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, July 21, 2018

Yukari Ito -- Misty Hour(ミスティー・アワー)

When I ordered Yukari Ito's(伊東ゆかり)"Misty Hour" (1982) from Amazon along with Ami Ozaki's(尾崎亜美)"Hot Baby" last week, I got that message stating that it may take some time for the Ito album to be delivered. Cynical guy that I am, I took that to mean that it wouldn't be delivered for whatever reason (i.e. not enough demand to inspire supply). However, a couple of days later, I got a subsequent email from Amazon saying that it was on its way. Wow! Not disappointed.

MISTY HOUR excerpts at Amazon....just scroll down to the bottom.

The whole thing about getting "Misty Hour" stems from my discovery of one of the tracks from the album, "SAYONARA", which is the only track that I can hear in its entirety on YouTube. Now, I have featured singers in the past who started out in one genre and took a dip into the City Pop/AOR genres: folk singer Iruka(イルカ)and crooner Akira Terao(寺尾聡)who had begun his career in a Group Sounds band. Having said that, though, it was still surprising me for me to discover that even Yukari Ito had tried out some urban contemporary. For all these years, I've almost seen her exclusively as that 1960s aidoru interpreter of Western hits from that decade such as Connie Francis' "Vacation", so that I couldn't really separate the singer from those pop hits of that decade.

And yet here is "Misty Hour". And it is one humdinger of a City Pop/J-AOR album. From reading the liner notes of the album and the writeup on "Music Avenue", it seems like a good chunk of those genres' artists including Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや), EPO, Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)and Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)all plunged into the pool to help Ito out.

As I said, only "SAYONARA" is available in its entirety but I just had to provide an article on "Misty Hour". The excerpts may only be 45 seconds each but they're even better than better than nothing. I really did enjoy the album that much. My favourite tracks include the first one "Konna Yasashii Ame no Hi ni wa"(こんな優しい雨の日には...On This Sort of Gentle Rainy Day)which was created by Machiko Ryu(竜真知子)and Akira Inoue(井上鑑). It has that slickness of a Western AOR tune but it also seems to straddle that dividing line between the Japanese version of the genre and City Pop, thanks to those keyboards and Tsuyoshi Kon's(今剛)crisp guitar.

Mariya Takeuchi takes care of words and music for the 2nd track "Koibito-tachi"(恋人たち...Lovers). I've already included a longer and better clip in the "SAYONARA" article, but having a listen to Ito's plaintive and rich vocals, it does sound a lot like something that Takeuchi herself would sing as a self-cover. Perhaps it's a bit of a stretch, but I can hear a bit of The Eagles' "Desperado" in there as well. Unfortunately, the excerpt wasn't long enough to include them, but Takeuchi, EPO and Tetsuji Hayashi were the backup singers, and City Pop veteran Makoto Matsushita(松下誠)was the guest guitarist.

Track 3 is "Kokuhaku"(告白...Confession)with lyrics by the aforementioned Ryu and EPO while the latter provided the cool and sophisticated music which automatically evokes a night at that really high-class cafe or restaurant in Tokyo. This is definitely in the City Pop corner of the album, and listening to Ito's singing here, I am convinced that she would have been a fine permanent resident in the genre. EPO and Yasuhiro Abe were great backup chorus here. Masaki Matsubara(松原正樹)handled the arrangement.

My final excerpt represented is the fourth track "After Dark" by the same duo on Track 1, Ryu and Inoue. More City Pop but it sounds like the singer and songwriters were taking things on the road with this one which has a bit more funk. In fact, the arrangement reminds me of Yasuha's(泰葉)more oomphy "Fly-Day Chinatown"(フライディ・チャイナタウン).

Again, it's too bad that whole versions of the tracks aren't available as of this writing, but the excerpts themselves (and all of "SAYONARA") were enough for me to part with my yen for "Misty Hour". If you're a City Pop/J-AOR fan, then I can recommend this as an addition to your collection.

Sheena & The Rokkets -- Namida no Highway(涙のハイウェイ)

It's been over 3 years since the untimely passing of Etsuko "Sheena" Ayukawa(鮎川 シーナ 悦子)from Sheena & The Rokkets(シーナ&ザ・ロケッツ)so I wanted to explore some more of the band's work. And so I went to the very beginning. Their debut single in October 1978 was "Namida no Highway" (Highway of Tears) which was written by Kotaro Aso(麻生香太郎)and Sheena and composed by band guitarist Makoto Ayukawa(鮎川誠), Sheena's husband. The lyrics are about someone trying to flee from someone or a relationship gone sour as quickly as she can.

Looking at the title for the first time, I thought "Namida no Highway" sounded atypically kayo-esque for an identifier for a rock song. J-Wiki pegged it as a song with New Wave, punk and 60s pop elements. I also saw it as a tune that could have launched a thousand ideas for inspired younger folk wanting to create their own bands. Lindberg was the first one on my mind followed by other acts such as Princess Princess. When I think of the late 1970s in Japanese pop music, I usually think of enka and aidoru sharing the TV stage and Oricon charts while New Music/City Pop/Folk were genres streaming nicely underwater, but Ramones-style rock wasn't something that I would have heard much about in those times, unless I were frequenting the live houses.

The's -- Woo Hoo

By chance, does the above song sound familiar to you? If so, I'm not surprised. This is actually "Woo Hoo" by the American rockabilly group, The Rock-A-Teens. The tune by George Donald McGraw was released in 1959 got as high as No. 16 on Billboard and it turned out to be the band's only hit.

The original by The Rock-A-Teens may have sparked off some signs of familiarity but once you hear this version, then the memories should come flooding back in...especially if you are a Quentin Tarentino fan. Yup, that's right. "Woo Hoo" was covered by the Japanese rock trio, The's in "Kill Bill Vol. 1" back in 2003. And for me, next to Tomoyasu Hotei's(布袋寅泰)epic, "Battle Without Honor or Humanity", "Woo Hoo" is the most memorable example of music from the QT film, and it's hard to forget watching these women just jangling away at their instruments in the largest izakaya that I've ever seen. I don't think any of the izakaya in Toronto have ever been that larger-than-life....or dangerous.

I also have to say that the cover by The's has got quite a bit more energy than the original. It fairly bounces all over the place. Although their "Woo Hoo" made its premiere in the movie, it apparently got its release as a single in the following year, although it was also included in their 2003 album "Bomb the Rocks: Early Days Singles".

The's got their start in 1986 as a foursome: RONNIE“YOSHIKO”FUJIYAMA on vocals and guitar, SACHIKO on drums, RICO on guitar and YOSHIE on bass. Undergoing over a few lineup changes over the years, the current configuration is YOSHIKO, SACHIKO and OMO on bass. As of right now, the band has released 8 albums and 17 singles including "Woo Hoo".

I guess "Woo Hoo" did hit a few sympathetic nerve endings since it has also been used in a number of commercials including this one for Vonage.

"Woo Hoo" also reminded me of an old song that we had to practice ad nauseum in band class back in junior high school, "Trombone Boogie". I remember having to play it all the time at the school concerts with it now taking up permanent residence in my memories.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Ami Ozaki -- Hot Baby

I loved Ami Ozaki's(尾崎亜美)"Wanderer In Love", wrote about it, and now I've gone ahead and bought the album it originated from. "Hot Baby" from May 1981 looks pretty darn cute with that envelope design of the times, and I kinda wished that the light blue flap actually worked, but I'm just griping a bit much there.

Anyways, "Hot Baby" is the love child project between Ami Ozaki and David Foster, with the former handling all of the songwriting while the latter took care of the arrangement. Plus, a few members from the band TOTO such as Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro helped out, and even Foster's partner from Airplay, Jay Graydon, joined in the fun. Talk about AOR from both sides of the Pacific!

Track 1 is "Love Is Easy", a rousing number that gets the album launched into the stratosphere via the City Pop airplane fueled by Tom Scott's sax solo and some fine keyboard work. There is also a hint of Latin in the mix so that I'm kinda reminded of some of Junko Yagami's(八神純子)songs from the late 1970s. "Love Is Easy" was also Ozaki's 13th single which came out on the same day as "Hot Baby".

"Prism Train" is another rollicking one backed up by Lukather's guitar and Porcaro's drums. Plus, if that's Foster helping Ozaki behind the keyboards, then he just brought back all of my memories of AM pop radio from my high school days.

Man, I know one has to suffer for one's art, but really?

Pretty amusing and ironic about "Cat's Eye"(キャッツアイ)since it was Ozaki who gave teenager Anri(杏里)her big break with "Olivia wo Kikinagara"(オリビアを聴きながら)back in 1978, and then Anri would get an even bigger hit in 1983 with another "Cat's Eye" (although that was created by other songwriters). Ozaki's "Cat's Eye" is a wholly different animal (no pun intended), and to echo kaz-shin from "Music Avenue", it's a very cute track to the point that I couldn't quite believe that Foster also arranged this one. I would say that it's probably the most Japanese poppiest song on "Hot Baby".

The final song for the article and the final track for the original album (two bonus tracks have been added to the CD version) is "Serenade"(蒼夜曲), which was also Ozaki's 12th single from 1980. The single version is one of the bonus tracks while the album version was recorded in Los Angeles with the rest of "Hot Baby".

According to kaz-shin, reviews were mixed on the album version of "Serenade", with folks preferring to go with the original single version. Although both are fine to me, if I had to choose, I would go with the single version that you can hear immediately above this paragraph. This version is almost a minute longer than the album take, and has more time to breathe. Plus, I like its simpler and slightly more sweeping feeling.

Recently, the City Pop community on Facebook has been putting up their fine choices for recommendations through singles and albums. I would certainly put "Hot Baby" up there.

It's been a David Foster week for me. Not only did I get the Ozaki/Foster collaboration but I also ended up getting that Airplay album. Had no idea that Foster was even in a band until just a few months ago. I should hand in my Canadian passport in shame. 😁

LUVRAW & BTB -- Dori Summa

Since I first heard LUVRAW through the episodes of the wild n' zany anime "Space Dandy"(スペース☆ダンディ)with its great set of music, there was something that hooked me about this fellow with his vocoder/talkbox.

There's surprisingly not any J-Wiki article on LUVRAW or even a website dedicated to him (if anyone knows, let me know). And apparently he's got a partner-in-crime named BTB. So, perhaps LUVRAW & BTB are kinda like Chage & Aska in name....and kinda like Daft Punk in sound.

What I could find out was that their first album came out in 2010, "Yokohama City Breeze", and I've been in thrall to one of the tracks, "Dori Summa" which is that hard-to-categorize melange of music that I also like in a song. LUVRAW & BTB have been listed as an electronica duo but through "Dori Summa", I can hear some of that old-style funk and perhaps some City Pop in there, too. I'd say that there was old and new in this track, and it's darn tasty and catchy.

Perhaps if we go with the title of the album, "Dori Summa" would be a nice song to enjoy while driving with the top down over the Yokohama Bay Bridge.

Akira Nishikino -- Mou Koi Nanoka(もう恋なのか)

For those who are into the old kayo, whenever the name Akira Nishikino(錦野旦)pops up, the usual song that appears in memories is his zesty 3rd single "Sora ni Taiyo ga Aru Kagiri"(空に太陽がある限り), written and composed by the late songwriter Kuranosuke Hamaguchi(浜口庫之助).

Of course, when Nishikino does appear on various programs (he doesn't show up as much as he used to) such as NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン)"Sora ni Taiyo ga Aru Kagiri" would be the go-to performance. However, on the "Uta Kon" episode back on July 10th, which was devoted to the works of his old master, Nishikino not only sang his most famous hit but also his debut single from May 1970, "Mou Koi Nanoka" (Is This Love?).

It's always a treat when a veteran singer who seems to always go with his biggest hit on music shows finally decides to dig into his/her discography vaults and performs something that I had yet to hear. That was indeed the case with "Mou Koi Nanoka".

As was the case with "Sora ni Taiyo ga Aru Kagiri", "Mou Koi Nanoka" was also a HamaKura creation for his padawan (whose name at the time was written down in hiragana: にしきのあきら), and the song struck me for its innocent and questioning melody which matched the young Nishikino's words of figuring out this strange emotion roiling inside him. An interesting thing was that when the native of Oita Prefecture was given his promotion to the public, his catchphrase was "The Sony Enka Knight"(ソニー演歌の騎士).

"Mou Koi Nanoka" does evoke images of cherry blossom petals and romantic walks near temples and ancient arched bridges, but at this point, I can't really say that the arrangement here places it as an enka tune. It just sounds like a romantic kayo ballad. And quite a successful one, to boot. It didn't break the Top 10 on Oricon but peaked at a respectable No. 24, selling a tad over 150,000 records. He also won Best New Artist honours at the Japan Record Awards and his first of 6 invitations to the Kohaku Utagassen during the 1970s.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Michiru Kojima -- Bayside Blue ~ Yorokobi no Asa no Tame ni(ベイサイド・ブルー〜喜びの朝のために〜)

I think I did mention earlier tonight about a cooling song for these blisteringly hot times on both sides of the Pacific.

Well, it looks like I've found another one in the form of this bossa-influenced tune by Michiru Kojima(児島未散). This would be "Bayside Blue ~ Yorokobi no Asa no Tame ni" (For A Joyful Morning). A track from her October 1992 6th album which has the second half of this song title as its own title, it actually does feel like it would be perfect for morning listening while munching down on that slice of toast and sipping that cup of coffee. Composed by Toshiaki Matsumoto(松本俊明), it is that mix with the amenable sophisticated pop music from the late 80s and early 90s and some mellow Brazilian; I could almost be describing a nice brand of java here in itself.

The lyrics were provided by Miki Fuudo(風堂美起)which is a pseudonym for former 80s aidoru Mie Takahashi(高橋美枝). And since some of her aidoru tunes are up on YouTube, I will have to take a look at them as well. "Bayside Blue" was also the coupling song for Kojima's 10th single "Ren'ai Eiga wa Owari"(恋愛映画は終わり...The Love Movie Is Over)which came out in February 1993.