Al Stewart is a Scottish musician who benefited much from the revival of British folk music in the 1960s and 1970s. He has had a long career.
For proof, consider how he released his first studio album, Bedsitter Images, in 1967 and his sixteenth studio album, Sparks of Ancient Light, in 2008. As such, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that Stewart has some much-beloved songs.
Here is our opinion of the ten best Al Stewart songs of all time:
10. “A League of Notions”
“A League of Notions” comes from Between the Wars in 1995. The name is an obvious reference to the League of Nations, best known for failing to maintain world peace.
However, interested individuals should know the song is about the general decisions made by the Entente powers after the First World War.
Unsurprisingly, the lyrics don’t exactly paint a picture of clear-headed individuals making decisions to the best of their capabilities. Instead, it suggests their power far outstrips their ability to make sense of everything.
9. “Roads to Moscow”
Stewart loves history as a source of inspiration. “Roads to Moscow” is based on one Soviet soldier’s experiences during the Second World War.
It even comes complete with a mention of the filtration camps that Soviet POWs and other repatriated Soviet citizens had to pass through. The first category was treated much worse than their civilian counterparts.
Most were freed or returned to service, but the NKVD sent 15 percent to the Gulag. Chances are good that interested individuals can guess “Roads to Moscow” isn’t the happiest song, particularly since it has such an ambiguous ending.
8. “Lord Grenville”
“Lord Grenville” is a song on Year of the Cat, which might be Stewart’s best-known release. Once again, it draws from history. Specifically, it is based on an incident during the Anglo-Spanish War fought from 1585 to 1604.
In short, a small English fleet of 22 ships had hoped to intercept the Spanish treasure fleet at the Azores. Instead, it was chanced upon by a Spanish fleet more than twice its number.
All but one of the English ships managed to escape because the Revenge under Sir Richard Grenville successfully carried out a rearguard action for a day and a night.
Unfortunately, the surrendered ship went down with its mixed crew of Spanish sailors and English prisoners when hit by a week-long storm after the battle.
7. “A Man For All Seasons”
“A Man For All Seasons” is a song that skewers its subject upon its title. For those unfamiliar, Robert Whittington coined the phrase to describe Sir Thomas More’s ability to cope with every situation.
The funny thing is that he fell from favor when he opposed Henry VIII of England’s plan to break away from the Catholic Church. Something that cost the man his head.
6. “Terminal Eyes”
“Terminal Eyes” comes from the same studio album as “Roads to Moscow.” Famously, it took inspiration from The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus,” which was meant to be nonsensical but produced an enormous amount of speculation about its true meaning. This song is no less interpretable. Fortunately, interested individuals don’t need to understand its lyrics to enjoy its sound.
5. “Midnight Rocks”
“Midnight Rocks” is one of Stewart’s later songs. Of course, this is in a relative sense because the studio album 24 Carrots came out in 1980. Regardless, the song did quite well in its time.
It reached the number 24 position on the Billboard Hot 100 and the number 13 position on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts. Besides that, “Midnight Rocks” also did alright in Canada and Australia, though not in the United Kingdom.
This was the last time that one of Stewart’s songs managed to make it onto the charts.
4. “On the Border”
“On the Border” came out a few years before “Midnight Rocks.” To be exact, it came out in 1977 because it was the last single from Year of the Cat. It is another song that references real-life events.
For example, there is mention of Basque separatists in Spain. Similarly, there is mention of the fighting in Rhodesia. Nowadays, these are historical events. However, they were very much contemporary when the song first came out.
3. “Time Passages”
The success of Year of the Cat meant that Stewart would have been under enormous pressure to match it with his subsequent release. Time Passages didn’t quite match its predecessor’s sales.
Even so, it was remarkable in its own right, seeing as how it sold more than a million copies. In any case, the title track is a moving song about the power that memory can exert on the present, serving as a reminder that the past doesn’t just go away.
It is the kind of sentiment one would expect from an artist as interested in history as Stewart has proven to be.
2. “Song On the Radio”
Speaking of which, “Time Passages” isn’t the only song of note on that studio album. That is because it was followed by “Song On the Radio.” Amusingly, this is one of those songs with a very literal name.
Supposedly, Stewart decided to have a bit of fun when his record label asked him to write a song suitable for airplay. He thought that they would realize he was joking.
However, he was very much mistaken. For that matter, consumers also seemed to have taken to the song.
1. “Year of the Cat”
Unsurprisingly, the title track of Year of the Cat claims the top position on this list. It is Stewart’s most successful single. From 1976 to 1977, it peaked at the number 8 position in the United States, the number 31 position in the United Kingdom, and the number 3 position in Canada.
The name is a reference to the Vietnamese zodiac. In short, the Vietnamese zodiac is based on the Chinese zodiac. As a result, it is the same for the most part, though there is a notable exception in how the Vietnamese zodiac has the cat whereas the Chinese zodiac has the rabbit.
Naturally, “Year of the Cat” was not just written but also recorded in the Vietnamese Year of the Cat.
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