Ephemera, 1983

Velvet Kitty Cat

A mildly naughty bit of fun, its lyrics loaded with winking references to “man’s best friend[,] furry, cuddly & fat.”

After unceremoniously ousting Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis from the Time, Prince tried to continue work on the group’s third album; somehow, though, the remaining members didn’t share his enthusiasm. According to sessionographer Duane Tudahl, on April 20, 1983–just two days after sending Jam and Lewis packing–he jammed on a new song called “Sleazy” with Morris Day on drums, Jesse Johnson on guitar, and himself on bass. “Using his old man/Jamie Starr… voice, Prince tried to work in elements from ‘Cloreen Bacon Skin,’” Tudahl writes; “but tensions were higher than usual,” and “it was obvious that none of them were completely committed to the track” (Tudahl 2018 74). The song, by all accounts, went unfinished.

Luckily, Prince wasn’t exactly short on side projects to write for; so he turned to Vanity 6, his other supporting act on the 1999 tour and prospective co-stars in his as-yet-untitled film project. During the 10-hour session at Los AngelesSunset Sound on April 20–alongside several takes of “Sleazy,” overdubs for “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come,” and another seemingly unfinished instrumental titled “My Love Belongs to You”–the ever-prolific artist found time to demo a new track for the girl group: an appropriately lithe, slinky little ditty called “Velvet Kitty Cat.”

Prince’s handwritten lyrics for “Velvet Kitty Cat,” credited to “Susan” even at this stage; photo stolen from RR Auction.

Of course, “new” is always a relative term when it comes to Prince. It’s unconfirmed, but seems likely, that “Velvet Kitty Cat” was based on “Mink Kitty Cat”: an unreleased (and, to date, uncirculating) track recorded for the proto-Vanity 6 Hookers project in 1981. But whether or not it’s a direct descendant of its mink predecessor, this “Kitty Cat” owes a clear debt to the illustrious tradition of songs that capitalize on the double entendre of “pussy” as slang for both housecats and sexual organs: from Big Bill Broonzy’s 1930 “Pussy Cat Blues” to Harry Roy and His Bat Club Boys’ 1931 “My Girl’s Pussy,” to the likeliest direct inspiration for Prince, Funkadelic’s 1972 “I Call My Baby Pussycat.” Prince’s own crowning achievement in the subgenre, “Scarlet Pussy,” would come out as the B-side of “I Wish U Heaven” in 1988.

“Velvet Kitty Cat,” to be clear, is no “Scarlet Pussy.” For one thing, it shies away from the outright vulgarity of the “P-word”–a rare example of restraint from the man who once threatened to christen his most famous protégée “Vagina.” But it’s still a mildly naughty bit of fun: its lyrics–credited, as shown above, to Vanity 6 member Susan Moonsie–loaded with winking references to “man’s best friend[,] furry, cuddly & fat.” In fact, the song as written appears to have been even sillier than the demo that eventually saw release on 2017’s expanded edition of Purple Rain, with multiple “meow”’s pencilled in for the backing vocals: including one in the middle of the line, “Wish she had a boyfriend[,] but they’re all rats,” which Prince seems to have thought better of and erased.

In some ways, it’s a shame that a proper Vanity 6 version of “Velvet Kitty Cat” hasn’t seen the light of day: It has all the makings of a strong tune for the group, right down to its faux-Farfisa keyboard line straight out of “Bite the Beat.” But there’s no evidence that the song made it to the overdub stage; even Tudahl, the presiding expert on Prince’s mid-’80s studio sessions, doesn’t know if Moonsie ever recorded vocals. And in any case, I kind of like Prince’s guide vocal, perfunctory as it may be: His understated lower register pairs well with the string-like synth line and bluesy lead guitar, as sleek and curvy as a playful cat’s tail. The gearheads among us may also be interested to know that “Velvet Kitty Cat” is a rare–possibly even the only–example of Prince using a Roland TR-606 drum machine, rather than his customary Linn LM-1.

Other than that, the only thing we know is that “Velvet Kitty Cat” was considered for the second Vanity 6 album–and then, when that failed to come to fruition, for the one and only LP by their successor group Apollonia 6. Tudahl also notes that Prince took another stab at the track in April 1985–months after Vanity and Apollonia 6 had run their course–with new lyrics and more of a rockabilly feel (Tudahl 2018 74). I may be the lone voice in the wilderness on this, but I’d love for that version to get a proper release as well: maybe if the long-rumored Super Deluxe Edition of Parade ever comes to fruition. This cute little bit of fluff may not have had nine lives, but if you ask me, it still deserves a good home.

“Velvet Kitty Cat”
Electric Fetus / Spotify / TIDAL

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