Reading about singer-songwriter Etsuko Sai（彩恵津子）in "Japanese City Pop" and then actually listening to one of her trademark tunes, "Reach Out" a few years ago, I finally decided to invest my yen into one of her albums. But still not having a full idea about her discography, I then chose to purchase her BEST compilation as a primer. I found this one titled "Etsuko Sai: Golden Best" which, according to Amazon Japan, was released in 2012.
I got the album some months ago, and perhaps my expectations were too high at the time. I had been hoping that I would get a good earful of smooth bass-heavy City Pop much along the lines of the mysterious Takako Mamiya（間宮貴子）. However, that wasn't quite the case; the tracks gave me the impression of a mix of genres flittering among City Pop and regular pop, so I was a bit disappointed. Perhaps that wasn't a fair tally but I couldn't deny my emotions.
But with some passage of time, I listened to it a second time, and this time, my impressions were much more favourable. Simply some adjustment was needed. That has been the case with a few albums I've bought over the decades.
In any case, here is the lineup:
1. Whisper Not（ウイスパーノット）
2. All I Need
3. Don't Say It
4. Eien no Morning Moon（永遠のモーニング・ムーン）
5. Rear Window no Palm Tree（リアウインドゥのパームツリー）
6. Everlasting Dream（エヴァーラスティング・ドリーム）
7. Second Virgin（エヴァーラスティング・ドリーム）
8. Kuchibiru no Junan（くちびるの受難）
9. Side Seat no Natsu（サイドシートの夏）
10. Yuki no Valentine（雪のバレンタイン）
11. Ame ni Egaita Regret（雨に描いたリグレット）
13. Reversible de Koi Shiteiru（リバーシブルで恋してる）
14. Reach Out (Japanese version)
15. Reach Out (English version)
Sai's first single was "Whisper Not" from 1984. Listening to this song as the first track, I got that first notice that it wasn't all about City Pop when it came to the Tokyo native. Listening to it again, I received that new feeling of a happy-go-lucky tune with a Jackson 5 flavour. Written by Tetsuya Chiaki（ちあき哲也）and composed by Tetsuya Furumoto（古本鉄也）, "Whisper Not" definitely had that more mature pop sense and seemed to be about a feckless young lady who was taunting a soon-to-be ex-lover.
"All I Need" was her 2nd single and the title track from her 2nd album which was released in 1985. The J-Wiki article for Sai listed the album as having been recorded in Los Angeles, and just from listening to this particular song, I felt that it had that taste of 1980s AOR. It was written and composed by Soo Jeffers. Slapped myself upside the head since I wondered why I didn't fall for "All I Need" the first time because I always did love that particular keyboard used in there.
From her 3rd album "Delication" (1986) comes "Reversible de Koishiteiru" (Falling In Love Inside Out). It isn't quite an earworm but I like the horns and I finally get my bass. This is where I get my bright lights and big city from listening to this one. Furumoto from "Whisper Not" also composed this uptempo song with Sai providing the lyrics.
Seeing that title of Sai's 4th single for the first time, "Rear Window no Palm Tree" (Palm Tree Through The Rear Window) from January 1986, I couldn't help but think of a certain Alfred Hitchcock movie. Having said that, the actual song is far less urgent although the lyrics by Sai speak of the bittersweet end of a relationship while taking in the seashore sights. Furumoto once again provided the music although it's a much more languid melody.
In a way, this may be another movie shoutout. "Pygmalion" was the source for the famous Rex Harrison/Audrey Hepburn hit "My Fair Lady", and it's also a track from Sai's 4th original album "Passio" from October 1986 as well as her 7th single from November of that year. Although the setting seems to be Tokyo, the arrangement has that pan-Asian atmosphere as a woman who has helped mold her beau into something of a ladykiller on the dance floor. Chinfa Kan（康珍化）, under his pen name of Shirusu Morita（森田記）, wrote the lyrics this time, while Tetsuya Tsujihata（辻畑鉄也）composed "Pygmalion".
I could only find "Miotsukushi" (Marks In A Water Channel) through the Apple site as an excerpt but I wanted to include this one not only because it is the last track on Sai's "Golden Best" but it is also a melodic outlier compared to the other tracks. It was actually the theme song for an NHK morning serial drama of the same title from 1985 about life in Choshi City, Chiba Prefecture between the 1920s to the postwar era. With lyrics by James Miki（ジェームス三木）and music by Shinichiro Ikebe（池辺晋一郎）, "Miotsukushi" has that old-fashioned beauty and Sai's voice matches the feeling of how I thought ballads were sung back in the early 20th century.
Happily, my reaction to Sai's "Golden Best" has been improving and it has me interested in more of her original albums (hopefully they aren't too difficult to track down) if only to find some more gems that perhaps should also have been included on her BEST compilation.