"A Beguine was originally a Christian lay woman of the 13th or 14th century living in a religious community without formal vows, but in the creole of the Caribbean, especially in Martinique and Guadeloupe, the term came to mean "white woman", and then to be applied to a style of music and dance, and in particular a slow, close couples' dance. This combination of French ballroom dance and Latin folk dance became popular in Paris and spread further abroad in the 1940s, largely due to the influence of the Porter song."
Now, for years and years, I had always wondered what a beguine was solely because of the famous Cole Porter song, "Begin The Beguine". It's a wonderful tune that seems to sweep one across the floor, musically speaking. Just from that previous statement, I should've figured that it was some sort of dance. As it is a standard, it's been covered over and over again, but my favourite version is the one that I first heard of the song....the one by Ann Margret on one of my old records.
My impression is that the Japanese also fell in love with the word "beguine" and "Begin The Beguine". A number of the kayo kyoku vets have covered it, and I recall seeing the song covered by the entire cadre of singers at the 1983 Kohaku Utagassen for the big ensemble performance that used to be a staple on the annual NHK special (I don't think I've seen Hiromi Iwasaki laughing so hard before or since when two old-timer enka singers managed to wrangle out the last couple of words at the end).
I first heard it on this past week's episode of NHK's "Kayo Concert" (it was quite a bumper crop of songs I enjoyed that night) and then the next day, I even managed to find the original 45" record (from October 1959) in my Dad's ancient collection. When I played the old vinyl on the Onkyo, there was some scratch on the sound (which rather added some flavour to the proceedings) but that same sort of Latin sweep that "Begin The Beguine" had could also be heard with "Tasogare no Beguine". Then there were the silky vocals with a bit of husk by the late singer Hiroshi Mizuhara （水原弘）who led the dance like the self-assured studio instructor. I was also partially reminded of "The Continental", which Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had danced to on "The Gay Divorcee" back in 1936. Although the song melodically described a romantic beguine, the lyrics related the story of a romantic couple walking in the rain on the bright streets of Tokyo.
"Tasogare no Beguine" was actually the B-side to Mizuhara's performance of "Kuroi Ochiba"（黒い落葉...Black Fallen Leaves）which was also created by Ei and Nakamura, but considering what I've heard and read about the former tune, "Tasogare no Beguine" probably has the larger and longer legacy.
As for Mizuhara, the Tokyo-born singer debuted in 1957 (when he was around 22) as the first vocalist for Danny Iida and The Paradise Kings, a band which focused on Hawaiian songs. He left the band the following year but then launched a solo career in July 1959 with the hit "Kuroi Hanabira" (黒い花びら...Black Flower Petals...also by Ei and Nakamura) which would eventually sell over 500,000 copies and earned him the Grand Prize at the first Japan Record Awards. A few months later, he would sing "Tasogare no Beguine" while the A-side of "Kuroi Ochiba" would be the 2nd in his "Kuroi"-titled songs.
His debut song would also be his ticket for the first of 10 appearances at the Kohaku Utagassen, ranging from 1959 to 1973. And during that time, he would also cover a couple of Xmas classics, "White Christmas" and "Blue Christmas" (there must have been something about colours he liked). Sadly, he would pass away at the young age of 42 in 1978.
Over 30 years later, Naomi Chiaki （ちあきなおみ）would cover both "Tasogare no Beguine" and "Kuroi Hanabira" on the second-last single she would release up to now in June 1991. Her version of "Tasogare no Beguine" is a slower ballad with the throaty and earthy tones that also made her "Kassai" （喝采）a standard. This particular take on the standard got as high as No. 86 on the Oricon weeklies.
As I was listening to Chiaki's cover, I immediately wondered how Akina Nakamori （中森明菜）would tackle this one since she has developed her own throaty vocals. I didn't have to wonder too long; Akina did her own cover on her 2002 album, "Zero Album -- Utahime 2" （歌姫２...Diva 2）which peaked at No. 10.
To finish off, here is my favourite version of "Begin The Beguine" by Ann Margret. And if any of you love your beefcake, this is your video.
|Hiroshi Mizuhara -- Tasogare no Beguine|