IF YOU WANT TO SING OUT, SING OUT by Cat Stevens (1971)

[box type=”shadow”]THE GREATEST OF ALL TUNES (G.O.A.T.) is a salute to the greatest songs of all time. One song per artist, with suggested further listening and covers![/box]
Cat Stevens is certainly a controversial character politically, but it’s hard to deny his talents as a hippie songwriter. There’s, “Where Do The Children Play,” his wistfully dire take on the future along the lines of Joni Mitchell’s, “Big Yellow Taxi.” There’s “Father and Son,” Cat’s heartbreaking version of Harry Chapin’s, “Cat’s in the Cradle.” And there’s the love-and-flowers anthem, “Peace Train,” covered wonderfully by 10,000 Maniacs two decades later.

And then there’s the Sesame Street sound of “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out,” which debuted in a brilliant (I mean, absolutely brilliant) and underrated hippie film called “Harold and Maude.” The movie is a heavily scripted, extremely “art film” take on the meaning of love and conformity—and did I mention it’s brilliant? The song is all about doing what you want—almost hedonistically. It’s very simple: “If you want to sing out, sing out/If you want to be free, be free/’Cause there’s a million things to be/You know that there are.” And it goes on from there. If you want to say yes, say yes. If you want to me, be me. You can do what you want. Etc. It’s actually an unusually uplifting song from Stevens, whose other work is fairly heavy. But the sadness of his voice and delivery comes through—as much as you want to believe it’s possible to be anything, the song makes you feel a little trapped by what actually “is.”

It’s also a little strange knowing that after writing it, Stevens contracted TB and had a profound reaction to being chronically ill. He changed his name to Yusuf Islam, converted to Islam, and publicly supported the Islamic fatwa on Salman Rushdie, who simply wrote a book.

Cat has backed away from that controversy now, and recently was officially mainstreamed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

By the way, you might know that Carly Simon’s song Anticipation was written about Cat Stevens. The two had a brief affair.

Further listening: The songs mentioned above all could be G.O.A.T.s, as could Wild World, Morning Has Broken, and The First Cut Is the Deepest. And Trouble could also be a strong candidate. Oh, and then there’s On The Road To Find Out, Don’t Be Shy, and Oh Very Young. The man was a hit-making machine.

Covers: Sadly, the song has been featured in a cellular phone commercial (in a Wyclef Jean remix that removed all the soul, angst and power), but it’s also been covered many times by many people. Check out a few fine samples, below.

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