Kitties Rule, Boys Drool

"Here and Now" in 1994 was Letters to Cleo's only MTV and radio hit, with lead yelper Kay Hanley's rapid-fire trademark chorus "Thecomfortofaknowledgeofariseabovethesky/ couldneverparallelthechallengeofanacquisitioninthe . . . here and now" creating a lasting vocal memory to this very day.

Unfortunately, the MTV video image of pigtailed Hanley zooming up and back on some wack tractor rig must've annoyed as many people as it amused. LTC's second album, Wholesale Meats and Fish, tanked their commercial career, and a horrible record deal consigned their third album, Go!, to oblivion and the band to can't-get-off-the-label sub-Antarctica, where they eventually packed it in around late 2000.It's an easy guess that no one in underappreciated, underpromoted LTC ever made a cent over rent money in the band's 10 years.

Jump to 2001: Every time Rachael Leigh Cook opens her singing pipes in the wonderful, wacky Josie and the Pussycatsmovie, my favorite singer-no-one-ever-heard-of Kay Hanley's propulsive, driving vocals shoot the whole damn soundtrack so far into newwavehardrock outer-space heaven that no one's ever going to find it. I swear I can almost hear Kay yelling, "I'm gettin' paid! I'm gettin' paid! I'm gettin' paid!" in all the margins. (And yeah, she even covers "Money" with the spoken intro, "This 'un's for all you SHOPPERS!") And you think, man, there are happy endings and poetic justices in this world. I printed off all 40 Josie customer reviews from Amazon.com, and 19 of them mention Hanley or Letters to Cleo, pretty amazing considering the act sold only 400-500K albums in their entire career. (Tho that's probably four or five times as many as, say, the Muffs).

Kay Hanley is finally gettin’ paid.
photo: Michael Eisenstein
Kay Hanley is finally gettin’ paid.

Oh yeah. Josie and the Pussycatsis the best album you're gonna hear all year. Buy it or be forever left waiting ticketless at the clue-bus station. See the movie twice or be turned into a frog, or an extra from Eddie and the Cruisers. (Your call—I only run the world cuz I'm the king, and those are the rules cuz I said so. Though no one is the Boss of Me to a cat.)

The kickass guitar and bass on the 11 Josie cuts (eight originals, the theme, two blast-furnace covers) are supposedly handled by geek-boy Matthew Sweet, how about that? The guitar has that heavy, slightly metallic tinge like 1977 Teenage Head or somebody; really works for me. The drummer is just atomic—total balls to the wall. And Kay's vocals, recorded properly for the first time (= big budget and big-time producer/engineer) are the megaton bomb. On two or three cuts, she ends with a "yeoooooooWW!" just like those early Muffs things. Funny—she had a baby right before the soundtrack gig. Maybe puttin' on some weight gave her extra vocal heft. (That's what latter-day Debbie Harry swears by, anyway. Fat = phat, or something.)

Eleven cuts; seven better than excellent, including two great hard rock-pop songs written by Beastie Boy (Counting Crow, whatever) Adam Duritz and a terrific pop song written by the Fountains of Wayne guy who wrote "That Thing You Do!," Adam Schlesinger—who in fact also produces the last six Josie tracks, following Babyface's opening five. Plus, amazingly, the best cover of Johnny O'Keefe's '50s tune "Real Wild Child" ever cut. The songs average well under three minutes each, very Green Day/Blink 182 in their no-frills no-solos tautness.

Kay Hanley actually re-creates that "brand new" sense of blow-up pop of the great early new wave records. Even Green Day and Blink 182 at their most popular never got there, partly because their singers aren't in the same league. I recall Hanley's press explanation of the soundtrack's evolution being "The music started out very punk rock, then as it was rewritten and rewritten it got totally new wave, Go-Go's." Off the rails—if you wanna use velocity, bpm, and launch distance as the yardstick—Joan Jett at her best ("Bad Reputation") might've been one-tenth this catchy and hard-rocking in her wildest dreams (she didn't have the songs). Any other late-'70s/early-'80s femme-vocal new wave act? Not even close enough to the same universe. (Somewhere, the Runaways will watch the movie on a time-travel monitor and go, "Aw, fuck! I knewit was a mistake to let that cretin Kim Fowley write the songs!")

I remember when LTCleo showed up unexpectedly in 1999's Ten Things I Hate About You, in a club scene. I went, "Wow! Jeez—that's Kay Hanley! But who are thosedorks?" (It was Letters to Cleo in really bad late-'90s alterna-clothing.) But they were doing Nick Lowe's "Cruel to Be Kind," I think. And Kay used to put on a Cheap Trick T-shirt in the early '90s for important Boston gigs, 'cause it "put her in the mood." I totally gotta respect that kind of gestalt insight. Y'know, any trendy twit can like the Buzzcocks or Descendents. To zone in on something that was popular—now, there's a Def Leppard move.

The thing that tipped me off at ground zero on how good the Josie soundtrack might be was back when I was digging for info on the Generation O! (Saturday-morning WB-channel cartoon that had nine to 11 LTCleo songs specially written and recorded for it last fall) promo kit CD—the last batch of stuff the group did before giving up and disbanding (Hanley needed the time to be a proper mom, i.e., no touring). The cartoon's lead character is an eight-year-old girl who's a big rock star, and her song titles = the names of the episodes, conveniently enough. (The promo CD has just three songs, though. Time to troll Google.com for a CD-R of all the tunes . . .)

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