Songwriting Basics Section II – Analysis 19: Fat Cat

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Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

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The Fat Cat origin story …

Way back in my Americana days, I thought I’d like to write a blues rag on the lines of Hot Tuna’s Hesitation Blues as I was trying to get to grips with their guitarist Jorma Kaukonen’s acoustic finger-picking style. gtr.gif

As for a theme – well, I was still supporting two kids and paying a mortgage, so a little more money would have been handy.

Fortuitously, the cat started hassling me for food, and the two ideas collided. Fat Cat was the result. It ended up as the title track of my 2011 album of the same name.

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What’s it about, Bob? …

Thematically, it’s a sort of feline-based version of If I Were a Rich Man: the singer wants to be rich enough to indulge his/her wildest dreams and live in extravagant comfort. 

Since I use the common metaphor of a fat cat for a rich person, the writing was helped along by cat-related popular themes and sayings: catk.gif

Other kitty-type elements were

  • whiskers
  • hairballs
  • fur
  • purring
  • paws
  • claws
  • stray cat

and the contrasting element of the “rat-run” – the day-to-day struggle for survival.

After that, the song practically wrote itself.

Since the singer wants to have his/her time in the sun, “Me now” seemed an appropriate beginning for a Chorus, and the sound of that was close enough to a cat’s cry that I simply added “Mee-ow”, and there it was!

There are a few wee terms in the lyric that might not be obvious to everyone:scr.gif

  • “mazoomah” – money, derived from a Yiddish word mezumen, which means something fixed that you can depend on
  • “conspicuous consumer” – a big spender
  • Beluga – the most expensive type of caviar
  • “la vie en rose” – a French expression meaning “life in the pink” – a happy life. It’s also the title of a famous song by French singer Edith Piaf

 

I originally wrote the song from a female point of view – probably just because my cat is female! Nowadays, if I sing it, I change “Felicia” to “Felix” and “Daddy” to “Mama” – those changes being reflected in the lyric below, but not in the recording. 

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Lend an ear and an eye …

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Fat Cat

© 2011 Bob Leslie

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Do the rhythms roll? … tra.gif

In the versesLl  1- 6 have 3 stresses, Ll 7 -8 have 2, and L9 has 3.

The chorus has stresses per line.

The bridge has  4 stresses per line.

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With minor variations, the metre of the verses is as follows (line divisions are approximate as the rhythm of some lines runs over to the next one) :

  • Ll 1 & 3  –  1dactyl [DUM-dah-dah], 2trochee [DUM-dah]
    “|Why can’t I | be a | Fat cat? |”
  • L5 starts with a metre we haven’t looked at before:
    first epitrite [DUM-dah-dah-dah] – there are 2 of them, followed by a trochee
    “|Ev-ry-bo-dy | list-ens to a | Fat Cat |”

  • L6 – 2 x dactyl1trochee
    “|who’s got a | place in the | sun, I … |”

  • L7 – 2 x dactyl2 x first epitrite
    “| want
    to be | rol-ling in ma- | zoo-mah a con- |”

  • L8 – 2 x first epitrite
    “| -spic-u-ous con- | sum-er, far a- |”

  • L9 – 1dactyl1trochee, + 1 stressed monosyllable
    “| way from that | old rat- | run …|”

The main variations are in Ll 2 & 4 in each verse. These maintain the same number of stresses, but play fast and loose with the metre. Sorry! 

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Strict discipline in the rhyming ranks … 

To help make up for the wonky metre, the end-rhyme pattern is absolutely regular. serge.gif
Verses:

  • A  B  A  B  A 
    C  D  D  C
  • “cat” “cream” “cat” “dreams” “cat”
    “sun” “mazoomah” “consumer” “run”
  • “cat” “in” “cat” “king” “cat”
    “one” “cute” “boots” “fun”
  • “cat” “paws” “cat” “claws” “cat”
    “fishbone” “nose” “rose” “home”

Chorus:

  • A  A
  • “now” “mee-ow”

Bridge:

  • A  A 
    B  B
  • “at” “cat”
    “fur” “purr”

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The key points …

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Essentially, the song is in C major, but briefly drops into F minor,in L2, by flattening the A of the F major chord to Ab. Since the chord of C major is common to both keys, the song easily slides back into C major

It then rolls through a cycle of fourths by dropping to the tonic of its relative minor (A) but using an A major chord instead, then moving through D major and G major before arriving back at C major

The E>A>D>G>C cycle is used in the last 3 lines of the verse, but the first two chords maintain the C major tonality by staying minor.

The chorus also displays a cycle of fourths (again, with major/minor variations) that goes E>A>D before briefly shifting to Ab major before completing the cycle by moving G>C.

The brief shift C>F>Fm>C is repeated in the chorus.

F#dim7 is basically a D7 with an Eb in it, so it steps in for that chord on occasion to add a bit more tonal colour.

There are fairly standard relationships involved in the key changes, but these are given variation by the minor>major substitutions.

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Rigorous self-appraisal …

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Well, the metre could have been tightened up, but, to be honest, the variations are barely noticeable when it’s performed, and it does let me say exactly what I want to say.

In any case, regularity of the stress pattern is arguably a tad more important than shoehorning the metre into a tight box.

The end-rhyme structure is solid throughout, and the shifting tonalities of the song adhere closely enough to standard patterns to present a pleasantly undisturbing melodic and harmonic underpinning of the lyrics.

So, it’s a good song, with some humour, evocative imagery, and an easily grasped tune. Even though the “rules” get bent a wee touch, I think it works. What do you think?

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Next time, we’ll dig around in the archives
for an oldie-but-goldie!

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

 

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