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.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Hi-Fi Set -- Best Selection

Despite the 1990 tag for this latest BEST selection (the album was released in that year), the songs here, I believe, are from their 1970s heyday. And it's not listed as an official BEST selection by Hi-Fi Set, so perhaps Alfa Studios needed to unload some of their catalog for whatever reason. Still, I was happy to get it since at the time, it was the only album I had for the group and Hi-Fi Set was one of the first acts I heard on "Sounds of Japan" after first diving into kayo kyoku. I wanted to get to know them much better.

I'm pretty sure that there aren't too many current J-Pop fans who would even know of their existence, let alone know the discography of Hi-Fi Set's output. When I first started writing about them in the blog, I noted that the trio of Junko Yamamoto(山本潤子), her husband Toshihiko(山本俊彦)and Shigeru Okawa(大川茂)reminded me somewhat of the American vocal group Manhattan Transfer because of some of the similarity in their musical choices: jazz and sophisticated pop. Strangely enough, the members of Manhattan Transfer bristled a bit at having been called a nostalgia act, especially since they could do the contemporary stuff well. I saw Hi-Fi Set as definitely a group looking forward since they were embracing the melodies and rhythms of Western music matched with Japanese lyrics...otherwise known as the Yumi Arai(荒井由実)-branded New Music. Not surprisingly, a lot of their famous songs were created by Arai.

In a way, the members of Hi-Fi Set were pioneers. As nikala mentioned on her article for one of the group's songs, "Sky Restaurant", they made the jump from the late 60s/early 70s folk group Akai Tori(赤い鳥)into literally new music. Afterwards, some of their brethren from their old genre also took the plunge to varying degrees such as Iruka(イルカ)and Shozo Ise(伊勢正三).

Anyways, here's the lineup from their BEST compilation, a third of which has already been covered in separate articles:

1. Koi no Nikki                                                     恋の日記
2. Tsumetai Ame             冷たい雨
3. Umi wo Miteita Gogo          海を見ていた午後
4. Chuo Freeway             中央フレーウェイ
5. Umibe no Hishochi           海辺の避暑地
6. Ame no Station             雨のステイション
7. Sky Restaurant             スカイ・レストラン
8. Feelings                フィーリング
9. Kaze no Machi             風の街
10. Asahi no Naka de Hohoende       朝陽の中で微笑んで
11. Doyou no Yoru wa Haneda ni Kuru no   土曜の夜は羽田に来るの
12. Sotsugyo Shashin           卒業写真

"Umi wo Miteita Gogo" (The Afternoon I Saw The Ocean) is just plain beautiful in my estimation. This is one of the Yuming-penned songs but it was never released as an official single (although Yuming originally sang it on her 2nd album, "Misslim"), instead being on the group's first album, "Sotsugyo Shashin" (Graduation Photo). It is a timeless ballad about a woman going to a restaurant that she used to patronize with a now former flame and reminiscing about the good times. I'd probably say that this would be a great song to cry to after a breakup. When Junko Yamamoto sings "Soda sui no naka wo..." (In the soda water...) in that special way with the quiet Hi-Fi Set harmony coming in, it still brings a thrill up my spine, although the lyric goes on to state that the bubbles have faded away just like their love. It's one of the great Yuming songs from that early era. The above video is of a later version by Yamamoto while the link has the original song.

"Chuo Freeway" is the cover of the classic Yuming version from her 4th album from 1976, "The 14th Moon" that I've already profiled. The Hi-Fi Set take also has the right kind of happy bounce to it and it is a fine example of 70s City Pop. Junko has a mellower voice than Arai so perhaps it fits even better for this tune. This song was on the group's 3rd album from 1977, "Love Collection".

"Umibe no Hishochi" (Seaside Summer Resort) is an even mellower ballad than "Umi wo Miteita Gogo", and the lyrics are happier. Written by Kazue Ohashi(大橋一枝)and composed by Michel Jonasz for their 4th album, "The Diary", it is probably best heard from a hammock and appreciated for the images of that wonderful Sunday date with a loved one while enjoying that stroll in that resort town.

Yuming also provided another ballad to Hi-Fi Set, "Ame no Station" (Rainy Station) from her 3rd album, "Cobalt Hour" (1975), and the station in question here is JR Nishi-Tachikawa Station on the Ome Line. Hi-Fi Set's cover was in "Love Collection", and it's the type of song that would be great for a rainy day and a cup of Joe.

My last song for tonight is "Doyou no Yoru wa Haneda ni Kuru no" (Coming to Haneda on Saturday Night) which is another Yuming contribution. From the songs that I've heard in the past, it seems that the airport is a fine source for romantic intrigue. Haneda Airport was once the main international airport for Tokyo (and has returned to a shared status recently after several years in the shadow of Narita). The song has that ennui-laden "C'est la vie" feeling to it as another relationship breaks up at the titular place. There is a languid mix of whimsy and perhaps even some Motown soul to the music. I don't think the song ever got onto one of their original albums but it was the B-side to "Sky Restaurant" when it was released in 1975, and it has probably gotten onto at least some of their other BEST albums.

As you might have noticed, Hi-Fi Set is not known for having the most energetic music. But that was never their point and that is another thing that separates them from Manhattan Transfer. This is pure relaxation stuff from a now sepia-toned decade, and I'm more than happy to include them in my own niche. When I have to decompress, these are the folks I need. 

I had been aiming for some time to put up this article, but a few days ago I found out that Toshihiko Yamamoto had died from heart failure in March 2014 (a little less than a year ago as of this writing), and it is for him that I will be dedicating this article.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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