August 1, 2021

Wild world, by Cat Stevens, or how to say goodbye to an old love

In order to explain – and perhaps understand – the bulk of the repertoire that made of Steven Demetre Georgiou – a young Londoner with a Swedish mother and a Greek father – Cat Stevens, it is necessary to go back to 1969. That year, punctually key by tuberculosis that confronted him with the death and that practically tied him to a hospital bed, not only changed his way of seeing life: that stage of obligatory reflection, where that more spiritual type began to appear that over the years would convert to Islam, was also reflected in your music. Until then, a twenty-something Steven racked up praise – for a sound closer to pop, like that of his debut album. Matthew and son– and a few tours supporting Engelbert Humperdinck or Jimi Hendrix. But the ultimate success came hand in hand with his turn to folk.

Paul Samwell-Smith, who was a bass player for the Yardbirds, as a new producer, and Alun Davies, a partner of sorts on acoustic guitar, played an important role in this root change. His characteristic voice and the lyrics, which now passed between breaks, sorrows and games, did the rest.

Thus in July 1970, already recovered, Cat Stevens began to record what for many is his longplay most famous: Tea for the Tillerman, which saves immediate hits like “Father and son”, “Sad Lisa” or “Wild world”. Finally released on November 23, the album was not long in success: within a few months it had added half a million copies and four of its songs – “Where do the children play?”, “On the road to find out”, “Tea for the Tillerman “and” Miles from nowhere “- were used in the film Harold and Maude (1971).

As with many of the great songs, those that managed to mark an era, the stories-behind-of they are often many and confusing. “Wild world”, of course, meets all those conditions: even three months before Cat Stevens included it – not so convinced – in Tea for the Tillerman, was already considered a success under the interpretation of Jimmy Cliff, who installed it among the eight most listened to on the British charts. Stevens readily replied that triumph: he chose her as the single – along with “Miles from nowhere” – in the United States reaching eleventh place on Billboard.

The song also swept the UK and other countries, where it was also single —But this time she was accompanied by the also melancholic “Sad Lisa” -.

The making off of one of the most important and recognized pieces by Cat Stevens, today Yusuf Islam, is still framed, however, by some controversy: the content of the nostalgic lyrics, full of advice and good wishes to a woman – be careful, that It is a wild world, I hope you are lucky, that I never want to see you sad, that I will always remember you as a girl – suggests different interpretations.

Perhaps the most accepted for years is linked to the breakdown of a relationship: that is, a loving farewell to someone who knew how to be a great love. This first version, above all, is based on the opening verses: “Now that I’ve lost you / You say you want to start something new / And it breaks my heart that you leave / Baby, I’m in mourning.”

And it would have its explanation in the courtship that Cat Stevens had, at that time, with the actress and model Patti D’Arbanville, alleged inspirational muse in addition to the song “Lady D’Arbanville” (Mona Bone Jakon, 1970). The New Yorker, who had a two-year affair with the singer-songwriter, then married Don Johnson in the 1980s.

There are those who, on the other hand, maintain that the letter points to the tender relationship that unites a father and a daughter: to that moment in which the young woman chooses to leave the nest, leave the house, and the guy fills her with advice, crying but also understanding the departure.

Cat Stevens, consulted precisely for the song in The Chris Isaak Hour In 2009, he explained what his intention was, perhaps demolishing the most romantic theory: “I was trying to make a song related to my life. I was at a point where everything was beginning to happen and I was just entering the world. I had my career made and I was very aware of doing it well this time, because it was the moment. The song did not talk about anyone in particular, although some published something else. Mostly it talked about me. It tells how to lose contact with home and reality … especially losing home”.

On Mojo MagazineIn June of that same year, he rehearsed an answer: “It was one of those chord sequences that are very common in Spanish music. I turned it around and came up with that theme that has to do with the departure, the sadness of departure and anticipation of what lies beyond. “

The singer-songwriter, in that sense, specifies that it was not conceived as a love song but rather it was focused on the sadness of leaving a beloved place. The resignification of its audience and surely one of the most romantic ones, however, continues to point that way: “Wild world”, let’s say, acts practically as a synonym of break, of a loving farewell. A very delicate one, too.

“Wild world” is, also at this point, considered eternal, perhaps Yusuf’s most renowned production. Perhaps that is why the song that Jimmy Cliff premiered even before Cat Stevens himself has a no lesser number of versions that cross the most varied styles.

Many are the artists who have contributed to this task: the British pop of Barry Ryan; an instrumental version on behalf of The Ventures; Mr. Big’s hardrock; also the reggae of Maxi Priest; a more classic tint cover by French director Frank Pourcel; the French dubbing of Claude François, and even the Spanish guitar of José Feliciano to name just a few.

In addition, “Wild world” was part of the first season of the series Skins, in the final scene, when the cast of that first generation, led by Sid – injured after losing Cassie – plays her. Here, precisely that interpretation is appreciated: it is almost like a goodbye.