Joel Goldenberg: Cat Stevens and others

Yusuf/Cat Stevens

Before we plow on with the remaining S list entries, a little recommendation.

If you have a Samsung 9 smartphone set to Dolby Atmos movie and subscribe to Spotify, download (for offline listening) playlists that mention surround sound or Atmos. You'll find songs (in stereo) with mindblowing surround effects, including Michael Jackson's Billie Jean, some tracks from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and many others.

And now, the sometimes silly S list:

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Cat Stevens: This artist emerged exactly at the right time, in the midst of the sensitive singer-songwriter era, and a beautiful ballad like Morning is Broken is one of the best of the genre. But my favourite song of his is Father and Son, a forceful ballad that sounds autobiographical.

For many years starting in the late 1970s, Stevens abandoned secular music upon his conversion to Islam and his adoption of the name Yusuf Islam. It's gratifying that while remaining true to his faith, he's returned to the secular music world.

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B.W. Stevenson: My Maria is one of those songs featuring an intensely strummed guitar, kind of like the even more intense Richie Havens but more poppy. Great to sing along with.

But another of Stevenson's songs involves a more interesting story. He recorded and released the song Shambala first, but Three Dog Night recorded their own version and were so anxious to get their version on nation-wide radio first that they airlifted a quickly mixed mono acetate disc to stations throughout the States. This was the reason given for the song only existing in mono and fake stereo. However, there's a version floating around YouTube lacking certain instrumental overdubs, which means to me that a stereo version could have been done.

A sonic mystery, indeed. When I asked Three Dig Night singer Chuck Negron about the Shambala mono-stereo issue, he thought a true stereo version had been released on the band's Celebrate 2-CD set. Nope, it was clean mono.

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Billy Stewart: Stewart, a pretty successful and very corpulent soul singer of the 1960s, is best known for his unique, super-energetic scatting version of the standard Summertime. But in terms of hitting the listener in the heart, I Do Love You — arrangement and vocal-wise — is far better.

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Rod Stewart: Stewart is kind of to music what Michael Caine was to movies, until the latter became more choosy about movie roles. Both exceptionally talented, and both have wasted their talents on garbage. In the case of Caine, his nadir was Jaws 4, which he admits was only positive for him financially. And for Stewart, it's many of his '80s albums in which he followed trends instead of creating them, and his overlong series of standards tribute LPs with album covers that feature him in obnoxious poses.

(Of course, Stewart has shown he's in on the joke. In his self-penned liner notes for the Storyteller box set for one of his trend-following '80s hits, he writes: "What's this doing 'ere?" Which makes his choice of certain songs to do even more infuriating.

But when Stewart's on, whether it's on classics like Maggie May, and some of his more soulful deep album tracks, he's magnificent.

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The Stills-Young Band: During the 1970s, there was a dizzying amount of music emanating from the then-short lived quartet of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY). There was the much longer lasting CSN (who I saw at Place des Arts), the prolific solo careers of each of the individuals, and a few albums featuring Graham Nash and David Crosby together.

One of those combinations only lasted for one album — The (Stephen) Stills-(Neil)Young Band. One of its songs, Long May You Run (the title track of the album) was chosen for Neil Young's Decade retrospective (from what I've heard, in a different mix than the original), and it's a low-key, somewhat anthemic song with a nice Beach Boys mention. But Midnight on the Bay was Young's most accessible, lovable song since the #1 Heart of Gold, and should have been a big hit.

This is even more surprising, considering that Young was just past his downer, non-commercial (sparked by the death of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry) period that produced albums like Tonight's the Night, On the Beach and, especially, Time Fades Away.

Next time: Sting and others.

 

 

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