Yusuf Islam was born on July 21, 1948. He’s written some amazing songs. Let’s honor his birthday with covers, and let’s put one of ’em on my GOAT list.
THE GREATEST OF ALL TUNES (G.O.A.T.) is a salute to the greatest songs of all time, with covers! The master list is here, and I update it about every two weeks or when I have another 10 songs or so.
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.
Hit next for covers of If You Want to Sing Out, and then dig further into this post for some other nice Cat covers!