The song is the title track of his 1976 album Year of the Cat, and was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London in January 1976 by engineer Alan Parsons. The song reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1977. Although Stewart’s 1978 single “Time Passages” is his career record with a #7 peak, “Year of the Cat” has remained Stewart’s signature recording, receiving regular airplay on both classic rock and folk rock stations.
The track is noted for its lengthy instrumental sections – over four minutes of 6:40 album version of the song is instrumental, including a long, melodic series of solos that encompasses cello, violin, piano, acoustic guitar, distorted electric guitar, synthesizer and saxophone.
The transition from acoustic guitar to electric to saxophone was initiated by Tim Renwick. The acoustic lead is played by Peter White with Tim Renwick then taking the electric lead. Parsons had Phil Kenzie add the saxophone part of the song — and by doing so transformed the original folk concept into the jazz-influenced ballad that put Al Stewart onto the charts.
The song “Year of the Cat” began as “Foot of the Stage”, a song written by Stewart in 1966 after seeing a performance by comedian Tony Hancock whose patter about “being a complete loser” who might as well “end it all right here” drew laughs from the audience: Stewart’s intuitive response that Hancock was in genuine despair led to the writing of “Foot of the Stage”. It was the melody for this never recorded song which Stewart set the lyrics of “Year of the Cat” to in 1975: pianist Peter Wood was given a co-writing credit on the song in recognition of his piano riff on the recorded track.
Subsequent to the entry of the single on the US charts, the track afforded Stewart a major hit in Australia (#13), Belgium/Flemish Region (#7), Canada (#3), Italy (#5), the Netherlands (#6) and New Zealand (#15). In the UK, where the single had been overlooked on its original July 1976 release, it gained renewed interest which was evident in a Top 40 chart entry although interest leveled off outside the Top 30 with a #31 peak in January 1977. “Year of the Cat” would remain Stewart’s sole chart single in his native UK. (source Wikipedia)