Written on the 4th of August 2014
I had heard there was an album and a song called Year of the Cat several times, but I had never really paid attention. Something in the back of my head told me it must be a Cat Stevens album. Yes, my head often goes for the easiest option. Anyway, a few years ago a friend of mine told me it was a great album and I should really give it a try. What can I say, I’m very happy I did. And by the way, Year of the Cat is an album by Al Stewart, not by Cat Stevens.
Al Stewart is a Scottish musician born in 1945, which means he’s not exactly a teenager anymore. He got involved with music since a very early age (he already wrote songs when he was eighteen). Stewart has befriended and played with many other musicians. He played with people like Sandy Denny, and became good friends with Paul Simon.
I’d talk about his whole life and discography and so on, but I’m not going to lie, I only know Year of the Cat and Time Passages. I couldn’t find other albums available for download a few years ago, I guess I should give it another try. What I do know, from what I’ve read and what I’ve heard, is that his music has a very distinctive sound, and I highly doubt he’s ever been seriously influenced by the trends of the moment.
Year of the Cat came out in 1976. It was produced and engineered by Alan Parsons, who, as I said in the posts I wrote about The Alan Parsons Project, worked for The Beatles and Pink Floyd, amongst others. Lucky guy. Back to Stewart’s album, it’s one of those records that doesn’t have a single bad song on it. Just flawless.
While you’ll occasionally find a guitar solo (a very decent one finishes the fantastic One Stage Before), the whole album is more of a folky pop thing. Don’t mistake pop with simple music though, the variety of instruments make the record entertaining throughout its entirety, and Stewart’s sweet voice is a real delight. Piano, harmonica, saxophone, accordion and violin, amongst others, are successful in cheering one up for almost forty minutes. Maybe the only songs that are not properly “happy” are Broadway Hotel and One Stage Before, which are rather mysterious. Also, the music is rather slow, except from If It Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It, which by the way has some very true lyrics.
I can’t really talk of two or three best songs. All of them are amazing, Midas Shadow being maybe the only one which is not that excellent (but still good). My recommendation is simply this: listen to the whole album, enjoy each and every one of the songs.
And as I don’t really know what to write anymore, here are a couple of random facts about the album I just found online. First of all, the title comes from Vietnamese astrology. The Year of the Cat is also called the Year of the Rabbit. It comes every twelve Years and it is supposed to be a stress free year. The Last Year of the Cat was 2011. It was also the Year of the Cat in 1975, the year before this came out.
Also, Year of the Cat started off as a completely different song. Al Stewart originally wrote the lyrics after seeing the British comedian Tony Hancock in Bournemouth, England in 1966. Hancock was very depressed, and the show was a disaster, with the comedian going to the front of the stage and addressing the audience directly and pouring out his soul. In Al Stewart: The True Life Adventures of a Folk-Rock Troubaodour, Stewart is quoted: “He came on stage and he said ‘I don’t want to be here. I’m just totally pissed off with my life. I’m a complete loser, this is stupid. I don’t know why I don’t just end it all right here.’ And they all laughed, because is was the character he played… this sort of down-and-out character. And I looked at him and I thought, Oh my god, He means it. This is for real.” Hancock killed himself in 1968 with a drug overdose. Stewart’s song was originally titled Foot Of The Stage, with the chorus “your tears fall down like rain at the foot of the stage”.
Many of Stewart’s songs have alternate lyrics (sometimes even four of them), and he wasn’t happy with the Hancock-inspired words, as he didn’t want to take advantage of the man’s tragedy and besides, no one in America knew who Hancock was. Al re-wrote the lyrics as Year Of The Cat, which he delivered to Parsons.