Song 327: Cat Stevens, “The First Cut Is the Deepest” (1967)

Cat Stevens - New Masters - front

Man, I love Cat Stevens. I remember going through my parents’ records as a kid and finding Teaser and the Firecat, and deciding to put it on the turntable out of sheer curiosity. I loved it, and I was immediately hooked on “The Wind,” a song so delicate that it sounded like it would fall apart at any second. Stevens is among a handful of acoustic singer-songwriters whose overall sound transcends the “acoustic singer-songwriter” description; Cat Stevens sounds like Cat Stevens. The fact that he’s a guy with an acoustic guitar is secondary.

Given that reputation, it’s interesting to hear his early work, especially the oft-covered “The First Cut Is The Deepest.” The first few notes sound like the precision of “The Wind,” but it soon gives way to full-on pop. I love that about this song, and I also love how Stevens is really trying to appeal to the pop audience masses here, as if he’s not yet sure what kind of artist he wants to be. It’s a little awkward, but charmingly so. Stevens doesn’t sound entirely comfortable in this setting, but that tone fits this song about getting over your first heartbreak. Many of the lyrics aren’t much to speak of, but the couplet “When it comes to being lucky she’s cursed/When it comes to loving me she’s worst” is fantastic.

And let’s talk about that false ending around the 2:28 mark. That kind of thing is standard pop stuff, of course, but it works great here, as the intro guitar phrase returns to lull you into a false sense of closure. When he returns with “baaaby,” Stevens sounds like he’s getting the hang of the song, and with pop music in general, just in time for the track to fade out. Figuring it all out at the wrong time: sounds like a love song to me.

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