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, April 18, 2014

Junko Yagami -- Sugao no Watashi (素顔の私)

Junko Yagami (八神純子)was a regular presence throughout the time I was listening to "Sounds of Japan" starting with the song that I'm always going to associate with her with, "Mizu Iro no Ame"(みずいろの雨). So when I finally got over to Japan in 1989 and therefore had much better access to the CDs I coveted, it wasn't too long before I got my first Yagami disc. Although in my university days, I was actually able to buy her 10th original album "YA GA MANIA" (1986) on audiotape in Chinatown, her music had gone in a more 80s R&B/pop direction, and I was interested in finding out more about her early days.

So, on hitting a CD shop, I went for "Sugao no Watashi" (An Honest Me) since it contained her trademark tune, "Mizu Iro no Ame", the song that first made her a household name with that soaring voice and the dynamic Latin beat. This was her 2nd album from April 1979, and as the title hints, a lot of the tracks talk about her feelings about love, in and out of it.

(cover version)

The album starts softly with "Birthday Song", a track that Yagami composed and wrote. It's a comfortable love ballad with a light bossa touch setting the scene for a romantic night out with that special someone on his special day.

Track 2 is "Ashita ni Mukatte Ike"(明日に向って行け...Face Tomorrow and Go), the one song that doesn't touch upon the heart, at least not on the romantic part of it. Also written and composed by the singer with help from composer/arranger Masaaki Omura(大村雅朗), this particular song seems to reside in the rough-and-tumble New York City of the 70s. It has a horn arrangement that would've been at home on a "Shaft" soundtrack, and Yagami exhorts the listener to get off the chair and make something of the day.

Speaking of arrangements, while listening to "Sugao no Watashi", I definitely got the impression that Yagami wanted to go full out. There is a lushness to the ballads, designed to evoke emotions and impressions and images, and one such example is her "Yakan Hiko"(夜間飛行...Night Flight)which is my favourite song on the album, next to "Mizu Iro no Ame". Tsugutoshi Goto (後藤次利)took care of the music while Yagami provided the lyrics. I could imagine a woman quietly waiting at Narita Airport as her anticipation grows to meet her lover on the other side of the plane trip. Unlike Akina Nakamori's(中森明菜) "Kita Wing"(北ウィング)which has a similar lyrical theme, there is no uncertainty or worry with Yagami's protagonist here. She's ready to go. My favourite part of the song is when she belts out the title in the refrain...pure magic! And then there is that last sustained note which segues into that plane taking off for parts unknown.

"Nagisa"(渚...The Beach)is a happy-go-lucky song about a couple's day on the beach. Created by Yagami, the arrangement by Omura has that West Coast sound. All the tropes of summer such as blue T-shirts and Coke bottles are covered. Really fine guitar work.

The final track for "Sugao no Watashi" is the sad but inspirational "DAWN". Yagami included a bit of elegiac gospel into the music for Keisuke Yamakawa's(山川啓介)lyrics as the singer places a permanent period on a relationship and decides to head out elsewhere by herself, but not without some regrets. I think for those folks who have just gone through a breakup, this may be the tonic...or not.

The album was Yagami's first No. 1, and it eventually ended up ranking No. 17 for the year.

Junko Yagami -- Sugao no Watashi

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