A Dissertation on Jingle Cats
One day in 1992, Mike Spalla quit his job to dedicate himself wholeheartedly to his craft – his music. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of his first release (1993), it bears mentioning that he has been played on (almost) every radio station in North America, has won a Billboard Music Award, and has sold enough copies that Mike’s decision to quit his job turned into a permanent career.
It bears mentioning, because that work is Jingle Cats.
Yes. Fucking Jingle Cats.
Given it’s that jingle-cat time of year, we thought it might be fun to explore the circumstances that surrounded the creation of Jingle Cats. How THE HELL did Mike Spalla decide to create this, and why on earth was it so popular?
Hey – this is my favourite Christmas song. You know what would make it better? If it was meowed by a cat!
Where did this come from? As hard as it may be to believe – it was destiny. Mike Spalla grew up in a house full of cats, studied music in the exact same music program (USC Music) as Weird Al Yankovic and entered the workforce as a composer for his father’s production company in Hollywood. When you consider those facts, it almost makes sense!
His first foray into the Jingle-Cat genre was done for a family Christmas party in 1990, which according to Spalla’s wife Jennifer, had everyone in stitches. Spalla spent the next 3 years following cats around, recording their sounds and painstakingly cataloging them into the different tones and pitches needed to compile his first album.
Once released on cassette in 1993, the songs were immediately played on some major Los Angeles radio stations and the Jingle Cats phenomenon was born.
But… like… WHY?
How did Mike Spalla’s decision to quit his job, record cat noises and set them to Christmas music actually work?
For starters, Mike Spalla may have been the first person in modern history to capitalize on humanity’s fascination with watching cats. There are many theories on why this might be, but it cannot be denied that humans are fascinated with anything to do with cats.
In fact, Ben Huh, founder of Ben Huh of the Cheezburger Network (a real thing), noted in an interview with PBS’ Media Shift that there are 10 times as many videos uploaded to LOLcats.com as IHasAHotDog.com (also a real thing).
We’re not going to investigate pop culture’s fascination with cat videos here, but is should be noted that we’re implying the exact same phenomenon caused the success of Jingle Cats. Mike Spalla is a genius for capitalizing on this through the first-mover advantage. Imagine that between 1993 and today’s “billion cat videos on the internet” age, Mike Spalla owned the ‘crazy cat crap’ category.
The recording industry has actually noted this economic savvy, awarding Spalla a Billie Award for excellence in point-of-purchase after his 1995 classic Here Comes Santa Claws.
But is humanity’s love of cat videos to blame for this? Was it perhaps their love of novelty Christmas music?
To answer this question, we need look no further than the recording legacy of JingleCats Inc. In 1995, Spalla also released Christmas Unleashed – the exact same concept as Jingle Cats, except with dogs.
Although no album sales figure were available to us, we can safely assume the album did not do nearly as well as cats. 3 Jingle Cats albums were released after 1995, no further dogs were ever produced.
Further proof – in 1997, Spalla released Rockabye Christmas. People love babies, right? Nope. Billboard magazine said that ‘the series has hit a wall’ and no further baby-noises albums were recorded.
Clearly, the cat/Christmas mix initially struck IS the sweet spot.
If you want to read more on Mike Spalla and The Jingle Cats (band name – called it!), here’s some recommended reading.
Meowy Christmas indeed.