It's been a few months since anyone has put up a BEST article. And as we were entering the New Year, I figured that it was high time that I covered what is arguably the representative group from Tsunku's umbrella of Hello Project, Morning Musume（モーニング娘。）. Mind you, my window for Morning Musume love was relatively brief considering the 17-years-and-counting life of the group, but boy, it was a pretty intense time for me and a lot of other folks nationwide and abroad when their first BEST album was released at the end of January 2001.
The window was about 2 years long (1999-2001) and spanned from their 7th single (Love Machine) to their 13th (Mr. Moonlight). And to add further specificity, that period encompassed the introduction of the 3rd generation, Maki Goto（後藤真希）, up to and including the 5th generation of Ai Takahashi（高橋愛）, Asami Konno（紺野あさ美）, Makoto Ogawa（小川麻琴）and Risa Niigaki（新垣里沙）. However, it wasn't just about the music. The ladies also had their high time on TV with at least three weekly programs on air at the time, including their flagship show on Sunday mornings on TV Tokyo, "Hello! Morning" (2000-2007) which I saw longer than I listened to their singles.
Yup, brings back the memories for me. But this isn't about the variety show. This is about the first of MM's BEST albums, "BEST Morning Musume ONE". And here is the lineup:
1. Love Machine LOVEマシーン
2. Daite Hold On Me! 抱いてHOLD ON ME!
3. Koi no Dance Site 恋のダンスサイト
4. Summer Night Town サマーナイトタウン
5. Happy Summer Wedding ハッピーサマーウェディング
6. I Wish
7. Ren'ai Revolution 21 恋愛レボリューション21
8. Memory Seishun no Hikari Memory 青春の光
9. Manatsu no Kousen 真夏の光線
10. Morning Coffee モーニングコーヒー
11. Furusato ふるさと
12. Say Yeah! -Motto Miracle Night--もっとミラクルナイト-
13. Dance suru no da! DANCEするのだ!
14. Never Forget
15. Ai no Tane 愛の種
Of course, I gotta start with the song that broke Morning Musume out from pretty successful aidoru group territory onto the nationwide superstar category, "Love Machine". Single No. 7 went absolutely nuts on the Oricon charts and in the karaoke boxes, and the September 1999 release didn't hurt as bonenkai season wasn't too far off. Always love a good retro-disco.
Now, instead of the love machine, let's take the time machine back a few years to November 1997. The lineup of Morning Musume has varied a fair bit over its time but in the beginning, there were only five members: Yuko Nakazawa（中澤裕子）, Kaori Iida（飯田圭織）, Asuka Fukuda（福田明日香）, Aya Ishiguro（石黒彩）and Natsumi Abe（安倍なつみ）. And they were all losers. Well, that's a bit harsh but they did lose out in the "Sharam Q Rock Vocalist Auditions" that would eventually be won by singer-songwriter Michiyo Heike（平家みちよ）. However, a light went off in the head of Tsunku（つんく）, the leader of Sharam Q（シャ乱Q）and future Svengali for Hello Project, and he decided that he would give five of the runners-up another chance to get into show business. They would have to band together and sell 50,000 copies of their own single. The challenge was televised via the TV Tokyo show, "ASAYAN", and I remember seeing some scenes of the proto-MM setting up shop on a street somewhere in Japan and gratefully shaking hands with folks who lined up to buy the single.
That single was "Ai no Tane" (Seeds of Love), a cute, soft and cheerful aidoru song with the video showing the five doing their own individual thing in the city. Written by Kenzo Saeki（サエキけんぞう）and composed by Tetsutaro Sakurai（桜井鉄太郎）from Shibuya-kei band Cosa Nostra, I think the song even had a bit of Shibuya-kei swimming in there. I saw the video once before and then on seeing it again tonight, I just thought, "Wow! Kaorin has got short hair and there is Asuka! Wonder what she has been up to."
Obviously, the proto-single made its quota and Morning Musume was on its way. By the way, unless otherwise noted, just assume that the songs profiled today were written and composed by Tsunku.
"Morning Coffee" was the official debut for the five released in January 1998. The four girls and one former office lady were now decked in a uniform of sorts (according to the video) and they tackled something sounding a bit more Beatlesque. With Abe taking on the lead vocal position, the single was able to get as high as No. 6 on Oricon. "Ai no Tane" would also be included on the CD. The first two songs would be the last time that the five would be featured alone since Tsunku decided that the group needed a next generation.
Just before their 2nd single, "Summer Night Town", three more girls would join the flock, Mari Yaguchi（矢口真理）, Kei Yasuda（保田圭）and Sayaka Ichii（市井紗耶香）. Wow! Ichii....natsukashii! Coming out in May 1998, along with the increased membership, Morning Musume decided to go into more nocturnal and sultry territory, and they explored a bit more choreography according to the video. The song went even a bit higher in the rankings, peaking at No. 4.
Seeing the tiny Yaguchi on screen here, it's hard to imagine considering how gabby she could be on TV through "Hello! Morning" and the load of other variety shows she's appeared on, but she used to be soooo quiet....I guess, perhaps in deference to her sempai who did the talking. And Leader Yuko always struck me as someone who ran a pretty tight ship.
I remember seeing bits and pieces of the video for 3rd single, "Daite Hold On Me!" (Hold Me, Hold On Me! [?!]) on the late-night ranking show "CD Countdown". At the time, I was still not really a fan of the group so I didn't really push myself into seeing the whole video. Now that I have been able to finally do so, I just gotta say that one shouldn't watch it in a dark room....the director really must have loved MTV jump cuts. Plus, the nighttime sultriness continued. I also realized that in a decade in which the female aidoru had been assumed to be basically extinct, Tsunku had launched the latest wave in a more dynamic and frill-less form of aidoru. The vocals were still not all that polished as would usually be the case for the genre but the members seemed a bit more down-to-earth instead of residing on some sort of cloud.
"Daite Hold On Me!" (September 1998) was the first break for the 8-strong group. It was their first No. 1 which got them their first invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen. It also earned Morning Musume a Newcomer Prize at the Japan Record Awards, and was a big success on the Oricon Karaoke charts, staying at No. 1 for 8 consecutive weeks. It eventually landed at No. 53 for the year.
Cue ahead about 18 months. A few of the originals have left (Fukuda, Ishiguro and maybe Ichii) but the 3rd and 4th generations have arrived. Goto is there along with Hitomi Ishizawa（石澤ひとみ）, Rika Ishikawa（石川梨華）, Ai Kago（加護亜依）and Nozomi Tsuji（辻希美）. My heyday with them was in full swing, and my favourite new song was "Dance suru no da!" (You Will Dance!) Well, no I won't and no I didn't. But it was still fun to listen to. I kept hearing excerpts of this one on "Hello! Morning" but got a bit frustrated that it never came out as a single. Fortunately, I was able to get it on the BEST album along with the music video on the VHS of the group's music videos. Tsunku wrote and composed it but it was the arrangement of Dance Man (ダンス☆マン...the man who brought the disco beat to Morning Musume) that made that special combination of disco and aidoru (just looking at the video, perhaps I was a bit hasty about them not living on a cloud). I mean, the yells of "Get on up!" (transcribed often as Geronppa) and "Check it out, yo!" were almost cringeworthy, but it was such a happy skippy song and quite a change from the above two singles. The song originally appeared on MM's 3rd album, "3rd - Love Paradise" (March 2000).
Man, it's been a long time since I heard this one. "I Wish" was Morning Musume's 10th single from September 2000. Maki Goto was lead vocal and there was a noticeable difference in tone between it and the disco songs that Dance Man had been arranging. Shin Konno（河野伸）was responsible for the arrangement here, and the song had a more heroic feel to it. It was less boogie and more triumphant. And there was a reason for that since it was used as the theme song for TBS' coverage of the Sydney Olympics, but there was still a bit of that gospel in the intro and hip-hop in the main body of the song itself. "I Wish" was another No. 1 for the group and was the 33rd-ranked song of the year.
Yup, for those Morning Musume fans out there, I realize that there are still quite a few left to cover, but heck, I'm exhausted. And I will be able to cover some of those in future entries as singles. Besides, I've only covered the very early years...lots of material out there. And as for how "BEST Morning Musume ONE" did on the charts, it hit No. 1 and became the 5th-ranked album for 2001.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled "Hello! Morning".