Dec 012012

Early ’70s folk is one of my biggest “rock blind spots.” Hoping to better understand the movement I did a little reading and Googling. I was prepared to come across the usual suspects (Fairport, Pentangle, etc); however, while researching into the British side of the scene I learned that Al Stewart was a significant player of the times. Was this the same Al Stewart who I only knew through the plushy lite-rock hit Year of the Cat? A little more digging revealed that Stewart tried to distance himself from the success of the song as well as the Alan Parsons produced albums of the late ’70s .


His return to a purer folk style later in his career would find little favor with record buyers but for his die-hard fans. For his live shows he would either drop it from the set list or open the show with the song.

He isn’t the first artist to find success with a song they would rather forget or was not representative of their “true” sound. Yet, I feel he shouldn’t have to disown something that certainly pays the bills or brought attention to his other albums. On that note the stuff on Time Passages, despite its execution and decent melodies, sounds horribly dated.

If it was your song could you live with “Year of the Cat”?


  16 Responses to “Does Al Stewart Regret “Year of the Cat”?”

  1. Hell, I could live with “Year of the Cat.” It’s as good as most solo George Harrison songs, and it probably paid a lot of bills. I bet the rueful Stewart bought that Ovation acoustic with the money he made from his biggest hit.

  2. I’ll take this song — and Time Passages saved him from the dreaded “one-hit” wonder status. Smooth 70s pop — Boz Scaggs, Jefferson Starship, Carly Simon — the sound of 1000 radio stations.

  3. bostonhistorian

    I regret having listened to that–I don’t recall ever having heard it before. Most of the people I know who write songs are never satisfied with them, just like I’m never satisfied with what I write. My guess is that he regrets that he didn’t have a hit with what he thought of as his true sound.

  4. hrrundivbakshi

    “Year Of the Cat” is the song Bruce Hornsby wishes he could write. I’ll go one further and say that it’s a song Bruce *Springsteen* could do a lot of damage with. And I mean that in a good way.

  5. cliff sovinsanity

    I admit my problem with 70’s MOR. I lump this song in with Seals and Croft, Player, Pilot and that Jigsaw song everyone was raving about a couple of months ago. It’s too smooth for my liking. It’s fluff like this that sits well below other singer-songwriters of the time (Smith,Costello, Parker, Lowe).
    Perhaps HVB is right that it needs a little more spit and grit. Bruce can tell a story. I just realized not to long ago that this song is some Casablanca reference.

  6. misterioso

    I like “Year of the Cat,” a lot, with all its “plushy lite rock” stylings. I think it’s kind of great and I always enjoy hearing it, and “Time Passages,” too. I have no doubt his folk work has more credibility of a certain kind but none of it that I have heard interests me half as much as those two big hits.

  7. Two songs that remind me of each other: The Year of the Cat and Baker Street. I love 70’s AM pop but man did I hate those two songs. But my wife likes both of them so I ended up giving The Year of the Cat another shot and I have grow to like it.

    The gateway for me was listening through the headphones. The rhythm guitar that is panned to the right side is a humble, yet cool bit of playing. To zoom in even further, the guitar fill at the 1:22 mark is precisely the thing that sucked me in. Sometimes it doesn’t take much. I still hate Bakersfield though. That’s a bridge too far.

  8. No, no “Time Passages”. Just “Year of the Cat”. I feel very strongly about this.

  9. cliff sovinsanity

    Did a little headphone listening cdm. The production is first rate. Lots of instruments going off at once but it’s easy to pick each one out. Parsons had really good ears on this production, although the 2nd guitar solo and the saxophone do not improve the song whatsoever.
    And that’s what ruins Baker Street. All that saxophone and hairy chested goofy guitar fills make me want to swing a hammer at the radio.

  10. misterioso

    Yeah, obviously “Time Passages” is inferior but basically I’m ok with it.

  11. misterioso

    I associate them as well–haven’t checked but were they hits around the same time? At any rate, similar structures with the solos, esp. But I totally, completely love ’em both. Love Baker Street, always have and always will.

  12. misterioso

    Well, of course I disagree. I hear what you are saying, and 98 times out of 100 I would be inclined to agree that the guitar and sax solos/fills are a case of seriously over-egging the batter. The sax solo in “Year of the Cat” really pushes its luck, as far as I am concerned, but all in all I think both songs are brilliant pop creations. Also, I confess I did not know Parsons was the producer of Year of the Cat. I realize the “Baker Street” sax has a lot to answer for historically, but taking it just within the song itself, it is brilliant.

  13. Ew… Even the guitar that goes “Bwew, bwew, bwew, BWEEWWW”?

  14. misterioso

    You’re killing me, but yes, even that. All part of the package.

  15. Late, as usual, to this thread. Once upon a time I was a big Al Stewart fan. Bought Past, Present, & Future back in the day when it was a staple on WMMR. Loved it then, still do. I went backwards from there to his earlier catalog which I liked a lot by & large. Of course, there’s the (in)famous Love Chronicles, famed for being 18 minutes long and providing ‘MMR dj’s with a bathroom break and infamous for using the word “fucking” in a lyric before that was all too common.

    I stuck with him thru Year Of The Cat and Time Passages neither of which measured up to PP&F although I’m fine with Year Of The Cat. Nothing of heard after Time Passages exceeds mediocre.

    I think Year Of The Cat made him boatloads of money, enough to have a stellar wine cellar.

  16. cliff sovinsanity

    “I have looked back at people in history who were wine buffs and was very pleased to see people like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill. And then I looked at who the teetotalers were and it was a roll call of horrible people like Hitler, Pol Pot and the Ayatollah Khomeini.”

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