Genre: Folk Rock, Soft Rock
Preceded by: Mona Bone Jakon (1970)
Followed by: Teaser and the Firecat (1971)
Related to: not available yet
Another album from 1970, as it might have become clear that the period between 1967 and 1972 is my favorite era in pop history. Back then, singer-songwriters still made music you didn’t just smoothly fell asleep to. One of the greatest of his generation was Steven Demetre Georgiou, inspired by John Lennon and Paul Simon (who had just broke up with their respective groups) and with an exceptional talent for great melodies.
Because he realized no American would buy music from some guy called Georgiou, he adopted the stage name Cat Stevens. Stevens was an English art student who liked playing piano and guitar. In the early seventies he would suddenly claim world fame after releasing three very successful albums: Mona Bone Jakon, Tea for the Tillerman (both 1970) and Teaser and the Firecat (1971). Of all three albums (on which Stevens created the artwork himself), Tea for the Tillerman would become most famous.
Stevens already released some singles in 1966 (featuring John-Paul Jones on bass before he joined Led Zeppelin), with the first album following in 1967. But in 1969 he suddenly ended up in the hospital after contracting tuberculosis, fighting against death. During his recovery, his perspective on life and spirituality changed. He started to meditate, to read about other religions and became a vegetarian. And also: he wrote like forty songs which would appear on his following albums. First on Mona Bone Jakon, with the hit single ‘Lady D’Arbanville’. Next was Tea for the Tillerman, mixing lyrics of ordinary life situations and spiritual questions with great folk rock melodies.
Songs that were heavily influenced by Stevens’ stay in the hospital are ‘But I Might Die Tonight’ (obviously), ‘On the Road to Find Out’ (find one’s self through personal experiences and religion, with really awesome vocals) and ‘Sad Lisa’ (about a girl nearing the point of depression). The opening song of the album, ‘Where Do the Children Play?’, has a broader perspective, contemplating the challenges mankind has to cope with during the beginning of the seventies: war, poverty, ecological trouble,… . While coping with these challenges we tend to forget primary needs.
The only single of the album was ‘Wild World’, which was kind of a sequel to ‘Lady D’Arbanville’, as it describes Cat’s goodbye words to his departing lover, Patty D’Arbanville. The combination of Stevens’ voice and guitar beautifully awakes the sad feeling of leaving. A song a little more mysterious is ‘Into White’, which I still don’t really get. It’s about some organically built house with plants and animals inside, but it also says you have to be aware of violence, and in the end everything is ‘emptied into white’. Find out for yourself where this is all about.
However, my absolute favorite of this album is ‘Father and Son’. The song tells a dialogue between a father and his son (surprise), with the son explaining that he wants to leave to seek his own destiny. The father (echoed by Stevens with a lower voice) doesn’t understand this desire. The American band Flaming Lips released a song very similar (musically as well as lyrically) to it in 2002, ‘Fight Test’, and were therefore charged with a lawsuit. Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne expressed he had no intentions to steal the song, he just liked it very much, and he granted Stevens half of the royalties for the song.
The album is closed actually by the title track, a very short song which was used for the closing credits by the creators of the hilarious British sitcom Extras. Stevens himself made some more albums in the seventies before converting to Islam in 1977, adopting his new name ‘Yusuf Islam’ from then on. He left the music scene two years later and only returned in 2006. However, he never reached the same heights again as on Tea for the Tillerman, telling us with it’s ethical lyrics and smooth melodies that you better enjoy life now, before it’s too late.