I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube, Oricon charts are courtesy of and my research is translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Yu Hayami -- Nagisa no Lion (渚のライオン)

Not quite as famous as her 5th single and breakthrough hit, "Natsu Iro no Nancy"(夏色のナンシー), Yu Hayami's(早見優)6th single "Nagisa no Lion" (Beach Lion) from July 1983 was still a song that ended up one of those compilation tapes that I bought at Wah Yueh many moons ago.

Written by the same duo behind "Natsu Iro no Nancy", Kyohei Tsutsumi and Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子・筒美京平), "Nagisa no Lion" is another summery aidoru tune which has less soaring and more Charleston than the preceding song. The lyrics talk about that hunk on the beach who has got all of the girls' eyes trained on him....think of Chris Hemsworth in his Speedo strutting on the sand. Now that the good weather has finally arrived here even in my burg, I'm sure there are probably going to be a lot of folks hitting the sea...or lake, as it were, over here.

"Nagisa no Lion" got as high as No. 10 and ended up as the 77th-ranked song of 1983. The Force was definitely with her during those days.

Chu Kosaka -- Shirakechimauze (しらけちまうぜ)

I've come across that striking red cover of Chu Kosaka's (小坂忠) "Horo" (ほうろう...Wandering) album pop up in a number of critics' lists featuring important Japanese releases of yesteryear, so eventually I decided to find out what this piece of work is all about. I first found out about it through "Japanese City Pop" and then read some more in "Record Collectors' Magazine" Special Issue about Japan's top Pop/Rock/Folk albums from 1960-1989. I ended up acquiring the actual album last year shortly after leaving Japan.

One of the reasons why "Horo" is considered important is because of the position it occupies in the development of Japanese pop music in the 70's, namely with how it successfully bridges the Western pop and R&B traditions that local songwriters started embracing at the time. Yuming, the originator New Music, really pushed this trend forward in 1973 when she teamed up with Caramel Mama (who renamed themselves to Tin Pan Alley the following year) to record the founding albums of the genre. In January 1975, Tin Pan Alley would then contribute to Kosaka's "Horo" to bring forward another self-coined genre Wasei R&B (和製R&B). A number of early magazine and radio adverts for the album mention that term, though in the modern days it's referred to as an example of early City Pop, though we would wait another three months before Sugar Babe would fully embrace urban sounds through "Songs". Speaking of Sugar Babe, Tatsuro Yamashita (山下達郎) and Taeko Onuki (大貫妙子) both participated in the backing chorus for "Horo", joined by Minako Yoshida (吉田美奈子), who would also embrace her R&B side later that year with "Minako". And as an icing on a cake, the strings and horn arranger on "Horo" is Akiko Suzuki (鈴木晶子), who debuted in 1976 as Akiko Yano (矢野顕子) when she married Makoto Yano (矢野誠), also a member of this album's personnel.

As for Kosaka himself, he's been an old friend of Haruomi Hosono (細野晴臣) since 1969 when they were band mates in Apryl Fool (エイプリル・フール). Once the band split up and Kosaka went solo in 1971, Hosono would support his music by inviting fellow musicians to play on his albums: Happy End for the first two and Tin Pan Alley for "Horo". Kosaka does look rather intriguing on that cover, a bit like an established middle-class immigrant in 1940's America. "Horo" was one of the last secular releases he put out, as later that year he decided to convert to Christianity after his daughter survived a massive burn. So for much of his career, Kosaka has associated with the Gospel side of things, but because of a revived critical interest in "Horo" over the last decade or so, he recently re-recorded the album in the form of "Horo 2010", this time with blue cover art.

After all this extensive background information, perhaps I should actually provide an example of this singer's music. I decided go with the cool "Shirakechimauze" (しらけちまうぜ), a lushly crafted tune with breezy strings, slightly jazzy piano and laid-back groove that were arranged by Hosono and Makoto Yano. According to the article in "Record Collectors", a number of album's tracks including this one were inspired by then-emerging Philadelphia Soul genre. I can hear the influence thanks to the light disco feel, though the song still retains Kosaka's folksy roots, especially with that distinct delivery of his. The train whistle-like vocals of Yoshida, Yamashita and Onuki in the refrain also contribute to that impression because they make me think of a smaller town rather than a glowing urban centre. I think that's what the critics meant by "Horo" bridging the gap between folk-influenced New Music and urban City Pop. Hosono was responsible for composing the carefree melody that perfectly matches Takashi Matsumoto's (松本隆) lyrics about the protagonist's apathetic attitude towards his recent break-up where he casually sends off his guilt-driven ex and admits that he's bad at crying. The melody makes you picture him strolling through the neighborhood and enjoying everyday life regardless of what has happened.

Kenji Ozawa (小沢健二) provided his own take on "Shirakechimauze" in 1995 through a guest appearance track on Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra's "Grand Prix" album. This version is pretty jazzy with the added brass section and also has more pronounced drums. I especially like the trumpet solo in the opening.

Yen Town Band -- Swallowtail Butterfly ~ Ai no Uta (あいのうた)

The singer CHARA was a pretty big presence in the early years of my second long-term stay in Japan, but I never really became a big fan of hers for some reason. However, I always remembered her breathy voice and those somewhat Betty Boop looks.

However, there was one ballad that of hers that remains a musical counterpoint in my memories of my life overseas. That was "Swallowtail Butterfly ~ Ai no Uta" (A Love Song) that came out in July 1996. It was the theme song for a Shunji Iwai(岩井俊二)film, "Swallowtail" about life in a future dystopian Japan that also starred the singer-songwriter in the role of a Chinese prostitute. The song was also released not under her usual nom de plume but under the name Yen Town Band in homage to the nickname of the movie's Tokyo. Although I never caught the film, it and the the song got a lot of attention at the time....also enough for me to buy the CD. According to her J-Wiki article, CHARA was labeled partly as an alternative rock singer, and at least for this ballad, it had that languid exotic sound that was atypical during the time of Tetsuya Komuro's(小室哲哉)reign atop the Oricon charts and even Shibuya-kei.

"Swallowtail Butterfly" was written by CHARA, the director Iwai and Takeshi Kobayashi(小林武史), who was helping out bands Spitz and My Little Lover at the time. Kobayashi also took care of composing duties here. A couple of months after its release, it hit the top spot on Oricon and later became the 26th-ranked song of the year.

Personally, the song has attached itself to my memory of going up to a friend's house in the student district of Takadanobaba for a dinner party one Saturday night. I remember the walk from Takadanobaba Station being particularly long since that friend wanted to keep his rent as low as possible so the long trek was the sacrifice made. He must have played the song on his stereo, but at the time, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics were also on the telly, so there was a rather interesting contrast seeing all the rabid sports activity while this laid-back ballad was playing over the speakers.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Top 10 Albums of 1970

1.  Keiko Fuji                                      Shinjuku no Onna
2.  Shinichi Mori                                 Kage wo Shitaite
3.  Hiroshi Uchiyamada & Cool Five Nagasaki wa Kyo mo Ame Datta
4.  Shinichi Mori                                 Hana to Namida/Shinichi Mori no Subete
5.  Keiko Fuji                                      Onna no Blues
6.  Simon & Garfunkel                        Ashita ni Kakeru Bashi
7.  Mina Aoe                                       Ikebukuro no Onna/Mina Aoe no Subete
8.  Tom Jones                                      Live in Las Vegas
9.  Mina Aoe                                       Kokusai Sen Machiai Shitsu
10. Shinichi Mori/Mina Aoe              Yoru to Koukotsu to Tameiki to Dai Ni Shuu

Yumi Matsutoya /Tomoyo Harada -- Dandelion ~ Osozaki no Tanpopo (ダンデライオン〜遅咲きのたんぽぽ)

Maybe the surprising thing tonight is that I had yet to put up this Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実)creation, "Dandelion ~ Osazaki no Tanpopo" (Late-Blooming Dandelion). The reason is that it may be either the first or second Yuming song that I had ever heard through my old radio program, "Sounds of Japan" all those years ago.

Of course written and composed by the veteran singer-songwriter, "Dandelion" is just one of those songs that I think would be and should be a staple at annual graduation ceremonies in Japan. There probably wouldn't be a dry eye in the house with one. The lyrics seem to be describing how a young girl transforms from an ugly duckling into the proverbial swan through the ups and downs of adolescence. But for me, it's the music that was quite affecting. It seems to follow a similar pattern to Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" with the slow piano and innocent melody eventually reaching a high of pride and joy by the end, punctuated by the big drum roll and the bells. In fact, perhaps Yuming's cover would be great to get the lachrymal fluids flowing at a wedding reception.

Yuming's "Dandelion" was released in August 1983 as her 19th single which hit as high as No. 9 on the Oricon weeklies. It was also a track on her 15th album, "Voyager" which came out later in December of that year. The album reached No. 1 on the charts and later became the 5th-ranked album for 1984.

Surprise No. 2 was finding out that, yes, Yuming's version was indeed a cover version. Matsutoya had actually written and composed "Dandelion" originally for aidoru/actress Tomoyo Harada(原田知世)as her 4th single which came out in July 1983, about a month before the creator's self-cover. In fact, until tonight, I had never known about the existence of the original version. In double fact, perhaps not a lot of folks outside of Harada's die-hard fans know that it was actually sold not by a major label and was sold only at Shinseido Record Store and at the theater featuring her musical "Ashinaga Ojisan"(あしながおじさん...Daddy-Long-Legs)of which "Dandelion" was the theme song.

Listening to it, there is nothing of that growing epic-ness of the Yuming version. Instead, it has that light and lovely aidoru-esque lilt to it to match with Harada's vocals. The progress of that protagonist in this version might have been more for a summer holiday rather than the teenage years.

And why not finish things off by having the two of them perform their common song together? By the way, Yuming helped out Harada as well on the latter's previous single.

Masatoshi Nakamura -- Kokoro no Iro (心の色)

While on that trip to Hong Kong, besides those 3 Chage and Aska singles I managed to root out in an old CD shop in the seedy Sino Centre, I had also gotten singer-actor Masatoshi Nakamura's album, "SONGS". This was actually a reason why I had decided to check out this shop... the other reason being that that shop was the last chance I had in finding something I like in that entire building. I happened to chance upon this used but well-kept copy of "SONGS" while inspecting the outside of the dingy and musty-looking exterior. There it sat in a rack attached to the door, and man, that was really a sight for sore eyes! Despite not being familiar with Nakamura's discography, I decided to get the album mostly because I was pretty sure that I won't ever find such a thing in a shop outside of Japan, and at least I knew one song in list: "Kokoro no Iro".

I was introduced to "Kokoro no Iro" through one of those medleys found on YouTube featuring hits songs from the 80's, and I recalled seeing Nakamura singing this cool sounding, somewhat quick paced song while strumming on his electric guitar (I'm not entirely sure of the guitar bit though). But like most songs I discover via said medleys, I forgot to follow up on it... In fact, I only remembered it shortly before leaving for HK...

Anyway, having just heard its chorus, I had assumed that the whole of "Kokoro no Iro" sounded just like that, so I was not expecting such a muted, mysterious start with only Nakamura's distinguishable deep voice, the tinkling of the piano and the gentle strumming of the acoustic guitar. At that moment in time, I thought I had gotten the tune's title wrong since it sounded so different from whatever I had heard, and then came the chorus and the wailing of the electric guitar during the musical interlude. It took me quite a while to get used to the rest of song as I found it pretty dull, and to be frank I had only just began to not mind it. But I have to admit that it's the slow bit makes "Kokoro no Iro" a comfortable song to listen to in the late evening.

The lyrics to "Kokoro no Iro" were written by Akira Otsu (大津あきら) and there's a plaque to commemorate this song in his hometown of Senzaki in Nagatoshi City, Yamaguchi. Huh, never heard of a song's plaque being placed in the hometown of its songwriter before. It's usually found at the singer's hometown or the place that's featured in the song, if at all. The music was composed by Toshiyuki Kimori (木森敏之). "Kokoro no Iro" did very well on the charts a few months after its release on 25th November 1981. It stayed at 1st place for the whole of March in 1982 and only dropped 3 spots to 4th place by the end of that year. And so this got him his first ticket to the Kohaku.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Mieko Hirota/Yukari Ito -- Vacation

May 1st: in Canada, it's just a regular day (although the debut of "Avengers: Age of Ultron" today pretty much launched blockbuster season with warp drive). In Japan, it's the early days of Golden Week, one of the major holiday seasons of the year over there. A lot of folks are heading out on vacation on the various planes and trains for those precious few days of leisure, but I do wonder if everybody needs a second vacation after going through the hell of the crowds during exodus and return. As for me, I always enjoyed my relative stay-cation; never went outside of Tokyo or Chiba in all of my Golden Weeks. Plenty of things to do and plenty of friends to see in my area.

So, to start off my contribution to "Kayo Kyoku Plus" for May, I've gone with the appropriate "Vacation". And yep, for those old-time music fans, it is indeed the cover of the Connie Francis classic from 1962 (and not the Go-Gos tune from the 80s). In my household, I heard the Japanese version as often as I did the original, but was never quite sure who sang the cover. In any case, there was an audiotape that my parents' played that had one of those brassy young ladies from the 60s belting out the tune.

I found out that it was both Mieko Hirota(弘田三枝子)and Yukari Ito(伊東ゆかり)who released their own cover versions in the same year that the original had come out. Ito was the one that I had first associated with "Vacation" since I knew that she often did covers of the old American tunes throughout her career. However, Hirota is the one who probably had the most successful version since it sold about 200,000 records after its release in November 1962. For Hirota, it was her second cover song after her take on Helen Shapiro's "Don't Treat Me Like A Child" which seems to be her debut single from 1961.

Here is Ito's version above. I'm actually not quite that surprised if it is indeed the case that Hirota's version outsold Ito's cover. There's quite a bit more oomph in the former's take on the Francis classic. Incidentally, Francis along with Gary Weston and Hank Hunter created the song which would be the singer's final Top 10 hit, but the Japanese lyrics were handled by the late Kenji Sazanami(漣健児)which was a pen name for Shoichi Kusano(草野昌一).

After hearing the Japanese version on audiotape all those years, my family was able to catch the performance on videotape after purchasing our first VCR machine in the early 80s. And often was the case on those myriad predecessors of "Kayo Concert" that there would be a rendition of "Vacation". Above is Hirota and another 60s teenybopper singer, Mie Nakao(中尾ミエ), taking care of things. In fact, I also assumed that Nakao had also been the original Japanese singer of the song, but I don't think she ever released her version of it. It certainly seems that she has adopted it in her arsenal on TV, though.

Of course, I gotta leave you with original by Connie Francis herself. We're not quite in vacation mode here in Toronto, but the weather this weekend will more than make up for it...especially after a long hard winter.