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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Akina Nakamori -- Bitter and Sweet (Follow-Up)

One of my first entries for "Kayo Kyoku Plus" was Akina Nakamori's(中森明菜)"Bitter and Sweet" album from 1985. I had been enthused to write about it, and yet I only wrote about the first two songs which troubled me to a certain extent considering that I've always considered her 7th album as the gamechanger in her career. For this album, composers and lyricists from EPO to Yosui Inoue to Toshiki Kadomatsu to Minako Yoshida had their fingers in this pie, so to speak, and from that factor, Akina-chan was stretched to try a number of genres within Japanese pop music.

As I mentioned in the original article, "Bitter and Sweet" was divided into the bitter A-side and the sweet B-side, and it was there that I talked about the two songs on that former side, "Kazarijanainoyo Namida wa" (飾りじゃないのよ涙は)and "Romantic na Yoru da wa"(ロマンチックな夜だわ). And I also talked about "Yokan"(予感), Track 3 on Side A which also got a place on a smaller mini-album, "My Best Thanks" which came out at the end of 1985.

The other notable song from that bitter side was "Babylon" which was created by the good folks at Sandii and the Sunsetz. Sandii herself took care of the fiercely enticing lyrics and the backup vocals while her bandmate Makoto Kubota(久保田麻琴)came up with the alternately mysterious and raucous melody. Throughout "Bitter and Sweet", Nakamori was a melodic chameleon....or a block of tofu, if you like....absorbing the various flavours of the styles of the singer-songwriters, and here, she took on that pop/rock pose. The song portrayed Babylon as this hedonistic palace where angels and devils could both sip their champagne and make merry....hmmm....sounds like the ol' Gas Panic in Roppongi. In any case, what struck me was the usage of English and the way that Akina kept enunciating the title in a silky and dangerous voice as if she were Lorelei herself. She could promise a lot of pleasure but could not guarantee protection from the potential pain. "Babylon" was definitely well-suited for the A-side.

As much as "Babylon" put a definite period onto the bitter side of "Bitter and Sweet", "Unsteady Love" set the tone for the sweet side with its summery boppy beat by Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生). Akina grabbed the song and ran down the beach with it like a post-exam coed on vacation. And considering it was written and composed by Kadomatsu, there was a certain Anri-ness(杏里)to the overall feel of the tune. Yet, there was also a bit of a connection between "Unsteady Love" and "Babylon" in that the first song of Side B hinted at young, shallow and tenuous early relationships. But unlike the devilish leer of "Babylon", "Unsteady Love" presented its hedonism with a feckless grin. Hey, it was fun but gotta go....y'know what I mean, eh? (air kiss)

"Koibito no Iru Jikan"(恋人のいる時間...Lovers' Time)had Akina covering the City Pop beat with that sax and synth. I could see the skyscrapers of West Shinjuku at sunset listening to this one easily. Written by SHOW and composed by drummer Akira Jinbo(神保彰)of the famed Japanese fusion band, Casiopea, the song related a relaxing day (despite the urgent beat) of a young couple probably high up in a hotel suite or swanky apartment in that very area. As I put in the "Bitter and Sweet" album into the player again, I had to think about how the melody went but as soon I heard it again, I finally realized how cool and urban it was.

"So Long" was another Toshiki Kadomatsu creation for Nakamori. Unlike the happy-go-running "Unsteady Love", "So Long" was a much more laid back "Smell the roses" ballad with some old-fashioned soul thrown in for good measure. I think it made for a nice little warm-down for the listener as the album started to draw to its end.

And finally the album came to a soft landing with the even softer ballad "April Stars" by the Empress Dowager of J-R&B, Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子). The singer sang about a couple confessing and acknowledging their love one night almost like a lullaby, and it made for a fine quiet ending to an album that began with a roar.

As I said before, the first album I bought of Akina was "D404ME", a good work in itself that was released just 4 months after this album. However, getting introduced to "Bitter and Sweet" was the point where I solidly became an Akina Nakamori fan. All that variety in melodies and styles matched with the former aidoru's developing and deepening vocals came together to create one of my favourite albums in my collection. There are actually a couple of tracks left that I haven't covered yet but it will just be a matter of time before my talk on the No. 9 album of 1985 is complete.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

the brilliant green -- There Will Be Love There

I wanted to track down the original music video for the brilliant green's breakthrough hit, "There Will Be Love There" since the image of the band singing on top of that nighttime swimming pool will always be the enduring one for me. And the song itself will always be the one that I associate the band with.

When I first heard "There Will Be Love There", my first impression was that there was something new and yet nostalgic about Tomoko Kawase's(川瀬智子)vocals. Words like "indie" came into my head since I think at the time (memory's a bit fuzzy) there was a transition of sorts from the dance-oriented music of Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)to the J-R&B offered by units like m-flo along with the rising star of the aidoru groups such as SMAP and Morning Musume. BuriGuri (their nickname) just sounded different from all that, but I soon felt that there was also some association of their sound with bands like Mr. Children and Spitz. When I read that the group based a lot of their music on The Beatles, a light did go off....especially when I re-heard those guitars.

"There Will Be Love There" was first released in May 1998 as the brilliant green's 3rd single, and the song was also the theme for the TBS drama "Love Again". The show didn't particularly wow too many viewers but "There Will Be Love There" did very well as it debuted at No. 14 in its first week and then went all the way up to No. 1 by the end of its first month of release. Kawase was responsible for the lyrics while bassist Shunsaku Okuda(奥田俊作)took care of the music. By the end of the year, the song was ranked No. 22 on the annual charts.

the brilliant green was formed back in 1995 when Okuda and his classmate at Murasakino High School in Kyoto, guitarist Ryo Matsui(松井亮), discovered Kawase singing at a live house. A couple of years later, the band would make its major debut with "Bye Bye Mr. Mug", a single that had entirely English lyrics. That song peaked at No. 69. 20 singles in total have been released up to 2010 along with 5 albums although the brilliant green went on a hiatus from 2002 to 2007 (mind you, Kawase was still humming along with her solo projects Tommy february 6 and Tommy heavenly 6 at the time).

Kawase and Okuda eventually got married and Matsui later left the group in 2010. As for the guys' alma mater, Murasakino High has had quite the few celeb grads over the years including Shibuya-kei master Fantastic Plastic Machine and a number of announcers on TV and radio.

courtesy of
from Flickr

Michiko Namiki & Noboru Kirishima -- Ringo no Uta (リンゴの唄)

About a few days ago, I had written about Ringo Shiina's(椎名林檎)Latin swan song of sorts (or so I thought) "Ringo no Uta"(りんごのうた...Ringo's Song). Well, today will be about the original "Ringo no Uta" (Song of the Apple), a jaunty song that I've heard off and on since I was a baby and has been considered to be the first postwar kayo kyoku hit, according to the Wikipedia entry. Wiki explains the history about the song so without having to repeat it, you can take a look at the article here.

Written by Hachiro Sato(サトウハチロー)and composed by Tadashi Manjome(万城目正)for release in January 1946, less than 6 months after the end of World War II, it was sung initially as a duet with actress Michiko Namiki (並木路子)and singer Noboru Kirishima(霧島昇)who also later sung another kayo classic, "Mune no Furiko"(胸の振り子). Although the official release of it as a 78 rpm single was in that January, its reputation had already grown a few months earlier through its use in the movie "Soyokaze"(そよかぜ...Soft Breeze)which also starred Namiki. In fact, its popularity translated into a then-unheard-of sales record of over 100,000 copies sold.

I'm not sure whether my father's collection includes "Ringo no Uta" although I know that there are several 78s in there, but I have been hearing the song on tape and through some of those old retrospectives on TV over the decades which included the recent airing of the 46th annual "Omoide no Melody"(思い出のメロディー...Melodies of Your Memories)on NHK. For a people who really love their nostalgia, "Ringo no Uta" has been one of the crowd-pleasers among the older set and perhaps even some of the younger generations.

courtesy of
Miss K.B.
from Flickr

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ayumi Nakamura -- Tsubasa no Oreta Angel (翼の折れたエンジェル)

I couldn't quite believe the background story behind singer-songwriter Ayumi Nakamura(中村あゆみ)when I read it on J-Wiki. All these years, I'd thought that the Osaka-born singer was hitting the drums or the guitar from an early age. Well, what I found out was that once she graduated from high school, the singer-songwriter had been an office worker and then a road construction worker by day and a disco queen at night. But the kicker was the following incident. One night when a burglar had entered her home, she fled to an acquaintance's drinking establishment where she met music producer Ken Takahashi(高橋研), and he found out (as I have now) that until that fateful meeting, Nakamura had never really listened to music or hadn't even owned a single record in her entire life.

And yet, she apparently had earned enough of a reputation (probably at the discos) that some big talent agencies asked her if she would join them. She didn't bite. It took that home invasion and a run into Takahashi to change her life permanently...such is the stuff that trendy dramas are made of. In September 1984, she made her debut with "Midnight Kids".

However, it was with her 3rd single from April 1985 that she hit pay dirt with "Tsubasa no Oreta Angel" (Angel with Broken Wings), a pop/rock concoction created by Takahashi himself that is reminiscent of early Kahoru Kohiruimaki (小比類巻かほる)and Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里). Like those two singers, she had the husky voice to match although her appearance from the video above had her looking a bit more cutesy pop than rock. I found out about Nakamura via this very song through one of the compilation tapes, and listening to the good old-fashioned rock n' roll beat, I later wondered if there had been inspiration from Motoharu Sano(佐野元春).

"Tsubasa no Oreta Angel" became Nakamura's biggest hit which sold close to 400,000 records. It peaked at No. 4 on Oricon (although her 6th single peaked at the higher rank of 2) and became the 12th-ranked single of the year.

Yutaka Mizutani -- California Connection (カリフォルニア・コネクション)

Usually I catch NHK's morning variety show, "Asaichi" at about 1 p.m. on TV Japan on the weekdays, but perhaps because of the O-Bon holidays, the show's currently on hiatus. However, for the past several days, our cable channel for Japanese TV has supplanted it with reruns of the long-running detective show "Aibou"(相棒...Partners)starring actor Yutaka Mizutani(水谷豊)as the urbane, tea-sipping master detective Ukyo Sugishita. He's the calm, older and intelligent brains while three actors have played the eager young brawny partners.

Considering how much of a Yoda-like figure Detective Sugishita is, it was a bit of a revelation to realize that he once played a much goofier detective in the 1979 series, "Necchu Jidai"(熱中時代...The Zealous Times). Let's say that if Sugishita is indeed Yoda, then his former role as Detective Takeshi Hayano was Grover from "Sesame Street", judging from the opening credits above. The show itself was rather unique in that its first season, the setting was an elementary school in which Mizutani played Kitano-sensei before making that abrupt switch in setting to a police station for the 2nd season.

According to his Wikipedia biography, Mizutani was more of a reluctant thespian who finally got accustomed to his career. Well, perhaps that was also the case with his singing career since it was his managing company at the time that gently prodded him to release a few tunes or so. Up to 2009, he has been able to spin out 18 singles and several albums, but his most famous one is his 5th which was the theme for the Detective Version of "Necchu Jidai", "California Connection".

Released in April 1979, "California Connection" was written by Yoko Aki(阿木燿子), one-half of the married songwriting duo behind a number of Momoe Yamaguchi's(山口百恵)hits in the later years of her career, and composed by Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃), the man who took care of "Canada kara no Tegami"(カナダからの手紙)a year previously. I think there was an unwritten rule at the time about detective-portraying actors-turned-singers that said that they to sing somewhat shibui downtown pop, and I think that rule applied with Mizutani. He sounded like a pro actor putting out a single than a pro singer doing the same, but he acquitted himself well enough here. And as it turned out, the song about someday settling down with that beloved girl and making do in the big city got as high as No. 3 on the Oricon charts and ended the year as the 12th-ranked single of the year.

Some years ago, Mizutani did a self-cover of his old hit with a full-on music video parodying the opening to "Necchu Jidai", to boot. He even got one-half of comedy duo Tunnels, Noritake Kinashi(木梨憲武) to come in and help out as the befuddled police man. It was a bit odd seeing Mizutani looking a lot more like his serene Ukyo Sugishita clowning around like a combination of Charlie Chaplin and Mr. Bean, but hey, I'm happy he doesn't take his most famous character too seriously.

Not sure how long the above video will stay up, but this is the entire premiere episode for the Detective Version of "Necchu Jidai". The American actress in it is Miki Mackenzie who was briefly Mrs. Yutaka Mizutani before the divorce, but for both former partners, there is a happy ending in that Mackenzie re-married some years later, and Mizutani got married to his second wife in 1979, former Candies member, Ran Ito(伊藤蘭).

For some other famous cop show themes, there are "Ninzaburo Furuhata" and "Odoru Dai Sosasen".

Courtesy of
Ken Mat
from Flickr

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


At the beginning of the year, I started talking about the music attached to the zany anime, "Space Dandy". The show has already garnered a lot of attention from the way-out stories and the wackadoodle situations that the crew of the Aloha-Oe end up in. But it seems like the music has also played a good part in the show's popularity. There are the super funky theme songs, "Viva Namida" by Yasuyuki Okamura(岡村靖幸), "X-Jigen e Yokoso"(X次元へようこそ) by Etsuko Yakushimaru(やくしまるえつこ), and the one song that first got me thinking about the music placement for "Space Dandy", the smoothly soaring "Hoshikuzu no Pipeline"(星屑のパイプライン)by Junk Fujiyama.

I just saw the recent episode for the 2nd season which was a seeming tribute to "Glee" and "High School Musical", and although the songs in there were more parody (as they were supposed to be) than actual singles to be released, the dedication of the producers to the additional music had me thinking back to the final episode of the 1st season, "Sōjiki Datte Koisuru Jan yo"(掃除機だって恋するじゃんよ...Even Vacuum Cleaners Fall In Love). 

That episode was about one of the crew, the robot QT, falling in love with a coffee maker. The story reminded me of the plot for the Pixar movie, "WALL-E"; there, I remember Louis Armstrong's version of "La Vie En Rose" following the cute little robot. And just like that movie, there was music following a robot in love in that final episode of "Space Dandy". However, instead of the old-style jazz of "La Vie En Rose", it was a slow-groove techno ballad that accompanied QT and his first love, Maker (at around 8:50 of the episode at the link below).

At first, I thought "Holy Cow! Those guys actually got Daft Punk to perform!" Uh-uh, nope. It was actually a unit called LUVRAW that came up with "ANATATO" (With You), a song that not only reminded me of the French techno duo but also some of the R&B love songs that I used to hear back in the 70s & 80s. I've tried to look up any information about the unit, and he/they have a Twitter account (@LUVRAW), but there isn't much. I've gleaned that LUVRAW has been around since at least 2010 with a couple of albums out, and the unit's weapon of choice is the talk box. Below is another example of their music.

As for "ANATATO", it can be found on the official soundtrack for "Space Dandy". Have a listen to this one at night with the lights down low....except for a lamp on your vacuum cleaner. It looks like no matter what kind of mayhem QT ends up for the remainder of the series, his theme song will always be this one for me.

courtesy of
from Flickr

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Omoide no Ki no Shita de (思い出の樹の下で)

We're back to the 70s Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)which means her bright, brassy and disco-sprinkled aidoru tunes. "Omoide no Ki no Shita de" (Under The Tree of Memories) was created by veteran lyricist Yu Aku(阿久悠)and veteran composer Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)as Iwasaki's 8th single in January 1977, and has the singer trilling triumphantly about that special day of declaring one's love under that tree. Although it was first sold just a few weeks after New Year's, it sounds a whole lot more summery.

Whenever I listened to those 70s Oricon-friendly pop songs, I would usually hear the battery of strings and/or that sharp trumpet, but for "Omoide no Ki no Shita de", it was the first time to hear a French horn start things off which is how I remember this Iwasaki entry. The horn popped up one more time, I guess, in the song but it certainly left an impression. It peaked at No. 7 and ended the year as the 54th-ranked single. It was also a track on her 4th album, "With Best Friends" that came out in May 1977 and also went as high as No. 7 on the album charts.

The team of Aku and Tsutsumi would also create another uptempo hit for Iwasaki over 18 months later, "Cinderella Honeymoon".

courtesy of
Nick Landells
from Flickr