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.