Yup, after writing up the article on "Summertime, Summertime"（サマータイム・サマータイム）, one of the tracks on Pizzicato Five's debut album "couples" from April 1987, I decided to plunk my yen down and get it. After all, it was the full introduction to P5 and their brand of new old music.
Of course, when I say "new old music", I'm referring to Shibuya-kei. From what I've heard and read of the genre through acts such as Pizzicato Five, Flipper's Guitar, Kahimi Karie and Fantastic Plastic Machine among others, there is that mixture of French pop music, contemporary dance beats and all that homage to Burt Bacharach, Henry Mancini and Frank DeVol from the 1960s.
As someone who was born in that decade, I have some faint memories of the music (that have been luckily enhanced through media such as YouTube) since a lot of those memories are based on old TV show themes. So when I think of Shibuya-kei in terms of the music and jet-set fashion as filtered through those theme songs, I get the openings from the 1960s and 1970s American sitcoms "That Girl" and "Mary Tyler Moore".
So hearing all that P5 isn't just cool, it's truly nostalgic for me. I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that a music genre named after the Teen Mecca of Japan has partially supplied the swingy music of my toddler TV years.
Although I tried to look through the information on J-Wiki for "couples" on whether the album was Ground Zero for Shibuya-kei music, I couldn't get any definitive proof at all. Perhaps there may have been other attempts at such an album by another artist but unless I hear from somebody or come across something similar, I will go with this album as the motherlode. And it all starts off with Track 1, "magical connection"（マジカル・コネクション）as vocalist Mamiko Sasaki（佐々木麻美子）and one other band member (not sure who) provide a dreamy brand of bossa nova lounge. Enjoy the caipirinha!
Ironically enough, this wasn't even a Yasuharu Konishi（小西康陽）original but a cover by American singer-songwriter John Sebastian from 1970. Yoshiro Nagato（長門芳郎）provided the Japanese lyrics.
And since we're sorta on the topic of American sitcoms, Sebastian would later become far more famous for providing the opening theme song "Welcome Back" for the 1970s show "Welcome Back, Kotter"....which had a breakout star in the form of John Travolta.
Track 3 is "Minna Waratta"（皆笑った...they all laughed）with Konishi providing lyrics (as he does for all of the other tracks aside from "magical connection") and band member Keitaro Takanami（高浪慶太郎）composing the music. It's a jaunty tune, perhaps in that French pop style, supporting a comically sad tale told from the angles of a man and a woman who can't quite believe that they are actually liked by someone (each other, maybe?). Their peers can't quite believe it either which brings out a lot of laughter at their expense so why should they do so?
It's hard for me to imagine that "Apaato no Kagi"（アパートの鍵）was not named after the famous 1960 movie starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine considering the overall tone of the album and the fact that the English title for the song is indeed "The Apartment". It's a nice slow waltz with those plucky 60s strings as the duo of Konishi and Takanami seem to lyrically mash together the humdrum life of an apartment resident with the end of a romance. The song describes what could have been the sad alternate ending of that movie if C.C. Baxter hadn't won over Miss Kubelik and had to go back to his old nebbishy if stable life.
The American sitcom theme rears its head once more with my final song for the article, "Yuutsu Tengoku"（憂鬱天国）. This solely Konishi piece takes a riff from "The Odd Couple" which was another Lemmon movie (with Walter Matthau) that got turned into a long-running TV comedy series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman (one of my favourite early shows). Another comically sad tune, the English title is "My Blue Heaven" but it's more telling that the direct translation of the title is "Depressing Heaven". A fellow is wondering why his girlfriend is so miserable when it's fairly evident that he himself is miserable under any definition. Strangely enough, the lyrics themselves might hint at the fate of Felix Unger or Oscar Madison. Ironically enough, the previous track is given the English title of "Odd Couple and the Others".
Above are the opening credits for the TV version of "The Odd Couple". Listen and compare.
Writing this article, I can truly realize how much of a stroll into yesteryear I've taken while listening to the various tracks on "couples". I still gotta listen to the album a few more times for further insights but yep I'm happy that I finally got what could have been the start to the Shibuya-kei movement. All of the tracks are short and sweet with the longest one only getting as far as 4:19 and I gather that due to vocalist Sasaki, Pizzicato Five had more of a demure and coquettish quality when compared to the go-go boots and wild child that Maki Nomiya（野宮真貴）would bring in the 90s for the band.