I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Sotaisei Riron -- Tamatama New Town(たまたまニュータウン)

Decades ago, when Japan was undergoing its Economic Miracle, one of its effects was a push of residency away from the main city into the suburbs, or as we affectionately call them now, the boonies. And back then, these new bedroom towns surrounding train/subway stations were being given the name "New Town". So there were suburban communities filled with concrete danchi apartment buildings and infrastructure with names such as Chiba New Town and Tama New Town.

Nowadays, these hubs seem to be still cropping up like mushrooms although without the dated name of New Town. One such neighbourhood is where my good friend and his family currently live, Musashi-Kosugi, just west of Tokyo, and it's no longer just concrete towers but towers of that, and glass & steel, supplemented with stylish stores, restaurants and other accouterments to make for some comfortable (if somewhat expensive) living. I even saw Musashi-Kosugi get its due on a regular NHK show a few weeks ago.

The above preamble ramble was to help introduce this nifty and slightly techno-rock tune with some spacey U2 edge (no pun intended). This is "Tamatama New Town" which is a riff on that aforementioned Tama New Town but can also be translated as "Occasionally New Town". Sotaisei Riron(相対性理論...Theory of Relativity)is the band behind this song and the album it came from, "Town Age" from July 2013.

"Tamatama New Town" was written and composed by Tica Alpha(ティカ・α)who is also Sotaisei Riron vocalist Etsuko Yakushimaru(やくしまるえつこ). Yakushimaru was someone that I first heard about through her anison contributions, including "X-Jigen e Yokoso"(X次元へようこそ), the ending theme for the popular "Space Dandy". Knowing her voice quite well now after multiple listenings to "X-Jigen e Yokoso", her quiet and steady delivery against all of that sonic wave makes for a strangely soothing contrast. The one heard here is an extended version since the original take is only 3 minutes-and-change long with the last half of this version filled with a guitar solo.

Miki Matsubara -- Wash

All the way back in relatively warm September, I wrote about about a splendid cover that the late Miki Matsubara(松原みき)had done for the bossa nova classic "Wave". Just wanted to have that great steak dinner by the Riviera while listening to this.

Well, it's time to get Miki back to her City Pop roots again. So I found this B-side of her 8th single "See-Saw Love" from February 1982 called "Wash". Folks can be forgiven if they think that the song had been some catchy jingle for a detergent commercial in Japan, but Chinfa Kan's(康珍化)lyrics have Matsubara exhorting her current love to finally scrub his heart clean of any memories of his past love. Could be easier said than done.

Ken Sato(佐藤健)took care of the post-disco downtown music with some of those honey-toned horns and a really cool backup chorus. Perhaps not all of the disco was washed out of "Wash", though, since I still get some of that 1970s feeling from it. And hey, it's got a nice peppy speed as well.

Tried to see if "Wash" had come out on any of Matsubara's original albums but apparently it didn't (unless remastered versions have included the B-side). I did find it on one of her BEST compilations, specifically "Matsubara Miki Best Collection"(松原みき ベスト・コレクション)by Pony-Canyon, released in July 2008, and her "The Premium Best ~ Matsubara Miki"(ザ・プレミアムベスト 松原みき)from 2013. Unfortunately, it's not included on the BEST CD that I purchased by her, "Golden Best Matsubara Miki"(ゴールデン☆ベスト 松原みき)from 2011.😞

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Junichi Inagaki -- Omoide no Beach Club(思い出のビーチクラブ)

Considering the time of year and the singer of note here, perhaps I ought to be discussing "Christmas Carol no Koro ni wa"(クリスマスキャロルの頃には)or "Merry Xmas ga Ienai"(メリークリスマスが言えない). However, they were given their own articles years ago, so you can take a look at those after reading this one, if you wish.

Actually, maybe I can say that this one by Junichi Inagaki(稲垣潤一)is for those folks in a more wistful mood or in desperate need for summer to come their way again. "Omoide no Beach Club" (Beach Club of My Memories) was Inagaki's 11th single from April 1987, and it's a warm and sunny ode to a beloved and once-popular club surrounding a swimming pool that now lies empty.

Masao Urino's(売野雅勇)lyrics speak of a past romance which took place discreetly at that club back in the day, and it's pretty much clunked onto the head that it is very much a past romance. But the memory is still a bittersweet one with perhaps the accent on sweet. Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)is the man concocting the music for "Omoide no Beach Club", and I especially like the refrain part which sounds like something from an old Motown tune. It also comes across as quite different from his works for Omega Tribe.

The song also made it onto Inagaki's 7th studio album "Mind Note" from March 1987. And it even became the campaign song for Canada Dry's ginger ale. Always nice to have something carbonated for those stifling Japanese summer days. Well, mind you, I was also quite partial to Calpis and Max Coffee.

Aki Maeda -- Jingle Bells

I've seen a small fraction of what is called the Nasuverse, specifically within the "Fate" series such as "Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA", and frankly speaking, I think the aforementioned "PRISMA☆ILLYA" and "Carnival Phantasm" would be more my speed since I enjoy zany comedy. My anime buddy takes a somewhat more opposing stance.

Around last year, an Xmas-themed meme popped up on "Know Your Meme" in which a PlayStation game called "Fate/Extra" featured an SD form of Saber, played by veteran seiyuu Sakura Tange(丹下桜), giving her own version of "Jingle Bells" while rolling across the screen. The meme was born when Saber blurted out "PADORU PADORU!" You got me how a paddle has anything to do with the Yuletide.

Well, in the YouTube list of videos on the right as the "PADORU PADORU!" video was playing, I saw one labeled "Saber Santa sings Jingle Bells!". At first, I had thought that this was going to be a full version of the "PADORU PADORU!" take (a glutton for punishment, I am), but as it turns out, it's a pleasant Japanese-language cover of the Xmas classic with some updated arrangement reminiscent of early 70s R&B...kinda like the music I remember by The Jackson 5.

Once again, Mr. Assumption reared its ugly head as I and a number of commenters for the video had thought that it was Tange singing "Jingle Bells" in her regular voice. Ach...the answer is nay! Apparently, the singer here is Aki Maeda(前田亜季)and her version of the song was available on her mini-album "Winter Tales" from 1999 (alas, the album has gone haiban). Strangely enough, although she has voiced a couple of roles in anime, she's primarily an actress on TV and movies and a singer, and doesn't seem to have any connection at all with the "Fate" franchise. I knew more of her older sister, Ai Maeda(前田愛), actually, since she was popping up on every other commercial at one point. Just to be sure, this is not the seiyuu with the same name but another actress.

Now, you can jingle...and strut...all the way!

Mikako Hashimoto -- Touch My Heart


Here’s one my old favorites, and also another good example of curious J-Eurobeat covers from the 80s. Just like Paul Lekakis’ iconic “Boom Boom (Let’s Go Back To My Room)” and Sabrina Salerno’s infamous “Boys (Summertime Love)”, polish erotic model Danuta Lato released, in 1987, an Italo Disco single called “Touch My Heart” that was later covered in Japan. Apparently, though, and unlike the other two, she didn’t record the song, serving only as the image/model for it. The real singer behind the track is called Patty Ryan, and this type of thing was quite common in Europe during the 70s (Boney M., for example) and 80s disco scenes.

While “Boom Boom” and “Boys” are fun and trashy, “Touch My Heart” sounds a little more decadent to my ears, in the sense that I imagine it playing in an underground bar or club with lots of cheap booze, tobacco and the sweetest and most exotic incense (don’t ask me why). Danuta’s “live” performances are the reason why I feel this way, since she acts like a true B-grade porn star. I also like to imagine she was quite the famous Hollywood actress that eventually became overshadowed by others and started a new career in the erotic/porn industry. Pure imagination, of course, but that's probably thanks to her somewhat classic female beauty.

Other than that, the song is your typical Italo Disco affair, with little to no special feature, and its sole purpose was to sell some copies based on Danuta’s sexy image. Meanwhile, though, someone in Japan decided that aidoru Mikako Hashimoto (橋本美加子) should record her own version of the song, which actually happened later, in November 1987. Since the poor girl wasn’t selling too much doing the traditional aidoru thing, producers and powers-that-be probably wanted to shake things a little bit giving her this little Euro tune to cover.

Hashimoto was no Danuta Lato, physically speaking, so she couldn’t rely on the sexy image (well, she did some nude photo shootings later in her career, but let’s just focus on her pure/innocent aidoru days), and the song, while being okay and catchy in its own way, was far from what a hit single sounded in Japan back then. Maybe it was a minor hit in clubs, but I dunno, since they probably played the original version a lot more. In the end, Hashimoto only released one more single after “Touch My Heart”, just confirming that her career was really going downhill at the time. At least they tried something different with this Italo Disco song before the girl vanished into aidoru obscurity.

To finish, as a random bonus, here’s the gorgeous Angela Cavagna, another sexy European singer (this time from Italy), but one that, as far as I know, didn’t have any of her songs covered in Japan. She’s easily my favorite sexy singer from Europe (I even bought her album), and her main single is called “Easy Life”. Please enjoy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Noelle's Top 10 Haruo Minami Songs

Hmm, compared to my previous Top 10-ish lists this year's had the least forethought. Ordinarily I would have decided way, way, way in advanced as to who I'd feature, but this time, I literally decided on the one just a few days prior. Technically, I did kind of have ASKA or The Cool Five in mind, but they didn't seem as compelling as I had already done one on C&A as well as Mae-Kiyo. So I went out on a limb to choose one of the fellows I had been binge-listening as of late.

Okyaku-sama wa kami-sama desu.

That gentle and beaming smile, that welcoming persona, that catchphrase - it's Haruo Minami (三波春夫).

If I remember right, Haru-san was the last of the Yonin Shu I got into, and for the longest time, for some reason still unknown to me, he lagged behind in the way of my interest in the four. Perhaps it was because I was still trying to adjust to the Muchi and Michi sort of enka - and Lord knows that was tough! - so I had no time for Haru-san. But as you can very clearly see at this point, he now only stands just behind Hachi. Once I settled comfortably (more or less) into hardcore enka, I grew to love his expressive and chirpy vocals, and, of course, his penchant of going from warm and friendly to absolutely insane at the snap of one's fingers; the abrupt and hilarious transition to house music and rap later in his career only made me respect him even more as a singer. And, of course there's that statue park visit earlier this year.

Through him, I also got to know the genre of traditional narrative singing. I'm still not a fan of the pure form of it, but Minami's fusion of rokyoku plus kayo made it so much more exciting and listenable. And learning about historical figures and old fables through these one-man musicals is really fascinating. In fact, nearly half of my list consists of kayo-rokyoku.

(Serious fan-girling ahead - you have been warned.) However, similar to Hachi's case, it would be a lie to say that the bromides did not contribute to this sudden spike in interest. I mean, c'mon, the guy was hot. What would be a little different is that while, yes, Kasuga was a real cutie back in the day too, I prefer his pop singing style and song type more than Minami's minyo-esque delivery. So, well, I guess the bromides were a real interest booster for Minami. Also, I saw on the Marubell website a picture of him posing with a saxophone. The ridiculous scene aside, guy's been hiding some muscly arms under those kimono sleeves. Can you imagine a ripped Haru-san? Hmm, I can't seem to do so very well... But getting that picture would help in visualizing. 👀 

*Ahem* Yeah - um - before this goes completely off the rails, let's continue. Looking at my picks, there'll definitely be a good handful of familiar favourites, but at the same time I think there'll be quite a surprise in store. Well, House Haruo doesn't really make an appearance because as awesome as that is, I'm simply not a fan of House music all around, but... there'll be something just as good. :)

With this introduction, I believe we can begin. I tried arranging the selection in order, but it's just a rough estimate as I feel like I like a good number of them to a similar degree.

10. Otone Mujou

I feel like the list will not do if I don't add the song that piqued my interest in Japan's National Singer. Despite being an enka freshie at the time, I took to Minami's performance of the matatabi enka-rokyoku about the drunkard ronin Miki Hirate, "Otone Mujou" (大利根無情). Not the most ear-friendly song for me then, but his gestures and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde switches were so incredibly hypnotizing that I had to keep watching it over and over again.

9. Chanchiki Okesa

After my introduction to Minami came the 9th contender, "Chanchiki Okesa" (チャンチキおけさ). Compared to no.10, it was overall a much more listenable and catchy - a nice little Niigata minyo-inspired bokyo tune. I suppose I've been watching "Chanchiki Okesa" videos often enough to realise that the fellow would always raise his hands up, as if shading himself from the light, at the very last verse of the song.

8. Omanta Bayashi

Next on the list is "Omanta Bayashi" (おまんた囃子). Now this is a festive song! The brisk pace with the clanking percussions, thumping drums and the shrill flute makes one feel as if they've just been transported into the middle of Itoigawa's festival. My favourite bit of "Omanta Bayashi" has got to be when Haru-san calls out to the folks of the different regions in Japan to join in on the fun - I really like the way in which his voice just bounces around from word to word when he sings it.

7. Yonaoshi Rock 'n' Roll

Y'know that little surprise I mentioned earlier? Yeah, this is it: Yonaoshi Rock 'n' Roll (世直しロックンロール). The previous entries have focused heavily on what Haru-san was known for, ondos, minyos and rokyoku. Now, let's have something different. Let's have rock 'n' roll.

Well, I suppose rock Haruo-chan isn't as earth-shattering after you've discovered House Haruo, but it's great to hear the hip grandpa (by then) tear up the rug with the band members screaming their lungs out. The cherry on top, however, is when Haruo-chan checks up on a couple of listless guys during the spoken sections, only to out that his daughter is up to no good and his car got wrecked - the freak out is gold. If only there was a live version of this! I wonder if he'd still stick to his kimono, or if he'd actually wear a black leather jacket.

By the way, "Yonaoshi Rock 'n' Roll" can only be found on Spotify, so I've put the link to the album it's in. It's Track 10 in the album, but I would like to note that in order to listen to stuff on Spotify you need to sign up (for free, if you're not keen on Premium).

6. Kobe wo Hiraku Kiyomori

Leaving the chaotic foray into rock 'n' roll, we come back down to earth for the chouhen kayo-rokyoku, where most cap at around 8 to 9 minutes. They're really lengthy by regular song standards, but Haru-san just makes them sound so fascinating. As such, there are a little less than a handful of them here, and the first you see here is "Kobe wo Hiraku Kiyomori" (神戸を拓く清盛).

Coming from his "Tale of Heike" series in 1994, Minami tells the tale of how the powerful Heian era figure Kiyomori Taira (and his son, Shigemori? I'm not sure on this end) built Kobe's port. Though this doesn't have him yelling about something, I find that his portrayal of Kiyomori via the grand and noble score, and the trials of constructing a port in the face of rough seas through his threatening baritone are spot on. Though I like "Kobe wo Hiraku Kiyomori" in its entirety, I also find that the first two and the very last stanzas are good enough to work as a regular length enka song.


5. Genroku Mei Sofu Tawaraboshi Genba 

Now, when it comes to chouhen kayo-rokyoku, I cannot leave out Minami's magnum opus, "Genroku Mei Sofu Tawaraboshi Genba" (元禄名槍譜 俵星玄蕃). Though intimidated by its duration at first, the melody variation, his skillful and expressive delivery, and elegant moves shine through and makes one lose track of time. And in the way of his violent outbursts, I thought "Otone Mujou" had Minami going nuts - how wrong was I. Nothing prepared me for "Soba-ya ka!", which definitely took "Tawaraboshi Genba" up to the next level of insanity. Plus, this was where I discovered his aptitude for rap. Man, guy must've been fire at tongue-twisters.

4. Genroku Sakura Fubuki Kimedo Takadanobaba

Speaking of violent outbursts, the other tune I know of for now to rival "Tawaraboshi Genba" in that is "Genroku Sakura Fubuki Kimedo Takadanobaba" (元禄桜吹雪 決斗高田の馬場), which I also like to call "Showdown at the Takadanobaba" (it ain't the O.K. Corral here!). This one revolves around Horibe Yasubei of the 47 ronin and his, well, showdown at Takadanobaba. As to why this is ahead of "Tawaraboshi Genba", I feel that Minami takes you on a wilder ride with "Kimedo"; the music itself has got a more modern and groovy touch, and his voice gets a lot more intense and guttural, making for a more dramatic sound. And, of course, the shouts and growls in this one are off the rails.

3. Kiyomori Tenka wo Iru 

The song that first introduced me to the power-hungry Kiyomori, "Kiyomori Tenka wo Iru" (清盛天下を射る) takes the bronze. As with no.6, Haru-san steps into the shoes of the titular character in a time before the official went on a dark path for ambition, where he protects the capital from a bunch of rouge monk warriors. I love me some grand sounding melodies and Minami portraying heroic characters, and its considerably shorter length made it once of my go-to tunes for listening on the go, so this one was a pretty obvious choice for the podium.

The link I've put for "Kiyomori Tenka wo Iru" to a Special Stage segment between Haru-san and a sassy Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし). The song can be found at part 4 at the 7:06 mark. You can also listen to it on Spotify, but as with his other rokyoku stuff, I find that half the joy comes from watching him perform it.

2. Yuki no Wataridori 

I think you guys would have seen this coming from the way I've been talking about the snowy matatabi enka with a gory end (for the bad guys, of course). But then again, I didn't put "Yuki no Wataridori" (雪の渡り鳥) in first place. Well, when it really comes down to the line "Yuki no Wataridori", while a jaunty romp in the snow-covered Edo countryside, it's not as catchy as no.1.

Ooooi, Haru-san yoooo!

1. Funakata-san yo 

Taking the number 1 spot on this list is not a fierce ronin, nor is it a powerful historical figure, it's instead a funakata-san! In many of his works, Minami exudes happiness and optimism, but somehow I feel that the one that shows this most clearly is "Funakata-san yo" (船方さんよ). It's a simple upbeat ditty about hitching a ride aboard this tiny boat, but his fluctuating and fluttering vocals makes it a joy to the ears. It's quite hard to stay bummed out when one listens to this, what with the "Oi-s" and "Enyasa-s", so this is why "Funakata-san yo" has manage to sail its way to the top.

And that about wraps up my Top 10 Minami list. I hope you've enjoyed listening to some classics as well as the lesser known stuff Japan's National Singer had to offer. I got to say that he's come a long way in my books. Upon skimming through the "Otone Mujou" article, which is my very first write-up on him, I actually said that he wasn't one of my favourites. Ha! How that has changed!

Finally got this article out on time again. :)

The Tempters/Mi-Ke -- Emerald no Densetsu(エメラルドの伝説)

I'd actually already written up one article for the Group Sounds band The Tempters(ザ・テンプターズ), and it was for their single "Kamisama Onegai"(神様お願い), since it was covered by Hanae(ハナエ)as the ending theme for the anime "Kamisama Hajimemashita"(神様はじめました). At the time, I only knew the leader Yoshiharu Matsuzaki(松崎由治)because he was the one who wrote and composed the song. What I hadn't known was that another member was Ken'ichi Hagiwara(萩原健一). I've only known him as a rather intense actor on TV and in movies, but hearing that he had been quite the hellraiser during his GS days, I'm not really surprised. Managed to find this late 1980s footage above of him appearing quite dapper on an interview show.

To be honest, it's rather difficult for me to imagine these guys as hellraisers in those outfits seen in the thumbnail above, but hey, it was the 1960s. Anyways, fashion critique aside, "Emerald no Densetsu" (Legend of Emerald) was The Tempters 3rd single from June 1968. From what I had seen so far of the results of the band's first two singles, they weren't doing too badly at all. And yet, according to the J-Wiki article on their third single, Philips Records was a bit worried about getting out that next big hit, so instead of leader Matsuzaki taking care of the next song, Philips apparently recruited lyricist Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼)and composer Kunihiko Murai(村井邦彦)to whip up Single No. 3. I'm curious as to how The Tempters took that news, but it couldn't have been all that bad since "Emerald no Densetsu" did get made and recorded.

For me, "Emerald no Densetsu" does sound like a typical GS song of the decade, but apparently, composer Murai had taken in vocalist Hagiwara's suggestion of something with a mystique appeal, and created a melody influenced by French musical impressionism in achieving the goal of a certain mystery-laden romanticism. All of the fancy jargon aside, it was considered quite notable at the time  for its use of strings, horns and oboe.

I guess lyricist Nakanishi had also taken that impressionism to heart as well since his words express a man falling in love with a woman represented by a glistening green lake. He even gets down on his knees to kiss it (was he wearing protection...y'know, for flesh-eating bacteria and the like?).

"Emerald no Densetsu" hit No. 1 on Oricon and became the 16th-ranked single of 1968.

Several singers since the original's release have covered "Emerald no Densetsu" including the group Mi-Ke in their 1991 debut album "Omoide no G-S Kujukurihama"(想い出のG・S九十九里浜...Group Sounds Kujukurihama of Our Memories)which peaked at No. 19.