Category Archives: Music

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The Vampires of Dartmoore: Dracula’s Music Cabinet

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Dracula’s Music Cabinet was part of a wave of horror-themed novelty albums released in Germany during the late 60s and early 70s, all of which were seemingly inspired by the very type of horror films that Europe was producing at the time, as best exemplified by the work of our own beloved Jess Franco. The liner notes to UK Label Finders Keepers’ recent CD reissue of the album refer to it as a soundtrack to a nonexistent film, which is pretty much right on the money. Like the soundtracks to many Euro-horror films from the 60s, much of the music on Music Cabinet consists of vaguely psychedelic lounge jazz that in itself doesn’t suggest any traditional kind of horror ambiance at all.

Elsewhere, Cabinet‘s tunes veer toward the sort of jaunty, brass-heavy adventure themes that connoisseurs might associate with the work of Peter Thomas, and, with a track titled “The Fire-Dragon of Hong Kong”, even detour into orientalism. In other words, in a musical sense, the record is thematically all over the map, but all the same might serve as fitting accompaniment to the casual nudity and furtive, drug benumbed stabs at narrative coherence typical of those films that putatively inspired it.

However, where Cabinet‘s makers – session player and library music composer Heribert Thusek, working for hire with radio comedian Horst Ackerman under the name The Vampires of Dartmoore – really put an effort into driving their concept home is in their employment of sound effects and voice, um, artistry. This consists not only of library effects, but also seemingly everything the pair could find in the tool shed or pantry, all layered over the musical tracks alongside an assortment of eccentric vocalizations. This practice leads to creations like the album’s opening cut, “The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sex”, which, if I had to assign a narrative to it, I’d describe as the sound of a man having his legs sawed off in a strip club, and perhaps liking it.

Of course, the two eventually end up going a bit off topic in their use of sound effects, as well. I really couldn’t tell you what, for instance, is meant to be so scary about the sound of cellophane rustling, or the frequent appearance of something that sounds like an electric pencil sharpener – or, for that matter, why a song titled “Dance of the Vampires” would prominently feature a recurring “BOI-OI-OINNG!” sound. Fortunately, there are enough screams and sounds of people falling down stairs or being shot sprinkled throughout to reign us back into Haunted House territory, and by the time we get to the closing cut of the album proper, “Frankenstein Greets Alpha 7″, we’re also treated to the sound of an out-of-control Theremin accompanied by a heavily accented voice shouting “Frankenstein!” at us.

Dracula’s Music Cabinet makes for some pretty hilarious listening, though its reliance on audio gimmickry might somewhat limit its time on your iPod. Many of the underlying musical compositions are plenty enjoyable on their own, and, while it’s all the random moaning and shouting and pencil sharpening that gives the record its uniqueness, it takes a very specific sort to want to subject themselves to repeated listens. If that’s you, Finders Keepers has done a nice job of presenting this oddity, including a couple of bonus tracks from an unreleased project from the same crew called “Petting Party” (mainly more of the same, but with orgasmic moans replacing the screams) and liner notes that, though slight, are plenty informative when not drenched in hipsterisms to the point of being incomprehensible. Check it out.

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Billy Idol’s Cyberpunk

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Back in the 1990s, I did a fanzine that was about as successful as I could hope for given my lack of financial resources. With nowhere to print it but an all-night copy shop manned by a guy named Fred the Bastard (who would let you make thousands of copies for the price of ten), I couldn’t really achieve any impressive sort of circulation. A couple hundred though. Not bad at the time, at least by my standards. It was a pretty standard type of zine for the time. Interviews with whatever punk rock bands had come through Gainesville int he past few months, record reviews, a bunch of random ranting, and of course assorted bits of collage art. Not having a layout program at the time, the whole thing was printed out in bits and pieces using a combination of my old Atari dot matrix printer and a newer HP DeskJet 500, and then I’d paste and tape it all together by hand. Part of the reason I have no photos from 1988-1994 despite having taken thousands is because I cut up almost all of them and pasted them into the zine layout. Double prints? Keeping track of my negatives? Who ever heard of such nonsense?

Back then, as with Teleport City today, I didn’t get much free stuff to review. Occasionally, something would trickle in, but for the most part, the zine got decent reviews in Factsheet Five and MRR, but that never really translated into a record company thinking we were worth sending a few records to. It’s a form of self-promotion the skill for which eludes me to this day. But we weren’t completely in the wilderness and every now and then my PO Box would surprise me with something besides another packet of unreadably awful Paul Weinman poetry “for my consideration.” Once it was an envelope full of someone’s hair — which was still more welcome than more Paul Weinman poetry. And once, it was a promotional kit for the latest Billy Idol album: a bizarre experiment called Cyberpunk.

I’m not going to get into the history of cyberpunk as a literary or social movement. You can read my review of Neuromancer if you want and get a taste (yes, yes, the review of Count Zero is coming soon). My relationship with the concept of cyberpunk was touchy. On the one hand, there was a lot about it that appealed to me. On the other hand, most of the people who considered themselves part of it (as people, not as writers) were way more cyber than they were punk, and ultimately, cyberpunk ended up being little more than a bunch of computer nerds being dicks to one another in IRC chat rooms and usenet groups. Which I guess is a problem one faces when identifying with a pseudo-subculture where many of the basic tenets of it do not exist. Using tin to read alt.cyberpunk or downloading issues of Phrack over a 1200 baud modem wasn’t quite as thrilling as “jacking in,” and wearing a black overcoat and mirrorshades ended up not looking as cool as the people wearing it thought. And as for the much coveted body modifications and cybernetics, well, unless you lost a hand in a car accident and got it replaced with a hook, about the most functional techno-enhancement for the human body was to get veneers put on your teeth.

But still, there was something that always kept me attracted to the whole ridiculous idea, even if I only hovered on the periphery, as I always have with, say, the industrial music scene. I read and made fun of Mondo 2000, as one was supposed to do. I “researched” smart drugs and all the other stuff that was going to catapult us into the future. I wrote articles in the zine about virtual reality and morality, about black-clad federal agents armed with automatic weapons storming the bedrooms of fifteen-ear-old hackers, about FidoNet and how this whole internet thing was going to change us all. Most of it was a load of nonsense, of course, though the internet did pan out, so at least we have that going for our futurist predictions.

Fascinated as I was with such claptrap, I kind of understood where Billy Idol was coming from when he made Cyberpunk. Pretty much everyone dismissed the album. Idol fans didn’t want to hear a bunch of computerized crap. Electronica and industrial fans thought Idol was jumping on a bandwagon, latching on to a word and a vague concept that had recently been discovered by the media. I was firmly with the latter, rolling my eyes and thinking to myself, “Oh brother.” It was quite a shock when the damn thing showed up in my mail one day. And it was a generous package, too: the CD, the album on vinyl, a remix album also on vinyl, and a 3.5″ floppy disk full of Macromedia Director nonsense that was doing its best to look all Blade Runnery or whatever. I wasn’t that big a fan of Billy Idol anyway, so an album that was Billy Idol sitting at his Mac, doing his best to imitate Front Line Assembly or whatever, and writing really cheezy lyrics about the future, instantly got the record thrown in my “fuck this” pile. I listened to the vinyl once to confirm that I hated it (I didn’t have a CD player at the time), then sold everything back to a record store. A few months later, I saw the CD I’d sold to them now sitting in the dollar bin, so I bought it again, then took it across the parking lot to a different record store and sold it a second time. On the merit of that alone, I was mildly positive about the CD.

Looking back, though, I can see how wrong I was about a lot of things. Billy Idol wasn’t just jumping the bandwagon. I think he was genuinely sincere. I don’t know if he stumbled across an issue of Mondo 2000 or just got drunk while he was watching a late-night interview with that absurd looking Jaran Lanier who would never shut up about how awesome VR was going to be, especially once we all had those full body tactile suits that would stimulate our various senses to create a total immersive environment from which we would never emerge. I reckon if they’d foretold that we’d be just as happy with a crappy streaming Flash video of Ava Devine’s grotesquely gigantic bouncing knockers, we could have saved a lot of R&D money that was sunk into virtual reality machines and the movie Lawnmower Man. Well, whatever set him off, I don’t doubt that Billy Idol really started to believe in all this crap, same as a lot of us did. Of course, for him, it all boiled down to lots of interviews about VR sex (most likely with the jailbait chick from the “Rock the Cradle of Love” video).

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And if nothing else, Cyberpunk really was a record made by a man taking a huge gamble. He could have crapped out another Billy Idol record of melodic rock and done OK for himself, but instead he decided to go crazy and record an album full of electronic music. And he decided to learn how to do it all (or at least a lot of it) himself, using his own computer and whatever skills he picked up along the way. Sure he probably had some help, but whatever. We’re talking 1993. Most people hadn’t even heard of email, or the internet, and the World Wide Web was only just being launched. And there was Billy Idol, perhaps not doing the best job of being one of the earliest big name artists to turn to the cyber medium to promote himself, but giving it a go never the less. Bully for him! All in all, reflecting on Cyberpunk made me think that perhaps I’d been too rash and prejudiced against it back in 1993. Maybe it was time to give it another listen and see if time and evolving taste hadn’t altered my opinion of it.

Well, what do you know? I love Cyberpunk. Yes, it’s cheesy, ridiculous, goofy, whatever. You know from Billy’s opening narration to the first track, “Wasteland,” that you’re going to get something on the level of alt.cyberpunk fanfic more than the musical equivalent of William Gibson or Bruce Sterling. At the same time:

The future has imploded into the present. With no nuclear war, the new battlefields are people’s minds and souls. Megacorporations are the new government. The computer generated info-domains are the new frontiers. Though there is better living through science and chemistry, we are all becoming cyborgs.

The computer is the new cool tool, and though we say “all information should be free,” it is not. Information is power and currency in the virtual world we inhabit, so mistrust authority.

Cyberpunks are the true rebels. Cyberculture is coming in under the radar of ordinary society. An unholy alliance of the tech world, and the world of organized dissent.

Welcome to the cybercorporation.

Cyberpunks.

Now that sounds exactly like the sort of absurd crap I would have been writing at the time, and if you ever go back and poke through old cyberpunk fanfic, most of the people were flaming Idol for writing such drivel while, at the same time, writing their own drivel that was just as bad or worse. And anyway, what follows the narration is a weirdly catchy blend of electronica and the catchy Billy Idol brand that had us all dancing with ourselves through the eighties. It lacks the aggressiveness of more “authentic” industrial and electronic outfits like Front 242, Front Line Assembly, Aphex Twin, and so on, but it’s still every bit as listenable as it is silly.

The rest of the album continues to be a sometimes awkward but generally enjoyable mish-mash of Idol’s trademark style layered with synthesized computer music, dance beats, and occasionally more aggressive industrial splashes. Plus lots of samples, naturally. Of course, he ruffled cyberpunk feathers not just by calling the album Cyberpunk, but also by naming one of the songs “Neuromancer.” And then he pissed off regular old alternative rock fans by doing a freaky electronic cover of Lou Reed’s “Heroin.” I have some Velvet Underground songs I like, but I’ve never been religious about Lou Reed, so I don’t mind. The second song, “Shock to the System” is purer Billy Idol, still working in some loops and sound effects but mostly being one of those middle-of-the-road punk-pop songs on which Idol build his solo career. “Tomorrow People” sees the bleach blond rocker back into the territory charted by “Wasteland.” He stays there for most of the rest of the album. “Adam in Chains” is almost ambient electronica, and the last song on the album, “Mother Dawn” could pass for someone’s catchy dance tune. Sure, it’s not really on the level of some of the better industrial bands of the time, but if nothing else, it is to electronic music what Billy Idol’s regular music was to punk.

Billy Idol, I stand before you a humbled man. Like the rest of the world in 1993, I scoffed and wrote nasty things about Cyberpunk. I was wrong. I guess it won’t exactly soothe Idol’s soul if I tell him this is actually now the only Billy Idol album I own, but hey. My life can’t revolve around making Billy Idol feel good. That’s what dancing with oneself is for. Most of the cyberpunk subculture didn’t work out, and these days it’s almost totally forgotten even by the VH1 shows where people who weren’t born yet sit around and reminisce about the 70s, 80s, and 90s. VR turned out to be a colossal wash-out. No one wanted to put on a helmet and log into a virtual office to look for a file when they could just point with a mouse and open the file. Smart drugs ended up being a load of dingo bollocks, too, and “better living through chemistry” just ended up being “I’m putting my kid on Ritalin.” I guess we got the Internet, and although you can’t cruise down to the body part shop and get a camera implanted in your eyeball or replace your hand with a metal hand where the fingers open up to reveal five tiny hands holding Derringers, but we are making some incredible breakthroughs in the field of prosthetic limbs.

But Billy Idol’s Cyberpunk? You know what? That one aged all right.

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Joe Meek: Portrait of a Genius

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I went through a pretty intense Joe Meek fixation a few years back, with the result that I now own over a dozen CD compilations of Meek rarities which, with a few notable exceptions, are mostly unlistenable. Being a completist in your approach to this eccentric, wildly uneven, and very prolific British pop producer’s work may be as self-punishing an endeavor as attempting to see all of Jess Franco’s movies. For those with a more casual interest, the 2002 two-disc compilation The Alchemist of Pop — released by Sanctuary/Castle Music and compiled by Roger Dopson with the help of Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley — should more than do the trick. (And if even that’s too much, the 1995 Razor & Tie single disc package It’s Hard to Believe it: The Amazing World of Joe Meek, if you can find it, should fit the bill.)

If your initial dip into Meek’s catalogue then sparks an interest in exploring his work further, I’d recommend as the most essential of the Meek rarities comps RGM’s fine Let’s Go: Joe Meek’s Girls (focusing exclusively on Meek’s work within the girl group sound) and Intergalactic Instro’s, which chronicles some of his work in the realm of that anomalous early 60s chart mainstay, the guitar driven instrumental. And then, of course, there is the Meek artifact I’ve most recently got my hands upon, Castle’s 2005 Portrait of a Genius: The RGM Legacy box, which was also compiled by Roger Dopson, this time with the intention of expanding upon the portrait provided by his Alchemist of Pop collection.

Given the glut of Meek material in my CD cabinet, “essential” is the last word I’d have expected to use in describing Portrait of a Genius. But color me surprised. The amazing thing about this set is how, with well over a hundred tracks and very little overlap with previously released collections, it manages to provide such a consistently enjoyable listening experience. Consider this, then, a next step on from those previously mentioned collections in your journey toward becoming a hopeless Joe Meek obsessive. In other words: Welcome to my world.

For those that don’t know, a lazy — but, to my mind, fairly accurate — way of describing Joe Meek is as a combination of equal parts Phil Spector and Ed Wood. Like his contemporary Spector, Meek was a bold sonic innovator in the realm of pop music production, one whose techniques, while considered highly unorthodox at the time, would prefigure many of what would be considered standard practices in the recording studios of today. What Meek lacked, however, was Spector’s talent as an A&R man, that knack for picking great songs and performers that Spector proved with hit after iconic hit.

In fact, one listen to Meek’s notoriously caterwauling vocal demo for the Tornados’ “Telstar” will demonstrate that he was not only tin-eared, but literally tone deaf. Thus his approach to “song writing” basically boiled down to him presenting one of his beleaguered session players with a tape of his wounded howlings, out of which that player was then expected to somehow divine a melodic pattern. (Despite the great deal of interpretation that this required, it was, of course, always Joe who got the writing credit on the label.) The discs that resulted from this — as well as from Joe’s practice of either making records for actors and other non-professional singers who were nearly as pitch-challenged as he was, or sometimes picking acts based simply on his need for young male company — were so uneven in quality that his only hope was to deluge the market with product in the hope that something would stick.

And indeed some did stick. Not only did Meek score a healthy number of top ten hits in his native UK throughout the early and mid-sixties, but the aforementioned instrumental “Telstar” — a track that has become shorthand for the space race-inspired optimism of the early 60s — went on to make The Tornados the first British act to top the U.S. charts. 1964 saw another International hit for Meek with the Honeycombs’ “Have I The Right?”, a song whose combination of twee vocals, sped-up, mosquito buzz guitar lines and literally boot-stomping percussion granted it a stunning uniqueness that endures even today.

In the course of making all of these records, hits and flops alike, Meek pioneered a sound that was largely achieved by applying too much of just about everything — compression, reverb, echo, distortion, close miking — that the finicky British sound engineers of the day prided themselves on using judiciously. His apparent need to make a guitar sound like anything other than a guitar, a drum like anything other than a drum, and a human voice like something distinctly non-human also spurred him to the creation of a number of gadgets of his own. Given this, I think it’s no exaggeration to say Meek paved the way for seminal, effects-heavy British post-punk bands of the late 70s and early 80s like The Cure, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Magazine, Joy Division, and even U2. (Though I don’t think that the fact that U2 might not exist if not for him should be held against him.)

Beefing up the legend is the fact that Meek, like Spector and Ed Wood, was a true eccentric, though perhaps to a level that trumps even the two of those men combined. As with Spector, Meek’s volatility would prove his undoing, though at a much earlier point in his life and career than it did Spector. On top of this there were Meek’s obsessions with the spiritual world and outer space — the first exemplified by his frequent conducting of séances and belief that the late Buddy Holly was guiding his career from beyond the grave, the latter by his conviction — harbored as late as the mid 60s — that life existed on the moon.

Portrait of a Genius starts with a disc dedicated to the engineering work Meek did during the mid to late 50s, when he worked as a hired hand at established British studios like IBC and Lansdowne. This is by far the least interesting disc of the set, and, whether intentionally or not, serves mainly to give the listener a picture of just how dismal the state of British pop was in the decade leading up to the advent of the Beatles. Stiff, over-orchestrated balladry and novelty tunes for moms and dads abound, leading you to consider that, if you were a young John Lennon in that musical landscape, you probably would have embraced skiffle music, too.

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These early tracks also do a nice job of laying out for us the state of the “science” of British sound recording at the time, when studio engineers still wore white lab coats and prided themselves on setting to tape the most sacrosanct representation of a performance possible. And it’s true, these recordings do sound incredibly crisp and clear, especially given the technology that these studio professionals had to work with at the time. And that just goes all the more toward giving you an idea of just how radical Meek’s approach must have seemed. For, rather than aiming to simply document a live performance, as his peers did, Meek sought to use that performance as the raw material for something greater and more mysterious. Rather than sounding like the musicians were playing right in the room with you, his recordings instead sounded as if they were calling out to you across the ether, as if the performers themselves existed on some different, highly idealized, astral or spiritual plane. Some hint of this can be heard on the first disc of Portrait, in the swampy rhythm sound and dense reverb of Jimmy Miller & The Barbecues’ “Sizzling Hot”, though later examples of this sound would be far more dramatic.

Disc two of Portrait moves on to Meek’s early years as an independent producer. The clear highlight here, as on previous overviews of Meek’s work, are the tracks from the Meek magnum opus I Hear a New World. Essentially a stereo demonstration record with an outer space theme, that album featured a mishmash of abused and detuned instruments, sped-up voices, cavernous reverb and homegrown sci-fi sound effects, all geared toward bringing to audible life Meek’s vision of life on the Moon. Given what we now know about the man, its difficult not to hear all of this as a kind of internal soundtrack to Meek’s own fevered imaginings, and, as such, it comes across as at once sublimely goofy and deeply unsettling. Also featured on this disc is one of Meek’s first UK smashes, the densely atmosphered and deliriously overwrought comic book gothic “Johnny Remember Me”, sung by British television star John Leyton.

Disc three kicks off with the 1962 “Telstar” and proceeds through one of the most exciting periods in Meek’s career, the time between 1962 and 1964 when his status as the mastermind behind a huge international hit put him at the forefront of the British pop scene. As this disc documents, much of this time was spent trying to recapture the magic of “Telstar” with a slew of similar group sound instrumentals, both by The Tornados and by other Meek-mentored groups like The Thunderbolts (“Lost Planet”, “March of the Spacemen”) and The Checkmates (who give us the marvelous, spy-themed “Interpol”). However, because Meek seemed to use the format of the guitar instrumental in particular as a laboratory for sonic experimentation, the tracks are anything but derivative or uninspired. Also on this disc is the must-hear insanity of Meek cohort Geoff Goddard’s “Sky Men”, a twee-voiced account of a close encounter complete with an alien spoken word interlude.

The final disc of Portrait is my personal favorite of the set, because it focuses on Meek’s “beat group” period, an episode in his career that gets shorter shrift on other compilations. This was a time during which Meek, blindsided by the success of the Beatles — not to mention deteriorating under the increasing weight of his many personal demons — is seen to have been flailing a bit, desperately groping for a new sound and struggling to maintain a foothold on relevance in a radically shifting pop landscape. Now, of course, I’m a fan of this particular disc in part because I’m a fan of British beat group sounds in general, but also because there are simply some real gems to be found here.

As countless Nuggets and freakbeat compilations now demonstrate, the margins left by the chart-hogging monsters of 1960s British pop — your Beatles, your Stones, your Who — were littered with hundreds of great songs that never got to bask in the glow that the top of the charts afforded, due, in most case, to them being just a little bit too odd or eccentric. It is these very songs that now make up an alternate history of 60s pop that is, for many of us retro music fans, just as fresh and exciting as many of the tracks by those aforementioned monoliths are over familiar. Just such a song is Paul Kane’s “My Fair Baby’s Coming For Me”, featured on Portrait‘s disc four, whose simple chord progression, marked by sudden, unexpected turns, makes it sound like some kind of proto Pixies song. Also great is the punkish “Movin’ In”, by former Tornados bassist — and Meek live-in partner — Heinz. And then, of course there is the Honeycombs’ “Have I The Right”, in both English and German language versions, surely one of the weirdest sounding hit records of the initial beat boom.

Portrait of a Genius fleshes out its picture of Meek with interview excerpts from an “audio biography” of Meek conducted in 1962, as well as with neat odds and ends like an original answering machine message and a truly bizarre, rambling tribute recorded by Meek for the alleged benefit of the artists Joy and Dave. However, while most of this only serves to deepen the mystery, it is in the box’s information crammed booklet that you’ll really see some light shining into the dark corners. This consists of a lengthy biographical essay by Bob Stanley, reproductions of numerous clipping from the period, and text interviews with a number of Meek’s contemporaries and former collaborators/victims. Added to the set’s masterful marriage of comprehensiveness and overall listen-ability — even more impressive, given its studious, chronological sequencing — this material serves to make the box a must have for anyone whose interest in Meek goes well beyond the casual, yet perhaps falls short of seances and other attempts at spiritual communication.

Joe Meek’s ultimate unraveling came dramatically on the night of February 3, 1967, and had a body count. Capping a period of mounting paranoia and occultist obsession, the producer killed his elderly landlady with a blast from a shotgun before turning the weapon on himself. It was the 16th anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death. Even without such a fiery conclusion, Meek’s story still might have been the stuff of pop legend, but, with it, it has presented irresistible grist for myth-making. As such, it has been recounted in books, radio dramas, stage plays and, just last year, a feature film starring, among others, Kevin Spacey. But to my mind, Portrait of a Genius: The RGM Legacy tells Meek’s story in the best way possible, by way of the man’s music itself.

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Nippon Girls: Japanese Pop, Beat &Bossa Nova 1966-70

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Needless to say, if you want to reenact the dance contest scene from >Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, Nippon Girls: Japanese Pop, Beat & Bossa Nova 1966-70 is the ideal soundtrack. Or perhaps it’s the swinging, strobe-lit nightclub from your favorite Pinky Violence film you want to recreate — you know, the type where Miki Sugimoto or Reiko Oshida might go to settle scores with a sleazy Yakuza boss who’s crossed them? In that case, this swinging compilation from the UK’s ever-reliable Big Beat label has got you covered as well, as it includes among its many delights pysch funk tracks marked by stabbing brass and crisp, wakka-wakka guitars. All the better for going about your dirty work while a crowd of blissed-out hipsters dances obliviously beneath the swirling lights.

Now, I don’t mean by the above to suggest that Nippon Girls is a film-related collection in any express sense. It’s just that, for many of us, film was the only entre we might have had into the world it represents. Japanese movies of the era painted a tantalizing portrait of the country’s urban night life during the 60s and 70s, giving the impression that, if you were ringing in the wee hours in a crowded Tokyo nightclub circa 1966-70, there was absolutely no cooler place on earth that you could have been. Nippon Girls at once adds weight to that impression while fleshing out the picture, providing an appropriately party-starting overview of the very sounds that set the habitués of those night spots to shaking their well-coiffed tail feathers.

Focusing on the furiously contemporary, female-driven pop sounds that emerged alongside the Western influenced “Group Sound” boom of the era, Nippon Girls is refreshingly free of Enka‘s sentimental balladry, as well as the kitschy cover versions of English language hits that accounted for so much of Japanese rock n’ roll during the early part of the 60s — the only exception to the last being Nana Kinomi & Leo Beats’ “Suki Sa Suki Sa Suki Sa”, a cover of The Zombies’ “I Love You” that takes so many liberties with its source material that it’s almost not a cover at all. (And, of course, if it’s charmingly fractured English you’re looking for, there is that to be found, too, in particular in Keiko Mari’s “Tsukikage No Rendezvous”, which includes such giddy exclamations as “Now I don’t know too!”)

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The collection also manages to encompass an impressively wide array of sounds, giving us an assortment of singers whose vocal stylings inhabit territories well outside those of the twee-voiced nymphets whom I think many people associate exclusively with the idea of Japanese girl pop. Of course, those “idol” types are represented as well, and memorably so; Miki Obata’s winningly goofy “Hatsu Koi No Letter”, in particular, stands out in this area, evidencing a sound and style that could easily have qualified her as Japan’s answer to France Gall. But alongside these more lightweight tracks there are also Jun Mayuzumi’s full-throated soul belter “Black Room”, fuzz psych numbers like Mie Nakao’s “Sharock No. 1″, the sophisticated Bossa Nova sounds of Ryoko Moriyama’s “Ame Agari No Samba”, and even outright trash rock in the form of the Margaret With Bunnys rave-up “Aeba Suki Suki”. What is perhaps most impressive is how the set manages to touch upon all of this stylistic diversity without once compromising its overall upbeat, club-friendly vibe, giving it a surprising consistency from start to finish.

Being somewhat obsessed with the Brill Building-informed idea of the the professional pop songwriter, I found Nippon Girls especially interesting for how, in its focus on original material, it puts a spotlight on the era’s top Japanese songsmiths. These were essentially the country’s Bacharachs, Webbs and Greenwhiches of the day, working both in similar styles and in response to an equally pressing and ever-evolving demand. They include figures such as Kyohei Tsutsumi, who worked as part of a team with lyricist Jun Hashimoto, and who, according to the liner notes by Cha Cha Charming magazine’s Sheila Burgel, is considered by many to be “Japan’s greatest pop writer and producer of all time”.

As a person with fairly limited previous exposure to 1960s Japanese pop, I can say with confidence that Nippon Girls offers a great introduction, though what interest it might hold for aficionados is harder to say. I was familiar with a few of its tracks due to them having previously appeared on the 2000 Goodnight Tokyo compilation (assembled by Pizzicato Five’s Yasuharu Konishi), though it would take a person with a more extensive collection than mine to determine how many others have appeared elsewhere. Whatever the case, I feel that such academic considerations are overridden by the fact that NIppon Girls is simply a great party album. As such, it is the ideal accompaniment, not only to whatever your Japanese movie fueled fantasies of what Showa era Tokyo nightlife might have been like, but also any number of real world social gatherings. In fact, it might be just the thing to have playing in the background should you and a few adventurous friends ever decide to sample any of those Japanese whiskeys you’ve been reading about on Teleport City.

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