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.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Akina Nakamori -- Prologue ( プロローグ〈序幕〉)

Japan has already entered 2017 so my Happy New Year greetings to everyone out there. We're still about 12 hours away from blowing the horns and throwing the confetti ourselves. I did catch the last third of the live broadcast of NHK's Kohaku Utagassen; with the 14-hour time difference, I simply won't wake up that early to watch something that's going to be re-broadcast later tonight anyways. It looks like I lost a bet to Larry about the SMAP thing, though.

For the very final day of 2016, I've decided to write 4 articles at the very least today which is about twice as much as I usually do. Basically I'm going to go with the theme of that old-fashioned bridal rhyme of "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue".

The "something old" is not a problem at all here since this blog is mostly about the old...the kayo kyoku. And so I've decided to go with one of my Xmas purchases: Akina Nakamori's(中森明菜)debut album from July 1982, "Prologue - Jomaku". That latter Japanese word is indeed the translation for prologue. After all these decades, I finally got the album that started off her career, and man, first off, I got to say that fresh-faced Akina looks downright cherubic on the cover.

There's a theory that's been buzzing about in my head for years now. And that deals with whether the scouts, songwriters, producers and other folks in the music industry used to take a Queen Bee approach when it came to up-and-comers. I mean, if I were to graphically represent the super aidoru such as Akina, Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), Kyoko Koizumi(小泉今日子)from the 1980s and even Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵)of the 1970s and the dozens...or perhaps hundreds...of ingenues that tried to reach stardom in the aidoru industry, those four ladies would be drops of water above the ocean represented by those other girls. Did those powers-that-be garner some sort of inkling about whether someone like Akina had that certain talent or je-ne-sais-quoi quality and gave her access to the top songwriters?

Before I purchased "Prologue", I listened to the samples at the CD Japan website. Of course, each sample was all of 45 seconds but even then, I was pretty intrigued about the way the songs sounded. Akina's vocals may have been rather raw but there were hints of what she was to become in her delivery, and the songs themselves had a good mix of variation in terms of genre and some fine efforts by those songwriters. So I parted with my yen gladly. My impression was that for an aidoru album, this was a pretty special release.

The first track that starts the whole thing off is "Anata no Portrait"(あなたのポートレート...A Portrait of You)which was created by Etsuko and Takao Kisugi(来生えつこ・来生たかお). Now as the video above makes plainly clear, the song is a cover version by moco momo who has done a number of Akina covers very well so most of the videos of the song that I will talk about here will be of her rather than of Akina herself since the genuine articles have probably been taken down by the powers-that-be.

As would be the case with a concoction by the Kisugi siblings, "Anata no Portrait" is a lush mid-tempo ballad with those shimmering strings and a contemporary pop beat. The lyrics by Etsuko Kisugi talk about a chance meeting with that special someone, and the image will no longer leave her mind. In other words, she is in major love! Now, I think moco momo does a pretty good job of emulating both the early and later Akina voices so the rendition of the song is reflective of how the real Akina sounded back then. There is some of that high-toned cracking and off-tune bits in the delivery that I can imagine an aidoru committing. It's unpolished but I would think that a lot of high school girls would have related to the mood brought about by the song. And again, there is that lovely romantic melody by Takao Kisugi.

"Bon Voyage" is Track 2. A fairly bouncy song with that hint of the tropics and maybe even some Resort Pop, this is also a tune that had me and perhaps all the folks back in the early 1980s thinking that perhaps there was something more than meets the eye with this young Ms. Nakamori. Mayumi Shinozuka(篠塚満由美), who was once a singer and a monomane tarento in the 1970s, became a lyricist and she was responsible for this song. Meanwhile, Eriko Tsukayama(塚山エリコ)provided the music.

Early on in my time getting to know Akina, I did hear comparisons between her and the aforementioned Momoe Yamaguchi. "T-Shirt Sunset" is the song that kinda sparked that memory. That arrangement of folky pop and the breathier way that Akina sings here had me reminiscing about Momoe. The late lyricist Tsuzuru Nakasato(中里綴)and composer Masamitsu Tayama(田山雅充)took care of this one.

"A-gata Melancholy"(A型メランコリー...Type-A Melancholy)is all about the blood types which are a major source of fortune telling in Japan.  I'm not sure whether Nakasato and Tayama had specifically made this for Akina since she herself has Type-A blood but it's an eerily prescient tune since she sings about getting all hot and bothered about a fellow who's a Type-O, and I found out that Masahiko "Matchy" Kondo(近藤真彦), her future beau, also has that blood type (come to think of it, I'm a Type-O as well, heh can fantasize, eh?). Again, this is another track that had me thinking of Momoe due to the urgent strings and beat from the latter part of her career along with Akina's delivery.

Well, I finally managed to find a video with the actual Akina singing a track from "Prologue". This would be the final track "Downtown Story"(ダウンタウンすと〜り〜). And this is something that kinda hinted at the persona that she would pick up for the next little while through singles such as "Shojo A"(少女A): that of the so-called troubled high school girl running off with the bad crowd. Ayumi Date(伊達歩)came up with the words about the tsuppari breathlessly getting on back of the motorcycle with her punk boyfriend and looking forward to all of the fun down the road. Guitarist Fujimal Yoshino(芳野藤丸)generated the light rock beat.

Of course, I can't really finish the article without putting up the one single that came out of "Prologue", "Slow Motion"(スローモーション), Single No. 1 for Akina. As for the album, it did very well since it peaked at No. 5 on Oricon. Nope, it hasn't supplanted by any means "Bitter & Sweet" as my favourite Akina album, but I'm glad that I now have the source of her roots.

Ah, way back when...

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