Saturday, December 29, 2007

1001 Greatest Pop Songs Of All Time - #30 - Riding The Rocket (少年ナイフ) by Shonen Knife

Alyson: It's fair to say when I think of word pop, the first word that comes to mind is always "bubblegum", so most of my entries tend to first and foremost think of those songs recorded in a production line in the 1960s and 70s, sung by cartoon bands who's real singers were pressed for time session vocalists, but whose songs were lovingly crafted to infect your brain with a fantastic glittery sugary hook. Tiresomely, these songs get overlooked in favour of the pressings of Bob sodding Dylan when the 60s are reviewed, but they were frothy, fun and in some cases, far less disposable and a lot more immediate than the so called chroniclers of the times like "The Band". Surely The Banana Splits album has more urgency and vitality than anything The Band ever did? If you told aliens that people bought albums by The Band and Tra La La peaked at 93 in the charts, they'd blow up the planet instantly.

Having recently got into "J-Pop" (Japanese pop reduced to short hand) through the soon to be inducted Puffy and Wink, the sheer vitality of the best pressings (and believe me, I do love J Pop, I'm not Jane Gazzo in a Banana Chips T-shirt flirting with me no rikey racism by mocking the funny vocals) is akin to peak era Bubblegum pop, as though no traces of wordiness or sodding Dylan have managed to sneak through. Mind, it is a task to precisely untangle the complexities of exactly what is J-Pop and what isn't. Sometimes Puffy associate themselves and sometimes they don't. To casually lump it all together is a dis-service. All that anyone need know is at heart, the best Japanese pop could come straight from a Banana Splits album.

Prime Japanese band Shonen Knife, for instance, you could write entire paragraphs debating whether they were punk or pop (they write songs with nursery rhyme chants, but have at least some punk following), credible or incredulous, clever or nonsensical. Truthfully, they deserve at least one induction on account of the fact they are fantastic fun. "Riding The Rocket" from the 1992 album Pretty Little Baka Guy, notionally about a trip to space, but with an infectious bubblegum groove and a tremendous energy, is to me to very epitome of joy, from a year when everyone else was cutting their musical wrists. The Knife and Girlfriend kept me sane in a tough year. The girls have a tremendous grasp of fun, and who couldn't love a song dedicated to a space walk dance party? And in the best traditions of bubblegum, lyrically it's absolutely meaningless. Did you know they eat aspargus in space? You will if you listen to this song! There's an intuitive grasp of pop throbbing through this song, regardless of what labels you try and put on it.

It's the sweetest of sugary treats, it's not for everyone, it'd drive you nuts on repeat play, but it has a magical centre to it that surely can melt the most cynical heart. Just like they used to make in the good old days...


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