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.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Mariko Takahashi -- Tasogare no Machi kara (黄昏の街から)

The above photo is of Mariko Takahashi's(高橋真梨子)2nd album "Sunny Afternoon" from February 1980. Back in the day, I was trying to pick up the chanteuse's early albums since I figured (quite correctly) that they would become quite difficult to find. And sure enough in the last few years of my stay in Japan, I really couldn't find any of her albums before the 1990s in the major CD shops in Tokyo.

Unfortunately, I have yet to get her 4th album into my possession. This is "Tenderness" from March 1981, and there is something about the cover photos from those early albums with Takahashi photographed in that slightly fuzzy manner which makes those releases all the more nostalgically appealing.

What will make "Tenderness" even more appealing to obtain is the final track "Tasogare no Machi kara" (From The Sunset Streets). That voice and that arrangement make a lovely pairing for an ending ballad. I'm just imagining standing on one of the pedestrian overpasses in West Shinjuku looking at the sun go down on another Tokyo day as I listen to this. I had to look fairly hard to find out who the songwriters were. Well, I basically went "Naruhodo" when I found out it was Etsuko Kisugi and Takao Kisugi(来生えつこ・来生たかお). The songwriting siblings were always very accomplished at creating these wonderfully soft ballads.

Koji Tsuruta -- Kizu Darake no Jinsei (傷だらけの人生)

The record cover among the pile of old 45"s that has remained in my memory the longest is in the picture above. At the time that I had first seen it, I had no idea what it was about and why the old guy in the photo needed to expose his right shoulder like that. I couldn't read the kanji at the time but seeing some of the old videos at the Wednesday night VCR showings at the former site of the Toronto Buddhist Church on Bathurst had me thinking that this guy was some samurai warrior without the chonmage.

Well, as I would later find out much later, that rather dramatic-looking fellow was singer-actor Koji Tsuruta(鶴田浩二). Noelle has already started the Tsuruta file with his 1953 song "Machi no Sandwich Man"(街のサンドイッチマン), the ballad about the working man in postwar Japan. As my fellow writer would put it, the song had that certain jauntiness that was reminiscent of a score on an old-fashioned Walt Disney picture.

Tsuruta's biggest hit would come some 17 or 18 years later with his 16th single "Kizu Darake no Jinsei" (A Life Filled With Scars) which was composed by Tadashi Yoshida(吉田正), the same man who had created the melody for "Machi no Sandwich Man", and written by Masato Fujita(藤田まさと). Supposedly when Fujita had first come up with some of the lyrics, he had Tsuruta in mind.

On that above point, I have to say that I barely know anything about the life and career of Tsuruta (1924-1987), but the lyricist must have seen in the late singer a time of struggle and hard work in his life. According to the Wikipedia bio for the Shizuoka-born/Osaka-raised singer, his parents had divorced and he ended up as an underachieving delinquent before getting drafted into the Imperial Army. When he entered show business, he gained a reputation as one of the hardest-working thespians around.

I'm not sure whether Tsuruta's life had been as tough but "Kizu Darake no Jinsei" certainly has its protagonist crying some major blues. Perhaps the hero was a world-weary warrior in the Edo Era or the Showa Era but Fujita's lyrics made it rather clear that he was pretty much at the end of his rope and wanted to relay his story to someone who would listen...maybe at some bar or at lonely stand serving oden. There were a couple of lines which particularly intrigued me:

It's said that the old guys in particular want to have the new things.
Well, where are these new things?

I wonder if Fujita had been bearing in mind a certain group of people at a major change in Japanese history. Would it have been the tumult that accompanied the opening of Japan when Commodore Perry and his ships sailed in or was it when the nation went through its high-growth period after the war. Perhaps there were people who had felt left behind with the change in society. And especially considering the title, did the protagonist wonder if all of his efforts were for naught?

Although I'm not sure whether Tsuruta had done this with every performance on stage and/or in front of the camera, but according to J-Wiki, it was his habit whenever he sang to have a handkerchief in his right hand when holding the mike while his left hand would go to his ear. Apparently, his right hand got very sweaty during performances and his left ear had been injured while serving in the army so he needed that left hand in helping to hear the music.

"Kizu Darake no Jinsei" was not a happy ballad at all but it struck a huge chord with fans since it was his first song to break into the Top 10 when it was released on Christmas Day (of all days) 1970. In fact, it hit No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and was the No. 4 song of 1971 as it stayed in the Top 10 for 3 months straight, selling close to a million records. Tsuruta also earned a Japan Record Award. And furthermore, two movies were made based on the song, both with the same title.

You would think that such a hit would have gotten Tsuruta a place on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen in 1971. However, all the national broadcaster got at the time was enmity from Tsuruta. For some reason, someone at NHK decided to make up a list of "Songs Not Preferred for Public Broadcast" and "Kizu Darake no Jinsei" was included. The singer was said to have become furious when he heard about this and boycotted any future appearances on the network for about 6 years. When Tsuruta and NHK finally buried the hatchet though, the former did perform the song on the various music programs.

Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし)would perform a cover of the ballad on one of his albums in 1988.

And Keiko Fuji(藤圭子)also gave her version.

Even the crusty Dad from venerable anime "Tensai Bakabon" (天才バカボン...Genius Bakabon) addressed those two lines that I'd mentioned before launching into his cover of the song on a "Nodo Jiman"-like program. And he won a prize, too!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Hi-Fi Set/Yoichi Takizawa -- Memorandum (メモランダム)

Nice and lovely Saturday out there! It might still be a little too cool for al fresco dining and drinking at a high of 11 degrees Celsius but after a bunch of days hovering around the zero mark or far below, I'm sure a lot of Torontonians are lapping up the warm weather like thirsty kittens.

Well, why don't I give you a taste of the Riviera then through some 1970s sophisticated pop? Of course, when I mention that decade and that genre, I can only think of the vocal group Hi-Fi Set (ハイ・ファイ・セット). It's been a while since I've brought another article by this Japanese version of The Manhattan Transfer. From covers of Yuming hits to jazzy numbers, Junko Yamamoto(山本潤子), Toshihiko Yamamoto(山本俊彦)and Shigeru Ohkawa(大川茂)could interpret the entire New Music songbook.

I just discovered "Memorandum", Hi-Fi Set's 9th single from April 1977. It's a champagne-and-caviar number with a light touch, and the vocal harmonies by the Set haven't been better. Dining on the good stuff by the Mediterranean probably found itself a theme song with this one. The music does take one to sunnier climes abroad although the lyrics by Rei Nakanishi (なかにし礼) are slightly more melancholy as a woman leafs through an old memo book left by a former paramour.

"Memorandum" was also a track on the group's 4th album from September 1977, "The Diary". That release also has another favourite Hi-Fi Set song of mine, "Koi no Nikki"(恋の日記).

The music was by singer-songwriter Yoichi Takizawa(滝沢洋一), a singer-songwriter who I haven't been able to find much in the way of information. He has apparently provided songs for many other singers but according to Tower Records, he himself had only released one album which was in 1978, "Leonidas no Kanata ni"(レオニズの彼方に...Beyond Leonidas). On that album is his own cover of "Memorandum".

His version is just as sunny and made even lighter thanks to his high-toned vocals. But instead of that luxury resort that Hi-Fi Set's original version envisages, Takizawa's take is a nice stroll along on the boardwalk while wondering how life is like in that resort. "Leonidas no Kanata ni" has been described as one of those "mystery albums" due to its rarity. I can take that as a challenge.

Especia -- Twilight Palm Beach (トワイライトパームビーチ)

The above was taken not too far away from home during a heavy snowstorm. It's about as February as February can get in my city. And then we hit the deep freeze in the beginning of the week.

But nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to weather in Toronto. As I've continued to say, it's predictably unpredictable. It's Saturday today and yep, we are hitting 11 degrees Celsius. Time to break out the flip-flops and sunblock lotion!

So, let me bring in some premature summery times via the good ladies at Especia. This is "Twilight Palm Beach" from their 2013 EP "Amarga - Tarde".

In Marcos V's recent articles in the last couple of months, it seems like the niche aidoru group that had been trying to corner the neo-City Pop/80s market was moving on and perhaps passing on the baton to groups such as Dance for philosophy. However, back then, Especia was bringing back the urban contemporary groove of yesteryear.

With a title like "Twilight Palm Beach", you couldn't get more City Pop/Resort Pop. There's also that nice slow beat just like lapping waves on the sunset shore. It's about as relaxed a ballad as I've heard from Especia. Heck, the cover for the EP also fairly screams the genre.

Along with the laidback music by Schtein and Longer, the lyrics by mirco and Paul Moriya(ポウル守屋)relate the bittersweet ending of a romance to go along with the cooling of the seasons. One would expect a cool basso profundo DJ to introduce and give a finishing narration to the song. "Amarga - Tarde" reached a peak ranking of No. 52 on Oricon.

Speaking of cooling of the seasons, our balmy weather will probably go into the week but rest assured, there will be at least a few more weeks of frosty times before spring finally comes into view.

Nissy (Takahiro Nishijima) -- Mada Kimi wa Shiranai MY PRETTIEST GIRL (まだ君は知らない MY PRETTIEST GIRL)

In terms of my foray into current day J-pop, AAA is generally my go to group for various reasons. One of it is actually the members. While I don't mind all of them, the few I tend to gravitate to are Naoya Urata (浦田直也) for his vocals and style, Shinjiro Atae (與真司郎) for the looks, and the fellow I'll be talking about here, Takahiro Nishijima (西島隆弘), better known as Nissy, for a combination of both. He's also got a cute charm that makes him difficult to ignore, so it wasn't too surprising that I'd have a look into his solo works apart from his contributions to AAA.

The first of Nissy's solo singles I encountered just a few weeks ago was "Mada Kimi wa Shiranai MY PRETTIEST GIRL". Watching the MV that co-stared actress Kasumi Arimura (有村架純), it brought to mind what J-Canuck listed at the start of his article for Gen Hoshino's (星野源) "Koi" ():

Catchy funk-pop?
Quirky choreography?
Dapper clothing on the singer?
Personal appeal by the singer in the middle of the music video?

The rhythmic beat in the sunny melody is indeed catchy, and the jolly manner in which Nissy lilts "Mada Kimi..." makes for a fun and cheerful song to listen to. Then we've got the adorable "Pinky Dance" that had everyone wagging their pinkies throughout most of the MV. Looks a lot less rigorous than the "Koi Dance", if you ask me, but both are as amusing to watch. As for the dapper clothes, what looks like the cool alter ego of the awkward young man (both played by Nissy himself) is decked in a dark blue casual suit and fedora - it's almost Bruno Mars-like, and his crew are pretty spiffy in black. As for personal appeal, while it's not in the MV itself he did make a separate video (below this paragraph) where he conveyed his thanks to fans and collaborators alike before performing the Christmas edition of the "Pinky Dance" with his own mascot - a thick pair of lips with eyes. I think have bingo!

"Mada Kimi..." was released on 24th August 2016 as Nissy's 6th single. While it's not shown how well it did on the Oricon site, I'd like to think it fared quite well. Writing it were Hiromi (宏実) for the lyrics, and HENRIK Nordenback, SIRIUS, and Sebastian Zelle for the music - no wonder it had a western pop vibe.

This "alter ego" in a blue suit who sprinkles magic love dust seems like a recurring character in as I've seen "him" in a few other of Nissy's MVs.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Works of Toru Funamura (船村徹)

As has been the case since I started "Kayo Kyoku Plus", whenever I hear of a death in the Japanese music world, it's always been in the morning, specifically through NHK's "Newswatch 9", and this morning was no different. Composer Toru Funamura(船村徹)passed away at the age of 84 the day before. According to J-Wiki, he may have created more than 5,000 songs in a career that lasted over 60 years.

Unfortunately, I can't really impart any deep insights off the top (although in writing this article, that may change) about his musical style but his genres were most definitely enka and the somewhat poppier kayo of a past age. Just from some of the hits that he was responsible for, though, Funamura's enka melodies ranged from the poignant to the proud with the common point being the rich Japanese-ness of it all.

Funamura was born Hiroo Fukuda(福田博郎)in Tochigi Prefecture in 1932 and studied piano at what is now the Tokyo College of Music. His university days were during the postwar period when US military forces were frequently seen on the streets, and so he participated and even led a band which toured the US bases. He also collaborated with another budding composer, Kimio Takano(高野公男), to create music but tragically, Takano would pass away at the age of 26 in 1956.

The last time I saw Funamura on TV was on an episode of NHK's "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)early last year, I believe. And I think he also performed one song himself on stage. During the 1950s, he had his time behind the microphone, and according to his bio on J-Wiki, one of his four singles was "Shinjuku Jouwa"(新宿情話...Shinjuku Love Story)although I couldn't find out the exact year of its release. Composed by Funamura and written by Ryo Inomata(猪又良), it was the melancholy story of a man trying to comfort a young woman in distress in the titular neighbourhood of Tokyo.

I couldn't find an original copy of Funamura actually singing "Shinjuku Jouwa" but according to YouTube, it has been covered by a number of singers including Eisaku Ohkawa(大川栄策), one of his apprentices who would become one of the premier enka singers. That lone guitar expresses the tenderness of the situation and it would be one of those fine ballads to be sung by that traveling balladeer who used to walk the side streets of Shinjuku.

Officially, though, his debut as a composer came in 1953 when he made "Tasogare no Ano no Hito"(たそがれのあの人...That Man At Sunset), although I couldn't find out who the original singer was.

His first bona fide hit though came a couple of years later in 1955 when he composed "Wakare no Ippon Sugi"(別れの一本杉)for Hachiro Kasuga(春日八郎). The video above has Funamura himself singing the song about longing for home. Noelle has already fashioned an article about it right here.

I wrote about a Funamura-penned song just a couple of weeks ago called "Odorou Boku to"(踊ろうぼくと)from 1963 with all-Japanese guy Kazuo Funaki(舟木一夫). Revisiting this one and listening to some of the other hits, I've been getting the impression that Funamura enjoyed expressing aspects of the Japanese man's heart although he also made songs for female singers. This one was a bit less enka but there was that streak of gallantry in there.

In 1961, he composed one of Hideo Murata's(村田英雄)symbolic tunes, "Osho"(王将), a muscular enka that made the game of shogi into an epic battle. The above is a cover by Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし).

Another one of his manly-man songs was his 1982 hit for Ichiro Toba(鳥羽一郎), another one of his apprentices, the ode to a couple of fishermen brothers battling the elements, "Kyodai Bune"(兄弟船). No matter if it's a single piercing trumpet or a whole orchestra, the song packs a wallop of an impression. I can smell the sea salt from here.

Then a year later, "Yagiri no Watashi"(矢切の渡し)became one of the biggest hits for 1983 for Takashi Hosokawa(細川たかし)although it had first been sung by Naomi Chiaki(ちあきなおみ)as a B-side back in 1976. For me, it's one of the most recognizable enka.

Another kayo legend that Funamura created songs for was the one and only Hibari Misora(美空ひばり). In 1962, she released "Hibari no Sado Jouwa"(ひばりの佐渡情話...Hibari's Sado Love Story). As far as I know, Misora may be the only singer who had kayo titles with her name on them. Although the lyrics by Sou Nishizawa(西沢爽)may have had Misora femininely lamenting a lost love, Funamura's melody still reflected a strength of character that was part and parcel of the Misora mystique...the same mystique that was rumoured to have often terrified her fellow singers at any of the Kohaku that the Queen of Kayo appeared on. And yes, she also performed this song on the NHK New Year's Eve special.

Speaking of another famous singer from the old days, Funamura created a Mood Kayo for Keiko Fuji(藤圭子)as her 40th single in February 1987, "Shinjuku Banka"(新宿挽歌...Shinjuku Elegy). And it sounded like the composer crafted the ballad perfectly for his client: that late-night bluesy music paired with Rei Nakanishi's(なかにし礼)lyrics of shattered dreams that had exemplified Fuji's songs from the very beginning.

As I said at the top, Funamura composed over 5,000 songs since 1953. So if my descriptions here are a bit chintzy, I'm sure the articles that have already been written for some of his hits will be more illuminating and there will definitely be more Funamura-penned songs coming up in the future. I might even end up writing up on "Shinjuku Jouwa", "Shinjuku Banka" and the Misora ballad since they have yet to get their own articles as of this writing (but Noelle, if you want to give them a shot, please be my guest).

To finish, I managed to find one interesting story from the J-Wiki bio of Funamura. The original source is a Japanese webpage showing a conversation between him and fellow songwriter Eiichi Ohtaki(大瀧詠一). In 1959, an animated movie for which Funamura was responsible for the score had won a grand prize at a London-based movie festival, and the composer somehow was able to attend an audition for bands. After seeing the whole lot, he was then asked which groups were good. Funamura answered, "That slovenly group of four was the most interesting."

What floored Ohtaki was who that group was. Funamura may have thought the four were slovenly...and interesting, but the world kinda found out later that they were actually quite fab!

X -- Kurenai/20th Century Boy(紅)

The 2016 edition of the Kohaku Utagassen had its ups and downs. But the one thing that kinda went sideways in a weird way for me was X Japan's performance of one of their epic classics "Kurenai" (Crimson). Not that the performance was bad or anything but just the so-called reason for having it played on stage. According to one of the hosts of the show, Shin-Godzilla was getting rather antsy on the metropolis of Tokyo once again, and help was needed to drive him off.

Well, cue in X Japan to provide the sonic weapon necessary to soothe the savage breast of the huge beastie. It was almost as if X Japan was actually the X-Men...or a team of Ultramen! Not sure whether Yoshiki and company rolled their eyes on stage.

As Wikipedia and J-Wiki will report, "Kurenai" has quite the history behind it. It had been performed at concerts for years since about 1985 before it actually was released as their official debut single under a major label (their 3rd overall). And the Yoshiki-penned song apparently had undergone different variations to the point that it was starting to be considered a lost cause.

However, it did get its official release in September 1989 when the band was still called just X, and I think the above video is that version (if I am wrong, please correct me...I'm not an expert on the band at all). Listening to the song for the first time in its entirety, I was surprised about that orchestral intro and the lonely guitar before all that hell-raising metal came bursting in. Then, there were the English lyrics sung by Toshi to start:

I could not look back,you'd gone away from me
I felt my heart ache
I was afraid of following you
When I had looked at the shadows on the wall
I started running into the night to find the truth in me

Years ago, when I first saw X on television, I was frankly terrified by them. I mean, KISS and a plethora of other hair metal bands had been invading the tube for years and years back in the West. However, this was Japan...home of the prim, proper and neat, I had thought naively. But things were changing in the music industry in the late 1980s, and X was just as much an agent of that change as acts such as Dreams Come True and LA-PPISCH.

And despite all of the makeup, the screeching guitars and the ground-shaking drumming, "Kurenai" was basically a love song, although Yoshiki himself countered that it was actually more of a struggle in one person's heart. The strange thing about hearing about it now, over a quarter of a century since its release, is that it doesn't sound all that radical. I've been hearing similarly arranged pieces used in anime for years.

It's still a huge song for all of the fans and I can't even imagine it not being played at an X Japan concert. That single, by the way, peaked at No. 5 on Oricon and became the 74th-ranked song for 1989. A year later, it rose in the rankings to No. 67. "Kurenai" was also a track on their 1989 album "Blue Blood" which had come out earlier in April. That album got as high as No. 6 but it earned even more profuse praise in 2007 when the Japanese version of "Rolling Stone" placed "Blue Blood" as the 15th-ranked release in its list of Top 100 Japanese Rock Recordings.

The B-side/coupling song to "Kurenai" just happened to be the old T. Rex classic "20th Century Boy". X's version had even more octane added.

Heck, we even had one of our own Canadian bands do its cover of the song, Chalk Circle. I think it's awfully hard to screw up this tune.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Mami Ayukawa -- Kaze no No Reply (風のノー・リプライ)

A cloth to wipe my glasses since
after all only Mazinger Z can accomplish this.

When it comes to 1980s anime, I have to say that the only show that I saw with any dedication was "Macross", and that was basically because of its American adaptation "Robotech". Aside from that one, it was simply seeing snatches of this anime and hearing things about that anime.

So, yes, even I did hear about this show called "Juusenki L-Gaim"(重戦機エルガイム...Heavy Metal L-Gaim)which was another in a long series of mecha-based anime but never saw an episode.

But then in the last few days, I heard this wonderful 1980s tune that just happened to be the second opening theme song for "L-Gaim". On hearing "Kaze no No Reply" (No Reply From The Wind), my impression was that this was quite a cheery urban contemporary piece for a show about battling robots

And this was the debut of one Mami Ayukawa(鮎川麻弥)from Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward. That still for the video above may have Ayukawa looking like a typical aidoru but, truth be told, she was already about 22 years old when "Kaze no No Reply" was released in July 1984. The song may start out its first few bars sounding as if it were an American AOR song on helium but then when Ayukawa starts singing, it settles down nicely into a soaring anison with those beloved strings and snazzy horns. It just seems to go on like a piece of gum that doesn't lose its flavour. In addition, it doesn't hurt that Ayukawa's voice is more than game with Kyohei Tsutsumi's(筒美京平)music and Masao Urino's(売野雅勇)lyrics. I especially love it when she shoots out "No Reply".

This song has me comparing Ayukawa to fellow singers such as Anri(杏里)and Meiko Nakahara(中原めいこ)who were no slouches themselves when it came to 80s anison. "Kaze no No Reply" peaked at No. 17 on Oricon. She would release 12 more singles going mostly into the early 1990s although her most recent release came out in 2007.

Hikaru GENJI -- Waratte yo (笑ってよ)

Hikaru GENJI’s (GENJI) “Waratte yo” is a song I know since late 2010, when I first watched one of Music Station’s Special episodes (ミュージックステーション), this one from December 1990. In the aforementioned show, the Hikaru GENJI boys, which were the only male performers of the night (if we exclude the fact that B.B.QUEENS was a mixed band) in a vast sea of famous and ‘A game’ 80s female aidoru singers (names like Chisato Moritaka [森高千里], Wink, Seiko Matsuda [松田聖子], Akina Nakamori [中森明菜], Shizuka Kudo [工藤静香] and Miho Nakayama [中山美穂]), performed a medley of hit single “STAR LIGHT” and the newly released “Waratte yo”.

In general, it’s not hard to have a problem with Hikaru GENJI, since they’re pretty cheesy and the vocals really bad, even for Johnny’s standards. We can only think about listening to them nowadays for two reasons: one, of course, is nostalgia, while the other is production value, since their songs were not always that bad in the compositon/arrangement areas. “STAR LIGHT”, for example, is a good late 80s pop song, even if the group itself is lackluster. That said, my favorite from them has always been “Waratte yo”, a somewhat forgotten Latin-tinged gem from the group’s catalogue. I especially like the instrumental breakdown, but also wish it were longer.

To finish, here's the performance from "Music Station" I was talking about before.


Released in November 1990, “Waratte yo” was another hit single for the group, reaching #1 on the Oricon chart. Lyrics were written by Yoshiko Miura (三浦徳子), while music and arrangement were composed by Kouji Makaino (馬飼野康二).

Saori Minami -- Tomodachi (ともだち)

Took the night off last night since I was extremely tired from some large chunks of translation work that have been landing on me during this month. In fact, I'm still working but I made it a policy to stop at 7pm for sanity's sake. However I'm very grateful to Noelle and Marcos for putting up their respective articles on Wednesday. After reading the two of them, I'm awfully tempted to listen to one album again and buy the other.

Also, just to get my mind off work, I go to one of my hobbies which happens to be this blog.

First off, let me tell you something I do first thing in the morning. doesn't always involve flushing. Actually when I wake up, I often find the TV already on with the channel set to TV Japan, and before NHK's "Newswatch 9", there is an English conversation study program titled "Shigoto no Kiso Eigo"(しごとの基礎英語...Standard English for Work). It always involves the learning of some business English phrases in the setting of a fictional corporation based in Japan with the mixture of sitcom-friendly native English speakers and Japanese staffers who are fairly fluent in their second language themselves.

Now, the program, and its other cousins, have been on for a few years now at 7:55 am, and with "Shigoto no Kiso Eigo", the star of the show happens to be this fellow named Aki who's not quite as fluent as his comrades in the company. Well, a few days ago, my mother asked me if I knew who he was. As I said, I have been very familiar with Aki since he not only stars in this English conversation show but also appears sometimes as a reporter on the other NHK program "Asaichi"(あさイチ). So I figured that Mom had some trivia for me.

Well, I got out of my groggy state fairly quickly that morning when she told me that Aki happens to be actor/tarento Akinobu Shinoyama(篠山輝信). He is the son of famed photographer Kishin Shinoyama(篠山紀信)and former aidoru Saori Minami(南沙織)....yep, the same one who had gotten her fame right from the get-go with "Juu-nana Sai"(17才)all those decades ago.

So on that note, perhaps it's time to put in a Minami song tonight. Here is "Tomodachi" (Friends), a nice and breezy tune about that familiar pop cultural trope of a girl in love with a guy but, gosh darn it, can't string the words together to tell him how she feels.

Written by Mieko Arima(有馬三恵子)and composed by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平), "Tomodachi" has that typical early 70s sound of happy-go-lucky. However, those strings sound almost downright disco at times. Gives the song some extra juice, and the horns provide a bit of a comical touch to the proceedings. Although I don't think Minami's 3rd single from February 1972 was ever used as such, it could have become a theme for a family comedy-drama.

A few nights ago, I wrote an article about Chiyoko Shimakura(島倉千代子)and how her song came about due to something that was connected with her personally. Well, the same thing was true about Saori Minami and "Tomodachi". At the time of her stardom, Minami had been living out of hotels and confessed to her staff around her that it was difficult to make close friends. From that spark, "Tomodachi" got its genesis. The song managed to get as high as No. 7 on the weekly charts and would eventually be ranked No. 55 for 1972. It was also included on her 3rd studio album "Junketsu/Tomodachi"(純潔/ともだち...Purity/Friends)which was released later in June. That album peaked at No. 2.

One wonders if Aki's Mom will make a surprise cameo on that English conversation program and show him up!


Since I started listening to Japanese Pop more than ten years ago, I’ve never cared for w-inds. However, as I was watching the 2007’s edition of NHK Kouhaku Uta Gassen (NHK紅白歌合戦) a couple of weeks ago, w-inds. came up and performed a pretty fun disco-pop song called “Beautiful Life” that made me want to listen to some of their other stuff.

Trying to be somewhat smart, I thought to myself: if I liked “Beautiful Life”, I just have to listen to the single before or after this release, because it’ll probably have a similar sound. And that’s how I came across “LOVE IS THE GREATEST THING”, which was originally released four months before “Beautiful Life”.

Released in July 2007, “LOVE IS THE GREATEST THING” is also a contemporary pop song with some disco elements in the arrangement. I could see the background music being a little louder (it sounds a little too far away at some points), but I liked how they enhanced the old disco mix of brass and strings putting some nice sound effects on it… you know, trying to make it sound like a 21st Century production. In all honesty, though, the funniest thing about the song is how lead singer Keita Tachibana (橘慶太) reaches some high, wacky and over the top notes through the catchy chorus. It’s so, so wrong, but also very fun. In the end, I like Keita’s vocals, so I think he’s a very talented guy.

At first, I thought w-inds. only did boring hip-hop/urban songs, and I wasn’t totally wrong. However, they also had some pretty fun pop songs like these two I’ve mentioned so far, but also “IT’S IN THE STARS”, which was released in 2006. It’s just ironic how, thanks to some sort of prejudice, I didn’t check their songs before… but like the old saying, it’s better late than never.

“LOVE IS THE GREATEST THING” reached #4 on the Oricon chart, selling 34,416 copies. Lyrics were written by shungo., while music was composed by Henrik Korpi, Jens Bergmark and Lisa Millett. As for the arrangement, Koma2 Kaz was the responsible.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dance for philosophy -- Funky but Chic


Maybe we can’t rely on Especia to fill our hunger for silly aidoru groups recording 70s/80s-inspired funky gems anymore, but some other groups, like Dance for philosophy (フィロソフィーのダンス), are doing similar things… and que quality is just great!

So far, Dance for philosophy (yeah, they call themselves Dance for philosophy, even if the original katakana spelling points in other way) released one album in November 2016. Called “Funky but Chic”. The album is a collection of ten solid songs ranging from disco stompers to more aidoru-friendly territory, but never forgetting the 70s/80s overall theme.

First song “Aidoru Philosophy” (アイドル・フィロソフィー) is an instant winner with its anthemic feel anchored by a plethora of interesting sounds, such as the combination of chants and a jungle-like percussion at the beginning and brief yet strong guitar solos. Overall, it’s a funky synthpop song with rock touches here and there, but everything works in a very harmonic way. Also, one nice surprise: the girls are not bad performers at all, which is something unusual for underground aidoru acts. Truly amazing album opener, in my opinion.

Second song I’d like to highlight is the one chosen to have a proper music video, which is “I’m After Time” (アイム・アフター・タイム). Right from the beginning, it sounded obviously reminiscent of Chic’s disco material, and some comments on YouTube were quick to acknowledge the resemblance between this song and Chic’s “Forbidden Love”. After a while, though, you can see how the old disco was well integrated into this new offer, and a very well rounded Fusion/City Pop song emerges to be appreciated.

Now, as for the third song, it’s called “Kou Kando Agetai” (好感度あげたい). Maybe a little less serious than the other two, and falling in the aidoru-friendly category I mentioned before, it’s a bubbly and bouncy number with a catchy chorus with a funky bass in the arrangement.

Now, I’d like to notice one last thing: even though I only introduced three songs here, the whole “Funky but Chic” album is very nice and consistent. There are a couple of Motown-inspired songs, and even one resembling The Jackson 5, among other disco-inspired tunes. In the end, it’s a truly special aidoru album that makes fine reference to the 70s and 80s in a very classy, albeit sometimes silly, manner. As the group is not signed to a major label or anything, I can’t really tell if they’re going to continue its activities, but I’ll surely be happy if they keep this quality work in the near future.

Chage and Aska -- LOVE SONG

It's been a couple of weeks since my internship at AVA has ended, and while I'm definitely glad that I don't have to do anymore live fish experiments - the fishes' fate was usually grim, so I didn't enjoy it - I can't help but miss some of people from there. There's this chatty middle-aged gentleman whose hobby seems to be treating everyone and anyone to (especially) food; there's the elderly, Sudoku-loving lady who tried to help me in every way she could experiment-wise... And then there's this nutso Nishikigoi maniac who loves harassing me at any given point of the working day. For easy reference I shall call him Mr. J.

Indulgence Part I: Birthday cake. It's
corn flavoured. Weird, but it was good.

The latter sounds like quite a nightmare compared to the first two, and believe me, he kinda did drive me up the wall during the first couple of weeks. However, after settling in and getting used to Mr. J's lighthearted brand of madness/chaos, I got to see the softer and caring side of him. I think we hit it off well as he was willing to share stuff regarding his passion for Koi fish and dogs, and in turn it made me comfortable enough to share about my interest in enka and my "Japanese old men", something I don't really like to do outside this blog. When I hit a wall in my experiments or admin work, Mr. J would usually be the one to help me work around it; and when I got stuck in a pit of misery (partially self-dug) after getting harassed (this one's in a bad way) by the ever absent supervisor, he'd be the one to haul me out. To top it off he's got an indulgent streak that often brought unexpected but delightful surprises. He was able out my happy side, which is by no means an easy feat.

With all that he had done, I knew halfway through the attachment that I was going to do an article on KKP to dedicate something to Mr. J as one way of thanks. But the thing was figuring out what song or what bit of a song should best summarize what I had been wanting to convey. Eventually, I picked Chage and Aska's "LOVE SONG". Now, let me make it clear that although "LOVE SONG" is easily one of C&A's romantic ballads, that's definitely not what I mean. So why did I pick it? Well, firstly, I'd think he'd find this mellow J-pop piece fronted by the familiar vocals of Aska to be easy on the ears, as compared to the Mood Kayo that was my other choice. Secondly, a few lines written by Aska (he did the melody too) resonated with me, the first of which being:

Kimi ni deai honoka ni koi wo shite
Nagai aida uchiakerarezuni 

Those are the classic tropes of a romantic movie: The protagonist falls in love with this special one when they meet for the first time, but is unable to confess. It's only after a long period of time when he plucks up the courage to profess his feelings for her. Good story material right there. In my case, it was more of being surprised at how easily I could converse with Mr. J at the start. Then, as time went by and aforementioned the events happened (post chaos), the urge to tell him how much I appreciated his efforts was strong but I kept saving it till the last few weeks because... it would've been awkward otherwise... ... 

Anyway, the other line that caught my attention was the one that ultimately decided which tune I was to choose. It also happens to be my favourite line from "LOVE SONG":

Kimi ga omou yorimo boku wa kimi ga suki

I am really bad at expressing my feelings in the real world so I tend to come across as rather aloof or shake things off easily even though I feel the opposite. This line, which means "I like you more than you think I do", aptly represents that. I very much enjoyed Mr. J's wacky company and the horribly funny inside jokes we had. Dang, he really is the uncle I wished I had.

Okay, that's enough sentimentality to last my entire lifetime - let's move on to the stats for "LOVE SONG". It originally came out in 21st June 1989 as C&A's 24th single. At that time, it fared respectably on the Oricon charts by placing 20th on the weeklies. A few years later on 25th March 1992, during the band's heyday, it was re-released with another late-blooming hit, "WALK", and their best selling album to date, "SUPER BEST II", where both songs were included. It was then when "LOVE SONG" managed to peak at 1st place on the weeklies, became a certified Platinum Record, and was one of the works that allowed the duo to win "Artist of the Year" for the second time in 1993

Another thing I read on the J-Wiki was that the working title for "LOVE SONG" was "SOUL". The latter sounds more interesting, but perhaps it wasn't as direct/simple as the former and as a result may not have been as attractive, hence the change?

Aska's new version.

Aska himself did a self-cover of "LOVE SONG" in 2010 and is a track in his album "12", where he covered twelve C&A songs. His new rendition has got a more upbeat and modern rock vibe to it which I find quite refreshing.

"LOVE SONG" is at the 11:06 mark.

As for other covers, one that I was surprised but glad to find was by Naoya Urata (浦田直也), the leader of the song-dance unit AAA. Released in his cover album "UNCHANGED" from 2013, his version is smooth with a R&B vein, his falsetto almost sounds like Aska's own delivery at times. I think he did a pretty good job with "LOVE SONG".

Indulgence Part II: Arnie the mastiff. My best
friend from a dragon fish farm.

"You are horribly (that and/or other exaggerated adjectives) spoiled rotten..."
"Says the one who's spoiling me right now."

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Eri Kitamura -- Birth of Love

Didn't particularly intend to write a third article tonight but about 15 minutes ago, I found out that Artzie Music had put up the latest of his music video creations and sometimes he puts in a remix of a Japanese tune.

I hit paydirt tonight with this one titled "Future Girlfriend - Ongaku & Mikazuki Bigwave -_- Dreaming Yume" (well, his name is Artzie after all) and noticing how revved up it was for the purposes of the video, I decided to track down who was behind the original song and what the title was.

I had to do a fair bit of cross-referencing between YouTube and Google but I did find out it was performed by seiyuu-singer Eri Kitamura(喜多村英梨)early in her career and the title is "Birth of Love". It is actually a character song for her role of Seira(星羅)on the 2003-2004 anime "Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch Pure"(マーメイドメロディ ぴちぴちピッチ ピュア). In fact, Seira was just her second gig in the anime industry, and now 14 years later, she's obviously quite the veteran having played everyone from a PreCure warrior to one of the witches on the internationally famous "Puella Magi Madoka Magica"(魔法少女まどか☆マギカ). Certainly I've come to know Kitamura a lot better since my paltry description of her on the only other song I've written connected to her, "Holy Night".

"Birth of Love" is quite the whimsical tune with a hopeful and breathy delivery by Kitamura. I do like the music by Masaki Tsurugi(鶴来正基)with Yukiko Mitsui(三井ゆきこ)providing the lyrics. It's got that airy feeling to it but I can pick up on that guitar and keyboard giving the song a contemporary rhythm still anchoring it down to Earth.

Amazing what I can encounter near the end of a broadcast day.

Chiyoko Shimakura -- Koishiteirun damon (恋しているんだもん)

I almost forgot it was Valentine's Day today. But then again, I was never all that much invested in it, outside of the chocolates. And from what I've heard, it sounds like half the folks aren't fans of February 14th either, although I'm fairly sure that at least two couples within my group of friends are out somewhere on the town having a romantic dinner somewhere. Well, wherever you are, I hope that you and a significant other are having a good time.

Well, NHK's "Uta Kon" (うたコン) did remember Valentine's Day since the producers included the theme into the show tonight. A number of love kayo got onto the lineup including this old chestnut by the late Chiyoko Shimakura(島倉千代子), "Koishiteirun damon" (I'm In Love After All). Kaori Mizumori(水森かおり)took care of the song tonight.

Released in 1961 when she was in her early twenties, Shimakura gave a high-pitched love song about enjoying the sensation of falling head over heels with that fine young gentleman and sometimes having that lovers' spat. With the enka music and the year of release, I can only imagine the lovey-dovey couple walking on the dirt path somewhere out in the countryside.

The idea for the song came from one of Shimakura's favourite phrases which was turned into the title. And y'know...I had always thought that the singer had that certain coquettish side to her so I could imagine that title being something that she would say. Sou Nishizawa(西沢爽)provided the lyrics while Shosuke Ichikawa(市川昭介)created the jaunty music. Also, according to J-Wiki, "Koishiteirun damon" sold 800,000 copies although it was never a song that she performed on the Kohaku Utagassen. Then again, Shimakura had a number of other hits which sold far more records.

Kenji Sawada -- Toki no Sugi Yuku Mama ni (時の過ぎゆくままに)

Last week, I mentioned about last week's episode of "Uta Kon" (うたコン) which highlighted the works of lyricist Yu Aku(阿久悠), and in that particular show, I found two songs that I had never heard by Aku. One song was the dark "Zange no Neuchi mo Nai"(ざんげの値打ちもない)by Mirei Kitahara(北原ミレイ)that I have already written about.

The other song was performed by Kenji Sawada(沢田研二), "Toki no Sugi Yuku Mama de" (As Time Goes By). This was Julie's 14th single from August 1975, and according to J-Wiki, this was the singer's biggest hit in his career.

Now that's quite something for me to hear since Sawada was one of the first artists that I got to be introduced to when I finally fell for kayo kyoku hard in the early 1980s. His image as a shape changing New Wave singer along the lines of David Bowie was firmly entrenched into my mind after seeing him in successive Kohaku Utagassen in 1981 and 1982, especially that first performance when he came out to do his hit "Stripper" (ス・ト・リ・ッ・パ・ー). I don't think it's quite the exaggeration when I say that he was the agent provocateur in the White team lineup that year.

But going back several years to 1975 in between his old Group Sounds days with The Tigers and his glam rock period going into the 80s, long-haired Sawada seemed to have been exploring his pop/rock and perhaps some blues, too. With "Toki no Sugi Yuku Mama ni", he was the prime actor in relating Aku's story of a fellow perhaps on his last legs trying to remember back to a past happier age. Not quite as dark as "Zange no Neuchi mo Nai", there may be a hint of a light at the end of an especially long and dark tunnel...if he can just move his life a degree in some direction, perhaps he can recapture his love once more.

Katsuo Ono's(大野克夫)music and arrangement has the song sounding quite intimate for the most part aside from some pretty epic inclusion of horns. That bluesy guitar, for instance, has me imagining the poor protagonist stumbling about in some dank and dirty alley after getting a major beating by some unpleasant people. It's just him, puddles and some cracked crates. And Sawada does a great job in telegraphing the sadness, loneliness and perhaps some slim hope through his languid delivery. That image of the singer is about as far away from the weird clothes and lip gloss as The Thin White Duke was from that little boy named David Jones from Brixton, England.

And certainly, it was something that has me seeing Aku in a different light after all of those other songs for Pink Lady(ピンク・レディー)and Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美).

"Toki no Sugi Yuku Mama ni" won three prizes including the Broadcast Music Prize at the Japan Music Awards日本歌謡大賞...not to be confused with the Japan Record Awards)that year. It also hit the top of Oricon for 5 weeks running before becoming the 4th-ranked single of 1975. And of course, the Kohaku Utagassen came calling. Finally, it has been covered not only in his native Japanese but also in English, Mandarin and Cantonese.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Aya Matsuura -- The Bigaku (The 美学)

Another Ayaya video from my memories. There was one point in the early 2000s when Aya Matsuura(松浦亜弥)was all over the airwaves, and this video for "The Bigaku" (The Aesthetics) is one of the most vivid of the singer. It got plenty of air play on the local video channels.

"The Bigaku" was Matsuura's 7th single from September 2002. Being under the Hello! Project banner at the time, the song was naturally written and composed by Tsunku(つんく). There is much about the song that reminds me of Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca" but the video had Ayaya looking like she raided Chisato Moritaka's(森高千里)old wardrobe and with that definite article in the title, I also wondered whether there was a bit of a tribute to Moritaka's style a decade prior.

However, the music for "The Bigaku" is definitely going more for the spicy Latin rather than the techno-aidoru. Plus that choreography for the song looks like it would work very well for the core muscles. The song went all the way up to No. 2.

As for a direct cover of "Livin' La Vida Loca", you can take a look at Hiromi Go's(郷ひろみ)version from a few years earlier.

Dark Ducks -- Yama Otoko no Uta/Yuki Yama Sanka (山男の歌・雪山讃歌)

It's rather amazing about this Canada Dry plastic bag that has been filled with my father's old collection of 45" kayo singles. I always seem to find another new record that I had not noticed before. At this point, I am wondering if the bag has some sort of connection with Doraemon's pocket.

To wit, a few days ago, I came across this 45" single in the grab bag. It was a release by the vocal group Dark Ducks (ダークダックス) called "Yama Otoko no Uta" (Mountain Man Song) on the A-side with "Yuki Yama Sanka" (Snowy Mountain Hymn) on the B-side. As you can imagine, there seems to be a guiding theme here. The Japanese do love their mountains and mountain climbing. My former weekly English circle made it a habit of hitting the peaks a few times a year and they wisely did not invite me along.

"Yama Otoko no Uta", according to J-Wiki, turned out to be Dark Ducks' most successful hit and supposedly it was released in February 1966. However, the cover sheet on the record I've got here is actually dated 1964. As would be the case for many a Japanese song about mountains, the melody is a jaunty one with hand claps and an accordion, perfect to accompany a group of climbers on their hike up. However, it isn't known who created the music but the lyrics, which seem to give a cheerful warning via 7 short two-line verses to some girl about marrying a mountain man, were written by Nobuo Jinbo(神保信雄). The sixth verse even warns the lass not to let their sons become, I mean mountain men.

If "Yuki Yama Sanka" sounds familiar, well that's because it is a cover of a tune that I used to hear as a little kid, "Oh My Darling, Clementine". According to Wikipedia, the original song was made by Percy Montrose all the way back in 1884, and it was a humourous poke at the Western ballad with a fellow bereaving the loss of his darling Clementine, the daughter of a miner, with the large Size 9 feet...until he found solace with his sister.

The Japanese involvement with the ballad happened in 1927 when scientist and alpinist Eizaburo Nishibori(西堀栄三郎)was with his mountain-climbing club fellows from Kyoto University. In January of that year, they found themselves stranded for a while at Kazawa Onsen in Gunma Prefecture. To stave off boredom, Nishibori and his friends decided to make up a song for their club, providing their own lyrics over the base melody of "Oh My Darling, Clementine". Their little project ended up as "Yuki Yama Sanka".

Dark Ducks' first version was released in 1958. I guess it was a fairly usual thing for various original singles' A-sides and B-sides to be placed on future records under different combiantions on vinyl over the years so it also ended up on my Dad's record from 1964.

I already wrote about Dark Ducks in one other article back in late 2013 when they gave their own version of "Aoba-jo Koi Uta"(青葉城恋唄). However, their video of them performing the song got cut down without any replacements to be found and in fact, I didn't even give them a proper introduction. So, allow me to make amends to you and to Dark Ducks.

When Dark Ducks first formed as a vocal group in 1951, they started out with just 3 people: Tohru Sasaki(佐々木行), Tetsu Kiso(喜早哲)and Hajime Tohyama(遠山一). All three of them were attending Keio University and belonged to the Economics Department; at the same university, they also participated in a chorus group and at a Xmas party in that year, they performed "White Christmas" which sparked the idea for the three to officially start the Ducks. Hiromu Takamizawa(高見澤宏)would later join them.

At the time of their formation, they focused mostly on jazz numbers and spirituals but would also extend their repertory to Russian folk songs and mountain songs. In fact Dark Ducks' first hit was "Tomoshibi" (ともしび...Spark) in 1957 which was a cover of a Russian song "Огонёк" by Mikhail Isakovsky.

Sadly, after a long career, three of the Ducks have passed away in the last six years including the deaths of Sasaki and Kiso in 2016, leaving Tohyama as the sole surviving member. The above video has Dark Ducks starting off another episode of "Yoru no Hit Studio"(夜のヒットスタジオ)with their cover of Momoe Yamaguchi's(山口百恵)"Hito Natsu no Keiken"(ひと夏経験)at 2:30.

To finish off, here is a version of "Oh My Darling, Clementine".

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Yasuhiro Abe -- Hold Me Tight

Usually when it comes to the blog, I write a couple of articles a day...which I have today. However earlier when I was writing the second article, I found out online that jazz singer extraordinaire Al Jarreau passed away at the age of 76. I had heard last week that he suddenly announced his retirement due to exhaustion which I'm sure disappointed many of his fans (including myself) but at the same time, we also encouraged him to enjoy his newfound time after all that he had given to us. Unfortunately, perhaps his decision to leave the stage forever foretold something more permanent.

Al Jarreau was one of those artists who could use his voice in the same way that a multi-instrumentalist could show his work. He was that good. And as much as I knew about his jazz, I adored him even more in the AOR genre. Jarreau was a fixture on radio when I was growing up in the early 1980s, and I always loved his smooth voice on songs like "Breakin' Away", "Mornin'" and also the theme song from "Moonlighting", that ABC sitcom starring a young Bruce Willis in the mid-1980s. He was one of my guides into AOR, urban contemporary, smooth jazz...whatever you want to label it. And without him, perhaps I wouldn't have gotten so easily hand-in-glove with the Japanese equivalent in J-AOR and City Pop.

When I thought about Jarreau today, I was wondering about someone similar in Japan. Now, no one was Jarreau's equal. However, the one name that kept popping up in my head was Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘). As I may have said in previous articles on the singer-songwriter, Abe has got that mellow voice and he's been able to concoct these songs that fit so well into the genres that I have already mentioned. I can pretty much label him as one of the Princes of City Pop to go along with the Princess of City Pop, EPO.

A bit earlier, I found the title track for his debut album "Hold Me Tight" which came out in March 1983. As with the other tracks that are included in the album such as "Cafe Flamingo", "We Got It!" and "Manhattan", "Hold Me Tight" is a pretty mellow and smooth ballad that contains those feelings of life and love in the city. With all of the tracks on the album, Abe took care of the music and Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)wrote the lyrics. The two of them have been able to create songs that transported the Japanese listener at the time to other metropolitan centres, presumably on the West Coast of the United States. For me, though, their tunes have taken me the other way...all the way to Tokyo because of who they were and what the genre meant to me. Perhaps it can be considered to be the musical version of the grass grows greener on the either side of the fence.

Perhaps the only thing that irks me about "Hold Me Tight" the song is the chorus work which seems to interfere more with the main melody than complement it. At the end of it, I thought the song was starting to meld in with the next track. But perhaps it'll just be a matter of getting used to it and letting any rough edges smooth themselves off over time.

To finish off, here is Jarreau's "After All". I actually got a bit misty-eyed listening to it again.