Cat Stevens – Lady D’Arbanville

15th August 1970 · 1970, 1970s, Music

Cat Stevens sang a heartfelt but creepy tribute about how much he missed his girlfriend – and freaked her out so much that she dumped him when she heard it.

When I was sent to a new boarding school in the autumn of 1970, where control of the communal record player was a competitive sport, two of the most popular choices were a pair of similarly titled albums by Cat Stevens – Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser And The Firecat.

They provided a kind of comfort listening – a cosy pair of aural slippers by the fireside of the common room (which didn’t have a fireside, and whose inhabitants were anything but common).

But the first Cat Stevens song that got to me was this one, from his previous album Mona Bone Jakon – a strange and apparently meaningless title that I now learn was his pet name for his penis. Yes, really.

It came out after Stevens, who had already been a teenage star with two hit albums, had undergone a two-year convalescence, having nearly died from tuberculosis and a collapsed lung. During his year-long bed rest, mostly in hospital, he wrote more than 40 songs, which would appear on three albums released – incredibly – in the space of 15 months.

This one – the first, and sometimes regarded as the template for the singer-songwriter genre of the Seventies – didn’t do as well as his first two, or the next two, but this sad and slightly sinister song about how he’s grieving for his girlfriend reached No.8 in the summer of 1970.

I love the subtle instrumentation, which includes an African djembe drum; I love the death wail of the backing vocals that match the lyric; and I love the way the warm intimacy of his voice and the way it comes close to cracking around the edges, conveying his pain.

Rather too much pain for his real-life girlfriend, the titular Patti D’Arbanville. She had only gone away for a month, for a modelling job in New York, and was subsequently surprised – and shocked – to hear a song in which she had actually died and been laid to rest.