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Classic Scottish Albums - Year Of The Cat

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Davie Scott Davie Scott | 16:42 UK time, Thursday, 18 August 2011

Those of you of a certain vintage will remember the era of the TV-advertised Compilation album. Still almost with us but not like the old days. Not for today's lily-livered consumer 20 Town and Country Greats, Moments In Love or The Shadows Do Dylan. And the stamp-em-out-rack-em-out labels that spawned these compilations, Ronco, K-Tel, MFP, now largely reside crestfallen in dwindling vinyl bins of charity shops up and down the land. My folks, like most folks of their day were quite partial to a cheeky wee TV-advertised compilation album and it is because of this that something life-changing happened to yours truly.

At some point in the late 1970s a compilation album titled Good Morning America appeared in the vinyl rack (a kind of wiry oversized toast rack that held around 24 crap albums) in our front room. A cursory listen revealed that my parents had suddenly acquired stunning taste in music. This shocking development offered only one course of action - to steal the album. Once lashed to the turntable of my Fidelity UA4 record player Good Morning America offered a world of utter wonder. There was At Seventeen Janis Ian's hymn to loneliness, a version of Van Morrison's cinematic romp through early 1960s Belfast Brown Eyed Girl, and Randy Edleman's short story / song Uptown Uptempo Woman. The singer-songwriter (stated hero of this vinyl slab) was clearly some kind of alchemist as I was transported out of the window of 16 Queen's Crescent Falkirk and into a vivid new world where colour was rendered in the tone of an acoustic guitar and the novelist's eye for detail. This was not "She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah", rather "I was wearing moleskin trousers and I had a cup of coffee with one and a half sugars and you cried when I mentioned that I might be going to work abroad in two weeks but cheered up when I bought you a bag of chips with some brown sauce and vinegar on the side and now let's get onto the second line of verse one". Rich stuff.

And every time I listened to that compilation album there was one moment that stopped me in my tracks:

On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
We go strolling through the park like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime

Even in its edited form Al Stewart's Year Of The Cat was so chock full of lyrical, harmonic, performative and technical detail it was impossible to imagine how it could be over in four or five minutes. Interviewing Al for Classic Scottish Albums it quickly became clear that this reductive art is to some extent God given. Every story, every anecdote was shot through with pin sharp detail. We were there in the bedsit with Al listening as Paul Simon wrote Richard Cory next door, there on the high seas with Lord Grenville and there as Yoko Ono filmed a considerable number of nude bottoms (you can hear that particular anecdote here as a wee extra). Al's words whether in conversation or in song have the wonderful effect of painting scenes and scenarios that seem to actually live and breathe. When I started to write songs and make records for a living, inspired in many ways by that TV-advertised compilation, I always tried to remember that one could aspire to the creation of something approaching another world, another space to walk around in. Songwriters don't always quite manage that trick but when they do, oh boy, look out.

Year Of The Cat the album creates new worlds every five minutes or so thanks to an amazing marriage of imagination, words, music and the incredible arrangements and production of the albums cast. Please enjoy our tribute.

Lots of treats for you still to come in this series. Keep the comments coming in!

Classic Scottish Albums featuring Al Stewart
Classic Scottish Albums is every Monday, 1405


  • Comment number 1.

    Ahhh! Reassuring even down here in the old smoke (or south of the river as they tend to call it ) I can still get 'Classic Scottish Albums'. It's an 'aaah bisto' moment or did that go out with the adverts for K-Tel compilations? I guess that makes me also a child of the seventies - but not old enough to get 'Year Of The Cat' the first time round!

  • Comment number 2.

    Really enjoyed this show - great interviews, especially with the man himself, very funny and interesting. So great to learn more about this oft-overlooked, hugely talented songwriter! Thanks and keep up the good work :)

  • Comment number 3.

    Thanks Richard - and yes it is one of those moments when you think about those comps. We also had a great one with Duane Eddy playing an interminable number of instrumentals. Good for three tracks then you're twitching a bit...Amy - I agree about Al. He was one of the best interviewees we've ever had for CSA. Very funny and generous with his time. Check out Time Passages too - the album after YOTC if you've not already. V good.

  • Comment number 4.

    Great to have the series back on again Davie and especially pleased to have you blogging again - I thought the last wee set of blogs were great. Dont get me started on great compilation albums in the 70's!

  • Comment number 5.

    Ps I agree Time Passages is a great album.

  • Comment number 6.

    Out with it then, Norrie - fave compilation albums of the 70's? btw I made a mistake earlier, the guitarist was not Duane eddy it was Bert Weedon and the label was Ronco.

  • Comment number 7.

    Terrific show. I was just 19 when Year of the Cat came along and changed my idea of what music was all about. No more K-Tel for me! Album rock it was from there on in. Thanks Davie! Now how about another Pearlfishers album to really make me happy... (Stuart in Vancouver Canada)

  • Comment number 8.

    Davie you didnt ned many albums back in the day!:

    K Tel 20 Rock n Roll Greats (20 Original Hits! 20 Original stars!)

    K Tel 20 Rock n Roll Geats (20 Original Hits! 20 Original Stars!)

    Rather confusingly same title different acts, similar cover.

    British Gold

    Phil Spector - Echoes oF The 60's

    And the wonderfully titled 22 Explosive Hits!

  • Comment number 9.

    The most amazing fact about this album is that Stewart had all of the music and orchestration written and completely recorded before he even had a title of any of the songs.

    Electrical Certificate

  • Comment number 10.

    isn't that utterly nuts artcu? tell you who else does that - Teenage Fanclub...could be the start of a great research topic...


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