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, July 31, 2014

Tomoko Aran -- Midnight Wanderers

Tomoko Aran's (亜蘭知子)"Midnight Wanderers" is a laid-back tune that I just encountered by grand happenstance in the last few minutes. Just like her "Slow Nights" on her 4th album, "More Relax", "Midnight Wanderers" had that City Pop vibe of gentle nighttime listening from the comfort of one's living room.

"Midnight Wanderers" was written by Aran and composed by Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎), her fellow collaborator for all of those future hits for beach band TUBE. Right from the beginning with that descending keyboard riff, I got that urge to look out that rooftop bar window and contemplate the sunset....of course, drinking down a couple of rum and Cokes could also add to the ambiance. The song was a track on Aran's 3rd album from May 1983, "Fuyuu Kuukan"(浮遊空間...Floating Spaces). It's too bad that it wasn't included on the BEST album that I got for her, but that's all the more inspiration to get another original CD by the singer-songwriter.

Gyaru -- Bara to Pistol (薔薇とピストル)

I was doing some maintenance for the article covering Mayumi Kuroki's(黒木真由美) "Koibito to Yobarete" since the YouTube video had been taken down when I discovered the above video on the right side of the screen. It turned out that Kuroki hadn't given up the mike for good in 1976 after releasing 6 singles. Instead, her management company placed her with two other ladies, Michiyo Ishie and Hitomi Meguro (石江理世・目黒ひとみ)the year after to form the trio Gyaru(ギャル...Gals).

"Bara to Pistol" (Rose and Pistol) was Gyaru's debut single from October 1977, and watching the video of the three performing it on that music show, I got the impression that Gyaru had been molded to be some sort of synthesis combining the harmonies of Candies, the glitter of Pink Lady and perhaps even the fashion of the disco-age Pointer Sisters. I even found a Japanese page that gives much more information than J-Wiki on this group in which the writer refers to the trio as second-string aidoru who lasted basically for little more than a year.

To be honest, just looking at the performance, I kinda cheekily thought that Gyaru was a backup group missing a lead singer, but "Bara to Pistol" isn't too bad a song. Written by Yu Aku (阿久悠)and composed by Makoto Kawaguchi(川口真), it actually sounded like a Pink Lady tune tackled by Candies...without the frantic choreography. It pressed all of the right nostalgia buttons in my cerebrum, and there is a part where Mayumi (nicknamed Mami while in the group) is doing her solo where I especially liked the musical arrangement.

Gyaru released 4 singles and 1 album according to that Japanese page. The April 1978 album, "Gyaru no Space Opera King"(ギャルのスペース・オペラ・キング...Gyaru's Space Opera King), contained "Bara to Pistol" along with their 2nd single, "Magnet Joe ni Ki wo Tsukero"(マグネット・ジョーに気をつけろ...Watch Out For Magnet Joe)followed by covers of anison and even "Star Wars"!

courtesy of
<Nick Friend>
from Flickr

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yasuhiro Abe -- Thrill Down

When I first started leafing through the pages of "Japanese City Pop", my eyes just goggled at all of these albums that I had never seen before and wondered if I would ever be able to track down even a fraction of them. I tried looking around for Yasuhiro Abe's(安部恭弘)albums, for instance, and my usual sources of Tower Records and even the huge old-&-used shop RecoFan didn't have them. However, my visit to Tacto in Jimbocho got me a hit. And it turned out to be one of his oldest albums, too....his 3rd album, in fact.

The first track on "Slit", which was released in December 1984, is "Thrill Down". It was written by Chinfa Kan (康珍化)and composed by Abe, and despite the ironic juxtaposition of the title words, the singer-songwriter provides some driving City Pop thrills as our congenial host steers us through the traffic on the nighttime expressways in downtown Tokyo. I think the steady beat and the guitar are the collective engine for our little nocturnal drive. The arrangement of the song reminds me a lot of the future Sing Like Talking's early works.

At this point, I only have "Slit" and one of his BEST compilations, so I will have to see if I can boost up my collection of his albums in the years to come. Unless one of my old buddies in Tokyo has suddenly come in possession of a Testarossa, I don't quite think I'll ever really be involved in bombing down the highways in a really cool car.

Akiko Kobayashi -- La Siesta

I mentioned in the article for Akiko Kobayashi's (小林明子)5th album, "Bon Voyage", that it was her first album in around 18 months...a slightly longer absence from the recording studio for her, at least....and that it had a somewhat different fresher sound. I compared it to an ocean cruise on the open blue water and sky.

Well, her next album came out pretty quickly...only a 9-month gap this time, and "La Siesta" provided a musical trip closer to the Mediterranean shore. Even the colour scheme for the cover was notably different this time...a warm orange hue in contrast with the fresh blue of "Bon Voyage". Although the June 1990 6th album was recorded in Japan and Belgium, the liner notes don't mention directly where the photographs were taken. But from the album title and the title from one of the tracks, I'm guessing St. Tropez at the southeastern tip of France at least...and perhaps Barcelona.

The European trip begins with the urbane pop sound of "Free Your Reins" with Suzanne K. Kim providing the lyrics and Kobayashi providing the music as she does for most of the tracks. Kobayashi sings about desiring to get on that voyage of exploration once more and the music illustrates that she is continuing that new outside-of-Japan musical journey that she started in "Bon Voyage".

The first ballad of the album is also a Kim/Kobayashi collaboration. "Without A Heartache" took a while but it has grown on me over the years, and the amazing Toots Thielemans on harmonica helped out a lot. This sounds like a first night on the trip through an exotic clime as the heroine here settles into her hotel room and contemplates about looking for love again after so long.

Kobayashi wrote and composed the next track, "Celebrate Tonight", which happened to be the first song that I really started enjoying on "La Siesta". In fact, this was her 17th single from July 1990, and I actually bought the CD single for a friend of mine who had been a casual fan of Kobayashi's from our Kuri days. The lyrics sound as if that heroine from "Without a Heartache" hit romantic paydirt on the 2nd night. With the keyboard and mellow sax, I think this is the Carpenteresque song for the album.

Since I'm on this theme of journey, I can then say that the title track of "Kokoro no Siesta"(心のシエスタ...Siesta of the Heart)would probably take care of the montage scene of the movie...the one where the heroine and her new beau along with a couple of zany sidekicks zip around Barcelona in a little over 4 minutes. Written by Miho Takai(高井美浦)under her pen name of 暮醐遊, Kobayashi gives "Kokoro no Siesta" that old-school old-world sophistication from the black-&-white films. It was her 16th single from March 1990 and was also used as the commercial song for that bottled straight tea that I have missed so much since getting back from Japan.

"La Siesta" which follows "Kokoro no Siesta" is the instrumental extension. Enjoy your tapas!

Following all that racing around the town, it seems that the heroine and her new buddies have all decided to take a little respite for a few days in the resort area of St. Tropez as indicated in the 2nd-last track, "Holidays in St. Tropez" which was written by Kobayashi. The song just seems to cry out for a lot of refills of sangria while everyone enjoys taking root in their respective chaises lounge.

"La Siesta" the album would be the final original album for Kobayashi for over a decade until she came up with "Beloved" in 2001. However, she did release an album in 1994 under her new nom de guerre of holi titled "under the monkey puzzle tree".

Hideo Murata/Hibari Misora/Hiroshi Itsuki -- Jinsei Gekijo (人生劇場)

Tonight on NHK's "Kayo Concert", I heard Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし)perform an especially stately enka by the title of "Jinsei Gekijo" (Theatre of Life). With that sort of title, my curiosity was piqued so I looked up my usual sources. The original song had actually been created in 1938 by composer Masao Koga (古賀政男)and lyricist Sonosuke Sato (佐藤惣之助)and sung by Shigeo Kusunoki (楠木繁夫)as the theme song for one of the early movie adaptations of the famed short story of the same name by Shiro Ozaki(尾崎士郎). In the story, Ozaki wrote about life at Waseda University and beyond and how the protagonist of the story gave up the love of his life for his love for power and wealth, much to his detriment.

According to the J-Wiki article on "Jinsei Gekijo", the theme song became famous from Kusunoki's rendition and in fact, became an unofficial second song representing Waseda University, one of the largest private schools of higher learning in the country. However, Hideo Murata's performance of the song as one of his earliest singles in April 1959 was such that it imprinted itself into the heads of a lot of fans that Murata's version was the original version. At the very least, it seems to be the definitive version. Sato's lyrics expressed the protagonist's ambitions disguised as the duty of every man.

Hideo Murata(村田英雄), who was born Isamu Kajiyama (梶山勇)in 1929 in Fukuoka Prefecture, was a veteran singer of enka and rokyoku. For me, he was a regular presence on the first several Kohaku Utagassen shows that I'd seen. And except for 1973, Murata appeared in every one of the New Year's Eve specials from 1963 to 1989. Moreover, when he was there, so was his friend and rival in the genres, Haruo Minami(三波春夫). Looking at the two together was quite interesting....Minami always had that beatific smile on a face that seemed to eternally look up into the rafters while Murata always sported a stern expression on his face. As much as Hibari Misora (美空ひばり)was the intimidating Grande Dame of the Kohaku to her fellow performers, I could imagine that Murata also had a certain fear factor.

Murata passed away in June 2002, a little over a year after Minami himself had passed away.

And speaking of Misora, she gave her own cover of "Jinsei Gekijo". I had to actually look up the particulars at her website, but her earliest rendition was on her June 1977 album "Misora Hibari Koga Melody wo Utau -- Jinsei Gekijo"(美空ひばり 古賀メロディを歌う~人生劇場...Hibari Misora Sings The Koga Melodies -- Theatre of Life).

And although the above video isn't the actual performance from "Kayo Concert", here is Hiroshi Itsuki with his rendition of "Jinsei Gekijo", dressed the same way that he was tonight. I gather that considering the grand nature of the song, a mere Western suit wouldn't suffice.

Also, for those who may be interested in the movie adaptations themselves, the following page will give some insight on some of them. There have been 14 of them dating from 1936 to 1983, and there were even a couple of versions adapted for the stage.

courtesy of
TOKIO City Photos
from Flickr

Monday, July 28, 2014

Michiyo Kitajima -- Telepathy Kudasai (てれぱしいください)

The video for this song was put up just a few months ago. I decided to give it a shot and found "Telepathy Kudasai" (Please Give Me Your Telepathy) a pleasant if not a classic pop song from the 80s. I had never heard of Michiyo Kitajima (北島美智代)before this hour and apparently she was one of those people who had a very brief time in the spotlight, only releasing 2 singles in 1985-1986 according to this Japanese webpage.

"Telepathy Kudasai" was Kitajima's debut single from November 1985. It was written by Kunihiko Suzuki (鈴木邦彦)and composed by Kei Wakakusa(若草恵), and it was used as the theme for an NHK documentary show centering on the animal kingdom titled "Watching" from April 1985 to March 1989. It was hosted by the ubiquitous tarento emeritus Tamori(タモリ). As I said, the song is pleasant to listen to and Kitajima had a pretty nice voice. I actually ended up mouthing "....telepathy kudasai..." a few times myself as it was playing.

Unfortunately, there seems to be very little information on Kitajima aside from what little was provided on that aforementioned Japanese webpage and that was purely on her short recording career. The author there rather dryly wondered whether the singer was still continuing on as a regional enka chanteuse under a different name. Methinks she's probably been enjoying life as a regular housewife and mother. However, what was also illuminating was seeing how many singers and aidoru had debuted during 1986 as shown on that page. There were very few that I had known already with the most well-known singer being Akemi Ishii(石井明美). Hey, that's part of the fun of doing this blog!


Morning Musume -- Happy Summer Wedding (ハッピーサマーウェディング)

Ah, happy summer 2000! Back in the days when Morning Musume (モーニング娘。)could have released Kleenex with their lip prints on it and it would have gone Platinum. To be honest, MM's 9th single, the sweet and cheerful "Happy Summer Wedding" is not one of my very favourite singles by the group although DANCE☆MAN was behind the arrangements of the Tsunku-penned song. I've usually preferred the more disco-type songs of theirs such as "Love Machine" but when "Happy Summer Wedding" came out in May 2000, the video of the girls in their harem outfits was all over the tube and that "para, para, para, para, para, para, pa, pa" chorus buried itself in my brain like Ceti Eels in starship officers ("Wrath of Khan" reference).

"Happy Summer Wedding" is all about a girl's feelings expressed to her parents just on the cusp of the big day. And I think the song would've made for an appropriate theme tune for some zany J-Comedy about the girl's harried father. Just imagine "Father of the Bride" with Koji Yakusho instead of Steve Martin.

The single sold just a shade over 990,000 copies, with it hitting No. 1 on the Oricon weekly charts and becoming the 15th-ranked single of the year. The song was also auspicious in that it was a transitional time for girls in Morning Musume. It would be the last single featuring 2nd-generation member Sayaka Ichii (市井紗耶香)and it would be the first with the 4th-generation members Hitomi Yoshizawa, Rika Ishikawa, Ai Kago and Nozomi Tsuji(吉澤ひとみ・石川梨華・加護亜依・辻希美). Perhaps there should have been a torch featured in the video.

I remember when those four girls made their formal introduction TV Tokyo's "Asayan", which was the birthing show for Morning Musume. Felt like a worried father watching this quartet of innocent kids appearing nervously on the stage for the first time. The video below shows a clip from the program showing the actual selection of three of the teens.