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.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Eiichi Ohtaki -- A Long Vacation

I've been meaning to highlight this album for a while now, but for some reason I had felt somewhat intimidated. Eiichi Ohtaki's(大滝詠一)March 1981 magnum opus peaked at No. 2 on the Oricon charts and ended up at the same rank for the entire year, just behind Akira Terao's(寺尾聡) "Reflections"(already profiled). I think the reason behind my reticence is that "A Long Vacation"is just so unique....its legacy in Japanese pop music lore arguably outlasts that of "Reflections". "A Long Vacation"has that fascinating mix of retro pop and modern pop along with some other specific quirks within its tracks; perhaps I may be exaggerating just a tad here, but I think Japanese university-level courses on music or pop culture could have already devoted a lecture to this album.

The first track above is "Kimi wa Tennen Shoku"君は天然色....You are a Natural Colour)which can start this entry as typical of the Ohtaki sound on "A Long Vacation". It has that summery feel of the 50s/60s (a la Phil Spector) with that reverb sound that often accompanied British music of the period. I'd always wondered why Ohtaki loved this sound so much. Apparently, it can be traced back to his youth when he first fell in love with the music of Elvis Presley and then later The Beatles. As for the former singer, "Hound Dog" was his first Elvis song and after that, he voraciously memorized the lyrics and bought up every single of his that charted. According to J-Wiki, Ohtaki absorbed so much knowledge about the music of his youth that he knew far more about the topic than even the employees who worked at the record store that he always frequented.

The version above is the single cut, released on the same day as the album, which peaked at No. 36 on the Oricon weeklies...the album version apparently doesn't have the intro of the piano tuning and instead goes straight into the song.

"Pap-Pi-Doo-Bi-Doo-Ba Monogatari"Pap-Pi-Doo-Bi-Doo-Ba 物語...Pap-Pi-Doo-Bi-Doo-Ba Story)is a fun original song. As you can see from the title, Ohtaki has a certain sense of humour or love for some of the vocal acrobatics that often came with a pop song from that time. The general structure also reflects that era's music right from the intro piano riff....a bit of Jerry Lee Lewis, perhaps? There are also a synthesizer and vocoder thrown in to give it a bit of 80s taste, but there is something else in there that I can't quite put my finger on which modernizes it as well. By the way, this is the only song on the album for which Ohtaki took care of both the music and the lyrics.

The rest of the tracks were split in their creation between Ohtaki (melody) and his old bandmate from Happy End, Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆) (lyrics). The next track is "FUN X 4"which seems to emulate the old "Boy Meets Girl"lyrical trope. As in "Pap-Pi-Doo-Bi-Doo Monogatari", Ohtaki likes to throw in some atypical instruments...for example, a muted trumpet solo instead of that tenor saxophone that would often accompany such a tune. Also, there were a few cameo vocals such as Hiromi Ohta(太田裕美) for one line, "Sanpo shinai?"散歩しない...Won't you take a walk with me?), and Hiroaki Igarashi(五十嵐浩晃) as the wolf baying at the moon. And of course, what wouldn't make a fun-loving 60s song but a vocal tribute to The Beach Boys near the end? Unfortunately, I couldn't get a direct link with YouTube but the song is there, and I was able to import an instrumental version above.

"Ame no Wednesday"雨のウェンズデイ....Rainy Wednesday) is a different track in that the arrangements for this ballad make it more contemporary-sounding, although Ohtaki keeps the croon and reverb in his voice that he does in his more retro-sounding tracks. Although the album liner notes list Ohtaki as the person behind the instruments for this song, Ohtaki himself later credited the other two former Happy End bandmates, Shigeru Suzuki(鈴木茂) and Haruomi Hosono(細野春臣), among others as collaborators. "Ame no Wednesday"was initially the B-side to another track, "Koi suru Karen"(恋するカレン....Karen In Love), released as a single in June 1981 which went as high as No. 67. The following year, the single was re-released but with the sides reversed.

Another track on the album was "Saraba Siberia Tetsudo"さらば、シベリア鉄道...Farewell, Siberian Railroad), Ohtaki's self cover of Hiromi Ohta's minor hit from 1980 .

"A Long Vacation" was a miracle for Ohtaki who'd had a very long dry spell beforehand. It sold well over a million albums, and was the first album to be made into a CD in Japanese recording history in 1982. As a CD, the album hit Double Platinum in sales. Further adding to its legacy is the fact that it has been placed at No. 7 in the Top 100 Japanese Rock Albums in "Rolling Stone Japan"; another Japan-based music periodical, "Record Collectors"ranked it at No. 1 in its Top 100 Rock Albums (1980s) list in its September 2010 issue.

I've heard most of the songs on the album individually over the years, but sad to say, I never got around to getting the album proper. I will rectify that error sometime in the next few months.


  1. "It has that summery feel of the 50s/60s (a la Phil Spector)"

    You mean Brian Wilson...

    "with that reverb sound that often accompanied British music of the period."

    You mean American music. One of the quintessences about the British invasion was the upfront, compressed dryness in its rock productions.

    "I'd always wondered why Ohtaki loved this sound so much. Apparently, it can be traced back to his youth when he first fell in love with the music of Elvis Presley and then later The Beatles."

    I would trace the specific styles in A Long Vacation back to Aldon Music, Los Angeles circa 1965, and Pet Sounds, but eh...

    Elvis is so far removed from this music it's not even funny. There are tracks on it quoting melodic passages directly from American musicians and performers (Burt Bacharach, Del Shannon, and like every Beach Boys song recorded between 1964 and 1968 come to mind), but instead here is yet another piece on the internet giving all the credit elsewhere. Ohtaki might have once cited The Beatles as influences, but they hardly reflect in the music at all.

    There is barely any information on Showa Era Japanese music available on the western internet. It is dangerous to mess up things like this. Thank you for at least giving Phil Spector and Brian Wilson *some* dues for an album that almost completely revolves around them.

    1. Hello, Anonymous.

      Thanks very much for the comments, and yep, to be honest, I know of Brian Wilson but I've never heard his stuff, so I can only go with what I know. Basically, my blog, aside from the rankings and any interesting information I can find elsewhere, is just on my feelings and impressions of the songs I've enjoyed over the decades. Therefore, I cannot boast that this blog is the definitive source for Japanese Showa-era music, but I can say that it is a place where people who like the genre can talk about it and agree/disagree. Obviously, you have some misgivings on my opinions, and that's fine. More and varied comments are all the better.

      I do agree that online sources, and for that matter any English-language sources, on this genre are very rare, but I don't think I've messed up here. Is it dangerous? Yes it talk about kayo kyoku that isn't talked about much in English, even in the age of Asian Pop, just going on personal reminiscences is risky. But I will continue to do so because I just enjoy talking about it and welcoming other people who also like to talk about it.

      So, give me your full thoughts on "A LONG VACATION".

  2. I'm quite amazed at Anonymous's comment. That's rude and pointless.
    Sure, maybe some references are missing, and others are misplaced, but who cares ? It's a pleasure to know more about the feelings of someone who seems to have some deep affection for this magnificient yet unrecognized album. Thanks for your writing.

    1. Hi, Spacy.

      Thanks for the kind comments. As you may have noticed, I never got a response from the fellow so I figure that the fellow was probably just a troll or the equivalent of a Sheldon Cooper from "The Big Bang Theory".

  3. Can someone please translate 'Pinball of my heart'が心のピンボール'?

  4. Hello there. Let's see what can be done.


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