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.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

ALFEE -- Marie-Anne (メリーアン)

The first time I saw the band ALFEE was on the 1983 Kohaku Utagassen. It was the first time that I'd seen an actual Japanese rock band performing. Up until then, I was accustomed to seeing serious enka performers, bouncy aidoru and a few New Musicians. But then on that Kohaku, these three distinctly dressed fellows turned on their guitars and one of them started singing away in this bold strong tenor. When they reached the chorus, the name they yelled reminded me of one of the castaways on the silly 60s US sitcom "Gilligan's Island". ALFEE made quite an impression.

ALFEE had much more humble beginnings, though. Debuting in 1974 as a folk/pop unit, Alfie (no connection with the young Michael Caine movie) with "Natsu Shigure"夏しぐれ....Summer Shower), neither it nor the 2nd single, "Seishun no Kioku"青春の記憶...Salad Day Memories) were hits. At the time, the group had 4 members: Masaru Sakurai(桜井賢), Konosuke Sakazaki(坂崎幸之助), Toshihiko Takamizawa(高見沢俊彦) and Yasuo Miyake(三宅康夫), but that last member soon bailed out. And to add insult to injury, their supposed 3rd single was cancelled just one day before it was to have been released, and their record contract with Victor promptly dropped. The next few years would be lean ones as they served as backup bands for other more successful singers and played in the small concert halls, mixing in some comical emcee duties. Then in 1979, having had enough of that life, the band swapped one vowel in their name to become Alfee and re-debuted with a new company, Canyon Records (now Pony Canyon). Alfee would take on a more rock sound. In 1982, there would be one final cosmetic change to the name: CAPITALIZATION. Nothing like upper case letters to show who's boss, eh?

The following year came their 16th single and breakthrough hit, "Marie-Anne", released in June 1983. Written by leader Takamizawa and Ken Takahashi(高橋研)and composed by Takamizawa, the song pretty much disintegrated any vestigial memories anyone had of them being a folk band. It had a prog rock feel to it with a bit of spaghetti western guitar thrown in. Takamizawa wrote the song and came up with the title after being inspired by the title character from an old French movie, "Marianne de ma Jeunesse". Whatever the origins, "Marie-Anne" was the proverbial ship that had finally come in for ALFEE; it was their first Top 10 hit with the song peaking at No. 7 on Oricon and finishing as the 30th-ranked song of the year. It was included on their 7th album, "ALFEE'S LAW" which ended the year at No. 45. And the cherry on that sundae was that in August of that year, Alfee got to perform at the Budokan in Tokyo.

One other thing about ALFEE is their appearance. Takamizawa has that look of a New Wave fop, Sakurai resembles a perpetually sunglasses-wearing blues singer, while Sakazaki appears folkie. And while each of the three takes on lead vocal duties, they always come together somewhere during the song in a rough harmony.

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