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Music / Al Stewart

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Alastair Ian "Al" Stewart (born September 5, 1945) is a British Singer-Songwriter and guitarist known particularly for exemplifying the 'confessional' school of songwriting in his early years, for writing a large number of songs about history and historical events, and for the hit title tracks from his albums Year of the Cat (1976) and Time Passages (1978).

Official website:

Studio discography:

  • Bed Sitter Images (1967)
  • Love Chronicles (1969)
  • Zero She Flies (1970)
  • Orange (1972)
  • Past, Present & Future (1973)
  • Modern Times (1975)
  • Year of the Cat (1976)
  • Time Passages (1978)
  • 24 Carrots (with Shot in the Dark) (1980)
  • Russians & Americans (1984)
  • Last Days of the Century (1988)
  • Famous Last Words (1993)
  • Between the Wars (with Laurence Juber) (1995)
  • Down in the Cellar (2000)
  • Dark Side (2004)note 
  • A Beach Full of Shells (2005)
  • Sparks of Ancient Light (2008)
  • The Tzar, His Library and the Winter Palace (2009)note 

Tropes associated with Al Stewart and/or his work include:

  • Author Appeal: Very fond of history as a theme:
  • Bait-and-Switch: "A Long Way Down From Stephanie" is a heartbroken lament about a lost lover written in Shakespearian style. The last line reveals that Stephanie was his first-grade crush: "And though lost at six, if I should live to be seven, I might forget Stephanie."
  • Been There, Shaped History: Al himself is a real life example. He met Yoko Ono before any of The Beatles and shared a flat with Simon & Garfunkel (and was their roadie on their first big tour).
  • Concept Album: several.
    • Past, Present, and Future is a historical based album with a song for each decade of the twentieth century up to the time it was recorded.
    • Between The Wars does the same for the period 1919-1938.
    • Down in the Cellar is a concept album inspired by wine.
  • Environmental Symbolism: many songs use the ocean as a setting ("Lord Grenville", "Old Admirals", "Murmansk Run", the first verse of "On the Border") or a metaphor ("The Dark and the Rolling Sea", "Midnight Rocks", "Rocks in the Ocean", "Life in Dark Water", “Joe the Georgian”). Also an instance of Author Appeal.
  • Epic Rocking: to give just a few examples, "Song on the Radio" (6:19), "Time Passages" (6:43), "Murmansk Run/Ellis Island" (7:41), "Roads to Moscow" (8:00), "Trains" (8:17), "Nostradamus" (9:43)—yet, all of these pale in comparison to "Love Chronicles", which runs for 18:04.
  • Granola Girl: Heroines like these turn up in a few of his songs, including "Carol," "Year of the Cat," and "In Brooklyn".
  • Hypocritical Humour: A darker example with "Night of the 4th of May". The narrator begins by telling his girlfriend that he wants an open relationship and goes off with another woman at a party... and then gets huffy because his girlfriend does exactly the same thing.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Post World War II Blues". The tune is bouncy, the lyrics are a catalog of almost every major tragedy of the post-1945 years.
    • "Last Train To Munich". The music is catchy Django Reinhardt-style jazz. The lyrics are about how the narrator is sending his best friend on an espionage mission which will almost certainly lead to his death.
  • Patter Song: "Soho (Needless to Say)"
  • Precision F-Strike: On the song "Love Chronicles". Bonus points for using it in its literal sense as well.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: "Terminal Eyes".
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Terminal Eyes", on the album Past Present & Future, is a deliberate imitation of The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus". The liner notes dedicate the song to "egg-men everywhere."
    • "Year of the Cat" mentions Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre.
    • "Flying Sorcery" references a lot of aviation history.
    • His historical songs are full of them.
  • Shown Their Work: Exemplifies this trope with his historical songs which are all thoroughly researched and contain all manner of references to obscure individuals and little known historical incidents and anecdotes. He is said to have read over seventy books on the Eastern Front while composing the lyrics to "Roads to Moscow."
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: The song “Joe the Georgian” is actually about Josef Stalin's rise to power, re-imagined in a naval setting. While the real life story may be subjective to some, the song definitely isn't.
    We all set off together
    On this sorry ship of state
    When the captain took the fever
    We were hijacked by the mate
    And he steered us through the shadows
    Upon an angry tide
    And cast us one by one over the side
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: "Night of the 4th of May" is a retelling of a real life argument between Stewart and his 1960s girlfriend Mandi.
    • Write Who You Know: even after they broke up, Mandi was the inspiration for many of Stewart's relationship songs, including "Where Are they Now?", "Bad Reputation", and "Optical Illusion."
  • Walking the Earth: the narrators of "Apple Cider Re-Constitution," "Timeless Skies," and "Year of the Cat," among others
  • Wham Line: The song "Swiss Cottage Manoeuvres," in which the narrator meets a girl in a bookshop, invites her back to his flat, makes her dinner, talks to her about her life story and eventually invites her to live with him to which she replies "But I've not finished school yet"
  • What Might Have Been: Stewart often writes the music and records all of the instrumental tracks for a song—or even a whole album—before writing lyrics. What eventually became "Year of the Cat" originally told the story of Tony Hancock, a British stand-up comic who killed himself; the chorus was "Your tears fall down like rain/At the foot of the stage." The record company objected to those lyrics because American listeners would have no idea who Tony Hancock was. Stewart then saw the phrase "Year of the Cat" in his girlfriend's book on Vietnamese astrology and decided that would be the song's title. Suffering from writer's block after an abortive attempt at composing lyrics about cats, he saw Casablanca on television and decided to "grab Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre and see where it goes."
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Generally Al works hard on the meaning of his lyrics but this trope comes into play in "Red Toupee" which was originally merely meant to be guide lyrics to a backing track from co-writer Peter White. However, they both thought the lyrics sounded so good they kept them as they were.