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.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

ribbon -- Soba ni Iru ne (そばにいるね)

There was a time, in the late 80s/early 90s when aidoru was quickly becoming an obsolete aesthetic. Contrary to this sad chapter in aidoru’s history, a TV show called Paradise GoGo!! (田代まさしのパラダイスGoGo!!) trained a number of young girls and formed famous aidoru groups like CoCo and ribbon, and also soloists, like Yuko Hanashima (花島優子) and Michiyo Nakajima (中嶋美智代), during that period.

ribbon was a trio formed in 1989, and their first single, “Little Date” (リトルデイト), was used in the Ranma ½ (らんま½) anime. The group lasted four years, from 1989 to 1993, but even though active for just a few years, they released seven albums and thirteen singles, giving the fans a lot to have fun with.

“Soba ni Iru ne” was ribbon’s second single, released in April 1990. At first, I didn’t give too much attention to it, but, after a few more listens, the lovely melody from the pre-chorus, as well as the dated synths, just caught me. Also, as was the case with CoCo and other Paradise GoGo!!’s aidoru acts, ribbon seemed like a return to the aidoru’s innocent times after the more Eurobeat/dance-oriented divas like Chisato Moritaka (森高千里) and the girl band boom of the late 80s.

"Soba ni Iru ne" was used in the anime “Time Travel Tondekeman” (たいむとらぶる トンデケマン!). It reached #9 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics for the song were written by Yoshiko Miura (三浦徳子), while music and arrangement were done by Goto Tsugutoshi (後藤次利).


Michiyo Nakajima -- Akai Hanataba (赤い花束)

Another aidoru coming from the Paradise GoGo!! (田代まさしのパラダイスGoGo!!) TV show, Michiyo Nakajima (中嶋美智代 / 中嶋ミチヨ) started her career in early 1991 with the single “Akai Hanataba”, released in January.

I remember when I first listened to Michiyo Nakajima’s small discography and realized she mainly had sentimental aidoru tunes, like her debut “Akai Hanataba”. I liked that one, although an entire discography with similar songs was kind of tiring for me. In the end, I only selected this one for my daily routine and stored her best album in my HD. So, when I need a melancholic aidoru song like that, I come back to “Akai Hanataba” and have my share of aidoru sadness.

I also enjoy the video very much, thanks to its nostalgic fator. I was a baby when it was released, but I really connect well with the early 90s. Seeing the young and cute Michiyo is also a treat for an aidoru fan, especially in the scenes her hair is curly and she’s wearing red lipstick in the lips.

The single reached #9 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics were written by Kyoko Endo (遠藤響子), while music was composed by Ichiro Haneda (羽田一郎). As for the arrangement, it was done by Satoshi Takebe (武部聡志).


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Yukiko Okada -- Wonder Trip Lover/Bernard Fowler -- Ballet Mecanique/Miki Nakatani -- Chronic Love

A little more than 8 months ago, nikala contributed an Author's Pick in the form of her Techno-Kayo Playlist. Aside from Imokin Trio's "High School Lullaby", I hadn't known about the rest of the list and it was fascinating to read about and hear these songs that were created through that filter of technopop, the genre that was spearheaded by the Yellow Magic Orchestra from the late 70s.

The one entry on nikala's list that especially had my attention was "Wonder Trip Lover" by aidoru Yukiko Okada(岡田有希子). For one thing, although I hadn't known this song proper, I knew it in its future incarnation as "Chronic Love"(クロニック・ラヴ)by singer-actress Miki Nakatani(中谷美紀)since I sometimes caught her TV detective drama, "Keizoku"(ケイゾク...Unsolved Cases), which had that particular song as its theme.

Initially, I had been going to talk about just "Chronic Love" and the version of the song that was between it and "Wonder Trip Lover", "Ballet Mecanique" since nikala gave her two cents (strictly speaking in Canada, it should be two nickels since the 1-cent coin has been retired) on the original version by the late Okada. However, listening to "Wonder Trip Lover", I realized that I wanted to give my own brief opinion on the song via follow-up.

My fellow collaborator mentioned about the sax and galloping drumming that set "Wonder Trip Lover" apart from Okada's other songs. I can also go beyond that and say that the song is simply a cut above/apart the usual aidoru tune. It is indeed an aidoru tune because of the vocals behind it but it is also quite different from the run-of-the-mill aidoru song because of that interesting arrangement, and in addition, Okada sounded very unlike her regularly girlish self from her other contributions such as "Kuchibiru Network" and "Dreaming Girl". There was something nearly operatic...even avant-garde...with her delivery. Unfortunately the above YouTube video only has the sound from that Heart Jack Tour of hers so I cannot see how she performed "Wonder Trip Girl"...I couldn't imagine she was sashaying around to this song as would be the case with the usual aidoru and her cute tune. I'd only muse that Yukiko would have been more at home in one of the intriguing outfits worn by members of YMO.

Speaking of one of my favourite bands anywhere, Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)composed this song with City Pop princess EPO providing the lyrics. I had a conversation with nikala the other day and I mentioned that The Professor during that time could really do no wrong when it came to creating fascinating tunes for other singers. "Wonder Trip Lover" continued that streak.

Just a month after "Wonder Trip Lover" made its presence felt as the leadoff track for Okada's final album in March 1986, "Venus Tanjo"(ヴィーナス誕生...The Birth of Venus), Sakamoto made a cover version of his creation under the new title of "Ballet Mecanique", named after the 1924 Dadaist film by Fernand Leger and Dudley Murphy. However, instead of the techno kayo march that its predecessor was, Sakamoto's version is a slightly bipolar mix of quiet and innocent dream music and screeching-like-a-rabid-horse electric guitar. The vocals were supplied by Bernard Fowler, a musician and actor who has had a long history providing backup vocals to The Rolling Stones. The lyrics were also changed into English and contributed by Sakamoto's then-wife Akiko Yano(矢野顕子).

"Ballet Mecanique" first appeared as a track on Sakamoto's 6th album, "Mirai-ha Yaro"(未来派野郎...Futurism Guy), but I came across it as a part of his live album, "Media Bahn Live" which was released later in the year in September.

The last version is the first version that I ever heard of this ever-morphing song. As I mentioned, this was the theme song for Miki Nakatani's "Keizoku", and Nakatani herself provided the English & Japanese lyrics for "Chronic Love". Her 7th single from February 1999, the music here was a bit flightier and eccentric, kinda like her character of Jun Shibata on the show. The song managed to peak at No. 14 on Oricon and was placed as a track on her 3rd album, "Shiseikatsu"(私生活...Private Life)from November 1999.

The above video has all of the quirky episode openings for "Keizoku" with the theme song by Nakatani.

A few paragraphs above, I mentioned that nikala and I had a good talk. I'm happy to say that for the first time in "Kayo Kyoku Plus" history, I could finally meet a collaborator in person for a coffee the other day. It's not all that easy since most of us are located all over the globe, but it was fortunate that the two of us lived in the general area of Toronto. Hopefully, someday, all of us can somehow meet up whether it be in our respective countries or the nation where our mutual music interest lies.


Kyu Sakamoto -- Shiawase nara Te wo Tatakou/Te no Hira no Uta (幸せなら手をたたこう・手のひらの唄)

I'm fairly sure that just about everyone who has gone through kindergarten and the early grades of elementary school has heard the song "If You're Happy And You Know It" at least a few times in class. My ancient sense memory has me remembering when I was clapping my hands while sitting cross-legged on the floor with my classmates back at Rose Avenue Public School. It is the quintessential kiddy participation tune along with "Do The Hokey-Pokey".

I also had one up on my classmates in that I used to listen to the Japanese version on the RCA Victor with my family. The title for the Japanese cover of "If You're Happy And You Know It" is "Shiawase nara Te wo Tatakou" (literally, If You're Happy, Clap Your Hands), and the origins behind the creation of the melody seem to be of some mystery...some sites have stated that the song is American in origin while other places have said that it is actually from Spain.

What I was able to find out was that the person who wrote up the Japanese lyrics is Rihito Kimura(木村利人), now a Professor Emeritus in Bioethics at Waseda University. During his university student days, he was doing some volunteer work in the Philippines when he first heard "If You're Happy" and on his way back to Japan, he wrote those lyrics. It became a popular song to be sung among his buddies (most likely well-fueled by alcohol), but one day, the late singer Kyu Sakamoto(坂本九)just happened to hear Kimura and his friends singing it. Sakamoto apparently liked what he heard and then relayed the song to composer Taku Izumi(いずみたく)who promptly made it into a Sakamoto single released in May 1964.

I re-discovered the 45" again just yesterday and when I played it on the TEAC, the jaunty melody fired up the old nostalgia neurons again. When I was a kid, I hadn't known that it was Kyu-chan, the man behind "Ue wo Muite Arukou"(上を向いて歩こう), who was also taking care of this cover of a children's classic. It was obvious back then as it is now that the recording was done at some sort of event with Sakamoto happily fooling around with the audience and his bandmates (perhaps The Drifters?). Who better to perform this song than the ever-grinning Kyu-chan who can make sad lyrics sound like the happiest message? And I have to say it was pretty inspired to adapt "If You're Happy" for Japanese audiences since it seems that singalongs are especially popular with the Japanese no matter the age or generation. Not surprisingly, "Shiawase nara Te wo Tatakou" quickly became a big hit nationwide.

The B-side is "Te no Hira no Uta" (Song of the Palm of Your Hand). Created by Akifumi Iguro and Nobuo Terahara(伊黒昭文・寺原信夫), this is another happy song with Sakamoto encouraging folks to not suffer the blues alone but to get out and talk it over with other people. Considering some of the issues that folks today are going through, I think the message is still extremely relevant.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Yasuyuki Okamura -- Daisuki (だいすき)

Yasuyuki Okamura(岡村靖幸)really made an impression on me with "Viva Namida", the funkalicious theme song of the "anything goes" 2014 anime "Space Dandy". In the article for that song, I realized that this fellow has had a career spanning back to the mid-80s.

I've seen the contemporary version of Okamura via YouTube and through his anime avatar appearance on the official music video for "Viva Namida", and he kinda struck me as this rather dissipated section chief who would usually be berated by the boss during the day, only to become this super middle-aged funkster by night.

Well, I wanted to check out Okamura back in his early days. And as you can see from the video above, he looked more like the fresh-faced university hipster. And will you get a load of the 80s fashion that everyone's wearing?

And so I found "Daisuki" (I Really Love You), his 8th single that he wrote and composed from November 1988. And y'know, I kinda daisuki it as well. The voice was as trippy back then as it is on "Viva Namida" although I would grade the song more in the pop vein. In a way, Okamura sounded more like a deeper-sounding but just-as-boppy Senri Oe(大江千里)with that cheerfully contagious beat and the cute kids in the background. Both he and Oe had also created songs for that big-eyed and big-voiced ball of energy, Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里)at around the same time, so I can see how she got that inspiration.

"Daisuki" didn't get that far up the charts, peaking at No. 42. However, it was adopted as a campaign song for a Honda commercial that featured a young Miki Imai(今井美樹). And the song was also a track on his 3rd album, "Yasuyuki"(靖幸)which came out in July 1989.

Courtesy of
uninvented colors
from Flickr

Maria Asahina -- Disco Gal (ディスコギャル)

I've discovered another one of those rare singles on YouTube. This time, it's Maria Asahina's(朝比奈マリア)"Disco Gal", and yup, it's pretty much as the title says. Glittery disco balls, bell-bottom pants and wide-lapeled leisure suits are all welcome to join in on the fun.

However, even before I saw the video on YouTube today, I kept seeing Maria Asahina on one page in "Japanese City Pop"...just another one of those singers that inhabited some place in the mysterious lower nine-tenths of my Japanese music iceberg. I had no idea who she was until I read her J-Wiki bio in which I found out that she is the Washington D.C.-born daughter of singer-actress Izumi Yukimura (雪村いづみ...who has her own entry here) and an Italian-American. She started life in the geinokai at the age of 15 years (1977) as a model before releasing one album, "MARIA", and two singles, her debut single being "Disco Gal" in 1979. The lyrics were provided by the prolific Michio Yamagami(山上路夫)who had also written for singers like Agnes Chan(アグネス・チャン)and Saori Yuki(由紀さおり). Koichi Sugiyama(すぎやまこういち)took care of the disco music; he also composed the music for The Peanuts' "Koi no Fuuga"(恋のフーガ)and GARO's "Gakusei Gai no Kissaten"(学生街の喫茶店), both classics of their decades.

Asahina has been a tarento and is currently an accessory designer.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Kohmi Hirose -- Promise (Get Down!)

During the first few fall/winters I spent in Japan between 1994 and 2011, there would always be two series of commercials that would come to represent the coming of the snow season. One would be for the Naeba Prince Hotel tied up with a Yumi Matsutoya song, and the other was for the Alpen line of sporting goods. And of course, in an almost Pavlovian manner, when one thinks Alpen, one will always remember the high note-hitting singer-songwriter Kohmi Hirose(広瀬香美).

"Promise" was Hirose's 1997 contribution to the Alpen CM with it being released in November 1997. The Alpen-Hirose connection wasn't as prominent with this song to me as it had been with some of her earlier hits such as "Shiawase wo Tsukamitai"(幸せをつかみたい), but it still became a memorable Hirose hit since I heard it sung a ton of times on the old celeb karaoke show, "Yoru mo Hippare"(夜もヒッパレ). Of course, the highlight was the viewing audience and the viewing celebs wondering whether the female tarento tackling "Promise" would be able to hit the Hirose high notes.

The two things that I've loved about "Promise": the Latin-sounding intro and the refrain which flies out like a luge onto the winding track. It must have been quite a challenge for those brave karaoke hearts who first tried it.  Hirose's 11th single went Double Platinum (selling almost 500,000 copies) and went as high as No. 4 on Oricon. It eventually became the 45th-ranked song for 1998. It was also included in her 7th album, "rhapsody" which came out in January 1998. My copy of the song is on her first BEST compilation, "Love Winters".

The above is my story. However, in preparing this article, I discovered that there was an even more interesting story behind this song. My intro to this story came about when I read on the Wikipedia article for "Promise" that it " definitely Kohmi Hirose's most popular song in the west." Well, any statement that purports a J-Pop song reaching some sort of standing in the Western Hemisphere will get my attention so I read further.

Apparently, there was a phenomenon in the video game world in which players fiddled around with the game cartridges so that the characters in the games would end up dancing a whirling dervish due to a glitch. Thus the "Get Down" meme was born. Then one guy tried it out on a Nintendo 64 James Bond game "Goldeneye" and set it to "Promise" (which also contains the lyric "Get Down"), and even more hilarity ensued.

Of course, it wasn't enough for video game characters to get down and boogie. The humans just had to get in on the act, get up and get down!

And at least one canine.