Al Stewart had released albums for 10 years before Year of The Cat came out in late 1976. Finally he broke through with the title track of said LP, traveling all the way into the Top 10 in early 1977. A dreamy & romantic tale of a man falling in love with a mysterious woman in an exotic locale, though the genesis of the song was an inspired by a suicidal comic drunk.
Al was watching a self-depreciating performance by English comedian, Tony Hancock, in the mid 60s which led him to write a song called Foot Of The Stage. All never recorded the song, but used the melody when he came up with some Casablanca-influenced story set in the year of the cat. Which could be 1975 or 1963 or 1951…who knows. Actually 2011 is the year of the cat, or so my Chinese place mat told me.
Alan Parsons, who produced Al’s previous LP, Modern Times, and was always looking for a project, produced Year of The Cat as well, helping to turn the song from a simple folk tune into the melodramatic 6 minute opuses we’ve come to know from Al. There’s the simple keyboard opening, and YOTC it was played on piano by Peter Wood. [Al thought it was so kick ass, he gave him a co-writer credit.] Then a verse or two such with ease by Al which ends with the chorus as we mellow into the instrumental section on a wave of strings. First an acoustic solo by Al. And then the best part – all hell breaks loose with an electric guitar solo and some ripping sax blowing, provided here by Phil Kenzie. As we go back down into the last verse, there’s still always a big finish complete with more sax. The guy plays it like his life’s depends on it.
I always loved this song as kid, one for its drama and two, because it was about a cat or so I thought. Lame, I know. But as I got older I just thought it was a song about some one-night stand a guy has in Morocco or somewhere. Now when I listen to it, I think that Al was trippin balls. Think about it. Al takes a hit, starts seeing watercolors running like rain. Then she (it)locks up her arm with his, meaning he’s on the trip. He feels his life is like a river running through – man this must be good stuff. When he’s peaking, he realizes that he threw away his choice, lost his ticket, but he has to stay on – ride it out, man. He knows he’s bound to leave her – yeah when he comes down – where’s the warm milk when you need it? For now he’s gonna stay.
Hey maybe he was on a mescaline. Maybe it’s a flashback. Only Al knows if he popped a cap of Yellow sunshine. You take a listen and tell me:
Looks a little like Eric Idle, doesn’t he?