Credits

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.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Works of Masaaki Hirao (平尾昌晃)

Last week, 78-year-old singer-composer Masaaki Hirao appeared on "Kayo Concert". Unlike some of his contemporaries, he has popped up fairly often on a number of programs including the weekly Tuesday night NHK music show including as the current conductor of the NHK Orchestra who leads everyone in the customary round of "Hotaru no Hikari"(蛍の光)at the end of every Kohaku Utagassen on December 31st.

When the host of "Kayo Concert", Tetsuya Takayama(高山哲哉), remarked that Hirao has composed over 1,600 songs throughout his career of over half a century, I figured that it was time to highlight at least a small fraction of his output.


The one big song that I have associated Hirao with is "Yokohama Tasogare"(よこはま・たそがれ)from 1971 which was the breakthrough hit for Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし). Itsuki was also a guest performer on last week's "Kayo Concert" and I can echo and paraphrase the veteran singer's sentiments about Hirao: "No him, no me". As for me, although I've been hearing enka and Mood Kayo since I was a toddler, this was the one song that finally hooked me into those two genres.




Another song that I've always equated with Hirao is "Canada kara no Tegami"(カナダからの手紙)from 1978. His duet with Yoko Hatanaka(畑中葉子)has become a karaoke staple since my Kuri days.


But let's go way back. Masaaki Hirao was born Yu Hirao(平尾勇)in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo in 1937 but grew up in Chigasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture. He attended jazz classes as a boy and then after dropping out of high school, he joined a country & western band, The Chuck Wagon Boys. In 1957, he was scouted by Watanabe Productions at a jazz cafe where he was performing and released his first solo single the next year which was a Japanese-language cover version of "Little Darlin'" by the Diamonds. Soon after, the media dubbed Hirao, and fellow singers Mickey Curtis(ミッキー・カーチス) and Keijiro Yamashita(山下敬二郎)as the Rockabilly Three for which they all gained superstar status. The video has Hirao performing "Little Darlin'" 20 years ago and even at the age of 58, he was sounding pretty darn good.


Hirao continued singing into the 1960s even with the end of the rockabilly boom but seemed to have caught the bug for songwriting later in the decade. With him creating songs for young up-and-comers Hiroshi Itsuki, Rumiko Koyanagi(小柳ルミ子)and Agnes Chan(アグネス・チャン), a professional partnership with lyricist Yoko Yamaguchi(山口洋子)created a good amount of success which earned them the moniker The Golden Combo. Hirao was the one who introduced Chan to Japan with hits such as "Sougen no Kagayaki"(草原の輝き). The above video is for another Hirao/Chan collaboration "Hoshi ni Negai wo"(星に願いを...Wish Upon A Star), her 5th single from February 1974 which was another Top 10 hit for her with Kazumi Yasui(安井かずみ)behind the lyrics.


With all those hundreds and hundreds of songs under his belt, it didn't surprise me that Hirao dabbled through all of the Great Japanese Songbook, and that included anison. For instance, he composed the theme songs for the "Ginga Tetsudo 999"(銀河鉄道999)TV series, both sung by the legendary Isao Sasaki(ささきいさお).




With his breadth of songwriting, it would be impossible to pin down a specific genre or style to Hirao. Let's just say that he is the master of all things kayo. In December 1972, he and Michio Yamagami(山上路夫)created a sprightly tune for aidoru Mari Amachi(天地真理)titled "Futari no Nichiyoubi"(ふたりの日曜日...Sunday For Two)which hit No. 3 on Oricon and became the 13th-ranked song for 1973.




Speaking of aidoru, Hirao even composed a song for Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)in 1980 called "Eighteen" with lyrics by Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)as one-half of a double-A-side single with "Kaze wa Aki Iro"(風は秋色). The song is definitely very aidoru-ish but there is some of that rockabilly feel in the arrangement, thanks to Hirao no doubt.


As with any of the Creators articles that I've put up over the past few years, there is no way that I would be able to put up a comprehensive account of Hirao's works without making this a full-time job. So I will end the article with one of his more recent compositions. The Golden Combo was back with him and Yamaguchi penning "America Bashi"(アメリカ橋...America Bridge)for enka crooner Yutaka Yamaguchi(山川豊)in February 1998. It's quite the classy melody that Hirao created here, sounding like a Mood Kayo waltz about the Ebisu Minami Bridge located between Meguro and Ebisu Stations on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo. Nicknamed America Bashi since it was modeled after a similar bridge built for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, in terms of the song, the bridge was the setting for a reunion between two past lovers.


Allow me to finish then with Hirao singing another old chestnut, "Diana" which was originally sung by good ol' Canadian Paul Anka. Another Canadian connection for the veteran.


4 comments:

  1. Hello J-Canuck.

    Ah, Masaaki Hirao, one of the first few composers I was able to recognize when I began to like enka and kayo. Glad to see this article up and nice job in rounding up the veteran's many and varied works, and for adding his rendition of "Diana" to finish things off.:) I'm thinking of trying my hand at a "The Works of..." article for a certain showa-era composer, but I would like to go to his museum first in June for more info and pictures before doing it.

    Anyway, thinking about the songs I know Hirao composed, I too am not able to figure out his style. All I know is that if he worked alongside Yoko Yamaguchi, a hit would most likely be produced. I also find it impressive that he had worked on over 1000 songs.

    Hirao still sounds good for his age when he sung "Canada kara no Tegami" on that "Kayo Concert" episode, and he does look pretty hip in his dressing; he needs a better hairdo though.

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    1. Hi Noelle.

      Thanks very much for the kind words. Will definitely be looking forward to your Creators article in the near future as well as the Ishihara one very soon.

      Yes, it is quite impressive how this rockabilly singer was able to tap into a whole bunch of genres. I wouldn't be surprised if there were some unknown songs of his that went into City Pop.

      About his hairdo, I guess there are just some folks who can't let go of the pompadour for some reason. :)

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  2. I just stumbled upon this blog and I am mesmerised just after having read two articles. When going here for the comments I saw that Michiyo Heike is featured in the next article; can't wait to read it :D

    I just had to drop a comment and say I first heard of Masaaki in 2007 when NHK aired a special about him featuring several of the singers you mention in this article. For other people dropping by this blog who want to check out even more of his song, I can totally recommend "Uso" (by Kiyoshi Navajo), Kiri no Masshuko (by Akira Fuse) and Watashi no Joukamachi by Rumiko Koyanagi).

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    1. Hi there. Thanks very much for your comments. And as for those other recommendations, I've already written about two of them:

      Watashi no Joukamachi
      http://kayokyokuplus.blogspot.ca/2012/06/rumiko-koyanagi-watashi-no-joukamachi.html

      Kiri no Masshuko
      http://kayokyokuplus.blogspot.ca/2015/02/akira-fuse-kiri-no-mashu-ko.html

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