In the Studio 30 Years Ago: Al Stewart- Year of the Cat

It was a sunny cloudless autumn morning in 1988 outside a modest house perched high on the Southern California hillside above Malibu Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The owner of the house answered my knock still dressed in his bathrobe, vertically striped like Joseph’s biblical coat of many colors. Clearly I had surprised my interview subject with an earlier than anticipated arrival, but Al Stewart grinned and graciously let me invade his Saturday morning tranquility. 

At that time it was only the tenth anniversary of the second of his back-to-back multimillion selling albums, Time Passages,  which like its predecessor, 1976’s Year of the Cat,  was produced by Alan Parsons just as Parsons launched his own career as a performer. But these mainstream hits by Al Stewart were far from his first attempts, coming instead after making no less than six albums, the first  four of which were practically ignored. Not until 1973’s Past, Present, and Future  and “Roads to Moscow”, with its eight minute historically-based first person World War II narrative through the eyes of a young Russian soldier who had repelled the Nazi German tank invasion, did Al Stewart gain U.S. airplay.

The song “Carol” from 1975’s Modern Times   mid-charted as well, but with the title song to Year of the Cat   and “On the Border” in 1976, followed by “Time Passages” and “Song on the Radio” two years later, Al Stewart became an unlikely mainstream hitmaker about as far removed from his humble mid-‘60s London Soho coffeehouse roots as one could ever imagine. Music writer Stephen Thomas Erlwine on AllMusic.com calls the Stewart/ Parsons sound on Time Passages  “…dreamy Continental elegance…It’s possible to view this as too precious…but it also reveals much upon concentrated listening, enough to make it stand proudly next to Modern Times  and Year of the Cat  as one of Al Stewart’s very best albums.”- Redbeard