Monday, July 17, 2006

Long tails, and ears for hats

Over the weekend, I stumbled across this article on about the greatest cartoon bands of all time.

Not surprisingly, the currently popular Gorillaz led the writer's selections, followed by Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, the Groovie Goolies, and the Misfits (the rival band in Jem and the Holograms).

It was Number Five on the list that caught my attention. When was the last time I thought about Josie and the Pussycats? Umm... probably last week sometime, if I recall correctly.

Bucketloads of cartoon bands paraded across television screens during that bizarre late '60s-early '70s era, when practically every animated series worth its salt was built around a bunch of kids / monsters / funny animals who played music together. I think it was the Archies that really started the phenomenon rolling, although one could argue that the Beatles film Yellow Submarine gave credence to the whole musicians-as-cartoons concept.

Josie and the Pussycats stood out from the Saturday morning crowd for a couple of reasons. One, the Pussycats were three attractive young women dressed in form-fitting leopard suits, and there just aren't too many things on the planet better than that. (The gals also sported what were probably the first prominent bustlines displayed on children's programming since Annette Funicello's heyday.) Second, Josie integrated her band — and animated cartoons in general — at a time when much of America was still struggling to cross the color line in real life.

Plus, the 'Cats produced a wicked awesome sound for a band that only included a guitar, a drum kit, and a couple of tambourines. (How Josie and company managed to lay down that pop-rock beat without a bass player remains one of the persistent mysteries of our time.)

As a kidvid spinoff of The Archie Show, Josie and the Pussycats was relentlessly formulaic, populated with stereotypical stock characters the like of which could be seen in any number of other cartoons. The core team consisted of Josie, the redheaded all-American girl; Valerie, the intellectual (and black — the first person of African-American heritage to appear as a regular cast member in a network cartoon show) Pussycat; and Melody, the dim-bulb platinum blonde. (Arcane trivia: Future Charlie's Angel Cheryl Ladd provided Melody's singing voice, while her speaking voice came from the mouth of actress Jackie Joseph, best remembered as Audrey in the original Little Shop of Horrors.)

The Pussycats' roadies included Alan M., the strong, silent type all the girls fawned over; the bickering brother-sister team of Alexandra and Alex Cabot (essentially the duplicitous Reggie Mantle from the Archies, split into fraternal twins), and Sebastian, the Cabots' trouble-prone cat (a character type much beloved by the folks at Hanna-Barbera, who tossed a similar animal into almost every cartoon they produced, from Scooby-Doo to Wacky Races).

But the Pussycats also had style. The girls clearly were into boys, but their lives weren't defined by their pursuit of the opposite sex, as was the case with Betty and Veronica in the various Archie series. As successful entertainers, the 'Cats were independent young women who didn't need boyfriends to anchor their self-esteem. They shared a sense of sisterly camaraderie that appeared both inspiring and empowering, especially considering that one of the three sisters was actually a sistah, if you catch my drift. There wasn't a real-world all-girl band to rival the Pussycats until 1976 — a half-dozen years after Josie and the girls debuted — when the Runaways, featuring future rock legends Joan Jett and Lita Ford, exploded into the popular culture.

I stuck with Josie and the gang even when their series took a weird, science-fictional left turn and transmogrified into Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space, which seemed to recycle most of the plots from the earlier version, only with more bug-eyed aliens. However, I never did get around to watching the live-action Josie and the Pussycats film that came out a few years back, mostly because the reviews consistently indicated that it was awful, and I didn't want to spoil my fond memories of the Pussycats' halcyon days. Although now that I know that Rosario Dawson, who played Valerie in the movie, is a major comic book geek, I may have to satisfy my curiosity one of these days. (You know what curiosity does to cats.)

In my heart, I hope that Josie, Val, and Melody are somewhere kicking out the jams on the nostalgia circuit, playing county fairs and Indian casinos, still wearing those leopard-skin leotards and cat's-ear headpieces despite graying hair, crow's feet, and the inexorable advance of gravity.

If they played in my town, I'd buy a ticket.

Labels: , ,

2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Sam offered these pearls of wisdom...

I saw Josie and the 'Cats play a little bar in South Carolina a few years back. Alan M. had gained a couple of pounds and the twins looked the same, even though it was 2001 and they were still dressed like '72. But the ladies still looked great in the catsuits. Maybe they should be "Josie and the Cougars" now.

By the way, I'm back. Thanks for prayer. You did good.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Janet offered these pearls of wisdom...

I just wrote about this being one of the worst movies of all time. I swear it's coming back to haunt me.:)

6:24 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home