Remember Cat Stevens? He was the oh-so-sensitive prototypical singer-songwriter who made a splash in the early seventies with albums that sported preposterous names like Tea for the Tillerman, Catch Bull at Four, Teaser and the Firecat, and Buddha and the Chocolate Box, before giving up his musical career, rebranding himself as Yusuf Islam, and endorsing with evident enthusiasm the death fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie. I had all his records back when I was twelve or so. Nowadays it’s easy to think of the guy as being generally full of old rope, and a lot of his stuff was, in hindsight, a little cutesy, especially twee little numbers like, say, Moonshadow, which included the lyric If I ever lose my mouth/All my teeth, North and South, and seemed to be about equanimity in the face of losing most of your body parts, or everybody’s favourite, Morning Has Broken, which was a little bit over the line that separates sweet from syrupy. But you know, the boy had his moments, and wrote a few classics – remember Wild World? Or how about The Wind, a really gentle, lovely, and rather spiritual piece that I still count among my favourites:
Ditto How Can I Tell You:
He’s probably still dining out on the royalties from First Cut is the Deepest, which was covered by everybody from Linda Ronstadt to Rod Stewart, 68 versions in all; the one I remember was recorded in 1973 by a guy named Keith Hampshire, who took it to number 1 in Canada and got so much airplay with it that I probably heard it 2,000 times.
Anyway, it was, believe it or not, Cat Stevens who penned the charming, irrepressible Here Comes My Baby, way back in 1967, which was made popular by the Tremeloes with the wonderful cover attached above. This is distilled essence of sunshiny upbeat – I maintain that nobody can give it a spin and stay grumpy. It’s also a perfect artifact of the Sixties, when tunes this clever and enjoyable were so thick on the ground they seemed ordinary. Makes you wonder how Cat later became so pensive and angsty, but I guess he was one of those, you know, complicated guys who thinks too much about things that make you sad. I’m a bit that way myself, which maybe is why I’m inclined to cut him some slack for a lot of his subsequent missteps, besides which, in my book, anybody who can write something like Here Comes My Baby has earned himself a few bloopers. Now the fatwa business, that’s something else…
Oh well. Maybe Yusuf was just goofin’ around. How could anybody really mean such a thing who also wrote the perfect soundtrack to this indelible scene from the director’s cut of Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous?