I've been a fan of Japanese popular music for over 30 years, and have managed to collect hundreds of CDs during that time. So I decided I wanted to talk about late Showa Era music with like-minded fans. My particular era is the 70s and 80s (thus the "kayo kyoku"). The plus part includes a number of songs and artists from the last 20 years and even some of the 60s. So,let's talk about New Music, aidoru, City Pop and enka.
I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube, Oricon charts are courtesy of entamedata.web.fc2.com/music and my research is translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.
Ahhhh, yes...it's been a great thing watching the foodie foreplay that is "Koufuku Graffiti"（幸腹グラフィティ）before my anime buddy and I go out for dinner. It gets us into a good mindset. By the way, yesterday's dinner was Spicy Coconut Chicken Curry (very much YUM!).
And the theme songs have been fine for the ears as well. About a month ago, I featured the opening theme, "Shiawase ni Tsuite Watashi ga Shitteiru Itsutsu no Houhou"（幸せについて私が知っている5つの方法）by Maaya Sakamoto（坂本真綾）. And here tonight, it's "Egao ni Naru" (You'll Smile) by the two seiyuu stars of the show, Rina Sato（佐藤利奈）and Asuka Ohgame（大亀あすか）as their characters Ryo and Kirin respectively. Written by Yuuki Matsuura（松浦勇気）and composed by Katsutoshi Kitagawa（北川勝利）, it's another sunny and smiley song that has that hint of 60s Bacharach and David. For those who can understand the Japanese lyrics, Ryo and Kirin adorably pepper the melody with various dishes and the onomatopoeia that accompany them. It wouldn't surprise me if a lot of the night owls who have been dedicated to "Koufuku Graffiti" (it's a late-night anime) rushed out of the apartment and headed for a 24-hour konbini for whatever's left on the bento shelves. My friend and I are most fortunate that we get to see this on Sunday afternoons.
Unfortunately, the powers-that-be on YouTube have been even more strict on this song so all of the ending credits have had the sound muted, and thus there is just the full version of "Egao ni Naru" at the very top (which is of course a good thing). Still, the above video is of the first episode (minus the opening and closing credits).
And of course, I have to leave off with another adorable rendition of "Shiawase Graffiti"（しあわせグラフィティ...Happy Graffiti）with one of my favourite dishes. There is a full version but I'll leave that for next month.
I had collected enough of chanteuse UA's singles and one album that I decided to grab her 2003 DVD of her music clips titled "Illuminate - The Very Best Clips". Taking a look through the myriad videos, I definitely received the impression that the soulful Osaka singer liked the conceptual over the straight performance.
Case in point, there is the video for her 11th single from November 1998, "Kazoetarinai Yoru no Ashioto" (The Countless Sounds of Footsteps in the Night). Written and composed by UA, the video was certainly one to remember as the singer was dressed up in black as some sort of mysterious modern-night sprite quietly haunting the streets and expressways. Another reason that I remembered the video was that the song didn't fit into the Neo-Soul and Pop balladry that I had previously known her for. Instead, it was about as close to club music that I ever heard her sing, and I wonder if later cool singers such as bird and Yoshie Nakano of Ego-Wrappin' covered this one.
"Kazoetarinai Yoru no Ashioto" addresses the nuttiness of life through the meaningless words being bandied about and the tide of humanity that one has to often swim against. In the video, UA just seems to have isolated herself in her own very tiny timestream as she dances and walks the night away while the rest of the world literally speeds by (the video probably has some stylistic tribute to Madonna's "Ray of Light") and even looking at one irate driver who almost ran her down with nothing more than slight irritation. However, as soon as the first rays of sunrise peek through the horizon, the black pullover disappears and the formerly dark wraith fades off. Feel free to make your own philosophical insights.
The single went as high as No. 29 on Oricon and ended the year as the 272nd-ranked single of 1999. It was also a track on UA's 3rd album, "Turbo", which came out in October 1999. It did much better than the single by peaking at No. 6 and finishing at No. 135.
When I listen to Frank Nagai's "Sakaba no hana", the image I get in my head would be that of a salary man, tie loosened, hair somewhat scruffy after a tough day at work, and he would be outside on the chilly (yes, it shall be winter time), dimly lit streets of a drinking hole late at night - about midnight or so, or at least when some joints are closed - with a cigarette wedged into the corner of his mouth, wandering around with only his thoughts running through his mind. An occasional pause to stare at the dark sky void of any stars, puffing out a cloud of tobacco smog and his own breath, and he continues on.
Long story short, the soft music, that seems to have both the qualities of an Enka and Mood Kayo song, composed by Koichi Morita (森田公一) just paints a lonely yet strangely comfortable picture. Nagai's crooning with his smooth as brandy voice with an edge just adds to the atmosphere. Ah, "Sakaba no hana" and Yujiro Ishihara's (石原裕次郎) "Yogiri yo konya mo arigatou" (夜霧よ今夜も有難う) just make the perfect pair of night time tunes.
Now, for the Hiroshi Uchiyamada & Cool Five (内山田洋とクール・ファイブ) version. The image I get is similar to the one above, however, the man is sitting at the bar with drink in hand rather than roaming the streets. Warmer and not as alone - you got the bartender staring at him and keeping the lad company, so that's something, I suppose.
I found that the Mood Kayo group's rendition of "Sakaba no hana" leaned more to the genre of Enka in its music, and its fuller, more up-to-date arrangement kinda lost some of the original's loneliness hence the description above. Another thing that contributed to that is the difference in the two fellas' vocal delivery. Kiyoshi Maekawa's (前川清) voice, while deep like Nagai's, is too intense for this delicate song and it felt like he was holding back. Whereas Nagai handled it better as he sounded a lot more relaxed.
I like both versions just as much as they are slightly different in their own respect, but if we were talking about atmosphere, I would go with Nagai's one... Yeah, first time ever that I picked a version without Mae-Kiyo in it!
Before I forget, "Sakaba no hana" was written by lyricist Michio Yamagami (山上路夫). The original came out in 1976 and the Cool Five's version was released in 1983. Frankly, I don't know which was more popular since there's no write-up on it and oddly enough I did not see this entry in Nagai's discography on his J-Wiki page, but I did see it on the Cool Five's page. And by just searching "Sakaba no hana" on Google, most results are of the Cool Five's version... So the Cool Five's one was more popular?
THE PERM... WHY MAE-KIYO?
Apparently Ikuzo Yoshi (吉幾三) tried his hand at this song. I've never heard it, so I can only imagine how it sounds like.
Perhaps I should have killed three birds with one stone and wrote a whole article on Yasuhiro Abe's（安部恭弘）3rd album, "Slit" from 1984. After all, I've already got the first two tracks on board in their own articles, "Thrill Down" and "Irene", and now here is Track 3, "My Dear".
That smooth Fender Rhodes comes sliding in like silk along with Abe's voice. "My Dear" is the first ballad on the album after the highway-friendly "Thrill Down" and the mid-tempo stroll of "Irene". The ballad feels like that couple just relaxing after dinner and a few drinks and then standing atop some observation deck on one of the higher buildings in Shinjuku. It might be sunset or it might be the dead of night....doesn't matter, it's all good. Listening to this, I was reminded of some of the material of early Al Jarreau and Rod Temperton from around the same time. Ahh...those were some fine times listening to the radio. Not sure if Abe got as much air time as Al, but I'd like to think he's still well remembered through his music.
It has been a busy Saturday for the final day of February 2015. I had to take care of a couple of clients' translation requests and then a third request came in this morning. So I was tied to my chair and the computer throughout the late morning and all of the afternoon, and happy to say, I got it all done by dinner.
And now I can indulge in my hobby of continuing to fill in the spaces in this blog. Going into YouTube, I saw this video titled "Architecture in Tokyo", and apparently this is a name of either a single musician or a collective that has brought together mixes of some of the old 80s City Pop. In any case, I tried out MIX 4, and the first song was Toshiki Kadomatsu's（角松敏生）"Sea Line 'Rie'".
This is an instrumental piece by the guitarist that was his 12th single from June 1987, and boy, does it pack a wallop. Kadomatsu lets his guitar do the talking, and his guitar is screaming, "I AM HEADING FOR THE BEACH AND I AM GONNA HAVE THE BEST TIME IN RECORDED HISTORY!!!" Yup, tons of Corona Beer with lemon wedges in the neck, white sand, plenty of surf and beautiful people dressed in less as possible. This is the theme song for Genre: City Pop Sub-genre: Resort Pop.
I wondered where City Poppy contemporary aidoru group Especia and British duo Greeen Linez got their inspiration. I may have stumbled across one of their touchstones with this song. I was lucky enough to find out that there are a few recordings of "Sea Line 'Rie'" on YouTube.
The song was used as the campaign tune for an ancient cigarette commercial (yep, they used to advertise ciggys on TV), and it also became a track on his 10th album (his first instrumental album) from July 1987, "Sea Is A Lady" that peaked at No. 4 on Oricon.
Watch the man in action here.
You can also have a listen to Architecture in Tokyo as well.
I've been to Osaka twice, but I can't say that I've seen much of it. That's the problem of going on those package tours, I suppose. You can never have enough time to explore the place thoroughly, and just when you're enjoying the charm of the place, you gotta leave for the next spot on the itinerary. Oh well, there's always a next time. And during that next time, I shall visit the places mentioned in "Ichou namiki", one of the entries from Duke Aces' (デューク・エイセス) "Nihon no uta series" (「にほんのうた」シリーズ) that represents Osaka.
It sounds like a pretty fool proof tour. There's Umeda, Nakanoshima, Honmachi, Shinsaibashi, and finally Namba, so that covers quite a lot there... I think. Along with the very walk-able and warming music, the quartet narrates the progression of a couple's relationship as they take walks from the "Kita" (North; more business oriented) to the "Minami" (South; entertainment portion) part of Osaka. Joining the couple are the Ginkgo trees (what "Ichou namiki" means). So as the young sweethearts grow closer by the season, the trees change accordingly. For example, in Spring when the leaves are young and growing back, the two are looking into each others eyes (I think), assumedly on their first date. Everything goes swell, fast forward to Autumn where the Ginkgo leaves have turned a brilliant gold - I've seen it in Asakusa, it was beautiful - and the two are engaged.
Although a pleasant sounding song, "Ichou namiki" wasn't one of the more popular tracks from this series, despite the fact that it was on the A-side. In fact, the B-side song on the Gunma prefecture outdid it and became one of the Aces' hits.
Yes, I'm talking about "Ii yu dana".
Slightly more modern, still quite retro-sounding in a good way.
Jaunty and boisterous when compared to "Ichou namiki", "Ii yu dana" has the Aces singing about the four well-known hot springs in Gunma: Kusastu, Ikaho, Manza and Minakami. It's a fun song to listen to with it being so upbeat and lighthearted, and I can't remember how many times I've had this playing through my earphones during the duller, drier classes... I think there was this one time I had replayed the video above with the guys doing the abridged version of the song more than four times! The lesson was tiresome and dragged on more than it should, so I needed something to wake myself up. And YasumasaTaniguchi's (谷口安正) exclamation after his, "Tsumete e na!" ("That's cold!") was silly and adorable.
Makino's "dancing" is amazing...
Anyway, what I enjoyed most from "Ii yu dana" is that all four members have a chance to sing solo. I love hearing all of their individual voices, especially Yoshitaka Makino's (槇野義孝) deep rumble that sends shivers down my spine - the good kind! I can safely say that "Ii yu dana" is definitely one of my top favourite Kayokyoku, besides Yuzo Kayama's (加山雄三) "O yome ni oide" (お嫁においで).
Since "Ichou namiki" and "Ii yu dana" are part of the "Nihon no uta series", the lyrics were done by Rokusuke Ei and composed by Taku Izumi (永六輔 . いずみたく). They must've had a jolly good time in Gunma. It was released in 1966.
J-Canuck had done an article on "Ii yu dana" a while ago, that article features comedy group The Drifters (ザ・ドリフターズ) take on the ditty, you can read up on it here. I don't mind their version, but I prefer the original.
For all of the snazzy and dynamic Latin-flavoured tunes that Akemi Ishii（石井明美）introduced during the late 80s, it was a bit odd to hear her 10th single, "Sha-La-La". Not that I have anything to complain about the song. It's a pleasant tune that was written by Ishii herself and composed by prolific Kyohei Tsutsumi （筒美京平）about a woman totally in love with her beau, but for the stuff that I have heard from her, it's a bit subdued. Even her voice sounds a bit less energized as if the song was meant to be a cool-down from the previous singles. By the way, it was released in November 1990.
Mind you, "Sha-La-La" wasn't the first case of a relatively quieter Ishii song. A few years earlier, she had released "Joy"which was also very straight-on pop. Actually the song that I was interested in featuring was the coupling tune to "Sha-La-La", "Door wo Akete"（ドアを開けて...Open the Door）, a ballad that has a similar lyrical theme to the A-side but has a European Latin/enkavibe that made it sound like something that the late Teresa Teng（テレサ・テン）would have tackled in her sleep. Unfortunately, there is no sign of it anywhere on the Net, so I will just have to bide my time.