The Pizzicato Five Discography: Introduction

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W. David Marx listened to every single major release from legendary Shibuya-kei band, Pizzicato Five, so you don’t have to. Here are his thoughts over a five-part series.

I always took Pizzicato Five for granted. When I started listening to Japanese music in the late 1990s, there was almost nothing available in the U.S. — except Pizzicato Five. When I started hunting for rare Shibuya-kei vinyl in 2000 across Japanese RECOfans and disk unions, there was rarely what I was looking for but there was always a giant stash of Pizzicato Five. Whether it was their long tenure, ubiquity, or the comically long discography, Pizzicato Five records felt like a commodity. One of the last P5 things I ever bought was called “In the Bag,” and it was literally a bag of Pizzicato Five records.

But now with some distance, I cannot think of a Japanese band who achieved more memorable and innovative songs than Pizzicato Five. We can argue on quality, but P5 wins quantity hands down: There are more great P5 songs than there are Happy End or Flipper’s Guitar songs total.

And yet the band’s legacy is not a settled issue. They were not a “serious” group in terms of content or timbre, they released too much material, and the quality went off a cliff at the very end. On the other hand, they were the most consistent and driving force of the Shibuya-kei movement and pioneered a sound that no one outside of Japan ever replicated with the same skill. Pizzicato Five invented a new methodology that yielded incredible results: laying bright new melodies on top of devalued and forgotten 1960s junk — Bacharach, film soundtracks, French Yé-Yé, Donovan — with drum samples and dance floor beats.

And this brings us back to the main barrier for Pizzicato Five fandom, whether new or old: the band’s prolificacy. There are way too many albums and EPs. Fortunately I have been in a mood for what I call “systematic listening” (close listening to music catalogs of certain artists or genres in chronological order), and so I decided to listen to (basically) the entire Pizzicato Five discography and report back on my findings.

Rules and Resources

I listened to every album that was not a greatest hits album rehashing old music, and I listened to every EP that was not just a single with a nearly identical remix. I skipped “promo releases.” If there is something major I overlooked, feel free to pester me until I add it.

I use English names of albums.

A few web pages were vital to my effort:

And thank you to Jean Snow who delivered some hard-to-find EPs and provided spiritual guidance through the long process. I also may have ripped off both the American school system and Robert Christgau for the scoring system.

Four parts

Cheat Sheet: Pizzicato Five’s Best Five Albums

  1. Bossa Nova 2001 (1993)
  2. Happy End of the World (1998)
  3. This Year’s Girl (1991)
  4. Overdose (1994)
  5. Playboy Playgirl (1999)

W. David MARX
November 28, 2016

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

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