John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog”

That and “Dusty Springfield” were two memorable songs by the late Norma Tanega.

By - Jan 30th, 2020 02:50 pm
“Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog”

“Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog”

I came pretty close to completely forgetting the song “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog”, but I must have had one or two neurons still assigned to it. Reading Norma Tanega’s recent obituary in the New York Times (she actually died in late December) brought back a vague memory. So I went looking for it on YouTube and it turns out it’s a very catchy song and performance. The story of her one hit (in 1968) and the life around it makes for an interesting 60’s tale of a free spirit immersed in art and music. Not all footnotes are created equal, and Norma’s career seemed like it had the potential to be so much more.

The song is feather light — out of place in a time when heavy metal was being born. It’s friendly, goofy and fun, just the thing to add some light and warmth to a frigid winter day. Norma really did have a cat named Dog. She settled on a feline companion when her landlord told her there were no dogs allowed. She didn’t actually walk it, but it made for a good title. In the video we see a cheerful, composed performer who described herself as “not fitting in.” Folkies didn’t embrace her — maybe it was her guitar, a Gibson SG, the same model Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Eric Clapton favored at one time. Despite the cool guitar, she was probably too fey to be embraced by rockers. Trapped between genres, she had just that one hit and disappeared from view.

She stayed in the music business a while longer, and on a tour of the UK she became romantically involved with Dusty Springfield. They were together for five years and Norma penned a few songs that wound up on that supreme diva’s records. She also wrote, with the cabaret artist Blossom Dearie, an odd little number called “Dusty Springfield.” Recorded by Ms. Dearie, with her childlike soprano and sweetened to perfection by some nicely arranged strings, the whimsical lyrics seem to float in the air.

Dusty Springfield
That’s a pretty name
It even sounds like a game
In a green field
Hobby horses play
the dusty game
When it’s May

Pink and paisley skies
Shining in green eyes
A magic pinwheel
London flowers fair
Blooming in her hair
Dusty Springfield

Silver stars shine
Over crystal waters
Petals fall from her glance
Flowers sparkle
With a dew of morning
Feathers float from her dance

Suddenly
The song’s the thing
Fill your cup
Come to the spring
And you’ll stand so still
And you’ll feel the thrill

Dusty Springfield
That’s a pretty name
Pretty as a pearl
What a pretty girl

© Norma Tanega / Blossom Dearie

Yes, there was a time when a song praising Dusty Springfield and the poetry in her name was sung by someone named Blossom Dearie. Sometimes I feel like I was born at the wrong time. The innocence in both of these tunes is in short supply in 2020. It’s probably best not to clutch too desperately at what is beyond a doubt a fictional past, but it’s a pleasant little fantasy. That screwball world, conjured up with such ease by Norma, appeals to me. When she left us at age 80, I’m pretty sure she earned her wings.

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4 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog””

  1. lccfccoop2 says:

    I read the Noirma Tanega article with interest. “Walkin My Cat Named Dog” was one of my top favorites back in the day, and, sorry, Mr. Sieger’s comment is lacking.

    The song came out in 1966, NOT 1968 and that makes a big difference in popular music and popular culture. Believe me, I waster. The world was a bit more innocent and hopeful – by 1968, hardened politics around the Viet Nam War and racial issues had seeped in much more. And heavy metal was just being developed – it had absolutely nothing to do with anything about Norma Tanega’s rise or fall. In fact, 1966 was the period of the Mamas and Papas (California Dreamin’) and Petulia Clark (Don’t keep in the subway Darlin’) and the Seekers (Georgy Girl) and we were on the cusp of singer songwriter boom of men and women in the folk rock confessional vein. The Beatles and Stones and Gerry and the Pacemakers and Donovan were big stars.In America, MoTown reigned. What was wonderful and new and had me dancing in my little dorm room in Madison Wisconsin was the sound of a girl who was quirky and gutsy and having fun with it all. There is no mooning about some guy in this song – it’s a sort of pre feminist declaration of independence – a girl with the nerve to walk a cat and walk alone all around the town and sing about it with verve.

    We all thought she was from England and was part Nigerian – some clueless reporter made that up and put it Newsweek at the time – when she was expected to become a big star. Now I see she was from LA and her brown skin was Filipino. No matter – she will always be walking around foggy London in my misty memory. I’m so glad she had a good life even if she didn’t morph into Joni Mitchell.

    There – that’s my take on Norma Tanega and her wonderful fun and liberating song from 1966.

  2. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Yes, iccfccoop2,

    1966 & 1968 were very different years in many ways; nevertheless, John’s tribute to the songs of Norma Tanega is informative and enlightening. I also agree with you that “Walking My Cat Named Dog” was “wonderful, fun, and liberating song..

  3. blurondo says:

    I haven’t heard or thought of Blossom Deary since living at home in the 50’s-60’s. My mother played her music on the hi-fi.

  4. Thomas Martinsen says:

    blurondo,

    Neither what you haven’t heard or haven’t thought are conducive to enlightenment in this discussion. God bless your mother for playing good music for you on the Hi-Fi. If your mom is still around, consider taking her to lunch at the “Hi-Fi Cafe” in Bayview.

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