13 Best Yusuf Cat Stevens Songs, Spiritual Folk-Rock Troubadour

Though Cat Stevens would change names throughout his career, from his original stage name of Cat Stevens to his faith-based name Yusuf Islam, then a mixture of both, he was originally born Steven Demetre Georgiou and lived out his early days in London. His parents owned a popular restaurant and early on he helped out with the family business. But as he got older, he gravitated towards music and began performing in eateries and coffee shops. Though he tried his hand at being a band leader, he soon figured out all he needed was his voice and his guitar.

After a try at pop stardom in the ‘60s, he made a smooth transition to that of folk singer-songwriter in the ‘70s. As it turns out, that was his sweet spot. Penning some of folk, pop/rock’s most interesting tunes and biggest hits of the 1970s, the gentle-voiced troubadour incorporated elements of spirituality and philosophy into every one of his works, making him an authoritative voice on both songwriting technique and a life well-lived. Below, we unpack the best Yusuf / Cat Stevens songs ever released.

13. Don’t Be Shy

“Don’t wear fear or nobody will know you’re there.” A song that offers a glimpse into the spiritual values Yusuf incorporates into his music, ‘Don’t Be Shy’ is a gentle message emboldening “good people” to stand up for what is right. He originally wrote the tune for a dark comedy film in 1971, Harold and Maude, that featured a young, anti-hero protagonist obsessed with death who falls madly in love with a much older woman (much to his rich mother’s dismay). Though the song has a comedic relation, through Yusuf’s own spiritual awakening which reached its pinnacle in 1977, the uplifting acoustic number has become a symbolic message for peace, compassion, and bravery.

12. Trouble

In 1969, when Stevens was experiencing significant popularity and widespread fame in the UK, he contracted tuberculosis. By the time he was admitted to a hospital, the then-22 year old was near death and had only been given weeks to live. Stuck in a bland hospital room with countless injections day in and day out, he underwent a self-described spiritual revelation. Faced with his own mortality, and that of the patients around him, he decided to commit himself to a rigorous metaphysical rediscovery, which ultimately led to him converting to Islam years later. Not only did he eventually change his name from his moniker Cat Stevens to Yusuf Islam, but he went on a writing spree like never before. ‘Trouble’ was one of the songs to come out of that artistic bout, which deals with the reality of mortality, and was also a perfect fit for the Harold and Maude film ‘Don’t Be Shy’ is also featured in. Recording it after pulling through the illness and completing a long term recovery process at home, the introspective song marks another change for the performer which highlights him segwaying from pop star to folksy troubadour.

11. Take the World Apart

The leading single from his 2023 King of a Land album, the joyous number ‘Take The World Apart’ features an older Yusuf but still vital as ever singing about the importance of striving for a peaceful life. And many times, that means traveling the world over in order to get to that spiritual nirvana. The feel-good tune acts as a renewed breath of fresh air, as many of his works have done in the past, and builds off of a foundational optimism present in the acoustic instrumentation and tender vocal delivery. Stream this happy track for an ideal start to your day or an afternoon pick-me-up.

10. Tea For The Tillerman

With the release of his album Tea for the Tillerman, Cat Stevens received a significant break and became a singer-songwriter of commercial proportions. This career boost meant he’d be regarded as one of the ‘70s premier folk-rock artists, with the exploration of spirituality and philosophy at the core of his works. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Stevens in his own words spoke about the album’s title track and said, “Even in the darkness, God has given us something to lighten our way. It’s a symbol of that.” The hit record has long been hailed by critics as one of contemporary music’s most important and influential albums. For Stevens personally, ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ remains one of his songs he loves the most. Decades later, the performer recorded a reimagined edition of the Tea for the Tillerman album, which featured new takes on all eleven songs including the title track.

9. Oh Very Young

Searching for life’s meaning throughout his twenties after his near-fatal bout with tuberculosis, Stevens went on his promised metaphysical journey. Before landing on Islam as his preferred spiritual home, he explored the teachings of Buddhism. His tune ‘Oh Very Young’ was written during his time spent with the spiritual practice, and much of the song reflects the religion’s ideals, including poetic lines like, “And the goodbye makes the journey harder still. Will you carry the words of love with you?” The top ten hit appears on Stevens’ 1974 album appropriately named, Buddha and the Chocolate Box.

8. Moonshadow

This joyful number contains such innocence, it could double as both a folk song and a children’s nursery rhyme. It contains a poignant youthfulness, and that’s because Yusuf used inspiration from his childhood to write ‘Moonshadow.’ During a vacation in Spain, he and his family stayed in a rural, coastal town and for the first time he got to see the moon without any artificial light around to dim it. Its glow cast his shadow along the ground and he was amazed by the experience. When he wrote the playful tune later in life, his adult lens looking back on his childhood memory filled the retelling of it via song with hope and wonder for the future.

7. If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out

Songs written for director Hal Ashbury’s hit cult film Harold and Maude became a recurring theme throughout Yusuf’s career. He did the songwriting for the film soundtrack and some of the tunes he penned became his most enduring. Despite a spat with Ashbury, who decided to use demo cuts for the film instead of more polished finish takes (to be fair, demo cuts go better with the taboo themes of the moody film), the performer experienced much success due to his work on the project. ‘If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out’ plays during a touching scene in the film which finds the two main characters playfully bonding in a park. The stripped down, acoustic track celebrates individuality and being fearless in the expression of oneself no matter how you’re judged.

6. Lady D’Arbanville

This moody, minor chord driven track is a haunting, yearning tribute written for Cat’s girlfriend, actress Patti D’ Arbanville, who he dated for two years beginning in 1968. Released on his Mona Bone Jakon album, though it is now considered to be one of Stevens’ best records ever produced, at the time it debuted to less than stellar fanfare and ‘Lady D’ Arbanville’ was the only hit. On top of the song’s restrained brilliance is the unreleased music video for the single recovered from Stevens’ unpublished works back in 2020. Considered to be one of the earliest known music videos which took a “cinematic,” artistically narrative approach, the sequence of shots features Patti roaming about a gothic castle as Cat performs the song. The eerie footage gives rise to the question: Is this “Lady D’ Arbanville” he’s singing to alive or deceased?

5. Peace Train

It sounds odd that a train ride spent thinking about the iconic horror film director Alfred Hitchcock would inspire a song called ‘Peace Train,’ but that’s what happened for Cat Stevens while riding the rails one day. Somehow (still murky to this day), he made the jump from Hitchock (whose film plots many times centered around a train ride) to peace, and thus this hit single was born. A call for compassion and understanding among all of humanity, the anthemic, driving tune continues to strike a chord with listeners to this day. Not only has it been used as a rallying cry for peace during wartime but it’s been adopted by several charity organizations over the years to help with raising money and resources for struggling communities around the world.

4. Morning Has Broken

One of Yusuf’s biggest hits in America, ‘Morning Has Broken’ has remained a setlist staple over decades, even during a period of time when he only made music of his available that was in line with his Muslim faith. The piano-centric track is based on a Christian hymn the songwriter found one day while browsing a local bookstore. The hymn was known throughout England, and had its start in Scotland long before it was translated to English. Yusuf used the hymn as a basis for ‘Morning Has Broken,’ and reworked the tune (which was in the public domain) into his own rendition. He viewed it as a kind of creative exercise. While reinterpreting the classic song, he used his mother as inspiration. She used to sing him lullabies from her home country of Sweden when he was a boy, and he was always comforted by them. This tune reminded him of those lullabies and as he wrote he tried to write from the voice of his mother singing to him. The bond the two share shines through beautifully on the single.

3. The Wind

A paired down song with just Yusuf’s serene voice and graceful guitar chops guiding you along, the eclectic ‘The Wind’ takes you on a spiritual journey. The singer-songwriter explores themes of fate and destiny within the poetic lyrics, and much of the tune was inspired by his visiting book shops along his travels. He loved finding lesser-known texts on spirituality and religion, and his main focus in the ‘70s were the many sects of eastern philosophy. The short track is a live show favorite for the performer, and has been used in quite a few TV shows and movies like How I Met Your Mother and Almost Famous.

2. Father And Son

With the opening simple chord riff played for ‘Father and Son,’ fans instantly recognize this Cat Stevens classic. Utilizing G and C chords, the opening notes aren’t ostentatious, but tried and true with that magic touch of his, which marks the brilliance of his songwriting. A highly relatable coming of age story, the tune focuses on a conversation between a father and a child, one hoping his son stays close to home and settles down, the other wanting to leave the nest and experience the world. While some draw parallels between Stevens’ own relationship with his father, he actually came up with the track in the ‘60s while working on a musical that never came to fruition about a family caught in the midst of the Russian Revolution. The play never materialized so he included the stirring song on his breakout Tea for the Tillerman album.

1. Wild World

Arguably his most commercially successful hit, Cat Stevens’ signature track ‘Wild World’ continues to be an integral part of his songwriting legacy. Introspection is once again front and center with the philosophical track. One of the many tunes he wrote after his terrible bout with tuberculosis, the songwriter found himself intensely thinking about his lack of connection to his family and home, and reality itself. While Stevens has talked about the song’s meaning extensively without ever mentioning former girlfriend Patti D’ Arbanville’s name, some still think this song is a reference to their eventual breakup. No matter if it’s coming to terms with reality post-breakup, or coming to terms with leaving home for the first time, the song does have an uplifting air about it, suggesting that ultimately, life is about finding yourself and finding home, with whoever, and wherever that may be.

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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