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.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Kohmi Hirose -- I Wish/Koi no Best 10(恋のベスト10)

With the forecast of some flurries in the next 48 hours, I gather that winter is not too far around the corner, although officially, it's actually more than 2 months away. Of course, in the world of J-Pop, that means that some of us old-timers will be thinking of The Queen of Winters, singer-songwriter Kohmi Hirose(広瀬香美), once more. I think she may be the one singer who can remind listeners of the cold season but not necessarily of Xmas.

Considering that only the very short versions of these music videos exist on YouTube, I've decided to cover these two singles that Hirose released in 1999. First off, her 15th single, "I Wish", came out in January right smack dab in the snow and ski season. Not surprisingly, it and her 16th single were the campaign songs for the Japanese sporting goods company, Alpen. It and Hirose shared a long history with each other.

"I Wish" is a mellow love song that could be served with a nice hot buttered rum. It has that theme of snow but also about trying to slough off all of that negativity in life and the news and jump into a better tomorrow. Meanwhile, the music video above tells of the story of a lovelorn Russian who really needs to meet his heroine, Ms. Hirose herself, and tell her how he feels. The single reached No. 15 on Oricon.

Hirose's 16th single was released later in November just coming up to another winter. "Koi no Best 10" (Best 10 of Love) is much more of a dance beat-filled pop tune that had me thinking a bit of Jamiroquai. This one only got as high as No. 33, but I still gotta say that the singer could come up with some pretty nice hooks for her tunes.

(empty karaoke version)

Heck, you can take a gander at all of Hirose-Alpen collaborations right here.


Nope, not exactly a supercar but it's a nice little Suzuki that I came across during my travels in Japan, and for privacy reasons, I have covered up the license plate.

As for the band SUPERCAR, I never got to know them that well during their run between 1995 and 2005, but from seeing one of their videos on the Viewsic music channel when I was living in Ichikawa, my impression was that this was an indie technopop band.

From what I found out from their Wikipedia page, though, was that they had started out as an alternative rock group but midway, the members introduced some more electronica for the duration of their time together.

I came across this video by SUPERCAR for their 14th single "BGM" released in November 2003, and it does have that mixture of alternative and analog synths that take me back to my high school days. Perhaps they were even inspired a bit by "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". Watching the video, I was wondering that wouldn't it be nice if there were a flowing ribbon of water in the sky throughout Tokyo. Fresh water right outside of your window.

The song, which was written by guitarist Junji Ishiwatari(石渡淳治)and composed by vocalist/keyboardist Koji Nakamura(中村弘二), is hypnotic and spooky at the same time with Nakamura intoning the lyrics at times like a New Age priest of sorts. It peaked at No. 38 on Oricon and also belongs to SUPERCAR's 5th and final album "Answer" from February 2004. That release went as high as No. 18.

Along with Ishiwatari and Nakamura, SUPERCAR also had Miki Furukawa(古川美季)as bassist and Kodai Tazawa(田沢公大)on drums.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Makoto Saito -- Someday Somewhere

Happy Monday, folks! For those who have read my quasi-weather reports here on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" in some of the articles and for those who have some interest in my hometown of Toronto, Canada, The Big Smoke or The 6ix must seem like a meteorologically fantastical place where the weather can change on a dime.

Well, it's not exactly on a dime, but after going through one last spate of summer last week in which the Humidex hit about 35 degrees Celsius, we in Toronto will be heading toward a deep least temporarily in the latter part of this week, and...shudder...there may even be some snow flurries in the forecast. As I've always said to my students back in Japan, Toronto's weather is predictably unpredictable. Halloween ought to be interesting, then.

Let's start off the week with something nice and mellow...perhaps like a hot chocolate. Singer-songwriter Makoto Saito(斎藤誠)is just the man, and I found this song titled "Someday Somewhere" recently. From his 3rd album "PARADISE A GO! GO!" released in April 1985, it's a wistful number by the singer about deeply missing that special someone while he/she is off somewhere on a trip...perhaps after having said something along the lines of "I think we need to take a break from our relationship...for a while, at least". I'm kinda rooting for the protagonist of the song so that the break heals eventually.

Perhaps it's merely me, but when I hear "Someday Somewhere", I get the feeling that it sounds a bit more contemporary than its original 1985 release date. Maybe this might be one of those timeless pieces.

Rimi Natsukawa/Ryoko Moriyama/BEGIN -- Nada Soso (涙そうそう)

From the back of my mind used to come a very tiny snippet of a song I had heard many years ago when the local Chinese channel was promoting albums of popular Mando-pop artistes at the time. I had no idea what it was called, but I liked what I heard and would always look forward to hearing that commercial. But, of course, as the years went by and the commercial disappeared from TV, I was left with only a vague snippet of that song. It was frustrating having this bit floating around in my head from time to time, and because I didn't fully know the melody, it'd get mixed up with other songs. This occurrance came and went until one fine Saturday afternoon in late 2014.

Natsukawa's version.

At that point in time, "BS Nippon no Uta" was still a fascinating program for me and I yearned to see someone I liked during its "Special Stage", so I was watching it frequently. Then it so happened that one afternoon the Special pairing was the late cool-guy composer Masaaki Hirao, whose name I had seen many times by then, and Rimi Natsukawa (夏川りみ), whom I was unfamiliar with. As per usual, a baraage of kayo was sung, but then came an all too familiar tune by Natsukawa. After at least 10 years since I heard that commercial, I finally knew what the song was called: "Nada Soso". Oh, it was sweet catharsis!

Moriyama's version.

With the island twang to the melody and Natsukawa's crystal clear and tender vocals, one would think that "Nada Soso" was made for this Okinawa native. However, when I looked this song up on Wikipedia, it turned out that it originated as a collaboration between folk singer Ryoko Moriyama (森山良子) and the band BEGIN in 1998. Apparently, Moriyama had requested BEGIN to come up with an Okinawa-themed score; they did and gave it its current title which means something on the line of "falling tears". Moriyama then built on this by writing lyrics that revolved around the memory of her late brother. This was then included in her album "TIME IS LONELY". However, "Nada Soso" wasn't within reach of the spotlight for quite some time as the album didn't do particularly well, and neither did BEGIN's self-cover on 23rd March 2000. It was only until Natsukawa decided to do her own rendition after hearing it at the 26th G8 Summit in Okinawa that very year.

BEGIN's version.

Exactly a year later in 2001, Natsukawa's version came out, along with a couple of other songs BEGIN had composed for her; it was only then did "Nada Soso" receive the acclaim it is now known for. Moriyama then re-released her rendition as a single that December, and in 2003, a special version with her, Natsukawa and BEGIN was released. Incredibly, "Nada Soso" stayed on the Oricon charts for a whopping 5 years, peaking at 8th place on the weeklies, and selling at least 1.2 million copies. Of course, it also came with TV tie-ups. In 2005, TBS created the "Nada Soso Project" for their 50th Anniversary which had 2 dramas, titled "Hiroshima Showa 20 nen 8 Gatsu Muika" (広島・昭和20年8月6日) and "Nada Soso Kono Ai ni Ikite" (涙そうそう この愛に生きて), with "Nada Soso" as their theme songs - the former with Natsukawa's version and the latter with Moriyama's. Furthermore, Natsukawa sang this tune 4 consecutive times on the Kohaku from 2002 (her first appearance) to 2005.

The mandarin version... Dang, that's a trip down memory lane.

Besides that mandarin version I had briefly mentioned earlier, which was apparently sung by Singaporean Mando-pop artiste Joi Chua and titled "Pei Wo Kan Ri Chu" (陪我看日出... Watch The Sunrise With Me... probably), "Nada Soso" has a whole baraage of renditions that spans multiple languages and instrumentals of various kinds. This is truly a global phenomenon! I'm quite curious as to what Moriyama thinks about its success.

I enjoy "Nada Soso" quite a lot as it's pretty nostalgic, however, this is probably the only song I listen to where I have to deliberately ignore the words, otherwise, well, the title will happen. While Moriyama's sweet yet heart-rending words have the memory of her brother imbued in them, I get reminded of my own grandpa.

Every so often I would wonder what it'd be like if he were still around and what would've been different. Well, a lot. For one, I'd most likely be in the States now because I'd force him to come along with me, and knowing him he'd be more than willing to do so. I suppose, in that respect, I'd be more spoiled too, haha! I also wonder what he would think of me now... The old enka bit will definitely be criticized (considering my current taste) but he'd still get me records or CDs, surely.

If there's any phrase from him as told by Mom that I am currently holding on to in this frustrating period in my life, it's "If you really want it, you must be willing to do anything to get it." (Or something like that.) Yes, I get it now. Well, I'm close to a month late for my annual tribute to him as I was trying to sort my life out (along with being lazy), but it's something that I want to keep doing.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Rajie -- Inshouha(印象派)

I did buy that 2-CD BEST compilation for City Pop singer Rajie(ラジ)earlier this year. BEST compilations are fine for getting that overall picture of a singer's work, including any hit tunes. However, there is still something to be said about getting the original studio albums and even some of the singles at least. Of course, it all depends on the individual listener, but I've found that those studio albums and the B-sides of singles have also contained gems that simply didn't get onto a BEST collection.

Case in point: Rajie's "Inshouha"(Impressionist), a track from her 1984 album "Gogo no Relief"(午後のレリーフ...Relief in the Afternoon). It didn't get onto that BEST compilation but I'm not left looking askance at my ceiling while I wonder why. There were so many fine tracks from so many of her albums that got put onto those 2 CDs that probably some perfectly decent stuff had to be left behind.

Akira Ohtsu(大津あきら)provided the lyrics while Takashi Sato(佐藤隆)created the music, and it's Sato's oh-so-City Pop melody that got me hooked (gorgeous keyboard work) and has me thinking about investing in this 6th album of hers. That melody just courses around the metropolis like a smooth-running sports car in the mood for a good tour of the bright lights and big city. And yet, what makes it even more interesting is Rajie's vocals which reminds me of the delivery of Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)in her early 80s technopop/European phase. Maybe "Inshouha" leaves the impression of taking a ride around Paris of the 22nd century.

Mikio Masuda -- Romantic Rain

As I type this, the ceiling lights in my room have burned out so I'm left with just the lamp on the filing cabinet providing me with illumination enough so that I'm not destroying my eyes from just viewing the computer screen. However, the atmosphere created is quite pleasant for some nighttime jazz. I only wish that I had made myself a cup of coffee.

So, on this Sunday night before the work week starts up again, I give you the mellow-as-a-glass-of-Bailey's Irish Creme "Romantic Rain" from jazz pianist Mikio Masuda(益田幹夫). This track comes from his 1987 album "Smokin' Night", and it's a very comfy number with his group as if you're listening to it in the close confines of a jazz bar while the weather outside is spitting the titular precipitation. What I like about it is that "Romantic Rain" is rather reminiscent of what I remember from the late great pianist Vince Guaraldi who came up with all those wonderful melodies for the various "Peanuts" specials on TV.

I couldn't find any information on Wikipedia or J-Wiki on Masuda, and in fact, I had to use Google Translate to translate the German Wikipedia which did have an article on the musician. From what I could find is that he may be a hard-working genius since he largely taught himself how to play not only the piano but also the bass. According to his discography shown at Discogs, he's been releasing albums since 1974.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Alfee -- Love Letter(ラブレター)

It's been almost a couple of years since my last Alfee(アルフィー)entry on the blog, but since I have covered a lot of their 80s hits, I wanted to check out more of their material before finally making it big with songs such as "Marie-Anne"(メリーアン)in 1983.

As I mentioned in the article for that very song all the way back in 2012, Alfee was certainly paying their dues since their debut in 1974 with "Natsu Shigure"(夏しぐれ)since they didn't get any hits throughout the 1970s. So what was happening between their folk beginnings and their pop/rock heyday? Well, apparently, they got dropped by their recording company and ended up doing a lot of backup duties behind other singers.

In fact, it was almost another four years since their 2nd single "Seishun no Kioku"(青春の記憶...Salad Day Memories)was released (I will have to write about that soon), when Alfee came out with their next record "Love Letter" in January 1979. Written and composed by Alfee guitarist Toshihiko Takamizawa(高見沢俊彦), it was neither folk nor rock but something along the lines of a bossa nova...perhaps even edging into New Music and Mood Kayo...tune.

The song was also Alfee's first tie-up with a company, the stationery manufacturer Showa Note, and although "Love Letter" wasn't a hit, it seems from the YouTube comments for the videos that have shown the song that folks still remember the commercial (unfortunately I couldn't find the ad) that was adorned with the song. Maybe it didn't initially resonate with the folks at large, but it's an interesting discovery for me as a number before the 1980s Alfee.

According to the J-Wiki article for "Love Letter", Alfee played the song as part of their encore at a 1986 concert (which is above), and Takamizawa got rather emotional afterwards stating that he couldn't quite believe that he would ever perform the song in front of a huge audience. By the way, "Love Letter" was first placed on the band's 2nd album "TIME AND TIDE" from August 1979.