Much of Cat Stevens' success came in the '70s, but his music career began years earlier, when he landed his first hit in England before he turned 20 with the song "I Love My Dog." The song was included on the album "Matthew & Son", released in 1967.
He had even more success with other songs from that album, namely the title track, which hit No. 2 on the charts, and "I'm Gonna Get Me a Gun," which reached No. 6. Another song, "Here Comes My Baby," became a hit for The Tremeloes, and the album itself landed in the Top 10.
The rather prolific young musician followed up Matthew & Son with "New Masters", also released in 1967. Although that effort did not reap as many rewards, one track, "Kitty," managed to wedge into the Top 50. Musician P. P. Arnold took another of the album's songs, "The First Cut Is the Deepest," to the Top 20, a song that later became a hit for Rod Stewart.
Just a year after both albums were released, Stevens was felled by tuberculosis and took a couple of years off from music.
Upon his recovery, he realised that his original demos, with their lack of orchestration, were better than the heavy studio singles and albums. He re-emerged with a new style in 1970 with the album "Mona Bone Jakon" and hit the U.K. Top Ten with "Lady D'Arbanville." But it was his late 1970 follow-up, "Tea for the Tillerman", that made him an international success. The album hit the Top Ten and went gold in the U.S., producing the hit "Wild World." The L.P. "Teaser and the Firecat", released in 1971, did even better, including the hits "Peace Train" and "Morning Has Broken."
Stevens became so successful as an albums artist that, even though his next couple of albums did not generate big hit singles, they were still big sellers: "Catch Bull at Four" (1972) went to #1 and "Foreigner" (1973) reached #3. His 1974 album "Buddha and the Chocolate Box" , which included the #10 hit "Oh Very Young," reached #2.
As the focus of Pop music drifted away from his acoustic style, Stevens' records were gradually less successful during the second half of the '70s. Cat Stevens made his final performance at the 1979 UNICEF Benefit concert, where he appeared as Yusuf Islam, having become a member of the Muslim faith.
Cat Stevens was no more, and as Yusuf Islam, he has been quoted as saying that he had written the record companies asking them to stop selling his music. He was not heard from for another ten years, until his name was again in the news, but this time for all the wrong reasons.
In his own words, Yusuf explains: "In February 1989 I was delivering a talk about my journey to Islam at Kingston University in London, when somebody (probably a disguised journalist) mischievously posed a question about Islam’s view on apostates and blasphemers. As a student who had studied the issue for the first time, I simply did my best by answering direct from legal texts which I had read. Instead of reporting my response in context, which I naively expected, suddenly the headline in next day’s paper read “Cat Says Kill Rushdie!” Well, needless to say, all hell then broke loose and my political education had really begun. Thank God the newspaper responsible, Today, has since folded and is now out of circulation; unfortunately the monstrous myth it created still survives."
Some classic rock radio stations discontinued playing him as a result, though his music remains popular.
Although he no longer participated in recording Pop music, Yusuf recorded some Islamic children's music which has been distributed through Muslim channels. In 1995 he released an official new album "The Life Of The Last Prophet", which is a spoken word recording on the life of the prophet Muhammad. Included is a disc with three songs, one of which has Yusuf on vocals. Following that effort, Yusuf completed production of an album to aid Bosnian Muslims entitled "I Have No Cannons That Roar."
He still takes an active role in anything the record companies do with Cat Stevens material, which would indicate that he is still interested in that part of his life. For example he chose the track listings for both "Footsteps In The Dark" and "Classics Vol. 24." He also chose the design for the recently released "Three" box set.
Yusuf offers his complete catalogue for sale out of his London office, (both Cat Stevens and Yusuf Islam titles and merchandise). He also owns a number of his original master tapes which he also keeps in his office, which is equipped with a full recording studio. He has said that he feels that some of his songs were immoral, but he amends that by saying he realizes that nothing he did was really "bad." The royalties from tracks he feels are "immoral" go directly to charity and do not pass through Yusuf's hands at all. He lives off of investments from the wealth he had earned up to the point when he left the music business and does not use the royalties for himself directly. He does use them for specific projects however.
Yusuf was in the news again on September 22nd, 2004 when he was escorted from a diverted transatlantic flight and refused entry into America by FBI agents. Authorities said that his name showed up on a US terrorist watch list after United Airlines Flight 919 had taken off from London. The flight landed in Maine where Islam, who was travelling with his 21-year-old daughter, was detained and questioned. After returning to London, Islam said that he had begun legal action against US authorities. "We have now initiated a legal process to try to find out exactly what is going on, and to take all necessary steps to undo the very serious, and wholly unfounded, injustice which I have suffered," he said in a statement. "The amazing thing is that I was not given, and have still not been given, any explanation whatsoever as to what it is I am accused of, or why I am now deemed an apparent security threat, let alone given an opportunity to respond to these allegations." Some reports later suggested that a clerical error may have led to Yusuf's detention, as the person who was being sought by US officials has a similar name, but is spelled differently.
In September, 2006, Yusuf signed with Atlantic Records in conjunction with his Ya Records label and was slated to record his first Pop album since 1978's "Back To Earth". "I feel right about making music and singing about life in this fragile world again," the 58-year-old singer-songwriter said in a statement. "It is important for me to be able to help bridge the cultural gaps others are sometimes frightened to cross." The album, "An Other Cup", was scheduled for release in November.
More good news came for Yusuf Islam when he was named songwriter of the year for the second consecutive year at ASCAP's annual U.K. awards ceremony on October 11, 2006. Islam won the same accolade during the 2005 ceremony, which honors the top British writer and publisher members of the Performing Rights Society.
December 19, 2006 saw an event that many fans thought would never take place. Now going by just the name Yusuf, he performed before an invitation-only audience of music industry professionals and other guests in Manhattan. It was the first time in nearly three decades that he had taken the stage in front of a live U.S. audience. Mixing new songs with such old hits as "Oh Very Young" and "Peace Train", he sang with a gentle voice that had scarcely changed from his heyday in the 1970s. "It's one small step for man, one giant step for common sense," joked the 58-year-old singer, about his return.
In January 2009, Yusuf recorded George Harrison's "The Day the World Gets Round" with Klaus Voormann. Proceeds were donated to help the people of war-torn Gaza. To promote the new single, Voormann re-designed his famous Beatles "Revolver" album cover, drawing a picture of a young Cat Stevens along with himself and George Harrison. Surprising many fans, a new Pop album, "Roadsinge", was released on May 5th 2009, which featured a song called "Thinking 'Bout You". Unlike "An Other Cup", Yusuf promoted the new album with several appearances in the U.K. and America. A world tour was announced on his web site to promote the new LP. Yusuf appeared in May 2009 at Island Records' 50th Anniversary concert in London and in November and December of that same year he undertook his Guess I'll Take My Time tour, which culminated in an emotional performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In June 2010 he toured Australia for the first time in 36 years and New Zealand for the first time ever. On October 30th, 2010 Yusuf appeared at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, DC, singing alongside Ozzy Osbourne. Yusuf performed "Peace Train" and Ozzy performed "Crazy Train" at the same time, followed by The O'Jays performance of "Love Train".
On March 2nd, 2011, Yusuf released his latest song, "My People", as a free download available through his
official website, as well as numerous other online outlets. The song is said to be inspired by a series of popular uprisings in the Arab world. Starting on May 7th, he set out on a whirl wind, ten date tour of Europe. May 2012 was slated as the opening for a new musical called Moonshadow, featuring music from throughout his career.