09 February 2006

Josie and The Pussycats (Part One)

Josie and The Pussycats
Long tails and ears for hats
Guitars and sharps and flats
Neat, sweet, groovy songs
Everybody come along
Hurry, hurry

See y'all in Persia or maybe France
We could be in India or perchance
Groove with us in Bangkok
Makes no difference
Everywhere the action's at
We're involved with this and that
Come on along now

Josie and The Pussycats
No time for purrs and pats
Don't run when they hear "scat"
There where the plot begins
Come and watch the good girls win
Josie and The Pussycats
Josie and The Pussycats


Sanctified Pussy!
The Original Josie and The Pussycats
by Donny Jacobs and Andy Bishop
In the tape vaults of Time Warner Corporation, there exists a treasury of recordings which are of particular interest to comic book fans: The musical legacy of the original Josie and The Pussycats! Since 1969, the female Rock'n'Roll band comprised of Josie James, Valerie Smith and Melody Jones have appeared in comic magazines on a semi-regular basis. (The character of Josie predates the band, however, having originated as a Sandra Dee clone in the late 1950s.) However, many people don't know that, for a short time in the early '70s, the characters had real-life counterparts. While the flesh-and-blood Josie and The Pussycats never enjoyed a hit record, they did make some great contributions to the Girl Group and Pop/Soul genres.

Patrice Yvonne Holloway, a longtime solo artist for Capitol Records and the younger sister of Motown songstress Brenda Holloway, was recruited to sing the part of Pussycats lead vocalist Valerie. A blonde, nineteen-year-old singer/dancer named Cheryl Jean Stoppelmoor became the voice of alternate lead singer Melody; today, she's much better known as television actress Cheryl Ladd. Holloway and Ladd were brought together with a beautiful and talented light opera singer named Kathleen Dougherty (the vocal counterpart of Josie) and hired to record songs for a new Hanna-Barbera cartoon series. That TV series was the fondly-remembered "Josie and The Pussycats." Turning on comical spy thriller themes, it sent the fictional girl rockers around the world on an extended tour. Along for the ride was handsome roadie Alan M. Mayberry, eccentric manager Alexander Cabot, his scheming sister Alexandra, and a wigged-out feline named Sebastian. The show itself was great, but the soundtrack music took it to whole other level.

Recording sessions took place at Independent Recorders in Hollywood under the supervision of writer/producer Danny Janssen (who'd penned hits for Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy and The Partridge Family), singer/songwriter and vocal coach Sue Sheridan(known as Sue Steward at the time), arranger Al Capps and veteran orchestra conductor Jimmie Haskell. When Janssen and Sheridan's funky pop melodies and Capps and Haskell's space-age Soul orchestrations collided with the girls' Gospel, Country and Classically-influenced vocals on revved-up tunes like "(Watch Out For The) Roadrunner," "Voodoo," "Inside, Outside, Upside-Down" and "It's All Right With Me," magic happened! These and other fabulous selections were telecast every Saturday morning on the CBS network. Most of the songs were released commercially, but they weren't easy to find. Some could be heard on an obscure Capitol Records album, and a pair of hard-to-find Capitol singles. Others were scattered over a handful of rare mail-order singles offered by Kellogg's breakfast cereals.

The Pussycats' time in the spotlight was glorious, but TV cartoon groups have an inherently short life span. By 1971, it was all over. Although a new series called "Josie and The Pussycats In Outer Space" telecast new episodes until spring of the following year, the original studio group split up long before then. Still, the marvelous music that Holloway, Ladd and Dougherty made together survived and was heard in syndicated TV reruns for decades to come.

Everyone who hears it is invariably bowled over by how good it sounds; comparisons are frequently made to the early hits of The Jackson Five. Record collectors scramble to acquire rare copies of the Capitol and Kellogg's platters. More recently, original episodes of the TV series have appeared on Warner Home Video, and a limited-edition CD anthology on Rhino Records has allowed a new generation to become captivated by Pussycat Soul. For thirty years, Josie and The Pussycats have been one of Pop music's best-kept secrets. Should you be lucky enough to ever acquire any of their recordings, here's some of what you can expect to hear:

"Inside, Outside, Upside-Down"
music and lyrics by Danny Janssen and Sue Sheridan
Capitol Creative Products stereo single CP-58
Despite being an inexperienced recording artist in 1970, Cheryl Ladd displayed powerful vocal abilities. Her talents were well-suited to this infectious track, the first song to be featured in the cartoon series. A bongo-drum-and-handclapping-propelled rhumba, it's probably the Pussycats tune most easily categorized as Bubblegum Rock. That said, it sports a rather risqué, adult-oriented lyric: Inside, outside, upside-down/You got me goin' round and round/Backwards, forwards, sideways, too/You got me dizzy from lovin' you. Millions of clueless ten-year-olds (and, evidently, their parents) never suspected that this a cute little number was dripping with double entendre! The aforementioned bongós, along with prominent bass, crisp snare drums and oscillating flute effects earmark the song as a sure-fire hit. Unfortunately, a misguided marketing strategy saw it released as a mail-order-only single. Had the record been promoted as a standard commercial release, it may well have become the chart single Josie and The Pussycats so richly deserved.

"You've Come A Long Way, Baby"
music and lyrics by Danny Janssen and Bobby Hart
Capitol Records single 3045
Hanna-Barbera Studios certainly struck gold when they hired Patrice Holloway as Pussycat lead vocalist. Patrice's voice was at once sweet and sassy; commercial enough for pure Pop songs, but possessing enough soulfulness to belt out R & B-flavored numbers with authority. This dual quality works well for all the songs on which she sings lead, but none showcases her talents better than "You've Come A Long Way, Baby," the group's second single on Capitol Records. This tune is unmistakably R & B . . . the guitar groove and the punchy horn arrangement tip you off right away. It's also irresistably danceable; you've got no choice but to shake your booty to this one, even if you're not yet old enough to have a booty! Patty struts her natural stuff telling the boy-next-door-turned-Fancypants that he'll need more than cool clothes and cool cash to win her heart. This record was obviously inspired by the old Jazz standard "You Came A Long Way From Saint-Louis."

"Lie! Lie! Lie!"
music and lyrics by Danny Janssen and Austin Roberts
Capitol Records stereo album ST-665
Like that of their comic book counterparts The Archies, Josie and The Pussycats's music was created with a mass audience in mind. As indicated earlier, there are elements in it intended to appeal to both adults and children. The best Bubblegum Rock lyrics are aimed a little bit over the heads of the preteen audience. One Pussycat song that features this kind of lyric is the album track "Lie! Lie! Lie!" In a world-weary voice, Cheryl Ladd announces her rejection of a two-faced lover; there's no sugar-coated sentimentality here. The opening lines proclaim that the rainbow that you paint I've chased before/but now I know I just can't chase it anymore. The lady's tough as nails, too, singing watch me walk away/You just talk away/No more cryin' and no more lyin' to me. Cherie's vocals are similar to those of '60s pop star Jackie DeShannon, and they express a steely resolve. Kiss-off songs sung by women are nothing new, but they're not exactly what you'd expect from a Saturday morning cartoon group! Even so, the most hard-bitten, done-wrong girl Country singer in Nashville couldn't put a kiss-off across any better.

"With Every Beat Of My Heart"
music and lyrics by Danny Janssen and Bobby Hart
Capitol Records single 2967 and Capitol Creative Products stereo single CP-59
For that all-important first single, Capitol Records chose this ambitious track. Patrice Holloway reveals her softer side on an exquisitely beautiful mid-tempo ballad. So glad I got to know you, she purrs in a breathy whisper. I'll find a way to show you/I love you just a little bit more/With every beat of my heart. Whether you listen to the stereo mix, with its subtle flute and bongó accompaniment, or the Spectorish string and brass arrangement of the mono single, this is a first-rate Adult-Contemporary record; definitely the song to play for cynics who think Bubblegum Rock groups don't deserve serious critical attention. However, the strong MOR flavor of this record doomed it as far as sales were concerned. Kids who watched the TV series didn't want to buy a ballad! They expected an energetic Rock number they could dance to. Even if "Every Beat" had managed to attract kids, it was barely featured on TV, if at all. Archies singles never fell victim to that kind of lazy promotion! Both sides of The Pussycats' follow-up single ("You've Come A Long Way, Baby" and "Stop, Look And Listen") were much more likely to appeal to young ears, but by then it was too late.

"The Handclapping Song"
music and lyrics by Danny Janssen and Jesse Kirkland
Capitol Records stereo album ST-665
Anybody fortunate enough to buy a copy of the Josie and The Pussycats album in 1970 was treated to a leggy "cheesecake" shot of the three groupmates on the cover. What's more, they discovered that its grooves contained some truly dynamic music. "Clappin' Your Hands" (the legal title of this tune) is a perfect example. Patrice Holloway again takes the vocal honors here, turning in an exuberant Pop/Soul performance not unlike those found on her earlier Capitol solo singles. I'll tell you what the groove is all about, she intones with plenty of streetwise attitude. It's no less than the Groove Heard 'Round The World as Patty calls off the names of countries that are already keeping time to her beat: England, Hindustan, people all over the world are clappin' hands/In Russia, too, even in Japan. Throbbing bass, funky rhythm guitar and peppy flamenco handclapping patterns make this turbo-charged record anything but a throwaway. It's fresh! This one was obviously meant for the dance floor, and with a dope-ass remix (the track would benefit from a slightly slower tempo), it could still be a club hit today.

"I Wanna Make You Happy"
music and lyrics by Danny Janssen and Sue Sheridan
Capitol Creative Products stereo single CP-61
This single has so much going for it, it's almost criminal. An excellent Pop rocker with straightforward lyrics, an exceptional lead performance, superb backing vocals and top-notch production values. What more did Capitol Records need to hit the charts with a bullet? Good promotion, for one thing, and for another, a distribution network whose primary function wasn't stocking grocery store shelves! Lucky kids who bagged a copy of "I Wanna Make You Happy" definitely got their box top's worth: Cheryl Ladd is magnificent here. Talk about raw talent! Her impassioned lead voice soars like a bird on the wing even as it creates a marvelous blend with the background harmonies of Patrice Holloway, Kathleen Dougherty and Sue Sheridan (who often lent her voice to the recordings). But marketing a record this strong as a mail-order premium meant that everyone's best efforts were wasted. Danny Janseen and Sue Sheridan must have been beside themselves with frustration, not to mention Ms. Cheryl, whose fine singing went largely unheard.

music and lyrics by Danny Janssen and Sue Sheridan
Capitol Creative Products stereo single CP-60
Funk comes to the fore on this wicked dance number, yet another great song sacrificed to a clueless marketing campaign. Patrice Holloway is fully in control as she threatens her lover with some serious gris-gris! I'm gonna do some voodoo on you, baby/I'm gonna do some voodoo on you/You can run, it doesn't matter anyhow/'Cause I'm bound to get you now. Watch out! The twangy guitars and spaced-out oscillator effects lend this track a hypnotic feel . . . your feet, legs and hips are strangely compelled to respond to the rhythm. What else would you expect from a record called "Voodoo?" Of all the songs she penned for the "Josie" TV series, this one is Sue Sheridan's hands-down favorite.

"Stop, Look And Listen"
music and lyrics by Danny Janssen and Sue Sheridan
Capitol Records single 2045
This flipside of Josie and The Pussycats' failed second single may actually have had the greater commercial edge. It certainly boasts that magic combination of hot Latin percussion, funky guitar, percolating bass, solid gospel harmonies and emotional lead vocals (Sue Sheridan, who wrote the vocal arrangements, liked to call it "Jewish soul") that made The Pussycats' soundtrack music so special. With Patrice Holloway emoting like crazy out front, and Jazz-based soul musicians like Clarence MacDonald and Wilton Felder backing her up, a track like this should've landed on Top Forty radio playlists with no trouble at all.

"(Watch Out For The) Roadrunner"
music and Lyrics by Danny Janssen and Sue Sheridan
Capitol Records stereo album ST-665
'Way back when, Girl Group records featured unison singing, usually in three-or-four part harmony. As time passed, the use of a single lead vocalist became popular, a trend that continues to this day. On this Josie and The Pussycats album track, producers Janssen and Sheridan use an entirely different approach: They showcase the wonderful, distinct vocal stylings of each group member. Patty, Cherie and Kathy take star turns at the mike, singing in Round Robin fashion. The result is an infectious aural treat that just may be the best Pussycat waxing of them all. From the runaway bongós, fabulous flute counterpoint and blaring brass to the frenzied flamenco hand percussion and Gospel-inflected shouts that warn about the fastest boy in town, this exciting album cut pounds your senses from start to finish, and all but dares you to sit still.

"If That Isn't Love (What Is?)"
music by Hoyt Curtin, Lyrics by Joseph Barbera and William Hanna
Capitol Creative Products stereo single CP-60
They may have been a Bubblegum group, but The Pussycats' songs didn't rely too heavily on novelty premises. Straight-ahead Pop/Soul material was the rule. Every now and then, though, a novelty would appear, and such tunes usually sprang from the pen of Hanna-Barbera's music director, Hoyt Curtin. He wrote the themes for "The Jetsons" and "The Flintstones," and just like those famous compositions, "If That Isn't Love" is an musical snapshot of cartoon characters in humorous situations. This time, the characters in question aren't Fred and Wilma, but Josie and a boy she's infatuated with named Lou (she and longtime squeeze Alan M. must've been going through one of their rough periods at the time)! She can't seem to get him off her mind, and this leads to all sorts of embarrassing predicaments. In the charming persons and voices of Kathleen Dougherty and Cheryl Ladd, our favorite redhead orders ham and Lou for lunch, asks for her car to be filled up with Lou at the gas station, and so on.  Homegirl Valerie (Patrice Holloway, natch) is totally freaked out by this! Oooooooooh, Josie, she swoons in the background. You've sure got a baaaaaaaad case of it, honey. Miss Thing's sassy girlfriend-to-girlfriend commentary is half the fun of listening to this effervescent flipside of "Voodoo."

"It's Gotta Be Him"
music by Hoyt Curtin, lyrics by Joseph Barbera and William Hanna
Capitol Creative Products stereo single CP-61
Back in the '70s, songs with overtly Christian messages didn't carry the noxious odor of religious fundamentalism that they tend to have today. Gospel acts were widely popular. Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar were packing them in on Broadway, and The Edwin Hawkins Singers were on the radio with "Oh, Happy Day." If you ever get the chance, listen to a contemporary hymn called "It's Gotta Be Him," the most heartfelt inspirational ballad Josie and The Pussycats ever recorded. Truth be told, Kathleen Dougherty and Cheryl Ladd are nowhere to be found on this record; it's a Patrice Holloway solo turn, and she's at her Gospel best as she sings of the wondrous love she and her husband share. (That's right . . . her husband. The Pussycats broke new ground in more ways than one.) As she cradles their newborn child in her arms, she looks upward to the Source of her happiness and sings His praises: It's gotta be him! It's gotta be Him!/I believe there's a God/It's gotta be Him. Breathtaking in its simple beauty, this is a song that will leave you misty-eyed every time you hear it. A powerful flip that was worthy of its powerful topside, "I Wanna Make You Happy."

"The Time To Love"
music and Lyrics by Danny Janssen and Austin Roberts
Rhino Handmade CD RHM2 7783
It's a bet that the inspiration for this number (which was featured on TV but not issued commercially until the year 2001) was all those naïve ideas about universal love that circulated among American youth in the late '60s. Hippies may not have changed the world, but they certainly left behind a memorable tune or two, and this is one of them. "Time To Love" may or may not be about universal love; its lyrics speak in such general terms, they could be referring to Divine love, or romantic love. It doesn't matter, because it's the sound, not the lyrics, that leaves the biggest impression. In their most ambitious orchestration for Josie and The Pussycats, Al Capps and Jimmie Haskell paint a resplendent Garden of Eden tableau in vivid Technicolor hues. At the center of this Garden stands Cheryl Ladd, her heart filled with evangelistic fervor. Lifting up her voice to the heavens, she preaches the Good News like a young, female Billy Graham in micro-miniskirt and go-go boots! The time to love is here, she declares. Listen to your heartstrings, baby/Listen to their song and maybe you'll feel it, too. Kathy, Patty and Sue wail like sirens behind Sister Cheryl, who generates enough heat to set off smoke alarms when she screams love is burnin' in you! Testify, Sister, testify! A little bit Gospel, a little bit Disco, a whole lot funky and trendily psychedelic, "Time To Love" is splendid. It's a monster club hit just waiting to happen, and far too good a track to have been left languishing in the vaults.

"It's All Right With Me"
music and lyrics by Danny Janssen and Sue Sheridan
Capitol Records stereo single P-2967
No doubt about it . . . Capitol's A & R department chose the wrong side of Josie and The Pussycats' first single to promote. Hidden on the flip of "With Every Beat Of My Heart" was the deadliest Rock'n'Roll merengue you ever heard, with a ferocious groove and killer hooks. There's no vocal modulation here; the volume is turned up full-throttle from beginning to end. Hands flaring, heads thrown back, the ladies belt this feverish ode to physical love as if their lives depended on it. This is the way uptempo Girl Group music should always come across: Passionate, intense, and loud! It's Patrice Holloway's turn to testify, and you can tell from the head-wagging attitude she injects into this tune that she relishes every word of the lyric: I used to think that kissin' was just a waste of time/But since I met you, baby/It's always on my mind! Most Pussycat records featured a full brass section, but it was often buried deep down in the mix. This time, the horns are all-the-way live! They take off like ramjets and soar over a churning ocean of staccato percussion and rubbery guitar licks. Why, oh why didn't Capitol Records hear the hit potential? If the name on the label wasn't Josie and The Pussycats, you'd swear this was a Honey Cone record.

The original Josie and The Pussycats were truly one-of-a-kind: The best of Country, Gospel, Soul, Classical and Pop sounds embodied in three talented and vivacious vocalists. They inspired the formation of another interracial Girl Group known as The Rock Flowers, who recorded for RCA Victor's Wheel subsidiary. The Flowers made some good music, but it wasn't the same. There's never been a group like The Pussycats before or since, and there may never be again.

Even though Kathleen, Cheryl and Patrice have long since gone their separate ways (and sadly, Patty passed away in 2006), the characters of Josie, Melody and Valerie are still rockin' and rollin.' Today, you can find them on your cable TV screens in digitally-restored reruns; at your local DVD store in both a feature film starring Rachel Leigh Cook, Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson, and a complete reissue of the cartoon series; and of course, at your local comic book outlet by way of the good folks at Archie Comics. There's also a highly-regarded Pussycat movie soundtrack album featuring lead vocals by Punk Rock singer Kay Hanley. By the time it's all over, there's no telling how many versions of the group will have existed.

However, if it's classic Girl Group sounds you're looking for . . . records that reverberate with the rhythms of Motown, and that hold forth with a potent mixture of Gospel intensity and "Jewish soul" . . . you have no choice but to seek out the genuine article. Josie and The Pussycats are what the late Marvin Gaye would call (pardon the expression) Sanctified Pussy, and that's heap powerful stuff! They're gonna get your attention, and then . . . they're gonna do some voodoo on you, baby.

"Josie and The Pussycats"
are characters controlled by Archie Comics Publications, Inc.
Song lyrics controlled by Anihanbar Music and Beechwood Music (BMI)and Cartoon Publishing Company (ASCAP)


Terrance T said...

First, I want to say that your blog is fantastic. Second, your post about the Pussycats songs is even great. I've waited many, many years to figure out the lyrics to "Clapping Your Hands" (i.e England, Hindustan, etc). I've got the Captiol LP (or CD in this case) and enjoyed those neat, sweet, groovy songs ever since. Thanks!

ucsfpublicaffairs said...

Yep, blog is really entertaining - I always loved Josie, since seven years old in 1970. I thought they were the female jackson 5.