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, May 27, 2017

NSP -- Kyonen no Natsu (去年の夏)

The above photo is of a Coco's restaurant while we were on the way to Kamakura. One of the things I realized about my home for 17 years is that there is a plethora of family restaurants...or famiresu in the Japanese vernacular. Of course, the United States and Canada have their own such places such as Denny's and IHOP but I thought there were more brands of them in Japan. Coco's, Skylark, Denny's, Gust, etc...they were pretty much everywhere, including a Skylark in my own neighbourhood of Minami-Gyotoku.

In fact, in the early years of my stay there when I was much more gastronomically receptive (re: a glutton), I often went to Skylark for that breakfast buffet on a weekly basis before heading off to the school. And boy, the staff didn't skimp and it wasn't exactly typical breakfast fare, either. There was pasta, hamburgers, deep-fried chicken, salad, soup, etc. The average Japanese salaryman must have really needed his protein! I patronized my Skylark so much that the manager started recognizing me and greeted me with "Ohaiyo gozaimasu! Itsumo osewaninatteorimasu"(お早うございます!いつもお世話になっております...Good morning! Thank you very much for your continued patronage). I was flattered and mortified at the same time since the other bleary-eyed customers could see me for the hog I was. I did indeed see the tables more as troughs, though. Still, I sometimes miss my famiresu. They were a good place to eat and hang out with friends. In terms of the closest analog here in Toronto, the shopping mall food court would be the thing.

Now, for the matter at hand. In my last article, I wrote about that mystery song by 70s aidoru legend Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵), "Tokyo no Sora no Shita Anata wa"(東京の空の下あなたは)which was written and composed by Shigeru Amano(天野滋)of the folk-pop group NSP. Well, I had heard of the name before and since a number of YouTube videos featuring them popped up beside the Momoe video on YouTube, I decided to try them out.

Well, Land O'Goshen (yup, I still like to use the archaic exclamations from time to time)! I heard this one song above and one part of the song suddenly started to ring memory bells in my head. And so I realized that this song "Kyonen no Natsu" (Last Summer) had been featured in an episode of "Sounds of Japan" on CHIN-FM. However, I should say part of the song. One small thing that peeved me about the radio broadcast was that it didn't have an official ending theme or music to finish off the show, instead opting for a "sacrificial" tune that sounded perfectly interesting but was merely used to help the DJ finish things off before abruptly fading out. I found out last night that "Kyonen no Natsu" was one of those songs without me knowing who performed it or what the title was.

Now that I've heard it in its entirety for the first time since I heard its excerpt about 30 years ago, I'm now quite intrigued about NSP. "Kyonen no Natsu" was also written and composed by Amano and it's a sad introspective ballad about reminiscing about that lost love from a year back while walking along the seashore. I'm not sure who was handling the vocals for this particular song since apparently all three members of the group had their turn behind the mike but I was quite entranced by the haunting delivery and the overall arrangement, especially with the fairly dramatic intro involving the drums, the strings and the piano.

NSP consisted of Amano on guitar, Takayuki Nakamura(中村貴之)on guitar and Kazuto Hiraga(平賀和人)on bass. All of them were born and raised in Iwate Prefecture and while in high school in 1972, the three of them first met while being active in other bands. Deciding to create their own unit, they initially went the rock route and came up with the name New Sadistic Pink. However, since they debuted in 1973 with a folk song, they decided that that particular name was a bit odd and just shrunk it to the more generic NSP. Years later going into the 1980s, the guys decided to have some fun over their initials with the fans and invited them to come up with new variations on the name such as Non Stop Progression and Nasa Shopping Plaza. Personally, Natto Sukiyaki Piiman would have been my choice but that's just me.

"Kyonen no Natsu" was a track on their June 1982 album "Meguriai wa Subete wo Koete"(めぐり逢いはすべてを越えて...Completely Beyond The Encounter). Considering the success of another folk-pop group, Off-Course(オフコース), through those same decades, I was rather surprised that I hadn't heard of NSP in all this time, at least not officially. If I can hear some more songs by Amano and company, I think I can do more comparison between NSP and Kazumasa Oda's(小田和正)band.

NSP called it quits in 1987 with the three of them going their separate ways and providing songs for other singers and bands, although Amano continued to release solo material. However, all three got back together in 2002 during which they held their first comeback concert at Nippon Seinenkan in Shinjuku, Tokyo. According to J-Wiki, the tickets sold out within an hour. In February 2005, NSP even released their first single in 19 years. Tragically, though in July of that same year, Amano would pass away at the age of 52 from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Momoe Yamaguchi -- Tokyo no Sora no Shita Anata wa (東京の空の下あなたは)

As I've often said here, one of the reasons that I've enjoyed adding onto the blog for so long now is that I've been able to encounter some rare gems among all the kayo kyoku. Once again, it's all about the iceberg analogy. However this time, it has to do with a rare tune but by a well-established singer.

There has been that comparison between the quintessential 70s aidoru Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵)and 80s aidoru Akina Nakamori(中森明菜). I've mentioned before that both singers became known as these teenage stars with a certain darkness and talent that came out in their respective discographies. And as Nakamori gradually turned into a pop superstar, the tone of her Oricon-friendly singles diverged from her more eclectic albums starting from the mid-1980s.

Perhaps Yamaguchi had a similar thing going in the latter half of her decade although to a smaller extent. One of my first entries about her involved her 1979 album "L.A. Blue" which fascinated me since a number of her tracks there had her exploring some American-style AOR and perhaps even City Pop. Until that point, I had always known her for those Oricon chart-toppers which were solidly within that kayo kyoku sphere.

Now I find out that this wasn't her first foray into recording outside of Japan. In 1977, she had also gone overseas to London to record her 12th album "Golden Flight". Although the album has one of her landmark songs, "Imitation Gold", I don't know how the rest of the songs sound...were they more into the New Music vein? One thing about the tracks on that album is that a majority of them are titled in full-cap romaji. Would be interesting to find out. For a singer who purportedly said that she only continued her career simply to provide for her family and retired as soon as she got married, I think Momoe tried to spread her wings out a bit, professionally speaking.

Even regarding that special album, there was a special song that had been recorded but ultimately didn't get placed onto "Golden Flight". Titled "Tokyo no Sora no Shita Anata wa" (You, Under the Tokyo Sky), it was never even made into a single or even a B-side of one, although it was performed by Momoe a number of times at her concerts. In fact, it finally saw the light of day in 2003 as the only song on the 24th disc of the 24 discs of "MOMOE PREMIUM", that huge CD-BOX set...26 years after the fact.

My question is "Why the heck did you keep it under wraps for so long?!" It's a wonderful song to me. Starting out with a wacka-wacka electric guitar, "Tokyo no Sora no Shita Anata wa" rolls out to a pretty propulsive Latin beat to accompany those familiar Momoe vocals. The song probably wouldn't belong on "L.A. Blue" but it's certainly not the usual stuff by her that I have been accustomed to. I'd say that the arrangement was more along the lines of another singer who was up and coming at the time, Junko Yagami(八神純子). Still, Yamaguchi made this her own tune. It's short but oh-so-sweet. And if I had the funds, I would get "MOMOE PREMIUM" just to get this song; I will have to hope for that bonus or lottery win. Perhaps I can still aim for "Golden Flight" and "L.A. Blue".

The creator of the song was Shigeru Amano(天野滋)who was a member of the folk group NSP. Now that is a group I'm going to have to cover shortly.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Da Capo -- Sora kara Koboreta STORY (空からこぼれたSTORY)

Yup, a few days ago, I heard of the passing of Roger Moore who had his several years of playing secret agent James Bond 007. Someone once told me that a fan's very favourite Bond depended on when that fan was born, and for me that would mean my favourite 007 is Sean Connery...and that is true. Moore was more in the middle of the pack for me.

I mean, he was fine enough but I thought he just extended himself a little long in the part, especially after catching his final tilt as the British superspy, "From A View To A Kill". Plus, I thought he was a bit too arch(ed eyebrow) for my taste at times. Then again, Moore himself once countered that how could anyone take Bond all that seriously since he was the most recognized secret agent (and therefore worst secret agent) in history. Point taken, Sir Roger.

Still, there were a few of his movies as Bond which thrilled me such as "The Spy Who Loved Me" with the scene of the Lotus Esprit chase and the above opening scene of him falling seemingly forever until that Union Jack parachute opened up to the famous theme song. I heard that audiences in the UK screamed their approval at that point.

I can't remember which character I saw first portrayed by Sir Roger but I vaguely remember seeing him in black-&-white episodes of "The Saint" when he was playing the debonair Simon Templar. Man of adventure, catchy theme song, very British....I'm sure it wasn't too difficult for producers to choose him when Connery decided to finally leave the role.

Now, folks, before I completely go over the line and turn this article into the blog's first 007 entry, I would like to say that in the Japanese-dubbed version of Moore's Bond movies, he was voiced by the late seiyuu and narrator Taichiro Hirokawa(広川太一郎). Hirokawa, of course, didn't make Bond his sole bread-and-butter. He took on a lot of roles including that of another British crime-busting legend, Sherlock Holmes.

The thing is, though, that his Holmes was a dog. In fact, all of the characters in the anime "Meitantei Holmes"(名探偵ホームズ...Sherlock Hound)were dogs. If the style of the 1984 anime looks rather familiar to you, it may be because that the first handful of episodes were directed by Hayao Miyazaki(宮崎駿). The above is the English-dubbed version.

The opening theme for "Meitantei Holmes" is "Sora kara Koboreta STORY" (The Story That Spilled From The Sky), performed by the folk-pop duo Da Capo(ダ・カーポ). Man, they sure don't make anison like that anymore (I kinda miss that relaxing style). Created by lyricist Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)and composer Ken Sato(佐藤健), the song sounds perfect for a Miyazaki flick! Plus, the duo did their best to bring in the British flavour into the arrangement. It kinda straddles between what I would imagine the soundtrack for an animated Sherlock Holmes for kids would sound like and a bouncier contemporary beat. It's certainly different than any of the themes for "Meitantei Conan"(名探偵コナン...Case Closed).

Try as I might, I couldn't find Hirokawa voicing Moore anywhere but perhaps he is represented in this Japanese ad for the DVD-BOX set for the 007 movies.

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Parade (パレード)

I was listening to Disc 1 of Tatsuro Yamashita's(山下達郎)"OPUS 〜ALL TIME BEST 1975-2012〜" earlier this afternoon. Gotta say that even one disc of his is enough to uplift the spirit...right from his starting days of New Music going into his years of City Pop. I'm also happy to say that there is still a number of songs by him to explore for the blog.

One such song is "Parade". Now I actually introduced the song many months ago back in 2015 through EPO's cover of it in her well-regarded 1982 album "Goodies". I did say there that I would talk about Tats' original "soon" but of course, me being me, promises are often forgotten and I did the same here. Well, as I have always said, better late than never.

"Parade" was originally a track on the album "NIAGARA TRIANGLE Vol.1" from March 1976. The album involved having Yamashita collaborate with fellow singer-songwriters Eiichi Ohtaki(大滝詠一)and Ginji Ito(伊藤銀次)to get some songs together on the same LP. They were also helped out by Tats' buddy from his old band Sugar Babe, Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子), Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)and two-thirds of the future Yellow Magic Orchestra, Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)and Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)among some other big lights in New Music.

As for "Parade", whereas the track on that 2012 BEST compilation cuts to the chase, apparently the original version is book-ended by a rolling piano intro and some sort of background music at the end. Perhaps Yamashita wanted "Parade" to feel as if the song suddenly burst in like a real impromptu parade down the main street, capturing everyone's attention for those few minutes. I can also say it's like a melodic sunny day with that nice dollop of 70s soul put in there to support his joyous vocals (I always envision colourful balloons floating into the sky as I hear him).

Considering that I've often featured Yamashita's late 70s/early 80s City Pop work, "Parade" is an interesting example of some happy-go-lucky New Music without too much of that feeling of being in the big city. However, it is darn summery which has been another characteristic of his discography.

As someone who used to catch the Fuji-TV morning kids' program "Ponkikies"(ポンキッキーズ)after waking up, the above video is natsukashii. It was the custom of the program to provide a happy musical ending to each episode and I did remember this thing about a group of talented girls bopping about with brolleys while a song was playing. I just didn't know at the time that it was Tats and "Parade".

For some reason, "Parade" was even released as a single (his 26th) in January 1994, perhaps in favourable response to the "Ponkikies" ending. It did modestly well by peaking at No. 29. As for "NIAGARA TRIANGLE Vol.1", it also reached as high as No. 29 as an LP.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Chisato Moritaka -- HEY VODKA

I wasn't going to disembark the Harmony of the Seas without having at least one order filled by the robot bartenders Bio and Nic at the Bionic Bar. And so a little over halfway during my voyage, I decided to have a seat at the bar and made my order via a Samsung tablet with the help of the bonny Russian manager of the premises. I went with the classic rum and coke. I would have ordered something a bit more ambitious so that one of the robots would have gotten a workout with the shaker but alas, I couldn't recognize too many of the cocktails listed.

The rum and coke came out very well, though. In fact, it worked so well that it took me a few seconds to sign my name for my purchases later that night. Furthermore, the wonderful thing is that I don't need to tip a robot...just a squeeze of oil now and then, probably.

My anecdote is just the thing to introduce another whimsical Chisato Moritaka(森高千里)song. This time, it's "HEY VODKA" to add onto her other alcohol-themed tunes, "Gin Gin Jingle Bell"(ジン・ジン・ジングル・ベル)and "Kibun Sokai"(気分爽快). Just like those two, "HEY VODKA" was also a campaign song for a booze ad; in this case, it was for Suntory's Ice Vodka.

Moritaka's tribute to the Russian liquor (at least, the self-cover version above) may well as be the sister to "Gin Gin Jingle Bell" since it has that similar Latin Lounge music vibe. The singer-songwriter also provided the melody while Doushee Uozuka(ドーシー魚塚)gave the lyrics about how wonderful vodka is as one of the ultimate mixers. I had almost forgotten about this one until I heard it again; yup, I now remember catching it on TV way back when.

Like "Gin Gin Jingle Bell", "HEY VODKA" was also a track on Moritaka's 11th album, "TAIYO" from July 1996. The above video is for an updated version, and may I say that the lass was still looking pretty fine although she no longer wore those techno-aidoru duds.

To wrap up, I managed to track down the original commercial for that Ice Vodka.

Junko Ohashi -- Telephone Number

The above photo is of one of the soaring skyscrapers in the Roppongi Hills area, Mori Tower. Roppongi Hills made quite an impression when it was finally opened to the public over a decade ago in 2003. It made quite the contrast with the old main strip of seediness in Roppongi. Along with the modern towers, there were stylish restaurants and cafes, a huge cineplex and a revamped TV Asahi headquarters among other facilities. Plus, once the Yuletide comes around (which would be right after midnight November 1st), Roppongi Hills becomes quite the magnet for the Xmas seekers with the illumination and all. The only thing I regret not seeing there anymore is the old WAVE CD shop

I visited the complex a number of times during my time in Tokyo. There were all the movies I caught at the cineplex (including "Revenge of the Sith" in 2005 at the VIP theatre; if I'm gonna watch a bad "Star Wars" movie, I might as well drink down my fair share of alcohol while doing so). Also, I usually met a student at the 4th floor cafe on Monday mornings.

Roppongi Hills added some new trim to the old neighbourhood, and after that, Tokyo Midtown, another trendy commercial complex got its debut not too far away from the main Roppongi intersection in 2007.

Well, if I'm going to talk about one of my old urban haunts, I ought to place a nice City Pop song in here. And so here is Junko Ohashi's(大橋純子)"Telephone Number" from her BEST album of July 1983, "Magical". With a firm but not too loud "AWOOOOO", Ohashi gives another lovely reason in song why the city can be so enticing.

Ohashi's husband, Ken Sato(佐藤健), provided the music to walk the streets by but unfortunately I couldn't find out who wrote the lyrics; still I'm happy enough with those City Pop notes. Tokyo can be quite magical in itself but then again with "Magical" showing the sunset skyline of Manhattan, any large city can show its good side with the right type of music.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Shikao Suga -- Ogon no Tsuki (黄金の月)

Shikao Suga(スガシカオ)is a singer-songwriter whom I've often considered to be somewhat of a mysterious ghost-like figure. Part of the reason is that I haven't actively pursued his works, and by the same token, I don't think he has ever shown all that much need to be loved by Oricon although his singles have made their way up to various positions on the singles and albums charts. Plus, his music which I can describe as mellow guitar pop along with his slightly raspy vocals are fairly low key in an appealing way. But again, as being someone who is not particularly a fan of his, I've just seen him come and go over the years. Of course, he was also the fellow who came up with "Yozora no Mukou"(夜空ノムコウ), one of SMAP's biggest hits.

A few weeks ago, Suga showed up on an episode of "Uta Kon"(うたコン)to perform this number, "Ogon no Tsuki" (Golden Moon). This was his 2nd single released in May 1997, and although it got no higher than No. 72 on Oricon, I enjoyed the performance on the NHK broadcast. And then I saw the video above and appreciated it even more. It reminded me why whenever I did see a Suga performance, I was always quite happy for the experience although the song didn't stay in my head like any earworm. However, I am wondering about investing in one of his BEST collections.

There have been a few concert performances of "Ogon no Tsuki" but I have to admit that I prefer the original recording. It's just straight-ahead pop with no unnecessary frills and no vocal/instrumental acrobatics. However, I can understand why fans would love to hear it from him live. Apparently, the song was also used in the 2005 Fuji-TV anime "Hachimitsu to Clover"(ハチミツとクローバー...Honey And Clover), a show that Suga contributed a number of his tunes.

The single was also a track on his 2nd album from September 1997, "Clover" which peaked at No. 10.

Being someone who has a passing interest in the derivation of Japanese names, I was rather drawn to that name Shikao. It is his actual first name with the kanji appearing as「止戈男」. According to the J-Wiki article for him, it means "the man who stops wars". I also found out that the singer is quite the fan of idea whether he was ever a Pink Lady fan. However, that same article noted that his music has been influenced by the band Flying Kids (and yup, they're represented here, too) and is given a good injection of soul and funk.

Ichimaru -- Tenryu Kudareba (天竜下れば)

Referring to the most recent episode of "Uta Kon"(うたコン), the theme for last night was water, and I think the old kayo liked to pay tribute to Japan's fair share of waterways ranging from rivers to oceans.

The name Ichimaru(市丸)popped up again last night on the NHK program. Some months ago, I wrote an article about this interesting synthesis of shamisen and swing music called "Shamisen Boogie-Woogie"(三味線ブギウギ)that had originally been sung by the geisha-singer when she was entranced by American jazz in the postwar era.

Well, the song that was performed last night was one of her earlier hits, "Tenryu Kudareba" (Going Down The Tenryu River). Released in 1933, this song is pure enka in which Ichimaru pays tribute to this flowing waterway that passes through Nagano, Aichi and Shizuoka Prefectures. It may have had some special meaning to the singer since she was born in Nagano.

One of the other reasons that I decided to put this song up was that I recently spoke with my old university buddy who, along with her daughter, has been practicing Japanese dance for many years. She informed me that some of her friends in dancing have actually been taking a look at this blog, presumably for some of the enka songs that could be performed through odori. And I think "Tenryu Kudareba" may fit into that category. So if any of you see this, thank you for your patronage and please give Laura a shoutout. I'll be seeing her in a couple of weeks anyways to catch "Wonder Woman" with her family.

"Tenryu Kudareba" was written by Mikihiko Nagata(長田幹彦)and composed by Shinpei Nakayama(中山晋平).

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Kaori Kozai -- Wasurebana (わすれ花)

I've usually found my favourite enka tunes way back in the past but from time to time, I find some nice examples of the genre being developed in the last few years.

Of course, NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン)is my prime source for the new enka, and tonight was no different. Kaori Kozai(香西かおり)brought her latest single from this year (April 2017) onto the stage, and I have to admit that I fell in love with that French accordion which gives the song a feeling of a nice waltz. "Wasurebana" is Kozai singing about remembering a romance that has now ended so of course, the tender and wistful memories come flowing forth.

Written by Makoto Kitajo(喜多條忠)and composed by Tetsuya Gen(弦哲也), I had initially assumed that wasurebana referred to "forget-me-nots" but according to my usual online dictionaries, those flowers have different names in Japanese. Therefore I guess I will translate the title as Flowers To Forget. However, I don't think Kozai's heroine particularly wants to forget the good times just yet. And certainly with that lovely accordion in there, I really don't want to forget this little gem, either. Incidentally, the single has been released to commemorate the singer's 30th anniversary in the music industry.

(empty karaoke version)

Yubisaki Nohaku -- Nanigashi (なにがし)

One of the best (and most beautiful) (and most badass!) all-female bands in the world who play passionate, quirky prog-rock. Fans of Tricot are sure to fall in love.

This was the quotation describing this band Yubisaki Nohaku(指先ノハク)in the May edition of "Bento Box", the local free magazine on Japanese restaurants (and other aspects of Japanese culture) in Toronto. Once a year, a page is set aside to focus on Next Music from Tokyo (NMFT) which is a tour spearheaded by Steven Tanaka (also from Toronto), a great lover of the underground music scene in Japan. In fact, he has been so passionate about it that he launched a cross-Canada tour introducing some of the more interesting underground bands 10 years ago.

Yubisaki Nohaku was one of the bands that joined the tour this year (May 19-24), and it started its life almost a decade back, initially under the name of Raditz in 2008 before the name change three years later. The four members of the band are vocalist Kana Shimizu(清水加奈), guitarist Junko Kimura(木村順子), bassist Ikuko Miyakoshi(宮腰侑子)and drummer Yumiko Takeuchi(竹内裕美子).

I like their 4th single from February 2015, "Nanigashi" (Mr. So-and-so) that was created by Miyakoshi which seems to be a mild indictment on the lack of conversational clarity among friends. The music video actually makes that clear with the band members goofing it up in a beauty salon as two of them futilely attempt to describe what kind of hair style they want to their frustrated stylists. According to their profile, Yubisaki Nohaku are fans of Ringo Shiina(椎名林檎)and I think there is a bit of her feeling in "Nanigashi".

The single also made its way to Yubisaki Nohaku's 1st mini-album "Sakana"(肴...The Appetizer)which came out in August 2015. There's not a whole bunch of English-language information on the band although I found this webpage. As for Tanaka's work for NMFT, you can take a look here.

Joe Yamanaka -- Ningen no Shomei (人間の証明)

The above photo is of the late Joe Yamanaka(ジョー山中)who was born Akira Yamanaka(山中明)in Yokohama back in 1946. He was a singer and an actor who I knew for just one song. I first heard it when I was watching an episode of "19XX Bokutachi no Natsukashii Melody"(僕たちの懐かしいメロディー), a late-night Fuji-TV half-hour without any hosts which provided excerpts of news from a certain year along with the popular music at that time.

The song was "Ningen no Shomei" (Proof of the Man) and at the time I heard the song on "19XX", the video which accompanied it was apparently from the 1977 movie of the same name with a hat flying off into the sky. I had no idea what it was all about but later found out that it involved the death of a young man at the hands of his own mother.

"Ningen no Shomei" has a synopsis on Wikipedia but the story sounds like a neo-film noir which starred Yusaku Matsuda(松田優作), George Kennedy and Joe Yamanaka himself as the victim which starts the plot off.

I never saw the movie but it's the theme song that has stayed with me all those years since it is such a soulful elegy. The lyrics by Yaso Saijo(西条八十), Haruki Kadokawa(角川春樹)and Yamanaka rather reflect the latter's character's message to his mother from heaven, perhaps with some forgiveness for the heinous act that she had committed. Yuji Ohno(大野雄二)provided the music that would probably have folks in a bar contemplate life.

Hachiro Kasuga -- I Love You, Madam (アイ・ラブ・ユー・マダム)

 That's pretty hot. Um, I mean,
what a fine-looking gentleman.

Wowsers, Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎) was quite the looker back in the day! I would even say he looked rather dandy, and those are words I usually reserve for the likes of Hiroshi Tachi; the enka/ryukoka bunch... eh, not so much, or actually, not ever (until now).

Anyway, I've recently discovered this YouTube channel that uploads the First Enka Singer's works from around the time of his debut to his later days (70's into the 80's), and sampling many entries from his discography that hardly see the light of day was fascinating. Out of the gems I've grown to love and include in my playlist, I have to say that "I Love You, Madam" from 1958 was an entry I'd least expect to see as one of his original singles. At the same time, it was the one that had me at full attention just from the title alone, with it being in all-katakana and having a Western connotation. It ain't your standard Kasuga-bushi, alright, but it does fit the singer's look in the photo above.

Continuing with the deviation from a Kasuga-bushi, "I Love You, Madam" lacks a Japanese sound. Instead, Isao Hayashi (林伊佐緒), who was known for composing Western-sounding numbers just as well as traditional enka/Mood Kayo tunes, created a jaunty, jazzy melody that feels fit for a cabaret from the trumpets' sharp bursts and the hissing cymbals. Speaking of cabaret, Hachi used to perform at one such establishment named Moulin Rouge - nope, not the one in Montmartre, Paris, this one's in Shinjuku, Tokyo, if I'm not mistaken - before he became a prominent figure in the music world.

Coming back to the song itself, Juzaburo Tojo (東條寿三郎) was in charge of the flirty lyrics which has our protagonist professing his love for/trying to woo the lovely dame. Well, considering how suave 50's Kasuga was, I'm pretty sure the titular madam would be putty in his hands.

P.S. Ordinarily, I'd complete the Yonin Shu set of articles by writing one article each for Michi, Muchi, and Minami, but I've yet to come up with solid ideas for the latter veterans, so this Hachi one will be a standalone entry.

Yuzo Kayama and The Launchers -- Black Sand Beach (ブラック・サンド・ビーチ)

Note: This article was meant to go up last month, but due to the number of things stacked on my plate from late April till the end of last week, I decided to give writing a break. Things have mostly settled down for now and I'm done with slothing around in the aftermath, so, I'm back! When reading this post, imagine that we're still in the middle of April.

Just a couple of weeks ago, everyone's favourite talented nice guy from the 60's hit 80 years of age as of 11th April 2017 (whew)! Congrats to Yuzo Kayama (加山雄三) on this milestone, and may he last as long or longer than Yoshio Tabata (田端義夫) did - my other guitar hero lasted till the ripe old age of 94. As mentioned on "Uta Kon" last week, in commemoration of his 80th birthday, or Sanju (傘寿), Kayama's title of Wakadaisho seemed to be upgraded to "Eien no Wakadaisho" (永遠の若大将... The Eternal Wakadaisho) - none before him, and none after.

While it was definitely wonderful to still be able to see such a cool icon from way back in the day alive and kicking and strumming his shiny, red electric guitar on the NHK stage, I couldn't help but feel a hint of poignancy as the episode also payed the late Peggy Hayama (ペギー葉山) a tribute. She was only a few years Kayama's senior when she passed on, which reminded me that the Wakadaisho is not as immortal as his new title suggests... Man, when he's gone I'm pretty sure it'll hit me like a ton of bricks.

Alright, sorry for being morbid there, it was just something that crossed my mind. On a lighter note, I too wanted to pay Kayama a little tribute with an article. It took me a while to think of what song to talk about since most of my favourites have been accounted for in KKP, but I eventually found "Black Sand Beach" via the medley at the start of the write-up. 

This instrumental piece is filled with the deep twang from the electric guitar and the soaring synths at the "chorus", and it's got a strong beach/surfer dude vibe fitting of the Wakadaisho's image during the mid 60's. One can imagine the tanned Kayama catching some waves and wiping out along the Hawaiian coast/a black sand beach. I'm not a fan of instrumental pieces because part of why I enjoy listening to music is a singer's vocals, but "Black Sand Beach" is one of those rare exceptions; it's way too cool and catchy to ignore.

"Black Sand Beach" was released on 5th December 1965, together with Kayama's eternal hit, "Kimi to Itsumademo". Accompanying him in this single was the Group Sounds band The Launchers or as J-Canuck mentioned in "Mafuyu no Kaeri Michi" (真冬の帰り道), The Launchers 2.0 that includes Kayama's cousins. "Black Sand Beach" was featured in the 6th installment of the Wakadaisho movie series, "Ereki no Wakadaisho" (エレキの若大将). You can check out a snippet of it in the second video where the Wakadaisho, looking preppy and as stiff as a board, and his band are competing in some sort of electric guitar version of Nodojiman, and of course, with skills like that, the welcomed chime of the bells came immediately after. (Hai, tsugi no kata dozo!)

Oh, dang...

Monday, May 22, 2017

Stardust Revue -- Ginza Neon Paradise (銀座ネオン・パラダイス)

I was sampling some of Stardust Revue's(スターダストレビュー)earlier singles and got the impression that the band started life as a somewhat quasi-retro unit bringing some good-time honky-tonk jazz and swing to kayo kyoku.

Case in point: their 2nd single from November 1981, "Ginza Neon Paradise". I couldn't track down the original recorded version but it sounds like the song was a crowdpleaser at their concerts. Written by vocalist Kaname Nemoto(根本要)and also composed by him along with Akira Tejima and Noriko Kinai(手島昭・きないのりこ), I could even hear that feeling of Dixieland; the only instrument missing perhaps is a banjo. The more I hear it, the more I think it's pretty fun to take part in the chorus.

From what I've heard from folks and other sources, Ginza was once a very well-lit place during the boom years of the Japanese economy. However, even during my time there which was supposedly well after the era of the Bubble, things still looked pretty bright in one of Tokyo's tony neighbourhoods. I still couldn't really place an early 20th-century jazz song there, though. It still sounds like a place for Mood Kayo.

m-flo loves BoA -- the Love Bug

Spoke about "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2" in my last article and one of the big guest stars in there was Kurt Russell as Ego, The Living Planet.

However, I first knew about Russell when he was acting in all those crazy Disney comedy movies of the 1970s...titles like "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" and "The Strongest Man in the World".

Speaking of Walt Disney, another oft-seen movie series from the Mouse House on Sunday nights on TV was the "Love Bug" series starring Dean Jones with a seemingly sentient Volkswagen Beetle called Herbie. I enjoyed plenty of hilarity as a little kid watching all these movies on NBC.

So you can imagine several decades later my surprise when I heard that there was a song with that title "the Love Bug" by m-flo and BoA. Not sure whether VERBAL and company had been giving a shout out to the Disney character but then again, the guys did pay some tribute to another American TV chestnut "Star Trek".

As part of the "m-flo loves..." series, this was released in March 2004 although no VW Beetles were involved. I've featured some of the other songs from the series such as "Summer Time Love" with Emi Hinouchi and Ryohei, and they all follow the similar formula of a pretty upbeat arrangement with the guest singers putting in their part while VERBAL floats in and out like a takekoputa (inside joke) plus provides some mid-song rap. "the Love Bug" is apparently the second in the series and I remember it best for BoA giving her "hip hop" patter.

The song was m-flo's 16th single which went Gold as it peaked at No. 8 on Oricon. It also appeared on the group's 3rd album "ASTROMANTIC" from May 2004. That album hit No. 2 and ended up as the 42nd-ranked release of the year, going Double Platinum.

Kumi Miyasato -- Kaze no Lullaby (風のララバイ)

Well, happy Victoria Day to my fellow Canadians. I can hear some of the fireworks outside. Got together with a couple of my movie buddies in Toronto to catch one of the more anticipated blockbusters for 2017, "Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2". And it didn't disappoint. My anime buddy last week told me that he wasn't all that thrilled with it but I still had a good time, and strangely enough, there were even some poignant scenes at the end...I can guarantee if this had been released closer to Father's Day, there would have been some major waterworks from the guys. Finally, I did love the ending credits with most of the cast boogeying down (even Karen Gillan) along with David Hasselhoff chiming in.

Yesterday when I was doing the routine with my anime buddy, he put on a song that he hadn't done before during the music section of our session. It happened to be "Kaze no Lullaby" (Lullaby of the Wind), a ballad that had been included in the anime "Megazone 23" from 1985.

I barely remember that particular show although it was shown at U of T by somebody back in the day. Mind you, I do remember one scene from the 2nd part of "Megazone 23" in which a jet pilot gets ripped apart by a bunch of tentacles....I couldn't remember anything else including the sex scenes, and yet I remember that evisceration....kinda wish I could un-remember it.

"Kaze no Lullaby" was recorded by Kumi Miyasato(宮里久美)who actually had a starring role in the anime and my buddy told me that she had been groomed to be another Mari Iijima(飯島真理)who was immortalized because of her iconic character Lynn Minmay from "Macross". Miyasato didn't quite make that level of fame apparently (she left showbiz in 1989) but I did enjoy "Kaze no Lullaby" which has that gentle and classy European-sounding melody reminiscent of Gazebo's "I Love Chopin" which was famously covered by actress-singer Asami Kobayashi(小林麻美)as "Ame Oto wa Chopin no Shirabe"(雨音はショパンの調べ). I've heard other songs by young female Japanese singers with a similar arrangement in the 1980s which makes me wonder whether the Gazebo hit had become quite the influence.

The song was written by Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)and composed by Hiroaki Serizawa(芹澤廣明), and it was a track on Miyasato's debut album "Hitomi de Whispering"(瞳でウィスパリング...Whispering With My Eyes)from October 1985.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Kengo Kurozumi -- You & Me

Got Kengo Kurozumi's(黒住憲五)2nd article here as one of those mysterious singers who I could only find out about through "Japanese City Pop".

I swear that listening to "You and Me" which is a track on his 5th album "Pillow Talk" from 1989, the groovy orange mimosa-friendly tune was something out of the mid-1980s or even earlier. The arrangement might be more updated but I could feel the Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)in there. The music was by Kurozumi with lyrics by Dereck Jackson.

With all those horns and guitar in there, I think this would have been something that Sing Like Talking could have done this as well. And what a group of session musicians in there: Jeff Porcaro and Michael Landau among others. Another one of those feel-good summer songs.

Finger Five/Momoe Yamaguchi/Caocao/misono -- Kojin Jugyō(個人授業)

Lovely cool day....airing out my room by having the windows open. I'm sure a lot of other folks are out there on the beginning of this long Victoria Day weekend. May be catching "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2" on Monday with a couple of friends. The reviews have been good although it doesn't seem to be as well-regarded as the first one but not too surprised on that assessment. Nope, the big shocker is hearing all of the pre-release raves for "Wonder Woman". The DC Expanded Universe has been praying that one of its movies would finally get a break, and it looks like it has arrived.

There's been a fellow who's been putting up hour-long videos with a whole ton of notable kayo kyoku excerpts from certain years squeezed in. I decided to listen to one of them...1974, to be exact. The first few songs are tunes that I've already written about so I was hoping that there would be one that I had yet to hear. At about 1:40, I found one.

But it was by a group that I have written about before. Finger Five(フィンガー5)had always struck me as being the Japanese analogy of The Jackson Five, and for some reason this new song that hit upon my ears and brain thrust that point home especially. "Kojin Jugyō" (Private Lessons), mind you, is more cute pop than R&B but otherwise the sentiment was there.

Released in August 1973 as Finger Five's 2nd single  (there were 3 singles in 1970 under their old name of Baby Brothers), "Kojin Jugyō" was created by the same duo behind all those later Pink Lady hits, Yu Aku and Shunichi Tokura(阿久悠・都倉俊一). The story behind the song is very simple: a kid's puppy love for his tutor. The song hit No. 1 on Oricon and became a long-lasting single, becoming the 18th-ranked song for the year and hanging on at No. 27 in the annual rankings for 1974.

Quite the interesting development here. Near the end of 1973, a very young Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵)saw her 2nd album, "Aoi Kajitsu/Kinjirareta Asobi"(青い果実/禁じられた遊び)released with one of the tracks being a cover of "Kojin Jugyō". Considering all of the deep-voiced hits that she provided in the latter half of the decade, it was fascinating to hear her sound just like Finger Five lead vocalist Kazuo Tamamoto(玉元一夫). The album itself managed to reach as high as No. 26.

Let's jump ahead by a few decades into the 21st century. Once again, I was given a bit of a jolt in finding out that comely Kaori Mochida(持田香織)of 90s pop/rock unit Every Little Thing and Takao Tajima(田島貴男)of Original Love got together in 2009 to make the duo Caocao to do their own cover of "Kojin Jugyō". The music video has them going all 70s groovy in front of a rapturous high school crowd. One of my students who was a huge fan of all things hippie and Haight-Ashbury could appreciate this. The cover also got some appreciation from other folks as well since it ranked in at No. 22 on the singles charts.

I knew that misono that, along with the fact that she is Kumi Koda's(倖田來未)younger sister, she also sang herself. However, I mostly saw her as a tarento popping up on TV game shows and other variety programs. In 2006, though, she sang her own version of "Kojin Jugyō" as her 2nd single. It's got an even more rock treatment and the video is pretty clever as she poses as a Cinderella in a high school. It ranked in at No. 15.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Yui Murase -- Shiosai (潮騒)

One of the drawbacks about doing the blog is that for the more unsung singers, it's difficult to find videos of their songs to showcase, and eventually, those videos that are found will be taken down due to the inevitable copyright issues. Not that I blame the singers or the recording studios; they have to get their due. However, it just means that a song that I would have continued to enjoy introducing to the masses has now disappeared, possibly forever.

I start off this way because one prime example is here. Yui Murase(村瀬由衣)is not a well-known singer, especially in the world of J-Pop fans outside of Japan. However, I found out about her through one of the issues of "Eye-Ai" over 20 years ago and found the cover of her debut album "Suiyoubi no Asa, Mado wo Akeru"(水曜日の朝、窓を開ける...Open Your Windows on Wednesday Morning)so enticing that I ended up getting that album through the magazine's mail order shopping.

I did write my introductory article about Murase last year but unfortunately the videos have been taken down. However, I have decided to refrain from putting it into mothballs since there is that background about her in that article and I didn't want to repeat myself here about her bio. Scrolled through any videos of her on YouTube but it looks like a good chunk of them have been deleted. C'est dommage!

Keeping my chin up, I will re-introduce this singer of mellow and sometimes sophisticated pop through this lovely little bit of bossa nova titled "Shiosai" (Sound of Waves) that she sang on her 4th album "Yui Murase" from June 1994. Always a sucker for the Brazilian genre, I think Friday night makes for a nice time to bring this in. At my age, I haven't made it a practice to go out with friends on Friday nights for quite a few years now, but I would like to be in an appropriate supper club with this being performed on stage by the singer.

Yumi Yoshimoto(吉元由美)took care of the lyrics while Hidetoshi Yamada(山田秀俊)came up with the lovely music. Yesterday, I bought a couple of CDs of not-everyday artists from CD Japan; perhaps it's time to give Murase some more attention again.

frasco -- Kaze ni Notte ~breeze~ (風に乗って)

A bit more seasonal than some of the torrid weather we had gotten over the last couple of days but still sunny and pleasant out there today. Besides, I like the cooler air.

Therefore to commemorate this weather, I've decided to devote this article to this lovely song by not-so-well-known pop band frasco. I never heard of these guys until I bought my very first CD from the "Light Mellow" series a few years ago, "Breeze". But I knew I was on the right step when I heard a lot of wonderful tracks on this disc including frasco's "Kaze ni Notte" (Catch The Wind).

frasco consisted of the late guitarist Hiroshi Narumi(鳴海寛), session drummer Makio Tada(多田牧男)and singer-songwriter Sakiko Masano(政野早希子)on vocals. Narumi's name has been bandied about before on this blog due to his contribution to the City Pop duo Tohoku Shinkansen(東北新幹線)with songwriter Etsuko Yamakawa(山川恵津子)back in the 1980s. Well, it looks like he brought together another unit in the following decade with frasco in 1994.

This particularly breezy tune "Kaze ni Notte" was included in their 1996 2nd album "film". The band has been solidly classified as a pop group but listening to this summery outing, I couldn't help but feel that there was also some Shibuya-kei in there somewhere so I've also included that genre in the Labels. Either way, it's a good song to listen to. Not too frenetic, not too laid back, it's the equivalent of a walk on the sandy beach. Narumi composed the melody while Masano took care of the lyrics with Narumi and Tada arranging the whole thing.

Considering the obscurity of frasco, all of my information on the group was from the liner notes of that "Breeze" disc for "Light Mellow".

Now it's possible that depending on where you live, you may not be able to see the video at the very top, but perhaps you can access this compilation at around 4:10 when "Kaze ni Notte" begins.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Nana Mizuki -- Koi no Okehazama (恋の桶狭間)

OK, I'll have to be a bit honest here. There was that movie "Tim Burton's The Night Before Christmas" which is probably regarded as one of the more endearing fantasy movies for a generation. Normally, I liked Danny Elfman's scores for the 1989 "Batman", "Dick Tracy" and "Beetlejuice" but frankly I just found his songs for "Nightmare" to be repetitive and as the movie went on, I got more and more tempted to look at my watch.

I've got the same feelings for the "Symphogear"(シンフォギア)anime franchise. Actually I do like it better than "Nightmare" but only because of the battle scenes and those epic visual pronouncements of the super weaponry such as "MEGA DETH SYMPHONY" and "HORIZON†SPEAR"! Can you imagine any of the Marvel movies pulling that off? We'd end up with each movie a half-hour longer!😆

Getting back on to topic, I have tended to turn my mind off the songs that Hibiki and Tsubasa and the others have to sing to be effective in the fights against the Noise since they all strike me as being variations on the same rock anthem, although I did have some like for the opening theme "Synchrogazer". I realize that I may be putting a number of "Symphogear" fans' noses out of joint by saying this (including my anime buddy who has bought all of the soundtracks) but that's how I feel.

Noriyasu Agematsu(上松範康)of the music production brand Elements Garden came up with most of the songs, and although I haven't remembered too many of them, I actually did enjoy one tune since it was so atypical in the show. Plus, it was only featured for a mere matter of seconds during one of the lighter scenes in the first season of the show back in 2012.

The scene in question was when warriors Hibiki and Tsubasa along with Hibiki's buddy Miku go for a fun session at a karaoke box. Tsubasa, as played by seiyuu/singer Nana Mizuki(水樹奈々), suddenly opts for a visceral enka song. When I first saw this, it wasn't only the jaws of Hibiki and Miku which hit the floor. At the time, when I was still gathering knowledge about the various voice actors in the anime industry, one of the first seiyuu that I had started to know was Mizuki due to her prevalence in the various shows and her string of appearances on the Kohaku Utagassen. From those performances and her work in "Symphogear", I had assumed that the singer was a rock queen at heart.

Little did I know that Mizuki had been trained in enka and so "Koi no Okehazama"(恋の桶狭間...Okehazama of Love), the song her character performed in the karaoke box was my first realization of her prowess in the long-existing genre. Agematsu was also responsible for creating this one and I kinda regret that I haven't been able to find a full version online although one of the many "Symphogear" soundtracks that my anime buddy gave over to me has got it somewhere. It's got quite the muscular melody about a certain area in the city of Nagoya.

Although it's not Mizuki herself, I did manage to find someone performing the full version of "Koi no Okehazama" at karaoke although there's a bit of annoying noise (not the Noise) that pops up during the video. Since that revelation of Mizuki being an enka princess, she's popped up on some of the kayo programs from time to time to cover some of the oldies, and being an old-fashioned guy myself, I'm kinda hoping that she may actually release a true-blue enka single again.

My anime buddy has breathlessly told me that another "Symphogear" season will be premiering in less than 2 months. I will enjoy the show but I hope that the battle songs will have a bit more variation this time.

Cosmic Invention -- YAKIMOKI

Although I played the recorder and the clarinet and tried to play the French horn (my failures on that instrument were the source of much merriment among my classmates in band class), I knew I really didn't have any aptitude for making my own music. Yet, one day, my father was kind enough to get my brother and me a Casio keyboard. The novelty was there with all of the different features and music patterns, but like all novelties, this gradually wore off and poor Casio got stuffed into the closet, and I'm assuming that sometime during my days in Japan, the instrument finally got thrown out.

Fortunately, though, for folks like me who like to listen to music, a few folks on this planet not only actually had the aptitude but had the interest and raw talent to make music such as Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)and Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)among many others.

I wrote briefly through the "Computer Obaachan"(コンピューターおばあちゃん)article on this kiddie technopop band that was around from 1979-1982 called Cosmic Invention(コスミック・インベンション). Although I'm a big Yellow Magic Orchestra fan, I had never heard about these kids on synths until a couple of years ago thanks to the blog.

The idea to come up with this junior version of YMO coalesced when Kazuo Morioka(森岡一夫), the founder of Hillwood, a company which made synthesizers, decided to put together a band centering around his own teenage daughter, Mima Morioka(森岡みま), with members her own age. With Mima on drums and vocals, there were Yoshimasa Inoue(井上能征), Katsumi Sato(佐藤克巳), Kanna Hashimoto(橋本かんな) and Kiyomi Ando(安藤聖己)on the various synths. Just to inform you, I'm not totally sure on the reading of Ms. Ando's first name since according to, there are a few readings and I couldn't find either a romaji or furigana depiction elsewhere online; also she left the band in 1981.

Cosmic Invention's debut record came out in March 1981, "YAKIMOKI" (Anxiety), and listening to it, I think it does sound like Haruomi, Ryuichi and Yukihiro if they had started up YMO as children. There's something very sing-song and cute about it but to be honest, I enjoy the band's 2nd single, "Computer Obaachan" better. But there's no doubt about the pleasant clarity of Morioka there when she's singing.

That connection between Cosmic Invention and YMO was solidified as the former actually warmed up for the latter at the Budokan in December 1980. Just imagine these kids warming up for one of the biggest bands in Japan at the time at one of the most prestigious venues in the country. I wouldn't blame any of them if they felt supremely yakimoki.

After Cosmic Invention broke up in 1982, some of the members kept on going in the music industry with the notable person being Yoshimasa Inoue who decided to parlay his skills into those of a singer-songwriter. His name has already popped in the Labels section under that capacity with him providing songs for folks like Miho Morikawa(森川美穂)and AKB48. Professionally, his name is now written in Japanese as 井上ヨシマサ.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Yoshito Machida -- Senshi no Kyuusoku (戦士の休息)

I remember years ago when I was back in high school when there was this sci-fi-thriller called "Firestarter" starring David Keith and a very young Drew Barrymore, still fresh from her debut in "E.T." in 1982. It was all about a girl and her father trying to flee from a sinister government agency because of her terrifying abilities at pyrokinesis.

Well, there was this other Japanese movie that I believe my parents had been watching on our ancient Panasonic VHS player that had a somewhat similar plot. Titled "Yasei no Shomei"(野性の証明...Never Give Up), it came out in 1978 and starred the stoic Ken Takakura(高倉健)who would find Hollywood fame in "Black Rain" several years later and a very young Hiroko Yakushimaru(薬師丸ひろ子)who wouldn't end up in the recording booth for another few years. I remember seeing that one scene near the end of the movie where a whole bunch of SDF tanks were ominously approaching the characters for one last battle.

On hearing the theme song, memory engrams started flashing on and off in my brain. I know that I have heard the song before whether it be from the movie itself or on some TV retrospective of kayo kyoku. Whatever the case, "Senshi no Kyuusoku" (Respite for the Warrior) by singer Yoshito Machida(町田義人)is a nice slice of mellow 1970s pop.

Up to now, I've been partial to instruments such as the Fender Rhodes piano and a good thumpy bass. Now I realize that I have to add an especially twangy guitar. And "Senshi no Kyuusoku" has it in good amounts. It might be because that guitar automatically triggers the release of some relaxing endorphins of nostalgia, and there is something of the "lone rider traveling the open road" feeling to it. Basically the whole song has that emotion hanging off of it.

Written by Keisuke Yamakawa(山川啓介)and composed by Yuji Ohno(大野雄二), "Senshi no Kyuusoku" was a big hit for Machida who had started out in the Group Sounds bands a decade back with Castle & Gates(キャッスル&ゲイツ)and then Zoo Nee Voo(ズー・ニー・ヴー). The single which was released in July 1978 managed to sell perhaps up to 850,000 records as it peaked at No. 6 on Oricon.

After Machida left Zoo Nee Voo in 1970, he took on a solo career and in the next 7 to 8 years, he created about 400-500 commercial jingles for TV. There is something about "Senshi no Kyuusoku" which would make it ideal as an ad song for some product...perhaps whiskey. Very comfortable.

Chiyoko Shimakura -- Ai no Sazanami (愛のさざなみ)

Caught my first "Uta Kon"(うたコン)in a few weeks. The theme was one that has popped up on the program a number of times in the past including when the NHK kayo show was titled "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)...all about ardent love. The show even had an actress give a reading of some messages of love from some famous folks such as novelist Soseki Natsume(夏目漱石)and songwriter Rokusuke Ei(永六輔).

Most of the songs that were featured have already shown up on this blog so the one new tune that stood out to me was Chiyoko Shimakura's(島倉千代子)"Ai no Sazanami" (Ripples of Love) that first saw the light of day back in July 1968 as the single commemorating her 15th anniversary in show business. What was interesting about the song was that despite its categorization on the J-Wiki article as an enka song (and all the singers in this article dressed in kimono), I really don't think it sounds like an enka tune...or a Mood Kayo song, for that matter. I don't hear any Japanese instruments; it's a gently rolling piano and guitar anchoring the ballad. In fact, I think there is almost something downright Carpenters about it. According to that article, the backing chorus was actually recorded in Los Angeles at the composer's suggestion but I'm not sure if that meant that an American group of backup singers was hired or whether Japanese backup singers were brought into LA.

"Ai no Sazanami" was written by Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼)and composed by Kuranosuke Hamaguchi(浜口庫之助). Nakanishi definitely leaves the love out there for Shimakura to sing. The first verse is as follows:

If there is truly a god on this Earth
I want to die in your arms
Gently, gently kiss me
In that lone boat on the lake
Over and over, just like ripples

I think it was a good choice for the song to be presented, and it was a good opportunity to find out about this fascinating pop song of the times performed by an already well-regarded enka singer. "Ai no Sazanami" was a huge hit for the late Shimakura, becoming a million-seller. And if I'm not mistaken, with Oricon just starting out, it was the singer's first entry into those charts, topping off at No. 20 for 2 straight weeks. December 1968 was also a busy one for her since she won a special prize at the Japan Record Awards as well as gaining her 12th straight appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen.

Of course for such a lovely song, covers are inevitable and I found this really wonderful version re-arranged as an R&B ballad and performed by none other than Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実), Kyoko Koizumi(小泉今日子)and Ann Lewis(アン・ルイス)back in the late 1980s.

Plus, there is Fuyumi Sakamoto(坂本冬美)providing her own version in 2006. But strangely enough, when I first heard the Shimakura original, I thought that "Ai no Sazanami" would also be an ideal choice for Kiyoshi Maekawa and The Cool Five(前川清とクール・ファイブ)to tackle.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

SOULHEAD -- Dear Friends

Got through my first assignment after returning from the cruise last weekend. Not too bad at all so the week is coming along fairly smoothly and I can't really complain about the weather either. Tomorrow, we may all get some fine summer stuff in the form of temperatures going up into the high 20s Celsius.

I was actually going through the long list of bookmarks on my computer to see if I can dispose of a few of them when I re-discovered one which went to a site filled with online radio stations. Out of curiosity, I plugged in one of the J-Pop stations on which this particular song was playing.

It was "Dear Friends" by SOULHEAD. The J-R&B boom started dissipating from around the mid-2000s so to hear this Hokkaido sister duo consisting of Yoshika and Tsugumi Sawayama sing their hearts out was nicely nostalgic. I could remember the days of Misia and bird. Actually, I had heard of this R&B act before (the sisters debuted in 2002) but never delved into what kind of music they were performing.

"Dear Friends" is their January 2007 single which stands as their final single up to now. It's a heartfelt ballad about finding that special someone after going through a rough patch in life. The song has got quite the healing feeling. Written and composed by SOULHEAD with further composing by the production company known as OCTOPUSSY, "Dear Friends" peaked at No. 60 on Oricon.

Actually, I went to their website (the link is above) and the collage of songs that greeted me sounded pretty darn good.