Back in 1978 Cat Stevens was one of the biggest artists in the world, and had sold millions of records. Then, suddenly, he did the unthinkable, and decided to step away from the spotlight. While his legions of fans were devastated, as well as those who had played with him in the studio and on stage, the artist found himself exhilerated at the prospect. “It was like going back to my original nature,” he said at the time. “Back to wide-eyed childhood again.”
That same year, he released his final album under that name. The album was called, ‘Back To Earth’, and it was his parting gift. It saw the London-born singer saying farewell to his fans, while explaining his decision to leave, in songs such as ‘Last Love Song’, and ‘Just Another Night’.
Reminiscing on the period, the artist now known as Yusuf says,
“What’s going on behind the appearance of stardom, or the stage itself can be a completely different world. And that’s what it was a lot of the time. I kept my sanity, and I kept my eyes open.”
‘Back To Earth’ is this year set to be reissued in various formats through Cat-O-Log Records/BMG, and will include a deluxe box set featuring the original album, which has been remastered at Abbey Road, as well as demos, unreleased tracks, and material from UNICEFs 1979 Year Of The Child Concert, which was the singer’s last performance as Cat Stevens.
The release is just the first in a planned series of re-issues and expanded editions that will cover Yusuf’s entire recording career, which spans an amazing five decades.
When first released all those years ago – the re-issue commemorates its 40th anniversary – ‘Back To Earth’ received rave reviews. The London Evening News declared, ” “Cat has come up with the kind of quality album that originally made him a superstar”, while Billboard Magazine applauded the album’s “tender, folksy ballads [and] up-tempo and spirited pop tunes.” Irish music Bible, Hot Press, hailed it as “a lush and intricately woven tapestry of fine melodies…really a return to form.”
Even though it came as a surprise to his fans, the artist had been thinking long and hard for quite some time about leaving his music career. Quite apart from a general disillusionment with fame, he had experienced a spiritual epiphany, after being caught in a rip current, and nearly drowning, while swiming in the Pacific Ocean, 3 years before. Crying to the heavens, he said, “If you save me, I’ll work for you”. Immediately, he was rescued by a gentle wave, carrying him back to the shore.
What then followed was what he calls his “gradual awakening”, leading in 1977 to his decision to become a Muslim, and changing his name to Yusuf Islam. It was sparked by his brother giving him a copy of the Quran for his 27th birthday. Yusuf said at the time,
“I had discovered a new way to view the universe. Like a kid who had travelled by spiritual rocket to an exciting new world.”
Speaking again about ‘Back To Earth’, Yusuf says,
“There are many intriguing messages in the songs and lyrics of this album; ‘The Artist has no words, because I couldn’t find the word to praise the Creator of this incredible enough; ‘Daytime’ gives a sense of the innocence I’d rediscovered; finally, ‘Never’ is befittingly the last track, and is justifiably full of hopeful feelings.”
‘Back To Earth’ saw Stevens reuniting with Paul Samwell-Smith, who had produced his landmark, multi-platinum albums, ‘Tea For The Tillerman’ (1970), and ‘Teaser And The Firecat’, which was released the following year. It also continued his partnership with his long-time guitarist, Alun Davies.
The album was a blend of the acoustic balladeering and spiritually-questing style which had seen him become a worldwide star, as well as the more distant echoes of his years growing up as Steven Demetre Giorgiou all those years ago, in London’s West End. Indeed, the influence of the UK capital city’s theatre land is evident in titles such as ‘New York Times’, and ‘Randy’, which also reflect, since parts of the album were recorded in New York City, that other world theatre capital – Broadway.
“There was this other side of me which was the sort of musical composer,” he remembers. “I loved musicals and I was surrounded by them where I lived. So, I had Bernstein in my blood.”
‘Back To Earth’ is a brilliantly fascinating album which is long overdue for a re-evaluation, and which captures Yusuf at a defining point in his life.
“Now,” as he said at the time of his departure from the music world, “I’ve come down from the stars.”
Long overdue for re-evaluation, Back To Earth is a brilliant and fascinating album capturing Yusuf/Cat Stevens at a defining point in his life.
The album is available here in all formats, including the super deluxe box set, and 2 CD deluxe edition, and other exclusive items.