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.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Akiko Yano -- Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji (東京は夜の7時)

Imagine my surprise when I found out that "Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji" (7pm in Tokyo), a song that has arguably been the calling card for the Shibuya-kei band Pizzicato Five since the mid-1990s had a title that had already been adopted by another eclectic singer almost 2 decades prior.

That's right. "Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji" was also a different song created by songsmith Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)way back in 1979. In fact, her 2nd live album (and 5th overall) was also given that title. Moreover while the P5 anthem had the English subtitle of "The Night Is Still Young", Yano's creation had the more enigmatic "God's Loyal Love".

Continuing on with the comparison, the Pizzicato Five song had that theme of painting the city of Tokyo a fabulous red but Yano's "Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji" was all about what was going on at different points in the world when the Japanese megalopolis' clock struck 7pm. It was 7am in Rio, 12 midnight in Anchorage and 12 noon in Cairo. There was a glorious feeling of reaching out and touching someone abroad within the song that could have made it the ideal jingle for NTT or KDD.

However, I love the music by Yano even more. She may have made quite the added splash when she added the techno to her pop going into the 1980s but her New Music approach back in the 1970s is also very comfortable to me. She even has the members of Yellow Magic Orchestra as part of her band along with Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)and Minako Yoshida (吉田美奈子) as backing singers (!), but "Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji" has that homey feeling despite the flying theme and music heading to points overseas. And one reason is that piano of hers. There is a goodly amount of warmth and familiarity emanating from the keys when Yano hits them as if it were her best and more travel-experienced friend. The piano is probably saying "Don't're safe with me". Couldn't ask for a better companion on a journey.

Heartsdales -- So Tell Me

Nope, I'm not really a rap or hip-hop fan although there are a few songs here and there that I have enjoyed such as "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (and your comments concerning geriatrics). And frankly even with that classic, when I first heard the intro, I thought it was the beginning of a new Yellow Magic Orchestra tune that I had yet to hear. Basically, my love for R&B is geared more towards the old-time soul, disco and Quiet Storm (I love Anita Baker).

And so it goes with J-R&B. Folks like bird and Misia will be more along the lines of that soul, disco and Quiet Storm. However, there is m-flo which does go into the hip-hop/rap area (or maybe purists might say it's more hip-pop), and it was during the turn of the century when VERBAL and company were starting to take a fairly big role in the R&B that was sweeping through Japan.

One of those acts was a sister act called Heartsdales. That name was enough to peak my interest but there was also their catchy debut song "So Tell Me" which came out in December 2001. I still remember the music video (it got lots of airplay on the music channels when I was back there) which was apparently filmed on some sort of military vessel perhaps. And of course, there was no way that VERBAL was going to be left out from being in front of the camera and the recording booth although he also helped write the lyrics with the Heartsdales sisters themselves. The m-flo impresario also took care of the music along with R&B producer T. Kura and his wife, singer and music producer Michico.

"So Tell Me" simply stood out for me for that whirlwind mixture of English and Japanese, the delivery of the lyrics by Rum (Yumi Sugiyama...杉山ユミ) and Jewels (Emi Sugiyama...杉山エミ) especially the "Hearts-da-L-E-S" and "So tell me what you want...", and that shift between the rap and the musical refrain. However, I'm kinda wondering whether VERBAL's grunts on yet another song were starting to get a bit wearying for some listeners.

As I mentioned, the name Heartsdales rather intrigued me as a name for a hip-hop duo. Apparently, Rum and Jewels had spent their formative years in Yonkers, New York and decided to adopt the name from another small district in the state called Hartsdale. Another thing that I hadn't known was that the Sugiyamas had gotten their big break through the TV Tokyo Sunday night audition program "ASAYAN" which then I would cheekily state that they could be "cousins" of Morning Musume and Chemistry.

"So Tell Me" went all the way up to No. 8 on Oricon and became the 96th-ranked single for 2002. With sales of over 100,000 copies, it was their biggest hit. Heartsdales itself lasted from 2001 to 2006 with 14 singles and 4 albums. According to Wikipedia, the sisters are now living apart with Emi in Tokyo and Yumi in New York City taking care of her own studio and a little son.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Keiko Matsuyama -- O-Wakare Koshu Denwa (お別れ公衆電話)

Another song I picked up on during the most recent edition of "Uta Kon" (うたコン) back on Tuesday night was a mournful ballad titled "O-Wakare Koshu Denwa" (Parting in a Phone Booth), originally sung by the late Keiko Matsuyama(松山恵子).

Even at the intro, as soon as I saw the title, I just went "Wow! What a perfectly appropriate title for a Mood Kayo/enka tune". There's nothing so bittersweet than breaking up by phone at some rainy train station although I wonder if the method today is by LINE in Japan. What would be the emoji for breaking up, by the way? Still, although it's the most difficult way, I think parting in person is the right thing to do.

Anyways, "O-Wakare Koshu Denwa" was released in 1959 as one of Matsuyama's signature songs when she was around 22 years old. This is one of those songs that I couldn't really decide whether it was an enka tune or a Mood Kayo affair. The singer's lament on love lost would certainly indicate a Mood Kayo but despite the sad horn section, the tempo and the melody still remind me of an old-style enka. What also stands out was the use of that organ at the intro and outro along with the brief piano solo during the instrumental bridge.

The performance during "Uta Kon" and the performance by Matsuyama herself above bring a much less intimate and brassier feeling to "O-Wakare Koshu Denwa" so that it does really feel like a full Mood Kayo. Despite the song wrapping around the setting of a phone booth, perhaps the booth is now in the middle of Ginza. The song was written by Tetsuro Fujima(藤間哲郎)and composed by Munekata Hakamada袴田宗孝....not quite sure on the reading of the family name).

Keiko Matsuyama was born Tsuneko Okazaki(岡崎恒好)in 1937 in Fukuoka Prefecture although soon after the war, her family moved to the city of Uwajima in Ehime Prefecture. Debuting in 1955 with "Yoimachi Waltz"(宵町ワルツ), she would release many singles and even appear on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen for a total of 8 times including consecutive appearances between 1957 to 1963 although she wouldn't perform "O-Wakare Koshu Denwa" on any of those shows as well as on her final appearance in 1989. Matsuyama passed away at the age of 69 in May 2006. To commemorate that particular song, a special phone booth was constructed in JR Uwajima Station.

E-Girls -- Merry x Merry Xmas

When I first heard of these E-Girls, I had been under the impression that they were one of the many Korean girl groups that had been all the rage in Japan and elsewhere for the past decade or so. The many members all looked glamourous, gorgeous and leggy. However, Marcos V. set me straight when he wrote the first article on the group through their song "RYDEEN". E-Girls are just as Japanese as AKB48...only that the former are more glamourous, gorgeous and leggy.

Then I read where E-Girls was not only the sister act to the studly EXILE but were composed of smaller units. Marcos may have equated them as the Frankenstein gestalt of girl groups but I can go full Japanese pop culture and say that they might be more of the Voltron of such gatherings.

In any case, here is my contribution to the E-Girls' cause as well as another Xmas tune for the blog for this year. This is "Merry x Merry Xmas", their 15th single which was released on December 23rd 2015. The release date may have been a bit too close to the actual special day itself but the tune is so gosh-darn catchy that unlike Japanese Christmas cake, its best-by freshness most likely lasted far longer than the turkey.

Written by Masato Odake(小竹正人)and composed by YADAKO and Dirty Orange, "Merry x Merry Xmas" has that nice mix of new pop and some Motown feeling in the arrangement. The official music video looks like it was inspired by an appropriately seasonal display at a New York department store with the ladies enjoying themselves as if they were involved in the entertainment portion of the annual bonenkai.

The jingle-happy song reached as high as No. 4 on Oricon and was also used as the campaign tune for Samantha Thavasa. It is included on their BEST album "E.G. Smile ~E-Girls Best~" from February 2016 which peaked at No. 2.

Ritsuko Kazami -- Aventurier (アヴァンチュリエ)

Well, I ought to be turning in at around this time....just past midnight. However, my wanderings around YouTube has once again unearthed another one of those mystery singers that probably not many Japanese let alone folks outside of the nation remember.

Ritsuko Kazami(風見律子), according to J-Wiki, was an actress and singer who was active just in the 1980s with the latter profession starting only from 1985. However, I was immediately drawn to her 3rd of 4 singles, "Aventurier" which also happened to be the title of her 2nd album, both being released at the same time in August 1986.

I guess I am also truly a sucker for those female singers who dabbled in that certain segment of City Pop in the late 1980s with those classy strings and champagne synths. If I were to give examples of those singers, they would be folks like Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子), Junko Ohashi(大橋純子)and the late Kaoru Sudo(須藤薫)to a certain extent. The songs just immediately created that image of those sophisticated ladies painting the town red in Ginza or Akasaka or Aoyama in the capital.

And yet, there was also that air of overseas exoticism as well in the music, and that was indeed the case with Kazami's "Aventurier"; the title obviously intimates that. Written by Keiko Aso(麻生圭子)and composed by Etsuko Yamakawa(山川恵津子), there was that sweeping sense of intrigue on the French Riviera involving beautiful if flawed people, a lot of money and the threat of impending violence. Perhaps a bit florid on my part but there it is. I think overall I get that impression of Henry Mancini, especially with one of his classic creations, "Charade".

What tops it all off is Kazami's slightly distant delivery. There is a hint of ennui in there although at points in the song, those high notes almost threaten to dissipate her vocals. Maybe it's also mystery, which would make sense since past 1989, there doesn't seem to be any record of her professionally.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Jin Kirigaya -- Wind Surfing (ウィンド・サーフィン)

His is a name that I've seen among the pages of "Japanese City Pop" over the past several years but never got to him until recently.

Then I finally got to hear some of his stuff on YouTube and I gotta admit that I do like what he was selling back then. Jin Kirigaya(桐ヶ谷仁)is one of those City Pop/AOR artists that I would never have heard about if not for my bible "Japanese City Pop". He's one of those people who exists in that underwater 90% of my Japanese pop iceberg. Kirigaya hasn't even merited a J-Wiki page but he does have his own website.

Kirigaya was born in Tokyo and made his debut as a singer-songwriter in November 1979 with his first album "My Love For You" followed by his first single the year after, "Unhappy Day". The song for this article is "Wind Surfing", the first track of his 2nd album, "Windy", from July 1981.

With Michio Yamagami's(山上路夫)lyrics and Kirigaya's smooth melody and vocals, it's about as hammock-friendly a Resort Pop song as anyone songwriter can get. And what better instrumental touch than Jake H. Concepcion on sax? I will never get onto one of those contraptions for wind surfing but I would be more than happy to lay out on the beach to some of those wind surfers after hearing "Wind Surfing".

At this point, Kirigaya has released 4 original albums and 7 singles with a 2-CD Best compilation that was released in 2005. Let's see how much I have in the till to get that set.

Hiromi Iwasaki/Ryoko Moriyama -- Cherbourg no Amagasa (シェルブールの雨傘)

Warning: The following article may trigger copious amounts of tears. Viewer discretion is advised. 😢

But first some background. When my parents went off to Japan 30 years ago for a long-awaited visit, they came back with some wonderful souvenirs for me in the form of tape cassettes. The above two are tapes by Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)from 1984. The one on the right is a general BEST compilation while the tape on the left is an album of cover songs which was supposedly a limited edition of cover tunes done by the singer. Titled "Shiroi Koibito-tachi"(白い恋人たち...White Lovers), it may have been only available on cassette since I couldn't find any mention of it in Iwasaki's discography on J-Wiki. However, I think it is an extrapolation of her 2nd album of cover tunes of well-established English and French songs from March 1979, "Koibito-tachi"(恋人たち...Lovers). The LP peaked at No. 14 on Oricon.

One small aside before we get into the main topic is that my good friend who had come with us on the 1981 trip to Japan remarked that Hiromi's left hand on her hip on "Shiroi Koibito-tachi" looked so much older than the rest of her. To this day, I still have no understanding what he was on about.

On both the tape that I got from my parents and on the original "Koibito-tachi", there was one ballad, "Cherbourg no Amagasa" which is far better known in English as the title theme song for the 1964 French/German movie "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" or as it is known in French as "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg". Plus the song is officially known as "Je ne pourrai jamais vivre sans toi" or "I Will Wait For You" by Michel LeGrand and Jacques Demy.

Iwasaki's performance of the song was the first that I had ever heard of this film with Catherine Deneuve and catching it finally last year on Turner Classic Movies, I realized that it was the first time I had ever seen a musical cover every word of dialogue on screen. I also realized that it was incredibly tragic, and for a fellow like me who was weaned on those happy-happy Hollywood musicals, "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" had me depressed for the next day and a half.

Still, Iwasaki pulled off a barnburner of a performance with "Cherbourg no Amagasa" to the point that it was one of the highlights of my tape. If there had been any doubt about her making the leap from talented aidoru to stage musical actress, this song probably would have dispensed it with the power of the Death Star on Alderaan (wow...I actually compared Iwasaki with "Star Wars"). Her amazing vocals taking care of the Japanese lyrics by Kazuko Katagiri(片桐和子)with such tenderness will probably have me reaching for the Kleenex, now that I know what the movie is all about.

Not surprisingly, there have been many covers of "I Will Wait For You" including one about a decade earlier by folk singer Ryoko Moriyama(森山良子). Her rendition was given in English and although her delivery was also wonderful, I was a bit worried with that bit of urgency in the melody at the intro which had me wondering whether the arranger was just a tad too go-go or "MacArthur's Park". Moriyama's version is perhaps in the CD remastering of her 1969 album "Aidoru wo Utau"(アイドルを歌う...Ryoko Moriyama Sings Favourites)although I'm not sure if it had been included on the original LP. I didn't particularly feel any waterworks coming from here.

The lachrymal output, though, will most likely gush out here since Connie Francis' cover of the song was used in the last few minutes of what was, bar none, the saddest ending to an episode of "Futurama", "Jurassic Bark". If you are a dog owner or know the saga of Hachiko, YOU...WILL...NEED...TISSUES! Maybe you will even want to hug your canine a bit harder.

And of course, there is that final heartwrecking scene of "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg" at the gas station (good golly, even gas stations in France sound tres elegante!) when the instrumental version of the song gets played. For those who have never seen the movie and want to get the full effect (namely, bawl your eyes out), you might want to hold off catching this video.

For me, I'm going to go now since I've got something in my eye....