Cats don’t seem to care much for music, but musicians certainly care about cats.
Cats. They’re not only beloved fixtures of domesticity, but also have a rich history as symbols of good fortune and predictive power. In the case of Japan, the first cats were sent there by way of China in the mid sixth century, and since then they’ve been embedded in many parts of both cultures.
One potent example is the maneki-neko tabletop figurines that were first found in businesses in Japan and, later, China. With its beckoning paw welcoming in patrons with good fortune. The symbol is prolific and iconic.
Naturally, our furry friends also found their way onto album covers and label art. There are a seemingly infinite number of lenses that can be employed in the pursuit of cat’s in music. Here’s just one of the many discogs lists that focuses on feline album covers: https://www.discogs.com/lists/Feline-Covers-Animals/215381
Below, we’ve shared an iconic cat-inspired Japanese label and eight of our personal favorite records that feature felines album covers.
A subsidiary of Polydor Records, Kitty doubled as a prominent anime studio. It was founded in 1972 and had an impressive catalog of artists, but its most prominent was guitarist and producer Masayoshi Takanaka. Every record from Kitty features a leaping black kitten on the record’s inner sticker, an endlessly endearing detail when the record is spinning.
Worthy of note: In Japanese culture black cats are regarded as good luck, which is in stark contrast to how they’re regarded in the West. If you’re looking for a streak of luck, this is a good place to start. Below you’ll find one great track each from Masayoshi Takanaka and Hiroshi Satō.
Yasuaki Shimizu – Kakashi
Yasuaki Shimizu’s Kakashi is of course a big favorite at ISC — you’ll even see the release highlighted in the illustration for our new record club. It’s a playful ambient-fusion oddity that features Ryuchi Sakimoto arranging several tracks. The art for the project was made in collaboration with Korean artist Nam June Paik, who was known for his neo-dada ideology and pioneering video art. It’s worth noting that using a Calico cat for the cover was an interesting choice, since they themselves are shrouded in myths: Japanese fishermen carried calico cats onto their ships to protect them from harsh storms, as well as the ghosts of their envious ancestors.
Hiroshi Suzuki – Cat
Trombonist Hiroshi Suzuki went virtually unnoticed throughout most of his career but in the past decade has been rediscovered as a jazz fusion favorite. His track “Cat” is an uptempo record that has the pouncing energy of its namesake. Pianist Hiromasa Suzuki paints the entire record with a swanky sheen one would expect from a mischievous feline.
Yumi Murata (村田有美) – Krishna
This city pop classic features Murata and her cat, and its youthful exuberance rewards repeated listens. There’s a shark just behind the window of this surreal scene, but Murata is unbothered by it. Her sole focus is on the cat — who’s the star of the show here.
Obscure Independent Classics: Volume 4 (Special Japanese Edition)
This avant-garde art rock record is the only compilation on this list. It’s not only brilliantly compiled, but, crucially for our purposes, also hosts the extremely emotive cat on cover.
Gil Scott Heron & Brian Jackson – Secrets
Black cats seem to be the favorite cat for album artists, and the one on this record is unbothered and groovy. Of course, there’s the age-old myth that black cats are bad luck, but musicians certainly don’t seem to think so. Cats are also famously self-possessed and graceful, so it’s no wonder this well-rounded album featured the picture it did.
Matthew Larkin Cassell – Matt the Catt
Another ISC favorite, Matthew Cassell’s Matt the Cat is a rare, private press funk/soul gem that has been reissued a few times recently. We highly recommend picking up Stones Throw’s compilation of Cassell’s music, which includes the same slightly smirking black cat on the cover.
Ia Clua & Jordi Batiste – Chichonera’s Cat
This 1975 folk-rock record from Spain features what might be the most photogenic cat on the list. Fortunately, the record itself is as interesting as the cover art, and reflects the whimsical nature of cats. This song is especially relaxed, and suggests a cat nap in the late morning sun.
Jean Luc Ponty – Fables
This brooding record has Jean Luc on the cover with his own cat. A fusion masterpiece, Fables is unwavering, exploratory — and a very easy listen. It has a vulnerability that you can hear, and demonstrates how safe Jean Luc’s cat might have felt within the world of his music.
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