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.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Frank Nagai/ Hiroshi Uchiyamada & Cool Five -- Sakaba no Hana (酒場の花)

When I listen to Frank Nagai's "Sakaba no Hana", the image I get in my head would be that of a salary man, tie loosened, hair somewhat scruffy after a tough day at work, and he would be outside on the chilly (yes, it shall be winter time), dimly lit streets of a drinking hole late at night - about midnight or so, or at least when some joints are closed - with a cigarette wedged into the corner of his mouth, wandering around with only his thoughts running through his mind. An occasional pause to stare at the dark sky void of any stars, puffing out a cloud of tobacco smog and his own breath, and he continues on.
Long story short, the soft music, that seems to have both the qualities of an Enka and Mood Kayo song, composed by Koichi Morita (森田公一) just paints a lonely yet strangely comfortable picture. Nagai's crooning with his smooth as brandy voice with an edge just adds to the atmosphere. Ah, "Sakaba no hana" and Yujiro Ishihara's (石原裕次郎) "Yogiri yo Konya mo Arigatou" (夜霧よ今夜も有難う) just make the perfect pair of night time tunes.

(karaoke version)

Now, for the Hiroshi Uchiyamada & Cool Five (内山田洋とクール・ファイブ) version. The image I get is similar to the one above, however, the man is sitting at the bar with drink in hand rather than roaming the streets. Warmer and not as alone - you got the bartender staring at him and keeping the lad company, so that's something, I suppose.

I found that the Mood Kayo group's rendition of "Sakaba no Hana" leaned more to the genre of Enka in its music, and its fuller, more up-to-date arrangement kinda lost some of the original's loneliness hence the description above. Another thing that contributed to that is the difference in the two fellas' vocal delivery. Kiyoshi Maekawa's (前川清) voice, while deep like Nagai's, is too intense for this delicate song and it felt like he was holding back. Whereas Nagai handled it better as he sounded a lot more relaxed. 

I like both versions just as much as they are slightly different in their own respect, but if we were talking about atmosphere, I would go with Nagai's one... Yeah, first time ever that I picked a version without Mae-Kiyo in it!

Before I forget, "Sakaba no Hana" was written by lyricist Michio Yamagami (山上路夫). The original came out in 1976 and the Cool Five's version was released in 1983. Frankly, I don't know which was more popular since there's no write-up on it and oddly enough I did not see this entry in Nagai's discography on his J-Wiki page, but I did see it on the Cool Five's page. And by just searching "Sakaba no Hana" on Google, most results are of the Cool Five's version... So the Cool Five's one was more popular?


Apparently Ikuzo Yoshi (吉幾三) tried his hand at this song. I've never heard it, so I can only imagine how it sounds like.


  1. Hi, Noelle.

    Very insightful article on the two versions of "Sakaba no Hana" especially when it comes to where the protagonists in the different takes would be located and how they would be feeling. I definitely felt that the Nagai original had the lonelier tone with the fellow (let's say Nagai himself) standing in front of the closed bar in the deserted alley. But with the arrangement, I thought that this probably wouldn't be in a major city but in a much smaller town. Also, since I've been accustomed to hearing Nagai's old songs from the 50s and 60s, the more updated arrangement was interesting to hear. Though it is a Mood Kayo piece, there was also a hint of New Music (by way of 70s US soul) with that guitar.

    I totally agree as well with Mae-Kiyo's version of "Sakaba no Hana". The more cheerful take probably depicted a melancholy drinker but at least he was not alone and the watering hole was still open and lively. And the arrangement there was such that I could have easily imagined a female singer like Teresa Teng tackling this song.

  2. Hi J-Canuck,

    So is that New Music is all about - 70's Soul music? I've seen it a number times in your articles featuring Yumi Matsutoya, but I never got what it was.

    The Mae-Kiyo version does have some semblance to a Teresa Teng song, no wonder I thought that I had heard such an arrangement before.

    1. Hi Noelle.

      That's part of it. New Music is basically the umbrella term for a lot of musical influences that came together during the 70s such as folk, rock and pop. I saw it as that music which didn't fall under enka or that sounded like it was created overseas but with Japanese lyrics.

      Supposedly, Yumi was the first to coin the expression but things are still hazy about the derivation of the term.

  3. Ah, I see. Thanks! That seems like an interesting genre, but I doubt I'd be able to discern it from the regular J-Pop.


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