Behind the Meaning and Lyrics of Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken” Song

The 70s were a booming time for music, but several artists dominated the aerial game. If it wasn’t the Beatles (or an ex-Beatle), on the radio you’d hear Yusuf/Cat Stevens. The ’70s Songwriters Hall of Fame writer is known for his eclectic songwriting style with his hits. If there was a 70s American Songbook, you might expect Stevens’ many classics to be included. For his single, The morning brokethe lyrics appeared to him in the pages of a Christian hymnal.

The inspiration behind the song.

Stevens, although he did not write the lyrics to the 1971 single, put the chords to a song he found in a hymnal at a bookstore while researching song ideas. “Morning Has Broken” was a children’s anthem written by children’s poetry writer Eleanor Farieon. Growing up in England, it’s likely that Stevens heard the anthem while attending primary school.

“I accidentally stumbled upon the song when I was going through a slightly dry spell and needed another song or two to Teaser and the Firecat,said Stevens.

“I came across this hymnal, found this song and thought it was good. I put the chords to him, and then he started associating with me.

This particular hymn is based on a tune called ‘Bunessan’ and was considered more of a Christmas hymn for Scottish children. Despite the pleasant images in the lyrics, praising God for creating a new day, the hymn is often sung in children’s services and in funeral services.

The morning broke like the first morning
Blackbird spoke like the first bird
Praise for the song, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

Tale as old as the world: the doubts of the record company.

Stevens’ record company at the time originally didn’t want to release the song as a single for fear that it wouldn’t perform well due to the religious nature of the song (tale as old as the world). The single became the company’s biggest seller, topping the charts at number six. Even the accompanying pianist (yes, keyboardist Rick Wakeman) had second thoughts when working with the songwriter during the recording process.

Stevens came into the studio with lots of ideas for the arrangement and went through them with Wakeman. Wakeman, who cared nothing for the project and initially pleased the songwriter, never received credit for his part of the recording.

“I thought he’d give me some extra money, so I acted really snappy,” laughed Wakeman.

The songwriter was equally eclectic in the studio. Stevens had tuberculosis lately before the recording, but insisted on smoking a pack of cigarettes before dropping the vocals.

Despite the odd process the recording went through, Steven and Wakeman’s arrangement led to international recognition, earning Stevens her first UK Top 10 single.


Listen to “Morning Has Broken” below:

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