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, May 21, 2019

Hideki Saijo -- Yuuyakegumo/Wakaki Shishi-tachi(夕焼け雲・若き獅子たち)

Hard to believe but it's been a little over a year since the passing of 70s aidoru Hideki Saijo(西城秀樹). He died on May 16 2018 and a day later, I wrote an elegiac article surrounding his "Koi suru Kisetsu"(恋する季節)in a tribute.

First off, I have to give my deepest apologies to commenter Owl Chick since there was a request for the song "Yuuyakegumo" (Clouds in the Afterglow) on the "Koi suru Kisetsu" article but regrettably I had forgotten to write about it over the past year. Belated as it is, I am now providing it here.

A track from his June 1975 album "Exciting Hideki Vol. 5 ~ Koi no Bousou/Kono Ai no Tokimeki"(エキサイティング秀樹 Vol.5 - 恋の暴走/この愛のときめき...Amour Running Wild/This Love's Excitement), "Yuuyakegumo" (Clouds in the Afterglow) does leave an immediate impression from its intro which takes Bach's famous "Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565". I couldn't find Takeshi Ochiai's(落合武司)lyrics anywhere but perhaps Tachio Akano's(あかのたちお)music was trying to hint at something sinister afoot. Still, although I'm not quite there with the choice of keyboard playing the intro, I can't doubt the spectacular horns and Saijo's soaring vocals. It's a classic Saijo song.

Another Saijo song that has all that epicness and fanfare horns is "Wakaki Shishi-tachi" (Young Lions) which was his 18th single from September 1976. The reason that I've put this particular song up is that this week's "Uta Kon"(うたコン)started off with several minutes of tribute to the singer in commemoration of the 1st anniversary of his passing, and his old friend/rival, Goro Noguchi(野口五郎)appeared to sing this very song.

Written by Yu Aku(阿久悠)and composed by Takashi Miki(三木たかし), viewing Noguchi's performance tonight and listening to the original by Saijo, "Wakaki Shishi-tachi" seems to have been created in the form of an anthem for the young, walking straight and tall into the future. Although other songs have been sung in tribute of Saijo, I couldn't have asked for a better one to start off tonight's show.

The intro here, too, is interesting since it is reminiscent of the orchestra version of "Jesus Christ Superstar" by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It certainly is a proud song and it was performed by Saijo on his third appearance at the Kohaku Utagassen in 1976. I can only wonder how he made his entrance onto the NHK stage when the horns shot out the opening fanfare...hands on his sides, beaming smile and a cape flying out from behind him?

Although I couldn't find any video of his performance of "Wakaki Shishi-tachi", big-voiced Shigeru Matsuzaki(松崎しげる)provided a cover of the song in the album "Kimi no Kuchibiru ni Iroasenu Kotoba wo ~ Aku Yu Sakushishuu 1978"(君の唇に色あせぬ言葉を〜阿久悠作詞集 1978...Fading Words for Your Lips~The Works of Yu Aku). As for the single, it peaked at No. 4 on the Oricon weeklies and became the 61st-ranked single for 1976. It also was the title track for a 1976 album.

Yup, "Young Man" will probably be the first song that Saijo will be associated with, but when giving a retrospective on the singer, wouldn't this be the one that ought to see the man off into eternity?

Miyako Otsuki -- Onna no Minato(女の港)

A few weeks ago on "Uta Kon"(うたコン), I saw veteran enka singer Miyako Otsuki(大月みやこ)make another appearance on the show where the hosts mentioned that she was now in her 55th year in show business. In fact, I discovered in her J-Wiki bio that the official 55th anniversary will be achieved in about a month.

Otsuki sang her most recent single which may be the 128th in her career but in a display of Mother's Day-like charm, bidanshi singer Keisuke Yamauchi(山内惠介)gave tribute to her by performing one of her older classics, "Onna no Minato" (A Woman's Harbour).

Charmed by the song itself, I decided to look for any videos of Otsuki herself actually performing this ballad which was her 57th single released in August 1983. I found the above video and I wasn't disappointed. Plus, the enjoyment was further enhanced since I knew from the narration and the set that the clip originated from the famed TV Tokyo series "Enka no Hanamichi"(演歌の花道).

"Onna no Minato", the wistful ballad of a woman pining for the love of her life separated from her probably due to work is once again one of those entries that's hard for me to distinguish in terms of whether it is an enka tune or a Mood Kayo song. The lyrics by Tetsuro Hoshino(星野哲郎)and the slower tempo make it feel like the former but I couldn't help but feel that the melody from Toru Funamura(船村徹)as arranged by Masahito Maruyama(丸山雅仁)is fairly similar to songs by The Tough Guy, Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎)in the 70s and 80s. Perhaps "Onna no Minato" is as much of a song to raise an ochoko of sake to as it is one to lift a tumbler of whiskey to.

I couldn't find out how well it did on Oricon but considering that it sold 300,000 records, it did well enough indeed. Anyways, many congratulations to Ms. Otsuki!

Kumiko Sawada -- Your Love's Away

I realize that this will be starting my 5th entry today (and at 10 minutes before midnight), but I was quite intrigued by this singer-songwriter named Kumiko Sawada(沢田久美子).

There's not much information on Sawada except from what I could find on this page for the Record Shop Merurido website, and even that was restricted to just comparing the song of note here. "Your Love's Away" is a track on Sawada's debut album "Love Me Or Leave Me" from 1979, and that album cover has Sawada looking distinctly like someone that should never be crossed.

As for "Your Love's Away", it's a pretty disco-funk concoction that has been compared to some of the works of Cheryl Lynn including her hit "Got To Be Real". Sawada definitely puts her all into the song with a husky diva-like delivery that sometimes goes a bit off tune but also seems to have as much to do with Janis Joplin as it does with the aforementioned Lynn. The arrangement puts plenty of oomph from the funk to the racing guitar to the soaring saxophone. To be honest, I can also hear a bit of "I Love The Nightlife" by Alicia Bridges in the song.

The backing band happens to be Creation(クリエイション)which would have a hit of its own a couple of years later with "Lonely Hearts". As for Sawada, I've only been able to find evidence of "Love Me Or Leave Me" but no other albums since then. "Your Love's Away" was written and compose by Sawada with Creation guitarist Kazuo Takeda(竹田和夫)handling the arrangement. I could be interested in the album but I have to hear a few more tracks.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Yukio Hashi -- Hanabi Ondo(花火音頭)

For all those folks in Canada, Happy Victoria Day! Most likely, there will be some fireworks display later on tonight. Japan has a huge swarm of fireworks festivals annually with one of the biggest being the Sumida River Fireworks Festival on a Saturday in late July.

Because I used to work at the Asakusa NOVA, I was literally less than 5 minutes away on foot from the Sumida River, and I remember on those Saturday nights when I was about to go off-shift, the neighbourhood would fill up with a flood of people numbering in the hundreds of thousands (perhaps as many as a million viewers). I was very fortunate one year because one of my students who lived in an apartment right by the Sumida invited a whole bunch of us over to get an up-close-and-personal look at the fireworks right from her place. Space is at a premium on street level and the heat and humidity don't make things any more comfortable although many of the spectators are in summer yukata mode. Therefore, having a friend with accommodations right by the river itself is worth its weight in gold, especially an apartment with good air conditioning.

I was surprised to find out that considering the long history of kayo and the even longer history of fireworks festivals in Japan that there hadn't been any particular festival song devoted to those annual summer starbursts. Well, perhaps a song does exist but if so, I haven't heard of it and it looks like veteran enka singer Yukio Hashi(橋幸夫)hadn't either.

In 2005, Hashi had recorded "Bon Dance"(盆ダンス), a festival-themed enka to commemorate his 45th year in show business, and on realizing that there hadn't been a similar traditional tune to celebrate fireworks, he and prolific lyricist Toyohisa Araki(荒木とよひさ)set out to create "Hanabi Ondo" (Fireworks Folk Song) for release as his next single (his 172nd!) in November 2006. Itoyuki Hanayanagi(花柳糸之), a leader of his own Japanese dance troupe, was put in charge of creating the actual dance, according to an article in the 2007 edition of the "Nikkan Gendai"(日刊現代)newspaper.

The November release struck me as being a bit odd considering the fireworks festival season was long over, but I gather that "Hanabi Ondo" was more than welcome in the summers of succeeding years at the various venues all over Japan.

I will always cherish my experience at my student's apartment that year. We ended up staying a few more hours at her place since the exodus of festival goers from Asakusa took a very long time by the subways and trains. I believe that I didn't get onto the Ginza Line until close to midnight and it was still fairly crowded...although no longer at physics-breaking levels.

Fuusenkazra -- Kawaranai Mono(変わらないモノ)

To paraphrase their mantra of sorts, Hiro and Ryo(ヒロ・リョウ)specialize in crying City Pop especially since they are crybabies themselves.

That's what I did read underneath the YouTube video for Fuusenkazra(フウセンカヅラ), the duo made up of Hiro and Ryo who come from Tokyo and Hokkaido respectively. From their website, Fuusenkazra started up in 2013 and released their 1st maxi-single in 2014, "Irotoridori no Sekai"(ロトリドリノセカイ...Multicoloured World)from which comes the song in question for this article, "Kawaranai Mono" (Neverchanging Things).

In that description for "Kawaranai Mono", it seems that the song is the quintessential representative of what Fuusenkazra is all about. The ballad describes the state of someone who truly wanted to express his/her feelings to that special person but for whatever reason simply couldn't until the opportunity passed by...possibly permanently. The slightly quavering vocals by Hiro and Ryo are apt for the melancholy feeling of regret and the music seems to be ideal for listening in the living room or in that intimate cafe space (although I don't consider it to be a contemporary City Pop tune).

"Kawaranai Mono" also made it on the duo's first album "Boku no Rosenzu"(僕の路線図...My Route Map)from 2015. As for a derivation of the band's name, I couldn't find it in their profile, but punching it into the search engines, I did find the term「フウセンカラ」 , which refers to Cardiospermum halicacabum or the balloon plant. Perhaps that is what you see on the table in the image for the above video.

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Joyuu(女優)

It's been a long while since I've focused the light on Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美).

With Iwasaki, it's been a bit tricky when I cover her material spanning the turn of the decade from the late 1970s into the early 1980s since I'm not quite sure when her aidoru days made the switch into those of her as a premier pop chanteuse. What doesn't help is that she's always had that splendid voice. However, for this song, it's been categorized as as aidoru kayo kyoku so I will go along with that.

"Joyuu" (Actress) is Iwasaki's 20th single from April 1980 and it's been one that I've been wanting to tackle for a while because of that title and the arrangement which flits about City Pop disco. Is it really about a popular actress painting the town red? The strut-worthy melody is provided by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平), someone who really liked that funky music, especially that electric guitar. Although strings have often been part and parcel of a disco song, I kinda find the arrangement with the strings and guitar/bass interesting in that the two sides seem to be acting more as counterpoints to each other. The strings perhaps represent the (lost) innocence of the woman in question here with the guitar/bass standing in for the fast and harsh life in the big city.

Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼)wrote the lyrics for "Joyuu" which actually talk about a woman trying to please her possibly hard-to-please paramour as she internally maps out her tactics and doubts in terms of her behavior. Sounds something from a psychological suspense movie.

"Joyuu" was also used as the song in a Subaru commercial for the new Leone brand. As a single, it peaked at No. 15. It was also placed as a track in Iwasaki's 9th album "Wish" from August 1980. That original LP got as high as No. 14.

Chisato Moritaka -- Weekend Blue

The long weekend is almost at an end here in Canada so I'm sure that there will be a lot of people who are beginning to get those post-holiday blues. Back to work on Tuesday!


In any case, I've got "Weekend Blue", a track from Chisato Moritaka's(森高千里)2nd album "Mi-Ha-"(ミーハー)from March 1988 but also the coupling song for her 2nd single "Overheat Night"(オーバーヒート・ナイト)from October 1987. Perhaps it's just me but I find Moritaka's voice especially adorable here and for a Eurobeat tune, it's fairly mellow.

Composer/arranger Hideo Saito(斉藤英夫)and lyricist Hiromasa Ijichi(伊秩弘将), the same duo behind "Overheat Night", took care of "Weekend Blue", a story of a woman who's still coming to terms over the breakup of a relationship. Her weekends seem to be a lot less interesting now that there is no more boyfriend in the picture. From what I've read for the lineup in the production for the album, Saito may also be providing chorus and guitar work. The above video has been noted as having the album version but not sure if the original single track is vastly different in arrangement.