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.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Akina Nakamori -- AL-MAUJ(アルマージ)

It may be Friday July 13th so the superstitious ones are avoiding sidewalk cracks and black cats, and in the small community of Port Dover, Ontario, motorcycle enthusiasts have been rolling in as they always do on Friday the 13th, but for us Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)fans, July 13th is the birthday we celebrate.

Happy 53rd birthday, Akina! Good heavens, it was over 6 years ago that I wrote my first article on the songstress. In fact, it was just the second day of existence for "Kayo Kyoku Plus" when I gave my thoughts on her album "Bitter and Sweet", still my favourite album by her.

As such, I would be remiss if I didn't write an article about Akina-chan today, and although I had been a little worried that I wouldn't be able to find anything, I was able to track down this particular single that I hadn't tackled yet.

Back in the late 1980s, my feelings on Nakamori had been that she had gone into a "weird" phase due to the fact that she seemed to become more experimental with her album releases starting with "Fushigi" (1986). At the time, I wasn't quite as open to her more creative ventures and it's only been recently that I re-conciliated with "Crimson" (1986) at some sacrifice. My somewhat unsure impressions of her unfortunately did filter into her singles to a certain extent as well (although those singles didn't get onto those albums, except for the BEST compilations and "Cruise"), including her 20th single "AL-MAUJ" (Waves) which was released in January 1988.

Now, it wasn't the first time that Akina had tackled something with that old exotic kayo feeling. There was "Sand Beige" from 1985, but I think she dove deeper into the mood with "AL-MAUJ".

And that included her appearances on the music shows when she came out in that full regalia. The music by Takashi Sato(佐藤隆)seemed to undulate like those waves, and with Akira Ohtsu's(大津あきら)lyrics about a bewitching and intoxicating and perhaps dangerous romance, all "AL-MAUJ" needed was Akina's deep and dramatic vocals (including her famous vibrato at the end of refrains) to set the mysterious atmosphere surrounding the song. For "Sand Beige", it was about the singer making the transition from really popular aidoru to pop superstar but with "AL-MAUJ", the diva had indeed landed.

The song was another No. 1 hit for her and it became the 14th-ranked single for 1988. It made its first appearance on an album through her second BEST compilation "BEST II" which came out on Xmas Eve that year.

"AL-MAUJ" will still not enter my Top 6 favourite Akina songs but with mellowing age and growing nostalgia, I'm good with it now. And it's definitely 100% Akina.

P.S. I know that there a few collaborators on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" who are Akina fans as well, so I invite them to write about their favourite Akina tunes or the Akina song that got them to become her fans, if they are so inclined.


  1. Hi, I can't put in words how much your blog has meant to me in recent months. I wish I discovered it years earlier. Can you do an entry for Non-Fiction Ecstasy/Extasy/Extacy, one of her best singles in my opinion but a song that lacks live versions and consequently (like most of Akina's studio recordings) has been systematically deleted from Youtube. Finally I succeeded in finding the song but I still can't find much information.

    By the way, you seem informed about the Japanese music industry and I know you're a fan of legally buying music and supporting artists, as am I. Unfortunately CD imports get super expensive when you want to collect multiple albums in a discography, and anyway most CDs at reasonable prices are used, so artists don't benefit from most of what we spend building our collections. Not really a problem if the artists are rich already, but I can't see any reason the record industry would want to encourage this situation where all of the demand is being diverted to piracy or (legal!) secondary market. Sure, when it comes to really obscure old stuff, there may be no market. But why close off all potential to make money from the many many international fans of Akina, Mariya, Anri etc when there is such an outpouring of interest? Hell, even Yukiko Okada is the subject of a potential Kurt Cobain-sized cult, when you see how people all over the world are still connecting with her. And the legendary alternative artists like Jun Togawa and Miharu Koshi have the potential to sell or legally stream a large amount, if Japanese labels got their act together.

    In fact one reason all these artists are marginalized in the western market (even if they are very popular on Youtube) is that they have never really been written about by English speaking music critics, and that's no accident. These critics may in some cases personally be fans of Japanese pop, but review publications are keyed to the market, so they usually don't allow critics to write about songs and albums that are not available for purchase or streaming legally. So it's a self fulfilling prophecy. Music that doesn't get written about, gets considered as too marginal to release. And imo, this has a negative impact on even, say, Canadian or US artists of Asian descent, who lack a history of classic Asian music they can point to, because understandably, most people don't have time to search out all this stuff on Youtube and use Google translate.

    At least Utada Hikaru's sales strategy makes a lot of sense-- her entire discography was finally put on western streaming services earlier this year, except for her new album, which for now is exclusively available if you buy it, and it is on iTunes (I haven't heard it yet personally). Her music videos are mostly available on Youtube, but a few of the more ambitious ones or newer ones are blocked, and only excerpts (long enough to get the idea) are shared. Again, the full videos can be purchased on iTunes. As a fan obviously it would be nice if everything was free, but Utada's discography is shared in a way that almost all of it is free, and the few parts that aren't, will help maximize sales.

    It would be super helpful if you could do a post about some of the behind the scenes stuff with labels that explains why that kind of smart strategy is rare with older artists and why Japan is so isolated in terms of the world market, with their artists having very high visibility but usually not being available AT ALL for legal purchase on North American music stores, unlike say Korean artists. I can find obscure Kpop or K-indie on Apple, Spotify and purchase them on iTunes if I want, but 95% of Japanese artists, especially from the Showa era, are absent, and this includes lots of stuff that is definitely still in-print in Japan. Even YMO members' solo stuff is inconsistently available on streaming as of now (although Hosono's catalog is currently being reissued by Light in the Attic in the US and presumably Canada).

    1. Hello there and thank you for your comments.

      If I can find that video of "Non-Fiction Ecstasy" on YouTube or one of the other video-sharing sites, then, certainly I can try to talk about it next month.

      Aye, I do see both sides of the argument in terms of purchasing Japanese CDs, especially those from the 80s and before that. I think if someone loves those songs, then he/she ought to pony up the money to get them, used/new. However, a lot of those fans find out that a number of albums have been discontinued and the recording companies won't reissue them due to lack of demand (one attempt to buy an album was actually declined for that reason). And so, what other alternative do they have except to download that video from YouTube or just watch it frequently until JASRAC orders it taken down?

      I think another obstacle for international fans of Japanese pop music is that a number of stores will not ship overseas for whatever reason. On, I have to search for the explicit wording "Can ship overseas" to have a chance to get the album. I've been rather frustrated on that point. There is no problem with CD Japan, of course, but for Tower Records Japan, I also had to set up a Tenso account since Tower needs a Japanese address to send my shipment to before it finally gets over to my home.

      There may be a glimmer of hope for those City Pop fans since apparently the suddenly huge interest from overseas for artists and music of this genre has gotten places like Tower to re-master and re-release those old 70s and 80s albums. But again, as I said about Tower, they require that Japanese address.

      My impression over the 6 years that I've been doing the blog is that there has been an unending battle between Japanese pop-loving YouTubers and JASRAC/recording studios over the videos of songs that get put up. However, curiously enough, it seems as if the more obscure tunes get left alone (there are a few of them that have been up for a decade) while the newest releases/hits are taken off very quickly (Johnny's groups for sure, and probably anything by the alphabet aidoru groups).

      I wish I had the insight to devote a single article to the behind-the-scenes strategies of labels but I don't have the knowledge except for speculation, and I couldn't really base an article on that. However, what I can say is that I've a slight ooze of movement on iTunes for some of the oldies, so perhaps there is hope on that front.

      Good talking with you!

  2. Don't get me wrong, I am addicted to Youtube beyond reason and I watch/listen to excessive amounts of music and films on there, including lots of stuff no company will touch. I'm not a big supporter of capitalism or huge record companies in principle, however, I do find it annoying that on the occasion I want to purchase something to support an artist or get permanent access in case the videos are taken down, I can almost always find western artists (and Korean artists) on iTunes but almost never the Japanese artists. I was just wondering if you had any insight on why the Japanese labels are so reticent to monetize their catalog in this way for international purchases, but I guess CDs are still such a big market domestically in Japan (which is cool, I personally love CDs) that they took a very long time even offering their catalogs for download and streaming in the domestic market, let alone outside Japan.

    With regard to newer Japanese artists (2000-present), actually you're right that a lot are on iTunes, maybe even most, so the comparison may not be fair because I'm not super-familiar with pre-2000 Kpop and maybe their old school artists are also absent on these services. But I do think there's a certain absurdity that I can more easily find obscure '80s punk bands (even a few Japanese ones) and the biggest Jpop idols of the '80s have nothing legally available to listen to.

    To be honest, one thing that keeps me addicted to old school Japanese pop on Youtube is the lack of advertising. Watching almost any other type of music related videos on Youtube I'm guaranteed to hit an ad every two or three videos, sometimes even literally every single video (even sometimes for highly uncommercial music), so I really slowed down in my Youtube consumption in recent years as they've amped up the ads... but miraculously, I noticed that older Japanese videos very rarely contain any ads, no matter what type of music it is and no matter if it was released by a big company or a world famous artist. As much as I enjoy this ad-free situation as a fan (reminding me of the old days before Youtube as a whole was infested with ads) it strikes me as weird too, because without Youtube ads, and without the music available on paid streaming services, there is no money being generated for those artists from all those views.

    It's nothing any of us should feel bad about for enjoying the music! But it's just a situation that doesn't make sense because usually a business will try to maximize profits. Are the big Japanese record companies just really sweet about wanting everyone to hear the music and getting nothing in return? I actually wish non-Japanese companies would act this way. Maybe the Japanese companies like Pony Canyon and Avex are still run by people who genuinely love music, which hasn't been true of western companies in decades.

    1. Hello there.

      Well, pure speculation on my part but I think a lot of these companies are only starting to realize that there may be a market outside Japan for some of the oldies. I was reading in an online article not too long ago where places like Tower Records only put up re-mastered versions of City Pop albums on their shelves when they found out that the local population was getting interested in them again only when they found out that non-Japanese were getting really fond of those mellow tunes. I think it's all about demand or the perception of it. I don't think the companies really bothered to pay much attention to any interest from overseas for folks like Tatsuro Yamashita or Takako Mamiya, even with YouTube being such a major platform.

      CDs still seem to be hanging around quite securely in Japan, and may explain why the switch to downloadable singles has been quite slow there. Personally, as with you, I prefer the solidity of my music. :)


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