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, September 21, 2018

Judy and Mary -- Music Fighter(ミュージック ファイター)

It's been a while, Judy and Mary. Have a seat and sit a spell.

I remember when the YUKI-fronted band performed this song at a "HEY!HEY!HEY! MUSIC CHAMP" live special at one of the concert venues in the Tokyo area. After all was over, one-half of the comedy duo Downtown, Hitoshi Matsumoto(松本人志), managed to sputter out something to the extent of "What the hell was that?!"

Apparently, a number of folks reacted similarly to JAM's 15th single, "Music Fighter" from April 1998. It didn't seem to be meant as a standalone single. One really has to listen to it, although I will try to describe it as a mix of country jazz, thrashy hard rock and some spacey vibes in YUKI's vocals.

I wouldn't be surprised if even some of JAM's fans thought that perhaps it would have been better as one of their more exploratory tracks on an album. However, I thought that "Music Fighter" was a showcase for what the band really wanted to do when they were warmed up as a quirky rock group. Plus, I did like YUKI's soaring vocals. Plus the video was interesting for a modern punkish Betty Boop-like YUKI and the Dollarama Borg drone.

Tack and Yukky took care of the lyrics while TAKUYA composed "Music Fighter". It peaked at No. 4 and was placed on Judy and Mary's 5th album "Pop Life" from June 1998. The album was a million-seller reaching as high as No. 2 on Oricon and ending up as the 22nd-ranked release of the year.

TINNA -- Monday Morning Rain(マンデー・モーニング・レイン)

Well, the last day of summer definitely promised us that the season would give us one more blast of heat and humidity before autumn officially arrives tomorrow. And the fall is going to promise its own gift of a high temperature that will be merely half of what it was today...maybe 16 degrees C tops.

Since we're on the topic of weather here, allow me to present some "Monday Morning Rain" by the duo TINNA. I first introduced the teaming up of Tomoko Soryo and Mariko Takahashi(惣領智子・高橋真理子)back in 2015 with their mellow "Shining Sky" from 1976.

From reading up on the small excerpt in "Japanese City Pop", "Monday Morning Rain" was released as a single by TINNA back in 1978 with the titular album coming out the following year. Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)wrote the lyrics while Yasunori Soryo(惣領泰則)composed the melody brimming with 1970s City Pop flavour.

Now, usually Monday morning rain would be the trigger for some major emotional blues for any commuter heading to work. However, TINNA's "Monday Morning Rain" has got quite the happy kick with the bass, strings, guitars and the vocals seemingly there to cheerfully guide any working cog in Japan to the company. Definitely, something nice to listen to on the old radio.


I figure that I can come at this song from a variety of angles, so allow me to start with the personal one first. The above photo is of an ancient reference book from my Urban Geography class back at U of T on the older architecture of Los Angeles. In all honesty, I've forgotten how the architecture of one of America's largest cities came to apply to the work in this course, the content of which I have completely forgotten. Still, I remember the book, that I dug out from deep within one of the many boxes of stuff recently, as having some nice photos of buildings and the narrative wasn't too egg-headed so I may actually peruse it once more before I hit bed tonight.

The second angle for this tune is something that I will begin with a question. What is a recent YouTube video of a Japanese pop song with an older style of rhythm and style that has become hugely viewed? Of course, Mariya Takeuchi's(竹内まりや)"Plastic Love" is one answer but that's already been covered here.

And in fact, this song, DA PUMP's "U.S.A." has actually far outstripped that video of "Plastic Love" (which currently has 7 million views) by going beyond 70 million views in the four months since it was uploaded by Avex.

I first saw "U.S.A." on a recent episode of NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン), and I was left initially confused because this was DA PUMP, which had been one of the cooler and popular song-and-dance groups of the late 1990s in Japan, and they were actually doing a Eurobeat song which sounds as if it had come from the dusty song list of the "Dance Dance Revolution" game while doing a somewhat cool/cornball dance routine that, according to Wikipedia, includes the dab, the Milly Rock and the Shoot. Maybe one of them was that M.C. Hammer move I saw.

A lot of this blog has been me getting all rather nostalgic about the music of my childhood, youth and young adulthood, and I have to admit that I was getting some sepia into my vision as I found myself bopping my head about...and no, I didn't do that dance. I do remember the M.C. Hammer days, the DA PUMP days, and the days when my old friend used to practice like the Dickens on his "Dance Dance Revolution" mat.

Yup, "U.S.A." has become an unlikely hit of the summer, breaking into the Top 10 at No. 9 after its release as the group's 29th and most recent single in May this year, and it'll probably get DA PUMP back into the Kohaku Utagassen in a few months.

The thing is that "U.S.A." is a cover version of an original 1992 Eurobeat tune with Italian singer Joe Yellow. Cirelli Donatella and Lombardoni Severino wrote the original lyrics with Accatino Claudio, Cirelli Donatella and Gioco Anna Maria whipping up the melody. Lyricist and producer shungo took care of the Japanese lyrics.

I think that I was talking about angles all the way back at the top, eh? Well, Angle No. 3 is the dance which apparently has taken Japanese pop culture by storm. It's even earned the name "Ii ne Dance" (いいねダンス...Good, Ain't It Dance). Once in a while, certain dances have become the trendy thing for a good chunk of the year in Japan. There was the Lambada while I was on the JET Programme, and then a couple of years ago, a lot of folks were agog about the Koi dance which accompanied Gen Hoshino's(星野源)hit "Koi"(恋).

This year, it's the "Ii ne Dance". Take it away, Marines!

Still at the end of it all, though I've started to succumb to the charms of "U.S.A.", I have to say that I cannot abandon my Mariya! Now, if "Plastic Love" can earn some cool choreography.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Hanako Asada -- Doubt!

As much as I talk about the iceberg for kayo kyoku in general, I also have to say that there is a smaller iceberg out there representing all those 1980s aidoru with the 10% above water being the superstars or the pretty successful teenybopper singers. My impression has been that there were hundreds of young teenage girls representing the underwater 90% who were groomed for the big stage but only had a brush with that spotlight for a few years.

Perhaps one of them was Hanako Asada(麻田華子), nee Hanako Manabe(真鍋華子), from Tokyo's Fuchu City. Winning the grand prize at the 2nd Annual Touhato All Raisin Princess Contest back in 1987, aidoru Asada debuted with the single "Suki♡Kirai"(好き♡嫌い...Love/Hate)in February 1988 at the age of 13.

A few months later, Asada came out with her 2nd single "Doubt!", a high-tempo and super-cheerful tune that should have been pulled over for speeding. Written by Masumi Kawamura(川村真澄), who knows something about writing for high-energy singers, and composed by Takashi Tsushimi(都志見隆), "Doubt!" is doubtlessly a catchy tune thanks to the rollicking beat and Asada's chirpy vocals, especially that "WoooOOOooo!" that she adorably uses to good effect. In the song, Asada sings gleefully about how much girls can really be trusted.

Asada's short career as an aidoru lasted until the summer of 1989 with a total of 5 singles and 2 original albums. However, about a decade and a few name changes later, she became part of a singing and dancing trio called Trinity with 7 singles and 1 album under their belt. Currently, Asada is retired after getting married.

Minako Ito -- Sayonara wa Iwazu ni(さよならは言わずに)

Well, back in mid-February this year, I wrote about Minako Ito's(伊藤美奈子)"Derringer"(デリンジャー), a pretty snappy City Pop number, and said that I would probably write about her again in the following month.

Ahhh...oops! I'm late by two seasons. Anyways to make amends, I'm introducing a track that shared space with "Derringer" on Ito's 2nd album "Sasoi Gyotou" or "Yuu Gyotou"(誘魚灯...Inviting Fish Lights)that was released back in March 1984.

Titled "Sayonara wa Iwazu ni" (Without Saying Goodbye), to me this is a ballad which has only one of its feet in the City Pop genre. Part of it also occupies the jazz world and perhaps there is yet another part which has stepped into a very contemporary part of the Mood Kayo nation. The combination of genres pretty much meant that it had me at sayonara...or hello, so to speak. More specifically, that slow-burning harmonica at the intro managed to draw me into that bar where Ito may have been singing this torch song. Cocktails at 8 and very softly shaken, I'm sure.

Ito composed "Sayonara wa Iwazu ni" while Shun Taguchi(田口俊)came up with the lyrics. Quite the classy tune for a nice evening out in the big city.

Yuuichiro Oda -- I Me Mine

I found this out purely by accident earlier today, and it's unfortunately another announcement of someone in the Japanese music industry passing away in the last few days. Kagoshima Prefecture-born composer and arranger Yuuichiro Oda(小田裕一郎)died suddenly a few days ago on September 17th in his home in the New York/New Jersey area at the age of 68.

Having been active in the music industry since 1970, he created music for a number of singers including Seiko Matsuda's(松田聖子)early hit "Aoi Sangoshou"(青い珊瑚礁), the Anri(杏里)classic "Cat's Eye" (which was the first song by the singer that I had ever heard) and the popular Toshihiko Tahara(田原俊彦) number "Koi = Do!"(恋=Do!).

Looking for the news on Oda's passing, I also came across this YouTube video. His J-Wiki profile lists him as a composer and arranger, but I was surprised to learn that he had also released a number of singles and albums including his first album in 1984, "ODA".

I've taken a listen to the first two tracks from "ODA" and initially feel that his music wavers between 1980s power pop and AOR. The first track "I Me Mine" is an especially bouncy number with some pretty fun keyboard and sax work. With JIM&SHOW providing lyrics and Oda composing the song, "I Me Mine" reminds me a bit of Steve Winwood's poppier music in the same decade.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

N'Shukugawa BOYS -- Monogatari wa Chito? Fuantei(物語はちと?不安定)

Once again, during my nocturnal traipses through the amusement park known as YouTube, I encountered something very new, intriguing and yet old-fashioned at the same time within the genre of Japanese pop music.

I played the video for N'Shukugawa BOYS'(N'夙川ボーイズ)"Monogatari wa Chito? Fuantei" (The Story's A Bit? Unstable), and for a guy who's not all that into rock music, I kinda found the song pretty listenable. As for the old-fashioned part, my eyes were glued to the video as band members guitarist/vocalist Maaya LOVE(マーヤLOVE), guitarist/vocalist Linda dada(リンダdada)and guitarist Shinnosuke BOYs(シンノスケBOYs)strutted about the totally white room like some post-punk artists from the early 1980s. Sheena and the Rokkets certainly came to mind. All that nostalgia watching the early music videos on local TV back as a youth was starting to flow through me as well.

N'Shukugawa BOYS had their run between 2007 and 2016, and according to J-Wiki, they all decided to become a band under Taro Okamoto's(岡本太郎)Tower of the Sun building from Expo' 70. The members are all from Nishinomiya City in Hyogo Prefecture which I also mentioned in last night's article.

As for the unusual name of the band, Shukugawa is the Shuku River that flows through southeastern Hyogo while the N' part is the name of the cafe that Shinnosuke BOYs' grandmother runs along that river. Including Japan, N'Shukugawa BOYS have also performed in international venues such as London and Paris. During their near-decade career, they released seven albums of varying sizes and seven singles.