Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat,” launched within the U.S. in late 1976, was catchy however enigmatic. Produced by Alan Parsons, the track about a mystical tryst in Morocco peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard pop chart and turned a yacht-rock basic.
Recently, Mr. Stewart, who co-wrote the track with the late Peter Wood, talked in regards to the hit’s influences. A Forty fifth-anniversary remastered version of the album “Year of the Cat” (Esoteric) will probably be launched Friday Edited from interviews.
Al Stewart: In England within the Nineteen Sixties, comic Tony Hancock was a nationwide TV sensation. He was self-critical and riddled with nervousness. Playing the underdog was a part of his humor and appeal.
When I used to be 20, in 1966, I went to see Hancock carry out in Bournemouth. His monologue that night was all about being a loser and why he could as nicely finish all of it proper there on stage. The viewers roared.
But I had this eerie feeling. What if he was critical? What if he really was depressed and despondent? In ’68, whereas touring in Australia, Hancock dedicated suicide.
His cry for assist impressed me to write down a track known as “Foot of the Stage”: “His tears fell down like rain/ at the foot of the stage.” It had the identical melody line that I’d use a number of years later for “Year of the Cat.”
Back then, I labored in a unusual approach. I’d go into the studio and document the entire primary music for a track first. Then I’d write lyrics and add my vocal. My American document firm, Janus, thought I used to be mad. I’d play them what I had on tape and they’d ask, “Where are the vocals?” I’d inform them I used to be engaged on them.
In 1974, once I performed Janus executives “Foot of the Stage” with a reference vocal, they preferred the music however identified that nobody within the States knew who Tony Hancock was.
So I stored the music however reworked the track as “Horse of the Year,” about Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth’s daughter: “Princess Anne rode up on / the horse of the year.” Again, the identical melody.
Being a huge fan of Bob Dylan, I knew he favored utilizing traces like “paths of victory,” “masters of war,” “chimes of freedom,” and so on. I preferred “of” phrases as a result of they made for imposing titles. “Horse of the Year” was an “of” track, however you actually couldn’t take it severely. It was simply enjoyable. I wanted a new concept.
In ’75, I used to be relationship a lady named Marion. One morning, in my London flat, Marion left a ebook of Vietnamese astrology open on the kitchen desk. The chapter was entitled “Year of the Cat”—the Vietnamese zodiac identify for 1975.
I checked out my “Horse of the Year” title and the ebook’s “Year of the Cat.” The former sounded foolish and the latter sounded actually good. But I couldn’t determine on the track’s story line.
Later that morning, “Casablanca,” with Humphrey Bogart, got here on the TV. I made a decision the track needs to be about one thing unique that occurred within the Year of the Cat:
“On a morning from a Bogart movie / In a country where they turn back time / You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre / Contemplating a crime.”
I preferred what I wrote so I continued:
“She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running / Like a watercolor in the rain / Don’t bother asking for explanations / She’ll just tell you that she came / in the year of the cat.”
The lady within the track is no one particular. She was simply an summary fantasy. And I’d by no means been to Morocco, the place the motion takes place.
The track’s story has a Somerset Maugham affect—the concept of going to unique locations, having fascinating issues occur to you and going together with them. It’s novelistic.
Dylan had this glorious phrase: “I accept chaos, I’m not sure whether it accepts me.” It’s the concept that issues come out of nowhere, change your life and then go away once more.
The man within the track tries to make sense of what’s occurring, however the lady doesn’t give him time for questions as she locks her arm in his. She doesn’t wish to hear it As Maria Schneider says within the movie “Last Tango in Paris”: “It’s better not knowing anything.” That film was within the ether for me then whereas I used to be writing the lyrics.
Even although the lady within the track has a feline high quality, when she immediately seems, she’s not a metaphor for the cat. The unfolding narrative simply capabilities like an uninterrupted cinematic increase shot.
Repeating “year of the cat” at finish of every verse additionally was a Dylan factor that I preferred. Many of his songs do that, like “Desolation Row,” from 1965. He makes use of “desolation row” on the finish of every lengthy verse as a stylistic factor. I didn’t assume any extra deeply about it. I simply preferred the way in which “year of the cat” sounded. It changed “Horse of the Year” and “Foot of the Stage.”
Songs have a humorous approach of turning into hits. I first met Alan Parsons in ’74, across the time he was working with the glam band Cockney Rebel on the track “Make Me Smile,” which went to No. 1 within the U.Okay. I used to be about to begin to document my sixth album, “Modern Times,” the one earlier than “Year of the Cat.” I didn’t have a producer but for it.
I spotted at that time that I’d made 5 albums that didn’t sound notably good. I requested if Alan would produce “Modern Times.” He agreed. If he hadn’t been there for “Year of the Cat,” that track may need sounded very completely different.
It took about a 12 months to write down the lyrics, shifting by the varied variations. By then, I had already recorded a framework for the music, which had its personal uncommon story.
My band then featured components of two profitable English teams. Keyboardist Peter Wood and guitarist Tim Renwick had been within the Sutherland Brothers. My rhythm part got here from Cockney Rebel—George Ford on bass and Stuart Elliott on drums.
While we had been on tour opening for Linda Ronstadt in ’75, Peter would play this piano riff throughout our soundchecks. I heard the riff at every of our 19 stops. When I spoke with Peter about utilizing the riff for a track, he wished it to be strictly instrumental. I wished to write down lyrics to it.
So I left Peter’s piano riff intact for the intro to “Year of the Cat” and wrote lyrics for the remaining. This approach each of us as co-writers could be glad. The track’s riff and chords got here from Peter.
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We recorded the track’s primary tracks and overdubs at London’s Abbey Road Studios in January ’76. In the mid-section, we added a collection of solos. First got here the strings organized by Andrew Powell. These gave the track a cinematic high quality.
The acoustic guitar solo was by Tim, who created a people really feel. He then switched to electrical guitar. He was adopted by Phil Kenzie’s alto saxophone solo.
I wasn’t loopy in regards to the industrial sound of the sax, however including it to singer-songwriter data was scorching then. In ’75, Paul Simon had carried out it on “Still Crazy After All These Years” and so did Carole King on “Jazzman.” Everyone else preferred Phil’s solo so we left it.
Then Peter added an electrical keyboard solo. The vocal tracks had been added in Los Angeles, at Davlen Sound Studios. Alan Parsons was engaged on one other artist’s album mission there.
When Alan and I combined the track for the album, I stated, “Let me try something.” I pushed up the amount fader with Ford’s bass monitor so it was extra pronounced. By including extra of Ford, you hear the facility of the track.
I don’t know if Marion heard the track and linked it to her ebook of astrology. By the time the document got here out, we’d damaged up. She married a Frenchman and moved to Bordeaux. It appears she had the “Year of the Cat” expertise. I wound up with a track.
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