15
May 08

PUSSYCAT – “Mississippi”

FT + Popular119 comments • 5,262 views

#395, 11th October 1976

A few years ago, Channel 4 did a rundown of the Top 100 Best Selling Singles. My friends and I settled down to watch, cheer, shout at Kate Thornton, &c. And there, first up at No.100, was “Mississippi”, bringing a mighty collective WTF?? from everyone in the room – none of whom, I should add, were older than me. None of us had heard, or heard of, this song, which turned out to be the biggest-selling (in Britain) single to have made no mark whatsoever on pop history – at least as understood by us callow youngsters. To be honest we thought it might be a put-on.

This recent run of number ones bears our impressions out. We’ve had songs immortalised by dint of playground fame, dramatic symbolism, and wedding disco ubiquity, while Pussycat’s easy-rolling sermon on pop history has slipped behind time’s sofa. Top medieval rock critic Occam informs us that this is because “Mississippi” is shite: is he correct? Well, not completely – it’s mostly amiable nonsense sweetened by that sighing guitar; beyond the soaring chorus it doesn’t stick in the brain. I’ve tried to parse its description of musical development but I can’t really make it make sense, and anyway I keep getting distracted by that absurd little guitar run which I guess is intended to be the guitar player turning to rock and roll. The Roussos-esque strings just afterwards are probably him sunning himself in the Med on the proceeds. Overall, spark-free and a little too gooey, but there’s nothing actually unpleasant about it.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    and everybody elses Mark G on 15 May 2008 #

    Yeah, it’s basically EuroCountry. That’s a genre that didn’t last.

    Europop tends to have a short shelf-life anyway. Excluding yr Abbas, and particularly with one-hit wonders, they get in, played a lot, then never again. At this point, this was as good as it got for a (short) while.

    It’s more a surprise when very euro songs make it: Vado Via by Drupi a case in point.

  2. 2
    wichita lineman on 15 May 2008 #

    When you dig into Dutch pop history, it’s shocking the records that didn’t make it here (Shocking Blue’s Send Me A Postcard, anything by The Outsiders or Bonnie St Claire, and the raft of fabulously moronic/grungy Glam 45s that Robin Wills is putting up on his Purepop blog) when this turgid tune spent a month at number one.

    I hated it. I remember a friend’s Grandad wandering around his house singing it, as my Gran did with Perry Como. So I’m guessing it wasn’t ‘the kids’ that bought it to the top, hence it was never handed down to younger generations. You lucky people!

  3. 3
    vinylscot on 15 May 2008 #

    Jonathan King identified this as a potential hit and actually released his own cover version, which was/is particularly horrid!

    The three girls were sisters, I believe, and the lead singer, the blonde in the middle above, sported a gap in her front teeth which would make Madonna and Elton John jealous.

    This is another of these songs which actually had a better follow-up. “Smile” was a little less formulaic, and a bit more jolly, but didn’t do particularly well, probably because Pussycat were no Abba – they weren’t glamorous like Abba, and it was pretty clear they didn’t have either the charisma or the talent to last.

    My dad liked this song – I’d probably give it a four, on account of its inoffensivess, if nothing else (and the fact that they kept JK’s version away from us)

  4. 4
    Alan on 15 May 2008 #

    i have never forgotten how this was playing at the Billingham Bottom (snurk) ice rink when i made a breakthrough in how to skate.

    i’d give it an 8 – love it. but then i’m loving everything around this time. 1976 is kid-alan pop nirvana. warts and all. (i had no warts)

  5. 5
    vinylscot on 15 May 2008 #

    Wichita Lineman – another Dutch popsong which should had been massive was Mouth and MacNeals “How Do You Do?” from the early 70s – simple and rather childish but infuriatingly catchy.

    Oddly enough it has recently been covered by Scooter, and can regularly be heard emanating from thirteen-year-old girls’ mobile phones on the back seats of buses everywhere in commuterland.

  6. 6
    Tom on 15 May 2008 #

    I wish I’d known some of these dudes were Dutch during my ill-fated spell in charge of Holland at the Pop World Cup.

  7. 7
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    Another cruel reminder of how, next to “Dancing Queen,” nearly all the other number ones of this period could have come from the seventeenth century, or at any rate from the pre-rock era. And this one actually offends me more than JJ Barrie or the Wurzels or the other polite monstrosities to come because it’s so determined in its attempt to pull the clock back and off the wall/its hinges if necessary. It just squats there drearily like an abandoned pack of prawn cocktail Tudor crisps in a tepid puddle in Todmorden, plodding away at fake remembrances – I suspect the furthest west Pussycat ever went was the South Pier in Blackpool, out of season – of how Our Music Used To Be and Look What These Kids (such rancorous revolutionaries as, um, Leo Sayer and Lord David “Jeans On” Dundas) Have Done To It.

    Squalid toss!

  8. 8
    rosie on 15 May 2008 #

    This, I think, is the perfect foil for the one before. Lots of people wanted to jump on the Abba bandwagon; few could carry it off.

    There’s nothing I can really say against this piece of bland europop, just that there’s nothing to be said for it. It’s about as exciting as Cliff Richard’s laundry basket.

    The second US state to hit the top. Not counting Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, of course.

  9. 9
    Erithian on 15 May 2008 #

    Re that Top 100 best-selling singles, which I was going to mention if you didn’t: it was to mark the 50th anniversary of the UK singles chart, and was as accurate a list as they could get of the actual sales figures. There’s no “White Christmas” which sold most pre-1952, and there were two records – Gareth Gates’ “Unchained Melody” and the re-released “Amarillo” – which sold enough afterwards to get on the list; beyond that, now that downloads play such a part (did Gnarls Barkley, Leona etc sell a million physical copies?) it’s as close as you can get to a definitive all-time list of UK singles sales. (The big downside was it was presented by that Bo Selecta bloke who’s as funny as a dose of the clap, and the divine Sarah Alexander only got to do a voiceover.)

    And Pussycat, being no 100, provided the benchmark sales figure: 947,000. More than any single by Abba, the Bee Gees, Bowie or the Stones, none of whom featured in the top 100. I thought one or two of the girls were fanciable in a homely sort of way – not in yer Abba league but nice enough. And the blokes used to be in a heavy metal band called Scum, apparently.

    There are a number of features I love about this song – the guitar player turning to rock’n’roll is cheesemungous; the lifted note in “you’ll be on my miiIIINND”; the soaring harmonies taking the last “until the end of time” without the instrumental backing. As musical history it’s nonsense, but then I guess it’s no more a musical history lesson than “Fernando” was a treatise on the Mexican revolutionary war.

    And what the record conjures up to me more than anything was the start of the Multi-Coloured Swap Shop. It was number one when the show started and seemed to be played on heavy rotation.

  10. 10
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    Not wishing to tempt SB, but this won’t be the last time Noel Edmonds helps inflict torture on a Popular level.

  11. 11
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    (n.b.: I’m assuming that “Do It” is not a cover version of the similarly titled tune by Aphrodite’s Child nor indeed of the similarly titled tune by Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath)

  12. 12
    Alan on 15 May 2008 #

    @5: “Oddly enough it has recently been covered by Scooter, and can regularly be heard emanating from thirteen-year-old girls’ mobile phones on the back seats of buses everywhere in commuterland”

    I WAS PLAYING IT ON THE BUS THIS MORNING. quietly on my headphones. i am growed up. i prefer the enola gay ‘cover’ on the same album.

  13. 13
    Tom on 15 May 2008 #

    Marcello – the line about selling yr soul and turning to rock and roll might annoy me too but honestly it just sounds like they were making up any old shit: I don’t really buy Pussycat as staunch defenders of the pre-rock era or even really appealing to such, in fact I think my initial instinct – “it’s a put-on” is probably closer to the truth!

  14. 14
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    I’m thinking more of the reasons why a certain demographic of punters bought and liked it.

    Scooter are truly top of the 2008 pops!

  15. 15
    vinylscot on 15 May 2008 #

    Re – Aphrodite’s Child (again) and “Do It”. I bought their single “Break” when it came out and remember just about crapping myself the first time I played it at home, when a voice shouts out “Do It” rather loudly, a good few seconds after the end of the track. B**t**ds!!!!

  16. 16
    Dan R on 15 May 2008 #

    This is pretty bland, though Pussycat later had a #24 hit with the slightly better ‘Smile’ whose melody is a little quirkier. This one just feels utterly confected, though let’s for a moment tup our collective hats to the singer who has a tolerably expressive and clear voice. Faint praise, obviously.

    Can anyone shed any light on why we can have had four country music songs in eighteen months (even if one’s a parody, and this is – well, whatever this is)? Were the mid-seventies more countryfied than at any other time? After the early sixties, country music struggles to hit the upper reaches of the charts, except for this. And of course, forgiving the Bunny’s pardon, we’ll have at least two more before the decade’s end. I have a vague memory of a late-night BBC2 show that was country music (Live from the Grand Old Opry or something like that?) and always seemed to feature Boxcar Willie, the country star with the rather singular achievement of being much more successful in Britain than in the US.

  17. 17
    Tom on 15 May 2008 #

    Country had a strong fanbase in Britain for a long time, which only really died out (in terms of charting singles) in the 80s and 90s I think.

    Something is telling me that this fanbase was mostly in Northern England, but this might be down to:

    – my Dad moving to Merseyside to work in the 80s and pretty much immediately getting very into country.
    – the Coronation Street plot in the early 90s where Bet Lynch starts dating a country-loving stetson-wearing trucker.

  18. 18
    Dan R on 15 May 2008 #

    That makes sense of the chart patterns but it makes me wonder why.

    Country music always had, and continues to have, a loyal following in Scotland. Glasgow even has its own Grand Old Opry… Country was big in Liverpool and Newcastle too. The obvious thought would be that those port towns received imports of country records in the post war years when that generation was resettling into civilian life, and that they may have stopped being record buyers thirty years later as they entered retirement. And the North had the ports taking in US goods. Bristol and London traded more with Europe, hence more country in the North. Plausible?

    Scotland’s the exception because it’s less that they liked country music and more that they part-invented it, with celtic folk and the ballad tradition being exported and then reimported as country. Okay, that history’s a mite abbreviated, but you get my point.

  19. 19
    rosie on 15 May 2008 #

    It’s more than plausible, Dan, it’s the same as the reason why imported R&B caught on in Liverpool. The R & B records, along with Superman comics and other cultural detritus, crossed the Atlantic as ballast on ships. The same applied to Belfast too (think Them) but I believe Country took a tighter hold over there partly because – as with the Scots – they invented it in the first place.

  20. 20
    wichita lineman on 15 May 2008 #

    Spot on, Rosie. I saw a great doc on the ‘Cunard Yanks’, Liverpudlians who worked on the cruise ships to New York and brought all manner of tasty items from cine cameras to jukeboxes back with them in the 50s (unheard of here), as well as amazing clothes that no one in austerity Britain had seen before. Some settled down and, with their savings, opened the many small clubs which became the engine rooms of Merseybeat (oops, getting carried away with the ship analogy there!).

    One thing bothers me about this. Cunard also ran cruises from Southampton to the States. Anyone know if it’s a stronghold for country, or ever had a beat scene? I can only think of Heinz, who was clearly made shipshape and hit-fashioned by Joe Meek rather than his hometown.

  21. 21
    LondonLee on 15 May 2008 #

    I like this more than I did when it came out. Just listened to it again and it’s…well, nice. Nowt wrong with that.

    I always assumed they were American though.

  22. 22
    Billy Smart on 15 May 2008 #

    I suppose that one reason why this sold more than Abba, The Bee Gees or David Bowie is that people who followed those artists also bought their songs on million-selling albums.

    Maybe the older age range of its purchasers is another part of the reason why it has left no trace, like Donald Peers or the like. These people would be likely to be in their seventies by now, if not older.

    This really is the forgotten hit. Indeed, every time that I’ve heard it I’ve not only forgotten it as soon as its stopped (like Slik) but even while its still playing!

  23. 23
    Doctor Mod on 15 May 2008 #

    As far as I know, this is the only Dutch UK #1, which is a pity. Other posters have already noted Dutch acts that were far more worthy. Shocking Blue actually hit #1 in the US (on some charts) with “Venus” (RIP Mariska Veres). The Tee Set’s “Ma Belle Amie” and George Baker Selection’s “Little Green Bag,” two light-weight but catchy pieces with a certain quirky charm, also scored hits in the US. (Even if the latter later gave us the unforgivable “Paloma Blanca,” which was really, really BAD.) Golden Earring has had several US hits, most notably “Radar Love” and “Twilight Zone,” and we can’t forget Focus’s “Hocus Pocus,” “Sylvia,” etc. And, yes, “How Do You Do.” There was quite a bit of high quality pop and rock coming out of the Netherlands, particularly in the early 1970s, mostly sung in English, that never got much of a reception outside the motherland–Alquin, Kayak, Brainbox, Cuby and the Blizzards among them.

    (There are others, more recent, I won’t mention because of another event in progress . . .)

    So it’s rather sad that this pleasant, inoffensive but rather insipid trifle is one of the bigger successes uit Nederland. Even sadder that perhaps the biggest is (god help us) those “Stars on 45” things.

    (I thoroughly enjoy the song “Dead Stars on 45” by the Australian group Eva Trout, but then again I can’t help love a group named after my favourite Elizabeth Bowen novel.)

    Some day the great Dutch single will sweep the world–wake me up when it happens.

  24. 24
    Doctor Mod on 15 May 2008 #

    How could I forget to mention Earth and Fire (not to be confused with EWF) as one of the great Dutch groups of the early 70s?

  25. 25
    vinylscot on 15 May 2008 #

    I saw Focus twice recently at the Ferry in Glasgow and they still play a blinding set – only two members from the 70s (Thijs Van Leer and Pierre Van Der Linden) and no Jan Akkerman, but two and a half hours of nostalgic splendour and silliness nonetheless. “Sylvia” still sends a shiver up my spine.

    One for Marcello – Scooter as pick of the 2008 pops – I noticed they have a track entitled “How Much Is The Fish?” the line is uttered in a similar way to the original – unfortunately there is no “How much is the chips; does the fish have chips?” response. Who would have thought – Stump as Scooter influence??

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