Having a strong fondness for Japanese techno/synthpop, I thought for a while about making an entry about some of my favorites but also decided to narrow things down a bit. This one specifically deals with aidoru tracks produced by some techno masterminds like YMO, Masami Tsuchiya and Moonriders, also known as aidoru techno-kayo. I don't usually have an urge to listen to idols, but when I do, more often than not it's this stuff right here. I think it's because the arrangements and the concepts keep me interested. I love the quirky techno-ness of it all, and it seems like the creators actually put effort into these songs. Or perhaps I just like the sound of computer music mixed with cute vocals. Not that all the singers below necessarily sound cute, but those that do definitely benefit from all the synths and bleeps in the background.
Without further ado, here's the playlist, organized in chronological order. There isn't a particular theme to these selections since good music comes in different forms and moods. Enjoy!
1. Fever -- Digita Love [フィーバー -- デジタラブ] (1980)
2. Junko Sakurada -- Kitto Kitto [桜田淳子 -- きっと きっと] (1981)
As a one-third of the Hana no Chu-San Trio (花の中三トリオ), Sakurada may have been overshadowed by the legendary Momoe Yamaguchi but she did hold strong on her own with some of her mid-70's hits like “Hajimete no Dekigoto” (はじめての出来事) and “Juushichi no Natsu” (十七の夏). One of her latter highlights was the album “My Dear” from 1981, which had Side 1 of the LP produced by Akiko Yano (矢野顕子), who brought in all that bubbly technopop for Sakurada to try. Lots of great songs there, but the one that captivated me the most is “Kitto Kitto”. Although the music itself has Yano written all over it and in the refrain Sakurada copies her fluttery manner of delivering the lyrics, she interpreted it in her own way with that mature womanly voice of hers. Whereas Yano sounds sweet like the kindest friend, Sakurada goes for the sultry. Makes for an interesting combo with the music. You can call me addicted to the rapid refrain and the strings riff that follows it. It's just cleverly crafted in general with all these delicate details in the arrangement. Better not dissect them.
3. Chiemi Manabe -- Nerawareta Shoujo [真鍋ちえみ -- ねれわれた少女] (1982)
4. Imokin Trio -- High School Lullaby [イモ欽トリオ -- ハイスクール・ララバイ] (1982)
5. Mari Iijima -- Love Sick [飯島真理 -- Love Sick] (1983)
6. Hiromi Go -- Dakara Spectacle [郷ひろみ -- だからスペクタクル] (1983)
Just to prove that YMO practically owned Japanese pop of the early 80's, they had to involve themselves with Hiromi Go or else their control wasn't complete. Ryuichi Sakamoto produced his 1983 album “Hiromi-Kyou no Hanzai” (比呂魅卿の犯罪), inviting the rest of YMO and its family including Kenji Omura and Akiko Yano to play the instruments. The album cover and the booklet images feature the idol in a New Romantic getup complete with blush and lipstick. It was a bit of an oddball entry in Go's discography but it was also the one that convinced me to get over my embarrassment of liking his music and give it an earnest try. Of all the tracks there, however, I decided to go with the one that he wrote and composed himself (and did it well) while Sakamoto let his arranging magic do the rest of the work. “Dakara Spectactle”, as you can tell from the title, is quite theatrical and somewhat cheesy but in a good way. Even though it's just little over 7 minutes long, it never drags. I like everything about this: the chorus, the verses, the instrumental bits. Despite Sakamoto's influence, it's very much a Go piece and he owns it like a dandy heartthrob that he is.
7. Kilala & Ulala -- Yume, Fushigi Ikaga [キララとウララ -- 夢・不思議いかが] (1985)
Like Chiemi Manabe, I would have liked for Kilala & Ulala go further but alas they only lasted for two years. Their only album “Double Fantasy” doesn't feature the usual techno composers save for Hosono and Masaya Matsuura (from PSY-S) on a couple of tracks but it's still memorable. My personal favorite number from it is “Yume, Fushigi Ikaga”, which was written/composed by EPO and arranged by Nobuyuki Shimizu (清水信之). Just listening to the futuristic melody and synths and the girls' bold voices makes me want to launch a rocket into the stratosphere. Although it was a CM jingle for some cosmetics company, I think it would make a fine theme for a tokusatsu show. Just an observation. You can read more about the duo in my entry here.
8. Chiemi Hori -- Wa Shoi! [堀ちえみ -- Wa・ショイ!] (1985)
9. Yukiko Okada -- Wonder Trip Lover [岡田有希子 -- WONDER TRIP LOVER] (1986)
Here's a Sakamoto creation that has popped at me in various incarnations over the years, but it's Yukada's glorious opening track to her final album “Venus Tanjo” (ヴィーナス誕生) from March 1986 that I'm partial to. The other two are Sakamoto's self-cover with different lyrics titled “Ballet Mecanique” which came out a month later and Miki Nakatani's “Chronic Love” from 1999, an opening to the quirky mystery drama Keizoku that she has starred in. Those unique melody chords cannot be mistaken for anything else. It's one of Sakamoto's quintessential compositions, in my opinion. Combine that with Okada's cute and quivering vocals and you have an idol masterpiece. I've never seen her perform this which I doubt even happened considering the brief time between “Venus Tanjo” and her death, but I think it'd be a lovely sight. She had a lot of nice songs in her brief but legendary career, including the acclaimed “Kuchibiru Network” (also created by Sakamoto), and she also passed the test of keeping up the good work beyond the singles. That's why I decided to highlight “Wonder Trip Lover” aside from the fact that it happens to be a fine techno-kayo song. The other two names involved with it were EPO behind the lyrics and the late Tetsuro Kashibuchi (かしぶち哲郎) from Moonriders behind the arrangement. That galloping drumming in the refrain and the sax are unique to Okada's version and make it the special one for me.
10. Kyoko Koizumi -- Tsuretette Phantasien [小泉今日子 -- 連れてってファンタァジェン] (1987)
That's it, folks. If you're interested in sampling more techno-kayo, you can check out P-Vine's impressive compilations where they selected a bunch of songs on various labels from Polydor and Teichiku to Victor and Kind Records. More about those here. Unfortunately, For Life Records and Sony didn't participate in the project, so names like Chiemi Manabe aren't represented there. Those are still extensive compilations though that include both aidoru tunes and more experimental fare. My playlist here has many of the artists featured there, though I didn't necessarily go for just the signature tunes. Hopefully you found something of interest.