Sunday, July 23, 2023

Kat's Korner: Yusuf/Cat Stevens has still got it and then some

Kat: Here's my complaint about KING OF A LAND. Where's Carly?

Twelve tracks, where's Carly Simon?

KING OF A LAND is the new album (came out last month) from Yusuf/Cat Stevens.  It's hugely enjoyable.  His finest since TEA FOR TILLERMAN -- a record many had in their collection ("Wild World," "Where The Children Play," "Into White," etc) back in 1970.  It was -- and remains Cat's masterpiece. 

He came out as a singer-songwriter.  The industry changed when The Beatles started  having hits with their own self-written songs and Bob Dylan set aside folk-standards to perform his own songs.  The two combined ran away those little boys too weak to write their own songs like Bobby Vee (the original Jason Aldean) and, in the process, created the space for new generations who would demonstrate how artists can communicate.   Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Paul Simon, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Carly Simon, a reimagined Carole King (who's written for others but now sang her own songs), a re-imagined Ashford & Simpson), Jackson Browne, Harry Nilsson, Roberta Flack, Melanie, Nona Hendryx, Neil Young, Prince, Rick James, Donovan, Rickie Lee Jones, Joan Armatrading, Dolly Parton, Aretha Franklin, Janis Ian,  etc.  And Cat was part of that movement.  He and Stevie were also the two hottest guys in that movement during the 70s.

He was Cat back then, just Cat.  He'd written the evergreen hit "The First Cut Is The Deepest" (PP Arnold, Rod Stewart and Sheryl Crow are among the artists who recorded it and Linda Ronstadt certainly did a great cover of it on THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL).  In the late sixties, he started having hits in the United Kingdom.  In 1970, "Wild World" became his first US hit and was followed by "Moon Shadow," "Peace Train," "Morning Has Broken," "Sitting," "The Hurt," "Oh Very Young," "Another Saturday Night," etc. With the success of "Wild World" in the US, he notched up 8 gold albums and another five multi-platinum ones.  He also did the soundtrack to a film -- the 1972 film is a classic -- HAROLD & MAUDE -- and the songs Cat provided greatly enhanced the film.  Though, for some reason, CRAPAPEDIA doesn't care to acknowledge that album in Cat's discography listing, it was a hit in 1972 on cassettes, 8-tracks and vinyl and had limited release issues done in both in 2007 and, last year, it was finally released on CD to celebrate the film's fiftieth anniversary. (CRAPAPEDIA is also incorrect when it claims the soundtrack was never released until 2007 -- again, it was available on vinyl, 8-track and cassette tape when the film came out in 1972 -- here's an eBay copy of the A&M RECORDS original release. As C.I. and Ava have long noted, "Crapapedia."  By the way, Saturday, I got another album that CRAPAPEDIA doesn't know exists.)

God has come to Cat throughout his life.  That's not me mocking him, I'm a Catholic.  At the end of the 70s, he was drowning -- physically drowning in the ocean -- and went on another spiritual journey that resulted in his converting to Islam and changed his name to Yusuf Islam.  (For the record, "Cat" was not his birth name, either.)  For many years, he was referred to only as that.

Now he is referred to by both with the label crediting him as "Yusuf/Cat Stevens."

KING OF A LAND is a very strong album.  Strong melodies, strong music.  Here's "All Nights, All Days."

No, he's not made an easy listening album.  "Easy listening" was a genre of music and a radio format typified by Anne Murray, among others, it later morphed into "adult contemporary."  While it was still termed "easy listening," Cat did take ten songs onto that chart -- two went to number one.

So KING OF A LAND being an easy listening album wouldn't have been a shocker.  But he's leaning in more to the rock half of his folk-rock history.

"Another Night In The Rain" is another of my new favorites.

And I have to note "Things" as well.

I love that song.  Cat's still got it?  It's the best slow song on the album, followed closely by "How Good It Feels."  But there's not a clinker on the album.  This is a solid recording that will have any old fan celebrating and should have new ones checking out his previous work.

Trina noted his performance of "Wild World" at Glastonbury last month.

That video above?  Three weeks old, 579,000 views.  That's impressive for a legacy artist.  Very impressive.

It's from Tea For Tillerman.  If you're looking for an entry point, that's the way in.  It's a great album.

He was very popular when I was in high school.  And Carly Simon was very lucky because she got to date him.  In fact, her hit song "Anticipation"?  She wrote it while waiting for him to pick her up for a date.   Cat wrote some great songs.

And, sorry, watching the video above, I still think he's sexy. 

And that's how we come back to Carly.  This is a powerful album that finds him working again with drummer Russ Kunkel and producer Paul Samwel-Smith. Both worked with Carly over the years.  Paul, in fact, produced both her excellent ANTICIPATION album as well as producing and co-writing with Carly the amazing "Do The Walls Come Down" from COMING AROUND AGAIN.  The only thing could have made KING OF A LAND a better album would have been Carly harmonizing on a song or two.  As it stands, it's still a great album.