Friday, November 12, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #95

[All throughout the month of November, all NW4NW entries will be based on requests made by you, dear readers. Because of the amount of requests coming in, there will often be more than one entry per week during this month - I recommend signing up for email alerts on the left-hand side of the screen so that you don't miss any of the fun! If you wish to make a request, you may do so either in the comments section of this post, on Twitter, or on the Facebook Fanpage. Don't be shy - tell me what band you want to see featured!]

Steve O'Donnell, local patent attorney and one of the funniest folks you can follow on Twitter, was another requester who presented me with yet another "how do I pick one" list of excellent band suggestions for his request. (By the way, folks, I'm keeping a list of all the bands everyone is asking for and will be using that list to choose NW4NW entries throughout 2011, so you will eventually get to read about them all!)  One did jump out at me, though, as a band I can't believe I haven't gotten to on my own yet.

"When I finally got to see them live, I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert." - Kurt Cobain

The band Cobain got all giddy about, the band he along with several other alternative music icons of the '90s helped to bring to the attention of the masses, was a trio of girls from Osaka, Japan, who wanted to play music like The Ramones, The Buzzcocks and The Beatles.  With adorably amateurish enthusiasm and the barest of grasps of the English language, the Yamano sisters (Naoko and Atusko) and Michie Nakatani came together in 1981 to form a self-described "oo-oo-ultra-eccentric-super-cult-punk-pop-band" called Shonen Knife, and they have been making a truly joyful noise ever since.

Trying to navigate through Shonen Knife's extensive discography is a nearly impossible task.  Their earliest records, released only in Japan, would often appear in various formats (single disc, double disc, cassette) with slightly varying track lists, songs from two or three earlier albums would be combined with new material to create a new album, and many songs only ever appeared on compilation albums or singles. But the legend of their occasionally off-rhythm playing and carefree consumer-culture based lyrics (song titles like "I Wanna Eat Choco Bars," "Tortoise Brand Pot Scrubber Theme (1 & 2)," "Neon Zebra" and "Fruit Loop Dreams" are supported by completely and utterly literal lyrics about the subject matter described) brought them to the attention of several other artists, particularly when the highly-regarded Sub-Pop label licensed several tracks for release on compilations and as part of their monthly mail-order-only Singles Club series. 

They made their first trip to America in in 1987, playing in Los Angeles at the behest of Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and the McDonald Brothers of Redd Kross. Shonen Knife were so pleased with the hospitality that they were shown by their fellow musicians that they began writing songs about them as a way of showing their gratitude.  "Redd Kross," "White Flag," and even "Blue Oyster Cult" were celebrated in song, and the band's Japanese recordings began appearing here as import-only special orders in appropriately cool record shops.

In 1989, a group of nearly two dozen alternative acts got together to introduce Shonen Knife's music to a wider Western audience via the tribute album Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them.  Keeping the discographical waters muddied, this album was issued in both one-record and two-record versions, as well as CD and cassettes versions, no two of which have exactly the same tracklist.  Two years later, Kurt Cobain invited Shonen Knife to open for Nirvana on their UK tour, where legendary and influential British DJ John Peel had them on his radio show and began spinning their records regularly, adding to their growing fanbase.

Capitol Records released Let's Knife in 1992. This would be Shonen Knife's first American release, containing re-recorded English versions of some of their Japanese-only songs ("Twist Barbie," "Burning Farm," "Antonio Baka Guy") and some like-minded new material ("Riding On The Rocket," "Cycling Is Fun").  Despite getting high-gloss major-label production for the first time, Shonen Knife's innocent, bubbly, infectious personality was not dampened in the least.  Rock Animals followed a year later with more sugary delights ("Catnip Dream," "Tomato Head")

Now firmly entrenched among the alternative music elite, Shonen Knife kept right on singing and touring and recording through the 1990's.  As the decade drew to a close, Michie left the band; in 2006, Atsuko married and retired from the music world.  Eventually replaced by Etsuko Nakanishi and Ritsuko Taneda, respectively, and with Naoko leading the way, the Knife continued into the new century, most recently releasing Super Group in 2009.

As the Boston Globe once wrote, "Theoretically, any band that writes songs with lyrics such as "Banana chips for you!/Banana chips for me!/In the afternoon, banana chips and tea" should have a life span no longer than that of a grasshopper." Yet Shonen Knife show no signs of stopping after nearly three decades!  Why?  Well, I think partially because it's just damn near impossible not to smile when you hear them.  As proof, here are the video clips for "Redd Kross," "Riding On The Rocket," and last year's "Super Group." Great request, Steve - thank you!

Watch shonen knife - riding on the rocket in Music  |  View More Free Videos Online at

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  1. I had never heard of this band before so I checked out some vids on youtube: On top of the World, Messy Room and Twist Barbie. Just pop some of this in when you wake up in the morning and your blood will get pumpin' and you'll be ready to conquer the world, well at least rush hour. Loved it. Thanks for sharing!

    Here is one of the youtube comments: If the Ramones were Japanese, and female, and not dead, they would be Shonen Knife -alleyghost

  2. Very cool, Bry. Thanks so much.

  3. @Janel - Cool! Glad I could introduce you to another band...and as I said, how can you not like Shonen Knife?

    @Jun - Thank you - and where have you been hiding? Haven't heard from you in forever! Glad you stopped by.