I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube, Oricon charts are courtesy of and my research is translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Hachiro Kasuga, Hideo Murata, Michiya Mihashi & Haruo Minami -- Natsu Matsuri Nippon no Uta (夏祭り にぽんのうた)

During the months of July and August, many music shows like "Kayo Concert" and the "Thursday 8 o'clock Concert" (木曜8時のコンサート), which is basically like the former but on TV Tokyo instead of NHK and it's aired on Thursdays, would have episodes revolving around the theme of the hottest season of the year. Songs sung would most likely be jaunty, sometimes festive, and maybe even raucous. Some will have the sea/beach involved as well, just like this Tuesday's installment of "Kayo Concert"; it even had dolphins doing flips and sniggering beluga whales! Also, depending on the program, your favourite singers may appear wearing this... coat thing that looks like a haori in blue or red over their suits/dresses/kimonos and holding fans.

So that brings me to today's main point. Since it is dead in the middle of summer (if you're not in the southern hemisphere), I've decided to share a segment from an episode of one such summer-themed music show called "Natsu Matsuri Nippon no Uta" that aired in July 1982. Performing then were the San'nin no Kai (三人の会) that comprised of Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎), Hideo Murata (村田英雄) and Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也), and to make things even better, Murata's friendly rival Haruo Minami (三波春夫) was added to the mix. The overall atmosphere of this bit was festive with the audience (and the ladies behind) clapping along to the music and two fellows in the back thumping on the drums.The quartet themselves were decked out in kimonos of slightly varying patterns and had fans in hand as they took turns to sing a hit from their own sizable repertoires.

Hachi got the ball rolling with the lighthearted and whimsical "Otomi-San" (お富さん), which was then followed by Minami's "Chanchiki Okesa" (チャンチキおけさ). In terms of meaning, I don't think it's the most cheerful song since it's about missing home, but the rhythmic, peppy score makes it fit right in with the merry mood. Moving down the line, Muchi was up next to sing "Mina no Shu" (皆の衆), which happens to be my favourite part from this positively aMAzing medley.

Finally, Michi rounded the segment up with the solemn "Tasha de na" (達者でナ). Just like "Chanchiki Okesa", it's not the happiest song in the world, and combining it's quiet music with Mihashi's heartbreaking delivery didn't make it anymore cheerful. But since "Tasha de na" served as the last of the four with the first three being rather loud and rowdy, I think of it as winding down and eventually saying goodbye after a whole day/night of fun with friends and family. Just as a side note, during Mihashi's hip and disco days as "Mitchie" in the late 70's (I think), he seemed to have done a self-cover of the song, calling it "Bye-Bye Horse", which I find pretty funny.

Well, that about does it for this article. Hope y'all enjoy your summer, or at least whatever that remains of it. Oh yeah, just one more thing. Another summer staple that is aired every August is the "Omoide no Melody" (思い出のメロディー), where the general public gets to request for their favourite songs; the most voted songs get to be sung on TV. I missed last year's one because I didn't know it was a thing, but I'm game to catch it this year, which would be broadcast in coming Saturday, 8th August. I've seen the line-up for the show, and I saw that Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし) is going to have a go at one of my favourite Mood Kayo/kayokyoku of all time, originally sung by Tough Guy, Yujiro Ishihara (石原裕次郎). I really hope he does a good job with it... but you know, no pressure Itsuki.

I couldn't find a picture with all 4,
so here's one with Murata and Minami.

So Nice -- Kousoku Douro (光速道路)

The band so nice that they called themselves So Nice....err, sorry about that. Actually, according to the Japanese music blog, "Magical Mystery 'Music' Tour", Katsuyuki Kamakura(鎌倉克行)and Misako Matsushima(松島美砂子), who were members of a folk song club at Nihon University created their own band in 1976. The name of the band, by the way, came from the Minako Yoshida-penned lyrics of a Haruomi Hosono tune, "Rum wa O-suki?"(ラムはお好き?...Do You Dig Rum?)

Although So Nice identified as a folk band, they did a lot of covers of Sugar Babe (Tatsuro Yamashita, Taeko Ohnuki, etc.) songs. A few years later, they came out with their debut album, "Love" in 1979 and the one track I've being seeing and hearing on YouTube has been "Kousoku Douro" (Lightspeed Highway). When I first encountered the song, I swore that this was actually Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)singing with Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)on backing vocals. Was there a secret single released years after Sugar Babe broke up, I wondered. As it turned out, it was Kamakura and Matsushima.

Indeed Kamakura sings the lyrics like a Sugar Babe-era Yamashita but there is also that extra layer of City Pop sheen. It's almost as if the Yamashita of two eras combined to sing "Kousoku Douro". And that title...along with the album cover...pretty much screams City Pop. Apparently, only 200 original copies of "Love" were printed out so the LP is one of the rarest of the rare out there.

Kahoru Kohiruimaki -- Time Goes By

Well, the Pan American Games in Toronto wrapped up a week ago and the Parapan American Games are about to go in another week. A number of my fellow citizens in Toronto (including myself) didn't have all that great an opinion of the Games as they approached, but as it turned out, the Games ended up a success for Canada as they came in second only to the United States in the medal count. I didn't think we had it in us to do that well but I guess there is something to be said about home country advantage. Now, people are starting to get hyped about perhaps going for the 2024 Summer Olympics...whoa, now, let's take a breath here, shall we?

The Games here brought back a few memories going back some 24 years when Japan held The 1991 World Championships in Athletics in Tokyo (how those athletes managed to survive the heat and humidity in August is beyond me...I already hightailed it back to Canada after the JET Programme). I don't quite remember the television hype for those Games being as obnoxious as the commercials were for the Pan Am Games 2015. There was just this one ad where a high school girl ran up the steps of a deserted stadium and then yelled something defiant.

Meanwhile, there was soulful music playing in the background while the familiar throaty tones of Kahoru Kohiruimaki(小比類巻かほる)came over the speakers. "Time Goes By" was not only Kohhy's 17th single from March 1991 but it was also used as the image song for NTV's coverage of that athletic meet. Written by the singer and composed by frequent songwriting partner Yoshiaki Ohuchi(大内義昭), "Time Goes By" is surprisingly quite moving; I hadn't heard it in some time and when I saw the video above, I actually had a couple of chills crawling up my back at the way the music just flowed, especially when the sax solo came in.

Of course, I did get my copy of the single before I left Japan.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Anri -- Windy Summer

I was writing about Miku Hatsune's(初音ミク)"City Pop" last night and made that reference to that small artistic movement called Vaporwave. Well, I wanted to get down another summer tune before July 2015 finishes up in a few hours, and then I thought about Anri's(杏里)6th album, "Timely!!" which is one of the classic Anri/Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)collaborations from the early 1980s.

Anri's big anime hit, "Cat's Eye" is the opening track but I also remember the 2nd track quite well, "Windy Summer". Having just had a bit of exposure to Vaporwave, I can probably tell fans of the genre that they can listen to this dynamic summery cone of musical ice cream to find out where the folks who came up with it got inspired. Basically, Kadomatsu can be considered to be one of the godfathers.

Indeed it was singer-songwriter Kadomatsu who came up with the music and lyrics for this example of the Resort Pop subset of City Pop. The horns, the backup singers and the Jake Concepcion sax solo weave that picture of a chaise lounge by the Pacific seashore next to the beach umbrella and table with the cocktail on top. I also enjoyed the way Anri stretches out the title in the refrain "Here we are! Windy Summmmmmmer" (although the liner notes have it transcribed as "Here we're Windy Summer!!").

The trio of Anri, Yumi Yoshimoto and Yasuharu Ogura made a great trio during the late 80s and early 90s with their brand of American-style R&B, but I also have quite the affection for the work of the Anri/Kadomatsu pair.

Referring to the music163 (or NetEase) link that I've been using for the last couple of years, I just discovered that I seem to have been locked out from listening to the songs although I can still access the site. When I translated the Chinese message through Google Translate, I found out that apparently I can no longer access songs temporarily from Canada due to copyright restrictions. Not sure if this is JASRAC and other powers-that-be doing the smackdown on the site as they did on Grooveshark, but there's a part of me that thought that this day would come and there's of course another part that would be disappointed if this does become permanent. But I just thought I should let you know for those of you who are reading this from Canada at least.

Kiyoshi Maekawa -- Himawari (ひまわり)

I think he'd have looked better in a darker suit...

Most of what I consider to be "Summer songs" would ordinarily give me the image of soft sand beaches with the blue waters of the lagoon lazily lapping against the shore or, depending on the tune, eager surfers dudes, surf boards in hand... arm... dashing towards the large waves that would soon swallow them whole...Watch out for sharks! The latter would more often than not be derived from Yuzo Kayama's (加山雄三) discography. I can just imagine him in his Wakadaisho-movie days gliding across the surface of the sea on his board. But both of the aforementioned scenarios don't apply to Kiyoshi Maekawa's (前川清) "Himawari". Rather than the sand and the surf and tanned surfers, I think of the strong afternoon sun shining down on to rolling fields crowded with bright yellow sunflowers swaying away in the warm, gentle breeze. Actually, there is this old Oregon photo book that my parents have (they got it as a gift from friends there) that has got a picture similar to what I described above. I just love leafing through that book as it boasts the state's natural beauty.

The photo was taken by Ray Atkeson
from "Oregon III", "Cascade Range" section.
Anyway, written and composed by the popular singer-songwriter, Masaharu Fukuyama, who hails from Nagasaki as well, "Himawari" gives out this really relaxed and, in my opinion, lazy-weekend vibe with its slow yet cozy pace and Mae-Kiyo's deep, slightly husky delivery. Although it isn't one of my top favourite tunes from the veteran singer due to its length, clocking in at almost 6 minutes - I have gotten used to the briefness of most kayokyoku - and its lullaby-like music, I do appreciate it from time to time on bright, clear days with the scenery from the car or train carriage whipping by. The video below has Fukuyama's version, which is gentler and more deconstructed compared to the one he put together for Maekawa. He kinda sounds like a combination of ASKA and Keisuke Kuwata (桑田佳祐), if you ask me.

"Himawari" was released in June 2002 as Mae-Kiyo's 24th single, and by far, it his only solo single to break into the top 20 on the Oricon charts, peaking at 13th place, if I'm not wrong. He also sang "Himawari" once during his 12th appearance on the Kohaku on the same year.

As for the video here, it was from a "Kayo Concert" episode last August, and it happened to be the first time I caught Mae-Kiyo performing on TV. Needless to say, I was... delighted. Ecstatic. On cloud nine.

Yup, that's the very expression that
sums up "Himawari" perfectly.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Miku Hatsune -- City Pop (シティポップ)

As probably a lot of the readers of the blog know, I have put in a number of Miku Hatsune(初音ミク)covers of other much older songs (everything from YMO to Ruiko Kurahashi) when the opportunity presents itself although I know that the prime Vocaloid has sung original material in the past.

However, I encountered this new original song by Hatsune that came out just a couple of weeks ago (July 2015), and it's kinda stuck to my brain right now. Titled "City Pop", it has that usual techno touch and the familiar Hatsune vocals but the melody (and lyrics) by Tama(たま)seems to be filtered through a jaunty City Pop atmosphere (or perhaps Vaporwave might be more accurate) complete with rousing electric guitar solo. In any case, it's a short-but-sweet-but-fun song, and I was somewhat amused by this artificial persona trying to gut out a day in the big city. We've all been there, Miku, especially when we are from Tokyo heading home on a blistering hot night.

Good ol' Shibuya

Shizuka Kudo -- Again

Not being a supremely huge fan of Shizuka Kudo(工藤静香), I can probably say that I have heard this song, "Again", on some of the old retrospectives or on reruns of "The Best 10". This was her 2nd single from December 1987, and as with her debut outing, "Kindan no Telepathy"(禁断のテレパシー), the creators of the song were Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康)and Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利).

I'm not sure if it would be accurate to say that there was a "Kudo sound" since I'm not totally well-versed in her discography, but it seems that a number of her early singles at least had that steady balance of rock guitar and fast-paced synths (perhaps with the exception of her 3rd single "Daite Kuretara Iinoni " which sounded a bit more 50s to me). As soon as I heard "Again"...again...I just thought, "Yep, that's a Shizuka song alright". Perhaps it's also Shizuka's distinctive voice.

Lyrically, the song has all the makings of a typical 2-hour suspense program as the heroine tries to disavow herself of a romance with a dangerous fellow although her heart still isn't quite convinced it's time to go. I can only jokingly imagine if Kudo and her hubby, Takuya Kimura(木村拓哉), would have ever dramatized the song through some 12-episode series. In any case, "Again" managed to peak at No. 3 and became the 53rd-ranked song for 1988.