Al Stewart - Year of the Cat

Al Stewart - Year of the Cat

‘Year of the Cat’ is a song by Scottish singer-songwriter Al Stewart, released as a single in July 1976 in the UK (October 1976 in the US). The song is the title track of his 1976 album Year of the Cat, and was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London, in January 1976, and produced by Alan Parsons. The song peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the consecutive weeks of March 5 and 12, 1977. Although Stewart's highest placed single on that chart was 1978's ‘Time Passages’, ‘Year of the Cat’ has remained Stewart's signature recording, receiving regular airplay on both classic rock and folk-rock stations.

Co-written with Peter Wood, ‘Year of the Cat’ is a narrative song written in the second person whose protagonist, a tourist, is visiting an exotic market when a mysterious silk-clad woman appears and takes him away for a gauzy romantic adventure. On waking the next day beside her, the tourist notes that his tour bus has left without him, and decides to stay where he is for the time being.

Al Stewart

According to an interview in the Financial Times, Stewart's "girlfriend left a book of Vietnamese astrology open at the page for the Year of the Cat, then just beginning, the words fitted the same four notes — and also contained the word 'of'. Stewart was obsessed with Bob Dylan’s 'of' songs — 'Masters of War', 'Chimes of Freedom', and presumably in 1975, 'Simple Twist of Fate' — believing that the preposition made them sound 'portentous'. When he watched Casablanca on television, an opening couplet came to him: “In 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…” In the Vietnamese zodiac, the Cat is one of the twelve signs. At the time of the song's release, the most recent Year of the Cat had been 11 February 1975 to 30 January 1976; thus, the song was written and recorded in the Vietnamese Year of the Cat.

The track is noted for its lengthy instrumental sections—over four minutes of the 6:40 album version is instrumental, including a long, melodic series of solos that encompass cello, violin, piano, acoustic guitar, distorted electric guitar, synthesizer and saxophone. Tim Renwick plays both the acoustic lead and electric lead and George Ford plays bass. Parsons had Phil Kenzie add the alto saxophone part of the song—and by doing so transformed the original folk concept into the jazz-influenced ballad that put Al Stewart onto the charts. According to Stewart, Phil Kenzie was watching a movie and didn't want to be bothered with going to do session work; but as a favour to Alan Parsons he went to Abbey Road, and the sax solos were recorded in one or two takes, after which Kenzie left the studio to go back home and watch the rest of his movie.

Subsequent to the entry of the single on the US charts, the track became a major hit in Australia (no. 13), Belgium/Flemish Region (no. 7), Canada (no. 3), Italy (no. 5), the Netherlands (no. 6) and New Zealand (no. 15). In the UK, where the single had been overlooked on its original July 1976 release, it gained renewed interest which was evident in a Top 40 chart entry although interest levelled off outside the Top 30 with a number 31 peak in January 1977. ‘Year of the Cat’ would remain Stewart's sole chart single in his native UK.

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Labels – RCA (UK), Janus (US)
Songwriters – Al Stewart, Peter Wood
Producer – Alan Parsons


{Instrumental Lead In}
[Verse 1]
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
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
[Verse 2]
She doesn't give you time for questions
As she locks up your arm in hers
And you follow 'till your sense of which direction
Completely disappears
By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls, there's a hidden door she leads you to
These days, she says: "I feel my life!"
Just like a river running through
The Year of the Cat
[Verse 3]
Well, she looks at you so coolly
And her eyes shine
Like the moon in the sea, she comes in Incense
And Patchouli
So, you take her
To find what's waiting inside
The Year of the Cat
{Instrumental Bridge}
[Verse 4]
Well, morning comes and you're still with her
And the bus and the tourists are gone
And you've thrown away your choice and lost your ticket
So, you have to stay on
But, the drum-beat strains of the night remain
In the rhythm of the new-born day
You know sometime you're bound to leave her
But, for now you're going to stay
In the Year of the Cat
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