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.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Saori Yuki -- Kono Mama ga Ii no(このままがいいの)

Usually when I categorize a song in Labels, it's no surprise to have one or two genres listed in there, but on occasion, I do have three genres listed. And that's often but not always because I'm letting the song dance around my head trying to settle on a genre, but as it turns out, I can't really definitively resolve the categorization angst. It's not really angst though since I think such songs are even more intriguing.

I found another song that describes what I'm talking about, and it's good because I haven't had veteran Saori Yuki(由紀さおり)on KKP in a good while. Of course, Yuki will always be known for her late 1960s number, "Yoake no Scat"(夜明けのスキャット), but I've come across this single, her 42nd from May 1984, "Kono Mama ga Ii no" (Good The Way It Is) that has her exploring something a bit more than kayo kyoku.

From my impression of Yuki, I always thought that she would be an ideal ambassador for the genres of jazz and bossa nova, and sure enough, with "Kono Mama ga Ii no", that latter genre comes out nice and classy with that pristine high-toned voice of hers. However, my so-called "dilemma" has had me wondering whether there's also something in the song that evokes the urban contemporary setting of City Pop and even Mood Kayo from a certain balcony on the Riviera. In the end, I just went "Oh, the heck with it", and slapped all three genres down.

My compliments to New J Channel's radio since that's how I first heard it and going way back, allow me to thank lyricist Rieko Zanma(残間里江子)and composer Toshiyuki Kimori(木森敏之). According to Zanma's J-Wiki bio, she's now actually a producer of publishing and cultural events.

Ai Otsuka -- SMILY

Not exactly summer days here with the temperatures now unseasonably cold (high of just -9 today) and the first mammoth snowstorm threatening to inundate us tomorrow. However, that is just the reason to put up this particular number that I had almost forgotten about.

Singer-songwriter Ai Otsuka's(大塚愛)adorable "SMILY" was her 8th single from May 2005, and with a title like that, it's awfully hard to least in short-term memory. Plus, the song has got all of those cute chirps by Otsuka herself. Basically, it's all about having a great time with friends and getting rid of all those blues, something that we can use right now since Blue Monday is coming up (post-Holiday bills and all that). The music video, by the way, was filmed on the island of Managaha in Saipan, a favourite tropical destination for the Japanese.

"SMILY" was Otsuka's first No. 1 and it went Platinum, eventually ending up as the 26th-ranked single of the year. It is also third among her most successful singles, behind "Sakuranbo"(さくらんぼ)and "Planetarium"(プラネタリウム). I'll have to do that latter one sometime soon and not wait another 5 years. "SMILY" was also a track on Otsuka's 3rd original album "Love Cook", released in December 2005 which reached No. 1 on the charts and ended 2006 as the 10th-ranked album.

Otsuka appeared on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen a total of 6 times between 2004 and 2009, but "SMILY" wasn't one of the songs performed. For the 2005 edition, she ended up singing "Planetarium".

Takeshi Ito -- Godzilla

One of the defining characteristics for me when it comes to the fusion band The Square (now T-Square) has been the wind synthesizer played by Takeshi Ito(伊東たけし), and that was because of "Takarajima"(宝島).

The Fukuoka-born musician is also a virtuoso on the saxophone and he is on the alto version of it when he plays his "Godzilla", the first track on his first solo album "Dear Hearts" from 1984. I'm rather curious as to why he named this particular song after Japan's most famous giant lizard. Although by the end of the piece, "Godzilla" goes into a foot-stomping jam, the first half comes over more as something more fleet-footed and soaring as if it were more Mothra in both the larval and adult stages (yeah, I was really wanting to put that sentence down). Another observation is that it sounds as if there is alternating competition and cooperation between Ito's sax and Philippe Saisse's keyboards, just like one of those battle royales between Godzilla and Rodan on Monster Island.

Incidentally, that photo at the top was taken in West Shinjuku. One of the skyscrapers had the photo and name of the big guy emblazoned on it, so I just had to take a shot. Unfortunately, I've yet to get a picture of that huge Godzilla head in Kabukicho. Next trip, I suppose.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Kumiko Yamashita -- Toriaezu New York

It must have been quite the time at the switchover from the 1970s into the 1980s for students of Japanese pop music. Along with the usual enka and aidoru, plus the undercurrent of City Pop and the in-vogue technopop, there were the elements of good ol' 50s rock-n-roll (also in Harajuku) and then New Wave to a smaller extent.

Strangely enough, I've encountered a song which seems to bring the latter two elements together in a fun 4th single by Kumiko Yamashita(山下久美子)called "Toriaezu New York" (First, New York). It gets started with that 50s theme but then when the refrain clicks in, that Merseybeat-sounding keyboard had me thinking Elvis Costello and some of those other skinny tie-sporting pop musicians from the 1980s. There's even some disco at the end. I thank legendary Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平for the music and then there is lyricist Haruo Chikada(近田春夫who creates a story of a woman alone with her TV set after some romantic downturn and thinking that maybe the Big Apple may be the place to run from her woes. The travel expenses would be more expensive than the Tsugaru Strait, though.

Knowing Yamashita only for her big hit "Sekido Komachi Doki"赤道小町ドキッ), it's nice to learn a new and boppy tune by her.

Yumi Matsutoya -- Rondo(輪舞曲)

My affinity for the albums of Yuming(ユーミン)generally started to fade from around the mid-1990s. However, some of her singles from that decade still managed to draw attention from me.

One of those songs was "Rondo". The actual kanji is pronounced "rinbukyoku", but I think that we can all agree that the English title rolls off the tongue much more mellifluously. In any case, I was curious about what a rondo was, and according to Wikipedia, it refers to a 17th-century instrumental musical form, which admittedly didn't clarify things too much for me.

However, the above video by Musica Universalis helped quite a bit.

Getting back on track, I've usually enjoyed an uptempo Yuming song as a listener, but with "Rondo", it's one of her songs that can get me shimmying in my chair. I'm not sure if her melody actually fits the definition of a rondo, though. Perhaps she may be referring to the roundabout adventure of love, ever repeating, although the lyrics also focus on the beginning of a new and happy marriage. The music video shows this as well at a typical Japanese reception but with an extra layer of chaos as a layer of civility is slowly peeled away. Meanwhile, Yuming herself is the performing calm within the storm and she even ends up leading the participants in dance.

"Rondo" was released as Yuming's 27th single in November 1995 and it was also used as the theme song for the Akiko Matsumoto(松本明子)show "Tatakau Oyome-sama"(たたかうお嫁さまま...The Battling Bride)from that same year. It peaked at No. 2, selling close to 600,000 copies, and was a track on her 27th album "Kathmandu" from December. That hit No. 1 and eventually became the 15th-ranked album for 1996.

Kaze -- Tsuki ga Sasu Yoru(月が射す夜)

It's been a while since the wind blew into "Kayo Kyoku Plus". Actually, I should really say that it's been a good long while since Kaze(風)blew in, and what I'm referring to is the 1970s duo of Shozo Ise and Kazuhisa Okubo(伊勢正三・大久保一久. The last time I wrote about a Kaze song was way back in early 2015, and my impression of them was that they were one of a number of folk bands that formed during that decade.

However, it seems like in the manner of a lot of folk acts back then such as Iruka(イルカ), Off-Course(オフコース), and Bread & Butter(ブレッド&バッター), Kaze also wanted to jump out of their comfort zone and land in perhaps another comfort zone, that of City Pop/AOR. So, for their 5th album, "Moony Night" which was released in October 1978, Ise and Okubo recorded their first track "Tsuki ga Sasu Yoru" that basically translates into that English title or perhaps "Moonlight Light" might sound a bit more natural.

Now, the above version is apparently from their April 1979 "Old Calendar", Kaze's one and only BEST album, and from what I'm hearing is something less folk-oriented and something more urgent. With the bass and Fender Rhodes, I can feel the City Pop aspect but I think that labels such as New Music and even J-Rock can be applied in parts. Written and composed by Ise, "Tsuki ga Sasu Yoru" might launch sounding a bit like the usual romantic ballad as the title might suggest, but it actually weaves between drama and hope as the lyrics point out one hot summer night about the loneliness of the citizens out in the streets. There's even some enriching bluesy sax making its presence felt near the end.

This version, which was apparently performed on an episode of Fuji-TV's "Music Fair" according to the uploader, ramps up the pace. In a way, there's something kinda Supertramp and perhaps because of the duo's name and one particular riff in "Tsuki ga Sasu Yoru", I'm even reminded of Christopher Cross' "Ride Like The Wind"😏.

"Moony Night" hit No. 2 on Oricon. Ise seems to have truly enjoyed the companionship of Earth's lone natural satellite since he would come up with another even more urban contemporary number connected to it a few years later as a solo act.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Haruo Chikada & Vibratones -- Kinyoubi no Tenshi(金曜日の天使)

Thanks to the blog, I've learned about a lot of new singers over the nearly 8 years that it's been in operation, and one of those folks is Haruo Chikada(近田春夫. My knowledge of him is still quite slight but my impression thus far is that he was going into some eclectic directions with his music with the help of artists such as Yellow Magic Orchestra.

In early 1981, Chikada got involved in a soundtrack project in collaboration with a duo called Jinshu Netsu(人種熱...Race Heatcomprising of Yutaka Fukuoka(福岡ユタカ)and Haruo Kubota(窪田晴男), after which the three then recruited a few more members to become Haruo Chikada & Vibratones(近田春夫&ビブラトーンズ). On November 25th of that year, the new band released their debut album "Midnight Pianist" and their first single "Kinyoubi no Tenshi" (Friday Angels).

Had never heard of "Kinyoubi no Tenshi" before, so giving it a try, I did get those New Wave vibes, although I didn't really hear any heavy use of synths until nearly the end. Certainly seeing Vibratones behind Chikada looking like they were about to head for a party thrown by UK band Visage cemented my impression.

Chikada & Vibratones would release one more single and a total of four albums including a BEST album in 1988. However, according to their J-Wiki article, basic activity finished up in 1984.