Although I have a taste for both Euro pop and Sixties pop, Pussycat – born Éveleyne Courtois – has previous escaped my attention, so this new, thorough collection is welcome indeed. The first ever non-French compilation, it’s an impressive collection of cover versions and originals by the yé yé girl who took her influences from British beat music, even as the Beat scene was evolving into something else. A singing guitarist and drummer, Pussy Cat never quite made it as big as she should’ve done in France – and remained unknown everywhere else – but this collection should go some way to giving her the attention she deserved as a musical pioneer.
Recorded between 1966 and 1969, it might be the covers that the casual listener finds most immediately intriguing. French language versions of well known tunes, they are both familiar and unexpected. Album opener Ce N’Est Pas Une Vie, for instance, is The Small Faces’ Sha-La-La-La-Lee, given a gallic, moody makeover. Betty Everett’s You’re No Good is transformed into the sexy, seductive Mais Pourquoi…, while Les Temps Ont Changé is a pop reconstruction of folk tune Have Courage, be Careful. The Moody Blues’ Stop, on the other hand, manages to retain its original name. These four tracks made up the first Pussycat EP in 1966, and are a fine collection of tunes, managing to be very French in feel despite the familiarity of some of the tunes (featuring future Foreigner founder Mick Jones on guitar) and the British Beat influence.
Other covers include a groovy version of Paul Revere and the Raiders’ Kicks (Vive La Mariée) and The Hollies’ So Lonely (Mais La Continiuait), both originally a 1966 single; The Hollies covers continued with the next EP, with poppy versions of Have You Ever Loved Somebody (Si Vous Avaz Déja Aimé) and Bus Stop (Arret D’Autobus), the latter penned by Graham Gouldman who also wrote Herman’s Hermits’ Listen People, here covered as the floaty J’Avais Juré, the first of the tracks on this album to hint at the influence of the 1967 West Coast hippy sound. And finally, there’s a solid version of The Zombies’ She’s Not There (Te Voila), that has more of a bossa nova vibe that the original in parts before building to a belting chorus.
Then there are the originals, catchy little numbers like La La Lu and Ba Ba Ba… Boof that are very yé yé in nature but backed with a real rocking vibe, complete with distorted, proto-psych guitar breaks. Je N’Ai Pas Pleuré is a more laid back affair, complete with harpsichord, while Moi Je PréFere Ma Poupée is more gimmicky in nature. By 1968’s single releases, the originals had begun to take precedent, with the fantastic, ambitious and oddly unsettling Dans Ce Monde Fou being light years from her usual Beat sound. Chance is closer to her traditional sound, while On Me Dit is a slower blues number, unfortunately a bit plodding and limp.
1969’s Cette Nuit sounds oddly like a Shangri Las song from earlier in the decade, a solid, impassioned number, while the other original songs from this final EP also feel like they are calling back to the past – On Joune is a middling romantic pop number, but Hymne Au Soleil is a lively slice of beat pop marred only by a rather flat production sound.
The tracks are presented in chronological order, and while it might be a stretch to say that you can see a notable musical progression taking place – her career was too brief and too stop-start to really build any developing and ongoing musical momentum – you do at least see a slight shift from solid beat music to a more psych-pop feel as time passes. Unreleased number Adieu My Baby (And My Baby’s Gone by the Moody Blues) is the funkiest number on here, suggesting a groove-laden pop future that never materialised – the 1970s saw her working as a model before cutting a number of disco tunes under a variety of pseudonyms.
As a bonus here, there are also tracks by Pussy Cat’s former band, Les Petites Souris, France’s first all girl band – a three guitar outfit featuring a bunch of teenage girls – eat your hearts out, Runaways! Their sole EP features a number of light girl-group numbers, ranging from bouncy pop songs (Joue) to angst ridden ballads (Cette Melodie Que L’Orchestre Joue), with On Te Le Dit, Il T’Aime being the closest to the later Pussy Cat sound. The disco numbers are, appropriately, not see as canon and so not included here.
This compilation is a fantastic slice of Sixties French pop, it’s unfamiliarity giving it a remarkable freshness. If you have a taste for beat music, yé yé girls or simply great, timeless pop, it’s a must-have item.