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, October 6, 2013

Rajie -- Mahiru no Hodou (真昼の舗道)

There is not much information available on the elusive singer Rajie (ラジ), even in Japanese. Apparently she started off as a member of Moonriders' protegee chorus group Pony Tail (ポニーテール) and then moved on to providing backing vocals for the Sadistics (a.k.a. Sadistic Mika Band). She began her solo career in 1977 singing City Pop songs penned by Yukihiro Takahashi (高橋幸宏) from pre-YMO days. Even after joining the group, Takahashi would continue to produce her songs, this time with a whole YMO family backing him up along with some other interesting names which will be mentioned below. So from 1979, Rajie's music headed into a technopop direction, with a pretty fine lineup and production work behind it. Here I want to talk about the second album from that phase, "Mahiru no Hodou" (真昼の舗道), alternatively titled "Pavement at Noon" or "Le Trottoir D'apres-Midi". Those are direct English and French translations of the Japanese title. Unlike the preceding album "Quatre", which was pure early-YMO techno, this one has a wider range of influences, from European sounds to breezy 70's kayokyoku and some quirky experimental fare. All of it arranged by Takahashi and brought to life by Rajie's sweet-as-honey vocals.

At the moment, this album only exists in vinyl format and is a rare one at that. I bought my copy from Yahoo! Japan Auctions via a middleman service but you don't have to go that far. In fact, a quick Google search will lead you to a working download link. Just saying. All 10 tracks are available for sampling on Youtube, but some of them sound bad in terms of quality, so I substituted those with my own rips. My record is not in the best shape but at least it sounds better than listening to it through a tin can.

(full album)

Here's the opening track "Last Scene" (ラスト・シーン), which was written by Etsuko Kisugi (来生えつこ) and composed by Yoshitaka Minami (南佳孝). I was actually first introduced to Minami's music through his compositions for Rajie. He also contributed a few songs to her previous two albums. This one gives the album an intriguing start with a tango rhythm, sharp bass line and a wailing violin. It's actually a pretty packed song, overloading my mind with images of extravagant mid-20th century parties and New Wave cinema. Even with the synthesized arrangement it doesn't sound all that 80's, but that's just my impression. It's pretty dark in atmosphere, especially with the pendulum clock noise that pops in here and there, but thanks to Rajie's elegant delivery, I can still listen to it with a peaceful mind..
The second and title track, "Mahiru no Hodou" (真昼の舗道) at 4:46, was written and composed by Taeko Ohnuki (大貫妙子), but you'd probably tell without even reading the credits. It's got a distinctly French melody mixed with a light techno arrangement -- very characteristic of Ohnuki's sound at the time. And man, is it a stunning one. Glides like a waltz on a marble floor. Rajie's voice is so beautifully haunting here. Still rings in my head along with that guitar solo for a while after the song is over.
To crank up the pace, we have "Itsuwari no Hitomi" (偽りの瞳) at 12:34. Takahashi composed this one and co-wrote it with Kenji Omura (大村憲司). It's 3 minutes and 20 seconds of speedy technopop and is one of my favorites on the album. For those of you familiar with Pink Lady, you'll notice that it bears an uncanny resemblance to the duo's oddball technopop song "Last Pretender". In fact, it's an earlier version of that song that was released two months prior. Takahashi obviously composed both, but his arrangement for Rajie's version is edgier and more urgent compared to Pink Lady's poppier cousin. I love both. The lyrics are also different, but from what I can hear, they both deal with a woman growing tired of showing fake affection for a man whom she just doesn't care for. Have a listen and compare.

Not that there aren't other old-fashioned tunes on the album, but "Radio to Futari" (ラジオと二人), with its breezy strings and melody, just feels like a kayokyoku piece that belongs in the 70's. Yes, there is some techno present in the arrangement, but it's barely noticeable for most of the song. Shockingly enough, Shigesato Itoi's (糸井重里) lyrics speak about the warm nostalgia that the protagonist gets from listening to the classics of yesterday on that old radio. I was a little surprised when I found out that Masamichi Sugi (杉真理) composed the song. Not the name I'd see on a personnel list comprised mainly of the YMO team and their friends. Even Minami collaborated with them for some of his work.

Another standout track is "Yojirean Twist" (ヨジレアン・ツイスト), which was written by Itoi and composed by Keiichi Suzuki (鈴木慶一) from Moonriders. It's fun listening to Rajie let go of the introspective persona and go for a more playful vocal style as she twists and spins around Suzuki's quirky New Wave tune. The title doesn't make much sense and neither does the song itself, but it's so catchy and eccentrically cute that it doesn't matter.

みどりの声 by ラジ on Grooveshark

Akiko Yano (矢野顕子) also contributed to the album with "Midori no Koe" (みどりの声), at 27:31 providing both the lyrics and music. It's an upbeat technopoppy track executed in a distinct Yano fashion. Sounds like something from her "Gohan ga Dekita yo" album. Yano also plays the keyboards here, and I'm guessing that those cute synths that sound like bursting bubbles are her doing. At some parts, I found the melody playfully snarky, like where Rajie goes "Iya kimochi no iro wa midori", which roughly means that unpleasant emotions are green. A very interesting eclectic piece.

秋の嵐 by ラジ on Grooveshark

I'm going to wrap up the profile with the ninth track, "Aki no Arashi" (秋の風) at 31:57. It didn't make much of an impression on me on first listen but I grew to appreciate it for all the subtle details in the melody over the years. Happy to hear the strings return. It was written by Ohnuki and composed by Suzuki, but unlike "Yojirean Twist", this one has a serious dramatic mood. The title does translate to "Storm in Autumn" after all, and as I'm typing this, dark clouds are gathering outside ready to burst anytime. Like I said before, Rajie's voice is classic and her delivery sounds particularly chilling here. I could picture her performing this standing still and upright.

This goes without saying, but even with all the big names behind it, this album didn't chart anywhere and CBS Sony never bothered to remaster it in CD format. Which is a shame, as it's such a diverse and well-crafted piece of work that deserves to be more accessible. Definitely one of the hidden gems in my collection.


1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a whole potpourri of genres covered in "Mahiru no Hodou" which always makes it an interesting album for me. And when names like Minami, Ohnuki and Yano are involved, the interest level gets even higher. Listening to their tracks, I could definitely hear the influences. "Midori no Koe" and "Last Scene" are the ones that have attracted me the most so far. I kinda wonder if the latter song may have inspired Akina Nakamori in terms of her albums like "Fushigi" onwards.

    Too bad that the record company didn't think enough of the album to have it remastered into CD format. I think there are a lot of "hidden" gems out there in the old & used record stores that could use a bit of unearthing.


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