I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube, Oricon charts are courtesy of and my research is translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

AKB48 -- Heavy Rotation (ヘビーローテーション)

The first time I had ever heard of AKB48 was by truck. Seriously. I was walking down the main drag of Akihabara when I saw one of those huge trucks that often advertise some sort of singer's new release on the side. This time, I saw the three letters and the two numbers, and a few of the girls. I quickly figured out about what the AKB stood for but had no idea that the number would actually refer to the original number of members. I mean, I thought that Morning Musume(モーニング娘。)at their numerical peak (around 14 or so) was quite the gaggle, but more than three times that number on a stage?! Heavy Reinforcement of the stage, I thought.

However, as the months and years passed, AKB48 became a household word in Japanese pop culture (or perhaps a household group of letters and numbers). I never became a fan but even I wasn't blind to the effect they've had. They were popping up on the music and variety shows, the AKB48 Cafe appeared in Akiba next to the Gundam Cafe (would love to see any knife fights between the two groups of fans ), and another friend and I actually took a brief look-see one Sunday afternoon at some sort of performance on the 5th floor (I believe) of the Don Quixote building with a handful of the group. Man, the fans were bouncing about like crazy. Heavy Reinforcement of the floor, I thought.

In all honesty, I could count the number of songs I know by AKB48 on one hand...if that one hand belonged to the X-Man Nightcrawler. One has already been talked about by Marcos V. for "Koi Suru Fortune Cookie"(恋するフォーチュンクッキー)which I like because of that old disco beat. Another is "Heavy Rotation" which is the song that comes into my head by default whenever I hear those letters and numbers.

"I want you...I need you...I love you..."

That's the line I always remember from "Heavy Rotation". This is AKB48's 17th single from August 2010...I was kinda surprised to hear that it was their seventeenth single since I had thought it was one of their earlier shots. Yasushi Akimoto and Yo Yamazaki(秋元康・山崎燿)just created this ultra-cheerful and ultra-bubbly tune that infiltrated my brain like so many Ceti Eels that I couldn't help but feel considerably less blue.

Excerpts of the video were ever-present all over the tube since the song was released but I hadn't realized that it was this particular video for "Heavy Rotation" that had Atsuko Maeda(前田敦子)and crew meeting Victoria's Secret! To be honest, I felt like averting my eyes and giving the girls a stern lecture on an appropriate wardrobe. I'm pretty sure all involved would have snarked off at me using a barrel's worth of "jiji" (old fart).

Moving on...I did wonder about what the deal was with the title. After all, "heavy rotation" to me was about a song that got frequent play on the radio, and that was what did happen to this song. However, according to what I read on J-Wiki, the title refers to someone head-over-heels in love focusing on no one but that target of his/her affections 24/7.

Now, how did "Heavy Rotation" do? Well, it went Triple Platinum for one thing. So hitting No. 1 on Oricon was no problem, and it was the 2nd-ranked song for 2010. In 2011, it was still on the yearly charts in 52nd place.

Apparently, my timing for putting up this AKB48 article was quite good since I believe the group will be having their election within the next few weeks. I would definitely need a programme to keep up with all of the nominees.


Sugar Babe -- Sugar

A couple of years back, I did this big article on Sugar Babe's "SONGS", the lone album by the band which was released in April 1975. I don't make it a policy to cover every song on an album due to laziness on my part and also because I like to write about some of the tracks separately.

One of the tracks that I didn't cover on the album and that has popped up in my head from time to time is "Sugar". It's the final track and it sounds like Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)wanted to have a little funny jam session to finish the recording and perhaps even place a marker to signify a happy end to the days of the band. Although, naturally, the final product was done in the recording studio, I could have seen the folks of Sugar Babe sitting at various places on a back porch of a cottage somewhere in the wilds of Nagano Prefecture and improvising away.

While Yamashita is singing something in the background there, my memories of "Sugar" lie in the droll vocal gymnastics that the band does. Tats, Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子), Kunio Muramatsu(村松邦男)and the rest all blast out their "Sugar", and there is the "Shu-shu-shu..." Speaking of that latter part, I read on J-Wiki that it was inspired by a similar thing that Nancy Sinatra sang in her 1967 song "Sugar Town".

I had the above tiramisu last night for dessert when my friends and I hit an Italian restaurant by the name of Balsamico at Yonge & Eglinton. In all likelihood, I ingested my total sugar intake for the week after three bites of the above. Darn tasty treat, though!

Tomita Lab featuring Yumi Matsutoya -- God Bless You!

Had the windows open today since my room needed some airing out with some cool fresh air...only to get smacked down with a heavy case of allergies. I was sneezing up some of my internal organs until I got hold of that Reactine pill...and sorry, it didn't take 20 minutes to activate as advertised. It was more like 2 hours, just in time to have a nice Italian dinner with a couple of my friends in uptown Toronto.

Sneezing...a very appropriate segue into today's song "God Bless You!". This came from Tomita Lab's(冨田ラボ)2003 "Shipbuilding" album which I featured in an article that I wrote more than 3 years ago on KKP. As I intimated back then, I bought the album since I enjoyed the relaxing groove it brought through the speakers to my ears, and the collaboration between Tomita Lab and Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実)is no different. "God Bless You!" starts off with a jazzy R&B riff before settling down into a fairly happy-go-lucky rhythm that would have made for some nice background music for a walk along the lakeshore.

Tomita was behind the music while Yuming took care of the lyrics. I had wondered what the deal was behind the title, so looking into the words that she wrote, I found out that the song is (possibly) about a young lady who believes that she is the target of rumours over her latest romance but frankly doesn't give a care what the gossipers think. One of the little things I learned in Japan was that sneezing signified that other folks were talking about the sneezer...thus the title. The protagonist of the song and I probably earned quite a lot of that title today.

I may have mentioned in one of the other Yuming articles that my listening heyday to the Queen of New Music ranged from the time of her debut in the early 70s to the early 90s. "God Bless You!" is one of the exceptions. Nope, it won't pop up in the Top 10 of any Yuming fan's list but I still think it is one of the cute little gems to be heard on a sunny Sunday.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kiyoshi Hikawa -- Sasurai Bojou (さすらい慕情)

I think I can safely say that I do indeed like this song now. I wasn't much of a fan of "Sasurai Bojou" and was merely alright with it when I first heard Kiyoshi Hikawa (氷川きよし) belt it out on the "Kayo Concert" stage before Grandpa enka Sabu-Chan ended the show with "Tairyo Bune" (大漁船). It was a rather satisfying episode, I must say, with the theme featuring Showa era songs (60's to 80's) and of course, Kiyoshi Maekawa (前川清) was there as well in a pretty fashionable suit.

But after hearing it 2 more times via "Nodojiman" and another recent episode of "Kayo Concert", the song grew on me, especially in terms of the music that Kenji Miyashita (宮下健治) composed, which I find pretty cool. It sounds enka when the flute and strings come in, yet the wailing of the electric guitar and the trumpets blaring away makes it seem un-enka-like. I feel like there's some sort of Latin influence there, but I'm not entirely sure. Toshiya Niitani (仁井谷俊也) penned the lyrics for "Sasurai Bojou", and if I'm not mistaken, it's about missing and wanting to return home, which in Hikawa's case is Fukuoka, and there is mention of Nagasaki and Kagoshima too.

"Sasurai Bojou" was released on 4th March 2015 and has been doing fairly well on the Oricon charts, where I had first taken note of the singer's 28th single. On the week where I had first saw it, it was No.1 on the enka-yo charts (not surprising) and No.8 on the regular charts, but it did not stay there for long, often being overtaken by newer singles by other artistes, though it does still come back up to the Top 5 (enka charts) on some weeks.

I managed to find the full MV of "Sasurai Bojou" on Dailymotion, you can check it out here. Just like his other songs, we have Hikawa happily dancing away to the music. Again, the normal teenager in me really appreciated that... although I thought he looked a bit odd doing so in a suit. And I bet that bit at the end when he turns his back to the audience before swinging his head to the side with the cheeky grin is a real crowd pleaser.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Original Love -- Words of Love

"Words of Love" by Original Love, aka Takao Tajima(田島貴男)is a track on his 1996 album, "Desire" which also contains the dramatic "Primal" and exotic "Hum A Tune".

I described "Primal" as being that serenade of love to that person who just won't reciprocate. It's a lovely ballad that I enjoyed more in its single form (which is the one that I've displayed in the article) than the album version. But lyrically it is somewhat sad since there will apparently be no happy ending between the two folks. "Words of Love", on the other hand, seems to represent that wake-up from that melancholy dream to a happier reality.

The song starts with Tajima and a piano instantly creating this "morning" feel...that waking up I told you about in the last paragraph. I could smell the coffee in the first verse. And to the relief of the waking protagonist, he (sorry, I'm going with the male point of view here just to shorten the need for pronouns) can see his lady love waiting for him at the breakfast table. Tajima's music isn't nearly as bold and dramatic as his melody was for "Primal". It just has that feeling of something as warm and comfortable as a well-worn pair of slippers or sandals. The two folks are as happy as two peas in a pod and will probably head off for a nice drive down the coast according to the sounds of the song. It makes for a good Sunday pancake breakfast sort of tune.

Could make for a fine Valentine's Day track, to boot.


Quruli -- Liberty & Gravity

As a person who’s into fun and bizarre videos, I’m tempted to hand the trophy to “Liberty & Gravity”. It’s a wonderland of showy nonsensical visuals joined with equally chaotic music. So far, it won the “Best Video of the Year” award at 2015 Space Shower Music Video Awards thanks to the directorial efforts of Jun Tamukai (田向潤), the man behind many Kyary Pamyu Pamyu videos including “Pon Pon Pon”. Since Quruli (くるり) is an alternative rock band and not a Harajuku fashion icon, he doesn't use any of those fanciful colors but his taste for visual madness is still recognizable here.

There’s no need for me to write out the whole biography of the band because you can learn plenty about them through English-language sources such as Wikipedia and generasia among other places by plugging their romanized name into Google. But since most of those sites haven’t updated their Quruli pages for a while and so haven’t kept up with the band’s recent membership changes, I just want to set things straight on their current line-up: Shigeru Kishida (岸田繁) (vocals and guitar), Masashi Sato (佐藤征史) (bass), and FanFan (ファンファン) (trumpets and keyboards). The first two members have been around since the band's birth in 1996.

The song and the video have received significant attention since being shared on English J-Entertainment blogs late last year. It certainly feels like a breath of fresh air even within Japan’s already diverse music market. At first it sounds like it’s all over the place because of its progressive nature and the way it throws so many influences into the blender: Okinawan music, Moldovan trumpets, and rap, just to name a few. Yet it’s obvious that the song is marketed to the pop-loving crowd despite those experimental elements. Yep, it is super catchy. I like the way Lendsey C. summarized the whole thing on the Black on the Canvas blog: Dave Matthews meets Lady Gaga. Let's see what you think.

According to another music blog beehype, Kishida was influenced by his impressions of Vienna while composing this song. He observed how many cultures from around the globe blend together in the Austrian city: from music and arts to food and architecture, so he decided to do the same in “Liberty & Gravity”. This fusion of cultures is also the backbone of Tamukai’s entertaining video.

Another reason why this song captivates me so much is because I haven’t heard Quruli sound this good in a long while. I first became interested in them circa-2004 when Japanese Alternative crowd on the net was raving about this band a lot. I was impressed by their playfulness and ambition in their then-recent albums “Team Rock” and “The World is Mine”, and“Liberty & Gravity” also showcases those qualities, although the actual song sounds nothing like the stuff they've done before. The band went through a folk rock phase for a while which brought some nice songs along the way but lasted for way too long, so I wanted the quirky Quruli back. “Liberty & Gravity” may as well be just another one-off effort, but I’ll stay optimistic until I hear their recent album “The Pier” to see if the rest of it lives up to this track.


Yosui Inoue -- Kokoro Moyo (心もよう)

Among my old Canadian Tire tapes, I managed to find this song in an episode of "Sounds of Japan". There was, unsurprisingly, a fair bit of hiss and scratch, so I was a little surprised to find out that it was a young Yosui Inoue(井上陽水)singing this ballad, "Kokoro Moyo", his 4th single. Depending on the DJ that Saturday night, he/she would wait until the end of the broadcast to announce who the singers were and what songs they sang. Perhaps it was the hiss and scratch but I think I was so accustomed to his more recent voice that I couldn't quite recognize Inoue when I first heard the song.

But perhaps I should have known "Kokoro Moyo" (State of the Heart) as an Inoue creation since even with the age of the song (released in September 1973), I could pick up the singer's familiar warble and the fact that it was such a tenderhearted ballad. In it, Inoue sings his heart about how much he misses that woman back in the ol' hometown and how dark his soul feels right now. By the refrain, he gives full vent to his frustrated emotions.

The above link will reveal how the original sounds without all of the radio static. "Kokoro Moyo" got as high as No. 7 on Oricon and would eventually become the 39th-ranked song for 1974. It was also a track on his acclaimed 3rd album, "Koori no Sekai"(氷の世界...World of Ice)from December 1973 which would not only hit No. 1 on the weeklies but become the No. 1 album for both 1974 and 1975. Now that is lasting power!

I read that "Kokoro Moyo" has been covered by many an artist over the decades. Above you will find enka singer Sayuri Ishikawa(石川さゆり)giving her take. And there is Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし)below.