The Kinks - Album by Album (song by song)

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by mark winstanley, Apr 4, 2021.

  1. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    Phenomenal Cat.

    Well this is certainly a most unusual song .... in my mind at least.

    stereo mix (2:36), recorded early to mid 1968 at Pye Studios (No. 2), London

    A long, long time ago,
    In the land of idiot boys,
    There lived a cat, a phenomenal cat,
    Who loved to wallow all day.

    No one bothered him
    As he sat, content in his tree.
    He just lived to eat 'cause it kept him fat,
    And that's how he wanted to stay.

    Though he was big and fat,
    All the world was good to him,
    And he pointed out on the map
    All the places he had been.
    Cowes (?), Sardinia, Kathmandu,
    The Scilley Isles and Sahara, too

    Fum, fum, diddle-um di
    La la la la, la-la la la
    La la la la, la-la la la la
    La la la la-la la la

    Once when he was thin
    He had flown to old Hong Kong,
    And had learned the secret of life,
    And the sea and the sky beyond.
    So he gave up his diet and sat in a tree,
    And ate himself through eternity.

    Fum, fum, diddle-um di
    La la la la la-la la la
    La la la la, la-la la la la
    La la la la-la la la
    Fum, fum, diddle-um di
    Fum, fum, diddle-um di

    Written by: Ray Davies
    Published by: Noma Music, Inc./Hi-Count Music, Inc. BMI

    Apparently on the original album cover the song was spelled Phenominal Cat

    Ray said of the song - "It shows in a very cunning and thoughtful way the mystical and spiritual potential we all have, Phenomenal Cat' is the mystical side of all of us. It's a metaphor, saying, 'You do have a soul.' The cat is the coolest part of you. You don't know it yet but through healing we can throw your ideas up in the air and see which ones stick."

    Ray apparently also told The Onion that "Maybe Village Green Preservation Society was my psychedelic album. I withdrew into my little community-spirit ... my trivial world of little corner shops and English black-and-white movies. Maybe that's my form of psychedelia."

    The song sort of works as an allegory.
    Often cat's are seen in the feminine, and most women I know spend their whole life worrying about their weight, which seems a terrible waste of life.... If I had fifty cents for the number of times a woman had asked me a question relating to her weight and had it changed or does she look bigger or smaller or whatever .... I would be an extremely rich man .... and with the writing of the song being so unusual, it makes me wonder if Rasa had a similar issue and this was somewhat a song written in code by Ray about that.... I don't know, I'm just spitballing ideas here.....

    Anyway.
    I always seem to think of this cat as the Cheshire Cat from Alice In Wonderland ... I don't know why, but that is the picture that comes to mind.... I love that book, and through The Looking Glass, and the movies that have been made of them too.

    We open with Ray setting up who this cat is, and then how he got there.
    It is really interesting that Ray says the cat was in the Land Of Idiot Boys... in its current state the cat loves to just wallow all day eating, and the impression initially is that this cat is extremely lazy...
    As the song moves along though, we find out that the cat wasn't always this way. This cat had travelled the world, and led a good life.
    While the cat had been in Hong Kong it had learned the secret of life, and the sea and the sky beyond (big sky?) This led the cat to stop worrying about its weight, and we can safely assume this, because it si stated that he gave up his diet at this point in time. In its contentedness or satisfaction with this enlightenment the cat decided to sit in his tree all day, and eat his way through eternity.

    So much of many of our lives is spent worrying about our appearance. We spend untold amounts of time focusing on how we appear to other people. How our hair looks, what kind of clothes we'll wear, whether we will get tattoos, piercings .... all of this outward appearance stuff, that is essentially completely redundant and makes no difference to anything. Yet we frequently don't work on the inside, the part that counts. I don't think it matters who we are, we all have damage from our lives that we store internally and it damages us, and those around us.... the famous phrase " hurt people, hurt people" comes from this ..... We complain about the things outside us that we can't change, yet fail to fix the things inside us that we actually can fix. We are such strange and sadly beautiful creatures......
    Anyway I kind of hear this as being a sort of idea of being content with ourselves and living our lives, and not worrying about things that just don't matter .....
    That may all be bollocks, but that's where the lyrics here lead me.

    Whatever the lyrics mean, they are beautifully constructed and work perfectly with the music....

    Now the music.
    From the very first moment that the opening flutes via the mellotron come in, this is a rather different kind of song......
    That opening always reminds me of something that just doesn't come to mind. Perhaps it is merely a styling thing, but I always find myself caught in that zone ... you know the one .... " the name is on the tip of my tongue" thing .... so if anyone has any answers, that would be cool.
    That opening was arranged by Nicky Hopkins, who really was the fifth member of the Kinks up to this point. It seems terribly sad to me that Nicky never became a permanent member of the band, but I guess we would have missed all the great work he did with other artists if that had been the case.

    We move into the body of the song and we get this pulsing melodic backing to sit under the vocals. The drums start out as just a sort of off beat hit, on the three. When we get to the places being named the drums move to a double time off beat.
    The guitar comes in on the "though he was big and fat" line, and I really like the way Dave arranged the guitar here. It is again a series of measured chord strikes and arpeggios that just work beautifully.

    This track is a gentle and soothing track, that for me has a really comforting sound and feel, which lines up perfectly with the idea of the cat up in the tree, just chilling and eating.
    If this is the Kinks Psychedelia, then the Kinks are just mellowing out and enjoying the ride. They aren't freaking out, or trying to freak anyone else out.

    Again the chord structure here is just beautiful and I figure it was built around the melody, because again Ray has created the beautiful dreamy melody, that is engaging and entertaining and really draws me into it.

    Then we get that chorus ... apparently the altered voice is Dave..... This seems like a wholly unusual chorus, but frankly I love it. Ray starts off singing with the cat and then drops out. It seems to represent the cat's contentedness. It has a dreamlike feel and as silly as it could have come off, it just works beautifully for me.

    To me this seems like a totally unique song, and the cat seems to represent another personality in the village, just not a human one, and he could well live in the tree next to the Animal Farm.
    This probably isn't my favourite song on the album, but I do love this track, its completely unique personality and arrangement make it something special.



     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2021
  2. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    Phenomenal Cat Alternate mix (with Session chat).

    The vocal instantly sounds a little different .... but for the most part nothing strikes me as being particularly different.
    The cat's singing is higher in the mix. The mix is a little brighter.

    I didn't mention Peter's bass up there, and it also works perfectly with the song.... These guys were so tight and musically unified ....

    The mellotron plays on a little longer here, and then at the end it sounds like someone blows a raspberry ... is this from all the cat's eating? ....

     
  3. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    There was again a backing track mix on the big box, but it again isn't on youtube
     
  4. SCOTT1234

    SCOTT1234 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Scotland
    Seem to remember that the stereo and mono mixes have significant differences for 'phenomenal cat'.
     
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  5. Fortuleo

    Fortuleo Used to be a Forum Resident

    I’ve seen « weakest links » Village Green polls all over, on this forum or any Kinks related reddit group, and Phenomenal Cat (tied with Monica) is always the first to go. I can see why, I can see how, but it’s still a fascinating track, with beautiful Strawberry Fields flutes mellotron, the otherworldly Fum/fum sped up vocal and that wonderful childlike medieval tune that makes it very much a product of its time (think Syd Barrett, Kevin Ayers, Butcher’s Tale by the Zombies, especially the “though he was big and fat” section), a rarity on an LP otherwise defined by being of no specific time at all.
    Now about the lyrics. The Kinks weren’t the Beatles, so we don’t have the intel, but I think this could very well be the Kinks’ own Sexy Sadie. In that interpretation, the “phenomenal cat” wouldn’t be a furry animal at all but a 50's/60’s hipster guy (what they used to call a “cat”) turned guru (Buddhist, Hindu or whatever) that Ray decided to make fun of and that History since then forgot. The guy would’ve been the leader of some cult in the English countryside, having travelled the world and come back “enlightened” with a message to spread and an idle life to live surrounded by “idiots” followers. If you read the lyrics that way, every single line makes perfect sense!!! Then again, if you want to read it as a surreal spiritual piece of cute psychedelia full of in-jokes and wordplay (Cat-hmandu, sardine-ia…), it’s still perfectly enjoyable.
     
  6. ARL

    ARL Forum Resident

    Location:
    England
    "Phenomenal Cat"

    First things first - what is that piece of music at the start, and how did it turn up again on a Yes track 21 years later??


    Second - it was also "PhenomInal" on my 1980s reissued copy. Could Pye really not have afforded a proofreader in the 60s?

    Lyrics - I've always heard it as "the land of idiot boards", and it still sounds like that to me.
    "Cowes" is apparently correct - it's a port on the Isle of Wight just off the southern coast of England (and the Scilly Isles is a group of islands off the coast of Cornwall).

    This is the point where you think you've reached peak whimsy on this album (only to be swiftly disavowed on hearing the next track). I love the mellotron and minimal drum track, but it's easy to overlook Pete's bassline pulsing beneath them. It gets even better when Dave takes over from the mellotron with the guitar that counterpoints the vocal melody, and the drum track speeds up and goes off beat. When it switches back to the original rhythm for the fade, it's like a release of tension.

    Overall, it's a beautiful and charming track that stays just the right side of twee.
     
  7. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    Hahaha .... I didn't see the forest for the trees lol that's hilarious
     
  8. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    Which track mate? It shows up unavailable to me.
     
  9. ARL

    ARL Forum Resident

    Location:
    England
    "Lightning Strikes" from The Ladder.
     
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  10. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    If someone can post the stereo version that would be cool. I ran out of time, and I can't find it listed, and am not in a position to listen now.
    Cheers
     
  11. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    Cheers mate
     
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  12. croquetlawns

    croquetlawns Forum Resident

    Location:
    Scotland
    I love the whimsy of this track, but it's not as good as the tracks around it. But then, lower-tier VGPS would be top-tier for most albums.
     
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  13. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line Senior Member

    Location:
    Australia
    Ba-aby you sure know what you're sa-ayin'!
     
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  14. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line Senior Member

    Location:
    Australia
    That would help explain his chronic insomnia!
     
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  15. ajsmith

    ajsmith Forum Resident

    Location:
    Glasgow
    It’s a Mellotron pre set, hence the sound being exactly the same on an unrelated recording from years later.
     
  16. ajsmith

    ajsmith Forum Resident

    Location:
    Glasgow
    ‘Little Women’ seems like a dry run for this track, with the tranquil mellotron atmosphere and then the sudden switch to a dramatic guitar focussed descending part in the middle.
     
  17. Scottsol

    Scottsol Forum Resident

    Location:
    Evanston, IL
    The “flute” introduction is a loop from the Swinging Flutes set on a Mellotron. Played backwards, this was also used on the outro of Strawberry Fields.
    The Kinks's 'Phenomenal Cat' - Discover the Sample Source
     
  18. Paul Mazz

    Paul Mazz Forum Resident

    For years thought the lyrics to this song must have some deeper significance. In the last few years though, in spite of anything Ray may say, I decided it is a children’s song written to amuse his oldest daughter, who would have been about four at the time.

    Besides my own grown daughters, I now have a four year old goddaughter. My goddaughter is endlessly amused by a song called smelly cat. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. :agree:
     
  19. Vagabone

    Vagabone Forum Resident

    Location:
    UK
    Phenomenal Cat
    This has the Edward Lear/Lewis Carroll kind of feel and I'm sure if my parents had known of this song they would have sung it to me as a lullaby when I was an infant. I'm very sorry they didn't. Still, it doesn't matter, since as soon as I heard it I felt as if I had always known it. One of my very favourites on the album.
     
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  20. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line Senior Member

    Location:
    Australia
    Phenomenal Cat

    I think @Fortuleo is really onto something with his cat dissection!

    That said i find it a sweet & interesting song of no little whimsy (that i would never skip) but it does nevertheless feel a bit peripheral to it's surroundings.
     
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  21. Steve62

    Steve62 Vinyl hunter

    Location:
    Murrumbateman
    FYI I noticed on the Kinkakinksnet site that someone submitted a correction to their original chord outline.
    Chords for "Starstruck"
     
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  22. Fischman

    Fischman RockMonster, ClassicalMaster, and JazzMeister

    Location:
    New Mexico
    Today in Kinks history:

    Following the band's first ever US tour, the single Ev'rybody's Gonna Be Happy / Who'll be The Next In Line is released by Reprise records in the US on this day in 1965.
     
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  23. Fischman

    Fischman RockMonster, ClassicalMaster, and JazzMeister

    Location:
    New Mexico
    Phenomenal Cat

    Just the title tells you this is going to be a very different song. Then we get the fluttering flute intro and that anticipation is confirmed.

    The chord progression in that opening verse is special..... draws me in every time.

    Ray's description gives us some insight, but even armed with that knowledge, I still find this to be the most esoteric lyric in the album, which stands in contrast to the childlike whimsy of the music.

    Esoteric as some lines may be, I think the choice of a cat for the allegory is rather straightforward. Cat... as in a cool, smooth guy or dude.... jazz terminology as in that is one hep cat... only this cat is more than that....
    he's phenomenal.
     
  24. donstemple

    donstemple Member of the Club

    Location:
    Maplewood, NJ
    Was it Dave?
     
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  25. Steve62

    Steve62 Vinyl hunter

    Location:
    Murrumbateman
    Phenomenal Cat
    This is the most psychedelic track on the album due to the odd lyrics and Dave's distorted cat vocal yet it doesn't sound much like the songs of peak psychedelia 6-12 months earlier. As an aside, Syd Barrett had a couple of songs on Pink Floyd's debut album that remind me of Phenomenal Cat: the Gnome (its childlike story and music) and Lucifer Sam (which is about a cat). Moving on, I'm going to raise the possibility that Ray might have intended this to be satirical. A trend among the bigger pop stars in late 1967 - early 1968 was a desire to find enlightenment: the Beatles visited the Maharishi in Rishikesh in February 1968 (staying until mid-April) and in April Pete Townshend declared he was a disciple of Meher Baba. Channeling his natural cynicism Ray suggests even a cat could find the secret of life by travelling and eating well. That's one theory anyway. And I do like the song - Dave's distorted cat vocals are the clincher for me.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2021

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