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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Now That’s What I Call Meow-sic: 16 times cats made their way into song

Clockwise from top left: Joni Mitchell, Taming The Tiger album cover; Tron and Thundercat (Screenshot: YouTube); Lil B and Keke (Screenshot: YouTube); and, once more because they're adorable, Tron and Thundercat (Screenshot: YouTube)
Clockwise from top left: Joni Mitchell, Taming The Tiger album cover; Tron and Thundercat (Screenshot: YouTube); Lil B and Keke (Screenshot: YouTube); and, once more because they're adorable, Tron and Thundercat (Screenshot: YouTube)
Graphic: Natalie Peeples
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As cats domesticated themselves, it was inevitable that they’d take over our music, too. At least as far back as the Baroque era, they’ve been purring their way into our songs: Domenico Scarlatti’s “Sonata G Minor (Cat’s Fugue)” was inspired by his cat, Pulcinella, stomping across his keyboard, the 17th-century equivalent of 21st-century cats who believe that laptops don’t work unless they’ve been properly warmed under a feline butt. And that’s just one example in classical music’s long obsession with cats, music originally performed for the pleasure of European aristocrats whose leisurely lifestyles weren’t too far off from a cat’s busy schedule of napping, eating, and then napping again. If any modern genre carries the mantle now, it’s probably electronic, what with EDM’s many cat-themed acts and meow-sampling tracks—not to mention phenomena like Cats On Synthesizers In Space, yet another manifestation of cats’ obsession with walking all over humans’ stuff. Together, they suggest that, even when they aren’t dedicating songs to them, synth nerds love them some fur babies. And their fur babies love their synths right back.

What we’re concerned with in this list are modern songs that are dedicated to cats—ones explicitly about or at least anecdotally inspired by cats in their creators’ lives. That means their own pets, like Thundercat’s tributes to his best bud, Tron, but also friends’ or feral cats whose rhythmic strides or outsize personalities moved them to song. But be warned: For every devotional “Delilah,” there’s an “All Dead, All Dead,” as inevitably pets get lost, or just old, and artists feel inspired to hit “record” on their heartbreak. In the end, all cats must pass, even the internet-famous ones. But these particular kitties were lucky to have humans who cared enough to immortalize them in song.

1. Thundercat, “Tron Song” (2013) and “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)” (2017)

Cats are their own creatures, never bending to artificial mandates like “Don’t scratch there,” or “That’s not a toy,” or “It’s inappropriate to lick your butt in front of guests.” So it makes sense that Thundercat, the genre-bending multi-instrumentalist who’s no fan of conformity himself, would be best friends with a kitty cat. Thundercat frequently talks, tweets, and writes songs about his cat Tron (full name: Turbo Tron Over 9000 Baby Jesus Sally), most notably in “Tron Song” and its sequel, “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II).” In the first “Tron Song,” Thundercat proclaims his undying loyalty to his calico pal, singing, “Don’t you ever leave me Turbo Tron / Don’t ever wonder where I’m going.” In “A Fan’s Mail,” he wonders what it would be like to actually be Tron, concluding that, “It’s cool to be a cat,” because you can do whatever you want. [Katie Rife]

2. Pink Floyd, “Lucifer Sam” (1967)

It can always be a struggle teasing out the deeper meanings behind Pink Floyd’s various psychedelic musical odysseys—especially on The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, the band’s first album, and the only one created under the guidance of noted LSD enthusiast Syd Barrett. Is the “Lucifer Sam” who lends his name to the album’s second song just a “hep cat,” creeping on Barrett’s ex—or possibly Satan himself? Apparently not: Supposedly, the “Siam cat” featured here really was just Barrett’s personal kitty, Sam, getting his time in the jam-band-y spotlight, and a taste of the sinister descending riffs that cats so clearly love. The song’s feline origins are made even clearer by the title it was originally recorded under: “Percy The Rat Catcher.” [William Hughes]

3. Kate Bush, “The Big Sky” (1985) and “Rocket’s Tail” (1989)

Kate Bush’s pets have made their way into her work a few times throughout her career. The art-pop icon snuggled up to her two dogs, Bonnie and Clyde, on the cover of her seminal 1985 album, Hounds Of Love, while around the same era, Bush’s cats, Zoodle and Pyewacket, apparently starred in a comic strip she drew for her fan-club newsletter. And her cats have made it into song at least twice: “Rocket’s Tail,” from 1989’s The Sensual World, while not exactly about her cat Rocket, is “inspired by and for him,” celebrating living fully, briefly in the moment. And Hounds’ “The Big Sky,” Bush notes, was influenced by observing “this great cat I used to have who’d sit on this wall in the garden, looking up at the sky.” Ultimately, it’s a song about free thought and going your own way—something cats, living by their own rules and agenda, are continually schooling us in. [Kelsey J. Waite]

4. Ricky Eat Acid, “Big Man’s Last Trip Outside” (2014)

Given electronic music’s fondness for cats, there are probably way more tracks out there inspired by feline friends than we’ll ever know. But on his first proper LP as Ricky Eat Acid, Baltimore-based musician Sam Ray explicitly made “Big Man’s Last Trip Outside” to capture his cat’s glorious last escape into the outdoors the day before he died. “He’d been too sick to go out. It was March, it was a beautiful day, and we lost him. We couldn’t find him. I was pretty sure I was going to find him dead somewhere, but he turned up under a bush,” Ray told Interview in 2013. And he conveys the experience with an elliptical, filmic beauty: drone filters opening and closing like eyes adjusting to the light, synths prickling like an animal scrambling through the brush. It is a bittersweet two and half minutes, capturing the tension between Ray’s worried search and the euphoria Big Man must’ve felt running through the grass one last time. [Kelsey J. Waite]

5. Let’s Eat Grandma, “The Cat’s Pyjamas” (2018)

The spooky, R&B-flecked electro-pop of Let’s Eat Grandma’s I’m All Ears made for one of last year’s most immersive listens (so much so that we named it one of our favorite releases of 2018). It’s easy to get lost amid so many sonic textures, but if one’s likely to break your trance it’s that rumbling purr that caps off “The Cat’s Pyjamas,” a placid instrumental tucked in the album’s latter half. “Some people have said it’s really unnerving,” the band’s Rosa Walton told the BBC. “I think a cat’s purr is one of the nicest sounds, but apparently some people think it’s creepy.” To be fair, it is a touch jarring at first, but it all becomes more comforting when you learn that the purr belongs to Adam, an adorable black kitty that lives inside Manchester’s Eve Studios. Will he return for the duo’s third LP? Probably. If they bring treats, of course. [Randall Colburn]

6. Prince & Sheena Easton, “La, La, La, He, He, Hee” (1986)

Prince wasn’t known for many novelty songs, but “La, La, La, He, He, Hee” certainly qualifies, a sort-of seduction song involving a dog and a cat and a tree. It’s the B-side to the Sign O’ The Times title-track single, and the album’s liner notes dub the song a dare to Prince from “Morning Train” singer Sheena Easton, claiming he couldn’t write a song with such a basic phrase as the title. Easton later elaborated on the track’s origins, pointing out that she owned a half-dozen cats at the time, and she pitched the concept for the cat-dog get-busy song. Prince apparently encouraged her, saying, “Actually, that’d be kind of cute! Go ahead and write it,” helping it springboard into a funky seduction dance: “Licking your tail like it’s cream / Stroking your whiskers, causing a scene.” There’s also a 10-minute “highly explosive” version that’s even more intense, if you can get past all the dog barks. [Gwen Ihnat]

7. Parquet Courts, “Sunbathing Animal” (2014)

In “Poem (As The Cat),” William Carlos Williams used spare language and frequent line breaks to mimic the careful, hesitant steps house cats often make while negotiating unfamiliar obstacles. In the title track off of 2014’s Sunbathing Animal, Brooklyn quartet Parquet Courts take a decidedly different approach in describing lead singer Andrew Savage’s beloved pet, playing faster and more frenetic than they have on nearly any other song. The lyrics range from existential (“Most freedom is deceiving / If such a thing exists”) to merely descriptive (“There’s a patch of light that hits the floor I’ll often occupy / Stretch my arms and legs and close my eyes”). It’s familiar territory for the band, both in subject and sound, just delivered from the point of view of a warm, lazy cat. [Laura Adamczyk]

8. Joni Mitchell, “Man From Mars” (1998)

Joni Mitchell initially turned down a request to write a sad song for the Grace Of My Heart soundtrack, saying, “I have to feel what I write.” Then her cat went missing. Inspired by a torturous 17-day wait for her beloved cat, Nietzsche, a.k.a. “Man From Mars,” to come home, “Man From Mars” could be about any form of loss, from a breakup to a death in the family. “There’s no center to my life now / No grace in my heart,” Mitchell sings over celestial piano and sighing backup vocals, quite a romantic arrangement for a song about a creature who ran away after peeing on the floor. Or maybe Mitchell’s cat really is magic: As she told USA Today in 1998, “The night I finished [the song], my amazing little mancat appeared in a neighbor’s yard and I retrieved him. That was kind of mystical.” [Katie Rife]

9. Various Artists, Souris Calle (2018)

Souris Calle may be the most star-studded musical tribute to a cat ever in history. A memorial to French conceptual artist Sophie Calle’s cat, Souris, who died in 2014, the album opens with an answering-machine message from Bono—“Souris—C’est Bono ici”—and features compositions from the likes of Laurie Anderson, Pharrell, Michael Stipe, Jean-Michel Jarre, and a host of major French artists. Some, like Anderson, knew Souris personally, but most worked from photos and video of Calle with her beloved black-and-white fur ball. It’s a project that could’ve veered into parody, but it’s actually an impressively diverse, affecting listen, touching on Calle and Souris’ specific relationship, the joy—and sound—of cats broadly, and especially the aftermath of losing one. Calle presented the album with an exhibit where visitors could listen and look through images of Souris, building a public display to match the feline’s significance in her life. By the time Souris Calle was released in the fall of 2018, she still wasn’t ready to get a new cat. [Kelsey J. Waite]

10. Aimee Mann, “Goose Snow Cone” (2017)

Adorable kitties don’t have to be close by to serve as a muse for great tunes; Aimee Mann’s plaintive ode to heartbreak (off 2017’s Mental Illness) was inspired by looking at her friend’s cat pictures on Instagram. Referencing the photogenic white fluff ball in question, “Goose snow cone” was originally a placeholder phrase. “It’s very dumb that I kept the name, but once I wrote the song, I was stuck with it,” Mann later noted. She embraced her inspiration fully for the song’s video, though, which features not only the actual Goose, but also his owner and his vet, telling a sweet little story that’s likely to put a non-hairball-based lump in the throat of anyone who’s ever had to bring an empty cat carrier back home from the vet. [William Hughes]

11. Old 97’s, “Murder (Or A Heart Attack)” (1999)

The chorus of “Murder (Or A Heart Attack)” sounds an awful lot like one of Old 97’s many catchy love songs: “But I’m leavin’ the back door open / ’Til you come back, ’til you come back.” But, as frontman Rhett Miller has confirmed in live shows, it’s not a scorned lover he’s waiting on, and the verses tell the real story. It opens with “And the hole in the screen / Is barely big enough for you,” and closes with some self-flagellation that doubles as a warning to cat owners: “Situation could’ve been avoided / If I’d only shut the window.” Miller wrote the song after a friend’s cat he was watching slipped out the window, and we’re just going to assume the cat came back, because we can’t bear to think otherwise. [Laura M. Browning]

12. Queen, “All Dead, All Dead” (1977) and “Delilah” (1991)

As the movie Bohemian Rhapsody made clear, Freddie Mercury loved his cats. But apparently he wasn’t the only member of Queen who did. Brian May penned a poignant ode to his childhood cat on 1977’s News Of The World called “All Dead, All Dead” (the track that followed it was called “Spread Your Wings”). As part of the album’s 40th anniversary box set, a version of the song was released with Mercury’s vocals instead, where the known cat lover does a typically transformative job of sending the beloved pet off to the afterlife. Mercury got the chance to write his own pet ode with a cut on 1991’s Innuendo, the band’s last album before his death: “Delilah,” a love song to his favorite calico—“You bring me hope / You make me laugh and I like it”—complete with a “meow”-filled chorus. Unfortunately, drummer Roger Taylor did not share the love for his bandmates’ pet opuses, reportedly saying, “I hate ‘Delilah.’ That’s just not me.” [Gwen Ihnat]

13. Booker T. & The M.G.s, “Green Onions” (1962)

Okay, so there’s some dispute over the exact inspiration for Booker T. & The M.G.s’ 1962 instrumental hit “Green Onions.” Some accounts claim the song got its name from the nasty, funky whiff of Booker T.’s main Hammond riff, while guitarist Steve Cropper insists it was inspired by the gait of a cat named Green Onions. Either way, there’s no denying the Memphis soul cut moves with an aloof, feline prowl. There’s a reason it’s a film favorite for soundtracking mischief and cons: Like a tomcat making its neighborhood rounds, the song’s groove is on the hunt but playing it cool, simultaneously up to nothing and no good at all. The recording’s improvised feel only amplifies the unpredictable animal energy. [Kelsey J. Waite]

14. Kimya Dawson, “For Boxer” (2004)

Kimya Dawson’s music exudes a dull, satisfying sparkle, the singer having established herself as one of the few artists to make lo-fi bedroom pop sound downright whimsical. “For Boxer” is, shall we say, not that. Inspired by the death of her cat, Boxer, the two-minute track is painfully intimate, with Dawson’s cracked, tear-soaked vocals collapsing alongside her drum machine, which hammers away in the background like a palpitating heart. “I hope you know that losing you’s the hardest thing on earth for me,” she croaks. “I love you so very much, my pretty little kitty.” After cycling through the refrain once more—“flying, sailing, dying, same thing”—Dawson trails off with a litany of despairing sorries. Cheekily, she follows it up with a track called “I’m Fine,” but it’s still hard not to want to run and give her a hug, no matter that Boxer’s been gone for at least seven years now. [Randall Colburn]

15. Advance Base, “Our Cat” (2012)

Advance Base’s Owen Ashworth doesn’t manufacture high drama. Instead, the songwriter formerly known as Casiotone For The Painfully Alone builds songs around small, recognizable stories that, despite their familiarity, still resound with melancholy, laughter, and hard-fought wisdom. “Remember the time when our cat ran away?” go the opening lyrics of “Our Cat,” a lovely, drizzly waltz that follows its narrator to the ASPCA and the copy store, where flyers are made with “her cutest picture.” “I’m pretty sure we bummed out everyone we know,” Ashworth cracks in his dry, straightforward speak-sing. The good news is that the cat returns in the end, but it nevertheless leaves our narrator with a palpable sense of unease. “Remember the strangers who thought they were wise?” he sings. “Who promised she’d be back ’cause cats have nine lives? / We tried to be grateful for stupid advice. / They don’t come back sometimes, but this time it was fine.” Sometimes the specter of loss is a trauma in and of itself. [Randall Colburn]

16. Lil B, “Keke That’s My Kitty” (2012)

Is Drake’s “In My Feelings” secretly a love song to Lil B’s cat? Let’s examine the evidence: In 2012, Lil B released a YouTube video called “KeKe The Adopted Tabby Cat MAKES HISTORY! FIRST ANIMAL IN HIP HOP! FEAT LIL B !!!” featuring Lil B making meowing noises as his tabby cat Keke can be heard purring in the background. Then six years later, knowing full well that Keke is Lil B’s cat, Drake dropped “In My Feelings,” which opens with a real steal-your-girl kind of line: “Kiki, do you love me?” The spelling may have been different, but the gauntlet was thrown nonetheless. Shortly after, Lil B relaunched his “Based Freestyle” series with a response track, “Keke That’s My Kitty,” reasserting that Keke is his cat, and if anyone else wants a cat, they can go down to the ASPCA and get one. “Don’t disrespect others!” a voice shouts at the end of the track. General advice for life, or a warning for a certain ex-child actor from Toronto to leave Lil B and Keke alone? You be the judge. [Katie Rife]