Cat Stevens's debut single found its way to the U.K. charts while he was still in his teens. He became an international star with 1970's TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN, which showed an evolution in his style. With his distinctive voice, memorable melodies, and sensitive, socially conscious lyrics, Stevens typified the singer-songwriter aesthetic of the early '70s. His records from that period were incredibly successful, familiar to anyone growing up at the time. Over the years, his music grew a little less accessible, and by the end of the '70s he had converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, and retired from pop music. A 2006 comeback album, recorded under his new name, was a lovely return to form.
Kicking off A&M's ambitious Cat Stevens reissue program is this 20-song introduction. The set surveys all of Stevens's stages, from the orchestrated late-1960s sides through his early-'70s peak to his more eclectic late-1970s experiments. Following the progression makes for an interesting endeavor as Stevens learns to harness his ambitious ideas with arrangements that don't obscure his rhapsodic messages. Few artists of his generation were more gifted when it came to plucking timeless melodies out of thin air, and his sumptuous voice was always able to movingly convey his bittersweet lyrics. As a career overview (including one previously unreleased cut) this set achieves its goal, hitting all of the chart successes along the way and basically defining his role as a sensitive '70s singer-songwriter, but some fans may opt for the classic early-'70s studio records, which find Stevens at his most consistently touching. --Marc Greilsamer
If You Enjoy "The Very Best of Cat Stevens (CD)", May We Also Recommend: