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, February 19, 2019

You & Explosion Band -- Manhattan Life

I've been to New York City just twice in my life and enjoyed the Big Apple both times. One of my favourite places there was Rockefeller Centre although I never skated on the huge rink since I simply cannot skate. There is (was?) a Kinokuniya Bookstore right there and I enjoyed browsing the shelves for books and baskets for J-Pop CDs.

This may have been mentioned before in an article but whenever a Japanese variety show or news program covers something about New York life, they invariably pick a big band jazz song as the BGM for the footage. It may be a bit old-school, but I think it still fits although I think hip-hop is also just as appropriate.

Well, strangely enough, jazz pianist and songwriter extraordinaire Yuji Ohno(大野雄二)was thinking a bit more AOR apparently when he came up with his "Manhattan Life" for the 1983 album "Full Course". The album was recorded by You & Explosion Band, a group consisting of Ohno, guitarist Tsunehide Matsuki(松木恒秀), bassist Michio Nagaoka(長岡道夫), trumpeter Shin Kazuhara(数原晋), and drummers Yuichi Togashiki(渡嘉敷祐一)and Yasushi Ichihara(市原康). According to J-Wiki, You & Explosion Band did a lot of work for various TV shows and works involving the late actor Yusaku Matsuda(松田優作).

"Manhattan Life" sounds a bit more like the lifestyle it was emulating was based in seaside California, but then again, this could all be about the high life of yuppie Manhattanites. It's light and fizzy and could be served nicely with a plate of smoked salmon. The song also has a certain underlying mystery as if behind all the smiles and brightness, there is some drama lurking under the surface. Perhaps it could have even made for a piece of soundtrack for a J-drama based in modern downtown Tokyo.

Ohno, of course, is the same fellow behind the legendary theme song for "Lupin The 3rd"(ルパン三世), and apparently he and the Explosion Band came up with their own version of the song back in 1979. If anything, it's even peppier than the original.

Chiemi Hori -- Shiokaze no Shojo(潮風の少女)

About a couple of days ago, I had found 80s aidoru Chiemi Hori's(堀ちえみ)debut single on YouTube so I decided to feature it on the blog. Things have now taken on a more poignant and sadder tone in the last several hours on hearing that Hori had just announced a battle with Stage 4 oral cancer on her own blog.

The adorable "Shiokaze no Shojo" (Sea Breeze Girl) was released in March 1982, and was written and composed by Kyoko Matsumiya(松宮恭子)with Shigeru Suzuki(鈴木茂)providing the arrangement. Despite the title, the melodic feeling isn't so much of the beach (although the strings keep things nice and breezy) but more out in the countryside with even a bit of French in there, thanks to an accordion. Also, the languid guitar reminded me a tad somewhat of Eiichi Ohtaki's(大瀧詠一) works.

I heard the report about her cancer on NHK News this morning which devoted a few minutes to the sad announcement. All I can hope is that despite the gravity of the diagnosis, Hori will be able to tackle this successfully.

Hideo Murata -- Jinsei Toge (人生峠)

Having talked about rather unorthodox entries by Hachi and Michi, as well as one simple and lighthearted one by Haru-san, this pick for Muchi seems the most... normal, in the sense that it is a true blue enka song.

That record you see up there was an incredibly rare find I came across during my first visit to an old record shop in Singapore a couple of years ago. I was stunned to see that there were a fair number of records by the likes of Hideo Murata (村田英雄) there, but more stunned was I when I pulled the record out backwards to find this:


Prior to this, never would I have thought to find a piece of memorabilia with the autograph from any of the Yonin Shu at random, but there it was... ... That is his autograph, right? I mean, it's on his album and dated the year showa 55 (1980). I've never seen Muchi's autograph before and considering how unbelievable the find was to me, somehow I'm afraid that it may not be it...

But doubts aside, this album from the Kayo Deluxe series named "Jinsei Toge" has 2 vinyls containing some of the gruff singer's past hits like "Hana to Ryu" (花と竜) as well as up-to-date works like the titular song. From the annals of my mind, I recall that I'd heard "Jinsei Toge" on the then "Kayo Concert" a few years ago. I can't exactly remember who sang it - it was either Kiyoshi Hikawa (氷川きよし) or Takeshi Kitayama (北山たけし). But whoever it was, I had a good impression of it and would've gladly given it another listen, so that gave me another good reason for me to get the album.

"Jinsei Toge" is an encouraging enka that's as manly as the singer himself, even having deep drum rolls at the start and throughout the song, as if to fire-up the listener. Then you have Murata growling in his usual forceful manner about overcoming the many trials that life presents and that no matter what happens, you'll be fine. This actually more or less matches the first theme of today's episode of "Uta Kon", which I think featured some kayo about persevering and achieving one's goals.

Writing the words to "Jinsei Toge" was Tetsuo Miyahara (宮原哲夫), and the melody was done by Teruo Komatsubara (小松原てるを). The song came out in August 1979, and a few months later Murata sang it on his 18th appearance on the Kohaku. The link to this performance is above this paragraph.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Takako Shirai -- Namae no Nai Ai demo Ii(名前のない愛でもいい)

One of the most famous musical cues on Japanese TV ranking with the American "Dragnet" brass blast was the intro for "Kayo Suspense Gekijo"(火曜サスペンス劇場...The Tuesday Night Suspense Drama)on NTV, which finished its long run in 2005. With the dramatic "BAN BAN BAN...", the viewers were taken into quick cuts, bloody and otherwise, of the episode to come with faces showing emotions ranging from horrified to furious to intrepid, all against musical pacing that seemed like an equivalent of a typical Tarentino flick. Of course, there was often the final showdown on top of a windy bluff overlooking an ocean. Maybe the culprit might have ended up getting a very close look at the water, too.

All this melodic and visual preamble before the titles came on in and an excerpt of the ending theme that changed from year to year. Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)was once the go-to singer for those suspense drama enders such as "Ieji"(家路)but then Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)brought in at least a couple of her hits with "Kokuhaku"(告白)and "Single Again".

Simply speculation on my part, but I think when the singer was contracted to whip up a "Kayo Suspense Gekijo" ending theme, the request on the particulars probably included that the song be melancholy but with some hope in the refrain. Furthermore, the lyrics were to be rather introspective and the whole ballad took on a tone paralleling the mystery inevitably getting solved with the detective stoically leading the murderer away to justice...just like Sgt. Friday on "Dragnet".

I've heard about Takako Shirai(白井貴子)for years and often mistook her name with the name for Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)for about the same length of time. Sheepishly, I must admit that today is the first time that I've included one of her songs in the annals of "Kayo Kyoku Plus", but don't tell her that, eh?

My first song by her then is "Namae no Nai Ai demo Ii" (A Love Without A Name Is Fine), a ballad which seems to have a couple of themes: doing a full stop and smelling the coffee once in a while, and not taking anything for granted since it may just disappear in a puff of smoke before you know it. "Namae no Nai Ai demo Ii" was Shirai's 24th single from June 1994 and the 13th ending theme for "Kayo Suspense Gekijo" for the bulk of that year.

The dramatic part of the melody is no surprise considering the song's purpose but there is also a noble folk-like feeling, thanks to Shirai's delivery. In a way, she reminds me of folk singer Tokiko Kato(加藤登紀子)and perhaps even a bit of Buffy Ste. Marie, though somewhat mellower. Shirai came up with the music while Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康)provided the lyrics.

Denki Groove -- Shonen Young(少年ヤング)

Maybe I should have put this on Friday or Saturday, but heck, it's all fine.

Not sure if this cover of Denki Groove's(電気グルーヴ)9th album "J-POP" from April 2008 would be now called an example of Deep Fake, but heck the meshing of the faces of Pierre Taki(ピエール瀧)and Takkyu Ishino(石野卓球)onto these tough guys is amazing and creepy at the same time. What is plain cool, though, is the cruise-worthy track "Shonen Young" (Young Boy Young).

With guest star guitarist Toru Hidaka(ヒダカトオル)from Beat Crusaders (in the single version), Denki Groove provides a soundscape of groove and future-is-kakkoii through "Shonen Young" which was also the band's 12th single from December 2007. Taki and Ishino wrote the weird rhyming lyrics while Ishino got the music together. It would have been nice if "Shonen Young" had been used as the background music for some video game.

The music video for "Shonen Young" is an amazing experience in itself. I had wondered about a Japanese TV show inviting a bunch of the fashionable women in current-day Shibuya or Harajuku and then remaking them into 80s aidoru/teen icons. Well, I no longer have to wonder. Director Hideyuki Tanaka(田中秀幸)did all of the hard work and transformed them into girls with the Seiko-chan cut, Hiroko Yakushimaru's(薬師丸ひろ子)character from "Sailor Fuku to Kikanjuu"(セーラー服と機関銃...Sailor Suit and Machine Gun), and terrifying tsuppari with the frizzy hair.

"J-POP" peaked at No. 9 on Oricon.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Hiroshi Itsuki/Keiko Fuji -- Kamome Machi Minato Machi(かもめ町みなと町)

I've been a bit heavy on the City Pop and J-AOR recently (sorry, I'm rather biased) so I felt that I needed to get back to some of the enka and Mood Kayo. So, why not get back to the one of the masters?

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the original recorded version of Hiroshi Itsuki's(五木ひろし)3rd single under his most famous stage name online, but his "Kamome Machi Minato Machi" (Seagull Town, Port Town) is a good hearty kayo. It's categorized as an enka on J-Wiki but frankly, I think the arrangement and melody by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)are such that it really strikes me as a very typical Mood Kayo. And with the really brassy horns in there, I couldn't help but feel the atmosphere of something a bit more urban.

Released in February 1972, "Kamome Machi Minato Machi" comes right on the heels of his breakthrough hit "Yokohama Tasogare"(よこはま・たそがれ)and successful "Nagasaki kara Fune ni Notte"(長崎から船に乗って), both from 1971. This time, though, there doesn't seem to be any specific city mentioned in Itsuki's 3rd single but Yoko Yamaguchi's(山口洋子)lyrics lay the story right on the table of the setting for lovers to flock together only to separate bittersweetly. The fact that there are those migratory seagulls smack dab in the title hints at the flighty nature of love many a time. This time, the song didn't quite leap into the Top 10, stopping its rise at No. 11.

I couldn't find out when Keiko Fuji(藤圭子)sang a cover of "Kamome Machi Minato Machi" but as usual, she puts out a fine version with a brisk and heartfelt delivery. Overall though there is not much of a difference between her take and the original by Itsuki.

Yasuhiro Abe -- Where Is Love

Haven't gotten this one yet, but Yasuhiro Abe's(安部恭弘)"Frame of Mind" album from 1985 does possess the most distinctive cover out of all his releases thus far. It's a very cool pose of him in good suit on a chair up in the clouds.

Speaking of cool, I also do like his 7th track "Where is Love" which I believe Abe both wrote and composed along with Nobuyuki Shimizu(清水信之)handling the arrangement. It's short but it's very sweet and there's no waste of those three minutes and thirty-seven seconds. That lovely beat just keeps chugging along while Abe and then the sax come in to entertain us. Nice keyboards, as well. It should be the background music for any evening car ride in the big city.