Mac & Katie Kissoon's hit single "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep"

MAC & KATIE KISSOON  “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep”  b/w  “Walking Around” (ABC Records #11306, Fall 1971)

Pop smashes don’t just write themselves.  It takes actual people with actual brains to conceive of the melodies (with or without lyrical combinations) that will become the soundtrack to our difficult lives, brightening up otherwise cloudy days.  And it can take teams of people, and lots of time and effort, to get that potential hit into the right hands, often after many incarnations:  the right recording by the right artist, the right slot on the right radio station;  these and more factors can make or break a pop song.  It can be a long and belabored process.  Yet when the tunes reach our ears, it all seems effortless, like it was whispered through the airwaves directly at us.  It’s the magic, my friends, that makes it all so attractive.

Lally Stott's original version

In its original incarnation by Scottish songwriter Lally Stott, “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” is Euro-bubblegum of the sparse variety.  Surrounded by handclaps-with-brushed-snare percussion, clanging Fender Rhodes piano and staccato horn charts, Stott gets his point across by pushing the catchy melody to the forefront .  It was a hit in Europe and Australia, but the recording itself comes off more as a writers’ demo.

Middle Of The Road's remake

Appropriately-named English pop-vocal group Middle Of The Road scored huge in Britain with their rendition of “Chirpy” the following year, but one could easily attribute their success not to the clunky backbeat and general “okay-ness” of the arrangement, but to the sheer sex appeal of singer Sally Carr.  Oozing hip Swinging London cool, Carr straddles that forbidden barricade between tambourine-happy Betty Cooper-style band chick and aloof Nicoesque chanteuse, like a strict Bavarian school marm who makes you stay after class then totally fucks you.  Young English boys feverishly masturbated, while a blossoming quartet of guys & dolls over in Sweden carefully took notes.

(Sick of this song yet?  I’m not.  In fact, I sing this song at work.  Yes, I sing at work…you wanna make something of it?  I didn’t think so.  Furthermore, I’m in the right mind to slap this sucker on my iPod, remove everything else, and set it on repeat with the volume at full-blast, that’s how I feel right now.  Keep your Robert Fripp outtakes and your Albert Ayler box-set and let me wallow in my trashy eurobubblegum compost heap, goddammit!  Anyway…)

Play (or don\’t…see if I care) Mac & Katie Kissoon\’s hit rendition of \”Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep\”

Late 1971 saw Mac & Katie Kissoon, a brother-sister duo from Port-Of-Spain, Trinidad, finally push “Chirpy” (incorrectly attributed on this 45 to “Scott”) into the US Top 20.  Katie’s voice propels the song here, ringing bright and clear over a smart and swinging gospel-soul arrangement, replete with Motown-Philly strings and Stax/Volt drum-breaks.  Ditching the European production values and going for a fuller, more American sound proved to be a watershed for the Kissoons’ version, and henceforth “Chirpy,” in one rendition or another, was now a worldwide smash.

one of Mac & Katie's other hits

Unfortunately there’s no clip available for “Walking Around,” the strange, off-kilter ska track that makes up the B-side.  With its cut-time snare-n-horn rolls, unpredictable dub-inflected bassline, and unusual vocal melody that shifts jarringly from major to minor, “Walking” is hands down one of the oddest and most intriguing flips I’ve ever heard.  Ten years later, it would’ve sounded right at home covered by The English Beat or The Selecter or Madness.  In this incarnation, however, the Kissoon siblings sound like they’re having a great time, making this complex vocal exercise seem very natural and simple, like a magical, refreshing, effortless Caribbean breeze.

Mac & Katie continued to make records over the years, and had several more hits, mainly in Europe.  Katie can often be seen and heard singing backup for luminaries such as Roger Waters, Eric Clapton and Van Morrison.

NEXT WEEK: “Alcohol is/An easy key/Helps you unwind/And dance with me/To a disco trot from Germany”