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.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tomoko Aran -- Midnight Wanderers


Tomoko Aran's (亜蘭知子)"Midnight Wanderers" is a laid-back tune that I just encountered by grand happenstance in the last few minutes. Just like her "Slow Nights" on her 4th album, "More Relax", "Midnight Wanderers" had that City Pop vibe of gentle nighttime listening from the comfort of one's living room.

"Midnight Wanderers" was written by Aran and composed by Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎), her fellow collaborator for all of those future hits for beach band TUBE. Right from the beginning with that descending keyboard riff, I got that urge to look out that rooftop bar window and contemplate the sunset....of course, drinking down a couple of rum and Cokes could also add to the ambiance. The song was a track on Aran's 3rd album from May 1983, "Fuyuu Kuukan"(浮遊空間...Floating Spaces). It's too bad that it wasn't included on the BEST album that I got for her, but that's all the more inspiration to get another original CD by the singer-songwriter.


Gyaru -- Bara to Pistol (薔薇とピストル)



I was doing some maintenance for the article covering Mayumi Kuroki's(黒木真由美) "Koibito to Yobarete" since the YouTube video had been taken down when I discovered the above video on the right side of the screen. It turned out that Kuroki hadn't given up the mike for good in 1976 after releasing 6 singles. Instead, her management company placed her with two other ladies, Michiyo Ishie and Hitomi Meguro (石江理世・目黒ひとみ)the year after to form the trio Gyaru(ギャル...Gals).

"Bara to Pistol" (Rose and Pistol) was Gyaru's debut single from October 1977, and watching the video of the three performing it on that music show, I got the impression that Gyaru had been molded to be some sort of synthesis combining the harmonies of Candies, the glitter of Pink Lady and perhaps even the fashion of the disco-age Pointer Sisters. I even found a Japanese page that gives much more information than J-Wiki on this group in which the writer refers to the trio as second-string aidoru who lasted basically for little more than a year.

To be honest, just looking at the performance, I kinda cheekily thought that Gyaru was a backup group missing a lead singer, but "Bara to Pistol" isn't too bad a song. Written by Yu Aku (阿久悠)and composed by Makoto Kawaguchi(川口真), it actually sounded like a Pink Lady tune tackled by Candies...without the frantic choreography. It pressed all of the right nostalgia buttons in my cerebrum, and there is a part where Mayumi (nicknamed Mami while in the group) is doing her solo where I especially liked the musical arrangement.


Gyaru released 4 singles and 1 album according to that Japanese page. The April 1978 album, "Gyaru no Space Opera King"(ギャルのスペース・オペラ・キング...Gyaru's Space Opera King), contained "Bara to Pistol" along with their 2nd single, "Magnet Joe ni Ki wo Tsukero"(マグネット・ジョーに気をつけろ...Watch Out For Magnet Joe)followed by covers of anison and even "Star Wars"!



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yasuhiro Abe -- Thrill Down


When I first started leafing through the pages of "Japanese City Pop", my eyes just goggled at all of these albums that I had never seen before and wondered if I would ever be able to track down even a fraction of them. I tried looking around for Yasuhiro Abe's(安部恭弘)albums, for instance, and my usual sources of Tower Records and even the huge old-&-used shop RecoFan didn't have them. However, my visit to Tacto in Jimbocho got me a hit. And it turned out to be one of his oldest albums, too....his 3rd album, in fact.

The first track on "Slit", which was released in December 1984, is "Thrill Down". It was written by Chinfa Kan (康珍化)and composed by Abe, and despite the ironic juxtaposition of the title words, the singer-songwriter provides some driving City Pop thrills as our congenial host steers us through the traffic on the nighttime expressways in downtown Tokyo. I think the steady beat and the guitar are the collective engine for our little nocturnal drive. The arrangement of the song reminds me a lot of the future Sing Like Talking's early works.

At this point, I only have "Slit" and one of his BEST compilations, so I will have to see if I can boost up my collection of his albums in the years to come. Unless one of my old buddies in Tokyo has suddenly come in possession of a Testarossa, I don't quite think I'll ever really be involved in bombing down the highways in a really cool car.


Akiko Kobayashi -- La Siesta


I mentioned in the article for Akiko Kobayashi's (小林明子)5th album, "Bon Voyage", that it was her first album in around 18 months...a slightly longer absence from the recording studio for her, at least....and that it had a somewhat different fresher sound. I compared it to an ocean cruise on the open blue water and sky.

Well, her next album came out pretty quickly...only a 9-month gap this time, and "La Siesta" provided a musical trip closer to the Mediterranean shore. Even the colour scheme for the cover was notably different this time...a warm orange hue in contrast with the fresh blue of "Bon Voyage". Although the June 1990 6th album was recorded in Japan and Belgium, the liner notes don't mention directly where the photographs were taken. But from the album title and the title from one of the tracks, I'm guessing St. Tropez at the southeastern tip of France at least...and perhaps Barcelona.


The European trip begins with the urbane pop sound of "Free Your Reins" with Suzanne K. Kim providing the lyrics and Kobayashi providing the music as she does for most of the tracks. Kobayashi sings about desiring to get on that voyage of exploration once more and the music illustrates that she is continuing that new outside-of-Japan musical journey that she started in "Bon Voyage".


The first ballad of the album is also a Kim/Kobayashi collaboration. "Without A Heartache" took a while but it has grown on me over the years, and the amazing Toots Thielemans on harmonica helped out a lot. This sounds like a first night on the trip through an exotic clime as the heroine here settles into her hotel room and contemplates about looking for love again after so long.




Kobayashi wrote and composed the next track, "Celebrate Tonight", which happened to be the first song that I really started enjoying on "La Siesta". In fact, this was her 17th single from July 1990, and I actually bought the CD single for a friend of mine who had been a casual fan of Kobayashi's from our Kuri days. The lyrics sound as if that heroine from "Without a Heartache" hit romantic paydirt on the 2nd night. With the keyboard and mellow sax, I think this is the Carpenteresque song for the album.



Since I'm on this theme of journey, I can then say that the title track of "Kokoro no Siesta"(心のシエスタ...Siesta of the Heart)would probably take care of the montage scene of the movie...the one where the heroine and her new beau along with a couple of zany sidekicks zip around Barcelona in a little over 4 minutes. Written by Miho Takai(高井美浦)under her pen name of 暮醐遊, Kobayashi gives "Kokoro no Siesta" that old-school old-world sophistication from the black-&-white films. It was her 16th single from March 1990 and was also used as the commercial song for that bottled straight tea that I have missed so much since getting back from Japan.


"La Siesta" which follows "Kokoro no Siesta" is the instrumental extension. Enjoy your tapas!


Following all that racing around the town, it seems that the heroine and her new buddies have all decided to take a little respite for a few days in the resort area of St. Tropez as indicated in the 2nd-last track, "Holidays in St. Tropez" which was written by Kobayashi. The song just seems to cry out for a lot of refills of sangria while everyone enjoys taking root in their respective chaises lounge.

"La Siesta" the album would be the final original album for Kobayashi for over a decade until she came up with "Beloved" in 2001. However, she did release an album in 1994 under her new nom de guerre of holi titled "under the monkey puzzle tree".


Hideo Murata/Hibari Misora/Hiroshi Itsuki -- Jinsei Gekijo (人生劇場)


Tonight on NHK's "Kayo Concert", I heard Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし)perform an especially stately enka by the title of "Jinsei Gekijo" (Theatre of Life). With that sort of title, my curiosity was piqued so I looked up my usual sources. The original song had actually been created in 1938 by composer Masao Koga (古賀政男)and lyricist Sonosuke Sato (佐藤惣之助)and sung by Shigeo Kusunoki (楠木繁夫)as the theme song for one of the early movie adaptations of the famed short story of the same name by Shiro Ozaki(尾崎士郎). In the story, Ozaki wrote about life at Waseda University and beyond and how the protagonist of the story gave up the love of his life for his love for power and wealth, much to his detriment.

According to the J-Wiki article on "Jinsei Gekijo", the theme song became famous from Kusunoki's rendition and in fact, became an unofficial second song representing Waseda University, one of the largest private schools of higher learning in the country. However, Hideo Murata's performance of the song as one of his earliest singles in April 1959 was such that it imprinted itself into the heads of a lot of fans that Murata's version was the original version. At the very least, it seems to be the definitive version. Sato's lyrics expressed the protagonist's ambitions disguised as the duty of every man.

Hideo Murata(村田英雄), who was born Isamu Kajiyama (梶山勇)in 1929 in Fukuoka Prefecture, was a veteran singer of enka and rokyoku. For me, he was a regular presence on the first several Kohaku Utagassen shows that I'd seen. And except for 1973, Murata appeared in every one of the New Year's Eve specials from 1963 to 1989. Moreover, when he was there, so was his friend and rival in the genres, Haruo Minami(三波春夫). Looking at the two together was quite interesting....Minami always had that beatific smile on a face that seemed to eternally look up into the rafters while Murata always sported a stern expression on his face. As much as Hibari Misora (美空ひばり)was the intimidating Grande Dame of the Kohaku to her fellow performers, I could imagine that Murata also had a certain fear factor.

Murata passed away in June 2002, a little over a year after Minami himself had passed away.


And speaking of Misora, she gave her own cover of "Jinsei Gekijo". I had to actually look up the particulars at her website, but her earliest rendition was on her June 1977 album "Misora Hibari Koga Melody wo Utau -- Jinsei Gekijo"(美空ひばり 古賀メロディを歌う~人生劇場...Hibari Misora Sings The Koga Melodies -- Theatre of Life).


(Unfortunately the video has been taken down.)

And although the above video isn't the actual performance from "Kayo Concert", here is Hiroshi Itsuki with his rendition of "Jinsei Gekijo", dressed the same way that he was tonight. I gather that considering the grand nature of the song, a mere Western suit wouldn't suffice.

Also, for those who may be interested in the movie adaptations themselves, the following page will give some insight on some of them. There have been 14 of them dating from 1936 to 1983, and there were even a couple of versions adapted for the stage.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Michiyo Kitajima -- Telepathy Kudasai (てれぱしいください)


The video for this song was put up just a few months ago. I decided to give it a shot and found "Telepathy Kudasai" (Please Give Me Your Telepathy) a pleasant if not a classic pop song from the 80s. I had never heard of Michiyo Kitajima (北島美智代)before this hour and apparently she was one of those people who had a very brief time in the spotlight, only releasing 2 singles in 1985-1986 according to this Japanese webpage.

"Telepathy Kudasai" was Kitajima's debut single from November 1985. It was written by Kunihiko Suzuki (鈴木邦彦)and composed by Kei Wakakusa(若草恵), and it was used as the theme for an NHK documentary show centering on the animal kingdom titled "Watching" from April 1985 to March 1989. It was hosted by the ubiquitous tarento emeritus Tamori(タモリ). As I said, the song is pleasant to listen to and Kitajima had a pretty nice voice. I actually ended up mouthing "....telepathy kudasai..." a few times myself as it was playing.

Unfortunately, there seems to be very little information on Kitajima aside from what little was provided on that aforementioned Japanese webpage and that was purely on her short recording career. The author there rather dryly wondered whether the singer was still continuing on as a regional enka chanteuse under a different name. Methinks she's probably been enjoying life as a regular housewife and mother. However, what was also illuminating was seeing how many singers and aidoru had debuted during 1986 as shown on that page. There were very few that I had known already with the most well-known singer being Akemi Ishii(石井明美). Hey, that's part of the fun of doing this blog!


Morning Musume -- Happy Summer Wedding (ハッピーサマーウェディング)


Ah, happy summer 2000! Back in the days when Morning Musume (モーニング娘。)could have released Kleenex with their lip prints on it and it would have gone Platinum. To be honest, MM's 9th single, the sweet and cheerful "Happy Summer Wedding" is not one of my very favourite singles by the group although DANCE☆MAN was behind the arrangements of the Tsunku-penned song. I've usually preferred the more disco-type songs of theirs such as "Love Machine" but when "Happy Summer Wedding" came out in May 2000, the video of the girls in their harem outfits was all over the tube and that "para, para, para, para, para, para, pa, pa" chorus buried itself in my brain like Ceti Eels in starship officers ("Wrath of Khan" reference).

"Happy Summer Wedding" is all about a girl's feelings expressed to her parents just on the cusp of the big day. And I think the song would've made for an appropriate theme tune for some zany J-Comedy about the girl's harried father. Just imagine "Father of the Bride" with Koji Yakusho instead of Steve Martin.

The single sold just a shade over 990,000 copies, with it hitting No. 1 on the Oricon weekly charts and becoming the 15th-ranked single of the year. The song was also auspicious in that it was a transitional time for girls in Morning Musume. It would be the last single featuring 2nd-generation member Sayaka Ichii (市井紗耶香)and it would be the first with the 4th-generation members Hitomi Yoshizawa, Rika Ishikawa, Ai Kago and Nozomi Tsuji(吉澤ひとみ・石川梨華・加護亜依・辻希美). Perhaps there should have been a torch featured in the video.



I remember when those four girls made their formal introduction TV Tokyo's "Asayan", which was the birthing show for Morning Musume. Felt like a worried father watching this quartet of innocent kids appearing nervously on the stage for the first time. The video below shows a clip from the program showing the actual selection of three of the teens.



Tulip/GO!GO!7188 -- Kokoro no Tabi (心の旅)


I've always considered Tulip's (チューリップ)biggest hit of "Kokoro no Tabi" (Voyage of the Heart) to be one of the great kayo send-off songs. Just imagine....a college graduate from the old countryside hometown heading for the big city to start his/her career, and the old gang provides the streamers and the stream of tears, all while this song is being sung as the young lad/lass takes the train from the tiny local station. One might say that it would be the ideal theme for one of the most important moments in life.

Well, perhaps that was a bit florid but "Kokoro no Tabi" did come from one of the big moments in Tulip's life. Kazuo Zaitsu(財津和夫)and his band hadn't made too much of an impression from their first 2 singles or their first 2 albums, and "Kokoro no Tabi" was their self-imposed last chance to make it big or head back to Fukuoka in failure. Zaitsu was behind the lyrics and music for Tulip's 3rd single from May 1973, and he created this out of his feelings before making his way to Tokyo to make it big in music. Well, there was obviously a happy ending in that "Kokoro no Tabi" went all the way up to No. 1 after debuting on Oricon at the humble ranking of No. 71. It sold slightly under a million records and ended the year as the 7th-ranked song. And why not? There is that sense of sentimentality and triumph infused into the song so that it can be used at any event from the end of a victorious Koshien high school baseball campaign to a wedding party.


What surprised me was that the original 1973 recording was not sung by leader Zaitsu but by the youngest Tulip member, Tatsuya Himeno(姫野達也). Zaitsu was to have been the main vocal but at the last minute, it was decided by staff that Himeno had the "sweeter" voice and so he should be the one to sing it. Although "Kokoro no Tabi" did become the saviour song, Zaitsu apparently had some complicated feelings about that vocal decision. However, he has been able to sing his creation himself since then as you can see from above.


I remember "Kokoro no Tabi" all these years due to the fact that the song has been covered so often by a number of artists. One of the versions I recall the most is the thrashing version by rock band GO!GO!7188, one of the great names in Japanese music collectives and whose derivation is apparently still only known by its members: lead vocal and guitarist Yuu, bassist Akko and drummer Turkey. They may hail from Kagoshima Prefecture but I always imagine the side streets of Shibuya, Tokyo whenever I think about them. According to Wikipedia, they had influences from genres such as surf rock, punk and even enka. In that way, I've often related them to chanteuse Ringo Shiina(椎名林檎). The band debuted in 1998 but disbanded a couple of years ago in 2012.

Their cover of "Kokoro no Tabi" came from their album of kayo kyoku covers, "Tora no Ana"(虎の穴...Tiger's Lair)from July 2002.


Top 10 Singles of 1999

1.   Dango Gasshodan                                Dango San Kyodai
2.   GLAY                                                 Winter, Again
3.   Ayumi Hamasaki                                  A-- Monochrome...
4.   Ryuichi Sakamoto                                Ura BTTB--Energy Flow
5.   Hikaru Utada                                       Automatic
6.   Hikaru Utada                                       Addicted to You
7.   Morning Musume                                 Love Machine
8.   GLAY                                                 BE WITH YOU
9.   L'Arc-en-Ciel                                      Heaven's Drive
10. Kinki Kids                                           Flower

I remember the year distinctly being one in which a Japanese-American, one-third of YMO and a group of young girls who hadn't supposed to have been successful a few years back went over the top with their hits. And yet, they were all topped by a trio of tiny rice dumplings.





Sunday, July 27, 2014

Top 10 Albums for 1973

1.   Shiro Miya & Pinkara Trio                    Onna no Michi
2.   Cherish                                                 Super Deluxe
3.   The Beatles                                           The Beatles 1962 - 1966
4.   Takuro Yoshida                                    Genki Desu.
5.   The Carpenters                                     Now and Then
6.   The Beatles                                           The Beatles 1967 - 1970
7.   The Beatles                                           Let It Be
8.   Kaguyahime                                          Kaguyahime Third
9.   Yosui Inoue                                           Yosui Live Modori Michi
10.  Michel Polnareff                                   Gold Disc

Quite the achievement for Shiro Miya & Pinkara Trio considering they also had the top 2 singles of the year as well. And also of note is Yosui Inoue's "Yosui Live Modori Michi" which not only cracked the Top 10 for 1973 but also placed 3rd in 1974 and 7th in 1975. Obviously, there was also quite the non-Japanese representation on the chart.



Miki Imai -- Tokyo Hachi-gatsu Sunglass (TOKYO 8月サングラス)


(brief excerpt only)

I'm breaking my non-official rule of not covering a singer in the same month since I wrote about Miki Imai's(今井美樹)"Pride" back on July 2nd, but I figure I'm only off a week and besides, this song, "Tokyo Hachi-gatsu Sunglass" (Tokyo August Sunglasses) rather relates to the current meteorological situation in all of Japan. I was talking with my student over in the wilds of tony Den'en-Chofu tonight via Skype tonight and he confirmed what I've been seeing on NHK News....that Japan is in the mighty unrelenting grip of heat and humidity, even more than average. Believe me when I say that I know how that feels. Any old-school Trekkie kayo kyoku fans out there? Know the expression "Hot as Vulcan"? Well, at least on Mr. Spock's planet, it's a dry heat.

(Ah...the video is back!)

"Tokyo Hachi-gatsu Sunglass" is the opening track on Imai's 4th album of 1989, "Mocha", an album that I wrote about almost a couple of years back. And in fact, I had written about that very song on the album complete with YouTube video on that "Mocha" article, but when said video was taken down by the powers-that-be, I figured that that was it for the song so I summarily erased the entire paragraph devoted to it and replaced it with another song from the album with description. Of course, that was before co-contributor nikala introduced me to music.163.com (also dead now) as a potential source.

So, allow me to make amends here. "Tokyo Hachi-gatsu Sunglass" was written by Masami Tozawa (戸沢暢美)and composed by Jun Sato(佐藤準)as this zippy launch to this particular album of "Mocha". Compared to the oh-so-calming on the beach "Natsu wo Kasanete"(夏をかさねて)which started Imai's album of the previous year, "Bewith", the opening track to "Mocha" immediately rockets the listeners down into the steamy sun-reflecting glass-and-concrete of Tokyo. The singer quickly rattles off that understandable need to get out of the metropolis for most people while she's content to spend her days in a potentially empty city sucking back on a tea and looking through those shades. I certainly shared those feelings of hers whenever Golden Week came around although April/May were considerably less torrid.

I guess the other reason that I put up this one by Imai is that it's interesting to compare this album track from her early period to the aforementioned "Pride" which became one of her most beloved official singles nearly a decade later. The latter song had that more stately and mature sound that her future hubby, Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰), would imbue her music from the mid-90s, but "Tokyo Hachi-gatsu Sunglass" from the late 80s was more in line with the uptempo urban pop sounds that other singers from that time such as Kanako Wada (和田加奈子)and Kahoru Kohiruimaki (小比類巻かほる)adopted. I think the difference between Imai and those other two songstresses were those feathery pipes of Imai.

I'm not sure whether Imai sings any of her non-single album tracks from before the 90s at her current concerts anymore, but "Tokyo Hachi-gatsu Sunglass" has been one of the standout songs for me from that early era.

Inside the Tokyo International Forum

Friday, July 25, 2014

Taeko Ohnuki -- Happy-Go-Lucky


My range of Taeko Ohnuki (大貫妙子)songs has basically been from her New Music time with Sugar Babe in the mid-1970s to her early 1980s technopop/French collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一). Well, it's time to stretch out a bit more. Obviously, she's gone far beyond those years in her discography and one of my aims this year is to get a larger BEST compilation by her. And there is one titled "Library" which came out in 2003 and from that album, I managed to find this song.

"Happy-Go-Lucky" is a truly happy-go-lucky song written and composed by Ohnuki herself as her 26th single from May 1997. It is also a track on her 20th album, "Lucy", and the reason that I've already listened to this one four times already in the past few days is that it sounds like a pleasant hybrid of her 70s sunny side stuff with a bit of those 80s arrangements released in the late 90s. Basically, the lyrics just reflect the title: saying a cheerful Hello to the neighbours and enjoying the day. I can certainly use more of that mood.


This driver above had the right attitude during her singalong with Ohnuki. By the way, the coupling song to "Happy-Go-Lucky" is her cover of "Shall We Dance?", the theme song from the movie of the same name starring Koji Yakusho and Tamiyo Kusakari.




Fumiya Fujii -- True Love


The bands Rats and Star (formerly Chanels) and Checkers have a connection: they were both 80s groups which dipped into American pop music of the 50s, with the former going for the doo-wop sound while the latter had a more teenage rock n' roll beat. Also both bands had lead singers who've gone on to bigger and better solo gigs, especially when it came to their balladry.

Case in point: whenever I think of Fumiya Fujii (藤井フミヤ)of Checkers during his solo career in which he has released 31 singles up to 2013, there is one song that comes to mind immediately. His creation of "True Love" may have been his 2nd single but it was his first after the breakup of Checkers at the end of 1992. Released almost a year later in November 1993 and created by the man himself, it's a song that probably has had potential serenaders learning how to play guitar and sing simply for the opportunity to finally woo their loves from below their apartment windows. It is that much of a love song.


"True Love" was the theme song for one of Fuji-TV's jewels in the crown of the 90s, "Asunaro Hakusho"(あすなろ白書...Asunaro White Paper), a show that was also part of the slate on my university club's Wednesday-night activity of presenting J-Dramas. I remember that there was a pretty full room whenever the episodes were shown at the International Student Centre...right at the same level as "Tokyo Love Story". And not surprisingly, both dramas started out as manga created by Fumi Saimon(柴門ふみ). At the time, her name was synonymous with prime time pure love.


My memory has gotten pretty hazy over the years when it comes to individual Kohaku Utagassen. But one of the highlights from the 1993 show that I still remember clear as a bell has been Fujii's performance of "True Love". That one part where he played the instrumental bridge on his guitar as the lone spotlight shone on him from behind was one great moment in the history of the show by my estimation. Perhaps even tears were shed from among the audience and viewership. And what made it even more special was that the two leads from "Asunaro Hakusho", Hikari Ishida (as Captain of the Women's Red Team) and Michitaka Tsutsui (as one of the judges in front of the stage) were right there. Ishida even presented a bouquet of flowers to Fujii at the end of the performance.

"True Love" hit the top spot on Oricon for 5 consecutive weeks and despite its late release in the year, it became the 29th-ranked song. A year later, it even rose up to become the 11th-ranked song for 1994. I'm pretty sure if it had been released earlier in 1993, it would have cracked the year's Top 10 easily.

I mentioned about "True Love" being the ideal serenade song. Well, it has also become a very popular ballad to be performed at wedding parties. And Fujii himself has sung it numerous times at those happy occasions which led him to admitting "I've sung it so many times at wedding parties that I don't know how many times I've done it" (translated from the J-Wiki article on the song).

I used to watch a Saturday night program on the same Fuji-TV at 11 p.m. called "Hammer Price" hosted by the comedy duo, Tunnels, in which incredibly weird and/or wonderful artifacts of pop culture were auctioned off to often rabid bidders in the studio audience. Robert DeNiro's rotten Japanese calligraphy? Check! The late porn actress-turned-tarento Ai Iijima's used bath water? Check (and ewwwww)! Well, one of the more wonderful prizes up for bid was the opportunity for a lucky person to have Fujii sing "True Love" at a wedding reception. And it was like watching a shark feeding frenzy. The bidding heated up to the point where there were only two standing: a woman and the president of an event-planner company. The woman finally won and it was the first time in the program's history that the bidding went beyond 1 million yen (a little under $10,000 US today). I'm not quite sure if she had been the bride. The groom should have been enormously proud...or aghast.


I just had to include a sample of "Hammer Price" above. This isn't the crazed bidding war for "True Love", but a chance to go into the ring for 10 minutes with wrestler (and future Upper House councillor) Antonio Enoki.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chanels -- Machikado Twilight (街角トワイライト)


Another old chestnut from Chanels(シャネルズ), "Machikado Twilight" (Street Corner Twilight) is another one of their classic kayo doo-wop numbers. This was their 3rd single from February 1981, and it meshes together 50s nostalgia group Sha-Na-Na and something that Quentin Tarentino would love to have on one of his movie soundtracks (must be the trumpet).

Written by Reiko Yukawa (湯川れい子)and composed by Daisuke Inoue(井上大輔)under his pen name of Tadao Inoue(井上 忠夫), "Machikado Twilight" may have been channeling (or chaneling?) the 50s, but I keep going back to the 1980s since the Chanels brand was very much stamped during and for that decade, even when the group changed its name to Rats And Star. I definitely put Masayuki Suzuki (鈴木雅之)and his fellows along with things like skinny 90-yen Coke cans, the techno cut and tabletop video games in cafes in the annals of 80s Japanese pop culture.

The song reached No. 1 on Oricon and became the 7th-ranked single of the entire year.



Takkyu Ishino -- Stereo Nights



Hm...I wonder if J.J. Abrams had ever seen this video...

Anyways, the video is how I got to know about techno fun guy Takkyu Ishino's (石野卓球)"Stereo Nights". Naturally, it was something that came on at night since the entire zany nature of it would probably have it featured on one of those avant-garde video clip shows on MTV or Muchmusic (or MUCH as it now known) here in Canada.

Once again, Takkyu Ishino shows off his slightly Weird Al Yankovic type of humour through this cute parody of all things karaoke video....especially like that little dance thing with the wacky couple on the cruise ship near the end. Considering the somewhat grainy nature of the footage, I think the director got things right with the era of those mini-films accompanying the karaoke. And the whole thing just sparked me as something that the cast of one of my favourite comedy shows of all time, "SCTV" would have done. However, it's Ishino himself as our congenial taxi driver coursing through the streets of Tokyo or Yokohama.

This was Ishino's 2nd single outside of his unit, Denki Groove, which came out in 2001 and was also a track on his 4th album from the same year, "Karaoke Jack". "Stereo Nights" has this perky but gentle nature about it...it's not one of those songs that will make you hit and throb on the dance floor but it makes for a nice little respite between the hard thumpers. And at parts, you will know if your headphones are working optimally.



Jiyugaoka NIght Festival

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pink Sapphire -- Hello, Goodbye


Their debut of "P.S. I Love You" may have been the most successful single by rock band Pink Sapphire , but I also enjoyed their 3rd single, "Hello, Goodbye". Having nothing to do with The Beatles, this was a song that came out in January 1991 with music by Hiroyuki Miyaguchi (宮口博行)and lyrics by 美遊砂. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite find the proper pronunciation for the lyricist although the last two characters read out as Yusa according to jisho.org.

In any case, "Hello, Goodbye" has a similar sound to the aforementioned debut but there is that wonderful guitar riff in the refrain and lead vocal Aya's voice is a bit more toned down with this one. I caught the official music video on one of the early morning video clip shows as my eyes were opening up; I definitely made sure the volume button was kept somewhat low to be kind to my neighbours (apartment walls are notoriously thin in Japan), but, yeah, quite the aural way to wake up. The song managed to peak at No. 8 on Oricon.




Pink Sapphire

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Teruo Ikeda -- Neon Bune (ネオン舟)


(karaoke version)

When I first heard and saw Teruo Ikeda(池田輝郎)perform "Neon Bune" (Neon Boat) on NHK's "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート) last week (in fact, I think the above performance is straight from last week's show), I naturally assumed that the enka/Mood Kayo song came straight from the 70s or 80s. Then I did my due diligence and found out that it was actually released for the first time THIS year.

Lyricist Toshiya Niitani (仁井谷俊也)and composer Hideo Mizumori (水森英夫)were responsible for the creation of "Neon Bune" for release in June 2014. Niitani has brought in all the tropes for a bar-friendly Mood Kayo: the tired salaryman, the neon of the city and the remedy of alcohol. Back in my Gunma days, I learned an expression from my colleagues: "Neon ga yonderu" (The neon is calling) which is analogous to "The night is young", and they jokingly did some jazz hands when they said that. "Neon Bune" has that inviting tone for the office-weary to head for that nomiya or izakaya in the downtown area (the song seems to be centered on the city of Hakata) after another 10-hour day. As for the fact that the neon is on the boat, I first thought about yakatabune, those floating versions of izakaya sailing through the canals but they are usually equipped with simple lanterns. So, perhaps the neon boat is referring to those much larger cruise ships slicing through the water in the bay at night. Sad to say, but I never got the opportunity to get on either of those vessels during my time in Tokyo.

Teruo Ikeda is 61 years old at the writing of this article and he's a relative newbie in the business. Born in Saga Prefecture in 1953, he had wanted to become a singer since elementary school after being moved by a Yukio Hashi (橋幸夫)song. However, for most of his twenties, Ikeda didn't pick up a single microphone...at least, not in the professional sense, since after having seen enka singers like Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし)bring their A-game, he'd thought that he wouldn't last a day in the industry. Then at the age of 29, he started singing again in the genre of minyo before transitioning to enka in his early 30s and releasing his first indies record in 1995. Finally, in 2007 at the age of 54, Ikeda released his first record on a major label with "Yu-no-Sato Shigure"(湯の里しぐれ...Shower in Yu-no-Sato).


"Neon Bune" is Ikeda's 8th single. It's certainly fine to see that enka is not only humming away in the 21st century but that someone starting from middle age can make his/her mark in show business. It's not just AKB 48 and Johnny's boys, y'know.

Yokohama Chinatown

Mieko Nishijima -- Go-Nen Me no Natsu (五年目の夏)



Well, I saw NHK News announce that the rainy season has ended in the Kanto area, so the truly dog days of summer have begun for Tokyo and vicinity, although temperatures have made the region plenty steamy for several days now.

So, time for a summer song...at least one with natsu in the title. I've chosen Mieko Nishijima's(西島三重子)"Go-Nen Me no Natsu" (The 5th Summer), a dramatic ballad about remembering a past romance. Written and composed by the singer-songwriter, this was from her April 1984 album, "Konna ni Tooku made Kiteshimatta"(こんなに遠くまで来てしまった...I've Ended Up Coming This Far)although I have it on her BEST album, "Yume no Hajimari..." (夢のはじまり...The Beginning of a Dream)from 1986. Compared to some of the sweetly swinging love songs that I've heard from Nishijima in the 70s, "Go-Nen Me no Natsu" has a more urban contemporary edge, and that wailing guitar that I love especially at the end almost takes things into City Pop territory although the lyrics focus solely on the lost relationship.

"Go-Nen Me no Natsu" also reminds me of the song that precedes it in "Yume no Hajimari...", "Self-Portrait" in that I keep imagining a sunset scene as both are playing. However, I think the former song seems to be a little less bitter in the lyrics. In any case, it's just as hard to find information on Nishijima as it is to track down her original albums, so I'm happy to have found a webpage that contains her discography.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Ikue Sakakibara -- Robot (ロボット)


I've known about Ikue Sakakibara (榊原郁恵)since her appearance on the 1981 Kohaku Utagassen when she performed the dynamic "Shining Love", and although over the decades, I've seen her more as the quintessential TV tarento/commercial pitchperson than the bikini-wearing aidoru, I've been aware of this single she released back in 1980 which has been regarded as one of the pioneering techno kayo songs.

"Robot" was Sakakibara's 17th single in June 1980, and when I first heard about this pre-"Shining Love" song, I naturally assumed that Yellow Magic Orchestra and its members would be listed in the liner notes. Nothing was further from the truth. Instead it was written by Takashi Matsumoto (松本隆)and composed by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平). However, considering the popularity of the technopop band at the time and the lyrics of the song which dealt with a robot in love, it wasn't too surprising that the cute synths were brought in for Ikue. Speaking of the synths, it seems like they were also brought in for Manna's "TOKIO Tsushin"(TOKIO 通信)in the same year.

Finally, getting to listen to "Robot", it was interesting to hear Ikue's bubbly voice against the backdrop of a blippy-bloppy computer melody instead of the usual meowing electric guitar and the fast-paced strings of the time. In a way, it kinda foreshadowed where Miharu Koshi's (越美晴)career would go in the early 80s although at this time, Koshi was still in City Pop mode. And then there was watching performances of the song as above with the smiling aidoru doing her version of The Robot...I wonder if later units like Wink or Perfume may have taken some inspiration.

Strangely enough, she apparently didn't end up anywhere on the annual 1980 Oricon rankings although she was able to appear in that year's Kohaku Utagassen for the third of her six appearances on the New Year's Eve special. It would be fun to hear some of the other pioneer techno kayo at that time.



Ensemble Bokka -- Yuke Yuke Hyuma (ゆけゆけ飛雄馬)


It's almost time for the National High School Baseball Championship at Koshien Stadium. Starting from today, I've been seeing the NHK reports on the various high school teams punching their tickets to get into the much-vaunted competition. All that sweat, all that grime, all those tears from the winners and losers...the Japanese simply adore this event....probably more than the Japan Series (the nation's equivalent of the World Series) in the professional leagues.

When it comes to baseball songs in Japan, I can only think of two. One is "Rokko Oroshi"(六甲颪), the theme song for the Hanshin Tigers that I've already written about, and the other comes from the famed manga-turned-anime, "Kyojin no Hoshi"(巨人の星...Star of the Giants). The original manga about the Yomiuri Tokyo Giants by Ikki Kajihara (梶原一騎)had its run from 1966 to 1971, but in 1968, the studio Tokyo Movie Co. produced the anime version for a 3.5-year run. Not too surprisingly, overall control was from The Yomiuri Group which not only owns the Giants but also the TV stations NTV in Tokyo and YTV in Osaka which broadcast the series. Talk about keeping things in the family!

Sports anime has never really interested me but even I knew the opening credits to "Kyojin no Hoshi". The hero, Hyuma Hoshi(星飛雄馬), running the bases, Hyuma getting the brutal training from his retired pro father, the ever-worried sister peering behind the trees and the final cathartic hug between Hyuma and his catcher. Then there was the theme song, "Yuke Yuke Hyuma" (Go Go Hyuma).


With a trumpet fanfare that reminded me of a mariachi band, "Yuke Yuke Hyuma" is a grim but determined battle hymn compared to the jaunty anthem that is "Rokko Oroshi". Written by the Tokyo Movie Planning Department and composed by Takeo Watanabe(渡辺岳夫), prolific composer for anime, dramas and historical dramas, (he also came up with the theme songs for "Cutie Honey" and "Mobile Suit Gundam"), the theme was known as soon as the anime launched in March 1968. By June 1969, 420,000 records were sold. As for the singers, Ensemble Bokka(アンサンブル・ボッカ), I couldn't find any information about this group, even via J-Wiki or Yahoo.jp. Still, I think with this song, they were pretty much immortalized.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Misato Watanabe -- Moonlight Picnic (ムーンライト ピクニック)


January 1995: My three friends and I were racing inside the massive Yokohama Arena to get to our nosebleed seats before we risked missing the beginning of Misato Watanabe's (渡辺美里)"Baby Faith" concert. I have no idea why we were literally running late but all I knew at the time was that I was actually going to see my first concert by any Japanese pop musician...and it just happened to be one of the biggies.

As it turned out, our nosebleed seats were truly that. My acrophobia didn't get the better of me at all but we were really high up and far from the stage. And ironically enough, those huge screens at the back of the stage showed everything: fireworks, special effects, photos; everything except Misato herself. She was basically an ant dancing on the stage (none of us had the foresight to bring opera glasses) throughout the entire night with only her booming voice and a later video showing the Yokohama show provided by one of my friends verifying that it was indeed her performing for us.

And at the beginning, she was an ant sporting what turned out to be an electric guitar. The first song on the playlist was "Moonlight Picnic", and it was vintage Misato. As she strutted across the stage, she blasted out this really uptempo song with all the crashing synths and banging drums and peppered English but also with the added Scottish accent. Not quite sure where that came from. However, it was a rousing launch for the concert and everyone got into the fun with all of the lights and lasers.

Watanabe came up with the lyrics of painting the town red for a night along with Yoshiyuki Sahashi (佐橋佳幸)who also provided the melody. "Moonlight Picnic" was the coupling song for her 27th single "Manatsu no Santa Claus"(真夏のサンタクローズ)which came out in May 1994. The "Baby Faith" album, her 9th, was released in September that year. It peaked at No. 2 and later became the 42nd-ranked album for the year.

Alas, the Watanabe concert is the only J-Pop concert that I have seen, despite the fact that I did get to see The Manhattan Transfer and Canada's Diana Krall in Tokyo. It wasn't because I was disappointed in our seats or in Misato (aside from the view) herself, but the schedule of an English teacher and the higher prices never made things logistically easy. Plus, the Misato concert seemed to be a very huge family affair with all of the very obvious fans around us knowing every dance move and lyric. Not knowing anything about audience choreography, I rather felt like the alien observer/parental chaperon (I was acting middle-aged even then). Perhaps if I head out to another concert headlining a Japanese singer, I may just go with the more laid back Kazumasa Oda (小田和正)instead.



CoCo -- Miss LONELY


(Unfortunately, the music163 link is now dead.)



CoCo’s “Miss LONELY” was a nice surprise to me earlier this year. Although I’ve listened to CoCo’s singles before, the group’s album tracks were still a mystery to me. The first (and only, until now) album that I decided to check was the 1992’s “Sylph”, mostly because of the beatiful pink cover with the girls posing on it.

Overall, the album suceeded in making a good impression on me, even though it was a rough time for the members, as “Sylph” was the first abum released by the group after the disbandment of member Azusa Senou (瀬能あづさ). In the end, it’s an aidoru album, and its success depends on how much the listener tolerates aidoru vocals and sweet songs. Besides the great “Yokohama Boy Style” (横浜Boy Style) and the generic-but-likeable “Natsuzora no Dreamer” (夏空のDreamer), which were released as singles prior to “Sylph”, the song that really stuck in my head was “Miss LONELY”.

Synths, sax, aidoru vocals, a good pop beat and a melancholic melody was all I needed to fall in love with “Miss LONELY” at first listen. I must say that as an aidoru fan, I was pleased to hear how great the vocals for this song are. In fact, “Miss LONEY” is labeled as Mikiyo Oono (大野幹代) with CoCo, so the lead vocals were done by Michiyo-chan. I will not lie, though. The other three members were essential for making this a great song. Besides harmonies, they alternated with Michiyo during the choruses, contributing to a couple of lines, so, as the lead vocals are somewhat deep, the childish tone delivered by the other girls is beautiful, making this sad song a little cuter. Aso, I’m a big fan of the wordplay used in the song, like when the “miss lonely” title is quickly followed by “misfortune” or “misdoing”, words with a beginning that turns into “misu” when written in katakana. In the end, while not an instant mainstream aidoru hit like their singles, “Miss LONELY” is a more introspective song that is a true hidden gem in CoCo’s discography.

The “Sylph” album reached #29 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics for “Miss LONELY” were written by Neko Oikawa (及川眠子), while music was composed by Megumi Ishii (いしいめぐみ). As for the lovely arrangement, it was done by Seiji Kameda (亀田誠治).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Iruka -- BEST


It's been a while since I did a BEST article so here is one in tribute to Iruka(イルカ). A number of BEST albums on the veteran singer-songwriter have been released, but this one, simply titled "BEST", came out in 1989 and I bought it sometime during my Gunma days. Toshie Hosaka(保坂としえ)may never have become an Oricon-topping superstar but I know she's garnered a loyal following since her early days as a member of the folk group, The Shrieks (1970-1974), and as the guitar-strumming soloist since then.

I'm personally indebted to her since she was the first singer that I heard on the first "Sounds of Japan" episode I ever taped onto my cheapo Canadian Tire cassettes. There was a ton of static on my recording of "Ame no Monogatari" but the beauty of that song still came through if not so bright and clear. And that has been the wonderful thing about Iruka. She has that relaxing velvety and crumply quality in her vocals which could fit easily into countryside Folk, urbane City Pop and just plain Pop, and it was that rendition of "Ame no Monogatari" that made me realize that there was more to Japanese popular music than aidoru and enka.

Here is the playlist from Iruka's "BEST". The other entries for Iruka on the blog are all on this CD so you can just click on "Iruka" in the Labels section.

1. Kanashimi no Shomei 悲しみの証明
2. Mou Umi ni wa Kaerenai もう海には帰れない
3. Ame no Monogatari 雨の物語
4. LOST LOVE
5. Sarada no Kuni kara Kita Musume サラダの国から来た娘
6. Juu-Kyu no Haru ni 十九の春に
7. Itazu イタズ
8. Maarui Inochi まあるいいのち
9. Mukae ni Iku Asa 迎えに行く朝
10. Nagori Yuki なごり雪
11. Kareha no Season 枯葉のシーズン
12. Follow Me
13. Kimi no March きみのマーチ
14. Kaigan Douri 海岸通
15. Yoake no Goodbye 夜明けのグッドバイ
16. Itsuka Tsumetai Ame ga いつか冷たい雨が



The first song from "BEST" that I will talk about is her 25th single from September 1989, "Mukae ni Iku Asa" (The Mornings I Pick You Up), a cute and cuddly pop ditty that I had first heard as the theme song for a Fuji-TV morning news show. When I came across Track 9, I immediately sat back and wondered where I had heard it before and then remembered the smiling visage of announcer Tomoko Nagano before it all came back to me.


And whaddaya know? I actually found a clip of "Talk Shower" with the theme song and Nagano-san intact. "Mukae ni Iku Asa", by the way, was written and composed by her comrade-in-arms, Shozo Ise(伊勢正三).


Track 5 is the just-as-adorable folk-pop song, "Sarada no Kuni kara Kita Musume" (The Girl From The Salad Nation) which was Iruka's 12th single from March 1978. As the title might hint, the Iruka-penned tune conjures up that land of fruits and vegetables for the kids. My bet is that the song can lull the little ones to the point where they will be able to eat their broccoli.




The above video is Iruka performing "Sarada no Kuni kara Kita Musume" .


"Kareha no Season" (Season of Dead Leaves) is a breezy and mature City Poppish ballad about the ups and downs of love that came out as Iruka's 17th single in October 1981. As in a number of Japanese pop songs, the season of fall is used as that metaphor for romance swept away like so many of those dead leaves from the title. Once again, Iruka was behind the lyrics and melody, and the arrangement was done with a woman in mind as the protagonist. I love the slight echo in her voice here and that guitar in the middle.


"Kimi no March" (Your March) was created by the singer as a theme song for the anime, "Noel no Fushigi na Bouken" (ノエルの不思議な冒険...Noel's Fantastic Adventures)in December 1982 as her 19th single. It's a call to arms and fun for the toddler brigade. That rumbling guitar in the back there had me thinking of Yuming songs at that time.

(Sorry but the music163 link is dead.)

"Kanashimi no Shomei" (Sad Proof), the song that launches the album off here, is another bittersweet ballad about a woman asking that a former lover let things be and part peacefully and permanently. Written by Toyohisa Araki (荒木とよひさ)and composed by Takashi Miki(三木たかし), Iruka's 24th single from April 1989 has a definite sunset feeling with a bit of gospel & blues woven in the melody. Folk may have been where she started but like her friend, Shozo Ise, she can do a fine job with urban contemporary as well.



And I cannot finish the article without mentioning her 11th single from March 1977 "Ame no Monogatari" once more. It all started from this song with the bluesy guitar, the silky strings and the Iruka vocal.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Tama -- Sayonara Jinrui (さよなら人類)


Back in Gunma Prefecture, I once saw this commercial for shochu, I believe, a fair bit on the telly. Going from the 80s into the 90s with this diversification of Japanese popular music into a number of directions such as ska, glam rock (visual kei) and the like, I was seeing and hearing a lot of new and different acts blossoming like April sakura. And the jingle that went with the above ad struck me as being one of those examples. It was gentle and amiable and unlike anything that I had heard when compared to the synth-driven sounds of Wink and Chisato, the mellow pop of Miki Imai and Midori Karashima, and the sunny, brassy feeling from Dreams Come True.


Then I finally found out what this song was and who originated it. I just saw the hiragana for Tama (たま)down in the corner of the screen during one commercial and then finally caught the band itself on some music show some time later. Man, you know the heavy metal band Motley Crue? Well, Tama was truly a motley crew. I can honestly say that I have never seen a band this weird-looking before or since. It was like seeing a mix of Japanese folklore characters and the membership of the least popular club in university, especially that one guy on guitar who looks like he was the servant to a 12th-century British monk. Definitely unforgettable.

"Sayonara Jinrui" (Goodbye Humanity) was Tama's debut single and their biggest hit from May 1990. Written and composed by Yoichiro Yanagihara(柳原陽一郎), the band keyboardist, the song was a riff off of a number of movies such as "Planet of the Apes" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" as Yanagihara sang comically about the inevitable evolution into monkeys. The adorably odd appearances of the band members, the high-pitched harmonies and a melody that would sound just as appropriate for a walk with Momotaro and his posse as it would in a singalong in a karaoke box made "Sayonara Jinrui" a bona fide hit. It hit No. 1, went Double Platinum, got Tama onto the Kohaku Utagassen and finished the year as the No. 4 song, selling around 600,000 copies.


Tama actually coalesced all the way back in 1984 after Koji Ishikawa (石川浩司...percussion, recorder) had met Toshiaki Chiku (知久寿焼...guitar, mandolin) at an event in Kita-Senju, Tokyo. A year later, they would get acquainted with Yanagihara at a similar function nearby. All three had been solo performers at various live houses in the past but in November 1984, they decided to create their band, Tama...a name that was chosen for no special reason.

Then in 1986, Koji Takimoto (滝本晃司...bass) joined Tama when he was the only one who answered the band's call for a bassist. And at the time, Takimoto had never even played the bass. A few more years later in 1989, Tama got into the popular Battle-of-the-Bands-type program on TBS, "Miyake Yuji no Ikasu Band Tengoku"(三宅裕司のいかすバンド天国...Yuji Miyake's Cool Band Heaven), known by its nickname, Ika-Ten. Tama struck a chord with the viewing audience and ended up becoming not only the 14th Ika-Ten King for 5 straight weeks from November 11th to December 9th but also the 3rd Grand Ika-Ten King (probably like becoming yokozuna in sumo) after Flying Kids and the Okinawan band BEGIN.

Although "Sayonara Jinrui" was their only success story on the charts at least, they continued to release several albums and singles until their final breakup in 2003, and garnered a good following including a number of famous fans including Masamune Kusano of Spitz, Momoko Sakura who created the long-running manga "Chibi Maruko-chan" (whose anime theme song became the No. 1 song of 1990) and the duo Yuzu. Even enka singer Kiyoshi Hikawa mentioned that "Sayonara Jinrui" was the first single that he had ever bought on his own.