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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Yasuhiro Abe -- Manhattan


I remember my very first trip to New York City with a buddy a little over 20 years ago to see another old buddy there. I was frankly terrified! I'm about as streetwise as Linus Van Pelt without his security blanket and with all of the comments about The Big Apple being The Most Dangerous City in the world and the usual TV images of New Yorkers being as snarly as some of those reptiles that reputedly inhabit the sewers underneath didn't exactly fill me with confidence.

However, I realized that I was not in "Popeye" Doyle's New York of the mean 70s but in a New York that was starting to become happier, safer and more family-friendly. Mind you, the grungy subways, the speechifying homeless folks on those subways, and the drug pusher who approached us for a potential sale one morning on the outskirts of Central Park made things interesting ("I'm sorry...I'm cutting down this week" was my nervous reply to the pusher). On the other hand, staying in my friend's comfortable brownstone on the Upper East Side, visiting the chic Kinokuniya at Rockefeller Centre and having some great food more than balanced the scales to improve my impression of Manhattan.

All that preamble above just to introduce Yasuhiro Abe's(安部恭弘) "Manhattan", one of the tracks on his first album, "Hold Me Tight" from March 1983. I didn't get to indulge much in the high side of life on the island itself but listening to this song had me remembering a nice dinner I had with some former members of the Japan-Canada Students' Association from U of T-turned-Manhattanites during my visit there. It was a pretty nice swanky restaurant on the Upper West Side, and Abe's City Pop ballad is the musical version of looking out the window and seeing the night view of all of those buildings and Central Park. I kinda wonder if Abe had actually been inspired through a visit to the top of the Empire State Building to create the song. There is nothing like a soft Fender Rhodes, some strings and his vocals to create an elegant mood in and over the big city.


Mariko Takahashi/Ami Ozaki/Junichi Kamiyama -- Heart & Hard: Toki ni wa Tsuyoku, Toki ni wa Yasashiku (ハート&ハード:時には強く時には優しく)

(karaoke version)

One of the longer titles of a J-Pop/kayo kyoku song I've ever come across, "Heart & Hard: Toki ni wa Tsuyoku, Toki ni wa Yasashiku" (Strong At Times, Kind At Times) has become one of my favourite Mariko Takahashi (高橋真梨子)ballads over the years. I first heard it on a BEST compilation CD of her works that I bought years ago, and although it didn't grab me initially, it was able to grow on me rather nicely.

It's another wonderful Takahashi-and-Ami Ozaki collaboration just like the former's first solo single, "Anata no Sora wo Tobitai"(あなたの空を翔びたい)from 1978. The version at the link above is actually from her "Special Best -- Sing" album of 1995; there is a bit more of an urban kick to that version but I prefer her original from June 1979 which came out as her 3rd single. That original version has a softer edge with a lilting piano and strings that belie Takahashi's pop/folk roots from her time with Pedro & Capricious, but also contains a fine electric guitar bridge...it is that instrumental combination with her voice that made me fall in love with her material in the first place. There is also a bit that reminds me of  Yumi Arai's (荒井由美)"Sotsugyo Shashin"(卒業写真) in the refrain.

"Heart & Hard" was also included on her 2nd album, "Sunny Afternoon" which was released in February 1980.


Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美), the writer and composer for the song, has done a lot of covers of her contributions to other singers over the years but I'm not certain whether her version of "Heart & Hard" ever came out even as a track on one of her albums. However, here she is above with her cover of the ballad in concert.

http://music.163.com/#/song?id=448004

Purely by accident, I discovered a jazz version of "Heart & Hard" by composer-arranger Junichi Kamiyama(神山純一) that sounded pretty good so I have put it up as well. It's a track on one of Kamiyama's series of tribute albums "JAZZ de Kiku" covering various artists such as Takahashi. The full title is "JAZZ de Kiku: Takahashi Mariko Sakuhinshu -- Hagayui Kuchibiru"(JAZZで聴く~高橋真梨子作品集~はがゆい唇....Listening Through Jazz: The Mariko Takahashi Collection -- Impatient Lips).


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

PSY-S -- Asobi ni Kite ne (遊びにきてね)


The music video for PSY-S' 13th single "Asobi ni Kite ne" (Come On Over) was the first time I had ever seen or heard anything about this fun and eclectic duo. Watching it on "MTV Japan" on TBS back in Gunma, my first impression was....yep...this was what I imagined about Japanese music videos after having seen the few examples back in Canada via Yellow Magic Orchestra, The Plastics and what clips I could see on that special on Japan on "The New Music".

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cR_emDgd2c0

The video had that eerie fuzziness about it and then to see CHAKA singing in that high bright tone with a melody by her partner Masaya Matsuura (松浦雅也)that I had never heard before in a Japanese pop song. When I first heard it, it sounded/didn't sound like something from European New Wave...maybe something I would expect from The Style Council or even Scritti Politti.

With lyrics by Yukinojo Mori(森雪之丞), as the title says, CHAKA is more than happy to invite that special someone over, no matter how he/she may be feeling; as long as they are together, they'll be fine. The title itself has been one of those fine expressions I used to hear a lot as a resident back in Japan. It came out from friends as "Mata, asobi ni kite ne"(また、遊びにきてね). It's kinda like the expression "Now, y'all come back again now" that I heard on the old cornball country-and-western TV show "Hee Haw" when I was a toddler.

For me, the vocals and the music were the factors that had me keep an eye and ear on PSY-S for the next number of years until I finally got that BEST album of theirs at a CD shop in Chinatown after I moved back to Toronto once my JET session was done.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GH0eCvWRfjk

"Asobi ni Kite ne" was released in May 1990 and it was also a track on PSY-S' 6th album, "Signal" from July 1990.

ARASHI -- Everything

(starts at about 3:20)

I'm not going to lie. Although I'm far from being an avid ARASHI (嵐) fan, they're the only boy band in the world that I listen to (well, I also listen to a couple of songs by SMAP, but they're very few). It's kind of a shame, but I do admit that I enjoy a good portion of their hit singles and also like to see them perform on TV.

After a very solid debut with the single "A.RA.SHI" back in 1999, the group slowly started to decline. Their significant turnover came in 2007 when Jun Matsumoto (松本潤) acted in the sequel of Hana Yori Dango (花より男子) and ARASHI released the theme song "Love so sweet". One year later, in 2008, the boys achieved the number one spot of the year with the double A-side single "truth / Kaze no Mukou e" (truth / 風の向こうへ). The feat was repeated in 2009 with the single "Believe / Kumori Nochi, Kaisei" (Believe / 曇りのち、快晴). At this time, the AKB48 machine was not popular enough and Hikaru Utada (宇多田ヒカル) was trying to be successul with the album "This Is The One", her second attempt at the American market. As for Namie Amuro (安室奈美恵), she was still rehearsing a real comeback, while J-Pop ladies Ayumi Hamasaki (浜崎あゆみ) and Kumi Koda (倖田來未) were not at their best either. Finally, aidoru technopop unit Perfume, although increasingly popular, was not really a threat to the ruling artists of the J-Pop world. Based on that, during ARASHI's 10th anniversary, Satoshi Ohno (大野智), Sho Sakurai (櫻井翔), Kazunari Ninomiya (二宮和也), Aiba Masaki (相葉雅紀) and Jun Matsumoto were at a very special moment of their careers.

Talking about "Everything", it happens to be my favorite ARASHI song. Although not an upbeat hit like "Believe" or a cheesy-yet-catchy pop tune like "Love so sweet", "Everything" captivated me with its ballad vibe, the gorgeous arrangement and its touching melody (the "hashire! hashire!" part near the end is one of my favorites). I remember that I had some kind of prejudice with ARASHI without having experienced their songs or concerts. This changed because a good friend of mine liked some of their songs, and I basically decided to get an ARASHI concert to watch with him. For my surprise, I got hooked on "Everything", and I still am after three years. Time really flies and "Everything" just adds to this feeling with its nostalgic vibe.


To finish, here's a performance of "Everything". It'll probably not last very long on YouTube, but whatever... (and yep, it didn't)

(instrumental cover version)

"Everything" was released in July 2009 and reached #1 on the Oricon charts, selling 431,797 copies. It ended 2009 as the #5 song of the year. Lyrics were written by 100+, while music was composed by Shingo Asari. As for the arrangement, it was done by ISB.

SMAP -- $10


Well, I took this shot of a baby-faced SMAP from the ancient pages of Myojo recently, so I decided to see if I could dig up an appropriately "young" song from the boys' discography. And by the way, that is indeed former member Katsuyuki Mori (森且行)at the upper-left there who had his time with the group from 1988 to 1996.



At the time I saw SMAP perform "$10" on the 1993 Kohaku Utagassen, I couldn't really tell the various Johnny's Entertainment groups apart beyond the top group of the 1980s, Hikaru Genji. So, I just saw the group as "Unknown Johnny's Group" singing about currency. Obviously, things got a whole lot better for Nakai-kun, KimuTaku and the rest of the unit since then. As it was though, I was able to remember the refrain from "$10" as the guys gave the multiple-choice question of prices for love.

http://music.163.com/#/song?id=22638035

"$10" was written and composed as the guys' 10th single (November 1993) by singer-songwriter Kenji Hayashida (林田健司)with Hiromi Mori(森浩美), who helped out on a lot of SMAP's other tunes, also giving her contributions on the lyrics. It peaked at No. 5 on Oricon and a remix version was included on their 5th album from February 1994, "SMAP 005", which got as high as No. 2.

Monday, April 28, 2014

BACK-ON -- Nibun-no-Ichi (ニブンノイチ)


Eventually, anyone who enters the world of Japanese pop culture for any length of time will hear about and/or see Gundam robots. I've never been a huge fan of the Gundam franchise itself but names like Amuro Ray and Char Aznable and the sight of the huge mobile suits are instantly recognizable to me. During my other life in Japan, I've had friends visit me in Tokyo and I often escorted or was escorted into some of the Akihabara shops as they searched for one or two of the dizzying variety of Gundam plastic models available. Gundam's popularity has often been cited to be on the same level as the love for "Star Trek", "Star Wars" and "Doctor Who". And so not surprisingly, there has been a Gundam Cafe in the Akiba plaza for several years which I have visited a couple of times.

Then, some months ago, my anime buddy introduced me to a series that was a love letter to the franchise. "Gundam Build Fighters" hasn't made me any more interested in seeing the original adventures of Amuro and Char, but it still made me a fan of the show itself. For one thing, it has a lot of heart, and whenever I see a comedy-drama or comedy-adventure or sci-fi with a number of characters working for a common goal, that is what ultimately determines whether I enjoy it. So, "GBF" now stands alongside "Ghostbusters" and "Star Trek" on that level. I saw the final episode last night and just seeing most of the major characters, after 25 episodes of battles involving Plavsky Particle-powered plastic models of Gundam, joining forces to defeat the Big Bad had my heart swelling up almost to the same extent as viewing the last 15 minutes of the 50th anniversary special for my favourite Time Lord last November. Yep, a geek indeed I am.

The touchstone that will always have me remembering "Gundam Build Fighters" with a small grin on my ever-expanding face is the first theme song for the show, "Nibun-no-Ichi" (One-Half) by BACK-ON. Created by the band itself, the song has that flavour of the sun rising on another great day of fun times with friends with lyrics that basically define (b)romance....something that there is plenty of underneath all of that armour. Happily, I've added "Nibun-no-Ichi" to my anison collection, and it's definitely one of my glasses of aural orange juice. The song came out in November 2013 as the band's 12th single, and as for information on BACK-ON itself, you can check it out on Wikipedia right here.


Not sure how long the video above will stay up, but it is a full episode of "GBF" and so the opening credits are right in there.


And this is the shortened version of the music video for  "Nibun-no-Ichi".

The humongous lineup of fans for the Gundam Cafe in 2010.

The Gundam Cafe in Akiba.

Akina Nakamori -- Southern Wind (サザンウインド)




I've always thought that there was some sort of link between Akina Nakamori's(中森明菜) 8th single, "Southern Wind" and her previous entry, "Kita Wing"(北ウィング), besides the temporal proximity and the use of geographical directions in the titles. The two songs seem to have been plucked from a couple of periods in Akina's young timeline. As I wrote for "Kita Wing", I imagined the singer trying to catch that plane from Narita Airport for a literal flight of fancy from the mundane normalcy of life as a co-ed to the scary-but-exhilarating excitement of life in another country with that mystery man.




Well, for "Southern Wind", I felt that we've gone forward a few years, and Akina has become a slightly jaded veteran of tropical travel and has even gone through a few of those Lotharios in her growing maturity. However, the giddy excitement has been replaced with a sense of suspense and adventure. Etsuko Kisugi's(来生えつこ) lyrics of Panama hats, silhouettes of coconut tree fronds and beautiful men on white yachts conjure up some of those old flicks from the 40s I've seen on Turner Classic Movies that starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (or their wannabes). Then, there is Koji Tamaki's(玉置浩二) racing melody arranged by Ichizo Seo (瀬尾一三)with the bumblebee-like strings and the tight horn section which bring in those images of gun-spiked intrigue. All that is missing is the sinister guy in black from Europe.

Perhaps I should be hosting Turner Classic Movies after that paragraph. Anyways, "Southern Wind" continued Akina-chan's musical progress from good girl/bad girl from high school into a more mature woman as her voice took on more timbre. The song was released just a few months after "Kita Wing" in April 1984 and actually went all the way to the top position on Oricon compared to "Kita Wing" peaking at No. 2, but it finished just behind it at No. 10 in the annual charts of the year.





Saturday, April 26, 2014

Keiko Mizukoshi/Sunmyu/Noriko Sakai -- Hoho ni Kiss Shite (ほほにキスをして)




Singer-songwriter Keiko Mizukoshi's(水越けいこ) "Hoho ni Kiss Shite" (Kiss Me on the Cheek) was a song I found on one of the discs for the "Good Time Divas" series of female singers in the latter half of the 20th century (in fact, the 2nd picture in the article for that series is the CD that has the song). From what I've heard of some of her other songs on YouTube, the Yamanashi Prefecture native sounds like another one of those singers that I would like to get to know better and perhaps grab a BEST compilation.

Initially performing as one-half of duo Hime Daruma(姫だるま), she decided to go solo and debuted with "Shiawase wo Arigato"(しあわせをありがとう...Thanks, Happiness)in June 1978. But it was with her 3rd single in July 1979, "Hoho ni Kiss Shite", that she hit some measure of success on the Oricon charts. Kaoru Ito(伊藤薫), who later provided Anri(杏里) with the cute "Cotton Kibun"(コットン気分) in 1981, wrote and composed this just-as-cute ditty whose lyrics and arrangement reminded me of an updated 50s novelty song. On listening to this, I immediately whipped up an image of a newlywed couple in their new manshon in which happy wife is waiting for that peck on the cheek from slightly embarrassed hubby before he takes off for his 12 hours at the company. Yup, cute as Hello Kitty.

The song managed to get as high as No. 33 on the singles charts and is also included as a track on "Heart", her 2nd album from August 1979.


In 2012, entertainment company Sun Music Productions introduced their first aidoru, individual or group, in 21 years since Michiyo Nakajima(中嶋美智代). Named Sunmyu(さんみゅ~), the group consists of 8 girls in their late teens and up to this point, they've released 5 singles of which their first three were covers of songs by Mizukoshi, Yukiko Okada(岡田有希子) and Jitterin' Jinn. Sunmyu's version of "Hoho ni Kiss Shite" is bright and skippy and the intro beat reminds me of the one that starts off Misato Watanabe's(渡辺美里) "My Revolution". Released in April 2013, it got as high as No. 91.

(Sorry but the music 163 link is dead.)

I didn't think I would find a copy of it on the Net, but the above is Noriko Sakai's (酒井法子)cover of "Hoho ni Kiss Shite" from February 1990 in all its synth glory. And Sakai sounds as cute and twinkly as ever. It was the coupling song to her 13th single, "Kofuku Nante Hoshikunai wa"(幸福なんてほしくないわ...I Don't Need Anything Like Happiness).

The Peanuts -- Mothra no Uta (モスラのうた)

One of the many interesting foibles I discovered about the Japanese during my time in the country was the near-fatal dread many of them had about cockroaches. Through various television programs and personal experiences, I've seen friends and colleagues react with the same level of fear that they would have if they came face-to-face with the ALIEN when it came to dealing with the tiny roach (Me? Whenever I came across one, I simply picked it up and threw it out the window. Sorry, I don't kill animals.).

But perhaps the second-most feared insect in Japan is the moth. Again, I've felt people going into fetal positions whenever contact is made with the representatives of the sub-order Heterocera (arigato, Wikipedia), and there are plenty of the little furry rascals at night orbiting the lights like satellites around a planet. From what I've heard, it's the "powder" that the critters give off that grosses so many people out. So, in spite of and/or because of this moth-phobia, this movie below came about decades ago:


Well, Toho Studios had a giant lizard and a giant pterodactyl. Why not a giant moth? "Mothra" came out in 1961, and the world's cutest caterpillar-turned-moth with a thyroid condition was one of my favourite characters whenever Monster Week came on the afternoon matinees on WGRZ-TV (then WGR) in Buffalo. I mean, whenever those monster team-up movies came on, Godzilla and Rodan would be unsubtly wreaking rage and havoc on King Ghidorah, but caterpillar Mothra would nonchalantly skitter across the land before unleashing major SILK. That's one cool cat....for a grub.




Of course, it seems like every monster had a theme song, and Mothra was no exception. What I remember from my first sighting of the giant caterpillar was that it was escorted by those two tiny ladies who sang this tropical ditty which started with "Mo-su-raaa-YA!" Mom helpfully instructed me that the shobijin (小美人...little beauties)were a duo by the name of The Peanuts. Yep, this was my first time getting to know the popular duo, and I thought considering their size in the movie, they were well-named.

The music for "Mothra no Uta" (Mothra's Song) was composed by Yuji Koseki(古関裕而), the same fellow who came up with the Hanshin Tigers march in 1936. As for the lyrics, I was surprised to find out a couple of things. One was that the "lyricist" of Koji Yuki (由起こうじ)was actually a trio of writers under one name: Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishiro Honda and Shinichi Sekizawa(田中友幸・本田猪四郎・関沢.新一). The other one was that what I heard The Peanuts sang was not even the Japanese language. The gestalt lyricist created the original Japanese lyrics and then they were translated into Indonesian for which Emi and Yumi Ito (伊藤エミ・ユミ)sang phonetically. The J-Wiki article for the song provides the lyrics in Japanese, Indonesian, Chinese and English.


Of course, the big monsters have been popping up now and then for years, and in December 1992, a new version of the battle royale between lizard and moth was presented via "Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth". With a new insect, an updated version of the Mothra song was provided via actresses Keiko Imamura and Sayaka Osawa(今村恵子・大沢さやか). And the passing of the baton has continued through some more monster movies heading into the 21st century.

P.S. I do have to admit that for several years, though, I did have an unfortunate bout of arachnophobia due to my 6-year-old eyes sighting some humongous and ferocious spiders during my first trip to the land of my ancestors, Wakayama Prefecture. I'm OK now, although the odd daddylonglegs may raise my hackles from time to time.

Tamio Okuda -- Eajuu ★ Rider (イージュー★ライダー)


I haven't heard this one by Tamio Okuda (奥田民生)in a long time, and just tonight there was an NHK documentary on stargazing which had "Eajuu ★ Rider" as the ending theme.

Noticing that the Golden Week holidays are on the verge of happening in Japan, I thought this would be just the song. Unfortunately, my student in the tony Den'en-Chofu district of Tokyo told me last Saturday that the Week this year would be somewhat chintzy in length since due to timing, it's gonna be split in half. Still, a holiday is a holiday. And "Eajuu ★ Rider" has that thrilling on-the-road-again feeling to it.

Okuda was launching Ami and Yumi of PUFFY onto their long career when he released this, his 6th single as a solo artist in June 1996. He wrote and composed one of his most beloved songs as a rolling travelogue....riding on that motorcycle over the hills of the countryside without a care in the world. As for the derivation of the title, it comes from the title of that famed counterculture movie with Jack Nicholson, "Easy Rider" and E10 (read in Japanese as "E-juu"), supposedly a jargon word meaning 30 (I'm assuming it's musical jargon)...and the singer was indeed 30 years old when it was released.

The song peaked at No. 4 on Oricon and became the 48th-ranked entry on the annual charts. Not surprisingly, it was also used as the tie-up tune for a Nissan car commercial at the time. It does make one wanna hit the road just to put the song into the car stereo.

http://music.163.com/#/song?id=4902573

Friday, April 25, 2014

Seiko Matsuda -- Madras Check no Koibito (マドラス・チェックの恋人)

"Madras Check no Koibito" (My Madras Check Lover) was the B-side to "Komugi Iro no Mermaid"(小麦色のマーメイド), the sunny and mellow 10th single by Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子). Like the A-side, "Madras Check no Koibito" was written by former Happy Ender Takashi Matsumoto (松本隆)and Queen of New Music Yumi Matsutoya (under her pseudonym of Karuho Kureta...呉田軽穂), and it also has that same summery sheen and slightly more mature pop sense. And since it was one side of my very first Seiko-chan 45" single (well, actually it's my only 45" single of her....I went LP, tape and then CD after that), the song has plenty of nostalgia juice for me. I'm certainly glad that the lady includes it in her concerts.



I was initially scratching my head over the title, though. I found out that Madras (now known as Chennai)was some area in India but my impression was that the song went no further afield than the Shonan beach area just down the coast from Tokyo. Then I realized the "Madras check" was probably sort of fashion pattern on a shirt or something.


Issei Fuubi Sepia -- Zenryaku, Michi no Ue Yori (前略、道の上より)


One of the images that got me interested in Japanese pop culture over 30 years ago comes through the above video which had the Takenozoku (竹の子族)in Harajuku dancing the Sundays away for about a decade.



One of the more intriguing music acts from the 80s that I witnessed was the unit Issei Fuubi Sepia (一世風靡セピア). When I first saw the kanji for the name, I couldn't make heads nor tails of it, and now that I can finally read it, I've been trying to translate it into something appropriate. 「一世風靡」is translated as "ruling the times" or "holding sway over the people" according to jisho.org, but those don't exactly make for an easy adjective, so I'll just go with the handy "incredible" and call the group, The Incredible Sepia.

Anyways, Issei Fuubi Sepia was a performance unit that originated from the mother (father?) group called Gekidan Issei Fuubi(劇男一世風靡...The Troupe Incredible), a male street performance group that was formed in 1983 and danced away on the street in front of NHK headquarters in Shibuya every Sunday. One day, one of the senior members of the group proclaimed, "Hands up for whoever wants to cut a song!" 7 hands went up and that was the beginning of The Incredible Sepia. As for the sepia tag, according to one of the dancing and singing members, the question was what would happen when all these guys of "varying colours" got together. Apparently, sepia was the answer.

Issei Fuubi Sepia's debut single in June 1984 was "Zenryaku, Michi no Ue Yori" (Cutting to the Chase, From the Street). I've always seen and heard this song on TV rather than just hear it since I think the visual performance has to be there. Looking at these guys, I think they appeared as a mix between those summer festival guys in yukata pounding on the taiko and either the Jets or the Sharks from "West Side Story". They certainly had enthusiasm although they, not surprisingly, had more control over their dancing than their singing at the time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59QInMF0AOM

"Zenryaku" was written by the Sepia boys themselves and composed by GOTO. I couldn't find out how they did on the Oricon weeklies but their first song became the 34th single of the year, selling almost 300,000 copies.


Now, as for the member who explained about the origin of sepia in the unit's name, it was Toshiro Yanagiba (柳葉敏郎)who has become a well-known TV and movie actor since the trendy drama days of the late 80s. Another member, Sho Aikawa(哀川翔), also made the leap to thespian in a number of hard-boiled flicks, but my first impression of Yanagiba was as the happy-go-lucky sidekick with the toothy grin in those rom-com-style trendy dramas. But then, in 1997 he took on the role that he is arguably best known for now, the by-the-book uptight Inspector Shinji Muroi, on the police comedy-drama "Odoru Dai Sosasen"(踊る大捜査線...Bayside Shakedown) and for a while, he seemed to take on the same sort of stick-in-the-mud roles. Quite the change from his leaping and "So-Ya"-shouting days (by the way, I think that's him landing on his butt in the video at the very top when the guys were performing on "Yoru no Hit Studio").

Yep, it's Toshiro Yanagiba.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hideaki Tokunaga -- Wednesday Moon


Well, about a day late unfortunately...

In any case, I remember seeing the commercial for Hideaki Tokunaga's(徳永英明) 11th single, "Wednesday Moon" and thinking "Is he changing direction here?" Because of my viewings of him on the old ranking shows like "The Best 10", my image of Tokunaga was of a young man with those puppy-dog brown eyes who sang those soft-voiced ballads. He probably had high school girls waiting to ambush him outside the recording studio.

But first he had come up with that really joyous single, "Yume wo Shinjite"(夢を信じて)in 1990 and then over a year later, here was this mysterious and moody "Wednesday Moon" with the pop/rock synths. And the video had him channeling his inner MTV with the de rigueur large & empty room with sheets over the furniture. When that angsty choreography was thrown in, I almost had a Simple Minds experience. And strangely enough, that soft rasp in his voice actually worked for some reason.

"Wednesday Moon" was released in April 1991 and was written & composed by Tokunaga himself. It became his first No. 1 single in his career up to that point and placed 62nd in the yearly charts on Oricon.



"Don't mess with me!
I'm packing HIGHLIGHTS!"

Top 10 Singles of 1998

1.  Glay                                             Yuuwaku
2.  SMAP                                          Yozora no Mukou
3.  SPEED                                         my graduation
4.  Black Biscuits                              Timing
5.  Glay                                              Soul Love
6.  Kiroro                                           Nagai Aida
7.  L'Arc-en-Ciel                               Honey
8.  Kinki Kids                                    Aisareru Yori Aishitai
9.  Every Little Thing                        Time Goes By
10. Kinki Kids                                   Zenbu Dakishimete/Ao no Jidai



Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ryoko Moriyama -- Kono Hiroi Nohara Ippai (この広い野原いっぱい)


Earlier tonight, I got to see the welcoming ceremony for President Obama during his state visit to Japan on NHK. To be honest, I was more interested in his sushi dinner with Prime Minister Abe at Jiro in Ginza the night before since most of my experience with sushi when I was living there either involved supermarkets or the kaiten joints.

But that's all by-the-by. After the live coverage of the US President meeting the Emperor and Empress, there was a 10-minute segment on the lovely Ryoko Moriyama(森山良子). I've always loved the lady's calming voice and music, and listening to songs like "Ame Agari no Samba"(雨上がりのサンバ)is the equivalent of getting a musical massage (not the shiatsu variety...pure Swedish). So I was a bit intrigued when I heard that the 18-year-old Moriyama had initially nixed singing "Kono Hiroi Nohara Ippai" (This Grand Field) as her debut in January 1967. She had been set on becoming a jazz singer like her father and wasn't too thrilled on starting her career with a folk song, although it was a song that she composed and even performed on a radio show during her college days.

However, that appearance was the one that helped launch her career as The Queen of Folk and as the Japanese Joan Baez. The song got a lot of people talking and several record companies tried to get her to come over to debut with them with Philips Records being the one to finally win Moriyama over. And it is a beautiful love song with the suitor promising to give his beloved all of the flowers in the field to be bundled together into a mighty bouquet tied with a red ribbon. Those lyrics were from Keiko Osonoe(小薗江圭子).

I'm glad that the record companies never gave up. And since then, "Kono Hiroi Nohara Ippai" has been used in elementary school readers and even got a slot on NHK's "Minna no Uta"(みんなのうた...Songs for All)segment a few years later after the song's original release.


Miyuki Nakajima -- Wakare Uta (わかれうた)

http://music.163.com/#/song?id=625163

Recently, there was an NHK special on singer Miyuki Nakajima (中島みゆき)in which a few of her celebrity fans got together on a mock-up of a Nakajima fan club/bar and proceeded to exhort on her virtues. Of course, the talk/love-in was interspersed with some of Nakajima's lively performances which often bordered on performance art. However, there was also some man-on-the-street poll-taking in Ginza in which one of the questions was "What's your impression of Miyuki Nakajima?" The answers allowed spanned the entire spectrum from "vivacious" and "legendary" to "unapproachable" and "a bit of a flake".

I'm not sure about the third response since I have never been anywhere near her and I haven't heard anyone else use "unapproachable", but just from watching some of her concert clips (her appearances on TV are extremely rare), she definitely has that larger-than-life presence to the point that her performances are bordering on performance art. And her voice can go from fragile to force-of-nature within a couple of lines.

As has been mentioned in some of the other articles for Nakajima, the singer can cloak some pretty sad/dark lyrics within an upbeat melody. That is the case with "Wakare Uta" (The Parting Song). Released in September 1977 as her 5th single, there is a skippy beat that would hint at a nice little walk along the park under sunny skies but the words belie the pain of having to go through another romantic break-up. The first couple of lines lay it pretty bare: "Have you ever fallen on the street and kept calling out someone's name over and over?" Drama is not something that is lacking here. However, perhaps it might be because it was still early days in her career but her voice keeps an even keel here without some of the vocal cannon blasts that she has shown to be capable of.

"Wakare Uta" first showed up on her 4th album from April 1978, "Aishiteiru to Itte Kure"(愛していると伝ってくれ...Tell Me You Love Me), which got as high as No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and ended up as the 8th-ranked album of the year. Meanwhile, the song itself was Nakajima's first song to hit the top spot on the singles charts and it became the 10th-ranked song for 1978.


Several singers have covered the song over the years starting with Naoko Ken (研ナオコ)who did so in an album that was a tribute to Nakajima: "Naoko vs. Miyuki" (1978). One of Ken's hit songs was "Kamome wa Kamome" (かもめはかもめ...March 1978) which had been created by Nakajima.



And Ken Hirai (平井堅)with Spitz' Masamune Kusano (草野マサムネ)provided their take via Hirai's album, "Ken's Bar II" from 2009.

Miyuki Nakajima -- The Best

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tunnels -- Garagara Hebi ga Yatte Kuru (ガラガラヘビがやってくる)




I was a bit surprised that the part of the J-Wiki article on the Tunnels' musical output had put this song "Garagara Hebi ga Yatte Kuru" (The Rattlesnake is Coming) as the comedy duo's most successful single compared to their earlier kayo kyoku parodies such as "Ame no Nishi-Azabu"(雨の西麻布)or even their more "serious" "Nasakenee"(情けねえ)from 1991. But then again, Ishibashi & Noritake are all about the outrageous comedy, so I guess that something as crazed as "Garagara Hebi ga Yatte Kuru" with all of the sexual innuendos would be the one to get them to the top of Oricon.

"Garagara Hebi ga Yatte Kuru" was used as one of the opening theme songs for the Tunnels' Thursday night program on Fuji-TV, "Tunnels no Minasan no Okage Desu"(とんねるずのみなさんのおかげです...The Tunnels' Thanks To Everyone), one of my must-see shows on the Japanese television schedule. It's too bad that I couldn't find the opening credits for the show with that theme on YouTube, but I was able to find the guys' nutso performance on stage. Tsugutoshi Goto (後藤次利)provided the music which rather sounds like something for a kids' program but the lyrics by Yasushi Akimoto (秋元康)blows my theory out of the water since the snake in the song is a pretty horny (and not horned) viper....probably representing the tall and lanky Ishibashi.

Actually, speaking about those lyrics, the inspiration for them came one evening as lyricist Akimoto and horny viper Ishibashi were playing rounds of Mah Jongg late into the night. The TV in the room was playing some sort of foreign B-movie in which one of the characters kept blurting out "Beware of the rattlesnakes". With the repetitive clacking of the MJ tiles and the quote coming out over and over again, Akimoto and Ishibashi didn't stand a chance....the lyrics were pretty much spawned and twisted all over their brains by the end of that session.

But it was all good for them, though. Following its release in January 1992, "Garagara Hebi" became the Tunnels' first No. 1 single and their first million-seller. In fact, by the end of the year, the song would be ranked No. 6 for 1992.

The video below has the full recorded version. However, I have to warn you that it has various scenes from horror/thriller movies with snakes in their full g(l)ory, so any viewers here with ophidiophobia should perhaps steer away.



Now, the reason that I actually put this article was not just for the nostalgia for the Tunnels' program. Earlier today in Toronto, there was rather big news on the TV about some woman who came across a baby python crawling about in the bathroom of her apartment not too far away from my home. It was actually a cute little snake. But it just goes to show that one is never sure what could be living in the drainage system of a city.

Hitomi Yaida -- my sweet darlin'


Darlin, dar-LIN!

Heard that line a whole lot for several months going into the 21st century. At the end of the 80s going into the 90s, there were quite a few girl bands rocking out which was followed by several years of Tetsuya Komuro and his dance-pop units followed by a resurgence in aidorus of a new breed (Johnny's and The Hello Project) and the budding of J-R&B. So it was nice to hear a return of sorts of women rocking out again (although Nanase Aikawa had her debut in the mid-90s) with singer-songwriter Hitomi Yaida(矢井田瞳).

Her nickname of Yaiko was another familiar catchword from 2000 for a few years all over the media waves. The video for Yaida's 2nd single of "my sweet darlin'" also got a lot of airplay as she sprayed that fire hose all over the fashion models while hearing that ringing falsetto. It was fun to listen to the song and "my sweet darlin'" is one of the standout tunes stuck in my memory of my times in Japan.


Yaida hails from Metropolitan Osaka and went to Kansai University where she majored in French language and French literature. However, at the age of 19, she picked up a guitar for the first time and within 2 years, she made her professional debut as a singer starting in May 2000 on an independent label with "Howling" and then her 1st official single a couple of months later at Toshiba-EMI with "B'coz I Love You". Then came "my sweet darlin'" in October. Talk about hitting the road at top speed. The singer created the song which peaked at No. 8 on Oricon although it didn't seem to chart on either the 2000 or 2001 lists unfortunately. A full English-language version was also created for UK release a few months later under the title "Darling Darling".

As for her inspirations, according to J-Wiki, Yaida was influenced by singers Joan Osborne and Alanis Morissette.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ikuzo Yoshi -- Sake yo (酒よ)


Well, seeing that Ikuzo Yoshi's (吉幾三)"Yukiguni" (雪国)was the topic of my first enka article for "Kayo Kyoku Plus", it was time to devote another article for the veteran singer. However, unlike "Yukiguni" which became my trademark song at karaoke, I never tried "Sake yo" (Sake) which was another later hit for Yoshi. It was a little too maudlin for me, compared with my jaunty juu-hachi-ban.

"Sake yo", which came out in September 1988, is definitely in that corner of enka which talks about crying in your beer and lost loves. Yoshi wrote and composed this ballad which has him performing the song perfectly on an episode of "Enka no Hanamichi": a dapper and sad figure drowning his sorrows via ochoko and tokkuri of the clear stuff in a snowbound traditional bar. Perhaps the only thing missing is the mama-san to provide a shoulder and copious amounts. The singer also does a fine job via a haggard and tear-choked voice of vocalizing about his heart being ripped out and stomped upon. Ahhh...only the rice wine will understand.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AN80B6c6vCA

The listeners certainly understood about the troubles he's seen. "Sake yo" got all the way up to No. 3 on the singles charts and became the 26th-ranked song for 1989. And even before that accolade, Yoshi appeared on the 1988 Kohaku Utagassen to perform the song there and five years later on the same program. Of course, its memory has also been secured in tons of karaoke lounges for folks of a certain age.





Princess Princess -- Julian/Rock Me


(karaoke version)

Of all of the five consecutive No. 1 singles (No. 7-11) that Princess Princess (プリンセス・プリセンス)had between 1989 and 1991, single No. 10 "Julian" (ジュリアン)was the one that I considered "cuddly". Although it was created by band members Kanako Nakayama and Kaori Okui(中山加奈子・奥井香), and had the familiar vocals of Okui and the Princess Princess guitars behind it, I couldn't help but feel that "Julian" sounded more like a tune that Misato Watanabe (渡辺美里)would tackle. Mind you, Watanabe was also along the same veins of pop/rock that Princess Princess were, but I guess it must have been that I was accustomed to hearing the band's A-side entries as the upbeat and/or rock-out tunes. In comparison, "Julian" was pretty laidback.

The question I had about "Julian" was "Who is Julian?" The way the lyrics were set out by Nakayama, it sounded like some guy the girls were pining for with fluffy pink valentines. I'd thought it was some sort of unlikely tribute to Julian Lennon, the son of the late John Lennon, who had his 15 minutes of fame during that time. Well, after a bit of Internet digging, I found out from Nakayama via her July 2012 entry in the Princess Princess blog and through the band's J-Wiki article that the title was gleaned from the 2nd name of the band, Julian Mama, that was settled upon moving to a new recording company, Ongaku-za(音楽座), in 1985. And it also happened to be the name that the guitarist gave to her cat.


"Rock Me" was the coupling song to "Julian" that had Princess Princess kicking things up as I usually imagined them. I'm sure it was the song to have on the play list at their concerts and I heard it tons of times when Sony was pushing their audio tapes on TV. Okui took care of both writing and composing duties for this one, and I can believe that the vocalist probably ran straight for the honey and lemon after singing this.

As mentioned, the single went to No. 1 after its release in November 1990 and became the 13th-ranked song for 1991. Both "Julian" and "Rock Me" also appeared on Princess Princess' 5th studio album, "Princess Princess" which came out in December of the same year. It would also hit No. 1 (almost 1.4 million copies in sales) and later became the 4th-ranked album of 1991.

Tadaharu Nakano -- Rokko Oroshi (六甲おろし)


Y'know....all those 17 years I was living in Ichikawa-shi, Chiba-ken, and I really never got all that into Japanese baseball. Then again, I was mostly just a casual fan of Major League Baseball over here (currently living in a city where the local team has been out of the playoff picture for over 20 years hasn't helped my attitude) in any case. Mind you, there was that one time when the 2005 Chiba Lotte Marines under Bobby Valentine (yup, the same one who got run out of Boston after that one horrible season in 2012 with the Red Sox) beat the Hanshin Tigers for the Japan Series championship which had a lot of my neighbours crowing with glee well into the night of October 17.

Speaking of the Hanshin Tigers, which have been compared to the Bosox against Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants' equivalent of the New York Yankees, they've managed to win the championship once in 1985 and then get to the finals in 2003 and the aforementioned series with the Marines in 2005. So, they haven't exactly been a dynastic threat (then again, there really hasn't been a dynasty in Japanese baseball since the Seibu Lions in the early 90s) but the Tigers can boast that they have the most rabidly loyal fans in the country and the most well-known team song in J-Baseball history. Heck, even I know about "Rokko Oroshi" (The Downward Wind of Mt. Rokko).

Written by Sonosuke Sato(佐藤惣之助)and composed by Yuji Koseki (古関 裕而...who would also create the theme for the world's most famous giant caterpillar, Mothra, many years later) in 1936, it was first presented at a rallying party held at the Koshien Hotel in late March of that year for the just-established team of the then-Osaka Tigers. The first singer was Tadaharu Nakano (中野忠晴)who sang a mix of jazz and popular songs in the Showa Era. Officially, it is known as "The Osaka Tigers Song" and then "The Hanshin Tigers Song", but "Rokko Oroshi" is the name that has stuck all these decades. Mt. Rokko is actually the name for a chain of mountains in neighbourhing Hyogo Prefecture, and quoting from the Wikipedia article here, "In Japan, wind which blows down from a mountain is known to be cold and harsh, hence the song symbolizes the Tiger's (sic) brave challenge under hardship". The article also has the official English translation of the song.

The Hanshin Tigers may not have had a championship (and therefore not have gotten the opportunity to throw Colonel Sanders statues into the Dotombori Canal) for almost 30 years, but whenever that song comes out on the television in the early months, I think even non-Tigers fans can be warmed by the fact that spring and baseball season is just around the corner.



Sunday, April 20, 2014

Masayuki Suzuki/Tatsuro Yamashita -- Oyasumi Rosie (おやすみロージー)




Although Masayuki Suzuki (鈴木雅之)switched to a smooth soul style once he went solo, I think he never left that doo-wop from his Chanels days. Case in point is his handling of the Tatsuro Yamashita-penned(山下達郎) "Oyasumi Rosie" (Good Night, Rosie) which bookends his 2nd album, "Radio Days" from April 1988. Martin wrings out that lovelorn emotion as he pays tribute to good ol' Rosie, the lady who has flown the coop. It has that old-fashioned feeling of taking one's good time in delivering a tender-hearted ballad but still sounds pretty fresh at the same time as Yamashita backs him up on the vocals as well.

If I'm not mistaken, I think I also heard "Rosie" via a viewing of an Xmas-themed movie in the late 80s starring Yuki Saito and Kuniko Yamada. The movie also had Yamashita's "Christmas Eve" at the end, too.


(Sorry, that video has been taken down.)

Yamashita did his own near-acapella cover of "Rosie" which came out as his 20th single in September 1989 and also as a track on his album, "Joy -- Tatsuro Yamashita Live". The sub-title for the song is "Angel Baby e no Homage"(Angel Baby へのオマージュ...An Homage to Angel Baby)which brings up the story as to how the song came to be. Yamashita came up with the whole title from the 1960's doo-wop song "Angel Baby" by Rosie & The Originals. Rosie Hamlin recorded it when she was just 15 years old, and the song went all the way to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Angel Baby" also happened to be one of John Lennon's favourite tunes, and the late Beatle even recorded his own version of it in 1973. As for Yamashita's single, it peaked at No. 22.


As for another Tats & Martin collaboration, there is the cool and sultry "Misty Mauve" which was also included on "Radio Days".

Anri -- Sozorosamu (そぞろ寒)

http://music.163.com/#/song?id=558334

Considering all of the summery pop and then R&B that has illustrated the career of Anri (杏里)for decades, I thought it was time to once again go all the way back to her beginnings. So, I went to her very first album, "Apricot Jam" from November 1978 and gave that another listen after so long. Of course, the first song on the album was the original version of the classic "Olivia wo Kikinagara"(オリビアを聴きながら), by far the most well-known track.

However, another track on "Apricot Jam" also stood out. "Sozorosamu" (Biting Cold) was written and composed by singer-songwriter Keiko Maruyama(丸山圭子), and it tells a tale about a relationship that has perhaps gone a bit cold from the woman's point of view as the couple, nominally hand-in-hand, take a walk during late fall. Despite the melancholy lyrics, the music struck me as being a laid-back mix of Yumi Matsutoya (松任谷由実)from that period and the Bee Gees. I think anyone who started out as a fan of Anri from the 80s as I did may find listening to the light disco-pop and the more low-key vocals of a teenaged Eiko Kawashima (川嶋栄子)on this song quite interesting. And certainly, I'm now also more interested in finding about some of Maruyama's arrangements for other singers.

Anri -- Apricot Jam

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mariya Takeuchi -- Namida no One-Sided Love (涙のワンサイデッド・ラブ)


Well, here's one for Richie and Mary Beth...

If there's one song that could represent Mariya Takeuchi's (竹内まりや)song stylings in the early years of her career before she took her hiatus in the early 80s, I think "Namida no One-Sided Love" (Tearful One-Sided Love) is the one. The idea of kataomoi (片思い)or love from afar has been an easy plot or subplot device for a ton of Japanese dramas or comedies or anime for years and years. There are tons of Charlie Browns over there pining for naught (or not) over their little red-haired girls.

Takeuchi wrote and composed this tune from her 2nd album, "University Street" (May 1979) as this love letter to that unknown young man who was kind enough to offer an umbrella to her at the bus stop one rainy Saturday in October (perhaps sometime in the 1950s). Mariya was probably dreaming through pink cotton-candy clouds in her bobby-soxer outfit as she was writing that letter while lying on that bed. I'm sure there were a lot of loopy "l"s and hearts replacing the dots over the "i"s.

During that transition from the 70s into the 80s, while Japanese pop culture was starting to embrace the early raucous days of American rock n' roll of Danny Zuko, Takeuchi was often trying to represent her inner Sandy through her ballads. Yep, I did watch "Grease" a fair bit. Underneath is a karaoke version of the song.



Spitz -- Hachimitsu (ハチミツ)


Yup, springtime is finally here and the sap has already flowed through the maple trees and onto our pancakes and waffles as syrup. So, it was a bit of a revelation in my first few months in Japan when I found out that the folks were just as much beholden to honey on their flapjacks as they were to maple syrup. Then again, considering how expensive genuine maple syrup could be in the supermarkets, the bee product would make for a fine substitute.

This rather not-as-smooth segue is for the purposes of bringing another Spitz (スピッツ)song from my memories. Now, "Hachimitsu" (Honey) was not an official single but it was the launching song for the band's 6th album of the same title in 1995, so it still got plenty of air time along with its successful album mates, "Robinson" and "Namida ga Kirari"(涙がキラリ☆). Leader and vocalist Masamune Kusano(草野正宗) created this infectiously skippy song that has a video which could get a hikikomori to take a walk in the sunshine. And it takes a cute little poke at the average Japanese commercial.

As for the album "Hachimitsu", it went to No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies and became the 12th-ranked album of 1995.


Friday, April 18, 2014

fhana -- Que Sera Sera (ケセラセラ)


Last year, I was introduced to an anime by the title of "Uchoten Kazoku"(有頂天家族...The Eccentric Family). The tale of a family of shape-shifting tanuki in modern-day Kyoto as they balance their lot between daily life in the former ancient capital and the fears of getting set upon by enemies comical and beautiful (including being eaten in a stew), admittedly it wasn't a show that grabbed me immediately despite the gorgeous scenery since I had to struggle with the story sans subtitles. However, since getting the entire series as a present, I've been able to enjoy the anime at a more leisurely pace and therefore appreciate it a whole lot more.

One of the reasons that I have enjoyed the show is the ending theme by the group fhana. Amongst the number of anime I've seen, this is a group that I've seen fairly often taking care of various opening and ending themes, the latest being the openers for "Witchcraft Works" and "Gingitsune" earlier this year. However, my favourite theme hands down by fhana has been "Que Sera Sera". According to the J-Wiki article on the song itself, it's been getting a goodly number of accolades including this one: "There hasn't been an ending theme that fits an anime as well as this one does."



I don't think I have seen anywhere near the number of anime that would ever make me that authoritative when it comes to that opinion. However, I can certainly understand that commenter's point of view. The bright and sweet vocals by towana along with the cheerful if somewhat introspective melody mesh wonderfully together, and they both work perfectly with the lovely ending credit visuals. And the title itself of "Whatever will be, will be" (yep, I'm old enough to have the Doris Day record of the same title) kinda goes hand in hand with how the characters in the show seem to deal with most of their crises.

One of the commenters at YouTube mentioned that "Que Sera Sera" sounded a bit like the famous theme for "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" by Ryuichi Sakamoto (probably the intro). I can also add that some of the arrangement harkens back to some of the dance groove about a decade ago used by singers like bird and Misia.

"Que Sera Sera" was composed by fhana leader and keyboardist Junichi Sato (佐藤純一)and written by Hideki Hayashi(林英樹). Released in August 2013 as the band's first single, the song didn't go any higher than 111th place on Oricon, but that won't dampen any of the fans' enthusiasm.

As for the group itself, the story leading up to the current lineup reads as if it also deserves its own time on the small screen. Sato, who originally came from the band FLEET, started getting into a Twitter friendship with guitarist yuxuki waga from s10rw at the end of 2009. Then almost a year and a half later, the two of them met sampler Kevin Mitsunaga from another band, Leggysalad, at an event. From there, the three supposedly cemented the concept and direction for fhana at a maid café (hey, where else?). Initially, fhana had thought about having just guest vocalists do the singing but since they were so impressed with one of their invitees, towana, she just became the permanent vocalist. And the band was officially in business from 2012.

January 15 2016: I've finally gotten the article up for the opening theme "Uchoten Jinsei"(有頂天人生)by duo milktub.