A Brief History of Josie Cotton


Josie Cotton's first single, "Johnny Are You Queer?" (initially released on the Bomp label in 1980, and reissued by Elektra in 1981) established her among the New Wave pantheon, despite the absence of major chart success. Use of the word "queer" before it had acquired more positive connotations in the gay community led to some question about whether the song was derogatory, though the song portrays honest confusion rather than intentional insult, and has been well received in LGBT circles.

The single was drawn from her first album, 1982's Convertible Music, a collection of songs displaying a wide stylistic range and an affinity for a neo-girl group sound. The album was produced by brothers Bobby and Larson Paine, who penned the two singles from the album, "Johnny Are You Queer?" and "He Could Be The One" from 1982, as well as the album track "Rockin' Love." A number of songs written by Cotton could also easily have been singles, including "So Close," "Systematic Way," and "Bye, Bye Baby." Further establishing the neo-retro feel of the album is an updated cover of the Exciters' classic "Tell Him." The high energy of the singles (and potential singles) is balanced by a few slower-tempo songs, including the poignant "No Pictures Of Dad," a surprisingly mature and reflective piece. One of the "additional musicians" credited on the album is Geza X, famed producer of many influential California punk artists, who would have a long musical and personal partnership with Cotton.

In 1983 Josie made her motion picture debut in Valley Girl, the film that helped establish Nicholas Cage. The musical highlight of the film was Cotton's live performance of "Johnny Are You Queer?" and "School Is In" during the Prom sequence at the conclusion of the movie.

The following year saw the release of Cotton's second album, From The Hip, again produced by Bobby and Larson Paine. The album picks up where Convertible Music left off, featuring well-crafted melodic pop and production which would fit comfortably among songs by the Shangri-Las or the Shirelles. The single from the album was a cover of "Jimmy Loves Maryann," originally by Looking Glass, which failed to achieve chart success in spite of its potential. Also included was a spirited cover of Gary US Bonds' "School Is In."

In 1986 Josie made her second motion picture appearance, acting alongside Adam Ant in the film Nomads, portraying one of a group of ancient malevolent spirits inexplicably incarnated in modern times as a gang of antisocial punks. Regrettably, her role in the film was a non-speaking part.

Cotton was out of the public eye for much of the latter part of the 80's and early 90's, re-emerging in 1993 with the album Frightened By Nightingales on Roxco Records. Produced and largely written by Bill Rhea, the new album marked a dramatic shift in styles. Many of the songs featured a slower tempo and were written in a minor key, with string sections replacing the bright keyboards of earlier releases. Also in striking contrast to earlier albums was the bizarre cover art by Robert Williams. Cotton and Rhea were supported on the album by guitarist Paul Burton, bassist Randy Weaver, and drummers Joe Berardi and Boyd Shermis, with occasional contributions by Geza X.

In the latter part of the 90's Cotton and X would establish a state-of-the-art home studio in Malibu called Satellite Park.

Cotton began making guest appearances during this time, contributing vocals to Eric Gales' 2001 album That's What I Am, and on Emotions by the group Alaska! in 2002. A new album by Cotton was scheduled for release in late 2002, entitled The Influence of Fear on Salesmen, but never emerged.

The album Movie Disaster Music was released in 2006, and as it's title suggests, features a darkly cinematic sound.

Cotton's other musical contribution from 2006 was a bit brighter, a cover of "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" on the Brats on the Beat: Ramones for Kids various artists compilation.

Making up for lost time, 2007 saw the release of a second film-related album, Invasion of the B -Girls, which featured covers of obscure soundtrack songs. The title tracks from Green Slime, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Girl in Gold Boots, Who Killed Teddy Bear?, and Black Klansman are joined by "Maneaters (Get Off the Road)" from She Devils On Wheels, "Run Pussy Cat" from Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!, "Shiawaseo Yobou [Let's Try To Be Happy]" from Ghidra, the Three-Headed Monster, and "Goodbye Godzilla" from The Return of Godzilla.

Returning to better known material, Cotton contributed a cover of Neil Young's "Cowgirl in the Sand" on the 2008 Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity compilation.

In October of 2010 the new album Pussycat Babylon showcased an electronic/dance style, featuring an update of her best known hit, the title revised to "Johnny R U Queer?", as well as the single See the New Hong Kong. The Johnny R U Queer? update received the deluxe remix treatment, with two promotional singles featuring a full 14 mixes and versions.

Scruffy Records began releasing digital EPs, including Johnny Are You Queer? and See the New Hong Kong: Remixes in 2011, and If a Lie Was Love in 2012.

While Cotton's work has never gotten the exposure it deserves, she remains an artist to watch for those who have followed her career. Her website is josiecotton.com, and is well worth a visit.



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