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.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Donna Summer -- She Works Hard for the Money / Naoko Kawai -- UNBalance (UNバランス)

Author’s note: This article was somehow inspired by J-Canuck’s post about “Ai no Corrida”. Also, I wrote it before finding out J-Canuck has already talked about Naoko’s “UNBalance” before. In the end, as I had already worked hard on this text, I decided to post it as a Follow-Up. Well, it's more a brief homage to Donna Summer's career than anything else, so I think it can be valid. For J-Canuck’s article, click here.

One of my favourite Western acts is Donna Summer, the legendary queen of 70s disco which, unfortunately, died a couple of years ago, in May 2012.

Summer’s most famous songs are from a time she worked with Italian composers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, the guys responsible for exporting the lush disco sound from Europe directly to the United States via Summer’s 1975 erotic anthem, “Love To Love You Baby”. History tells that Neil Bogart, Casablanca Records president, played a tape of the song non-stop in one of his extravagant parties. After that, he asked Moroder to record an extended version of the song, and that’s how the gorgeous 16-over minutes version was created (it occpupied the whole main side of Summer’s first internationally released album, “Love To Love You Baby”).

After a couple of years singing more erotic disco songs as the “The first lady of love” in gems like “Try Me, I Know We Can Make It” (1976), “Spring Affair” (1976), the cheesy “I Remember Yesterday” (1977) and also the revolutionary/futuristic “I Feel Love” (1977), Donna Summer started showing her true vocal talent around 1978. From that point on, her work became not only lush and sensual, but also epic and more complex, as we can see in her classic “Last Dance”, where she mixes cheesy ballad excerpts with a galloping and megalomaniac disco arrangement (for me, “Last Dance” is the epitome of disco), and her magnificent rendition of “MacArthur Park”, a song originally composed by Jimmy Webb, but first recorded and released by Richard Harris in 1968. Also, in 1979, Summer released what critics call her mastepiece, the “Bad Girls” album, which is a nice and polished piece of work immortalized by a string of hit singles like “Bad Girls” (a song that, according to Wikipedia, “Summer wrote after one of her assistants was offended by a police officer who thought she was a prostitute”), “Hot Stuff”, “Walk Away”, “Dim All The Lights” (a song Summer originally wrote for Rod Stewart) and “Sunset People” (another song about prostitutes). The album as a whole is great, and one ironic thing is the lack of strings, a traditional feature of 70s disco that was already starting to become obsolete in favour of synthesizers around 1979 and 1980.

People say disco died as soon as the 70s went away. Controversies do exists, and I endorse them, but, at least simbolically, Summer’s “On The Radio” (November 1979) is remembered by some as the last hit from the disco era. Not only that, it also marked the ending of her historic partnership with Moroder and Bellotte.

Disco may have died in 1980, but Summer kept trying to be relevant in the ever-changing American Market with albums like “The Wanderer” (1980) and "Donna Summer" (1982), but her true comeback was in 1983 with the “She Works Hard for the Money” hit, which was a song that could be traced back to Summer’s disco roots thanks to its modern R&B/Dance sound. The video, where Donna sings and accompanies all the struggles of a waitress, was also a success and received heavy airplay on MTV.

Finally, thanks to Donna Summer’s “She Works Had for the Money”, we can start talking about Naoko Kawai’s (河合奈保子) “UNBalance”, a song the young aidoru released as a single in September 1983.

Apparently, Kyohei Tsutumi (筒美京平), the song’s composer, was heavily inspired by Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” when he came up with “UNBalance”. Personally, I listened to it many times before knowing about this fact and wasn’t capable of coming to this conclusion alone. So, as a Donna Summer fan, I quickly became ashamed for not being able to identify the similarities at first listen. In the end, after reading the trivia, I played “UNBallance” and it became very clear that the bass line, some horns and a couple of synths were clear rip-offs. Even the background vocals singing “unbalance” were done following the same melody of Summer’s hit. Besides the similarities, though, “UNBalance” is an aidoru song not strange to the post-Seiko Matsuda (松田聖子) aidoru’s “Golden Age” and, although partially similar to “She Works Hard for the Money”, it can be seen as a proper song with its own merits.

In all honesty, “UNBalance” is not among my favourite Naoko Kawai’s singles, mainly because of it being kind of a rip-off, but I quite enjoy the song when the cute aidoru with its notable yaeba teeth sings it in concerts with other hits as “Escalation” (エスカレーション), “Love Letter” (ラブレター), “Aishitemasu” (愛してます), “Natsu no Heroine” (夏のヒロイン), “Kuchibiru no Privavy” (唇のプライバシー), “Control” (コントロール), “Jealousy Train” (ジェラス・トレイン), among others.

"UNBalance" reached #4 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics were written by Masao Urino (売野雅勇), while music was composed by Kyohei Tsutumi. As for the arrangement, Masaaki Oomura (大村雅朗) was the responsible.


  1. Hi, Marcos.

    Many kudos to your fine article on the late legendary Donna Summer. I've got a number of memories about her. As a kid, I remember hearing "Love to Love You Baby" whenever those old LP commercials came on the local channels. And "Last Dance" is probably one of the most joyous pop songs I ever came upon, and it's the song that I associate Donna with the most. Brings back a lot of memories from my childhood.

    Like yourself, I didn't catch on once about the connection between Summer and Kawai through "Unbalance" until I read about the song. After all, how could I compare the two ladies and their genres?:)

    Back at the turn of the century, there was a singer by the name of Yuki Koyanagi who channeled quite a bit of Donna Summer, and she even did some covers of "Hot Stuff" and "MacArthur Park". I remember the original by the first Professor Dumbledore, and it was one of the first epic tunes that I remember listening, and it had those really tripped-out lyrics (something about the "sweet green icing flowing down").

    1. Hi, J-Canuck.

      Thanks for your comment.

      I started listening to Donna Summer after buying a Jamiroquai concert DVD which contained a cover of “Bad Girls”. I just loved the song and Jay Kay’s rendition, so I had to look up for the original recording with Donna Summer. After that, it was love after each new Discovery. As for her 80s work, I’m not so fan. Aside from “She Works Hard for the Money”, her only 80s song I like is 89’s This Time I Know It’s For Real, which was produced by Stock Aitken Waterman (I just love this song very much, maybe even more than her disco classics).

      And I feel relieved that I was not the only one incapable of immediately finding similarities between Summer and Kawai. Like you said, it’s hard to compare them, even though I quite liked the montage I did for the post.

      Yuki Koyanagi was a nice surprise to me. I couldn’t find her “Hot Stuff” rendition, but she was great singing “MacArthur Park” (I was a Harry Potter fan when I started listening to Summer, so I was surprised when my father told me that Professor Dumbledore was the first one to record the song). Besides Hiromi Iwasaki, I never heard anybody singing Donna Summer in Japan. Apparently, she was very famous there too.

      On a side note, Chisato Moritaka’s “The Stress” (lyrics and video) always made me remember of “She Works Hard for the Money”. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or if Chisato was somewhat inspired by Summer’s hit.

    2. Jamiroquai is another band whose BEST compilation I've got. I've also enjoyed that band because their music was reminiscent of the old days. I don't know much of Summer's 80s work outside of "She Works Hard For The Money" and "This Time I Know It's For Real" which I found out while I was in Japan in late 1989. In fact, it was used as the ending theme for a late-night show that I used to watch.

      You can hear Koyanagi's tribute to disco, including "Hot Stuff" via her album "Koyanagi The Disco" at music163

      Although I don't have definitive proof, just from hearing the disco style in some recent songs, I can surmise that the old 70s dance genre has been beloved in Japan.

  2. Just in case you want to take a look on Jamiroquai's rendition of "Bad Girls", here's the link. I really think it's worth it. This DVD is one of the most entertainings I've ever watched.


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