Hello there! This week our blog features a late 60s tune, The First Cut Is The Deepest. We will discuss the first recorded version of the song by P.P. Arnold. Next, we will show the version by the songwriter Cat Stevens, and finally we will review a cover by Rod Stewart.
P.P. Arnold and The First Cut Is The Deepest:
In 1965, Steven Georgiou was 17 and was inspired by musicians like the Beatles, the Kinks and Paul Simon. He began to perform in London coffee houses and pubs under the name “Steve Adams.” He longed to become a singer-songwriter, like his favorite artists.
So he signed a publishing contract and recorded demos of some of his songs. One of those songs was The First Cut Is The Deepest.
The First Cut Is The Deepest describes a sad and dysfunctional situation. The singer is on the rebound, having been dumped. He is trying to begin a new relationship, but can’t stop obsessing about his first love. It is not clear if he will be able to overcome his pain, because “the first cut is the deepest.”
I would have given you all of my heart
But there’s someone who’s torn it apart
And she’s taking almost all that I’ve got
But if you want, I’ll try to love again
Baby I’ll try to love again but I know
The first cut is the deepest, baby I know
The first cut is the deepest
‘Cause when it comes to being lucky she’s cursed
When it comes to lovin’ me she’s worst
But when it comes to being loved she’s first
At this point, Georgiou took the stage name Cat Stevens. As we will see in the next section, Stevens’ solo career would take off in 1967. However, in 1965 Mr. Stevens believed that his best chance for success would be as a songwriter.
So Stevens sold the rights to The First Cut Is The Deepest for ₤30 to P.P. Arnold, a young expatriate American singer in Britain.
Ms. Arnold was born Patricia Cole in L.A. in October 1946. Her family were gospel singers, and she was a member of the family troupe, first performing a solo at the age of four. She married and quickly had two children.
Then in 1964, a friend encouraged Ms. Cole to audition as a replacement for The Ikettes, the backup singers and dancers for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. She and her friend auditioned and won the job, so the women attended a concert to celebrate.
When Ms. Cole returned home early in the morning following the concert, her husband beat her. So she immediately separated from her husband, left her children in the care of her parents, and joined Ike & Tina on tour. At that time she took the stage name P.P. Arnold.
In 1966, Ms. Arnold quit the Ike & Tina Revue. That group had opened for the Rolling Stones on tour, and Mick Jagger encouraged Arnold to consider a solo career. So when Ike & Tina were in London, P.P. Arnold left that band and went solo. Below is a publicity photo of a young P.P. Arnold.Embed from Getty Images
Having purchased the rights to The First Cut Is The Deepest, Ms. Arnold released the first single of this tune in spring 1967. It was the breakthrough hit for Ms. Arnold in the U.K.
Here is P.P. Arnold in a live version of The First Cut Is The Deepest. This was performed on the German rock music TV program Beat Club in 1967.
I greatly enjoyed seeing this video, as I was previously unaware of P.P. Arnold and her career. Her version features harpsichord and vibraphone, and made it to #18 on the British pop charts. Ms. Arnold has a strong, clear voice but lacks the “diva” quality of singers like Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner.
After her first solo hits, Ms. Arnold released several other singles, with encouragement from artists such as Mick Jagger, Steve Marriott of Small Faces (with whom she was romantically involved), and Keith Emerson (who would later be the frontman for Emerson, Lake and Palmer).
She also collaborated with Barry Gibb, who produced several songs for her, including a couple written by Gibb himself. During the early 70s, she appeared in a couple of musicals and sang backup for a number of British artists including Graham Nash, Eric Burdon and Eric Clapton.
Arnold then hooked up with Fuzzy Samuels, who was then the bassist for Crosby, Stills & Nash. They had a child and moved back to L.A., but they split up in 1974. Just after that, Arnold’s daughter Debbie was killed in a car accident, and she then withdrew from performing for several years.
Over the next few decades, P.P. Arnold continued to release a few records, sing backup for notable groups, and appear from time to time in rock musicals. She has worked with many of the great British Invasion musicians and has had a fascinating career.
P.P. Arnold never quite made it to superstar status, but her talent was obviously appreciated. She claims that moving from the U.S. to Britain in the late 60s was a good career move for a young black woman, and she is convinced that she was taken more seriously there.
Cat Stevens and The First Cut Is The Deepest:
Cat Stevens is a British singer-songwriter who has had a most interesting life and career. He was born Steven Georgiou in 1948 in London, where his parents ran a restaurant, the Moulin Rouge, in the Soho area.
As we mentioned in the preceding section, the young Mr. Georgiou bought a guitar, taught himself how to play, and began to compose pop songs. He was performing at age 17, and signed a record contract at 18 under his stage name Cat Stevens. He had his first single hit, Matthew and Son, at age 19. Below is a photo of Cat Stevens in concert.Embed from Getty Images
As we have mentioned, P.P. Arnold first had a hit with the Cat Stevens song in May 1967. So here is the audio of Cat Stevens in The First Cut Is The Deepest.
This tune appeared on Stevens’ album New Masters that was released in Dec. 1967. The album failed to chart in Britain; however, by this time Stevens’ solo career had taken off.
Cat Stevens’ version of The First Cut features a lovely guitar solo courtesy of Big Jim Sullivan, strings and horns, and of course Stevens’ evocative and vulnerable vocals which I find really moving. Stevens’ first producer Mike Hurst favored rather elaborate productions, whereas later Stevens would adopt a more sparse folk-rock style.
Now here is a live performance by Cat Stevens of The First Cut Is The Deepest, from 1967.
This clip has historical value, even though both the video and audio fidelity are poor, and the performance somewhat amateurish. Anyway, this Cat Stevens tune would prove extremely popular over the coming decades. In addition to versions by P.P. Arnold and Rod Stewart that we feature here, the song was a hit for Keith Hampshire and Sheryl Crow, among many others.
Mr. Stevens contracted tuberculosis in 1969, and had a near-death experience that required a year of convalescence. During that period he wrote a slew of songs, but also spent much time thinking about his life and purpose.
Stevens signed a new deal with Island Records and began to work with producer Alun Davies, a partnership that has endured for nearly five decades. His first major international breakthrough was the 1970 album Tea For The Tillerman. That album contained a number of single hits, particularly the song Wild World that Stevens wrote after his relationship with American actress Patti d’Arbanville ended.
After that point, Cat Stevens became an international superstar. He released a series of albums that went gold and spun off successful singles, and his name was mentioned in the same category as artists such as Paul Simon and Elton John. Several of his songs were incorporated into successful movies, particularly the 1971 black comedy Harold and Maude.
But Mr. Stevens retained a deep interest in religion and philosophy, and after nearly drowning while swimming in Malibu, California in 1976, he converted to Islam, taking the name Yusuf Islam.
After his conversion, Mr. Islam abandoned his musical career, and began to donate royalties from his songs to various charities. He did not perform again for many years.
In the interim, Yusuf Islam became entangled in some controversial events involving the Muslim world. In 1989, after a fatwa was issued calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie, the Booker Prize-winning author of The Satanic Verses, Yusuf made statements that appeared to support the fatwa.
It is hard to determine exactly what transpired. In the intervening years, Yusuf Islam has steadfastly denied ever supporting the fatwa against Rushdie. He claims that he was merely trying to explain the meaning of a fatwa. On the other hand, I never heard Mr. Islam explicitly oppose the fatwa against Rushdie.
Following the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington DC and elsewhere, Yusuf Islam issued a strong denunciation of those acts, and he performed his song Peace Train for the October 2001 Concert For New York City. Below is a photo of Yusuf Islam performing.Embed from Getty Images
Nevertheless, in 2004 Yusuf Islam was denied entry into the U.S. when he attempted to fly into Washington from London. It is not totally clear whether Yusuf Islam was considered to have supported terrorist organizations, or whether he had been confused with someone who had a similar name. He also successfully sued the British papers The Sun and The Sunday Times after they published articles asserting he was a supporter of terrorism.
In 2006, Yusuf Islam began appearing in concert once again. He performed some of his old standards in English, while some of his new songs were in Arabic. He continued to donate most or all of the proceeds from his music to charity. He also began performing as “Yusuf,” dropping his last name from his records.
In Oct. 2010, Yusuf performed at Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert’s Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear. In a cute touch, Yusuf performed his song Peace Train, while Ozzy Osbourne contributed Crazy Train and the O’Jays sang Love Train.
In 2004, Yusuf Islam received the Man of Peace Award from the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. And in 2014, Cat Stevens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
It’s great to see Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam back on the road again. Critics say that he seems to be enjoying himself immensely, and he is performing a mixture of old and new tunes.
Rod Stewart and The First Cut Is The Deepest:
We have featured Rod Stewart a few times before: first for his cover of Reason To Believe; next for his cover of Blue Moon; and then for his song Maggie May. So here we will briefly review his life and career.
Rod Stewart has been a major rock star for nearly fifty years. Rod had been performing since the early 60s as a vocalist and harmonica player, but did not achieve significant fame until 1967 when he became the lead vocalist for the Jeff Beck Group. Rod also began writing songs at this time.
His gravelly, raspy vocals gained him quite a following, particularly in the British blues circuit. Since 1967 Rod has had a long and fruitful association with bass player and guitarist Ron Wood. Below is a photo of Rod Stewart and his mate Ron Wood (L) performing with the Faces.Embed from Getty Images
Stewart subsequently left the Jeff Beck Group and became the lead vocalist with Faces, along with Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones. This coincided with a period where Stewart began to issue solo albums backed by his own group of musicians.
Stewart’s big breakthrough came in 1971, when the “B” side of one of his singles, Maggie May, became a surprise boffo hit, rising all the way to #1 in both the US and UK pop charts.
Rod Stewart’s unique rough vocal style was amazingly effective on tunes ranging from blues-based songs to R&B to folk-rock. His work with Faces continued for a few years until they broke up in 1975, when it became impossible to balance the demands of the band with Stewart’s solo career.
Rod Stewart’s cover of The First Cut Is The Deepest was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in 1976, and was released in early 1977. The song was #1 on the British pop charts for 4 weeks in 1977, and reached #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 playlists.
Here is Rod Stewart in a live performance of The First Cut Is The Deepest.
Pretty great, huh? This song seems tailor-made for Rod’s vocals and his delivery. He brings out the pain and heartbreak in the song, and his voice is in great form. In addition, a haunting electric violin heightens the pathos of this tune.
The First Cut Is The Deepest has become one of Rod Stewart’s signature tunes. You can tell the audience is really into this one – when Rod gets to the line “Baby, I know,” the audience belts out that phrase.
Alas, I jumped off the Rod Stewart bandwagon in the late 70s when he began dressing in spandex and singing disco songs – Do Ya Think I’m Sexy and Hot Legs, ugh. However, it’s hard to argue with someone who has sold upwards of 100 million records.
Rod Stewart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 1994, then a second time in 2012 as a member of Faces. He was knighted in 2016, so you may call him Sir Roderick (reminds me of a character from Monty Python and the Holy Grail).
Rod has led a very colorful life. In addition to his well-publicized love of soccer and his affinity for model trains, Stewart was nearly always in the company of actresses or other beauties. An affair with Swedish actress Britt Eckland in the mid-70s was followed by marriage to George Hamilton’s ex-wife Alana Hamilton, and a subsequent marriage to super-model Rachel Hunter. He is currently married to model Penny Lancaster-Stewart.
Rod has fathered eight children (that we know about), by five different mothers; his oldest and youngest children differ in age by 48 years. Do Ya Think I’m Sexy, indeed.