Perhaps the most famous songs performed by Al Stewart are The Year of the Cat and Time Passages. These are the ones that were big hits on the radio back in the day. They deserve all the acclaim they got. Both are exceptional lyrically as Stewart has the ability to tell a story in five minutes that takes us lesser mortals hundred of pages. The Year of the Cat has to be one of the best “story songs” I’ve ever heard. It never bogs down or become maudlin, but rather continues to the end in a perfect arc of building tension until the protagonist is left there wondering what just happened. There’s a lesson here for anyone who wants to tell a story, whether it be a novel, a song, or something else. Stay focused, fine tune the message, and use the right words. Sounds basic, right? Try it. Not so easy.
Thanks to the miracle of online music, I was browsing through some Al Stewart songs and discovered the man is still hard at work. He’s produced numerous albums over the past four decades. His lyrics continue to impress me with their narrative prowess, ironic twists, and occasional humorous interlude. A sort of novelty song is Hanno the Navigator, which I found myself grinning to the other day. Then there is the driving pop/rock sound of Genie on a Table Top. Take a listen; it’ll be worth your while.
It’s interesting how some musicians have long careers even after their original hits have faded from the scene, while others seem to vaporize, never to be heard from again. When you think about someone like Al Stewart, who has literally been making music for more years than I’ve been alive, you can’t help but realize how far you have to go in order to earn a permanent spot, however small, in the arts.