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.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Alice -- Tohku de Kiteki wo Kikinagara (遠くで汽笛を聞きながら)

Alice's(アリス)"Tohku de Kiteki wo Kikinagara" (Listening to the Steam Whistle in the Distance) only got as high as No. 51 on the Oricon weeklies after its release in September 1976, and the group was still more than a year away from their first Top 10 hit, "Fuyu no Inazuma"(冬の稲妻). However, I really like this song by Shinji Tanimura and Takao Horiuchi(谷村新司・堀内孝雄). There's something with the guitar and that piano that really gives this folk tune some anthemic oomph.

Tanimura's lyrics about trying to live through the trials and tribulations of each day and survive seem to be speaking to something that we can all relate to. The steam whistle that the band refers to makes me wonder whether Alice was trying to evoke that image of that manly man standing not too far away from a railroad track going to his small hometown as he remembered the good and bad times. The lyrics and delivery (with Horiuchi as the lead vocal) almost sound enka-like.

"Tohku de Kiteki wo Kikinagara" (Alice's 9th single) may have only done modestly on the charts originally, but some twenty years following its release, Horiuchi was able to perform it at the 1996 Kohaku Utagassen. And nine years after that, Alice was able to do it all again as part of a medley at the 2005 edition. By the way, the song is also on their 1976 release, "ALICE V" which peaked at No. 3.

If I ever end up drinking a beer outside on a hill when the sun is coming down, I know what the scene's theme song will be.

Source: -- Dempari Night (でんぱーりーナイト)

2014 couldn’t end without a new infectious (でんぱ組.inc) single. Like I said in the “Sakura Apparition” (サクラあっぱれーしょん) post, even though I know since late 2011, it wasn’t until this year that I became a fan of them. Based on that, I was scary that I could possibly dislike their new single “Dempari Night”, which, thankfully, didn’t happen.

“Dempari Night” is a very strong offer from the group, and this time they’re doing a Latin/Carnival themed song, which, as far as I know, is a new thing for them. Not that this theme is innovative, as every other pop act in the world has at least one Latin song in their catalogue, but, as I learned to expect from, their songs are always well seasoned with some special twists.

Released in late November 2014, “Dempari Night” is a trip, in the best way possible. The Latin thematic is mixed with some dark-tinged parade touches and circus elements as well. Also, the whole song is very theatrical, something that is not a surprise coming from One highlight, for example, is when the frantic arrangement gives place to Nemu “green” Yumemi (夢眠ねむ) and Moga “purple” Mogami (最上もが) singing lonely and cold lines before the other girls, especially the incredible funny Eimi “yellow” Naruse (成瀬瑛美), appears and the whole hyper-energetic performance takes over again. It’s a good change of pace that breaks the overall stormy mood of the song and introduces new introspective elements... and again, that’s typical Dempa.

The chorus, as it’s meant to be, is also a special thing with all its dramaticity, a feeling that culminates in the redemptive fairy-tale-esque grand finale (it reminded me of the party thrown at the end of “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace”. Click here for the scene). In the end, just nailed this song and contributed to make 2014 a great year for aidoru music. I hope they keep things at a high level in 2015.

Lyrics, music and arrangement for “Dempari Night” were done by Tamaya2060% (玉屋2060%), but Shunsuke Tsuri (釣俊輔) also worked on the arrangement.


Rino Sashihara -- Ikuji Nashi Masquerade (意気地なしマスカレード)

I don’t know why or when, but somehow my favourite AKB48 member turned to be Rino Sashihara (指原莉乃), leaving behind beauties like Haruna Kojima (小嶋陽菜) and Yuko Oshima (大島優子). Well, being accurate, Sasshi (さっしー) is now part of a sister group called HKT48, but she was part of AKB48 before a scandal in mid-2012 involving a tabloid statement by an allegedly ex-boyfriend who accused her of being “overly sexually aggressive”. Most important, though, Sasshi still participates in AKB48’s songs and she won last year's (2013) General Elections, which resulted in her being the center girl for the big hit “Koisuru Fortune Cookie” (恋するフォーチュンクッキー). Nowadays, together with Mayu “Mayuyu” Watanabe (渡辺麻友), she’s one of the main girls of a group that’s slowly losing its well known faces (just like Morning Musume [モーニング娘。] years ago).

Besides her activities in AKB48 and HKT48, Sasshi also debuted as a solo artist in early 2012 with the happy-go-lucky aidoru tune “Soredemo Suki da yo” (それでも好きだよ), while “Ikuji Nashi Masquerade”, our featured song, was her second single, released in October 2012 as a split single with a sub-unit called AnRiRe (アンリレ).

At first, I thought “Ikuji Nashi Masquerade” was a Sailor Moon (美少女戦士セーラームーン) song because of the whole magical girl vibe both in the melody and arrangement, but it’s just a regular song without an anime tie-in. The synths are pretty nice, especially when doppelgänger-ing haunting strings. Besides that, it’s a straightforward pop song with little variation and Sasshi’s tolerable vocals (a live performance of the song is not recommended at all, but if someone have the need, click here).

Sasshi may not be a good singer, which she surely isn’t, but she has a great and funny personality. A couple of months ago, when she participated in one of Masahiro Nakai’s (中居正広) TV shows, a fan of popular group SMAP started talking bad things about her in a social media. In a smart move, Sasshi went to see other messages posted by the girl and saw how happy she was because of several consecutive dates. Based on that, Sasshi personally answered the bad message with a sarcastic “I’m jealous that you get to date every day”. In the end, thanks to the exposure provided by the answer, Sasshi’s fans started annoying the girl until she closed her account in the social media. Not a very aidoru attitude from Sasshi, for sure, and that’s what’s great about her.

“Ikuji Nashi Masquerade” reached #1 on the charts, selling 85,798 copies. Lyrics were written by Yasushi Akimoto (秋元康), while music was composed by Shunsuke Tanaka (田中俊亮). As for the arrangement, it was done by Yuishi “Masa” Nonaka (野中“まさ”雄一).


Monday, November 24, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 1974

1.  Yosui Inoue                              Kouri no Sekai
2.  The Carpenters                         Golden Prize No. 2
3.  Yosui Inoue                              Yosui Live Modori Michi
4.  The Carpenters                         Now And Then
5.  Kaguyahime                             Sankai Date no Uta
6.  Cherish                                     Best Collection '74
7.  Yosui Inoue                              Danzetsu
8.  Yosui Inoue                              Yosui II Sentimental
9.  Graciela Susana                        Adodro/Reine De Saba
10. Kei Ogura                                Samayoi

Yosui Inoue -- Kouri no Sekai

The Carpenters -- This Masquerade

Kaguyahime -- 22-sai no Wakare

Courtesy of
from Flickr

Emy Jackson/Maria Anzai/Sandii & The Sunsetz/Minako Tanaka/Melon Kinenbi -- Crying in a Storm/Namida no Taiyo (涙の太陽)

Golly, I think the above list of names is probably the largest I've typed down for an article since I started the blog. It's kinda like the roll call at the Oscars. Ah, a bit of hyperbole there but I guess with all of the times that this song has been covered since the 1960s, I can't be surprised that as soon as I heard it again on music.163, the recognition factor kicked into high gear.

"Namida no Taiyo" directly translates as "Sun of Tears" but I guess that was too abstract for the studio execs so instead its English title is officially "Crying in a Storm". Considering the images of go-go boots and all of those 60s dance moves like The Shimmy or The Swim that have popped up in my noggin whenever I hear it, I had initially thought that it was Force of Nature Linda Yamamoto(山本リンダ)who was behind the song. Actually, though, it was another half-Japanese lady who started the ball rolling.

Emy Jackson was born in Sussex, England but was working in Japan as an assistant for a radio program at Radio Kanto in 1964 when she met prolific lyricist Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子). Obviously the meeting went very well since Jackson found herself behind a mike within the year recording "Crying in a Storm" as her debut. Yukawa was indeed responsible for the lyrics and in keeping within the entirely English lyrics and non-Japanese taste of the song, she allowed herself to use the pseudonym of R.H. Rivers (Reiko Hot Rivers). Yasutoshi Nakajima(中島安敏)came up with the wild and groovy music.

There was no Oricon chart back then, but according to J-Wiki, once the single was released in April 1965, it placed at No. 4 on the "Music Life" magazine foreign record rankings. And it managed to sell about 700,000 records, so obviously by any reckoning, this was a huge hit.

Just a month later, a singer by the name of Michi Aoyama(青山ミチ)covered it in Japanese with the lyrics also provided by Yukawa. I couldn't find any sign of that version but the above video has the next listed singer on the J-Wiki article to cover it, Maria Anzai(安西マリア). The Tokyo-born Anzai was working at a Ginza nightclub when she was scouted, and it turned out her debut as a singer was "Namida no Taiyo".  Her cover peaked at No. 16 on Oricon and sold almost 130,000 records after its release in July 1973. She also won the Best Newcomer Prize at the Japan Record Awards that year.

Many years later, eclectic band Sandii & The Sunsetz did their own version of "Crying in a Storm" as a single released in June 1989. It went as high as No. 84 on Oricon.

Out of all of the different versions of "Namida no Taiyo", the first one that I ever listened to (or at least remembering listening to) was this one by singer-actress Minako Tanaka(田中美奈子). There must be something about good fortune attached to the song since as was the case with Jackson and Anzai, this particular song was also the debut tune for Tanaka. It was released just a month after Sandii's version and peaked at No. 18. Might I say that she looks rather turn-of-the-decade fetching? :)

Finally, Melon Kinenbi(メロン記念日)released the most successful version of "Namida no Taiyo" according to the Oricon rankings. The Hello Project group's 12th single came out in June 2004 and peaked at No. 15.

Of course, other singers have covered "Namida no Taiyo" but J-Wiki highlighted the above folks so I'm assuming they are the acts that had the most success with it. All of this immortalization of this one song came from a fortuitous meeting at a radio station.

I've gotta say that I'll have to cover Reiko Yukawa under the "Creator" tag sometime soon. I had no idea that she was behind the lyrics for this kayo chestnut, and she has gone on to write songs for a number of pop artists such as Akiko Kobayashi(小林明子), Junichi Inagaki(稲垣潤一)and Ann Lewis(アン・ルイス)into the 80s.


Akina Nakamori -- Jikai (1984) (十戒 (1984))

Now this is a real palate cleanser for yours truly! Listening to the various hits of the much-loved 80's aidoru Akina Nakamori (中森明菜) on an episode of 'NHK SONGS' last Saturday night, I came across a few that have been introduced to me via monomane talent Korokke's (コロッケ) crazy shenanigans. The first ever being 'Desire', then subsequently 'Jikai (1984)' when he was a guest on The Drifters' 'Dorifu daibakusho' (ドリフ大爆笑).

The hilarity of seeing Ken Shimura (志村けん) and Korokke in dresses at a cabaret club aside, I had eventually succumbed to the catchy-ness of 'Jikai (1984)'. Like most aidoru songs I know, it's got the synthesizers loud and clear at throughout - something I miss from 80's pop - as well as the electric guitar in the background that makes it all the more cool. Then we have a bouncy Nakamori dancing and twirling away as she sings with that low and powerful (for an aidoru) voice of hers. That really breaks my stereotype of female pop idols singing at a pitch that drives me up the wall, by the way.

Anyway, just like in the title the song was released in July 1984 as Nakamori's 9th single. Written by Masao Urino (売野雅勇) and composed by Masayoshi Takanaka (高中正義), 'Jikai (1984)' recieved half a dozen accolades... literally. Some examples include 'Best broadcasting music award' (I have no idea what kind of award that is, but okay) at the 15th Nihon Kayo taisho and 'Best song Award' at the 13th FNS Music Festival. It did really well on the Oricon charts as well, peaking at 1st place and settling at 6th by the end of the year. And she sang it once at the 35th Kohaku. As expected from a song during her time at the top.

Ah yes, if you want you can check out the silly Drifters clip that I mentioned above in the link.

Huh, I'd always thought my first article on aidoru would be on the new Gosanke's Hideki Saijo (西城秀樹). I guess not.


Rie Hatada -- Terminal (ターミナル)

Having listened to aidoru throughout the 80s, I've come to a couple of opinions. One is that the really early 80s aidoru tunes up to about 1983 often had that innocent country girl-in-the-summer arrangement whereas the later 80s examples incorporated some more worldliness in the music while still maintaining that usual aidoru-ness. I once borrowed a mix tape of aidoru songs from an acquaintance and I'm still occasionally kicking myself in the keester since I didn't really keep a good memory of what I listened to. The only tracks I can remember involved Sonoko Kawai(河合その子)and Sayuri Kokusho(国生さゆり), but what I do remember about the songs themselves is that the lot of them had that attractive worldliness I've just mentioned (yes, I am aware that I am talking about aidoru, not timeless classics here).

Case in point: I was just doing my random little walk through YouTube and found a few Tomoko Aran(亜蘭知子) tunes. I have covered a few of her songs as she tackled some of that City Pop but she's probably much more famous as the lyricist for TUBE's big early hits such as "Summer Dream".

Still, I found out that she also provided the words to this song, "Terminal" which was the 2nd single by aidoru Rie Hatada(畠田理恵). After listening to it, I realized that this was another interesting little gem illustrating some of that worldly late 80s aidoru music, and it was special especially since it involved an aidoru who hadn't been connected to Onyanko Club (Kawai and Kokusho were members).

The Osaka-born-and-raised Hatada was scouted by entertainment promotion company Big Apple in 1986 after she had entered and done well in a couple of magazine-sponsored beauty contests. She promptly dropped out of high school and took that train to Tokyo to start her career, initially appearing as a variety show tarento program on TBS titled "Momoco Club"(モモコクラブ)sponsored by the female aidoru magazine "Momoco".

Then in 1987, she debuted as an aidoru in March with "Koko dake no Hanashi -- Ofureko"(ここだけの話 〜オフレコ〜...A Secret - Off The Record)which peaked at a respectable No. 13. "Terminal", which would turn out to be her most successful record, was released three months later and went as high as No. 12. I was drawn to the combination of the typical aidoru beat and that Latin infusion although Hatada's vocals weren't exactly remarkable. Latin fusion musician and composer Naoya Matsuoka (松岡直也)was responsible for the music and if the last few bars of "Terminal" sound somewhat familiar, it might be because they also popped up in the last several seconds of a more successful Latin-spiced song, "Meu Amor e" by Akina Nakamori(中森明菜). And guess who was responsible for weaving that classic?

Speaking of Nakamori, up until her 4th single in 1988, Hatada had been being groomed to emulate Akina's style but from that point onwards, the powers-that-be decided that she would take on a more coquettish Momoko Kikuchi(菊池桃子)brand.

As I said Rie Hatada wasn't exactly the best singer, but, hey, it's the overall effect of aidoru vocals, music and nostalgia that had me enjoying "Terminal". She released 8 singles and 2 original albums in total between 1987 and 1993. Also, she appeared as an actress during that same period before retiring from the industry in 1996 after marrying shogi champion, Yoshiharu Habu(羽生善治).

Ueno Station