Mona Bone Jakon

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Mona Bone Jakon
Studio album by Cat Stevens
ReleasedJuly 1970[1]
RecordedJanuary–February 1970,
Olympic Studios, London;
Abbey Road Studios, London
GenreFolk rock
Length35:15
LabelIsland (UK/Europe)
A&M (US/Canada)
ProducerPaul Samwell-Smith
Cat Stevens chronology
New Masters
(1967)
Mona Bone Jakon
(1970)
Tea for the Tillerman
(1970)
 
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Mona Bone Jakon
Studio album by Cat Stevens
ReleasedJuly 1970[1]
RecordedJanuary–February 1970,
Olympic Studios, London;
Abbey Road Studios, London
GenreFolk rock
Length35:15
LabelIsland (UK/Europe)
A&M (US/Canada)
ProducerPaul Samwell-Smith
Cat Stevens chronology
New Masters
(1967)
Mona Bone Jakon
(1970)
Tea for the Tillerman
(1970)

Mona Bone Jakon is the third album released by singer-songwriter Cat Stevens. The album was released in July 1970[1] on the Island Records label in the United Kingdom, and A&M record label in the United States and Canada. After a meteoric start to his career, surprising even his original producer at Deram Records with the hit singles "I Love My Dog", "Matthew and Son" and "I'm Gonna Get Me a Gun", Stevens' debut album, Matthew and Son began charting as well. However, after the pressure for a repeat album of the same calibre, Stevens, considered a young teen sensation, was overwhelmed by a new lifestyle, as well as the demands of writing, recording, performing, publicity appearances, and touring. In the fall of 1968, he collapsed, with the diagnosis of tuberculosis and a collapsed lung. For over a year, while recovering, Stevens virtually disappeared from the British pop scene. Mona Bone Jakon is notable not only for his return, but for the emergence of a very different artist. The album was certified gold for sales/shipments of more than 500,000 copies in the United States.

Background[edit]

During his hospital-dictated year of bedrest, he began writing a catalogue of songs to fill far more than his next album. After his recovery, Stevens negotiated out of his contract with Deram Records and joined with former Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith with a stripped down sound, with songs played in spare arrangements on acoustic guitars and keyboards and accompanied by a sparse backing band, consisting only of three other performers: second guitarist Alun Davies, bassist John Ryan, and drummer Harvey Burns—and on one song, "Katmandu", Peter Gabriel on the flute. Smith also produced the album and brought Stevens a high fidelity sound that was not as present on his previous releases. Smith was one of the early producers in rock to push the lower bass frequencies more prominently into the mix in an attempt to keep up with the new audiophile generation which was embracing larger home speakers and high end phonographic cartridges. Stevens began to make the transition from pop star to a folk-rock performer, when the term "singer-songwriter" was just being coined.

The songs themselves were darker in tone: the madrigal-inspired ballad "Lady D'Arbanville" elevated the tragedy of a lost lover (in this case, Stevens' former girlfriend Patti D'Arbanville) to that of a deceased one; "Trouble" was a plea to stave off death. There were also lighter songs; "Pop Star" showcased Stevens' dramatic change in voice by satirising the triviality of celebrity.

Though "Lady D'Arbanville" would reach No. 8 on the British charts, Mona Bone Jakon was only a modest success upon its initial release. The album attracted attention, however, in the wake of the commercial breakthrough of its follow-up, Tea for the Tillerman, and with the inclusion of three of its songs ("Trouble", "I Wish, I Wish", and "I Think I See the Light") in Hal Ashby and Colin Higgins's black comedy Harold and Maude in 1971.

Origin of title[edit]

According to a 1972 interview with Stevens, the inspiration for the title was a name he created to describe his penis: "'Mona Bone Jakon' is another name for my 'penis'. It's the name I give it. It's not some sort of secret vocabulary, it's just something I made up."[2]

Journalist Robert Chalmers reiterated this point for a 2003 interview with Islam for The Independent on Sunday when he wrote: "When [Stevens] re-emerged in 1969, he had more than 40 new songs and released three triumphant albums in 15 months on Chris Blackwell's Island label: Mona Bone Jakon (his pet word for penis), Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser And The Firecat."[3]

Critical reception[edit]

In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, music critic Robert Christgau gave Mona Bone Jakon a "B+" and said that after the commercial failure of Matthew and Son, "this one has a nice post-creative trauma feel, intimate and sensitive. Recommended to singer/songwriter specialists."[4] In a retrospective review, Allmusic's William Ruhlmann gave it four out of five stars and called it "a group of simple, heartfelt songs played in spare arrangements on acoustic guitars and keyboards and driven by a restrained rhythm section." They added that "Stevens' craggy voice, with its odd breaks of tone and occasional huskiness, lent these sometimes sketchy songs depth".[5]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Cat Stevens.

Side one[edit]

  1. "Lady D'Arbanville" – 3:45
  2. "Maybe You're Right" – 3:25
  3. "Pop Star" – 4:13
  4. "I Think I See the Light" – 3:55
  5. "Trouble" – 2:49

Side two[edit]

  1. "Mona Bone Jakon" – 1:42
  2. "I Wish, I Wish" – 3:50
  3. "Katmandu" – 3:22
  4. "Time" – 1:26
  5. "Fill My Eyes" – 3:00
  6. "Lilywhite" – 3:41

Personnel[edit]

Production[edit]

Charts[edit]

Album

YearChartPosition
1971Pop Albums164

Singles

YearSingleChartPosition
1970Lady D'ArbanvillePop Singles8

Certifications[edit]

OrganizationLevelDate
RIAA – USAGold15 January 1976

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Bogdanov, Vladimir et al. (2002), All music guide to rock: the definitive guide to rock, pop, and soul, Hal Leonard, pp. 1076–7, ISBN 0-87930-653-X 
  2. ^ "Majicat – Cat Stevns (sic) in a French Magazine Pop Musigue (sic)", trans. Michael Valenzuela, Pop Musique interview (Majicat: Cat Stevens Scrapbook), c. 1972, retrieved 24 February 2012 
  3. ^ "The Robert Chalmers Interview: Back on the Peace Train", The Independent on Sunday, 10.12.2003, retrieved 2 May 2010 
  4. ^ Christgau, Robert (19 November 1970). "Consumer Guide (14)". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  5. ^ Mona Bone Jakon at AllMusic