Though many radio stations dropped Stevens in response to his (out-of-context, according to the artist) comments on Salman Rushdie, there's no denying that beyond this shadow his recordings retain all of their well-crafted, 1970s singer-songwriter effervescence. With his original albums remastered and reissued, and several other greatest hits collections on the market, one might wonder if there's a need for this 2-disc set. The answer is a definite yes, as it serves the audience interested in hearing more tracks, but insufficiently rabid to snap up original LP reissues or the 2001 rarities-filled box set "The Cat Stevens Box Set." These two discs go beyond the canonical oldies-radio playlists to draw a fuller picture of Stevens' career with excellent lower-charting hits and album tracks.
Stevens' found success on both the singles and album charts throughout the latter part of the '60s and into the late-70s, and A&M samples from throughout this fertile period. The classic material opens with Stevens' first major UK hit, "Matthew and Son," and closes with the emotional "Last Love Song" from 1978's "Back to Earth." The entire set ends with Stevens' most recent release, the spellbinding "Indian Ocean," recorded in support of tsunami relief in early 2005. In between the collection pulls together the familiar U.S. hits and augments them with tracks that made a bigger splash in the UK (e.g., "Matthew & Son" "Can't Keep it in" "Lady D'Arbanville"). Many of the UK hits became favorite FM album tracks in the US, and several original songs were brought to prominence in cover versions (including "Here Comes My Baby" by The Tremeloes, "Wild World" by Jimmy Cliff, and "The First Cut is the Deepest" by P.P. Arnold, later by Rod Stewart, and yet again by Sheryl Crow). Also included is Stevens' 1974 cover of Sam Cooke's "Another Saturday Night."
A few chart items are missing, including early UK hits "I Love My Dog," "I'm Gonna Get Me a Gun," and "A Bad Night," as well as minor US top-40s, "Ready" and "Two Fine People" (the latter originally tacked onto Stevens' 1975 greatest hits release), but these are made up for by a generous helping of fine album cuts, including 1970's "Trouble" and "Sad Lisa" (both from the classic "Tea for the Tillerman" LP and covered in later years by Marianne Faithful, Bruce Robison, and Kristen Hersh, among others), "Don't Be Shy" (from the soundtrack to "Harold & Maude"), 1972's "Bitterblue," the ambitious 18-minute side-long "Foreigner Suite" from 1973's "Foreigner," and many more. Despite their lack of release as singles, many of these non-charting tracks will be familiar from then-dominant album-oriented radio formats.
This is an excellent set, representing all of Stevens' original albums with hits and finely selected album tracks. All 31 vintage pieces were remastered from the original stereo analog tapes and sound fresh and crisp. Unless you're in for the original albums (which you may well be after this sampling), this is the place to start appreciating Stevens' classic works. [©2005 hyperbolium dot com]