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, October 19, 2014

Yuko Sugita -- Shuu Densha (終電車)

When I first googled Yuko Sugita’s kanji (杉田優子) to look for samples of her music after coming across a curious cover of her first LP “Monsoon Baby” (モンスーン・ベイビー) on Stereo Records, I had to waddle through numerous pages of another opera singer with the same name before getting any relevant results. There’s almost no information available online on this singer-songwriter from the late 70’s. No CD reissues of her albums either. The little I could gather came from a brief post here and musician credits from Stereo Records. Being such an obscure singer, she had some prolific people backing her up, including Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本龍一)Tatsuo Hayashi (林立夫)Tsugutoshi Goto (後藤次利), and Shigeru Suzuki (鈴木茂) (who also arranged her music). Sugita herself released only two albums and a few singles between 1977 and 1979 and then disappeared from the scene altogether, aside from random appearance on a backing chorus at Amii Ozaki’s 1983 concert. I tend to be interested in unknown names, but her story just takes the cake in obscurity competition.

Despite Sugita’s lack of publicity, she is a pretty interesting singer. Her music is typical pop with a New Music touch, which was trendy at the time, but she delivers it in snappy fashion which I found refreshing, since I associate the genre with a more languid mood. “Shuu Densha” (終電車…Last Train) is a mid-tempo track with a somewhat rollicking attitude. Not sure what the lyrics are going on about, but I like that swaying rhythm created through the bass, the drums and the percussions in the background. Latter half Candies sprang to mind as I was listening to this, but I’m sure there are more appropriate comparisons.

Here’s the title track from the album. Some fun driving music. Like I mentioned above, much of her material is pretty upbeat.

I ended up parting with some of my cash to obtain the LP at the end. Liked what I heard and besides, it's always nice to own some rarities.

Akiko Yano/Noriyuki Makihara -- Gohan ga Dekitayo (track) (ごはんができたよ)


I am indeed back. After 2 weeks visiting old friends in Tokyo, I arrived to a much colder Toronto last night. It felt rather dreamlike being back in my old stomping and teaching grounds of 17 years' residence since returning to The Great White North almost 3 years ago. There was that sense that I had never left...despite some changes in people's lives and urban infrastructure, the subway and JR stations all had those familiar distinct chimes, I didn't need to pull out a map to navigate through the masses. It was nice to feel that way.

And of course, my friend and I ate our way through the megalopolis. I almost feel as though I have to say 2 weeks AND 2 kilograms later. Being the foodie, I just had to take a lot of shots of the local fare; you might say I was the more photographic and less profane Anthony Bourdain. The above photo, for example, was one of the several complementary breakfasts that I had at the Toyoko Inn near Asakusa at which we stayed during our time in The Big Sushi. Fun, free and filling!

One of my other missions on the long-awaited trip was searching my old CD haunts for some fine music. And my first catch was Akiko Yano's(矢野顕子)"Gohan ga Dekitayo" (Dinner's Ready), her 4th album from October 1980. It had been a goal of mine to find this album which was first introduced to me via nikala's own 80s playlist on the blog since it was considered to be an important album meshing her own New Music with the technopop sounds of the Yellow Magic Orchestra. I was able to find it at Recomints in Nakano Broadway, and despite an earlier report that I had made that the J-Pop/kayo kyoku wing closed down, the store is still open although melded with the Western pop section.

The track that I want to feature here is the title track which was written and composed by Yano and backed up by Yellow Magic Orchestra. It is a playful Yano pop song with some of the bloops and bleeps that were typical of YMO back in the late 70s, and it has an interesting source in that the singer-songwriter based it on Matthew 5:44-46 about loving one's enemies. I'm not a religious person by any means so when I look at the lyrics, I see someone kindly inviting folks over for a good hot meal and conversation...always a welcome thing. I had plenty of similar experiences during my half-month in Japan in restaurants and homes.

As for the above two links above, the top link will take you to the original recording from the Yano album, while the bottom one has the Noriyuki Makihara(槇原敬之)cover of the song from his 2005 album of covers, "Listen To The Music 2".

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Takashi Hosokawa -- Enka bune (艶歌船)

'Enka bune' (Enka boat/boat of Enka) would pretty much be the most fitting song for Enka veteran Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし) to commemorate 40 long years of being in showbiz... well to be exact 39 years since it was released just one month ago on September 17. But hey, celebrating early would be better than celebrating late, right?

Anyway, the first thing that hits you when listening to this song would be the rolling drums and the sting of the electric guitar that gives it an overly manly, sharp edge. Then comes the flute part that would give 'Enka bune' a slightly softer side to balance it out. All that brought to you by Akihito Masuda (増田空人) and the lyrics were done by Yurio Matsui (松井由利夫). With such a bold start, it was no wonder that on the week it was released, 'Enka bune' shot up to 6th place on the Oricon charts... under the Enka and Kayokyoku category, that is... ... Still, that's pretty good.

It kinda gives you the image of a boat on the raging sea with dark skies above and Hosokawa at the stern. Listening to it for the first time actually sent shivers down my spine! Or it could just have been the demon noh mask on one of Hosokawa's kimonos that was creepy and unnerving. Come on, that thing looks like it's staring into your soul with its beady sequin eyes.

I remember seeing Hosokawa on a somewhat recent episode of NHK's 'Nodojiman' and he looked so dignified and manly in an all black kimono plus a black haori (something like a coat) on the outside while singing the song. And after all these years his voice is still really amazing! Really loud, strong and amazing!

Oh God, that noh mask is really giving the creeps

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Keisuke Kuwata -- Yin Yang

I had no idea what I was expecting when I decided to watch the MV for Keisuke Kuwata's (桑田佳祐) most recent solo single about almost a year back from now. I mean, the thumbnail seemed pretty normal and I had not yet known the extent of Kei-chan's brand of weirdness, having only just been introduced to Southern All Stars. In fact, I thought Sazan's leader was one of those normal, straight-laced run-of-the-mill singer-songwriters. Oh how wrong was I.

It started off rather ordinary, and when I said 'started off' I meant the first 3 seconds of the video before the other bizarro background characters are brought to light: Ultraman monsters, an adamant cleaning lady mopping the set while the producers are filming the video, etc. Then we have Kuwata in a white disco suit singing as though he was slightly drunk and I suppose as fan service, you've got a lady in a bikini (an AV actress) posing for the camera.With that many things going on, it kinda makes you go, "What is going on? What in the world am I watching??"

For the song itself, 'Yin Yang' has that catchy cha-cha and seedy cabaret feel to it. Combined with Kei-chan's husky, distinguishable delivery I would say that you might have a tough time ignoring this tune. In terms of meaning, it's basically about falling head-over-heels in love with that special one, then getting bored of it/encountering various relationship bumps and eventually leading to separation and finally the regret. Or well, something on that line.

Released on the 13th of March 2013 (oh wow, 13/3/13!) it did quite well, peaking at 3rd place on the Oricon weeklies and placed 7th in the month of March. But eventually it settled at 70th for the year, selling about 100 000 singles. The song was also used as the theme song for one of those Thursday dramas called 'Saiko no rikon' (最高の離婚) which means the best divorce... that's quite dark. The video below's the show's opening/closing sequence.

I remember suggesting to a friend of mine to watch the MV for 'Yin Yang' back then and I remember him saying that Kei-chan looked like a pimp - the white suit, girls around his arms - and looked like he constantly needed to puke. And no price for guessing his favorite scene... ...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Drifters -- Dorifu no Hayaguchi kotoba (ドリフの早口ことば)

Tongue twisters can be quite daunting, don't you think? The likelihood of stumbling is pretty high, and just when you think you got the hang of it, your tongue twists... get it? Its a tongue twister and it... never mind. Now that you have that in mind, how about try imagining doing so to the beat. Seems easy enough? Well, not so if the beat happens to be as fast as The Drifters' 'Dorifu no Hayaguchi kotoba', which is basically the comedy group's take on tongue twisters.

This song, released as a proper single in 1980, seemed to mostly appear on one particular variety/sketch show by the group called '8 Toki dayo! Zenin jugo' (8時だョ!全員集合), and it could be due to it having a live audience - including the little ones. Ain't nothing funnier than being able to watch your favorite singer desperately trying to keep up with the rhythm and not stumble in front of their fans.

You'd know when it's 'Hayaguchi kotoba' time when you've got the day's selection of guest singers lined up in the same manner as a school/church choir while donning a white gown plus hat thing that looked like a beret. Then we have leader of The Drifters, Chosuke Ikariya (いかりや長介), in his own black gown pretending to be those conductor or instructor or whatever you call it saying those faithful words to get the show on the road:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Hayaguchi kotoba!!"

Then, the gentle tinkle of the piano would turn into a groovy and brisk toe-tapping, head-bobbing tune that I presume would strike anxiety in each prospective contestant. First one up would usually be a member of The Drifters - from what I had seen, it would most likely be Cha Kato (加藤茶) or Ken Shimura (志村けん) - to give an example for the rest to follow. And then, the fun begins as Ikariya would begin to pick out some of his at times unwilling 'students' to 'demonstrate their understanding'. I find it amazing that the two aforementioned members can recite the tongue twisters with such ease! Sure they must have practiced a whole lot, but still, it's impressive!

The tongue twisters, which I think get tougher and tougher as they proceed, were drafted by Ikariya himself and the rhythmic music was composed by Akihiko Takashima (たかしまあきひこ).

In the video above, The Drifters had brought 'Hayaguchi kotoba' to the Kohaku stage during what seemed to be their only but deserving proper Kohaku appearance in the 52nd edition of the year-end show in 2001. Contenders include the apparently 8 year-old Akko-chan and 9 year-old Mae-Kiyo.

I had remembered watching a clip of 'Hayaguchi kotoba' on '8 Toki dayo! Zenin jugo' where Shimura came on as the last contender and stripped down to his highly suggestive (to put it nicely) swan tutu. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find it now... sorry for those who want to see the raunchiest member of the group in the tutu while singing this song a squeaky voice. But here, have this instead...

Such grace, such beauty, much fab

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Makoto Fujita -- Juso no yoru (十三の夜)

Now this was a name I'd never heard of before, Makoto Fujita (藤田まこと)... but it could be because I'm not as well versed in the world of actors/actresses as I am with singers. Let's just say the only proper Japanese actor I'm most familiar with and like quite a fair bit is veteran star, Masakazu Tamura (田村正和) for playing the lead role of the eccentric yet sharp detective with little to no sense of privacy in 'Furuhata Ninzaburo' (古畑 任三郎).

I had only discovered Fujita  recently while searching for videos of Enka singer Aki Yashiro (八代亜紀) singing her hit 'Onna minato machi' (おんな港町). It was then where I eventually uncovered a video of the Queen of Enka doing a duet with the actor (whom I had learnt also did a little singing) and they sang the 50's duet classic, 'Tokyo Nightclub' (東京ナイトクラブ), originally by the late Mood Kayo crooner Frank Nagai and Kazuko Matsuo (フランク永井 . 松尾和子).

Anyway, Fujita who was probably at least 70 years old at that time, looked polished in that dapper suit which fitted that rather pleasant voice - deep and mellow at some points. Since that voice of his piqued my interest I decided to look for songs by him. And the first proper one that came up in YouTube's search engine was 'Juso no yoru'.

Now I'm not very familiar with places in Japan, so I had no inkling that Juso's a place in Osaka. What's more the characters for Juso (十三) also mean thirteen in the Chinese language, which had me assuming the song - written and composed by Fujita himself - was about being the 13th night of something. But after looking at the lyrics, that didn't seem right since part of the song went like this:

Ne-chan, Ne-chan, Juso no Ne-chan ( 娘ちゃん娘ちゃん 十三の娘ちゃん )

Thus making my assumption... well, an assumption. Only after watching a video with just the song along with a picture show did that confirm that Juso was a place - there were pictures of the train station there with signs saying 'Juso'.

The song itself, released in 1971 (that's all the information I have on it) sounded like the usual Mood Kayo tune you'd hear with the lonely blare of the trumpet at the start. In my opinion, 'Juso no yoru' seemed to share some similarities in terms of music with another Mood Kayo hit from 1972 on another place in Osaka, 'Soemon cho blues' (宗右衛門町ブルース) by Katsuji heiwa & Dark horse (平和勝次とダークホース). It's either that or I don't have very discerning ears. Oh well.

I did some research on Fujita... his most well-known role seemed to be from playing Mondo Nakamura (中村主水) in a long-running period drama series called 'Hisatsushi series' (必殺シリーズ) from 1972 which ran well into the 80's and sort of ended in 1991. But it had many of those specials that brought it into the 2000's. Unfortunately he passed away 4 years ago in 2010 at the age of 76.

The video above is of Fujita singing 'Juso no yoru' in 2006 on an episode of 'Kayo Concert'. And if you want to check out the video of him and Yashiro singing 'Tokyo Nightclub', its in the link below.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Duke Aces -- Tsukubasan rokugashodan (筑波山麓合唱団)

Out of all the songs from Duke Aces' (デューク・エイセス) 'Nihon no uta series', the one representing Ibaraki prefecture has got to be the silliest and most bizarre - in a good way - one yet.

Written and composed by Rokusuke Ei and Taku Izumi (永六輔 . いずみたく), each of these representative songs would feature what that particular prefecture's most well known for, be it landmarks, temples, etc. In Ibaraki's case, its Mt Tsukuba... the Shiroku toads and the Shiroku toad oil from Mt Tsukuba. What's so special about these toads? Like their name Shiroku (四六), they've got 4 fingers/toes on their front feet and 6 on their hind feet. Well, that's about it. And if you're wondering about the toad oil, its just some ointment for your skin... nothing too nasty, I hope.

Anyway, 'Tsukubasan rokugashodan', released in 1970, is basically about a frog chorus group from Mt Tsukuba and the 4 members consisted of, surprise surprise, a Top Tenor, Second Tenor, Baritone and Bass. In this little jig, these frogs/toad introduce themselves through song, and each part to be sung - or should I say, croaked - by the corresponding members of Duke Aces. For example, Baritone Michio Tani (谷 道夫) would sing the part of the Baritone frog in the group.

So for about 90% to 95%, the Aces would just just croaking away and I suppose showing off their vocal range too. Cute and rather zany, it actually sounds more like something you'd hear at the start or end of a kiddie show like Sesame street, with the day's feature being frogs.

Frankly, I wonder if Ei was just bored from writing proper songs that he decided to do something different for a change. A+ for creativity? Despite how strange the song is, it was one of the more popular songs from the 'Nihon no uta series' other than 'Ii yu dana' and 'Onna hitori' that represented the Gunma and Kyoto prefectures respectively. In fact, they even sang it once on their 7th appearance at the 20th Kohaku in 1969!

The best part of the song would be when all 4 Aces start bouncing up and down mid-song. Yes you read right, elderly men in suits jumping on the spot like frogs on stage. It was all the more hilarious to see my favorite Ace (for various reasons), the stiff and mostly aloof Yoshitaka Makino (槇野義孝) doing just that.