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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

nikala's Techno-Kayo Playlist (Idol Edition)

Having a strong fondness for Japanese techno/synthpop, I thought for a while about making an entry about some of my favorites but also decided to narrow things down a bit. This one specifically deals with aidoru tracks produced by some techno masterminds like YMO, Masami Tsuchiya and Moonriders, also known as aidoru techno-kayo. I don't usually have an urge to listen to idols, but when I do, more often than not it's this stuff right here. I think it's because the arrangements and the concepts keep me interested. I love the quirky techno-ness of it all, and it seems like the creators actually put effort into these songs. Or perhaps I just like the sound of computer music mixed with cute vocals. Not that all the singers below necessarily sound cute, but those that do definitely benefit from all the synths and bleeps in the background.

Without further ado, here's the playlist, organized in chronological order. There isn't a particular theme to these selections since good music comes in different forms and moods. Enjoy!

1. Fever -- Digita Love [フィーバー -- デジタラブ] (1980)
Long before Yasutaka Nakata came along with Perfume, Keiichi Suzuki (鈴木慶一) already digitalized the Candies aesthetic with this edgy new wave tune for Fever. It doesn't actually sound like Perfume but the concept and the image are there. The cover image above of Naomi Watai (渡井なおみ), Izumi Okahiro (岡広いづみ) and Mayumi Kitagawa (北川まゆみ) in triangular formation really do resemble Nocchi, Acchan and Kashiyuka from their Computer City~Game era though in different outfits. The song itself has a nice mix of techno bleeps set to a surf rock rhythm. I found it enjoyable from start to finish. Always appreciate a bit of experimentation with aidoru tracks. P-Vine's compilation of Toshiba EMI's Techno-Kayo works was the one that introduced me to this obscure song. I wouldn't have heard it otherwise. As for Fever themselves, the little information I could dig on them tells me that they started off as a sexier version of Candies, debuting with the single “Akuma ni Kushizuke” (悪魔にくちづけ) in April 1979. They had one album and another four singles after that before they broke up in late 1980. “Digita Love” was their final release and their only techno song as far as I know.

2. Junko Sakurada -- Kitto Kitto [桜田淳子 -- きっと きっと] (1981)
As a one-third of the Hana no Chu-San Trio (花の中三トリオ), Sakurada may have been overshadowed by the legendary Momoe Yamaguchi but she did hold strong on her own with some of her mid-70's hits like “Hajimete no Dekigoto” (はじめての出来事) and “Juushichi no Natsu” (十七の夏). One of her latter highlights was the album “My Dear” from 1981, which had Side 1 of the LP produced by Akiko Yano (矢野顕子), who brought in all that bubbly technopop for Sakurada to try. Lots of great songs there, but the one that captivated me the most is “Kitto Kitto”. Although the music itself has Yano written all over it and in the refrain Sakurada copies her fluttery manner of delivering the lyrics, she interpreted it in her own way with that mature womanly voice of hers. Whereas Yano sounds sweet like the kindest friend, Sakurada goes for the sultry. Makes for an interesting combo with the music. You can call me addicted to the rapid refrain and the strings riff that follows it. It's just cleverly crafted in general with all these delicate details in the arrangement. Better not dissect them.

3. Chiemi Manabe -- Nerawareta Shoujo [真鍋ちえみ -- ねれわれた少女] (1982)
Chiemi Manabe had a very short idol career in the early 80's first as a member of the group Pansy (パンジー) and then as a soloist before she switched to modeling and acting and then disappeared from media altogether later in the decade. Techno-kayo enthusiasts refer to her as the original techno idol since she was one of the first along with Starbow to specialize in the sound. “Nerawareta Shoujo” was her debut single, which was written by the eminent Aku Yu (阿久悠) and composed/arranged by Haruomi Hosono (細野晴臣). What can I say... That synth line is a killer. And the melody has a unique eeriness to it that's unlike your generic pop song. Manabe's vocals are rather thin, but they don't bother me at all when set against the solid techno backdrop. Unfortunately, she didn't pursue singing for long only leaving us with three singles and one album, but what she had was very nice.

4. Imokin Trio -- High School Lullaby [イモ欽トリオ -- ハイスクール・ララバイ] (1982)
I couldn't help it, it's just too darn infectious. J-Canuck wrote an informative entry on Imokin Trio and the song, so I don't have any factual information to add. It's a pretty silly and classic Takashi Matsumoto (松本隆)/Hosono work for a group of boys who just wanted to make people laugh. The hilarious choreography, which had Kojio Nishiyama/Waruo (西山浩司) playing air drums as if he were Yukihiro Takahashi (高橋幸宏) and Ryoichi Yamaguchi/Yoshio (山口良一) behind the air synths in the position of Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本龍一), probably played a huge role into making this song a winner, but even on its own, it has some strong synth lines that make it a quality techno tune. What was meant to be a novelty tune happened to turn into a classic. It hasn't worn itself out in my ears yet. When I sang it in karaoke, my friend remarked that it sounded girly with all those “suki suki baby” parts so I showed the performance to surprise her. She's been hooked ever since.

5. Mari Iijima -- Love Sick [飯島真理 -- Love Sick] (1983)
Mari Iijima's debut album “Rosé”, which was produced and arranged by Ryuichi Sakamoto, is notable for being of interest to both techno and City Pop enthusiasts, judging by some responses I came across online. Couldn't miss that pretty pink cover while flipping through the pages of Japanese City Pop either. Just listen to “Love Sick” and you'll know what the deal is. It's a loungy nightime melody with a digital/string arrangement and it's wonderful. Every time I listen to it, I can't help but be charmed by the way the classical strings in the opening give way to the synths that take over from there. Kudos to Sakamoto for that clever arrangement. Iijima's voice is sweet like the purest honey but it also has a mature flair to it, which you can pick out easily in this song. It's not often that you find a singer who had it right from the very start, but I'm happy to say that her debut was great. And she wrote and composed the whole thing herself.

6. Hiromi Go -- Dakara Spectacle [郷ひろみ -- だからスペクタクル] (1983)
Just to prove that YMO practically owned Japanese pop of the early 80's, they had to involve themselves with Hiromi Go or else their control wasn't complete. Ryuichi Sakamoto produced his 1983 album “Hiromi-Kyou no Hanzai” (比呂魅卿の犯罪), inviting the rest of YMO and its family including Kenji Omura and Akiko Yano to play the instruments. The album cover and the booklet images feature the idol in a New Romantic getup complete with blush and lipstick. It was a bit of an oddball entry in Go's discography but it was also the one that convinced me to get over my embarrassment of liking his music and give it an earnest try. Of all the tracks there, however, I decided to go with the one that he wrote and composed himself (and did it well) while Sakamoto let his arranging magic do the rest of the work. “Dakara Spectactle”, as you can tell from the title, is quite theatrical and somewhat cheesy but in a good way. Even though it's just little over 7 minutes long, it never drags. I like everything about this: the chorus, the verses, the instrumental bits. Despite Sakamoto's influence, it's very much a Go piece and he owns it like a dandy heartthrob that he is.

7. Kilala & Ulala -- Yume, Fushigi Ikaga [キララとウララ -- 夢・不思議いかが] (1985)
Like Chiemi Manabe, I would have liked for Kilala & Ulala go further but alas they only lasted for two years. Their only album “Double Fantasy” doesn't feature the usual techno composers save for Hosono and Masaya Matsuura (from PSY-S) on a couple of tracks but it's still memorable. My personal favorite number from it is “Yume, Fushigi Ikaga”, which was written/composed by EPO and arranged by Nobuyuki Shimizu (清水信之). Just listening to the futuristic melody and synths and the girls' bold voices makes me want to launch a rocket into the stratosphere. Although it was a CM jingle for some cosmetics company, I think it would make a fine theme for a tokusatsu show. Just an observation. You can read more about the duo in my entry here.

8. Chiemi Hori -- Wa Shoi! [堀ちえみ -- Wa・ショイ!] (1985)
According to J-Wiki, this was considered an unusually experimental for an aidoru tune due to all the sampler effects, but being accustomed to random noises and grunts in Morning Musume's songs, I wasn't that fazed when I first heard it. I just thought it was really catchy. Maybe it's because of Hori's happy-go-lucky vocals and the bouncy melody that it fits with all the sugary idol pop of the time. The arrangement and the effects are still pretty interesting though, so they make this stand out for me. The lyrics were provided by Hirofumi Suzuki (鈴木博文) and the music/arrangement by Ryomei Shirai (白井良明), both from Moonriders. I'm not sure if that was Shirai's intention, but those buzzing synths remind me of cicadas in the summer. Then again, the single was released in the midst of July heat, so it was crafted for the summer anyway. J-Wiki also notes that he created it with matsuri and ondo music images in mind. “Wasshoi” itself is sort of like Japanese equivalent of “heave ho” and is usually chanted at matsuri when carrying floats and portable shrines. I can just picture Hori herself taking part in the festivities while singing this. Oh, and the way she chirps “kira kira” is adorable. You can read more about the singer through generasia. Marcos V also wrote a great article on her last single here.

9. Yukiko Okada -- Wonder Trip Lover [岡田有希子 -- WONDER TRIP LOVER] (1986)
Here's a Sakamoto creation that has popped at me in various incarnations over the years, but it's Yukada's glorious opening track to her final album “Venus Tanjo” (ヴィーナス誕生) from March 1986 that I'm partial to. The other two are Sakamoto's self-cover with different lyrics titled “Ballet Mecanique” which came out a month later and Miki Nakatani's “Chronic Love” from 1999, an opening to the quirky mystery drama Keizoku that she has starred in. Those unique melody chords cannot be mistaken for anything else. It's one of Sakamoto's quintessential compositions, in my opinion. Combine that with Okada's cute and quivering vocals and you have an idol masterpiece. I've never seen her perform this which I doubt even happened considering the brief time between “Venus Tanjo” and her death, but I think it'd be a lovely sight. She had a lot of nice songs in her brief but legendary career, including the acclaimed “Kuchibiru Network” (also created by Sakamoto), and she also passed the test of keeping up the good work beyond the singles. That's why I decided to highlight “Wonder Trip Lover” aside from the fact that it happens to be a fine techno-kayo song. The other two names involved with it were EPO behind the lyrics and the late Tetsuro Kashibuchi (かしぶち哲郎) from Moonriders behind the arrangement. That galloping drumming in the refrain and the sax are unique to Okada's version and make it the special one for me.

10. Kyoko Koizumi -- Tsuretette Phantasien [小泉今日子 -- 連れてってファンタァジェン] (1987)
I just like the spunky Kyon Kyon in general, so it really made my day when I found out that she teamed up with folks like Hosono and Masami Tsuchiya (土屋昌巳) who composed and arranged this tune. It was a leading track on her eleventh studio album "Phantasien" from July 1987. Being released later in the decade, it doesn't really resemble that early techno-kayo style, but it still has enough happy synthesisizer in it be their relative. Being a sucker for anything fantastical, I obviously enjoyed “Tsuretette Phantasien” for the whole “girl lost in a fantasyland” theme. And that German bit in the bridge specifically transplanted me to the fairytales of Brothers Grimm. I particularly enjoyed the toy military drum rhythm combined with that adventurous melody in the refrain. And the way it wraps up at the end is magical. The promotional video of Kyon Kyon in wandering in the forest and encountering various creatures is very fitting.

That's it, folks. If you're interested in sampling more techno-kayo, you can check out P-Vine's impressive compilations where they selected a bunch of songs on various labels from Polydor and Teichiku to Victor and Kind Records. More about those here. Unfortunately, For Life Records and Sony didn't participate in the project, so names like Chiemi Manabe aren't represented there. Those are still extensive compilations though that include both aidoru tunes and more experimental fare. My playlist here has many of the artists featured there, though I didn't necessarily go for just the signature tunes. Hopefully you found something of interest.

Akira Kobayashi -- Atsuki Kokoro ni (熱き心に)

I wasn't quite sure what to make of "Atsuki Kokoro ni" (In A Passionate Heart) when I first heard it on "Sounds of Japan". It didn't quite sound like an enka song but it didn't really sound like a regular pop tune either. And this was the first that I had heard of Akira Kobayashi(小林旭). But later on, I learned that he started his long career in Japanese showbiz as an actor for Nikkatsu Studios in 1956 and was placed alongside cinematic legend Yujiro Ishihara (石原裕次郎)as one of the young turks for the studio.

Looking at the J-Wiki article for Kobayashi, he also has a very long line of singles that started with "Onna wo Wasurero"(女を忘れろ...Forget Women)in 1958 and has continued up to 2013. However with a lot of folks, it's "Atsuki Kokori ni" that is most associated with Kobayashi. As I said in the first paragraph, the song doesn't categorize easily. When I further listened to it, it sounded like something suited to a Hollywood western, and at the time I was still accustomed to knowing Japanese popular music as two distinct entities: pure enka and aidoru (well, there is also YMO...).

Much later, I found out that the song was composed by the late Eiichi Ohtaki (大瀧詠一)who seemed to specialize in crafting these heroic-sounding songs, such as "Saraba Siberia Tetsudo"(さらば、シベリア鉄道)and "Fuyu no Riviera"(冬のリビエラ). Initially, Kobayashi was less-than-impressed when he had heard the demo tape for "Atsuki Kokoro ni" but when he heard about the string arrangement by Norio Maeda (前田憲夫)at the recording studio, he quickly changed his tune (no pun intended). And on hearing the grand introduction, he got the image of a John Wayne oater and concluded that perhaps he could take this song on (so, it wasn't just me then). As someone who spent years playing tough heroes, I can imagine how this would appeal to him. Lyrically, though, Ohtaki asked Yu Aku (阿久悠)to take the helm instead of his usual songwriting partner Takashi Matsumoto (松本隆)since Aku could bring a more traditional style to the words.

The song managed to get as high as No. 12 on the Oricon singles charts after its debut in November 1985 and later became the 20th-ranked song of 1986. It also became the winner of three prizes at the Japan Record Awards, including one for songwriting. Kobayashi also appeared on the 1986 Kohaku Utagassen to sing "Atsuki Kokoro ni", something that he repeated at the 1994 Kohaku.

courtesy of
david haggard
from Flickr

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ego-Wrappin' -- Ashinaga no Salvador (あしながのサルヴァドール)

Another cool and swingy number from Yoshie Nakano (中納良恵)and Masaki Mori (森雅樹)of Ego-Wrappin', "Ashinaga no Salvador" (Long-Legged Salvador) is one of those tunes to suck back a cigar while swirling that glass of brandy in a comfy armchair. This is a track from their 3rd full album of "Night Food" (July 2002) and I enjoy the muted horns along with the relaxed evening guitar.

I came across this one via their music video which unfortunately isn't on YouTube or any of the other sites but it had Nakano and Mori slowly traversing the desert at dusk which makes for an appropriate scene for the song. It sounds perfect for that time of day. The other thing I was interested in about the song was the first half of the title "Ashinaga". I've often seen or heard that word in various aspects of Japanese pop culture whether it be through certain characters on TV or in other song lyrics, but the Japanese did have a thing for height way back when (as did I when I was a kid....luckily, those growth spurts kicked in). Then all those fast food chains landed in the country and people aren't so self-conscious about it anymore.

SHOGUN -- Otokotachi no Melody (男達のメロディー)

This is a song that I often heard on all those old music retrospectives such as "19XX", and considering what was being played in Japan during that decade of the 70s, I thought it was just one of the more cheerfully unusual tunes that I had ever heard.

SHOGUN was a band that was first brought together through a conglomeration of studio musicians including guitarist Fujimal Yoshino (芳野藤丸)which had released the album, "Yellow Magic" under the band name of One Line Band. A majority of that grouping stayed together to become SHOGUN. As for how the name came about, a staffer for the Nippon Television Music Corporation had gone to America for a vacation and at a US airport, he saw a ton of James Clavell's "Shogun" novels stacked up somewhere. So when he returned to Japan, he made the suggestion to his junior colleague Noriko Iida (飯田則子)who had taken an interest in Yoshino's group; Iida had always dreamed of a Japanese band whose name could be understood overseas, and with her senior's suggestion, that was that for this particular group of musicians.

The debut song for the new band of SHOGUN was "Otokotachi no Melody" (Melody of Men) which became the theme song for an action-comedy titled "Oretachi wa Tenshi da!"(俺たちは天使だ!...We Guys Are Angels!)about a group of motley detectives and their agency. Released in April 1979, it was written by Makoto Kitajo (喜多條忠)and composed by then-member Casey Rankin. Starting with a blast of anthemic rock guitar, the song quickly transitions into a comical country-style melody, perhaps reflecting how the TV show progressed, and one of the things I remember from the song was the English that popped up now and then such as "Pick up your head, throw away your blues". I thought it was more suited to the hills of Kentucky than the skyscrapers of Tokyo.

The above is the English-language version of "Otokotachi no Melody".  The song became a big hit for the band which, according to J-Wiki, scored over half a million records (although entamedata shows a far more modest number) in sales and became the 64th-ranked song of the year. However, even more fame was to come in a couple of singles with "Bad City", another catchy detective show theme.

courtesy of
from Flickr

Dreams Come True -- Mirai Yosozu II (未来予想図II)

One thing I didn't mention in my article on Dreams Come True's "Egao no Yukue" (笑顔の行方...February 1990) many many moons ago was that it was the first DCT CD single that I had ever bought. I was just impressed by the brassiness in Miwa Yoshida's (吉田美和)delivery and the arrangements that seemed to sparkle along with the lead vocal's smile.

Now, the coupling song for "Egao no Yukue" was "Mirai Yosozu II" (Forecast Map of the Future 2), an entry in the Dreams Come True discography that has arguably become even more beloved than the A-side and which has certainly become one of the most popular tunes by the band, especially when sung from the concert stage. I think as soon as the first notes of the intro are played, the usual reaction is a huge whoop of applause from the audience and the lightsticks start waving and the tears start flowing.

Yoshida first wrote and composed one of her most famous creations back in her high school days, and she decided to write about looking back at her high school graduation with her darling...a bit of future nostalgia, so to speak. The song perhaps could also be used every time she sings it on stage for Miwa and partner Masato Nakamura(中村正人) to look back at their own career which has now spanned over a quarter of a century. And of course, I'm sure "Mirai Yosozu II" can be sung at any event like a graduation ceremony or a wedding reception, and the water works are promised to flow. The song is not only an epic one for being the longest one in DCT's discography but also for Yoshida's slow crescendo which increases in power at the end. It would be the one song to end a concert....before the inevitable encores, that is.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

hitomi -- Candy Girl

Looking back at those mid-90s, I came to the realization that everyone was popping out of the Tetsuya Komuro (小室哲哉)family woodwork. Let's see....there was trf, globe, Tomomi Kahala for starters. And there was also hitomi (Hitomi Furuya/古屋仁美 on the official documents).

As Marcos V. remarked on his article for her 7th single, "by myself", the Kanagawa Prefecture native didn't exactly have the most talented set of vocal cords, but she did make up for that with that much-needed trait for success: PRESENTATION! I was watching "Countdown TV" early Sunday morning on TBS when I saw the video for her single "Candy Girl" (just an excerpt above). It made an impression....for one thing, the legs which had me remembering the old Chisato Moritaka(森高千里) days. That video, which also got onto heavy rotation via the commercials plugging the single, had me thinking that this was a pretty darn big debut for hitomi, only to later find out that this was actually her 3rd release after a couple of middling ones.

The video and the catchy refrain helped "Candy Girl" (composed by Komuro and written by hitomi) to go as high as No. 15 on Oricon. And even though it didn't crack the Top 10, it had a long life on the charts and ended up becoming hitomi's most successful hit after its release in April 1995 (good golly, almost 20 years ago). It was also a part of her debut album, "Go To The Top" from September of that year which peaked at No. 3.

courtesy of
from Flickr

Miharu Koshi -- Tutu

A little over a year ago, I did a profile on Miharu Koshi's "Keep On Dancin'", a quirky technopop tune with a hint of jazz that originated from her 4th album from October 1983, "Tutu". Well, it's time to take a bit more of a look at that album itself.

I bought "Tutu" as one-half of a double-album release, "Epoque de Techno" (2009), basically a re-mastering of "Tutu" and her follow-up album, "Parallelisme" (1984). After listening to her "Hashire Usagi" on a compilation album, I was intrigued about someone who could've been a fine female member of the Yellow Magic Orchestra.

The above video is for the opening track of "Tutu", "L'Amour Toujours". Of all of the songs in the album, this is the only one that Koshi didn't originally create; actually, the credit belongs to Belgian synthpop band, Telex, which had the song as part of their 1981 album, "Birds and Bees". Koshi added her own lyrics to her cover version which has a more delicate sense compared to the Telex original. You can take a listen to that version below.

As I mentioned above, "Tutu" was Koshi's 4th album, but I'd probably say that it was actually her debut release as コシミハル as opposed to her start as 越美晴 in 1978 as a City Pop singer. After a few years in that first genre, she entered a rut and experienced some level of frustration as she tried to change her musical direction for a few years until Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣) of YMO praised her demo tape and got to work producing the expression of that new direction. And it wasn't just the musical direction that she changed. It was also her name from the kanji to the blocky katakana, and even the physical appearance she presented to the public.

In the liner notes, Koshi stated that she had techno, some minimalism and exotica within the songs she composed and wrote for her renaissance release. I think "Laetitia" has all of that, especially that last quality. As she sings about that barefoot blonde striding across the desert, Yellow Magic Orchestra's "Simoon" comes to mind. And just like YMO's inaugural album from 1978 where "Simoon" resides, Koshi seems to have applied the technopop sound to a variety of genres like jazz amongst her songs here.

"Sugar Me" is the singer's tribute to New Wave with that transformed high-pitched voice and flirtatious style. Perhaps there is even a slight wink at Devo.

If I were to compare the change from City Pop Miharu to Technopop Miharu with any other singer, Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子) is the one. A few years earlier, Ohnuki had also hit a brick wall in her career until another YMO member, Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一), also guided her onto a totally different path lined with technopop and European sounds. However unlike her, Koshi seemed to have been more willing to embrace her inner YMO and go a bit more avant-garde.

"Pussy Cat" has her applying a bit of techno-cabaret to a feline. I made a reference to the Indonesian pop singer Taco for "Keep On Dancin'" when he had his 15 minutes in the limelight in the early 80s for his version of "Puttin' On The Ritz". What made the song even more interesting to me was that the computerized big band wasn't totally in tune which gave the sound a dreamy off-kilter quality. "Pussy Cat" could have been on the playlist for that cantina jazz band at Mos Eisley in the very first "Star Wars".

The one song that was striking to me was "Dimanche, je ne vais pas" (I Won't Go on Sunday) since it's arguably the most mainstream-sounding track on the album. It's one woman's melancholy and reluctant vow of no longer revisiting a dead romance, and the music is about as non-minimalist as it gets on "Tutu". In fact, for one listen I wondered whether it was even approaching an aidoru-style ballad. Still, the techno elements are in there and Koshi's vocals are different from her City Pop days.

I'm not sure what the fans of 越美晴 made of the new and techno コシミハル at the time when "Tutu" was released. In my case, I was going in the other direction and found the album another illustration as to how much of an influence YMO had on pop music in general in Japan in the early 80s. It is one of my more interesting albums, not least in terms of how bold a turn Koshi made to get out of that rut, a change she states that she is very grateful for. And I'm grateful for the fact I can have these two different Miharu Koshis to sample. In fact, she has made some additional course corrections over the years for which I've gotten the albums for, so there are even more "reincarnations" of her to experience.