It's a gigantic pyramid, working up to fame with 'Year of the Cat,' then coming back to where I came in. It's not a bad life. You can cast the odd, wistful glance in the direction of Elton John, but then of course you have to put up with being Elton John.
Not long ago, Al Stewart was asked about his long, storied music career, which peaked (in terms of US pop-chart acclaim) in the mid-1970s - the above is his witty reply. For Stewart's fans and devotees, his has not been a bad life at all: The artist's deep, rich, peak-heavy discography - the 40th anniversary of his first recorded solo release comes Aug. 12 - features scads of inspired music, thoughtful lyrics and ideas and a wealth of stories from the mind of an imaginative man with a perennial eye on the past, present and future.
For those in need of an introduction to the folk-rock troubadour's huge catalog, those interested in learning what he has done beyond his big hits - those who could use a reminder of the man's singular voice and prolific ideas - here we will explore all of Stewart's official releases in brief. The hope is that you will give his music a spin and expose yourself to a highly literate, intelligent artist whose carefully crafted works can amuse, enlighten, enthrall and provoke.
"The Elf" b/w "Turn into Earth" (Decca, 1966) - After an unpleasant stint in public school, young Alastair Stewart turned to scribbling poetry and expressing himself via the guitar. (Robert Fripp was an early teacher.) As a teen, the Scottish native began playing in dancehall bands in his hometown of Bournemouth, England. His dreams of making music took him to London in 1965. There, in the big city, rock and folk-rock music ruled the scene. These were the days of Lonnie Donegan's skiffle and Pentangle Bert Jansch's folk songs, the Beatles and the British invasion and swinging London. Stewart landed gigs as compere (host) at the cool Soho folk clubs Bunjies and Les Cousins; he began performing his own songs before long. In 1966, he landed a deal with Decca Records that gave the world "The Elf," a twee ditty that uses magical creatures to reflect the life of a Bournemouth songwriter. The single (which featured a pre-Zep Jimmy Page on guitar) didn't sell well - just under 500 copies, according to legend. The B-side is, according to Stewart, an unmemorable tune written by the Yardbirds' Paul Samwell-Smith. "The Elf" is available on To Whom It May Concern, a retrospective of early Stewart recordings.