Well, I made the "mistake" of listening to the first track of "Granola", the 1987 album by Akiko Yano（矢野顕子）a couple of nights ago and instantly declaring that I had to get the disc. There's just something about the way she twirls around a melody that gets me hopelessly hooked onto the song, and it's not just that one song but most if not all of the album.
I had a talk with one of my other good friends who had dropped by the house today for a couple of hours and inevitably we talked about music. We both agreed that a BEST compilation of a long-established singer is wonderful to get all those hits together for the fans and provide a good taste of what makes the singer tick for the newbie listeners. But in the same breath, we also concurred that tracking down those individual original albums was even more splendid to find those unknown personal aural gems. "Granola" like the other Yano albums that I have amassed over the years will probably have quite a few of those lovely tunes, I bet.
However for tonight, my article on Yano will dwell on a song that did make it into her 20th anniversary BEST album, "Hitotsudake/the very best of Akiko Yano" from 1996 (good heavens, it's been 40 years this year!) and was actually a track on her debut album "Japanese Girl" from 1976.
I've already made a short remark about "Denwa Sen" (Telephone Line) on the article for that BEST compilation "Hitotsudake", but I simply wanted to add a few more of my impressions about the song. As I mentioned there, Yano's lyrics talked about reaching out and touching somebody special by the wonders of 1970s telecommunications technology. But listening to the music a bit more attentively, there are hints of Carole King and Joni Mitchell in there.
It's interesting to listen to the early Yano since I think maybe a lot of folks (including me) may have first gotten to know the singer-songwriter when she was touring with Yellow Magic Orchestra manning the synthesizers (this isn't to slag her incredible solo career but I've always seen her as much of an added YMO member as I have for Hideki Matsutake); and she did hit the big time in popularity with those technopop songs and albums from 1980. At that point, maybe a few of us saw her as the Japanese Kate Bush. But even when she started out with just her piano and her backing band in the mid-1970s, she probably thrilled that seed of her group of fans with not only her brand of refreshing New Music but also with those vocals which scatted, whooped and hollered as they took us on a musical roller coaster ride.
So you've got this singer who's barely into her twenties expertly twinkling her own melodies on the piano as she provides these force-of-nature vocals which reassuredly feel they don't need to be perfectly on the notes. And that one example is "Denwa Sen". Her delivery and music have that sensation of riding the telephone lines at the speed of an electron all across the nation. The music may remind me of Carole and Joni but her voice is a joyful bucking bronco. If it had been her wish to stand out from other singers, she did succeed there.
And yet I knew one fellow back in my university days and knew his way around Japanese pop music who absolutely hated Yano...and Yuming, for the same reasons that I have actually enjoyed the two all these years.