Although LOLCat Bible literalists believe differently, people of science generally hold the view that cats first domesticated humans at least as early as 7500 BCE, when the inhabitants of a neolithic village on Cyprus gave a feline (not native to the island) a ceremonial burial. What we know call the domestic cat was more truly feral when it split off from the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), much earlier, some 10,000 years ago. They likely enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with humans — proving their usefulness to the Natufians of the Levant by preying on mice whilst ignoring (since they are obligate carnivores) the Natufians’ mouse-attracting stores of grain.
Eventually cats moved were promoted from rodent catcher to household members and even divine beings. In Egypt cats were sacred and associated with the goddesses Isis, Mafdet (also spelled Maftet), and Bastet (also known as Baast, Ubaste, and Baset). The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that when a cat died, Egyptians would go into mourning, shaving their eyebrows to mark the loss of a family member. Cats were famously mummified and afforded dignified (by human standards) burials in Egypt. In 1888 a farmer discovered a tomb outside Beni Hasan which contained the mummies of about 80,000 cats (and some other animals).
Neolithic grave with a human and a cat (left) and mummified Egyptian cats (right)
The reverence afforded to cats in ancient North Africa probably strikes most humans today as excessive and strange. However even the most insensitive amongst us usually react with repulsion, horror, and indignation when they learn that in places like Guangdong, Guangxi, Japan, Korea, Melmac, Mparntwe,Okinawa, Peru, Switzerland, cats have traditionally been eaten or used in medicine. It seems a bit rich to me when coming from people who think nothing of eating a fish, bird, cow, or pig.
In places where felines are off the menu they have inspired artists like the 9th Century Irish monk who wrote,“Pangur Bán,”Gioachino Rossini, T.S. Eliot, Saki, Hiroyuki Morita. Although there were famous cats before the advent of the internet (e.g. Room 8 of Elysian Heights), it might appear to aliens observing our planet that it was invented to honor them — the modern incarnation of feline worship passed down from ancient Egypt. Our modern pantheon includes Ceiling Cat, Happy Cat, Grumpy Cat, Hipster Kitty, Keyboard Cat, Lil Bub, Maru, Missy the Cat, Nekopan, Nyan Cat, and Snoopybabe, to name but a few.
When I was a kid we had a couple of cats (Felicity and Lazuli) as well as numerous pet bantams, dogs, ferrets, Khaki Campbells, mallards, parakeets, rabbits, and many varieties of fish. However, since I was sixteen I haven’t had any proper pets until Alan Gudguy came to Pendersleigh. Alan is, I’m fairly certain, a Siberian Cat. He’s an early riser, has a large vocabulary of sounds, hates my cooking (his squints and mimed burials make Gordon Ramsay‘s culinary criticisms seem quite defanged by comparison), and likes watching nature documentaries. For some reason he smells like labdanum, the resin obtained from several species of Mediterranean rockroses and used to make perfume.He’s been exposed to quite a variety of music and from what I can tell, he’s indifferent to it all with the exception of some experimental music and the guitar stylings of Speedy West — both of which drive him insane. Trying to find something more to his liking I played for him the Jingle Cats singing “What Child is This?” and Takako Minekawa‘s song “Cat House,” both of which were met with possibly exaggerated disinterest.
This got me thinking about the best cat songs and I correctly assumed that many listicles would already clutter the internet although all that I’ve seen are better suited for the litter box. Too many (all that I’ve seen, really), are the apparent result of a quick Google search, fifteen minutes of work, and zero amount of thought or discretion. Obviously not EVERY song with the word “cat” in the title is worthy of either being thought of as a song about cats (e.g. “Cat’s in the Cradle“) and as far as I know, of Cat Butt, Cat Stevens, Los Gatos, Kitty Wells, Pussy Cat,Sally & the Alley Cats, and Stray Cats, only the latter actually made songs about cats.
Furthermore, not all cat-inspired art is equal, the 1970s gave us two awful pop culture cats — Heathcliff and later Garfield (although Garfield Minus Garfield brings tears to my eyes) and Paula Abdul‘s interspecies love affair with the coprophiliac MC Skat Kat celebrated in the song and video for “Opposites Attract” is surely more objectionable than the consumption of cat meat.
Hopefully it’s apparent that I’ve put a bit more work in this list of nine great songs about cats!
Pink Floyd – “Lucifer Sam” from the album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1968)
Pink Floyd’s debut, the only album with the visionary Syd Barrett, is that band’s masterpiece. Although the song’s slightly sinister surf rock guitar (a sound by then associated with super spies like James Bond) has helped make the song a staple at 60s revival clubs, the only album track released as a single was the lysergically transcendental “Flaming” (see: “Sing a song of eiderdowns“).
“Lucifer Sam” was supposedly about Barrett’s Siamese cat although it’s not clear to me whether that was it’s name since it was originally titled “Percy the Rat Catcher.”
The Kinks – “Phenomenal Cat” from the album, The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968)
There’s the obvious double meaning of the so-called fat cat in The Kink’s “Phenomenal Cat.” However, Davies’s sped-up vocals seem to represent those of a fictional, anthropomorphized feline. It’s a short, slight song with appropriate whimsy and a nice late Small Faces vibe.
Tyrannosaurus Rex – “Cat Black (The Wizard’s Hat)” from the album, Unicorn (1969)
Deciphering the meaning behind any Marc Bolan composition is probably a fool’s errand. Although he ostensibly sang in English, his lyrics almost always seemed to be glossolaliac. As Lawrence said of Bolan in Will Hodgkinson‘s book, Song Man: A Melodic Adventure, Or, My Single-minded Approach to Songwriting, “It’s brilliant, but it can’t have any meaning whatsoever. So words without meaning can be fantastic, but you have to have a creative and poetic mind to get away with it. When a band like Oasis do it, it’s just plain bad.” Morrissey wrote of Tyrannosaurus Rex in his autobiography that Bolan seemed to be singing “in Olde English — incomprehensible to the modern ear.” In other words, it could almost be aout anything or nothing but I’m including it in the list if simply because I like it so much.
Al Stewart – “Year of the Cat” from Year of the Cat (1976)
“Year of the Cat” might only indirectly be about an actual cat (see: “Saturday Night Yellow Fever“) but again, it’s so good that it has to be included. Scottish singer Al Stewart’s lyrics actually concern a fling in an “exotic” country with a woman in a silk dress and waking up to find some of his possessions missing. A hint about the events’ location can possibly be derived from the fact that, in the Vietnamese calendar, 11 February, 1975 to 30 January, 1976 (when the song was written) was the year of the cat. However, after its use in Hello Ladies, I still can’t hear it and not imagine Stephen Merchant.
The Cure – “The Lovecats,” a non-album single from 1983, later included on Japanese Whispers.
The Cure earlier sang of cats on 1981’s somber dirge, “All Cats are Grey,” its title an apparent reference to John Heywood‘s book of proverbs (1546) which includes the adage, ‘When all candles be out, all cats be gray.” Much more feline in its sound (complete with meowing guitars) is 1983’s appropriately jazzy (because there’s something undeniably jazzy about cats) “Lovecats.”
Look Blue Go Purple – “Cactus Cat” from the EP, LBGPEP2 (1986)
According to William T. Cox‘s 1910 work, Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, the cactus cat is a nocturnal, spine-covered bobcat-like creature which feeds off the juice of cacti and lives in the deserts of theAmerican southwest. Spending too much time in the desert does strange things. This legend apparently made its way to New Zealand, where Look Blue Go Purple penned this excellent ode to the cryptozoological creature.
The Vaselines – “Monster Pussy” from the album, Dum-Dum (1989)
If the Vaselines are too believed, “Rory Rides Me Raw” is about an old bike that belonged to Frances McKee which had a “rough saddle” and was named Rory. Placing all faith in artists to accurately interpret and honestly explain the subtext and meaning of their work, we must then accept that “Monster Pussy” is about a cat that also belonged to Frances.
Takako Minekawa – “Fantastic Cat” from the album, Roomic Cube (1996)
The first song I heard by Takako Minekawa might have been “Cat House” but I reckon that as far as her cat-related compositions go, “Fantastic Cat” has it beat, if only by a whisker. Roomic Cube was released in 1996, when the shibuya-keiscene was moving towards pico pop and it was the cavalier and carefree riposte to puffed up post-Grunge, NewLad, and Gangsta posturing.
Girlfrendo – “Cat Heaven”from the album, Surprise! Surprise! It’s Girlfrendo(1998)
Gothenburg, Sweden‘s Girlfrendo chose “Cat Heaven” as the only single off of their debut album. The cover of the single seems to depict a kitten on its back, mid-swipe. Even the lyrics reinforce the false dichotomy of cats and dogs and Alan likes to groom his canine cousins, he doesn’t seem to mind… and since I’m now writing this from a standing position because he’s pushed me off the chair in front of my desk and is taking a nap, I’ll wrap it up now.
The Only Ones – “Out There in the Night”
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