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, September 15, 2014

Hiroshi Uchiyamada and The Cool Five -- Uwasa no Onna (噂の女)




I was watching NHK News at Nine while having my breakfast this morning when I heard the news of the passing of author Yoko Yamaguchi(山口洋子)at the age of 77. The Nagoya native was not only a prolific writer and the winner of the semi-annual Naoki Prize in literature twice in 1985, but she was also the lyricist of some of the moodiest of Mood Kayo.

Yamaguchi wrote the classic "Yokohama Tasogare"(よこはまたそがれ)which became Hiroshi Itsuki's(五木ひろし)breakthrough hit and also Yujiro Ishihara's(石原裕次郎)marvelous "Brandy Glass" (ブランデーグラス). But according to J-Wiki, her first attempt at songwriting also came up roses, and that is the above "Uwasa no Onna" (Woman of Rumour or That Woman). The 5th single of Hiroshi Uchiyamada and The Cool Five(内山田洋とクール・ファイブ)was released in July 1970, several months before "Yokohama Tasogare", and I've gotta say that lead vocalist Kiyoshi Maekawa(前川清)just gushes out the pain of that woman under probably unfair scrutiny and scorn. To be socially isolated in Japanese society is pretty close to a death sentence, and the woman in question in the song bitterly lashes out at how anyone could understand the depths of her suffering.

Composer Kosho Inomata(猪俣公章)came up with the whiskey-worthy melody of bluesy saxophone, guitar and chorus, and together with Maekawa's aching resonant vocals, the effect is of a lonely walk through the side streets of gaudy neon and tiny drinking establishments with the angst of "water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink"...and no friendly faces, either. "Uwasa no Onna" had an effect on listeners. It went all the way to No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies, selling half a million records and ending up as the No. 14 song of 1970.


The aformentioned Hiroshi Itsuki did his own cover of "Uwasa no Onna" as well. As I was listening to both versions, I did wonder once more about the custom of having male artists crooning about the feelings of a woman in enka/Mood Kayo. My knowledge on Japanese cultural history is hazy at best, but I wonder whether there was any connection at all between the custom here in popular music and kabuki actors taking on onnagata roles. Although the J-Wiki article on "Uwasa no Onna" didn't feature anything on cover versions, I cannot imagine any female enka singers NOT performing this song. Composer Inomata also created (former Mrs. MaekawaKeiko Fuji's(藤圭子)"Onna no Blues"(女のブルース), and she would've been an excellent choice for "Uwasa no Onna". Also, Sayuri Ishikawa(石川さゆり)would belt this one out of the park.



2 comments:

  1. Yoko Yamaguchi has passed away!? Wow, I did not see that coming! She wrote so many good songs, especially for Itsuki - another example being Yozora. Ah well, she had a good run.

    Anyway, it took me quite a while to get used to this song, really. I felt that it sounded like those bluesy Enka songs (I couldn't tell the difference between Enka and Mood Kayo back then), especially with the way Maekawa sang it.

    But the lines "Onna kokoro no..." and "Dose atashi wa uwasa no onna" sang with such anguish by Maekawa got lodged into my head. So eventually I came to like this rather dark song, and I like to use it to annoy Mom from time to time since she immediately rejected it upon hearing the first line. Her reasoning? "Why does he have to sing like that??"

    Itsuki's version is quite good too, but I find that it lacks that... severity (?) and suffering of the original. Itsuki's voice is too nice for such a moody song...

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    1. According to the J-Wiki article, Yamaguchi had passed away on September 6th but the announcement seemed to come out just in the past day or so. One of the books that she won the Naoki Prize for was titled "Enka no Mushi" (Enka Pests?)...hopefully, she was just being playful there...

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