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.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Tempters/Mi-Ke -- Emerald no Densetsu(エメラルドの伝説)

I'd actually already written up one article for the Group Sounds band The Tempters(ザ・テンプターズ), and it was for their single "Kamisama Onegai"(神様お願い), since it was covered by Hanae(ハナエ)as the ending theme for the anime "Kamisama Hajimemashita"(神様はじめました). At the time, I only knew the leader Yoshiharu Matsuzaki(松崎由治)because he was the one who wrote and composed the song. What I hadn't known was that another member was Ken'ichi Hagiwara(萩原健一). I've only known him as a rather intense actor on TV and in movies, but hearing that he had been quite the hellraiser during his GS days, I'm not really surprised. Managed to find this late 1980s footage above of him appearing quite dapper on an interview show.

To be honest, it's rather difficult for me to imagine these guys as hellraisers in those outfits seen in the thumbnail above, but hey, it was the 1960s. Anyways, fashion critique aside, "Emerald no Densetsu" (Legend of Emerald) was The Tempters 3rd single from June 1968. From what I had seen so far of the results of the band's first two singles, they weren't doing too badly at all. And yet, according to the J-Wiki article on their third single, Philips Records was a bit worried about getting out that next big hit, so instead of leader Matsuzaki taking care of the next song, Philips apparently recruited lyricist Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼)and composer Kunihiko Murai(村井邦彦)to whip up Single No. 3. I'm curious as to how The Tempters took that news, but it couldn't have been all that bad since "Emerald no Densetsu" did get made and recorded.

For me, "Emerald no Densetsu" does sound like a typical GS song of the decade, but apparently, composer Murai had taken in vocalist Hagiwara's suggestion of something with a mystique appeal, and created a melody influenced by French musical impressionism in achieving the goal of a certain mystery-laden romanticism. All of the fancy jargon aside, it was considered quite notable at the time  for its use of strings, horns and oboe.

I guess lyricist Nakanishi had also taken that impressionism to heart as well since his words express a man falling in love with a woman represented by a glistening green lake. He even gets down on his knees to kiss it (was he wearing protection...y'know, for flesh-eating bacteria and the like?).

"Emerald no Densetsu" hit No. 1 on Oricon and became the 16th-ranked single of 1968.

Several singers since the original's release have covered "Emerald no Densetsu" including the group Mi-Ke in their 1991 debut album "Omoide no G-S Kujukurihama"(想い出のG・S九十九里浜...Group Sounds Kujukurihama of Our Memories)which peaked at No. 19.

Angela Aki -- Kokoro no Senshi(心の戦士)

Continuing my re-discovery of the works of singer-songwriter Angela Aki(アンジェラ・アキ). I knew of her and her success in the first decade of the 21st century but never really dug too far into her discography.

Then I found her debut single "Home" which was quite heartwarming, and now I write about her second single from January 2006, "Kokoro no Senshi" (Warrior of the Heart). In that first Aki article, I remarked about her influences from folks such as Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian and Sarah McLachlan. Listening to "Kokoro no Senshi", I was automatically drawn in by the piano arrangement, and indeed, I was thinking of Mitchell and maybe even Carole King. My impression is that there was something quite 1970s about the song that was quite reassuring to me.

Written and composed by Aki, the lyrics for "Kokoro no Senshi" relate someone's attempts to get out of their blues of a lost relationship, and the music does sound very encouraging and perhaps sends a well-intentioned kick to the ol' butt. The song went as high as No. 13 on Oricon. Strangely enough, "Kokoro no Senshi" was even used as the ending theme for a regional newscast in the Tokai region of Japan. The video above is of that newscast but for a much earlier episode in 1993. I guess after an episode of news, people may feel the need for some encouragement.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Hachiro Kasuga -- Otsuki-San Konbanwa (お月さん今晩は)

Over 2 1/2 years ago, Noelle wrote about "Otsuki-San Konbanwa" (Good Evening, Mr. Moon) from 1957, a bittersweet telling of a man out in the small village who still pines for that woman who left long ago for the charms of the big city.

As was often the case back over half a century ago, singers and their people often made like a feeding frenzy around a potential hit to release their own versions in the same year, and such was the case with "Otsuki-San". I think Takeo Fujishima(藤島桓夫)won the sweepstakes in terms of how quickly the song was released, but Hachiro Kasuga(春日八郎)also gave his version in 1957.

In commenting on Noelle's article, I remarked that I did prefer Yoshio Tabata's(田端義夫)cover over the Fujishima original, but I have to say that Kasuga's take on "Otsuki-San" is pretty darn good as well. It's that extra layer of timbre with Kasuga that helps with the plaintive call to the moon. As was also cited in the original article, Mataichi Matsumura(松村又一)and Minoru Endo(遠藤実)were responsible for the creation of the song.

Sumire Uesaka -- Nanatsu no Umi yori Kimi no Umi(七つの海よりキミの海)

Ahhh...yes. The inimitable seiyuu Sumire Uesaka(上坂すみれ). Loves the former Soviet Union, gets easily creeped out by overly gooey compliments to her, and has some of the more extreme reactions that I've seen and heard from any celebrity on either side of the Pacific. Plus she's popped up on a lot of anime that my buddy has introduced to me over the years such as "Chūnibyō demo Koi ga Shitai!"(中二病でも恋がしたい!...Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions), but she's also been quite entertaining all by herself.

One day, I was rather curious about how she started out. Now, she did have her performance in the ending theme for Season 1 of the aforementioned "Chūnibyō demo Koi ga Shitai!" during its time in 2012, but her debut single as a solo performer came in April 2013 with "Nanatsu no Umi yori Kimi no Umi" (Your Sea More Than The Seven Seas).

Seeing a few of her music videos, she definitely has her own style but I think she really made a splash for the official video for this first single of hers. I recently watched some YouTube videos of Soviet-era television, and yes, perhaps the intro got some inspiration from that medium. And then the song launches into a carnival-like atmosphere of craziness that pulls in circus music, heavy metal and maybe even ska. Not sure whether the people around her had already figured her out but "Nanatsu" and the video certainly come across as pure Sumipe earworm.

Written by Aki Hata(畑亜貴)and composed by Satoru Kousaki(神前暁), "Nanatsu" was also the opening theme song for the anime "Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san"(波打際のむろみさん...Muromi of the Shore)which had a year-long run between 2013 and 2014. Uesaka herself also had a role in there as a buddy mermaid with a love of booze.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Chiyono Yoshino -- Ai no Collage(愛のコラージュ)

Chiyono Yoshino(吉野千代乃)may not have become a superstar in Japan but I think she has a great voice, and perhaps she represents that niche of that urban contemporary singer tackling mid-tempo material. Her brand of music probably didn't break the Top 10 on Oricon, but whenever I've heard it, it strikes me as solid and always listenable.

Case in point: her "Ai no Collage" (Love Collage) from her 3rd album "Say Goodbye" released in June 1987. With lyrics by Yoshino and music by Hideya Nakazaki(中崎英也), it's a song that hovers between regular pop and City Pop. With a goodly amount of bass and synthesizer along with a certain type of percussion that had me thinking of exotic climes, Yoshino weaves between drama and hope within the big city. It's the type of song that still brings up images of savoring that glass of scotch in a fancy bar.

Anzen Chitai -- Atelier(アトリエ)

Happy Monday! Pretty cold out there but nothing that a born-and-bred Canadian cannot take well. Last night, it was one of those family get-togethers so my brother came and picked us all up. As we were heading for the restaurant, my brother switched over from the seasonal Xmas songs on the radio to the downloaded stuff, and strangely enough, it turned out to be a number of Anzen Chitai(安全地帯)songs.

He's not a big kayo kyoku/J-Pop fan by any means although he knows some of the major folks such as Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), AKB48 and the aforementioned Anzen Chitai. However, as we were listening to one of the Hokkaido-based band's more urban contemporary contributions, he remarked at how David Foster-like the arrangement was. Well, Foster had a few fingers at least in a number of projects for Japanese musicians back in the 1980s so I would love to introduce some of the material by Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)and Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美). As far as I know, Foster has never collaborated with Anzen Chitai.

Another song that played just before we hit the restaurant was this melancholy ballad from the band's "Anzen Chitai III~Dakishimetai"(安全地帯III〜抱きしめたい...I Want to Hold You)album in December 1984. "Atelier" is another natsukashii tune that I've heard over and over over the years that vocalist Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)and lyricist Goro Matsui(松井五郎)created. It describes what sounds like an elderly man or woman discovering an old letter that was lying somewhere in the titular chamber involving an old flame from decades back who has probably since died, thereby ending that romance.

It's quite the atmospheric and introspective song (not really Foster-y, though) with that mandolin (need that mug of cocoa) that seems to take the story outside of Japan over to some lonely house in the forest in Europe. Still, the sound is very Anzen Chitai. Good golly! Has it been 34 years already?

Sunday, December 9, 2018

EPO -- Juu-ni Gatsu no April Fool(12月のエイプリル・フール)

Since the beginning of this blog, the J-Xmas songs that I've put up here have either had themes of just having plain old party fun or just the opposite: being horribly lonely on Xmas Eve. But perhaps folks from other countries who experience their first Christmas in Japan alone may commiserate due to the latter to a certain extent since December 25th isn't a statutory holiday but just a regular work day despite all of the illumination and music around. When I was working at my first English school of NOVA, in fact, I had heard rumours that some other young teachers were absolutely distraught on finding out that they had to work their regular 8-hour shift on Christmas.

Well, it's the lonely theme for this article on EPO's "Juu-ni Gatsu no April Fool" (December April Fool). It's a bit ironic since I've always seen Ms. Eiko Miyagawa(宮川榮子)nee Sato(佐藤永子)as being the singer with the super uptempo touch. Still, I think she's in counseling and encouraging mode here as she sings about a lady who feels as low as can be after going through her first Xmas without her now ex-beau.

Her 10th single from November 1985 and a track from her 8th album "Pump! Pump!" released in June 1986, words and music are by EPO, and I think that she got some inspiration from some 1970s soul for the melody. I can't help but hear some of that Minnie Ripperton and Roberta Flack when it comes to "Juu-ni Gatsu no April Fool".