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, April 23, 2019

Cools Rockabilly Club -- Sentimental New York(センチメンタル・ニューヨーク)

"Hey, that motorcycle yours?"

If that anecdote on the J-Wiki article is indeed true, then supposedly that line of inquiry in a restaurant may have started a rock band in 1975 which still exists today and has influenced later musical entities such as BUCK-TICK and Fumiya Fujii(藤井フミヤ)of Checkers.

The question was thrown out in the early 1970s by future singer and actor Hiroshi Tachi(舘ひろし)who was in his twenties at the time and perhaps was still wondering what his lot in life was going to be. Meanwhile, the target of his question was another strapping young lad, Koichi Iwaki(岩城滉一), who would go into the acting field a few years later. Iwaki was wondering whether there was going to be a fist-filled conflict but it ended up that he and Tachi would hit it off well over the topic of motorcycles.

At the end of 1974 in Harajuku, that conversation led to the creation of a tough biker club called Cools(クールス)with Hiroshi "Boss" Tachi as the leader, Koichi "Ko-chan" Iwaki as the sub-leader and another buddy Hidemitsu Sato(佐藤秀光)joining in. All in all, there were twenty-one members when Cools started up and they all styled their hair into pompadours and put on the black jackets & jeans. The following year, the club got hired as protection during the final concert of the band Carol(キャロル)with Eikichi Yazawa(矢沢永吉), but apparently Cools may have gotten quite enough attention at the concert to the extent that they were seen as an offshoot band. Some of the younger staff at King Records picked up on the leather-bound cluster of charisma and somehow persuaded an initially reluctant Tachi to get a music act together.

Thus, the first incarnation of Cools the band was born. Tachi, Haruyuki "Pitpi" Mizuguchi(水口晴幸), and Kazuumi "Mura" Murayama(村山一海)were on lead vocals, James Fujiki(ジェームス藤木)was on lead guitar, Kazuo "Frank" Iida(飯田和男)was on side guitar, Kiichi Okubo(大久保喜市)was on bass, and the aforementioned Sato was on drums. Mitsuo "Shacho" Umemura(梅村光男)was on guitar but he soon left once the band was officially formed. As for Iwaki, he had already decided to pursue that acting road so he didn't join.

Cools' first phase lasted between 1975 and 1977 and Tachi decided to model themselves after the band Sha Na Na (I used to watch their variety show) going after a 4-beat American rock n' roll style. Five singles and six albums ensued during that period before Boss made the decision to leave the group.

Drummer Sato became the new leader of the band which also re-named itself into Cools Rockabilly Club from 1978 to 1981. This whole thing with Cools all started from a recommendation from my friend Jerry when he was looking for other doo-wop bands aside from Chanels/Rats & Star from that time frame. Before I found out about all this history with Cools and its many incarnations, I came across this song which was recorded during this second phase.

However, instead of a pure 50s rock n' roll style, what I got with "Sentimental New York", which was their 7th single released in September 1978, was some doo-wop taking a dive into some romantic and bluesy funk and soul. I do like this and although I'm not sure who is on lead vocal (Mizuguchi or Murayama?), he does sound a bit like departed leader Tachi. I gotta say that for a biker club, these guys can carry a tune! I wouldn't mind hearing some more of their stuff if they decided to bring in a bit of the City Pop style. Some fine chorus and horns.

According to J-Wiki, there have been six incarnations up to the present day with Cools RC (1981-1983), Original Cools '90 (1990-1992), The Cools (1992-1997) and back to Cools from 1997 onwards.

Takeshi Matsubara -- Saihoku Cinema(最北シネマ)

Last week on another episode of "Gogo Uta"(ごごウタ), I was introduced to another enka singer that I hadn't encountered before.

I was a bit surprised since the song "Saihoku Cinema" (Northernmost Cinema), though sung by enka singer Takeshi Matsubara(松原健之)in the usual yukata, actually doesn't sound either like a conventional enka tune or a Mood Kayo for that matter. If anything, the elegant arrangement reminds me more of that area of traditional Japanese popular music that could be called European enka (one typical singer was Teresa Teng), and now come to think of it, perhaps it could even fall under that mini-umbrella of music known as Fashion Music of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The elegance of "Saihoku Cinema" is what caught my attention. Supposedly the story of Matsubara's 16th single from November 2018 centers it as a love song set in the city of Wakkanai, Hokkaido according to the description of the shortened version of the official music video from YouTube at the top. The lyrics by Shinichi Ishihara(石原信一)has the protagonist not only involving a movie theatre for the two lovers but perhaps an ardent scene that seems to come out of a movie. Kohei Miyuki(幸耕平)provided the tenderhearted melody.

Matsubara, who hails from Shizuoka Prefecture, has been singing professionally since 2002 with his first-ever single being an indies production before going with a major label in 2005. In addition to those 16 singles, he also has recorded 6 original albums. According to his profile at J.P Room, his catchphrase has always been "The Miracle Crystal Voice".

Monday, April 22, 2019

Takako Okamura -- Kaze wa Umi kara(風は海から)

There was a sad but happily not tragic announcement on NHK's news broadcast this morning. Singer-songwriter Takako Okamura(岡村孝子)announced on her website that she has been diagnosed with acute leukemia which will require immediate and long-term treatment. All of her professional activities have therefore come to a stop.

I can speculate that this must be hard news for all of her fans since for decades, Okamura has been providing her brand of comforting music. That's how I've always seen her. Through her works, I've felt that she was that ever-dependable friend coming over for tea weekly who would lend an ear to any troubles. Hopefully, her listeners will now lend their ears and support to her.

Following the breakup of the duo Aming(あみん)in 1983 which consisted of Okamura and Haruko Kato(加藤晴子), the former made her way back up to Tokyo to begin her solo career. Her first single as a solo artist was "Kaze wa Umi kara" (The Wind is from the Ocean) which was released in October 1985. Apparently, the song was used as the campaign tune for an FM Yokohama radio program with the same title.

"Kaze wa Umi kara" didn't make the Oricon charts but it is what I've expected from Okamura. It's a relaxing and tenderhearted remembrance of an old flame who has gone forward in his life with a new partner. Okamura wrote and composed the song while Mitsuo Hagita(萩田光雄)arranged it. Her first album "Yume no Ki"(夢の樹...Dream Tree)which came out on the same day as the single includes "Kaze wa Umi kara" as a track. It peaked at No. 37 on the charts.

Of course, there isn't much that I can do for Okamura but I can only hope that she will get a handle on this disease so that she can return and entertain her fans once more.

Keizo Nakanishi -- Kanashimi no Storm(哀しみのストーム)

The coupling song to the addictive "Ticket to Paradise", Keizo Nakanishi's(中西圭三)5th single from July 1992, "Kanashimi no Storm" (Storm of Grief) is also very uptempo but has the singer-songwriter begging for his girlfriend to give him one more chance, lest he drowns in an ocean of his own tears.

Instead of the Motown spirit that has gone into a lot of Nakanishi's songs in the 1990s, "Kanashimi no Storm" has got more of the R&B including funk from that particular time period. Of course, Nakanishi's voice propels it forward as much as the beat does. Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子)provided the lyrics while Nakanishi and Takao Konishi(小西貴雄)came up with the musical goods. This particular song didn't get onto any original album but is included in the singer's first BEST compilation "SINGLES" from 1994.

Michiko Takaoka -- Mawari Tourou(まわり燈籠)

Came across this song a few months ago and took a liking to it for its spritely arrangement as a folk/pop song.

"Mawari Tourou" (The Turning Hanging Lantern) was singer-songwriter Michiko Takaoka's(高岡美智子)7th and final single released in July 1981. I couldn't find the lyrics for the song online but I think that the singer is encapsulating the passion of love within that lantern as it keeps turning and turning despite all of the existential storms that may surround it. Perhaps it is a bittersweet story but the galloping beat of "Mawari Tourou" keeps things pretty light, all things considered.

The husky-voiced Takaoka debuted in 1974 with her November single "Watashi no Koto nara Ki ni Shinakutemo Ii wa"(私の事なら気にしなくてもいいわ...No Need to Worry About Me)and along with her singles, she released two albums with the latter one also being called "Mawari Tourou" from 1981.

Nozomi Nishida, Reina Kondo, Saki Minami & Honoka Inoue -- Donna Toki mo(どんなときも)

One of the new anime that we've gotten a gander of this season is "Hachi-gatsu no Cinderella Nine"(八月のシンデレラナイン...The Cinderella Nine of August)which I found out was based on a smartphone game from two years ago. As soon as the first episode started rolling out, I immediately got memories of another baseball-and-high school girls anime from a decade prior called "Taisho Yakyu Musume"(大正野球娘。...Taisho Baseball Girls). That show was based in the Taisho Era almost a century ago, so my imagination started running on whether the characters here were actually the descendants of the students from "Taisho Yakyu Musume". Maybe another title for the new show could be "Reiwa Yakyu Musume"(令和野球娘。)?

I've only seen the first couple of episodes from which the story is showing some similarities with "Taisho Yakyu Musume" in that the energetic and optimistic central character suddenly decides to set up a girls' baseball team in the school with her loyal best buddy in tow after which they recruit a couple of timid students with no particular athletic ability and then an initially disillusioned classmate who has a keen eye for baseball tactics and strategy. There hasn't been a whole lot of drama and despair as of yet but I'm sure that it will be coming from the middle episodes. So far, it's all been happiness and light.

The opening theme for "Hachi-gatsu no Cinderella Nine" hasn't exactly grabbed me yet but I do like the sweetness of the ending theme. My overriding reason is that it's a cover of "Donna Toki mo" (どんなときも...No Matter When), the breakthrough single of songsmith Noriyuki Makihara(槇原敬之)from 1991. The absolute cheerfulness of that big hit has been retained in full for this version as sung by some of the cast consisting of Nozomi Nishida(西田望見), Reina Kondo(近藤玲奈), Saki Minami(南早紀)and Honoka Inoue(井上ほの花). As I've mentioned in my last anime article (from this morning), I wouldn't also mind hearing the full version of this in the coming weeks.

Subaru Kimura and Shinnosuke Tokudome feat. Tomokazu Sugita -- Dancing to Night ~ Kimi e Saitan Warp Kouro(君への最短ワープ航路)

It is indeed Easter Monday and so it seems rather appropriate the above still image for the video has a bunny. Yesterday was the usual anime-and-food outing so with the new Spring 2019 season upon us, I got to see quite a few fresh shows including the heartwarming baseball-themed "Hachi-gatsu no Cinderella Nine"(八月のシンデレラナイン...The Cinderella Nine of August), the mystical horror-adventure "Kimetsu no Yaiba"(鬼滅の刃...Demon Slayer), and the sequel to "One Punch Man".

Another new anime is "RobiHachi" which my anime buddy has described as a mix between "Ixion Saga" and "Space Dandy". I could surely see the comparisons with the latter show but I also view it as another in the long line of squabbling buddy road trip features going all the way back to Hope and Crosby. I've enjoyed these future-based anime series, and anime can certainly make them as gritty or as day-glo as they can. "RobiHachi" has been OK so far although I do agree with one commenter that the humour may not be to all tastes. That first episode just seemed to have one long never-ending scene of Robby and Hatchi bickering before things finally got started with the escape from Earth.

However, although it's no "Love Dramatic"(ラブ・ドラマティック), the first earworm of the season for me has been the ending theme for "RobiHachi", "Dancing to Night ~ Kimi e Saitan Warp Kouro" (The Shortest Warp Corridor to You) as performed by the local crime lord Yang and his two henchfolk, Allo and Gras.

Allo and Gras are portrayed by Subaru Kimura(木村昴)and Shinnosuke Tokudome(徳留慎乃佑)respectively but it's indeed Tomokazu Sugita(杉田智和)as Yang that has gotten my attention. Besides, I'm always a sucker for disco tunes and "Dancing to Night" pays some tribute to Earth Wind & Fire's "September" and it also reminds me of some of the music in the aforementioned "Space Dandy". yamazo took care of the lyrics, music and arrangement. Will be looking forward to the full version in the coming weeks.