When Josie & the Pussycats was originally released in 2001, it came just a year after the end of the Sabrina the Teenage Witch series on the American ABC network. One would’ve thought that another modern update of an Archie Comics title would’ve been hot on its heels, but the poor box office performance of Josie sadly meant that there’d be nothing until last year’s surprise CW hit in Riverdale.
With the success of Riverdale (along with its new Pussycats), it’s rather quite appropriate that the soundtrack of Josie & the Pussycats gets a deluxe vinyl reissue from Mondo. Marking the album’s debut on wax, the label’s gone all-out to present this excellent collection of punky pop rock tunes, as well as a couple from the film’s boy band, DuJour.
Singer Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo gave Josie (played in the film by actress Rachel Leigh Cook) her singing voice, and the songs were put together by what the press release refers to as “a powerhouse team”: “Kenneth Babyface’ Edmonds, Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne) [...] and Michael Eisenstein (Letter to Cleo) and Adam Duritz (Counting Crows), just to name a few.”
Hanley and Eisenstein were no strangers to teen movies, themselves, having already performed on the soundtracks to 1996’s The Craft and 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You, among others. Much like the respective Cars and Cheap Trick covers in those films, here Hanley is singing the words of a songwriter other than herself, and in the liner notes to the LP, she talks about her ego “was completely taken out of the process. It was purely the joy of singing. I think you can hear that in my voice on the soundtrack.”
And, honestly, it’s quite evident. Hanley’s vocals, be they on the rip-roaring “3 Small Words” which kicks off the album, or the quiet “You Don’t See Me,” are those of a singer who’s giving it all she’s got, and it fits the spirit of the film absolutely perfectly. It’s no surprise that even though the film disappointed financially, the soundtrack would go on to sell more than 500,000 copies, earning a gold record in the process.
Hanley’s words come as part of a 12-page, magazine-size booklet included with the LP, which features an oral history of the soundtrack. In addition to Hanley, the story is told by the film’s co-writers and co-directors, Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan and Josie herself, Rachel Leigh Cook. It’s everything a fan could want to know about the soundtrack and how it came together, both on its own and in the context of the film, and it’s worth the purchase price alone for fans who don’t collect vinyl records.
That said: for those who do collect vinyl records and don’t have their original compact disc, the vinyl version of the soundtrack to Josie & the Pussycats doesn’t hurt for great songs. The aforementioned “3 Small Words” should have been a massive hit, and when Avril Lavigne’s Let Go was released just a year later in 2002, one wonders how much her producers took from Josie’s playbook.
“Pretend to Be Nice” was written by Fountains of Wayne frontman Adam Schlesinger, and the bouncy, absurdly-catchy chorus makes that readily evident. If “Spin Around” were slowed down, it could easily fit in with the Counting Crows’ This Desert Life material, working like a slightly harder-edged song than the likes of Adam Duritz’s “Hanginaround.”
The beginning of “I Wish You Well” readily borrows its chord progression from Nirvana’s “Been A Song,” although in a slightly different key, and it suits the song’s self-empowering acceptance of a kiss-off. Covers of oldies favorites like Johnny O’Keefe’s “Real Wild Child” and the Beatles’ version of the Barrett Strong Motown classic, “Money (That’s What I Want)” capture the spirit of the Pussycats’ roots as a struggling garage trio, and the whole thing wraps up with a cover of the theme song to the original Pussycats animated series from Hanna Barbera.
The LP is pressed on purple leopard vinyl, which looks and sounds fantastic, with a really rock ‘n’ roll that didn’t quite come through on the original compact disc. The same goes for the white vinyl bonus 7-inch of DuJour songs, and both records even come with labels for Megarecords, the film’s fictional record company, making everything just a little more meta, like the film itself.
Sadly, the one aspect of the openness in the oral history and the exhaustive liner notes doesn't reveal is just who played on the album. Given that Matthew Sweet is credited, but not specifically, one could possibly make the assumption that he's the one playing guitar, but that's really a shot in the dark. If there's one flaw to this excellent reissue, it's that.
JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS (2001) / PERFORMED BY JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS / RELEASED BY MONDO / AVAILABLE NOW