Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Marcos V.’s Special Selection Vol. I
Yeah, I know this montage was a cheap idea... but I did with love.
Out of nowhere, I decided to work on this Author’s Pick post. My intention was to select one song from each of my favorite Japanese artists, but without a proper theme guiding the list. In the end, I was able to select nine artists I’m more than sure that deserves a spot here... but I still needed one more to complete a top ten. My solution was to find a filler artist, so let’s start with it.
10) Chinatsu Miyoshi -- Anata no Shirts to Love Song (あなたのシャツと Love song)
Honestly, even though I love Hello! Project’s fallen aidoru Chinatsu Miyoshi (三佳千夏) and her few songs out there, I don’t think I could put her on this “favorites” type of list. However, I needed a filler in order to have ten songs – and didn’t want to feature songs by Miho Nakayama (中山美穂) or Shizuka Kudo (工藤静香) –, so her name started popping in my head.
“Anata no Shirts to Love Song” was Chinatsu’s third and last single, released in May 2000. Unike the beautiful, yet dated, “Unchain My Heart” and the not very interesting “Love, Yes I Do!”, this one ended up as a good ballad.
Even though I’m not the biggest ballad fan, I liked it thanks to Chinatu’s pretty vocals (she sounds like Miki Fujimoto [藤本美貴] to me) and the overall J-Drama feeling it evokes. I’d never expect something like that coming from Hello! Project today.
9) Wink -- Hiki Tomenaide (ひきとめないで)
When I started listening to Wink, the duo’s singles, such as “Ai ga Tomaranai ~Turn It Into Love~” (愛が止まらない) and “Samishii Nettaigyo” (淋しい熱帯魚), were my main focus. After a while, I decided to give their studio albums a try, and one of the first ones I listened to was “Especially For You ~Yasashisa ni Tsutsumarete~” (優しさにつつまれて), released in April 1989.
Comprised mostly of Euro-inspired covers of Western songs, I still liked the album very much. Coincidentally, my favorite songs from it were solos by Shoko Aida (相田翔子): “Baby Me”, a cover of Chaka Khan’s slow groove number; and “Hiki Tomenaide”, a cover of Debby Harry’s “You Got Me in Trouble”.
One of Wink’s many positive features was giving new life to Western songs. Usually, I just praise the Euro-inspired arrangements done by their producers, but I forget that without Shoko and Sachiko’s (鈴木早智子) gentle, cold, and – at times – even sexy vocals, the songs wouldn’t be the same. In “Hiki Tomenaide”, for example, Shoko gives a beautiful and restrained rendition that differs in a great way from Debbie Harry’s more punk-styled and tough vocals. Combined with the dancey, yet cold synth arrangement, this cover is a very special one in Wink’s discography.
8) Akina Nakamori -- Gekka (月華)
Akina Nakamori’s (中森明菜) 80s singles are timeless classics, but her 90s stuff – while hit or miss at some points – is also pretty interesting. Besides the Komuro-penned “Aibu” (愛撫), which is one of my favorites, a song I keep coming back to is “Gekka”.
Released in October 1994, “Gekka” showcases Akina in her more mature and dramatic persona, which is not a bad thing considering she was near thirty years old at the time. Coupled by an exotic arrangement, she sings in her beautiful low register while delivering well known vibratos in a powerful and notable chorus. In my opinion, even though the commercial success of past times wouldn’t knock her door again, Akina’s vocal technique was at its peak around “Gekka’s” release, something the song admirably reminds us.
7) Minako Tanaka -- Nemuranai Machi (眠らない街)
It’s no big surprise how much I like Minako Tanaka (田中美奈子), even though I agree her music career do not deserve so much praise. Anyway, I truly enjoy her efforts.
Far away from the Eurobeat songs she released in the beginning of her career, “Nemuranai Machi” is a highlight from a more mature artist seeking new paths. The song is from September 1993, but – thanks to its power-pop chorus and anthemic synths – it could have easily been from the late 80s if we wre talking about the Anglo-American music market.
In Japan, though, “Nemuranai Machi” wasn’t far away from successful songs released by acts such as DEEN and WANDS – to name a few. As we can see, the booming Being J-Pop sound even hit Minako Tanaka.
6) CoCo -- Natsuzora no Dreamer (夏空のDreamer)
Unlike the 80s, it wasn’t very easy to find successful aidoru stories during the early-to-mid-90s, but CoCo surely made its name in the industry with a plethora of cute cookie-cuttter songs. Amidst them, some were interesting enough, which was the case of “Natsuzora no Dreamer”.
Released in August 1992, the song starts right with some summery keyboards as the main instrumental hook. Not only that, it relies on a cheerful chorus that keeps things going in an exciting manner (I remember how fans got pumped when the girls sang this tune in concerts). Also, while not very innovative by any means, "Natsuzora no Dreamer" evokes a nostalgic feeling... probably of a past ideal summer that I didn’t live.
5) access -- SENSUAL GLIDE
As was the case with Minako Tanaka’s “Nemuranai Machi”, access’ “SENSUAL GLIDE” would not be considered a 90s song in the Anglo-American music market. It just screams 80s, and its even understandable since Daisuke Asakura (浅倉大介) and Hiroyuki Takami (貴水博之) were fans of bands such as Duran Duran and TM NETWORK (Dai-chan even played keyboards for TM NETWORK years before access’ formation).
The dizzy-like synths that permeates the song are a great touch, and I also like how the frantic guitar gives more depht to the arrangement – especially when Daisuke plays a keytar solo alongside the guitar during the bridge. Hiro’s vocals, on the other side, may not be among the best in the world, but I’m a fan of his rather screechy voice.
Even though “SENSUAL GLIDE” wasn’t released as a single, it was chosen to be the first song on access’ debut album “FAST ACCESS”, from February 1993. It was a great opener that set the tone to what we could expect from the band’s first full lenght work (previous singles “VIRGIN EMOTION” and “JEWELRY ANGEL” were nice showcases as well) – a wild combination of synths and guitars that would scare any serious rocker out there. Let’s just say that, in some way, access’ sound was trapped in a strange fusion of glam rock with synthpop.
4) Perfume -- Hurly Burly
Right now, “Hurly Burly” is kind of a lost song in Perfume’s discography, only appearing as a coupling song in 2012’s single “Spending all my time”. The strange marketing scheme was that, instead of the single’s title song, “Hurly Burly” was promoted in music shows like “Music Station” (ミュージックステーション) and “Music Japan”. Apparently, the girls were not very confident about performing “Spending all my time” on television because of the amount of English lines and lack of Japanese ones (it was told in an interview that the original version didn’t include any Japanese words, but the girls asked Yasutaka Nakata [中田ヤスタカ] to include at least some, which he did).
As for “Hurly Burly”, it could have served as a single on its own. The song is surprisingly joyful and solid given its odd title and some commercial lines – “what’s your favorite flavour?” and “juicy juicy sweet”, for example – Nakata insisted to include in the lyrics (it was a CM song for a Kirin drink). Just like “Spending all my time”, it can get a little bit repetitive, but the club-ready bass line and the late 90s Eurodance synths were great ideas from Nakata. Unfortunately, instead of this fun song, he decided to include the childish “Mirai no Musem” (未来のミュージアム) in Perfume’s electronic-heavy album “LEVEL 3” (probably due to contractual oligations, since “Mirai no Musem” – a Doraemon [ドラえもん] tie-in – was released as a single, while “Hurly Burly” was just a coupling song to the Eurohouse banger “Spending all my time”).
3) Minami Kuribayashi -- Kaze no Yukue (風のゆくえ)
I’m forever in love with Minami Kuribayashi (栗林みな実). Like I said in other posts, I don’t like her entire discography, but I admit feeling close to her in a strange way. Other than her beauty (she was marketed – and still is to some point – as a sexy seiyuu in her first years), I respect her vocal technique a lot, even if her overly cute voice sounds annoying at times.
One of my favorites from her is second single “Kaze no Yukue”, which was released back in February 2003. A little bit different from her more recent works, which relies heavily in aggressive synths and noisy guitar solos, “Kaze no Yukue” showcases Kuribayashi in a gentler way. The beautiful arrangement with keyboards and strings, coupled with the emotive chorus, is what makes me come back to this song all the time. I’d love if she started recording songs like this once again.
2) Chisato Moritaka -- Kusaimono ni wa Futa wo Shiro!! (臭いものにはフタをしろ！！)
For me, Chisato Moritaka (森高千里) had two main artistic inspirations during her career: one, 70s aidoru duo Pink Lady (ピンク・レディー) and their flamboyant style, both in music and fashion; second, The Beatles and their string of pop-rock classics.
Even though the flamboyant Moritaka overpowered the guitar-centric one during her early days, she was able to introduce, little by little, a bit of old school rock and roll in her discography (her album “Hijitsuryokuha Sengen” [非実力派宣言], for example, is half Eurobeat, half old school rock and roll).
One of the first times she opted for releasing a rock tune as a single was in May 1990, with “Kusaimono ni wa Futa wo Shiro!!”, a close-to-three minutes rockabilly song.
“Kusaimono ni wa Futa wo Shiro!!” soon became a highlight in Moritaka’s career, and it’s a song she enjoys performing in her live concerts a lot, even today. Personally, I had a hard time swallowing it, but right now I like how catchy and straightforward it is. Also, the video is pure fun with Chisato performing the song while dressed in her garish costume (she was even wearing a cape). In the end, the song just don’t match the outfit, but that’s what lovely about it: in a way, Moritaka is as close as a pin-up singing rock and roll we can get (the iconic leg dance during the guitar solo is just too much for me to handle).
Other than that, it’s funny how she wasn’t really caring for her aidoru image, since she appears holding a cigarette and drinking in the video. I remember reading somewhere how Shizuka Kudo, for example, had to hide her smoking habit from the public around the same time. Moritaka, on the other hand, surely had guts – or her management wasn’t very worried about it!
1) Megumi Hayashibara -- Lively Motion
NOTE: The audio quality of this video is horrible, but it was the only one with the full song I was able to find.
What’s my favorite song ever? That’s a tough question, but, if I had to think about it, Megumi Hayashibara’s (林原めぐみ) “Lively Motion” would be my answer. However, at the same time I know it’s a lie... I can’t select only one song from my favorite singer, because that’s plain absurd! Even knowing that, “Lively Motion” would still be my answer.
“Lively Motion” wasn’t the first Megumi song I heard, or even liked, but it was the one which made me decide she was going to be my musical companion for life. And that’s probably why I think about it as my favorite song ever.
Released in October 1998, it served as the ending theme to Saber Marionette J to X (セイバーマリオネット J to X), an anime I watched on TV everyday, and even woke up six in the morning during weekends to watch. While I loved the anime itself, its opening and ending songs – “Proof of Myself” and “Lively Motion”, respectively –, both sung by Hayashibara, were what kept me waiting. It’s just strange to watch an anime focused mainly in the songs, but that’s what I did back in the days.
I wasn’t familiarised with Japanese music at the time, and neither had a well-rounded musical taste, so this awkward combination of melodic and sentimental melodies coupled with a storm of synthesizers really hit me hard at the time. “Lively Motion” and all the urgency in its chorus was the epythome of what I wanted to hear in music, but, unfortunately, it didn’t click with anything from the Anglo-American market – which, by the way, was saturated with Hip-Hop/contemporary R&B and indie rock bands at the time. The good thing is Japan was always there to help me with the ride.
That's it for today. Thanks for the reading!