Posts Tagged ‘Cat Stevens’

‘Where’

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Today, we’re going to open our textbook and take on the third portion of a project we’re calling Journalism 101, looking for tracks that have the word “where” in their titles. And it has to be a stand-alone word; “nowhere,” “somewhere,” “anywhere” and all the other possible compound words won’t cut it.

The first run through the RealPlayer nets us 947 tracks. But we lose a number of entire albums (except, in some cases, the title tracks): Where It All Begins by the Allman Brothers Band, Come To Where I’m From by Joseph Arthur, Where Is Love by Bobby Caldwell, Eva Cassidy’s Somewhere, Judy Collins’ Who Knows Where The Time Goes, Somewhere My Love by Ray Conniff & The Singers, Bo Diddley’s Where It All Began, and that just gets us into the D’s with so much more of the alphabet to go until we run into Bobby Womack’s Home Is Where The Heart Is.

Lots of titles with those compound words are culled as well, including six versions of “Somewhere My Love.” (I also have ten versions of the tune under the title “Lara’s Theme.”) We also lose four versions of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” twelve versions of the Beatles’ “Here, There & Everywhere,” five versions of “Somewhere In The Night,” and more that I won’t list here.

But there are still plenty of titles to choose from, so let’s look at four:

There are a few records that bring back viscerally the last months of 1975 and the first of 1976, and Diana Ross’ “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” is one of them. Those months were my last as an undergrad; I was an intern in sports at a Twin Cities television station, with graduation quickly approaching (and no job prospects in sight). I was also in a relationship that seemed promising, but I was nevertheless very aware of the not so subtle hints being laid down by the lovely redhead who was interning in the station’s promotions department. So, to answer the record’s question, no, I had no idea where I was going to. But it wasn’t the lyrics that pulled me into the song; it was the twisting, yearning melody that caught me then and still does today (with current hearings all the more potent for the memories they stir). Whether for the melody or the words, the record caught many people as 1975 turned into 1976: It went to No. 1 on both the Billboard 100 and the magazine’s Easy Listening chart, and it reached No. 14 on the magazine’s R&B chart.

More than six years ago, I looked at Oscar Brown’s song “Brother Where Are You” and wrote:

The tune is familiar to me – and others of my vintage, I assume – because of its inclusion by Johnny Rivers in his 1968 masterpiece Realization. In those environs, the song became less a plaint about racial injustice and more a call for economic and political justice. (It was, of course, not uncommon in the late 1960s and early 1970s for young, socially aware white men to call each other “brother” with no irony and little self-consciousness.)

That post (you can read it here) gave a listen to the first version recorded of the song – Abbey Lincoln’s take from her 1959 album Abbey is Blue – and to a few other versions as well, including Rivers’ cover. Sorting through the eleven versions of the tune here on the digital shelves, I’ve decided to offer the one I found most recently: Marlena Shaw’s typically eccentric version, released in 1967 on the Cadet label. From what I can find, it made no chart noise at all.

Thinking, as we were, of records that define seasons, as soon as the list of “where” tunes got to “Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, I was back in the summer of 1972, working half-time as a custodian at St. Cloud State, taking long bicycle rides on Saturday evening, driving idly around town in my 1961 Falcon with Rick as a passenger, and wondering when I was going to meet someone. I doubt if I heard the record as a cautionary tale, advising me that love was hard and not always permanent, but if that thought had ever crossed my mind, I likely would have thought in response, “But even lost love is better than no love.” (I learned years ago that such a thought is better left to songwriters and poets than to anyone in real life.) The record was everywhere that summer, going to No. 5 on the Hot 100 and topping both the R&B and Easy Listening charts.

And lastly we’ll turn to Cat Stevens’ brilliant 1970 album, Tea For The Tillerman. “But tell me,” Stevens sings in the first track, “where do the children play?” It’s a rhetorical question, of course, but it’s one that I think runs with resignation through the entire album, through “Sad Lisa,” “On The Road To Findout,” “Father & Son” and all the rest. At least that’s what I hear these days. Back in 1971, when I heard “Wild World” on the radio and caught up with the rest of the album over the next few years, the lost loves, the fragile women, the quests for place and knowledge all seemed so utterly romantic. Perhaps the resignation I hear is only the echo of being sixty-four, with eighteen so far in the past as to be unknowable. In any event, “Where Do The Children Play” is still lovely and forever haunting.

‘Switch On Summer From A Slot Machine . . .’

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

On the way to the library the other day, I heard Cat Stevens’ “Where Do The Children Play” coming from the radio speakers, as if my good friends at WXYG were reminding me that I promised a while back to write a little bit about Stevens and his work.

I haven’t forgotten, but as I dig through Stevens’ work – both as Cat Stevens and as Yusuf Islam – I find myself adrift. With a couple of exceptions, I never paid much attention to Stevens’ music. For about a year, I listened occasionally to the 1971 album Teaser & The Firecat until my sister took it and her other albums with her when she got married. I heard and enjoyed 1970’s Tea For The Tillerman at many friends’ homes from 1970 onward, and finally got my own copy in the late 1970s. A few other Cat Stevens albums came home during my vinyl madness in the 1990s (although I think they’ve stayed on the shelves after being played once). And I’ve gotten digital copies of both Tillerman and Teaser.

Stevens’ pre-1970 work doesn’t interest me. I’ve heard enough of the later 1970s stuff to know that it’s not essential, at least not for me, and I’ve heard both post-2000 albums the singer released under his current name of Yusuf Islam. Those are pleasant, and maybe with enough listenings, they’d find their ways inside me and matter to me. Maybe.

I’m not saying that Cat Stevens’ work after 1971 is without merit. Maybe what’s at work here is the well-known bit about the music of our youth being always more important than the music that comes by later, but I find little in Cat Stevens’ post-1971 catalog that moves me. And even Teaser & The Firecat is an album that I like but don’t love.

Tea For The Tillerman is different story. Over the years, it’s come to be one of my essential albums, one I do love. Part of my affection for the album no doubt is because it reminds me of Easter weekend 1974 in Poitiers, France. (I traveled to Poitiers from Denmark on the invitation of a young lady whom I’d met in Vienna. By the time I got to Poitiers, she’d moved on to Munich, but her friends welcomed me and included me in their Easter celebrations, with Tea For The Tillerman playing frequently in the background.) Part of that affection is that the album sounds like 1970, and that’s musically an important year to me.

Beyond those reasons, I think Tea For The Tillerman matters to me because it’s one of the great singer/songwriter albums and is far and away better than anything else Cat Stevens ever released. (For what it’s worth, those who vote on such things for the various Rolling Stone rankings think so, too: In the magazine’s latest listing [2012] of the 500 greatest albums, Tea For The Tillerman ranks No. 208 and none of Stevens’ other albums are listed.) From the above-mentioned “Where Do The Children Play” through the No. 11 hit “Wild World” on to the closing title track, the album shines.

Here’s “Where Do The Children Play,” and just hearing it this morning makes me want to go cue up the entire album once more. I’ll likely do that later today.

‘I Know A Lot Of Fancy Dancers . . .’

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

It’s pretty much an annual event: Somewhere during the first weeks of February, I manage to get a nifty little sinus infection. There will be a couple of days when I feel it coming on, two or three days of clogged-head misery and a couple of days of decreasing discomfort until it finally packs its bags and heads on down the road. We’re in day two of misery today.

So I’m lying low today, puttering with mp3s, catching up on some reading, keeping tissues close at hand and planning at least two naps on the couch with the Seventies Station on the television keeping me company. But I thought I could at least offer a preview of something that will likely show up here soon.

Over the past few weeks, the music of Cat Stevens has popped up in my listening space – on the radio and the RealPlayer here at home, on the car radio, in a waiting room or two and faintly from the ceiling speakers in a couple of stores. And it’s made me wonder what I’ve ever said about the man born Steven Demetre Georgiou who now calls himself Yusuf Islam. And a search tells me that the answer is: Not much at all.

So sometime over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at Cat Stevens here, pondering his music and some covers of his various tunes and touching a little bit on the journey that led him to change his name to Yusuf Islam.

And this morning, as I wondered dimly where to start with Cat Stevens and looked as well for a tune for the day with the word “hard” in it, to represent how my head feels today, well, there was Cat Stevens again, this time with a track from his 1970 album Tea for the Tillerman. That’s an album that holds a sweet place in my life, and we’ll get to that tale eventually. For today, here is “Hard-Headed Woman.”