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, July 14, 2019

Reiko Ishige -- Tabi no Techou(旅の手帖)

Just one of the many 80s aidoru underneath the top stars of Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), Naoko Kawai(河合奈保子)and Yoshie Kashiwabara(柏原芳恵)that I never got to know until much, much later, Reiko Ishige(石毛礼子)was actually someone that I only found out about in the last few months.

Hailing from Takarazuka City in Hyogo Prefecture, Ishige took vocal courses through Yamaha and then made her debut at the age of 21, which is fairly advanced for an aidoru. Her debut single was "Tabi no Techou" (Travel Diary), written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆), composed by Kazuya Amikura(網倉一也), and released in June 1981. What had me bookmarking this one was those synths that start the song off, and Ishige's fresh and snappy vocals. At certain points, she and "Tabi no Techou" even remind me of early Seiko-chan and her material. The song did modestly well by peaking at No. 77 and selling about 20,000 records.

Ishige would only record three more singles up to early 1983 with no albums released, after which she retired from show business, according to her J-Wiki file.

Mariya Takeuchi -- Love Songs

For some strange reason, before I purchased Mariya Takeuchi's(竹内まりや)"Love Songs" originally released in March 1980, I had assumed that this was a very early BEST compilation by the singer-songwriter. Perhaps it was because of the title and since Takeuchi is very well noted as a chanteuse of romantic ballads. However, it is actually her 3rd studio album following her fun and breezy "University Street" and the City Pop/J-AOR-full "Miss M".

I put "Love Songs" in the stereo for the first time in a long time, and hearing "Fly Away" as the top batter put a thrill up my spine as I heard Takeuchi's dulcet vocals and the supremely natsukashii arrangement through the trio of Carole Bayer Sager, Peter Allen and Gene Page. It's like listening to those old AM stations on the pink SONY radio again. There is that feeling of simply soaring slowly over the city at sunset as words and music flowed into my ears.

"Sayonara no Yoake"(さよならの夜明け...Daybreak for Goodbye)is a genteel and smooth track written by Takeuchi and composed by Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎). I mentioned about "Fly Away" bringing back some of those memories of listening to the mellow music on radio. Well, "Sayonara no Yoake" does the same thing with the strings and keyboards making out some post-disco ballad, and then when that middle section with the chorus section slides right on in, everything seems quite all right with the world. Chuck Findley also weaves some magic with his flugelhorn. "Sayonara no Yoake" is the B-side to Mariya's 4th single, the boppy "Fushigi no Peach Pie"(不思議なピーチパイ...Strange Peach Pie), and it makes for a nice contrast.

Takeuchi brings back some of her 1950s/1960s love song abilities with "Zouge Kaigan"(象牙海岸...Ivory Coast). With Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)as lyricist and Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)as composer, it's a bittersweet ballad about a woman suddenly getting a phone call from an old flame some three years after the fire died out and wondering about rekindling the embers. I thought it was interesting that the setting would be the Ivory Coast but then going through the lyrics, I realized that it was the former couple placing that name on a secret cove that they discovered way back when.

One of my favourites on "Love Songs" happens to be "Gosenshi"(五線紙...Music Paper)where Takeuchi has the wonderful backup chorus consisting of composer Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘), singer EPO and producer Shigeki Miyata(宮田茂樹). It sounds like a nice little piece of country swing jazz created by a cadre of good buddies as the singer provides a doo-wop-friendly story of the old days of a band just starting out and paying their dues. Matsumoto also provides lyrics here.

My last song here is "Koi no Owari ni"(恋の終わりに...At the End of Love)which was written and composed by Takeuchi as a seeming cousin to Gloria Gaynor's classic "I Will Survive". The singer's challenge to her soon-to-be erstwhile lover is if this is going to be the end of the affair, then let's make the end as much of a whopper as possible. From listening to the other tracks on "Love Songs", I think "Koi no Owari ni" is the sole out-and-out City Pop tune on the album.

The happy-go-lucky "September", Mariya's 3rd single, and the aforementioned "Fushigi no Peach Pie" have their own entries on the blog. Listening to "Love Songs" with fresh ears anew, I feel that the album has that feeling of transition between "University Street" and "Miss M". Takeuchi is leaving the campus for good with still some lingering feelings for the old school and some anticipation for life in the big city. Nice to hear it again.

Toshiki Kadomatsu -- Brunch


I promise...Eggs Benedict with Hash Browns, Corned Beef Hash and a few vegetables is just a very rare indulgence, and that is because this sumptuous repast was on our family's Harmony of the Seas cruise back in 2017. I don't get that much of an opportunity to have Eggs Bennie since poaching those eggs and making that Hollandaise Sauce is a project that I think is best left to the gastronomical professionals.

In any case, going for that Sunday brunch twofer today that I started with Chikuzen Sato's(佐藤竹善)jazzy "Sunny Sunday Morning '09", I will finish this particular "Kayo Kyoku Plus" mini-project with the appropriately-titled "Brunch" by City Pop/AOR master Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生).

Along with the previous Kadomatsu song that I covered, "Office Lady", that I profiled, "Brunch" is from his 1982 album "Weekend Fly to the Sun". Unlike the high-energy "Office Lady", though, "Brunch" is one mellow musical respite as those traveling office ladies are now safely and securely ensconced in their overseas tropical hotel by the ocean having a leisurely mid-morning meal after a mad dash to the airport the night before. Of course, Kadomatsu wrote and composed the song but I couldn't help but hear a bit of Al Jarreau's "Breakin' Away" peeking through in parts. Some lovely horns and keyboards are joined by glistening strings (synth or real?...the liner notes shown on the J-Wiki article didn't mention any string groups in recording) which provide some refreshing breeze on the patio there.

Chikuzen Sato -- Sunny Sunday Morning '09

It's a very summery Sunday morning as I write this. The fan is already on here as things have become fairly stuffy in the old abode.

Allow me to start with something classy and appropriate to go with your Sunday breakfast/brunch. I found this smooth and jazzy number called "Sunny Sunday Morning '09" as performed by J-AOR crooner extraordinaire Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善)and composed by veteran Katsuhisa Hattori(服部克久). This was a track on Sato's 5th album in his "Cornerstones" series of cover songs with the subtitle of "Free as a Bird" back in November 2012. However, the song had been recorded three years earlier as a track on Hattori's 50th anniversary album "Hattori Katsuhisa Ongakuka Seikatsu Go-juu Shuunen Kinen Concert"(服部克久音楽家生活50周年記念コンサート...Katsuhisa Hattori's Songwriter Life 50th Anniversary Memorial Concert).

That lovely harmonica, the silky strings and the soft guitar accompany Sato in something that reminds me of some of those jazz standards from my childhood and television experiences. I couldn't find out who provided the lyrics for "Sunny Sunday Morning '09", but I can imagine that it was Sato. As for the cover of "Cornerstones 5", I would probably eschew the cigar and booze that Sato is holding and go for something tons of bacon, sausage and other processed meats along with the Eggs Benedict slathered in Hollandaise Sauce.😈😈

Oh, and by the way, for another Sunday-themed tune, you can try out Yutaka Yokokura's(横倉裕)"Warm & Sunny Sunday Morning" from 1988.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Sachiko Nishida -- Dou Sureba Ii no(どうすればいいの)

Digging into my Trekkie geekiness, I always had some sympathy for USS Enterprise Nurse Christine Chapel because she held a long-burning torch for First Officer Mr. Spock. Perhaps the torch finally burned out by the time of the first few movies, but in the original series, Chapel had a huge heart for Starfleet's star Vulcan which probably distracted him to no end since he could never return any love to her.

Listening to this light Mood Kayo ballad by Sachiko Nishida(西田佐知子), "Dou Sureba Ii no" (What Should I Do?) reminded me of that tension between Chapel and Spock right from the lyrics by Takashi Umemoto(梅本たかし). I think the protagonist in this song may be a hostess in Ginza who's been trying her hardest to melt that icy heart of her client through dancing and drinking but to no avail. He's like a Vulcan after Kolinahr. She's now stuck for solutions. Glad the music by Shizuo Nakano(中野静雄)is pretty jaunty considering the situation. I do love the organ and Nishida's resonant voice.

"Dou Sureba Ii no" wasn't part of a single but it was a track on the September 1969 album "Hoshi no Nightclub"(星のナイト・クラブ...Star Nightclub).

Miki Matsubara -- Dream in the Screen

Considering the season, perhaps a perky and pleasant summery City Pop tune might be in order.

So, I have brought in the expert, Miki Matsubara(松原みき)with the final track on her 1981 "Cupid" album, "Dream in the Screen". Not sure whether this was a reply song to Noriyo Ikeda's(池田典代)City Pop "Dream in the Street" which had come out a year or two previously, but "Dream in the Screen" has got its own proud and funky strut down the avenue.

Written by Matsubara and Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)with Matsubara also taking care of the melody, "Dream in the Screen", it's all about a woman who's very head-over-heels for her guy stating that she raced out of the house in her lemon-yellow dress so that she can contrast nicely with the fellow's blue shirt. She even states that she would even forego fried chicken to spend her time with him...I've got a feeling that Colonel Sanders was quite understanding about the matter. Man, if I had a girlfriend, there really would be a love triangle among us and KFC!

That's quite a striking cover for "Cupid" with Matsubara in her silk pyjamas on the armchair. Pity how sparse the bedroom is, though.

Taisho Kyu-Nen -- Ele Gal(エレガール)

I found this one a few months ago and thought that this would be a "City Limits" sort of video. For those who aren't from Toronto from a few decades back, "City Limits" was a show on Canada's music video channel "Much Music", and it showcased a lot of the weirdly wonderful...or just plain weird MVs, many of which came from overseas.

This is Taisho Kyu-Nen(大正九年...9th Year of Taisho)with her "Ele Gal" (Elevator Girl) from her 2nd album "Kyu-kai ni aru Shokudo"(九階に在る食堂...The Cafeteria on the 9th Floor), released in February 2000. According to her J-Wiki bio, Taisho Kyu-Nen, aka Hitoe Watanabe(渡邊 一重)is a Japanese musician who hails from the city of Numazu in Shizuoka Prefecture and loves to do her programming and sampling. Having an interest in songwriting since her days in elementary school, she dropped out of high school and headed to Tokyo where she tried out on the bass but didn't quite make it there. However after that, she and a few others created a techno unit called Shakai(社会...Society)before going for a solo career, beginning with her debut album "Saishin Shiki Hirune Hyakka"(最新式ひるね百科...The Latest Model of Napping Encyclopedia)in October 1998 and her debut single "Pa-Pa-Pa Love Romance"(パパパラブロマンス)in August 1999.

As for "Ele Gal" and the music video, they both hint at a certain inspiration from eccentric New Wave band DEVO, and Taisho's getup has me thinking 1970s Sears catalogue. Her singing won't garner any awards, at least for this song, but perhaps that's part of the Taisho Kyu-Nen charm.She released 5 singles and 5 albums up to 2007, but a new single "ELECISH" came out in 2017.

Flying Kitty Band -- Boseki wo Sora ni (墓石を空に)

Grand summer day for those who love it hot and humid out there.

Up to now, I had always thought of bank employee-and-respected songwriter/singer Kei Ogura  (小椋佳)as the fellow behind folk and enka songs such as the hit "Ai San San"  (愛燦燦)for the late Hibari Misora. (美空ひばり) But recently, I discovered that he along with guitarist-songwriter Hiromi Yasuda  (安田裕美)and former member of 60s rock band The Mops, Katsu Hoshi  (星勝)got together as a trio called Flying Kitty Band (フライング・キティ・バンド). Hoshi is someone that I've known to be associated with 80s band Anzen Chitai  (安全地帯)and as a songwriting contributor to Takako Mamiya's  (間宮貴子)lone album "Love Trip" in 1982.

Flying Kitty Band has been labeled as a rock group but from listening to the penultimate track, "Boseki wo Sora ni" on their lone album, 1977's "5・4・3・2・1・0", I thought that there was something very West Coast AOR to them. Given the English title of "Tombstone to the Sky", despite any possible negative connotations of that gravestone in the title, it gets introduced sweetly with a thrilling chorus by all three members and a soft rock guitar, and the song sorta progresses like an anticipated rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. Supposedly the album's concept was about a boy's dream of heading into space.

"5・4・3・2・1・0" was recorded in Los Angeles and there were some big names helping out in the recording. Along with guitarists Masayoshi Takanaka  (高中正義)and Kazuo Shiina,  (椎名和夫)other guitarists such as Jay Graydon and David T. Walker, The Attitudes' Jim Keltner and David Foster, and percussionist Paulinho Da Costa were in the booth. For additional trivia, Yasuda's wife happens to be singer-songwriter Hako Yamasaki. (山崎ハコ)

Friday, July 12, 2019

Anzen Chitai -- Moegiiro no Snap(萠黄色のスナップ)

As I mentioned in my article for Anzen Chitai's(安全地帯)very first album "Remember to Remember" (1982) back in 2014, my history with the band led by golden-toned Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)basically started with their breakthrough hit 1983 single "Wine-Red no Kokoro"(ワインレッドの心)which was also in their second album "Anzen Chitai II". But I did find that 1982 album "Remember to Remember" and realized that there had been a past discography before "Wine-Red no Kokoro".

Now I've realized that there was that debut single that never got onto that first album. It was titled "Moegiiro no Snap" (Light Green Snap) and it was written by the band and composed by Tamaki himself. The lyrics were also co-written by someone named, I think, Umiko Sakiminami(崎南海子), but I couldn't find out how to read that family name properly (even couldn't help out this time).

But getting back to Anzen Chitai's first single, I wasn't quite sure what the title was referring to, and it hasn't helped that when I think of "snap", a big purple megalomaniac (no, not Barney) comes to least for this year. However, combing through the lyrics, I think what Anzen Chitai was trying to convey was a message of contented realization about finding that special someone and that happy place which I think is Hokkaido, the home of the band. The music is appropriately mellow despite the thumping drum beat and Tamaki's vocals are hauntingly beautiful. Perhaps the snap here means the snap of realization?

As I said, "Moegiiro no Snap" didn't get onto "Remember to Remember". However, it did get onto a BEST compilation by Anzen Chitai, "Anzen Chitai Best 2 ~ Hitoribocchi no Yell"(安全地帯ベスト2 〜ひとりぼっちのエール〜...A Lonely Yell)which was released in August 1993. That album peaked at No. 10 but the original single apparently didn't place anywhere on the charts.

Ironically enough, the J-Wiki article for "Moegiiro no Snap" didn't give too much insight on the single itself, but it did devote a lot of it to the origins of Anzen Chitai. I thought that all of that should have ended up on the article for the band itself, but it was educational.

The source was a 2006 book by Ayumi Shida(志田歩)on what seems to be a biography on Tamaki titled "Tamaki Koji: Shiawase ni naru tame ni Umaretekitan dakara"(玉置浩二 幸せになるために生まれてきたんだから...Koji Tamaki: Because I Was Born to Become Happy). Although Anzen Chitai's history has been stated to have begun from 1982, apparently the prototype for the band started in the early 1970s when Tamaki and guitarist Yutaka Takezawa(武沢豊)had met in junior high school and created the band Invader(インベーダー). At the time, Tamaki was listening to kayo kyoku and Group Sounds music while Takezawa was into Western music including the Beatles. Later on, when there was talk within the band to change the name, a classmate who had joined Invader as a bassist took a look through a traffic manual and saw the words "anzen chitai" meaning "safety zone". At the time, the peace sign was popular and the symbol for "anzen chitai" according to the traffic rules happened to be a "V" sign, and with the fact that there were popular Japanese bands at the time with four kanji characters making up their names such as Zunou Keisatsu(頭脳警察...The Brain Police)and Yonin-Bayashi(四人囃子), Tamaki's group was officially renamed Anzen Chitai.

Akina Nakamori -- Variation(バリエーション〈変奏曲〉)

It's July 12th here in Eastern Canada but it's already July 13th in Japan....which means that it's Akina Nakamori's(中森明菜)birthday! 😃 So, lets first have the gang from "Sesame Street" fulfill the festivities here.

OK, now as such, I think today is an appropriate day for me to present Akina-chan's 2nd album "Variation ~ Hensoukyoku", and as was the case with her debut album, "Prologue ~ Jomaku"(プロローグ〈序幕〉), that latter Japanese term is just the translation of the former word. "Variation" was released in late October 1982, a little less than 4 months after "Prologue", and as the title for the 2nd album would have it, it's been praised by a book called "Hotwax Presents Kayo Kyoku Meikyoku Meiban Guide 1980s"(Hotwax presents 歌謡曲 名曲名盤ガイド 1980's...Hotwax presents Famous Songs and Recordings Guide 1980s )for having some more variation in the song stylings due to the different songwriters at work here along with the singer's progress in her abilities.

Three of the tracks have already been covered in "Kayo Kyoku Plus", the hit single teen rock "Shojo A"(少女A), the City Pop "Yokohama A-KU-MA"(ヨコハマA・KU・MA)and another urban contemporary tune "Aishuu Majutsu"(哀愁魔術).

"Variation" is book-ended by some dramatic strings by Kei Wakakusa (若草恵...who helped arranged the album along with Mitsuo Hagita/萩田光雄), and the album then starts off with the wild and woolly "Cancel!"(キャンセル!)which has some similarity to "Shojo A" in that it's got that teen rock sensibility with the fast beat and the wailing guitar. Composed by Kazuhiko Izu(伊豆一彦), the lyrics are provided by Masao Urino(売野雅勇), the same guy behind "Shojo A", as Akina plans to drop a phony of a beau like an anchor.

The following track is "Moroi Gogo"(脆い午後...Sentimental Afternoon)has a couple taking a secret trip to Kyoto. It's a wistful mid-tempo song characterized by those strings that seemed to have accompanied many an Akina number in the early days of her aidoru career. The strings could be jagged or, as it is in "Moroi Gogo" more sweeping to fit the more vulnerable side of the singer here.

The strings take on even more character in "Sakihokoru Hana ni..."(咲きほこる花に……To the Flowers in Full Bloom)as they start off sounding more like late Beatles, but then remind me of some of the Fashion Music that Chika Ueda(上田知華)helped create at around the same time. However, words and music were actually provided by Etsuko and Takao Kisugi(来生えつこ・来生たかお)...which then made me go "Ahhh...naruhodo" since whenever the Kisugi sister-brother combination get together to create music, it's always of pretty refined quality. It seems like the entire song is devoted to the beauty of flora, so there is that overwhelming image of having a cup of tea in a high-class shop with a window view of one of the great gardens in Japan.

From that tea shop in a well-manicured garden, we head off to Tokyo Disneyland or some beach paradise via "Meruhen Location"(メルヘン・ロケーション...Fairy Tale Location)to join a couple on a date. It's an aidoru tune with that touch of Resort Pop, and even some country twang near the end as the lucky pair enjoy each other and their travels to fantasy land. As was the case with "Yokohama A-KU-MA", Tsuzuru Nakasato(中里綴)was the lyricist while Noboru Mimuro(三室のぼる)was the composer.

"Dai Nana Kan ~ Septieme Sense"(第七感(セッティエーム・サンス)...The 7th Sense)at 30:33 above in the full album is Akina being happy and coy in the embrace of some saxophone-led City Pop. Mayumi Shinozuka(篠塚満由美)and Yoshitaka Minami(南佳孝)created this light shuffle of a song with a bit of Latin which seems to have the lass walking through an autumn forest as she perhaps considers her options about shedding one guy for another. The fact that one of Shinozuka's lyrics repeats Akina getting pelted with a shower of autumn leaves hints that change is in the forecast.

The rock feeling and the wailing guitar are back for "x3 (Bye-Bye) Lullaby"(X3 (バイバイ) ララバイ), and usually when it does, it means that Akina is in trouble. In this case, she's just been dumped near a Yokohama interchange, but the tough one simply brushes the cad away like dust and basically sings a big kiss-off. The tandem of Yukinojo Mori(森雪之丞)and Yasuo Kosugi(小杉保夫), who were also behind "Aishuu Majutsu", worked on this one. Strangely enough, the verses sound similar to the Manhattan Transfer's "Twilight Zone" from the late 1970s. For me, I especially like Akina's delivery here...very sultry and sweet.

The finale is "Catastrophe Amagasa"(カタストロフィの雨傘...Catastrophe Umbrella)which has a style reminiscent of a French pop ballad from the 1960s and a contemporary kayo ballad by Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子). Shinozuka from "Dai Nana Kan" is back to write the lyrics as Akina sings about taking a rainy walk soon after the end of a relationship. She's taking it relatively well considering that the title includes the word catastrophe (which was kindly explained in the liner notes in terms of what it means...I'm not even sure whether the word is still known now in Japanese katakana), and as Tsunehiro Izumi's(和泉常寛)melody hints, tomorrow is another day. There is always hope for the future.

I mentioned about the Queen Bee theory in the article for "Prologue" when it comes to Nakamori's upbringing in music, so I wonder with all of these songwriting talents involved in "Variation", whether there was a sign that the then-teen aidoru was being seen as a potential superstar so all of the genres were being thrown at her as a challenge. Those powers-that-be then should take a bow since all of the types of music featured in the album did appear in bulk in the rest of Akina's discography going right to the end of the 20th century. Perhaps then, "Variation" might be seen as an even more seminal release.

"Variation" hit the top spot on Oricon as Nakamori's first No. 1 album and it stayed there for a total of three weeks according to "ALBUM CHART-BOOK COMPLETE EDITION 1970 〜 2005", a part of Oricon's marketing promotion. It hung out on the charts for 29 weeks and ended up as the 8th-ranked album for 1983, selling around 440,000 LPs and 300,000 tapes.

Anyways, I hope that Nakamori will enjoy her 54th birthday!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Blue Peppers -- Searchlight(サーチライト)

OK, Blue Peppers(ブルー・ペパーズ)...where have you been hiding your copy of Steely Dan's "Aja"?

A couple of days ago, I put up an Author's Pick on bossa nova/samba-influenced kayo. Now I'm wondering whether I should write something similar on Japanese songs that have been inspired by the sweet melodies by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

Good golly, I'm so glad that someone finally uploaded Blue Peppers' "Searchlight" from their 2017 album "Retroactive". This is so Steely Dan that if Fagen ever heard this, he probably would be rushing through his master tapes to see whether he and his late partner had ever created this. I'm not sure whether a name was ever placed on the distinctive Dan sound with the keyboards and guitar and horns: percolating grooves of velvet? In any case, Blue Peppers nailed it here.

Masato Inami(伊波真人)and one-half of Blue Peppers, Naoki Fukuda(福田直木), who also worked on one of the other tracks on "Retroactive", "Akikaze no Regret"(秋風のリグレット...Autumn Wind Regret), collaborated on "Searchlight", a cool night tune about a fellow who may be hitting the rid himself of the memories of a lost romance, a romance lost because of him. The last line in the song refers to the titular searchlight possibly exposing him as the heel he has been. From another angle, the song could even be a chapter in a noirish detective novel featuring Mike Hammer getting hammered because he dropped a hammer on his love life (yeah, that last part came up suddenly and it was too good to resist).

Listening to "Searchlight" and the rest of the album, as I did earlier today, has given me a good feeling about getting "Retroactive" in the first place, and I can only hope that Blue Peppers will record their next album really soon. In the meantime, I'm going to listen to "Deacon Blues" and "Peg" by Steely Dan for the umpteenth time.

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Hitoribocchi no Heya (ひとりぼっちの部屋)

It's been a while since I've put up this sort of kayo, but in the past, I've found that there were some of the old songs which had some happy and cheerful music alongside some sad lyrics. Basically, the moral of the story was that one not only has to keep that upper lip nice and stiff but that lip also has to be a part of a big smile, no matter how bad the situation. Maybe one of the better examples is Kyu Sakamoto's(坂本九)"Ue wo Muite Arukou" (上を向いて歩こう), aka the "Sukiyaki" song.

Well, I found one of Hiromi Iwasaki's(岩崎宏美)earlier songs from her February 1976 2nd original album "Fantasy"(ファンタジー). Titled "Hitoribocchi no Heya" (Lonely Room), it's another wonderfully delivered 1970s Iwasaki tune with a bit of light funk by Yusuke Hoguchi(穂口雄右), and not thinking too deeply about the title, I had assumed that it was another happy-go-lucky number of being in love. However, Yu Aku's(阿久悠)lyrics relate a young devastated girl holing up in her bedroom due to some adolescent frustration about a boy that she likes. It's quite dark, actually...looking at those lyrics makes me wonder if she is heading into hikikomori territory. But hey, it's still a bouncy tune.

The album "Fantasy" also contains her 3rd single "Sentimental"(センチメンタル)and the title track which was her 4th single. I was surprised to find out that I have yet to write about that one so I will have to rectify this next month. "Fantasy" the album hit No. 2 on Oricon and became the 32nd-ranked album for 1976.

Actually, there is another "Hitoribocchi no Heya" sung by Masa Takagi(高木麻早)back in 1973. I had wondered why in researching about Iwasaki's "Hitoribocchi no Heya" the title sounded so familiar, but Takagi's song is very different in that it's a very folksy number and the lyrics are also much happier in tone.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

J-Canuck's Selection of Bossa Nova/Samba-Influenced Kayo

A few days ago, I hinted at providing such a list when I wrote about Lisa Ono's(小野リサ)cover of "One-Note Samba". With the passing of bossa nova legend João Gilberto along with the influence that the genre has had on kayo over many years, I've decided to join my fellow collaborators Marcos and Joana, who have given their own Author's Pick lists in the last few days, and give my own list about some of those Japanese songs with the kiss of Brazilian music.

1. Ryoko Moriyama -- Ame Agari no Samba (雨上がりのサンバ)

My awareness of bossa nova has been in existence since I was literally a baby since I do remember hearing the classic "Girl From Ipanema" by Antonio Jobim. However, Ryoko Moriyama's(森山良子)"Ame Agari no Samba" is probably the first time I've heard the bossa nova treatment being given to a kayo kyoku, and that was through the radio program "Sounds of Japan" back in the early 1980s.

2. Gontiti -- Natsu no Riyuu(夏の理由)

Along with songs like the above "Ame Agari no Samba" which have their own articles here on the blog, I'm also inserting some new discoveries such as this one by the acoustic guitar duo Gontiti(ゴンチチ). I was going to include their "Honto no Uso"(本当の嘘)which is their splendid collaboration with PSY-S, but I knew that Gonzalez and Titi had plenty of more fine bossa/samba in their vast discography, so looking around a bit, I was able to find this pretty lively affair called "Natsu no Riyuu" (Summer Reason) from their 2007 BEST album "gontiti Super Best 2001-2006"(gontitiスーパーベスト2001-2006)from 2007. I just didn't want to put up only the languid songs, and "Natsu no Riyuu" has more of a happy skip down the beach rather than just the gentle swaying of a hammock. Strangely enough, "Natsu no Riyuu" reminds me somewhat of some of the soundtrack from the anime "Amanchu!"(あまんちゅ!)which Gontiti produced.

3. Anzen Chitai -- Tsuki ni Nureta Futari (月に濡れたふたり)

Couldn't have asked for a better band and better vocalist to really tap into the romantic side of the genre than Anzen Chitai(安全地帯)and Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二). This was the title track from their 1988 "Anzen Chitai VI" album, and listening to it after so long, some of those nostalgic vibes of being driven home in my friend's car after another long Friday night extending into Saturday morning returned. Perhaps for other folks, the images might include that trip on the dance floor after a few cocktails.

4. Mondo Grosso featuring Bird -- LIFE

The above is the long-form version of "LIFE" (2000) and it would be one of the only inspirations that I would have for actually getting up and participating in a samba. However, I do have compassion for sighted people, so I will refrain if asked. All joking aside, "LIFE" through the magnificent tandem of Mondo Grosso and Bird is one fun song, and I can only wish that my life could be as wonderful and happy as the song is expressing.

5. Keiko Maruyama -- Douzo Kono Mama (どうぞこのまま)

A touch of Henry Mancini class with this 1976 bossa kayo, "Douzo Kono Mama", that is the most famous song by singer-songwriter Keiko Maruyama(丸山圭子). This was another discovery from "Sounds of Japan" all those years ago, and whenever I hear it, I think of a very ritzy but sedate bar serving martinis as their best cocktails. Young Sean Connery, Peter Sellers, and Audrey Hepburn are more than welcome here.

6. Taeko Ohnuki -- Voce é Bossanova

This is another new entry here and it's a really nice bossa nova number by singer-songwriter Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子). Ohnuki has created and recorded Latin-influenced songs in the past but I recently found "Voce é Bossanova" from her 1988 album "PURISSIMA" and felt that I needed to put it here. I find that her vocals became a little more whispery and more halting from around the mid-1980s, and as such, they became more fitting for the genre.

7. Shoko Aida -- Mezamemashou(目覚めましょう)

My final entry for the article is yet another song that hasn't seen the light of KKP before but it comes from my lone Shoko Aida(相田翔子)album "luz" from 1997. "Mezamemashou" (Let's Open Our Eyes) was well-titled since it was an eye-opening revelation for me as someone who was in Japan when Aida and Sachiko Suzuki(鈴木早智子)had their heyday as the successful aidoru duo Wink. I and probably most of Japan had no idea that Aida was a huge bossa nova fan, but she created most of the tracks on "luz" including "Mezamemashou" with Hiroyo Watanabe(渡邉浩世)helping out in the composition. The singer has that pleasant lightness in her voice perfect for bossa nova ballads.

My fellow collaborator and administrator, Marcos V., placed his own Aida bossa tune, "Jóia" from her previous solo album of the same title. In fact, the article was his first as a contributor on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" all the way back in early 2013.

Of course, there are many more bossa/samba-influenced kayo that I've covered in other articles, so this is just a sampling.

Ai Fairouz & Kaito Ishikawa -- Onegai Muscle(お願いマッスル)/ Kaito Ishikawa -- Macho A Name?(マッチョアネーム?)

Can't believe it's been a whole year since the epic and often hilarious "Grand Blue"(ぐらんぶる)first appeared on the screen and had folks laughing up their internal organs like threatened sea cucumbers (and yes, I still watch the YouTube scenes). I don't think I've seen anything that funny since although "Kaguya-sama" earlier this year has come close.

However, I'm holding out some hope for this summer's "Danberu Nan-Kiro Moteru?"(ダンベル何キロ持てる?...How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?). This was part of the rash of pilot episodes of Summer 2019's anime that my friend and I caught a few days ago, and it's definitely looking like a keeper. It's the first time I've ever seen a slice-of-life show surrounding a sports gym.

Certainly, the opening and ending themes have made things plenty attractive for me with their blast-from-the-past beats. The opening theme of "Onegai Muscle" (Please, Muscle, Please) by the two main seiyuu of Ai Fairouz(ファイルーズあい)and Kaito Ishikawa(石川界人)bring back memories of Rod Stewart's late 70s/early 80s days. I usually wait a while before putting up anison for currently running shows since the full versions don't come out for several weeks, but the earworm alerts have been ringing in my head, so I've decided to jump the gun and put up the opening now.With Sidechest Karasuya(サイドチェスト烏屋)taking care of lyrics and music and Six-Pack Shinozaki(シックスパック篠崎)helping out on the melody as well, "Onegai Muscle" is half-exhortation for exercise and half-disco tune.

For the ending, it's Sidechest, Six-Pack and seiyuu Ishikawa together again for "Macho A Name?" which almost sounds perfect as a song to be played in a gym for an actual aerobics session. It starts off as if it were going into hip-hop but then the refrain begins to reference another disco icon, The Village People...marching and transforming the tubbier ones into lean and mean fighting machines.

I had my time at a gym for about a year back in my Ichikawa days. All I can say is that I hope Ai's Hibiki-chan has far better success in shedding her excess weight than I ever did. Still, I have to admit that I've actually taken one exercise from the show to heart...I'm doing 3 reps of 10 squats daily.

One thing for sure....I will never react in the same way that Miss Soryuin does because of her muscle fetish.

Modern Idol Classics - My Selection

A few days ago, I was rewatching some music videos and it crossed me that one particular song would be one of my picks when it comes to the most representative songs of the late Heisei era in terms of idol music - it's catchy and prone to be liked by the general public. So, I decided to brainstorm a few others I would consider worthy of entering that category and joined them in one post. It is a top 6 of my Modern Idol Classics (from 2010 to 2019).

1. BiS - nerve

This one takes first place for me because it is personally one of my favorite idol songs ever, and I feel like it embodies what was the late Heisei for idol music. The traditional idol trope started to be defied by some groups such as BiS and now we have a pot-pourri of genres being presented by the kind of performer one would consider an idol. I also feel like, even though there is still one or two major groups ruling the idol scene, there is a larger number of "tiers" when it comes to popularity. No longer do we have the popular idols and the underground ones, there is more to that, and the idol scene in this moment is very diverse.

2. AKB48 - Koisuru Fortune Cookie (恋するフォーチュンクッキー)

To me, this was the absolute peak of AKB48, since which they have started losing momentum as the "national idol group" of Japan. So, it seemed like an obvious pick for this selection. To this day, this is the go-to song to present in all kinds of TV specials, and had a small revival when it propelled the Thai sister group BNK48 to national stardom. I like this song very much! It's catchy and retro sounding and I don't really get tired of listening to it. I think it is the true classic of AKB48 and showcases the very best this group has to offer.

3. Keyakizaka46 (欅46) - Silent Majority (サイレントマジョリティー)

I feel like it had been a long time since any group had such a strong debut single as Keyakizaka46 did. This song was the absolute hit of 2016 and made me hooked into the group for quite some time. Besides this A-side, "Saimajo" is a very solid single with really good songs (I feel like I still want to write about it someday). I haven't been following Keyaki closely, but it seems to me that the popularity they achieved at the time of their debut has vanished a bit. Still, Silent Majority is unforgettable.

4. Maneki Kecak (まねきケチャ) - Kimi Wazurai (きみわずらい)

This is actually the song I mentioned at the beginning of the article. I don't know if it is surprising, since this group is, let's say, at a different level of popularity as the other groups I mention in this article, at least in the West. But to me, this song is an absolute classic. I think it's the whole progression, starting slow and then building up to a quick succession of emotional lyrics. At first, I had to get used to the difference in sound and skill in the members' voices, but it definitely grew on me.

5. BiSH - Orchestra (オーケストラ)

Well, Orchestra comes in the same category as Kimi Wazurai - a slow progression that builds up quickly. I find it better executed technically in Orchestra, but there is something about the rawness of vocals and emotions in Kimi Wazurai that also pulls me into that song. But when it comes to whether they are classics, they both are. And Orchestra is one of the songs that brought BiSH into national fame, and they keep rising by the day, which has been amusing to see! Let's hope Reiwa brings a lot of success for these girls.

6. Nogizaka46 (乃木坂46) - Kimi no Na wa Kibou (君の名は希望)

I wanted to include a Nogizaka46 song because they are the current top idol group in Japan, and whenever I think about Kimi no Na wa Kibou being used as a jingle in the Nogizaka Station, the song stands out to me as a classic. The thing about this group is that they have several songs that stand out to the general public, but not one that one can pin-point as their true number one hit. When it comes to sales, I think Influencer takes the cake, but Kimi no Na wa Kibou is, in my opinion, the one tune that better appeals to the general public. It's a pop song without a doubt, but it sounds so warm and with lyrics so encouraging that I would recommend it to anyone.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Hikaru Genji -- Ano Hi no Wasuremono(あの日の忘れもの)

The news has been out now for almost half a day but I only just heard the reports that Johnny Kitagawa(ジャニー喜多川), the founder of Johnny & Associates and the power behind pretty much all of the boy bands that have existed in Japanese entertainment including SMAP, Arashi and King & Prince, died on July 9th Japan Standard Time at the age of 87 after suffering a subarachnoid hemorrhage stroke last month. I had been hearing rumours for the past few weeks about Kitagawa's impending passing but it has finally happened.

As such, I've decided to finish my contributions tonight with one of the Johnny's groups from a few decades back, Hikaru Genji(光GENJI). Some weeks ago, I encountered this song from their July 1990 album "Cool Summer", "Ano Hi no Wasuremono" (What I Forgot That Day), and what I can't forget about this song is how different it sounds from their big hits from the previous decade, such as "Paradise Ginga" (パラダイス銀河)which was all about their dynamism and roller skates.

Actually, "Ano Hi no Wasuremono" is a pretty relaxed track on the album with a friendly country-style music and arrangement by Jun Sato(佐藤準)about a boy with a major crush on a girl. If I'm not mistaken about Yoshiko Miura's(三浦徳子)lyrics, the one thing in the lad's way is her boyfriend who may be a real cad. I can't really see Moroboshi-kun and the rest of Hikaru Genji getting onto the TV stage to roller skate to this song. Perhaps this is more of the guys simply lounging about on a dude ranch set. In any case, it's quite refreshing to hear this side of the group. "Cool Summer" hit No. 1 on Oricon.

Over the next several days, there will be retrospectives on the long life of Johnny Kitagawa and the various groups that have emerged from his influence. It will be interesting to see who and what gets featured.

Fujimaru Band -- I Know It’s Gonna Last

Come Along Radio and I were talking one time and he was recommending some more of the output of singer-musician Fujimal Yoshino(芳野藤丸)through his past band work such as SHOGUN. When I looked up his bio on J-Wiki, I found out that Yoshino really liked getting a group of professionals together to do those gigs.

There is his early 80s collaboration with Makoto Matsushita(松下誠)and others in AB'S and way back in the 1970s, Yoshino started up his first band, Fujimaru Band(藤丸BAND)in 1973. The revelation for me here was that Fujimaru Band was created as the support band behind the late Hideki Saijo(西城秀樹)! I don't know how many singles or albums Fujimaru Band released but there is the one 1977 album that got recorded by them titled "BGM".

And one of the tracks on "BGM" is "I Know It's Gonna Last", a sunny song totally sung in English by Yoshino. He does a splendid job performing as the rest of Fujimaru Band provides some really nice medium funk, especially with those tight horns and keyboards. I've already put up my fair share of 1970s City Pop, but if someone were to ask me about what would be a representative of Japanese urban contemporary from that decade, I can easily mention "I Know It's Gonna Last".

To give credit where credit is due, Yoshino was on vocals and guitar, Masao Nakajima(中島正雄)was on keyboards, the bass was handled by Kazuyoshi Watanabe(渡辺和義), and Junichi Kanazawa(金沢順一)handled the drums. Considering the cover above with the guys enjoying a meal together, I guess I can't be surprised that Yoshino liked to get his bands together.

Shinichi Mori/Keiko Fuji --Saraba Tomo yo(さらば友よ)

I don't quite remember how I heard about Shinichi Mori's(森進一)"Saraba Tomo yo" (Farewell, My Friend). It could have been from a performance on "Uta Kon"(うたコン)or I just simply came across it during my frequent forays on YouTube. Whichever the case may be, it is an interesting ballad that became Mori's 30th single from April 1974.

"Saraba Tomo yo" has been classified as an enka tune but there's a part of the intro just before Mori starts singing that kinda hits me like a ton of bricks since it doesn't sound like a typical enka arrangement. I'd say that the part in question sounds rather European as in some sort of melancholy passage from an epic bittersweet classic.

I may have mentioned this before in past Mori articles, but this is the fellow who seems to be the expert on melancholy kayo. That boyish look with the puppy-dog eyes and the quaver in his voice which always makes it sound like he's on the verge of a major bawl are Mori characteristics that have endeared him to his fans for decades.

Yu Aku(阿久悠)is behind the lyrics of a forlorn and defeated man who sees his beloved walk away for good without looking back before boarding that train due to some possible betrayal or other relationship-breaking conflict. Meanwhile, Kosho Inomata's(猪俣公章)music is the equivalent of a storm rising and lowering in tempo as it blows around the imminently ex-couple.

"Saraba Tomo yo" managed to peak at No. 5 on Oricon and ended the year as the 36th-ranked single.

Speaking of singers who have their hearts on their sleeves, there is also Keiko Fuji(藤圭子)who knows a thing or two about heartbreaking ballads. I couldn't find out when she performed "Saraba Tomo yo", but as usual, she puts out her all into her version, especially with that bitter growl in her delivery. Nice use of that oboe and trumpet, too.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Marcos V.'s Special Selection (July 2019 Edition)

Shizuka Kudo -- Watashi wa Knife (わたしはナイフ)

The 80s to 90s shift was too big for most of the bubble era superstars. Shizuka Kudo (工藤静香) probably didn’t feel it right away, but, by 1991~1992, she had to try harder to release a timeless classic that could rival with her string of successful singles from the late 80s. She did hit it big in 1993 with “Doukoku” (慟哭), but the following one, “Watashi wa Knife”, just skipped the mark entirely, turning, in retrospect, into one of her most obscure and underrated singles (the song wasn’t included in any of her original albums, only appearing in a couple of compilations over the years, and, besides the usual TV performances, was performed only in one of her major tours).

Curious as it is, “Watashi wa Knife” is my favorite among Kudo’s 90s singles, even though I agree it’s far from being her best. However, there’s something about the lively synths and horns that always get me, and I like how she had already matured into a sexy 90s aidoru both in the vocals and image at the time of its release.

Alessandra Mussolini -- Tokyo Fantasy / Amai Kioku

Yeah, we’re talking about Benito Mussolini’s granddaughter here, Alessandra Mussolini, who is now a politician in her country, Italy. However, during the 80s, she ventured into modeling, acting and, of course, music. Also, if it wasn’t enough, the whole story becomes even more unusual when we learn that her first and final album, “Amore” (1982), was sold only in Japan, and that she sang a couple of songs in Japanese as well, with “Tokyo Fantasy”, probably the main single, being the best example of it.

A melancholic disco song that can even be labeled City Pop by the most enthusiasts, “Tokyo Fantasy” is, surprisingly, a very solid song. The whole atmosphere, drenched in this strange mix of dreamy romantic naivety with bits of sadness (the sharp keyboard notes after the chorus), coupled with the sexy early 80s disco beat, is something hard to absorb, but it’s kinda rewarding. And the coupling song, a melancholic tune called “Amai Kioku”, deserves a listen as well.

Recently, Alessandra suddenly became known to the English-speaking world, but not because of her almost forgotten music career. Apparently, Jim Carrey posted something regarding her grandfather on Twitter and she became angry about it, resulting in a quick discussion or something like that. As a Brazilian, well…, let’s say I already have my own right-wing problems here in my country right now, so I will not try to understand how Alessandra keeps her grandfather’s political history alive in today’s Italy. The only thing I can say is that I quite like the Alessandra Mussolini who sings sad love songs in Japanese atop of a light disco beat. She seems like the queen of this alternative universe where it’s totally okay to have the granddaughter of a famous fascist dictator trying to be a songstress in Japan. Not strange at all.

Chisato Moritaka -- SO BLUE

When it comes to Chisato Moritaka (森高千里), I like her 80s and very early 90s songs way more than the mid-to-late 90s stuff. The exception to this rule is “SO BLUE”, which was released as a single in 1996, and reveals one of Chisato's main influences aside from the Euro/Aidoru stuff: 60s pop-rock and, more specifically, The Beatles.

In “SO BLUE”, we can easily hear some nods to “Hey Bulldog”, one of the songs released by The Fab Four in the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack back in 1969, and considered a throwaway by John Lennon.

I’m no Beatles fan (but my father is a huge one, by the way), but if I had to choose one of their songs, “Hey Bulldog” would be the one, just because of how funky and cool it sounds. Now, in the case of “SO BLUE”, I like how Chisato creatively uses parts of a song from one of her favorite bands and turns it into something else. The addition of strings is also a big plus, and combined with the constant piano, it helps creating the whole classic European feel, yet with a rock-y twist.

Misaki Iwasa -- Koi no Owari Sangenjaya (恋の終わり三軒茶屋)

About a month or two, when I was watching an episode of NHK Nodo Jiman (NHKのど自慢) on TV, ex-AKB48-member-turned-into-Enka-singer Misaki Iwasa (岩佐美咲) was the female guest on the show. At the end, as usual for the guest singers, she sang one of her own songs, which happened to be the latest single “Koi no Owari Sangenjaya”.

Released back in early 2019, “Koi no Owari Sangenjaya” is not that heavy and more traditional Enka song we are all familiar with, being rather a Showa-Era ballad with a gorgeous arrangement and a slightly Latin feel in the background. The melody is quite romantic and I like Iwasa’s vocals since I first listened to her rendition of the classic “Ringo no Uta” (リンゴの唄) a couple of years ago, so this song is a big winner in my book.

Hitomi Tohyama -- Goodbye~Sharp ni Daite (グッバイ~シャープに抱いて)

I wanted to finish this kinda eclectic collection of songs with something mellower, and, from what I’ve selected before writing the post, Hitomi Tohyama’s (当山ひとみ) “Goodbye~Sharp ni Daite” seemed like the obvious choice here.

My first time listening to Penny was five years ago, thanks to J-Canuck here, and, since then, some of her songs have become an integral part of my oldies playlists, with my favorite being “Instant Polaroid”, taken from the first album “Just Call Me Penny”. Another personal highlight, and the one being introduced here, is called “Goodbye~Sharp ni Daite”, which was released in 1983 as a part of the “Next Door” album.

A typical mid-tempo and groovy City Pop ballad with some nice jazzy bits, what I like the most here is the chorus and how she intonates the word goodbye in many different ways. I don’t really know what she wants when she sings ‘sharp ni daite’, but it seems like she wants to be hugged in a passionate way before parting away with her lover. I don’t know, since I didn’t take my time to carefully translate the song, but that’s how I like to feel it anyway. Other than that, the song is beautifully arranged, and Penny’s soulful rendition makes it even more special. A great night listen, in my opinion.

Just a PS on my (J-Canuck) comment on Alessandra Musolini's "Amai Kioku"...I actually did find a Vaporwave version.

Picasso -- Begin The Night

Hearing about the adulation behind the 1980s anime "Maison Ikkoku"(めぞん一刻)all these years, I think that the various opening and ending themes have probably added to the show's fame as well as getting fame themselves due to the popularity of "Maison Ikkoku". Of course, the show's got the moody opening theme "Suki sa"(好きさ)by Anzen Chitai(安全地帯), and then the ending theme "Cinema"(シ・ネ・マ)by Picasso(ピカソ).

According to the J-Wiki article on the song, Picasso's 6th single was "Begin The Night" released in September 1987. It also served as the final ending theme for "Maison Ikkoku", and unlike the atmospheric tango of "Cinema", "Begin The Night" was more of a conventional pop ballad, perhaps similar to the output of pop band H2O at the time.

Written by Etsuko Kisugi(来生えつこ)and composed/arranged by Picasso, "Begin The Night" does sound contemporary 80s but I can also hear a bit of a 1950s sound at points as if Richie and Mari Beth are holding hands on that porch swing. The slight echo in the song also gives it a haunting quality as if it was indeed the end of the story of the famous boarding house.