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.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Makoto Saito -- Someday Somewhere

Happy Monday, folks! For those who have read my quasi-weather reports here on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" in some of the articles and for those who have some interest in my hometown of Toronto, Canada, The Big Smoke or The 6ix must seem like a meteorologically fantastical place where the weather can change on a dime.

Well, it's not exactly on a dime, but after going through one last spate of summer last week in which the Humidex hit about 35 degrees Celsius, we in Toronto will be heading toward a deep least temporarily in the latter part of this week, and...shudder...there may even be some snow flurries in the forecast. As I've always said to my students back in Japan, Toronto's weather is predictably unpredictable. Halloween ought to be interesting, then.

Let's start off the week with something nice and mellow...perhaps like a hot chocolate. Singer-songwriter Makoto Saito(斎藤誠)is just the man, and I found this song titled "Someday Somewhere" recently. From his 3rd album "PARADISE A GO! GO!" released in April 1985, it's a wistful number by the singer about deeply missing that special someone while he/she is off somewhere on a trip...perhaps after having said something along the lines of "I think we need to take a break from our relationship...for a while, at least". I'm kinda rooting for the protagonist of the song so that the break heals eventually.

Perhaps it's merely me, but when I hear "Someday Somewhere", I get the feeling that it sounds a bit more contemporary than its original 1985 release date. Maybe this might be one of those timeless pieces.

Rimi Natsukawa/Ryoko Moriyama/BEGIN -- Nada Soso (涙そうそう)

From the back of my mind used to come a very tiny snippet of a song I had heard many years ago when the local Chinese channel was promoting albums of popular Mando-pop artistes at the time. I had no idea what it was called, but I liked what I heard and would always look forward to hearing that commercial. But, of course, as the years went by and the commercial disappeared from TV, I was left with only a vague snippet of that song. It was frustrating having this bit floating around in my head from time to time, and because I didn't fully know the melody, it'd get mixed up with other songs. This occurrance came and went until one fine Saturday afternoon in late 2014.

Natsukawa's version.

At that point in time, "BS Nippon no Uta" was still a fascinating program for me and I yearned to see someone I liked during its "Special Stage", so I was watching it frequently. Then it so happened that one afternoon the Special pairing was the late cool-guy composer Masaaki Hirao, whose name I had seen many times by then, and Rimi Natsukawa (夏川りみ), whom I was unfamiliar with. As per usual, a baraage of kayo was sung, but then came an all too familiar tune by Natsukawa. After at least 10 years since I heard that commercial, I finally knew what the song was called: "Nada Soso". Oh, it was sweet catharsis!

Moriyama's version.

With the island twang to the melody and Natsukawa's crystal clear and tender vocals, one would think that "Nada Soso" was made for this Okinawa native. However, when I looked this song up on Wikipedia, it turned out that it originated as a collaboration between folk singer Ryoko Moriyama (森山良子) and the band BEGIN in 1998. Apparently, Moriyama had requested BEGIN to come up with an Okinawa-themed score; they did and gave it its current title which means something on the line of "falling tears". Moriyama then built on this by writing lyrics that revolved around the memory of her late brother. This was then included in her album "TIME IS LONELY". However, "Nada Soso" wasn't within reach of the spotlight for quite some time as the album didn't do particularly well, and neither did BEGIN's self-cover on 23rd March 2000. It was only until Natsukawa decided to do her own rendition after hearing it at the 26th G8 Summit in Okinawa that very year.

BEGIN's version.

Exactly a year later in 2001, Natsukawa's version came out, along with a couple of other songs BEGIN had composed for her; it was only then did "Nada Soso" receive the acclaim it is now known for. Moriyama then re-released her rendition as a single that December, and in 2003, a special version with her, Natsukawa and BEGIN was released. Incredibly, "Nada Soso" stayed on the Oricon charts for a whopping 5 years, peaking at 8th place on the weeklies, and selling at least 1.2 million copies. Of course, it also came with TV tie-ups. In 2005, TBS created the "Nada Soso Project" for their 50th Anniversary which had 2 dramas, titled "Hiroshima Showa 20 nen 8 Gatsu Muika" (広島・昭和20年8月6日) and "Nada Soso Kono Ai ni Ikite" (涙そうそう この愛に生きて), with "Nada Soso" as their theme songs - the former with Natsukawa's version and the latter with Moriyama's. Furthermore, Natsukawa sang this tune 4 consecutive times on the Kohaku from 2002 (her first appearance) to 2005.

The mandarin version... Dang, that's a trip down memory lane.

Besides that mandarin version I had briefly mentioned earlier, which was apparently sung by Singaporean Mando-pop artiste Joi Chua and titled "Pei Wo Kan Ri Chu" (陪我看日出... Watch The Sunrise With Me... probably), "Nada Soso" has a whole baraage of renditions that spans multiple languages and instrumentals of various kinds. This is truly a global phenomenon! I'm quite curious as to what Moriyama thinks about its success.

I enjoy "Nada Soso" quite a lot as it's pretty nostalgic, however, this is probably the only song I listen to where I have to deliberately ignore the words, otherwise, well, the title will happen. While Moriyama's sweet yet heart-rending words have the memory of her brother imbued in them, I get reminded of my own grandpa.

Every so often I would wonder what it'd be like if he were still around and what would've been different. Well, a lot. For one, I'd most likely be in the States now because I'd force him to come along with me, and knowing him he'd be more than willing to do so. I suppose, in that respect, I'd be more spoiled too, haha! I also wonder what he would think of me now... The old enka bit will definitely be criticized (considering my current taste) but he'd still get me records or CDs, surely.

If there's any phrase from him as told by Mom that I am currently holding on to in this frustrating period in my life, it's "If you really want it, you must be willing to do anything to get it." (Or something like that.) Yes, I get it now. Well, I'm close to a month late for my annual tribute to him as I was trying to sort my life out (along with being lazy), but it's something that I want to keep doing.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Rajie -- Inshouha(印象派)

I did buy that 2-CD BEST compilation for City Pop singer Rajie(ラジ)earlier this year. BEST compilations are fine for getting that overall picture of a singer's work, including any hit tunes. However, there is still something to be said about getting the original studio albums and even some of the singles at least. Of course, it all depends on the individual listener, but I've found that those studio albums and the B-sides of singles have also contained gems that simply didn't get onto a BEST collection.

Case in point: Rajie's "Inshouha"(Impressionist), a track from her 1984 album "Gogo no Relief"(午後のレリーフ...Relief in the Afternoon). It didn't get onto that BEST compilation but I'm not left looking askance at my ceiling while I wonder why. There were so many fine tracks from so many of her albums that got put onto those 2 CDs that probably some perfectly decent stuff had to be left behind.

Akira Ohtsu(大津あきら)provided the lyrics while Takashi Sato(佐藤隆)created the music, and it's Sato's oh-so-City Pop melody that got me hooked (gorgeous keyboard work) and has me thinking about investing in this 6th album of hers. That melody just courses around the metropolis like a smooth-running sports car in the mood for a good tour of the bright lights and big city. And yet, what makes it even more interesting is Rajie's vocals which reminds me of the delivery of Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)in her early 80s technopop/European phase. Maybe "Inshouha" leaves the impression of taking a ride around Paris of the 22nd century.

Mikio Masuda -- Romantic Rain

As I type this, the ceiling lights in my room have burned out so I'm left with just the lamp on the filing cabinet providing me with illumination enough so that I'm not destroying my eyes from just viewing the computer screen. However, the atmosphere created is quite pleasant for some nighttime jazz. I only wish that I had made myself a cup of coffee.

So, on this Sunday night before the work week starts up again, I give you the mellow-as-a-glass-of-Bailey's Irish Creme "Romantic Rain" from jazz pianist Mikio Masuda(益田幹夫). This track comes from his 1987 album "Smokin' Night", and it's a very comfy number with his group as if you're listening to it in the close confines of a jazz bar while the weather outside is spitting the titular precipitation. What I like about it is that "Romantic Rain" is rather reminiscent of what I remember from the late great pianist Vince Guaraldi who came up with all those wonderful melodies for the various "Peanuts" specials on TV.

I couldn't find any information on Wikipedia or J-Wiki on Masuda, and in fact, I had to use Google Translate to translate the German Wikipedia which did have an article on the musician. From what I could find is that he may be a hard-working genius since he largely taught himself how to play not only the piano but also the bass. According to his discography shown at Discogs, he's been releasing albums since 1974.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Alfee -- Love Letter(ラブレター)

It's been almost a couple of years since my last Alfee(アルフィー)entry on the blog, but since I have covered a lot of their 80s hits, I wanted to check out more of their material before finally making it big with songs such as "Marie-Anne"(メリーアン)in 1983.

As I mentioned in the article for that very song all the way back in 2012, Alfee was certainly paying their dues since their debut in 1974 with "Natsu Shigure"(夏しぐれ)since they didn't get any hits throughout the 1970s. So what was happening between their folk beginnings and their pop/rock heyday? Well, apparently, they got dropped by their recording company and ended up doing a lot of backup duties behind other singers.

In fact, it was almost another four years since their 2nd single "Seishun no Kioku"(青春の記憶...Salad Day Memories)was released (I will have to write about that soon), when Alfee came out with their next record "Love Letter" in January 1979. Written and composed by Alfee guitarist Toshihiko Takamizawa(高見沢俊彦), it was neither folk nor rock but something along the lines of a bossa nova...perhaps even edging into New Music and Mood Kayo...tune.

The song was also Alfee's first tie-up with a company, the stationery manufacturer Showa Note, and although "Love Letter" wasn't a hit, it seems from the YouTube comments for the videos that have shown the song that folks still remember the commercial (unfortunately I couldn't find the ad) that was adorned with the song. Maybe it didn't initially resonate with the folks at large, but it's an interesting discovery for me as a number before the 1980s Alfee.

According to the J-Wiki article for "Love Letter", Alfee played the song as part of their encore at a 1986 concert (which is above), and Takamizawa got rather emotional afterwards stating that he couldn't quite believe that he would ever perform the song in front of a huge audience. By the way, "Love Letter" was first placed on the band's 2nd album "TIME AND TIDE" from August 1979.

Hibari Misora -- Watashi no Boyfriend(私のボーイフレンド)

A couple of days back, I received a message from a lady in London who was interested in Hibari Misora's(美空ひばり)famous "Kanashii Sake"(悲しい酒), and so I decided that it was perhaps time to put up another Misora song onto the blog. I was a few lines into "Namida no Beni Bara"(涙の紅バラ)when I realized that I had already written about her 3rd single from March 1950 more than two years ago. I think I did mention about my aging memory last night.

However, I will not be deterred when it comes to the legendary Ms. Misora, so I went to the flip side of "Namida no Beni Bara", which was "Watashi no Boyfriend" (My Boyfriend), a very straight-ahead title. It's that playful mix of jazz and kayo with the nearly 13-year-old Misora singing happily away about her new beau.

What was interesting about Yutaka Kadota's(門田ゆたか)lyrics, though, was the amount of English in there. English has been used tons in Japanese pop music for some decades but I had never really expected it in a Hibari Misora kayo early in the postwar period, but here she is starting the verses off with a "One, two, three, four..." instead of "Ichi, ni, san, shi...". Plus, she refers to her beau as her knight while she herself is the queen; I guess the knight has a bit more of an exciting swagger than a dusty ol' king.

Rokuro Hara(原六朗), who also composed a few other songs for Misora including the later "O-Matsuri Mambo"(お祭りマンボ), came up with the swinging melody for her giddy performance. At first, I had assumed that "Watashi no Boyfriend" would be one of those tunes that hadn't been revisited by the singer since it just seemed so...well, kiddy, and it was a song that I had never heard before today, but it looks like even well into adulthood, she could still bring the fun and swing into her performance without sounding corny.

Even though the B-side to her 3rd single may not be a major contribution to her vast discography, "Watashi no Boyfriend" is a pleasant ol' kayo and makes me wonder about a lot of her other "hidden" B-sides and non-single album tracks, especially in the first couple of decades in her career.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Junko Yagami -- Mr. Metropolis(Mr.メトロポリス)

I had started getting a little discouraged when it came to the output of Junko Yagami(八神純子). No, before you "Bay City" fans start throwing bass guitars and synths at me, I wasn't dissing the lovely Ms. Y. Actually, I was lamenting the fact that it's been extremely difficult to track down and purchase some of her 1980s output such as "Lonely Girl" and "Communication", although I'm indeed grateful that the tracks do exist on YouTube...and may they stay that way there.

So it was with some of that same gratitude and relief that I could find a Yagami album from that period. To be specific, this would be her 3rd album released in April 1980, "Mr. Metropolis". It includes that disco single "Polar Star"(ポーラー・スター), and hearing some of the samples via CD Japan, I knew that I had to get the lead out and get it into my collection before it went into the dreaded category of haiban. Plus, the cover for "Mr. Metropolis" has one of her most famous photos: looking pensive into the middle distance while leaning on that wooden chair. I can only hope that the photographer wasn't too demanding and had her standing there for hours.

The first track is also the title track. "Mr. Metropolis" is a pretty fascinating adventure of a song. Written by Keisuke Yamakawa(山川啓介)and composed by the singer, the song begins and ends with Yagami seemingly trying to comfort and encourage the megalopolis of Tokyo itself through urban midnight balladry while the middle part consists of partying hard as if it were New Year's Eve 1980 at Studio 54. I also kinda thought that she could have been paying tribute to a superhero from an Alan Moore graphic novel. There's even that feel of a grand musical story along the lines of Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant". All the while, there is that amazing Yagami voice.

"Deja Vu" is one of my favourite tracks on "Mr. Metropolis" which was written and composed by Yagami. As the title intimates, it's about a first-time meeting between a man and a woman but with the latter feeling that the budding relationship already has the comfort level of a longtime romance (star-crossed lovers, perhaps?). The melody is also striking for me since it has that fusion of the Latin from some of her singles in the late 1970s and the soaring City Pop going into the 1980s. It goes a tad spacey at the end for some reason.

The final track on the original Side A is "Goodbye, Utsukushii Hibi"(グッバイ美しい日々...Goodbye Beautiful Days), a beautiful and bittersweet ballad that provides a refreshing side trip from all of the disco. In fact, I would say that Yagami went a bit Carpenters when she created this track. It's as comfortable as sitting in a rocking chair by a fireplace, but the lyrics tell of a woman hoping that her former paramour understands that the parting was meant to be. Incidentally, all of the songs featured here up to now were arranged by Ichizo Seo(瀬尾一三).

Side B starts off with another love call to the city and appropriately titled "Wonderful City"(ワンダフル・シティ)as Junko wakes up in the morning, opens the drapes, and sees Tokyo beckoning to her below. This is another wholly Yagami creation and another interesting tune for its dramatic intro that for some reason is rather reminiscent of a particular Pet Shops Boys tune, and a pretty and crystalline keyboard. Just my biased City Pop self remarking here, but wouldn't it be lovely if a cover version or the original itself somehow were used to invite the world to the 2020 Olympics? Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利)arranged this one. (Yup, I have forgotten that I had already given "Wonderful City" its own article thanks to an aging memory and a giddy love for it, but hey, I've added some extra insight here anyways.)

One of the reasons that I think I got a real winner with "Mr. Metropolis" was some of the pleasant surprises that I received with the variety of music. As much as I like Yagami's brand of City Pop on this album, I also enjoyed the change in pace with the aforementioned "Goodbye, Utsukushii Hibi" and a couple of other tracks. One of those other tracks happens to be the final one "Another Day, Another Me". At first, I did a bit of a start when I heard it since it sounds so different from what I'm accustomed to from the singer. I mean, it has that 1970s whimsical pop feeling and in fact it even sounds like a jingle for a pop drink, especially when Yagami and the chorus all get together for the finale. Coca-Cola should've taken notice. I can imagine everybody locking arms and swaying side-to-side in the recording studio. Unlike the other tracks, she had nothing to do with the creation of this happy-happy-joy-joy song; Hisashi Kawamura(川村ひさし)provided the lyrics while Seo himself composed the jolly music and arranged it. Incidentally, Seo and Goto were also helping out as part of the backing band with the former on keyboards and the latter on bass.

"Mr. Metropolis" went all the way up to No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and ended the year as the 27th-ranked album of 1980. I'm still hoping to someday get my hands on "Lonely Girl" and "Communication", but in the meantime, I'm more than happy with this album as well.