Cat Stevens helped define the decade of the 1970’s. A singer/songwriter, he had a gentle, expressive voice and wrote popular themes of peace, nature and love.
His albums, Tea For the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firefly each sold over three million copies. Catch Bull at Four and Buddha and the Chocolate Box sold over one million each. From 1970 to 1974, he was probably the most successful singer not named Elton John.
He had hit after hit.
“Father and Son”
“Morning Has Broken”
“Can’t Keep it in”
“Oh Very Young”
“Another Saturday Night”
His songs were so popular in the first half of the 1970’s that it was easy to be burned out on hearing anything from him. In the last years until he retired, music had changed and he tried changing with it but with little luck.
In 1978, he returned with what was his final album for 28 years, the quiet and reflective Back to Earth. The album might be his least known Cat Stevens album. He refused to tour or promote it, so it largely went unnoticed. A few years earlier it might have gotten some traction but the folk-rock of earlier days was out of style. The most unusual but most pleasing song is an instrumental, “Nascimento.” It is full of charm with its jazzy arrangement, totally unlike Cat Stevens.
By the end of the decade he retired from music, gave his musical instruments to charity, changed his name and retreated into his spiritual world.
He had become a Muslim in 1977 and two years later, finally decided he could not balance his religion and pop music.
“I was looking for something that would resonate — the meaning of life at whatever angle you looked at it,” he told reporter Mark Phillips of CBS Sunday Morning.
With his royalty money he opened London’s first Islamic school and created a charity to help orphans around the world.
After his retirement, his records kept selling, his songs were hit records for other artists, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he was the recipient of many career awards.
While his music remained popular, in some circles he did not. His Muslim views created backlash and he was on the “no fly list” in America temporarily over comments he was purported to have made.
Reconciling music and religion was hard for him, the same for many of his fans. Cat Stevens was thought of as a man of peace, but Yusif Islam the Muslim, was lumped into the mysterious and controversial world of the religion that is troublesome for a lot of Westerners.
The man who turned his back on music almost three decades earlier, suddenly reemerged in 2006, with an album of new music. The songs on that album, although lacking the musical brilliance of his early career, were thoughtful and gentle, Cat Steven qualities.
Since then, he has slowly edged his way back into the music world, releasing three more albums of music. He even ventured on a small U.S. tour, where he was unsure of the reception with fans, and vice versa, but the love between musician and audience seemed to be mutual. The man known as Yusif Islam even reclaimed Cat Stevens as part of his musical persona. Forty years ago he worried about balancing his two different worlds. In his journey, he may have found the answer.