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

Quincy Jones/Chaz Jankel -- Ai no Corrida (愛のコリーダ)

Well, it's getting to another end of the year, and as has been the case with "Kayo Kyoku Plus" at this time, we'll all be thinking about Author's Picks and going a little more outside of the box before January 1 2015. I'm personally juggling around a few ideas for Top 5 or Top 10 lists right now but preceding that, I want to add something to the ever-growing KKP brew that's a little out of the ordinary but which I think has a good personal story, and after all, that has always been one of the goals of this blog.

Now, "Ai no Corrida" (The Bullfight of Love), outside of the fact that it was not only a Japanese phrase but also the title of a controversial Nagisa Oshima movie from the 70s, was a great American R&B barnburner of a (post-)disco hit but really had nothing to do with Japanese pop music.

However, the first time I heard this song was neither through Quincy Jones nor the original artist, Chaz Jankel, but through the voices of Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美), Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), Ikue Sakakibara(榊原郁恵), Toshihiko Tahara(田原俊彦) and Masahiko Kondo(近藤雅彦)among some of the other young folk that had appeared on the 32nd Annual Kohaku Utagassen back in 1981. I have mentioned here and there and in dribs and drabs how much that Kohaku has been as much of a touchstone for my burgeoning interest in kayo kyoku as was "Sounds of Japan" and my visits to Nippon Video.

(December 24 2017: Thanks to contributor Francium, she was able to track down the 1981 Kohaku Utagassen with the very first rendition of the song I heard at around 54:45 --

I already talked a little bit about my story in the article on the Kohaku Utagassen(紅白歌合戦)itself, but allow me to explain further here. The very first televised broadcast of the NHK flagship special for 1981 wasn't aired live on New Year's Eve/New Year's Day here in Toronto but was finally given its debut about a month later in January 1982. It was a Saturday night and usually that meant "Hockey Night In Canada" in our household while munching on roasted dried squid (do remember that our family is pretty traditional Japanese-Canadian here). But when the Kohaku finally came on, we saved the special squid for this one.

For some reason, before the main broadcast started, we were all given a sneak preview of something that happened in the middle of the show. It involved all of those young Japanese singers that I mentioned a few paragraphs ago wearing some pretty day-glo colours in front of a cool flashing neon display. Then they just started dancing away like the folks on "Fame" while this funky groove with a slightly Asian feeling began to permeate the speakers. I just wish YouTube or any site on the Net had that scene from the Kohaku but alas none is currently available so you just have my daft description to go with. But in any case, the song and the performance left quite an impression on me, and partially re-affirmed the obsession with my ancestral home that sprouted inside me several months earlier when I had gone on that graduation trip to Japan. And seeing it again an hour into the actual broadcast was definitely not boring.

That was one heck of a start for the Kohaku in Toronto. That performance along with the appearance of those singers and those songs that I'd gotten crazy about over the previous months cemented the path for my interest in kayo kyoku. And at the time, I'd thought that "Ai no Corrida" was a Japanese tune. From what I remember, the song did pretty well in the country. But I quickly found out that it was actually an American song from Quincy Jones, and pretty soon I just had to head off to the nearby shopping mall. Back then, there was a Sam The Record Man shop there and so I flipped through tons of 45" records at the back. Happily enough, I found it! As soon as I got home, I opened up the RCA stereo, plugged in the 45" cylinder and played the record. That was my first purchase of a Western pop record (although it wasn't my first purchase of a music product....that prize goes to that audiotape of Yellow Magic Orchestra back in Osaka).

That single is somewhere although I know not where at the moment. From what I've read at Wikipedia, Quincy Jones' "Ai no Corrida" did pretty well on the US Billboard Soul charts after its release in 1981, peaking at No. 10. Several years later, I also bought (in Japan) the amazing album that the song spearheaded, "The Dude", and I recollect reading somewhere that it was a Michael Jackson album that Michael Jackson didn't appear on. And yep, it's that good in my opinion.

Chaz Jankel and Kenny Young were the creators of "Ai no Corrida", and indeed, they named the song after the Oshima film. I first heard of Jankel when I saw the cool video for his "Questionnaire" which came out in the same year as "The Dude", and was interested in hearing more by this fellow who was also part of Ian Dury & The Blockheads. So it seemed like a stroke of luck on finding out that he had also been responsible for "Ai no Corrida".

Searching for anything by Jankel, though, turned out to be an on-and-off odyssey that lasted for years and years. It wouldn't be until well into my long stay in Japan that I finally found a CD of his debut self-titled album, "Chaz Jankel" (1980) which contained the original "Ai no Corrida". His version was less disco-ey but still quite funky....and it was almost 10 minutes long! And that was the 2nd-longest track on the album! It's still very fun to listen to, but I'm still going to have to go with the tighter arrangement and the fantastic horns of the Quincy Jones' cover.

Who'da thunk it? My 1981 graduation trip literally set my life path. But that performance by all those young Kohaku kids of "Ai no Corrida" not only encouraged my interest in the show and Japanese music in general, but it probably also got me started into my collection of Western pop records and discs into the 80s.

Before I leave off here, I have to point out a couple of things. The first thing is that I was wondering whether there was any mention about that "Ai no Corrida" performance on the 1981 Kohaku anywhere on the Net. It just so happens that there is a Japanese page which gives a play-by-play account (right to the minute!) of that Kohaku, and the information there helped me write up some of this article (one thing I realized from that page was that the Kohaku back then was "only" 2 hours and 45 minutes long) . The second thing is that almost all of the singers such as Iwasaki and Matsuda that I've stated are linked to the articles which feature the songs that they performed at that Kohaku. I guess I will have to get started soon on that write-up for Toshi-chan's "Kanashimi  2 (TOO) Young"(悲しみ2ヤング).

And lastly, this is Chaz Jankel's "Questionnaire". I was smitten by the Latin and the funk plus the computer graphics of the time. I hadn't seen the video for so many years until YouTube came along.


  1. Hi, J-Canuck.

    Thanks for this great article. I learned a lot of things with it, such as the relation between the song’s title and a Japanese film, and also that Quincy’s version was not the first one released.

    I don’t even remember the last time I listened to “Ai no Corrida”. It was probably more than five years ago, so it was great to remember it. The song was one of my favourites during the times I mostly listened to 70s/early 80s Western disco/funk.

    Like you, I really like the horns. Well, the whole arrangement is on top (synths, bass, etc.). The late 70s, when disco/funk and the good old R&B were the norm on pop music, was a very rich period for arrangements. On the other hand, I don’t understand how today’s music, mostly in the United States (not in Japan, though), became so “minimalista”, with no proper arrangement. I don’t really get what’s fancy about na airy beat playing alone with one or other monotone synth sound accompanying it. We’re probably going to pass that phase in a near future. I hope.

    1. Hi, Marcos.

      Thanks for the compliment. It's been a while since I've been able to talk about a song on that emotional level. "Ai no Corrida" has had that special connection for me.

      The horns are indeed magnificent, aren't they? I think they are one of the things that set the Quincy Jones version above the Chaz Jankel original. Yep, I don't really listen to all that much contemporary R&B unless it's recalling some of the old days such as Pharrell Williams' "Happy".


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