When it comes to boundaries, Fanny faced them all: racial, gender & sexual discrimination were all obstacles that stood in their way. Fanny may be forgotten by many today, but they were one of the most important all-female bands in rock history, paving the way for groups like The Go-Go’s, Bangles, and The Runaways. It’s time to acknowledge the groundbreaking history made by these 4 women and the great music they left behind.
“Cat Fever” (Nickey Barclay) Copyright 1971
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Welcome, my friends, to the “I’m In Love With That Song” Podcast, your conduit to the greatest songs in rock history, at least as I see it. My name is Brad Page; I’m your host here on the Pantheon Podcast Network, where each episode of the show I pick one of my favorite songs and we examine it together as we try to grasp what makes a song great.
Before the Go Go’s, before the Bangles, before The Runaways, there was Fanny, the first all female band to release an album on a major label. They were pioneers, groundbreakers and hold a special, important place in rock history. Yet 99% of people have never heard of them.
Well, on this edition of the podcast, we’re going to listen to Fanny. This is a song from their second album, “Charity Ball”, released in 1971. It’s a song called “Cat Fever”.
There were other all-female bands before Fanny: Goldie and the Gingerbreads were one; the Pleasure Seekers, which featured Susie Quattro and her sisters. But Fanny was the first to release a full album on a major label, not just singles. And I think more importantly, they were the first to present themselves as a real rock band. Not a novelty, not as sex objects, not as a gimmick–
to paraphrase Classic Rock magazine, not as jailbait fantasy– but as real musicians.
If you’d like to learn more about Fanny, there is an excellent documentary called “Fanny: Rhe Right
To Rock” that came out in 2021. It’s available on Amazon now. I really recommend it. That’s probably your best introduction to Fanny, but I’ll cover some of the basics here.
June and Jean Millington were born in the Philippines to an American father and a Filipina mother. They moved to California in 1961. June was about 13 years old then. Jean was 12.
Being biracial, they faced their share of racism and prejudice, and music became both a refuge and a path to acceptance for the two sisters. June began playing guitar and Jean picked up the bass. By the time they were 15-16, they had formed a band, the Sveltes, and started gigging regularly.
Lots of band members came and went, but one who stuck around the longest was another girl of Filipina descent, Brie Berry. Members continued to come and go, and even the Millington sisters left for a while, and the band morphed into Wild Honey, featuring Alice DeBuhr on drums. Eventually, June and Jean rejoined Wild Honey and they moved to LA to try to find a recording contract.
They were spotted one night at the Troubadour by the secretary for producer Richard Perry and he
signed them to Reprise Records.
There was one piece of the puzzle missing, though. They were looking for a keyboard player with a good voice… and they found one in Nikki Barkley. She added a harder edge to the band. In fact, even though Nikki was the piano player, her songs tended to rock the hardest. She really added a lot to the band.
They released their first album, the self titled “Fanny” album, in December 1970, produced by Richard
Perry. Here’s a song from that album. It’s called “Seven Roads”.
A year and a half later they released their second album, “Charity Ball” in July 1971, also produced by Richard Perry. This is my personal favorite Fanny album, I think it’s their strongest collection of songs with great performances from all four members. This is a track from that album, it’s called “Place In The Country”.
About six months after that, their third album came out in February 1972 called “Fanny Hill”. This one was recorded in Abbey Road Studios. Again produced by Richard Perry and engineered by the legendary Geogg Emmerich. It’s another strong album. In fact, some people say that this is their best LP. Here’s a song from “Fanny Hill” called “Borrowed Time”.
In February 1973, a year after that last album, they released album number four, “Mother’s Pride”, this time produced by Todd Rungren. Here’s one from that album– this one’s called “I’m Satisfied”.
Through all of this the band was always working hard, but in many ways treading water. They were actually a little bit more successful in the UK than the US, but they had yet to have a bona fide hit. The record company and management put pressure on them to be more glam, to sex it up– something that no one in the band was really comfortable with, especially June. And later that year, in 1973, June quit and shortly after, Alice left too. Jean and Nikki kept on going, though, and they brought in Patty Quattro on guitar, susie Quattro’s older sister, and Brie Brant, now Brie Howard after her second marriage, who had played drums for Fanny way back before their first album, rejoined the band as their drummer.
They signed a new deal with Casablanca Records and released their fifth and final album, 1974’s “Rock and Roll Survivors”. They released the song “Butterboy” as a single and it actually reached number 29 on the US charts, their biggest success so far. But by then it was too late. The band had already broken up.
There are a bunch of great Fanny songs that I could have picked for this episode, but I chose this one because I think this shows off the strengths of all four band members. So let’s go back to 1971 and their second album, “Charity Ball”. This song is called “Cat Fever”.
It was written by Nikki Barkley, produced by Richard Perry and it features Nikki Barkley on keyboards, june Millington on guitar, jean Millington on bass and Alice Debur on drums. June, Jean and Nikki would all take lead vocals depending on the song; on this track, Nikki handles the lead vocal and June and Jean sing backup.
The song begins with one of the girls, probably Nikki calling out “fever!” in the right channel and then the piano kicks things off.
Before we get into the verse, let’s break that down a little bit. Nikki Barkley’s piano part is the driving force of the song and Une & Jean play variations of that same riff on guitar and bass. June’s guitar is panned more to the left, while Nikki’s piano is weighted to the right, and Alice is just powering forward on drums.
I love Jean’s sliding bass notes and the interplay with the drums there.
That brings us into the first verse and Nikki’s lead vocal
Let’S listen to the instrumentation behind the vocal during the verse here. It’s Nikki’s piano that is really propelling the song. June is playing some simple power chords in the right channel, leaving plenty of room for the keyboards and the vocal without stepping on any of it. But she does throw in a few nice accents occasionally.
Now for the next section, the groove shifts into double time.
We’ve talked about standard or regular time versus double-time versus half-time on this podcast before, but it’s probably worth a quick explanation again. The change is most noticeable when you’re listening to the drums and it’s probably easiest to explain if we look at the drum parts.
This song has a tempo of around 140 beats per minute. That’s fairly fast, actually.
Here’s the drum beat of this song in what would consider the standard or regular time.
And here’s the part that they play at double-time.
It feels faster, but it’s not. They maintain the same tempo, 140 beats per minute, but you’re hearing the snare drum and the kick drum twice as often, so it feels faster. Double-time can give you the sense of a runaway train sometimes. It’s a great dramatic effect in a song and Fanny uses it really well here. Let’s go back and listen to the verse again for that transition between regular time and double time.
Before we move on, I want to talk about Nikki Barkley’s voice. I really like her voice. And there are certain words or phrases where she just spits them out with this mix of attitude and playfulness that I just really like. Listen in particular to the way she delivers the word “claim”:
Here comes the second verse. I think this is either Nikki and Jean singing together or Nikki doubled her vocal part. I’m not sure which, but let’s listen to this verse.
I like the lyrics there. “It isn’t whether you can play guitar, believe me– it’s whether you make the
After the riff there, June is going to take a guitar solo. I think she might be playing slide on the first couple of phrases and then she tosses in some tasty “chicken picking” licks. June was a pretty versatile guitar player.
And now Nikki’s gonna let it rip on the piano before they hit the third and final verse.
They come out of that solo section into an extended buildup. June plays a nice ascending guitar like here, building some expectation before they launch into that third verse.
Let’s go back and listen to the bass and the drums during this part of the verse because Jean and Alice are really laying down a nice groove here.
Nice little drum fill here by Alice.
And that brings us to the last lines of the last verse. “Because I believe I’m gonna fade away, they’ll be coming for me any day, there’s nothing more I can do or say.”
Nice bit of vocal harmonizing there.
Let’s play it through to the end.
They are all jamming together great here– the guitar licks, the piano part, the bass and the drums. You can tell what a great live band they were.
Fanny – “Cat Fever”
Fanny were groundbreakers and an important band, and not just because they were an “all girl” band. Jean and June Millington were Filipino women in a field severely lacking in any women of color. And both June and Alice DeBuhr were gay at a time when there were very few out musicians, and so, like many, they were kind of forced to hide who they really were.
Nothing about being in Fanny was easy. But they all survived it.
June Millington would continue to play and perform. In 1987, she founded the Institute for Musical Arts in Goshen, Massachusetts, a nonprofit teaching and performing center with a recording studio. Its mission is to support women and girls in the music business.
Alice de Burr worked behind the scenes in the marketing department for various record labels, and she was very involved in the reissues of all the Fanny albums on the Real Gone music label that came out a few years ago.
After leaving Fanny, Nikki Barclay released one solo album in 1976 and then pretty much quit the music business. I don’t know all the details, but she basically doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with Fanny, and she declined to participate in the recent reunions and in the documentary.
That documentary which I mentioned before, is called “Fanny: The Right to Rock”. They had finished recording a sort of comeback album called “Fanny Walked the Earth” and were just about to finish filming the documentary and go on tour when Jean Millington had a stroke.
Though Jean hadn’t been as active in the music business as her sister, she never stopped playing bass. But the stroke affected the right side of her body and she’s unable to use her right hand. So for now, at least, her wonderful bass playing has been silenced. But those Fanny albums are still out there, yhe documentary is out there, the music is still there to experience and celebrate.
If you want to hear more, go on YouTube right now. Go on YouTube and search for Fanny and watch two of the clips from their performances on “Beat Club”. Watch them play “Blind Alley” and their version of “Ain’t That Peculiar”. They are fantastic. Like many bands from this era, their studio albums never captured just how great they were live, and these two clips will knock you out.
Thanks for joining me on this episode, I hope you enjoyed it. There’s more coming. Another edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song: podcast will be here in about two weeks, right here on the Pantheon Podcast network, and all of our previous shows are available on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com or in your favorite podcast app. Just search for us.
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I’ll meet you back here soon. Until then, go explore the catalog of Fanny and great songs like “Cat Fever”.