If ever there was a musical person with an interesting history and persona, it is Cat Stevens. Born in London, he had an Orthodox Greek Cypriot father and a Swedish mother. The family owned a restaurant in the Soho area of London and lived over it.
At that time, with an unhappy school life, it would have been hard to imagine his future. Let alone that we would one day be looking at the best Cat Stevens songs of all time.
Art College and Beyond
Like a lot of young musicians in the London area, he went to art college and there decided he wanted to be a songwriter and musician. He cites his influences as The Beatles, The Kinks, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Nina Simone.
He began by playing in London pubs and coffee shops, and, to make recognition easier, changed his name to Steve Adams. In 1966 at 18, he was spotted and offered a contract.
That First Album
Matthew and Son was released in 1967. It contained two of Cat Stevens first singles, “I Love My Dog” and “Matthew and Son.” Success and great albums followed but nearly didn’t.
He contracted TB and was close to death when he was admitted to the hospital. They weren’t sure he would survive, but he did, after many weeks of treatment and a long convalescence.
A Game Changer
This was a life-changing experience in many ways. He later said that being surrounded by death and illness made him evaluate life and his existence. He realized he wanted something more.
Without going into what is a very long and troubled story, he looked at Buddhism, Astrology, and finally, Islam.
He converted to Islam in 1977 and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. Later, dropping the Islam surname and using Yusuf as a mononym. In 1979, he sold his guitars and gave the money to charity.
The Second Coming
He returned to music in 2006 and has since recorded several albums. And he was awarded two honorary doctorates and other awards for the promotion of peace.
During his musical hiatus…
He got embroiled in a well-publicized argument about the author Salman Rushdie. Rushdie wrote the book “The Satanic Verses,” a book exploring the legitimacy of Islam and its prophet. A fatwa was issued against Rushdie, which had nothing to do with slimming advice. A journalist, thinking he was being clever (don’t most of them), tried to ask the now Yusuf a series of leading questions.
The article published inferred that Yusuf endorsed the fatwa. He didn’t and never would. That is not in his nature. Let’s get away from all this stuff and talk about the most important issue here, the music. Everything else is irrelevant.
In The Beginning
Before most people had even heard of him, he had started to record tracks on demos. Gradually, he moved into the areas he is best known for. This was the first demo and the perfect place to begin this list of the best Cat Stevens songs of all time.
Top 25 Best Cat Stevens Songs of All Time
The First Cut Is The Deepest
Recorded in 1965, when he was just 17, this is the same song that was made popular by PP Arnold in 1967. Most people may not know that he wrote this song. Initially, he saw himself as a writer rather than a performer.
I have to say; it is not Cat Stevens greatest recorded work. But, it is a very good song and highlights his writing skills. I have included it here more as a reference point.
This is where it all started for him, the tones of his voice are evident, and the emotion obvious to hear. With this song, he was looking to express himself. That would come later as his songwriting gained momentum.
I Love My Dog
Interesting song for his first promotion and, I suppose, ‘official’ release from his Matthew and Son album. Here, we have someone who has called himself “Cat” singing “I love my dog.” An interesting idea and a lovely song.
It came out in 1966 when he was still only 18, and it was the song that began to showcase his songwriting talents. He is singing the song to someone, presumably his partner, and makes an observation about them.
He simply says that from his dog, he gets unconditional love no matter what. Statements that may have been presented to try and get a response. And a hope for a similar emotion from whoever he was speaking with.
Matthew and Son
This was his second single also from the album of the same name released in 1966. This has always been one of the most popular Cat Stevens songs and was one of his most commercially successful. This despite it being only his second single.
It is a dialogue between the father and son, owners of a business that might be called a sweatshop in today’s vernacular. It talks about people who have been working there for fifty years. People who have given up on life and don’t even bother to try and improve themselves.
The father just sees that he is giving them work. The son thinks he could do better with his workers and offer them much more.
Does that resonate with some of our “respected” corporations today? It was a big hit in the UK, where he was becoming something special. But, he was yet to break through in most other countries.
I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun
His third single and again taken from the album Matthew and Son. It is interesting to read about the different interpretations of this song.
It is a lighthearted, almost whimsical piece about taking revenge on people who don’t respect him. In societies that have guns as a part of their dress code, some thought it to be an actual statement by him.
The reality is that the song was written for a musical play about Billy The Kid that never happened. He included it on the album because he quite liked the song.
It All Went Quiet For A While
It was here that he had his illness, and it all naturally went very quiet. He recovered and came back with a different view of life.
Before, like most young artists, he had been bullied by record companies, but not anymore. He was going to have a say in what happened and what he released. It was a new him, new material, and a new direction he was traveling in.
Lady D’Arbanville from Cat Stevens LP Mona Bone Jakon
The first release was from the new album Mona Bone Jakon in 1970. Not universally well-received, but as a single, it did okay in the UK and Holland.
Very much a folk rocker of a song about a relationship he had with Patti D’Arbanville. The song is about laying to rest a relationship and moving on.
Father And Son
In the eyes of many people, this was his “purple patch.” This was when he was writing and producing his best work. There are some, him included, that might not agree with that, given his later beliefs.
But, mention the name Cat Stevens to people who grew up with his music, and most will tend to think of two albums. Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser And The Firecat.
His Most Emotional Song?
It could be. This was a 1970 release from Tea For The Tillerman. It was originally written for a musical play starring Nigel Hawthorne about the Russian revolution that never came to fruition.
It tells the story of a discussion between a father and his son in the child’s maturing years. The son wants to join the revolutionary army and fight. The father wants him to stay on the farm. A touching, gentle confrontation that has possibly the best melody line of all the music he wrote.
Staying with Tea for the Tillerman, “Wild World” must be considered one of Cat Stevens greatest songs. Again, it is a song that is often misunderstood. It was not another song about Patti D’Arbanville at all. It was a cleverly written warning to himself composed in retrospect.
Perhaps you could call it an “if only I knew what I know now” song. He is essentially talking to himself, warning himself about the potential pitfalls that are bound to come his way.
This was probably the song that returned him into the consciousness of the record-buying public. It has had several covers, including a good version by Jimmy Cliff, but nothing beats the original.
The follow-up album to Tea For The Tillerman was eagerly awaited. We weren’t disappointed. Many would say this was one of Cat Stevens finest songs taken from the album Teaser And The Firecat.
The inspiration for this song came from seeing his own shadow illuminated by the moon for the first time. Living and growing up in London, it was all street lighting, so this wasn’t possible. In remote Spain, he was amazed at what he saw. This song was the result.
It was a moderate hit record only, but the album itself contained some great songs, as we shall see.
The album was, in the early 70s, being appreciated worldwide as a great piece of work. This track is another taken from it. The inspiration for the song came from all the unnecessary wars and confrontations going on around the world.
It was a highlight of his career but met some criticism years later over the Salman Rushdie affair. It is a song about global peace and kindness, hardly the stuff of the fatwa. In 2003, he recorded it again for War Child. A group that gives aid to children affected by war.
By this time, he had found his ‘groove’ and was writing and recording some great music. All with a big message to get across.
Can’t Keep It In
Ironically, his only album to reach number one, Catch Bull At Four, did not produce a single with the same quality as the previous two albums. This single release in 1972 was probably the best track on the album.
It speaks of the excitement of feeling you just have to express your love. Whether it be for a person or something else. Like this song, the album has plenty of references to spiritual enlightenment and its result on your attitudes.
A Pause For Thought
Let’s just pause for a second here before we reach the end. His chart successes disappeared after his conversion. That decision was seen by some as surprising, to say the least. I don’t suppose he was that bothered himself.
He did return to recording later, as I have mentioned. But, the music was not aimed at commerciality at all. He performed at certain events and still wowed us with some of his old songs.
But, what he gave us before he ceased recording was a catalog of work that sits amongst the best songs of the time. This next one, in my opinion, is Cat Stevens very best song.
Oh Very Young
Released in 1974 from his album Buddha and the Chocolate Box. This is a beautiful song that has plenty of imagery in the lyrics. The fact that life has no permanence is a basic tenet of Buddhism. And, as I have already said, there was a time when he was looking closely at Buddhist philosophy.
He refers to how difficult it is sometimes to say goodbye. He uses the image of an old pair of jeans that are so hard to replace. Then, adds a killer line “And the patches make the goodbyes harder still.” In other words, the experiences are shared and cannot be ignored.
The Last Hit Record
“Oh, Very Young” was the last big hit record he had that he wrote himself. Some success followed with a cover of Sam Cooke’s song “Another Saturday Night.” But, “Oh Very Young” seemed to be the end of an era for him.
By 1978, the hits had dried up. Even though he came back and recorded some more albums, it wasn’t the same. I don’t suppose he would lose any sleep. He had found what he had searched for.
Morning Has Broken
So how can you finish? Let’s go back to Teaser and the Firecat to complete this look at the Best Cat Stevens songs of all time. He made his way by writing and recording his own songs, so this was an interesting choice. Nonetheless, it is one of the most well known Cat Stevens songs.
This hymn has been around since the 1800s and was initially a Christmas song. It was later transformed into a more spiritual hymn for church services and is still used today.
Impressive In Many Ways
There are three very impressive things to consider about this song. Firstly, it was recorded at a time when he was searching for his own fulfillment spiritually. He had looked at Buddhism and included some of that religion’s doctrines in songs. Now, he had turned in a different direction.
Secondly, the reverential way he treated the song was very impressive. There is a simple sincerity in his delivery of the lyrics and in the way he puts them across.
That Piano Part
Thirdly, the piano part. Now, a lot of people think that made the song, and they might well be right. It is a masterly piece of piano playing, but who played it? The answer to that might surprise you.
It was played by Rick Wakeman, soon to be a new driving force in the band, Yes. At the time, he was a student at the Royal College of Music in London. He had designs on being a concert pianist. This song is a classic of its time and probably no better way of finishing this list.
Another Saturday Night
Where Do the Children Play?
Two Fine People
If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out
The Boy with a Moon & Star on His Head
Searching for Great Music?
We can help with that. Take a look at our detailed articles on Songs About Betrayal, Songs About Wolves, Songs About Home, the Best Songs about Fighting, the Best Songs About Change, the Best Songs About Friendship, and the Best Songs About Dreams for more great musical selections.
You need to hear all this music. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Headphones with Volume Control, the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, and the Best True Wireless Earbuds you can buy in 2023.
Best Cat Stevens Songs of All Time – Conclusion
A different type of rock star, if that is what you want to call him. He might dispute that, but he was at the least an incredibly popular artist of his time. And, for many people, he still is.
His music and recordings covered a range of genres. Of course, later in his career, he became more associated with Islamic music. His career to date has produced 55 singles and 16 studio albums. There were also six live albums and 13 compilations. A great artist, a great humanitarian, great music, and a great talent.
Until next time, let the music play.