Credits

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.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Happy End -- Hana Ichi Monme (花いちもんめ)


(cover version)
A lot of appraising comments have been attributed to Happy End (はっぴいえんど) over the years thanks to the mark this band has left in Japanese popular music in the early 70's. Rolling Stone Japan even went as far as to call “Kazemachi Roman” (1971)  the greatest Japanese Rock Album of all time in 2007. We all know that story and it certainly generated some debate. I must say, compared to other quintessential albums of the period like Yuming's “Hikoki Gumo” and Yosui Inoue's “Koori no Sekai”, “Kazemachi Roman” hasn't gotten that many rotations from me. I still think it's great, but I tend to view it more as a catalyst that paved the way for the commercial success of folk and New Music in the 70's and influencing even greater records rather than a masterpiece in itself. The album, along with their previous self-titled effort (which I enjoy more as an album), were unlike anything else Japan has produced up to that point and certainly were a breath of fresh air when compared to enka, jazz standards and Group Sounds from the 60's. Even though the melodies sounded Western and even country at times, there's an inexplicable quality to them that depicted Japanese sentiments and settings and that's why they struck a chord with the listeners.

One of the songs I've enjoyed the most from "Kazemachi Roman" is “Hana Ichi Monme” (花いちもんめ), titled after a famous Japanese children's game that's similar to Red Rover but also has a janken twist to it. I played it so much with my students without even realizing what it's called. Takashi Matsumoto's (松本隆) lyrics, however, have nothing to do with the title but rather paint a dreamy picture of Tokyo in the midst of industrialization in the 50's and 60's and contrast it with natural landscapes, while the final lines refer to grim factories spewing yellow and red smoke everywhere. Listening to those rolling guitars and organ just plants this image in my head of being lost on a busy street crammed with commuters, buses and streetcars. One does not know whether to welcome or be overwhelmed by such environment. Hey, that sounds a lot like Queen Street in downtown Toronto. It's a pretty dynamic song but with a melancholic undertone, considering the content. The guitarist Shigeru Suzuki (鈴木茂) was the one who composed and sang it, by the way. He's a talented guitarist and even though his vocals aren't great, they suit this kind of folk rock. According to English Wiki, Matsumoto liked the song well enough that he thought it should represent the band. It was also released as a single a month after “Kazemachi Roman” on December 20th, 1971.

(The original video nikala was referring to has been taken down
but the above is a version done by Shigeru Suzuki.)

Actually, the main trigger for this entry was this live video of Happy End performing at International Youth Year (国際青年年記念) event All Together Now (I briefly wrote about this splendid concert here) on June 15th, 1985, which I just stumbled across yesterday evening. This was the first and only time all four members of the band got together as a unit since their break-up in 1973 to sing some old classics. “Hana Ichi Monme” is the third song that starts from 7:20. This whole thing seriously gave me goosebumps, especially in light of Eiichi Ohtaki's (大滝詠一) passing last year. He was so elusive when it came to visual media that it's surreal to watch him perform. And then there's post-YMO Haruomi Hosono (細野晴臣) looking so unassuming on bass with his bandmates from way back when. This man probably has the most impressive career of all Japanese artists, having been a member of not one but at least two pioneering groups, one for rock music and another one for techno. It was also refreshing to see Matsumoto on drums after all these years of writing lyrics for numerous popular artists in the background. As for Suzuki, I've only heard a handful of his solo albums though he's more prolific as a guitarist for other singers, notably Takuro Yoshida (who also briefly appears in the video) and Kenji Sawada.

Source: disk-otsuka.com

4 comments:

  1. Here's the file of the video I was talking about at the end (please ignore the silly filename): http://www.mediafire.com/watch/c9286js6j2qy4xj/natto_chocolate_cake.mp4

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    1. Hi, nikala. I was able to catch the video before the powers-that-be took it down, so I got to see the actual Ohtaki perform on stage. Many thanks for putting up the first Happy End article; after referring to the band for so long, I think it was time to give them their due. As for "Hana Ichimonme", it's remarkable about the presence of this song at a time which I had always associated with enka and TV-friendly pop songs.

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  2. were they really popular at the time? I can't find any chart info about them... and considering that Hosono and Ohtaki didn't reach fame until 1979 and 1981 respectively, probably Happy End weren't not so popular at the time. I think it became a cult record in the course of decades.

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    1. Hello there. I think Happy End were probably, as you said, more of a cult favourite with a dedicated following. As I inferred in my past comment, the TV-friendly stuff (enka and aidoru) and Happy End's early brand of New Music most likely followed parallel tracks with little connection.

      It's been fascinating for me to have known about enka, aidoru and other Oricon-charting hits all these years and then to finally tap this previously unknown vein of New Music/City Pop songs.

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