In 1970 Cat Stevens (real name Steven Georgiou/Yusuf Islam since 1979) was returning to the charts and live performances after recovering from a serious bout of tuberculosis, his fourth album Tea For the Tillerman was recorded in London with producer Paul Samwell-Smith, and the first track recorded at the Olympic Studio (London) and pre-released before the album, was Wild World.
Stevens explained on the Chris Isaak Hour in 2009 about this song that “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.” The song is in the form of the singer’s words to his departing lover, inspired by the end of their romance, and this was interpreted as being a reference to Stevens’ muse, the US actress Patti D’Arbanville, who was also the inspiration for the song Lady D’Arbanvlle, a track on his previous album Mona Bone Jakon.
Stevens later recalled the musical influences that helped to shape the song “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.”
Some critics and music writers have deemed Wild World to be condescending and misogynistic, such lyrics as “I’ll always remember you like a child, girl…” and ‘Because I never want to see you sad girl/ Don’t be a bad girl…” but compared to Mick Jagger’s fantasy of sweet revenge in the Stones diatribe Under My Thumb, and their only slightly less threatening Play With Fire, Cat Stevens’ relatively gentle and sympathetic Wild World seems pretty tame even when compared to Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.
Cat Stevens never released the song as a single in the UK as it was covered by reggae performer Jimmy Cliff in a session produced by Stevens, he did however release the single in the US and it became his debut hit single there when it climbed to #11 in 1971. Cliff’s version was a top ten hit in the UK and #31 in Australia, where it was outsold by a local Fable label cover version by a studio session group known as the Fourth House who had a #16 hit locally.
The Fourth House single featured an uncredited lead vocal by renowned singer Danny Robinson, pictured at the top of this post, (former lead singer of the Wild Cherries and the Virgil brothers), with backing by anonymous Melbourne session musicians.
The record itself attributes production to David Mackay but others refute this, claiming that Mackay was at the time working for EMI in London, and that the Fourth House session was in fact produced by Ron Tudor, owner of Fable Records.
Originally Tudor had planned to record Wild World with Mike Brady (ex- MPD Ltd) singing the lead vocal, Ron recorded the orchestrated backing track, but when Mike Brady heard it he realised it was slightly too high for his vocal range, so he asked Ron to re-record the track and drop the arrangement down a semitone. The famously tight-fisted Tudor took some convincing to re-assemble the orchestra required to re-record the backing, but knowing that the song had great commercial appeal he agreed, however with Murphy’s Law working overtime, the orchestra took it up instead of down a semitone, making it totally out of Brady’s vocal range.
Danny Robinson was the only local vocalist with the necessary range to hit the notes and he came on board to record the lead vocals in one take, reputedly for £20 and a bottle of Scotch. The orchestration for this version varied from the Cat Stevens record, and featured distinctive flute and brass influences, it was however the only record released by the Fourth House.