15
May 08

PUSSYCAT – “Mississippi”

FT + Popular119 comments • 5,486 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. 61
    LondonLee on 16 May 2008 #

    Teaching people to like what they like

    Unless it’s rubbish of course.

  2. 62
    Doctor Mod on 16 May 2008 #

    Rosie #59–

    Indeed! It’s as the Who said at the end of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”:

    Meet the new boss–same as the old boss.

    That’s one of the reasons why I think education and indoctrination are two different things.

    vinylscot #60–

    You’ve inferred correctly. No one should be made to feel like a reprobate just because they like or don’t like what some self-appointed arbiter of taste says they should or should not. I should know–as I indicated some posts back, I was once the [in]significant other of a woman who could not bear anything but jazz or classical music because pop music “lacked intellectual and cultural value.” (In a fit of aesthetic displeasure, she crated up a record collection that I’d built over twenty-five years–including all my Dutch vinyl–and sold it.)

    Not everything is relative, but matters of taste are almost completely subjective and usually based on something other than rational premises. Honestly, there’s no need to demean people as morons for having differing tastes from one’s own. (Here again I think of the wretched protagonist of High Fidelity who can’t abide the thought of dining with anyone who likes Tina Turner . . . . ) This is not to say one shouldn’t feel passionately about something, but rather that they can’t expect everyone else to share that feeling.

    On a pedagogical note, I have colleagues who will give low grades to any student who dares posit a dissenting argument. This smacks of totalitarianism as far as I’m concerned, and doesn’t teach much except how to be a “yes-person.” Somehow, I’ve always had this crackpot idea that education was supposed to make you more open-minded and tolerant.

    I can’t say that I’m crazy about “Mississippi” and I won’t defend it just because of some nationalistic thing about being Dutch. But I hardly think that those who have some sort of fondness for it are a bunch of degenerates.

    In other words, we shouldn’t feel g**lty about our “G**lty Pl****res.”

  3. 63
    Doctor Mod on 16 May 2008 #

    London Lee–#61

    Rubbish–but in whose opinion? One pedant calling it that doesn’t necessarily make it so. Many a young person learned to love something only because a disagreeable teacher trashed it.

  4. 64
    Doctor Mod on 16 May 2008 #

    To get back to the point, there has always been some sort of country presence or influence in Dutch pop, even if it’s been somewhere on the sidelines. (I’m thinking here of Shocking Blue’s cover of “Sally Was a Good Old Girl,” for example.) More recently, as it’s become a larger trend, I’ve seen a number of Dutch performers defining their country-style as “Americana” music. Ilse DeLange is quite a popular “Americana” performer.

  5. 65
    Dan R on 16 May 2008 #

    #62 *Not everything is relative, but matters of taste are almost completely subjective and usually based on something other than rational premises.*

    Subjective in the sense that they judgments of taste have to be experienced by oneself, yes. I can’t know that Hey Jude is a good song based on a description of it, for example, no matter how detailed that description is. I have to hear it myself.

    But subjective in the sense of taste being purely individual, no. If I have a headache that experience IS purely objective. No one could meaningfully persuade me that I don’t have a headache when I do. But someone could persuade me that a song is good when I hadn’t thought so previously. Otherwise, conversations like these about the merits of particular songs would not be possible, or at least be absurd.

    So, surely it’s a good thing to get students to reflect on their own cultural preferences and try to be more articulate about them, but also be prepared, in the process, to find that their tastes are challenged and might change. Otherwise you’re teaching people to stick with whatever bundle of prejudices they came in with.

    Or maybe I’ve misunderstood you?

    Oh I have a feeling that when tomorrow comes we’ll both regret things we said today….

  6. 66
    Doctor Casino on 17 May 2008 #

    This is a pretty song, but way too long.

  7. 67
    Doctor Casino on 17 May 2008 #

    re: Focus, I feel certain they’ve come up here at least briefly before, probably whenever it was that “Sylvia” was on the charts. I want to link them up with Thunderclap Newman but I could be way way off.

  8. 68
    Doctor Mod on 17 May 2008 #

    Misunderstood? Perhaps. And perhaps my desire to dash off a one-liner is to blame. I was in a rush earlier and wanted to say things simply rather than go on and on. Then I realized that I would have to go on and on.

    So here’s the deal.

    A good teacher does not tell one what to think but rather how to think; in other words, one provides epistemologies and methodologies instead of preaching in an “I’m an intellectual/you’re an ignorant fool/f*** you and your opinions” manner. It’s no good to tell someone they must “like” something just because an authority figure (or one who presumes one’s own authority) says so.

    A good teacher should expose one’s students to culturally significant works (that is, if one’s field is arts and letters) and explain why they are significant. This does not necessarily mean that they will like what they encounter–nor is it necessary that they do so–but they will at least know what it is and why it is significant.

    But “liking” and not liking is generally based on a whole range of issues outside the realm of objective knowledge (i.e., knowing what it is and why it is what it is). We might well like a particular song because we were such-and-such and age and did such-and-such a thing with such-and-such a person whom we loved/hated. A very high number of posts here are replete with such references, which is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it really isn’t about the merits of the song itself. I can’t be expected to like a certain song because someone’s now deceased mum adored it and it makes that someone feel good every time they hear it and think of her singing along while she baked scones/cheesecake/fish fingers.

    To go on, whenever one says “I love *****” or “I hate *****,” it really says more about the person saying it than it does about the object of that emotion.

    All I was really trying to say in the beginning is that I’m quite bothered by people who think they are such infallible arbiters of taste that anyone who dares to like what they hate is somehow an imbecile (i.e, “No one in their right mind could possibly like ****” “That singer makes me wish death on all and sundry.”) Many of my students like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. I don’t, and I imagine that’s the result of a difference in age, education, experience, and taste–but I’ll surely allow and even defend their right to their own opinion. I am not about to call anyone mentally defective because of their appreciation of something I find completely unappealing.

    Lest I be deemed an irresponsible teacher any further–and God knows some of the self-styled geniuses who know all that matters among my colleagues have attempted to do so, even though I’m actually ranked as one of the most effective teachers in my department–it is not my place to demand that anyone like anything; rather, it is my job to expose my students to a variety of cultural experiences and give them the ability to contemplate and articulate WHY they like or dislike whatever it is–in other words, to analyze their own preferences, aesthetic sensibilities, or, in your words, prejudices. But Jesus doesn’t weep and the problems of the world don’t change a whit because a given individual loves/hates a particular song/all works by Britney/Madonna/the Beatles/Annie Lennox/Elvis Costello/Elvis Presley. Ergo, feel free to like what you like, but understand your reasons for doing so are likely to be emotional and subjective rather than rational and objective. Ergo, those who don’t share your pleasures are not perforce evil or stupid. (And, being gay, I know full well that there are a lot of people who think those like me evil/sick/damned for pleasure in ways other than there own.)

    As someone whose teaching assignment includes one or two classes in the Queer Studies program, I can assure you that I’m not “teaching people to stick with whatever bundle of prejudices they came in with.” But I know damned well that no one is going to lose those prejudices if I assume I have God-like knowledge (as distinct from wisdom) that allows me to bully or insult those I am supposed to teach or demand that they agree with me simply because I said so. To teach in that manner will, more often than not, merely reinforce a pre-existing prejudice because it denies others the ability to come to terms with a new idea through their own cognizance.

    Now I must go grade some more papers and exams. My students are required to formulate their own topics, so long as they address some element of the course curriculum. I will grade them not so much on the “rightmindedness” or “wrongheadedness” of their perspectives but rather on their ability to present that point of view cogently and analytically. They don’t have to like Pygmalionor Entertaining Mr Sloane–though all the better if they do–but they do need to understand how and why these works matter.

    Class dismissed.

  9. 69
    Doctor Mod on 17 May 2008 #

    Doctor to Doctor re: #67–

    Can’t say that any connection between Focus and Thunderclap Newman comes to mind, but I’d like to hear your thinking on this. It’s an interesting pairing.

    (And maybe you could teach me something I don’t know . . .)

    Could it be the unlikely juxtaposition of disparate styles within one given work??

  10. 70
    intothefireuk on 17 May 2008 #

    Well, like Pete & Phil almost said I know what I like and I don’t like this. I’m not exactly a staunch supporter of the genre that is Country anyway but this is a pedal steel too far. Why does country music remind me of hairy men in string vests & smoke filled working mens clubs ? No I don’t know either, perhaps it’s some traumatic event in my past. Anyway this isn’t proper country it’s someone having a laugh,
    surely ?

    As regards Dutch rock – certainly Focus (Live At The Rainbow – excellent LP) & of course Golden Earring beyond that I’m struggling.

  11. 71
    Waldo on 17 May 2008 #

    By this stage of the game, Johnnie Walker, whom regular Popular pilgrims will recognise as a Waldo idol, along with Jack Regan (fictional) and Gerald Ford (also fictional), had been replaced by the much more servile Paul Burnett, who even so wasn’t a bad lad. Twas Paul who introduced a simple but extremely popular competition aligned to the chart rundown every Tuesday. This “Top Three Forecast” offered what was then a fabulous prize. It was record tokens, which would enable the winner to either purchase the Top 20 Singles (or 20 singles) or else a number of albums to the same value. I sent in a card every week, as did Martin, a boy in my own form at school, who was to become a career copper in the Met. I was destined much later to follow him into Law Enforcement but a different Agency. On one particular week during October 1976, my top three prediction was that “Mississippi” by Pussycat would remain at the top with numbers two and three swapping places, hardly an earth shattering guess. Indeed it was not, because I was spot on, as was most of Britain, I would suspect. I was at home having lunch before returning to school when the result was announced and I kid you not, sweet little Waldo won it! I received the tokens along with a message from Derek Chinnery, Controller of Radio One and I decided to pick and mix both singles and albums, one of which was Stevie Wonder’s “Songs In The Key Of Life”, Stevie’s finest hour for me and something which being a double album would certainly have been out of my reach without this good fortune. Back at school, I predictably attracted congratulations and envy in equal measure. I remember Martin saying to me; “I always enter that. Why can’t I ever win that?” I looked at him and said: “You’ll probably win it next week!” It was a throwaway line, of course, but bugger me, he bloody well did! The very next week! To put this into perspective is almost unbelievable. Two boys in the exact same form at school winning back to back prizes on what was then Britain’s premier national radio station. It doesn’t seem possible but that’s exactly what happened.

    As for “Mississippi”, I felt that this was simply a Dutch Eurovision reject which struck lucky. How did it spend a month at the top? I quite liked the girl who sang it but the monumental success of this record provided a mystery to which, I fancy, I shall never have an answer. But that astonishing business with the Top Three Forecast will always make it for me distinctly memorable.

    Happy Days!

  12. 72
    rosie on 17 May 2008 #

    Oh well done that Waldo! And even more well-done for investing your prize in one of the great albums of the 70s – further proof if proof were needed that there was some fine stuff about in these times of mythical supposed dreariness! An album which failed to furnish a number one directly, although several tracks would have graced Popular and one or two will come to the attention of the Bunny in horribly mangled forms.

    [FX: Sits back with mug of coffee to await cries of “Betrayal!”, “How could you!”, “Nobody in their right mind likes Stevie Wonder!”]

  13. 73
    Waldo on 17 May 2008 #

    We’ll fight ’em off together, Rosie!

  14. 74
    Billy Smart on 17 May 2008 #

    I can’t see any fight starting here. I’ve always found that a good uninspired birthday present for almost anybody is a decent Wonder Greatest Hits, which everyone always seems to be pleased to get, and will actually play, too!

    Should we have cause to discuss Stevie in depth in the fullness of time though, we may not be talking about his best work…

  15. 75
    rosie on 17 May 2008 #

    Indeed not, Billy, but ’twere ever thus as I’ve often observed.

  16. 76
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 17 May 2008 #

    ooh dear no :D

    mr wonder’s best LP releases in reverse order of bestness:

    4th: Songs in the Key of Life
    1st equal: Fulfillingness’ First Finale <– best title!
    1st equal: Innervisions
    1st equal: Talking Book

    i am actually fondest of talking book — my copy has my first girlfriend’s name written on it in biro, i shd get it back to her :(

  17. 77
    Chris Brown on 17 May 2008 #

    Waldo 70 – I don’t think I’d call Key Of Life his finest hour (although it probably would have been better had he actually kept it down to an hour!) but certainly an excellent purchase.

    Nowadays (well, until about last year anyway) if they had to consecutive winners in the same place they’d probably rig it to look inclusive.

  18. 78
    DJ Punctum on 17 May 2008 #

    A good teacher should expose one’s students to culturally significant works (that is, if one’s field is arts and letters) and explain why they are significant. This does not necessarily mean that they will like what they encounter–nor is it necessary that they do so–but they will at least know what it is and why it is significant.

    See, this is the central flaw. You’re talking about a cheerful universalised multiqualitative approach (which IRL is rarely harmonious and indeed disqualifies confrontation and aggression, both of which are vital qualities for pop or indeed any art to involve) which invites people to like what they like and not feel oppressed because of it and yet here we have that old reflex standby “exposing one’s students to culturally significant works” with all the attendant Qs of whose culture, who deemed it significant and why should we AUTOMATICALLY trust e.g. Harold Bloom as genial genie of guidance? And if it’s not necessarily that they come into contact with “culturally significant works” then why bother imposing them in the first place?

    As for Eivets Rednow, SITKOL is a good album hidden in a double album plus bonus EP but manifestly stretched in places (“I Am Singing” anyone?) and a little too prematurely assured of its presumed aesthetic inmmortality. Whereas Talking Book or Innervisions didn’t appear with “GREAT” dangled around its neck like Patrick Duffy in top 1976 TV series The Man From Atlantis.

  19. 79
    Doctor Mod on 17 May 2008 #

    So how many years have you spent teaching, Marcello?

  20. 80
    rosie on 17 May 2008 #

    Doctor Mod @ 79: He probably wouldn’t hold his students’ attention to his first morning break on that showing ;)

  21. 81
    Caledonianne on 17 May 2008 #

    I’ve always regarded this song (in so much as I have regarded it at all) as a bit of a dirge.

    I’m with you Rosie – re Annie Lennox on DID – as soon as it finished my Facebook status became – “thinks Annie Lennox was great on DID”. I wouldn’t say I was exactly a fan (though I have always been a woman, vinylscot!) but I thought she, Pink Floyd (and – whisper it – Robbie Williams) were the only bearable things on Live Eight. And I am awe struck my how amazing she looks. Wish I could have looked like that at 40 – never mind 53!

    On Mr Wonder – though not my favourite album I think Innervisions may be the best album(or at any rate the best containing hit singles, very few original albums bought in my adult life do) I have ever heard.

    Juxatposing Focus and Thunderclap Newman? I do too – and it’s all because of the music on the Waltzers at the Spanish City in Whitley Bay (In the Year 2525 segues in my head, too – for the same reason).

    There were no C&W records in my WoS household – but that’s because my parents still listened to Bing, Frank, Dino and Perry. Oh, and (hooray!) Dionne Warwick.

  22. 82
    Doctor Mod on 17 May 2008 #

    Quite right, Rosie! Both you and I know just how far “confrontation and aggression” will get you in the classroom. Theorizing is easy, especially when you don’t have to put it into practice.

  23. 83
    LondonLee on 17 May 2008 #

    A lot of ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ does go on a bit, but it’s still genius. I prefer ‘Innervisions’ overall and not liking 70s-era Stevie Wonder seems to me the same as not liking oxygen, I can’t see how a living human being can have such an opinion.

  24. 84
    Billy Smart on 17 May 2008 #

    Since we’re on this topic, does anyone like ‘The Secret Life of Plants’? My response is always the same:

    After 5 minutes – What have I been missing out on all these years? This is really interesting!

    And then after ten minutes I start to read the paper.

  25. 85
    Chris Brown on 17 May 2008 #

    I’d vote for Innervisions as Wonder’s best too, and possibly my favourite album of the entire decade. I’d agree that Key Of Life is overburdened by the desire to be a great work – both in length and some of the content: but it still contains some of the finest pop music ever, and is well worth the money (I actually got given a vinyl copy for free although I had to buy the EP in a charity shop). But I don’t know anyone who dislikes this era of Stevie anyway. The only song I’ve ever heard from the Plants album is ‘Send One Your Love’.

    As for Live 8, I’m sure we’ll come back to this, but a concert where Pink Floyd, Robbie Williams and Annie Lennox are the highlights is one I’m glad to have missed, though I give the latter some credit for a good voice. I’m not a woman.

    Has anyone read The Walrus Was Ringo? It tries to debunk the Cunard Yanks story, but of course not having been there I can’t vouch for their accuracy.

    Pussycat? Never ‘eard of em!

  26. 86
    Waldo on 18 May 2008 #

    Chris # 77 – Yes, how times change. It would never have occured to me back in 1976 that “Top Three Forcast” was anything other than free and fair (which it clearly was otherwise it certainly would never have been gifted to some kid seventeen floors up a tower block in Stockwell in the first place). In recent times, of course, things have become so corrupt that Martin’s win exactly one week after mine back in ’76 (totally honest and just a bizarre coincidence) would have been investigated today and when it had been revealed that we were class mates, all hell would have broken loose. The irony, of course, is that the organisers would for once have been totally innocent.

  27. 87
    DJ Punctum on 18 May 2008 #

    #79/#82:

    Whenever I asked any of my teachers or lecturers or tutors an intelligent question they always provided a coherent, well-argued answer rather than pull rank. And as this is not the first time you have attempted to pull rank here – thus again revealing the bully which lurks behind your gliberal right-to-fail facade – I will assume that you are unable as well as unwilling to provide a coherent answer to the question that I asked.

  28. 88
    Tom on 18 May 2008 #

    It wasn’t a particularly coherent question Marcello – it turned on an equation of “liking” and “significance” which Doctor Mod had never made and which you ran together for rhetorical purposes. Personally I think Doctor Mod’s professed teaching style sounds pretty good – encouraging students to think critically and work out their own positions and ideas: what’s wrong with that?

  29. 89
    Doctor Casino on 18 May 2008 #

    re Doc Mod 69 – sadly I have no interesting comparisons to make between Focus and Thunderclap Newman…they’d just somehow nestled together in my head from reading this feature. Maybe I DLed them both on the same day? Would be happy to hear anybody else’s stabs at tying them together though!

  30. 90
    Waldo on 18 May 2008 #

    I wonder, Marcello, whether firstly, you remember the tv kiddies quiz “Brainchild” and secondly, if you were ever on it?

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