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, January 26, 2014

J-COVER 80's ダンス&バラード - The Best of Japanese Cover Songs

I don't buy too many CDs nowadays opting mostly to get most of my music via iTunes however when I recently came across this CD at Amazon Japan, I just had to get it. 「J Cover 80's  ダンス&バラー(Dance & Ballad)」 (ASIN: B004P0A16E) was released in 2011 by GT Music, a division of Sony Music Direct's "Ootona" line of nostalgic compilations geared towards those who are in their 30s-40s who grew up in the 80s. It is very similar to Sony's fantastic 「クライマックス・ベスト (Climax Best)」 series (which I also have) in which they released various themed 80s and 90s music compilation sets sporting such catchy tiles such as ""Sapphire", "Ruby", "Green", "Blue", "Yellow", "Fantastic" and "Dramatic". While most of these CDs generally covered most of the major and well-known J-Pop songs of the 80s, this particular compilation I thought was pretty unique in that it featured a near-complete compilation of all the Japanese covers of various European and American pop songs from the 80s.   
While the CD title says "80's" collection, it is a bit of a misnomer as there a few songs included in this two-disc CD set that are from the 70s and at least one song from the early 90s.

Even before getting this CD, I was a big fan of Japanese covers of Western pop songs and thought I knew most of the major covers such as 西城秀樹/Saijo Hideki's spirited 1979 cover "Young Man" which retained the disco fun and flamboyant camp of the Village People's original, 荻野目洋子/Oginome Yoko's "Dancing Hero", a superior cover of Angie Gold's 80s disco single "Eat You Up" and "Ai Ga Tomaranai", Wink's Oricon chart topping smash 1988 cover of British Hi-NRG singer Hazell Dean's "Turn It Into Love - Better Off Without You", itself a cover of Kylie Minogue's somewhat more slow tempo, sentimental love song (which was released as a Japanese only single).  Yet what I like about the "J-Cover 80's" set is that it not only covers those well known songs but also includes the minor and obscure covers that may not be as well known.

Here's the track list for the set:
[Disc 1]
01 - YOUNG MAN (Y.M.C.A.) (西城秀樹) - Cover of "Y.M.C.A. " by the Village People (1979)
02 - 哀愁でいと (NEW YORK CITY NIGHTS) (田原俊彦)- Cover of "New York City Nights" by Leif Garrett (1979)
03 - 愛が止まらない (Wink)- Cover of Hazell Dean's "Turn It Into Love" (1988)
04 - CHA-CHA-CHA (石井明美)- Cover of Finzy Kontini's "Cha Cha Cha" (1986)
05 - SHOW ME (森川由加里)- Cover of Cover Girl's "Show Me" (1987)
06 - ダンシング・ヒーロー (Eat You up) (荻野目洋子) - Cover of Angie Gold's "Eat You Up" (1985)
07 - LUCKY LOVE-I should be so Lucky- (和田加奈子)- Cover of Kylie Minogue's "I Should Be So Lucky" (1987)
08 - ギヴ・ミー・アップ (ベイブ)- Cover of Michael Fortunati's "Give Me Up" (1987)
09 - INTO THE NIGHT (MASARU NARITA) - Cover of Michael Fortunati's "Into The Night" (1987)
10 - アイ・ハード・ア・ルーマー (真弓倫子) - Cover of Bananarama's "I Heard A Rumor" (1987)
11 - Boom Boom Boom (勇直子)- Cover of Paul Lekakis' "Boom Boom" (1987)
12 - KEEP ME HANGIN' ON~誘惑を抱きしめて~ (松本典子) - Cover of Kim Wilde's cover version of the Supreme's 1966 hit "You Keep Me Hanging On" (1987)
13 - Hot Summer Nights (網浜直子)- Cover of Miami Sound Machine's "Hot Summer Nights" (1986)
14 - サイキック・マジック (デュープレックス)- Cover of G.I. Orange's "Psychic Magic" (1985)
15 - 涙のラスト・クルーズ (竹本孝之) - Cover of Roman Holiday's "Hear It In The Night" (1984)
16 - 愛のコリーダ (ビッグ・バン)- Cover of Quincy Jones'  "Ai No Corrida" (1981)
17 - 恋のハッピー・デート (石野真子)- Cover of The Nolan's "Gotta Pull Myself Together" (1980)
18 - ゴーイン・バック・トゥ・チャイナ (鹿取洋子)- Cover of DIESEL's "Goin' Back To China" (1980)
19 - レッツ ゴー ダンシング (川崎麻世)- Cover of Leif Garrett's "I Was Made For Dancin'" (1979)
[Disc 2]
01 - 雨音はショパンの調べ (小林麻美)- Cover of Gazebo's "I Like Chopin" (1984)
02 - 哀愁のカサブランカ (郷ひろみ) - Cover of Bertie Higgin's "Casablanca" (1982)
03 - 抱きしめてジルバ-Somewhere out there- (西城秀樹) - Cover of Wham's! "Careless Whisper" (1993)
04 - リメンバー (フェーム) (ピンク・レディー) - Cover of Irene Cara's "Fame" (1980)
05 - 愛と青春の旅立ち (郷ひろみ)- Cover of Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes' "Up Where We Belong" (1982)
06 - What a feeling~フラッシュダンス (麻倉未稀)- Cover of Irene Cara's "Flashdance--What A Feeling" (1983)
07 - NEVER (ミイ) - Cover of Moving Pictures' "Never" (1984)
08 - I'm Free (渡辺美里) - Cover of Kenny Loggins' "I'm Free" (1985)
09 - 今夜はANGEL (椎名恵)- Cover of Fire Inc.'s " Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young" (1986)
10 - 死んでもいい (石井明美)- Cover of Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" (1986)
11 - こころの炎-Somewhere out there- (小林明子&杉田二郎) - Cover of Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram's "Somewhere Out There" (1987)
12 - 眠らないままで (森川由加里)- Cover of Cyndi Lauper's "All Through The Night" (1987)
13 - デザート・ムーン (谷山浩子) - Cover of Dennis De Young's "Desert Moon" (1984)
14 - FRIENDS (THE LIVING YEARS) (島田歌穂) - Cover of Mike & The Mechanic's "The Living Years" (1992)
15 - LOVE COMES QUICKLY~霧の都の異邦人~ (石川秀美)- Cover of the Pet Shop Boys' "Love Comes Quickly" (1986)
16 - トゥルー・ブルー (立花理佐)- Cover of Madonna's "True Blue" (1986)
17 - こわれた太陽 (国生さゆり) - Cover of Eighth Wonder's "When The Phone Stops Ringing" (1987)
18 - I  Was Born To Love You (坂上忍)- Cover of Freddie Mercury's "I Was Born To Love You" (1985)
I won't be able to cover all the songs in this great set but wanted to briefly focus on a few choice tracks which are among my favorites. J-Canuck has already posted entries for some of the songs featured in this collection, including 石井明美/Ishii Akemi's CHA-CHA-CHA, Wink's 愛が止まらない」, and  森川由加里/Morikawa Yukari's SHOW ME

「雨音はショパンの調べ/"Ame Otto Wa Chopin No Shirabe" is 小林麻美/Kobayashi Asami's cover version of Italo Disco legend Paul Mazzolini's (AKA Gazebo) 1984 hit "I Love Chopin" which topped various European Charts across Europe and is considered a classic club hit of the time.  Interestingly, 松任谷由実/Matsutoya Yumi is credited for writing/translating the lyrics for the Japanese version and even did a cover of the song in her 2003 album 『Yuming Compositions: FACES』.  The song topped the Oricon charts reaching No. 1 during its release and eventually became the No. 12 best song of 1984. 

Aomori native Kobayashi was a teen model during the early 70s and was even featured in various CM/adverts during the time.  In 1972 she ventured into music and at the age of 18, Kobayashi released her first single 「初恋メロディー」/"Hatsukoi No Melody".  It would be a moderate hit for her but Kobayashi would not continue her musical pursuits opting instead to become an actress. "Ame Otto Wa Chopin No Shirabe" would mark Kobayashi's return to music after over a decade absence.

There's also a nearly 9 minute "Long Version" of the song with a slightly different arrangement.

The song has been covered a lot by other Asian artists including a Japanese version by Alan Tam Wing Lun, a Cantonese version by Grasshopper (retitled "Rainy Days") and an interesting re-arrangement by HK singer/actress Faye Wong. My favorite alternate cover has to be by the J-Rock group Kra, who put a gothic "Visual Kei" spin on the song.  

「INTO THE NIGHTis another 80s Italo Dance classic that was covered by a Japanese artist, this time by one-hit wonder 成田 勝/Narita Masaru and it is one of my all-time dance favorites.  With its addictive synth hook and cool dance beat it became a club anthem of sorts especially at the swank nightclub/disco "Maharaja" in Roppongi, Tokyo. According to the great linear notes of the CD set, this was not surprising considering that Narita was in fact one of the owners of the Maharaja Club (he specifically took voice lessons to sing the song). It certainly made for an interesting promotional gimmick for the club.

This was one of two songs from Fortunati that were adapted and covered in Japan. French/Italian Eurobeat artist Michel Pierre Nigro (AKA Michael Fortunati) was born in Italy but raised mostly in France and Belgium. In the 70s he formed a band called "Square" with his brothers but soon branched out to began his own solo career in the early 80s.  His first major hit was in 1987 with the song 「GIVE ME UP which became a European hit.

A Japanese cover version would soon follow and it became one of idol unit BaBe's first major hits. The duo BaBe was comprised of close friends, Tokyo girls 近藤智子/Kondo Tomoko (19) and 二階堂ゆかり/Nikaido Yukari (20). To distinguish themselves from reigning popular idol unit Wink, they sported more cheery, energetic and happy-go-lucky personalities and incorporated much more choreographed dancing into their act.  In their debut year (1987), they would go on to win a number of "New Artist of the Year" awards and in their short-lived career, would have a number of Oricon hits including the mostly English-titled songs I Don't Know(1987), Hold Me(1987), a cover of  Belgium singer Samantha Gilles' song, Get A Chance(1988) which was used as the theme song for the Fuji TV "Sukeban" drama 『花のあすか組!』/"Hana No Asuka Gumi" and She Has A Dream(1989), in which they relented and began emulating rivals Wink in style.  Unfortunately, their career came to an abrupt halt when Nikaido became pregnant and had to drop out of their appearances.

As a result of the popularity of the covers of his songs, Fortunati would become hugely popular in Japan and visit there numerous times during the 80s. He even appeared alongside BaBe on a music program singing "Give Me Up" complete with his trademark Keyboard Guitar.. Incidentally, "Give Me Up" was also covered by former idol singer turned Enka star 長山洋子/Nagayama Yoko during the same time frame although her song wasn't released as a single.  I kind of wish that they had included her version as well as I personally think it more closely resembled Fortunati's version


Back in the day, I was a huge fan of the UK duo Pet Shop Boys and loved all their unique brand of synthpop hits ("West End Girls", "Opportunities", "What Have I Done To Deserve This" etc.). One of my favorite songs of theirs was "Love Comes Quickly" (1986) which I found to be a very haunting and memorable love song with bite. Imagine to my surprise that 石川秀美/Ishikawa Hidemi had done a fairly decent cover of their song mysteriously entitled LOVE COMES QUICKLY~霧の都の異邦人~」 /"Love Comes Quickly - Kiri No Miyako No Ibojin" ("Stranger In The Fog").  I rather like this version of the song and while there are some slight variations in the hook and beat, it still remains faithful to the spirit of the original.

Marcos V, covered Ishikawa a bit in his awesome Eurobeat Playlist post earlier this year, but I'll go ahead and add just a few more trivia bits regarding her.  Originally born in Chiba Prefecture, Ishikawa's family moved shortly after her birth to Aiichi Prefecture in Southern Japan (near Nagoya). Tragedy would hit Ishikawa's family early on when her beloved father (a Japanese Self Defense Soldier) would die in a traffic accident when she was in the 4th Grade. Her mother would subsequently raise Ishikawa and her siblings alone. During her Junior High School years, the tall and lanky Ishikawa would be active on her school's basketball team. 

In her final year of Junior High School, Ishikawa would enter an open talent call by the Geiei Entertainment Company. Out of a pool of 55,460 applicants, Ishikawa was selected by talent scouts to go to an elite Tokyo High School for young talents to begin her training to become a star.  During that summer of 1982, a number of other rising young talents would also begin their road to fame including 小泉今日子/Koizumi Kyoko、シブがき隊/The Subugaki Tai、三田寛子/Mita Hiroko、堀ちえみ/Hori Chiemi、早見優/Hayami Yu、松本伊代/Matsumoto Iyo and 中森明菜/Nakamori Akina.  They would be dubbed by the Japanese press the 「花の82年組」/"Hana No 82 Nen Gumi" (Blossoming Class of 1982).  

Ishikawa did not have any formal training as a singer but gradually became better as she progressed from Teen Idol to Pop/Rock singer.  "Love Comes Quickly" was one of those songs that marked her shift from idol pop.

In 1989, Ishikawa would be rumored to be dating Subugaki Tai member 薬丸裕英/Yakumaru Hirohide and a year later, they would formally announce their engagement and marriage. Ishikawa would soon become pregnant and retire from her singing career.

Ishikawa was said to have been a big fan of stoic movie and TV actor 誠 直也/Makoto Naoya (most remembered as Kaijo Tsuyoshi/Aka Ranger in the Tokusatsu series 『秘密戦隊ゴレンジャー』/"Himitsu Sentai Gorangers" -1976-1977) as he bore an uncanny resemblance to her late father.
(Sorry, but the video has been taken down.)

勇直子/Isamu Naoko's cover version of Paul Lekakis' Boom Boom is yet another Italo Disco song that became a minor club hit in Japan. Although not as suggestive as Frankie Goes To Hollywood's off-color, homoerotic, campy 80s classic "Relax", Greek-American former model Lekakis' "Boom Boom" wasn't shy or subtle in its provocative and somewhat racy lyrics either and it is interesting how Isamu's version tries to mask that saucy tone by talking about "dancing all night" and inserting more romanticized imagery.  This is one of the few instances where I kind of liked the cover version better than the original source material.  Not much information is available regarding the Kanagawa native unfortunately, other than that she, like many other talents in Japan at the time, was "scouted" in the streets of Tokyo and signed by 70s Kayo Kyoku singer イルカ/Iruka's Talent Agency "K-House".  "Boom Boom Boom" was her only hit.

(the performance starts at around 40 seconds)

真弓 倫子/Mayumi Tomoko's cover of Banarama's "I Heard A Rumour" is pretty good and is definitely a favorite. I was a huge fan of Banarama and "I Heard A Rumour" was one of my favorite of theirs and one the great dance songs of the 80s.  Banarama almost resembled a UK version of a Japanese idol group. Kagoshima Prefecture native Mayumi Tomoko was discovered by Talent Scouts while shopping in the trendy Harajuku district and quickly signed to a singing and modeling contract.  While "I Heard A Rumour" was a big hit for her (reaching No. 4 on the 1987 Oricon charts during its debut week), she didn't really want to continue her career in music, choosing instead to focus on her TV, CM and movie roles.  A favorite target of Japanese tabloid press, Mayumi had been rumored to be in a secret relationship with singer 徳永英明/Tokunaga Hideaki.  

Later in the 90s, as Mayumi's TV/film career began to wane, she released one of several "hair nude" photo books (the first one being the appropriately titled "RE-BIRTH" in 1992) in which she had hoped to change her image into a sex symbol.   She also began to star in various direct-to-video "V-Cinema" projects as well.

(April 16 2014: unfortunately the video has been taken down here.)

The most obscure song in the set has to be デュープレックス/DU-PLEX's cover of UK New Wave band G.I. Orange's サイキック・マジック」/"Psychic Magic. When I was in Japan in the 80s, I occasionally heard G.I. Orange's goofy and gimmicky song onthe local radio and wondered to myself "who the hell sings this crap". Although the song has a catchy hook, its awful and ridiculous, nonsensical lyrics were a major turnoff.  G.I. Orange (what a name) was comprised of the siblings KarlWhitworth (lead vocals and guitar), Simon Whitworth (bass guitar and vocals), and Mark Whitworth (keyboard and vocals), with friend Gary Holt (drum and vocals). With their dashing pretty-boy looks, the blonde English quartet were more popular in Japan than in the UK, where this song did surprisingly well dispute the gibberish lyrics.  Japanese studio band DU-PLEX's version isn't nearly as dumb as the original and actually has somewhat better lyrics (although they are still campy).  Not much information is available on the group DU-PLEX but suffice to say that the G.I. Orange version of the song did better than the Japanese version.

While the rest of the set has a number of other great covers including MIE's  NEVER which was used for the drama series 不良少女とよばれて』/"Furyou Shojou To Yobarete", 渡辺美里/Watanabe Misato's cover of  I'm Free which was used for the police drama series 『SUPER POLICE』 and 椎名恵/Shina Megumi's rousing rendition of 今夜はANGEL for the drama series ヤヌスの鏡』/"Janus No Kagami", there are also a handful of turkeys including 島田歌穂/Shimada Kaho's overly sentimental and sappy song FRIENDS (THE LIVING YEARS) (not a fan of the original Mike & The Mechanics version either) and 立花理佐/Tahibana Risa's take on "Material Girl" Madonna's  トゥルー・ブルー」/"True Blue".  

Some of the song selections were a bit puzzling as well - why includeピンク・レディー/Pink Lady's long forgotten and mediocre bombリメンバー (フェーム)but not include their more popular concert favorite and Village People coverピンク・タイフーン (In The Navy)」, an Oricon Top Ten hit. 

As with any song collection there are sure to be some notable exclusions - where are such songs as石井明美's wonderful 1989 cover of Paul Mauriat's オリーブの首飾り/"Olive No Kubikazari AKA El Bimbo" or her 1990 version of Kaoma's 1990 hit Lambada」 or 長山洋子/Nagayama Yoko's 1986 version of Banarama's VENUS」 which was a Top 10 Oricon hit or for that matter 葛城ユキ/Katsuragi Yuki's excellent cover of Bonnie Tyler's " Heart Breaker」 from the iconic Daiei drama series 『スタア誕生』/"Star Tanjou" or 麻倉未稀/Asakura Miki's cover version of Bonnie Tyler's HERO - Holding Out For A Herofrom the drama series 『スクール☆ウォーズ』.

On the whole however despite some odd choice, this was a great find and a nice compilation of Japanese covers. I'd definitely recommend this to other 80s J-Pop fans as a worthy addition/supplement to their collections.

Please feel free to visit my Live365 web radio station where you can hear many of the songs featured here at Kayo Kyoku Plus.

(Unfortunately Live 365 went out of business as of 2016.)
Click here to go to the Live365 Channel
70 & 80年代アイドル, ニューミュージック, 歌謡曲の懐かしい 思い出 音楽勢ぞろい. 
Bringing you the best in 70/80s idol, “New Music” and retro songs.  
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  1. Hi, JTM and thanks for the article on this compilation album. Without even purchasing the CD, I think it'll probably provide quite a conversation piece. I knew about a number of those Eurobeat cover versions by Japanese singers way back when, but never knew about "Boom Boom Boom". I'm somewhat embarrassed to say it now, but a number of us disco folks from the Japanese club at University of Toronto exploded onto the floor when the original one by Lekakis came on. :)

    The cover of "I Love Chopin" by Asami Kobayashi has a special place in my mind due to how fragile the singer sounded and looked at the time, and also because of some of the more interesting music that was coming out then from people like Taeko Ohnuki and Miharu Koshi.

    The one big surprise on the CD is the inclusion of the ballad "Somewhere Out There" with Akiko Kobayashi and Jiro Sugita. I have it on one of my BEST albums for Kobayashi, and I'm not sure if it would really fit on this compilation....unless a dance beat was added to it.

  2. Hi JTM.

    This collection is surely a hot one. Many, many great songs that represents the best of 80s cheesy dance-pop sound.

    "I Like Chopin" is such a classic song. Although more laid-back, I can surely say that it's one of the most famous Italo Disco hits, especially in a genre that didn't saw a lot of hits at the time. But to be honest, this was the first time I heard this cover by Asami Kobayashi. Coincidentally, I heard a Japanese cover of this song some days ago, but I'm almost sure it was by a different female singer. Unfortunately, I can't remember it right now.

    As for Michael Fortunati, his hit songs "Give Me Up" and "Into The Night" are also Italo Disco classics that became hits in Japan. Between these two, I prefer "Into The Night", especially because it was one of the first Italo Disco songs I heard like six or seven years ago.

    Pet Shop Boys is also an act that I like a lot. My father introduced them to me some years ago and it was great. I especially like the house infused "It's Alright", from 1989, but from their early days, "LOVE COMES QUICKLY" is surely a highlight.

    "I Heard A Rumour" is a Stock Aitken Waterman classic. Although I could guess it would have a Japanese cover, I never came across it before, so it was nice to hear Mayumi Tomoko's version. Although I kind of had a hard time listening to it (maybe I'm too accustomed to Bananarama's original version), it was an alright version, I guess.

    And in my lack of knowleadge, I wasn't aware that Megumi Shiina's "Konya wa Angel" was a cover. To be honest, the song always sounded too Western to my ears. Also, it sounded like Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" sometimes. All in all, it was very informative to know that it's a cover.

    As a side note, I was just watching the 1995 episode of Kouhaku and, surprisingly, Saijo Hideki showed up singing "Young Man". It was a nice coincidence to hear about this song two times during the same day. Also, I always hear it in Music Station's top aidoru rankings.

  3. Hi JTM.

    Trying to spice up a discussion, I chose to do this comment separated from my overall comments about the songs.

    One thing JTM said in the article was that Bananarama resembled a Japanese idol group. Not only I agree with this sentence, I have already thought about this a while ago. Going a little further in the discussion, I’d like to add that “Stock Aitken Waterman” brand of pop artists are somewhat, in general, like idol acts. Maybe that’s one reason they were so successful in Japan. If we thing about Bananarama, Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Sinitta, Rick Astley, to name a few, they were all cute and young stars that portrayed a clean, “virginal”, naive and lively stage persona while singing some crude love songs that were far from being something challenging for the music industry, just like the Japanese idols during the whole 80s. Also, they were not involved in the creating the music they were singing. In other words, they were just trendy youngsters that sang plain and silly pop numbers composed by some masterminds. To be honest, I can’t think of a similar scenario in America (maybe Motown, but I’m not very informed about it).

    I’d like to hear from you guys (JTM, J-Canuck, nikala, etc.) about this subject.

    1. Very interesting point about the SAW music and associated bands. It would explain how easy it was for them to be adapted into Japanese pop of the late 80s. It would also explain how in the early 80s and earlier, acts like The Nolans and ABBA gained a foothold in Japan. I think one or two of the latter band's hits were even used as theme songs for dramas over there.

      Your comment about Bananarama resembling an aidoru group has stuck with me, since come to think of it, Siohban Fahey and the other 2 ladies all sung together in the same particular attempt at harmonizing for the most part. I think that does characterize most if not all aidoru duos and groups in the 70s and 80s.

  4. Hi J-Canuck and Marcos V - Thanks for your great comments. I'm glad you liked the post and the music covered. I also agree with you both that Kobayashi Asami's cover of "I Love Chopin" is the best of the pack although I also think Ishikawa Hidemi's cover of "Love Comes Quickly" BaBe's cover of "Give Me Up", Ishii Akemi's cover of "Cha Cha Cha" and Morikawa Yukari's cover of "Show Me" are also up there and are among my favorites.

    Marcos V - I'm glad that you brought up UK Producers Stock Aitken Waterman (SAW) as they are awesome! They have a great songwriting sense and I love their pop music style (like them almost as much as Akimoto Yasushi). I'm also happy you agree with me about the comparisons with Bananarama and Japanese idol groups. Now that you mention it Kylie Minogue is almost like a UK/Australian version of a Japanese idol as well (just her musical sense and style are very Japanese like even on her later hits like "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" and "In Your Eyes" which could be songs that one could see Perfume or Amuro Namie singing). You are right that a lot of the UK 80s groups had a pop sense very similar to Japanese sensibilities although I wonder why we didn't see that many New Romantic styled groups in Japan during the 80s. Of hand I can't think of any 80s Japanese synthopop group except YMO that really did stuff similar to Pet Shop Boys, Naked Eyes, Human League, Soft Cell or synthpop in the style of New Order, Depeche Mode, Eurythmics and AB (although you could say Japan had caught up in the 90s with the Avex Group and TK Family). At least now there are more than a few Japanese artists that do Synthpop (Perfume, Aural Vampire, Tommy February 6, Capsule and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu) but they still have a decidely very different sound from Western synthpop artists like La Roux, Ellie Goulding or Glass Candy.

    1. Nice input, JTM. I can't add anything new to Marcos' topic on "Stock Aitken Waterman" brand of pop (it was an interesting read though), I just want to say that there was an attempt to bring in New Romanticism to Japan although it was on a much smaller scale and perhaps a little late in the game. There was Masami Tsuchiya and his group Ippu-Do who collaborated with acts like Japan and Roxy Music. Much later in the 80's we had Soft Ballet who took inspiration from Depeche Mode and Soft Cell. Det Zibet is another notable band, but they were more rock than electro. And does Buck-Tick count? Either way, I don't think this style caught on, but I like what I heard. At the same time, I think it's nice that J-Electro has its own identity. It lures new listeners into Japanese music easier.

  5. Just wanna add another praise for Asami Kobayashi's cover. Can't decide which one I like more, hers or Gazebo's original. It's one haunting song, and the video for Kobayashi's version is pretty creepy.

    The inclusion of Megumi Shina's "Konya wa Angel" was kind of ironic. I just passed by the EP of the single at a local music shop the other day. Yep, it does sound Western like Marcos said, and it's a nice piece of power pop with beautiful vocals.

    BaBe's cover of "Give Me Up" is one of the first 80's idol songs I've heard and will always have a special place in my heart. I think the girls' vocals fit it to the notch and make it sound more like a J-Idol song than a Western hit. Love the choreography, too.

    Another cover I liked a lot was "I Heard a Rumor", though it would be better as a studio version since Mayumi's live vocals are shaky. And of course, "Love Comes Quickly" is a winner, but the original is so great that my instinct just tells me that any cover is inferior.

  6. ~PART 1~
    I’m not an expert, but from my perspective, synthpop, as a music genre, was incorporated by mainstream idol singers during the mid-80s, but the whole aesthetics surrounding groups like New Order, The Human League, Pet Shop Boys, etc, was not something systematically emulated in Japan. SAW’s artists, on the other hand, were incorporated easier by the Japanese public, not only because of the highly palatable pop music, but also because of their image, which, like I said earlier, resembled a lot Japanese idols. If we think about Kylie Minogue alone, she was a true European version of the Japanese idol: young, not exactly beautiful but cute and memorable, had no control over her image (and that’s why she just left out SAW’s hit factory in the early 90s), was marketed by SAW as a virginal teen (not in the way Britney Spears did with her 1998 debut single, “…Baby One More Time”), and, finally, her music, especially from the 1988 debut album, “Kylie”, was the epitome of what idol music would sound in the West. About music itself, “Got To be Certain”, for example, is a complete idol tune with its easy, bouncy and catchy melody, generic lyrics about boy-girl teen love, prominent but tamed synth production, and Kylie’s weak/high pitched vocals that were part of her charm during those days. As for “Turn It Into Love”, I will not say anything, as we all know what happened to this pop masterpiece in Japan. Although I’ve seen some subjective interpretations that this song is about a girl who understands the gay feelings of a boy (although I understand where this interpretation is coming from, I, particularly, don’t agree with it), the song is, by no means, very challenging. And challenging is another word I used earlier that I think it’s important to talk a bit more. SAW’s artists were not challenging at all by any standards (music, image, etc.). Music wise, they made a rough mix of Italo Disco and Hi-NRG (and later a bit of House) with great pop sensibility, like JTM pointed out. But, in the end, it was nothing new. The image, like I said, was naturally conservative, without any trace of rebellion, which was something very present in the New Romantics movement with the androgynous look defying masculinity stereotypes. Although the androgynous look was later incorporated by the Visual Key genre in Japan, it’s a whole different discussion that I cannot express a proper opinion, basically because I know nothing about Visual Key.

    1. Yes, I definitely there was an "overground railroad" of sorts when it came to the ease of adapting Eurobeat songs for Japanese singers. The Stock-Aitken-Waterman discography was very much ear candy to the masses: nothing nutritious at all but tasty to eat all the same. For the aidoru-producing assembly line companies of that time, all those songs must have seemed like welcome foreign manna from heaven. On the other hand, the artists who could have been compared at all to bands like The Human League and New Order...YMO or Masami Tsuchiya from Ippu-Do, for instance...didn't need cover songs at all; they were more than able to create their own great tunes.

      My impression of the New Romantics movement (pre-fancy suits era Spandau Ballet, etc.) was that it was mostly restricted to Europe. I don't recall seeing it taking all that much hold in the United States. Here in Canada, it was somewhat more known since both British and US pop music were quite popular. And I think it made even less of an impact in Japan although I recollect seeing on CNN a Boy George lookalike contest being held in Tokyo (ooh, boy...I regret that I cannot un-see some of those Boys), and YMO had some dallying around with eye shadow and blusher during their concerts.

  7. ~PART 2~
    About what I call "second dance craze" in Japan during the 90s, I don’t quite thing Avex and the “TK family” were directly reminiscent of the 80s synthpop days. In my opinion, they were paying more attention to 90s Eurodance and, in some degree, to Eurobeat (imported directly from Italy) than to the old styled synthpop genre. Being very simplistic and trying to play with words, 80s synthpop (and also the New Romantics movement) was “cold” and “dark”, while 90s eurodance was “hot” and, I don’t know, maybe “multicolored” (I don’t know it that makes sense).

    As for today’s electro, I agree that Japan has its own identity in the genre (and good to know you are aware of Aural vampire, JTM. They’re a great band). While Tommy February6 comes from the early 2000s and likes to emulate the late 80s sound, especially SAW, Perfume (masterminded by Yasutaka Nakata, of course), otherwise, was, without a doubt, the starting point of the new Japanese electro sound. Fair enough, it all started when Yasutaka Nakata dropped the old Shibuya-key sound in favor of electro house and club sounds around 2005 and 2006. To be honest, many artists like Aira Mitsuki, saori@destiny, SAWA, Sweet Vacation, immi and MEG were also doing this sound. Unfortunately, as we all know, J-Pop sales are reserved to AKB48 (not so much at the time as AKB48 became a true and recognizable force in 2009 with their first chart-topping single, “RIVER”), ARASHI, EXILE and similar artists, which resulted in the end of a nice and booming electro pop scene from 2007 to 2010. Of this bunch, only Perfume survived. And, now, apparently, we’re in a whole new scene where Eurohouse is popular in the United States and EDM (Electronic Dance Music) is a genre to keep an eye for. Morning Musume, for example changed their whole style in favor of EDM. Also, Perfume started flirting with this trend in their 2012 single “Spending All My Time” (they continued the flirt with tracks like “Hurly Burly”, “Daijobanai”, “Handy Man” and “Party Maker”, with the last being a seven minutes odyssey from their 2013 album “LEVEL3”). Even the “48 family” started to flirt with EDM as well: AKB48 with “UZA” in late 2012 and NMB48 with “Kamonegix” (or “Kamonegikkusu”, if you prefer) in late 2013.

    Finally, giving some light to what JTM and nikala pointed out about the Japanese electro artists being different from Western ones, I go with the “words play” allegory once more. Synthpop is a “cold” and “dark” sound because of the “machinery world” it likes to emulate, while in Japan things are “happier” and “multicolored”, thanks to an idol culture full of kawaii innuendos. Perfume, for example, sometimes try to be a group centered in keywords like “future”, “technology”, “robots”, etc, but this “cold” image falls apart when they release cute and mellow singles like “Sweet Refrain” a couple of months ago (November 2013), Mirai no Museum in early 2013, “Kasuka na Kaori” in 2011, “VOICE” and “Nee” in 2010, or even “love the world” back in 2008.


Feel free to provide any comments (pro or con). Just be civil about it.