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:
- Ted Mills song-by-song Pizzicato Five discography
- Mark Wasiel’s defunct Pizzicato Five discography
- A page of solid Japanese language reviews
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.
Cheat Sheet: Pizzicato Five’s Best Five Albums