I just found this, I was going to submit this as my one hit wonder piece, oh well it’s written to here it goes:
From when I was 12 until the age of 18 I rode three buses for two hours to get to school. This was before the days of walkmen, C.D. players and definitely pre stereo earbuds with mp3 players. Instead we had portable transistor radios that had one little earbud that would give you a crackly connection to the music/football game you were listening to. Music was not an easily portable experience, in fact it was often for the teenager who lived several hours from school a lonely silent experience until the evening or weekend.
I had so few records that I had managed somehow to commit most of the lyrics involved in them to memory. The more lyrics the better was my general thought, the denser and more poetic the better. I would sit replaying entire albums in my mind on my way home as I stared out of the misted windows of the number 10 Bus on rainy days or watched my fellow passengers and created entire life stories for them. Often this would involve some sort of romantic involvement as I was whisked away from my existence in an all male school. How I regretted passing the entrance exam as I watched the comprehensive school kids talk to members of the opposite sex so easily and skillfully. Of course this is probably the majority of the idle thoughts of the adolescent male.
On the rare occasions you could get a station on the ancient battery operated transistor radio with it’s one strange dangling earbud it was seldom playing a song you would like to hear. Into this strange world one song strikes me as standing out. Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat. A long song with a few powerful words.
Of course the lyrics would catch the imagination of the adolescent male. A film noire setting, a strange beautiful woman met in an exotic location who sweeps our protagonist off his feet and makes him leave his humdrum life behind for awhile. The lyrics are full of longing and sorrow as we realize this is a transient relationship destined to end.
For years I searched for that exotic smell of incense and patchouli. It’s a heady scent that takes you to strange places not all of them very clean.
I have always thought the lush late seventies production of the original track kind of spoilt it a little, a case of Alan Parson’s having too much control. Al after the success of this went on a quest for another hit. He started wearing disturbingly slick suits in various powdered colors instead of the hippy garb that had adorned other albums. His songs for awhile became a little less personal and confessional and to be honest less interesting. The song itself when you listen to the album stands out as somewhat separate from the rest of the songs which have a sympathetic folk-rock production. The song then comes as something of a shock after the fiddles and guitars of the other tracks.
So here’s a live version:
Luckily after the eighties Mr. Stewart found his sea legs again and went back to what he does best. Intensely personal songs, interspersed with historical epics sprinkled with gentle humor. Of course he still plays the hit and everyone loves it and he seems to have become resigned to the sax solo which he has described as sounding like a honking goose.
Here we have before and after pics, Al the hippy and Al the suave dapper man about town.