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.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Top 10 Albums of 1987

1.  Yoko Oginome           Non-Stopper
2.  Yumi Matsutoya        Alarm A La Mode
3.  Akina Nakamori         Scarlet
4.  Soundtrack               Top Gun
5.  Michael Jackson        Bad
6.  BOOWY                   PSYCHOPATH
7.  Anzen Chitai             Anzen Chitai V
8.  Kiyotaka Sugiyama    realtime to paradise
9.  Misato Watanabe      BREATH
10. Seiko Matsuda         Strawberry Time

Yup, quite the potpourri up there for 1987. One of the top-selling soundtracks in the world, a New Music veteran, the King of Pop, the Queen of Aidoru, a couple of bands, and a couple of aidoru making the shift to pop singers.

BOOWY -- Marionette

One of the best 80s rock bands in Japan, BOOWY started up in 1981 with Kyosuke Himuro(氷室京介)on lead vocals and the towering Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰)on guitar/vocals, both of them coming from southern Gunma Prefecture. With a few lineup changes, the final band also included Tsunematsu Matsui(松井常松)on bass and Makoto Takahashi(高橋まこと)on drums. The name was originally Boi(暴威) or "tyranny" until they settled on the current name the following year. Plus, Hotei was an admirer of David Bowie, so they went for the more Anglicized version.

Their first live gig in May 1981 at the Shinjuku Loft had a grand total of 13 people: 9 men, 4 women (darn good researchers, those folks at J-Wiki). From such humble beginnings all the way to the time they broke up in 1988, when the 95,000 tickets for their final gig at the newly-built Tokyo Dome sold out in 10 minutes!

"Marionette"is the song that I know BOOWY by the best. Hotei's guitar just thrills along as Himuro's punchy vocals fly just as quickly. It was released in July 1987 and quickly hit the top spot on Oricon. Penned by Hotei and Himuro, the song became the 20th-ranked tune of the year. Going through the song lyrics, Himuro taunts and goads the marionette in the mirror to rip off his strings and make something of himself.  He and the band knew of what they spoke since they'd had some lean times earlier in the 80s when they broke ranks with their production company which was (and probably still is) professional suicide. But they proved with heads (and middle fingers) raised high that they could still come back triumphant

And even when the band broke up in 1988, Himuro went onto a successful solo career, and Hotei did the same himself as a rock singer. He also became famous internationally as the composer for the "Kill Bill" theme song. And more domestically, he ended up getting domestic with one Miki Imai(今井美樹) in 1999.

Rock rags to riches!

BTW, the single also came out on BOOWY's final album, "PSYCHOPATH", which was the 6th-ranked album of 1987.

Ikue Sakakibara -- Shining Love (シャイニング・ラブ)

Aidoru of the 70s and 80s don't really fade away....they just become tarento on TV shows and commercials. Ikue Sakakibara(榊原郁恵)firmly falls into that category. I've seen her chat, cook and laugh just about everywhere on the TV remote for decades. But the first time I ever saw her was on that 1981 Kohaku Utagassen when she was still singing away. Despite releasing 39 singles between 1977 and 1986, I wouldn't say she became a superstar as an aidoru, but for sentimental purposes, I've always remembered "Shining Love", her 23rd single written by Machiko Ryu(竜真知子)and composed by Yuuichiro Oda(小田祐一郎).

The little pixie, wearing that cute little beret (although not in the above video) and wide-as-the-Mississippi smile on stage, just warmed my two-sizes-too-small heart at the time. Her diminutive size and smile helped her get a regular gig as Peter Pan for about 2 decades.

Enjoy this ad for curry cubes. As we all do.

trf -- Boy Meets Girl

The first time I'd ever heard of the Tetsuya Komuro Rave Factory, i.e. trf (later to become an all-capped TRF), I was tutoring a couple of siblings here in Toronto. Their father had been transferred from Tokyo to live here for a few years, so he hauled the whole family over, and the kids needed some help in their English, so I popped by every Monday night for a couple of hours in the early 90s. The younger brother mentioned the band to first, I thought he was talking about a new medicine, but then he showed me the CD single for "Boy Meets Girl" and lent it to me.

It was quite the revelation to me since up to that point I'd only known about Yellow Magic Orchestra as the Japanese contributor to technopop. And trf had the dance beat in there. "Boy Meets Girl" was a fun song to listen to, especially the remixed version that had been included with the original. It had that sorta "let's travel around the world" feeling of soaring through air, and I saw the cover with the beautiful bodies of the band members. Yup, definitely something different was going on in Japan during the three years between my tours of duty there.

The band lineup is: lead vocal Yu-ki, DJ Koo, and dancers Sam, Etsu and Chiharu. I don't think such a tight grouping had ever been made before like this, so kudos to the Svengali of J-Pop during the early and mid-90s, Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉) (keyboardist for band TM Network). Yu-ki had once been a dancer with another earlier dance-pop group ZOO before she became a part of trf in 1992.

"Boy Meets Girl"was the unit's 7th single released in June 1994. It became a million-seller and peaked at No. 3 on the Oricon weeklies. It was also the 9th-ranked song for the year in what was a breakthrough year; trf released 5 million-selling singles. Dance club music was starting to hit the mainstream. Certainly when I reached Japan later in 1994, trf was another regular guest to hit the music show circuit for at least a few years.

The above video is the Coca-Cola commercial for which "Boy Meets Girl" was the tie-up single. It was also a track on their 4th album, "Billionaire", released in July 1994. It went to the top of the album charts and was the 6th-ranking album of the year.

The Best 10 (ザ・ベストテン)

The orchestra plays the dramatic opening notes, and then the two hosts shout out, "THE BEST TEN!"

The music ranking shows of the late 70s and 80s greatly helped me in my education in kayo kyoku. As you may have gleaned from looking at the Labels section, that period has the bulk of the songs I've highlighted. Part of Must-See TV Thursdays on TBS was "The Best Ten" at 9 pm. I wouldn't be surprised if parents in the 70s and 80s despised the program since it would've taken nothing less than capital punishment to drag the kids away from the screen at that time. It lasted from January 1978 to September 1989 for a total of 603 hour-long shows. And at one point, the show reached a peak of 41.9% in the ratings department. Managers and production agencies must have dreamt about getting their singers on there.

"The Best Ten" was hosted by Hiroshi Kume(久米宏)and Tetsuko Kuroyanagi(黒柳徹子). Their sartorial style has imprinted itself into everyone's brains. Kume in his tuxedo while Kuroyanagi had her gowns and onion-bulb hairstyle. But it wasn't just their fashion. The duo was probably the fasting-speaking pair in Japanese TV history. I could only imagine how a guest must've felt being bracketed by those two while getting aurally machine-gunned.

 The show was always notable for the ranking boards clattering away as they went up to show the best ten singles of the week, the guests coming through the shiny wall panel, and the elaborate stages set just to enhance the singer's performance. Of course, there were all of the on-location performances as well.

Shortly after getting back from my 1981 graduation trip in Japan, the graduates and I got together for a bit of a reunion a month later at one of the students' houses. And we all watched tons of "The Best Ten"that she had dragged back via VHS tapes. So, I got to learn about Jun Horie's "Memory Glass", Hiromi Iwasaki's "Sumire Iro no Namida", Hitomi Ishikawa's "Machibuse", etc.(all profiled). Couldn't have asked for a better education in Japanese popular music.

But the one highlight for me is something that has yet to get onto YouTube. It was one in which a young Seiko Matsuda got onto a roller coaster to do a performance live (as it always was) on the show. The cameraman and a minder also got on. I can't remember which song she sang, but as soon as the coaster went into its power dive, Seiko-chan just freaked out....was pretty much a gibbering mess by the time it finally returned to base. Meanwhile, the minder was a complete and utter rock beside her....bastard!

The happy news for us oldies is that "The Best Ten" has been out on DVD for some time now. So, if I can get some money together, I may just invest in a few choice box sets.

Enjoy another one!

Yumi Matsutoya -- Futou wo Wataru Kaze (埠頭を渡る風)

"Futou wo Wataru Kaze" (Wind Crossing the Wharf) was released as Yumi Matsutoya's(松任谷由実)12th single in October 1978 and was part of her 6th album, "Ryuusenkei '80" (流線形'80....Streamline 80), also released in the same year. The wharf that Yuming is referring to here is Harumi Wharf down by Tokyo Bay. Through her lyrics, she sings about some romantic intrigue that took place in the shadows of the cranes and containers there.

The thing that struck me about this Yuming song is how much it sounds like a conventional kayo kyoku. Remembering her as the songstress who gave life to the New Music genre, it was a surprise to hear all of the familiar devices of orchestra and chorus that would decorate the usual singer on a TV soundstage adorning this song. She had never done this before and as far as I know, she's never done it since. It's still strangely refreshing.

The song wasn't a huge hit for Yuming as it only hit as high as No. 71 on the Oricon charts. As for the album, "Ryuusenkei '80" was able to reach No. 4.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Iyo Matsumoto -- Sentimental Journey (センチメンタル・ジャーニー)

I have to say that I was quite taken by aidoru Iyo Matsumoto(松本伊代)when I first saw her in the pages of  a Japanese junior high school book way back when. She was just a few months older than me, had those smiling eyes and good teeth as she was about to down some ramen. The Tokyo native debuted her aidoru career with her most famous piece, "Sentimental Journey", which was released in October 1981 and made it as high as No. 9 on the Oricon weeklies. Matsumoto won the Newcomer Award the following year at the Japan Record Awards but never made it onto the Kohaku Utagassen.

The song was composed by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)and written by Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子). It struck me as one of the quintessential aidoru songs for the early 80s as the melodies were slowly transitioning from the electric guitar to synthesizers. "Sentimental Journey"kinda shows that slow transfer to me.

Here is an older Matsumoto hoofing it with the zany comedic duo The Tunnels as she performs her signature tune. According to an anecdote from J-Wiki, the production staff discovered that her voice was relatively low for an aidoru although she was still groomed as such. One of them threw her a tape of the American female vocal group The Ronettes and told her to study their vocal style in preparation for her debut.

Since her aidoru days, Matsumoto has also gone the actress/TV personality (tarento) route, mostly in the latter category. But once in a while, she has popped up on stage to perform "Sentimental Journey". Several years ago, she teamed up with other former aidoru-turned-parents Yu Hayami(早見優)and Chiemi Hori(堀ちえみ)to form a "mamadoru (mama aidoru) unit"called Cutey Mommy.

Hiroshi Wada & Mahina Stars/Southern All Stars -- Aishite, Aishite, Aishichattanoyo (愛して愛して愛しちゃったのよ)

In the 50s and 60s, there were the various Mood Kayo bands and their music filling the bars and izakayas as much as the sake and whiskey were filling up the glasses there. On the one side, there were the Latin-based MK groups such as Los Indios and Los Primos, but on the other side,  other such groups decided to go Hawaiian. The Mahina Stars were one such band. They started up in 1953 originally under the leadership of Ginji Yamaguchi(山口銀次)until the following year when Yamaguchi retired, leaving steel guitarist Hiroshi Wada(和田弘)as the new man in charge. As usual for such bands, suits were often the sartorial norm.

In June 1965, one of their most popular songs was released, "Aishite, Aishite, Aishichattanoyo"(Love, Love, I've Ended Up Falling In Love). Partnering up with Miyoko Tashiro(田代美代子), this cute little ditty has become a standard for a number of singers. I used to hear it from time to time on the stereo, and remember watching one of the singalong segments on the 1981 Kohaku Utagassen when a mix of aidoru and enka singers took turns at it, with Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子) being one of them.


The Southern All Stars also had their own version of the song. Keyboardist and Mrs. Keisuke Kuwata, Yuko Hara(原由子), took the lead singing a dreamier, more laidback cover. Her version could even be considered AOR, it's so relaxing. This cover was included in the "Inamura Jane"稲村ジェーン)soundtrack released in September 1990. The movie was Keisuke Kuwata's(桑田佳祐)first foray into movie directing.

And as a bit of a Merry Xmas, here is Seiko Matsuda's(松田聖子) very brief version of it at the 1981 Kohaku Utagassen.

Momoko Kikuchi -- BOY no Tehma (BOYのテーマ)

Wow! All that feather-blown hair. Welcome to the 80s. I'm still in the midst of rediscovering Momoko Kikuchi's(菊池桃子)aidoru days. This is a title that has popped up a fair bit so I decided to cover this one. "BOY no Tehma"(BOY's Theme) is a strings-and-synth aidoru tune that also acted as the theme song for a sci-fi/fantasy movie starring the 17-year-old Kikuchi titled "Tera Senshi Sai BOY"テラ戦士サイBOY....Tera Warrior Psy Boy). I'm assuming those are stills from the movie in the above video.

Just hearing Kikuchi's whispery vocals and the melody brings me back to my U of T days and videotapes of "The Best 10". The single was released in May 1985, and hit the top spot (her 2nd time at the top after "Sotsugyo"[already profiled]) on Oricon and later became the 22nd-ranking song of the year. It is on the soundtrack album and most likely also inhabits any BEST compilation for Kikuchi. The song was created by lyricist Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康) and composer Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司).

In a nifty piece of coincidence, at about the same time as the release of "BOY no Tehma", fellow aidoru Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)also released her single "Boy no Kisetsu"(ボイの季節....Boys' Season). The two songs occupied the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on Oricon, according to J-Wiki, although it's not said which one occupied which position.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Shinichi Mori/Takuro Yoshida/Teresa Teng -- Erimo Misaki (襟裳岬)

Shinichi Mori(森進一)is one of those premier male enka singers I've seen and heard over many decades. He was born in Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture but moved from place to place all over Japan including Shimonoseki and Osaka. In 1965, as a teenager, he appeared on a music talent show on Fuji-TV called "Rizumu Utagassen"リズム歌合戦...Rhythm Song Battle)where he won. Scouted by Charlie Ishiguro, Mori (whose birth name was Kazuhiro Moriuchi), was soon taken in by Watanabe Productions, one of the big talent agencies. I've always seen him as the singer with the pure and earnest expression on his face (kinda like Astro Boy), but it's always been his voice that has distinguished him. It's high and mostly clear but there is a bit of a gravel in there as well.

Debuting in 1966 with "Onna no Tameiki"女のてめいき....A Woman's Sigh), he had already garnered his share of accolades and awards when he sang "Erimo Misaki"(Cape Erimo), his 29th single, in December 1973. Composed by folk singer Takuro Yoshida(吉田拓郎)and written by Osami Okamoto(岡本おさみ), it's written up in J-Wiki that "Erimo Misaki" is a folk song by Mori that " sung as if an enka singer had sung it." And certainly Mori's version has the familiar enka arrangements: the opening trumpet, Mori's vibrato and enka's tendency to focus on certain remarkable points in Japan's geography. Cape Erimo is located in southeastern Hokkaido at the southern tip of the Hidaka Mountains; the cape is known for the harsh winters there and the fact that for a total of a third of a year, it's covered in mist. Enka also loves adversity.

"Erimo Misaki"was able to reach as high as No. 6 on the Oricon weeklies and became the 31st-ranked song of 1974. It earned Mori accolades from The Japan Record Awards and The Japan Kayo Awards, plus his seventh appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen....the kayo kyoku equivalent of the trifecta. And finally, becoming a million-seller didn't hurt either.

Yoshida also did his own cover of "Erimo Misaki", and it has its own folk arrangement. Before the song got all its fine reputation, though, there was a lot of opposition against Mori doing the song from Watanabe Productions, complaining that a folk song wouldn't match Mori's style. Luckily, the naysayers were proven wrong, and the two versions sound perfectly fine.

I've also included Teresa Teng's(テレサテン)cover of the song as well since it's also a very lovely version.

One final thing about Mori. The Japan Record Awards, which are televised on another station, usually overlap with NHK's Kohaku Utagassen, so any singer who is lucky enough to get that award and a spot on the Kohaku often has to run the gauntlet between TV stations on New Year's Eve. And in Mori's case, he sped into NHK Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo and got into wardrobe for his performance and got onto stage....unfortunately with a fly open. Not sure if the ratings spiked at that moment.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mariko Nagai -- Zutto

Mariko Nagai(永井真理子)was one of the artists who stood out from my time in Japan between 1989-1991. The pixieish singer often came up with happy pop music. However, "Zutto"(Forever & Always) was her hit love ballad released in October 1990. It was used as the ending theme song for one of my favourite variety shows on Fuji-TV starring veteran comedienne Kuniko Yamada(山田邦子). The song was composed by Takayuki Negishi(根岸貴幸)and written by Airin aka Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子). It hit No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies and ended up becoming the 30th-ranked song of 1991. 

The show was "Kuniko-chan no Yamada Katsutenai Terebi"邦子ちゃんのやまだかつてないテレビ.....Kuniko-chan's Yamada Unprecedented TV) which was televised on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. from 1989 to 1992. It had the usual skits and musical interludes but was also a welcome stopover point for pop singers such as Nagai, KAN and Senri Oe(大江千里). They practically became semi-regulars on the show. And sometimes, the odd anime character would show up.

Masahiko Kondo -- Sneaker Blues (スニーカーぶるーす)

"Matchy is one of those people who make me love the 80s."

DaisempaiHigashi, YouTube

Yep, Masahiko Kondo(近藤真彦)also struck me as being the quintessential male aidoru of the early 80s. That kinetic karate-like dancing style mixed in with hip-swiveling and his rogue boyish singing pretty much set the template for all those who followed him in Johnny's & Associates. That template was first created with his very first single, "Sneaker Blues" in December 1980.

"Sneaker Blues"is still Matchy's most successful single to date staying on top of the charts for almost a month, and becoming the 3rd-highest single for 1981. The tandem of lyricist Takashi Matsumoto and composer Kyohei Tsutsumi (松本隆・筒美京平)once again spun out some gold for one of their singers.

I don't think I have yet to put on an actual performance by the lad so here it is. He performed this on the show, "Let's Go Young" in 1981. Tough yet cute.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mariko Takahashi -- Jun (ジュン)

(cover version)

Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子)can really bleed out those torch songs. I first heard "Jun" on one of the chanteuse's Best compilations years ago. It was her 11th single as a solo artist released in May 1985 and was the lead track on her 10th album, "Mellow Lips" which came out some months later. "Jun" struck me as being a really atmospheric piece with this ethereal feeling from the sax and the synths. And of course, Takahashi's smoky voice is excellent as it goes from dreamy to plaintive.
The song was written by Akira Ohtsu(大津あきら)and composed by Kisaburo Suzuki(鈴木キサブロー).

Off Course -- Ikutsu Mono Hoshi no Shita de (いくつもの星の下で)

"Ikutsu Mono Hoshi no Shita de"(Under the Stars) was never released as a single but was the final track on Side A of Off Course's 8th album, "We Are", released in November 1980 (it did hit the No. 1 spot). Instead of Kazumasa Oda(小田和正), this was guitarist/vocal Yasuhiro Suzuki's(鈴木康博)baby in terms of lyrics, melody and singing. I first heard it as one of the featured songs on one broadcast of "The Sounds of Japan" in 1982, and then I later got it on CD when it was a track on one of the band's many compilation discs.

Suzuki's voice isn't quite as strong as Oda' least for this song, but I think it works to his advantage. He basically writes what I assume to be a kokuhaku 告白)tune....a song of a confession of love. I could imagine some young nervous guy in his yukata at a summer festival taking the girl he fancies to a quiet bench and pouring his heart to her. Suzuki's slightly quavery vocals evokes that boy's life moment. The melody is soft and romantic throughout, except for the electric guitar solo which I could assume is the joy both parties felt when he finally let his feelings come out.

(cover version)

 "Ikutsu Mono Hoshi no Shita de" is definitely one song I would recommend to any kayo kyoku fan who may know just the biggest hits from Off Course. Strangely enough, Suzuki had struggled mightily to create the song, wondering if it would be any good. But he needn't have fine compliment from one of the band members let him off the hook.

Suzuki had been with Oda and Off Course from the very beginning, but at the end of their first run at Tokyo's Budokan in 1982, he decided it was time for him to leave and pursue a solo career.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Minako Yoshida/Miho Yonemitsu -- Koi wa Ryuusei (恋は流星)

Man, was I impressed when I bought Minako Yoshida's(吉田美奈子)"Light'n Up" (1982), and heard some of the wonderful tracks on that album, including the gorgeous "Hoho ni Yoru no Akari"(頬に夜の灯). This lady has soul!

Then I came across this earlier masterpiece, her 3rd single, that was part of her 7th album, "Twilight Zone". Both single and album were released on the same day in March 1977. Listening to it, I couldn't help but start shifting my shoulders and bobbing my head like a deranged pigeon. I only wondered if she and "Koi no Ryuusei"(Shooting Star of Love) had ever made it to Don Cornelius' "Soul Train". Yoshida wrote and composed the song in 2 parts. Part 1 is above with Yoshida wailing away at the night....perfect time to listen to this song.

(I'm sorry but the video has been taken down.)

Part 2 is the instrumental jam session of the song with Yoshida riffing a bit at the beginning before she lets the band go to do their thing. And according to the writeup on J-Wiki for the song, she probably had to reserve at least an entire izakaya for the wrap party. Strings, trombones, saxes, bass, electric guitar....they're all in there. Old buddies Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)and Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)are in there helping, too. And Yoshida anchors everything with those cool piano chords.

Wouldn't mind getting my own copy of the single someday.

October 10 2013: And I finally fact, I got all of "Twilight Zone". Too bad, it didn't come with Part 2, though.

I also want to add to this update by showing you a lovely cover of "Koi wa Ryuusei" by former Tokyo Performance Doll member, Miho Yonemitsu(米光美保). She gives a light and clear-as-a-bell delivery in this clubbier version of the City Pop classic. It wasn't released as an official single, but it is on her 3rd album, "Forever" which was released in October 1995.

Naoko Kawai -- 9 1/2

My first and lasting memory of Naoko Kawai(河合奈保子) has always been that of the young girl with the cute snaggletooth who literally popped up on the stage at the 1981 Kohaku as the top batter in the frilly dress and gushed out "Smile For Me". Quintessential aidoru! But, y'know, I never managed to get any of her albums or singles until somewhat later when she took a more mature direction in her music.

(full album)

There was a trend in Japanese popular music from about the late 70s and well into the 80s in which established singers didn't just go for the Western-influenced genres of New Music and City Pop, but literally went across the Pacific to record albums with American producers and fellow artists to produce what was basically American popular music of the time. Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵)had "LA Blue" and Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)did half of "Miss M" Stateside. Naoko Kawai had her day in the US sun for the first time with "Daydream Coast"in 1984, in which she did a bossa nova duet with David Foster!

Strangely enough, the very first Naoko album I bought was this one called "9 1/2". Her 12th album, this was her second production in the US. It didn't make any waves in Japan or in the States, but I think it's still an interesting album since it was the first time for my ears to hear the aidoru push the crossover envelope. Of the 9 songs she put down, the first two tracks are the ones I remember the most since I first bought the LP in the late 80s. The album cover has her photographed against the backdrop of the Grand Canyon, and sure enough, the videos (couldn't find them, sorry) have her traipsing across America.

"Say It's Over" is the first track and a ballad. Right from the start, I could hear that this was not an aidoru tune....obviously since it had been written and composed by Tom Keane, Michael Landau and Mike Himelstein with the lyrics changed into Japanese by Masao Urino(売野雅勇). I can't really put it into words but it just sounds like American pop of that decade. I half-expected Peter Cetera and other members of the band Chicago to suddenly jump into the chorus. Vocally, Kawai is allowed to let some of the richer lower register of her voice to emerge.

Then there is the uptempo 2nd track, "Turn It Up" with Tom Keane on backup vocal. Listening to this one, I can just picture the old big hair, shocking pink blouses and tight jeans. Perhaps the decade hasn't been the most beloved in terms of fashion but it's still nostalgic for me.

"Finding Each Other" is another David Foster project, although Naoko's partner in this one is Steve Lukather from TOTO. Still, this is a typically 80s Foster melody desperately looking for a "Karate Kid" sequel to grace. Naoko's voice is a bit thin here against the instruments but acquits herself well in the English language.

Again, "9 1/2"didn't break the mold when it came to joint Japanese-American musical relationships, but it did answer for me for the first time a "What If"question as to how an aidoru could go beyond the usual parameters of a Japanese recording company with the help of some high-powered American production staff.

Naoko Kawai -- 9 1/2
I've created a short follow-up article for the album right here.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Go-Bangs -- Special Boyfriend

My JET days of 1989-1991 were notable musically for all of the girl bands that were coming out of the woodwork. There was of course Princess Princess, Show-Ya, and Pink Sapphire. And then there was the playful, slightly kittenish Go-Bangs. I'd already done one song by them, "Ai ni Kite I Need You"あいにきてI Need You) all those months ago. Now, it's the single preceding it.

I think the band's 4th single,"Special Boyfriend"could have done better than its peak ranking of No. 55 when it was released back in April 1989. Perhaps if it had been released after the big hit of "Ai ni Kite", the lead-in could've helped it out. "Special Boyfriend"has a bit more of the punk in the pop, and once again Kaori Moriwaka's(森若香織)lead vocals have that chipper elasticity. I also love Mitsuko Saito's(斉藤光子) drums in there.

Masahiro Kuwana -- Sexual Violet No. 1

One of the more interesting titles I've ever come across in kayo kyoku, seeing the singer's mane and hearing the opening notes remind me of Rod Stewart in his disco age. Just wanna put on those roller skates again. Kuwana's voice even reminds me of Stewart's in a way.Not sure if he ever owned a pair of leopard-skin leggings, though.

Masahiro Kuwana(桑名正博)was born and raised in Osaka. After a year in San Francisco, he returned to Japan and started up his own band, Funny Company, in 1971. The following year, the band debuted with "Sweet Home Osaka". But after leaving a couple of albums to posterity, Funny Company broke up, and in 1975, Kuwana launched a solo career. About 4 years later, he would get his big hit in the form of "Sexual Violet No. 1", his 4th single released in July 1979. I first heard it on "The Sounds of Japan", and my first reaction to it was, "Funkalicious!". It hit No. 1 in October of that year and stayed at the top for 3 weeks. Lyrics were provided by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆), and the music was by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平). And in total, the single sold 600,000 copies.

My only question is how many glasses of sake were they imbibing when they came up with the title.

"Roses are red, violets are...sexual?"
NOTE: On October 26 2012 JST, Masahiro Kuwana passed away after being in a coma for some months due to a brain stem hemorrhage on July 15. He was 59 years old.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Peanuts/W/Yuki Koyanagi -- Koi no Fuuga (恋のフーガ)

Fugue: ".....a compositional technique (in classical music) in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced in the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and recurs frequently in the course of the composition." (Wikipedia)

Decided to give you a bit of a heads-up on the title of this song. "Koi no Fuuga"(Fugue of Love) was released in August 1967 by The Peanuts, and it's a 60s Quincy Jones-worthy tune written by Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼)and composed by Koichi Sugiyama(すぎやまこういち). I don't usually mention the arranger in my entries, but Hiroshi Miyagawa(宮川泰) was the one behind this, and he was also the scorer behind "Uchuusenkan Yamato"宇宙戦艦ヤマト...Space Battleship Yamato); one of the battle themes from that anime starts off just like this song. (things that make you go hmmmm.....). Speaking of Miyagawa, according to J-Wiki, he tried to arrange the song so that it followed a fugue pattern, but he got somewhat stuck so he ended up making a "slightly scary"arrangement, in his words.

It certainly starts off with a bang. With timpani at the beginning and some foghorn trombone near the end, Austin Powers and just about every other spy he was spoofing would've been quite impressed with this one. The Oricon charts would still be a few months away from starting up, but when they did, "Koi no Fuuga" apparently got as high up as No. 20. And the ladies did get onto the Kohaku Utagassen for that year as you can see below...complete with loud kettledrums.

Covers of the song would pop up over the decades. J-R&B singer Yuki Koyanagi(小柳ゆき) gave her own version in August 2003, as a track on her album, "Koyanagi The Covers Product 2". No twin sister for her but she improvised in the video. This version got as high as No. 36 on Oricon.

Then, there was the version given by the Hello Project duo, W, in February 2005 which went as far up as No. 12. Ai Kago and Nozomi Tsuji(加護亜衣・辻希美) debuted as the duo with another Peanuts tune, "Koi no Vacances"恋のバカンス)the year before (already profiled....look for "Hello Project"or "2004"). The song also appears on their 2nd album, "2nd W", which was released in March of the same year.

In any case, the song is short but dynamic (kinda like Rita Moreno).

Ippu-Do/SHAZNA -- Sumire September Love (すみれ September Love)

Strangely enough, the first time I'd heard of this Japanese New Wave band was on the legendary Toronto program, "The New Music"when J.D. Roberts (now John Roberts, former CNN anchor) and Jeanne Beker had a special episode on the music of Japan. My first thought of the vocalist was that Duran Duran should have recruited him on the spot.

Ippu-Do(一風堂)was formed in 1979 with Masami Tsuchiya(土屋昌巳)as that lead vocal. I mentioned this when I profiled Junko Ohashi's(大橋純子)1977 album, "Crystal City", but Tsuchiya was the guitarist behind the track, "Funky Little Queenie". It wasn't until July 1982, though, that Ippu-Do hit paydirt with its 6th single, Tsuchiya-penned "Sumire September Love"Violet September Love). Reminding me of some of YMO's earliest hits like "Tong Poo"and "Firecracker" in melody, Tsuchiya's vocals glide through Machiko Ryu's(竜真知子)lyrics like skates on ice.

The song managed to peak at No. 2 on the Oricon charts. Selling 450,000 records, "Sumire" also got picked up as the campaign song for a Kanebo Cosmetics commercial starring Brooke Shields. The above video has "The Best Ten" program handing it off to Ippu-Do at the Liverpool Empire Theatre in England. At the time, Tsuchiya was part of the world tour for UK band Japan. Ippu-Do, by the way, was named for a discount store located in Shibuya, Tokyo.

In October 1997, one of the big bands of Visual-Kei (Japan's version of Glam Rock), SHAZNA, released a cover of "Sumire September Love" as its 2nd single. Tsuchiya couldn't have asked for a better person to hand the baton to. It also peaked at No. 2 and was the 54th-ranked song of 1997. It can also be found on SHAZNA's 1st album, "Gold Sun and Silver Moon" released in January 1998.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Yukio Sasaki/Yasuhiro Abe/EPO -- September Valentine

Seeing that September was rapidly coming to a close, I was looking for any other kayo kyoku songs with the theme of either September or Fall. Of course, I already have Mariya Takeuchi's(竹内まりや) "September" profiled and will get to Ippu-Do's "September Love". Then, by pure accident, I came across this number that I had never heard even in all my years in Japan. On YouTube, I heard EPO's version and then read that the original singer was Yukio Sasaki(佐々木幸男), a folk/pop singer based in Hokkaido. So I went to his version of the song and enjoyed it very much. All of the renditions come off as rather bluesy. Sasaki originally sang it in 1977 as his 3rd single.

I was surprised to find out that the composer for "September Valentine" was City Pop/J-AOR crooner Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘). His official debut as a solo singer wouldn't happen for another 5 years, although he had been involved in a band called The Real McCoys with fellow singer-songwriter Masamichi Sugi(杉真理) in the 70s. When the band broke up, Abe continued to act as songwriter and backup vocal for other singers such as Mariya Takeuchi. His melody and delivery are mellow but the lyrics by Atsuko Saito(斉藤敦子)are bitter....the hurt protagonist softly chastises his possibly-soon-to-be-ex-lover at the suggestion of a breakup in their relationship. He did his original performance in 1977 at the Yamaha Popular Song Contest (affectionately nicknamed PopCon) in Tokyo. Abe would do another version for his 1994 album, "Passage" which is the video above.

(Unfortunately, the video has been taken down.)

Finally, this is EPO's version of the song that first got me hooked. Not sure where her version is located amongst her albums, but I came across information that it was no later than 1989.

Kozo Murashita -- Ashita Areba Koso (明日あればこそ)

(cover version)

"Ashita Areba Koso"(Indeed If There is a Tomorrow) is one of the late Kozo Murashita's(村下孝蔵) well-regarded songs that he wrote and composed for his 4th album, "Yume no Ato"夢の跡), in 1982. It was a song that I enjoyed on one of my tapings of "The Sounds of Japan"...and subsequently lost for a couple of decades....never knowing what the title was. A couple of nights ago, after putting in my entries for this blog, I just decided to look him up in YouTube and see if I could track it down. Found it all the way in the back, so to speak....good to hear it again after so long.

It's a song of encouragement.....kinda like in the vein of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel. The strings and Murashita's mellow voice and gentle guitar all help to create this tender ballad.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Top 10 Singles for 1994

1. Mr. Children           Innocent World
2. Kohmi Hirose         Romance no Kamisama
3. Ryoko Shinohara    Koishisa to Setsunasa to Kokorotsuyosa to
4. B'z                       Don't Leave Me
5. Miyuki Nakajima      Sora to Kimi no Aida ni
6. Yumi Matsutoya     Hello, My Friend
7. trf                       Survival Dance
8. Maki Ohguro          Anata dake Mitsumeteru
9. trf                       Boy Meets Girl
10. WANDS              Sekai ga Owaru made wa

A lot of new faces on this list at the time but Yuming and Miyuki are still there. I have a few stories about one of Tetsuya Komuro's "children", the technopop dance group, trf. The Komuro Family was one of the big things in J-Pop for a number of years during the 90s. And Mr. Children was making a huge splash on the scene. All of these people in the Top 10 started off my most recent phase in my J-Pop education. There are some of the other folks who didn't make the Top 10 but are still in my memories like ZARD, WANDS, and Fumiya Fujii.

TUBE -- Ah--Natsu Yasumi (あ~夏休み)

Wanted to get this under the wire before Summer completely leaves us, although the recent weather here in Toronto has shown that it probably already has.

It just wouldn't be a Summer without a TUBE song. And so, this was the band's big contribution for 1990 when it was released in May. Just to differentiate it a bit from past hits like "Season in the Sun" and "Summer Dream", the creators of "Ah--Natsu Yasumi"(Summer Vacation), lead vocal Nobuteru Maeda(前田亘輝)and guitarist Michiya Haruhata(春畑道哉), added a bit of Latin spice to the melody.

The song reached No. 10 on Oricon and became the 48th-ranked song of the year. And it's also a track on the band's 10th album, "N-A-T-S-U"(June 1990) which peaked at the No. 2 spot.

Kohmi Hirose -- Romance no Kamisama (ロマンスの神様)

All hail the Queen of Winter! Kohmi Hirose(広瀬香美)has released a number of hits during the snow season, thus earning her the nickname. To this day, I can't really listen to a song of hers without the image of skis coalescing in my mind...and I've never even been on the slopes. My first Winter in Ichikawa, Chiba was in 1994 when I came across an Alpen commercial on TV; the company specializes in skis and snowboards, and a Hirose song, "Shiawase wo Tsukamitai"幸せをつかみたい....I Wanna Grab Happiness), her 5th single, was the tie-up song.

But it's her 3rd and most successful single to date, "Romance no Kamisama" (God of Romance) that first got everyone singing her praises and her songs in the karaoke boxes and CD shops. I first heard this song when I went out to karaoke with some friends, and one of them tackled the tune. It's not an easy one to carry out since Hirose is famous for her sky-high voice. I think if she were an X-Man, she would be Banshee since what comes out of her larynx could potentially pierce through an unlucky orbiting satellite. Whenever anyone sang "Romance no Kamisama", we all waited to see if he/she could ride that crescendo and hit that high note in the middle of the song. Some made it....some didn't sing for the rest of the evening.

Not surprisingly, "Romance no Kamisama"was released in December 1993 and kept its No. 1 status going into the New Year. It would become the 2nd-ranking song of 1994, just behind Mr. Children's "Innocent World".

A story that has popped up on both Wikipedia and J-Wiki is that before the single was released, Hirose had made the president of her recording company promise that if the song sold more than a million copies, he would send the entire staff to Disney World in Florida all expenses paid. He assented, assuming that there would be no way of that happening. Well, the results were in...."Romance"easily passed 1.7 million discs in sales. And Victor Entertainment paid for about 10 staffers to get that trip to The Mouse House for 9 days. Still, I'm sure the pressure was on them to bring back one hell of an omiyage for the president.

"Romance no Kamisama"is also a track on Hirose's 3rd album, "SUCCESS STORY", also released in December 1993. It ended up reaching No. 2 on the charts and was the 26th-ranking album for 1994.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Alice -- Fuyu no Inazuma (冬の稲妻)

My first Alice entry, "Fuyu no Inazuma"(Winter Lightning) was the 70s folk/rock duo's first Top 10 hit, getting up to the No. 8 spot, after being released in October 1977. Their 11th single is one of the more toe-tappingly uptempo folk songs I've heard, notable for the repeated lyric, "You're rolling thunder"and then a breathy exhalation. It probably brings a lot of smiles even now especially to folks in their late 40s.

Alice consists of Shinji Tanimura(谷村新司) (lead vocals, guitar), Takao Horiuchi(堀内 孝雄)(vocals, guitar) and Tohru Yazawa(矢沢透)(drums). Back in 1970 during a concert tour in the United States, Tanimura, who had been the leader of an Osaka folk group, The Rock Candies, first met Yazawa who had been the guest drummer of another touring Tokyo soul band, Brown Rice. The two struck up a friendship and promised to go pro and set up their own band when they returned to Japan. Some time later, Tanimura would meet his future singing partner, Horiuchi, through a Kobe music appreciation club. Horiuchi himself was a vocal for a band with the imaginative name of Foolish Brother's Foot. Alice was born on Xmas Day 1971 in a room at a business hotel known as the Osaka Imperial.

Tanimura took care of the lyrics for "Fuyu no Inazuma", while Horiuchi composed the song. Both would later have successful solo careers with the former specializing in ballads while the latter would go into a mix of folk and enka. Tanimura also has had a songwriting career for other singers as well, with probably his proudest moment being the artist behind "Ii Hi Tabidachi"いい日旅立ち), one of Momoe Yamaguchi's山口百恵)greatest songs.

"Fuyu no Inazuma"can also be found on the album "ALICE VI", released in April 1978 and also a No. 1 record.

Ruiko Kurahashi -- Morning Shadow

This is one of my go-to albums when I just want to relax or just take my time waking up. "Morning Shadow" is Ruiko Kurahashi's(倉橋ルイ子)2nd album, released in December 1981. It's a concept album of sorts in that when it was originally released as an LP, Side A was titled "Rui's Cafe"representing daytime while Side B was "Rui's Pub" for the evening. The above video has the first two tracks: "Prologue"which is a soft jazzy instrumental with someone whistling backstage while "Morning"has that titular feel of "The sun's up...let's wake up and enjoy!" A number of Kurahashi's songs have always made themselves at home in a small streetside cafe while folks are having that Continental Breakfast with coffee.

"Last Order" is most definitely a B-side track. The bossa nova here especially reminds me a lot of those 60s Astrud Gilberto/Antonio Carlos Jobim collaborations, and there's even a bit of Greta Garbo in the song as well whenever Kurahashi wails "Leave me alone!" If it weren't for the obvious non-Japanese flavour, I would probably say that this was a Mood Kayo.

The final track on the album is  "Winter Rose". Aside from the seasonal allusions in the title, it doesn't particularly reference the Holidays, but I have often played this one before December 25 along with the other J-Xmas favourites. Kurahashi sings it lovingly like a country/gospel ballad, and I could imagine this being a nighttime tune since I've always envisioned this being played in a winter lodge after the sun has gone down.

The other notable tracks are "Hello Again", a Side-A song that is indeed the cover of Neil Diamond's hit from his movie "The Jazz Singer"in 1980. And then there is "December 24", which is the designated Xmas song of the album; that I'll be posting with the rest of the J-Xmas tunes at the appropriate time in a few months (geez....can't believe that it's already approaching that time of year).

Akira Kurosawa & Los Primos -- Love You, Tokyo (ラブユー東京)

Now, before anyone gets any preconceptions, this isn't the Akira Kurosawa who had directed "The Seven Samurai"and "Rashomon". Same name in romaji, but in kanji, the legendary director was 黒澤明, while the first leader of Los Primos was named 黒沢明. That being rectified, let us get to the song at hand.

Akira Kurosawa and Los Primos was created as this Latin-tinged Mood Kayo group in 1961. As with a number of similar chorus units during the 60s, Kurosawa and Los Primos evoked an attractive atmosphere of mood music to reflect life in urban and urbane Tokyo with its active nightlife centering on the various bar districts such as Ginza and Akasaka.

It wasn't until April 1966 though that they finally cut their first single, and it turned out that the B-side to "Namida to Tomo ni"涙とともに...Together with the Tears) would become the far more remembered song. "Love You Tokyo"is the quintessential Mood Kayo ballad from way back when: a soft Latin jazz melody with somewhat mournful and wistful vocals reminiscent of that regret-filled and tipsy barfly slouching on that stool. Mind you, the listeners were probably enjoying their drinks while the record was playing.

For reasons that I still can't quite figure out from the J-Wiki article on "Love You Tokyo", the song was a delayed least, according to Oricon, which started up in 1968. It actually was a hit when it was first released but its No. 1 status didn't come until January 4 1968 when it became the first song in Oricon history to get the top rank. And back in the pre-Oricon days, the surprising hit, created by lyricist Nao Uehara(上原尚)and composer Hiroyuki Nakagawa(中川博之), was such that the record label decided to re-release the 45" with the two songs flipped.

Although Kurosawa was the leader until his retirement in 1980, the lead vocal chores rested with the late Shoji Mori(森聖二)who became the 2nd leader. As was typical with a lot of these groups, the members of Los Primos wore formal wear....suits or tuxes as in the video above. The group is still going strong today but under the name of Koji Nagayama and Los Primos.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Miki Imai -- Hitomi ga Hohoemu kara (瞳がほほえむから)

I was watching a docudrama one night on the life of The God of Manga, Osamu Tezuka(手塚治虫). Not surprisingly, he was lionized on screen with the proverbial final scene of him in a hospital bed as he reflected on his life. Then this wonderful song came on as Tezuka's famous creations appeared on the screen, and I thought the producers really pulled out all the stops to have this throat-lumping tune finish this biography.

As it turned out, though, "Hitomi ga Hohoemu kara"(Because Your Eyes Smile) was the ending theme for the Wednesday Night Drama on Nippon Television (NTV). I wouldn't find about Miki Imai(今井美樹) for some months yet, but she was indeed the singer behind this ballad. I knew that I would have to find the song somehow. And it was indeed providential when I bought her first Best Album, "Ivory"(1989) and discovered the song at the end of the album. "Hitomi"was created by composer/singer Chika Ueda(上田知華)and lyricist Yuuho Iwasato(岩里祐穂).

Even watching Miki Imai in the original music video gets me nostalgic since she had all that long frizzy hair back then. I believe the style was called "sauvage". In any case, the single itself got as high as No. 9 on the Oricon charts. It never came out on an original album, so "Ivory" was the first chance to hear it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi -- Kanpai (乾杯)

One of my favourite songs that I often heard being sung at Kuri was "Kanpai"(Here's To You!) by  singer/songwriter/actor Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi(長渕剛). It was originally written and composed by the Kagoshima Prefecture native as a musical present at his old friend's wedding party, but he included it in his 3rd album "Kanpai" released in September 1980. Since then, it's been a ballad to be sung at weddings and graduations everywhere. And the karaoke videos for this song pretty much have to show a bride in either Japanese or Western wedding dress. I especially liked the string-filled bridge in the middle of the song.

That old video of "Kanpai"at Kuri never showed the young Nagabuchi. In fact, I only got to see him in Japan as this tough-as-nails rocker/balladeer who often played rough-hewn roles like yakuza enforcers in movies and TV dramas. So it was with some surprise to see his picture in the video below looking like a well-dressed hippie.

It was during my 2 years in Gunma Prefecture that I came across the 1988 CD single of "Kanpai". This version, released as a single for the first time, has Nagabuchi singing in a much more gravelly voice...kinda similar to Tom Waits or a later-day Bob Dylan. Also, the melody comes off as being more stately and if the celebration came after quite a bit of sacrifice. It sounds just as much as a tribute to lost ones as it is a toast to the ones who made it. Released in February 1988, it hit No. 1, as did the album it came on, "Never Change", a release of covers of his old songs. The single eventually became the 5th-ranked song of the year.

In 1990, Nagabuchi had his premiere appearance on that year's Kohaku Utagassen. In what became the longest individual performance in the history of the annual NHK special, he performed "Kanpai"and 2 other songs in succession in front of what was left of the Berlin Wall, about a year after its downfall. Definitely a fine place to give a toast to.

Kenji Sawada -- Katte ni Shiyagare (勝手にしやがれ)

There was never anyone quite like Kenji 'Julie' Sawada(沢田ジュリー). Before the Yellow Magic Orchestra started putting on the eye shadow and blusher during concerts, before Anzen Chitai's Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二) equipped himself with his dark brooding appearance and sharp suits, Sawada had already been doing that. As early as 1975, the former member of the Group Sounds band, The Tigers, was getting up on stage looking distinctly dandy-ish with a bit of glam rock makeup, to boot. Those comparisons to David Bowie were probably not too far away.

Sawada was metamorphosizing. The media may have placed him in the company of enka singers Hiroshi Itsuki, Shinichi Mori, and big-voiced singer Akira Fuse as The Four Emperors (as a counterbalance against The New Big Three of Hiromi Go, Goro Noguchi and Hideki Saijo), but it certainly seemed as if he were trying to distance himself with comments like "To be honest, I'm not influenced by the kayo world. The Julie sound is based on Western music.".

In 1976, Sawada had a pretty bad year. Getting into fights on two different occasions on a Bullet Train platform and on the train itself meant that any hopes of earning music awards and an appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen frittered away that year. So it was with some irony that in the next year, Sawada hit pay dirt with "Katte ni Shiyagare". Written and composed by Yu Aku (阿久悠)and Katsuo Ohno(大野克夫), the song was titled after "Katte ni Shiyagare", the famous 60s French movie directed by Jean-Luc Godard known as "A Bout de Souffle" and titled as "Breathless"in English, in which a young criminal leads police and a girlfriend on a nihilistic chase before meeting his end at the end of a gun. Not only does the title of Sawada's 19th single refer to that movie, but the lyrics also hint at a fellow who's on the run.

But for me it was the melody by Ohno. It lifts off right from the start with a rush of piano that sounds as if it were being played to symbolize a Spanish bullfight. And the urgency keeps on going  via shimmering strings and opportune injections of horns.

Sawada's transition from former GS singer to glam rock musician arguably started from this song. His appearance on the 1977 Kohaku Utagassen caused quite a stir as he came on stage wearing a black silk hat, leather pants, a rakishly-angled hat and a razor blade earring on his left ear. It left even kids trying to impersonate his style afterwards. The kayo kyoku singer as dandy fop arrived.

After its release in May 1977, it hit the Top 10 two weeks later and would stay at the No. 1 spot for 5 weeks running and then staying as either the No. 1 or No. 2 song for a total of 10 weeks. "Katte ni Shiyagare"also won a number of awards, such as a Japan Record Award, and became the 4th-ranked song of the year.

As for the literal translation of the title, it means "Do Whatever The Hell You Feel Like". Sawada certainly did.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Junko Yagami -- Omoide no Screen (思い出のスクリーン)

"Omoide no Screen" (Screen of Memories), for me anyways, completes the Big 3 when it comes to Junko Yagami's(八神純子)early singles, the other two being the Latin-infused "Mizuiro no Ame"みずいろの雨)and the disco pop of "Purpletown". Yagami's 6th single is firmly in the Latin category. Composed by Yagami and written by Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)(who would later write Seiko Matsuda's "Aoi Sangosho"), the singer's voice again just soars and cruises through the heavens as the lyrics go through the usual motions of lost love, two ships passing through the night, etc. Again, I'm more of a melody guy rather than a lyrics listener.

The song was released in February 1979 and reached as high as No. 12 on the charts and ended up as the 53rd-ranked song of the year, selling 240,000 records.

Kyoko Koizumi -- Nantettatte Aidoru (なんてったってアイドル)

Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)may have been the cute and innocent aidoru, while Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)played it tough and defiant. Then I would say that Kyon-Kyon was the footloose and fancy-free best buddy when it came to her uptempo stuff. "Nantettatte Aidoru" is one of her representative works in that category; I'm not quite sure how it would translate into English....I tried looking at various sites to no avail, but I can only guess that it would probably come out as "What an Idol!" If there are any fans of hers out there reading this, please set me straight.

According to the J-Wiki, this was Kyoko Koizumi's(小泉今日子)declaration tune as to her status in the music industry, and it was suitably brash and sassy, just like her image. Apparently in the beginning, her 17th single needed a title, and so a public contest was held in which people could give in their ideas for a name. 174,000 samples of correspondence flooded in. Ultimately, an economist by the name of Kazuhiro Ohnishi just put together the expressions "nantettatte" and "aidoru"together and sent the suggestion in. A song was born. Also, the song was written by Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康)of Onyanko Club and AKB 48 fame, and composed by veteran Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平).

"Nantettatte Aidoru" hit the top spot on Oricon right from its release in November 1985 and became the 21st-ranked song of 1986. The strong impression of the song earned Koizumi a quick ticket to her 2nd appearance on the 1985 Kohaku Utagassen, just 5 weeks after the song's release. 420,000 copies were sold.

The single is also available as a track on her 8th album, "Kyoko no Kiyoku, Tanoshiku, Utsukushiku"(今日子の清く楽しく美しく...Kyoko's Pure, Enjoyable, Beautiful).

Pete Mac Jr./Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra -- Lupin The 3rd (ルパン三世)

In J-Wiki, the theme from manga-turned-anime "Lupin The 3rd"was labeled the most famous anime theme in Japan. Well, I think a certain boy robot and the crew of a certain spacegoing battleship may take issue with that declaration, but I can say that this theme for the goofy but crafty gentleman thief is probably the most hair-raisingly coolest one that has ever been created...along with the fact that it is one of the most famous themes.

It was first created in 1978 for the second season of "Lupin The 3rd". Composed by jazz pianist/composer/arranger Yuji Ohno(大野雄二), the theme is a sonic tidal wave of jazz orchestral sax and trumpet pounding on you at the same frenetic pace that Lupin's car outraces the cops. This song would probably have felt at home in the United States alongside the theme from "Shaft" by Isaac Hayes or any of the themes for those cop shows in the 70s like "SWAT" or "Ironside".

Variations on this theme could probably fill a small booklet. In the same year as the instrumental version, lyricist Kazuya Senke(千家和也) (who had written songs for Momoe Yamaguchi and The Candies) added his words to the song for which Pete Mac Jr. (aka Japanese-American singer Kikuo Fujiwara) contributed his smoky yet silky vocals. Incidentally, the female chorus who sing out "LUPIN THE THIRD!"is known as Singers Three. The above video contains the sung version from 1978.

In 2001, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra gave their own version, called the DJ NB D&B REMIX which gives its own warp-boosted version of the theme along with snippets from the actual anime itself.

And here is an update on the song.