If you know of him at all, you probably know Al Stewart for his 1976 hit single, “Year of the Cat.”
Stewart would have a few minor hits after that, including “Time Passages” and “Song on the Radio.”
But as the years passed and radio changed, Stewart morphed from rock band leader back into the folk singer/songwriter that he’d dreamed about being as a teenager. Today, instead of playing 5,000-seat venues with a full band, he’s back to playing 500-seat (or smaller) clubs with an accompanying guitarist.
Now in his 60s, he still tours regularly, although not nearly as often as he did during the late 1970s, when his songs could be heard regularly on the radio.
Stewart has loved wine since he was old enough to purchase it, and his knowledge of French wine is impressive. He has been featured in Wine Spectator magazine, among other publications, talking about his favorites, which also include a number of Napa Valley cult wines.
Over the years, he has been bestowed the titles of Compagnon de Bordeaux, Matres-Conseils en Vin de France, and Commadeur d’honneur. I don’t speak French, but roughly translated, that means, “This guy buys a lot of French wine.”
Twenty-four years after “Year of the Cat” made him semi-famous, Stewart was asked to put write a series of songs for a wine-themed album. The result was “Down in the Cellar,” featuring 13 tunes including an all-but-four-lines instrumental gem called “The Shiraz Shuffle.”
There are many highlights for any music-loving wine drinker, including “Tous Les Etoiles,” which features smooth jazz guitarist extraordinaire Peter White playing, of all things, the accordion. (White was part of Stewart’s band and then served as his accompanying guitarist for many years before striking out his own in the smooth jazz world.)
With 13 songs on “Down in the Cellar,” our unofficial, unscientific, completely subjective countdown of the Top 10 Wine Songs of All-Time could have been “All Al, All the Time.” But we have self-imposed a one-song-per-artist limit, so the challenge became to select just one of the 13 to feature here.
“Waiting for Margaux”…“Tasting History”…“Turning It Into Water”…what to do?
Back in the day, Stewart wrote a handful of almost novel-like songs. If you ever want to get a laugh at an Al Stewart concert, wait until Stewart asks for requests, and then yell out, “Love Chronicles!” That was the title track of his 1969 album, and it takes about 18 minutes to sing.
“The Night That the Band Got the Wine” isn’t nearly as long, but it does tell an interesting story, and you can learn a little bit about it by watching the version that’s on YouTube.
We won’t give away the “plot” of the song, but it begins with these lyrics:
The earthquake hit at 6:19 with a jolt
People went running for the doorway
And for the next half minute it shook
Up on the 17th floor the sommelier was opening the wine
He knew the great hotel was solidly built
Still it must have been a miracle that nothing got spilt.
If you can’t wait to watch the video, the full lyrics are available here.
And so, “The Night That the Band Got the Wine” earns the No. 9 spot on the Vinesse list of the Top 10 Wine Songs of All-Time.
The countdown continues on Friday, but be sure to check back here tomorrow for more wine news and views. Meanwhile, take a moment to share your favorite wine song in the comments box below.