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.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Sheena & The Rokkets -- You May Dream

Last week via Mixi, I discovered that Etsuko "Sheena" Ayukawa(鮎川悦子)of Mentai Rock band Sheena & The Rokkets had passed away from cervical cancer at the age of 61...way too young. I was not a fan of the band but, boy, they were a group that I had heard about over the years and my biggest impression of them was their physical presence. There was Sheena Rokket in that leather getup looking every bit the Hard Rock Queen while her husband, actor and guitarist Makoto Ayukawa(鮎川誠)struck an epic lanky and angular figure with those sunglasses, that guitar and his height. Mind you, 5'11" isn't exactly seen as supremely tall in my country or Stateside, but in Japan, that's still fairly stately. In any case, I saw him as the J-Rock equivalent of James Coburn's character in "The Magnificent Seven", Britt the quiet but deadly cowpoke with the knife. To finish off the group, there is Toshihiro Nara(奈良敏博)on bass and Kazuhide Kawashima(川嶋一秀)on drums.

I mentioned Mentai Rock at the top. Well, according to Wikipedia, it was the name for a group of musicians from Fukuoka City during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Mentai part came from the name of a Fukuoka delicacy, mentaiko, or marinated cod roe. Although I don't eat it too much as it is, I do love mentaiko spaghetti. One of the first bands representing Mentai Rock was SONHOUSE which ended its run in 1978. Makoto Ayukawa was part of that band and once it ran its course, he asked his wife Etsuko to come and join his new project. The missus took on the moniker Sheena in tribute to a Ramones' song "Sheena is a Punk Rocker", and Rokkets was a fusion of "rock" and the first four letters of Etsuko's name. Sheena & The Rokkets were born (by the way, another Mentai Rock group is ARB).

From what I've heard and read about the band, the above video for "Lemon Tea" (originally sung by SONHOUSE) seemed to represent what Sheena & The Rokkets was all about. On the relevant J-Wiki article there is a long list of katakana names associated with the group including Yoko Ono, blues guitarist  Albert King, and British singer Wilko Johnson who was one of the influences behind the whole English punk sound, and US punk legends The Ramones.

I have one song by the band that was part of the "Seishun Uta Nenkan"(青春歌年間)series for 1980. It's "You May Dream" which was their 2nd single from December of that year and was also a track on their 2nd album, "Shinkuu Pack"(真空パック...Vacuum Pack)which had been released a couple of months earlier. SONHOUSE vocalist Toshiyuki Shibayama(柴山俊之)and Chris Mosdell took care of the lyrics while Makoto Ayukawa and Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame composed the music. Hosono also produced "Shinkuu Pack".

Although I get a hint of that growly rock sound in "You May Dream", there is also another layer of synths that brings the song into New Wave territory. And taking a look at the performance video a little higher up, the band certainly looked like a mix of 50s and New Wave with Sheena voicing her words somewhat like a Valley Girl (yup, I just aged myself). And Makoto looks like a fusion between Elvis Costello and the late Harold Ramis from "Ghostbusters". It's no wonder that they had become the opening act for Costello during his swing around Japan in 1978.

I read in an online article in the Japan Times that Hosono and the band had some fights over the production but Makoto graciously stated that the conflicts all benefited the final product. This is just my opinion but with YMO and their runaway success at the time, Hosono and his two compatriots were bringing some of their technopop influence via their works for other singers...i.e. techno kayo...and I'm wondering if Sheena and the Rokkets was just getting a little spooked at the time that Hosono was trying to transmogrify the Mentai Rock band into something that they didn't want to be.

However, "You May Dream" was the band's first hit. The lyrics were basically on the same well-worn path about a girl who has the hots for a guy, but I like that one line where Sheena repeats "yume"(夢...dream)which sounds similar to the first two words in the title.

That new project of a husband-and-wife team-up has now lasted nearly 40 years. As much as it's hard to believe the dynamic Sheena has left this world, it's also hard to believe that Makoto is one year past retirement (if he were a Canadian resident). Still, they released their latest album just last year, "Rokket Ride" and I don't hear anything yet about Sheena & The Rokkets packing it up.

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