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, September 25, 2012

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.


  1. My first touch to Naoko Kawai's music was MEMBERS ONLY album which (while being quite alright synth heavy adult pop) didn't impress me that much back then. When I got to hear her earlier material my opinion on Naoko changed though. Some really classy stuff there... Ookina Mori no Chiisana Ouchi, Young Boy, Hurricane Kid, 17sai, Smile For Me, Kenka wo Yamete, Soyokaze no Melody for example.

    Ookina Mori no Chiisana Ouchi captures perhaps best Naoko's cute aidoru period:

    And I do love her teeth! :)

    1. Hi, Nekromantis. Good to hear from you again.

      Yeah, that first time I saw her at the 1981 Kohaku Utagassen singing "Smile For Me", I just went "Awwwwwwwwwwwww..." I simply wanted to adopt her as my little sister (although she's actually a couple of years older than me). "Soyokaze no Melody" from your link brought back some pangs of memory for me as well.

      As for the teeth....that was one of the first interesting things that I discovered about Japanese popular culture. "Yaeba" was actually considered to be the most darling feature for aidoru back then. Over here, when I had a similar situation with my own teeth, I got dragged to the orthodontist for the next 5 years! :)


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