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.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

J-Canuck's Favourite Technopop Tunes (Part 2)

Yesterday, I provided the first part of my Favourite Technopop Tunes, and unlike the straight-ahead list there, this one is going to be slightly different in that there will be two entries per musician/band. You might recall reading from Part 1 that coming up with the choices was muy difficult? Well, the big guns as I call them here are responsible. For these folks, it was very hard even to narrow things down to two choices. But after much thought, here are my 10.

1. Yellow Magic Orchestra -- Rydeen (1980)
                                                  Behind The Mask (1979)

Of course, I will not be leaving Messrs. Hosono, Sakamoto and Takahashi out of this loop. What can I say about "Rydeen"? I see it as the theme song for the early 1980s in Japanese pop, and it's been covered over and over by everyone from The E-Girls to a fictional high school band. The melody by drummer Yukihiro Takahashi(高橋幸宏)may be relatively simple but almost 40 years after its release, it still has folks squeeing like hyperactive teenagers. I saw so many "Hibike! Euphonium sent me here" comments under YouTube videos of the original song that the comment may have gained memedom. And I'm still hoping against hope that it could be brought into the Opening Ceremonies for the 2020 Olympics.

As for "Behind The Mask" by Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一), it was the first track on that YMO BEST compilation tape that you see at the top. That 30-second introduction with the synths and the blasting drums is still incredible. If there were ever a cool song needed to backstop a news feature on the goalie mask exhibit at the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto, I would go with this one. Jari provided a complete article on the song with all of the top-flight performers Stateside who covered it, but I will still have my preference with the original, although Greg Philliganes comes awfully close.

2. Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)-- Hitotsudake (1980)
                                                    Harusaki Kobeni (1981)

I think Yano's happy honeybee approach to singing and technopop were an excellent match. Although there have been the comparisons to Kate Bush (another singer I like), I think Yano is still very much in a class of her own. "Hitotsudake"(ひとつだけ)is so spacey ethereal yet innocent and fun at the same time, it makes planetary invasion as dangerous as being assaulted by Hello Kitty characters high on Ovaltine.

"Harusaki Kobeni"(春咲小紅)was a subject of one of my very early articles on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", and for good reason. It may have been the campaign song for Kanebo Cosmetics but whenever I hear the strings and synths, I think of a very crazy and high-speed traipse through a massive, mind you, but caffeine-fueled, all the same.

3. PSY-S -- Wake Up (1985)
                   Woman-S (1986)

First coming across the duo of CHAKA and Masaya Matsuura(松浦雅也)when I was on the JET Programme, my impression was that here was a technopop band coming up with some appealing tunes and they were most definitely not YMO. But like the Yellow Magic Orchestra, it was awfully hard to come to a decision on a great pair of songs by them since there are so many of them to opt for. Eventually, I decided on the above two. "Wake Up" is perhaps the alarm clock I don't really need but the one I would love to have. It's quirky but has a drive that can get a sleepyhead out of bed and happily on the commute on Monday morning.

"Woman-S" was the first track on the first album that I ever bought by PSY-S ("Two Hearts"). That newer version had a bit more brass in the synthesizer but I also like the original version from the album "PIC-NIC" (dang, that percussion!). The duo had their fair share of mellow ballads but their uptempo stuff could really perk listeners up that would make squirrels seem sedated in comparison.

(from about 11:54)

4. Denki Groove(電気グルーヴ)-- Nijuu-ichi Seiki mo Motetakute (2001)
                                                                Volcanic Drumbeats (1997)

OK, whereas PSY-S was the technopop band during my Gunma days, Denki Groove was a similar group when I started residing in Ichikawa from the mid-1990s. And often the wild-&-crazy guys from Denki Groove would stomp hard on either side of the techno/pop fence.

"Nijuu-ichi Seiki mo Motetakute"(21世紀もモテたくて), I think, is simply a genius mash-up of a couple of 80s aidoru pop hits that take both songs on a supersonic ride. C-C-B's "Romantic ga Tomaranai"(Romanticが止まらない) and Seiko Matsuda's(松田聖子)"Tenshi no Wink"天使のウィンク)are fun songs to listen to on their own and both are part of my mindset into nostalgia, but this techno hybrid is a totally new animal...bionic cheetah, to be exact. "Volcanic Drumbeats" from their "Ace" album is the theme song for the ultimate battle between every Ultraman and every resident on Monster Island. It's kinda like Red Bull but the wings one gets are solar.

5. Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)-- Carnaval (1980)
                                                         Chance (1981)

Began with YMO so why not finish off with a YMO friend? I was actually listening to Taeko Ohnuki's 1978 "Mignonne"earlier today, and it looks like the album has gotten a lot of new contemporary fans in the past year or two, thanks to YouTube (and I'm hoping that at least a few of the viewers have bought the actual disc or LP). It's been wonderful to see everyone including myself realize how much of a treasure of City Pop/New Music treats "Mignonne" has been loaded with when compared to the relative indifference it had been slapped with when it was first released.

However, the soul-searching that Ohnuki had gone through in the several months since "Mignonne" was able to push her in a new direction that benefited her and us. With a twin approach of a European sound and a technopop one, her next album was the 1980 "Romantique" with the opening track of "Carnaval". As I said in the article for this album, it was pretty gutsy of Ohnuki to not only have this technopop wizardry start things off but also have it released as a single. But it paid off in dividends, and if I had heard "Carnaval" at the time that I discovered Yellow Magic Orchestra, rest assured I would have become an Ohnuki fan years earlier. All those synth sounds in the song have made for a bountiful technopop feast.

As for "Chance" which was a track in the following album "Aventure", this was as much about warmth as "Carnaval" was about cool/cold. The technopop was a bit more muted for "Chance", but this is still one happy song which not only expresses a whimsical present but even hints at an amazing and aspirational future during the instrumental bridge. When it came to thinking about which two songs to select from Ohnuki's technopop period, picking that second song was tough but there was no doubt about me going for "Chance" as the first number.

So that is my 2-parter on my favourite technopop tunes. Still, there are plenty of those digital ditties that I have enjoyed over the years and I think there are a lot of songs that I have yet to unearth, along with technopop bands and songwriters that I have to discover. I know about POLYSICS and TECHNOBOYS PULCRAFT GREEN FUND, but if you folks know of any synth artists out there that you can recommend to me, please let me know.

1 comment:

  1. Hello J-Canuck!

    If you have to bring out a Akiko Yano technopop gem that melded her old 70s self with her YMO band mates would be "Ai suru hito yo" from the album "Ai Ga Nakucha Ne."

    That song, and the album in general, has that smooth as glass, driving, neon-and-rain, 80s aesthetic perfectly. With the added bonus of all of Yano's personality and uniqueness still intact over the synths.

    And, for behind the scenes information (AND PICTURES!) during the recording of the album can be seen here.

    The one mystery this article never clears up is why Kermit the Frog is behind the mixing boards with Peter Barakan?


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