Cat Stevens' 10 greatest songs, ranked

20 June 2023, 10:31

Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam) in 1975.
Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam) in 1975. Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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Cat Stevens is a bonafide folk-pop legend.

He went through several reinventions throughout his career, firstly as a 60s teen idol pop star, then to a soul-searching singer-songwriter, then to a devout man of the Muslim faith having changed his name to Yusuf Islam.

But the through-line to Cat Stevens' evolution as a person was the gentle, spiritual music he put out in the world.

Stevens' search for a greater depth and meaning in his life shone through in his melodic songwriting, and established him as an icon of folk and pop during the 1970s.

His legacy as a music legend is well and truly secured, especially since being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 and performing at Glastonbury Festival's lauded Legends Slot in 2023.

That said, here are Cat Stevens' greatest ten songs ranked from top to bottom:

  1. 'Oh Very Young'

    Yusuf / Cat Stevens - Oh Very Young (live, Majikat - Earth Tour 1976)

    After contracting tuberculosis at the age of 20 due to touring tirelessly, the experience encouraged Cat Stevens to search for a deeper meaning in his life.

    This spiritual longing bled into his music, on songs like 'Oh Very Young' which was a top ten hit in the US.

    Despite only being 25 when the song was released, he imparts the wisdom "You're only dancin' on this earth for a short while", which felt more purposeful than many of his pop music peers.

  2. 'Peace Train'

    Yusuf / Cat Stevens – Peace Train (Live at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, 2006)

    After establishing himself as a star in the UK, Cat Stevens made waves in the US with tracks like 'Peace Train' which were adopted by the hippie movement.

    His breezy, meaningful approach to songwriter had a huge appeal to the countercultural youths.

    With no aggressive political agenda, the song's focus is to spread the message of peace.

    'Peace Train' is relentlessly hopeful, with Stevens "thinking about the good things to come", which took it to No.1 on the US Adult Contemporary chart.

  3. 'Lady D'Arbanville'

    Yusuf / Cat Stevens – Lady D'Arbanville (Official Music Video)

    1970 single 'Lady D'Arbanville' was based on Cat Stevens's girlfriend at the time, actress Patti D'Arbanville.

    She features alongside Stevens in a promotional video for the song, filmed in monochrome in a gothic English mansion where he sings to her corpse, promising to love her for eternity.

    The sentiment was slightly premature - they broke up that year and Patti was later linked to Mick Jagger and Miami Vice star Don Johnson.

  4. 'Matthew and Son'

    Cat Stevens - Matthew & Son (1967)

    'Matthew and Son' was Cat Stevens' breakthrough hit in the UK and reached No.2 in the charts in 1967.

    It established him as one of the country's most promising talents, with the song becoming more influential than Stevens initially realised.

    In 2016, he commented on Tears For Fears' lament 'Mad World' sounding somewhat similar to the verse of 'Matthew and Son'.

    "'I think it's kind of funny, I think it's kind of strange', yes I think it's kind of funny, that this sounds the same!"

  5. 'Tea for the Tillerman'

    Tea For The Tillerman

    The final song of Stevens' celebrated second album of the same name clocks in at only 66 seconds long, but it's a beautiful composition nonetheless.

    It featured as the outro of Ricky Gervais' celebrity bashing series Extras, with Coldplay's Chris Martin even covering the song for the episode he featured in.

    A perfect ending to a perfect album, almost - the only complaint his dedicated fanbase was is that 'Tea For The Tillerman' wasn't a bit longer.

  6. 'Morning Has Broken'

    Yusuf / Cat Stevens – Morning Has Broken (Official Lyric Video)

    'Morning Has Broken' was a reworking of a 1931 children's hymn by Eleanor Farieon.

    Cat Stevens added chords to the words, which reference the book of Genesis in the Bible, where God creates Earth on the "first morning".

    Because of Stevens' spiritual standing, the words became immediately synonymous with the singer-songwriter in the US.

    Though British audiences would've been familiar with the hymn beforehand, it was a top ten hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

  7. 'Moonshadow'

    Yusuf / Cat Stevens - Moonshadow (Live, 1971)

    Cat Stevens said 'Moonshadow' was a song about being present and joyful in your own life without comparing yourself to others.

    It's this positivity that typified his songwriting, and helped him join the ranks of fellow mysterious artists like George Harrison in the minds of American audiences.

    'Moonshadow' wasn't a notable hit on its release, but was rediscovered soon after when he broke the US.

    After Stevens' became a Muslim, he said it was this song which made him revisit and reconsider his earlier work, saying it was an "optimist's anthem".

  8. 'First Cut Is The Deepest'

    Yusuf Cat Stevens, The First Cut is the Deepest, Festival de Viña 2015, HD 1080p

    The only song to feature on this list which wasn't originally a Cat Stevens song, but was one of the most influential songs he's ever written.

    It details somebody who's met someone they want to fall in love with but is unable to, because of the emotional damage inflicted from a previous relationship.

    Stevens wrote 'First Cut is the Deepest' for soul singer P.P. Arnold, which was later covered by Rod Stewart, Sheryl Crow and many more.

    Ike & Tina Turner backup singer PP Arnold felt the song was ideal for her when she came across the lyrics, having been in an abusive relationship:

    "It encapsulated everything that I was at the time. Having the courage to get out of that and create a life for me and my kids. What a blessing."

  9. 'Wild World'

    CAT STEVENS - Wild World 1971

    Cat Stevens wrote 'Wild World' after his bout of tuberculosis, and having reconsidered his fast living began looking to Eastern religion for answers.

    "I was trying to relate to my life. I was at the point where it was beginning to happen and I was myself going into the world" he later said.

    "It's talking about losing touch with home and reality - home especially."

    'Wild World' became his breakthrough hit in the US, which paved the way for his later success.

  10. 'Father and Son'

    Yusuf / Cat Stevens - Father & Son

    'Father and Son' first came into being, it wasn't a hit. In fact, it wasn't even released as a single.

    The song only gained notoriety and acclaim after Irish boyband Boyzone covered it in 1995 which pushed it to the top of the Irish charts and No.2 in the UK.

    Since then it's become one of, if not the, most enduring song Cat Stevens has ever put written

    Initially conceived as a song for a musical Stevens was writing called Revolussia which never came to fruition, it was inspired by his relationship with his own father, who wanted him to join the family business rather than pursue a career in music.