The ‘70s were a booming time for music, but there were several artists that dominated the air play. If it wasn’t The Beatles (or an ex-Beatle), on the radio, you would be hearing Yusuf / Cat Stevens. The Songwriters Hall of Fame ‘70s writer is known for his eclectic style of writing with his hits. If there were a ‘70s American Songbook, you could expect Stevens’ many classics to be included. For his single, Morning Has Broken, the lyrics appeared to him within the pages of a Christian hymnbook.
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The inspiration behind the song.
Stevens, while not the writer of the lyrics for the 1971 single, put the chords to a song he found in a hymnbook at a bookstore while looking for song ideas. “Morning Has Broken” was a children’s hymn written by Eleanor Farieon, a children’s poetry writer. Growing up in England, it is likely Stevens heard the hymn while attending primary school.
“I accidentally fell upon the song when I was going through a slightly dry period and I needed another song or two for Teaser and the Firecat,” Stevens said.
“I came across this hymn book, found this one song, and thought, this is good. I put the chords to it and then it started becoming associated with me.”
This hymn in particular is based on a melody called “Bunessan,” and was considered more of a Christmas hymn for Scottish children. Despite the pleasant images in the lyrics, giving praise to God for the creation of a new day, the hymn is often sung in children’s services and in funeral services.
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world
Tale as old as time: doubts from the record label.
Stevens’ record company at the time originally didn’t want to release the song as a single out of fear it wouldn’t perform well due to the religious nature of the song (tale as old as time). The single became the biggest seller the company had, topping the charts at number six. Even the accompanying pianist (Yes, keyboard player Rick Wakeman) had his doubts when working with the songwriter during the recording process.
Stevens came into the studio with a lot of ideas for the arrangement and ran through them with Wakeman. Wakeman, who didn’t care for the project and humored the songwriter at first, never received credit for his portion of the recording.
“I thought he’d give me extra money, so I acted extra keen,” Wakeman laughed.
The songwriter was just as eclectic in the studio. Stevens had tuberculosis in recent times prior to the recording but insisted on smoking a pack of cigarettes before laying down the vocals.
Despite the strange process the recording went through, Steven and Wakeman’s arrangement led to international recognition, allowing Stevens his first UK Top 10 single.
Listen to “Morning Has Broken” below: