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.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Maiko Okamoto -- Romantic ga Monotarinai(ロマンチックがもの足りない)

Listening to 80s aidoru Maiko Okamoto(岡本舞子), and this is her 2nd article on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", I'm coming to the conclusion that it's too bad that her career was very short...only going from 1984 to 1987. But that's the way the aidoru business bounced back then, I guess.

As I mentioned in that first article for her based on her 2nd single "Aitte Ringo desu ka?"(愛って林檎ですか), I think that Okamoto was quite capable as a singer but it also helped that she had a couple of mighty songwriters supporting her in the form of lyricist Yu Aku(阿久悠)and composer Etsuko Yamakawa(山川恵津子). Indeed, Aku and Yamakawa were helping her out here as well with this song, "Romantic ga Monotarinai" (Ain't Enough to be Romantic) which was the final track on her debut album "Heart no Tobira"(ハートの扉...Door to My Heart)from October 1985.

Being the melody guy and a Yamakawa fan, I really like the music for "Romantic ga Monotarinai" which kinda elevates the song a bit further up from the usual aidoru tune. It starts off with something reminiscent of Hideki Saijo's(西城秀樹)"Young Man"(ヤングマン)and then goes into this amiably bouncy pop which reminds me more of a creation by EPO.

Looking at Aku's lyrics, I'm not totally sure on my interpretation but I believe that they are relating a tale of a young woman who's envious of the surrounding lovey-dovey couple action but still wants something deeper than all that wooing. I guess the lyrics might be somewhat EPO-esque themselves. In any case, the album "Heart no Tobira" managed to get as high as No. 65 on the Oricon weeklies.

Namihiko Omura -- Tasogare Urban Time(たそがれアーバン・タイム)

Namihiko Omura(大村波彦)is an actor and a singer-songwriter that I had never heard of before, but according to his J-Wiki profile, he debuted in the early 1970s as a teenager and then seemed to get into a lot of suspense and detective dramas on TV into the 1980s.

I found out about him through a happenstance find on YouTube one day. "Tasogare Urban Time" (Sunset Urban Time) is the B-side to what I think was his 3rd and final single released in 1981, "Tobikakare Jikan ni"(飛びかかれ、時間に...Soar When The Time Comes). From the preceding link, you can see Omura's ruggedly handsome figure on the cover of the single, and the A-side was a song that was featured on a Fuji-TV drama starring him called "Tadaima Hokago"(ただいま放課後...Hello, After School). Not quite sure whether he was playing a university rugby player or the actual coach.

Over the ten years that I've known about the genre name of City Pop and all of the wonderful songs therein, I've been able to somewhat classify them into a few sub-genres such as the late 80s type with that sophisti-pop feel and those champagne synths, the 1970s variety, the more contemporary version in the 21st century, and then the City Pop that transports folks to the West Coast of the United States. "Tasogare Urban Time", though, is one song that I would place into my Square One of the Japanese urban contemporary genre, that of the early 1980s gritty Japanese metropolitan downtown region which would fit as a song to be played on some cop show on NTV, for example. Of course, the one great song that belongs there is "Ruby no Yubiwa"(ルビーの指輪)by Akira Terao(寺尾聡).

For me, I have that special affection for songs like "Ruby" and "Tasogare Urban Time" because the former remains basically the first City Pop song that I have heard while the latter rather follows that template. I love those wistful strings on "Tasogare Urban Time", which was created by Masashi Komatsubara(小松原まさし), along with the instrumental touchstones of this particular sub-genre: the strutting beat and the guitars. There is a certain 1980s Japanese noir feeling with this particular section of music and sometimes I just feel like putting on a whole denim outfit and walking the beat in Shinjuku although I will politely eschew the cigarettes.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Kiri no Hi no Dekigoto(霧の日の出来事)

According to kayo tradition, perhaps it's not the best thing to go out on a foggy day or night. There may be reduced visibility but I think it's something somewhat more existential that will collide with you.

Over the years of writing on this blog (coming to 7 years later next week), I've learned that there have been a number of songs in the late Showa Era with the word kiri(霧), or fog, in the title. Sometimes, the song describes a fateful encounter but I've often felt that those encounters involve the end of a romance.

Such is the case with the beautifully and freshly delivered "Kiri no Hi no Dekigoto" (What Happened on That Foggy Day) by 70s aidoru Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美). This is a track from Iwasaki's 3rd album "Hikousen"(飛行船...Airship)whose tracks were all written by Yu Aku(阿久悠)while this particular track was composed by Yusuke Hoguchi(穂口雄右). Despite the title and the subject matter of an ended relationship, Hoguchi's arrangement keeps things going briskly at a cool beat provided by that lovely bass. In fact, I think the feeling of the song almost puts things in the wheelhouse of the folk/pop band Off Course(オフコース)which knows a thing or two about former flames and lost love.

As for "Hikousen", it peaked at No. 3 on Oricon. I gather that now I have another artifact of nature to symbolize breakups along with dead autumn leaves.

Itsuro Oizumi -- Mago(孫)

Woke up this morning to see the thermometer at -21 degrees Celsius with the wind gusting outside, so I could only shiver at what the wind chill was. Perhaps it was enough to stop even inter-molecular activity. Happily, things will improve tomorrow with a forecast of an absolutely torrid -5 C!

(short version)

So to start off this week, perhaps I can introduce something heartwarming. This goes back to the early days of my time living in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture. One early Sunday morning past midnight when I was watching the "Countdown TV" music ranking show on TBS, I saw the usual Top 10, and among the myriad entries of rock bands and pop groups performing their hits, there was one odd enka tune.

At the time when I wasn't such a huge enka fan and the term "blog" didn't even exist let alone me deciding to create my own blog on kayo kyoku, to see an enka song on the Top 10 rather floored me. I kinda went "They still create enka tunes at the end of the century?!". My assumption at the time was that the genre had ended up as a pop cultural construct frozen in time and propped up by tradition and sentimentality.

Yet, this enka song "Mago" (Grandchild) was appearing weekly on the highest positions of the chart with the video of a proud grandparent in yukata doting over his adorable young charge. Would wonders never cease? As it turns out, enka was still being produced but it was this "Mago" that bucked expectations and decided to head up the charts.

"Mago" was the April 1999 debut single of cherry farmer Itsuro Oizumi(大泉逸郎)from Yamagata Prefecture. According to a Nikkan Gendai online article from July last year (via J-Wiki), Oizumi had won a Hokkaido Minyo Prize in 1977 as an amateur minyo singer, and his first venue as such was at Yamagata Prison. Skip ahead many years to early 1994 when his first grandchild was born. He was so overjoyed that three days following the birth, he asked his friend, lyricist Yoshiharu Araki(荒木良治), to create some words for a song that he was going to compose to commemorate the happy arrival. He released the song under his own power and sold about 8000 copies, mainly in the Tohoku region.

Then, five years later, Teichiku Entertainment made a major release of "Mago", and things went gangbusters from there on. On the general Oricon charts, the song peaked at No. 3 but on the Oricon enka charts, it went to No. 1 and basically stayed at the top for 6 straight months (November 1999 ~ May 2000). It became a million-seller and has sold at least 2.3 million copies. "Mago" barely missed becoming one of the Top 10 singles of 1999 by coming in at No. 11. At the Japan Record Awards, it won a Best Songwriting prize and NHK came calling by inviting Oizumi to perform at the 2000 Kohaku Utagassen.

Although Oizumi still keeps growing cherries, the farmer also continues to put out songs. Up to 2015, he's released 19 singles, and apparently as of 2018, he still goes to Yamagata Prison monthly to devote some time to, I assume, counsel prisoners. However, according to Sankei News, his friend and lyricist Araki passed away in May 2017 at the age of 91.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

SPEED -- my graduation

Not really my favourite SPEED song, but "my graduation" is something that I used to see a lot of on the various rankings shows. I definitely remember the scene where the members sang around that nexus of microphones.

"my graduation" was SPEED's 6th single released in February 1998 and it was written and composed by Hiromasa Ijichi(伊秩弘将)who created a lot of the group's hits. According to J-Wiki, the song's lyrics don't directly reference anything about graduations which I'm not sure that I agree with. Perhaps they may not refer directly to any graduation ceremonies but they certainly hint at a major transition in a person's life and illustrate the gratitude that the person has to that special someone. It might be a past romantic interest but I think it can also easily pertain to now-former high school classmates and buddies who are now going in their own separate directions. Besides, according to that same article, it has become one of the popular songs to be played at graduations.

Interestingly enough, "my graduation" was used as a campaign song for Nisshin's brand of yakisoba known as "UFO"...because of course, when one thinks of graduations, one has to think of seasoned noodles (yes, I'm being sarcastic). The song was at No. 1 on Oricon for 3 weeks straight and ended up as the No. 3 song of 1998, selling a total of 1.75 million copies. On the Oricon list for top singles in its history, it ranks at No. 89.

The song also got onto SPEED's 2nd album "Rise" which came out in April 1998. That album also hit No. 1 for 2 weeks and became the No. 9 album of the year, selling over 3 million copies. SPEED also showed up on the 1999 Kohaku to perform a special version of the song.

Sumire Uesaka -- Jigoku de Hotcake(地獄でホットケーキ)

I shouldn't be writing this at this time. The reason is that I should have been enjoying the first session of the biweekly anime routine with my friend today. However with the wickedly cold conditions (though it is very sunny out there) outside and the fact that I would have been exposed to the elements for a total of one hour was enough for me to tell my friend last night that I would have to cancel until things warm up some more next week. Yup, I know I'm a Canadian but at my age and burgeoning elderly irritability, -18 degrees Celsius with 70 km/h gusts will no longer do for me.

(very short version)

So in place of the anime viewing, I am putting up an anime article via the "Hoozuki no Reitetsu"(鬼灯の冷徹...Hozuki's Coolheadedness)series. This would be the ending theme for the 2018 portion of the second season, "Jigoku de Hotcake" (Hotcakes in Hell) as sung by Sumire Uesaka(上坂すみれ), who has a minor role in the show. As a Canadian (who is no longer as impervious to cold as he once was), I was already sold from the title alone since I will take anything hotcake-y on a Sunday with plenty of butter and maple syrup.

Knowing that Uesaka had also sung the more sedate "Riverside Lovers" from the 2017 portion of Season 2, I was taken aback when I first saw the ending credits for 2018 with all of that CG and then Uesaka's high-energy "Jigoku de Hotcake". I'm not quite sure whether the arrangement and composition by Chell Watanabe(渡部チェル)was meant to be some sort of tribute to 90s synthpop, but if there were a disco in Hozuki's region of Hell, then I could imagine this being played.

(cover by ko rumi)

The lyrics were provided by Nagae/Hisae Kuwabara(桑原永江). Unfortunately, I couldn't find a full take of "Jigoku de Hotcake" online, but the song is so full of power as it is, I can settle for the TV version for now.

Yoko Nagayama -- Car Wash

As a kid, one of my life's simple pleasures was having the car getting a car wash at the nearby gas station. There was a certain thrill in getting on that conveyor belt and moving through all of the contraptions to get the auto clean. For a person who's never enjoyed amusement park rides, the car wash "ride" was probably the closest thing.

Never had the opportunity in Japan since I never drove a car there and most of my friends in the Kanto region are content with public transit, but apparently the approach to a car wash in my home-away-from-home is that the car wash itself moves while the car stays static. Quite the pleasant surprise, eh (price aside)?

Another pleasant surprise has to do with "Car Wash". Nope, not the 1975 funk classic by Rose Royce, but a track from Yoko Nagayama's(長山洋子)5th original studio album, "F-1" from September 1988. Yes, this is indeed the same Nagayama who has been known for the past few decades as a dynamic enka singer, but do remember that she did have her aidoru phase in the 1980s. Still, I guess that she wanted to put a little more high octane in the engine for "F-1" (har-de-har-har) with singer-songwriters including Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之), Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)and Meiko Nakahara(中原めいこ)...all of them well-versed in the City Pop genre...putting in contributions.

So that's what I get with her "Car Wash" which was composed by Martin Suzuki and written by singer-songwriter and essayist Mebae Miyahara(宮原芽映). And yet I hear quite a bit of Junko Yagami(八神純子)circa late 1970s/early 1980s, even in Nagayama's delivery. Plus, I will always enjoy that Seinfeldian bass and a good set of horns. Good to hear Suzuki in the background, too. I'm not sure if this will be enough for me to invest in the album itself (if it's available) but seeing some of those above names in the liner notes does give me pause.