The Cat Came Back
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|"The Cat Came Back"|
Cover, sheet music, 1893
|Written by||Harry S. Miller|
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
"The Cat Came Back" (originally published as "The Cat Came Back: A Nigger Absurdity") is a comic song written by Harry S. Miller in 1893. "The Cat Came Back" has since entered the folk tradition and been recorded under variations of the title—"But the Cat Came Back", "And the Cat Came Back", etc. It is also a popular children's song.
The song is humorous in nature, telling a silly tale about "ole Mister Johnson" who had an "ole yaller cat" that he did not want, and when he tried to get rid of the cat, the cat kept coming back:
But the cat came back, he couldn't stay no long-er,
Yes the cat came back de very next day,
the cat came back—thought she were a goner,
But the cat came back for it wouldn't stay away.
In Miller's original, the cat finally died when an organ grinder came around one day and:
De cat look'd around awhile an' kinder raised her head
When he played Ta-rah-dah-boom-da-rah, an' de cat dropped dead.
Even then the cat's ghost came back.
The first commercial recording of "The Cat Came Back" was by Fiddlin' John Carson (OKeh catalog #40119) in April 1924. Other early recordings include one by Dock Philipine "Fiddlin' Doc" Roberts ("And The Cat Came Back The Very Next Day", Gennett 3235), on November 13, 1925.
- 1 Timing of the song
- 2 Versions of the song
- 3 Variations in the melody of the additional verses
- 4 Microtonal and chirp-based versions of the chorus
- 5 Bass line
- 6 Cordell Barker's animation film
- 7 Popular culture
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Timing of the song
The song is often used to teach children the concepts of rhythm and tempo. It is an excellent example in this regard, especially the minor key versions of the song, because of the strong and consistent beat pattern, combined with amusing and humorous lyrics.
Like many children's songs, the song has a strong well-defined beat pattern. It consists of one weak beat, one strong beat, so it is often sung in 2/4 time. Thus it can be (and often is) sung while walking, with, for example, strong beats when the left foot hits the ground and weak beats when the right foot hits the ground.
Versions of the song
There are many versions of the song. In one, the cat is yellow. One version goes something like:
- first verse
Now old Mr. Johnson had some troubles of his own,
He had a scarlet cat that just wouldn't leave his home,
He tried and he tried to give the cat away,
He gave it to a man going far far away.
But the cat came back the very next day,
The cat came back, we thought he was a goner,
The cat came back, he just wouldn't stay away.
- alternate chorus
But the cat came back he wouldn't stay away,
He was sitting on the porch the very next day.
Every second beat is emphasized (emphasized beats are shown underlined in bold).
Each line of text in the above has eight beats, and usually the chords fall (piano) or begin (organ) on the capitalized words.
The chord progression repeats every 8 beats, so one might think of the song as being in either 2/ time or 8/ time (whichever denominator you use for reference time, i.e. 2/4 or 8/4 time if the beat is a quarter note, etc.). The pattern of 2/ and 8/ is similar to the beat pattern in "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", but phase-shifted by 180 degrees (since the song starts on a weak beat rather than the strong beat beginning of "Twinkle Twinkle").
Zero padding or improv/instrumental of the chorus
As with many simple children's songs, it is often desired to have the number of beats be a power of two, so the first verse plus the chorus takes up, for example, 64 beats, so it is often nice to put some kind of instrumental or improvised section at the end of the chorus to make it fit nicely into 64 rather than 56 beats for one verse plus one run of the chorus. Alternatively an 8-beat rest (zero padding) may be inserted and the end of the chorus.
Many versions are in a major key, but there are some versions that are also in a minor key. The chord progression for many of the minor-key versions is Em, G, C, B.
Variations in the melody of the additional verses
The additional verses often have a notable variation in melody but with the same chords. For example the second verse often shoots up an octave to emphasize the words "dynamite" and "found" (each sung an octave above the first note of the song, which is "E" if the song is sung in the key of A-minor), even though the first verse does not shoot up that way.
The third verse often contains a descending scale that does not appear in the first or second verses.
Microtonal and chirp-based versions of the chorus
Also, the second line of the chorus "thought he was a goner" is often sung either off-key (deliberately), or just spoken (not sung), or includes chirps or quarter tones (notes that fall between semitones). In some versions the chirps can be approximated by a chromatic glissando.
Harmonic minor variations
The chord progression lends itself exceptionally well to a bass line that's natural minor descending, and harmonic minor ascending, i.e. in the key of A-minor, the 8 beats (in 8/ time) would play out as A, A, G, G, F, F, E, G#. This is practically the lament bass used in many chaconnes, e.g. Pachelbel's Chaconne in F minor.
Melodic minor variations
Additionally, the bass line may be played as melodic minor (i.e. including both an F# and a G# on the way up). This second variation is effective in teaching children the concept of a melodic minor scale, since melodic minor otherwise occurs so seldom in simple children's songs.
Cordell Barker's animation film
Although the Barker animation does not involve many spoken lyrics, relying more on its animation to show the action, both spoken verses, as shown here, are different than other versions:
Now, old Mr. Johnson had troubles of his own.
He had a yellow cat that wouldn't leave his home!
A special plan with deception as the key.
One little cat—how hard could it be?
Well, old Mr. Johnson had troubles of his own.
Still the yellow cat wouldn't leave his home!
Steps were needed to remove the little curse.
The old man knew it couldn't get any worse.
- The song helped launch the career of children's entertainer Fred Penner. He has used the song as part of a medley that includes the tune heard in "Hit the Road Jack" with lyrics changed to "Hit the Road Cat".
- The song was adapted in Afrikaans as "Die kat kom weer". The Afrikaans version had several references to the Boer War and British Imperialism.
- Randy Sparks reworked the song as "The Cat", for The New Christy Minstrels' 1963 album Tell Tall Tales!.
- Alex Hood, the Australian folk singer, recorded a version on his album The Wallaby Track (1974), with Australian references.
- The song features in the film Adaptation (2002).
- The song is mentioned in Pet Sematary by Stephen King.
- Children's entertainers Sharon, Lois & Bram recorded "The Cat Came Back" on their 1980 Juno Award-winning album Singing 'n' Swinging. They also featured the song on their hit Nickelodeon TV series The Elephant Show in Season 2, Episode 26 "Treasure Hunt".
- The song was used as the basis for the 1988 Oscar-nominated short animated film The Cat Came Back by Cordell Barker.
- In 1986, the Cordell Barker film was the basis for a commercial for KP Snacks' Hula Hoops.
- An alternate adaptation of the song was performed by Rowlf the Dog with a banjo in The Muppet Show, episode 523, only having "the cat came back" as a common line in the chorus. The arrangement does not use the common contemporary descending musical structure, and substitutes "little Benny" for "old Mr. Johnson".
- An instrumental version of the song was released by the Canadian band Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet on their 1991 album Music For Pets.
- In the 1970s, Steve Waring, an American songwriter and folk singer, adapted the song into French and simply called it "Le matou" (The tomcat). The story is based on the same line as the original: every day, Tompson, an old farmer, tries to kill his cat, unsuccessfully, of course, while "le matou revient le jour suivant" (the cat comes back the next day).
- In a 1972 episode of the PBS program ZOOM, the children's cast (called ZOOMers) sang and danced to the song, although they didn't sing all the verses because of its considerable length.
- "The Cat Came Back (BDD Remix)" by Luca Lento appears on the album The Electro Swing Revolution (2011).
- A variation of the song, "Bitch Came Back", was written and performed by Canadian rock band Theory of a Deadman on their album The Truth Is....
- In 2011, a version from Fred Penner was featured in the film 388 Arletta Avenue.
- The song's lyrics are quoted in the Corner Gas episode "Cat River Daze".
- Macabre Minstrels (a side project of the death metal/grindcore band Macabre) recorded a version on their 2002 EP Morbid Campfire Songs.
- Rise Up Singing page 70
- Ira Glass (2006-08-18). "316: The Cat Came Back Transcript". WBEZ.
- National Film Board: The Cat Came Back Accessed 2011-11-03