Born Steven Georgiou on July 21, 1948 to a Greek-Cypriot father and Swedish mother, Cat Stevens was already a huge pop star when he almost drowned in the Pacific off Malibu Beach in 1976. Said to have prayed to God in that moment — he promised that “If you save me, I will work for you” — he claimed a wave then washed him back to shore. Two years later, Stevens converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, and threw away his guitar.
But before that, Cat Stevens had been an icon of the hippy and flower power generation, a singer-songwriter who called for world peace and whose musical inspiration was lit by an incense stick — or perhaps a joint. Songs like “Morning Has Broken”, “Moon Shadow” and “Peace Train” became worldwide anthems, while “Father And Son” remains a campfire classic.
Read more: 1968: A time for dreams and protests
Stevens was 19 years old when he released his 1967 debut album, Matthew And Son, which went to number 6 on the UK charts and featured radio-friendly pop songs like “I Love My Dog” that were a far cry from the heartfelt folk ballads he would later become famous for. Though his follow-up album New Masters, released the same year, was less successful, the soft-voiced balladeer had become a teen idol overnight.