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.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Momoe Yamaguchi -- Kinjirareta Asobi/Papa wa Koibito (禁じられた遊び・パパは恋人)

Momoe Yamaguchi's(山口百恵)3rd single, "Kinjirareta Asobi" (Forbidden Play), was a song that I'd heard on an episode of "Sounds of Japan" that spotlighted the legendary 70s singer. At the time, I'd only known about Yamaguchi in the latter half of her career with hits such as "Imitation Gold" and "Playback Part 2", so to hear nothing of that sultrier voice in her earlier releases was a revelation to me.

What would also be a later revelation was how racy the lyrics got in some of those earlier songs. Obviously, compared to some of the stuff on albums today in the States, Momoe-chan's records wouldn't get that that "EXPLICIT LYRICS" or "NSFW" label, but for a 14-year-old wunderaidoru to sing about her naked lust for a guy back in that decade....well, I'm sure a lot of ears were pricked up.

In the earlier half of her career, it was the tandem of Kazuya Senke and Shunichi Togura(千家和也・都倉俊一)who were taking care of those hits, including "Kinjirareta Asobi". Here are a couple of examples of the lyrics from the beginning and the middle of the song:

Kowakunai, kowakunai    恐くない、恐くない
Anata to dattara nandemo dekiru あなたとだったら、何でも出来る

I'm not scared, I'm not scared
If it's you, I can do anything.

Rousoku mitai na moeru honoo ni  ローソクみたいな燃える炎に
Watashi no karada wa atsuku naru 私の躰は熱くなる

My body gets hot
in the burning flame like a candle.

Well, yowza! I never would have thought to compare Yamaguchi with Britney Spears or Katy Perry but there you are. Torrid lyrics aside, though, I really like the opening to "Kinjirareta Asobi" with the explosive horns and the chorus' rendition of that first line before Momoe's declaration to her man in the second. I think it's that repeated call-and-back throughout that distinguishes it, and especially with that breathy girlish way the chorus delivers that first line, before Momoe puts her strong stamp on matters.

The song was released in November 1973 and got all the way up to No. 12 on Oricon before becoming the 77th-ranked song of 1974.

On the B-side, to balance things out with the hot and sweaty A-side, is "Papa wa Koibito" (Papa is My Lover), a cute innocent duet between Yamaguchi and the late actor Ken Utsui(宇津井健). Both starred in the TBS drama, "Kao de Waratte"(顔で笑って...Laugh With Your Face)as a father and daughter, and the song was also created by Senke and Togura as the theme song for the show. Unlike "Kinjirareta Asobi", "Papa wa Koibito" simply has all the threat of a "Sazae-san" episode, and I could imagine Yamaguchi and Utsui in character doing a corny little softshoe at the neighbourhood talent show at the community centre. Perhaps more prudish listeners sighed with some relief.

Denki Groove -- Drill King Anthem (ドリルキング社歌)

When I first heard Denki Groove's(電気グルーヴ)cheeky "Drill King Anthem 2001" from their self-tribute album, "The Last Supper" (July 2001), I had thought it was a parody of tokusatsu themes with a bit of techno stuff reminiscent of M.A.R.R.S.' "Pump Up The Volume". And the official video above added to the hilarity as Takkyu Ishino and Pierre Taki(石野卓球・ピエール瀧)showed off a Monkees-style PG-rated montage of their hijinks including the former nonchalantly walking down a spiral staircase au naturel.

Well, the song was a bit more than that, actually. The original version of "Drill King Anthem" came from the band's August 1994 "Drill King Anthology" album featuring artists under Drill King Records, a company supervised by Denki Groove. Kaoru Endo and Sumiko Endo(遠藤薫・遠藤スミ子)created this march for a pink salon which had made the rounds during live performances, and apparently got enough approval to get onto this particular album. Lyrics that include dreaming of becoming a pink Satan, pissing in the mailbox and setting fire to tempura oil lend to the gleeful anarchy. It was this song that cemented by image of Takkyu and Pierre as a duo that had its tongue implanted firmly in cheek. The album itself got up to No. 8 on Oricon.

Akira Kobayashi -- Akira no zundoko bushi (アキラのズンドコ節)

From what I've seen and read, the 'Zundoko bushi' has had many versions sung by different artistes over the decades. Most notably the renditions done by the somewhat young and  hugely popular Enka singer Kiyoshi Hikawa (氷川きよし), Comedy group The Drifters (ザ・ドリフターズ ), and last but not least, big shot actor-singer from the 60's Akira Kobayashi (小林旭)

I would have to say that out of the 3 aforementioned versions, my vote goes to Might Guy's one. Why? Because of the lyrics... or whatever I can pick out from it. Hikawa's one mentioned something about going to your usual ramen joint and ordering your usual bowl of ramen with 2 or 3 pieces of chashu, which reminded me of this ramen joint my family would always patronize in Shinjuku's Kabuki cho (yeah, not very family friendly huh?) every time we visited Japan. Still remember seeing one of the chefs had half an ear burned/bitten off... heh... 

Gah, sorry for going on a tangent! As I was saying, while Hikawa's version brought back some nice memories, Kobayashi's one kinda talks about the fellow out on the town with his sweetheart, and then one part described their parting scene. For example, the fellow saying, "Good night!" to the lady and gives her a sly wink as he leaves. More romantic in that sense, and yes I can be a sucker for things like that. Also I feel that this set of... I suppose you could say flirty lyrics, done by lyricist Sou Nishizawa (西沢 爽), compliments the nifty music composed by Minoru Endo (遠藤 実) better. 

Anyway, 'Akira no zundoko bushi' was actually released twice in 1960. The first time it was released as a B-side to 'Kagoshima ohara bushi' (鹿児島おはら節) in June and was the theme song to one of Might Guy's movies 'Umi wo wataru hatoba no kaze' (海を渡る波止場の風) and was a hit, but I don't know how many copies were sold since the J-Wiki page never mentioned it for this one. Then about 3 months later in September it was released again - same songs, but 'Zundoko bushi' was on the A-side, possibly because of its popularity. This one sold over 200 000 copies.

Link above is Kobayashi singing what seems to be an updated version of it with the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (東京スカパラダイスオーケストラ). And man, the music for this one's groovy with all that electric guitar!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2000

1.  Mai Kuraki                                delicious way
2.  Ayumi Hamasaki                      Duty
3.  Ringo Shiina                             Shouso Strip
4.  Misia                                         Love is the Message
5.  Dreams Come True                  Dreams Come True Greatest Hits "The Soul"
6.  Judy and Mary                          Fresh
7.  Spitz                                         Recycle - The Greatest Hits of Spitz
8.  B'z                                            B'z The "Mixture"
9.  Masaharu Fukuyama               Magnum Collection 1999 "Dear"
10. aiko                                         Sakura Ki no Shita

Courtesy of
from Flickr

Haruo Minami -- Otone mujou (大利根無情)

Y'know although I'm not that much of a Haruo Minami (三波春夫) fan, I always enjoy seeing the Enka and Rokyoku (浪曲) singer on stage. I mean, he just emanated such positive energy! Generally dressed in light colored kimonos, one hand on his hip and last but not least with that trademark radiant smile of his he would be able to brighten up the stage once he came on.

Anyway, 'Otone mujou' was Minami's 8th single released in 1959, and not only is it an Enka song, but also a Rokyoku song, so there would be some narration in between the singing parts - Rokyoku's a type of traditional Japanese narrative singing. It was written by Ryo Inomata (猪又 良) and composed by Yoshiji Nagatsu (長津義司).

In this song, you would be able to see Minami turn from jovial to no-nonsense at the drop of a hat. Especially so at the last monologue where his narration grew from somewhat gentle, but still filled with savageness to kinda screaming it out with such intensity at the end like some crazy bloke. And you could also see that glint of ferocity mixed with a little insanity in his eyes too. So unlike the usual Minami!

But it was that versatility that intrigued me and got me to continue listening to 'Otone mujou' even though it's not the type of Enka song - let alone Rokyoku song - I'd usually listen to. In fact, I only discovered this song while listening to Hideo Murata's (村田英雄) 'Osho' (王将). It was in the 'Suggested videos' list, so I thought, "Why not? Since I've not really heard any of Minami's songs." Fine, his graceful movements while narrating was also what caught my attention... well it is pretty cool!

In total, Minami sang 'Otone mujou' 3 times on the Kohaku. And he had appeared on that event 29 times, putting him at 9th place in 'Most number of Kohaku appearances', which is quite impressive really.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Yoshie Kashiwabara/Miyuki Nakajima/Shizuka Kudo -- Camouflage (カム・フラージュ)

Now, here's a Yoshie Kashiwabara(柏原芳恵)tune with a bit more bite. Songwriter Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき)had created the tender-hearted "Haru Nanoni"(春なのに)for the Osakan aidoru earlier in 1983 which became one of Kashiwabara's signature tunes, but then came another Nakajima-Kashiwabara collaboration titled "Camouflage" in December of that year which dipped Yoshie-chan into more of that aidoru rock a la Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)and her musical predecessor Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵).

Enter that wailing guitar, enter the horns and enter that hint of disco rhythm, and one would expect a huskier voice. However, it is indeed Yoshie's light fluttery vocals, but somehow the melding of her aidoru voice and all of that funky music behind her work well just like some of Akina's earlier uptempo hits.

Not sure how long the above video will stick around with us, but for those who have wondered about bringing together Kashiwabara's aidoru tunes with her later career as a racy pin-up model, it's your lucky day! In any case, "Camouflage" peaked at No. 6 on Oricon and ended 1984 as the 72nd-ranked song. It managed to sell close to 200,000 records.

In 1985, Nakajima decided to give her own version on the song that she created for Kashiwabara. Her "Camouflage" was on her 12th album, "Oiro Naoshi"(御色なおし...Change of the Wedding Dress). It was also her 2nd album of cover versions, and her take on "Camouflage" hinted more at the Roppongi disco scene with all of the glitter and glamour. Nakajima's deeper and more weathered voice arguably better reflected her lyrics of the sinister spirit concealing one's darker impulses and gleefully threatening to set them free for all to see. The Lexington Queen may have been all bright lights, big city but there were plenty of dark hidden alleys surrounding it.

"Oiro Naoshi" hit the top spot on the album charts and was the 18th-ranked album of 1985.

I knew about the previous two versions for decades, but did not know about Shizuka Kudo's(工藤静香)cover until tonight. Kudo was another 80s aidoru who could thank a few of her hits to Nakajima as well, and she provided her own tribute via her August 2008 album, "MY PRECIOUS - Shizuka Sings Song of Miyuki".  Not surprisingly, the straight urban contemporary arrangement is more updated but no less urgent than the other two versions. The album got as high as No. 20 on the Oricon charts.

Masayuki Suzuki -- Koibito (恋人)

Another Friday night in the big city, so it's time for another visit from Martin, aka Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之)with one of his cool nighttime hits. Tonight's feature is "Koibito" (Lover) which came out in April 1993 as his 16th single. And as has been the case for a lot of his solo efforts since the late 80s, "Koibito" is one of those songs that I would love to hear on the stereo while driving down the metropolitan highway in Tokyo. It just seems perfect while viewing the illuminated skyscrapers as I'm zipping about in a Testarossa...or more likely, a taxi. Hey it's all good.

"Koibito" was composed by musician Kiyonori Matsuo(松尾清憲)and written by Saeko Nishio(西尾佐栄子). Nishio had also written Martin's biggest hit, "Mou Namida wa Iranai"(もう涙はいらない)about a year previously, and has also provided lyrics for songs by Anri (杏里)and Crystal Kay. This particular single didn't meet as much as success as that previous single, getting as high as No. 8 on Oricon but again I'm not complaining at all. It's still a great J-urban contemporary song.

Strangely enough, I first heard it when it was used as the campaign song for the Lawson convenience store chain back in 1993. I was here between tours of duty in Japan, so it must have been through the commercials on some VHS tapes that I'd gotten from friends back over there. It's probably the most dramatic song for a place selling bento and oden that I'd ever heard. And although it originally came out on his 6th album, "Perfume" in September 1993, I was able to get my own copy through his 2nd BEST album in 1995, "Martini II".

The YouTube link above has the original music video but the beginning part is cut off while the link below it has the full version.

Aside from the perpetual sunglasses and the shorter hair, I'd always thought that Martin had a passing resemblance to a fellow R&B star across the ocean, Lionel Richie, thanks to that shared lantern jaw. And I just had to show one of my favourite hits by Richie and for that matter, one of the coolest R&B ballads, period, in my estimation, "Love Will Find A Way". This is another great drive-in-the-city-at-night song.