My Little Red Book x 3

I’m guessing it must have been a big deal to Manfred Mann to get the chance to record a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song for What’s New, Pussycat? This big budget comedy extravaganza starred Peter O’Toole, Peter Sellers, and more fantastic looking women than just about any movie I can think of.

Always destined to be one of the most heavily hyped comedies of the 1960s, the buzz around it was also aided by the success of the theme tune with those swashbuckling vocals by Tom Jones, whoa, oh whoa, oh whoa, oh whoa. Sorry that should really have been WHOA, OH WHOA, OH WHOA, OH WHOA! (no holding back there, Tom). This was a sizeable hit on both sides of the Atlantic and earned a nomination for an Oscar in the Best Original Song, albeit it didn’t win.

Manfred Mann’s My Little Red Book on the other hand was a minor hit at best. In the film, it follows a snatch of a slowed down instrumental take of the tune that bears more than a passing resemblance to the theme song of grimy British sitcom Steptoe and Son. My Little Red Book then soundtracks Peter O’Toole’s Michael grooving with Paula Prentiss’ Liz in a Parisian club, while being spied on by Doctor Fassbender, played by Peter Sellers in a terrible wig and a red velvet Austin Powers suit. Come to think of it, didn’t Bacharach appear in the Powers movies?

What's New Pussycat - Peter O'Toole & Paula Prentiss

If you think the piano sounds as if Bacharach could be playing it, then you’re correct.

As the band began their recording session in Abbey Road’s Studio 2, Burt Bacharach dropped by accompanied by then partner Angie Dickinson. The thought of the consummately gifted songwriter and beautiful actress watching on combined with the clock ticking in the studio, made the keyboard man more than a wee bit nervous. After failing to nail his piano part a number of times, Burt suggested he play along with him. This didn’t go quite to plan either. As Manfred explains it: ‘Burt looks thoughtful, and after a pause, with tact and crushing sympathy says: “Manfred why don’t I play it and you tell me what you think?” ‘

Manfred thinks he won’t better it. So it is Burt on the piano that is used on the single and original soundtrack. Not that Bacharach was ever that keen on that version. ‘It’s just a very nervous sounding record, he once told Ken Sharp in a Record Collector interview. ‘They were uncomfortable with that song.’

Manfred Mann re-recorded the track for their Little Red Book of Winners album, improving it with added flute, a very prominent Hammond organ and more passionate delivery from Paul Jones.

Burt meanwhile put out his own version on the B-side of his take on What’s New Pussycat? Released under the moniker of Burt Bacharach & His Orchestra featuring Tony Middleton, I do love those glorious horns, bombastic drums and Middleton’s flamboyant vocals which soar wonderfully at one point. I bet you could spin this on a Northern Soul night and fill the dance floor.

What’s New, Pussycat? proved to be one of the highest grossing movies of 1965 and one of the most popular comedies that had ever been released (although I’ve never been a huge fan myself, it does have its moments but just tries too hard for my liking).

Arthur Lee of Love was one of the many cinema-goers to see it. He taught his band the song from his memory of it at the cinema, and he struggled to remember it entirely accurately. The track lost Bacharach’s sophistication, but gained a jerky garage band stomp and urgency. Wow, does that bass throb.

On the original, Jones didn’t sound emotionally shattered. Lee does.

Chosen to open the LA quintet’s eponymous debut album in 1966, the track was also issued as a single (and decades later was included on the end credits of High Fidelity).

So how did Burt regard this one?

‘There were a couple of chords that were wrong and it would have been better with the right chords,’ he complained in the same Record Collector interview quoted earlier. ‘But I liked their energy on the song and I liked that it was a hit.’

Here they are playing on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand:

Finally, Interstellar Overdrive. Why? Believe it or not the seeds of this psychedelic freakout originated when Syd Barrett heard early Pink Floyd manager Pete Jenner humming Little Red Book – which Jenner only half-remembered and couldn’t remember the name of. Guitar in hand, Syd began strumming along. So was born the principle melody of a track that became a live favourite of the Barrett-led band. And we all know this was the peak of Pink Floyd, don’t we?

I do find it amusing that, even unknowingly, the madcap young prince of London’s lysergic underground scene created this psychedelic freakout via a tune penned by the bow-tie wearing smoothie king of easy listening.

Not that the two songs sound alike.

Here’s a snippet of Interstellar Overdrive live at what looks like a quiet night at the UFO Club in 1967. Had all the regulars had taken off on the hippy trail to India or Tibet to find themselves by this point?

Scott Derrickson chose Interstellar Overdrive to feature on the soundtrack of his film Doctor Strange, which I haven’t seen and have little desire to ever see.

What’s Up Pussycat? is released on blu-ray by Eureka Masters of Cinema on 02/12/19. For more on the film: