The First Cut is the Deepest original
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In 1965, 17-year-old Cat Stevens wrote “The First Cut is the Deepest”. It’s a song where the singer wonders if they can overcome the pain of their first breakup to begin a new relationship. (One of the most relatable song themes I can think of.) Stevens sold his song to American expatriate soul singer PP Arnold for £30. Arnold recorded the “First Cut is the Deepest” original and in 1967 it was a hit. It was also a hit for Keith Hampshire, Rod Stewart, Dawn Penn, Papa Dee and Sheryl Crow.
In the mid-60s, the teenage Cat Stevens (born Steven Demetre Georgiou, later known as Yusuf Islam) was an unknown musician. He recorded a demo of “The First Cut is the Deepest” in 1965 but believed he had a better chance of success as a songwriter than a singer. So he sold the song to Arnold. Stevens’ solo career took off in 1967, the same year Arnold released the “First Cut is the Deepest” original.
PP Arnold’s 60s career
Known professionally as PP Arnold, Patricia Ann Cole was born in 1946 in Los Angeles. Part of a family of gospel singers, she performed as a vocal soloist for the first time at just four years old. Arnold married young, had kids and worked two jobs until a friend contacted her about an offer. Maxine Smith, an ex of Arnold’s brother, and another friend, Gloria Scott, had an audition to replace the Ikettes, but they needed a third singer.
The audition to provide vocal and dance accompaniment for the Ike and Tina Turner Revue went well. The three young women were offered the job on the spot. Arnold left her abusive husband that night (after another beating) and joined the Ikettes.
Arnold stayed with the Ike and Tina Turner Revue until late 1966 then quit following their tour with the Rolling Stones in the UK. Encouraged by Mick Jagger, Arnold stayed in London to establish a solo career. Things started to take off for her and she landed a solo contract with Immediate Records, a label founded by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Arnold released several major British hits with Immediate Records.
A young black woman on her own in America in a white environment would not have been treated as well as I was in England.”PP Arnold
Recording and release of the First Cut is the Deepest original
Cat Stevens was part of the same London music scene, and his song “The First Cut is the Deepest” found its way to Arnold. She recorded it for her debut album, The First Lady of Immediate. Immediate released the “First Cut is the Deepest” original as a single in mid-1967.
Arnold sings the “First Cut is the Deepest” original as a fairly uptempo soul song. She’s accompanied by harpsichord, vibraphone, horns and strings. Arnold has a powerful, soulful voice. Some say she lacks the power of singers like Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin, but I think the “First Cut is the Deepest” original is a fantastic soul-rock version.
Arnold’s the “First Cut is the Deepest” original went to number 18 on the UK charts. In later years, she said the song was a perfect fit for her, having survived an abusive marriage.
It encapsulated everything that I was at the time. Having the courage to get out of that [abusive relationship] and create a life for me and my kids. What a blessing.”PP Arnold
PP Arnold’s later career
In 1968, Arnold scored another UK hit with her cover of “Angel of the Morning“, which reached number 29. She collaborated with many artists including the Small Faces, Barry Gibb, Rod Stewart, the Rolling Stones Graham Nash, Eric Burdon and Eric Clapton. In the early 70s, Arnold worked on the musical stage and moved back to LA. She withdrew from performing in the mid-70s when her daughter Debbie tragically died in a car accident.
However, over the last decades Arnold has released her own singles, performed on stage and sung with many notable groups. In May 2020, she performed lead vocals on the Fratellis single “Strangers In The Street”. Arnold has been a significant contributor to the music industry since the 60s.
Cat Stevens’ First Cut is the Deepest
Stevens’ own version of “The First Cut is the Deepest” appeared on his second studio album New Masters in December 1967, seven months after Arnold released her original version. Mike Hurst produced both Arnold’s and Stevens’ recordings, and sang harmony on the chorus of Stevens’ version. Big Jim Sullivan played guitar. Stevens never released “The First Cut is the Deepest” as a single, believing Arnold’s version to be definitive.
New Masters failed to chart in the UK, but Stevens’ solo career still took off at that point. He won songwriting awards for “The First Cut is the Deepest”, including two consecutive American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers songwriting awards for 2005 and 2006 Songwriter of the Year.
Unlike later versions, Stevens’ “The First Cut is the Deepest” has a 60s rock sound to it. Sullivan’s guitar solo is lovely, as are the strings, horns and Stevens’ vocals.
Jamaican singer Norma Fraser recorded a classic reggae version of “The First Cut is the Deepest” in 1967 as part of a Studio One recording.
In 1973, English singer Keith Hampshire released the first chart-topping version of “The First Cut is the Deepest”. It reached number one in Canada. This version has more of a power ballad sound to it.
Rod Stewart’s version came out in 1976. Recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. “The First Cut is the Deepest” appeared on Stewart’s seventh album A Night on the Town. It spent four weeks at number one in the UK and became one of Stewart’s signature tunes. His gravelly voice goes perfectly with the tune. And if you want to see Stewart in a matching blue, yellow and white striped jacket and jumper plus the most spectacular glam rock mullet ever, the official video clip is worth a look.
Swedish rap, ragga and dancehall musician Papa Dee recorded a reggae cover of “The First Cut is the Deepest” in 1995. While I’m not keen on this version, it did very well in Scandinavia.
Sheryl Crow released “The First Cut is the Deepest” in 2003 as part of her compilation album The Very Best of Sheryl Crow. This version reached number 14 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Of all the versions, I most prefer Arnold’s “The First Cut is the Deepest” original followed by Cat Stevens’ version.
Check out more 60s tunes and their unknown originals here.
References Cat Stevens’ ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’ Is The Perfect Heartbreak Song The First Cut Is The Deepest: P.P. Arnold; Cat Stevens; Rod Stewart SecondHandSongs - The First Cut is the Deepest Songfacts - The First Cut is the Deepest Wikipedia - The First Cut is the Deepest Wikipedia - PP Arnold