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, November 16, 2016

Shinji Harada -- Feel Happy

What? Me worry?

My seasonal purchase has had one runaway hit. That would be Shinji Harada's(原田真二)"Feel Happy" from February 1978 although I didn't get the original but the 30th anniversary edition of his magnum opus which has four extra tracks. All the better.

There was a quote in "Japanese City Pop" regarding "Feel Happy":

This is an 18-year-old genius idol who has hidden Paul McCartney in his right hand, Elton John in his left and Gilbert O'Sullivan in his heart.

I also found a comment for one of his YouTube videos which could be paraphrased as "He was just 18 when he wrote this?!"

Yup, Harada was that good when he came out with his very first album. Just looking at that face on the cover, he gave off that downright cocky confidence about his musical abilities. I had read from that "Japanese City Pop" blurb on the album and his J-Wiki entry about him and "Feel Happy" regarding how much in high regard the album has been held all these years which finally got me to purchase it. But little did I know how amazing the tracks were...I've listened to it twice now and I have yet to find a weak song. You may have noticed that I didn't write "...genius idol..." above as "...genius aidoru...". Despite his cute looks, I cannot place Harada as a typical Japanese aidoru.

Former collaborator nikala started the ball rolling with Harada on this blog when she wrote about the truly appealing "Time Travel" back in 2013 which felt like a magical carpet ride done to music. The original 1978 album didn't have this song but it has been included in the longer remastered version from 2007. However, the original does have the Paul McCartney-like "Candy" and "Teen's Blues" which were two of his first troika of singles that managed to achieve the then-unprecedented feat of all being included in the Top 20 weeklies at the same time. I am uncertain who came up with the bright idea of releasing those first three singles at a rate of once a month at the end of 1977 but either Harada or his agent should have gotten a huge bonus.

Just to put it out there, Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)wrote all of the lyrics while Harada took care of the music.

After the instrumental beginning of "Beginning", "Feel Happy" goes off into "Curtain Rise", an atmospheric and inspirational effort which not only truly starts off the proceedings but also signals the start of a beautiful romance. Unfortunately, I couldn't find an original version of it on YouTube but thought it should be mentioned. Right then and there, I realized that I was at the beginning of an amazing hour of listening.

However, the next track is "Sports" which is where Sir Elton's influence comes in. Apparently the song came before the title since whenever he played this exciting tune of really active verbs at concerts, Harada ended up sweating as if he had just gone through the entire decathlon thus giving the song its name. Lots of high energy are involved with this performance and Harada storming the piano reminded me of Elton antics.

"Plastic Doll" is more of McCartney (and he even sounds a bit like the former Beatle in this one) and maybe even O'Sullivan as Harada sings about the inevitable not-so-happy periods in a relationship as the guy admonishes his girlfriend as being an unresponsive mannequin. If Woody Allen had ever decided to put in a Japanese song for one of his comedies in the 1970s, this would have been a nice addition.

The one new song that I really enjoyed is "Kaze wo Tsukamaete"(風をつかまえて...Catch The Wind). According to the J-Wiki article about "Get Happy", Harada composed this one as if it were meant as a title for some movie music. At the same time, he envisioned it having the musical backdrop of a morning somewhere in Europe. Those introductory strings have that Old World feeling but then with Harada's whimsical piano and his "La-la-las", the atmosphere is immediately lightened to provide the scenery of a start to a wonderful day in Vienna or London or Bonn. The singer even sounds like a kid fascinated by his new surroundings and eager to explore as the strings take us along for the ride. I think it could be perfect for "Sesame Street".  I can't really put McCartney, John or O'Sullivan on this one...this is pure Harada.

Harada even provides some good old 1970s American pop-rock with "High-Way 909" as he dreams up of that drive along the West Coast while singing to the radio. Let the good times roll, indeed!

My final song for tonight is "Shadow Boxer", Harada's 3rd single from December 1977 and the third in that miracle record-setting troika. It was also one of the other songs that hadn't been included in the original album but was placed as a track for the 2007 anniversary version. This is another notable one since the singer's melody is pure City Pop right down to the inclusion of the legendary Jake H. Concepcion on sax, Tatsuo Hayashi(林立夫)on plucky bass and Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)on the keyboards.

"Shadow Boxer" peaked at No. 14 on the Oricon weeklies and was the 40th-ranked single for 1977.

I realize that I haven't put up every track from the album (and I usually don't for any album) but I like to keep a few of them on standby for future articles. With the variety of good music in "Feel Happy", I think his title also acts as a fine promotional catchphrase. And again, this all came from the mind of someone who was still a teenager in Japan.

The album hit No. 1 on Oricon and stayed there for the bulk of the month of March 1978. By the end of the year, it was the 17th-ranked album. As for the other two tracks that were included on the 2007 edition, they were new versions of "Time Travel" and "Teen's Blues".

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