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.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Hiro Tsunoda/Masayuki Suzuki -- Mary Jane (メリー・ジェーン)

Slow dance, guys! Lights are down low and that disco ball is sending beams of light onto couples swirling so close together that parents would be breaking into a sweat.

Yep, that's how I think of Hiro Tsunoda's(つのだ☆ひろ)"Mary Jane". It's like that one slow song to relax the guys and gals down after a series of fast tunes. My first exposure to it was on an anniversary special of The Tunnels' Thursday-night variety show, "Tunnels no Minasan no Okage Desu"(とんねるずのみなさんのおかげです), and for some reason, regular member Marina Watanabe had to slow dance with Checkers' Fumiya Fujii in a rather awkward moment while the song was playing.

Since then, I've heard the song off-and-on over the years. And the golden vocals behind "Mary Jane", Hiro Tsunoda (full name: Hirotami Tsunoda...角田博民) has been an occasional presence on TV, almost reaching tarento status. He is a singer, composer, lyricist and drummer...the complete package who originally hails from Fukushima Prefecture. Making his debut as a professional drummer while in high school, he started in the late 1960s as a member of jazz unit The Mitsuhiko Sato Trio, after which he jointly appeared with bands such as Akai Tori(赤い鳥), Sadistic Mika Band(サディスティック・ミカ・バンド), Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき)and Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)along with others. He also wrote and composed another 70s kayo classic, "Shitsuren Resutoran"(失恋レストラン)for actor/singer Kentaro Shimizu(清水健太郎). Another notable thing about Tsunoda is that he was also the deep sultry voice in the intro for Akemi Ishii's(石井明美)first big hit, "Cha-Cha-Cha" in the mid-80s (never mentioned that piece of trivia in the original article).

But Tsunoda will always be known for "Mary Jane". While the song was composed by Tsunoda, Fujio Hasumi(蓮見不二男)wrote the lyrics pining for the title character under his pseudonym of Christopher Lyn. Originally appearing on the album "Oshima ga Chikyuu ni Yatte Kita Hi"(大島が地球にやってきた日...The Day The Big Island Came To Earth)by Tsunoda's old band Strawberry Pass in June 1971, it had a longer title, "Mary Jane On My Mind" before it got slightly more truncated. Although it has that 50s ballad feeling, I think it also possesses a certain timeless quality since whenever I've heard it on TV, it never came across as dated. And Tsunoda himself has got that certain larger-than-life quality as that one shibui/cool dude.

That term "timeless" often signifies a lot of covers of the song. And folks like the late Kiyohiko Ozaki(尾崎紀世彦)and Yoko Oginome(荻野目洋子)have given "Mary Jane" their tribute. One of the big surprises, though, was finding out that the American vocal group The Platters performed one of the early cover versions of the song back in 1976. Yes...The Platters of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" fame.

But wouldn't Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之)be the natural vocal inheritor of the Tsunoda classic? Martin has got more than enough soul to have the couples racing to the dance floor with his cover. And when I think of it, Tsunoda could actually make a fine cool uncle to the leader of Rats & Star. I'm pretty confident that the two probably have already made their joint appearance.

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