Norma Tanega – You’re Dead

4th January 2024 · 1960s, 1966, Music

Norma Tanega’s song came out nearly 60 years ago but was given a new lease of life after half a century in obscurity as a TV theme as the theme music of What We Do In The Shadows.

You’re Dead was originally written as a sardonic reaction to her early struggles on the New York folk scene in the early ’60s but its lyrics fit equally well with Matt Berry’s satirical vampire mockumentary.

Norma is one of pop’s one-hit wonders, known previously for her 1966 hit Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog, but there was much more to her than that in a career that encompassed painter, teacher, singer-songwriter and experimental musician.

Born in California to a Panamanian mother and Filipino father, her solitary hit came after she was spotted singing in a folk club and signed up by Four Seasons svengali Bob Crewe, who released the song – inspired by Norma’s actual pet, a cat named “Dog” – on his New Voice label.

Her repertoire is mostly in the folk-pop vein but includes a wonderfully subversive take on Lead Belly’s In The Pines – perhaps better known by Nirvana as Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

Later in 1966 Tanega came to the UK to appear on Ready, Steady, Go! where she met Dusty Springfield and moved to London where they lived together for the next five years, Norma writing several songs for Dusty.

In 1971, Tanega released a psych-tinged album – I Don’t Think It Will Hurt If You Smile – of songs inspired by their relationship, which ended the following year.

Returning to California, she embarked on a long career teaching art, music and English as a second language in the city’s schools and continued to paint and make music, switching from folk to more experimental sounds and often performing as a percussionist in projects such as Ceramic Ensemble, hybridVigor, Latin Lizards and Baboonz.

More recently her songs have been covered by bands including Yo La Tengo, Thee Oh Sees and They Might Be Giants, who acclaimed her as a forgotten innovator. She died in 2019 from colon cancer, aged 80.

In 2022 Anthology Editions posthumously published Tanega’s paintings for the first time, including journal entries and a range of other ephemera, titled Try to Tell a Fish About Water.

That same year, Anthology Recordings also released the album I’m the Sky: Studio and Demo Recordings, 1964–1971, compiling both released and unreleased material from Tanega’s early music career.