“The record company didn’t want a hymn on the album,” explains keyboardist Rick Wakeman (of the progressive rock band Yes). He was talking about the song, Morning Has Broken recorded by Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Cat Stevens). Brevity was but one of the problems/ challenges they encountered when they started recording at a London studio infused with Stevens’ gentle acoustic guitar chords and Wakeman’s cascading piano riffs arranged for the album “Teaser and the Firecat” in the early seventies.
“It’s one of the most beautiful pieces ever written, but it’s just a verse,” Wakeman said in the same video, as he describes the creative process behind the song. It was Wakeman who helped Stevens stretch the sparse 44 seconds to the full-pop-radio requirement of three minutes. They added a choir and even a harmonium, among other touches to expand the sound.
As is so often the case in creative pursuits, Stevens and Wakeman needed to create new material out of the old for a new purpose. Given the producers resistance, you have to wonder at the pull the song with gentle lyrics like, “Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning,” exacted on Stevens, who, despite all protests, made sure the song was included on his album by the time of its release.
The hymn appeared at just the right time when Stevens recalls feeling “dry” and “looking for inspiration.” He entered the religious section of a bookstore and picked up a hymnbook. As he flipped through the pages, there it was: Morning Has Broken.
Written (happy women’s history month!) by an English woman named Eleanor Fajeon, Morning Has Broken was commissioned by a vicar who was looking for a song of universal praise, one that would speak to everyone, no matter their background. In fact, Farjeon was not a musician. She was an author who had earned the Hans Christen Anderson award in 1956.
My personal connection to Morning Has Broken takes me back to a room of eight people or so, all different kinds of people, all ages, who looked around at one another at a creativity workshop at Barnegat Light in Long Beach Island, New Jersey, at Minerva’s Bed and Breakfast.
I remember my heart was in my mouth the whole weekend. It was my first creativity workshop. I didn’t know what to expect but from there on out I was hooked on the very word, creativity. My non-dictionary definition of creativity is any pull inside your stomach where that morning light starts to get in. It’s not always positive or negative. In fact, that hard morning light might start with a feeling of emptiness, but don’t let that fool or scare you. Keep looking.
That weekend, we all cleared the space for each other by listening and “catching” the goals and vision of each other’s work. This is the circle quality I love about the finest workshops. One of the participants talked about the lyrics to Morning Has Broken. I can still picture the quiet awe of the room.
The humble Morning Has Broken conjures up a Cinderella song-fairy-tale. The record company never even planned to release it on the airwaves. But one day, the single was finally allowed to dress up and go to the ball, according to Wakeman. (They’d run out of options and wanted a last-ditch effort to squeeze out more cash! ) The rest is history. The song topped the charts for nine weeks, more than any other single on the album. As for Farjoun’s adapted hymn? It has now been listened to over a million times in the above YouTube clip alone.