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 27, 2013

Tatsuro Yamashita/Taeko Ohnuki -- Theme from "Big Wave"

Let's in Toronto, we got smacked down again with another 5 cm of really heavy wet snow and high winds....and with the probability of another hit of the white stuff tomorrow. So, let's get a little meteorologically counterintuitive and bring in a bit of Summer. I haven't profiled Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎) recently....perhaps not since doing his "Christmas Eve" back on December 24, so let's talk about one of his perennial summer classics.

I first came across "Theme from Big Wave" back in 1989 when his extended live version of the song was placed as the "B-side" on the CD single of "Endless Game" (already profiled). Unlike the introspective A-side, "Theme from Big Wave" was Yamashita harkening back to his late 70s/early 80s fun-in-the-sun times. Right from the start of the song, there is that compulsive bass and synth hinting at something great coming over the horizon. As Yamashita intones at the beginning of the extended version, "We've got summer right here in our hearts!"

Ironically, Yamashita's 13th single came right after "Christmas Eve", supposedly his musical retort against those who dared label him as just the summer song guy. Released as a single in May 1984, it became part of the soundtrack album for the film "Big Wave", a documentary about surfing directed by Walter Mulconery. Yamashita was also responsible for the recording and production of the album which included his other hits of "Jody" and "Your Eyes" and covers of tunes by The Beach Boys, who ought to be his kissing cousins. Indeed the feeling of hitting the surf and riding the waves is just imbued into the notes and lyrics of "Theme from Big Wave". According to J-Wiki, Yamashita didn't know very much at all about surfing, but he did get the impression of the lifestyle that surrounded it and wanted to reflect that in the song. But Yamashita wasn't the only one behind the song....he composed it but Alan O'Day, who often collaborated with Yamashita and his wife Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや) during the early 80s, was behind the English lyrics.

 I probably have mentioned this back in the profile for "Endless Game", but this was the first single I ever got of Tatsuro Yamashita. Although there is no mention of whether "Theme from Big Wave" charted onto Oricon, the soundtrack album itself, which was released a month after the single, made it up to No. 2 on the charts and sold 450,000 of the most successful Japanese soundtracks at the time. And why not? Sand and surf have always been as enticing to Japanese as they have been for us bitterly cold Canucks.

I only found out about this just within the last day or so as I was reading up on the song, but "Theme from Big Wave" is actually an alternate version of a song that had been recorded by his former Sugar Babe bandmate, Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子). Titled "Mahou wo Oshiete" (魔法を教えて...Teach Me Magic), the words were provided by Ohnuki herself; the arrangement is still very Summer Pop, rather reminiscent of Ohnuki's early days as a solo artist when her album, "Sunshower" had come out in the late 70s. By the early 80s, she had made her shift into a more European and technopop direction, so to hear her shorter version sounds even more nostalgic.


  1. Do you know where to get a digital download of Teach Me Magic by Taeko Ohnuki?

    1. Hello there.

      From what I've read about "The Theme From Big Wave" at J-Wiki, "Teach Me Magic" had only been created to be used just within a 1984 NHK radio special program that Tats had been involved with at the time. So although it obviously exists through YouTube, it was actually never put out for sale, and a lot of fans have commented their disappointment about that. A number of them have put up their own karaoke versions but it looks like the original is only available on YouTube. Let's hope that it doesn't get taken down.


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