Jucha art and music is a blog devoted to books, collages and music.
Thoughts about Pussy Cats as Random as Pussy Cats
by Anthony Kaboom
I first heard “Don’t Forget Me” on Marianne Faithfull’s album Twentieth Century Blues, a tribute to Kurt Weill, one of a handful of songs not written by Weill himself. Harry Nilsson had died only two years before the live set that comprised the album and Faithfull placed it there as her own tribute. It sounds like Weill. It also sounds like Nilsson. Fondly enough, it has a bit of the same waltzy, old-timeyness of the songs he wrote for Robert Altman’s Popeye movie and it defines why Nilsson straddles a line between beloved and forgotten. It’s a mesmerizing song and it could have been a standard, if not for the sardonic off-the-cuff lines about missing the alimony as much as the girl, keeping your powder dry and the line “when we’re older and filled with cancer/ It doesn’t matter now/ Come on! Get happy!” The song boomeranged back a few years ago (heavenly) by Neko Case, and when she did so, I thought of it as Neko covering Marianne. Marianne had just shortly before covered “Hold On
Hold On” and I thought Neko was returning the favor.
Turns out the reason was, I’d never heard Harry’s version… and upon recently finding out that John Lennon had produced and collaborated on an album in the year of John’s “lost weekend” with Harry, an album called Pussy Cats, I found myself surprised to find as I listened on Spotify that this was the album that gem came from. The magic of Spotify: folks, I haven’t bought this album yet. Mr. Jucha asked me to write a few words on my impressions and honestly I’m not sure what to say. Since Spotify promotes OCD and list-making, I ended up being a little more obsessed with searching for every other cover I could find of “Don’t Forget Me.” (Neil Diamond is a coward for taking out the cancer line, by the way.)
“Don’t Forget Me” is actually a polished gem in a middle of an oddity that I may come to love. Certainly there’s nothing as beautiful as that one song, but the first two tracks are completely unexpected and maybe a bit like listening to two people goofing with each other than a serious record. But since they’re Lennon and Nilsson, they’re goofs you want to listen to repeatedly. The lead is a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross” which starts with a riff that sounds pretty much exactly like “No. 9 Dream” and a vocal that sounds like John Lennon. In fact, I’m pretty sure John’s voice is the lead here, or else Nilsson is doing a great Lennon impression. Either way, they both start doing that “Mama don’t goooooooooooooo” hoarse scream together except here it’s about “many rivers to crooooooooooosssss.” And it’s really funny, even if irecording the vocal supposedly damaged Nilsson’s gorgeous voice and almost ended his career. Actually it would have been tragic if he’d permanently wrecked his voice over this but it does sound great, and so does the next track, and equally shouty version of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”; they both sound like something you’d never heard before and you want to link your friends too online. “It’s John Lennon and Harry Nilsson and they’re doing Dylan. It’s hilarious!”
The handful of originals from Nilsson are all well and good. “All My Life” sounds a lot like “Gotta Get Up” — this is a recurring problem here — and it’s a song about making a new start after endless debauchery which is a little ironic considering it’s being recorded amid debauchery. But in Nilsson style, it’s charming and fun and happily incorporates the phrase “laughing my ass off”. I like it, along with the low key ditty about a tired soldier that comes next. Nilsson’s blown vocal chords really help “Old Forgotten Soldier”, a song where he needs to sound tired.
Eventually the album turns into an oldies cover album, which is a lot like Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, which is an album I’m not very fond of. And just one more “other thing from Lennon” that this set of songs reminds one of. Having the riff behind “Save the Last Dance” sound like riff behind “Without You” doesn’t help dissuade the listener of the idea these guys are repeating themselves. Because they’re stoned. Only thing is: Keith Moon, Jim Keltner and Ringo are all drumming together on “Rock Around the Clock” and the pure loopiness of the party makes it more fun for me than anything on the Lennon oldies album.
So … it’s the type of thing I’d normally call an interesting failure. But I’m not sure it’s a failure. I can’t say any moment of it made me want to turn away. And I can’t say I won’t listen again. In a way, it’s like discovering a secret diary from old friends. So, yes, I’m pro-Pussy Cats. If anything it gave us “Don’t Forget Me”… appropriate because it’s nice to stop and remember both of these chaps.