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.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Koji Tamaki -- Suna no Machi (砂の街)

After listening to Koji Tamaki's(玉置浩二)"Roman"(ロマン)on his 1993 album, "Akogare"(あこがれ), it was just about enough to grab a few tissues from the box and dab the eyes. So I was rather glad that the following track from the album was a good bit lighter and more wistful. This was "Suna no Machi" (The Streets of Sand) which was written by Akira Sudo(:須藤晃)and composed by Tamaki himself..

If Tamaki had been born a few decades earlier, he probably would have become a fine balladeer of standards in some nighttime joint in the metropolis. He was able to craft "Suna no Machi" to sound like some Parisian tune that Charles Aznavour could have tackled with the whistling, all those wonderful shimmery strings and that lonesome trombone near the end. Akira Sudo took care of the lyrics about searching for that lost significant other in the big, big city. I kinda wonder if Tamaki took a walk down the Champs-Elysees at night to get that inspiration.

The above video is a cover version done by rejector1000 who does a pretty good job at Tamaki's distinctive vocals. Plus I like the imagery.

Off-Course -- Shio no Kaori (潮の香り)

Man, the gems you re-discover after so many years. During my time in Gunma, I bought a quartet of Off-Course(オフコース)CDs, each a compilation that has some connection with a season. I pulled out the one representing summer and put it into the player. I was pleasantly surprised at some of the really lovely tunes that had never been released as singles by Kazumasa Oda's(小田和正)old band. And there was quite some variety in the tunes as well as they ranged from Folk to J-AOR to Rock.

But I wanted to feature this one particular number that was not only on the summer compilation but was also originally on Off-Course's 5th album from September 1977, "Junktion". The track is called "Shio no Kaori" (Fragrance of the Sea), and it's this wonderfully comfortably breezy number sung, written and composed by band guitarist Yasuhiro Suzuki(鈴木康博). This is the sort of song that I would like to hear while driving down the highway from Tokyo to Shonan sometime in the late summer. While listening to the entire compilation today, I noticed that Off-Course over the years took in a number of influences from what sounded like Santana, The Doobie Brothers and perhaps even Yes. With "Shio no Kaori", I thought there was a bit of Santana and perhaps even some late 70s Billy Joel.

I'm hoping the video stays up for a while at least. The uploader said that it's an excerpt from a live performance of Off Course in 1977. The first song performed is "Shio no Kaori" but it sounds like Oda is singing here rather than Suzuki. As for "Junktion", it peaked at No. 21 on the Oricon album charts, and it also has one of my very favourite Off-Course ballads, "Aki no Kehai"(秋の気配).

The coast by Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Miki Imai -- Caribbean Blue no Yoake (カリビアン・ブルーの夜明け)

I hadn't realized it's been quite a while since I put up my most recent Miki Imai(今井美樹)article. Of course, I've been covering a lot of her big hits over the years but there have been some non-hit non-official singles that have also stayed in my mind as well.

Case in point: "Caribbean Blue no Yoake" (Caribbean Blue Sunrise) from her 1988 album, "Bewith". I first came across this song on one of her concert videos that I have on VHS, and as Imai scampered all over the stage, I kept hearing one of Masami Tozawa's(戸沢暢美)lyrics which went "I'm a hurricane". It was rather ironic since I could never imagine the sylph-like figure of Imai approaching anywhere near even a Cat.1. Still, the lyric embedded itself into my long-term memory all these years. Plus, despite the somewhat now-cheesy-sounding synths, the music by Hideya Nakazaki(中崎英也)still has its Latin charms and has been a nice reminder about how the Imai tunes sounded way back when.

This may have been the excerpt from the video but I can't be certain since it's been such a long time since I popped this one in the ol' top loader. But I gotta admit that Imai looks rather quaint in that sparkly form of Spanx. As for "Bewith", her 3rd album reached No. 1 and it also has one of my favourites, "Natsu wo Kasanete"(夏をかさねて).

Hideko Takamine/Hibari Misora/Yosui Inoue -- Ginza Kankan Musume (銀座カンカン娘)

Less than an hour ago, I was watching the latest episode of NHK's "Nodo Jiman"(のど自慢)singing contest show which had guests in the form of SMAP and Fuyumi Sakamoto(坂本冬美). One of the participants was a 75-year-old lady who wanted to sing a song in tribute to her recently departed husband who had sung the song to her.

The song was "Ginza Kankan Musume" from 1949 as originally sung by the late actress Hideko Takamine(高峰秀子). When I listened to the lady's rendition and then the original, the old-fashioned boogie beat was front and centre, and I kinda realized where eclectic 90s band Jitterin Jinn got its inspiration. The song was created by Takao Saeki and Ryoichi Hattori(佐伯孝夫・服部良一)as the theme for the movie of the same name which starred Takamine. According to J-Wiki, by 1952, Takamine's single had sold about 420,000 records.

At first, I thought the meaning of the title was referring to can-can dancers performing in some Ginza nightclub, but according to the explanation in the J-Wiki article for the song, the kankan was actually a word derived by a movie director Kajiro Yamamoto(山本嘉次郎), although he wasn't the one behind this particular movie (Koji Shima「島耕二」was the actual director). It was a play on words for panpan musume which referred to "unlicensed prostitutes". The kankan musume meant "short-tempered ladies" who had to somehow survive the immediate postwar years.

As for Takamine, she was born in 1924 in Hakodate, Hokkaido and entered show business as a child actor who gained so much fame that she was seen as the Japanese Shirley Temple. As she grew up, she started getting roles as tough-minded and hard-working women, Although she retired from acting in the late 1970s, she continued working as an essayist.

Being a kayo classic, "Ginza Kankan Musume" was covered by a number of singers including Hibari Misora(美空ひばり). I'm uncertain when Misora's smooth and nimble version was originally recorded but it is on an album titled "Misora Hibari Cover Song Collection" from 2007 by Columbia Music Entertainment.

In 2001, Yosui Inoue(井上陽水)provided his own cover with a rock beat in his album, "United Cover". Leave it to Mr. O-genkides'ka to give a fresh perspective to an old chestnut.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Candies -- Anata ni Muchu (あなたに夢中)

The last time I wrote about the famed aidoru trio of Candies(キャンディーズ), it was about their spiritually final single in 1978, "Hohoemigaeshi"(微笑がえし)which pretty much threw in every reminder regarding Miki, Su and Ran.

But this time, I'm going all the way back to the beginning. To 1973, to be specific. Candies debuted with "Anata ni Muchu" (Crazy for You) in September of that year, and like "Hohoemigaeshi", it was a song that I had heard before but hadn't known the title or its place in Candies' history. As with all debuts of legendary singers/bands, it's interesting to see and hear these ladies in the beginning. "Anata ni Muchu", which was written by Michio Yamagami(山上路夫)and composed by Koichi Morita(森田公一), had them singing with a slightly bigger emphasis on different harmonies, and Su was in the centre position as she would be for the early singles up to their first big hit, "Toshi Shita no Otoko no Ko"(年下の男の子)in 1975, when Ran would be switched in as the permanent centre.

Candies' debut single peaked at No. 36. It was also a track on the unit's debut album, "Anata ni Muchu - Uchiki na Candies" (あなたに夢中〜内気なキャンディーズ〜...Crazy for You - Bashful Candies) that came out in December 1973. A modest beginning but the best was yet to come.

Naoko Gushima -- Candy

I remember picking up this album "miss G" by Naoko Gushima(具島直子)a couple of decades ago, probably because I heard some of the tracks being played on the store speakers...most likely Tower Records. And in all likelihood, one of those tracks was "Candy". As was the case with all of the other tracks, Gushima provided the words and music for this softly bouncy song which the blogger for Japanese-language "Music Avenue" described as being an example of Urban Mellow.

Not sure if Urban Mellow is an actual genre name (a love child of J-AOR and City Pop?), but I guess "Candy" would fit the title. In any case, it is a cafe-friendly tune with Gushima's velvety vocals reminding me a bit of another singer who was in the same ballpark, genre-wise, Toko Furuuchi(古内東子). "miss G", by the way, was Gushima's debut album from 1996.

There's not a whole lot of information on Gushima unless you go straight to her website...not even a J-Wiki entry. She was born in 1969 in Tokyo, started learning piano at the age of 4, and then at 21, took those first steps into a music career as a backup singer and singer for commercials before releasing "miss G" some years later. According to her website, Gushima has released 5 albums up to now including her latest, which is also her BEST compilation, "magic wave" from 2009.

Daisuke Kitagawa -- Hama no Odoriko (横濱の踊り子)

It's been a while since I've picked out a song from the Oricon enka-yo charts, so I thought I'd do so on Wednesday since the new weekly list was out. A couple of the singles I saw had been there for about half a year and I'm still trying to fathom how they are still within the Top 20, some are new releases that came out just last Wednesday, and some have been there for about a month or so. Falling into the last category is "Hama no Odoriko", sung by one of enka's Ikemen 3, Daisuke Kitagawa (北川大介). Frankly, I don't think the Ikemen 3 are particularly good-looking. I mean, Kitagawa is sort of cute with that snaggle-toothed, dimpled smile, but the other two - Keisuke Yamauchi (山内惠介) and Hiroshi Takeshima (竹島宏) - are... well... not much to behold. And then again, I have hugely differing standards for what is considered a handsome dude from the typical Japanese woman, as you already may have noticed.

Moving on, ever since it's release on the 1st of July 2015, I've seen "Hama no Odoriko" floating up and down the enka-yo charts - it did well on the regular charts too, peaking at 25th - and since it was one of the few singles up there that left me curious as to how it sounded like every time I left the ranking page, I finally decided to give it a listen.

"Hama no Odoriko" is a catchy, jaunty and very cabaret-ish enka tune. The disco ball and that clubby beat at the start of the MV already gives you a pretty clear indication of what you're in for. And then you have two ladies joining the husky-voiced Kitagawa in a Michael Jackson-like blazer that's as shiny as the disco ball dancing up a storm - choreographed by afroed dancer and talent Papaya Suzuki (パパイヤ鈴木), who also made a cameo. It's actually quite cheesy when I think about it. However, from what I saw in the video's description, the song focuses on nightclubs anyway and is supposed to be a throwback to the mid 50's, so I guess they are on point.

Well, he looks cooler in a black blazer.

Makoto Kitajo (喜多條忠) was the one responsible for writing the lyrics to "Hama no Odoriko", and Gendai Kanou (叶弦大) composed it. Ah dang it, now I want to see Kitagawa sing this on "Kayo Concert" or "Nippon no Uta".