Seasons greetings to the Magical Meteorites, Earthlings, and the other folk in the stratosphere to another edition of the Jingle Bell Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree Morning Twilight series. As today is Twilight Tuesday, this post will be “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” as we take a look at some old Christmas presents. After a nice “hi” from Puffy AmiYumi, we’ll be spending two weeks with the Osaka Ramones: Shonen Knife!
To start, thanks to all who voted in the poll! Unlike the poll for Tanpopo, the poll for the SK album was a little less all-over-the-place. For a good majority of the time, only one album pushed ahead in solitude.
The Knife album getting cut up today is the 1992 Virgin record Let’s Knife.
About the Band
Or “Shonen Knife’s Chapter from Magi-Kat’s Magically Meteoric Guide to the J-Rock Galaxy for the Hitchhiker“
Shonen Knife was formed in 1981 with sisters Naoko and Atsuko Yamano and friend Michie Nakatani. All through the 80s, the ladies would build up a following with their catchy melodies paired with fun lyrics about anything, all bundled in a DIY package.
In 1986, word of the band spread to Western shores and word-of-mouth spread throughout the American underground scene. Buzz really spread about the band in the West after opening for Nirvana in a UK show.
The 90s were a period of growth for the band where release after release would add to their repertoire. However, the decade signaled not just the end for the 20th century but an era as well for Michie Nakatani left.
The band continued as a sister act, though Mana Nishiura unofficially took over drum duty until 2004. (Sadly, she died a year later.) In 2006, Etsuko Nakanishi became the official drummer. That same year however, Atsuko Yamano left to focus on her marriage and move to Los Angeles, though would provide band support during shows held there. Ritsuko Taneda then joined as a full member in 2008, after being a tour bassist for two years.
The band recently celebrated 30 years with commemorative cover album (Osaka Ramones, a nod to their days as a tribute band and a really good description of them) and very recently held their 1,000th show.
They are currently on tour in support of their latest offering, Overdrive.
About the Album
- Riding on the Rocket
- Bear Up Bison
- Twist Barbie
- Tortoise Brand Pot Scrubbing Cleaner’s Theme (Sea Turtle)
- Antonio Baka Guy
- Ah, Singapore
- Flying Jelly Attack
- Black Bass
- Cycling is Fun
- Watchin’ Girl
- I am a Cat
- Tortoise Brand Pot Cleaner’s Theme (Green Tortoise)
- Devil House
- Insect Collector
- Burning Farm
- Get the Wow
- Milky Way
Released in 1992 on Virgin Records, this was their first major label release in the States. Those familiar with their even older songs will immediately notice that most of the tracks are re-recordings. (Of course, this is far from a bad thing.)
Hey! Hi! Let’s Knife!
1. Riding on the Rocket
A rocking intro song that turns us all into “blue-eyed [kitty] cats,” the Osaka Ramones blast us off into space on a high note. We remain in orbit with some spacey noises as we go to…
2. Bear Up Bison
…possibly the cutest, wackiest piece of musical Planeteering on the face of the Earth (H!P notwithstandig). In roughly two minutes, SK make their case for the Bison:
We’re only making plans for da da dirty dirty bison
We don’t like him so much, ’cause he’s very ug-ug-ugly
We’re only making plans for da da dark brown bison
He has a right to live though his ill ill ill-shaped
He’s on his way to extinction
We only want what’s best for him
Yeah. Like a good neighbor, Shonen Knife’s there!
3. Twist Barbie
I always found this song hilarious in light of the “Barbie Girl” controversy. Refuge in Audacity perhaps? (Also helps by its different tone and perhaps the fact SK’s a little under-the-radar for most people.)
Anyway, SK extolls the virtues of the doll. Oh sexy girl! After a false end, they then exclaim how much they “wanna be Twist Barbie.” Naritaina! (Oh yeah, there’s a small bit of Gratuitous Japanese here and there throughout the album that really add to the music.)
4. Tortoise Brand Pot Scrubbing Cleaner’s Theme (Sea Turtle)
Fittingly enough, we dive into an ocean of Hawaiianesque surfy goodness with this “CM Song” (see what I did there?). The Osaka Ramones lull and caress us with their chimes that “the best pot cleaner in the world is specially selected Tortoise Brand.”
5. Antonio Baka Guy
A guitar buzz wakes us up to a harder sounding rock, going gently before rushing rapid-fire about a “beautiful baka guy” who “came from an African beach” and is “only about two feet.”
6. Ah, Singapore
Long before many idols were making a trek to go beyond the five main islands and sometimes the Ryukyus, the SKs were giving us a traveler’s guide to the city-state. (On a personal note, this was how I found out about their “chewing gum” rules.) A dreamy, exotic tune with an Asian flair that Martin Denny would tip his hat to.
On yet another note, here’s a shout out to the 27+ visitors from that “Asian country just north of the Equator”! Greetings to you and thanks for stopping by.
7. Flying Jelly Attack
Jelly beans! Cherry drops! Look out, they’re coming! Was it this band that got jelly beans thrown at them whenever this song was played? That reminds me, I gotta come up with Sugar Rush fancharacters for a friend.
The girls sing of the delightfully dangerous situation of throwing and eating jelly beans and cherry drops. Delicious!
8. Black Bass
Let’s go fishing for a black bass
But it is a snowy day (Seriously, I wrote this a day after Brick City got powdered)
A calm song about wanting to go outside and fish, made sweeter with the a guitar and keyboard solo. I do admit that I didn’t like this song too much when I first heard it (I was about 12 or so; remember that I got into SK a year before Puffy AmiYumi), but listening to it now, I like it.
9. Cycling is Fun
Anyone with a bike know that, am I right? I almost want to ride myself (curse my inability to do so). Featuring 60’s vibe and harmonies that remind me of Motown and the “bubblegum” bands at the time. This is possibly one of the cuter moments in the Knife catalog. Syd Barrett would be pleased to ride along sometime.
10. Watchin’ Girl
Riding on a train
Everyone is closing their eyes
They can’t see anything
Pretending that they are asleep
Another catchy gem from this album, ostensibly about a girl who just watches the world go by on a train while everyone’s asleep. I say “ostensibly” on account a little interesting bit in the second verse that may border on social critique:
Think about it sometimes
Do we need the media?
I don’t need it anymore
My body is so alive
I can feel everything
So I don’t need anything else
If Naoko, Atsuko, and Michie can spend two minutes cheering on an endangered species, they’re allowed to make a comment on the media!
…And now I’m reminded of Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari.
11. I Am a Cat
Possibly another venture into the surreal (as if their lyrics aren’t already), we are taken to a timeless zone/the Milky Way where we lose our sense of self, don a cat costume (whiskers in the former area, ears in the other), turn into a cat, and dance on a flying saucer. The sitars make it all the more psychedelic.
12. Tortoise Brand Pot Cleaner’s Theme (Green Tortoise)
Another CM, only done in a more familiar sound with a marching beat. This is bound to get your pumping (and get you to use that “specially selected pot cleaner”).
13. Devil House
Time warp, time sliiiiiiip!
Appropriately thirteenth, the spooker of a tune is sure to groove up your Fright-day night. Storm noises followed by a creaky door (perfect for Monstra). A creaking door opens and takes us into the song, a headbopping rock’n’horror tale about a couple who are hapless enough to arrive at the spooky house on a haunted hill. Despite its subject matter, it’s spooky in a playful way (though Shonen Knife can be truly dark at times). After the square dance party ends, we are escorted out the way we came, complete with Gothic door noises!
14. Insect Collector
The Knively Ladies lull us with a dreamy tune about an insect collector who goes to a mountain to indulge in her hobby before checking her results. Remember when I said there’s gratuitous Japanese? Well, this is one instance of music teaching the listener as I’d find that the chants of “konchu saishu” mean “insect collecting.” Regardless, a psychedelic offering on the album.
15. Burning Farm
The longest song and the last song (well, it would be if not for the fact that I’m reviewing the US release, which includes two more tracks), we rock out to tribal beats and rhythms. On releases that end with this track, this is a great way to end the album (and “come down to Earth” so to speak after “riding on a rocket” to outer space) with its rocking party vibe. The lyrics detail a harvest festival with a holy cup on a “vast wasteland” where “we return to primitive man.” (I’m now reminded of Buffalo Daughter’s “Earth Punk Rockers”… which I wouldn’t have heard if not for their appearance on Ultra Mix.)
…And now I’m reminded of Burning Man.
16. Get the Wow
“Get the Wow” is a special song for the US release that celebrates a wow-tastic friendship. It may come off as cheesy to some (then again, most of SK’s material can seem like that), but I’m a sucker for cheery friend songs. (Why else am I able to stick around H!P for so long? “OH! BE MY FRIEND” is one of my old-school (for current standards) favorites.) On that note, this one’s going on the infinite playlist for one of my projects.
Everything’s all right
It’ll be all right
17. Milky Way
The last song for the US release is an instrumental, a space surf instrumental that’ll turn you into a star fruits surf ride- Shonen Knife! Shonen Knife! You’re reviewing Osaka Ramones, not Shibuya-kei! Anyway, a minor key tune that brings images of space, stars, planets, and… well, the title object. I must also say I was also pleasantly reminded of their version of Tetsuwan Atom.
Let’s Knife is and will forever be a classic. As a longtime Knife fan (since 2002) who has somewhat fallen off the path, it was great to revisit why I’m in love with the band. Listening to this album also made me realize that SK and Puffy (probably among other things) may have prepped me for the weirdness inherent in H!P and beyond.
For the newbie fan, I wholeheartedly recommend this for history sake. For the longtime fan, I do the same for nostalgia sake. I can’t name a bad song on here (which is a lot since I’m an H!P fan, who is supposed to be either oblivious or super-bitter).
Next time on Jingle Bell Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree:
- “Jingle Belles Rock!” Morning Mondays: We go old-school with the early Tanpopo classic Seinaru Kane ga Hibiku Yoru!
- “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” Twilight Tuesdays: We go into the New Millenium with Strawberry Sound!
See you there!
Allow me to leave you with a bonus ditty:
Love, peace, and Shonen Knife, all!