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.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Seiichiro Kuribayashi -- Donna ni Tsuyoku Daite mo (どんなに強く抱いても)

I was having a talk with commenter Yuie-chan some days ago on an article for 80s band THE GOOD-BYE about a musician that she had known about named Seiichiro Kuribayashi(栗林誠一郎). Talented on a number of instruments as a composer, she informed me that she just loved his vocals and gave me a couple of recommendations. I liked both songs but it's the second one that has me writing about him for the first time.

However, the strange thing is that it isn't actually the first time that I've mentioned him on the blog, though. Kuribayashi debuted back in 1987 by providing the summer band TUBE with some of their songs. Plus, I've mentioned him as being a member of the Nagisa no All-Stars(渚のオールスターズ), the supergroup of sorts which included the aforementioned TUBE, and singer-songwriters Tomoko Aran(亜蘭知子)and Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎). In the 1990s, he was also part of the rock band ZYYG for about a year.

The second recommendation that Yuie-chan made was "Donna ni Tsuyoku Daite mo" (No Matter How Hard You Hold Me), a track on Kuribayashi's 7th solo album from November 1995, "Rest of My Life". It's a sad but beautiful and contemplative ballad about how people change and love doesn't necessarily last forever. The musician was responsible for the great music with Kanako Oda(小田佳奈子)writing the lyrics. I guess it might be because of the material but there is a sunset feeling with "Donna ni Tsuyoku Daite mo" and the bluesy guitar solos reflect the setting sun and the 90s for that matter very well.

I was going to write about the first recommendation but since it is also a song that the late ZARD had taken care of, I will see about tackling that one together.

Arashi -- Happiness

I keep forgetting that these guys actually sing and dance. Arashi(嵐)has not only become the premier Johnny's Entertainment group but it's become quite the force on the variety scene as well and perhaps in the TV drama circuit. I keep seeing Ono-kun and the rest of the guys having fun times on their "VS. Arashi" game show every Friday so it was a bit jarring when I saw them last night cut away for a few minutes to see them perform their latest single at the time (I think the episode was from September 2016).

Not being a huge fan of Arashi's musical output, I have remembered various excerpts of their past hits including their 20th single from September 2007 "Happiness". Those words of "hashiri dase, hashiri dase" still pop up in my head now and then.

Starting off with a battery of guitars that sound like they belong in a Quentin Tarentino movie, "Happiness", true to its title, goes off in a happy-go-lucky direction that starts to remind me of Princess Princess' "Diamonds". So, perhaps it's not the most completely original of compositions but it's hard not to like especially when the group goes into the refrain as noted above. Wonderland was responsible for the lyrics with Mio Okada(岡田実音)taking care of the music.

It's a very uptempo song so I wasn't all that surprised when I found out that it was the theme song for a 2007 TBS drama "Yamada Taro Monogatari"(山田太郎ものがたり...The Tale of Taro Yamada)based on a manga and starring two of Arashi, Kazuya Ninomiya and Sho Sakurai(二宮和也・櫻井翔). Can hardly believe it's almost been 10 years since this came out but then considering how young all of the guys look, I can also hardly believe that they debuted in the 20th century.

"Happiness" hit No. 1 on the charts and ended up as the 15th-ranked single for 2007. It was also recorded on Arashi's 8th album "Dream 'A' live" from April 2008 which also hit No. 1 and became the 30th-ranked album for that year.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Marico -- Nijuu-ni Shoku no Heart (22色のハート)

When I was doing the write-up for Tohoku Shinkansen's(東北新幹線)"Up and Down" the other day, I also came across another song on YouTube by a singer named Marico(真璃子). Titled "Nijuu-ni Shoku no Heart" (22-Colour Heart), it was composed by one-half of Tohoku Shinkansen, composer Etsuko Yamakawa(山川恵津子), and written by Goro Matsui(松井五郎).

What caught my ears about this particular tune is that although Marico started her career as a mid-1980s aidoru, this "Nijuu-ni Shoku no Heart" which is a track on her debut album "Marico" from September 1986 is a cut above the usual aidoru tune. I wanted to say sasuga to Yamakawa. I mean, there are the cute aidoru synths in there but the arrangement of the song, especially when it comes to the guitars, almost takes things into City Pop/J-AOR territory, something that Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)would concoct and croon. It's very laidback and comfortable. Perhaps a number of her other tracks and singles were conventionally aidoru but as a non-single track, "Nijuu-ni Shoku no Heart" definitely feels something more urban contemporary.

The Fukuoka-born singer, born Mariko Hiura(日浦真里子), released 21 singles up to 1995 and released 6 original albums up to 1993. According to her J-Wiki bio, Marico has also done some acting on TV and radio broadcasts but is currently a regional tarento as well as a helper at her husband's bar at night.

Midori Oka -- Sado no Yubue (佐渡の夕笛)

Premium Friday! Looks like the Japanese government has launched another new business concept alongside the old Cool Biz to alleviate the stresses of the corporate cog workers. I only heard about Premium Friday this morning on NHK's "Newswatch 9" when several companies were encouraged to let their employees finish work at the ungodly hour of 3 pm on the last Friday of every month so that they can either relax or, better yet, go shopping since consumption hasn't exactly been robust as of late.

The results for this very first Premium Friday? Decidedly was really only a handful of companies that decided to get with the program in this workaholic nation. Apparently, most of the unleashed employees decided to go home to sleep. During the NHK feature, one small nomiya in the business district in Osaka that decided to open early in the afternoon to receive any potential customers among the Premium Friday folks got just one customer up to 5 pm. Mind you, it might be kinda weird to many folks to suddenly chug-a-lug a chuu nama and down some yakitori at the same time that others are sipping tea. Hey, it's a work in progress and I think it's a pretty good idea in the long term, although I also think that Premium Friday should also take into consideration the fate of the part-time workers who just get paid by the hour.

Anyways I gave all that preamble at the top to let folks know that it is a Friday so as is the case here as well as in Japan, TGIF is very much in force. So I'm sure folks in Japan were hitting the bars and izakayas as usual. Of course, for older generations that could probably mean some good ol' drinking and perhaps even some shibui karaoke at the boxes.

A few nights ago on the weekly "Uta Kon" (うたコン), the theme was drinking songs (although there was a somewhat disappointingly brief tribute to the works of Toru Funamura at the beginning), and I heard this tune by enka singer Midori Oka(丘みどり)titled "Sado no Yubue" (The Night Whistle of Sado). It was quite pleasing to the ear since there was something in there that brought back the old days of enka. From what little I know of Sado Island off of Niigata Prefecture, it's the home of those internationally famous kodo drummers.

"Sado no Yubue" was written by Toshiya Niitani(仁井谷俊也)and composed by Tetsuya Gen(弦哲也)as Oka's 8th single released just a few weeks ago on February 8th. It is another case of bittersweet parted love as the singer relates the story of a woman pining for his love as he leaves the island while hoping beyond hope that she will hear the sound of that whistle signaling the return of that ship.

Oka has been a pretty regular guest on "Uta Kon" and its predecessor "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)and I see her as one of the next shining generation of enka singers. She's got quite the powerful voice, too. And perhaps all of her success can ultimately be due to her mother since according to J-Wiki, Oka had been a painfully shy girl when she was a child so to draw her out of her shell, her mother entered herself and her daughter into minyo lessons. Later on, at her very first minyo contest when she was in Grade 5 of elementary school, Oka won the championship! A star was indeed born.

A couple of mugs of beer will probably help anyone come out of their shell...or put them to sleep, as in my case.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Haruko Kuwana -- You're Young

The above was just taken a few days ago over the weekend but it's still quite reflective of some of the unseasonable but welcome weather we've had today. We actually hit around 17 or 18 degrees Celsius which has smashed a record for a high temperature that had been set all the way back in 1984 (14.9). So, of course, part of the news broadcast had cameras focused on the patio bars which were packed with beer lovers tonight...not a scene that is typical of February in Toronto.

At this point, if chanteuse Haruko Kuwana(桑名晴子)had yelled out the title of this tune to everyone here today, everyone would have enthusiastically nodded back. "You're Young" was one of the tracks on Kuwana's debut album "Million Stars". Up to now, all of my articles on this singer with the great soulful voice were based on material in the 1980s but even back in 1978 when this album was released, she was belting out some wonderful stuff.

Hearing those vocals and the saxophone in the instrumental, the song does have the power to bring back some of that ideal summery sunset weather. Kuwana would have had a pretty nice outdoor concert at the Bandshell near the CNE by Lake Ontario with this album, I think. Unfortunately, I couldn't find out who was responsible for creating the song although a part of me thinks that the singer herself may have had some hand in either the lyrics or music.

Kyu Sakamoto -- Ano Ko no Namae wa Nanten kana (あの娘の名前はなんてんかな)

I've spoken a number of times about some of the so-called long-lost songs in the mists of my memories...those old kayo that I used to hear but never knew their singers or titles. However, certain excerpts of it have stuck in my brain since forever. Well, last night, another mystery was solved after decades, and all I had to do was flip the side of a 45" which has one of the most internationally famous songs from Japan.

I found my father's old single record of the "Sukiyaki" song from 1961 by the late Kyu Sakamoto(坂本九)and played it on the TEAC. Of course, all the nostalgia and wistfulness flowed through me like The Force in Luke Skywalker. Then, I flipped it to the B-side and saw this really long title "Ano Ko no Namae wa Nanten kana" (What is the Name of That Woman?) before giving this one a chance.

Well, as soon as the needle hit the vinyl, and those first bars came through, my long-term memory engrams exploded in recognition. It was one of my lost boys coming back to roost in my brain. I remembered those frenetic violins and the rest of that old-style brassy orchestra flying away as this high-pitched voice collaborated to create what sounded like a really upbeat song that could have been a showstopping Broadway piece midway through the musical.

Instead "Ano Ko no Namae wa Nanten kana" was a short comical number partnered with one of the most famous if bittersweet kayo in Japanese music history. It was definitely a tough act to follow which might explain why it hasn't gotten much attention all these years. But it was still Sakamoto, it was still created by the same songwriters behind "Sukiyaki", Hachidai Nakamura and Rokusuke Ei(中村八大・永六輔), and it's still fun to listen to.

Basically, Kyu is singing about a fellow who falls for some lady while seeing the back of her from a distance, presumably in some department store for reasons that will become evident within a few sentences. As those hearts flutter around the suddenly heads-over-heels lad, he starts wondering what she would way at any courtship attempts and, more importantly, he also takes a shot at figuring out what her name is. Is it Hanako? Midori? Misasa? The sky's the limit. And by the end of the song, he finally gets the gumption to approach the lass...only to find out it's a mannequin! Hey, I'm not judging here.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any actual stage performances of "Ano Ko no Namae wa Nanten kana" on YouTube but I would think that it would have had to have been performed on TV since I could easily envision a comical rendition with matching choreography. When I still just had that excerpt of the song in memory all those years, I had assumed it was actually Kiyoko Suizenji(水前寺清子)because of the sharp high voice and just the really happy nature of the song.

Now I can happily cross another long-lost song off my list and proudly consider it found.😃

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Kiyohiko Ozaki -- Ai suru Hito wa Hitori (愛する人はひとり)

Currently delving again into the "Seishun Uta Nenkan"(青春歌年鑑)series of CDs, I went through Disc 1 from 1972 earlier this afternoon and I was surprised to find out quite a few numbers that I had never brought onto the blog. Therefore, you may be seeing a few more entries for this year in the coming weeks.

One such song was by the late Kiyohiko Ozaki(尾崎紀世彦). He was a singer from way back when who had one of the big booming voices, and he's most famous for the happy "Mata Au Hi Made"(また逢う日まで), one of the classic kayo.

Well, on the 1972 disc, I found his 5th single which came out in November 1971 (perhaps it didn't make waves until 1972), "Ai suru Hito wa Hitori" (Only One I Love). What's notable about this one is how Swingin' 60s it sounds...especially from the intro which has some perkily wicked electric piano and horns that's reminiscent of Burt Bacharach. However, it's the remarkable Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)who's behind the go-go boot-kickin' music with Yu Aku(阿久悠)providing the lyrics. Both of them were also responsible for "Mata Au Hi Made".

Listening to the short-but-sweet song on the CD then hearing it again a couple of times on YouTube, my mind went into music sommelier mode and picked out not only general Bacharach but specific songs such as his "Bond Street" and even "MacArthur Park" created by Jimmy Webb and sung originally by Richard Harris (yep, I mean that Richard Harris from "Harry Potter"). In terms of Oricon success, "Ai suru Hito wa Hitori" reached as high as No. 2.

Now, there might be some folks who wouldn't know "Bond Street" by its title. However, once you listen to the song, you might recognize it as not only a tune that was used late in the original and weird "Casino Royale" from the 1960s but also for any "Family Guy" fans, the song that Stewie Griffin likes to play whenever he wants to have his sexy party.

Also to illustrate how old I am and how much of a Canadian I am, I also remember "Bond Street" being the theme song for the cheesy charades game show "Party Game" back in the 1970s. And yep, I was a devoted viewer.