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.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

J-Canuck's 90s Playlist

Wherever you are, it's either January 31st 2015 or will be pretty soon. And that means we have hit the 3rd anniversary of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" and are currently nearing the half-million view mark. Good heavens! And I remember getting excited when we just hit one-thousand...

So, how do we commemorate it? Well, I've done my playlists for the 70s and 80s, so why not go with the 90s? And an interesting thing about 1990-1999 personally is that at the beginning of the final decade of the 20th century, I was halfway through my JET days in the mountains of Gunma while at the end, I was living in the bedroom city of Ichikawa-shi, Chiba Prefecture. Music obviously evolved during that time as well. During my days of teaching at the countryside junior high schools, J-Pop had just started with all of these bands diverging into different styles such as Princess Princess, Jitterin' Jinn and Dreams Come True, and at the same time, there was also a softer side via these female singers and songwriters like Miki Imai, Midori Karashima and Reimy. But then, coming into my far longer stint close to Tokyo at the end of 1994, the Tetsuya Komuro era was gaining steam and the end of the decade started featuring new forms of aidoru and R&B. Of course, what I've stated isn't even a full summary of what was going is just throwing out a few tidbits.

And once again, as was the case with the other two lists, I had to think quite a bit about what to include. And of course, I'll probably later slap myself upside the head for the ones that I've excluded but just remembered.

In any case, it's time to proceed...

1. Misato Watanabe -- Summertime Blues (1990): Of course, Misato's "My Revolution" will arguably be the trademark song for the Kyoto-born singer with the voice as huge as her eyes. But for me, "Summertime Blues" has acted more and more like the welcoming tune to my 2 years teaching in Gunma. The intro with the picky guitar before the strings go into crescendo mode felt like a curtain rising on my first decade residing in a foreign country. It's simply one of the happiest and most hopeful songs that I have ever come across.

2. Kazumasa Oda -- Love Story wa Totsuzen ni (1991): There was no way that I could leave this one off the list. For the baseball game that was "Tokyo Love Story", Oda's magnum opus was that 10th player; I would be exaggerating if I said it was the secret character in the show featuring urban love in the one of the world's largest metropolises, but simply speaking, I cannot imagine any of the episodes or the cast without thinking of the theme song. It's a killer to sing at karaoke (believe me, I know), so since that one disastrous time I tried to sing it, I've become old and wise enough to leave "Love Story wa Totsuzen ni" to the professional.

3. Noriyuki Makihara -- Donna Toki mo (1991): As much as "Summertime Blues" was the song to usher in my time as a resident/rookie teacher in Japan, Makihara's "Donna Toki mo" was the just-as-optimistic tune to see me off home to Canada. While I was sweltering through my vacation in Kyushu and Kobe during that final summer, I just had to hunt down the CD single for that happy song. I could get it at last and couldn't wait to put it into the player back in Toronto. Of course, there was the matter of actually buying the CD player...

4. Masayuki Suzuki -- Mou Namida wa Iranai (1992): One of the coolest urban contemporary songs that I have ever heard on either side of the Pacific Ocean, the default image I process through my mind whenever I hear "Mou Namida wa Iranai" is being in a car racing on an expressway with the well-lit nightscape of skyscrapers in the background. The saxophone that comes on halfway through is the cherry on top here. I'm not surprised that it was Martin's most successful contribution to his discography.

5. Dreams Come True -- Kessen wa Kin'youbi (1992): Since I was back in Canada for 3 years between tours of Japan, I missed out a lot on Dreams Come True's roll through the national pop culture, including their foray into late Friday night TV programming. But I was able to catch "Kessen wa Kin'youbi" through a brief snippet of "Ureshi Tanoshi Daisuki" that was tacked onto the end of a VHS tape that one of my friends had sent me. The disco tune had me pulling out the money order to get the album that it was placed on, "The Swinging Star". Naturally there have been other DCT songs before and after that were bigger hits, but personally for the 90s, this was the song for me.

6. trf -- Boy Meets Girl (1994): This may have been a jingle for a Coke commercial, but it was not only the song that represented my new beginnings as a teacher in more urban surroundings in Japan. It also served as a signpost of sorts for my entry onto the Magical Carpet Ride that Tetsuya Komuro had been supervising. Now, trf had already been pumping out the hits before I arrived at Narita Airport, but I couldn't get a better song to introduce me to the danciverse that Komuro created for us and acts like globe, Namie Amuro and Tomomi Kahala. "Boy Meets Girl" had me soaring through the headphones.

7. Kome Kome Club -- Abracadabra (1994): Again, there are a lot of other great songs by one of the great entertainment acts during the decade, but "Abracadabra" basically sums up why K2C was so popular live. Carl Smokey Ishii and his band regularly provided song and spectacle on the order of a Cirque de Soleil performance mixed in with good ol' Tito Puente. This particular song just brought together a fun combo of rock and R&B with some of that K2C magic that's hinted at in the title.

8. Maki Ohguro -- Atsukunare (1996): Like the average J-drama and its theme song, tie-ups between J-Pop and the Olympics are nothing new. However, one of the few examples of this that actually got me doing the dash toward the nearest CD store was Maki Ohguro's "Atsukunare". I don't remember much from the Atlanta Games outside of the tragic bombing there and an exhausted Yuko Arimori getting the Bronze in the Women's Marathon, but there was NHK's coverage of the Games, and I actually looked forward to the end of each broadcast just to see the sports montage with "Atsukunare" playing. Atsukunatta!

9. Hikaru Utada -- Automatic (1998): I first heard this as the theme song for a Sunday night variety program featuring comedy duo Utchan-Nanchan, and just thought that this was a little too cool for a zany show like that. Not too long after, I saw the famous video starring Utada shimmying around in the apartment with the lowest, the real estate market was really tight in New York City. But all kidding aside, I don't think "Automatic" by Utada revolutionized J-R&B (I may have been somewhat florid in the original article), but she and it certainly made things quite pleasant for the ears and added a bit more depth to the Japanese interpretation of the American genre.

10. Morning Musume -- Love Machine (1999): What can I say about the ragtag group of runners-up that turned into winners? "Love Machine" added that extra oomph to year-end parties and karaoke boxes at the end of the century, and sent Morning Musume into the pop culture ionosphere. And for a guy like me who gets all nostalgic for disco/funk, seeing this group hit the big time through this old 70s musical fad rather warms the heart. And for a few years at least into the new century, the girls had almost as much exposure as a certain group of guys from another aidoru conglomerate. Speaking of which, considering that at the beginning of the decade, aidoru were considered to be an endangered species, Morning Musume made it cool to be super cute again at the end of it.

Once again, I would like to thank everybody who has been reading in at some point during the past 3 years, and especially I would like to show my gratitude to the collaborators, JTM, Marcos. V, nikala, jari, Noelle and Larry for all of their insights and articles, and the commenters for their replies. Admittedly, our blog is a very niche one but I've been heartened by the fact that there are a lot of people out there who enjoy the myriad genres that are covered here and look forward to keep on going for the next little while at least.


  1. Hi, J-Canuck.

    It was great to listen to all of this great tunes, as near half of them were new to me. From your list, I already knew Hikki’s “Automatic”, Oda’s “Love Story wa Totsuzen” and, of course, Momusu’s “Love Machine”. These three songs are great and I also have them in my personal files. On the other hand, although not a stranger to me, “BOY MEETS GIRL” is one of TRF’s songs I usually don’t care (I prefer “EZ DO DANCE” or “Overnight Sensation”), even though I agree it represents TK’s Eurodance attempts very well.

    Now, for the other songs, I made some interesting discoveries, as always.

    Noriyuki Makihara is a name I don’t remember seeing across nowhere, but I liked “Donna Toki mo” a lot, and although from 1991 (very early in the decade), it’s unmistakable 90s. What I loved the most was the arrangement with the keyboard and all (especially near the end when the arrangement kept going on alone). It wouldn’t be a surprise if I suddenly discovered it was a drama song or something like that.

    As for Dreams Come True, I have a relationship based on love and hate with them. So, although I prefer the early synth-heavy songs like “Anata ni Aitakute” or “Egao no Yukue”, I couldn’t resist the light and breezy disco vibe of “Eyes to me” after I listened to it in a commercial from that compilation of bubble era CMs you posted on Facebook a while ago. Honestly, it was not the first time I listened to “Eyes to me” (the first time I listened to it was on your article about the song. I also remember I was not very fond of it after the first listen), but it sounded like one, as I ended liking the song. In “Kessen wa Kin'youbi’s” case, it didn’t impress me today, but it will probably be like “Eyes to me”, and, in a few months, if I listen to it again, it will probably pass the test. Unfortunately (or fortunately), music works like that... sometimes, we only like a song after a few listens.

    Masayuki Suzuki is a guy that, although I don’t listen to as much as I should, always impresses me with the soulful vocals and pleasant City Pop/R&B tunes. His duet with Momoko Kikuchi is still one of my favourites. He even sang a version of it with Momoiro Clover Z’s Ayaka “Aarin” Sasaki in last year’s FNS, while the other girls acted as background dancers for them. It was a lovely performance, and even though Aarin is not a great singer, her cuteness stole the show (she was dressed as an early 90s OL with that curly bangs that were a common feature at the time).

    In the end, I can say Noriyuki Makihara's "Donna Toki mo" was my favourite from your list today.

    1. Hi, Marcos.

      Good to hear from you. Thanks very much for the vote of confidence with "Donna Toki mo". I think it's one of the great feel-good songs of any decade, really, and basically I think it's the one that best represents Mackey.

      I have that love/hate thing with Dreams Come True as well. I like their singles but haven't really gotten along with their albums as much...perhaps with the exception of "The Swinging Star".

      Masayuki Suzuki will always be the go-to guy for Night Music in Japan. I really couldn't imagine any of his songs being played in the daytime, despite Martin's sunglasses.

  2. I LOVE Noriyuki Makihara so much! I really like his 90's style and much of his 2000-present music. I'm glad to see Donna Toki Mo in your list :D

    Also, BOY MEETS GIRL is a great song! But, I'm not into TRF or Tetsuya Komuro, so that's all. I'm way more into Daisuke Asakura projects :)

    I just know one song of Masayuki Suzuki called Hard Hunter, which I really like, so it's good to hear another song of him in this list :D

    1. Thanks, Hugo. "Donna Toki Mo" was definitely one of my musical memories from those days. I'm a big Masayuki Suzuki fan but I never heard of "Hard Hunter". I will have to check that one out.


Feel free to provide any comments (pro or con). Just be civil about it.