the release of “Born To Run”, and several tracks that would eventually appear on that record also got an outing, including a radically different version of “Thunder Road”. Some of the ‘unreleased’ songs have recently appeared on “semi-official” releases, with the Pennsylvania show now available (in part) in your local HMV - a little bit more about this later.
“Born To Run” was 1975’s commercial breakthough for Bruce, and finally saw a member of the E Street Band make it onto the cover - sort of - as the fold out gatefold sleeve revealed Bruce was resting his arm on Saxophonist Clarence Clemons. It would be three years before a new LP, and thus intervening shows saw new material making it into the set, although not songs that would necessarily make it onto 1978’s “Darkness At The Edge Of Town”. The 23rd March 1977 Boston Music Hall gig included performances of “Don’t Look Back” and “Mona”, and an incendiary encore consisting of “Quarter To Three”, “Little Latin Lupe Lu” and “You Can’t Sit Down”. Even after the album’s release, Springsteen continued to play new/cover material - a show at Charleston Civic Centre on 4th August 1978 included performances of “Oh Boy”, an astonishing “Paradise By The C”, “Sherry Darling”, “Not Fade Away” and “Because The Night”. The latter, later taken into the charts by Patti Smith, had been taped during the album sessions but left unreleased. “Sweet Little 16” was performed at an August show in Philadelphia.
A New Years Eve show in Cleveland saw the likes of “Rendezvous”, “Independence Day”, “Pretty Flamingo”, “The Ties That Bind”, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, “Fever”, “Fire”, “Point Blank”, “Rave On” and “Good Rocking Tonite” all make the set, some of which did make it onto 1980’s “The River” (“Independence Day”, “The Ties That Bind” and “Point Blank”, plus “Sherry Darling” from the Charleston gig) whilst the likes of “Fire“, “Paradise By The C”, “Because The Night” and “Rendezvous” would eventually get official releases many years later (“Live 1975-85” for the first three, “Tracks” for the latter). A version of “Santa Claus” was later released as a live Christmas single, and is actually one of Springsteen’s more famous 45’s.
After the release of the acoustic, E Street-less 1982 LP “Nebraska”, the full blown band sound was back on 1984’s “Born In The USA”, a huge seller which spawned singles left right and centre, but was possibly a bit too “over-produced” at times. It seems even Springsteen has a bit of a problem with it, often shying away from playing the title track in recent years in favour of more obscure album tracks, possibly due to it being misinterpreted as a pro-American Anthem, when it was actually written as an anti-war statement on the Vietnam War. In an attempt to make it a but more un-anthemic, Springsteen has in recent years sometimes performed the song in a reworked acoustic/slide guitar version, heavily slowed down, and almost unrecognisable from the original.
The accompanying tour still saw covers and new songs make the set, such as “Trapped” (later included on the 2003 “Essential” limited edition bonus disc), “I’m A Rocker”, and “Pink Cadillac”, which did later turn up as a b-side and then on 1998’s rarities set “Tracks”. A Toronto gig on 26th July 1984 concluded with covers of “Devil With The Blue Dress” and “Twist And Shout”. A cover of “Jersey Girl” was performed at a Philadelphia show on 17th September 1984, an official (live) version of which had surfaced a few months earlier as a B-side (taped in 1981, and the b-side of “Cover Me”). The following night saw an outing for “I Fought The Law”, plus the likes of “Jersey Girl” and co again. A 1985 show at Milan’s San Siro Stadium saw “Can’t Help Falling In Love” played towards the end, with covers of “Do You Love Me” and “Rocking All Over The World” closing the set.
1987’s “Tunnel Of Love” saw only selected involvement from the E Street Band, although the following tour was the full E Street experience, apart from "Born To Run" which was reduced to being performed solo, and acoustically. A bootleg I have of a show in Rotterdam, on 28th June 1988, plus some "unspecified location" bonus tracks at the end, includes performances of “Boom Boom Boom”, “I’m A Coward”, “Light Of Day”, “Have Love Will Travel”, “Sweet Soul Music” and “Part Man Part Monkey”. Other performances on that Boot, whilst not unreleased, are unusual - it includes a live version of “Chimes Of Freedom”, originally only released on an EP, and the likes of “War”, “Raise Your Hand” and “Seeds” that also make the set had only first been released on the “Live 1975-85” box set in 1986.
Springsteen’s first “electric” E Street-less albums appeared simultaneously in 1992, when “Lucky Town” and “Human Touch” were issued on the same day. I had always thought of these albums getting rather poor reviews when they came out, and I always regard them as being a bit patchy, but according to Wikipedia, the critics love them. Not so the 1993 not-unplugged unplugged album “MTV Plugged”, which nobody ever talks about with much excitement. It does, however, include “new” material in the form of “Red Headed Woman” and the first official outing for “Light Of Day”.
Other 1993 shows threw up “rare” material - a New York show on 26th June saw outings for “Lonesome Valley” and “Many Rivers To Cross”, with a show two days earlier in East Rutherford throwing up “I Ain’t Got No Home”, “This Hard Land”, “Satan’s Jewel Crown”, “Who’ll Stop The Rain”, “Settle For Love”, “Been A Long Time”, “Dusty Old Road” and “Having A Party”.
For the rest of the decade, there would only be one more “proper” album (1995’s ‘Nebraska’-esque “The Ghost Of Tom Joad”), but plenty of other odds and sods. Springsteen landed himself a hit single with the un-Springsteen like “Streets Of Philadelphia” in 1994, and got back with The E Street Band in 1995 to record a number of new songs for the “Greatest Hits” album, with the likes of “Secret Garden” getting a single release at the same time, and an official outing for “This Hard Land“ on the LP. As mentioned before, 1998’s “Tracks” was a 4-CD trawl through the archives, which gave an official release to numbers that had been available on live bootlegs (such as “Don’t Look Back” and “Part Man Part Monkey”) but the decision to also include alternate versions of album tracks, and technically already available B-sides, was the subject of much muttering - especially when there were stacks of “completely” unreleased songs in the vaults, such as the outtakes from the “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” sessions. 1999’s “18 Tracks” was a bit of a con-job - 15 songs from the box, plus three “new” outtakes. It was sold at full price, but a tenner for a maxi-single’s worth of new songs was a bit of a downer. “Fever” made it’s official debut, whilst “The Promise”, one of those “Darkness” outtakes which was performed at least once on the 2002 tour, appeared here but in the form of a brand new recording. (As a brief aside, “My Love Will Not Let You Down”, off “Tracks” and “18 Tracks”, was also performed on the “Rising” tour, including that 2003 Crystal Palace show.)
In 1999, Bruce decided to reunite with the E Street Band permanently for a tour that would stretch into 2000, including UK dates. Although the tour coincided with the release of “18 Tracks”, it was not particularly timed to plug the album, although the likes of “My Love Will Not Let You Down” made it straight into the set most nights. The first show took place in Bruce’s hometown, at the Asbury Park Convention Hall in March, and included a performance of a new song, “Land Of Hope And Dreams”.
The first recorded release by the reformed band was 2001’s “Live In New York City”, from a pair of summer 2000 shows at Madison Square Gardens. The show had originally been broadcast on US TV, with the 2001 release being issued on both DVD and Double-CD. This release saw the first official outing on a Springsteen record of “Land Of Hope And Dreams” (strangely, a studio version is due to be included on next month's new LP, "Wrecking Ball"), along with another new song, “American Skin (41 Shots)”. Although the latter was the subject of much media interest at the time (it was based on a true story of an innocent civilian being shot dead in New York in 1999), and both this and “Land Of Hope And Dreams” made it into the first show of the 2002 “Rising” tour (East Rutherford, 7th August), “American Skin” has been a relative rarity in Springsteen shows since, whilst “Land” became installed as the regular set closer for the rest of the 2002 shows, and remained in the encores of the 2003 gigs.
Work on “The Rising” had provisionally begun during the reunion tour. “Further On” was played at at least one of the two shows filmed for the “New York City” release, but it wasn’t until after the September 11th attacks that work began in earnest. Springsteen later recalled a story about an event that took place after the attacks - whilst out walking one afternoon, he noticed a car pull up alongside him. The window was wound down, and the person in the seat nearest to him simply said “We Need You Now”. It inspired Springsteen to try and document the event, and much of the album, being written after 9/11, was therefore influenced by the attacks.
In a 1994 interview with MTV, The Jesus And Mary Chain said they did not like to explain their lyrics, in case they contradicted with what the listener thought their songs were about. So, at the risk of interpreting the album wrongly, as far as I am concerned, then “The Rising” is as near to a concept album as Springsteen has ever got. “Lonesome Day” seems to reflect the day after September 11th. “The Rising” and “Into The Fire” seem to be about the actual tragedy itself (Wikipedia states that the former was written from the perspective of a firefighter, the latter seems similar in style). “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” and “Mary‘s Place”, joyous bouts of classic E Street-ness, seem to be documents of an attempt by somebody affected by the tragedy to try and recover and move on. “Empty Sky” feels like a simple reference to the absence of the Twin Towers on the 12th. “Countin’ On A Miracle“ is surely the story of somebody trying to recover from the horror, having witnessed the incident first hand, and been personally involved - perhaps through the loss of a loved one. “You’re Missing” and “My City Of Ruins“, I would argue, are self-explanatory.
The 2002 shows seemed, for the most part, to follow a set procedure - the opening, powerful double header of “The Rising” and “Lonesome Day” kicked things off in magnificent style, with most shows consisting of material easily available on record, but with set lists being rejigged night after night. However, some of the 2003 shows saw a return to the world of the obscurities, with covers of the likes of “Seven Nights To Rock” at the first Crystal Palace gig, and some shows opening with an acoustic “Born In The USA”. The bootlegs I have of these shows are probably my favourite of all Springsteen Boots, as some of the choice of "album tracks" were simply inspired. The fact also that Springsteen chose to play the likes of "Thunder Road", "Dancing In The Dark" and - of course - "Born To Run" every night, to name but three, was the sign of a man knowing what his best material was, and was happy in showing it off in front of an audience.
Since 2004, Springsteen has gone back and forth between various projects. There was 2005’s acoustic “Devils And Dust”, 2006’s folk covers album “We Shall Overcome” and another “Greatest Hits” in 2009, this time credited to Springsteen & The E Street Band, but differing from the 1995 version by offering no new material and coming in a new cover with a revamped track listing. Even the 'new' material from the 95 release is missing from this version, which seems a bit pointless. The E Street Band are present and correct on 2007’s “Magic” and 2009’s “Working On A Dream”.
I am no expert, but Bruce does seem to have moved away from doing new songs on stage since “The Rising”, although covers still turn up in the setlist (2010’s “London Calling” DVD includes covers of “Good Lovin’”, “Hard Times” and - yep - “London Calling”). Deluxe reissues of “Born To Run” and “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” have seen “official” releases, on the DVD’s included in each pack, of songs that have been ‘bootleg only’ for years - “Born To Run” includes versions of “Devil With The Blue Dress” (as part of the “Detroit Medley”) and “Quarter To Three”, from a show filmed at the Hammersmith Odeon on 18th November 1975, whilst the “Houston 78 Bootleg House Cut” DVD in the “Darkness” package includes all of these plus “You Can’t Sit Down”.
My wife and I are due to see Bruce and the band in Hyde Park this summer. Whilst it is difficult to figure out how an E Street Show without Clarence Clemons is going to work, I sincerely hope that some of the material that has been heavily featuring in the set lists since day 1 still have a chance of appearing. Especially “Racing In The Street”, "Night", "Hungry Heart", "Rosalita", and "I'm On Fire" if you’re reading this Bruce. In fact, just play all the albums in full, one after the other, and we'll be happy.
I have listed below, in the order in which they were released, the original Springsteen albums. Studio, Live, Best-of’s and Rarities sets are all shown. DVD or DVD+CD releases are excluded, as these would be worthy of an article in their own right (hence the absence of 2007‘s “Live In Dublin“ release in the list). The formats listed are mostly CD, based as it is on the format in which I own them, but selected vinyl pressings are shown, especially where the packaging is superior to the CD edition. Some CD’s have been reissued in recent years, which explains why the catalogue numbering system differs in style from album to album. The copy of “The River” that is in our house is my wife’s, she always claims I only married her so I could get ownership of the first half of the album! Where an album was issued/reissued in a limited edition format, this is detailed where necessary.
I have also listed, in the interest of completeness, the deluxe reissues as detailed above. It is worth mentioning that if you do buy the 30th Anniversary version of “Born To Run”, and “The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story” box, that it negates the need to buy the normal versions of “Born To Run”, “Darkness” and “The Promise”.
In the nineties, six of these albums were also issued in “Three In One” box sets (“Nebraska”, “Tom Joad” and “Tunnel Of Love” in one, “Darkness”, “Asbury Park” and “The E Street Shuffle” in the other), but are hard to find now. The most recent box set, “The Collection”, houses “Asbury Park”, “The E Street Shuffle”, “Born To Run”, “Darkness”, “Nebraska”, “Born In The USA” and “The River”.
The “semi official” albums are not listed in detail here, but it’s worth noting many of them are in existence. They have made available the likes of “Tokyo” and “Mountain Of Love”, and seem to have flooded out en masse, so any article looking at them would need to go into greater depth than I can achieve here at the moment. Suffice to say, Columbia have had no involvement in the releases, and the indepenedent labels who have released them seem to have got round the “official” route by only releasing gigs that were originally broadcast on radio, thus meaning that neither the record company nor Bruce himself seem to own the copyright to these recordings - hence their existence. I also hope to do a Springsteen singles blog at a later date.
Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (CD, Columbia CD 32210)
The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle (CD, Columbia CD 32363)
Born To Run (LP in gatefold sleeve, CBS 69170)
Darkness On The Edge Of Town (CD, Columbia CD 86061)
The River (2xLP, with inner sleeves and lyric insert, CBS 88510)
Nebraska (CD, Columbia 463360 2)
Born In The USA (CD, Columbia 511256 2, later pressing)
Live/1975-85 (5xLP Box Set, with booklet, CBS 450227 1)
Tunnel Of Love (CD, Columbia 460270 2)
Human Touch (CD, Columbia COL 471423 3)
Lucky Town (CD, Columbia COL 471424 2)
In Concert - MTV Unplugged (CD, Columbia COL 473860 2)
Greatest Hits (CD, Columbia COL 478555 2, later reissued in new sleeve with new tracklisting)
The Ghost Of Tom Joad (CD, Columbia 481650 2)
Tracks (4xCD, Columbia COL 492605 2)
18 Tracks (CD, Columbia COL 494200 2)
Live In New York City (2xCD, Columbia COL 500000 2, reissue with wrong track listing on rear)
The Rising (CD, Limited Edition in hardback book sleeve with slightly altered cover, Columbia COL 508 000 2, later reissued with bonus DVD in “normal” cover inside slipcase [Columbia COL 508002])
The Essential (Limited Edition 3xCD, Columbia COL 513700 9)
Devils And Dust (Limited Edition CD+DVD, Columbia 512000 2)
Born To Run (CD+2xDVD Box Set, Columbia 82876 755892, DVD later issued as stand alone CD as “Hammersmith Odeon London 1975”)
We Shall Overcome (“American Land” edition, issued some months after standard release, extra tracks, CD, Columbia 88697 009162)
Magic (CD, Columbia 88697 170602)
Working On A Dream (CD, Columbia 88697 41355 2)
The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story (3xCD+3xDVD Box Set, Columbia 88697 76525-2, includes reissues of “Darkness” and “The Promise”)
Wednesday, 1 February 2012
Over the years, there have been plenty of bands who are in people’s “wish lists” for a reformation. Some, despite never saying they would do it, have indeed gone ahead and reformed - sometimes briefly (Led Zeppelin), sometimes seemingly permanently (Stone Roses), even the Beatles got back together in the studio in 1994 for the “Anthology” project.
But surely the most unlikely candidate for a comeback was Cat Stevens. By the early 1980’s, he had walked away from the music industry, converting to Islam, devoting himself to a life of “educational and philanthropic causes” (I got that sentence from Wikipedia). He seemed to have disowned his past; he would appear on religious TV shows happily explaining some of his lyrics and how many of them had had a spiritual leaning, but talked about his former life as a pop star with an air of detachment - he showed little interest about what he had spent over a decade doing, and talked about his recording career as if it was just a job, as if it had been the same as somebody working in Argos one day, then leaving to work in Homebase the next.
Stevens later mentioned how he had believed that the Islamic faith forbid pop music, which was one of the reasons he “retired“. But he then found out, upon re-investigation, that this was not strictly the truth. Yes, Islam frowned upon the mechanics of the music industry, and songs that were overtly sexual would be things that would “violate religious constraints” (Wikipedia again), but the idea that Islam was anti-music was not true. Post 9/11, Stevens began to edge back towards the world of Western Pop, and in 2006, released his first “mainstream” record for some 28 years.
With rumours of a new LP due in 2012, now is as good a time as any to look back at the world of Cat Stevens - or as he is now known today, simply Yusuf.
The Deram Years
Cat Stevens was an unusual entity when he started his career in 1966. From the off, he wrote pretty much everything that he recorded, something that had not been the case during the early years of The Beatles and The Stones. He hit the charts with his first single, “I Love My Dog”, and maintained his success with a follow up single and album, both titled “Matthew And Son”. Thanks to Mike Myers, I refer to this album as “Austin Powers Pop”, full of big orchestral sounds, and mostly raucous and upbeat. Despite the fact that he seemed to become a teen idol overnight, Stevens’ lyrics were actually quite dark - “Matthew And Son” told the story of a business struggling to stop from going bankrupt, and “When I Speak To The Flowers” was allegedly written from the point of somebody who lived in a lunatic asylum.
By the summer of 67, Cat was starting to engage himself in some controversy. A stand alone 45, “I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun”, saw him accused of being ‘pro-violence’, before he explained the song had been written as part of a planned (but never finished) musical, whilst the man himself later claimed his level of fame at the time went to his head. He spoke many years later about how he felt, at the time, that he should be given “the right” of attending the big London film premieres, and would be disappointed if he didn’t get an invite to such red carpet events.
And yet soon after, Cat fell off the pop music radar. A second LP, “New Masters”, flopped. I have always thought that this LP sounded a bit like a poor imitation of it’s predecessor - it certainly covers the same musical template - and that, by being released less than a year after “Matthew And Son”, that it was something of a rush job. Indeed, Cat later stated that he soon got bored with the big sound he had, and wanted to head in a more folk/acoustic route - as heard on “Portobello Road” on the first LP. This may explain why, during the 70’s, Cat rarely played material on stage from the Deram days. Despite this, Stevens aficionados claim that “New Masters” is actually a better record than the debut.
More poor charting singles followed in 1968, but in the same year, Stevens’ career went on hold as he was hospitalised with a severe, and life threatening, bout of Tuberculosis. Holed up for several months, Cat began to re-evaluate his life, and began to develop something of a dislike for the lifestyle he had been leading - he now felt uncomfortable with being a popstar. He began to explore religion more, and began writing songs that had a more “spiritiual” feel at times, as well as being quite heavily acoustic. The first fruits of the “new” Cat Stevens were heard on a 1969 Deram single, “Where Are You”. The b-side, “The View From The Top”, seemed like a thinly veiled dig at the popstar life, opening with the line “the view from the top can be oh so very lonely”.
Although Deram had allowed Stevens to release this mostly-acoustic styled 45, he wanted to get off the label and was dutifully released from Deram - he had apparently earlier began to show his dislike for the label by making outrageous demands regarding recording processes in a hope they would release him from his contract. Deram marked his departure with the release of a compilation LP, “The World Of Cat Stevens” - a mish mash of album tracks, A-sides and B-sides. The cover image was a marked departure from the clean cut, suited and booted, young man on the previous LP’s - Cat was seen strumming a guitar, with longish hair and a tatty t-shirt. The hippy/acoustic/folk troubadour image was now in place as he signed to Island Records in 1970.
Having gained a certain amount of artistic control, Stevens began to work mostly within the “singer/songwriter” mould for his next LP. “Mona Bone Jakon”, issued in 1970, was the first of three albums to be produced by Paul Samwell-Smith, regularly regarded as the “classic trio” of Cat LP’s. It wasn’t all acoustic strumming, there were plenty of keyboards and drums as well, especially on the incendiary “I Think I See The Light” (one of many “spiritutal” excursions Cat would undertake throughout the rest of the decade). It was an astonishing record, sounding completely unlike “Matthew And Son” or “New Masters”, and marked the arrival of the “new” Cat Stevens. Not only was there another dig at the record business on “Pop Star”, but Cat seemed to be almost deliberately trying to get away from the pin-up image he had gained in the 60’s - the back cover showed what seemed to be a slightly fuzzy shot of Cat reflected in a river, as if to say ‘ignore the pretty boy image’, whilst the front cover featured a drawing of a dustbin. About as anti-popstar as you could get.
Although he had lost ground, chart wise, with “New Masters”, “Mona Bone Jakon” started to get things moving and by the end of the year, critical and commercial acclaim was his with “Tea For The Tillerman”. 1971’s “Teaser And The Firecat” kept the momentum going, and Cat was by now a huge star on both sides of the Atlantic, and indeed, worldwide. He released a children’s cartoon book to tie in with the LP, and later, an animated film was made for TV sound tracked by “Moonshadow”, with narration by Spike Milligan, which turned the storybook into a short movie, as Teaser and his cat watch the moon fall from the sky into a lake, and then try to work out how to get it back up into the sky.
Although Samwell-Smith was still on board for 1972’s “Catch Bull At Four”, there was a general consensus that this record failed to match the genius of the three that preceded it. It was a decent effort though, and revealed a man who was beginning to slowly step outside the box - the album, overall, was harder sounding than the others, whilst there were some song titles that your average man on the street probably wouldn’t have thought about using (“O Caritas”, a latin title, “The Boy With A Moon And Star On His Head”, simply baffling).
However, this was nothing compared to 1973’s superb “Foreigner”, where Cat decided to indulge in his passion of the time, US Stax and R&B. Female backing singers, blaring horns, it’s something of a lost classic. But it was the first half of the record that was truly daring - the entire side was taken up by an 18-minute long song called “The Foreigner Suite”. It consisted of eight short songs, which were all “works in progress”, but when Cat realised he couldn’t work out how to complete any of them, he decided to simply glue the unfinished pieces together to make one long song. Quite what the label thought of this is anyone’s guess, especially as it automatically reduced the number of choices of singles that the album could spawn - but Island did manage to get “The Hurt”, track 1 on side 2, out as a 45 to promote the record. This 45 came with a custom designed black label, with white lettering - Cat’s first Island 45 to not appear with the standard pink or sunshine company labels.
1974’s “Buddha And The Chocolate Box” returned, more or less, to the acoustic-ness of the earlier Island records, and came in what can only be described as a “literal” sleeve. A picture of a Buddha on the front, and - ta dah! - a photo of a box of chocolates on the inner sleeve. Cat claimed it was a concept album, but critics poured scorn on this when they struggled to work out exactly what the “concept” actually was. Cat explained that the “Buddha” represented a spiritual life, “Chocolate” represented materialism, but it was not the sort of album that only made sense if you played it in full from start to finish. I have always thought that, with song titles like “Sun C79” and “King Of Tress”, that it might have been some sort of album about nature, or global warming, but the likes of “Oh Very Young”, with no real reference to nature at all, seemed to suggest otherwise - indeed, it was later explained that the album was a vague concept LP about childhood. But even to this date, it still seems difficult to work that out from each and every song.
Somewhat hurt by the criticism, Cat responded by releasing a stand alone single later that year, a knockabout cover of Sam Cooke’s “Another Saturday Night”, about as far removed from the sometimes po-faced feel of “Buddha” as you could get. It would appear, in alternate form, on an album the same year, when a live recording of the track appeared on a Japanese only live LP, “Saturnight”. This remains one of the rarest Cat records, as it has been deleted for years and has never even appeared on CD in the UK. The original studio take of “ASN” would appear on a 1975 compilation, “Greatest Hits”, released on Island and consisting of Island only material (“Saturnight”, interestingly, included an insert which referred to the third LP, “Mona Bone Jakon”, as being Cat’s debut). Rather strangely for the time, a new song was included on the Hits LP, “Two Fine People”, released as a 45 in it’s own right, but charted only moderately, and was thus not one of Cat’s greatest hits at all!
Risking further ridicule, Stevens returned to the concept album format with 1975’s “Numbers”. An album telling the story of nine Polygons who live on the planet Polygor, their world is disrupted by the arrival of a tenth Polygon, called “Jzero”. In order to counter any accusations of prog-style madness, the album came with a warning, which stated “This album is not to be taken 2 seriously”, thereby pre-dating Prince by a couple of years. Musically, it’s a bit patchy - I can’t remember what half of it sounds like, and the single used to plug the album, “Banapple Gas”, is a bit throwaway, but there are a few moments of genius, especially on the opening instrumental “Whistlestar”.
Cat went out on the road with the album (although little was actually played from it on stage) with the “Majikat” tour - complete with elaborate stage set and on stage magic tricks. The tour was a reasonable success, although I did hear a story that in some overseas countries, the promoters were a bit ambitious in terms of venue sizes, and Cat found himself playing to half full 20,000 seater arenas in parts of Europe. At least one show from the tour was filmed, and was released as a DVD (and later as a CD) during the “wilderness” years when Cat Stevens was “in retirement“.
It was in 1976 that the now famous life-changing event in Cat’s life took place, which would totally alter the course his pop career was taking. Whilst on holiday, Cat went out swimming and found himself being carried away from the shore. Fearing for his life, Cat - having been dabbling with various religions since the hospital stay - began praying, asking God to save his life, and if he did so, then he would repay him by devoting his life to God. At that moment, a huge wave came along and pushed Cat back towards the mainland. Luck, or divine intervention? For Cat, there was no question, and he began to question the life he was leading. He was still contracted to record two more LP’s for Island, and released the first of these in 1977, “Izitso”. A remarkable move away from “Numbers”, the album was notable for it’s wide ranging use of synthesizers - on the original album, the insert detailing the personnel used on the record listed not just the fact that synths were being used, but even went into the different ones Cat used on each song. Presumably, the idea behind this was that you would attempt to recreate these songs on your own synths at home…
The album was trailed by the huge hit single, “Remember The Days Of The Old School Yard”, for which Cat filmed a promo video, and which came backed with “The Doves”, the intro music on the “Majikat” tour. But once the album was out, that was it. Cat was already beginning to think about stepping away from music, and there were to be no more singles in the UK, and no tour. The album was left to more or less fend for itself.
“Izitso” was fascinating for two reasons - one was the Synth madness (“Was Dog A Doughnut”, an electro-pop instrumental, was later covered by early-period Madonna collaborator, John Jellybean Benitez), and the other was the tellingly titled “I Never Wanted To Be A Star”, a sneering attack on the music industry. In a genius pop culture moment, Cat referenced two of his earlier recordings, singing a line from the two songs by using the same melody as the original recordings - the inclusion of a line from “I Think I See The Light” was a pointer towards his new more spiritual life, whilst the opening line included a segment from “Matthew And Son”. This was a brilliantly clever lyric, as it directly referenced his 60’s pop star days, and given that he had rarely played much of this material since 1970, made it all the more emotive (although “I Love My Dog” did get at least one outing on the “Majikat” tour). By the end of the year, Cat had converted to Islam, and in 1978, changed his name from Steven Georgiou to Yusuf Islam. (In the interest of clarity, we shall continue to refer to him as “Cat” for the rest of this article.)
Cat returned to the studio in the summer to record his farewell album, “Back To Earth“. Having used new musicians for “Izitso”, he returned to the old guard for the finale - Paul Samwell Smith was brought in to co-produce, and long time sidekick, guitarist Alun Davies, came back into the fold. The album was a return to the acoustic sound of old, although there were a few shocks in the form of the Rolling Stones-esque “Bad Brakes”, and the disco romp “New York Times”. By all accounts, the atmosphere in the studio was rather sombre, as Cat announced that this one was going to be the last LP. The album appeared at the tail end of 78, complete with an enigmatic front cover featuring a photograph of a stream - a close up photo of another stream adorned the rear. Cat’s photo was nowhere to be found. It was almost as if the man had already disappeared from view. Although several songs were issued as singles worldwide (“Last Love Song” was the UK 45), Cat made no attempt to promote the album, and the singles were all flops. Even the album itself struggled to do much without it’s creator willing to help plug the product.
And yet, despite his religious conversion, Cat still hadn’t officially left the business. At the tail end of 1979, he was invited to play at the UNICEF Year Of The Child charity concert (he had recorded a song on “Back To Earth”, “Daytime”, for the charity), and happily agreed. Despite the fact that this was going to be his last show, Cat made no reference to it - instead, he seemed to be using the show to make a comeback, acknowledging to the crowd that “it’s been a long time” since he had played live. Even in interviews at the time, he seemed unsure about what he was going to do next, but in early 1980, he finally made his announcement that Cat Stevens the pop-star, was no more.
The 80's, The 90's, and The Comeback
With Cat Stevens now “gone”, both his former labels took the opportunity to cash in on his past life. Deram issued another rag-tag set, “The First Cut Is The Deepest”, in 1981, whilst Island issued “Footsteps In The Dark”, in 1984, billed as a follow up to 1975’s “Greatest Hits”. However, it included some odd stuff. “Father And Son” was on there, despite having been on the original “Greatest Hits” (aren’t “Volume 2” releases supposed to include songs that weren’t on the Volume 1?), whilst a number of songs weren’t even issued as singles. Indeed, “I Want To Live In A Wig Wam” was only ever a B-side!
The album’s big selling point was the inclusion of two new songs, “Don’t Be Shy” and “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out”. These songs had been taped in 1970/71 for the soundtrack to the movie “Harold And Maude”, a film featuring a sizeable chunk of Cat music, but for some reason, no soundtrack LP was issued, and the songs remained unissued for over a decade. In 2007, Cameron Crowe’s label Vinyl Films issued a vinyl only soundtrack LP featuring the songs included in the movie, with alternate mixes of these two songs amongst the mix - 2500 copies were pressed, each with a free 7” single, housed in some highly elaborate packaging. Numerous variant editions exist, with a variety of coloured vinyl pressings made and a picture disc edition (minus the 7”) issued as a promo, but trying to get hold of a copy now - let alone one of each colour - is not going to be easy.
Aside from another now famous story concerning Live Aid in 1985 (Cat was apparently going to make an unscheduled appearance at the Wembley Stadium gig, but after over-running with previous acts, he was forced to cancel), Cat became an unusual figure in the pop world. Whilst most singers just disappear, going into the “where are they now” file, before you find out they are working as a butcher in Derby, or bands split up only for the individual members never to be heard of again, Cat remained in the public eye. He achieved this sometimes via accidental notoriety (he was quoted at the end of the 80’s as being in agreement with the Fatwa placed on Salman Rushdie over the “Satanic Verses” controversy, something Cat rigorously denies), but also via his music, even though it was generally considered that he would never return to the “day job”. A 1990 best-of covering the Deram and Island years, “The Very Best Of”, featured sleeve notes from Paul Samwell Smith, who referred to Cat in the past tense, as though he was in prison for life, or had even passed away.
In 1995, Cat released the first of a number of spiritual albums under his “Yusuf Islam” name, called “The Life Of The Last Prophet”. Given that he had previously “disowned” music, the fact that he had returned to the studio - even if it was a spoken word record - was seen by some as a comeback. It wasn’t, of course, but that didn’t stop “London Tonight” running a feature of him when he did a signing for the record which incorporated footage of the signing with old Cat concert footage from the 70’s. But, it could be argued, that by at least using the medium of music as a way of communicating on this LP, Cat was therefore someway towards the possibility of making a return to Western Pop music - if he wanted to do so.
In 2001, another major step forward occurred when Cat agreed to help put together a box set - it’s never quite had a proper title, so gets variously referred to as “On The Road To Find Out”, “In Search For The Centre Of The Universe”, or simply “The Box Set”. Cat still referred to his pop career as a “former” job, but the fact that he was even involved in the project (numerous unreleased tracks were exhumed from the vaults) was a big thrill. But it was after the September 11th tragedy, that Cat Stevens began to edge back into the pop world.
2003’s “Hope” CD, a Various Artists charity collection, was notable in that it included a new recording of “Peace Train” - credited to “Yusuf Islam” admittedly, but the fact that Cat was now not just acknowledging his past, but seemingly happy to revisit it, was something that nobody could have foreseen happening twenty years previous. He appeared at the “46664” Nelson Mandela concert the same year singing “Wild World”, although in keeping with his religious beliefs, altered the lyrics so that the vaguely risqué “oh baby baby” line was removed.
But the return was not finally completed until 2005, when Cat recorded his first “new” Western-Pop song. “Indian Ocean” was written in aid of the children orphaned by the then-recent Indonesian Tsunami, and was initially made available as an internet only download, but it later gained a physical release on the US Double CD Best-of set, “Gold”. Cat was back.
Now recording under the “Yusuf” moniker, to try and differentiate between the “religious” Yusuf Islam and the new Western-Pop Yusuf, Cat (I shall continue to refer to him in this way, simply as it’s easier to do so) returned in 2006 with the excellent “An Other Cup”. 30 years away could have resulted in who-knows-what music wise, but the melodic pull of the 70’s records was still there, and the voice was still in fine fettle. It may not quite have been a “Tillerman” or a “Teaser”, but it was a very good effort. Cat seemed more than happy to continue to revisit his past, opting to include a re-recorded “I Think I See The Light” on the LP. Although there was no tour to coincide, Cat did agree to tape a BBC Four “Sessions” concert, where he performed not only material off the new record, but a sizeable chunk of stuff from the olden days. It was almost as if he never went away…
Although it might have seemed that Cat’s return was possibly only a brief return - he still seemed unsure, when interviewed, what he was actually going to do next - he was back in the studio again a few years later, returning with another solid LP in 2009, “Roadsinger”. Now fully beginning to embrace the past, he performed his first “proper” gig for thirty years when he appeared at one of the “Island 50” anniversary gigs at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London. After U2 had put in a surprise, but slightly ramshackle, semi-acoustic mini-support slot, Bono came back on stage to introduce Cat, who promptly rattled through an inspired “old and new” set.
But this was to be no one-off. By the end of the year, Cat had lined up a four-show tour of the UK and Ireland, and was now even offering “Cat” merchandise at the sales stall, including “Tea For The Tillerman” t-shirts and “Wanted - Cat Stevens” tote bags, the latter a sly dig at his run ins with the authorities in recent years (he had at one point been accidentally put onto a “hit list” of potential troublemakers by the US Government). The show at the NIA in Birmingham was fairly good, but eye witness reports from a show at the Royal Albert Hall in London a few days later, state they couldn’t quite believe their ears when he decided to wheel out slabs of material from the Deram years - playing the likes of “Portobello Road” for the first time in absolutely ages. By now, he was even happily reinstating the “oh baby baby” line into performances of “Wild World”. Cat has continued to tour around the world, there is I am told a specific tour micro site that can be accessed from his main website, which suggests the man is now here to stay.
Having remained out of print for some years, the two Deram studio albums were reissued on CD in 2003. Both “Matthew And Son” and “New Masters” were pressed on Mono and Stereo when originally issued, but the 2003 releases opted to include the stereo mix of each LP only. Now, my sister owns mono copies of each, and having to listened to both mixes of both LP‘s, I am not sure if there is much difference between them in terms of “sound“.
Both of the reissues came with bonus tracks - “Matthew And Son” added the A and B sides of the first three singles. All these singles were issued in mono, so you do end up getting mono mixes of four of the fourteen tracks on the LP, as Cat’s first two 45’s included material from the album on both sides, rather than exclusive material. You also get both sides of the third single in stereo as well. “New Masters” added rarities from late 67 until the end of Cat’s tenure on Deram - so you got three non album A-sides, and four b-sides. Given that, between them, you get everything Cat released on the label, it makes all the other Deram-era compilations rather superfluous.
Of the original Island label LP releases, a number are of interest to collectors. The original copies of “Mona Bone Jakon” came with what at first seemed to be a standard white inner bag, but one that looked like somebody had scribbled all over it - before you realised that these “scribbles” were actually hand written lyrics. Initial copies of “Tea For The Tillerman” came with pink Island labels, but soon after, copies were pressed with the new “sunshine” labels. Pink label copies are now worth quite a few quid.
“Foreigner” originally came in an embossed sleeve, whilst “Numbers” came in a semi die cut sleeve - you could “mess up” the cover, dependent on which way you inserted the booklet into the packaging. “Izitso” featured a lyric insert, although copies missing this insert may not be worth too much less than those that remain intact.
The Island label albums released in the UK were all given “frills free” CD reissues many years ago, and in many instances, remain the versions still available today. However, both “Tea For The Tillerman” and “Teaser And The Firecat” have been the subject of double-CD deluxe edition reissues, although the amount of bonus material is a bit “scant”. Indeed, the material on CD2 on each set could have been squeezed onto the end of CD1 - and that’s even before I mention the fact that some of this bonus material is already available on the likes of “Saturnight” and widely available DVD releases.
Both of the “Yusuf” albums appeared, upon their initial release, as fancy limited edition pressings. “An Other Cup” came in an oversized book-style package, whilst “Roadsinger” came with a free DVD, which included a number of additional bonus tracks. One of these tracks, “Boots And Sand”, later appeared as a limited edition AA 7” with “Roadsinger”, with a select number of mail order copies being made available from Cat’s website which came housed in an A4 sized hardback envelope, and a signed lyric insert.
Strange though it may seem, but as far as Cat’s UK single releases go, all of them have only ever been available (to my knowledge) as 7” singles - this is because he stopped making music just as the 12” was taking off, released no physical singles from “An Other Cup” and only released “Roadsinger” as a limited edition, so no CD version was required. The complete list is shown below. It was a different story in other countries - “Wild World” turned up as a CD Single in the USA.
Many of the compilation albums mentioned above have been superseded in recent years, although “Two Fine People” seems to be absent from most of the collections, so your best bet if you want that is to get the 1975 “Greatest Hits” set, whilst the heavily edited version of “Foreigner Suite” remains unavailable on anything other than late 90‘s set “Remember”, and - I am told - certain editions of “The Very Best Of Cat Stevens“, a one time US only best-of not to be confused with the 1990 “Very Best Of“, and later issued in the UK in the early noughties. The 2001 box set includes the b-sides “Wig Wam”, “The Doves” and “Crab Dance”, thus negating the need for you to own “Footsteps In The Dark” in order to get the former on CD.
As it includes both “Another Saturday Night” and “Indian Ocean”, then “Gold” is an essential buy. However, I would also suggest you try and get the original CD/DVD limited edition UK double disc version of 2003’s “The Very Best Of Cat Stevens”, given that the DVD includes a chunk of video footage unavailable anywhere else - such as the “Moonshadow” cartoon and the “Old School Yard” promo video.
Other footage is thin on the ground, but a few other DVD’s exist. “Tea For The Tillerman Live” is not, as it’s title suggests, Cat doing the album on stage from start to finish, but a short TV performance from the time, and was originally issued on the dying VHS format. As mentioned earlier, a DVD from the “Majikat” tour exists, later issued in audio form (pointlessly) on CD (and an even later DVD+CD version), whilst post-comeback, “Yusuf’s Café” is an interesting item, covering as it does pre-1979 and post-2005 material in a single gig - it’s an official release of the BBC Four show referred to above.
The album list details the current CD editions of the albums for the pre-1979 releases, and the “original“ pressings for the later stuff. Note that these latter items are now hard to find, however. It is worth pointing out that it is possible to get the expanded “New Masters” and “Mona Bone Jakon” as a 2-on-1 double CD set, whilst a recent 4-CD box set, “X4”, included “Catch Bull At Four”, “Mona Bone”, “Foreigner”, and a single disc “Tea For The Tillerman”.
I Love My Dog/Portobello Road (1966, 7”, Deram DM 102, later reissues come with alternate b-side and different catalogue number)
Matthew And Son/Granny (1966, 7”, Deram DM 110, various reissues from 1980‘s exist on Old Gold, Decca and a 4-track picture sleeve EP on Deram [DM 435])
I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun/School Is Out (1967, 7”, Deram DM 118)
A Bad Night/The Laughing Apple (1967, 7”, Deram DM 140)
Kitty/Blackness Of The Night (1967, 7”, Deram DM 156)
Lovely City/Image Of Hell (1968, 7”, Deram DM 178)
Here Comes My Wife/It’s A Supa (Dupa) Life (1968, 7”, Deram DM 211)
Where Are You/The View From The Top (1969, 7”, Deram DM 260)
Lady D’Arbanville/Time/Fill My Eyes (1970, 7”, Island WIP 6086, p/s)
Moonshadow/Father And Son (1971, 7”, Island WIP 6092)
Tuesday’s Dead/Miles From Nowhere (1971, 7”, Island WIP 6102)
Morning Has Broken/I Want To Live In A Wigwam (1971, 7”, Island WIP 6121, picture sleeve reissue from 1980‘s exists with IS 123 catalogue number, with alternative b-side)
Can’t Keep It In/Crab Dance (1972, 7”, Island WIP 6152)
The Hurt/Silent Sunlight (1973, 7”, Island WIP 6163)
Oh Very Young/100 I Dream (1974, 7”, Island WIP 6190)
Another Saturday Night/Home In The Sky (1974, 7”, Island WIP 6206, limited number apparently issued in p/s)
Two Fine People/A Bad Penny (1975, 7”, Island WIP 6238)
Banapple Gas/Ghost Town (1975, 7”, Island WIP 6276)
(Remember The Days Of The) Old School Yard/Doves (1977, 7”, Island WIP 6387, p/s, later pressings believed to have been issued in die cut sleeves instead)
Last Love Song/Nascimento (1978, 7”, Island WIP 6465)
Roadsinger/Boots And Sand (2009, 7”, Island 271 3654, some copies with autographed A4 lyric sheet)
Matthew And Son (1967, CD, Deram 981 082-1)
New Masters (1967, CD, Deram 981 083-1)
Mona Bone Jakon (1970, CD, Island IMCD 35)
Tea For The Tillerman (1970, 2xCD, Island 787 0888)
Teaser And The Firecat (1971, 2xCD, Island 06025 17870918)
Catch Bull At Four (1972, CD, Island IMCD 271)
Foreigner (1973, CD, Island IMCD 272)
Buddha And The Chocolate Box (1974, CD, Island IMCD 273)
Numbers (1975, CD, Island IMCD 277)
Izitso (1977, CD, Island IMCD 278)
Back To Earth (1978, CD, Island IMCD 279)
An Other Cup (2006, CD, Polydor 1708478)
Harold And Maude (2007, Coloured Vinyl LP + 7”, Vinyl Films VFS 2007 3LP, technically US only)
Roadsinger (2009, CD+DVD, Island 2705149)