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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mariko Takahashi -- Triad

This picture of Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子)for her 9th album, "Triad", was the very first image I had for the veteran singer. The album came out in September 1984 and I was lucky to get my own audiotape copy of it when my parents had come back from a trip in Japan. I first heard Takahashi via episodes of "Sounds of Japan" as early as 1982, so for that couple of years, I'd wondered what the lady with the golden pipes looked like.

As it turned out, she was a FOX! That is some fine facial bone structure there.

However, let's get onto the music. My request for Mariko Takahashi to Mom wasn't anything specific. I hadn't known anything about the singer's list of albums or singles at the time; all I had was the lovely songs that I'd heard from "Sounds of Japan" such as her famous ballad "For You". I was pretty ravenous for anything by her. So I was celebrating my own little Xmas Day as I tore off the plastic wrapping from around the tape.

The most celebrated song on the album is "Momo Iro Toiki" which was also her 10th single from May of that year. It was a song that I had heard through "Sounds of Japan" that I wrote about a couple of years ago, and it had a different exotic feel from the other ballads that I heard on the radio. Because of that, it took a little while for it to grow on me but I was finally able to accept it as one of Takahashi's trademark songs.

Up to the time that I had first heard Takahashi on the radio, my emerging interest in Japanese pop music basically consisted of aidoru and the Yellow Magic Orchestra. "Sounds of Japan" helped expand my world a lot more, and a good part of the heavy lifting there was due to Takahashi and her mature sound. "Triad", as my very first album of hers, confirmed that sound. The first song, "Joji Queen"(祥寺クイーン)brings me right into downtown Tokyo at night with that great warm sound of the horns and her just-as-sweet voice. Out of all of the tracks, this would be the one that I would love to hear live on stage. As for the definition of the title, I tried to track down the meaning of "Joji" but saw the characters as being part of various temples' names and not its own word. I tried seeing if it were a place name but no dice there either. And for the longest time, whenever I listened to "Joji Queen", I always heard Takahashi pronounce it as "Georgia Queen". Perhaps I still should. Takahashi herself was responsible for the vocals while Ryo Matsuda(松田良)took care of the cool music.

"Modern Deja Vu"(モダン・デジャブ)was written by Goro Matsui(松井五郎)and composed by Keiichi Oku(奥慶一)who also played the keyboards for the second track. Through those keyboards, the song takes on some of that foreign lands flavour that a number of hit pop songs adopted half a decade previously. I'm not totally sure about my understanding of Matsui's lyrics but they seem to be relating about a woman reliving some of her memories with an old flame. As with "Joji Queen", my images with this one are nothing less very high-style and elegant. This woman doesn't eat at The Golden Arches....French for her probably means the finest pate de fois gras, not fries.

"Wasurenai"(忘れない...Never Forget You)is another ballad that most likely shouldn't be heard by anyone just after a romantic breakup. May induce a heavy loss of lachrymal fluid. Another Matsui song with Anzen Chitai's Koji Tamaki's(玉置浩二)contribution to the melody, it's a bittersweet but fond goodbye to a relationship and the song takes on a feeling of a lullaby as the protagonist slowly goes to sleep after a healthy cry.

But it's not all love-gone-south balladry. Track 8 has the jazzy and jolly "Atarashii Gosenshi"(新しい五線紙...A New Sheet of Music)composed by Matsuda again and written by Masako Arikawa(有川正沙子). Given a Latin Jazz kick, Takahashi sings cheerfully about love-going-somewhere....maybe south, maybe a short or long round trip. Perhaps Arikawa was channeling an old Hollywood screwball comedy involving a bickering singing couple who decide to split up the act and go off on separate trains. The woman though gives a bon voyage to her (maybe) ex-partner at the station, and encourages him to write a new score on that titular sheet of music. Well, as with a lot of the old comedies, Judy and Mickey/Cary and Kate will get back together again.

So, what was my initial impression of "Triad"? Well, my "Sounds of Japan" exposure to Mariko Takahashi was via her most soaring ballads such as the aforementioned "For You", so listening to my first Mariko album, I thought the songs here were more down-to-earth. Whereas "For You" would be imagined being sung in the heavens or on a similarly arranged stage, the tracks on "Triad" had more of that contemporary nightclub feel. My education in that area of popular music progressed further. Of course, I'm gonna have to cover some of the other tracks that I didn't get to later on.

And what I found out about "Triad" is that it managed to become the 34th-ranked album of 1984 and it even won Album of the Year honours at the Japan Record Awards.

E-Girls -- RYDEEN ~Dance All Night~

I remember hearing this song earlier in the year, and not caring at all. It wasn’t until today, thanks to a good friend of mine, that I listened to it with calm and a more, let's say, open heart. In the end, “RYDEEN ~Dance All Night~”, by aidoru group E-Girls, left a nice second impression on me.

When I first heard “RYDEEN ~Dance All Night~”, my main problem with it was the fact that E-Girls were sampling the classic YMO’s “RYDEEN” in a contemporary dance-pop song. Yeah, it was purely purism of my part. Today, after repeated listens, the song kinda worked better.

Basically, it starts right with “RYDEEN’s” main synth melody and the chorus. Afterwards, the first verse comes and... it’s a Latin song fused with European dance beats. My favourite part of the song is probably near the end, when “RYDEEN’s” iconic melody is fused with today’s synths, resulting in a great combination of past and present. All in all, this song could easily be played in Ibiza.

Before I forget, let’s talk a little about E-Girls. Frankly speaking, the group is a Frankstein created by Avex. In other words, they’re five groups put together: Dream, Flower, Happiness, bunny (a non debuted dance group, according to generasia) and EDG (EXILE Dance Girls, a dance group that works mainly as EXILE’s backup dancers). Also, E-Girls can be seen as a direct response from the Japanese music industry after the Korean invasion back in 2010/2011. That said, they’re somewhat similar in style and music with Korean girl groups like Girls’ Generation (Shoujo Jidai [少女時代] in Japan) or T-ara, for example.

"RYDEEN ~Dance All Night~" was used to promote "COLORFUL POP", the second full lenght album released by E-Girls, in March 2014. The album reached #1 on the Oricon charts, selling 157,387 copies. As for the song, lyrics were written by Maria Okada and MNDR, while music was composed by Takahashi Yukihiro (高橋幸宏). Finally, the arrangement was done by CLARABELL.

Wink -- Baby Me

When I started listening to aidoru duo Wink, “Baby Me”, which is actually a Shoko Aida (相田翔子) solo, was one of the first songs that caught my attention. It was a slicky and straightforward eurobeat/pop number that stood out in the “Especially For You ~Yasashisa ni Tsutsumarete~” (優しさにつつまれて) album.

Released in April 1989, “Especially For you ~Yasashisa ni Tsutsumarete~” was the duo’s second full lenght album (I’m not counting the “At Heel Diamonds” mini-album here), but the first one to be released after the success of singles like “Ai ga Tomaranai ~Turn It Into Love~” (愛が止まらない) and “Namida wo Misenaide ~Boys Don’t Cry~” (涙をみせないで). In typical Wink’s style, the album was mainly a collection of Western pop hits turned into Japanese synthpop/eurobeat songs. Based on that, “Baby Me” wasn’t an exception. In fact, it was a cover of Chaka Khan’s R&B/funk song that was released one year before, in 1988, as part of her seventh studio album, “CK”.

If you ask me which version I like better, I will answer you that I love both of them. Although we’re essentially talking about the same song, they are absurdly different. While Chaka’s original recording offers a raw/strong bass line and a mid-tempo swing that seduces the listener, Wink’s eurobeat approach was more urgent and close to the Stock Aitken Waterman’s brand of manufactured electronic pop music that was turning UK criticts crazy (in a negative way) and making huge waves of success in the Japanese market.

The “Especially For You ~Yasashisa ni Tsutsumarete~” reached #1 on the Oricon charts, selling 501,520 copies. It also reached #19 on the yearly Oricon chart. As for “Baby Me”, Japanese lyrics were written by Neko Oikawa (及川眠子), while music was composed by Holly Knight and Billy Steinberg. Finally, the eurobeat arrangement was done by Takao Sugiyama (杉山卓夫).

To finish, here’s my “Especially For You ~Yasashi ni Tsutsumarete~” album. I bought this very well conserved copy of it a couple of months ago on eBay.

Kiyoshi Maekawa -- Oishi mizu (おいしい水)

Seeing the name of Kiyoshi Maekawa's (前川 清) 29th solo single that was released on the 26th of May 2004 made me do a double take. The thought of Mae-Kiyo singing about water was rather amusing and intriguing. To me, with the name of the song being 'Oishi mizu' and all, it made it seem as though it was one of those commercial jingles advertising spring/mineral water... actually I wouldn't be surprised if it was used for just that.

Anyway, long story short I eventually got myself to listen to it with the reason being: It's Maekawa, you can't really go wrong with his songs. Why I say that is because about half of his songs (somewhat recent ones to be exact) sound more like regular old pop songs than Mood Kayo or Enka, I know that from experience. So they are generally quite easy on the ears - he's a good choice if you want to start listening to Mood Kayo or Enka. Another such fellow would be Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし).

Okay returning back to the song. It was indeed one of those Mae-Kiyo songs that leaned to the genre of 'Pop'. The moment I heard the music, I literally had that Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie moment from the movie 'Django unchained' where he went, "Gentlemen, you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention."

I would say that like its name, 'Oishi mizu' sounded refreshing. Cooling. Makes you envision relaxing on a quite green hill with the gentle wind whisking by, all while enjoying the view of a crystalline river flowing from the snow-capped mountains. Ah, actually kinda reminds me of the Montserrat mountains of Catalonia too. This was composed by Takashi Tsushimi (都志見隆), the guy responsible for composing many other Mae-Kiyo songs like one of my favorites 'Otoko to onna no kakera' (男と女の破片) from 1991.

As for the lyrics, they were done by the late Yu Aku (阿久悠). In terms of the song's meaning, I came up with 2 possible interpretations. First one being that it was talking about water itself being essential for people, technical stuff like that. But I highly doubt the legendary lyricist would write about something so literal. So that brought me to the more likely second outcome, which was that the water mentioned was supposed to symbolize something that all humans need and want... they thirst for it - internal desires and what they want to hear. Or well, you know, something on that line. Hmm, for someone who hates literature (the subject) with an intense passion, that's by far the most literary interpretation I came up with.

Just as a side note, I was still filled with that elation of watching Mae-Kiyo on TV just a couple of hours ago as I wrote this article... although my pops was talking on the phone with a friend with that loud voice of his while it was Maekawa's turn to sing and he only hung up when the song ended... *tsk* well, so much for that.

Eh, at least I got to see my... ... Favorite singer on the tube again. What? You thought I was going to say something else other than 'Favorite singer'? Pfft, whaaat? No way... ...

Monday, September 29, 2014

Keiko Maruyama -- Hitori Ne no Lullaby (ひとり寝のララバイ)

Earlier this year, I wrote about Keiko Maruyama's(丸山圭子)arguably most famous album, "Tasogare Memory"(黄昏めもりい), and how it was different from my expectations. I'd assumed that it would be in the light bossa vein since Maruyama's most famous song, "Douzo Kono Mama"(どうぞこのまま)was in there, but I should have smacked myself in the back of my head with a CD case for making such a guess. Instead, there was a bit more of the cordial country swing and some City Pop imbued into the album which actually made things more interesting and ultimately more satisfying for me.

"Hitori Ne no Lullaby"(Lullaby for One) is one such example. When I wrote up the article for "Tasogare Memory" back in February 2014, there wasn't any YouTube video for it but a few months later, a kind soul uploaded one. As I mentioned briefly in that other article, "Hitori Ne no Lullaby" which Maruyama wrote and composed has some of that country music twang and some old-style music from early in the 20th century.

Whenever I walked through the Tower Records branch beside Shinjuku Station, I always noticed that there was a section which held a not-insignificant amount of CDs which covered a lot of that American traveling honky-tonk music. I think there is some of that flavour in "Hitori Ne no Lullaby" which seems to describes a garrulous and increasingly sleepy-headed woman going through the drinks at that dilapidated bar somewhere in the US Midwest. It could even describe a typical scene of a Japanese OL doing pretty much the same thing at a nomiya near midnight....something that I've seen my fair share of in many a TV drama. There is also a mention of Janis Joplin in the lyrics and that had my brain sparking about similarly arranged music that I used to hear on the old car AM radio back in the 1970s.

As nikala commented, "Tasogare Memory" is indeed a keeper and "Hitori Ne no Lullaby" is one of the reasons. I think it was truly a fascinating time for inspiration during those days of New Music.

Mariko Nagai/Midori Karashima -- Hitomi - Genki (瞳・元気)

My impression of both good buddies Mariko Nagai(永井真理子)and Midori Karashima(辛島美登里)is that they are, for the lack of a better word, in squeaky clean. Karashima has that elegant look which befits her nickname of Karashima-sensei; if she had gone into the acting world, she could have easily been typecast as the pretty old-school marm. Meanwhile, my image of Nagai has always been of that slightly rambunctious but basically decent tomboy-next-door; she might get herself muddy from playing out in the fields but her mother guaranteed that she would always be out the next day in the brightest and cleanest of T-shirts.

Before Nagai hit it really big at the end of the 80s with songs like "Miracle Girl", there was her 2nd single from November 1987, "Hitomi - Genki" which was composed by Karashima and written by Natsumi Tadano(只野菜摘). At the time that I first heard it, I didn't know it was one of her very early contributions to her discography. It's more of a slightly slower ballad but even so, the song has a hard time to keep down the irrepressible Nagai cheer completely. As for the translation of the title, I wasn't sure if the "hitomi" was referring to a girl with that name or her eyes themselves, and the lyrics don't really make that crystal clear although they describe a very happy young lady going through her life. For the sake of argument, though, I'll just go with the former choice and translate it as "Cheerful Hitomi".

For some reason, the arrangement and Nagai's slight echo in her vocals has often gotten me into a very nostalgic zone. Her vocals, by the way, come off as being very crystal-clear...and clean.

Strangely enough, the first time I had ever heard of "Hitomi - Genki" was through the old Fuji-TV Monday night comedy-variety program "Shimura Ken no Daijoubuda" (志村けんのだいじょうぶだぁ...way before "HEY! HEY! HEY! Music Champ"). Comedian Ken Shimura (formerly of The Drifters) had a number of warped characters that he played, and one of them was the elderly and innocently deranged Hitomi(ひとみさん). In a bit of a tribute montage to the character, the show used Nagai's single as a theme of sorts.

Since at the time, I hadn't known the exact title of the song, I wasn't sure if I would ever hear it again. But some years later, I ended up buying a Mariko Nagai album, "yasashikunaritai"(やさしくなりたい...I Want to Be Nice), a BEST album of her ballads up to 1992, and luckily enough, the single was included in there. I'm not sure if the original single ever got into the Oricon rankings but "yasashikunaritai" did get No. 1 status on the album charts. The original was also on her 2nd studio album, "Genki Yohou"(元気予報...Happy Forecast)from January 1988; it peaked at No. 35.

Well, how about that? I was able to get a fan-made montage for the Shimura character and the Nagai song!

Karashima did a cover of "Hitomi - Genki" a few years later as a single released in December 1992, Although her version has a bit more of an urgent beat to it, Sensei's pure and crystalline vocal quality still come through...almost as if it were an even more refined version of Nagai's voice.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mayo Shouno -- Monte Carlo de Kanpai (モンテカルロで乾杯)

I was looking around if I could find another example of that interesting hybrid within kayo kyoku that I like to call European enka. There is that shibui aspect that infuses the usual enka tune but the melody takes on that hue of a travelogue in terra exotica. I've always pegged the heyday of that subgenre around the late 70s so I often think about Teresa Teng, Saki Kubota and Judy Ongg due to their particular hits at that time.

And then there is also Mayo Shouno(庄野真代)who had come up with "Tonde Istanbul"(飛んでイスタンブール), her 5th single in April 1978. Listening to that old chestnut, I think of travel on old-fashioned trains or bumpy cars through exotic lands (not sure if the melody can be truly called Turkish, though). Well, Shouno followed up on her biggest hit immediately a few months later in July with a second improbable hit, "Monte Carlo de Kanpai" (Here's to Monte Carlo). I say improbable because there is quite the similarity to mine ears of her 6th single to her previous one. The creators of the song, Tetsuya Chiaki and Kyohei Tsutsumi(ちあき哲也・筒美京平), are the same, and I feel like I just transferred to another train and moved several hundred more kilometres to the east into Monaco. Mind you, there is that famous image of Monte Carlo with all of those high rollers and palatial mansions and a seemingly mandatory dress code of tuxedos and gowns. However, Shouno's song is definitely more on the business traveler/tourist level of things with camera and fanny pack firmly on call.

"Monte Carlo de Kanpai" didn't do quite as well as its sister song, "Tonde Istanbul" but it still did fine, getting as high as No. 5 on Oricon and finishing the year as the 43rd-ranked song of 1978.

Courtesy of
Digitaler Lumpensammler
from Flickr