Who Wrote Lyrics And Music To I.M Through With Love Al Stewart’s "Year Of The Cat": Be Glad You Never Heard The First Draft

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Al Stewart’s "Year Of The Cat": Be Glad You Never Heard The First Draft

Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” was one of the biggest hits of 1977. It was topped by an irresistible piano riff composed and played by Peter Wood and featured a wonderful mid-song instrumental consisting of successive sections of orchestral strings, acoustic guitar playing by Peter White, electric lead guitar played by Tim Renwick and finally a searing saxophone played by Phil Kenzie. At 6:40 it was necessary to create a single version that shortened the intro and instrumentals to 4:38.

The unconventional lyrics describe a guy visiting a faraway exotic country who encounters an enchanting and sultry young woman. She inexplicably links arms with him without even allowing him the opportunity to question her motives or the reason for her desires. Its sight and aroma are intoxicating. He follows her until he is completely lost in a foreign land. She steers him toward a secret romantic rendezvous. When he woke up the next day he realized that his fellow tourists had left without him, tour bus and all. That plus a lost card means a much longer stay than he expected.

The song didn’t start like that.

Have you ever heard of a song called “Stage Foot”? I thought so. The reason you didn’t is because it was the original version of “Year of the Cat”. Al Stewart wrote the lyrics a decade earlier after watching British comedian Tony Hancock perform in Bournemouth, England. This was not your average comedy performance. Hancock suffered from depression and it was evident in his performance. As Stewart himself described it, “He got on stage and he said ‘I don’t want to be here. I’m just completely pissed off with my life. I’m a complete loser, it’s stupid. I don’t. Know why I don’t end it all here.’ And everybody was laughing, because that was the character he was playing… that kind of goofy character. And I looked at him and I thought, oh my God, he means it. It’s real.”

This heartbreaking encounter prompted Stewart to write the first draft of what would later become (after many mutations) the Top Ten. But the first draft had words like “Your tears fall like rain at the foot of the stage.” It was embarrassing: Hancock committed suicide two years later from a drug overdose.

“Stage Leg” was never recorded. Stewart did not want to profit from Hancock’s death. He also realized that it wouldn’t do to write a song about a comedian that no one in America had ever heard of. But Stewart saved the song anyway, writing the lyrics for what is now “Year of the Cat.” His love of the movie Casablanca inspired this new version, including references to Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre. He then kept the lyrics while he and Peter Wood rewrote the music

I don’t know about you but I’m thankful we never heard the original version. The dreamy vignette that Stewart composed was far more palatable than a song about a comedian who suffered from alcoholism and depression and ended up taking his own life. Now if only “The Year of the Cat” was the original version and Tony Hancock recovered from his emotional illness everything would be just peachy. Oh, if only… Presto. Instant smash of the Big Ten.

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