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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Saki Kubota -- Shanghai no Nostalgie(上海ノスタルジー)

Well, it's been a few years, so welcome back, Saki Kubota(久保田早紀)!

Famous for her big hit, "Ihojin"(異邦人)from 1979, the singer-songwriter represented that brief and interesting part of kayo kyoku in the late 1970s and early 1980s in which listeners were taken on a musical journey of exotic lands without needing Gravol or travel insurance. Kubota apparently kept that exotic theme in mind for the first few albums in her career, at least as far as her 4th album, "Air Mail Special" from May 1981.

One of the tracks from "Air Mail Special" is "Shanghai no Nostalgie" (Shanghai Nostalgia) which keeps that feeling of travel but combines it with some of that snazzy City Pop bombast. The song is armed with a battery of horns, some bouncy bass, and even a sparkling guitar. Kubota composed it while Tamaki Kawata(川田多摩喜)provided the lyrics about two lovers divided by geographical distance but still united by emotion. Shanghai or's still the bright lights and big city of the 1980s!

Taeko Ohnuki -- Dare no Tame ni(誰のために)

This is just the song to listen to on a Wednesday afternoon. There was a genre that was bandied about in Japan called healing music which I think is a part of easy listening music over here in the West, and although this song is actually over 41 years old, it can easily fulfill a role as an audio salve of sorts.

Absence indeed does make the heart (and ears) grow fonder, and it was with a pleasant "surprise" that I've come across Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)"Dare no Tame ni" (For Who?). This is a track from Ohnuki's 2nd solo album "Sunshower" that I've covered through two articles, but I've not had a chance to cover this particular number.

"Dare no Tame ni" is a gloriously mellow song by Ohnuki that straddles jazz and AOR, and even had me thinking of the late Vince Guaraldi in parts. The keyboardist could either have been Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)or Yuh Imai(今井裕), but whoever it was, the song is also a showcase for him as he trips the light fantastic on the keys.

This melodic swaddling blanket also conceals some iron resolution from someone who's determined to press on with what he/she wants to do in life despite the opposition. In fact, I will let Ms. Ohnuki give her own thoughts on what she was thinking about when she came up with "Dare no Tame ni" via translation through a 1983 article in the journal "Music Steady" according to the J-Wiki article for "Sunshower":

I feel that this is surely a cry from the disadvantaged. There are cases in which the world will truly not accept you unless you have status or prestige, and there are points there that I want to complain about. It's very difficult to press forward with what you want to do, so you tend to want to flee sometimes, but you don't know whether you will become happy or satisfied if you do so, so it's an extremely unstable time. This is the sort of song which illustrates how far you will push ahead stubbornly with what you are protecting.

As I said at the top, this can be a form of healing music.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Aimyon -- Marigold(マリーゴールド)

As expected, last week, the participants in this year's Kohaku Utagassen on NHK were announced, and by my token, it looks like the enka part of the annual show has decreased somewhat more which is kinda too bad. But there are some new faces to see as well in 5 weeks including this young lady named Aimyon(あいみょん).

Born in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture, Aimyon is a singer-songwriter who has listed among her inspirations Shogo Hamada(浜田省吾), Flipper's Guitar(フリッパーズ・ギター)and Ken Hirai(平井堅), although in an interview for her 5th single on the pop culture news site, Natalie, she has mentioned that she has yet to settle on what her sound is.

That 5th single is "Marigold" from August 2018 and I've been enjoying the song for that very sound which is reminiscent of some of the guitar pop that I used to hear back in the 1990s. It wouldn't be too bad if some of that pop/rock music returned again for another go-round. I had also been wondering where the music video was filmed; as it turns out, it's Shanghai according to the rockin' site. "Marigold" peaked at No. 26 on Oricon. Aimyon has also just released her 6th single in the last week, "Konya Kono Mama"(今夜このまま...Tonight Like This).

Here's hoping that she does well on New Year's Eve.🍸

Keiko Mizukoshi -- Ikigai(生きがい)

As the expression goes, "Ignorance is bliss". Some months ago, I discovered this Keiko Mizukoshi(水越けいこ)song called "Ikigai" (Raison D'etre) which was on her 8th album "I'm Fine" from February 1982. However, I'd read from a couple of sources including this "CD Journal" review (that I found on the Amazon page) which basically ranted about Mizukoshi's change in image and forced cheeriness for this particular album.

Well, the bricks thrown at "I'm Fine" rather reminded me of the criticism that Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)"Mignonne" had gotten back in 1978, but in the last few years, even before the current love for all things Japanese and funky, people like myself have given the album a second look and found it fine after all. I was never aware of Mizukoshi being a rather moody and introspective singer as those reviews had intimated; really, the only song that I've known by her has been "Hoho ni Kiss Shite"(ほほにキスをして)which is a pretty uptempo number in itself.

So, being ignorant of much of Mizukoshi's discography, I was quite happy with "Ikigai". Not quite sure which genre the song truly belongs to...City Pop or J-AOR...but it's a very pleasant number that begins each verse with something similar to bossa nova. However, the rest of "Ikigai"is a nice and refreshing bit of pop to me.

Mizukoshi took care of words and music, but her backing band here is none other than members from the band TOTO. I think that it was the sound of TOTO and other bands/artists from around that time that helped me get into the Japanese urban contemporary and J-AOR genres, so there's something of a full circle feeling on finding out that folks like Jeff Porcaro and Steve Lukather may were helping out in Japan. I think that it's quite the feather in Mizukoshi's cap that the band was behind her in the recording of "Ikigai" since at the time, TOTO was getting their huge album "Toto IV" ready for release in April 1982.

Mariya Takeuchi -- Shiawase no Monosashi(幸せのものさし)

Fireminer let me know about this Japan Times article that has come out in the last few days about singer-songwriter Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)and the "Plastic Love" craze that launched like a missile over a year ago. Personally speaking, I'm happy that folks from outside Japan have discovered and enjoyed the tune but y'know, I think it's time to let this fad fade into a nice memory. Plus there are plenty more of her hits to savor.

Case in point: her 36th single from May 2008, "Shiawase no Monosashi" (Measure of Happiness) which coincided with her 30th anniversary in show business. I hadn't been aware that the song was a relatively recent release, probably because of the song's disco-like roots. It's a very uptempo tune of encouragement that hits the ground running, and hopefully, it has brought some of its listeners out of the blues with some measure of good cheer.

"Shiawase no Monosashi" was the theme song for the 2008 TBS drama "Around 40 ~ Chuumon no Oi Onna-tachi"(注文の多いオンナたち...Women with Lots of Choices)starring Yuuki Amami(天海祐希)as a psychiatrist who, with her close buddies, go through various ups and downs in their lives around the big 4-0. Amami herself contributes to some of the chorus work in the song and Takeuchi apparently made an uncredited cameo appearance in the final episode of the drama.

The song peaked at No. 8 on Oricon and became the 153rd-ranked single of 2008. However, its achievement on the singles weekly charts can be further amplified by the fact that Takeuchi became the oldest female solo artist to get a single into the weekly Top 10 at 53 years and 2 months, overtaking the previous record holder, Hibari Misora(美空ひばり)with "Kawa no Nagare no Youni" (川の流れのように) when she was 52 years and 1 month old. Since then, Takeuchi's record was overtaken by jazz and kayo singer Junko Akimoto(秋元順子)just a smattering of months later. "Shiawase no Monosashi" also appears on Takeuchi's very large BEST album "Expressions" which came out in October that year, scoring a No. 1 ranking for three weeks in a row and becoming the 11th-ranked album of the year.

As I finish writing this, I realize that as of this date, Takeuchi is just 5 days shy of celebrating her 40th anniversary as a singer. Yup, it was on November 25th 1978 that she released her first album "Beginning" and her first single "Modotte Oite, Watashi no Jikan"(戻っておいて、私の時間....Please Come Back, My Time). Time does indeed fly but I hope that the singer continues to fly high and strongly as well.

Yumiko Takahashi -- Good Love!

Last week, commenter Pocari D. referred to Yumiko Takahashi(高橋由美子)in my article for Chami Satonaka(里中茶美). I'd known that Takahashi did have her aidoru phase in the 1990s, but I primarily knew her as an actress in all those J-Dramas way back when.

(for Yumiko-chan, start from 14:13)

During my time back in Toronto between my JET days and my far longer stay in Japan from the mid-90s onwards, I used to get videotapes from Japanese TV whether it be through the local rental stores or from friends living in the nation. One of my favourite programs happened to be the annual or semi-annual blooper reel shows that popped up on Fuji-TV. The above excerpt is from one such show that I actually have on VHS somewhere in my dusty collection although I can no longer guarantee its condition.

One of the shows featured was a comedy-drama called "Onegai Darling!"(お願いダーリン!...Please Darling!)starring Takahashi as a high school student married to a high school teacher at the same school. Apparently, much hilarity ensued.

The other television memory that I have of Takahashi was when she co-starred as one of the office ladies in the "Shomu-ni"(ショムニ...General Affairs, Section 2)franchise about a much-maligned section in a huge corporation where careers go to die. Takahashi played the incredibly stone-faced Rie Himukai(日向リエ), the section's fortune-telling expert. She barely cracked any sort of emotion in that show, aside from one special episode where Himukai actually fell in love.

Getting back to that first show, the theme song for "Onegai Darling!" was Takahashi's 10th single, "Good Love!" from February 1993. Pocari D. referred to her Eurobeat material but at least with this one, I wouldn't say that this falls into the Eurobeat genre and I'm not even sure if this would be a totally cutesy aidoru tune itself although Miyu Yuzuki's(柚木美祐)lyrics refer to a woman's falling head-over-heels in love. The melody by Kazuya Motojima(本島一弥)and arrangement by Masaki Iwamoto(岩本正樹)take things a bit higher in my estimation; I'm such a sucker for the keyboards during that decade.

And I have to say that so far, Takahashi doesn't sound too hard on the ears. She apparently didn't sound too hard on the ears for a lot of people either, since "Good Love!" peaked at No. 17, selling a tad over 190,000 copies and becoming her 2nd-most successful single.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Orange Range -- Hana(花)

At the same time that I discovered a classic enka duet from almost 80 years ago on last week's "Uta Kon"(うたコン), I also truly heard for the first time one of the big hits by the rock group Orange Range on the same program.

Their 8th single "Hana" (Flower) came out in October 2004, and I was surprised to find out that this hadn't been mentioned in the J-Wiki article for the song that this would make for a great wedding reception song in Japan. But that's my guess. Written and composed by Orange Range, the lyrics pledge one person's love for another through thick and thin, amity and conflict, and even if they were to be reincarnated into flowers, they would grow beside each other in the garden. Try proposing with that song playing in the background in that Italian restaurant in Tokyo!

"Hana" debuted on Oricon right at No. 1 where it stayed for two weeks twice and quickly ended up as the 4th-ranked single of the year despite its relatively late release date. It even hung around for another year and became the 21st-ranked single for 2005. It became a million-seller and went Triple Platinum and even won the Gold prize at the JASRAC awards. "Hana" is also a track on Orange Range's 2nd original album "musiQ" from December 2004 which also went to No. 1 and became the best-selling album for 2005. In Oricon history, "musiQ" is currently at No. 33 in album sales after hitting 2 million.

(cover version)

2004 was a pretty banner year for the band due to "Hana" and also for its summery fun "Locolotion"(ロコローション)which was the 7th-ranked single for that year.