Eiichi Ohtaki (大滝詠一) will always be remembered for “A Long Vacation” and his presence in Happy End, but I also had tons of fun going through the rest of his solo discography, especially his first Niagara period from the mid- to late-70’s before he achieved wide commercial success. He always had a flair for 50’s~60’s American pop music, but in those days he approached it with a cheeky attitude, sometimes going into full parody mode. On the side, he was polishing up his arranging talents (with some inspiration from Phil Spector and Brian Wilson) through some earnest but equally bright tunes. Which brings us to “Aozora no You ni” (青空のように…Like a Blue Sky), his sixth single and also a track from his fourth album “Niagara Calendar” which came out in December 1977. Ohtaki liked the calendar album concept of “Calendar Girl” by Julie London and so adapted it for himself. This particular song is the sixth, a.k.a. the June, track of “Niagara Calendar”, which makes it a nice piece to launch off this month with.
Ohtaki was probably feeling like a happy father when he created “Aozora no You ni”, seeing as the vocal credits in the liner notes say “Papa Ohtaki”. What a sweet song this is, comparing a child to a clear sunny day. No room for horror stories about tantrums or destruction of valuables here. It’s all happy memories. The music makes me picture a preschooler rolling down a green hill with a huge grin on his face. And speaking of smiles, the key line of the song, “niko niko gao” (ニコニコ顔…smiley face), has such a nice ring to it. I always found Japanese onomatopoeia charming.
This tune apparently originates from another slightly older Ohtaki song that appeared on his 1976 album “Go! Go! Niagara”. It’s called “Niko Niko Waratte" (ニコニコ笑って) and feels like shorter preview to the main song, though with different lyrics and saxophone-driven arrangement. In 2011, Shoko Suzuki (鈴木祥子) released a lovely cover of “Aozora no You ni” with “Niko Niko Waratte” inserted in as a bridge, and it fit in perfectly. Unfortunately, Youtube took that one down and I can’t find it anywhere on the net, but maybe someday I’ll be able to share it. The cover picture for her single even kinda looks like my mental image described above.
For me, June has corresponded with some important occasions relating to teaching experiences with children. First, I said goodbye to my students in Japan in 2014, and this year, it aligns with me obtaining my teaching qualifications at home after several months of practice teaching. For both of these moments, I would recall the fun my students and I had and how we helped each other grow through the process. Hearing this June track from “Niagara Calendar” just makes those memories come out in full force and puts a wide smile on my face. Niko niko gao indeed. I have a feeling I’ll be remembering this tune again and again when going into June of every school year because that’s when students in Ontario complete their grade level and some graduate. Better be ready for those hugs and doodles smothered in bright colors.