The Great British Songbook #10: ‘The Lovecats’

Robert Smith of the Cure

I went to school in the ’80s. It was a time of polarisation, of tribalism, of ganging up and lashing out. You had the people in government, the socially mobile, moneyed lower middle class and the decimated working class communities, working in manufacturing industries that were constantly under threat, and everyone bickered about everyone else. It was a time of escapist pop music versus post-punk underground rock music versus escapist heavy metal music versus rap music versus stadium rock, everyone sat in their various boxes and seethed at everyone else. You youngsters can’t possibly imagine what it must be like, with your internet and your Facebook and your iPhones and American Idolses.

Oh, OK, it was exactly like now. The point is there were a few songs that everyone could agree on, and those were the ones that always got played at school discos, irrespective of whatever song Rick Astley or Bananarama had out that week. One of those was “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, one was “She Sells Sanctuary” by the Cult, but the king of them all, the leftfield unifier to end all leftfield unifiers, was “The Lovecats” by the Cure. Everyone loved it. The goths loved it because it was the Cure, and therefore alternative. The pop kids loved it because it was fun and happy and about cats, the rockers loved it because it was silly and had weird singing and a proper double bass, not like these synthesizers you get nowadays, and the bookish wallflowers loved it because it reminded them of an Edward Lear or TS Eliot poem, only with trumpets.

And it swung! Nothing swunged (swang?) in the ’80s. There were a few half-hearted jazz revivals here and there, but that was for the prematurely old hipsters in their 20s, people who affected to have had enough of the shallow world rock and pop, meanwhile here was a song which was every bit as shallow as “Hungry Like The Wolf,” but still swungled like “The Bear Necessities.”

Plenty of people have covered the song over the years, OK Go had an ok go at it, Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua smarmed it up a bit, even Tricky added his trademark wheeze, but it was (naturalised American) Paul Anka who seemed to leave the song’s vital essence behind when he de-swingulated, and bossanovicated it for his album of rock covers, ironically titled “Rock Swings.”

Er no, Paul. It doesn’t. Not if this is anything to go by…

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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