Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happy Birthday, Yusuf Islam!

Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam

Sixty-four years ago, another of the great singer/songwriters was born. On June 21, 1948, Steven Demetre Georgiou was born was born in London, the child of a Greek father and Swedish mother. He was recording his own music in the late 1960s, but it really wasn't until 1971 that Americans came to know the man, only by his stage name, Cat Stevens. His second song to make it on the Billboard Hot 100 was the incredible "Moonshadow". That was the first release off his album Teaser and the Firecat, and made it to #30 on the Pop chart. It is said he wrote the song while on vacation in Spain, his first trip out of the city of London. While on the beach at night, it was the first time he saw his own shadow cast by the light of the moon. It is a song of hope and joy.



I remember my next choice for the post, "Oh Very Young". The song made it to #10 on the Billboard chart, the first single off his 1974 album Buddha and the Chocolate Box. Although he was a just a young man in his mid-twenties, the song captures the thoughts of the idealism of youth of an older, more jaded person. It also addresses how it is age and maturity that takes away the idealism, no matter how bright that fire burned once. Enjoy "Oh Very Young".



The next song was released in the Spring of 1977, off the Izitso album. The album had a mainstream Pop edge to it, leaving the Acoustic Folk/Rock for a sound with synthesizers and a harder drive. Some thought this was because the previous album, Numbers, was a commercial failure, and Stevens knew an update was needed. It worked, as the first single off the album, "(Remember The Days Of The) Old Schoolyard", made it into the Top 40.



It was at the end of 1977 that once again the singer changed his name. After many years searching for something, Stevens believed to have found it in the study of Islam, and changed his faith. As Yusuf Islam, he made the decision to step away from the life he was leading to study his new faith, and to pursue his interest in philanthropy. This included auctioning off all his guitars, and giving the money to charity. Several years passed, and his record label decided to release a new collection in 1984, Footsteps in the Dark: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2. This included fan favorites, and a few singles never really released on album. That included a song that was part of the soundtrack to the 1971 cult classic, Harold And Maude. In the movie, you can hear the song "If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out", and since there was no movie soundtrack, the song was never officially released. It was now available to his fans following the new collection. Enjoy listening to the beautiful and sweet song.



While he stayed away for a very long time, there was a point when Yusuf picked up his guitar again. In 1995, he released the first of several albums based on his faith, including a children's album. By 2000, he gave some interviews addressing his departure from the music world, saying the decision might have been made in haste, and a lack of understanding on his part of his new faith. He discovered that if he can make uplifting and positive music, that would not be an issue.

Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam

Soon he was making music once again, using is devout Islamic faith with his intrinsic gift for music to make some very sweet music. But he also accepted invitations to a few duets. One was a beautiful new take on "Where Do The Children Play?" with Dolly Parton, who had recorded "Peace Train" several years before. He also remade "Father And Son" as a duet with Ronan Keating. Both were released in 2004, and the money for "Father And Son" was given to the Band Aid charity. He also agreed to take part in the video.



Now performing under the name Yusuf, he has released two Pop albums. In 2006, he released An Other Cup, a beautiful collection of thoughtful and charming music. In 2009, he released "Roadsinger", a wonderful album I am proud to have in my collection. For more about Cat Stevens/Yusuf, visit his official website. You can purchase The Very Best of Cat Stevens on iTunes and Amazon. That has all the songs except "If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out", which you can find on iTunes and Amazon.

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