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.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ryoko Moriyama -- Kono Hiroi Nohara Ippai (この広い野原いっぱい)

Earlier tonight, I got to see the welcoming ceremony for President Obama during his state visit to Japan on NHK. To be honest, I was more interested in his sushi dinner with Prime Minister Abe at Jiro in Ginza the night before since most of my experience with sushi when I was living there either involved supermarkets or the kaiten joints.

But that's all by-the-by. After the live coverage of the US President meeting the Emperor and Empress, there was a 10-minute segment on the lovely Ryoko Moriyama(森山良子). I've always loved the lady's calming voice and music, and listening to songs like "Ame Agari no Samba"(雨上がりのサンバ)is the equivalent of getting a musical massage (not the shiatsu variety...pure Swedish). So I was a bit intrigued when I heard that the 18-year-old Moriyama had initially nixed singing "Kono Hiroi Nohara Ippai" (This Grand Field) as her debut in January 1967. She had been set on becoming a jazz singer like her father and wasn't too thrilled on starting her career with a folk song, although it was a song that she composed and even performed on a radio show during her college days.

However, that appearance was the one that helped launch her career as The Queen of Folk and as the Japanese Joan Baez. The song got a lot of people talking and several record companies tried to get her to come over to debut with them with Philips Records being the one to finally win Moriyama over. And it is a beautiful love song with the suitor promising to give his beloved all of the flowers in the field to be bundled together into a mighty bouquet tied with a red ribbon. Those lyrics were from Keiko Osonoe(小薗江圭子).

I'm glad that the record companies never gave up. And since then, "Kono Hiroi Nohara Ippai" has been used in elementary school readers and even got a slot on NHK's "Minna no Uta"(みんなのうた...Songs for All)segment a few years later after the song's original release.

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Miyuki Nakajima -- Wakare Uta (わかれうた)

Recently, there was an NHK special on singer Miyuki Nakajima (中島みゆき)in which a few of her celebrity fans got together on a mock-up of a Nakajima fan club/bar and proceeded to exhort on her virtues. Of course, the talk/love-in was interspersed with some of Nakajima's lively performances which often bordered on performance art. However, there was also some man-on-the-street poll-taking in Ginza in which one of the questions was "What's your impression of Miyuki Nakajima?" The answers allowed spanned the entire spectrum from "vivacious" and "legendary" to "unapproachable" and "a bit of a flake".

I'm not sure about the third response since I have never been anywhere near her and I haven't heard anyone else use "unapproachable", but just from watching some of her concert clips (her appearances on TV are extremely rare), she definitely has that larger-than-life presence to the point that her performances are bordering on performance art. And her voice can go from fragile to force-of-nature within a couple of lines.

As has been mentioned in some of the other articles for Nakajima, the singer can cloak some pretty sad/dark lyrics within an upbeat melody. That is the case with "Wakare Uta" (The Parting Song). Released in September 1977 as her 5th single, there is a skippy beat that would hint at a nice little walk along the park under sunny skies but the words belie the pain of having to go through another romantic break-up. The first couple of lines lay it pretty bare: "Have you ever fallen on the street and kept calling out someone's name over and over?" Drama is not something that is lacking here. However, perhaps it might be because it was still early days in her career but her voice keeps an even keel here without some of the vocal cannon blasts that she has shown to be capable of.

"Wakare Uta" first showed up on her 4th album from April 1978, "Aishiteiru to Itte Kure"(愛していると伝ってくれ...Tell Me You Love Me), which got as high as No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and ended up as the 8th-ranked album of the year. Meanwhile, the song itself was Nakajima's first song to hit the top spot on the singles charts and it became the 10th-ranked song for 1978.

Several singers have covered the song over the years starting with Naoko Ken (研ナオコ)who did so in an album that was a tribute to Nakajima: "Naoko vs. Miyuki" (1978). One of Ken's hit songs was "Kamome wa Kamome" (かもめはかもめ...March 1978) which had been created by Nakajima.

And Ken Hirai (平井堅)with Spitz' Masamune Kusano (草野マサムネ)provided their take via Hirai's album, "Ken's Bar II" from 2009.

Miyuki Nakajima -- The Best

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tunnels -- Garagara Hebi ga Yatte Kuru (ガラガラヘビがやってくる)

I was a bit surprised that the part of the J-Wiki article on the Tunnels' musical output had put this song "Garagara Hebi ga Yatte Kuru" (The Rattlesnake is Coming) as the comedy duo's most successful single compared to their earlier kayo kyoku parodies such as "Ame no Nishi-Azabu"(雨の西麻布)or even their more "serious" "Nasakenee"(情けねえ)from 1991. But then again, Ishibashi & Noritake are all about the outrageous comedy, so I guess that something as crazed as "Garagara Hebi ga Yatte Kuru" with all of the sexual innuendos would be the one to get them to the top of Oricon.

"Garagara Hebi ga Yatte Kuru" was used as one of the opening theme songs for the Tunnels' Thursday night program on Fuji-TV, "Tunnels no Minasan no Okage Desu"(とんねるずのみなさんのおかげです...The Tunnels' Thanks To Everyone), one of my must-see shows on the Japanese television schedule. It's too bad that I couldn't find the opening credits for the show with that theme on YouTube, but I was able to find the guys' nutso performance on stage. Tsugutoshi Goto (後藤次利)provided the music which rather sounds like something for a kids' program but the lyrics by Yasushi Akimoto (秋元康)blows my theory out of the water since the snake in the song is a pretty horny (and not horned) viper....probably representing the tall and lanky Ishibashi.

Actually, speaking about those lyrics, the inspiration for them came one evening as lyricist Akimoto and horny viper Ishibashi were playing rounds of Mah Jongg late into the night. The TV in the room was playing some sort of foreign B-movie in which one of the characters kept blurting out "Beware of the rattlesnakes". With the repetitive clacking of the MJ tiles and the quote coming out over and over again, Akimoto and Ishibashi didn't stand a chance....the lyrics were pretty much spawned and twisted all over their brains by the end of that session.

But it was all good for them, though. Following its release in January 1992, "Garagara Hebi" became the Tunnels' first No. 1 single and their first million-seller. In fact, by the end of the year, the song would be ranked No. 6 for 1992.

The video below has the full recorded version. However, I have to warn you that it has various scenes from horror/thriller movies with snakes in their full g(l)ory, so any viewers here with ophidiophobia should perhaps steer away.

Now, the reason that I actually put this article was not just for the nostalgia for the Tunnels' program. Earlier today in Toronto, there was rather big news on the TV about some woman who came across a baby python crawling about in the bathroom of her apartment not too far away from my home. It was actually a cute little snake. But it just goes to show that one is never sure what could be living in the drainage system of a city.

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from Flickr

Hitomi Yaida -- my sweet darlin'

Darlin, dar-LIN!

Heard that line a whole lot for several months going into the 21st century. At the end of the 80s going into the 90s, there were quite a few girl bands rocking out which was followed by several years of Tetsuya Komuro and his dance-pop units followed by a resurgence in aidorus of a new breed (Johnny's and The Hello Project) and the budding of J-R&B. So it was nice to hear a return of sorts of women rocking out again (although Nanase Aikawa had her debut in the mid-90s) with singer-songwriter Hitomi Yaida(矢井田瞳).

Her nickname of Yaiko was another familiar catchword from 2000 for a few years all over the media waves. The video for Yaida's 2nd single of "my sweet darlin'" also got a lot of airplay as she sprayed that fire hose all over the fashion models while hearing that ringing falsetto. It was fun to listen to the song and "my sweet darlin'" is one of the standout tunes stuck in my memory of my times in Japan.

Yaida hails from Metropolitan Osaka and went to Kansai University where she majored in French language and French literature. However, at the age of 19, she picked up a guitar for the first time and within 2 years, she made her professional debut as a singer starting in May 2000 on an independent label with "Howling" and then her 1st official single a couple of months later at Toshiba-EMI with "B'coz I Love You". Then came "my sweet darlin'" in October. Talk about hitting the road at top speed. The singer created the song which peaked at No. 8 on Oricon although it didn't seem to chart on either the 2000 or 2001 lists unfortunately. A full English-language version was also created for UK release a few months later under the title "Darling Darling".

As for her inspirations, according to J-Wiki, Yaida was influenced by singers Joan Osborne and Alanis Morissette.

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from Flickr

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ikuzo Yoshi -- Sake yo (酒よ)

Well, seeing that Ikuzo Yoshi's (吉幾三)"Yukiguni" (雪国)was the topic of my first enka article for "Kayo Kyoku Plus", it was time to devote another article for the veteran singer. However, unlike "Yukiguni" which became my trademark song at karaoke, I never tried "Sake yo" (Sake) which was another later hit for Yoshi. It was a little too maudlin for me, compared with my jaunty juu-hachi-ban.

"Sake yo", which came out in September 1988, is definitely in that corner of enka which talks about crying in your beer and lost loves. Yoshi wrote and composed this ballad which has him performing the song perfectly on an episode of "Enka no Hanamichi": a dapper and sad figure drowning his sorrows via ochoko and tokkuri of the clear stuff in a snowbound traditional bar. Perhaps the only thing missing is the mama-san to provide a shoulder and copious amounts. The singer also does a fine job via a haggard and tear-choked voice of vocalizing about his heart being ripped out and stomped upon. Ahhh...only the rice wine will understand.

The listeners certainly understood about the troubles he's seen. "Sake yo" got all the way up to No. 3 on the singles charts and became the 26th-ranked song for 1989. And even before that accolade, Yoshi appeared on the 1988 Kohaku Utagassen to perform the song there and five years later on the same program. Of course, its memory has also been secured in tons of karaoke lounges for folks of a certain age.

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from Flickr

Princess Princess -- Julian/Rock Me

Of all of the five consecutive No. 1 singles (No. 7-11) that Princess Princess (プリンセス・プリセンス)had between 1989 and 1991, single No. 10 "Julian" (ジュリアン)was the one that I considered "cuddly". Although it was created by band members Kanako Nakayama and Kaori Okui(中山加奈子・奥井香), and had the familiar vocals of Okui and the Princess Princess guitars behind it, I couldn't help but feel that "Julian" sounded more like a tune that Misato Watanabe (渡辺美里)would tackle. Mind you, Watanabe was also along the same veins of pop/rock that Princess Princess were, but I guess it must have been that I was accustomed to hearing the band's A-side entries as the upbeat and/or rock-out tunes. In comparison, "Julian" was pretty laidback.

The question I had about "Julian" was "Who is Julian?" The way the lyrics were set out by Nakayama, it sounded like some guy the girls were pining for with fluffy pink valentines. I'd thought it was some sort of unlikely tribute to Julian Lennon, the son of the late John Lennon, who had his 15 minutes of fame during that time. Well, after a bit of Internet digging, I found out from Nakayama via her July 2012 entry in the Princess Princess blog and through the band's J-Wiki article that the title was gleaned from the 2nd name of the band, Julian Mama, that was settled upon moving to a new recording company, Ongaku-za(音楽座), in 1985. And it also happened to be the name that the guitarist gave to her cat.

"Rock Me" was the coupling song to "Julian" that had Princess Princess kicking things up as I usually imagined them. I'm sure it was the song to have on the play list at their concerts and I heard it tons of times when Sony was pushing their audio tapes on TV. Okui took care of both writing and composing duties for this one, and I can believe that the vocalist probably ran straight for the honey and lemon after singing this.

As mentioned, the single went to No. 1 after its release in November 1990 and became the 13th-ranked song for 1991. Both "Julian" and "Rock Me" also appeared on Princess Princess' 5th studio album, "Princess Princess" which came out in December of the same year. It would also hit No. 1 (almost 1.4 million copies in sales) and later became the 4th-ranked album of 1991.

Tadaharu Nakano -- Rokko Oroshi (六甲おろし)

Y'know....all those 17 years I was living in Ichikawa-shi, Chiba-ken, and I really never got all that into Japanese baseball. Then again, I was mostly just a casual fan of Major League Baseball over here (currently living in a city where the local team has been out of the playoff picture for over 20 years hasn't helped my attitude) in any case. Mind you, there was that one time when the 2005 Chiba Lotte Marines under Bobby Valentine (yup, the same one who got run out of Boston after that one horrible season in 2012 with the Red Sox) beat the Hanshin Tigers for the Japan Series championship which had a lot of my neighbours crowing with glee well into the night of October 17.

Speaking of the Hanshin Tigers, which have been compared to the Bosox against Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants' equivalent of the New York Yankees, they've managed to win the championship once in 1985 and then get to the finals in 2003 and the aforementioned series with the Marines in 2005. So, they haven't exactly been a dynastic threat (then again, there really hasn't been a dynasty in Japanese baseball since the Seibu Lions in the early 90s) but the Tigers can boast that they have the most rabidly loyal fans in the country and the most well-known team song in J-Baseball history. Heck, even I know about "Rokko Oroshi" (The Downward Wind of Mt. Rokko).

Written by Sonosuke Sato (佐藤惣之助)and composed by Yuji Koseki (古関 裕而...who would also create the theme for the world's most famous giant caterpillar, Mothra, many years later) in 1936, it was first presented at a rallying party held at the Koshien Hotel in late March of that year for the just-established team of the then-Osaka Tigers. The first singer was Tadaharu Nakano (中野忠晴)who sang a mix of jazz and popular songs in the Showa Era. Officially, it is known as "The Osaka Tigers Song" and then "The Hanshin Tigers Song", but "Rokko Oroshi" is the name that has stuck all these decades. Mt. Rokko is actually the name for a chain of mountains in neighbourhing Hyogo Prefecture, and quoting from the Wikipedia article here, "In Japan, wind which blows down from a mountain is known to be cold and harsh, hence the song symbolizes the Tiger's (sic) brave challenge under hardship". The article also has the official English translation of the song.

The Hanshin Tigers may not have had a championship (and therefore not have gotten the opportunity to throw Colonel Sanders statues into the Dotombori Canal) for almost 30 years, but whenever that song comes out on the television in the early months, I think even non-Tigers fans can be warmed by the fact that spring and baseball season is just around the corner.

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