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, September 25, 2018

Haruo Oka -- Aitakattaze(逢いたかったぜ)

I was watching a recent episode of "Uta Kon"(うたコン)and a poignant enka was performed about a couple of old buddies meeting for the first time in a few years and having a long-awaited drink at a watering hole. Try to imagine back in the early postwar period when Japan was trying to get back onto its feet again with people just trying to regain some of that order from the chaos. I could envision that some friendships may have been detached for several years only for them to be rejoined, perhaps even stronger than ever.

Perhaps that was the point with "Aitakattaze" (Really Wanted To See You) as sung by Haruo Oka(岡晴夫). According to J-Wiki, this was most likely the final single that was released by the crooner back in July 1955 because illness crept back into his life again (he would pass away in May 1970 at the age of 54). The commentary in that article indicated that this song proved to be another hit for him.

According to the video here, the footage shown of Oka performing "Aitakattaze" was actually from 1970 so the uploader mentions that this may have been the final time of him appearing in front of a camera. Considering the melancholy music by Gento Uehara(上原げんと)and the tenderhearted lyrics by Miyuki Ishimoto(石本美由起), Oka's performance above takes on an even more enhanced poignancy.

Onyanko Club -- O-saki ni Shitsurei(お先に失礼)

Recently, I listened to one of the podcasts from "Japan Top 10" that I had mentioned via an article from earlier this month. It was Episode 114 hosted by Recca which dealt with all of the 80s songs of my relative youth. I recognized a lot of them but there was one that was actually new to my ears.

I've known Onyanko Club(おニャン子クラブ)primarily for their big hit and debut single "Sailor Fuku wo Nugasanaide" (セーラー服を脱がさないで)from July 1985, and right from that song, my impression of the multi-aidoru supergroup was set: super-cute girls-next-door singing super-cute tunes, although my jaw did drop when I could finally translate Yasushi Akimoto's(秋元康)lyrics.

Through Recca's broadcast, I found "O-saki ni Shitsurei" (Pardon Me In Front), their 5th single from July 1986 which was also written by Akimoto and composed by Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利). Another cute tune with a 50s twist, the sunny summer song hides the story of high school girls preparing for battle over the handsome high school boy. But as far as I know, no shivs were used...I gather that it had all the menace and violence of a comedic anime.

It's interesting watching the performances here when compared with Akimoto's longer-lasting venture with AKB48 and the rest of the alphabet aidoru groups. Onyanko Club seemed to have been far less flashy in their music and dance but the kawaii energy was indeed there along with the rabid fandom. And I think the point with the entire group back then was to have that really down-to-earth group of teenage girls without the need for a lot of pizzazz...relatively speaking, anyways.

"O-saki ni Shitsurei" hit No. 1 on Oricon and ended up as the 69th-ranked single for 1986. The main vocals as provided by J-Wiki were Harumi Tomikawa(富川春美), Yukiko Iwai(岩井由紀子), Marina Watanabe(渡辺満里奈)and Tomoko Fukawa(布川智子).

Monday, September 24, 2018

Yumi Tanimura -- with II

I hadn't heard of singer-songwriter Yumi Tanimura(谷村有美)until I entered Tower Records in Shibuya and heard her "Tomodachi" on the speakers. As I mentioned in that article, the gentle balladry and the Burt Bacharach horns kinda got me right here (❤), so I ended up picking up Tanimura's 2nd BEST compilation "with II" from the shelves. The album was released back in August 1994, and it was still a few months before I made it back to Japan at that point, so I think it was kismet that I managed to hear that song although the album was probably no longer being campaigned for.

As has been the case with many an album that I've heard, my first time hearing "with II" and Tanimura's brand of mellow mid-tempo pop didn't leave me with an awesome impression (aside from "Tomodachi"). Her songs struck me as being fine but nothing particularly supremely catchy, and considering how often I was snatching up CDs at the time, it was all too easy to give them a listen and then put the album back on the shelf for the next several years. I think it was basically how I treated my food at the time: it was more about the quantity than the quality. So, I did love my all-you-can-eat buffets.

Well, buffets are no longer my thing anymore and over the past few years during the existence of "Kayo Kyoku Plus", I've been revisiting some of those initially abandoned albums, including "with II".

"with II" includes her songs ranging over the time of her 6th to 18th singles. Unless specifically mentioned, Tanimura wrote and composed these songs.

1. Genki Dashite yo(元気だしてよ)re-mix
2. Ichiban Daisuki datta(いちばん大好きだった)
3. Issho ni Kurasou(一緒に暮らそう)
4. Parade, Parade(パレード・パレード)
5. Hitotsu Tsubu Namida(ひとつぶの涙)Single version
6. Roku-gatsu no Ame(6月の雨)
7. Tomodachi(友達)
8. Tokimeki wo Believe(ときめきをBelieve)
9. Taikutsu na Gogo(たいくつな午後)
10. Ima ga Suki(今が好き)
11. Saigo no Kiss(最後のKISS)
12. Shiawase no Namida(しあわせの涙)
13. Kon'ya Anata ni Furaretai(今夜あなたにフラれたい)
14. Ai suru Yuuki(愛する勇気)

"Genki Dashite yo" (Cheer Up) is a coupling song on her 17th single, the aforementioned "Shiawase no Namida" (Happy Tears) from May 1994. It has that sunny 60s feeling to it and is a nice way to start off this BEST album.

Another coupling song that got onto the album is "Issho ni Kurasou" (Let's Live Together) from her 16th single released in November 1993, "Somebody Loves You". This was one of the songs that got me to re-think my initial thoughts about Tanimura's work. It's pop but it also has a small infusion of soul in there; that soul and the use of synthesizers even reminded me of some of the cooler stuff by PSY-S. Of course, when I read that title, I naturally assumed that it was a guy trying to convince his girlfriend to take the next big step of co-habitation, but apparently, according to the hosts of "Music Station" above, it doesn't necessarily mean so, with one of the hosts stating that Tanimura had been living with her mother at that time.

Her 12th single from June 1992 is "Tokimeki wo Believe". It's one of those recovery songs in which Tanimura sings about finally getting on with her life after the end of a romance. I think it's the one ballad that I felt was rather indicative of the love ballads of that time which were performed by singers such as Mariko Nagai(永井真理子)and Miki Imai(今井美樹). With the help of, the direct translation of the song came out to "Believe in Your Palpitations" or "Believe in Your Throbbing", but one sounded too medical and the other was simply not right, so I went with "Believe in Your Heartbeat". "Tokimeki wo Believe" was written by Kazuko Sakata(坂田和子)and composed by Kenjiro Sakiya(崎谷健次郎).

I kinda had to inflict the Gibbs slap onto myself since I had completely forgotten about "Ima ga Suki" (I Love You Now) which is actually a track from Tanimura's 5th album "Ai wa Genki desu"(愛は元気です...Love is Fine)from May 1991. It's got some pretty cool AOR-type funk in there, and that guitar reminded me of Billy Joel's "Movin' Out". Norie Kanzawa and Hiromasa Ijichi(神沢礼江・伊秩弘将)created this one for the singer, and both of them also had a hand with some of Misato Watanabe's(渡辺美里)songs.

"Saigo no Kiss"(The Final Kiss) is a Tanimura creation which has some of that nice light funk action in there, and it's the other song that I kinda remembered from my initial listening to "with II" along with "Tomodachi". This was her 14th single from June 1993. I'm such a sucker for a good sax (no snickering, please). Perhaps I should actually translate the title as "The Kiss-Off" since Tanimura's lyrics state about not having to see the guy's toothbrush, frying pan and ashtray anymore. Well, being a lifelong non-smoker, I certainly could sympathize with that last item.

The final song that I will be showing tonight is "Kon'ya Anata ni Furaretai" (I Want to Be Dumped by You Tonight). Also not exactly the happiest lyrics as a woman wants to get out of a toxic relationship, but Tanimura's melody has got a bit more of a rock beat in there. This was her 18th single from July 1994.

Well, I've had "with II" all these years, so why not see if "with" is available?

Atsuko Nina -- Communication/Orange Basket(オレンジバスケット)

Happy Monday! Recently, I've come across some more of the works of singer Atsuko Nina(二名敦子)after hearing about her "Soldier Fish" song, and I found them eminently listenable and varied. As a result, I've decided to cover a couple of them in one article today.

The first song is "Communication" from her 1983 album "Play Room ~ Tawamure ~"(PLAY ROOM ~戯れ~...Fun). The album represented a re-birth of the singer's career under this new stage name (her real name is Atsuko Iwai/岩井敦子), following her first start under the name Eri Hayakawa(早川英梨)in 1979.

Now, if "Communication" sounds awfully familiar, it is because that it is a cover of the Latin standard "One-Note Samba". Apparently, a number of tracks in "Play Room" are covers of famous Western tunes but under different titles. Unfortunately, I couldn't find out who provided the Japanese lyrics but I have to give Nina and the arranger for "Communication" some kudos for a slick and assured version, especially with that slightly City Pop feel to the proceedings.

In 1986, Nina released a single which sounds as sweet and bright and refreshing as a glass of orange juice in the morning. And sure enough, her "Orange Basket" was used for TV ads plugging Kirin Orange Juice.

Written by Shun Taguchi(田口俊)and composed by Kenjiro Sakiya(崎谷健次郎), "Orange Basket" does come across as plucky and catchy (thanks to those synthesizers) as any commercial jingle should, but the full version couldn't help but include that cool soaring guitar solo. The single also got onto Nina's 5th album from September 1986, "him".

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Pizzicato Five -- Nonstop to Tokyo (Album)

Last Thursday, just before I met up with my fellow translators for a meeting downtown, I decided to drop into BMV Books which is a local group of shops selling all sorts of books, DVDs and records/CDs. Since returning to Toronto from Japan, I've kept up the bookstore browsing.

Well, as I was in the basement looking at the LPs and CDs, I did manage to find this EP CD by Pizzicato Five titled "Nonstop to Tokyo", selling for just a little over $5 CDN. Not wanting to look at a gift horse in the mouth, I didn't hesitate and bought it. Plus, there is a bit of a personal connection since that is exactly the plane that I use to get to Japan...the Air Canada nonstop between Toronto and Tokyo.

The EP, released in July 1999 (peaked at No. 55 on Oricon), consists of 5 tracks including the title track. As would be expected from a P5 album, "Nonstop to Tokyo" has our congenial hosts, Maki Nomiya and Yasuharu Konishi(野宮真貴・小西康陽), leading our flight with a light vocal delivery paired with some hip-swiveling groovalicious beats. I can only wish that those nonstop flights to Tokyo would be nearly as fun. Alas, perhaps some alcohol on the way would remedy things somewhat...

"Room Service" is a slightly less frenetic number that still retains that Shibuya-kei style. My imagination envisions those "Mad Men" executives sitting nonchalantly in a 60s space-age lounge knocking back those cocktails as this song is playing. Personally, I've never had room service in a hotel, preferring to get my meals somewhere out on the town. However, when I was in Japan in 2014, I did ask to have a massage in the room, and the masseuse did a very intense job on my shoulders and back. Amazing how far sinews can stretch!

I couldn't find "Bossa Nova 3003" but did find "Mademoiselle" which brings back the energy levels. The Divine Ms. Nomiya could be on the stage leading the way with her mike while a bunch of young ladies and gentlemen are shimmying vigorously all over the dance floor. I don't think I've used the term mademoiselle since Grade 12 French!

The last track is a radio edit of "Nonstop to Tokyo" but I couldn't find it on YouTube. However, I did find an interesting version of the song which was included on a P5 2001 album "Çà et là du Japon", since the vocalist here is not Nomiya but veteran singer and frequent informercial guest Shigeru Matsuzaki(松崎しげる). Although the Wikipedia article for the album lists both Matsuzaki and former Sparks keyboardist Ron Mael as the vocalists, I can only hear the dulcet tones of "Captain" Matsuzaki on this version.

Hiroko Moriguchi -- ETERNAL WIND~Hohoemi wa Hikaru Kaze no Naka~(ほほえみは光る風の中)

My anime buddy provided me with "Gundam Build Divers"(ガンダムビルドダイバーズrecently, and to be honest, it hasn't really grabbed me, although he told me that it took until Episode 7 for things to really get going. I just finished Episode 3, and I'm already starting to think of letting this one go, but I will play it by ear.

Anyways, this isn't the first time that tarento and former 80s aidoru Hiroko Moriguchi(森口博子)has appeared in "Kayo Kyoku Plus" with JTM introducing her in his grand article "JTM's 80s Playlist - J-Dorama/Anime/Movie Edition" from nearly 5 years ago (look for entry No. 6). That entry spoke about her debut single, "Mizu No Hoshi E Ai Wo Komete"(水の星へ愛をこめて)as a theme song for one of the many "Gundam" shows that have appeared over the decades.

I've also mentioned in a past article that my personal recollections about her exclusively talked about her status as an overall giggly comedic tarento and impersonator. Just before she made her big break in the 1980s, she received her training with The School Mates(スクールメイツ), an entertainment group in which she often appeared on TV as a background dancer. Basically, her surprise appearance on the Fuji-TV noon time variety show "Waratte Ii Tomo"(笑っていいとも!)as shown above was as one of the School Mates.

I'd had no idea until my anime buddy informed me that Moriguchi was known in anime circles as "The Gundam Oneesan" for her contributions to the franchise's anison.

Additionally, I had assumed that "Kido Senshi Gundam Formula 91"(機動戦士ガンダムF91...Mobile Suit Gundam F91)was another in a line of Gundam TV series, but actually, it turned out to be a movie released in March 1991.

Moriguchi was tasked to sing the theme song for the movie, "ETERNAL WIND~Hohoemi wa Hikaru Kaze no Naka~" (Smile in the Shining Wind). Written by singer-songwriter Yui Nishiwaki(西脇唯)and composed by Nishiwaki and Yoko Osatohara(緒里原洋子...I hope I've got the name right), it's a pretty uplifting song with that taste of pop-rock from that period of time.

"ETERNAL WIND" was also Moriguchi's 9th single from February 1991 which has proven to be her most successful single thus far, peaking at No. 9, and finishing the year as the 47th-ranked song. Apparently, it was also used as the ending theme for the Sony Playstation 2 game "Kido Senshi Gundam Climax U.C."(機動戦士ガンダム クライマックスU.C.)released in March 2006.

Hey, why not leave things off with one of Moriguchi's most popular impressions...that of Shizuka Kudo(工藤静香)?

YMO on the brain

Yesterday, I was writing about all those wonderful pop songs from America and Canada on the radio back in the 70s and 80s that helped me slide right in when it came to the City Pop and J-AOR genres. Well, today, I'm going to finish up with a list that showed that turnabout was indeed fair play.

I had watched Yellow Magic Orchestra's amazing "Firecracker" music video on an episode of "Japanese Panorama" on the multicultural channel here in Toronto some time before I left for my 1981 summer trip to Japan, and then also heard the even greater "Rydeen". Also during and after the trip, I became aware of the examples of techno kayo on display.

Before that, back in junior high school, I listened to an album of computer music (circa 1969) at my library when LPs could be heard back then in such a place, and it was nothing but a series of bleeps and bloops in some sort of very rough arrangement. It was kinda like seeing bits of paper in a suspension of water and calling it a sheet. Perhaps the iconic theme from "Doctor Who" had been the only example of technologically-created pop music that I had known that could be heard as a proper song.

YMO changed all that. Although I wouldn't figure it out for years, I realized that the first album by Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto(細野晴臣・高橋幸宏・坂本龍一)was translating some old genres of music via all of these synthesizers and other technology into something splendid. I've mentioned it in other articles of YMO and techno kayo before, but I was getting YMO on the brain. Basically, along with the fact that I was falling in love with kayo kyoku in general, my ears were also on the hunt for anything electronically and musically bleepy and bloopy.

This influence from Japan had a hand then in also shaping my interests in Western music which was finally blossoming. And the timing was perfect since it was also the time of New Wave. My list this time will be somewhat shorter, though.

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - The Message (1982)
Michael Jackson  - Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' (1982)

Yep, I believe that my YMO on the brain started with the above two songs, specifically the intros for both the classic "The Message" and "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'". Those intros were used for background using for a radio ad midway "Sounds of Japan" broadcasts and during public service announcements for "Japanese Panorama" respectively. I naively got excited that these were actually YMO products. It would be some time before I finally got to hear the entirety of either song and enjoy them both (I do have my "Thriller" album). When I look upon that realization now, I feel like slapping myself silly with a Casio portable keyboard.

However, YMO on the brain also did get me to discover some great songs in their entirety right from the get-go.

The Human League - Don't You Want Me (1981)

Man, did this song get the heavy airplay! And it was worth it...those booming synths and New Wave-y cosmetics. A waitress in a cocktail bar? This was a musical mystery that I was more than willing to explore over and over.

Depeche Mode - People Are People (1984)

When the first music video shows came onto TV, such as the local "Toronto Rocks" on CITY-TV, Depeche Mode was one band which became about as regular as the aunt coming over for dinner. My favourite song by Martin Gore and the gang is "Strangelove", but I did hear some of their earlier stuff such as "People Are People". Nope, their technopop was nothing like YMO's technopop but it was great to hear on the radio and on the dance floor.

Spoons - Nova Heart (1982)

But it wasn't all about the British coming. Canada (specifically, Burlington, Ontario) had its own Spoons. There were a number of hits by this New Wave band that I enjoyed such as "Romantic Traffic" and "Tell No Lies", but when it comes to representing this band, I will always remember "Nova Heart". It's beautiful and haunting, and bassist Sandy Horne will never age in my eyes.

Pet Shop Boys - West End Girls (1984)

Listening to "West End Girls" on "The Top 6 at 6" on CFTR 680 while in the car has remained one of my distinct memories of the 1980s. And even up to the present day, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have been the gifts that keep on giving. The intro to "West End Girls" is one of the truly classic openings to a song that I've heard. It sounds like the beginning to an especially cool super spy novel.

Naked Eyes - Always Something There To Remind Me (1983)

The crazy thing about "Always Something There To Remind Me" was that I used to hear...and enjoy the original instrumental version by Burt Bacharach and Hal David on radio all the time. Then this UK duo Naked Eyes came up with this synthpop cover including an epic crash of synthesizers heralding a Most Important Example of Pomp and Circumstance, and now I can only be reminded of Naked Eyes' version.

There are a few more that I can mention but I will keep it to this short list.

Going back to Yellow Magic Orchestra and the techno kayo...of course, what I heard in Japan back in 1981 and what I heard in Canada in the years since are very different, but YMO and their brand of synthesizer music opened the door to a new and bop-worthy way of aural enjoyment that didn't have any borders. I will always be grateful for that.