A group I adore, and one that's rarely mentioned on power pop blogs, is Puffy.
Puffy is a girl duo from Japan. They've been enormously popular there for years and years. They've ruled the airwaves since 1996, had chat shows, fashion lines, and even had a cartoon based on their lives. They're the complete package.
This may be one reason why, when told about Puffy, some power pop devotees in the West point their noses upward and dismiss them out of hand. I reckon those people are missing out.
Whenever Puffy is mentioned by the power pop cognoscenti, however, the duo is usually mentioned in less than glowing tones. That's probably because:
a) Puffy don't write everything they perform
b) Session musicians are used on their recordings
And possibly to a lesser extent:
c) They're a girl duo
d) They're from Japan
The general complaint is that they're synthetic, marketed more as a brand than music, and therefore not worthy of consideration. There's also the problem of Puffy not actually playing writing or everything they produce. And, to add insult to injury for the cognoscenti, Puffy are unforgiveably marketed to teenage girls.
I don't have a problem with any of the above. First of all, just about any artist anywhere will have a t-shirt or coffee mug available for purchase. (How about a Beatles lunch box?) With Puffy, that marketing is just taken one (giant) step further than most. Secondly, there are plenty of artists who perform songs written for them (hello, Mr Sinatra), and plenty of artists who come prepackaged with unoriginal material (remember The Monkees?). And, as far as demographics go, every performer needs an audience, whoever they are – unless they're the starving artist type who can't bear to face the world because the world is so cruel.
Among the power pop cognoscenti, Puffy do gain a little credibility because Jellyfish's Andy Sturmer is involved (he gave them their name and produces much of their recorded output), but tend to lose it when they realize that Andy Sturmer's producing a girl duo from Japan and not reforming Jellyfish.
For me, all those things need not be a hindrance to discovering a lot of fabulous music.
Incidentally, Puffy is also known as Puffy AmiYumi. That name came about because of their efforts to break into the US market in 2000. Puffy were all set to continue their relentless march toward world domination, but standing (or possibly sitting) in the way was an American rapper, Sean "Puff Daddy" / "Puffy" / "Puff" / "Diddy" / "P Diddy" / "Bo Diddley" / "Diddly Squat" Combs. I guess the litigious Mr Combs decided that, with "Puffy" being one of his 713 aliases, people would constantly confuse him with a girl duo from Japan. (The whole sordid episode is detailed here.)
The 'face' of Puffy is Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura (hence the "AmiYumi"). They're presented to the world as two cute, bubbly, and enthusiastic girls. (If the word 'effervescence' ever took human form, it'd look like Puffy.)
The 'sound' of Puffy is a little like that, too, but musically there's much more to them than just effervescence.
So, what do they sound like? I'm glad you asked.
Wikipedia puts it well (which saves me having to try to describe their sound):
Their music has been largely a collaboration between producer Tamio Okuda, American singer-songwriter Andy Sturmer, and Ami and Yumi themselves. Ami and Yumi's vocals are likened to U.S. vocal sister group The Roches. They often sing whole songs together with harmonies and their sound borrows heavily from the Beatles and other artists such as ABBA, The Who, and The Carpenters. Both Ami and Yumi themselves have openly admitted that their music is hard to put into just one genre because of the many different influences.(Thanks, Wikipedia.)
Whenever I listen to Puffy I love to spot the influences in each song. Everyone involved in contributing to Puffy's magnificence shows an encyclopedic knowledge of pop. The songwriters are musical magpies – if they're not audaciously stealing entire melodies, riffs or rhythms from other artists, they're sneaking in tiny bits of other people's songs. And they steal from the best sources.
Puffy's songs have such a bewildering array of styles (pop, rock, punk, dance, techno, Latin – and even death metal on one occasion) that it's hard to know where to begin. But I'm going to give it a try.
And now, presenting for your listening pleasure, a whirlwind journey through the Puffy universe:
01. "Your Love Is A Drug" – If you like Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," then there's a fair chance that you'll like this. I love it – and no matter how loud I play it, it's not loud enough. Welcome to the world of Puffy.
02. "True Asia" was their first single (in 1996) and it's a great ELO rip-off.
03. "Talalan" is a song that I absolutely adore. As far as I can tell, it doesn't rip off anybody in particular – so you can relax and just enjoy the music without having to mentally jot down all the references you find when listening to it. The video for "Talalan" features a polar bear roaming around the Japanese countryside, greeting people along the way. That's my kind of video.
04. "Forever" is one of Puffy's most blatant rip-offs ("With A Girl Like You", anyone?) – even for Puffy. Great fun.
05. "December" is one of my favourite Beach Boys rip-offs ever. There have been plenty of Beach Boys rip-offs over the years by plenty of artists (you know who you are), but this one takes the cake. Those harmonies! Those drum rolls!
06. "Happiness" is a nice song that shows a Puffy song doesn't always have to be peppy.
07. "Missing You Baby" is for anyone who misses the sounds of Sixties girl groups. Hopefully that means you.
08. "Violet" is a great slice of bubblegum/power pop, complete with "Ooh la la la"s – and they even sneak in a bit of "Dancing Queen".
09. "Wild Girls On Circuit" (video) finds Puffy in go-go girl mode (and ripping off the bass line from "I Saw Her Standing There"). Groovy.
10. "Urei" would make a great spy film theme song. It's high-energy, and when the chorus kicks in, the energy goes into the stratosphere.
11. "Thank You" – Although they reference The Beatles (a lot), Puffy don't mind borrowing from the solo Paul McCartney songbook either, as they do here.
12. "Joining A Fan Club" (video) – yes, this is the Jellyfish song. In this case, though, as presented by Puffy it's Jellyish playing a No Doubt song – or it's No Doubt playing a Jellyfish song. Either way, Andy Sturmer is messin' with my mind. (Note to Andy: if you're going to give Puffy one of your Jellyfish songs, why this one with its schizophrenic time, mood, and key changes?) Depending on how you feel about Jellyfish, this version of "Joining A Fan Club" will either be cheeky or it'll be sacrilege. (Take your pick.)
13. "That's The Way It Is" – After spending the first six seconds ripping off The Who, Puffy settle into the greatest Beatles theft/tribute I've ever heard. See how many Beatles references you can find in just this one song. (And I love how it's in mono.)
14. "Green Apple" – A mighty solid song.
15. "Sunday Girls" – Another great Sixties pastiche. I love the guitars, I love the flute, I love the organ – and I love that vibraphone.
16. "Mother" (video) – I don't care what anybody says, Puffy has great pop songs.
17. "Neholina" – Ditto.
18. "Nice Buddy" (video) is high-energy power pop, pure and simple. Love it.
19. "Teen Titans Theme" (video) is the theme song for Puffy's cartoon series. It's another great spy song.
20. "Be Nice To People" – Some Puffy songs demand to be played very loud. This is one of them, with a great chugging riff.
21. "Invisible Tomorrow" – And this song demands to be played even louder. "Invisible Tomorrow" has enough energy for five Green Day albums.
The above is but a meagre selection of what Puffy have to offer.
Have a listen, then ask yourself the question I ask about Puffy: What's not to love?