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, May 3, 2015

Chu Kosaka -- Shirakechimauze (しらけちまうぜ)

I've come across that striking red cover of Chu Kosaka's (小坂忠) "Horo" (ほうろう...Wandering) album pop up in a number of critics' lists featuring important Japanese releases of yesteryear, so eventually I decided to find out what this piece of work is all about. I first found out about it through "Japanese City Pop" and then read some more in "Record Collectors' Magazine" Special Issue about Japan's top Pop/Rock/Folk albums from 1960-1989. I ended up acquiring the actual album last year shortly after leaving Japan.

One of the reasons why "Horo" is considered important is because of the position it occupies in the development of Japanese pop music in the 70's, namely with how it successfully bridges the Western pop and R&B traditions that local songwriters started embracing at the time. Yuming, the originator of New Music, really pushed this trend forward in 1973 when she teamed up with Caramel Mama (who renamed themselves to Tin Pan Alley the following year) to record the founding albums of the genre. In January 1975, Tin Pan Alley would then contribute to Kosaka's "Horo" to bring forward another self-coined genre Wasei R&B (和製R&B). A number of early magazine and radio adverts for the album mention that term, though in the modern days it's referred to as an example of early City Pop, though we would wait another three months before Sugar Babe would fully embrace urban sounds through "Songs". Speaking of Sugar Babe, Tatsuro Yamashita (山下達郎) and Taeko Onuki (大貫妙子) both participated in the backing chorus for "Horo", joined by Minako Yoshida (吉田美奈子), who would also embrace her R&B side later that year with "Minako". And as an icing on a cake, the strings and horn arranger on "Horo" is Akiko Suzuki (鈴木晶子), who debuted in 1976 as Akiko Yano (矢野顕子) when she married Makoto Yano (矢野誠), also a member of this album's personnel.

As for Kosaka himself, he's been an old friend of Haruomi Hosono (細野晴臣) since 1969 when they were band mates in Apryl Fool (エイプリル・フール). Once the band split up and Kosaka went solo in 1971, Hosono would support his music by inviting fellow musicians to play on his albums: Happy End for the first two and Tin Pan Alley for "Horo". Kosaka does look rather intriguing on that cover, a bit like an established middle-class immigrant in 1940's America. "Horo" was one of the last secular releases he put out, as later that year he decided to convert to Christianity after his daughter survived a massive burn. So for much of his career, Kosaka has associated with the Gospel side of things, but because of a revived critical interest in "Horo" over the last decade or so, he recently re-recorded the album in the form of "Horo 2010", this time with blue cover art.

After all this extensive background information, perhaps I should actually provide an example of this singer's music. I decided go with the cool "Shirakechimauze" (しらけちまうぜ), a lushly crafted tune with breezy strings, slightly jazzy piano and laid-back groove that were arranged by Hosono and Makoto Yano. According to the article in "Record Collectors", a number of album's tracks including this one were inspired by then-emerging Philadelphia Soul genre. I can hear the influence thanks to the light disco feel, though the song still retains Kosaka's folksy roots, especially with that distinct delivery of his. The train whistle-like vocals of Yoshida, Yamashita and Onuki in the refrain also contribute to that impression because they make me think of a smaller town rather than a glowing urban centre. I think that's what the critics meant by "Horo" bridging the gap between folk-influenced New Music and urban City Pop. Hosono was responsible for composing the carefree melody that perfectly matches Takashi Matsumoto's (松本隆) lyrics about the protagonist's apathetic attitude towards his recent break-up where he casually sends off his guilt-driven ex and admits that he's bad at crying. The melody makes you picture him strolling through the neighborhood and enjoying everyday life regardless of what has happened.

Kenji Ozawa (小沢健二) provided his own take on "Shirakechimauze" in 1995 through a guest appearance track on Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra's "Grand Prix" album. This version is pretty jazzy with the added brass section and also has more pronounced drums. I especially like the trumpet solo in the opening.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, nikala.

    I like "Shirakechimauze" and as you pointed out, it bridges New Music and City Pop quite nicely. Love those 70s strings!


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