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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.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Downtown Boogie-Woogie Band -- Minato no Yoko, Yokohama Yokosuka (港のヨーコ・ヨコハマ・ヨコスカ)





Over the past couple of years that this blog has been in existence, I've mentioned about the songwriting husband-wife team of Ryudo Uzaki and Yoko Aki(宇崎竜童・阿木耀子)behind the more muscular hits of Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵)in the latter half of her career such as "Yokosuka Story" and "Imitation Gold". Well, let me tell you about the song that got the team started. And it's been a song that has popped here and there, now and then for almost 4 decades.

The famous bass riff of "Minato no Yoko, Yokohama Yokosuka" (Yoko From The Docks) has been used often as part of a gag on numerous Japanese variety shows over the years; the one I remember most recently is the late-night show "Pussuma"(ぷっすま)starring loudmouth tarento Yusuke Santamaria and SMAP member Tsuyoshi Kusanagi for one of their segments. And the song sometimes gets highlighted on those retrospective shows. It's certainly one of the more interesting tunes that popped up during the 70s.

As for the band itself, Uzaki was fronting an amateur band in late 1972 when he came up with the long and unique name of the Downtown Boogie-Woogie Band. However, his co-members at the time were a bit skittish about going pro which brought about a breakup. Undaunted, though, Uzaki only needed a few months to get a new group of rockers together to launch a new band with that long name, and the Downtown Boogie-Woogie Band came up with their debut single in December 1973 titled "Shirazu Shirazu no Uchi ni"(知らず知らずのうちに...While Not Knowing).

Then, almost a year and a half later, Uzaki's wife, Yoko Aki, made her debut as a lyricist, penning this mystery about a guy looking for the seemingly streetwise-but-vulnerable Yoko through the docks of Yokohama and Yokosuka. According to J-Wiki, Uzaki, who composed the song, was so impressed by the words that he felt that he had to be the one to sing them. However, he had a difficult time trying to wrap his tongue and notes around the lyrics, so instead he decided to make them a tough-guy patter uttered to the guy searching for his Yoko, with only the title being sung by the band. Just imagine Uzaki as this Mickey Spillane character in a none-too-safe bar giving it straight to the kid. I found the English translation to the song right here by Ben Bullock.



As they say, "Necessity is the mother of invention". Or perhaps innovation. Whatever the case, it worked. After its release in March 1975, "Minato no Yoko", the band's 4th single (it was initially the B-side to the original single, before it got flipped due to demand), hit No. 1 in late June and stayed there for about a month, as its title and lyrics became popular catchphrases for the year, especially the line, "Anta, ano ko no nan nano sa" (Hey, what does the girl mean to ya?). It would also win four awards, including the Grand Prize from the Japan Record Awards, before becoming the 5th-ranked song of the year.

Plus, seeing Uzaki and crew looking like the baddest biker badasses (for 1975, anyways) that you wouldn't want to encounter on a lonely prefectural highway at night didn't hurt either in the coolness factor in front of the young. I'm sure they made quite the spectacle on stage when they got onto the 1975 Kohaku Utagassen, and just my speculation, I'm fairly sure that the NHK switchboard lit up with indignant calls about letting virtual hoodlums on the Shibuya stage on New Year's Eve.

To be honest, whenever I've seen them on those old tapes, I just wondered how serious or tongue-in-cheek the Downtown Boogie-Woogie Band was with "Minato no Yoko", especially now considering that I've seen the lyrics which include Yoko and a kitten. Still, the musical approach to it and the looks of the band pretty much immortalized them. A year later, Uzaki and Aki would get down to work helping immortalize Momoe Yamaguchi.


6 comments:

  1. FYI not sure if you've ever heard it but "Kaimono Boogie" is my favorite song from the band. Another epic, way ahead of its time!

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    1. Hi, Saburo and sorry for the very late reply. I actually wrote about the original version by Shizuko Kasagi here: http://kayokyokuplus.blogspot.ca/2015/09/shizuko-kasagiuasachiko-kobayashi.html

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  2. My favourite of all time. I bought the album when I was in Japan 1978. There was a movie as well called Yoko of Yokohama. The guitar is great and superior to Southern All Stars.

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    1. Hello, rik. Good to hear from you. You were lucky to get the album when you did. It's probably one of the rarest of the rare these days.

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  3. Was checking in on Sanae Jounouchi's blog and she posted a picture and rather excited text on meeting Yuko Aki the other day ( http://lineblog.me/sanae_jonouchi/archives/8329307.html ). Your post here triggered the association with the name - thanks !

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    1. Hi, T-cat.

      Yeah, she sounds like a teenager again from her Onyanko Club days about meeting up with Ms. Aki. But hey, she's meeting someone who was whipping up tunes when she was probably just entering elementary school. :)

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