Morning has Broken

in cat •  4 months ago

Cat Stevens' hit version:

One of Cat Steven’s most popular hit songs from the 1970s is the beautiful ‘Morning has Broken.’ The song’s lyrics are uplifting and meaningful and, accompanied by the gorgeous melody and chord progression, it’s easily one of the best songs of the 20th century. It’s fun to play on guitar and popular around campfires because most people know at least some of the lyrics for a sing-along.

This morning, I visited an Anglican church and the first hymn we sang was ‘Morning has Broken!’ I was a bit surprised at first to hear this ‘secular’ song being song in church but assumed that the hymnbook must be getting more progressive. I read the ‘credits’ at the bottom of the hymnal page and there was no mention of Cat Stevens. Instead, it said that Eleanor Farjeon (1881 – 1965) wrote the words and the melody was ascribed to a traditional melody. My curiosity awakened, I started doing some research later that day.

It turns out the Ms. Farjeon did indeed write the lyrics. Eleanor was an English author of children’s stories, plays, and poetry but she is most remembered for writing the words to ‘Morning has Broken’ in 1931, intending it as a children’s hymn. It was set to an old Gaelic tune from Scotland. The tune itself is called ‘Bunessan’ and was first published as a melody only arrangement in Lachlan Macbean’s Songs and Hymns of the Gael in 1888. The melody was a setting for Mary Macdonald’s carol “Child in the Manger.” The tune is named after Mary’s birthplace on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. The hymn version of lyrics and music first appeared in the second edition of ‘Songs of Praise’ published in 1931. The editor included this song because he needed a hymn that gave thanks for each day. The English-language Roman Catholic hymnal also uses the tune for “Christ Be Beside Me” and “This Day God Gives Me.” The melody uses an unusual ‘dactylic’ meter in threes. According to British hymnologist J. R. Watson, this meter results in a “springy rhythm [and a] beautifully sustained… poem [that] makes a delightful and charming morning hymn.”

When Cat Stevens began work on his 1971 ‘cover’ version,’ he sang the verses accompanied by a lone guitar, playing it with a more traditional chord progression. You can hear his demo version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jOAfw2GUUE. To my ear, it sounds rather sparse and unexciting. He needed something else to spice it up. Cat heard classically trained keyboard player, Rick Wakeman, playing a piano segment in the studio one day. Rick, who you may know from his years as a keyboard player for the rock band ‘Yes,’ agreed to let Cat use an adaptation of the sequence for the grand sum of £10. (Wakeman also used it in his original intended piece for ‘Catherine Howard’).

After adding the keyboard segments and some harmonies, the song was included on the 1971 album: ‘Teaser and the Firecat.’ It easily shot to the top ten of a number of charts.

Rick Wakeman said in an interview in 2000, that he was “shattered” when his name was omitted from the credits in 1971. What’s more, he never received the £10 either! When Cat Stevens later heard about these oversights, he paid up and apologized. Apparently, there was some confusion and misunderstanding on the record label’s part. 

Morning has Broken

Words by Eleanor Farjeon, Traditional Scottish Melody 

Morning has broken like the first morning

Blackbird has spoken like the first bird

Praise for the singing

Praise for the morning

Praise for them springing fresh from the world


 Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven

Like the first dewfall on the first grass

Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden

Sprung in completeness where his feet pass


Mine is the sunlight

Mine is the morning

Born of the one light

Eden saw play

Praise with elation, praise ev’ry morning

God’s recreation of the new day


Morning has broken like the first morning

Blackbird has spoken like the first bird

Praise for the singing

Praise for the morning

Praise for them springing fresh from the world



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