For all of the controversy Steven Demetre Giorgiou has caused since the late '80s with his pointed political commentary, the man who was once known as Cat Stevens (and is now known as Yusuf Islam) can’t be denied his place as one of the most popular and influential folk singers in the history of contemporary music. His full and fascinating life story — from his early years growing up above the Moulin Rouge on London’s famed Shaftsbury Avenue to his days as a certified rock star, from his fervent denial of the music business to his notable return — is a narrative too long to be managed here. But the influence of some of the records he made during the 1970s, which can be heard today in every sensitive British songwriter from James Blunt to Passenger’s Michael Rosenberg, is a topic worthy of our consideration.
At the height of his popularity from 1970 through 1977 — working with longtime friend, guitarist, and fellow perfectionist Alun Davies — Stevens created six Top 10 albums that translated the English folk of Pentangle and Fairport Convention into a sound that was accessible to rock audiences. Along with hits like "Father and Son," "Wild World," and "Hard Headed Woman," his 1970 release, Tea For The Tillerman, included gems like "Where Do the Children Play?" and "On the Road to Find Out." "Changes IV," "Rubylove," and "Bitter Blue" lived on 1971’s Teaser and the Fire Cat along with the hits "Morning Has Broken" and "Moonshadow." With just one hit ("Oh Very Young"), Buddha and the Chocolate Box was a massively popular record in 1972 on the strength of "Music," "Ghost Town," and "King of Trees."
Herein we pay tribute to the wholly undeniable influence of Cat Stevens with an Essential Playlist that blends the hits and album tracks from those three albums into one exceptional listen.
Photo of Cat Stevens in Boeblingen, Germany, 1976 taken by William McElligott (Creative Commons)