Reading Noelle's list of her favourite songs from the 1930s and 1940s, I decided it was time to talk about my likes in the shibui genre of Mood Kayo. Originally, I had been musing about getting a large list together of both enka and Mood Kayo but having done this blog for some years now, I've come to the realization that although both genres might occupy the same general watering hole with overlapping topics, so to speak, they are different customers in my estimation. Enka is about the old traditional Japan with the traditional instruments, often out in the more scenic countryside areas. Mood Kayo is more about kayo of the urban areas, specifically the bars and nightclubs, accompanied by Western instruments giving hints of jazz or Latin. Having just said that, perhaps this genre was the City Pop of the immediate postwar period even before City Pop.
In any case, let me begin. And considering the number of Mood Kayo that is already on display here, I have plenty of favourites but I had to winnow things down to a number I could count on both hands.
1. Yujiro Ishihara -- Brandy Glass (1977)
Yup, Noelle pegged it. This is the one I would begin with to discuss any Mood Kayo. At the time I first discovered this croon-worthy ballad by The Tough Guy back in 1981, I had assumed that it was a jazzier version of enka. And speaking of firsts, I would say that this was one of the very first Mood Kayo that I listened to and liked. Listening to Ishihara's dulcet tones and the dramatic arrangement (piano flourish, sharp trumpet, operatic lady), I always think of the Ginza or Akasaka districts in Tokyo and the late great Ishihara swirling around a tumbler of that titular brandy while inhaling an expensive cigarette and inhabiting his favourite place in his favourite nightclub.
2. Frank Nagai and Kazuko Matsuo -- Tokyo Nightclub (1959)
Of course, if I'm talking about nightclubs, I have to make that smooth-as-brandy segue into "Tokyo Nightclub". One of the true classic kayo duets, I was listening to this long before I even got interested in Japanese music, thanks to Dad's stereo. Although the nightclubs were all the post-dinner thing during the really profitable times of Economic Miracle Japan, I always wondered how regular folks saw nightclubs during the time that this song first hit it big. Was it seen and heard as this fantasy place that only the well-to-do movers and shakers could enter? If so, then those staged settings of fancy nightclubs and that Latin sound definitely helped in creating the illusion.
3. Takashi Hosokawa -- Kita Sakaba (1982)
Like "Brandy Glass" above, "Kita Sakaba" was one of the first Mood Kayo that I ever came across and took on the familiar trope of drinking. Unlike Ishihara's classic, though, Hosokawa's trademark tune was quite light on its feet. I always imagine a slightly tipsy Hosokawa and friends doing some major barhopping in northern Japan where each of the establishments are small affairs with plenty of carousing and imbibing. No time for introspection into the tumbler here; just knock back those glasses of beer or shochu and exhale mightily and satisfactorily before moving onto the next place. You can link onto the title above for my article and also here to get contributor Francium's take on "Kita Sakaba".
4. Hiroshi Itsuki -- Yokohama Tasogare (1971)
Also one of the first Mood Kayo that I got to know shortly after my awakening to Japanese pop music, I first listened to the empty karaoke version of Itsuki's most famous song for a number of months before I was finally able to hear the full-throated take. I hadn't been aware of how old "Yokohama Tasogare" was or even what one of Japan's largest cities was like but I knew that I was listening to something cool and urban and it did get my interest up in actually visiting Yokohama. I'm happy to say that I've been there a number of times now.
5. Teresa Teng -- Tsugunai (1984)
I knew that I had to include a Teresa Teng number into this list as much as I had to include a Yujiro Ishihara ballad, but the tough thing was that when it came to the late Ms. Teng's discography, it was actually hard to pick which one of her Mood Kayo songs would be the appropriate one. However, I ultimately decided to go with the one ballad that always got me in the heart, and that would be "Tsugunai". It definitely fulfills the Mood Kayo condition in that it does evoke a certain mood of nostalgia and romance but it's something that goes far beyond the bars and clubs of Tokyo; I hinted in the original article that there was something of the European enka about it. Well, when I listen to "Tsugunai", there is always that feeling of the Riviera and perhaps a drinking establishment there that might even be too pricey for most Japanese executives under President to enter.
6. Hiroshi Uchiyamada and The Cool Five -- Nagasaki wa Kyou mo Ame Datta (1969)
To wrap up my list of favourite Mood Kayo, of course, I also had to find a representative of the vocal groups. And this time, there was no dawdling on my choice. When it comes to Mood Kayo groups, the first one that comes to mind is The Cool Five with the stolid Kiyoshi Maekawa as the lead vocal. That saxophone, the mellow melody and of course the harmony by The Cool Five themselves make it all worthwhile. This would be the ideal ballad to take a walk along Nagasaki Bay at night, although I could do without the rain. Heck, this would be a great song to hear while strolling along any harbour at night.
As I said, there are many more songs that I would have liked to have placed here but I would have simply gotten more mired in the decision-making. Let's just say that these 6 are for me the cream of a bountiful crop.