One Track Mind: Cat Stevens, “Dying to Live” from Tell ‘Em I’m Gone (2014)

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Cat Stevens, as legendary and as he is controversial, has revealed an honest and true cover of Edgar Winter’s soulful 1971 ballad “Dying to Live” as the first track from the upcoming album Tell ‘Em I’m Gone — his first since 2009. Stevens, who renamed himself Yusuf Islam after rising to fame as a songwriting troubadour in the 1970s, reshapes the song into a tribute as well as a yearning medium for his own self expression.

“Dying to Live” fits Yusuf’s current sensibilities like a delicate embrace, the arrangement surrounding his gently worn vocals in a chilling blue light. He sings in a voice that has hardly aged since his days of cavorting with the Tillerman. Signature Cat Stevens piano, bass and sparse acoustic guitar settle the pristine instrumentation, a subtle reminder of his best songs — which were often stunning in their melodious simplicity.

Meanwhile, Yusuf disseminates as the wise sage, the lyrics speaking through him as effectively as if he composed them. Similar to his magnificent cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” which was featured on 2006’s An Other Cup, Winter’s song is given a definitive reading. The final stated line, “until God takes me,” is perfectly suited for Yusuf, a man now defined by his faith.

Becoming aware of this, you realize that this song has nestled in the recesses Yusuf’s mind since he heard it all those years ago in England. It is another one of the signposts planted along the Yusuf’s journey for faith and freedom, one that he is still undertaking today. As with his slow reemergence into the world of music, this particular song was also the subject a long gestation period. Both the singer and the song are revitalized here.

Stephen Lewis

A creative writing major at SUNY Brockport and freelance writer from Upstate New York, Stephen Lewis maintains a music-focused site called Talk From the Rock Room: He has also written for UpstateLive Music Guide and Ultimate Classic Rock. Contact Something Else! at
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