Bill Callahan & Bonnie “Prince” Billy cover Yusuf/Cat Stevens’ “Blackness of the Night”
Bill Callahan and Bonnie "Prince" Billy have teamed up to cover "Blackness of the Night," the classic protest song by Yusuf Islam, from 1967 back when he was known as Cat Stevens. Making it even more of a Drag City supergroup, the cover also features Chicago's AZITA (who recently returned with her first new music in years). It's a gorgeous song and Bill, Will and ATIZA all sound amazing together. Here's the backstory from Drag City:
Determined to make a new friend out of an old favorite, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Bill Callahan dropped a tape letter through AZITA’s mail slot, asking only for one in return. The contents they sent: one of Cat Stevens’ earliest protest songs. What they got back: a version of the song to sing together! Though unfamiliar with the tune, AZITA arranged and played it entirely, attaining celestial translucence by downshifting into a slower tempo. The harmonies of Bonnie and Bill step into the spiritual spotlight, as fresh dollops of synth and other keys bloom in the darkness. Cat’s version pays a debt to the churchy sound of Procol Harum; AZITA spends the sum in other ways, transposing the instrumental break into a heavenly guitar break before giving way to the two Bills, who take it out with a last pass of harmonized hope against hopelessness.
Yusuf released a new version of "Blackness of the Night" as a single back in 2017 and wrote at the time, "'Blackness' of the Night was one of my first ‘protest’ songs for the 60’s. Growing up in London after the War, the memories were strong and bombed ruins still riddled the City. It also reflected the feeling of emptiness wandering the streets at night alone, pondering how to survive in a dark unknown future."
A lot of us are pondering how to survive in a dark unknown future these days. Listen to the cover, and Yusuf's 2017 version, below.