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.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Toshiki Kadomatsu -- No End Summer

Unfortunately, all summers eventually end but I understand Toshiki Kadomatsu's(角松敏生)sentiments here. At the risk of sounding like a beer commercial, it's wonderful to get together with friends, spend quality time at the beach, and watch the sunset. It's indeed Miller Time!

But hey, wouldn't it be wonderful if that commercial for the brewski had Kadomatsu's 7th single "No End Summer" tagging along for the ride? Released in August 1985, Kadomatsu's wonderfully summery creation was also the final track of his 5th studio album "GOLD DIGGER ~ with true love" (curiously ironic) from May of that year. That album peaked at No. 7 on Oricon. The song was also used as the image song for the famous long-running variety show on Fuji-TV "Naruhodo The World"(なるほど!ザ・ワールド).

To me, the original single sounded a little slow and incomplete since I had heard a re-done version from his 2012 album "REBIRTH 1 〜re-make best〜" first. This new version has a bit more oomph, and listening to this version, I felt as if there were a rousing round of windsurfing during that beach get-together.

Kadomatsu was having an intimate get-together of his own at Yokohama Arena with...oh, say, a hundred thousand of his buddies back in 2013. His performance of "No End Summer" starts at about 4:50. Please do listen to it. He certainly gave Tatsuro Yamashita (山下達郎)a run for his money in the Summer City Pop department.

Ruiko Kurahashi -- AM 10:15 18℃ Hare ~ Ii Koto ga Arisou (《AM1015 18℃ 晴》 いいことがありそう)

Well, I can imagine that the past couple of days have started out at 18℃ and sunny. Supposedly, we've still got some heat and humidity on the way but, by and large, autumn is around the corner, and it's been pretty comfortable out there.

Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子)is looking mighty comfortable there in that photo although I am wondering whether she was heading to view the Kentucky Derby in that getup. Anyways, it's notable to mention this about one of my favourite singers from the 80s since my default impression of the Hokkaido native has been of a lass with close-cropped hair and a placid expression of ennui singing rather melancholy if beautiful tunes. It's not that she has never sung a happy song in her career but I tend to see her more in ballad mode. Plus, she's got a whole lot of hair under that hat....and a shy little smile!

That photo of her at the top was actually from her 14th album "Jun'ai ~ Kono Ai ni Ikite"(純愛 〜この愛に生きて〜...Pure Love -- Live in This Love)from April 1988, and the song of the article is from there, "AM 10:15 Hare ~ Ii Koto ga Arisou" (10:15 AM and Sunny ~ Good Things are Around the Corner). It's quite the happy if not super bouncy tune by Kurahashi who sings Kyoko Matsumiya's(松宮恭子)lyrics of spending a nice relaxing morning making breakfast and looking forward to the rest of the day and some potential romance. Matsumiya was also the one behind the happy-go-lucky melody that might be considered downright skip-worthy. The arrangement was done by Keiichi Oku(奥慶一).

I'd even say that Kurahashi sounded almost like the truly happy-go-lucky EPO.

Jun'ai ~ Kono Ai ni Ikite

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Afilia Saga -- Magical Express Journey (マジカル☆エクスプレス☆ジャーニー)

Afilia Saga (アフィリア・サーガ) is definitely not a group for everyone! If AKB48 is considered unpleasant –  saying the least – to some people, this group, which is comprised of maids, can be even more cringeworthy with the gaudy cute vocals, clumsy dance moves, moe shouts and – sometimes – sexy cosplay-like uniforms. It’s a full-on cotton candy aidoru group.

I, however, enjoy some of the songs released by them, even if I can’t help but feel a little bit guilty while listening to them. “Magical Express Journey”, for example, is so cheerful and over the top that when the chorus explodes I imagine myself in a magical journey to the “Care Bears” land.

“Magical Express Journey” was released in July 2014, reaching #3 on the Oricon charts and selling around 25,000 copies. Lyrics and music were composed by veteran anime singer/composer/seiyuu Haruko Momoi (桃井はるこ), while the arrangement was done by Kouji Ueno (上野浩司). In 2015, the song was included in Afilia Saga’s third studio album, “Realism”.

THE GOOD-BYE -- Kimagure One-Way Boy(気まぐれOne Way Boy)

Ah, the Tanokin Trio(たのきんトリオ), my first instance of seeing a Johnny's Entertainment conglomeration in action on the screen. Everyone knows about Matchy and Toshi-chan but there was the third member who I always thought was the quietest and frankly reminded me of WHAM!'s Andrew Ridgely in terms of profile. That would be Yoshio Nomura(野村義男)...the "no" of the Tanokin Trio who could handle the guitar, and it was the way that I always saw the fellow over the decades. He has always had that disarming Jackie Chan smile but never heard all that much from him, relatively speaking.

I was browsing through one of my ancient "Young Song" booklets, which was the inserted songbook in every issue of the pop music magazine "Myojo"(明星), when I came across the page for THE GOOD-BYE. This was the rock band with Yotchan (Nomura's nickname) that was formed in 1983. And I figured that if Matchy and Toshi-chan can get their day in the sun on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", well, then Yotchan has to have his due here as well.

At first glance, I was a bit surprised that the J-Wiki article on THE GOOD-BYE didn't categorize it as a Johnny's band but then I found out that Yotchan wasn't the leader but a fellow by the name of Yasuhisa "Yacchin" Soga(曽我泰久)who became the other guitarist and co-vocalist. The other two members were Hachiro "Hachi" Kaga(加賀八郎)and Koichi "Ko-chan" Eto(衛藤浩一). That same article mentioned that the band was supposed to have been just the backup for Yotchan's debut with the official name being Yotchan Band and then Yotchan & The Good-Bye before settling into its final form. Not sure how Yotchan must have felt with this lessening of his responsibilities.

Their first single came out in September 1983. Called "Kimagure One-Way Boy" (Moody One-Way Boy), I think one YouTube commenter hit it on the head when he remarked that the urgent intro sounded exactly like Frank Stallone's "Far From Over" from that "Saturday Night Fever" sequel. Ah, there was a fair bit of melody lifting at the time. However, the rest of the song by Kantaro Yamamoto(山本寛太郎)has that typical Japanese rock-n-roll beat from the early 80s trying to emulate the feel of the 1950s. Jun Hashimoto(橋本淳)took care of the lyrics about a James Dean type perhaps making his way into an early grave through all of his carousing. There's even a lyrical homage to the Beatles via "twist and shout" and those "Happy Days" tropes of the backseat and double dates. It's a wonder that the Fonz wasn't given a shoutout. Although the band would gradually have both Yotchan and Yacchin singing together, since this particular song was the debut, I think it's just Yotchan here, and to be honest, he doesn't sound too bad when compared to his old trio mates.

THE GOOD-BYE would release a total of 15 singles and 9 albums until they called it a day in 1990. However, the band did get back together in 2003 and has been touring around since then although no new material has come out.

Misia -- sweetness

I was referring to Misia a couple of times over as many weeks recently and discovered that I hadn't written a bona fide article on the singer in well over a year. The above picture is for her 7th album from 2007 "Ascension", and I had been thinking about selecting a song from that release for tonight's article. However, my personal feeling is that her earlier stuff was better for me (circa turn of the century), and I was able to find another song from that time period. Besides that cover kinda looks like a dream sequence for an environmentalist.

The song I've chosen from Misia's discography is "sweetness", her 5th single from November 1999. I realize that the song had all that contemporary arrangement but I can't help feeling that there is an old slow groove working in there that has me thinking of Michael Jackson and DeBarge from the 1980s. For me, when it comes to R&B, I'm such a sucker for slow groove...along with a darn tight horn section. "sweetness" doesn't have the horns but that's perfectly fine. Misia's vocals and the music by Satoshi Shimano(島野聡)satisfy me to a T.

Misia's lyrics go into some vague message about trying to reach that special someone among the clouds, and I think the original music video above rather sums up the imagery in part. It looks like all those models from the Apple commercials decided to take an intense break at the beach while the singer had fun on the swing. I guess it kinda sucks when everyone has forgotten to bring their iPods.

The original single managed to peak at No. 7 on Oricon and sold a little over 225,000 copies. "sweetness" was also a track on Misia's 2nd album "Love is the Message" which was released in January 2000 and scored not only a No. 1 on the charts but was the 4th-ranked album for the year, earning a Best Album prize at the Japan Record Awards. "Love is the Message" even registered on the 2001 yearly chart with a 169th ranking.

Still, even more than the original, I remember the amped-up version of "sweetness" by Satoshi Tomiie(富家哲)for her "MISIA REMIX 2000 LITTLE TOKYO" which came out in April 2000. Not surprisingly, that album also hit the top spot and was the 27th-ranked release for the year. Dang, I love the instrumental in the remix version although maybe it goes on a tad too long.

Hearing this song again, I'm wondering whether it would be too much of a stretch to wish for Misia to perform at the 2020 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Tokyo.

Rie Sugimoto -- Yasuragi no Yubiwa (やすらぎのゆびわ)


Recently, I was giving a listen to my favorite album by Rie Sugimoto (杉本理恵), “Heal Ring”, from August 1992. One of its songs, “Beyond The Maze”, have already been covered by me years ago, but now I’m here to talk a little bit about the album’s last song, which is called “Yasuragi no Yubiwa”.

“Yasuragi no Yubiwa” is a ballad that seems to come out from a fairy tale. As I could see while doing a little bit of research, composer and pianist Hiroko Taniyama’s (谷山浩子) music style is described as fantastic and mysterious, so the song’s vibe is not a surprise after all. As for Rie’s voice, it’s what it is: very shaky and weak (well, she was crying too, but we all know she isn’t a great singer as well). However, she sompensates being a nice and tender girl, which coupled by the song’s beautiful melody and lovely piano-centered arrangement, makes for a very beautiful aidoru ballad.

Like I said before, Rie enjoyed some underground status as an aidoru singer who made vocal renditions of songs inspired by video game music (interesting enough, “Yasuragi no Yubiwa” is “Heal Ring’s” only original song, the other being reworked versions of video game music). It was an interesting niche concept, but didn’t help her in the mainstream scene at all. By the time she was releasing songs, the aidoru scene was mostly dead anyway...

Lyrics were written by Hiroko Taniyama. She also worked on the composition, but this time with Akimitsu Honma (本間昭光).

I want this album!!!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Mai Kuraki -- Stay By My Side

Squeezing among all of the rebirth of the female aidoru via Hello Project, the glory days of SMAP and the other young turks at Johnny's Entertainment, and the big burst of J-R&B at the beginning of the 21st century was Mai Kuraki(倉木麻衣). Well, I don't think it's fair to use the verb "squeeze" since it would hint that the lass was somehow struggling to keep her head above water at the time, and that certainly wasn't the case here. She carved a nice little niche for herself in terms of the charts and public attention as someone who was not an aidoru and not an R&B chanteuse but an up-and-coming singer with her own brand of gentle pop. Perhaps the reason that I had mistakenly assumed that she was a native or near-native speaker of English was that her delivery of her first few singles struck me as being so American...not along the lines of a Britney Spears but more along the lines of earlier teen popsters such as Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.

(short version)

Like her breakthrough single, "Love, Day After Tomorrow", her 2nd single, "Stay By My Side" was one of those songs whose video excerpt popped up all over the TV for months and yet, it was awfully hard to see her perform it on the telly through shows like "Music Station". But at the time, I found that a number of singers also refrained from TV appearances such as Misia and bird. Not that I complained too much since I could understand the desire to keep the mystery and freshness of a talented singer from getting overexposed.

In any case, "Stay By My Side" is a pleasant and gentle ballad written by Kuraki and composed by Aika Ohno(大野愛果)which came out in March 2000. Not only did it hit the top spot for 2 weeks on Oricon, it went Triple Platinum and became the 17th-ranked song of the year. And although it took a few years, Kuraki was finally invited onto the 2003 Kohaku Utagassen to perform it live from a temple in Kyoto. As for the setting in the music video, it was filmed at Oimachi Church in Tokyo.

Up to now, I never purchased a Mai Kuraki album or single but remembering some of the excerpts of songs that she has released over the past 16 or so years, I would be tempted in getting a BEST compilation. The only strike I might have against her is that I've perceived a certain sameness in her singles output at least. However, I hope that I can be proved wrong. Perhaps a Mai fan could give his or her opinion on this.