Cat Stevens: Mona Bone Jakon / Tea for the Tillerman / Teaser and the Firecat


By Benn Joseph

These three albums, released between 1970 and 1972, gained Cat Stevens a great deal of popularity in America. Now they’re back, as part of a series of re-releases marking the “30th anniversary of Stevens’ international debut” conducted by both Universal and Yusuf Islam himself (a.k.a. Cat Stevens).

What is happening? Twenty-two years ago, Stevens converted to Islam, changed his name, and withdrew from the public eye for good. He has not released any albums since then. He’s spent his time establishing schools, working for various charitable causes, and producing audio books for the world’s Islamic community on his own label, Mountain of Light. His actions show obvious disdain for popular culture, and a decided disinterest in capitalism. Why, then, has he suddenly decided to personally oversee the re-release of every single album he’s ever made? $imple.

I feel bad saying that, because I like Cat Stevens and his whimsical, airy music. I feel drunk on fantastic youthful adventures every time I listen to Tea for the Tillerman. Furthermore, he’ll probably use all his royalty money on building schools and churches in Palestine, so I’d feel guilty accusing him of taking advantage. And nobody can stay mad at Cat Stevens.

After looking and listening through these three albums, I realized there was nothing special about them whatsoever. No bonus tracks, no interviews, not even any extra pictures. Weren’t these albums available in a CD format before they were re-released? I can’t see the answer being no, and the artwork is definitely bigger if you buy the LP at a used record store (even though the lyrics might not be included).

Well, since nothing has changed, here’s a little review session for those of you who’d like to brush up. Cat Stevens became a British pop star at the age of 18. He led a traditional pop star life for a while, but in 1968 it was discovered that he had tuberculosis and a collapsed lung. For over a year, he recuperated both in and out of the hospital, spending the entire time writing songs. In 1970, after his recovery, he released Mona Bone Jakon. This was his first effort with A&M Records, and was to be the first of eight consecutive gold albums. Its content is comparatively very pop-oriented, with songs like “Maybe You’re Right,” “Pop Star” and “Trouble.” Its obvious here that Stevens has girl trouble just like the rest of us, with complaints like “I ain’t gonna argue with you no more / I’ve done it for too long.” This album has content that everyone can relate to, and it’s what gained him his first under

Later that year, in November, he released Tea for the Tillerman. Everyone knows this album, because it has “Hard Headed Woman,” “Wild World,” and “Father and Son” on it. These are, I think, some of his best songs. On this album, even though his decision to leave this society is eight years away, a strong aversion is already evident. This album is about searching for things like a “hard headed woman.” In “Miles from Nowhere” Stevens talks about the mountain he has to climb, and the valleys he must traverse to discover himself. “On the Road to Find Out” also investigates these needs. In “But I Might Die Tonight,” Stevens reservedly explains that “I don’t want to work away, doing just what they all say.” It is in this album that he first begins seriously questioning his surroundings.

The following year, in 1971, he released Teaser and the Firecat to his now soundly established fan base. This is where it gets a little weird for me, like he suddenly realized he had some sort of message he needed to send to the rest of the world. The fact that he starts singing in Greek on one of the songs seems inconsequential when you realize that just about every song here is religious in some way, especially “Peace Train,” which is spreading its message as a “holy roller.” “The Wind” does the same thing, concerning itself with how much God really knows, and of course “Morning Has Broken” (even though he didn’t write it) also sends religious messages.

So what is the next step in this chain of events? I don’t know the rest of the story, so I couldn’t tell you for sure. What I do know is that there is no valid reason for you to buy these CDs as opposed to the non-30th anniversary ones. I’m not saying Cat Stevens isn’t a genius songwriter; keep buying Cat Stevens music at all costs. There’s just no reason for you to buy these CDs in particular. Hell, buy records.

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