Happy Birthday, Cat Stevens, and Thanks for the 18-Minute "Foreigner Suite"
Cat Stevens offers definitive proof that hit records and religious devotion often don't mix. Then again, he didn't much try to attain both until recently. In 1977, he suddenly renounced both his pop career and his worldly
possessions and gave himself a Muslim moniker, Yusuf Islam. The change
was supposedly precipitated by a near-drowning incident that occurred
off the coast of Malibu when, in desperation, he cried out, "Oh God, if
you save me, I will work for you!" A wave then appeared and carried him
to shore. And who said God didn't like "Peace Train"?
But once upon a time, the man born Steven Demetre Georgiou 63 years ago today was a creative maverick pushing TV producers' buttons by insisting upon performing his 18-minute "Foreigner Suite" in its entirety on ABC in Concert back in 1973. This is a gift that the effusive concertgoers appreciated at Los Angeles' Aquarius Theatre and a birthday gift for Cat/Yusuf fans today.
Still, "Foreigner" was obviously a song that the man of many names held high well into his life as Yusuf Islam. After Coldplay stormed the world yet again with 2008's "Viva La Vida," he shrewdly considered "pulling a Joe Satriani" and suing the band for creating a song with a rather similar structure to the last section of "Foreigner." (A charge he could have also levied at Satriani, who only released "If I Could Fly" in 2000.) Now it seems it was just a press grab, since this was the same day he released his second secular album under the Islam moniker, titled Roadslinger (An Other Cup came out in 2006). These albums captured the seminal style of his early efforts, but
the backlash against his religious regimen likely continued to stifle
sales. And hating on Coldplay probably didn't help either.
In any event, we have "The Foreigner Suite" in its entirety from the ABC broadcast linked below (embedding disabled). Stick around until the 14:20 mark to hear the chord progressions with legal implications.
Incidentally, did this canonic work cause the founding of British rock band Foreigner,
best-known for secular temperature-oriented material like "Cold as Ice"
and "Hot Blooded," in 1976? Perhaps we'll never know.
Yusuf appears determined to reintroduce himself to the pop audience, and
a series of late-night television appearances and limited live dates
have suggested he's now of a mind to make commercial concessions. That
doesn't mean he's ready forsake his convictions. This past March, he
released a free download titled "My People," a song he says was
inspired by the recent Arab uprisings.
borrow the title of one of his aforementioned songs, we're still on the
road to find out.
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