Music News

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.

The final part of a 90-minute concert titled "Moon & Star," which is segmented on YouTube by this superfan, "The Foreigner Suite" did not receive the adulation of so much of Stevens' other works after Mona Bone Jakon, Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat put him over the top and established him as one of the preeminent singer/songwriters of the early '70s. Some of his better-known songs before his career came to a screeching halt -- "Father and Son," "Wild World," "Moon Shadow," "Morning Has Broken" among them -- also show up on this broadcast.

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.

Watch: Cat Stevens - "The Foreigner Suite" from ABC in Concert's "Moon & Star," November 9, 1973

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. 

Whether the once-cool Cat will continue his comeback remains to be seen. To

borrow the title of one of his aforementioned songs, we're still on the

road to find out.

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Lee Zimmerman