This is about a Russian family where the son wants to join the revolution but his father wants him to stay home and work on the farm. Stevens made up the story, but his relationship with his own father was an influence on the song. When he appeared on The Chris Isaak Hour in 2009, Stevens said: "He was running a restaurant and I was a Pop Star, so I wasn't following the path that he laid out. But we certainly didn't have any antagonism between us. I loved him and he loved me."
The dialogue between father and son hints at Stevens' lonely childhood. The song contains a lyrical trick of verse and chorus sung by different people with different perspectives on the situation.
This was a hit in Europe for the Irish group Boyzone in 1995. Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, was happy that the wholesome group had success with it.
This was released as the B-side of Stevens' hit "Moonshadow."
The producers of the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge wanted to use this in the film and had some of the actors record it, but Stevens would not let them because the racy content of the movie clashed with his Muslim beliefs. Much of the plot was based on the song, and the script had to be rewritten when Stevens refused permission. The song "Nature Boy," sung by David Bowie, was used instead.
On The Flaming Lips' 2002 album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, there is a song called Fight Test that sounds a lot like this. In 2003, the song was released as a single in the UK and got a lot of attention. Faced with a lawsuit, The Flaming Lips agreed to split the royalties from "Fight Test" with Stevens.
Yusuf Islam was featured in a recording of this song with Irish tenor Ronan Keating. It was released in the UK as a single in 2004 and charted there.
Mary - Little Rock, AR
Movies that have used this song include Omero (1982) and Pirate Radio (2009). It was also featured in a 2011 short film called Immigrants' Children Will Always Break Their Parents Hearts.
In 2017, director James Gunn used it in his film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, where it plays in the last scene. Gunn thought of the song after hearing Howard Stern play a (very lame) version of it on acoustic guitar coming out of break on his radio show.