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.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Kengo Kurozumi -- You & Me


Got Kengo Kurozumi's(黒住憲五)2nd article here as one of those mysterious singers who I could only find out about through "Japanese City Pop".


I swear that listening to "You and Me" which is a track on his 5th album "Pillow Talk" from 1989, the groovy orange mimosa-friendly tune was something out of the mid-1980s or even earlier. The arrangement might be more updated but I could feel the Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)in there. The music was by Kurozumi with lyrics by Dereck Jackson.

With all those horns and guitar in there, I think this would have been something that Sing Like Talking could have done this as well. And what a group of session musicians in there: Jeff Porcaro and Michael Landau among others. Another one of those feel-good summer songs.

Finger Five/Momoe Yamaguchi/Caocao/misono -- Kojin Jugyō(個人授業)


Lovely cool day....airing out my room by having the windows open. I'm sure a lot of other folks are out there on the beginning of this long Victoria Day weekend. May be catching "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2" on Monday with a couple of friends. The reviews have been good although it doesn't seem to be as well-regarded as the first one but not too surprised on that assessment. Nope, the big shocker is hearing all of the pre-release raves for "Wonder Woman". The DC Expanded Universe has been praying that one of its movies would finally get a break, and it looks like it has arrived.


There's been a fellow who's been putting up hour-long videos with a whole ton of notable kayo kyoku excerpts from certain years squeezed in. I decided to listen to one of them...1974, to be exact. The first few songs are tunes that I've already written about so I was hoping that there would be one that I had yet to hear. At about 1:40, I found one.


But it was by a group that I have written about before. Finger Five(フィンガー5)had always struck me as being the Japanese analogy of The Jackson Five, and for some reason this new song that hit upon my ears and brain thrust that point home especially. "Kojin Jugyō" (Private Lessons), mind you, is more cute pop than R&B but otherwise the sentiment was there.

Released in August 1973 as Finger Five's 2nd single  (there were 3 singles in 1970 under their old name of Baby Brothers), "Kojin Jugyō" was created by the same duo behind all those later Pink Lady hits, Yu Aku and Shunichi Tokura(阿久悠・都倉俊一). The story behind the song is very simple: a kid's puppy love for his tutor. The song hit No. 1 on Oricon and became a long-lasting single, becoming the 18th-ranked song for the year and hanging on at No. 27 in the annual rankings for 1974.


Quite the interesting development here. Near the end of 1973, a very young Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵)saw her 2nd album, "Aoi Kajitsu/Kinjirareta Asobi"(青い果実/禁じられた遊び)released with one of the tracks being a cover of "Kojin Jugyō". Considering all of the deep-voiced hits that she provided in the latter half of the decade, it was fascinating to hear her sound just like Finger Five lead vocalist Kazuo Tamamoto(玉元一夫). The album itself managed to reach as high as No. 26.


Let's jump ahead by a few decades into the 21st century. Once again, I was given a bit of a jolt in finding out that comely Kaori Mochida(持田香織)of 90s pop/rock unit Every Little Thing and Takao Tajima(田島貴男)of Original Love got together in 2009 to make the duo Caocao to do their own cover of "Kojin Jugyō". The music video has them going all 70s groovy in front of a rapturous high school crowd. One of my students who was a huge fan of all things hippie and Haight-Ashbury could appreciate this. The cover also got some appreciation from other folks as well since it ranked in at No. 22 on the singles charts.


I knew that misono that, along with the fact that she is Kumi Koda's(倖田來未)younger sister, she also sang herself. However, I mostly saw her as a tarento popping up on TV game shows and other variety programs. In 2006, though, she sang her own version of "Kojin Jugyō" as her 2nd single. It's got an even more rock treatment and the video is pretty clever as she poses as a Cinderella in a high school. It ranked in at No. 15.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Yui Murase -- Shiosai (潮騒)


One of the drawbacks about doing the blog is that for the more unsung singers, it's difficult to find videos of their songs to showcase, and eventually, those videos that are found will be taken down due to the inevitable copyright issues. Not that I blame the singers or the recording studios; they have to get their due. However, it just means that a song that I would have continued to enjoy introducing to the masses has now disappeared, possibly forever.


I start off this way because one prime example is here. Yui Murase(村瀬由衣)is not a well-known singer, especially in the world of J-Pop fans outside of Japan. However, I found out about her through one of the issues of "Eye-Ai" over 20 years ago and found the cover of her debut album "Suiyoubi no Asa, Mado wo Akeru"(水曜日の朝、窓を開ける...Open Your Windows on Wednesday Morning)so enticing that I ended up getting that album through the magazine's mail order shopping.

I did write my introductory article about Murase last year but unfortunately the videos have been taken down. However, I have decided to refrain from putting it into mothballs since there is that background about her in that article and I didn't want to repeat myself here about her bio. Scrolled through any videos of her on YouTube but it looks like a good chunk of them have been deleted. C'est dommage!

Keeping my chin up, I will re-introduce this singer of mellow and sometimes sophisticated pop through this lovely little bit of bossa nova titled "Shiosai" (Sound of Waves) that she sang on her 4th album "Yui Murase" from June 1994. Always a sucker for the Brazilian genre, I think Friday night makes for a nice time to bring this in. At my age, I haven't made it a practice to go out with friends on Friday nights for quite a few years now, but I would like to be in an appropriate supper club with this being performed on stage by the singer.

Yumi Yoshimoto(吉元由美)took care of the lyrics while Hidetoshi Yamada(山田秀俊)came up with the lovely music. Yesterday, I bought a couple of CDs of not-everyday artists from CD Japan; perhaps it's time to give Murase some more attention again.

frasco -- Kaze ni Notte ~breeze~ (風に乗って)


A bit more seasonal than some of the torrid weather we had gotten over the last couple of days but still sunny and pleasant out there today. Besides, I like the cooler air.


Therefore to commemorate this weather, I've decided to devote this article to this lovely song by not-so-well-known pop band frasco. I never heard of these guys until I bought my very first CD from the "Light Mellow" series a few years ago, "Breeze". But I knew I was on the right step when I heard a lot of wonderful tracks on this disc including frasco's "Kaze ni Notte" (Catch The Wind).

frasco consisted of the late guitarist Hiroshi Narumi(鳴海寛), session drummer Makio Tada(多田牧男)and singer-songwriter Sakiko Masano(政野早希子)on vocals. Narumi's name has been bandied about before on this blog due to his contribution to the City Pop duo Tohoku Shinkansen(東北新幹線)with songwriter Etsuko Yamakawa(山川恵津子)back in the 1980s. Well, it looks like he brought together another unit in the following decade with frasco in 1994.

This particularly breezy tune "Kaze ni Notte" was included in their 1996 2nd album "film". The band has been solidly classified as a pop group but listening to this summery outing, I couldn't help but feel that there was also some Shibuya-kei in there somewhere so I've also included that genre in the Labels. Either way, it's a good song to listen to. Not too frenetic, not too laid back, it's the equivalent of a walk on the sandy beach. Narumi composed the melody while Masano took care of the lyrics with Narumi and Tada arranging the whole thing.

Considering the obscurity of frasco, all of my information on the group was from the liner notes of that "Breeze" disc for "Light Mellow".


Now it's possible that depending on where you live, you may not be able to see the video at the very top, but perhaps you can access this compilation at around 4:10 when "Kaze ni Notte" begins.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Nana Mizuki -- Koi no Okehazama (恋の桶狭間)


OK, I'll have to be a bit honest here. There was that movie "Tim Burton's The Night Before Christmas" which is probably regarded as one of the more endearing fantasy movies for a generation. Normally, I liked Danny Elfman's scores for the 1989 "Batman", "Dick Tracy" and "Beetlejuice" but frankly I just found his songs for "Nightmare" to be repetitive and as the movie went on, I got more and more tempted to look at my watch.


I've got the same feelings for the "Symphogear"(シンフォギア)anime franchise. Actually I do like it better than "Nightmare" but only because of the battle scenes and those epic visual pronouncements of the super weaponry such as "MEGA DETH SYMPHONY" and "HORIZON†SPEAR"! Can you imagine any of the Marvel movies pulling that off? We'd end up with each movie a half-hour longer!😆

Getting back on to topic, I have tended to turn my mind off the songs that Hibiki and Tsubasa and the others have to sing to be effective in the fights against the Noise since they all strike me as being variations on the same rock anthem, although I did have some like for the opening theme "Synchrogazer". I realize that I may be putting a number of "Symphogear" fans' noses out of joint by saying this (including my anime buddy who has bought all of the soundtracks) but that's how I feel.


Noriyasu Agematsu(上松範康)of the music production brand Elements Garden came up with most of the songs, and although I haven't remembered too many of them, I actually did enjoy one tune since it was so atypical in the show. Plus, it was only featured for a mere matter of seconds during one of the lighter scenes in the first season of the show back in 2012.

The scene in question was when warriors Hibiki and Tsubasa along with Hibiki's buddy Miku go for a fun session at a karaoke box. Tsubasa, as played by seiyuu/singer Nana Mizuki(水樹奈々), suddenly opts for a visceral enka song. When I first saw this, it wasn't only the jaws of Hibiki and Miku which hit the floor. At the time, when I was still gathering knowledge about the various voice actors in the anime industry, one of the first seiyuu that I had started to know was Mizuki due to her prevalence in the various shows and her string of appearances on the Kohaku Utagassen. From those performances and her work in "Symphogear", I had assumed that the singer was a rock queen at heart.

Little did I know that Mizuki had been trained in enka and so "Koi no Okehazama"(恋の桶狭間...Okehazama of Love), the song her character performed in the karaoke box was my first realization of her prowess in the long-existing genre. Agematsu was also responsible for creating this one and I kinda regret that I haven't been able to find a full version online although one of the many "Symphogear" soundtracks that my anime buddy gave over to me has got it somewhere. It's got quite the muscular melody about a certain area in the city of Nagoya.


Although it's not Mizuki herself, I did manage to find someone performing the full version of "Koi no Okehazama" at karaoke although there's a bit of annoying noise (not the Noise) that pops up during the video. Since that revelation of Mizuki being an enka princess, she's popped up on some of the kayo programs from time to time to cover some of the oldies, and being an old-fashioned guy myself, I'm kinda hoping that she may actually release a true-blue enka single again.

My anime buddy has breathlessly told me that another "Symphogear" season will be premiering in less than 2 months. I will enjoy the show but I hope that the battle songs will have a bit more variation this time.

Cosmic Invention -- YAKIMOKI


Although I played the recorder and the clarinet and tried to play the French horn (my failures on that instrument were the source of much merriment among my classmates in band class), I knew I really didn't have any aptitude for making my own music. Yet, one day, my father was kind enough to get my brother and me a Casio keyboard. The novelty was there with all of the different features and music patterns, but like all novelties, this gradually wore off and poor Casio got stuffed into the closet, and I'm assuming that sometime during my days in Japan, the instrument finally got thrown out.

Fortunately, though, for folks like me who like to listen to music, a few folks on this planet not only actually had the aptitude but had the interest and raw talent to make music such as Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)and Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)among many others.


I wrote briefly through the "Computer Obaachan"(コンピューターおばあちゃん)article on this kiddie technopop band that was around from 1979-1982 called Cosmic Invention(コスミック・インベンション). Although I'm a big Yellow Magic Orchestra fan, I had never heard about these kids on synths until a couple of years ago thanks to the blog.

The idea to come up with this junior version of YMO coalesced when Kazuo Morioka(森岡一夫), the founder of Hillwood, a company which made synthesizers, decided to put together a band centering around his own teenage daughter, Mima Morioka(森岡みま), with members her own age. With Mima on drums and vocals, there were Yoshimasa Inoue(井上能征), Katsumi Sato(佐藤克巳), Kanna Hashimoto(橋本かんな) and Kiyomi Ando(安藤聖己)on the various synths. Just to inform you, I'm not totally sure on the reading of Ms. Ando's first name since according to jisho.org, there are a few readings and I couldn't find either a romaji or furigana depiction elsewhere online; also she left the band in 1981.

Cosmic Invention's debut record came out in March 1981, "YAKIMOKI" (Anxiety), and listening to it, I think it does sound like Haruomi, Ryuichi and Yukihiro if they had started up YMO as children. There's something very sing-song and cute about it but to be honest, I enjoy the band's 2nd single, "Computer Obaachan" better. But there's no doubt about the pleasant clarity of Morioka there when she's singing.


That connection between Cosmic Invention and YMO was solidified as the former actually warmed up for the latter at the Budokan in December 1980. Just imagine these kids warming up for one of the biggest bands in Japan at the time at one of the most prestigious venues in the country. I wouldn't blame any of them if they felt supremely yakimoki.

After Cosmic Invention broke up in 1982, some of the members kept on going in the music industry with the notable person being Yoshimasa Inoue who decided to parlay his skills into those of a singer-songwriter. His name has already popped in the Labels section under that capacity with him providing songs for folks like Miho Morikawa(森川美穂)and AKB48. Professionally, his name is now written in Japanese as 井上ヨシマサ.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Yoshito Machida -- Senshi no Kyuusoku (戦士の休息)


I remember years ago when I was back in high school when there was this sci-fi-thriller called "Firestarter" starring David Keith and a very young Drew Barrymore, still fresh from her debut in "E.T." in 1982. It was all about a girl and her father trying to flee from a sinister government agency because of her terrifying abilities at pyrokinesis.


Well, there was this other Japanese movie that I believe my parents had been watching on our ancient Panasonic VHS player that had a somewhat similar plot. Titled "Yasei no Shomei"(野性の証明...Never Give Up), it came out in 1978 and starred the stoic Ken Takakura(高倉健)who would find Hollywood fame in "Black Rain" several years later and a very young Hiroko Yakushimaru(薬師丸ひろ子)who wouldn't end up in the recording booth for another few years. I remember seeing that one scene near the end of the movie where a whole bunch of SDF tanks were ominously approaching the characters for one last battle.


On hearing the theme song, memory engrams started flashing on and off in my brain. I know that I have heard the song before whether it be from the movie itself or on some TV retrospective of kayo kyoku. Whatever the case, "Senshi no Kyuusoku" (Respite for the Warrior) by singer Yoshito Machida(町田義人)is a nice slice of mellow 1970s pop.

Up to now, I've been partial to instruments such as the Fender Rhodes piano and a good thumpy bass. Now I realize that I have to add an especially twangy guitar. And "Senshi no Kyuusoku" has it in good amounts. It might be because that guitar automatically triggers the release of some relaxing endorphins of nostalgia, and there is something of the "lone rider traveling the open road" feeling to it. Basically the whole song has that emotion hanging off of it.

Written by Keisuke Yamakawa(山川啓介)and composed by Yuji Ohno(大野雄二), "Senshi no Kyuusoku" was a big hit for Machida who had started out in the Group Sounds bands a decade back with Castle & Gates(キャッスル&ゲイツ)and then Zoo Nee Voo(ズー・ニー・ヴー). The single which was released in July 1978 managed to sell perhaps up to 850,000 records as it peaked at No. 6 on Oricon.

After Machida left Zoo Nee Voo in 1970, he took on a solo career and in the next 7 to 8 years, he created about 400-500 commercial jingles for TV. There is something about "Senshi no Kyuusoku" which would make it ideal as an ad song for some product...perhaps whiskey. Very comfortable.