There is no disputing the richness of Year of the Cat, that wonderful breakthrough album from Al Stewart. Put a needle down anywhere (figure of speech) and wherever that needle lands, it’s playing a great song. Yeah, I’ll go out on the proverbial limb and say that the Year of the Cat is Stewart’s best album. Period.

From it’s opening song, “Lord Grenville” through the title tune closer, you’re breathing rarified air from an artist, who before Year of the Cat, was putting together some rather brilliant albums. Stewart even followed up Year of the Cat with more goodness heard on Time Passages, with “Song on the Radio”, the title cut, “Time Passages”, and that album’s scattered pleasant tunes.

I do my best to not get crazy by slipping into the all too easy mistake of calling a pre- (or post) YotC album Stewart’s best. And if I do, one listen to the album brings me back from the many ethereal Stewart-crafted worlds that I’ve become temporarily trapped in.

But to be honest, Year of the Cat was not my first Al Stewart love. That came several years earlier with Past, Present & Future. I first heard “Nostradamus” on FM radio, and became intrigued enough to check out the album. I loved the cover and so found myself with a copy of the album. I enjoyed the music. However, it was his next album, Modern Times (1975) that captured me. I had enjoyed the previous album enough to have my ears perk up when the radio played “Modern Times”, which I fell in love with immediately.

Modern Times did more to make me an avid Al Stewart fan than the earlier album. Not a bad song on the set. The music had taken a pronounced turn from Past, Present & Future making me a hunter of all things Al. But the love I had with the title track still carries deeply with me today. “Modern Times” tells a story of friendship in a better time. But as the story progresses, it becomes evident that the memories had soured for the found again friend in a bar. It is a resonating tune that holds fond memories dear to the heart. But not everybody. The song is magic if not a bit sad.

After Stewart’s fame with Year of the Cat, he released the popular Time Passages and still climbed the charts. “Time Passages” with its stunning saxophone throughout, was as good a song as anything on Year of the Cat. But, while the album is definitely great, it’s no YotC. And neither is 24 Carrots despite its brilliant craft of more than a few of the album’s tunes including “Midnight Rocks”.

As Stewart’s recording career moved on, many fans did not follow although that might be thought of as a loss for those that didn’t stick with the Scotsman. Subsequent albums include Russians and Americans (1984), Last Days of the Century (1988), A Beach Full of Shells (2005), and Sparks of Ancient Light (2008), to name a few. All have their merit. All have their gold.

If I were to pose such a question as which is Al Stewart’s undeniable classic album, the response is very likely to be 99% Year of the Cat. And yes, you’d be right. So let’s approach the albums of Al Stewart from another corner. Instead, let’s exempt Year of the Cat from the poll, although you can give it all the love and praise that you want, if you want. Instead, let’s poll and find the second best Al Stewart album.

I’m guessing that folks that became fans because of Year of the Cat will fall in with Time Passages, while those that discovered Al Stewart a bit earlier, may very will provide the accolades for one of the pre-Year of the Cat discs.

While I have great love for many Al Stewart tunes after YotC, I have a greater love for Modern Times (the entire album). It’s an album I return to quite frequently. In fact, it’s something that I have been playing quite a bit in the past week along with Year of the Cat, and Time Passages.

So, I turn to over to you. Which Al Stewart album, excepting Year of the Cat, is Stewart’s most representational album? I go for Modern Times.

“On a morning from a Bogart movie, in a country where they turn back time…”

By MARowe

10 thoughts on “Poll: Al Stewart – Exempting Year Of The Cat, Which Album Is Best?”
  1. I was lucky to have a British friend in the early 70s who was really into Al Stewart. I got to listen to his early albums like Orange and Love Chronicles when they were rare imports here. Love Chronicles was voted by Rolling Stone as the Folk album of the year in 1970. Fairport Convention was the backing band with Richard Thompson, as well as Jimmy Page. I think it represents the pure essence of the artist – Folk with a Rock flavour. My favourite album is Past, Present and Future because it was his last true “FM” album back when the radio played songs that lasted longer than 3 minutes. And because lyrically I think he reached his peak with that one. He hasn’t made a bad album and all of them are worth listening to but for those interested, check out Love Chronicles to hear where he came from.

  2. Past, Present amp; Future. My favorite Al Stewart song is “Post World War II Blues”. Along with Road to Moscow and Nostradamus, it is a great album. Actually I like the YOTC album, mostly for “On The Border” Thanks to the art of FM radio, they overplayed the “Year…” single so much that it still hasn’t rebounded. Agree that “Modern Times” is a great album and so is “Time Passages”. Really would love to understand more about the song “Life in Dark Waters” a great story, but one that I’m unable to connect it to a historical event (yet). Sadly to me, I lost interest after the disappointing (to me) 24 Carrots. Continued to listen to his output, but it never matched his early recordings. I finally found an import of his earliest recordings (including “Orange”) All great stuff.

  3. Past, Present amp; Future. A classic album that put Al on the map. I saw Al in concert last week. He still sounds great and is as charming as ever! It was his birthday and everyone sang Happy Birthday to him. Great fun!

  4. I agree with all said above about Al’s early/mid period albums, and find it hard to choose between them. One later album that I haven’t seen mentioned that is among my favorites is Between the Wars, which he did with Lawrence Juber; this one is fully as good as any of the earlier albums. Next best among the later albums would be Last Days of the Century. I saw him perform much of this album live in a little cabaret in Grass Valley, CA, with Peter White. Outstanding!

  5. My favorite from Al is “Famous Last Words.” I can listen to that forever without getting tired of it. “Trains” is certainly one of his best songs ever, and gives me chills every time I hear it. Have said that, “Past, Present amp; Future” is his best album, lyrically and musically. He was definitely riding the crest of his creative wave with that one.

  6. I’m gonna pick “Past, Present and Future” simply on the basis of the musical heft of Nostradamus and Roads to Moscow. These songs and others on the album not only had phenomenal hooks and melody, but it was a first time history lesson in 5 to 10 minutes and wow, does it work. Songs like Soho-Needless to Say, Old Admirals and Terminal Eyes still ring true. Saw Al in CT 2 years or so ago-his songs are still timeless, his story telling skills have lost none of their luster and he remains a consummate performer.

  7. I would rate my personal favourites in this order:-
    1)Time Passages 2)Modern Times 3)24 Carrots
    4)Year Of The Cat 5)Sparks Of Ancient Light
    6)Last Days Of The Century 7)Famous Last Words
    8)Between The Wars 9)A Beach Full Of Shells
    10)Past Present and Future 11)Indian Summer
    12)Russians and Americans 13)Orange

  8. Famous Last Words and A Beach Full Of Shells are fantastic albums but, for me, Modern Times is the untoppable classic – top of the list for me.

  9. I was never a huge Al Stewart fan, although I appreciated the music of his that I was familiar with. That is, until 1995 when I received a copy of his latest album “Between the Wars”. I was blown away by the quality of songs represented and listened to it incessantly for years. Needless to say, I immersed myself in his back catalogue and discovered the magic that so many of his longtime fans were already aware of. Today, when I play “Between the Wars” to unsuspecting friends, the response if is nearly unanimous. This is a timeless album that deserves to be heard. I agree that “Year of the Cat” by many will be regarded as his quintessential masterpiece, but for me “Between the Wars” holds a special place for as the album that drew me into the beautiful world of Al Stewart.

  10. Like many others my introduction to Al Stewart’s music began with ‘The Year of the Cat’.It not only led me to explore his back catalogue but began a 45 year following of his career and it remains in my opinion his best album.Like many others, I consider ‘Past Preent and Future’ to be his second best album. I personally prefer Al’s post ‘Orange’ output and if pushed only two of them have been disappointments with the first of which being his 1984 release ‘Russians and Americans ‘. On his previous studio album release, ’24 Carrotts’ Al experimented with using a backing band, ‘ Shot in the Dark’ and for me it worked producing some excellent tracks such as ‘Running Man, Ellis Island/Murmansk Run’ as well as the superb ‘Rocks in the Ocean’.Sadly by the time of ‘Russians and Americans’ the experiment had sadly run its course and a combination of uninspired songs contributed to Al’s weakest album of all IMO.He kept the backing band set up for ‘Last Days of the Century’ which proved to be a much more upbeat in tone and at least contained some songs of quality.This was followed by a real return to form with the excellent ‘Famous Last Words’ before unfortunately taking a severe dip into his second weakest post YOTC album, 1992s ’Down in the Celler’in which Al attempted to produce an album based upon his love of fine wines. Unfortunately although containing a couple of nice tunes the task proved to be far too restrictive even for Al and it thus languishes at the back of my CD collection and, just like one of his bottles of vintage wine, covered in dust and untouched. I was delighted therefore when Al returned to form with firstly ‘Between The Wars’ and then his two most recent releases ‘ A Beach Full of Shells ‘ and ‘Sparks of Ancient Light’.

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