It’s become a kind of folksy, cheesey number over the years, but did you know that the Cat Stevens (AKA Yusuf) song “Father and Son” is actually about the Russian Revolution?
I was a little bit amazed to hear in a recent episode of Song Exploder how the song had started its life as part of a musical about the overthrow of the Tsar in 1917. It’s intended to be a conversation between a young man who wants to go and fight for the revolution, and his peasant feather who wants to stick with what he has worked for.
This isn’t a secret or anything. Here he is talking to GQ last year:
I was living in the West End and musicals were a big thing in my life. I got together with Nigel Hawthorne and we started writing this musical called Revolussia. Essentially, it was about Nicholas and Alexander, the last tsars of Russia, and against that there’s another story about this family in the farmland, in the country. And the father, of course, basically wants to keep things as they are, while the son is really inspired by the revolution. He wants to join. And so that’s the inspiration for that song. That’s why I’m able to represent both sides – though I feel that my preference, my emphasis, was on the son’s side, and the father’s arguments were not quite as strong as the son’s, which is interesting. Change is basically the theme of the song.
It obviously don’t change the universal nature of the song, but it did change it for me—suddenly music that had felt as warm and familiar as an old coat gained this new and surprising context.
(Also highly recommend the Netflix series if you haven’t already seen it.)