MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1973
by Steve Gaines
dont want to go on playing predictable
me, Cat said impatiently in his white
London house. "Ive got to introduce
an element of shock."
Puts An End ToThe Cat Stevens Sound
cat is not just back, the Cat us black. Mr.
Moonshadow Stevens was sitting at the end
of a long brown sofa in the London office
of Island Music lightly stroking the ends
of his shaggy beard as he spoke. Slim, intense,
and magnetically attractive, his conversation
had drifted to his last United States tour.
"The tour turned me around several times,"
Stevens said, his dark brown eyes staring
at an upright piano on the wall opposite him.
"After leaving the States I sat down
to ponder what I had been doing and I realized
Id been gradually getting into a very
predictable state." The results? "I
said Ive got to stop this and introduce
an element of shock."
a man of Cat Stevens aspirations would feel
that his present position cried out for a
revitalizing jolt. With four gold albums tucked
under his arm, no one else imagined his career
as boring. Yet shortly after returning to
his London home last fall, Cat Stevens decided
to throw away the musical formula that had
made him into a superstar in three short years.
Along with his lavish orchestrations and violins,
Stevens dropped guitarist Alun Davies and
bassist Alan Jones to emerge with a fifth
album that is as radically different from
his previous LPs as it is brilliant.
brawn sugar: Aptly titled Foreigner (on
A&M Records) the album is a total departure
from the sweetly melodious past into driving
R&B music. Not only did the Cat record
Kingston, Jamaica, but he employed an all
black group of session musicians and a trio
of wailin black girls who could give
a dozen Merry Claytons stiff competition.
But why did the Boy who Loves his Dog cross
the color line into R&B? The story has
its roots back in September of 1970. When
a naive and emerging pop star first arrived
among the concrete towers of Manhattan isle.
had a romantic, delightful image of New York,
and suddenly I got there and couldnt
believe the aggression that was going on."
From behind the tinted windows of a black
limousine, he watched the people wander through
the dirty streets of the city, unsmiling,
hostile, lost. Later that night he sat in
the whipped cream luxury of a suite at the
St. Regis Hotel and penned the lyrics for
a song that sowed the seeds of Foreigner.
many times must I get up
out and see the same old view
many times must I wear the same old things
hear the same old things that I do
had hoped the States would be different for
me than England had been," Stevens explains
with a sad and knowing smile. "But things
are the same everywhere." "How Many
Times" was put on a shelf to collect
dust as Stevens turned his attentions to his
first appearance at New Yorks.
East. This trip was only a scant eighteen
months after his recuperation from a collapsed
tubercular lung. During the months he had
spent in bed, Stevens had gotten into Yoga,
studied metaphysics, and had written a lot
of new songs that reflected his new, introspective
thinking. Incorporating the tunes into an
album called Mona Bone Jakon (a
title rumored to be about Cats affection
for his erect genital), Cat Stevens had started
on his way to international stardom.
Genital joy: Along
with success came a total lack of privacy
and never-ending stream of business obligations.
He was stopped on the streets for autographs
and was cornered in restaurants by loving
fans who wanted to snap his picture. The Cat
arched his back at the publics intrusion
into his private world and reacted by spending
more time hidden away in his white London
Mona Bone Jakon was
just the beginning. Tea for the Tillerman established
Cat as a melodic, moving artist extraordinaire
in the United States. And the next LP, Teaser
and the Firecat,
hurtled Cat Stevens into undeniable
supremacy as one of. The leading solo male
singers in the world. Not only did Teaser sell
into the millions, but it was swiftly made
into a childrens book with original
drawings by the singer. At the end of that
year Cat Stevens words had been translated
into eleven different languages, including
Japanese. Yet the limelight was pushing the
retiring young man further into seclusion.
For almost a year he refused all interviews
and shied away from any form of publicity.
spat in the heat:
It was in that year, 1972,
that Cat Stevens purchased a terraced house
on a quiet street off Londons North
End Street Market. It became a secluded oasis
on a desert that burned with the hot sun of
the publics eye. First the Cat decorated
one floor like a discotheque:
play records and entertain there. Its
a great room for people who want to feel nice
and watch a fish tank or something."
On a higher floor Stevens designed what he
calls "My Little White Room." It
has the barren quality of a farmhouse. As
he describes it, "Theres no furniture,
one bed, and a bathroom." In the corner
stands an omnipresent symbola stark
white upright piano. It was in this room that
Foreigner would be written, but not
until Stevens next trip to the United
States had convinced him it was time to shake
up his sound.
Bull at Four was released in the fall
of 1972, and Stevens was off to America for
a third grand tour. "Id do an album,"
Stevens explained, "and then Id
do a tour in September in the States. The
whole thing was becoming so obvious I felt
like I was becoming a puppet to myself and
The radio messiah: Halfway through the
thirty-city trans-American trek, Stevens knew
he was suffering from on-the-road blues. "I
wasnt really enjoying going onstage
every night. I got very paranoid and started
to think I was drying up. I said, Whats
wrong with me? This wasnt the reason
I started." As the Cat Stevens
caravan criss-crossed the United States, the
Greek-Englishman started to think about why
he was writing and what he was writing about.
"I came to the conclusion I wrote because
I was in lovewhether it was with a girl
or just with life. I realized that Id
been writing about things that Id never
experienced, things Id only imagined."
was then that Stevens began to make his drastic
decision. On the road without a record player,
he found himself constantly listening to the
radio. "The best stuff I was listening
to at the time was black. It was during the
end of the September U.S. tour going from
Los Angeles to New York. Certain things caught
my ear. One thing I really got into was Stevie
Just before reaching New York the Cat took
a side trip to Miami to see an old friend
who was always turning him on to new music.
One night, with the tropical sun setting and
the palm trees waving in the wind, Stevens
heard an album by a Philadelphia soul group
called "The Blue Notes." "As
I listened to it, it all started to seep in.
Suddenly I realized that the whole of my musical
upbringing had been dealing with black music.
It was the stuff I had grown up on in England.
In the very beginning I went through the whole
blues thingkind of like getting into
black music through the back door. Leadbelly
has always been one of my favorites. I realized
that most of the time I had been naturally
affected by black music."
career, however, had evolved from a strong
acoustic influence. "I had been pushed
into acoustic things like James Taylor, Carole
King, and Elton John. I took a look at the
white music and said, Im part
of all that. I felt kind of strange.
I turned around and I was a foreigner to myself.
I felt like that wasnt me anymore. I
snapped out of it. I dont want to go
on playing predictable me. I dont want
to act me, I want to be me,
and Im changing at the moment. If black
music was happening, I decided to just get
down to it. And because I was a stranger in
the world of black sounds, I called the album
the Cats pajamas: A New
York concert at Philharmonic Hall was Stevens
last stop before returning to London and his
white composing quarters. He wanted Foreigner
to sound black musically, but lyrically
his songs were to be in much the same style
that he was already associated with.
all of Foreigner can be considered
a masterpiece, the seven songs that comprise
the "Foreigner Suite" (which occupies
the entire first side of the album) are breathtakingly
brilliant. Oddly enough, the "Foreigner
Suite" begins with an announcement to
its listeners. Stevens was sitting in his
Little White Room trying to write an opening
song when he thought, "Here I am writing
words that will be heard by millions of peopie
and I realized how many various explanations
there were going to be of this song. So I
put a lecture in at the beginning."
are no words I can use
the meaning still leaves for you to choose
I couldnt stand to let them be abused
you, you, you
a delightful electric piano rag, the suite
swirls into an optimistic tune called "Sunny
Side of the Road."
I had last last night
to that sunny side of the road
to that sunny side of the road.
just my manner of being positive," Stevens
explained recently as he strode to the far
end of Island Records London office.
"Wherever you are, at any time, there
is something good about it. Most of the time
a lot of people go around being negative.
If everybody thought about good things instead
of bad, wed be better off."
express: Though Stevens
tries to look at the happier side of things,
his bout with TB has left some strong feelings
about his own mortality. "The Hurt"
is a cut that sums up his feelings about death
and a constant search for happiness. "I
dont think theres anything thats
going to make me happy. Ive got money
and fame and a great career, but Im
still not really happy." Is there a positive
side to not being happy? As far as Stevens
is concerned being positive doesnt necessarily
mean you exist in a cloud of blissful euphoria.
"Theres no way you can go through
life without getting hurt," Cat says,
but pain can offer you an understanding of
why you are living in the first place:
"I realize Im heading straight for death
with no detour, and I want the moment of my
death to be as free as possible."
I got hurt
I got hurt
didnt know what love as...
of the most sensational cuts on the album
is called "Later." Stevens explained
that he wrote it when he was feeling a little
horny, but the lyrics explain themselves.
Key to the gilded cage: This
past winter, when The Foreigners
lyrics and basic melodies were composed
and ready for production, Cat Stevens made
the announcement that he was flying into the
Caribbean sunshine to record. Not only had
Stevens shocked the music world by dismissing
his long-time sidemen Alun Davies and Alan
James, but for the first time in three years
he was producing his own album. And thats
when the soul sounds really set in.
want to talk it out with you
to get my message through
not all I want to do
want to feel your body close
your head down to your toes
help you fold your clothes
Cat Stevens felt like a foreigner to black
music when he began this album, he certainly
must be considered a friendly neighbor now.
Soul music, however, may still be just another
passing phase in this remarkable performers
life. "Im opening up more because
I want to listen to any kind of music. I dont
want to say, Thats not my bag.
Ill listen to anything. Free thought
in music has got to be the food for my freedom."