CULT CLASSIC: AL STEWART-24 CARROTS.
Cult Classic: Al Stewart-24 Carrots.
In May 1980, thirty-four year old Glasgow-born folk rocker Al Stewart entered Davlen Studios in Los Angeles to begin work on his ninth album 24 Carrots. It was the first album to feature his new band Shot In The Dark. They were augmented by members of Toto, the Incredible String Band, Steeleye Span and some top session musicians. However, also playing an important part in the sessions was guitarist and keyboardist Peter White who had been part of the Al Stewart success story.
Year Of The Cat.
Peter White had made his debut on Al Stewart’s seventh studio album, Year Of The Cat. It was produced by Alan Parsons and was a carefully crafted and cerebral and cinematic album that was a mixture of folk rock, progressive pop and rock. The album featured songs about historical figures, a mysterious woman and what were akin to mini spy novels set to music. With an album cover designed by Hipgnosis, Year Of The Cat had the potential to transform Al Stewart’s career.
When the lead single Year Of The Cat was released in Britain it stalled at thirty-one, while the album reached thirty-eight and was certified gold. Year Of The Cat was Al Stewart’s most successful album in Britain and was regarded as his finest hour.
Three months later in October 1976 Year Of The Cat was released to widespread critical acclaim. The single reached number eight in the US Billboard 100 and the album number five in the US Billboard 200. By March 1977, Year Of The Cat had been certified platinum in America after selling over one million copies.
Elsewhere, Year Of The Cat gave Al Stewart the biggest single of his career. It reached number thirteen in Australia, fifteen in New Zealand, three in Canada, nine in Belgium and six in Holland. Year Of The Cat reached number ten in Australia and the album transformed Al Stewart’s fortunes. It’s now regarded as a classic album and one of the highlights of a long and illustrious musical career.
Buoyed by the success of Year Of The Cat, AL Stewart began work on the followup album, Time Passages. He wrote seven of the songs on the album and cowrote Time Passages and End of The Day with Peter White. He was part of the band that recorded Al Stewart’s eighth album at Davlen Studios in Los Angeles in June 1978.
Joining Al Stewart for the Time Passages’ sessions were twenty musicians and backing vocalists plus producer Alan Parsons. This was the third consecutive Al Stewart album he had produced. Alan Parson played his part on an album that flitted between folk rock, soft rock and a more traditional rocky sound.
In September 1978, Time Passages was released to plaudits and praise in America. It received the same critical acclaim as Year Of The Cat. Al Stewart was hoping it would enjoy the same success.
When the title-track was released as a single, Time Passages reached number seven in the US Billboard 100. It also topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts and stayed there for ten weeks. Just like Year Of The Cat, Time Passages sold over a million copies in America and was certified platinum.
Time Passages was released in Britain in November 1978 and reached thirty-nine. This resulted in a silver disc for Al Stewart. The only disappointment was when the title-track was released as a single but failed to chart. Apart from that, the success continued for the thirty-three year old folk rocker.
Meanwhile, when Time Passages was released in Australia it reached fifteen. Al Stewart was enjoying the most successful period of his career. Would this continue with 24 Carrots?
As the seventies drew to a close and music continued to change, Al Stewart began work on his ninth studio album. This would eventually become 24 Carrots.
He wrote Mondo Sinistro, Murmansk Run/Ellis Island, Rocks In The Ocean, Paint By Numbers and Optical Illusion. Al Stewart and Peter White joined forces to write Running Man, Midnight Rocks, Constantinople and Merlin’s Time. These songs and the rest of 24 Carrots were recorded by Al Stewart and his new band, Shot In The Dark.
Peter White who had played keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars on Year Of The Cat and Time Passages became a member of Shot In The Dark. He was joined by Robin Lamble on bass, percussion, acoustic guitar and backing vocals; flautist and alto saxophonist Bryan Savage; backing vocalist Krysia Kristianne and Adam Yurman who played electric guitar and added backing vocals. This was Al Stewart’s new band Shot In The Dark, who were augmented by some familiar faces.
Augmenting Shot In The Dark were drummers Russ Kunkel, Steve Chapman, Mark Sanders, Beau Segal and Toto’s Jeff Porcaro. They were joined by keyboardist Bob Marlette, violinist Jerry McMillan, the Incredible String Band’s Robin Williamson on mandocello, conga player Lenny Castro and Sylvia Woods on Celtic Harp. Adding additional backing vocals were Steeleye Span’s Ken Nicol and Harry Stinson. In total, seventeen musicians and backing vocalists worked on 24 Carrots during the sessions that took place during May 1980. However, one man who had played an important part in transforming Al Stewart’s career was missing.
This was producer Alan Parsons who had produced Modern Times, Year Of The Cat and Time Passages. Al Stewart felt that having recorded three albums with Alan Parsons it was time to move on and work with a different producer. Given Al Stewart had just enjoyed the most successful period of his career when working with Alan Parsons this was a huge gamble. However, he felt the need to change things around and brought in Chris Desmond to co-produce 24 Carrots at Davlen Studios in LA.
Incredibly, while Al Stewart was co-producing 24 Carrots he was also the co-producer of Shot In The Dark’s eponymous debut album. It was released on Robert Stogwood’s RSO Records in 1981. By then, 24 Carrots had been released by Al Stewart.
Instead of a split release date 24 Carrots was released worldwide on the ’20th’ of August 1980. The lead single Midnight Rocks reached twenty-four on the US Billboard 100 and fifty in Australia. After this, Mondo Sinistro and Paint By Numbers were released as singles but neither charted. Meanwhile, 24 Carrots was released to plaudits and praise and reached thirty-seven in the US Billboard 200, fifty-five in Britain and fifty-one in Australia. There were no glittering prizes for the first album of the post Alan Parsons’ era.
24 Carrots featured future Al Stewart classics including Running Man and Merlin’s Time as well fans’ favourites like the hit single Midnight Rocks and Murmansk Run/Ellis Island. While the album featured Al Stewart’s much-loved cerebral and cinematic folk rock sound, some tracks showcased a new, harder, rockier sound. This was quite different to what featured on previous albums and led some critics to speculate if someone had been offering an artist who had just released two million selling albums in America some unwanted advice?
One theory was that Arista and Clive Davis wanted more commercial sounding songs that could be released as a single. This wouldn’t have been the first time the veteran music executive had offered his advice to a successful artist.
By then, Al Stewart was playing to larger audiences and some nights 2,500 to 3,000 came to hear hits like Year Of The Cats and Time Passages. However, that was just part of the story and veterans of his music came to expect tracks from the early part of his career including albums like 1967s Bed-Sitter Images, 1969s Love Chronicles, 1970s Zero She Flies, 1972s Orange and 1973s Past, Present and Future. These were the albums that Al Stewart released before teaming up with producer Alan Parsons. Anyone expecting to hear song after song like Year Of The Cats and Time Passages was in for a surprise. However, if they gave the older material a chance they were in for a pleasant surprise as Al Stewart was one of Britain’s finest folk singers and a talented songwriter who painted pictures with his lyrics.
Arista, which was founded by Clive Davis in 1974, weren’t happy with Al Stewart and wanted him to release more commercial material. That was despite him being a successful artist who had enjoyed a string of hit singles. Al Stewart was in for an unpleasant surprise when Arista sent him songs written by other people and suggested he recorded them. This was an insult to a gifted and experienced songwriter who had just released his ninth studio album. Quite rightly, Al Stewart didn’t record the songs, and by then must have known something had to change.
After the release of 24 Carrots he embarked on a gruelling touring schedule and played two sold-out shows in December of 1980. By then, Al Stewart had made up his mind to do two things.
He decided to leave Arista as soon as possible. Unfortunately he still owed the label two albums and it would take time to be free of Arista. The other decision Al Stewart made was to split with his manager Luke O’Reilly. This was a new chapter for him,
In October 1981 Al Stewart released the double album Live/Indian Summer. Again, he was backed by Shot In The Dark and the first side featured five new songs. The other three sides were recorded at The Roxy Theatre, Los Angeles in April 1981. Live/Indian Summer was produced by Chris Desmond and Al Stewart and scheduled for release in the autumn of 1981
Six months later, in October 1981 Live/Indian Summer was released and featured a mixture of folk rock and a rockier sound. Sadly, Al Stewart’s first live album stalled at 110 in the US Billboard 200 and reached just fifty in Australia. However, at least Al Stewart would soon be able to leave Arista.
Russians and Americans.
Al Stewart recorded his tenth album Russians and Americans with some of the members of Shot In The Dark and session musicians at four studios in Britain and America. He recorded nine songs that resulted in one of the most powerful albums of his three decade career. The songs were inspired by the political events of 1983 and the tension between Russia and America, the so called home of the free.
This was ironic because when Russians and Americans was released in May 1984, two albums that featured on the British version had been replaced on the American album. Censorship was alive and well at Arista’s headquarters.
When Russians and Americans was released it failed to chart in America but reached a lowly eighty-three in Britain. After this, Al Stewart was dropped by Arista. However, he was now free to sign to a label that understood and respected him and his music.
Next stop for Al Stewart was Enigma Records who released his eleventh studio album Last Days Of The Century on the ‘24th’ of August 1988. Sadly, it failed to trouble the charts on either side of the Atlantic. It was a far cry from Al Stewart’s Arista years.
Al Stewart’s time at Arista was the most successful of his long and illustrious career. His breakthrough came in 1975 when he released Modern Times on the Janus label and his sixth studio album reached number thirty in the US Billboard 200. However, disaster strict when after releasing Year Of The Cat Janus folded. Al Stewart signed to RCA who reissued Year Of The Cat and it was the million selling album that transformed his career in America.
From Year Of The Cat through Time Passages to 24 Carrots Al Stewart enjoyed the most successful period of his career. 24 Carrots had a lot to live up to as the Glasgow-born folk rocker had just enjoyed two million selling albums stateside. It’s an oft-overlooked album that features Al Stewart classics and crowd favourites as he mixes folk rock with a harder, rockier sound. What it lacked was a hook-laden radio friendly single like Year Of The Cat or Time Passages.
Despite that, 24 Carrots is an album that’s a favourite of many Al Stewart’s fans. He’s released sixteen studio and albums and three live albums over a forty-two year period. Despite that, still many people have yet discover Al Stewart’s music or only know his two biggest singles Year Of The Cat and Time Passages.
For anyone yet to discover Al Stewart’s music, the best place to start is with Modern Times then his two million-selling classic albums Year Of The Cat and Time Passages. After that, 24 Carrots and Russians and Americans are feature the inimitable Al Stewart’s folk rock sound. Then it’s time to explore Al Stewart’s early albums which are part of a veritable nineteen course musical feast which includes 24 Carrots,
Cult Classic: Al Stewart-24 Carrots.