Well its Easter again and it’s an Easter like no other. We seem to have had a decent New Year’s Day, then Australia caught fire, Britain disappeared underwater and then a pandemic, if this year was on subscription I’d have cancelled it by now!
But life carries on and so does the ridiculous task of finding a song for Easter. This is the religious festival, the only one of much significance for a lot of us, apart from Easter eggs (where did they come from?) there’s not a lot of context for locating songs.
For me, Easter symbolises the end of winter, nature is ramping up a notch, less impeded this year by air pollution and hordes of people trampling over the environment. If, like me, you love the great outdoors, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Morning has Broken isn’t a Cat Steven’s composition , if you are old enough you might have sung this at school assembly. Its not a traditional hymn either, the words dating from 1931, the tune is traditional. For some reason Stevens decided he wanted to record his own version during sessions for his Teaser and the Firecat album in 1971.
For a couple of years Stevens was incredibly popular, mainly, as far as I can make out, with teenage girls. Physically that’s pretty understandable but it also demonstrates the significance on the singer songwriter gender of the early 70’s, if you looked sensitive and had an acoustic guitar you were in with a chance. For me he’s always seemed a bit insubstantial, this album is only just over half an hour (usually a good thing in my book) and the songs seem pleasant enough but gossamer thin but then I’ve never been a teenage girl.
Morning has broken is kind of more of the same, is a lovely tune but not a huge amount of substance, When Stevens first sung it the whole thing was over in less than a minute.
The song was saved by the presence of Rick Wakeman, fledgling keyboard prog god but at this point was fresh from the Strawbs and looking for session work. Stevens had heard Wakeman tinkling away on a solo composition which was later to become ‘Catherine Howard’ on his Six Wives of Henry VIII album and persuaded him to adapt it to ‘Morning’.
Apart from Steven’s vocals (apparently achieved by smoking a packet of cigarettes immediately before recording) ‘Morning’ is notable for Wakeman’s signature piano contributions, its an enduring contribution, put Wakeman anywhere near a piano and he’s likely to play something that sounds like this. The song was fleshed out by a couple of key changes and some more instrumentation, Producer Paul Samwell Smith had always been sceptical about the track and despite working to give it more substance really considered it filler (on a 30 min record!!)
The album was to prove very popular as were tracks released from it as singles. The record company were unwilling not to milk the success as much as they could so almost inevitably ‘Morning has Broken’ was put out as a single and subsequently sold shedloads.
As far as the musicians were concerned these were still naive times. Today Wakeman would pretty much have sown up his contribution deal before he played a note, such is his contribution he could probably release it under the name ‘DJ Wakey feat Catty Ste’ and claim a wedge of royalties from the 4 copies it would actually sell. There were no such deals in the London session world, Wakeman had a £10 fee which allegedly wasn’t even paid until Stevens returned to music decades later.
‘Morning has Broken’ ticks all the boxes, there is the sense of a ‘new day’ about it. It’s a bit religious, a bit spiritual, its optimistic without being anthemic.
And it’s hopeful