Credits

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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Teresa Teng -- Tsugunai (つぐない)


Over the past several decades, a few non-Japanese singers have made inroads into the world of kayo kyoku. One of them was the late Teresa Teng (テレサテン)from Taiwan, who first made her debut in Japan (her professional debut was in 1968) in 1973 and even made the New Year's Eve Red and White Song Festival of that year. When it came to her voice, I'd like to quote this from the English Wikipedia writeup:

"Her voice was also described as being 'like weeping and pleading, but with strength, capable of drawing in and hypnotizing listeners.'"

Sounds just right for enka. In my previous entries, I talked about how enka can be categorized according to geography and activities such as drinking in bars. These are not official subgenres of  enka; only observations on my part. For Teng, her form seems to have a European tinge to it...due to certain musical instruments (like a mandolin) and arrangements.

The song, "Tsugunai", which may mean "atonement" or "compensation", has that sort of feel for me. Teng sings about how she longs for a departed lover although signs of him still linger in her home. It was released in January 1984 and got as high as 6th on the weekly Oricon charts, and finished up being the 42nd most popular song of the year. And it won a Japan Records Award for that year as well.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Taeko Ohnuki -- Mignonne


 Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子) third solo album, "Mignonne", was also her first for the RVC/RCA label and her first of the "French"titles. I guess the PR department at her new label was just having a field day promoting the next album of this talented young lady...only to have it flop! No immediate hits came from it. If there had been a headline in "Variety", it probably would have screamed "MIGNONNE FILLETED!"

I bought the remastered version of "Mignonne"and listened to it. I also read the Japanese liner notes in which a somewhat cheerfully rueful Ohnuki gave her thoughts about the production. She was pretty straight about it...it was a nightmare! It was produced by E-ji Ogura(小倉エージ), a music critic who had been critical of Ohnuki in the past....kinda imagine having Charlie Brown being coached by Lucy Van Pelt. She hinted at some battles in the studio between her and Ogura, although it sounded more like an employee being chewed out by the boss in the office. When all was said and done, she had even considered hanging up her mike for good. And a long gap in time would pass until she got on that horse again. In the interim, she did other things such as singing backup for other singers.

After my first listen to it, yep, I had to admit that it didn't hit me all that much. There was a feeling in her delivery that she hadn't felt too comfortable with what she had been given. But I think it was more of a "It's A Wonderful Life"phenomenon. Like the Jimmy Stewart movie, it had been an initial flop but it has grown more and more significant over the decades. It just needed more time to reach us. And that is my feeling on it.


And indeed a couple of hits have come from it. The above video is for the second track "Yokogao"(横顔)"Profile", a breezy, jazzy tune which has become another standard for future J-Pop singers, and a perennial song to be sung at Ohnuki concerts.


The other is "Umi to Shonen"海と少年"The Ocean and the Boys", a somewhat more New Music-esque song which feels like a link to her previous album, "Sunshower". The other tracks have her go into a bit of funk, blues and even disco. Varying results but still a good album that I'm glad I got.


Kozo Murashita/Chikuzen Sato/Hiroko Mita -- Hatsukoi (初恋)




Kozo Murashita (村下孝蔵)was a singer with this wonderfully mellow tenor who was born in 1953 in Minamata City, Kumamoto Prefecture. I heard a number of his lovely folk songs before and after "Hatsukoi"...all written and composed by Murashita. But it was this single, released in February 1983, that got him near the top of the charts...No. 3, to be exact.

"Hatsukoi"(First Love) would be Murashita's most popular song, and it doesn't sound like a folk song due to the synths and the arrangements by Kimio Mizutani(水谷公生). It comes off as sounding quintessentially early 80s pop, although in concerts, Murashita has always maintained his folksy approach by appearing on stage sitting on a stool with just his guitar and a microphone. The song itself has become a standard with many singers afterwards covering it in their albums (Misato Watanabe, Noriyuki Makihara, etc.). And it's no surprise...great melody and lyrics that anyone who has ever pined for that boy/girl in school can relate to.

The lyrics themselves are written as such that they would make the perfect backdrop for Charlie Brown's eternal pursuit for the Little Red-Haired Girl. If Chuck could speak Japanese, he would be saying these words himself. And considering that the Peanuts gang are so popular in Japan that they've appeared in commercials, I'm surprised that noone has put 2 and 2 together and tied up this song with good ol' Charlie Brown.


As I said, over the years, a number of J-Pop singers have covered "Hatsukoi". I've only heard one cover version and it's a smash. Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善), the lead singer for Sing Like Talking, gave a truly funky rendition in 2007....the electric guitar sounds like something Santana would play and the arrangement would give Steely Dan nosebleeds. It makes it really hard for me to decide which version is better.

As for Murashita, sadly, his life was cut short due to a stroke during a rehearsal in 1999.


December 23 2012: Thanks to jarteaga obregon, he informed me about 80s aidoru Hiroko Mita's(三田寛子)version of the song.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Seiko Matsuda -- Natsu no Tobira (夏の扉)


Ah, memories of Seiko-chan! Back to high school, and all that. I remember first hearing Seiko Matsuda's(松田聖子)5th single as a jingle for Suntory Vitamin Water, and the lyric, "Fresh, fresh, fresh!"when  I saw the commercial on video tape. The super-bouncy "Natsu no Tobira"(The Gates of Summer) debuted on the Oricon single charts in late April 1981 at No. 16, rocketed up to No. 2 by the next week in May and was No. 1 throughout June...a very timely title for a song indeed. It ended up being the 14th most popular song of the year. The lyrics were by Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子), the same lyricist behind "Aoi Sangosho"(青い珊瑚礁) and the composer was by Kazuo Zaitsu(財津和夫), the lead singer for the band Tulip(チューリップ).

I later saw Seiko perform it at the 1981 Red & White Song Festival (aka Kohaku Utagassen--紅白歌合戦)which was the first of the long-running televised event to have been shown in Canada. That show further opened up my eyes and ears to kayo kyoku. If I'm not mistaken, Seiko was just bopping about in a yellow dress, and I think by that time, she'd gone away from her Seiko-chan cut to shorter curls.

Off Course -- Aki no Kehai (秋の気配)


One of the first and loveliest examples of kayo kyoku that I'd ever heard come across was from this band and this song, "Aki no Kehai"(Autumn Flavor). If there is a song that just forced you to just stop and smell the roses or sit down for a bit, it is this one. Kazumasa Oda's(小田和正) dreamy vocals and relaxing arrangements just makes this ballad one of my all-time favorites.

Off Course(オフコース) had a 20-year-long run from 1969-1989 as a popular pop/folk/rock band from Yokohama. "Aki no Kehai"was released as a single in August 1977 before coming out as part of the album "JUNKTION" a month later.



According to an interview with Oda himself, part of which was re-written onto J-Wiki, the lyrics talk of a man sadly having to part with his girlfriend at her favorite park in Yokohama. Oda had initially felt that the protagonist was splitting up with her in such a gallant and tender way, as in a movie, but after thinking about it, he came to the conclusion that the guy was a bit of a bastard although that hadn't been Oda's intention!

In any case, it's just lovely to listen to...although perhaps you should think twice before playing it at your wedding.



Saturday, February 25, 2012

Taeko Ohnuki -- Sunshower



Going a little more forward into Taeko Ohnuki's (大貫妙子)career. Ohnuki had completed a three-year run with Tatsuro Yamashita's(山下達郎) band, Sugar Babe, with their only album, "Songs" in 1976 when it disbanded in the same year. Ohnuki was now free to go solo and did so with Crown Records, releasing "Grey Skies" in 1976 and then in the following year, "Sunshower".

This album was part of my shopping spree for Ohnuki tunes over my final year in Japan. According to Shinichi Ogawa's(小川真一) writeup for "Sunshower" in "Japanese City Pop", Ohnuki was still developing as an artist on this album. I can agree to a certain extent. She makes some dips into genres such as fusion with "Furiko no Yagi"(振り子の山羊) "Swinging Goats",  Latin with "Kusuri wo Takusan"(くすりをたくさん)  "Lots of Drugs", and though I can't remember which track exactly, one of the later songs even has some techno...hinting at where she and fellow contributors to the album, Haruomi Hosono(細野 晴臣)and Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一) (of YMO fame) would be heading musically within a few years. It's interesting to see all 3 photographed in the album booklet back in the day, looking distinctly hippieish.

The above link is for "Tokai", (都会)"The City"which, according to J-Wiki's entry on the album, was influenced by Stevie Wonder. In the song, she talks about the unhealthy obsession with urban life and proceeds to leave it. The aforementioned "Kusuri wo Takusan" also gives the message of a cheerful indictment on how the medical industry was, even at that time, overmedicating its patients.



This link is of the first track, "Summer Connection". The J-Wiki comment only mentions that it was written with a summery image in mind. My observations is that it's the only song that I can remember of hers in which she REALLY hits the high notes. Ryuichi Sakamoto's arrangement is such that it has that nostalgic "Summer of '77" feel to it.

Sing Like Talking -- Together

It's nice when I get to make an entry and I don't have to write a lot of kanji...like for these guys. And I first came across this band purely by accident. I bought their 1994 CD, "Discovery", thinking that it was this another band that I'd heard and seen on "Music Fair", a long-running music program on Fuji-TV. I soon realized my error, but at the same time, I also realized I came across a damn fine unit. These guys can funk, soar and swing!

Sing Like Talking had its embryonic beginnings as far back as 1982 when the current three members had met in high school, but their actual debut didn't happen until 1988. Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善), Chiaki Fujita(藤田千章) and Tomohiko Nishimura(西村智彦) over the years have come up with songs that span funk, R & B, gospel, and even rock at times. But whenever I've visited the CD shops, any notices about them will often have the genre tag "J-AOR". Yeah, I guess this is the descendant of City Pop although  according to Wikipedia, Shibuya-kei seems to be J-AOR's cooler, hipper cousin.

"Together" actually is the lead track from the album before "Discovery", "togetherness", with single and album being released at the same time in 1994. And boy, is it a fun song! It starts, strangely enough, with an excerpt from Gypsy Jazz guitarist legend Django Reinhardt's "Dinah" before it immediately explodes into this funky, danceable number with a bunch of horns that would make Tower Of Power proud. If I wanna feel good, I play this one. Unfortunately, this seems to be the only video available on YouTube of this song, so the "Dinah" excerpt isn't played at the beginning although a hint of it comes on near the end (as it also does in the original). Still, the concert video shot at the Budokan in 1996 is great to watch.

(March 3 2014: Then again, I finally found the original with Django!)



The album did very well, reaching the No. 1 spot on the weekly Oricon charts.

All research is from J-Wiki and "Japanese City Pop" compiled by Yutaka Kimura.

Top Ten Singles for 1978

I was actually going to list the albums of 1978, but I think this list was more illuminating about who was on top for that year.

1.  Pink Lady        UFO
2.  Pink Lady        Southpaw
3.  Pink Lady        Monster
4.  Takao Horiuchi  Kimi no Hitomi 10000 Volts
5.  The Candies     Hohoemi Gaeshi
6.  Pink Lady         Toumei Ningen
7.  Masaaki Hirao   Canada kara no Tegami
    Yoko Hatanaka
8.  Circus              Mr. Summertime
9.  Eikichi Yazawa   Jikan yo Tomare
10. Miyuki Nakajima Wakare Uta

I think Pink Lady is gonna have to be talked about soon.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Junko Yagami -- Mizuiro no Ame (みずいろの雨)



One of the reasons that I probably got into kayo kyoku is that the Japanese popular music of that time was more than happy to be influenced by various Western music genres such as jazz, chanson and Latin...to a larger degree than was the case in North America.

Junko Yagami (八神純子)was just a 20-year-old Nagoya native when she broke out into the music business, and she made quite an early impact with her second album, "Sugao no Watashi"(素顔の私)(An Honest Me), reaching the No. 1 spot on the Oricon album charts sometime in 1979. "Mizuiro no Ame"(Light Blue Rain) was one of the tracks, and released the year before as Yagami's 5th single, it got as high as the No. 2 position on the weekly charts, and ranked 59th for the year.

"Mizuiro no Ame"was one of the first songs that I'd heard since my conversion to kayo kyoku 30 years ago, and it has stuck with me ever since. Yagami has a powerful voice on the same order as EPO and Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里), but she has a certain delicateness melded into her delivery as well. This song is definitely a dynamic Latin-tinged number, but she has also dipped into rock, disco and R & B.

She is performing even now almost a couple of decades since moving to the United States and under her married name of June Stanley. In fact, she just released a new album, "Vreath -- My Favorite Cocky Pop" (yes, please refrain from giggling too much).



Thursday, February 23, 2012

Taeko Ohnuki -- Itsumo Douri (いつも通り)




In the last couple of years, I've become a huge fan of this lady's work. Strangely enough, I'd bought her Best double-CD set close to a decade ago but I guess I hadn't been too impressed on my first listen since I let it sit in my CD case for a few more years before I finally heard the light. That double-CD set mostly focused on her 80s technopop/European songs which were more than enough to start scouring for the original albums. However, once I got those under my belt and on my shelves, I wanted to search for some of her older work, before her fateful collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一): namely, her first two solo albums, and then even earlier with her time as co-vocal in New Music band, Sugar Babe(シュガー・ベイブ).

Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子) was born in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, in 1953. Twenty years later, she, along with four others including singer Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎) (who I wrote about a couple of entries ago for "Ride On Time"), created Sugar Babe. Now, I mentioned that this was a New Music band...and this is where things get confusing even for me. According to the definition on J-Wiki, New Music was an urban contemporary form mixed in with Japanese popular music, ergo kayo kyoku (mixologically speaking, rum and sake?). OK, so then where does City Pop come in? Well, just for the sake of this blog and these brain cells (or cell) in my head, I'm gonna consider New Music to be more of the Western-style Japanese pop songs in the early/mid 70s, while City Pop starts up in the late 70s and into the 80s. In any case, the J-Wiki write-up on Sugar Babe itself talks of how the band used different Western chords which would further set it apart from other popular forms of the time such as enka and aidoru.

Back to our regularly scheduled entry. "Itsumo Douri"(As Usual) is a short mid-tempo upbeat tune about someone just getting on with life in the big city. There is a fusion of 70s pop, big city sax and strings which helps in relating that feeling of a young woman's life in Tokyo. And after listening to Ohnuki's breathy, almost whispery voice in the 80s, it's a revelation to hear this song which is very different from her work with "Professor"Sakamoto. The song itself was released as the B-side for the single "Downtown", sung by Yamashita and now a Japanese pop standard. The album, "Songs" was released at about the same time in April 1975.

I'll be going further into Ohnuki-san's career over the next number of months since she, in my estimation anyways, did some remarkable work through the late 70s and early 80s.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8LROo96ipU

Enka no Hanamichi (演歌の花道)




I introduced the program "Enka no Hanamichi"(The Flower Path of Enka) via the entry for Ikuzo Yoshi's(吉幾三)"Yukiguni" (雪国) under the Enka category some days ago. This was a program that used to be the filler stuff for the remaining few minutes on VHS tapes when the main taped program finished up back in the days when my parents used to rent from "Nippon Video"back in the 80s.

Of course, the program got a lot more respect in the home country. "Enka no Hanamichi" had a 22-year run on TV Tokyo from September 1978 to October 2000. It was a half-hour show which was broadcast on Sunday nights from 10 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and featured some of the top enka singers crooning fan favorites in the first two-thirds of the show before singing their latest stuff in the last 10 minutes.

During those first 20 minutes, singers would perform on rather elaborate sets, whether it be a windswept port at night while ships sounded their horns or inside an expensive Akasaka bar, or even someone's nicely designed Western-style home. For the remainder of the program, the same singers would perform in front of a studio orchestra.


According to Jean Wilson's article on the show, printed in the July 1993 issue of "Eye-Ai"magazine, the original producer had wanted a different concept for the show to distinguish it from the music ranking shows that were popular at the time. All those sets and the singers in their literally Sunday best were to provide a mini-musical story illustrating the usual enka tropes of lost love and urban ennui...it would explain why the performers looked so serious and heartfelt. Everything is all tied down with the narrator, played by Ryoko Kinomiya(来宮良子). From the same article, Kinomiya's whiskey-and-cigarettes voice apparently came from the voice actress actually hitting a bar and knocking back a few before showtime. It's a tribute to her professionalism (and probably her liver) that she could get through taping.



Part of the reason for the show's eventual demise was the changing tastes of people for music. Enka is no longer as big a musical force as it once was, but "Enka no Hanamichi"still lives on in DVDs and YouTube.





Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Ride On Time (Single)


Well, I figure if I have talked about the missus, I have to talk about the hubby. Yup, following Mariya Takeuchi (竹内まりや), I now introduce you to Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎), he of the falsetto and Beach Boys vocal effects. Yamashita was influenced by American pop and rock throughout the first two decades of his life, and started his band, Sugar Babe, in the early 70s which resulted in one well-regarded album, "Songs" in 1976. Among his bandmates was Taeko Ohnuki (大貫妙子)who has also gone on to carve her own successful career, albeit in a significantly different direction.



"Ride On Time" is a classic Yamashita song: summery and soaring with guitar and sax. Unlike his wife's initial retro-pop and later straight-ahead pop, Yamashita's tunes have a bit more rock, R&B and funk mixed in. It's ironic, then, that his most famous tune happens to be a Xmas song.

In any case, "Ride On Time" got as high as No. 3 on the Oricon charts, and its album of the same name, was at the No. 1 position for about a week in October 1980. Over 20 years later, the song became the theme of a popular drama called "Good Luck" starring Takuya Kimura(木村拓哉), which gave it a return to the charts, getting as high as 13th place.





Mariya Takeuchi -- Dream of You (ドリーム・オブ・ユー)




The full title of Mariya Takeuchi's(竹内まりや2nd single is "Dream of You: Lemon-Lime no Aoi Kaze"(レモンライムの青い風)with the last three characters meaning "blue wind". An appropriate title for a breezy song with a hint of Connie Francis' 50s/60s pop and the West Coast sound of the 70s. The first few years of her career going into the early 80s were characterized by this retro sound which reminds me of the aforementioned Francis, Shelley Fabares ("Johnny Angel") and even early Olivia Newton-John. Tunes of candy-cotton fluffy love...perfect for a young Japanese girl or boy.

The single itself didn't go much higher than No. 30 on the Oricon charts, although the album that it later came on, "University Street", went up to No. 17 on the album charts, pretty respectable for a sophomore effort. In fact, it seems that her albums have been getting more of the love than the individual singles; case in point, Takeuchi had to wait until her 20th anniversary in the business in 1998 to finally get that No. 1 single, "Camouflage", although "Single Again" came pretty darn close a decade previously.

Not quite sure where the retro sound originated from, although I am curious. Was it from her parents' collection of old American LPs? Or could it have been from her 1-year stay in Illinois as a high school student?









Kumiko Kaori -- Yasashiku Shinaide (やさしくしないで)

Keeping on the Leiji Matsumoto bandwagon after my entry on the "Space Cruiser Yamato"(宇宙戦艦ヤマト) theme song last night, I offer this much more low-key and beautiful song by Kumiko Kaori(かおりくみこ), a veteran anison singer. "Yasashiku Shinaide"(Don't Be Gentle) made its appearance in the first film made of "The Galaxy Express 999"(銀河鉄道999), arguably Matsumoto's most famous work after "Yamato". I remember watching the adventures of the mysterious Gwyneth Paltrow-lookalike Maetel(メーテル) and her young companion, Tetsurou Hoshino(星野鉄郎), on board the fantastic Galaxy Express on VHS years ago. The movie was accompanied by rousing orchestra and Godiego's(ゴダイゴ) hit eponymous tune throughout it. But then in the middle of the movie, young Tetsurou creeps into this hole-in-the-wall saloon on hearing this ballad being sung and strum. And the movie just stops. Not in a bad way but in a magnetic one as Ms. Kaori sings of someone who has just gotten tired and embittered of love. The characters in the saloon all look tearful or mournful, and I'm sure a number of the movie audience were feeling the same way. Considering the theme of the tune, it came off as very enka. The movie went back into adventure mode soon after but for those 2 or so minutes, there was a respite of some depth. And in fact, there was an instrumental reprise of that song later in the movie.

The above is the full song. Regrettably, for some reason, it never got onto the original soundtrack for the movie, but my old friend The Anime King played it for me, much to my surprise, in its entirety a couple of days ago after not having heard it in over 20 years. Apparently, it did get onto the Eternal anniversary edition of "Galaxy Express 999".

I'll make this half-joking recommendation. Listen to it while sipping down a tumbler of whiskey-on-the-rocks.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Takashi Hosokawa -- Kita Sakaba (北酒場)


In my last entry on enka, I mentioned that the genre can be geographical...such as Yokohama or Nagasaki or Hokkaido. Another theme is also drinking. Just like American country and western with its honky tonks, enka also goes into detail about the Japanese version of pub crawls.

Takashi Hosokawa(細川たかし) was in the business for about 7 years when he hit pay dirt with "Kita Sakaba"(Northern Bars), a jaunty song about a night of fun, drinking and women on a bar-lined avenue. According to J-Wiki, it was apparently so jaunty that it was thought to be more of a regular pop song than an enka one. But I think it still fulfills the enka category in terms of melody and theme.

I did also state that "Yukiguni"(雪国)was my go-to song in the karaoke boxes. Well, this was my No. 2. After all, I couldn't get away with just singing one tune.

"Kita Sakaba"got as high as No. 3 on the weekly Oricon charts and was No. 5 on the yearly singles in 1982.



The Theme from Space Cruiser Yamato (宇宙戦艦ヤマト)--Isao Sasaki



I heard a sound yesterday while I was having brunch with my good friend, The Anime King, at EggsSmart. And that was my jaw hitting the table, rattling my scrambled eggs and sausages, when he told me that "Space Cruiser Yamato"was being rebooted and premiering in less than 2 months, kinda like J.J. Abrams' 2009 "Star Trek". Of course, me being the late bloomer that I always have been, I found out several months after the news had been officially given...even before I left Japan (hanging my head in shame).

Over here in North America, of course, it was known as the just-as-beloved "Star Blazers". As junior high schoolers back in the late 70s, a lot of us basically sprinted home once class ended at 3:15 so that we could catch the adventures of Captain Avatar, Derek Wildstar and company heading for Iscandar to get the Earth-saving Cosmo DNA. And just like John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra did for "Star Wars"in 1977, voice actor/singer Isao Sasaki(ささきいさお) and the songwriting partnership of Yu Aku (阿久悠)and Hiroshi Miyagawa (宮川泰) was that 10th baseball player on the team with what is arguably the most famous anime theme song of all. It can probably still rouse us 40-somethings out of our armchairs and salute the TV. Then again, it was composed to be a military march.

That opening fanfare can still get my hair standing straight up on the back of my neck, even 38 years after it first played on the Nippon Television Network. It's been played at various venues, and that even includes the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in New York City one year by the city's police department marching band!



Yu Aku wrote the lyrics for the song. He was basically the Irving Berlin of Japanese popular music, having written for dozens of enka and pop singers including Pink Lady and Beat Takeshi (yup, he also sang, too).

Well, I'm keeping my ears peeled to hear how the theme sounds like in 2012. The 70-year-old Sasaki will be doing this one, too.

Good introductory entry for anison.(アニメ・ソング)


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Kyu Sakamoto -- Ue wo Muite Arukou (上を向いて歩こう)Part 2


                                 

Continuing on from Part 1...

"Ue wo Muite Arukou", despite all of its cheerful music and Kyu Sakamoto's grinning demeanor, is a deceptively depressing song. The lyrics hints at the singer having gone through some major crisis and trying to keep spirits up. The title translates as "Let's Walk Looking Up".

Here is my translation of the lyrics:

Let's walk looking up
So that the tears don't spill over
Remembering that Spring Day
A lonely night

Let's walk looking up
Counting the blurry stars
Remembering that Summer Day
A lonely night

Happiness is above the clouds
Happiness is above the sky

Let's walk looking up
So that the tears don't spill over
Walking while crying
A lonely night

Remembering that Fall Day
A lonely night

Sadness is in the shadows of the stars
Sadness is in the shadow of the moon

Let's walk looking up
So that the tears don't spill over
Walking while crying
A lonely night

A lonely night

Just wanna curl up into a fetal position, doesn't it?

But as I said, the song has become a uber-standard on both sides of the Pacific. One of the more successful covers of "Sukiyaki" was in 1981 by an R & B group called A Taste of Honey, with vastly different lyrics, of course. And that's their video above.

Still, I'm a bit uncertain how it became the legend it is now. I mean, I like the tune myself and I've been listening to it since I was virtually a baby. But how did it take hold of an American public, the vast majority of which cannot speak Japanese? It just goes to show that music can be a language that can go across and beyond linguistic borders, although nearly 50 years later, there has yet to be a Japanese pop song that can vie with Beyonce or Maroon 5. But acts like AKB 48 and YMO have made their own niche inroads into the States and beyond over the years. And Saori Yuki, veteran pop singer, struck some pay dirt late last year with an orchestra called Pink Martini on an album called "1969".  There is always hope.



And finally, it's been interesting to note that via YouTube and other sites I've investigated that comments have been almost fawning of this tune. One fellow tried to make a modern remix of it which got a few tongue lashes.

Ah...and here is a photo of the actual sukiyaki. I love this one, too, although I'm a bit iffy on the raw egg.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jooon/4667069268
by Jon Åslund

Kyu Sakamoto -- Ue wo Muite Arukou (上を向いて歩こう) i.e. Sukiyaki, Part 1







Yup, when I started this blog, I knew I would have to talk about this song. If I may show my Trekkieness for a paragraph, there was an episode on "Star Trek: Voyager" in which the intrepid Captain Janeway (inside Trekkie joke there, heheheheh)  had to deal with the Omega Particle, an atomic structure so rare, so powerful and so difficult to achieve in nature or in the laboratory.

Well, "Sukiyaki" was one of music's Omega Particles. For a period of 3 weeks in June 1963, an actual untranslated kayo kyoku song reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts in the USA, and its legacy has continued to this day. And the song remains the only Japanese song to do so. Seiko Matsuda, Dreams Come True, Hikaru Utada...none of them have done so.

Kyu Sakamoto (坂本九)originally sang this number back in 1961, written by Hachidai Nakamura (中村八大) and Rokusuke Ei (永六輔). For a period of 3 months, November 1961 to January 1962, it occupied the top spot in the domestic rankings supplied by a magazine called "Music Life" (perhaps, Oricon had yet to appear at that time).

Jump ahead several months. A British music executive by the name of Louis Benjamin is traveling around in Japan when he hears and likes the Sakamoto masterpiece, and decides to have one of his bands in the UK, Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen, create an instrumental version of it. It reaches No. 10 on the UK charts. However, there is just one change: the title. I guess Mr. Benjamin didn't really study up on hiragana, let alone the kanji. He would probably end up in retirement sooner than he would be able to pronounce the original title, so he dubbed it after his favorite Japanese dish, the now-ubiquitous sukiyaki.

Now, sooner than you can say "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon", an American DJ by the name of Richard Osborne at radio station KORD in Pasco, Washington listens to the British instrumental version, and decides to play the original Sakamoto version with "Sukiyaki" title intact.

The question is: How did Osborne get the original song?

Well, I'll give you the quotes from the actual person herself. To give credit where credit is due, I am using the quotes by Marsha Cunningham written on the Songfacts website: www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1230

In 1961-2, I was a high school student at The American School In Japan, living in Zushi, Japan. My dad was a pilot for Japan Airlines. While enjoying a movie staring (sic) Kyu Sakamoto, I heard the most unbelievably beautiful song. I purchased the record at a local record shop and brought it back to the states (sic) the next year when I attended a girls' boarding school in Sierra Madre, CA. I played it in the dormitory frequently; everyone liked it. One girl took the record home with her on the weekend so her dad could play it on his radio station, and the rest is history!

And it was indeed history. According to Wikipedia's entry on "Sukiyaki", it stayed at No. 1 on Billboard for June 15/22/29. And worldwide, it sold 13 million copies. Sakamoto even got to appear on one of the most popular variety shows in the United States, "The Steve Allen Show", and almost got onto "Ed Sullivan" except for a scheduling conflict. I can only imagine how this fellow must have been feeling at the time. And this was when The Beatles were just starting to get noticed.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

And also, you can check out my article on the B-side song.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Oricon Rankings for September 1989

1. Shizuka Kudo      Kousa ni Fukarete
2. Kyosuke Himuro   MISTY
3. Hikaru Genji        Taiyo ga Ippai
4. Princess Princess Sekai de Ichiban Atsui Natsu
5. Rie Miyazawa       Dream Rush
6. Ziggy                  Gloria
7. Bakufu Slump      Resort Lovers
8. Wink                  Samishii Nettaigyo
9. Mariya Takeuchi  Single Again
10. Kyosuke Himuro Summer Game


Dreams Come True -- Ureshihazukashi Asagaeri (うれしはずかし朝帰り)




This was a touchstone song for me. I'd just started my 2-year life in Gunma Prefecture as a JET teacher, and I was watching "Music Station"ミュージック・ステーション), the long-running Friday night TV Asahi music show hosted by Tamori(タモリ). "Music Station"came into its own as music ranking shows such "The Top 10"and "The Best 10"faded away. As with the latter two shows, "M Sute-"(M・ステー)had on the popular aidoru and bands of the day.

Then on that one Friday, Tamori introduced a band with an interesting name, "Dreams Come True". And I saw a couple of fellows bracketing this young lady with a cute bob and a million-watt smile. And she did what I'd never seen any singer or band do before on a Japanese music show: she screamed "HELLO! WE ARE DREAMS COME TRUE!!"in pretty darn good English. Then, they launched into this happy-go-lucky tune of a young girl sneaking home in the wee hours of the morning from her beau's apartment while trying to think up of an excuse for Mom (presumably, Dad had already gone to his 18-hour shift at the company). Since lead singer, Miwa Yoshida(吉田美和), wrote the song, I've always wondered if it had been autobiographical.

「うれしはずかし朝帰り」(The Happy If Embarrassing Trip Home in the Morning) just sounded different. I'd heard that the band had spent some time in the UK, and the song definitely had that European feel to it...there were some surface resemblances between DCT and Swingout Sister. In any case, in retrospect, I always remember that moment in Music Station history as one in which kayo kyoku started giving way to J-Pop.

The single itself was released in September 1989, and it came on the album, "Love Goes On" which was released a couple of months later. Although the single managed to crack the Oricon 100, it was the album that made some big inroads, getting as high as No. 8 on the album weekly charts before finishing up at No. 34 on the 1992(!) Oricon Albums of the Year. But as any Dorikamu fan knows, it would be higher and higher for the band for the next several years.

Thanks again to J-Wikipedia for the data.




Friday, February 17, 2012

EPO -- Girl In Me


Another pleasant surprise here. EPO (nee Eiko Sato...佐藤永子) has been another favorite of mine for several years with her version of a City Pop classic, "Downtown" and "U, Fu, Fu, Fu" (う、ふ、ふ、ふ). With her bright, soaring voice, it was no surprise that many of her songs had become commercial jingles. One singer who can automatically brighten my day. She was born and raised in The Big City itself, Tokyo, and went to Matsubara High School in Setagaya Ward...her kohai happens to be another singer with a boomer of a voice, Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里).


I own a few of her BEST albums but "Girl In Me" never showed up in any of them, and I don't think I ever came across an image of EPO as a sultry seductress. But coming across the video on YouTube, I've listened to it a few times already. I spoke about American pollination in my last entry concerning Momoe Yamaguchi. Well, EPO provided the Japanese lyrics, but Ray Parker Jr. wrote the notes (yup, a year or two before "Ghostbusters") and he even backs her up on guitar. Another happy, happy, joy, joy tune which was a cover of a minor hit by Maxine Nightingale back in 1979 from her album, "Lead Me On". (the video is below). For the video above, EPO sings "Girl In Me" from about the 1:20 mark.

BTW, EPO just happened to be the childhood nickname for Ms. Sato.

(P.S. Ah, did find the album. It's "Uwasa ni Naritai" (うわさになりたい)"Rumor")





Momoe Yamaguchi -- LA Blue


One of the wonderful things about my hobby is that I've been listening to kayo kyoku for all these decades...and yet I still get surprised at what I discover. Case in point: this album that Momoe Yamaguchi (山口百恵)released back in July 1979, a little more than a year before she retired from the business for good. I came across this in my book on "Japanese City Pop" but didn't think there would be any singles from it on YouTube. And it's indeed hard to find the tracks for "Momoe Yamaguchi LA Blue" , but I did manage to find some examples of covers and otherwise.

Just by looking at the cover of "L.A. Blue", it was obvious that Momoe's 18th album would be quite different. From the electric blue neon signage to the image of a Los Angeles dusk, this looked more like something from an American AOR singer's collection. The songs were all written by Japanese artists but recorded in Rosu and arranged by Barry Fasman. The above video is a karaoke cover for the first track, "GET FREE", which was created by the prolific songwriters Takao and Etsuko Kisugi (来生たかお・えつこ). The song has that drive-across-America feeling much along the lines of Canadian singer Patsy Gallant's "From New York to LA".

Around the late 70s and early 80s, there was a North American pollination of sorts with Japanese artists recording and seeking help from session artists such as TOTO's Jeff Porcaro and Steve Lukather. And even David Foster has been in a couple of duets with a couple of the big names in aidoru-dom (no, he didn't skip around or dance frenetically).



"Dancin' In The Rain" is the final track on "LA Blue". I can't quite describe it exactly but it seems to come across as a mix of a typical Momoe ballad and a love song from California. Shogo Hamada(浜田省吾) was responsible for the contemplative melody and Kei Yokosuka(横須賀恵) wrote the lyrics. Just to let you know, Kei Yokosuka is just the pen name for Momoe herself.




Here is another ballad from the album, "Cry For Me" which was again written by Kei Yokosuka and composed by Jun Hatano(波多野純). The YouTube video is a bit rough but it's interesting to see Yamaguchi perform it on "Music Fair".


And this is "Neko ga Miteiru"(猫が見ている...The Cat Is Watching), a light disco-funk piece which was written by novelist Teruhiko Kuze (久世光彦...under his pen name of Natsu Otani) and composed by guitarist-singer Fujimaru "Fujimal" Yoshino(芳野藤丸). In a way, it sounds like it should belong as part of a score for one of those 70s cops-and-robbers shows.

I'm not sure how rare "LA Blue" is nowadays, but if it is of a reasonable price, I wouldn't mind acquiring it myself. As for its success on the charts, it went as high as No. 2.

If you are curious about the album, it is actually on Amazon.jp. 



Thursday, February 16, 2012

Oricon's Top 10 Albums for 1989

1.   Yumi Matsutoya     Delight Slight Light Kiss
2.   Toshinobu Kubota   The Baddest
3.   Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi Showa
4.   Akina Nakamori       Best II
5.   TM Network           Carol
6.   Anri                      Circuit of Rainbow
7.  Boowy                   Singles
8.  Hikaru Genji            Hey! Say!
9.  Shizuka Kudo          Gradation
10. Hound Dog             Gold

Yes, I always appreciate it when the singers give their albums English-language titles. A bit of "a small world"piece of trivia here, referring back to the previous entry of Miki Imai(今井美樹): one of the six men who made up the 7th-ranking Boowy, Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰), will not only become her collaborator in the 90s but also her husband. Hotei is also the composer of the "Kill Bill"instrumental theme song.

No. 8's Hikaru Genji(光Genji) was the top group in the Johnny's Jimusho male harem, before SMAP started its long reign. Of course, now its Arashi.

Miki Imai -- Boogie Woogie Lonesome High Heel





Lovely song, sorry about the title. Chika Ueda (上田千華), singer-songwriter, came up with this along with lyricist Masami Tozawa(戸沢暢美). Not sure if it had been a late night for them, but I could imagine the situation with the two partners:

Chika: OK, OK, we gotta get this title out of the way by morning...
Masami.:  Right, right...but I can't come up with anything. My mind's fried!
Chika: OK, OK, OK....I got an idea: give me a dance, an emotional adjective and...and...and a shoe.
Masami.:  Wha--...Boogie Woogie....lonesome....high heel
Chika: Eureka!

Of course, that is all conjecture. I tried looking up an interview with either Ueda or Imai about how this title was formed but no luck so far.

In any case, Miki Imai (今井美樹)...yeah...in the late 80s, with kayo kyoku about to diversify into J-Pop's many paths, there was a small trend of female singers with mellow AOR-friendly voices taking on some medium-tempo ballads and happier tunes. In 1989, the model-turned-singer Imai released her 4th album in 1989, "Mocha--Under A Full Moon", and this was the 3rd track. Listening to this slow jazzy song kinda makes one wanna brew up that mocha and curl up in an armchair on a rainy, lazy Sunday. The album itself got about as high as No. 5 on the Oricon charts.

Six months later, Imai's first Best album, "Ivory"was released with "BWLHH"as one of its hits.




Ruiko Kurahashi -- Never Fall In Love

Yup, this is definitely showing my bias, but that's what a blog is for. Ruiko Kurahashi (倉橋ルイ子) is one of my unsung heroes in kayo kyoku. She never became a superstar like Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子) or Akina Nakamori(中森明菜), and most likely 9 out of 10 Japanese people I ask who are even around my own age will just shrug their shoulders in ignorance if I ask about her. And yet, she has a small, very dedicated following in Japan and in Hong Kong. I actually first found out about her through that Chinatown record shop, Wah Yueh. I bought my first album of hers there, and I even bought a bootleg tape of hers that originated in HK.

Her specialty is pop ballads, and far from the frenetic bubblegum pop of the aidoru scene, Kurahashi has had this very languid and breathy delivery paired with more European-sounding melodies, although some of her more uptempo tunes are more into the kayo kyoku vein of the times.

"Never Fall In Love"is a very typical Kurahashi ballad. It came on her very first album release "Without Sugar"in 1981, an album that is now very hard to find anywhere. But I had a very generous friend who was able to burn a copy of it for me and even reproduced the cover. This particular ballad was composed by Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司), one of my favourite guys to make this sort of song and prolific lyricist Machiko Ryu(竜真知子)came up with the words.



This link has the slightly more oomphed-up City Pop version of the song. Nice, too, but somehow I prefer the original version.



Japanese City Pop

Early last year, I came across this book at the Shinjuku Station Tower Records. Now, my ability to read Japanese isn't exactly up to what is required of most Japanese people...around 2,500 kanji. But I was interested enough in the contents to invest my 1,890 yen, and I haven't regretted it.
"Japanese City Pop"is a catalogue of 500 selected albums which fit the category from 1970 to 2002. So, the names are a who's who from the Japanese music industry such as Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実) to Mr. Children, and they also include artists who never really registered into mainstream pop. I came across a large number of names whose CDs I was able to track down, such as Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘), for whom I've already written one entry, and Hitomi Tohyama(当山ひとみ) (to be listed later). Provided that you can read Japanese, this is a must for not just the City Pop fans but for any J-Pop fans who want to get a bit of history and know something outside of the usual aidoru or J-Rock/J-R&B circles. And if you can't read a certain entry, you can always send me a request since I do translate Japanese-to-English on the side.

My book is the first issue from 2002, but last October, Tower Records started selling the revised edition. And of course, you can always check out www.amazon.jp

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Yellow Magic Orchestra -- Absolute Ego Dance/Taiso (体操)




Continuing on with YMO, "Absolute Ego Dance"was never released as a single but was part of the album "Solid State Survivor" when it was released in late 1979. A five-minute blast of techno fun, it mixes in Okinawan and Indian influences (according to the J-Wikipedia write up), and even has a bit of R2-D2. Sandii (of Sandii & The Sunsetz) contributes her speaking-in-tongues.




"Taiso"(Exercise) was a single from the "Technodelic"LP released in late 1981. I think the video helps out with the song since it's so whacked out. If you have ever dreamed of the YMO boys in an exercise informercial...then you've come to the right place. As actors, YMO make great musicians, but at least they're having fun. As for the young lady, I think she was having more than vitamins coursing through her veins. Apparently, the video was influenced by a Talking Heads video, most likely "Once In A Lifetime".

Yellow Magic Orchestra -- Rydeen (雷電)


Techno, for me, started with The Yellow Magic Orchestra. Until they came along, the only computer music I had heard was from this album of experimental avant-garde stuff at my junior high school library. My first thought was, "Heck, I can do that torturing my radio!"

Then, Messrs. Yukihiro Takahashi(高橋幸弘), Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一) and Harry Hosono(細野晴臣)blew my mind out along with millions of others with their TECHNOlogical onslaught in the late 70s. My first sight of them was in a newspaper picture back in 1978 with the three lads all dressed in red uniforms holding drum sticks. The only thing they were missing was a "Kick me"sign on their backs. No, I wasn't particularly impressed but then again it would literally be decades before I found out about their pedigree from the early 70s.

The only musical purchase I'd made during that trip to Japan in 1981 was YMO's first self-titled release in 1978 which had the hits "Firecracker"and "Tong Poo". But it was at my friend's place that I heard the amazing "Rydeen" which I think is the band's theme song...and perhaps the theme song of the early 80s for Japanese popular music. The single itself was released in June 1980 and ultimately reached 15 on the Oricon charts, while the album it was placed on, "Solid State Survivor"was the No. 1 album for all of 1980.

From J-Wikipedia's entry on "Rydeen", I found out the following: 1) the title itself had its first origins from the name of an 18th-century legendary sumo wrestler named Raiden Tame-e-mon(雷電為右エ門). Sakamoto felt that, like Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, he wanted YMO's music to have a similar effect on the world at large, and that a picture of Raiden had that image. 2) later on, Hosono remarked that the anime "Brave Raideen"(勇者ライディーン)was a hit in America...which sealed the deal as far as the title of the song was concerned.



Yukihiro Takahashi composed the song with "The Seven Samurai"(七人の侍)and "Star Wars"in mind. From the latter movie, the laser sounds emitted in the latter half of the song were the obvious contribution. "The Seven Samurai"gave its influence via the clicks at the beginning and the digital hoofbeats throughout the song.

BTW, the three lads also had quite the effect on fashion as well. They liked the stylist who cut their hair, Mikio Honda. The fans felt the same and thus, the "techno cut"was born.



Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Momoe Yamaguchi -- Ii Hi Tabidachi (いい日旅立ち)




Well, we talked about Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子) the night before...let's talk about her legendary predecessor, Momoe Yamaguchi (山口百恵). Born in Ebisu, Tokyo (now a pretty trendy area) in 1959, she tried out for a TV talent show called...prophetically, as it were..."A Star Is Born"(スター誕生....Star Tanjou) in 1972, and from there was launched her 8-year career in show business. Her earlier hits were infamous for some very suggestive lyrics but by the time the above song came out, her voice had deepened dramatically and she was going for some more complexity in her musical choices in terms of both lyrics and melody.

The very first time I'd heard about Momoe-chan was when she sang the sultry "Imitation Gold". However, the tune that got my attention was "Ii Hi Tabidachi" (Leaving on a Good Day) when I heard it as the first tune on "Sounds of Japan", that Toronto radio show on CHIN-FM. It's memorable for the trumpet solos at the beginning and in the middle, and Momoe's singing is wistful and lonely. According to the writeup on J-Wikipedia, the song, which deals with a woman taking a solo journey, presumably post-breakup, has become a favorite at graduations and weddings for some reason! Even the composer/lyricist of the song, Shinji Tanimura (谷村新司)of Alice(アリス) fame,  once scratched his head about its popular usage in supposedly celebratory events. Since my comprehension of Japanese lyrics at the time was basically negligible, I blissfully enjoyed the song.

Released in November 1978, it rose as high as No. 3 on the Oricon charts. And its legacy is strong; it has been covered by many J-Pop artists up to the present day.


Oricon Single Rankings for July 1980

1. Dancing All Night    Monta & Brothers
2. Aishuu Date          Toshihiko Tahara
3. Subaru                 Shinji Tanimura
4. Tonight                 The Chanels
5. Koi no Tsunawatari Akiko Nakamura
6. Ride On Time         Tatsuro Yamashita
7. Rock N' Roll Widow  Momoe Yamaguchi
8. Wakaretemo,          Los Indios & Sylvia
     Suki na Hito
9. Minamikai Kisen      Takao Horiuchi & Tomohiro Taki
10. Yes-No                Off-Course

"Dancing All Night"ダンシング・オール・ナイト)ended up being the top-rated song for the entire year...not bad for a debut single. Meanwhile, the singers for the No. 3 and No. 9 slots, Tanimura and Horiuchi, were the duo Alice in the 1970s. Shinji Tanimura's(谷村新司) "Subaru"()is a perennial karaoke favourite sung like an anthem or a Japanese version of "My Way", by Frank Sinatra.

As for The Chanels, they were a retro-doo-wop group which reflected the inexplicable love for 50s kitsch fashion back in those years. Several of the members, including lead singer Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之), wore blackface during their performances (please do not kill me, NAACP). In another inexplicable move, the group changed their name into the "roll-off-the-tongue"Rats & Star. Still, they had a lot of catchy numbers, and Suzuki later went solo to become a fine soul singer.



Monday, February 13, 2012

Seiko Matsuda -- Aoi Sangoshou (青い珊瑚礁)/True Love




Now, where would a self-respecting kayo kyoku blogger like me be without mentioning the Queen Aidoru herself, Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)? If I hadn't made any tribute to her, I would've had to hand in my Myojo (明星)magazines (J-equivalent of Teen Beat in America) and my Seiko-chan posters.

Actually, I thought a good bit about which song to start her story with. Do I start with "Natsu no Tobira"(the first time I saw her perform on TV)? "Akai Sweet Pea" (one of her signature tunes from her early period)? But I decided to go with "Aoi Sangoshou"(Blue Coral Reef) since this was the single that catapulted the former Ms. Noriko Kamachi into super-aidoru status back in July 1980. This was her 2nd single which gradually earned her a ranking of No. 2 on Oricon and won her The Best Newcomer Prize on The Japan Record Awards, and her first appearance on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen.

"Aoi Sangoshou"was written by copywriter-turned-prolific songwriter Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子), who pretty much wrote for just about every singer from the late 70s and well into the 80s. Composed by Yuuichiro Oda(小田裕一郎), it's a very upbeat tune which evokes a good deal of summery nostalgia. The cover shows an 18-year-old Seiko with the haircut that launched a lot of stylists' careers for the next year or two.



The B-side features "True Love", a non-hit but a personal favourite of mine nonetheless. Unlike its more famous sister tune, "True Love", which was also created by the same duo from "Aoi Sangousho", does go for the more conventional boyfriend-based lyrics. It's also interesting for the fact that Seiko had a slightly more amateurish and deeper voice (not that she sounded like Hulk Hogan or anything like that) here, which might signify that this song had been recorded some time before "Aoi Sangoshou".

The record, though, may have arguably not only launched Seiko-chan's meteoric rise but also the 2nd Aidoru Wave with the cute frilly dresses and tonsorial waves and bobs of the early 80s. Musically as well, the new 80s aidoru songs had little of the studio orchestra horn sections and the arrival of the synths.

There was also a passing of the baton as well during this time. A few months after the release of this single, the Queen Aidoru of the 70s, Momoe Yamaguchi (山口百恵), who had cut a far different figure from Seiko, would get married and retire from show business for good.

As a postscript, although Seiko hails from Kurume City in Fukuoka Prefecture, she attended Horikoshi High School, kinda like Hollywood High in Los Angeles, less than a kilometre where I used to teach English in Nakano Ward, Tokyo.