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Album of the Day-May 22
Cat Stevens/Yusef — Teaser and the Firecat
Cat Stevens/Yusef — Teaser and the Firecat
Teaser and the Firecat
Released only 11 months after the very successful Tea for the Tillerman, the album that Island Records chief Chris Blackwell called “the best album we’ve ever released” (little did he know what would follow.)
Cat Stevens was under pressure to deliver his third album. It had some pretty big shoes to fill.
That finished third album, Teaser and the Firecat filled them just fine. In fact, it surpassed the success of Tea for the Tillerman … but didn’t get anything as quotable from Chris Blackwell.
The album contained three hit songs — “Moonshadow”, “Morning Has Broken”, and “Peace Train.” Any of those songs would’ve made a career for an artist. Cat Stevens had all three on one album … which followed the three he had on Tea For The Tillerman — “Where Do The Children Play”, “Wild World” and “Father and Son.”
Take a moment and think about those six songs.
Aside from the songs themselves, which are all typical singer/songwriter fare, there is some real subtle beauty on Teaser and the Firecat. The kind you wouldn’t find on an album today. A seeming imperfection.
On “Bitterblue” — about five or six seconds in — it’s a bad edit, a bum chord, or the second guitar coming in at the wrong time, I don’t know, but it’s something that's always grabbed my ear, still does, and has always endeared “Bitterblue” to me. It’s my favorite Cat Stevens song.
Slightly off-topic, and weird, Teaser and the Firecat is also the title of a children’s book that was written and illustrated by Cat Stevens. The story features the title characters from the album cover, the top-hatted young Teaser and his pet, Firecat, who attempt to put the moon back in its place after it falls from the sky (long out of print). Um, OK.
And as if that’s not enough…in 1977, an animated version of the book was made, narrated by Spike Milligan*, using the song “Moonshadow”… the 70s were fucking amazing.
(*if you don’t know Spike Milligan…here’s what you need to know…he was in a comedy group with Peter Sellers called The Goons…no Goons, no Monty Python…no Monty Python, no SNL, etc. etc. etc. — he is in both The Holy Grail and The Life of Brian)
Cat Stevens is a singer/songwriter at most and a pop singer at least. Both are fine trades. That said and with no disrespect intended, I don’t suspect they’ll be studying the intricacies of his lyrics 100 years from now. But, they will be listening to them. And there’s no shame in that and that’s the sign of a good artist.
Naturally, that hasn’t stopped critic’s during his prime in the ’70s and even recently from trying to compare him to some of his contemporaries.
From the initial review of Teaser and the Firecat in 1971 in Rolling Stone, Timothy Crouse wrote of “Peace Train”:
“An absurd flamenco guitar flourish keeps popping up as Cat heralds the new day when “the people of the world/Can all live in one room.” I know he means something nice by that, but taken at face value it sounds like a proposal for universal genocide.”
Reviewing a deluxe 25-year edition of Teaser and the Firecat in 2007 Timothy Crouse had this to say, again in Rolling Stone:
“Cat has become a dependable artist, a good artist, but he appears to be one of those composers who does not develop, who holds no surprises.”
Further saying that “he lacks Van Morrison’s evocative quality and James Taylor’s refined lyrics.”
AC/DC has been making the same damn album for their entire career.
Same one. They’ve got the same career arc as every other artist in music and they’ve sold hundreds of millions of albums. And their lyrics definitely “lack Van Morrison’s evocative quality and James Taylor’s refined lyrics”… but you know what you’re gonna get when you listen to them.
The same is true of Cat Stevens, you know what you’re getting.
That can NOT be said of Van Morrison. And James Taylor just released an album of American Standards … Jaysus, if that isn’t the death knell of a career I don’t know what is.
The last Cat Stevens album? The Laughing Apple … it got nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Folk Album in 2017.
If you’re a fan of Ricky Gervais you know that he often uses Cat Stevens songs in his shows. Between Spike Milligan and Ricky Gervais, there seems to be some kind of odd connection between Cat Stevens and comedians. Hmmm …
Teaser and the Firecat is a brilliant reminder of how talented Cat Stevens is … and just how awesome it must’ve been to adult in the 1970s.