"On The Road To Find Out" is about a young man who wants to see the world for himself, so he sets out on a journey to clear his mind and see what he can discover. It was inspired by a deep spiritual emptiness in Cat Stevens' life. He was not writing about traveling in a literal sense but in finding out who he was and the purpose, if any, of his existence. Stevens had fame and fortune thrust upon him at an early age (he was 18 in 1967 when his first three singles charted in his native UK), and like so many in a similar position he looked at what he'd accomplished and realized it had brought him neither happiness nor peace of mind.
This was one of the songs he wrote after recovering from tuberculosis, a disease that had all but been eradicated in the Western world by the time he contracted it, and which in his case was caused by personal neglect and fast living.
In 1977, he converted to Islam after several years of serious contemplation of religion. He played his final concert in November 1979 then withdrew totally from music for over two decades. In 2004, after his return as Yusuf Islam, he featured in a TV documentary where he told presenter Alan Yentob that his songs were a narrative to his life – none more so than "On The Road To Find Out."
The last couplet reads:
The answer lies within, so why not take a look now?
Kick out the Devil's sin, pick up, pick up a good book now
When asked about this he told Alan Yentob that – as far as he recalled - he had originally written "pick up the Good Book now" - an obvious allusion to the Bible, but had altered it to avoid its being taken up by "Bible bashers."
Although they are separated by three decades, and the latter is written in the third person singular, "On The Road To Find Out" is strikingly similar in content to "Drops Of Jupiter (Tell Me)
" by Train, which was inspired by an entirely different subject but has been and can be interpreted as a voyage of self-discovery.
Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 3
Looking back on the song in 2020, Stevens told Entertainment Weekly that the song foretold what was going to happen to him, and that the "good book" his sings about ended up being the Koran, which his brother gave him in 1975. "Before I received any book, I was writing about this book that was going to change my life," he said. "And wow."
After recording two albums on the Deram label with producer Mike Hurst, Stevens signed with Island (A&M in the US) and took on ex Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith as producer. With Alun Davies on guitar, they recorded the album Mona Bone Jakon, which was followed by Tea For The Tillerman. According to Samwell-Smith, they were playing a gig in Aberdeen, Scotland, when Stevens and Davis started composing this song in the dressing room.