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, July 31, 2012

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Madonna Tachi no Lullaby (聖母たちのララバイ)

After having returned from my eye-opening Japanese Language School graduation trip in 1981, I became a convert for Hiromi Iwasaki's(岩崎宏美) music due to her cover of the Blue Comets' "Sumire Iro no Namida"すみれ色の涙....Violet-Coloured Tears). The next year, it was my brother's turn on the graduation trip and so I asked him to bring back an album or a single record by her, and so he got me this single. I always loved the young Iwasaki's long straight black hair during the 80s.

"Madonna Tachi no Lullaby" (The Madonnas' Lullaby) originally started out with very humble beginnings. It didn't even start out as a full song. It had been written just as a short sung accompaniment to the end credits of "Kayo Suspense Gekijo"火曜サスペンス劇場....The Tuesday Night Suspense Movie) on NTV, but when viewers overwhelmingly flooded the station for requests of this song, Iwasaki's 28th single was born. I have heard the original version for the end credits, and the intro and the middle instrumental struck me as tepid, so I am glad that the arrangers gave the official single a more urban contemporary punch-up with Fender Rhodes Piano and electric guitar.

The little song that could was released in May 1982, and went to the top of the charts for four weeks straight before finishing the year as the 3rd-ranked song for the year, ultimately selling 1.3 million records. In addition, it won the Grand Prize for that year's Japan Kayo Awards. There were also expectations for it winning a similar prize for the Japan Record Awards.

And that's where the controversy came in. Toshiyuki Kimori(木森敏之) composed "Madonna Tachi no Lullaby" with Keisuke Yamakawa(山川啓介) as the lyricist. As they were accepting their accolades for creating Iwasaki's latest hit, a very unhappy American composer, John Scott, who had been responsible for composing the soundtrack for the 1980 sci-fi movie, "The Final Countdown", stormed into Japan accusing Kimori of plagiarizing parts from a couple of tracks for that movie (those tracks are in the video above). His protests against Kimori were enough so that there was a hasty revision in the credits. John Scott is now officially listed as co-composer. Those expectations for the song to receive the Grand Prize at The Japan Record Awards plummeted out of existence. All this happened before the single's official release in May; actually, it was supposed to have been released in April but all of the chaos forced a month's delay.

Still in the end, "Madonna Tachi no Lullaby" is recognized as one of Iwasaki's representative works, and because of its origins as the ending theme of that Tuesday night suspense drama, she was called upon again to provide further ending themes for the program for the next few years after that.

KK Plus Hits The Big 6!

First off, I just wanted to thank all the followers and everyone else who have taken a peek at my little project over the past half-year. Thanks to all of you, we were able to get past the 10,000 viewership mark a few days ago. I never expected anything like this for such a niche hobby.

I started this blog exactly 6 months ago on the final day of a not-so-cold January just on a whim to find out who was out there who liked kayo kyoku like I did, and at the very least, get a lot of stuff off my chest about the songs I've liked...some of which I've been listening to since my infancy.

At this point, I would like to share with you a couple of sets of stats I've amassed from Blogger.

A. Page Viewership by Country (Jan. 31 - July 31)

1. United States                 3875 views
2. Japan                           1372
3. Canada                         1125
4. Russia                            479
5. Croatia                           444
6. Germany                         335
7. United Kingdom                229
8. South Korea                    208
9. Ukraine                           128
10. Australia                        126

The Top 10 here make up about 80% of the total viewership of 10,000 plus. All of the continents have been represented overall, and I've received pageviews from places like Brunei, Estonia, the Netherlands and even Reunion (out in the Indian Ocean). Now, taking into consideration that a certain fraction of these pageviews probably consist of people who just stumbled in by accident and quickly left or spammers, I'm still heartened and surprised at the reach that kayo kyoku has had worldwide...not just in North America but in Eastern and Northern Europe, South America and even Africa and the Middle East.

B. Top 10 Entries (Pageviews)

1. The Candies                                           Haru Ichiban          139
2. Yukiko Okada/Mariya Takeuchi                  Lonesome Season    74
3. Ami Ozaki                                              My Pure Lady          59
4. Yumi Arai/Hi-Fi Set                                Sotsugyo Shashin     46
5. Hikaru Utada                                          Automatic               35
6. H2O                                                     Omoide ga Ippai        34
7. Yumi Arai                                              Cobalt Hour             34
8. Hideki Saijo                                           Young Man               32
9. 1981 Kohaku List                                                                 32
10. Hiromi Go                                           Otoko no Ko...            32

The Candies got that huge boost when a fellow taking care of the site linked my article on them with one of his dealing with the current unit, Perfume. Those were some interesting days. With the exception of Hikaru Utada, the majority of the songs are from the 70s.

Last but not least, I'd also like to thank those who have been generous with their time and words to leave comments, notably Makotogawa from Croatia, DOSSY and more recently, Andrew Yen from Texas. Again, if any of you out there would like to share some of your kayo kyoku stories, I'm more than willing to read and talk about them.

And finally, since I've linked this blog to my Twitter feed, I've actually gotten a celebrity follower: Akiko Kobayashi (Koi ni Ochite - 1985). She has been living in London for the past 20 years with her family and is enjoying the 2012 Olympics. Admittedly naively, I hope that someday she may be able to leave her own comments on this blog about her entries or some of the others.

Anyways, here's hoping that I can dig up some more kayo kyoku for the next 6 months. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Minako Yoshida/Rats & Star -- Yume de Aetara (夢で逢えたら)

"Yume de Aetara"(When We Meet In Our Dreams) was originally written and composed by Eiichi Ohtaki(大瀧詠一)for singer Ann Lewis but found that it didn't quite fit with her singing style at the time. However, Ohtaki found a couple of saviours in Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子) and Celia Paul. As was customary for an Ohtaki tune, "Yume" had that 50s/60s sound with a hint of Phil Spector...especially more pronounced in the Celia Paul version (available on YouTube). Both versions are considered to be the original sources from which so many singers in the decades to come covered the song. It has become quite the kayo kyoku standard.

The song is simple, innocent and romantic. The lyrics talk pretty straight about hoping to meet that boy/girl in one's dreams no matter how far the distance. Just close your eyes and dream. Rather like an old lullaby.

Yoshida's version was originally part of her 3rd album, "Flapper", released in 1976. Considering her later musical direction, she sings it surprisingly high in a kayo kyoku way, although that retro feel is still there. A single version was later released.

The very first version of the song I heard, though, was the one by the vocal group Rats & Star released in April 1996. This one had the feeling of an old R&B ballad with Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之) taking the lead and Masashi Tashiro(田代まさし) taking the spoken-word part. Perhaps it's because the Rats & Star cover was the first version I heard, but for me, I prefer this one since the harmonies are so well delivered.

Kahoru Kohiruimaki -- Dreamer

For me, I've always seen Aomori Prefecture-born singer Kahoru Kohiruimaki(小比類巻かほる) having two phases in her career. In her first three years, she was singing dynamic pop songs and some rockin' tunes often reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band with some Tower of Power horns thrown in (her 1987 single "Come On" is a good example). Then, in 1989, with the release of her 6th album, "Time The Motion", she went into a more R&B/soul/funk direction. One of the tracks from this album was "Dreamer".

Even before going to Gunma Prefecture in 1989, I'd known about Kohiruimaki from her poppy 1987 hit, "Hold On Me". But "Dreamer", her 12th single released in September of that year, made me forget about her earlier hit for a good long time. Written by Kohiruimaki and composed by Yoshiaki Ohuchi(大内義昭), this song is a Kodama Bullet Train of a disco tune which melds in those horns, disco strings and a group of backup singers that must've had a bit of Jack Daniels before going behind the mikes. One of the backups was Fee Waybill, lead singer of the New Wave group, The Tubes, a decade prior (my only knowledge of the band was through their appearance on the Canadian sketch comedy show, "SCTV" when they sang "Sushi Girl").

It also looks like the producers threw everything but the kitchen sink into the music video as well. Choreography, horn players and a trio of voluptuous stylish black & white....yep, they're all in there. So, it was a pity that neither the single (which was used as the jingle for TDK Audio Tapes) nor the album broke the Top 100 in their categories.

As for "Time The Motion", I would have loved to have done a feature on it, but currently, aside from "Dreamer", all of the other tracks have either been deleted or never put on YouTube. And there are some good rollicking tracks such as "Wild Generation"and the title song. The other notable point about it is that it was Kohiruimaki's first album after moving to TDK Records. In addition, a couple of the tracks ("Mind Bells", "Bliss") were created by none other than Prince (yep that Prince) and recorded at his Paisley Park Studios in Minnesota. Kohiruimaki definitely wanted to make an impression (Well, whaddaya know? I finally got that article for "Time The Motion" done up here).

Sunday, July 29, 2012

B'z -- Love Phantom

Man, was this the coolest song when the duo's 18th single came out in October 1995! Used as the ending theme song for "The X-Files" when the then-popular Fox series had debuted in Japan via TV Asahi, I thought Inaba and Matsumoto just hit the bull's-eye when they made this song. Whether or not the B'z boys had intended to or not, they made the song a perfect fit for the spooky and exciting mood of the show. And with Inaba's banshee vocals, Matsumoto's riffs, a full orchestral intro at the beginning, and the opera singer near the end, you couldn't have asked for a more over-the-top arena rock song for Halloween.

Released also as a track on their 8th album, "LOOSE" in November of that year, "Love Phantom"sold close to 2 million copies, about half of which was sold in just the first week of release. It hit the top of the charts and quickly became the 10th-ranked single of 1995.

There were also a couple of brief backing vocals on the song as well. Keiko Utoku(宇徳敬子) appeared first; she was part of the B.B. Queens chorus and the retro-kayo trio Mi-Ke. And the second vocal was provided by actress Naoko Iijima(飯島直子).

Mayumi Itsuwa -- Revival (リバイバル)

In the J-Wiki write-up on singer-songwriter Mayumi Itsuwa(五輪真弓), she was called the Japanese Carole King alongside her contemporaries such as Yumi Arai(荒井由実)and Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子). And in fact, her very first album, "Shojo"少女....The Young Lady), released in 1972, was recorded in Los Angeles under the aegis of King and Grammy Award-winning producer John Fischbach. Her eponymous first single certainly had that Carole King sound.

However, whereas Arai gradually went into a more West Coast sound, and Yoshida started exploring R&B, I'd always thought that Itsuwa diverged into a more European style...somewhat in the fashion of Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子) in the 1980s. The very first song I'd ever heard by Itsuwa was "Revival"in which she sang about her "....heart being an ash-coloured revival..."after a romantic breakup that had occurred " a bolt of lightning on a summer day...". Hence, the sound of that lightning at the very beginning of the song. The loss of love had been a common topic for Itsuwa to cover in her songs.

I first heard "Revival"on the 1981 Kohaku Utagassen, Itsuwa's 2nd of 5 appearances on the NHK special. It stood out for me amongst the enka and the aidoru tunes with its shibui melody, and since then, I've been a fan. And in the larger picture, Itsuwa helped spark my interest in Japanese popular music.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Hibari Misora -- Yawara (柔)

This was another one of the big hits for the Grande Dame of kayo kyoku, Hibari Misora(美空ひばり). Released in October 1964, the timing was very auspicious since the Tokyo Olympics were held at this time. However, "Yawara" (Flexibility) was the theme song for a NTV drama of the same title. The drama dealt with the martial art of judo, 柔道、which literally translates as "the flexible way".

By the next year, Misora's muscular way of singing "Yawara" and its tenuous connection with the 1964 Olympics helped the song become a monster hit with listeners. It sold 1.8 million records, and Misora sang the song not only on the 1964 Kohaku but also on the show in 1965 as well. And it earned the Grand Prize at the Japan Record Awards. Although in the video below, she is dressed in a flashy gown, she often sang "Yawara" in male dress as well.

The song was written by Shinichi Sekizawa(関沢新一) who was also a screenwriter for a number of monster movies such as "Mothra" and "Godzilla vs. King Kong"! The composer was Masao Koga(古賀政男).

Junko Mihara -- Honki de Love Me Good (ホンキでLove Me Good)

I remember Junko Mihara(三原順子), primarily from her lone appearance on the 1982 Kohaku Utagassen. Her voice (on the show at least) reminded me of Momoe Yamaguchi's(山口百恵) pipes....low and slightly raspy, but her appearance had that tough no-nonsense biker chick look about her. She was the top batter for the show...not exactly the easiest place to start from, especially when it was the Kohaku. I distinctly remember that she held up OK for most of the song but started losing it in the last few the previous year, Hitomi Ishikawa(石川ひとみ)was 3rd in the lineup, and she completely broke down halfway through.

Mihara sang "Honki de Love Me Good"(Truly Love Me Good) which was her 10th of 21 singles that she released mostly during the first half of the 80s. She would probably identify herself as an actress who did some singing on the side....I found out from J-Wiki that her TV debut was in 1978 in a guest role on the Japanese version of "Spiderman"! Released in October 1982, "Honki de Love Me Good"went as high as No. 11 on Oricon. The song was written and composed by TAKU as this rambunctious and speedy 50s rock number....a popular template at the time; in the recorded version, Mihara sings in a higher register.

Mihara has now completely divorced herself from show business but she still has the potential to get her name in lights as an LDP politician in the House of Councillors of the Japanese Diet. I was fortunate enough to get a picture of her campaign van a few years ago in Shibuya.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Keizo Nakanishi -- Woman

I'm not sure who first cottoned me onto Keizo Nakanishi(中西圭三). It could've been one of my Osakan cousins who was kind enough to give me a tape of one of his albums, or it could've been one of my friends here in Toronto who may have specifically introduced "Woman"to me. In any case, when I first heard him, his delivery reminded me a lot of Toshinobu Kubota(久保田利伸). And Nakanishi is more or less in the same genre as well: R&B with a pop touch.

"Woman"was his 3rd single released in January 1992, and it was not only his breakthrough song, but to date, his most successful one, peaking at No. 7 on the Oricon charts. The original title was supposed to have been "Silent Memory" with different lyrics, but seeing that it was going to be tied up as a campaign song for Camellia Diamonds, lyricist Masao Urino(売野雅勇), who had written tunes for everyone from Hitomi Ishikawa to Jun'ichi Inagaki, came in and overhauled the wording for the Nakanishi composition, and the title was changed to "Woman"to reflect the image of the commercial which was "...the positive-thinking woman".

I especially enjoy the intro into the song as it starts out with a Latin guitar hinting at the main melody before going into a dramatic phase before Nakanishi starts singing. The song was also part of his 2nd album, "Yell", which was released a couple of months after the single, and managed to hit No. 4 on the album charts.

Nakanishi, by the way, was also the composer behind Zoo's catchy "Choo Choo Train" released in 1991 and already written about in this blog.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Miyuki Nakajima -- Yuuwaku (誘惑)

Another beautifully crafted song by Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき), and the first that I'd ever heard from her in 1982. "Yuuwaku"(Seduction) wraps Nakajima's dark feelings on what could either be a crumbling marriage behind a facade of happiness or an illicit affair within a constantly galloping melody...a common Nakajima style at the time. "Yuuwaku"also stands out for the singer's delivery for this particular song which seems to highlight a more fragile tone than usual. What gets me wistful about this song is the arrangement of the strings and keyboard that seemed to back up a lot of ballads during the early 80s.

This was Nakajima's 12th single released in April 1982. It peaked at No. 2 and became the 17th-ranked song of the year.

 (karaoke version)

Godiego -- Monkey Magic

When I first heard "Monkey Magic", I thought that this was one of the more interesting songs I'd ever heard on either side of the Pacific. And at that time, I didn't know of its use as the opening theme for "Saiyuki"西遊記....Journey to the West), one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese Literature that has been retold several times in Japan over the decades, the most recent re-telling being broadcast as a Fuji-TV Monday night drama in 2006 starring one of the members of SMAP, Shingo Katori(香取信吾), as the Monkey KingHowever, the most famous version was the 6-month 1978 television serial on NTV starring Masaaki Sakai(堺正章) as the Monkey King, the late actress Masako Natsume(夏目雅子) as Buddhist monk Tripitaka, and Toshiyuki Nishida(西田敏行) as the Pig Monk. 

I think "Monkey Magic"was a pretty darn bold musical move for the dramatization of a classic Chinese novel. Starting off with a progressive rock riff, the song goes into a funky disco rendition of the story in a way that would've made the band Wild Cherry proud. It also seems to be one of the first original Japanese pop songs to have been performed totally in English. The single was released on Xmas Day 1978 and peaked at No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies. Godiego's 8th single was the 17th-ranking song for 1979 (

The band Godiego(ゴダイゴ), consisting of Mickie Yoshino, Yukihide Takekawa, Takami Asano, Steve Fox and Tommy Snyder, first started in 1976. But it was 1979 which was the big year for the band as four songs, including "Monkey Magic", ended up in the Top 20 for the year (rankings 6, 14, 17, 19).

As for the name of the band itself, leader Mickie Yoshino derived it from the name of the 96th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Go-Daigo (1288-1339). But it was bandmate Steve Fox who suggested that the spelling should be altered to "Godiego". One reason was that dividing the name into its 3 syllables (go, die, go) meant "live-die-rebirth"which referred to the proverbial phoenix. In addition, when the name is split another way, (god, I , ego), the words referred to "the ego of God", otherwise known as "truth".  

The above video contains the album version of the song, officially titled as "The Birth of the Odyssey/Monkey Magic" from the No. 1 album of 1979, "Saiyuki" by Godiego. Below is the band performing the tune. When the TV series was imported to the UK, simply titled "Monkey", the single went as high as No. 56 on the charts there.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Southern All Stars -- Chako no Kaigan Monogatari (チャコの海岸物語)

I have to admit that this song has had me scratching my head all these years since Southern All Stars had performed it at the 1982 Kohaku Utagassen on NHK. I certainly couldn't understand Japanese lyrics at the time, and it was my very first time to see or hear this band. They certainly made an impression, though. My parents were just scrunching up their faces and spouting some rather disdainful things about the performance. I just found SAS simply unusual and very unlike the other singers and acts, but even at that time, only the 2nd Kohaku that I'd ever seen, I did notice that Keisuke Kuwata(桑田佳祐)was going off-script with some blurted-out phrases. And on something like the year-end Kohaku, ad-libbing is simply not acceptable.

But let's go to the song first of all. "Chako no Kaigan Monogatari"Chako's Seashore Story) was released in January 1982. It peaked at No. 2 and ended up as the No. 8 song of the year. But that is where the normalcy ends. Written and composed by Kuwata, the song was obviously popular amongst the record-buying public, winning awards based on requests, but not the big ones based on artistic merit such as The Japan Record Awards. I went through the lyrics via, and apparently they caused quite a bit of consternation. They perhaps hint at a pretty torrid romance in a tropical setting, but nothing least not to me...maybe there's something between the lines that I just can't get. But according to the J-Wiki writeup, certain lines were actually excised from the written lyrics for the single in its initial release. It was also said there that this was a song that would've elicited gasps if it had been played in public to the extent that it was something that probably was liked and hated simultaneously. In any case, "Chako"was regarded as one of the stranger songs by SAS, but certainly not the band's last song to court controversy. It actually debuted at the No. 46 position, not exactly auspicious for a Kuwata-penned tune but it was said that the news surrounding the wedding between Kuwata and SAS keyboardist/vocal Yuko Hara(原由子) helped in pushing it higher. But it was interesting that when members of the band showed up on a music show years later, they remarked that "Chako"was probably the worst hit they've ever had.

So I'm even surprised that the very conservative NHK actually invited Southern All Stars to perform that song on the Kohaku, considering all the controversy. The Kohaku in those years still retained a certain formality (heck, the singers had to wear appropriately-coloured blazers depending on whether they belonged to the Red or White teams back then), and the appearance of SAS, their 2nd time, was probably seen as being akin to a bunch of drunken hockey fans invading a posh dinner party at a mansion. Keisuke Kuwata appeared in kabuki white face and loud kimono, proceeded to imitate lordly enka singer Haruo Minami(三波春夫), and spouted bizarre expressions such as "I am a god!"and "Pay your bills!" Maybe for the younger members of the audience both at NHK Hall and at home, it was perhaps refreshing in a strange way for SAS to shake up things a bit, but I could imagine the older generation (like my parents) picking up the stakes and swords and heading for Dr. Frankenstein's castle. And later on, the switchboard lit up with some major complaints about the performance which forced an apology from NHK. Kuwata, furious, yelled back that if that's the way the network is gonna react, the band will never appear again on the Kohaku.

(karaoke version)

However, SAS did come back again in 1983 to perform "Tokyo Shuffle", done in a "Guys & Dolls"musical style. Nothing harmful there. But in the following years, negotiations between the band and NHK fell through....apparently unhappily....and the band wouldn't show up again for several years. In fact, it would set up its own New Year's Eve concert opposite the Kohaku.

My thoughts about the song? Well, it's a pleasant enough tune to listen to...very short one, at that since at both ends of it, there are several seconds of waves and seagulls. And living in this year, I can't really make any fuss over the lyrics. But if one of you viewers can give me any further insight about them, I would be more than happy to read about it. Doing the research for this entry, I certainly feel how different the mores were back 30 years ago.

Just one more added piece of information about the song. Kuwata, who has that famous raspy voice, sang the original version differently. He was actually intentionally channeling popular aidoru Toshihiko Tahara(田原俊彦).

Wow! What one barely-3-minute song can do.

Mariko Nagai -- Miracle Girl (ミラクル・ガール)

"Miracle Girl" by Mariko Nagai(永井真理子 was never an official Olympic theme song for any of the Japanese networks. However, it was the theme for the 1989 TV adaptation of a popular manga, "Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl" created in 1986 by Naoki Urasawa(浦沢直樹). In both forms, the story dealt with a young girl who is an initially reluctant entrant into the family martial art of judo before realizing that she has the same talent as her previous generations. The story ultimately leads to Yawara Inokuma heading to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics to compete for that gold medal, and the anime ends at around the same time.

"Yawara" was one of my memories of TV during my 2 years in Gunma Prefecture. I came home on Monday nights to often, if not always, watch the anime at 7:30 on NTV. And as you can see from the opening credits above, Yawara-chan is featured as this adorable girl who is as comfortable in the latest fashions as she is in a judo-gi. I only get to see judo during the Summer Olympics, so my interest in the martial art is pretty limited, but it was nice watching the show since Yawara, the most settled of the characters, usually had to deal with some of her more eccentric loved ones such as her grandfather.

"Miracle Girl" was Mariko Nagai's 10th single released in October 1989. Having been in Gunma for just a couple of months, Nagai was one of my first new singers that I discovered during this era of life in Japan. As you can see from the official music video for the song, Nagai has this pixie-ish energy that has always been her most notable characteristic. Looking almost like a little boy in that tomboy haircut, I also think she could've come off looking like Ichiro Suzuki's little sister. That same uptempo energy also comes out in the song. It wasn't a big hit apparently since it didn't show up in the Top 100 in 1990 but because of the anime and the happy-happy-joy-joy feeling, it has affixed itself permanently in my brain as one of my favourite tunes of the time. The music was provided by Hirokazu Fujii(藤井宏一)while the lyrics were composed by Airin (亜伊林), better known as Yoshiko Miura (三浦徳子)who wrote a number of Seiko Matsuda's(松田聖子) songs nearly a decade previously.

In one of those amazing coincidences, at around the time that "Yawara!"was enjoying its success on the bookshelves and TV, one of the world's foremost judo-ka, Ryoko Tani (nee Tamura) was just starting her road to success. On winning the silver medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, folks noted her similarities in terms of ability, height and age to the fictional Ms. Inokuma, and thus her permanent nickname was born. After that she attained her status as a Japanese sports heroine by capturing 2 gold medals in Sydney and Athens. Tani is now a member of the Japanese Parliament's Upper House, and is one of the 50 or so members to recently defect from the governing Democratic Party of Japan to launch a new smaller protest-based party, People's Life First.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Machiko Watanabe -- Mayoi Michi (迷い道)

Machiko Watanabe(渡辺真知子) made her debut in 1977 with "Mayoi Michi"(Lost Road), a song that she wrote and composed by herself. She's been labeled a singer in the New Music/Pop/Jazz categories. I think "Mayoi Michi"fits wholly into the middle category of pop. The song talks about the confusing paths that love takes, and melodically Watanabe's magnum opus illustrates that feeling.

Unlike a lot of New Music/folk singers in the early part of the decade, Watanabe was more than happy to appear on radio and TV, virtually at the same frequency of any aidoru at that time. Not quite sure what sort of reaction she got from her fellow New Musicians on that point.

The song, released in November, ended up as the 11th-ranked song of 1978 on Oricon, and was part of the 14th-ranked album from that same year, "Umi ni Tsureteitte"海につれていって...Take Me To The Sea). For me, it's one of the  representative songs for kayo kyoku in the 70s.

Akiko Kobayashi -- Kokoro Midarete:Say It With Flowers (心みだれて)

I think this would've made the perfect jingle for FTD, the American florist delivery chain. But "Say It With Flowers"was the theme song for a Japanese drama, "Kin'youbi ni wa Hana wo Katte"(金曜日には花を買って....Get Me Flowers on Friday, Will You?) when it was released in October 1986 as Akiko Kobayashi's 4th (and 5th...a 12") single. The song, composed by Kobayashi and written by Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子), was never a huge hit but it has been included on every one of her BEST compilations. The song is good ol' schmaltz and sophistication...probably great for that 10th anniversary-celebrating couple. As far as I can remember, along with "Kuchibiru Swing", I think Kobayashi has only sung two out-and-out jazz pieces, but I think her voice matches quite nicely with the genre.

PS The Japanese title is "Kokoro Midarete"心みだれて....Move My Heart).

Misia -- Hatenaku Tsuzuku Story (果てなく続くストーリー)

My two favourite Misia songs are both ballads: "Everything" and this one "Hatenaku Tsuzuku Story"(The Neverending Story). The latter one was used as NHK's official theme song for its coverage of the 2002 Olympic Games in  Salt Lake City. Hard to imagine that it's been over a decade since this video was first presented.

This is one of the more majestic tie-ups for a Games theme, and I have often thought this wasn't so much for the Olympics more than it was a requiem for one hero. The sweeping orchestral arrangements and Misia's soaring vocals always get me a bit verklempt whenever I hear it for the first time in a long time. It's almost a pity that other remixes of the song (disco, Latin jazz and one more dance remix) have been included with the maxi-single since they kinda undercut the original version's grandeur. Just imagine listening to Simon & Garfunkel's legendary "Bridge Over Troubled Water"....and then a few seconds later, the 5-minute Polka version of it comes on. Still, the remixes are fine...nothing bad about them at all; it's just that the original version is so epic.

Written by Misia and composed by Toshiaki Matsumoto, her 9th single was released at the end of January 2002, and peaked at No. 3 on the weeklies. It ended up becoming the 68th-ranked song of the year. The song was also included on Misia's 4th album, "Kiss In The Sky", released later that September. It hit the top spot on Oricon and was the 14th-ranked album of the year.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Maki Ohguro -- Atsukunare (熱くなれ)

Well, we're less than a week away from The London Olympics, so let's show a bit of some Olympic J-Pop. Since the Seoul Games in 1988, NHK has had the tradition of having a musical tie-up theme for its Olympic broadcasts. For 2012, the group Ikimonogakari(いきものがかり)will be singing "Kaze ga Fuiteiru"風が吹いている....A Wind is Blowing).

For the 1996 Games in Atlanta, a Hokkaido singer, prolific singer-songwriter Maki Ohguro(大黒摩季)came up with this rousing barnburner called  "Atsukunare"(Get Passionate). A lot of the songs that have come on as NHK Olympic themes have been these grand epic ballads, but Ohguro's contribution is this blood-pumping tune that almost makes ME, a professional couch potato, want to run with Usain Bolt. I could get the video from YouTube which has the actual NHK highlight reel that was often used at the end of the nightly Olympic highlight program matched with the song.

Released in July 1996, Ohguro's 14th single reached the No. 1 position and became the 24th-ranked song of the year. An album version  was released as part of Ohguro's 6th album, "Power of Dreams" which was released over a year later in August 1997 and became the 9th-ranking album of 1997.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mike Maki -- Bara ga Saita (バラが咲いた)

Mike Maki(マイク眞木) is a name I've heard now and then in these music retrospectives that often pop up on Japanese TV. And even at the age of 68, he still turns up on the odd variety program, always as the straight man alongside the wacky Osaka comedians who always populate these shows. He's also been an actor on a number of these trendy dramas; the one I remember is "Beach Boys", a popular Fuji-TV serial that had Maki play an old surfer dude.

However, he started showbiz life in 1963 by starting a band called The Modern Folk Quartet (probably adapted from The Modern Jazz Quartet in America), and then he started a solo career with this song, "Bara ga Saita"(A Rose Bloomed). Known as the first Japanese-made folk song hit (written and composed by Kuranosuke Hamaguchi/浜口庫之助), according to the author/webmaster of "Hamadayama Life", OKA, in his article "Japanese Popular Songs Between 1945-1970", he mentions that the song isn't particularly sophisticated. And I'm not particularly surprised. I think when it came to adopting American musical forms at that time, it was more about style over substance. But that was OK with the Japanese since the song managed to sell over 300,000 records. Folk music had existed before this song came along but this song succeeded because it was lyrically simple (the translated lyrics are available near the bottom of the article) and just illustrates a simple truth about that lone rose blooming in the garden: when it came to pure pop music, listeners just wanted a pleasant melody with uncomplicated wording (a policy that continued far into the 80s) For the more complex stuff, they turned to enka and the message folk songs.

"Bara ga Saita"is, in fact, so simple that I thought it was originally a children's song. I've often heard it sung at kindergarten in Japan. (May 5 2018: Strangely enough, a commenter informed me that there is a kid's song, "One Little Finger" that sounds fairly similar.)

Now, as for the last piece of trivia for Mike Maki. He happens to be married to late 80s singer, Kanako Wada (和田加奈子)

Kome Kome Club -- Abracadabra

As I mentioned in my first entry on Kome Kome Club(米米クラブ), the jazz/Latin/funk/fusion colossus of a band, anyone who's gone to one of their concerts got a fine return on their investment. I've only been able to vicariously enjoy the moment via YouTube and televised excerpts of their tours, but even then, I still get a kick out of their sets, their costumes and their "Let's Party Like It's Rio!"approach. It's as if a J-Pop band decided to go all Cirque De Soleil! And strangely enough, this song was used as the campaign tune for the Canadian circus and entertainment company during their Saltimbanco event.

"Abracadabra" was just perfect for a Kome Kome Club concert. It's just a wonder that the song hadn't been written earlier by the band. Whenever that guitar riff gets going at the intro, the audience is virtually obligated to rise up and dance. Released in March 1994, K2C's 17th single sold half a million discs and managed to reach No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies. It was also released as a track on their 11th album, "Phi II" in December of the same year.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Naoko Kawai/Mariya Takeuchi -- Kenka wo Yamete (けんかをやめて)

"Kenka wo Yamete"(Stop Fighting) by 80s aidoru Naoko Kawai(河合奈保子) is just imbued with Mariya Takeuchi's(竹内まりや)bobbysoxer ballad arrangements. It can go toe-to-toe with Olivia Newton-John's "Hopelessly Devoted to You", and could probably get inserted into a "Gidget" movie. It's a swayworthy song. While listening to it, you can imagine some guy named Billy Joe running up to his girl's house....feeling awf'ly sorry about the fight and trying to make up. Meanwhile, Daddy is getting his Winchester for battle...

Released in September 1982, Kawai's 10th single went as high as No. 5 and was the 64th-ranked song of the year. It sold a very respectable 200,000 copies and even won a Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards that year.

 Mariya Takeuchi also did a slightly grander self-cover of the song for her album, "Request" in 1987. It was nice to see that she still had a bit of Connie Francis in her. The uploader, Sagittarius静香01, tends to have limited operating hours for his videos so you can do a cut-and-paste on YouTube to find out whether he/she is open.

(karaoke version)

Akira Terao/Masaaki Sakai -- Merry Go Round (メリーゴーラウンド)

Yup, life is indeed a merry-go-round. Never know who you're going to meet once again. That's the kind of idea that, Akira Terao(寺尾聡), composer and singer of this faintly French pop-sounding ditty was going for. Masako Arikawa(有川正沙子) was the lyricist for "Merry Go Round"; she also helped Terao write a number of songs from his best-selling album "Reflections"which is already listed under his name in the tags. And she also wrote Japanese lyrics for the theme from "Star Wars" for Masato Shimon(子門真人)a few years back (she probably didn't see Carrie Fisher's cringeworthy performance on that verboten Star Wars Xmas special).

Arikawa writes about a man meeting an old flame once more and inviting her for a tea or coffee, and playfully reassuring her that if she needs a shoulder to cry on, she knows who to go to. One of the Japanese commenters on YouTube for this song remarked that this must've been written when Japan was still in a very happy state. Well, 1981....still a decade away from the slow downward economic spiral. In any case, the song is as light and as happy as a fully-fledged hummingbird leaving the nest for the first time.

Strangely enough, "Merry Go Round" didn't get onto the "Reflections"album though I think it fits like a "T".

"Merry Go Round"was actually made for singer/actor Masaaki Sakai(堺正章) as the theme song for his 1981 TV drama "Kid" in which Sakai plays the lead character, a detective. Knowing Sakai's personality, he probably played it light and lovable which kinda sums up the song. Both the arrangements for his version and for Terao's self-cover are pretty similar. (Note: at about the 3:30 mark for this video, it seems to get stuck)

A carousel on The Oasis of the Seas,
one of the largest cruise ships on Earth.

Masayuki Suzuki & Momoko Kikuchi -- Shibuya de Go-ji (渋谷で5時)

Met up with an old friend last week, and we spoke on our Tokyo experiences. He's just visited there....I lived there. And he was quite gaga over one particular area. He remarked that Shibuya was just this electrifying power spot. Of course, for me, it was one of the many urban neighbourhoods that I had walked through....for several years, on a weekly basis....but I can understand what he's talking about. I've gone there with friends on a Friday or Saturday night, and it's awfully hard to imagine that Japan has been through 2 decades of recession when I go through there. The good times are still rolling in one of the most crowded areas in one of the most crowded cities on Earth. Also, with Tower Records and a number of small CD shops, Shibuya has helped me build up my kayo kyoku collection, and thus this blog.

Shibuya is known as Japan's Teen Mecca, but the unlikely duet of Martin(鈴木雅之) & Momoko(菊池桃子) sing "Shibuya de Go-ji"(Shibuya at 5) as the urban paradise of the more adult young. Just imagine Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannsen scooting around Shibuya in "Lost In Translation". I've enjoyed this song over and over for Martin's soul and Momo's breathy vocals. By 1996, I think Momoko had pretty much graduated from her singing career and was more into acting by that point, which might explain why she had the bigger role in the music video. As for the video, the beginning scene had the lass looking very uncertain when invited by Suzuki for a meet-and-greet at a Shibuya cafe to help him out on the song; she even asked, "Isn't he kinda scary?". I guess when one looks like a Japanese mob enforcer, those questions may be inevitable. But afterwards, it was definitely a meet-cute situation.

The song itself had actually been first released back in January 1994 as a B-side solo to the A-side's "Chigau, so ja nai"違う、そうじゃない....No, That's Not It) which had gone as high as No. 9 on the weekly charts. But then a couple of years later, the duet was released in February. Strangely enough, despite the video scenes, the two only recorded their parts separately. And in subsequent onstage performances, Suzuki ended up singing the song with various former aidoru such as Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), Miho Nakayama(中山美穂)and former Morning Musume member Maki Goto(後藤真希). It wasn't until a full decade later on a Fuji-TV music show that the originals finally got together to sing together. Ah, I did forget about this aidoru helping out as well.

Bright lights, Big Shibuya

Hachiko, the great dog of Shibuya. Everyone meets here
....and I do mean everyone!

Tower Records...the largest CD store on Earth.

I don't know what this building is called
but it has Recofan (one of my used CD haunts)
and a Yoshimoto Kogyo theatre
to show new Osaka comedians.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Masaaki Sakai -- Saraba, Koibito (さらば、恋人)

Masaaki Sakai(堺正章) has been a TV fixture for more than 40 years. He's been an actor, a singer, an emcee and an all-round entertainer. And in fact, I used to watch one of his shows late Saturday night on TBS, "Chuubo desu yo"チューボーですよ....It's A Kitchen!), in which he and a guest try cooking a recipe in the studio kitchen while three professional chefs do the same at their own restaurants in Tokyo (yep, a cooking show at 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday...only in Japan). Sakai is basically the equivalent of a Regis Philbin or an Uncle Miltie (if you're that old to remember Milton Berle) on Japanese TV.

But back in the Group Sounds era of the 60s, he was a member of the Spiders until the band broke up in 1970. He quickly went into a solo singing career and his first single in 1971 turned out to be the one that he's probably the most well known for, "Saraba, Koibito" (Farewell, Lover). The lyrics by Osamu Kitayama(北山修)pretty much reflect the title: a feckless guy leaving the Dear Jane letter on the table while she's sleeping before taking off on his own. However, it's kinda hard to believe a guy with Sakai's nerdy voice being a love 'em-and-leave 'em type.

Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平) provided the music. And it's especially interesting to point this out since in the same year as this tune was released, he also helped launch Saori Minami's (南沙織) debut song, "Juu-nana Sai"17才....17 Years Old). In that blog entry on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", I mentioned that Tsutsumi created the melody with inspiration from Lynn Anderson's country hit "Rose Garden". Tsutsumi did the same thing here, too, with Sakai's debut. There's definitely that stately string intro in "Saraba, Koibito"that was in Glen Campbell's "By The Time I Get To Phoenix". The other connection is that both Tsutsumi songs won Japan Music Awards: Minami got the Best Newcomer Award while Sakai got the Popularity Award. As I did with Minami and Anderson on the former's blog entry, I have done with Sakai and Campbell. Take a listen and compare.

Released in May 1971, it peaked at No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and ended up being the 10th-ranked song of the year. 

This last video has nothing to do with music, but to show how versatile Sakai has been over the decades. One of his nicknames is "Mister Kakushi Gei"(ミスターかくし芸....Mr. Hidden Talent). On New Year's Day, Fuji-TV broadcasts a 3 or 4-hour program called "Kakushi Gei Taikai"(かくし芸大会....The Hidden Talent Competition) in which just about every actor/singer/entertainer in Japanese show business has to show some sort of special ability that isn't his/her own. There is a reality show aspect to it as the poor entertainer is worn down to a nub as he/she has to learn something like tap dancing or tightrope walking within a few short weeks.

Sakai seems to be the overlord of this show and has usually been the final guy. This is the 2003 edition in which he showed his prowess as a trick billiard player.

Top 10 Singles 1990

1. B.B. Queens                            Odoru Ponpokorin
2. Kome Kome Club                     Roman Hiko
3. Lindberg                                 Ima Sugu Kiss Me
4. Tama                                     Sayonara Jinrui
5. Princess Princess                    Oh Yeah!
6. Akina Nakamori                        Dear Friend
7. The Blue Hearts                       Jounetsu Bara
8. Shizuka Kudo                           Kuchibiru kara Biyaku
9. Southern All Stars                    Manatsu no Kajitsu
10. Diana Ross                             If We Hold On Together

I guess at the end of that year, Carl Smokey Ishii, Keisuke Kuwata and Kaori Okui were scratching their heads and pondering that they got beat by an animated girl.....well, really an eclectic unit, actually. The Diana Ross song was heard ad nauseum just about everywhere on TV and in the department stores in Japan for a number of years in the 90s. I gotta get some entries up by Lindberg and The Blue Hearts.

B.B. Queens -- Odoru Ponpokorin (おどるポンポコリン)

People know when the weekend is almost up when the 6 p.m. hour arrives on Fuji-TV on Sunday night, and the twin anime of "Chibi Maruko-chan"ちびまる子ちゃん)and "Sazae-san"サザエさん)start up.

"Chibi Maruko-chan"(Tiny Little Maruko) was a shojo manga first created in 1986 by Momoko Sakura(さくらももこ), and depicts the life of a young and slightly cheeky girl named Maruko Sakura in suburban Japan of the mid-1970s. It was basically a semi-autobiographical account of the author's life as a girl back in those days. As with the much older "Sazae-san" series, it gained its popularity due to its nostalgic, down-home style. In 1990, Fuji-TV picked "Chibi Maruko-chan"up as an anime series for an initial run of 2 years, and then started it up again in 1995. In terms of ratings, the show attained a whopping 39.9% of the audience, the highest ratings ever garnered by an anime at that time.

The original ending theme of the show also enjoyed similar fame. "Odoru Ponpokorin"(Dancing Ponpokorin) was composed by singer Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎) (known for composing hits for rocker Nanase Aikawa and summer band TUBE) and written by Momoko Sakura herself. And the band making their first single all come alive was the unit B.B Queens, a happy-go-lucky amalgam of otherwise serious musicians.

The band name was a riff on the blues singer B.B. King. The main vocal is Osaka-born Yuiko Tsubokura(坪倉唯子)who has had a career since 1979 as a studio musician and backup vocal (Miyuki Nakajima, Misato Watanabe) but also has had her own solo career as a pop singer. For "Odoru Ponpokorin", Tsubokura sings it as if she were Chibi Maruko-chan, and looks like a combination of Mrs. Doubtfire and former First Lady of Japan Miyuki Hatoyama.

Her partner is Fusanosuke Kondo(近藤房之助), a blues-and-rock singer who hails from Aichi Prefecture and has been in the music business since 1976 when he started with the band BREAK DOWN. He barks his vocals in a loud rasp and looks like a psychedelic Snidely Whiplash. The trio of backup vocals for B.B. Queens ended up becoming the neo-retro group Mi-ke a couple of years later. Both Kondo and Tsubokura have their own songs on YouTube, and they sound very, very different.

Here are the ending credits to the original run of "Chibi Maruko-chan" in 1990. As I said, "Odoru Ponpokorin"became a huge hit when it was released in April. It was the No. 1 song for July and September, and eventually became the No. 1 song of the year, staying on the charts for 54 straight weeks. The creators of the song, Oda and Sakura earned Japan Music Awards, and of course, an appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen was a foregone conclusion. It sold close to 2 million discs as a single and is included on the band's debut album, "We are B.B. Queens" which got as high as No. 32 on the Oricon weeklies. And of course, I'm sure karaoke box and bar owners were also very grateful to the band.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Momoko Kikuchi -- Sotsugyo (卒業)

I listened to my fair share of aidoru over the years with the megastars like Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)and Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)coming up to the top. Unfortunately, the others and their works have gotten muddled into my slowly deteriorating memory....which offers me the chance to re-discover them.

Momoko Kikuchi(菊池桃子) is now listed as an actress and TV personality on J-Wiki.. However during my years in Japan, I really just saw her as the pitchwoman for products like soup and Mitsubishi refrigerators, although I knew that she had been on her fair share of trendy dramas in the 90s. But the 80s were her aidoru years. I listened to her trademark song "Sotsugyo"Graduation) for the first time in years and years, and all that nostalgia came bubbling back up. Composed by Tetsuji Hayashi (林哲司)(who was responsible for Mariya Takeuchi's "September" and Miki Matsubara's City Pop classic "Stay With Me") and written by Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康) (the Svengali behind Onyanko Club and AKB 48), "Sotsugyo"is an evergreen aidoru ballad with Momoko's sweet vocals and sway-friendly melody.

The song was Kikuchi's 4th single which hit the top of the charts soon after its release in February 1985. It is also included in her 2nd album, "Tropic of Capricorn" which was released in September of that year. The aidoru proved her popularity back in those days when she managed to beat even The Beatles in terms of audience numbers when she performed at Tokyo's Budokan.

For some reason, the title of "Sotsugyo" was rather popular as well during the mid-80s. Along with Kikuchi, Yutaka Ozaki(尾崎豊), and fellow aidoru Yuki Saito(斉藤由貴)also put out songs with that very title. A few years later, Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里)had her own "Sotsugyo" as well. But mind you, graduation has a special place in Japanese culture.

Shigeru Matsuzaki -- Ai no Memory (愛のメモリー)

Shigeru Matsuzaki(松崎しげる) nowadays pops up on a lot of TV shopping infomercials and quiz shows in Japan. With his perpetual tan, he could probably sell a salon or two. However, back in the day, he was a singer who debuted back in 1970 and had his first hit with "Kiiroi Mugi Wara Boushi"黄色い麦わら帽子....The Yellow Straw Hat) in 1972. After that, came a very dry spell for the next four years.

In 1976, he was recruited to sing a powerful European pop-style ballad written by Takashi Taka(たかたかし) and composed by Koji Makaino(馬飼野康二) at the Majorca Music Festival in Spain. It was thought that Matsuzaki had the chops needed to tackle "Ai no Hohoemi"愛の微笑...Love Laughter) to make a good impression on the foreign audience over there which he certainly did. He placed in 2nd as Best Vocal; an amazing feat considering that the judges included Paul Mariat and Michel LeGrand. But his achievement didn't make any ripples overseas and certainly not in Japan. It would be another long year as insult was added to injury as doors were slammed on him as he and his manager tried to sell his songs; some of the demo tapes were unceremoniously shown the round file.

But finally, the proverbial ray of hope came from the Ezaki Glico company which were willing to put "Ai no Hohoemi"into one of their chocolate commercials. The final stumbling block was another jingle with the same title that was going to be sung by Japan's sweetheart couple at that time, Momoe Yamaguchi and Tomokazu Miura(山口百恵・三浦友和). So, there was a change in lyrics and in the title itself. The new "Ai no Memory"(Love Memory) was released in August 1977 and became a huge hit for Matsuzaki. It peaked at No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and was the 18th-ranking song of the year. It even managed to stay in the Top 100 in 1978, as it ranked 87th.

Matsuzaki also got his entry into the 1977 Kohaku Utagassen, and "Ai no Memory"remains an evergreen standard from the 70s.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Kaori Kuno -- Rifujin na Koi (理不尽な恋)

During my CD-buying mania days at the turn of the decade into the 90s, I would often take one Saturday out of the month and take the Bullet Train into Tokyo from the mountains of Gunma Prefecture. I loved my countryside home but I needed to get some city under me once in a while.  So I usually arrived at Ueno Station at around 10 in the morning and waited around until my first stop, Yamano Music in Ginza (which is already listed under Sites), opened up an hour later. Then, it would be a day of running around to Shinjuku, Shibuya and Kanda to see how many discs I could grab. Often it would be 8-10 CDs by the time I took the 7 p.m. back to Gunma.

I bought the obvious ones such as Seiko, Akina and Anzen Chitai but I also tried to pick some up sight unseen, so to speak. During one trip, I came across this album with the picture of a young but mature-looking beauty on the cover. Her name was Kaori Kuno(久野かおり)and the album title was "Breath". I also saw what looked like the top of a saxophone peeking out from under her face on the cover, so, intrigued by a sax-playing female J-Pop artist, I decided to make the investment of 3,000 yen.

To be honest, up to this day, although I still have "Breath", I remember just a couple of songs from that album. "Rifujin na Koi "(An Unreasonable Love)was Track No. 1, and it's a breezy, relaxing and urbane tune with Kuno's soft vocals, and her work on the soprano sax. Written and composed by Kuno herself, some of the other performers have helped out Miki Imai(今井美樹) during that time, which explains the easygoing sound.

Kuno is another one of those unsung heroines that didn't really pass the threshold for superstardom, but has been able to gather a very devoted group of fans over the years. Although she doesn't have anything written about her on J-Wiki, she has her own site thankfully.

Hiroshi Itsuki -- Aishitsuzukeru Bolero (愛しつづけるボレロ)

Male enka singers seem to take a certain angle in their field: Saburo Kitajima(北島三郎) warbles about the salt-of-the-earth blue-collar types while Takashi Hosokawa(細川たかし) gives jaunty renditions of drinking and romance. Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし)always struck me as the suave enka balladeer. The men in this genre all have two modes of fashion when performing: yukata and suits. A lot of the guys look like they just came out of an office building, but Itsuki has always looked slick in his finery.

(karaoke version)

"Aishitsuzukeru Bolero"(Bolero of Continuing Love) probably will not pop up all that much in a Hiroshi Itsuki retrospective since he has so many other bigger hits in his large arsenal, but it's one song that I've enjoyed listening to since it has that European enka style that I've liked in Teresa Teng's repertoire. As the title may hint, the song sounds like something to tango to. It was written by Yu Aku(阿久悠)and composed by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平), so the pedigree is there. Released in March 1982, it only went up as high as No. 19 on the Oricon weeklies.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Kazuo Zaitsu -- Wake Up

I've always thought that this was the perfect title for a morning song. It sounds a whole lot nicer than an alarm clock. Sung in the high tones of Kazuo Zaitsu(財津和夫), "Wake Up" was the second solo single for the leader of New Music band Tulip which had first formed in 1972, and was his first solo hit. It peaked at No. 3 on Oricon after its release in December 1979 and ended up as the 23rd-ranked song of 1980. It was also part of his 2nd 1980 album, "I Need You and YOU".

"Wake Up"was used for a couple of commercials. One was for Seiko while the other was a much more recent venture for Wonda Canned Coffee. I was in Japan to see that ad, and watching it brought about a whole lot of nostalgic feelings....and a need to part with my 100 yen for that vending machine.

Just one small piece of trivia: Zaitsu is an old buddy of another leader of a famed 70s Japanese band, Kazumasa Oda(小田和正) of Off Course(オフコース). They used to hit the links quite often, and apparently Zaitsu was Member No. 4 of the Off Course fan club, the Off Course Family.