And yes, we have come to the end of another "Kayo Kyoku Plus" broadcasting year. It's been another amazing 12 months considering that when I first started this monster back at the end of January 2012, I thought that it would be go as far as December 2012. However, even now the other contributors and myself are still talking about individual songs and singers, and it looks like the conversation will continue far into 2014.
As we end 2013, I also would like to give my thanks to nikala, JTM, Marcos V. and jari for all of their articles, first as commenters in 2012 and then as contributors to the blog. I know a lot of songs but their contributions and insights have introduced me to new artists and some hidden gems by some of the old ones for which I will be eternally grateful. I would also like to thank JTM for proposing the idea of our own 80s playlists. From our little conversation about the project, I think all of us were probably knocking our heads on the walls and pillows somewhat more than usual...and without the aid of alcohol...trying to whittle down our choices to our favourite 10 items. Frankly speaking, it's been a fun and excruciating exercise. I've enjoyed reading the lists from JTM and Marcos V, and will be looking forward to reading nikala's Top 10 as well.
So, as for my list....well, it's pretty simple when it comes to criterion. When I was wracking my remaining brain cells (I guess I can still use the plural -s here), I decided that my criterion for the list would simply be just to list the songs that are my go-to tunes for pleasurable listening. They are the ones that I would make a trip to YouTube for and they are the ones that I look forward to when I listen to a singer's specific album. But although setting the criterion was easy, execution was hard. Smashing in a Best 10 list from an entire decade's worth of music was about as difficult as threading a needle in the middle of the Queen Elizabeth Way at 1 a.m. on New Year's Day with a whole ton of "happy" drivers rumbling home.
Therefore, there are a lot of songs that had to fall by the wayside....no Anri, no Ruiko Kurahashi, no Anzen Chitai, no Mariko Takahashi. And strangely enough, no YMO, a choice which made things a bit easier but also heartbreaking at the same time. As it turned out, all of my favourite techno ditties by Hosono/Sakamoto/Takahashi such as "Rydeen" and "Behind The Mask" were released in 1979. So, I think you all know what I'm gonna put in if there is a 70s playlist. In any case, I will not be ranking the songs by level of love but just chronologically.
Well, then....here we go.
1. EPO -- Downtown (1980): If there were a clarion call that I was meant to be walking among the bright lights and tall skyscrapers of Tokyo, it would be in the form of this song. The combination of City Pop, a dash of technopop and Ms. Sato's bright inviting vocals made an impression on me at a time when I was just falling in love with Japan...and music in general. The hotel district of West Shinjuku is what I always envision when I listen to "Downtown" and hitting the izakaya somewhere downtown with friends is what I wanna do.
2. Akira Terao -- Ruby no Yubiwa (1981): Initially, I couldn't figure out what Terao's obsession was with a piece of jewelry, but it sure sounded cool on the stereo. "Ruby no Yubiwa" is seen as being one of the most successful examples of City Pop, and this slightly flirtatious but strutworthy tune once again brings up memories of "bright lights, big city" with a glass filled with two fingers of fine whiskey on the side. For me, it's one of the anchor songs that got me permanently into Japanese music.
3. Taeko Ohnuki -- Kuro no Clair (1981): As I have mentioned in one of the articles for this unique chanteuse, Ohnuki and her works were something that I had to gradually fit into to appreciate. They were unlike anything that I had heard before in the world of kayo kyoku/J-Pop and it simply took some years. Having said that, "Kuro no Clair" is a ballad that still manages to send a shiver up and down my spine. It is those strings and that voice that simultaneously bring images of "Wuthering Heights" and walking down an Aoyama avenue. Ohnuki may not have had a superstar level of fame but her name has been mentioned in hushed whispers all these decades.
4. Yumi Matsutoya -- Mamotte Agetai (1981): For me, this is probably one of the most feel-good ballads. If I'm having a bad day, I can just put this one up into the headphones and within a few seconds, all will be right with the world once more....or at least, things will seem less bad. Last night, I wrote up an article on Eiichi Ohtaki who had passed away on December 30th, much earlier than he should have. Referring to that fact, and certainly hoping that Yuming will continue to live on much longer, when the Queen of New Music finally decides to leave this mortal coil, this would be the song that I would like to hear as a musical elegy.
5. Seiko Matsuda -- Akai Sweet Pea (1982): This is the one song that I identify most with Seiko-chan. It's an aidoru song but it is also a lovely pop ballad, to boot, and musical proof that Yuming doesn't hoard all of the good stuff for just herself. "Akai Sweet Pea" is just one of those numbers that instantly makes me want to relax and wax nostalgic.
6. Takashi Hosokawa -- Kita Sakaba (1982): When I was thinking up of the list, I knew I had to get this one included. It is an enka song but it has a vibrancy to it that fires up that desire to call up the buddies, head over to the favourite drinking hole and dive into the sake or shochu with nice bowls of steaming oden and hot skewers of freshly grilled yakitori. "Kita Sakaba" is my 2nd choice for karaoke behind Ikuzo Yoshi's "Yukiguni", but in terms of listening, Hosokawa's trademark song is my No. 1 enka for the 80s.
7. H2O -- Omoide ga Ippai (1983): I'm such a sucker for a good harp. Well, I may be exaggerating a bit here but the harp in this anime ballad along with just about everything in the arrangement and the vocals make "Omoide ga Ippai" one of my favourites. And it has become one of the go-to songs for graduation. A group of teachers performed it in front of the graduating class when I was up in Gunma, and by the end, there wasn't a dry eye in the room.
8. Kozo Murashita -- Hatsukoi (1983): Having heard this on "Sounds of Japan" as my very first Kozo Murashita song, I hadn't had any idea that he was more of a folk singer. I just found "Hatsukoi" a pleasant mid-tempo pop song with a bit of synth in it. Along the same lines with EPO's "Downtown", listening to the song conjures up walking through Tokyo of that time.
9. Akina Nakamori -- Kazari janai no yo Namida wa (1984): I think this was the song that cleaved Akina's career between high-flying aidoru and genre-dipping pop superstar. Although during those early years, she also had that sweet-but-sassy aura around her, "Kazari janai no yo Namida wa" launched her transformation into that higher if also more distant form of diva. I had heard the single version of the song through the ranking shows, but it wasn't until I heard the slightly extended version on "Bitter and Sweet" that I realized that I was going to be in for a treat with this album.
10. Miki Imai -- Natsu wo Kasanete (1988): This was the first song that illustrated to me that Japanese popular music had undergone somewhat of a sea change when compared to that early 80s era of aidoru and pop. As I mentioned in the article for the song, I first heard "Natsu wo Kasanete" at a very nice café designed like a small mountain chalet in the wilds of Gunma Prefecture and was immediately struck by the different sort of softness in the arrangement and the vocals. I actually asked the teacher who I was with point blank about the identity of the singer, and it wasn't too long afterwards that I tracked down Imai's BEST album, "Ivory" just on the merits of this one song.
As I hinted at the top of the article, this is my Top 10 list but it is not by any stretch of the imagination an exclusive list of my favourites. There are many more out there by folks like Masayuki Suzuki, Anri, Misato Watanabe, Mariya Takeuchi, etc., but I'm gonna stick with the rules today. However, if I ever decide to follow up and talk about the next 10...