May 08

PUSSYCAT – “Mississippi”

FT + Popular120 comments • 6,051 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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  1. 31
    Snif on 16 May 2008 #

    Dr Mod didn’t mention whether any of those Dutchpop acts charted in the UK, but they were all solid hits in the Australian charts (perhaps they offload all the unsuccessful stuff on us?).

    Dancing Queen was No 1 hereunder at the time, followed by a fortnight at the top for Bryan Ferry’s “Let’s Stick Together”.

  2. 32
    Doctor Mod on 16 May 2008 #

    Billy #26/Dan #30–

    OK, so Doctor Mod is, as far as I know, the eldest among you, and I have wondered lately (with my brain worn out with grading end-of-term papers and exams that challenge my sense of reality) if I’ve gone senile. Honestly, those other NL #1s (Spoiler Bunny be damned!) happened either during my marriage (as it were) to the Nut Queen, who banned pop music from the household, or during my exile on the Isle of the Damned. (Well, at least I can say I’ve had an “interesting” life. . . ) Never occurred to me that any of those folks were Nederlandic. (But I laughed when I realized that the name of one means nothing in English except if you pronounce it in Dutch.)

    Snif #31–
    I’m not one of those who lives or dies by the history of the charts in various nations–I don’t even own one of those Guiness or Billboard books that some consider scripture. (Someone’s bound to throw a brick at me for that, but I’m not a sociologist and I don’t do statistics.) Still, if I remember correctly what happened 35-40 years ago, I know some of them were in the UK charts. “Venus,” I think, got into the top five.

    As to “Dancing Queen,” see my comment (somewhere in that lengthy thread) about what one’s Aussie GF said about it.

    I’m headed Down Under in July, and I have a bet going as to how many hours I’ll be in Oz before I hear ABBA.

    BTW, Harry Vanda and Dick Diamonde of the Easybeats, one of the great early Australian bands to have some international success, were Dutch by birth.

    (But then so were–cough–Eddie and Alex van Halen. For those who want to claim that rock is “intellectual” and pop is vapid, I say look to Van Halen, who are definitely rock. They more than disprove the notion.)

  3. 33
    Doctor Mod on 16 May 2008 #

    wwolfe #27/28–

    Doctor Mod forgives you, even if others won’t. Being big and blonde, I’m often asked–even by complete strangers–if I’m Swedish. And I couldn’t be mad at any fan of M&McN. I only wish I could find their albums on CD.

  4. 34
    Tom on 16 May 2008 #

    Vinylscot #25: They also have a song called “Does The Fish Have Chips?” :) No sign of a Stump sample yet tho.

  5. 35
    rosie on 16 May 2008 #

    Going off on a wild tangent, I’m just listening to Annie Lennox (one of my absolute musical heroes) on Desert Island Discs, and as you (for certain values of ‘you’) might expect she is being a star.

    It occurs to me that some performers are inseparable from, and define, their context. Others, like Annie, would have been successful in any context they might have landed in.

  6. 36
    and everybody elses Mark G on 16 May 2008 #

    Caint stand her.

    That’s it.

  7. 37
    vinylscot on 16 May 2008 #

    A potentially great talent spoiled by her forced “weirdness”, delusions of grandeur, and insistence on being taken seriously.

    I saw her at the Apollo with the Tourists, and even then she was beginning to be a pain n the a**.

    In my experience, almost all of her fans are female, and always have been – does she fit the “strong female icon” profile we discussed a couple of threads ago?

  8. 38
    rosie on 16 May 2008 #

    At this rate I could become a countercultural icon!

  9. 39
    Erithian on 16 May 2008 #

    Rosie – she might not be in my absolute pantheon but yes, I’m a fan of Annie Lennox (one of the highlights of Live 8 as well) but maybe we can hold off discussion on her for nine Popular-years or so?

    Among the Europop Dutch/Swedish hits mentioned above there was no mention of how a couple of them have been used – the “Ooga-chaga” bit from “Hooked On A Feeling” accompanied the freaky “dancing baby” sequences in Ally McBeal, and surely Dutch pop’s greatest contribution to popular culture (albeit inadvertently) was the use of George Baker’s “Little Green Bag” as the theme tune to Reservoir Dogs.

    As for Pussycat, I seem to be in a minority of one in having very fond memories of it (and I’m not even that big a country fan). I’ll get me coat.

  10. 40
    DJ Punctum on 16 May 2008 #

    OK, some round-ups and responses:

    Country music was arguably the dominant strand of popular music in Scotland, and particularly West Central Scotland, in the mid-seventies – bigger than actual pop; you heard it in every house. I can’t think of a neighbour of ours who didn’t have a stack of C&W records. Even the venerable Slim Whitman, absent from Popular since 1955, managed a couple of number one albums around this time. All personified in the extraordinary persona of Sydney Devine, runner-up to Alex Harvey in that fifties Scottish Elvis contest, who reinvented himself as Cleland’s own Vegas-era Elvis with lugubrious numbers about silver-haired old grannies who passed away and he also did “Old Shep” and “Nobody’s Child” and, yes, all the favourites (his only UK singles chart entry was the Scotland Forever EP, released to tie in with the ’78 World Cup, which registered a single week at #49). You’d go on the coach to Blackpool and they’d play his collected works over the Tannoy. If only they’d invented the Walkman in the seventies…

    Dutch number ones – there are at least three more on their way (two of which are by the same act). “Brilliant” is not an adjective I would apply to any of them, I must admit.

    Aargh, Focus! Radcliffe and Maconie are currently trying to kickstart a Focus revival on their show but I can’t stand them – those “goofy”/”wacky” voices I just can’t take and I think “yep, this is why punk HAD to happen.” “Sylvia” I can just about let pass (I don’t think they had Plath in mind when they wrote it) but please leave the yodelling to Frank Ifield (or Morrissey), chaps.

    The arrangement for Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling” was originally conceived and recorded by Jonathan King in ’71, and that version sold well across Europe, including in Sweden. When JK heard the Blue Swede one he consulted his lawyers but was told that arrangements couldn’t be copyrighted, much to his chagrin.

    Other things I detest about “Mississippi”:

    a) Partial ripoff of “Dock Of The Bay” bassline;
    b) Sarcastic “Peter Gunn” riff after the “guitar player turned to rock and roll” line.

  11. 41
    DJ Punctum on 16 May 2008 #

    Annie Lennox in general makes me wish for nuclear holocaust in five seconds.

    At the time of “Una Paloma Blanca” and in view of the absence of the George Baker Selection themselves from TV screens (JK’s version got all the publicity) I genuinely thought that it was George Baker the actor.

  12. 42
    Tom on 16 May 2008 #

    Plenty of time to discuss Annie Lennox later on! I think she’s fine, as it happens: not a favourite, not a foe.

  13. 43
    Tim on 16 May 2008 #

    This site http://www.davidstjohn.co.uk/sitemap.html (especially the “Here Come The Groups” pages) gives a little view onto TWO lost worlds: the Southampton pop scene of the sixties and the internets of the late nineties.

    The pages don’t make much of a case for Southampton as pop hotbed, but the meddyEVILS look amazing.

  14. 44
    Drucius on 16 May 2008 #

    I’m afraid this did nothing for me at the time. The only thing I can remember about Pussycat is that the bassists’ right breast sat nicely in the curve of her Fender Precision. These things are important to twelve year old boys.

  15. 45

    cråzy føcüs invented punk

  16. 46
    DJ Punctum on 16 May 2008 #

    focus were about as crazy as up and down in and out roundabout man ben benison

  17. 47

    yodelay a nim nim bah

  18. 48
    DJ Punctum on 16 May 2008 #

    will mark s pick the correct answer from the following:

    roogalator w/beresford
    doctors of madness
    lone star
    jaln band
    neil ardley kaleidoscope lineup
    ovary lodge
    wild cherry
    simon may orchestra
    rock follies
    elton dean’s ninesense

  19. 49

    døctørs of mådness! f.URBAN BLITZ on electric violin

    haha “chamberpot”

  20. 50
    Rob M on 16 May 2008 #

    My main memories of this song are that it was a piece of toss which I tried to ignore at the time, and that around 1979 our junior school teachers were using it to teach us how to spell the eponymous river, by which point the more musical amongst the 10 years olds were going “We don’t remember that song, can’t we listen to some Two Tone instead please?”

  21. 51
    and everybody elses Mark G on 16 May 2008 #

    did it help with spelling “contraception” though?

  22. 52
    Doctor Mod on 16 May 2008 #

    At this rate I could become a countercultural icon!

    Rosie, please do! I, for one, appreciate the existence of another against-the-grain female perspective hereabouts. And I adore Annie.

    As yet another pedagogue (but hopefully not a pedant), I too have a “responsibility” (see an earlier thread) as well: To teach people to like what they like and form their own taste regardless of what others think.

  23. 53
    DJ Punctum on 16 May 2008 #

    Teaching people to like what they like – that’s a new one.

  24. 54
    crag on 16 May 2008 #

    Heard “Mississippi” for about the 3rd time in my life last night and actually rather enjoyed it- catchy chorus, endearingly clumsy feel to it all around. Theres nothing inherently wrong w/ it at all, although having said that theres nothing hugely RIGHT w/ it either. It makes for a pleasent listen but leaves no lasting impression whatsoever.

    Another example of the rarely seen “Eurocountry” genre is “No No Never” by Texas Lightning, a lovely tune slightly reminiscent of Laura Cantrell which was Germanys’s flop Eurovision entry in 2006

  25. 55
    Doctor Mod on 16 May 2008 #


    Not so new–some of my best professors taught that way a generation. When students ask me “What do you want me to say in this paper?” I respond, “Say whatever you think regarding this topic. You might actually teach me something I don’t already know.”

    No one is required to share my tastes–they are just that.

    There are too many sycophants in the world as it is. It’s not the sort of thing I aspire to cultivate in others.

  26. 56
    DJ Punctum on 16 May 2008 #

    Then why teach if it’s all relativist?

  27. 57
    Lena on 16 May 2008 #

    Meanwhile, over at Rate Your Music, “Mississippi” is sitting at #201 in the Top Singles of 1976 list. I don’t know this song, but then I missed out on punk entirely, as well, so it does all even out…

  28. 58
    StellaVista on 16 May 2008 #

    Hey, it took only three posts until her spectacular tooth-gap was mentioned! Which is about the first thing that comes into my mind when I hear the song. To be honest I even associate the whole state of Mississippi with that gap.

    It was a massive hit in Germany and its still played on certain radio stations and in all those retro-TV-shows.

  29. 59
    rosie on 16 May 2008 #

    Doctor Mod @ 52: It tickles me to death that there are those – naming no names, of course – who once made a virtue of kicking out against the establishment, and then became an establishment of their own, quick to pounce on anybody caught deviating from their self-defined norm!

  30. 60
    vinylscot on 16 May 2008 #

    If I read it as it was intended, I think Dr Mod’s original comment may have suffered from a little bit of semantic imprecision.

    I presume she actually meant “teach people it’s OK to like what they like”, rather than “teach people to like what they like”.

    People already know how to like what they like, but all too often, as we have often discussed here, people may not have the conviction to express or retain that liking, whether that is because of peer pressure, or some other reason. Thus we end up with the contentious existence of “G**lty Pl****res”, and suchlike jiggery-pokery.

    If I’ve inferred wrongly, I apologise.

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