The Story Behind Cat Steven’s "Wild World"

Cat Steven’s “Wild World” was his first American Hit, reaching #11 on the Billboard Top 40 charts in March of 1971. But it turns out that the real meaning behind this song is not what most people assume it to be. Stevens (born Steven Georgiou and known as Yusef Islam since 1979 after becoming a Muslim) finally revealed what the song was all about only a couple of years ago.

Originally, some people understandably assumed that the song refers to Stevens’ two year relationship with American actress and model Patti D’Arbanville. This is understandable given that Stevens’ previous album Mona Bone Jakon leads off with a song titled “Lady D’Arbanville” which is full of imagery about a lady that the singer loves and who is now “dead.” The real truth about the song was told by Stevens/Islam himself while a guest on The Chris Isaak Hour in 2009. In Islam’s own words:

“I was trying to relate to my life. I was at the point where it was beginning to happen and I was myself going into the world. I’d done my career before, and I was sort of warning myself to be careful this time around, because it was happening. It was not me writing about somebody specific, although other people may have informed the song, but it was more about me. It’s talking about losing touch with home and reality – home especially.”

Here’s a few other facts about the song you might find interesting:

1. In talking about the lyrics Islam commented: “It was one of those chord sequences that’s very common in Spanish music. I turned it around and came up with that theme – which is a recurring theme in my work – which is to do with leaving, the sadness of leaving, and the anticipation of what lies beyond. There is a criticism sometimes of my music, that it’s kind of naive, but then again that’s exactly why people like it. It goes back to the pure childish approach of seeing things almost for the first time. A kid can say things like, ‘Why is a cow?’ You shouldn’t put those words together! But if you do, then it makes you stop and think.”

2. Wild World was one of the songs that convinced Islam to release a Greatest Hits album of his earlier work as Cat Stevens.

3. Stevens was not the first to release his own song. Jimmy Cliff had a version of the song that was released months before Stevens released his own original version on the album “Tea For the Tillerman”. Cliff’s version was a top ten hit in England. Steven’s own version wasn’t released as a single there.