Cat Stevens - Very Best Of
The fact that Cat Stevens would not have made a living off his romantic ecological idealism in today’s cynical musical climate by no means suggest his late sixties to early seventies output was corny. Here was a singer-songwriter unafraid to tackle majority opinion on many issues such as working class housing, familial dysfunction and unashamed love, and was Non-America’s closest opponent to battle with the Marvin Gayes and Simon And Garfunkels of the ‘Woodstock’ apocalypse.
The part Greek / part Swedish singer’s mythic status has been cemented in recent years by his deep devotion to the Islamic faith, in which his name and musical heritage was abandoned with low regard. If you needed an introduction to his music, this recent Universal release, which culls together twenty four of his most popular recordings, is the perfect anthology piece.
Remastered from the original two-track master tapes, never before has the legacy of Cat Stevens sounded so pristine and so fresh. It’s surprising how many of his self-penned songs have since become standards in musical history. His stunning performance of Father And Son, in which he adopts both the parental and child role in the song’s relationship, is carried forward with such conviction that you feel angry by Boyzone’s more recent karaoke version, in which their performance flatly negates the song’s original point of carrying two narrators. Wild World has dozens of cover versions, and just this week Sheryl Crow covered The First Cut Is The Deepest to launch her own greatest hits.
Once you become bored of skipping to Stevens’ more popular numbers, it’s refreshing to note how many lesser known tracks featured on this compilation are of equal quality. Fans of the brilliant cult Hal Ashby film Harold And Maude will delight in that both songs written solely for the film Don’t Be Shy and If You Want To Sing, Sing Out are included, and sound better than ever. Even Cat’s later releases, such as the disco-production-backed (Remember The Days Of The) Old School Yard carries with it an integrity drowned in fresh idealism. There’s even some bona-fide pop hits in the form of his earlier sixties chart topping phase, with catchy hooks provided in Matthew And Son and I Love My Dog - there’s clearly something from everyone available in Cat Steven’s songbook.
Ironically enough, social statement songs such as Where Do The Children Play may be more fitting to the society of today than when it was written in 1971. It’s central chorus lyric, of “I Know We’ve Come A Long Way, We’re Changing Day To Day, But Tell Me, Where Do The Children Play?” is certainly a bigger worry in today’s climate compared to the ‘Moonshot’ era of the late sixties and early seventies, and you always sense that Stevens means every word he sings.
To further add to one’s desire to own such a fine collection, limited edition versions of The Very Best Of Cat Stevens also include a bonus half-hour DVD which feature five live performances from the seventies, along with a promo video of The Old School Yard and a bizarre cartoon of Teaser And The Firecat, voiced by Spike Milligan. The performances capture Cat in his stripped down prime, and you will kick yourself if you buy the stand-alone CD and miss out on this fine add-on.
However, even if you do only purchase the CD version, there’s so much musical greatness to extract from Stevens’ output that no one will not be rendered a fan after a couple of listens. If only it included The Wind, featured so brilliantly in Rushmore, then the collection would indeed by The Very Best Of...