If you are a record collector you’ve likely passed this album over a dozen times in 50¢ bins. You have probably turned down free copies. And you were right to save the 2mm of space on your record shelves for something else, at least as far as 9/10 of Izitso is concerned.
(“Was Dog a Donut” by Cat Stevens)
Izitso is far from the worst Cat Stevens record. Most of it is along the lines of his very best albums, Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat, if perhaps not as memorable. And one track is unique in Cat’s catalog – in fact it’s unique in all of pop music – making this album worth a 50¢ investment next time you flip by it in a bargain bin.
“Was Dog a Donut” is an early synth pop exploration, featuring Chick Corea and longtime Cat Stevens collaborator Jean Roussel. A&M released a “special disco mix” of the track (which was the same as the one on the album, so far as I can tell) on a 12″ single and it was an unlikely dancefloor hit in 1977.
One of our customers turned me onto this track while we were talking about Personal Space, the compilation album of experimental electronic-based soul Chocolate Industries released last month. “Was Dog a Donut” falls right about in the middle of that album’s range (1974-84) and would have fit into any of it’s four sides. Like “Check my Machine” it suggests there was a little flexibility in the pre-punk world for established artists to explore the boundaries of pop music, in spite of the current narrative that suggests the music industry was bloated, vacuous and incapable of adaptation.
Izitso, by the way, was not the last album Cat Stevens recorded before his nearly three decade retirement from popular music. It was, however, the last album he recorded before converting to Islam and changing his name to Yusuf Islam. A&M was still owed one more Cat Stevens record, and the reluctant 1978 album Back to Earth, is actually better than the average contractually-obligated album. There’s certainly a shade of bitterness throughout (especially in “Bad Brakes” and “Last Love Song”). His father died the day it was released and he never promoted it in any way. He had already begun a new life as Yusuf Islam. And so Izitso is probably the last glimpse into what direction Cat Stevens may have gone into as an artist, had circumstances been different. Perhaps an entire album of arrangements like “Was Dog a Donut” was on the way until various circumstances – a near-drowning accident while swimming in Malibu, the gift of a Qur’an from his brother, David – led him to Islam.
“Check my Machine” and “Was Dog a Donut” provide the listener with transcendent experiences – challenging not only our pop sentiments but in effect the very purpose and nature of expressive art. I am shocked – shocked! – to find neither one of them represented in Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
Maybe the lesson is that none of us knows where we’re headed, even when we’ve got our sails set strong to the wind. The only thing under your power is those sails, and only the Lord knows where the wind will take you on it’s own accord. Enjoy the ride.