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.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Miyuki Nakajima -- THE BEST

Considering all of the mystique surrounding
Ms. Nakajima, having her in silhouette on the cover
makes a certain amount of sense.

I picked up singer-songwriter Miyuki Nakajima's(中島みゆき)"THE BEST" back during my Gunma days so it had already been up on the shelves for at least 5 years. She was a fairly regular presence on the old CHIN-FM radio program "Sounds of Japan" during the 80s so she was known to me but I hadn't had a full account of her discography...and for that matter, I hadn't even known when she debuted or what she even looked like. Little did I know at the time that my old Chinatown haunt, Wah Yueh, actually had a whole bunch of Nakajima LPs on display, but it wouldn't be until I picked up this BEST album that I would finally find out what the lass looked like. And may I say that she looked like a regular pretty teenager and somewhat on the tall side.

Anyways here is the lineup:

1. Azami-jou no Lullaby (アザミ嬢のララバイ)
2. Jidai (時代)
3. Konbanwa (こんばんわ)
4. Yokaze no Naka kara (夜風の中から)
5. Wakare Uta (わかれうた)
6. Omoidegawa (おもいで河)
7. Revival (りばいばる)
8. Kanashimi Warai (かなしみ笑い)
9. Hitori Jouzu (ひとり上手)
10. Ashita Tenki ni Nare (明日天気になれ)
11. Akujo (悪女)
12. Yuuwaku (誘惑)
13. Yokorenbo (横恋慕)
14. Ano Ko (あの娘)
15. Hitori (ひとり)
16. Kodoku no Shouzo (孤独の肖像)

(cover version)

Nakajima's first BEST album came out in December 1985 on cassette tape before being released on CD in January 1986, and it has the very simple arrangement of just having her first 16 singles in her first decade laid out in chronological order. The first one is therefore her debut single, "Azami-jou no Lullaby" (Miss Azami's Lullaby) which came out in September 1975, and has this lovely quiet lilt to it. Although Nakajima's vocals didn't quite have the depth that it has now, her singing of this single still has that recognizable style. And I think, true to the New Music label I gave, there is something of that out-of-Japan flavor to the song. The song got as high as No. 38 on Oricon and was also a track on her debut album, "Watashi no Koe ga Kikoemasuka?"(私の声が聞こえますか...Can You Hear My Voice?)

(karaoke version)

"Konbanwa" (Good Evening), Nakajima's 3rd single from March 1976, has that folksy and bluesy and wistful sound which almost puts this into Mood Kayo territory as the singer trills about a woman meeting up with an old flame after a while and realizing that she's not totally out of love with him. The problem is that in all likelihood the door for any re-connection is closed permanently. Perhaps it was just a little too sad, since it only got as high as No. 184 on the charts. Until "THE BEST", it hadn't been placed in any of her previous albums.

(karaoke version)

Her 6th single, "Omoidegawa" (River of Memories) from August 1978 consists of a number of symbolic images such as the titular one, a ship of sand and a land of tears. The protagonist is trying to escape from a very sad place but even drowning his/her sorrows in drink won't even provide that balm. Jumping into that river also won't help in taking him/her away, either. As with "Konbanwa" above, it hadn't been on any of her previous albums. "Omoidegawa" did reach No. 19.

(karaoke version only)

Single No. 7 is "Revival" from September 1979. It's a song that I would call quite shibui in that according to the lyrics, I could see Nakajima with her guitar in a good buddy's bar tackling an old song that she hadn't performed in a long while as she knocks back a few. Considering the long time between this single and the previous one "Omoidegawa", I wonder if "Revival" has any special meaning, although it looks like her albums were coming out pretty steadily at the time. The song was able to reach No. 11 and sell over 300,000 records.

(karaoke version)

I remember taping "Hitori" (Alone), Nakajima's 15th single from March 1984 onto audiotape since I liked it so much. Perhaps one reason is that the singer sounds so reassuring here. The topic is somewhat depressing as it addresses the end of a romance but Nakajima lets us know that it isn't the end of the world and she even invites the old flame for a reunion after several years have gone by. No hurt feelings. The ballad was included on her 1984 11th album, "Hajimemashite"(はじめまして...How Do You Do), while the single peaked at No. 5.

(cover version)

The final track and, therefore according to the arrangement of "THE BEST", her 16th single, "Kodoku no Shouzo" (A Portrait of Loneliness) is a song that strikes me as being representative of Nakajima's anthems of defiance that I've heard from her later work. Unlike the previous single, "Hitori", there doesn't seem to be any of that feeling of "letting bygones be bygones" here. It's more like Nakajima against the world after a romance going sour or perhaps just a really bad day. The hard-edged synths add to the steel in the singer's voice as she heads off to war alone. The single was released in September 1985 and went as high as No. 5. It was also on her 13th album, "miss M." from November of that year.

As for "THE BEST", it was able to hit No. 7 on the Oricon weeklies. Generally speaking, the album is filled with all sorts of music that deserve a night between a small audience and Nakajima for an intimate experience.

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