A Little Sunday Music, “Morning Has Broken,” Cat Stevens (aka Yusuf Islam), from “Teaser and the Firecat,” 1971
Aren’t you glad to be alive?
I always thought that this was an original song by Stevens, but the lyrics are by Eleanor Farjeon, a well-known British children’s author who died in 1965. Stevens wrote a variation of the music, which is based on an old Gaelic tune called “Bunessan.” It is often played at funeral services for children in Britain. In other words, it is a Christian hymn.
Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.
Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass.
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day.
Of course, as a Buddhist, I change the lyrics to suit my inclination.
Writing credit for “Morning Has Broken” has occasionally been erroneously attributed to Cat Stevens, who popularised the song abroad. The familiar piano arrangement on Stevens’ recording was performed by Rick Wakeman, a classically trained keyboardist best known for his tenures in the English progressive rock band Yes.
In 2000, Wakeman released an instrumental version of “Morning Has Broken” on an album of the same title. That same year he gave an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live in which he said he had agreed to perform on the Cat Stevens track for £10 and was “shattered” to be omitted from the credits, adding that he never received the money either.
When shaping “Morning Has Broken” for recording, Stevens had to start with a hymn which took around 45 seconds to sing in its basic form. Producer Paul Samwell-Smith told him he could never put something like that on an album, and that it needed to be at least three minutes in length, although an acoustic demo exists of Stevens playing an early version which lasts almost three minutes. Prior to the actual recording Stevens heard Wakeman play something in the recording booth. It was a rough sketch of what would later become “Catherine Howard“. Stevens told Wakeman that he liked it and wanted something similar as the opening section, the closing section and, if possible, a middle section as well. Wakeman told Stevens he could not as it was his piece destined for a solo album, but Stevens persuaded him to adapt his composition. The familiar piano intro and general structure of the piece may be attributed to Stevens or to Wakeman.
On his return to performance as Yusuf Islam, Stevens made a payment to Wakeman and apologized for the original non-payment, which arose from confusion and a misunderstanding on the record label’s part. On a documentary aired on British television Wakeman stated that he felt Stevens’s version of “Morning Has Broken” was a very beautiful piece of music that had brought people closer to religious truth. He expressed satisfaction in having contributed to this.[6
No, I am not advocating terrorism by playing this man’s music. Perhaps Stevens did not think that he contributed very much to music with his songs at the time, but as a writer, I appreciate great lyrics and singers that say something to me and to my life. I very much love his Sixties and Seventies oeuvre, including “Wild World,” “Peace Train,” and “Ready,” even though he was suffering emotionally and spiritually and physically tremendously during this time, which resulted in his later embrace of Islam.
I find it interesting that Stevens, of Greek Cypriot parentage, would embrace what divided his parents’ generation. If you don’t know, the island of Cyprus is essentially a country divided between Greeks and Turks, who are Muslims. This dispute is essentially a holdover not just from the Greek independence movement of the 19th century, but from the British colonialist creation of Cyprus as a crown colony in 1925. Turkish Cypriots strenuously object to union with Greece all the way past that time.
Back to Stevens: he was for real for me then, as are many things when we are young. As with all religions, his faith is a work in progress. I don’t exactly like it at times, but he’s always touched the right things inside me, and for that, I will always love his work.
And Cat Stevens was one of the handsomest young men in music, too. He was fine (pronounced, fiiiiiiiiiiine). One of my favorite Carly Simon songs, “Legend in Your Own Time,” was written for him when they were lovers in the Seventies.
- Artist Countdown: Cat Stevens – Yusuf – Top 25 Hits 9pm ET (radiomaxmusic2.wordpress.com)
- The Cat (desertdogmeh.wordpress.com)