Saturday, September 24, 2011

Nine Lives: The Lovecats

The Cure: The Lovecats


When The Cure released The Lovecats in 1983, the song rose to number seven on the British singles chart. So it’s kind of hard to believe that the album it appeared on at the end of that year, Japanese Whispers, was a holding action, a single and flip sides compilation to keep the fans happy until the next official album came out. At that time, The Cure had just changed bass players, and they or their label seem to have decided to release Japanese Whispers because they weren’t sure when the next album would be ready. Even more remarkable: nowadays, Japanese Whispers is only available as an import.

As for the song, The Lovecats may be described as a love song where the lovers are feral cats. Or maybe fans of The Cure really did court each other this way in 1983. Either way, the song sounds like cats, and not just because of the feline vocalizations. It also has a great beat.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Nine Lives: Big Cat

The Clean: Big Cat


How do you know if your cat is overweight? You should be able to feel the backbone and ribs. If you can't feel the ribs without pressing, you may have a fat cat. If , viewed from the side, your cat has no noticeable waist but just a mass of belly fur sweeping the floor, you may have a fat cat. Finally, if you wake up each night wondering if someone is pushing a large boulder down the stairs -THUD THUD THUD--only to discover that it's your cat seeking a midnight snack, you may have a fat cat.

Nine Lives: Tom Cat Blues

Jorma Kaukonen: Tom Cat Blues (orig. Jelly Roll Morton)


No, it's not a cover of Tom Scott title cut Tom Cat - it's a cover of a Jelly Roll Morton tune from singer-songwriter Jorma Kaukonen.

Though he once made his name on the electric scream of the sixties, the Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna alum has become a well-deserved staple of the modern contemporary acoustic set in his old age thanks to a mellow, fatherly voice, a campfire wizard's hands on the strings, and a penchant for Piedmont style acoustic blues fingerpicking.

His transformation of Morton's ragtime protojazz, off 2002 roots radio chart-topper Blue Country Heart, features fellow heavyweights Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas on Mando and dobro, respectively; the track, like the rest of the album from which it springs, is effortless and epic, proving that the man's still got the stuff. Kudos, Kaukonen.

Nine Lives: Black Cat Bone

Albert Collins, Robert Cray, Johnny Copeland: Black Cat Bone


This version of Black Cat Bone begins with Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland talking about hearing the song played by Hop Wilson, who wrote it. As nearly as I can tell, that would have been in Houston Texas, in about 1950. Very quickly, the song became a blues classic, and it was recorded in the 50s by Lightning Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and many others. By 1985, the song had become one of Albert Collins’ signature tunes, and he was the one who brought it to the sessions for the album Showdown! This was one “super group” album that lived up to its billing. The idea was to bring together three of the biggest names in blues at the time and let them make magic. Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, and Robert Cray did just that.

In African-American folk belief, a black cat bone is a lucky charm, with the power to render the bearer invisible or bring about the return of a lost love. Here however, the singer is the victim of extraordinary bad luck, and he believes that his girlfriend has used a black cat bone to put a curse on him. There is a rather gruesome ritual for the proper making of a black cat bone charm. I will spare you the details, but you can find a description if you are curious in Zora Neal Hurston’s Mules and Men.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nine Lives: The Wild Cats Of Kilkenny

The Pogues: The Wild Cats Of Kilkenny


‘The Wild Cats Of Kilkenny’ appeared on The Pogues’ epic 1985 album Rum, Sodomy And The Lash. The instrumental track was written by the dentally-challenged frontman Shane McGowan, whom everybody knows, and the band’s multi-instrumentalist Jem Finer, who is rather more obscure. Still, every Christmas you’ll hear one of his songs…

Kilkenny is, of course, a town in Ireland that also lends its name to the county in which it is located (we could also make up, if we so wished, an urban legend that the name also served to inspire the makers of South Park). There is a poem about the cats of Kilkenny, titled without much prevarication “The Cats of Kilkenny”:

There once were two cats of Kilkenny
Each thought there was one cat too many
So they fought and they fit,
And they scratched and they bit,
Till excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats, there weren't any.

The Pogues in the title of their song probably referred to the epic cat fight of the poem (for there is no doubt that the two protagonist felines were indeed of wild temperament), which is believed to be an allegory for a bloody and self-destructive territorial dispute between Kilkenny and Irishtown. That conflict gave rise to the phrase “Kilkenny cats”, to describe, as puts it, “people who fight relentlessly till their end”.

Mutual destruction seems to be a badge of honour in some quarters: Kilkenny’s local hurling team (that’s the sport, not the post-drinking activity) is dubbed “The Cats”.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nine Lives: Cat People (Putting Out Fire)

David Bowie: Cat People (Putting Out Fire)


With the release of the post-disco classic Let's Dance in 1983, David Bowie took another trend-leading musical shift. Produced by Chic's Nile Rogers, it also features Stevie Ray Vaughan on lead guitar. Four hit singles came out of this album, including this re-recorded version of Cat People (Putting Out Fire), from the 1982 erotic thriller of the same name. Bowie begins the song in a slow, goth-y baritone (and when did his voice get that low? It used to be pretty airy in the 70s, I remember), and then he kicks up the beat so you can, yanno, dance to it. This is one song where the producer's skill really stands out. So does the percussion.

My absolute favorite manga artist, Miyamoto Kano, drew this charming catboy (or nekomimi), which is a fashionable Japanese trope in both manga and cosplay. Half the fun is plotting out exactly how one has become a nekomimi, and I won't elaborate about how much other characters really, reaaaally like those ears and tail.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Nine Lives: The Kitty Cat Song

Lee Dorsey: The Kitty Cat Song


A New Orleans native who once boxed as "Kid Chocolate", Lee Dorsey was already in his 40's when he started pummeling the pop charts with hits like "Ya Ya" and "Working In a Coalmine". For the B-side to his 1966 single "Ride Your Pony", Lee recorded this infectious little kitty ditty.  A lot of Dorsey's songs back then were produced by Allen Toussaint with his house band, The Meters, providing instrumental backup.

That same year, The Troggs recorded "The Kitty Cat Song" for their debut album "From Nowhere...The Troggs".

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nine Lives: Nashville Cats

Lovin' Spoonful: Nashville Cats


The Del McCoury Band: Nashville Cats (Lovin' Spoonful cover)


I always heard a short lick of tongue-in-cheek in the original slinky, funky take on this mid-sixties tune from Lovin' Spoonful, though I don't think it was purposeful: it's a wry tune to begin with, but Darius wasn't wrong way back in 2008 when he described the song as an honest homage from lead songwriter John Sebastian to the band's country and bluegrass influences.

But in the hands of twangy honkytonk bluegrass icon Del McCoury, the word "cats" rings especially true, as a reflection of the compatriots he knows well from his long career in the Ole Opry and beyond, just over the border from his native North Carolina. And dig those bluegrass harmonies, from the man and his sons.

Nine Lives: Tom Cat

Tom Scott and the L.A. Express: Tom Cat


For a while in the 70's, it seemed like Tom Scott was everywhere. Movie scores? He scored or performed on Uptown Saturday Night, Stir Crazy, Taxi Driver, Bladerunner, and Heaven Can Wait. TV themes? He wrote 'em for Family Ties, Starsky & Hutch, and The Streets of San Francisco. (it was a family business – his dad also scored a ton of things in his day, including the theme from Dragnet). He featured on other artist's stuff, like Joni Mitchell’s Court And Spark, Carole King’s Jazzman, Paul McCartney’s Listen To What The Man Said, Rod Stewart’s Do You Think I’m Sexy, and Blondie’s Rapture, but he's best known for his collaborations with Steely Dan, including the songs Babylon Sister, Deacon Blues, Peg, Black Cow, and especially the album Aja, for which he arranged and conducted all the horns. If that didn't make him cool enough, he was also one of The Blues Brothers.

Tom Cat is from the 1974 album of the same name, featuring Tom and the L.A. Express: electric guitarist Robben Ford, keyboardist Larry Nash, bassist Max Bennett (who wrote this tune), and drummer John Guerin. It's got that horn-dominated pop-jazz sound that reminds me of so much L.A. music of the time, maybe because Tom Scott was clearly playing on all of it.

Nine Lives: Big City Cat

Steve Forbert: Big City Cat


I’m sure there will be a stronger feline presence here as the week goes on. The “cat” in Big City Cat is thoroughly human, and the word only comes up at the end of the lyrics. But Big City Cat is a song about beginnings, so it seemed like a good place to start. Steve Forbert arrived in New York City from Meridian, Misissippi, intent on making a living as a musician. His material was well suited to the New York City music market of the late 70s, and he did eventually break through and get a major label contract. But Big City Cat describes his feelings on stepping onto the surface of a new planet at the start of this journey. New York City was a new world to Forbert, and not entirely a good one. But Forbert was able to maintain a sunny outlook that wound up being so appealing on his first album. Ironically, it wound up being his treatment at the hands of that major label that finally washed that optimism away. But that is a tale for another time.