Today’s Songs of the Week are in tribute to Cat Stevens. Everybody already knows his career highlights including his massive selling early 70s albums Tea for the Tillerman, Teaser and the Firecat, and Catch Bull at Four and his late 70s repudiation of the music business and conversion to Islam.
But today I’d like to focus on the earlier part of his career when he was a songwriter in the UK and had not yet broken through in the U.S. I was surprised to learn that a couple of my favorite British pop songs from the late 60s were written by a pre-fame Stevens. You may be surprised too.
The first is “Here Comes My Baby” by the Tremeloes.
This version of “Here Comes My Baby” reached #14 on the Billboard charts in 1967. It’s such an upbeat song that brings an irresistible smile to my face. It also has the added sentimental value of reminding me of some wonderful hours shared with my toddler daughter, hunting for vinyl records at yard sales and listening to the local Boston oldies station. The hip, Hoboken, NJ, band Yo La Tengo recorded a version for their 1990 covers album, Fakebook.
Stevens also wrote the classic “The First Cut is the Deepest”. The version I’m presenting is the one by P.P. Arnold that reached #18 on the UK charts.
P.P. Arnold was an American soul singer that moved to the UK to try her hand in the business there. She scored one of her biggest hits with “First Cut…” But how could she go wrong with such a great song? I’ll bet most of you are thinking “isn’t that Rod Stewart’s song.” Yes, he also recorded an outstanding 1977 hit version that I enjoy every time I hear it. In fact, this song has the rare distinction of having hit versions recorded by 4 different artists. The other two were by Keith Hampshire (1973) and Sheryl Crow (2003).
Finally, I can’t resist sharing Stevens’ own “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” from the soundtrack of one of my all time Top 10 Movies – Harold and Maude. (Cat Stevens’ version starts at about 2:00.)
The movie is a sweet story about an older woman that teaches a young man about joie de vivre. This simple little Stevens ditty perfectly captures the spirit of the film. If you’ve never seen it, you MUST check it out.
Enjoy… until next week.
I didn’t know about Cat Steven’s previous career as a pop songwriter, but that certainly makes sense. Elton John/Bernie Taupin and Lou Reed for that matter, had a similar arch writing songs for others, then launching their own singing careers. Carole King too, for that matter.
In another personal brush with fame, I was at one point the Advertising Manager of an independent film distributor called Quartet Films. The bosses bought the US rights to a lovely Canadian prairie comedy called Why Shoot the Teacher, about a naive city kid whose first job teaching in the early part of the 20th century is somewhere in Saskatchewan. The movie starred Bud Cort as the teacher.
The bosses had the idea that because this was a movie about a teacher and because Cort had become something of a quirky star in Harold and Maude and Robert Altman’s Brewster McCloud, it would be smart to test market the movie in a college town by bringing in Cort to do promotional appearances in the media and at select movie theaters on opening day. Let’s see if this thing has legs, they would say.
We organized t-shirt giveaways on the radio (my design: Why Shoot the Teacher of the front, Why Not? on the back), and arranged for a media blitz and an opening in three or four of the best theaters for college kids in St. Louis. I flew out, met the local publicist, and we picked Bud Cort up at the airport.
He was a very nice young man, perhaps just a few years older than me. We spent a bunch of time together and seemed to hit it off, though at the this point the thing I remember that impressed me most were his problems with his car. It seems that in California cars were not allowed to have dark tinted windows, and Bud had a problem with fans (especially young women) recognizing him and running their cars into his car as a way to get to meet him. This was costly. Because of this his mood was dark, and he was having a hard time living up to the ideals of Cat Steven’s song from Harold and Maude. It was more, If you want to bitch…
Nobody’s mood improved when, on opening day, nobody showed up at the meet and greets with Bud at the best theaters for college kids in St. Louis. I think at our first appearance we had about 10 customers, most of whom had won free tickets on the radio. It turns out that Bud Cort wasn’t an actor able to open a quiet Canadian comedy, at least not in a town where the college kids were on spring break. Oops.