May 012020

Is Cat Stevens worthy of a critical upgrade? I’m not suggesting that he get upgraded to the level of an early-1970s folk-rock legend, like Neil Young or Joni Mitchell, but would you rather listen to 5 Cat Stevens songs or 5 by Jackson Browne?

I can’t be the only person who would rather hear “Wild World” or “Peace Train” over possibly any James Taylor song excluding “Fire and Rain,” can I? Did our judgmental views over Cat’s conversion to Islam take him out of the running for the solid respect we allow for Sweet Baby James?

I’ll take it one step further, that step that inevitably leads me into a pile of cow manure: How great is the distance between Cat Stevens’ peak period and the three albums Nick Drake released? What makes T. Rex‘s bubblegum glam-folk peak that much better than Cat’s bubblegum-singer-songwriter records? How many smash hits away from a Greatest Hits, vol. 2 was Stevens, which could have placed him in the realm of Elton John?

Ignore the preceding paragraph, but know that I put it out there as a straw dog, a sign of the confidence of have in my initial question. I sense music lovers have backed off from holding Yusef Islam‘s religious beliefs against him. Is it time we acknowledge that the guy was pretty good, even Rock Town Hall Foyer of Fame worthy?

Where’s Townsman hrrundivbakshi when we need him?


  11 Responses to “Critical Upgrade: Cat Stevens”

  1. I’m trying to do the math on this and not sure if I’d rather listen to 50 Jackson Browne songs than 1 Cat Stevens song or 1 Jackson Browne song than 50 Cat Stevens songs—calculus was always beyond me. What I’m trying to say is that Jackson Browne is easily 50x the songwriter Cat Stevens is and I apologize to JB for actually understating the gap.

    Meanwhile, Nick Drake’s second album is SO much weaker than his first or third (props to the awesome Joe Boyd for trying so valiantly to make Drake a star, but boy did his production not help that record), and even so, Drake’s second album is several lighyears better than anything Cat Stevens ever did, never mind Drake’s impossibly great first and third records.

    I may have opinions on the matter.

    I loved “Wild World” when I was a teenager, until I realized how nasty the lyrics really were. And finding out that it was written about his 19-year-old girlfriend just makes it all the worse. Sure, it’s catchy, but his voice, with its overabundance of vibrato has never really worked for me—and this was the one song of his I liked.

    Sure, James Taylor could easily slide into piffle himself, as a songwriter, despite his other moments of true depth, but he always has that absolutely amazing, lustrous baritone to rely on, which made even his most overly laid-back vocal performances sumptuous. (I was initially shocked when Elvis Costello casually mentioned that JT had one of the all-time truly great American voices ever, until I thought about it, and realized just how true it was..) And Elton John—who has at least a half dozen songs I absolutely adore, but who doesn’t come close to making my Top 25 Favorite Artists list—is a legit excellent musician with an amazing knack for melody that’s only surpassed by the likes of Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder.

    All of which is to say, no, Cat Stevens is not due a critical reevaluation. In my ever so humble opinion.

  2. I just realized that coming in hot like that might have been something of a discussion-killer, or at the very least a serious dick move, so my apologies for that, and if you want to nuke my comment, that’s fine.

  3. BigSteve

    I’ve always liked Peace Train. But, you know, not *that* much.

    Maybe I should give his recent music a listen.


  4. Scott (the other one), your hot take was FANTASTIC! As we have some fun with this pandemic relief version of RTH, I am finding myself grappling with the “art” of playing my part as Mr Moderator. Ten years ago, I may have hit a broader nerve with this topic. We’ve all evolved – and some of the sideshow characters aren’t back with us to add to the friendly trolling that I like to practice.

    If anyone is interested in my “process,” I blurted out the thought that Stevens may be underrated at dinner last night, to my wife. That beautiful woman has to hear so much of my crap. She doesn’t have to like the RTH topic I blurt out; she just has to react. She said, “He did have some good songs, but why do you even care?”

    “Well,” I considered, “I like ranking things and I like being a dick.”

    So, this wasn’t the most fruitful topic I’ve ever posted, with tongue three quarters in cheek, but thankfully, it elicited a KILLER reply from you! I laughed so hard while reading it. This doesn’t mean my silly rock trolling talents are back in shape – not by any means – but like the bonding that broke out between BigSteve and EPG yesterday, over my too-stringent glossy production post, YOU are coming back strong! At its best, RTH isn’t about the post and the poster as much as it is the comments. That doesn’t take me off the hook for a too-ridiculous-for-debate POV, but I feel like I was onto something. The Elton John comparison was almost artfully stupid.

    Sincerely, thanks for kicking my ass! It was really funny.

  5. I like Cat Stevens as much as the next person I suppose (unless that person is Scott (the other one)) but almost independent of that I just committed yesterday to go to this concert

    provided this crazy world is straightened out sufficiently. I don’t expect it will be but from the first time I saw the Baths of Caracalla I have wanted to see a performance there. This would satisfy me.

  6. Happiness Stan

    I’m focusing on getting stuff done around the house at the moment, so just popping in quickly to say hi.

    I’ve got a huge amount of time for Cat Stevens, always have had. I went through an “oh really?” phase when he converted to Islam and went a bit odd, but having listened and read interviews I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was misunderstood. He does a lot of good work over here and is very highly respected as a good guy in the community as well as writing great songs.

    Even though I saw Jackson Browne when he played Glastonbury, he’s never really had the exposure in the UK to make any sort of comparison of any value, I doubt I could even name five of his songs, and would rather listen to almost anything rather than his version of Stay. I know he was writing stuff before the seventies singer songwriter became a thing, but I associate him far more with the James Taylor kind of scene, whereas Cat Stevens was very firmly rooted in the sixties British pop scene, so I’m not sure the comparison really holds for me.

    Cat Stevens is the sort of artist I feel happy when I hear his songs, and he’s written some great ones. I could easily fill a twelve track compilation without even thinking hard about the obscure stuff, so it works for me.

  7. “I like Cat Stevens as much as the next person I suppose (unless that person is Scott (the other one))”

    That legit made me laugh out loud.

  8. 2000 Man

    Isn’t Cat Stevens Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s baby?

  9. I can make the case for Cat Stevens in under three minutes:

    Here Comes My Baby is perfect.

    And am I wrong in thinking this arrangement set the template for 1970’s Van Morrison?

  10. Never heard “Here Comes My Baby” before and I admit, it’s pretty damn delightful! I actually hear much more influence on John Denver-type music, if not at all vocal timbre, than Van the Man—although I may hear a bit of some “Bright Side of the Road” bop in there—but either way, it’s a gem.

  11. I like “Here Comes My Baby” as well, but the version I love is this one by the Tremeloes:


Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube