By the end of 1967, Cat Stevens was doing pretty well for himself. His first album, Matthew and Son, was doing well, and the title track had risen to #2 in the UK. He had toured with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, and was set to release a new album, optimistically entitled New Masters.
But luck has a funny way of turning around. The new album didn’t chart, and in a strange bout of desperation, he sold the rights to one of its songs to soul diva P.P. Arnold for £30. The song was “The First Cut Is The Deepest”, and it became the biggest hit of her career.
And then, before you could say, “at least you’ve still got your health”, Stevens contracted Tuberculosis. Upon his admittance to hospital, he was near death, and suffered a collapsed lung. Thankfully, he survived. But the experience changed him. His music veered away from pop and towards folk. His lyrics became more thoughtful and personal. During his months of recovery he wrote some of his best songs, including this one, a quiet anthem to survival.
What makes this a beautiful song:
1. The simple instrumentation in the first verse makes him seem very alone, as if he’s playing guitar to himself on the edge of his hospital bed.
2. The piano that peeks out at 1:42 is like a little ray of hope.
3. It ends abruptly, with the line, “I don’t want no fight and I haven’t got a lot of time.” It’s like he’s decided that enough is enough, it’s time to get on with his life, so he’s up and out of the hospital just like that. Which is kind of what happened. Within two years of his near-death experience, Stevens had released two platinum-selling albums, and was well on his way to becoming one of the most beloved folkies of all time.
Recommended listening activity:
Ripping off a band-aid.