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, September 20, 2017

Marcos V.’s Special Selection Vol. II

Miho Fujiwara – Streets Are Hot

Probably the rarest song featured today, Miho Fujiwara’s (藤原美穂) “Streets Are Hot” is a true 80s gem, direct from 1986. Apparently, it was one of the songs used in “California Crisis”, an obscure anime OVA that seems not very great aside from its OST. Anyway, the song is a great example of City Pop from its time, with the irresistible groove, catchy melody, and sunny feeling. Even Miho’s vocals, which may sound a little too Kate Bush at some points, adds an admirable heat to the song.

Takako Ohta – MAGICIAN ~in the midnight~

And here’s another 80s gem, but now in the form of Takako Ohta’s (太田貴子) “MAGICIAN ~in the midnight~”, from 1989, that was produced by jazz saxophonist and composed Bobby Watson, and features a delicious and funky singalong chorus. Aside from all the Creamy Mami (魔法の天使クリィミーマミ) stuff that Ohta recorded in her aidoru days, she also released some interesting City Pop/R&B albums during the late 80s. Unfortunately, her fame has always been restricted to the anime niche, and true funky gems like “MAGICIAN ~in the midnight~” just got buried with time.

CHAGE and ASKA – Trip

After becoming with “Boku wa Kono Me de Uso wo Tsuku” (僕はこの瞳で嘘をつく) earlier this year, I had the pleasure of buying CHAGE and ASKA’s “SUPER BEST II” compilation from a fellow Brazilian for a very cheap price. Time passed by and it became the album I listened to the most this year (2017 is not over yet, but still). Aside from the aforementioned upbeat tune, “Trip” is the one song I keep returning to, thanks to its gorgeous melody and ASKA’s powerful delivery. Well, he’s always great, but there’s something special in “Trip”, and even a hint of sadness at some points. It’s interesting how it wasn’t a true hit when it was released back in 1988. The duo had to wait until the economic bubble burst to have their second, and definitive, wave of success.

The Checkers – Sea of Love

Even though it’s was not released as a single, “Sea of Love” is a big highlight from The Checkers’ (チェッカーズ) final album, “Blue Moon Stone”, which was released in 1992. Coupled with the band’s usual groove, the charming and soulful Fumiya Fujii (藤井フミヤ) delivers a sexy vocal performance that represents very well their maturity in this last effort.

Rica Matsumoto – Alola!! (アローラ!!)

Pokémon is a big part of my life, since my childhood days. Last year, when new titles Pokémon Sun and Moon were announced for the Nintendo 3DS, I knew it was my chance to buy a Nintendo portable for the first time in my life (a very old dream, since the Game Boy days) and start a new journey in a place called Alola, which was heavily inspired by Hawaii. Game story aside, new Pokémon games means a new season of the anime, which also got me pumped (I stopped watching the anime years ago, but playing the new games just got me interested in accompanying Ash/Satoshi and Pikachu in their journey again). So, after a few episodes, I started liking the opening a lot, even if it’s just another upbeat tune for a kids show. Maybe it was the Hawaiian touches, such as the timid inclusion of ukulele in the arrangement, or the infectious chorus sang by Rica Matsumoto (松本梨香), or the wild horns playing non-stop… or even that cute singalong interlude featuring Pikachu. The thing is, “Alola!!” (2017) became one of my favorite Pokémon opening themes, right next to the very old ones.

Hikaru GENJI – Nettaya (熱帯夜)

I remember talking about Hikaru GENJI’s (GENJI) “Waratte yo” (笑ってよ) a while ago, and “Nettaya” is somewhat similar in the sense that both are Latin-inspired songs. Released in 1991 as the coupling song to the single “WINNING RUN”, “Nettaya” explodes in an exuberant and glossy summer song that almost makes me want to sing the owaranai masquerade… owaranai natsu (終わらないマスカレード終わらない夏) from the first chorus together with the boys. The melody is so vibrant that almost masquerades (yeah, pun intended) Hikaru GENJI’s limited vocals, and I also love the arrangement composed mostly by keyboards, strong horns and the main synth line that shares its melody with the chorus. Great summer song by the guys!

Chisato Moritaka – Kanojo (彼女)

I generally tend to write about Chisato Moritaka’s (森高千里) Eurobeat tunes, but the hard rock of “Kanojo” just hit me hard since she released 1991’s “The Moritaka Tour” DVD/Blu-Ray (「ザ・森高」ツアー1991.8.22 at渋谷公会堂) for the first time ever a couple of months ago. The song is almost a duet of Chisato with the guitarist, thanks to the well-executed guitar solos. Of course, the rest of her band was also essential, like the omnipresent bassist, and it’s strange to almost see her as part of a band instead of as a solo artist. In the end, rather than the colorful and light sound we’re used to from her, I see “Kanojo” as a grey and hard song thanks to its very specific sound (at least in Moritaka’s overall discography).

Takuya Nakazawa – Aoi Diamond (青いダイヤモンド)

“Aoi Diamond” was a nice surprise that was released at the beginning of this year (2017). Takuya Nakazawa (中澤卓也) was also a new name for me, since I don’t follow the enka world with dedication. In fact, I don’t know if the song can be classified as pure enka, since it misses some of the genre’s main quirks and characteristics. Maybe some sort of Kayo Kyoku or Showa Era pop would be more adequate, even if rather vague… and I really like how the meaty vocal performance are a good show off of Takuya’s crooner skills (the big smile and plastic appearance helps too). As for the song, it’s surprisingly catchy for what it is, and I just love to sing it while watching the live performances. I want to hear more from Takuya, since he has such a beautiful voice and pleasant style.

Greeen Linez – Sallot Ski

After “Hibiscus Pacific”, “Sallot Ski” (2012) is my favorite offer from the British duo Greeen Linez and their obsession with 80s Japanese aesthetics. There’s some sort of mystique in this song that I’m not even able to explain, but I drown into this strange feeling every time I play it. Of course I do a little head dance as well, but that’s only because of the obvious groove. In the end, this is a gorgeous underground tune.

Tatsuro Yamashita – REBORN

To end this list, a song from a true master! Honestly, I’m not well familiarized with Tatsuro Yamashita’s (山下達郎) songs, but I know how the singer-songwriter is considered a legend in the Japanese Record Industry. And “REBORN”, released in 2017 as a theme for the movie Namiya Zakkaten no Kiseki (ナミヤ雑貨店の奇蹟), showcases a basic element that Japan seems to like very much: melancholy. Thanks to the keyboard bits, coupled with Yamashita’s soulful vocal, all the melodic shifts, and the song’s overall ethereal mood, we’re simply in front of a great song.


  1. Hi, Marcos. It's been a while. Hope you're doing fine.

    Anyway, nice to see Chage and Aska in your selection again. Seems like you're becoming a fan of the duo. :) While "Trip" isn't one of really one of my absolute favourites, I do appreciate it for its mysterious atmosphere and dramatic score. ASKA's vocals really shine there too. I wonder if "Trip" would've become a major hit if it were released in the early 90's. "WALK" and "LOVE SONG" were such cases - released in the late 80's and weren't that successful, but released again a few years later and became hits.

    Glad that you finally got yourself a 3DS. Personally, while Pokemon Sun (the version I got) was fun, I still prefer the gen 4 games and its 2D style. But for the anime, I much prefer this new season. It doesn't feel like it takes itself as seriously as the older seasons, as represented in the bouncy "Alola!!", and I like the silly cartoony style, although I think that was why it recieved quite a bit of flak when it first came out.

    As for Takuya Nakazawa, he's also somewhat new to me. He's quite new to the world of enka and I only just got notified of him not too long ago via an "Uta Kon" episode. This is the first time I've heard of "Aoi Diamond" though, and it sounded a lot better than I thought - I'd also consider it more of an old kayo with touch of enka. I think he's pretty cute with that wide grin, and with those mellow vocals I feel like there's a chance that he could become another household name in terms of enka. Perhaps he just needs more exposure on NHK and TV Tokyo.

    1. Hi, Noelle.

      I confess that “SUPER BEST” II is the only CHAGE and ASKA album I’ve listened to so far. In all honesty, I’ve always had some kind of prejudice towards them, mostly because I just can’t like “SAY YES”, so that probably creates some kind of barrier between me and the duo. Maybe if they had more songs like “Boku wa Kono Me de Uso wo Tsuku”, I’d give them a little more attention (as a true fan, if you have some recommendations, I’m open to them). Even so, “SUPER BEST II” is a great compilation with lots of interesting songs, and even some synth-rock stuff from the duo (I’d never imagine they’d record fun stuff like “Morning Moon” or “Yubiwa ga Naita” instead of the folk stuff from the early 80s). My favorites are “Morning Moon”, “Tasogare wo Matazu ni”, “Count Down”, “Yubiwa ga Naita”, “Trip”, “WALK”, “DO YA DO” and, of course, “Boku wa Kono Me de Uso wo Tsuku”.

      Getting a 3DS was a dream come true, and I’m still playing Pokémon Moon, the version I got (almost 700 hours of playing). I’ve been putting a lot of effort into competitive training, so that’s why I spend so much time playing (every single night). About Gen 4, I confess it’s probably my least favorite so far. However, even though Sinnoh wasn’t really great for me, I’d like to play a remake of it, just like past generations (ORAS is still waiting for me, though). Back to Alola, I enjoyed all the changes and the graphics, and I hope the new games introduces cool stuff for us besides the new Dusk Form Lycanroc (I was dying to see some Johto love, such as new Alola forms, new Mega Evolutions for Gen 2 starters, or stuff like that). As for the anime, I’m okay with this new humorous style. I remember back in Gen 1 how the anime had a lot of funny and silly moments (even Pikachu had a great personality back then), something that got lost as time passed by. My only criticism of the current season is the lack of battles so far, and also the amount of characters, but let’s see how it evolves. By the way, I’m anxious about the next episode, since Ash will battle Misty and Brock in Kanto. I feel like my childhood days are back!!!

      As for Takuya Nakazawa, he surely is portrayed like the super cute (the smile, the smile), approachable, but also stylish enka singer, but I’ve found him very talented too. "Aoi Diamond" is easily one of my favorite releases this year, and I remember not being very excited about it after one of two listens (it simply grew on me, and I'm glad I gave the song an opportunity putting it on my playlist). Like you said, and I missed the word while writing, his vocals are very mellow. Also, he’s releasing an album in the next few days, so I hope to see him performing in some TV shows.

    2. Hi, Marcos.

      Well, "SUPER BEST II" is a good start. C&A did venture into synth-rock in the mid 80's - t'was a drastic change, but it was a step in the right direction as the folk stuff was getting a bit bland. Judging from what you like and based on some of my favourites, I've got some recommendations (hopefully you'll be OK with them):
      - Mr Asia, Rainy Night, Love Affair, Twilight Zone (maybe..?), Big Tree, Mizu no Heya (水の部屋), Rhapsody (ラプソディ), Naze ni Kimi wa Kaeranai (なぜに君は帰らない), GUYS, Heart, On Your Mark.

      If you're feeling adventurous, you could perhaps give "Red Hill" a go too.

      For Pokemon, I've never been into competitive gaming, mostly because I'm terrible at strategy and multiplayer stuff as a whole - practice makes perfect, I guess, but dang, Marcos, 700 HOURS?! Anyways, I like Gen 4 the most because it was where I started my Pokemon journey (in terms of games), if you will. My first game was Heartgold and it still remains my favourite to this day. Sinnoh, on the other hand, grew on me - I didn't like it at first. For Alola, I have to say that it was better and more fun than Kalos. The new pokemon and alola form designs were really cool - gotta love alolan diglett and dugtrio! I'm still waiting for them to put make an Alola Growlithe and Arcanine though... :/ and to be frank the Dusk Lycanroc was rather underwhelming; I was hoping it'd look like a mix of Midday and Midnight form but it just looks like a darker version of the Midday form. Well, now that the Nintendo eshop just released the original Gold and Silver titles, I can't wait to play it! Probably going to choose Silver for its version exclusive pokemon, since I've already played Heartgold.

      Moving on, now I do hope Takuya Nakazawa appears on TV again to sing "Aoi Diamond". Unlike you, I liked it the moment I heard it and its currently stuck in my head... He's also much younger than I expected - 2 years my senior only! I'll be looking forward to more of his works and seeing that adorable smile.

    3. Thanks a lot for your recommendations, Noelle. I'll give every one of these songs a try.

      As for Pokémon, I like double battles more than singles, so I'm trying hard developing some strategies. However, I rarely play online, so I spend more time breeding and evolving the Pokémon I like. Right now, though, I think I'm almost over with it. You've talked about Heartgold, and I liked it a lot (well, it was a remake of Johto, and I'm an old player)... even if I only played a pirate copy of it (that's how I survived playing Pokémon in the last 17 years. The first one I got was "Red", and in a floppy disk my father bought in Rio de Janeiro back in 2000). Maybe in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Kanto becomes available as well, but I don't want to set my hopes too high. We'll just have to wait and see. As for the old titles being rerealeased, I confess that I don't have the patience, mostly because of the few moves available at the time. I may play the Yellow copy that came with my 3DS some day, though.

      Good that "Aoi Diamond" is stuck in your head. I showed it to one of my friends, and she doesn't like Japanese music at all, but she still was able to connect to the song. It's cheesy and old-fashioned, but kinda catchy as well.

  2. Hi, Marcos.

    Good to hear from you again. Thanks for your recommendations on some of the good stuff.

    Miho Fujiwara is definitely indicative of some of that City Pop that has been hidden among the anison from the 1980s. Listening to "Streets Are Hot", there is a lot of that feeling of what general American R&B was like back in that decade.

    "Trip" by C&A is another hidden jewel. I gather that the duo was overlooked during most of the 1980s until "Say Yes" brought them back into the spotlight in 1991. I may have to look more into Checkers' later output since it seems like they were releasing some more polished material. That's also true with Hikaru Genji; from some of the music that we both have covered, I'm coming to the realization that the group was coming up with catchy melodies backed by some grand horns.

    As Noelle mentioned, Nakazawa is also a new face to me but his "Aoi Diamond" is reflective of the saying that often applies to Japanese pop music: what's old is new again.

    I heard the actress featured in "REBORN" video sing this very song on Tuesday night. She was very nervous on stage (as she admitted) but did a game try. However, I think Tats himself has got the voice. After so many years, he's still got the amazing ability!

    Thanks again!

    1. Hi, J-Canuck.

      About Checkers, I think you'd like their final album. Well, I surely did... and even bought an old copy of it on ebay. I'll probably write about it in a near future, since I found the majority of the songs on YouTube. As for Hikaru GENJI, it seems like their summer/Latin songs are pretty fun. I've been listening to some other from them with the same vibe, mostly album tracks, and they connect well with both "Nettaiya" and "Waratte yo".

      Finally, I've listened to the version of "REBORN" you talked about (it was recorded in studio as well), but, if I remember correctly, it's more acoustic than Yamashita's original one. So, I prefer his melancholic 80s version instead.

    2. Hello, Marcos.

      Yes, I will definitely be interested in what you have to say about Checkers' final album. I think I may have one more song of theirs from their later period up my sleeve.

  3. Hi Marcos!

    If you (or some other people) are interested in more Miho Fujiwara goodness, you should check the self-titled album "Chocolate Lips". It's in the same vein as "California Crisis" songs, maybe a bit more funky. Same musicians here.

    Both this album and the "California Crisis" LP/EP were hard to find and very expensive on 2nd hand market for many years but you can find them easily now, thanks to Sony who re-released "Chocolate Lips" with the "California Crisis" LP as bonus tracks for the very first time on CD in 2015 (ref.: MHC7-30029).

    1. Hi, Daemonskald.

      When you mentioned Chocolate Lips, I completely forgot that Fujiwara had jammed in as the vocalist. I even wrote an article on "Day Dreamin'" back in 2015.


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