Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cat Stevens, The #54 Artist of the Seventies*

Steven Georgiou was born in London and originally went to Joseph Roman Catholic Primary School.  He became interested in piano early in life, working out his own chords and teaching himself.  Inspired by the Beatles, he began playing guitar and soon was writing songs.  He and his mother moved to Gävle, Sweden, where he attended Solängsskolan Primary school and became interested in art.

Georgiou and his mother returned to London, where he went to West End schools.  Georgiou enrolled at the Hammersmith School of Art, with the goal of beginning a career as a cartoonist.  But while he enjoyed art, and would later feature his own artwork on his album covers, Georgiou decided to concentrate on music. 

He began performing under the name "Steve Adams" in 1965.  Georgiou signed a publishing contract with Ardmore & Beechwood, where he recorded demos including "The First Cut Is The Deepest".  Georgiou performed in coffee houses and pubs around London.  He settled on the stage name Cat Stevens.

The following year, Mike Hurst, formerly with the Springfields, heard Stevens's songs, and helped him secure a recording contract with Deram Records, a division of Decca.  He reached #2 in the U.K. with "Matthew And Son", the title song from his first album, and "I'm Gonna' Get Me A Gun" landed in the British Top 10.

Stevens recorded and toured with diverse artists ranging from Engelbert Humperdinck to Jimi Hendrix.  In 1967, Stevens released the album New Masters, which contained his song "The First Cut Is The Deepest".  Although Stevens did not have a hit with it, others did, including Rod Stewart and Sheryl Crow.  Forty years after first recording the demo of the song, he won consecutive ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Awards in 2005 and 2006 for the composition.

In 1969, Stevens contracted tuberculosis and was near death prior to being admitted into King Edward VII Hospital.  But the British medical system saved his life.  During his period of recovery, Stevens began to question his lifestyle and spirituality.  He began meditation, yoga, and metaphysics, read about other religions, and became a vegetarian.  Stevens wrote as many as forty songs, several of which would be included on future albums.

Stevens rebelled against Hurst, intentionally sabotaging his own contract and threatening legal action, which achieved Cat's goal of being released from Deram.  Stevens recorded some of his new songs and played them for other record executives.  He hired agent Barry Krost, who arranged for an audition with Chris Blackwell of Island Records.  Blackwell signed Stevens to a new contract, and Cat hired Paul Samwell-Smith, formerly the bassist for the Yardbirds, as his producer.  

Along with his new outlook, Stevens wanted to do well in the United States, so he signed an American distribution contract with A&M Records.  Samwell-Smith hooked Stevens up with guitarist Alun Davies.  The two hit it off, and Davies collaborated with Cat on all but two of his subsequent albums until his retirement.  Even when Stevens re-emerged as Yusuf Islam after 27 years, Davis joined him and has remained by his side.

Stevens released the album Mona Bone Jakon.  The single "Lady D'Arbanville" (about then girlfriend Patti D'Arbanville) reached #2 in the Netherlands and #8 in the U.K., and other songs from the album, plus future success, helped the album eventually go Gold.

Stevens released his breakthrough album Tea for the Tillerman later in the year.  Cat released "Father And Son" as the first single.  Although it did not receive much airplay at the time, it has since become a fan favorite.

Stevens wrote "Wild World" about parting with D'Arbanville, and it became his first hit to reach a large audience, reaching #11 in the United States and #14 in Canada.   

Within six months, the album went Gold, and it has now sold over three million copies.  We also want to feature this track--"Where Do The Children Play?". 

Stevens came back the following year with the album Teaser and the Firecat.  The single "Moonshadow" officially peaked at #30 in the U.S., but most stations that played it had it well within the Top 10; in fact, the song peaked on Adult stations at #10. 

Teaser and the Firecat went to #2 on the Album chart and attained Gold status within three weeks.  The single "Peace Train" hit #3 in Canada and Australia, and #7 overall in the United States but #1 on the Adult chart.

Stevens then released the single "Morning Has Broken", another of his biggest career hits.  It was a Top 10 song in nearly every major country, reaching #6 in the U.S. and #1 Adult, #4 in Canada, Australia and Norway, and #9 in the U.K.

The album has now gone over the three-million mark in sales.  Stevens began dating Carly Simon, an artist who also recorded for producer Samwell-Smith.  She wrote the song "Anticipation" about Stevens, and he wrote "Sweet Scarlet" for her after their relationship had ended.

Stevens was at his peak during this time.  His 1972 album Catch Bull at Four went to #1 for three weeks on the Album chart. Cat had attracted loyal fans, who led the album to Platinum status in the absence of the big hits that had been found on previous releases.  "Sitting", at #14 in Canada and #16 in the U.S., was his most successful song.

"Can't Keep It In" is another fine track from the album.

In 1973, Stevens moved to Brazil to avoid paying taxes in the U.K.  He released the album Foreigner, which featured keyboard music rather than guitar, and Stevens dropped his band and produced the album himself.  The change flopped, as sales and airplay were limited.

In 1974, Stevens released the album Buddha and the Chocolate Box, which was more similar to previous releases.  The single "Oh Very Young" hit #9 in Canada and #10 in the U.S., and reached #2 on the Adult chart.

"Oh Very Young" helped Buddha and the Chocolate Box go Platinum.  Stevens released his Greatest Hits package, with "Another Saturday Night" released as a single.  It landed at #1 in Canada, #6 in the U.S. and #9 in the U.K.

The Greatest Hits album has now sold over four million copies.  But the album Numbers did not do well either, nor did the album Izitso in 1977.  In 1978, Stevens released the album Back to Earth, the first album produced by Samwell-Smith since his peak in the early 1970s. 

Stevens began to study the Muslim religion, and in 1978, changed his name to Yusaf Islam.  He never released an album as Cat Stevens again.

In 1979, Islam auctioned all his guitars for charity and left the music industry to concentrate on educational and philanthropic causes in the Muslim community. 

In 2003, Islam received the World Award for humanitarian relief work helping children and victims of war.  The following year, Mikhail Gorbachev, the great leader of Russia, presented Stevens with the Man of Peace Award for his "dedication to promote peace, the reconciliation of people and to condemn terrorism".

In 2005, Islam received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Gloucestershire for services to education and humanitarian relief. 

In 2006, Islam returned with his first album of new songs in 28 years.

In 2007, Yusaf received the Mediterranean Price for Peace for his "work to increase peace in the world".  He also received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Exeter in recognition of "his humanitarian work and improving understanding between Islamic and Western cultures".  Also that year, Islam received the ECHO "Special Award for Life Achievements as a Musician and Ambassador Between Cultures".

In 2009, Islam received the Special Achievement Award of the German Sustainability Award.  Earlier this year, Cat Stevens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Stevens enjoyed 14 hits in the Seventies, with three of those reaching the Top 10.  He sold 13 million records in the decade. 

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