One of the sites I visit on a daily basis is Curty Ray’s , wherein he curates the best and broadest of the pop/rock idiom and brings it to his readership. Recently, he’s been plunging headlong into the world of J-Pop (sort of) – I use it out of context, as J-Pop, or OverdoseJapanese Pop Music, tends to focus more on boy-band and dance pop sounds than what we ideally call “power pop.”
The Neatbeats – Far and Near (2000) I couldn’t tell you what the Beatles meant to Japan in the 1960’s. It’s a fairly myopic experience to be in America, as it must have been in the UK, because one gets a wrong impression this was a conversation between us and them, not them and the whole world.
Of course, that’s not true. It’s also not true that, in this day and age, beat-bands don’t still have an innocent allure of a more understanding, fun time. Oddly, they were considered rabble-rousers in their day, total punks with their loud noisy music.
It’s that dichotomy that seems to fuel The Neatbeats. They’re a modern group, but they’re intrinsically dedicated to the sound and style of that era. Purportedly, they only use vintage equipment and recorded Far and Near in mono in 2000. Presented here is their version of the oft-covered “Hi-Heel Sneakers” from Tommy Tucker in 1964.
Spoilt Girl – The Neatbeats
Hi-Heel Sneakers – The Neatbeats
The Squeaks – This Is Only Rock and Roll? But You’ll Like It! (2005) The Squeaks is by far the most aggressive of the batch, and you can hear some direct sources in their sound like, in a bizarre way, The Knack on a track like “C’mon.”
What The Squeaks have is a genuine affinity for the history of rock and roll, not merely with their punky guitar attack, but with a virtual six-string shout-out to Chuck Berry on “Oh Yeah.” They’re not aping a sound, they’re a part of it.
C’mon – The Squeaks
Oh Yeah – The Squeaks
The Playmates – Listen! (2003) Coming straight from a garage-pop ethic, The Playmates are perhaps the most confounding of the bunch on this list. The tracks off of Listen! are slightly noisy, but thoroughly enjoyable pop tunes with a ’60s-ish DNA about them.
Information about the band is, as expected, virtually non-existent which says a lot about why it is nearly impossible for Japanese artists to cross over to America. While the band is singing in English, the difficult translation between the two lead most of the lyrics to sound like some utterly indecipherable alternate language, and yet this is still some pretty great pop.
In The Dream – The Playmates
Tale of Summer – The Playmates
The Oranges – Bomb! (2006) The only entry here that steadfastly sticks to the original Japanese, and therefore the band on this list most likely to be overlooked because of the language barrier, is The Oranges. Their mix of punchy, glam-infused pop has a definite ’70s flavor about it.
The legend is that the band is named in honor of the book, A Clockwork Orange, while each bandmember has adopted the stage surname of “Orange” a’la The Ramones. Very little of that comes through in the music itself. If anything is an indicator of where The Oranges come from, it is the album cover of Bomb! finding the four members in Lion-force era Voltron outfits. The Oranges aren’t out for the ultraviolence: they’re here to have fun.
Love Name – The Oranges
One Little Present – The Oranges
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