Credits

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.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Machiko Watanabe -- Hoshi Furu Yoru ni Ki wo Tsukete(星降る夜に気を付けて)


I actually heard this on YouTube's J-Channel last week and I was rather glad that I could find it elsewhere on the site.


Not knowing too much of Machiko Watanabe's(渡辺真知子)material after the 1970s, it's great to know that she's been behind songs such as "Hoshi Furu Yoru ni Ki wo Tsukete" (Be Careful on the Night When The Stars Fall) which was a track on her 1987 album "Soi".  Written by Watanabe and composed by Minoru Komorita(小森田実), the song is an appealing mix of that late 1980s sophisticated City Pop, sultry Latin and perhaps even a hint of Matt Bianco. It's pretty darn classy; I can only see this in the setting of some of the more expensive parts of Tokyo, and Watanabe's voice gracefully adorns any imagined couple tripping the light fantastic on the tango floor.


It's too bad that the original recorded version can only be heard as an excerpt at iTunes or on the J-Channel radio if you're lucky to catch it when it comes up. Still, I've heard it and now I want to get it.

Yuzo Kayama -- Natsu wa Mijikai(夏はみじかい)


Tonight's theme on NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン)was summer songs, or probably it's better to say summer kayo. There are just so many summer songs in the Japanese popular music sphere that the producers probably could only fit in a few of the traditional pop tunes of the season.

My mother first assumed that tonight's episode was a rerun because she saw veteran Yuzo Kayama(加山雄三). It's been a few months since a devastated Kayama had come on camera to tearfully mourn the loss of his beloved ship, the Koshin Maru(光進丸), due to fire and she couldn't believe that the former Wakadaisho was emotionally well enough to get back on stage. Well, true to Kayama's most famous movie character, the 81-year-old balladeer was back in the saddle again and happily singing away a few times.


I found this interesting song by Kayama today called "Natsu wa Mijikai" (Summer is Short) which was composed by him under his alias of Kosaku Dan(弾厚作)and written by Tokiko Iwatani(岩谷時子). I call it interesting because it was released as a track on his 1968 album "Kimi no Tame ni"(君のために...For You), and yet the song sounds like it came from a 1950s jukebox with some of that great harmonizing. Plus, Kayama goes atypically higher in his vocals to sing this one as a high-toned crooner.

Y'know, "Natsu wa Mijikai", aside from the Japanese lyrics, would almost feel at home on some record rack in a bobbysoxer's room.

Black Cats - Come On My Baby (夜の公園で)


https://ameblo.jp/loversoul291/entry-12226165328.html
   
 Egg or chicken?  Rockabilly or Rock & roll?  Sometimes regarded as the little brother of rock, rockabilly has antecedents that go furthur back.  A glorious amalgam of American country, rhythm & blues, hillbilly, western swing, boogie, bluegrass, and pretty much any/everything else – if there’s a skinny guy slapping an upright bass it’s probably rockabilly.
     Japan was in on rockabilly right from the 50’s, although record companies didn’t distinguish it from rock n’ roll.   Let’s look at a band that is inextricably intertwined with Harajuku style and the 70/80’s global rockabilly revival – the Black Cats.   

Come On My Baby  (夜の公園で)


     With a sax ripping like canvas in a hurricane (courtesy of Kakuda Osamu) the video is an idealized recreation of 1950’s America.  This putting on the skin of another place and time underlies much of the rockabilly scene, and there’s a reason …

     In 1968 Masayuki Yamazaki (山崎眞行)  opened a bar in Shinjuku, Kaijin Niju Menso.  It was an attempt to replicate the image of an America stuck in the Elvis-50’s of black leather jackets, riesent hair, and music.  Through the 70’s Yamazaki continued opening spots in Harajuku & Shibuya such as “Singapore Night” and “Pink Dragon” – setting off the “Harajuku Gold Rush” as hip youth flooded into the area.   His Cream Soda label presented retro-50’s music, and having limited distribution through Pink Dragon, was highly sought-after.  

Pink Dragon on Cat Street
http://tokyo-fashion.tumblr.com/image/121856147718
   
But the distinctive appearance came by way of England – where Teddy Boys, Greasers, and Rockers had their sub-culture of motorcycles, leather jackets, and “American” records.  Yamazaki’s girlfriend was a half-Japanese half-British model, Vivienne Lynn, and she gave him an intro into 1970’s London punk and new wave fashion.  

In 1981 some of Yamazaki’s store clerks formed a band – The Black Cats.

That's Vivienne in the background
https://ameblo.jp/loversoul291/entry-12140572415.html


     Lead vocalist was Seiichi Takada (高田 誠一) and the group lasted until 1986.  He revived them from 1994-99, but sadly passed away from leukemia in 2004.
     The Cats covered many American rockabilly standards but had quite a repertoire of original material.   “Neo-rockabilly” would a better description; owing as much to bands like the Stray Cats as to Carl Perkins.  In 1982 they traveled to America and opened for the Go-Go’s, performed at L.A.’s China Club, met Timothy Leary (of LSD fame), and counted Brit punkers The Clash as fans. 

1981 – Singapore Night, their second single.  A smooth, sparse song (popular with the ladies) that near the end invokes the Cream Soda motto:  “Too Fast …. To Live …. Too Young …. To Die”.


Man & Boy” is an atmospheric tune from the 1984 LP “Tokyo Street Rocker” (an album dominated by the arranging and composing of pre-TUBE Oda Tetsuro).  Strong vocal work here:


     The hook is borrowed from the immensely popular “More Than I Can Say” by Leo Sayer (1983).  Mr. Sayer had gotten it from Bobby Vee, who had covered the 1960 original by the Crickets – back-up band for the late Buddy Holly, rockabilly god.  Intentional or not they had gone back to the musical roots. 

     Coming full circle is The Me.  (Warning: this is loud raw punk-a-psycho-billy).  From 1996, The Black Cats and what a commenter says is a clerk from Pink Dragon , doing “Fujiyama Mama” – a contender for the most insensitive lyrics ever written.  Performed by rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson on her 1959 (!) Japan tour it proved to not only be a smash there but is still a perennial for any rockabilly band Japanese or otherwise. 


      The current rockabilly scene is quite active and varied, but as one commenter remembered the old days: "Wasn't it burning hot ?!"

Monday, July 16, 2018

Yuko Asano -- Summer Champion(サマー・チャンピオン)


My very first summer job was in 1983 when I was hired to paint all of the fences in a townhouse development in the northeastern district of Toronto called Agincourt. I realize that you can't see inside my memories but, let me reassure you, this was a huge development. I also had to water lawns in the morning and pick up any garbage in the area. Then the remainder of the day was painting the fences a dark green, something that took over 2 months to complete. It was a surreal "Twilight Zone" experience since the neighbourhood was virtually deserted during the day with folks out at work or school. There was a group of kids, mind you, that took care of landscaping once a week but I never associated with them. It was simply me, a can of paint and a paintbrush outside alone.


However, once in a while, someone would play the radio so that I did get some background music. One song that I distinctly remember was the 1983 hit "Never Gonna Let You Go" by Sergio Mendes. Yes, that Sergio Mendes...the one behind "Mas que Nada", his signature tune from the 1960s. And yet, "Never Gonna Let You Go" was the first Mendes song that I had ever heard, a dreamy and epic ballad of the 1980s that was far into the AOR genre.  I also remember seeing it on Casey Kasem's "America's Top 40" TV show frequently.


Well, in the 1970s which was perhaps seen as a quieter period for Mendes, he released the album "Magic Lady" in 1979 which had the disco-pop song "Summer Dream" as one of the tracks.


However, I only found out about "Summer Dream" and "Magic Lady" because I discovered the cover version first in the form of Yuko Asano's(浅野ゆう子)"Summer Champion". It was released as Asano's 14th single in April 1979. The Japanese lyrics were provided by Ayumi Date( 伊達歩), and like the original, it's quite the roving downtown City Pop number with the sultry vocals by the singer. As with some of her other output during the late 1970s going into the 1980s, it's quite the revelation that she used to perform some of those urban contemporary songs I've enjoyed when I consider that I used to know her simply as the trendy drama queen and the classy if quirky commercial pitchperson.


Not certain which album it was released on or even if it did get onto an album, but it has been placed on her "Golden Best RCA/Fun House Years"(GOLDEN☆BEST 浅野ゆう子 RCA/FUN HOUSE YEARS)from 2005.

I finished my time painting just before my senior year in high school. Battling sunburn, heatstroke and athlete's foot, I rather felt like a summer champion by the time Labour Day swung by. And the money helped in getting me into first year at University of Toronto.

Yoshitaka Minami -- Hizuke Henkosen(日付変更線)


So far, the above "Seventh Avenue South" is the only album that I possess of Yoshitaka Minami(南佳孝). Great release from 1982 but I remember nikala once telling me of her other prime recommendations for Minami albums.

(10:57)

One could have been Minami's 3rd album "South of the Border" (1978) which seems to have that theme of traveling around the planet. I haven't had a chance to listen to the entire thing but one track that I first heard on Van Paugam's City Pop radio on YouTube has gotten a slight nibble from me.

That would be "Hizuke Henkosen" (International Date Line), a lightly bossa nova-tinged ballad that was the creation of lyricist Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実)and composer Minami that swings gently like a hammock in a summer breeze. It was also released as his 5th single in the same year. I may want to get into that hammock to listen to this one. Yuming's lyrics are a bit bittersweet though as a fellow, now in more tropical climes, tries to solace himself over a recently finished romance. I'm not sure of this, but I think that could be Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)providing some lovely backup chorus behind crooning Minami. Still, considering the times in Japan, listening to "Hizuke Henkosen" may have left some dreams in citizens about making that romantic trip abroad.

Basically, I can certainly go with nikala's suggestions. The only problem would be with which Minami album should I go for first. There are a lot of prime choices in his discography.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Eri Nitta -- Hoshi wo Sagashite(星を探して)


I've been meaning to write another article on 80s aidoru Eri Nitta(新田恵利)since I've had her smiling visage at the upper right for over a week now.


And I couldn't have asked for a better Nitta number! In fact, I don't quite know how long ago it was, but I distinctly remember someone contacting me as to the identity of this particular tune and maybe even the identity of the singer through a snippet via an MP3 file. That was the case even though there is no record on the blog of an All-Points Bulletin being put out. Yet, I also think I was able to dig out the song for the fellow some way.

In any case, this is "Hoshi wo Sagashite" (Find A Star) which was a track on Nitta's debut album "ERI" which was released back in May 1986. The album was also a No. 1 hit for the aidoru. Plus, "Hoshi wo Sagashite" is a hit with me. The song rather reflects a couple of tropes that Marcos V. and some others plus myself have hashed over through other articles with one being a singer who may not have the most proficient vocal chops but does have some good songwriters surrounding him or her. And that one composer/arranger for this song was the great Etsuko Yamakawa(山川恵津子). Launching with a synthesizer whose sound that I had never heard before, the arrangement approaches an unusually lusher AOR sentiment with an undercurrent of bossa, and I thought it would be something that Miki Imai(今井美樹), who debuted in 1986, would sing. Mieko Aoki(青木美恵子)was behind the lyrics.

The second trope is that a number of aidorus of the late 80s seemed to get some of that lusher arrangement when compared to their sempai in the early part of the decade. I'm not sure why but perhaps when the massive aidoru group Onyanko Club(おニャン子クラブ)made its presence felt from the mid-1980s, the individual members, their managers and other powers-that-be may have demanded that they be given their chances at hopefully hit-making songs, and so the pressure was on to the songwriters of that time to come up with even more distinctive tunes. Time to hit the mizuwari and tabako, and all that.

In any case, from some of that mighty pressure, a small pearl of a tune was born in the form of "Hoshi wo Sagashite". Here's hoping that I can find some more pearls to make a string.

Michiru Maki -- Kieta Namida(消えた涙)


Man, what I wouldn't do to get access to some of that rebound energy from singer Michiru Maki(槙みちる). She could probably cure a rainy day and a cold simultaneously.

Commenter haniwa hanibo recommended a song by Maki the other day but I wasn't able to find it on YouTube so I did some more scrounging around and found "Kieta Namida" (Dried Tears) instead. This was actually the B-side to her hit single "Wakaitte Subarashii"(若いってすばらしい)from 1966. It was the same lyricist who took care of "Kieta Namida" as well, Kazumi Yasui(安井かずみ), while Osamu Shoji(東海林修)provided the music that has that hint of novelty pop with the beefy sax in there.

I'm not sure whether this B-side ever saw the light of day on the music-variety shows of the time, and considering the hit that "Wakaitte Subarashii" was, it's possible that "Kieta Namida" was very much overshadowed. Still, I think "Kieta Namida" would have been a fun tune to have seen performed in front of the cameras.