Album in Depth: Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens

Hi, I’m JotaKa. I’m a rocker by birth and grew listening to rock discs and long plays by the dozen. As I promised earlier, the album that I will review now is Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens. This was the first album that I thought of reviewing for this series, but then I thought of the Ayreon story, and so on.

So, who is Cat Stevens and what the hell is a Tillerman? A little background is required:

The year is 1970. Patton gets the academy award for best movie and Uma Thurman is born. Jimmy Hendrix is found deceased and Let it Be, the last Beatles album, is released, even though it was recorded before Abbey Road. Josie and the Pussycats have their debut and Get Smart ends and although I’m not that old, I really wish he stayed on more time.

Steven Demetre Georgiou, formerly known as Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, was getting more and more reputation after two moderate successes, being Matthew and Son, New Master. He was already firmed as a pop artist out there in the business, but not as a major artist or contributor to the style, that was growing with the popularity of the vinyl records growing. Also, in the New Masters album is his first major hit with “The First Cut is the Deepest”, but even so the album was a flop in the UK charts. However, after tuberculosis, he gained a broader view in life and spirituality and changed completely his style of music. Cat Stevens spirituality will be commented later.

The release of his third album, Mona Bone Jakon, marks the change of his musical style. His new pop songs was not as anything yet seen, with some strange instrumentation and intense vocalizing. Even with all that, it’s only the precursor for his biggest hit to this day, Tea for the Tillerman. With strong songs, a really cool diversity, ground breaking construction and beautiful skilled lyric writing skills, the reason why this album sky rocketed is simply obvious. After this album, which everyone including me considers his White Album, he couldn’t get any excellent album: all of the others were good to great.

So, about his spirituality, 7 years and 7 albums after Tea for The Tillerman, he converted himself to Islamism, and renamed himself as Yusuf Islam. Two major things contributed to that factor: he once saw men praying with music for God and Cat Stevens never saw that before and once when he was drowning, he shouted that if saved he would work for God and a wave pulled him to shore. I’m an atheist myself and I don’t think I can talk about this subject without insulting a whole culture, but I think I’ll try just once: what the hell? Hasn’t gospel music been invented by 1977? He never heard of gospel back then? A wave sent by god saved him? What the hell! So, now and then, whenever shit hits the fan in a way that the word Muslim is involved, Yusuf Islam shows up and grabs a bucket of shit and throws more at the fan! Not trying to stop him from defending his religious choice, hell, but there is some times where he would defend his religious people if he would just shut his trap. About 21 years ago, there was this incident that a writer named Salman Rushdie wrote something wrong about the Islam laws and Cat Stevens said that, although he would like this guy dead and would kill him if ordered by Islam laws, he is not in any way supporting vigilante resolution. I’m not telling you to lie, but why not act with humility once in a while and stop letting your opinion get shown? Just… don’t tell them to a big media like the US media, where every little thing can and will be used against him. This was just a small addendum about where he is now, sorry about that.

By the way, a tiller is a lever tied to a rudder post, which I believe controls the direction and may slow a boat. So, Tillerman is the guy who directs and controls the boat.

From the outside of the album, I got to say, this can be, easily, one of the best covers out there: if I ever make a top 10 cover art album, this would probably be in it. It shows everything to put the listener in the mood for some folk vocal guitar stuff. I just think that kind of elf dwarf person doesn’t look like a tillerman, but then again, how does a tillerman looks like? And the other thing is the total duration: 36:40. I believe the perfect duration of any one disc album is about 45 minutes, so 36 minutes is too short: this album would be even better with 45 minutes.

Back to the songs, this album was good for his standards. It got 8th on the US Pop Albums where Cat Stevens never got one album in before. Also, it got Triple Platinum as soon as the terminology was invented. So, let’s get this over with: Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens.

1st track: “Where do the Children Play” – This is easily the best pick to show Cat Stevens ability in song writing. From the name, it would suggest something soft and kind of smoothing, as the music really is, with a light guitar, just a little bit of keyboard and a tidbit of bass. However, as you get the lyrics, you will get really shocked to see that this song is actually a protest song. Who would’ve guessed? It actually questions where will the children play and where will the nature stand with the increasing haste of humanity in technological pursuit. It is a beautiful song, with even some really inspired vocals from Cat Stevens and an excellent piece to start an album with that magnificent cover.

2nd track: “Hard-Headed Woman” – This song have a really simple love theme, with a simple lyrics and a simple music, helped by some strings here and there. The song is not any ground breaking song – until the 2:10 mark, that is. The song really becomes aggressive and in contrast with the first part of it, it becomes a really enjoyable tune in the end, with a musical style that can be likable to every fan of the folk vocal guitar style. It is not astonishing good in the midst of the album but it’s definitely not a shit buried in a good album.

3rd track: “Wild World” – THIS SONG IS FUCKING EPIC! I mean, this is why I know Cat Stevens and I’m guessing most people that know Cat Stevens know his work because of this song, and the people that don’t think they don’t know Cat Stevens have already listened to this song in multiple occasions. This song can be, possibly, one of the best songs of his career, in my opinion. I mean, this song… just… wow. It amazes me how someone can achieve this level of awesomeness at this point. Well, Wild World is a music that is mostly guitar, piano and vocal, with some drums and bass. The lyrics, again, shows all of his talent: it is a break up song where the guy is wishing the girl good luck. Cat Stevens already admitted that in his most inspired songs, separation is a theme. But let’s see this one more profoundly shall we? The guy is wishing her good luck! Genuinely good luck! From the top of your head, can you think of any break up song where the guy wishes the girl well, even though he is sad as shit? I can’t think of anything! This guy made a once in a lifetime lyrical choice and it kicked holy ass! The intros “dadada” can get stuck in your head for weeks, the lyrics are sad and inspired, and the whole music is just too beautiful. This song, definitely, deserves a hearing.

4th track: “Sad Lisa” – This is a quieter song with a more piano depending melody. It is a fine tune, but it’s not as good as Wild World. However, I have to say that this one is kind of a less favorite of mine: it didn’t make so much success than Wild World, but I always liked it. The lyrics are a simple “friend comforting a friend” kind of song, with some really beautiful and poetic verses now and then. The piano playing is masterfully well done, with some tempo changes and more rapidly keyboard playing. The violin bridge is all too beautiful to be quantified. The main reason why I like this song it’s because it remind me of the best concept album ever: A Passion Play by Jethro Tull. Check it.

5th track: “Miles from Nowhere” – This song got a kind of success, but I think it’s because Cat Stevens followed the pop folk chart to the spirit and didn’t take any chances. At most, this music is boring in some parts and tries to be introspective at some, failing miserably. The idea of the song is kind of good, with the lyrics being about a guy who wants to get somewhere, but is miles from nowhere. The song in all is a fairly decent song, with some piano creativity and a guitar showing up here and then, but in the middle of this album, I don’t believe it has a place. However, it was a single I think and many people enjoy it, so, maybe it’s just me.

6th track: “But I Might Die Tonight” – Although short, this song leaves an impression. It’s a piano and drums based song now, with the lyrics relating to what I believe is a rich man talking to a poor man that he is poor because he didn’t break a sweat. I may be getting the wrong impression, but I believe that’s what it is. The song is beautifully well done and would be probably ruined with a longer duration because of the boring and broken metric of the lyrics.

7th track: “Longer Boats” – This song starts with a choir singing the chorus of the song, which consists of two verses being repeated. These two verses will be horrible for you to forget. The problem with this song is the lack of material throughout it and it shows, with some musical padding. Every time the song repeats, he tries adding an instrument and making the song more aggressive, but when a short drum session comes from absolutely nowhere, it actually ruins a song that could have something working on his favor.

8th track: “Into White” – Man… if Sad Lisa sounds kind of like Jethro Tull, this one sounds a hell lot. I know that the most influential albums Jethro Tull made were after 1970, but still, it sounds a lot like them. Well, it is a pretty song, but it fails to impress me. Now he shows how variant he can be on instrument choices, choosing a guitar-strings setting. The lyrics are not creative, going sometimes to be what you expect of a pop song, but on a cult song.

9th track: “On the Road to Findout” – The longest song of the album, with 5:08. This song, melodically, sounds a hell lot like Longer Boats, and the song is the same style as it, with the same melody being repeated and repeated, each time with a more aggressive vocals and a new or louder instrument; just invented the term: this one is a Ravel song. The lyrics are your typical Cat Stevens lyrics, but not one from his better phase, as he aboard the theme from Miles from Nowhere again, in a pursuit for something even the singer doesn’t know what is. A good motivation song, but not a good song in the midst of this album, and definitely not a good pick as a standalone song.

10th track: “Father And Son” – “It’s not time to make a change, just relax, take it easy…” Here we have it folks, the tearjerker song! This song recaptures the geniality of Cat Stevens as with Wild World. The lyrics talk about a father wishing for his son to stay at home for more time and a son wishing to leave. If it was that, it wouldn’t be a tearjerker, but Cat Stevens, with his vocal extent is able to sing in a deep registry for the voice of the Father and a high registry for the voice of the Son. Not only that, but the back vocals are just incredibly well done and recorded. I mean it when I say that if you have experienced something like this like I did, listening to this song you will always feel a hand in your heart. Damn you, Cat Stevens. Anyway, this song is just fucking excellent. It competes directly with Wild World for the top spot of this album, as the theme of separation is the one that Cat Stevens knows how to work the most.

11th track: “Tea for the Tillerman” – This is the sensation I had when I listened to this song the first time: “Wow, what a cool song… what? It’s over?” Strange that the title song is the shorter and most forgotten with 1:03, though this song is awesome as hell. As a closing song, it just leaves in the wish for a next album, with a simplistic lyric and a gospel choir… hey, wait a second. He used fucking gospel choir! Anyway, forgetting about later background, this song is just pure awesomeness in all of his one minute duration and is an excellent closure to the album: definitely my third favorite track out of it.

So how does it all hold up? It is one of my favorite albums, going through all aspects that make it a good album. The songs that are good are just god damn excellent and the songs that are bad are just a little bit above average, being bad just because it is tossed with such great songs as Wild World and Father and Son. The cover is magnificent and the whole voice-guitar area is filled to the brim with innovative and creative songwriting skills. Probably, people who have an only metal rock and hard stuff ear will not like this one, but if you are a paced music kind of person, this is the album for you. Of all the albums I have already reviewed for this series, this one draws with Elf on the first place.

This is JotaKa, signing off.

Follow me on twitter: @jotakapf

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3 Responses to Album in Depth: Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens

  1. yeah,I just thought you might want to know that your blog is messed up when you view it on my iphone. I?m not sure if it has something to do with my phone?s browser or your website? just saying…

  2. Callie says:

    I’m sixty years old and loved this review. I like your wrtting style, dude.

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