Al Stewart Sings “Nostradamus”

pastpresetfutureListen to this track by Anglo-Scottish history buff and singer-songwriter Al Stewart. It’s “Nostradamus”, his 1973 song as taken from his fifth LP Past, Present, and Future, released first in Britain at the end of that year, and in the spring of 1974 in North America. The song reveals Stewart’s approach to songwriting in an era before his trans-Atlantic breakthrough Year of The Cat album in 1976.

Al Stewart had been developing his craft for a while by the time he wrote and recorded this tune, having been a fixture on the London Soho folk music scene in the mid-60s, and appearing at the first Glastonbury Festival in 1970. This record was the beginning of a time when he was finding his feet as a songwriter tackling character-driven songs in historical settings. In this one, we get a tour of historical references, as interpreted by one Nostradamus, an apothecary and seer of the 1500s in France who allegedly forsaw, among other events, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Rise of Nazi Germany.

But, whether or not there is any credence to Nostradamus’ visions, or more accurately how they have been interpreted in retrospect, the song concerns itself with a greater theme when it comes to history and how human beings perceive it.  Read more

The Song In My Head Today: ‘Time Passages’ by Al Stewart

Al Stewart Time PassagesListen to “Time Passages” by Al Stewart.

Taken from his 1978 album of the same name, Al Stewart’s ‘Time Passages’ is all about the power of memory, and the fact that memories sometimes appear out of nowhere and surprise you – either happily, or not.

Stewart started his career in the 60s, and built somewhat of a reputation for period pieces – neo-folk songs which were set during the course of historical events (‘Roads to Moscow’) or centred around figures in history (‘Nostradamus‘). But by the mid-70s, he began to get a lot of radio play around a slick soft rock approach, one of the biggest being the title track off of his 1976 LP Year of the Cat, which was a travelogue tale of romance.

But, ‘Time Passages’ for me has always been a favourite, because it ironically transports me back to my childhood, and the sounds of late 70s- early 80s radio. But another big reason is that the song resonates with me – that I believe that when memories of places and people in the past rise up in one’s mind, it can make time itself seem like an illusion. This isn’t an entirely new idea. The English Romantic poet William Wordsworth who wrote in the 1700-early 1800s thought it to be pretty compelling too.

There is something comforting in that idea, although I’m not sure what it might be. Maybe it’s the idea that the events in a life are connected to something greater, that they are as important as events to come because they help to define our points of view, our very personalities. Where it is not helpful to be stuck in the past, neither is it helpful to discard it. Our past is part of what makes us what we are, after all.


At this point in time, everyone must think that I’ve got my head stuck in the late 70s to mid-80s when it comes to this whole ‘songs in my head’ thing. What can I say; Jungian radio (AKA – the song that pops up in your head for no reason…) has a will of its own.

Fun fact: Al Stewart is credited for having been the first songwriter to drop the dreaded ‘F’ bomb in a pop song, although he himself doesn’t agree.