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, March 31, 2019

Kanke -- Let's Kiss Baby(レッツ・キッス・ベイビー)

Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)has left a very long shadow over the decades with his music and that was even before people from overseas discovered his songs and albums and became City Pop fans. He may have influenced at least a few singers themselves with his summery tunes. One that I know off the top of my head is Junk Fujiyama(ジャンクフジヤマ)who wowed me and other folks with his "Hoshikuzu no Pipeline"(星屑のパイプライン)when it got featured in that one episode of the anime "Space Dandy" a few years back.

Well, somebody even beat Fujiyama by around a couple of decades much to my surprise. On my recent purchase of "Light Mellow ~ Highway", there was one song included by singer, songwriter and radio personality Kanke(カンケ)which is a full respect to the Tats himself, "Let's Kiss Baby".

The coupling song to Kanke's 1997 "Summer Breeze"(サマーブリーズ), it seems to combine "Let's Dance Baby", "Let's Kiss The Sun" and "Loveland, Island". Although Kanke's vocals aren't quite the same as Yamashita's golden voice, the Niigata native acquits himself quite well behind the mike. Plus, we do get that feeling of summer filtering through the speakers, so that is a win! Not sure how Kanke met up with Yamashita to get his blessing, though, but no doubts about how much the former likes the latter's music.

Harumi Ohzora -- Harumi no Moonlight Serenade

Several days ago, I wrote an article about the Group Sounds band, The White Kicks(ザ・ホワイト・キックス), which included a female member by the name of Taeko Morino(森野多恵子). After their lone cover single of Lou Donaldson's "Alligator Bogaloo" in 1968, nothing more was really heard of them, but then a decade later, Morino changed her name to Tan Tan and went into a more soulful City Pop direction. I discovered one of the tracks from her 1978 album "Trying To Get To You", "Bring Me Your Broken Heart".

Well, a few more years later, Tan Tan made another name change, this time to Harumi Ohzora(大空はるみ)and in 1982, she released an album called "Harumi no Moonlight Serenade". Discovering this on YouTube was how I learned about the original Morino for the first time, and it was pretty fascinating since it's the singer's delving into a mix of jazz and technopop. At around the same time, I remember a fellow named Taco who had made a dent on the Billboard charts with his synth cover of "Puttin' On The Ritz". And this was years before the mixed genre of electro-jazz came to the fore.

According to the Tower Records description of the album, "Harumi no Moonlight Serenade" was produced by Kazuhiko Kato(加藤和彦)with Nobuyuki Shimizu(清水信之)providing some of that electronic equipment help and arrangement. The album seems to be set up as an old-fashioned radio program beginning with the congenial Ted Tuxedo providing the intros. Then, from 1:33, Ohzora does her version of Glenn Miller's titular tune with the orchestra sounding as if they consisted of a group of swing robots backing her angelic vocals. Future Past, indeed.

Except for the "Moonlight Serenade" cover, all of the other tracks are original creations but still within that techno-jazz milieu. At 4:52 is "From The Moon Back to the Sun" with lyrics by Ohzora and music by Yu Imai(今井裕), and it fulfills that feeling of cutting up a rug on that hotel ballroom floor.

The next track at 9:56 is "Lazy Girl". Written by Kazumi Yasui(安井かずみ)and composed by Kato, there is some tropicana with the jazz here. It's kinda reminiscent of Haruomi Hosono's(細野晴臣)work in the 1970s with a pinch of AOR. Then the following song at 14:09 is "Weekend" which was created by Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)as a dreamy work of sophisticated and relaxing jazz. Nice to lie down on the chaise lounge in that Long Island mansion while C-3PO brings over a refreshing glass of iced tea.

Y'know, I'm just curious to see if I can get a copy of "Harumi no Moonlight Serenade" since it is appealingly eccentric enough and definitely the songwriters on this project can't be beat. Unfortunately, according to The White Kicks' article on J-Wiki, it looks like that Ohzora passed away in 1998, but there were no other details.

Aya Hirano -- God knows...

The above scene from the original 2006 anime "Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu"(涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱...The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya)initially reminds me of that part in "Back to the Future". You may know it...Marty McFly reassures a stunned 1950s student body at The Enchantment Under The Sea dance that though his 80s hard rock solo may be lost on them, their kids will love it. However, any similarities vaporize within the first few seconds of Haruhi's surprise performance since:

1) It is Haruhi Suzumiya, after all, who has more of the personality of Lucy Van Pelt than that of Marty.

2) Haruhi is wearing a Playboy bunny outfit.

3) The audience does get into it.

4) Haruhi has a quiet if supremely powerful demigod-like humanoid interface as one of her stage sidekicks (as we all do).

"God knows..." is a rocker that's been played by my anime buddy on his stereo from time to time during the Sunday anison hour, and it fits even better on Haruhi than her bunny costume since it sounds like the character truly throwing out her hopes and ambitions in something more effective than primal scream therapy (take a look at Haruhi's face...fury much?). Hear that, Kon? For that matter, hear that, Thanos?

Aya Hirano(平野綾)is, of course, the seiyuu behind the character and the song with prolific anime lyricist Aki Hata(畑亜貴)and composer Satoru Kousaki(神前暁)responsible for the creation of "God knows...".

Sasuke -- Heisei Owarutte yo(平成終わるってよ)

I remember when the Showa Emperor, Hirohito, passed away on January 7th 1989. I was in the last few months of my time at University of Toronto as an undergrad, and perhaps it was very close to the interview stage of the JET Programme application process which I would pass and then head over in July to start my very first post-graduation full-time job. The contents of the above scene have become very famous for everyone living and/or interested in Japan. Then-Chief Cabinet Secretary (later Prime Minister) Obuchi went to the desk and announced the name of the new reign period several hours after the passing of the emperor: Heisei, which officially began at midnight, January 8th.

Now, a little over 30 years later, the announcement will be made at 11:30 am Monday April 1st, Japan Standard Time (10:30 pm Sunday EDT) for the new reign period following Heisei when current Emperor Akihito abdicates at the end of April. Considering the nature of April 1st, I've heard some folks snickering whether there may be a gag reign name thrown in, but knowing how serious Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga is, I do believe that the announcement will be on the level.😎

Over the past number of months, I've been hearing about some of the rules behind the choosing of a reign name:

1) It can only consist of two kanji characters (no more, no less)
2) Both characters must be easy to read and yet create a distinct name that is uncommon
3) The name has to reflect something positive:

Meiji (1867-1912): 「明治」meaning "Enlightened Government".
Taisho (1912-1926): 「大正」meaning "Great Righteousness".
Showa (1926-1989): 「昭和」meaning "Enlightened Peace/Harmony".
Heisei (1989-2019): 「平成」meaning "Peace Everywhere". (Thanks, Wikipedia)

I can also throw in one condition myself that I'm sure that the powers-that-be are considering. The new name will most likely not have an "M", "T", "S" or "H" as the initial letter in the romaji version.

So, what could the new era name be? I've got no idea, although according to NHK, some enterprising young capitalists in the nation have been whipping up some domain names on their computers with potential era names included, in the hopes of making some serious yen when companies and institutions come knocking to adopt the domain. A bit of a lottery.

Not quite sure where I heard it, but one option could be Eian(栄安)or "Glorious Peace". One that I can throw in is Dairaku(大楽)or "Great Happiness". In any case, we'll all find out in less than 10 hours as of this writing.

It was because of the occasion that I was looking for a song that had the word "Heisei" as part of its title, and it didn't take too long to find this catchy treat. Titled "Heisei Owarutte yo" (Heisei's Gonna End), it's written, composed and performed by this talented 15-year-old singer/beatmaker/dancer Sasuke and released a couple of weeks ago as his second digital single.

The video starts off with a parody of that 1989 announcement with Obuchi while a soulful piano intro plays, and then the good ol' fun launches into an old-fashioned hip-pop synthpop synthesis as Sasuke tells folks that while Heisei has been nice enough, it's time to move into the future. Meanwhile, there are some cameo appearances by pop cultural representatives of the Heisei Era. The teen may be telling us to move on, but he certainly provides a comfortable window into the past.

I'm fairly sure that this is the lad making up these beats in what possibly could be a side street in Omotesando, Tokyo. The uploader states that the video was taken back last December but here he is having some fun while he gathers a few onlookers. Nice riff on George Benson near the end.

Anyways, here's looking to the announcement.

April 1 2019: Well, Suga was 10 minutes late but we now know the name.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Anri/Toshiki Kadomatsu -- Fly By Day

Had my lesson with my student tonight and found out from him that it's pretty much impossible now to get any tickets outbound for vacation during Golden Week. Mind you, this Golden Week is looking like an uber-Golden Week since this year with the transition of Emperors in Japan from May, a whopping ten days will be given out for holidays. For Japanese tourists who love their international travel, this is manna from heaven. I think at this point, folks who haven't gotten their tickets may have to face a stay-cation instead.

My time in Japan never had me traveling during the Golden Week holidays since I simply wasn't interested in being tied up for hours on a highway, a plane or a train. I was quite happy being in a far emptier Tokyo for those several days. Heck, listening to music and vicariously living the jet set life was good enough. One good example is Anri's(杏里)"Fly By Day" from her "Heaven Beach" album of 1982.

Written and composed by Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生), those keyboards, that horn section and Anri's inviting voice provide that fine tour that starts overseas on that faraway California coast. Probably many an office worker sighed and wished for more exotic climes when they listened to this sunny City Pop tune.

Kadomatsu did his own cover of "Fly By Day" as a track from his 1983 12-inch single "Do You Wanna Dance". It's a funkier and perhaps even more celebratory version of the Anri original. I can even imagine doing a conga line to this song.

One commenter took a look at that cover above and remarked that that was Vaporwave years before Vaporwave. Indeed, it looks quite distinctive and a bit spooky at the same, to be honest.

Tombo-chan -- Hitoashi Okure no Haru(ひと足遅れの春)

Spring has taken its sweet time to spread into this area of Canada. It's been over a week since it officially arrived but things are still rather unseasonable in terms of temperature, but at least the snow's gone. We've been waiting for a few months...another number of days won't kill us.

Oh my word! The days of long hair and sweaters. But not to dwell too much on the cover of Tombo-chan's(とんぼちゃん)2nd single, "Hitoashi Okure no Haru" (Late Spring) from January 1975, the folk ballad itself is very soothing to listen to.

I've already written one article on this duo of Toyonobu Ito and Yoshimitsu Ichikawa(伊藤豊昇・市川善光), and how they made the transition from folk singers to crooners of AOR into the next decade. However, "Hitoashi Okure no Haru" is definitely in the folk category. Written by Machiko Ryu(竜真知子)and composed by Ichikawa, the song is a melancholy one about a fellow who no longer gets correspondence from his lady love...not even the Japanese equivalent of a Dear John letter. I have a feeling those cherry blossom petals are dropping like flies for the poor guy. Still, there is plenty of sweet nostalgia from the arrangement including those 1970s strings.

Junko Yagami -- Communication (Album)

Y'know...I always look at that cover and wonder who Junko Yagami(八神純子)ticked off to deserve the RACK. Medieval torture aside, I was glad to finally get my hands on her 8th album, "Communication", from February 1985. A few years ago, I rather despaired that there was a whole chunk of her 80s discography that had no longer been available, and "Communication" was one of those albums. There seemed to have been a lack of communication (har de har har) between the record company and Junko fans. Happily, several months ago, I got word from one of the commenters that some of that chunk was back on the market. I didn't hesitate and got the album for Xmas.

I've already profiled three of the tracks from "Communication": the fun and brisk "Cashmere no Hohoemi" (カシミヤのほほえみ), the funky lead track "Imagination" and the wistful "1984 ~ Seireki Ni-Sen-nen ni Mukatte"(西暦2000年に向けて). The first Junko Yagami album that I had ever purchased was her October 1986 "Ya Ga Mania"(ヤガマニア)via audiotape at Wah Yueh back in my university days, and I had to search all over the cover for that one since I had wanted to make sure that it was indeed the same Junko who had come up with all those Latin-based kayo that I first heard on "Sounds of Japan" on the radio. Her sound on "Ya Ga Mania" was completely different.

And I think that distinct sound started with "Communication" which was Yagami's final album to break through into the Top 10 by peaking at No. 9. She was making another change in her approach and from the three songs that I've just mentioned above, the singer-songwriter with the golden voice was transitioning from the City Pop of Japan to a more West Coast R&B of America. "Imagination" was quite the booming announcement of this new way. Unless specified, the songs were written and composed by Yagami.

Produced by J.J. Stanley (who would marry Yagami the following year), listening to the tracks on "Communication", I got the distinct impression that a lot of the tracks would be quite comfortable on some soundtrack for an 80s action-adventure film. Track 2 "Cheater"(チーター)has got that feeling as I imagine Sly or Arnie driving in an open sports car down a Los Angeles highway, although the lyrics highlight a very conflicted young woman. "Cheater" was also released as a single in January of that year.

The title track, "Communication", written and composed by Stanley, has Yagami singing wholly in English, and kinda strikes me as having a bit of that Dazz Band beat. L.A. truly beckons. Just the way the singer plums out the word "love" in one part of "Communication" impressed me that she must have really enjoyed getting this one recorded especially.

"Miss D.J" is perhaps Yagami having her Donald Fagen "The Nightfly" moment. According to the liner notes from the album, the singer had created this track in tribute to her junior high school days when she used to listen to the female radio DJ spinning out the songs and even handling some of those lovelorn questions on air. It's a lovely remembrance in music and it's arranged as if the song was the DJ herself gently carrying the listener into fresh new atmosphere.

My last track from the original album is "Donna Shudan Tsukattemo"(どんな手段使っても...Whatever Means You Use), a song that Yagami mentions as where she got into a bit of a rut about how to arrange it. There seems to be some more bells and whistles attached to this one in terms of production, and although her lyrics talk about a fellow getting pretty obsessed about his girlfriend, I think the title could even refer to the means needed to complete the song. I mean, the song works out but I did get that slight "flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants" feeling with this one.

My purchase of "Communication" was of the 2012 issue so there are three new tracks added: a couple of karaoke versions for the title track and "Cheater", plus the Extended Club Mix for "Communication" as shown above.

I'm glad that I finally got "Communication" the album at last as another starting point in Yagami's long career. Just as much as Anri's(杏里)1988 "Boogie Woogie Mainland" heralded a shift in tone for that singer's brand of urban contemporary from one side of the Pacific to the other, the same thing happened for Yagami when it came to this album. Another comparison can be made directly between "Communication" and "Boogie Woogie Mainland". Whereas the latter album can be thought of as Anri's party on Venice Beach under the bright rays of the sun, the former album has Junko's party taking place some kilometres away in a Los Angeles nightclub dappled in strobe and neon.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Kenji Sawada/Motoharu Sano -- Vanity Factory

Had another listen to singer-songwriter Motoharu Sano's(佐野元春)classic album "Someday" from 1982 again and got myself re-acquainted with a lot of the tracks. Of course, I already know the title track and the absolutely fun "Sugar Time".

One track from "Someday" that I got to know again was "Vanity Factory". Originally given to the iconic kayo chameleon Kenji Sawada(沢田研二)by Sano for his 15th album "G.S. I LOVE YOU" from December 1980, this rock blaster seems to describe that persona of Julie as the preening and pompous "man of culture" of his time. The lyrics describe the setting of one January Wednesday in the big city as a fellow (executive who may have risen too fast and too high) gets ready to paint the town a gorgeous red. Reading through Sano's lyrics, that's what "Vanity Factory" is about: setting but not substance. "G.S. I LOVE YOU" got as high as No. 23 on Oricon.

Sano provided a cover of "Vanity Factory" in the "Someday" album. His version is a tad mellower but it's still got that quick delivery and the feeling of hustle and bustle in the megalopolis.

Kenichi Fujimoto -- Asa no Wakare(朝の別れ)

Found this gem in my copy of "Beams" from the "Light Mellow" series. Let me introduce you to "Asa no Wakare" (Mornin' Good-bye) which is the first track from Kenichi Fujimoto's(藤本健一)one and only album "Aperitif" from 1986.

I mean, this is another one of those AOR/City Pop tunes that would get some appreciative applause from The Doobie Brothers including Michael McDonald, right from Note One. The familiar keyboard riff is there, supplied by the amazing Hiroshi Sato(佐藤博)who also provided backing vocals, and there's a pleasant sax solo by Akio Suzuki(鈴木明男). Fujimoto was the one behind the music while Masanori Matsuo(松尾正徳)took care of the lyrics. Considering the influences involved and how often I've heard them in other genre-specific songs over the years, I am now wondering whether there should be a sub-genre called J-Doobie.

All kidding aside, it was hard to find out much about the singer-songwriter himself. In fact, although there is a J-Wiki entry for Kenichi Fujimoto, it's actually about the drummer for the 90s band ZYYG who simply has the same name, right down to the kanji characters. However, what I could glean from reading the liner notes in "Beams" and one website is that Fujimoto was born in Hyogo Prefecture in 1959. He apparently became a songwriter thanks to an encounter with his high school sempai, bluesy singer Masaki Ueda(上田正樹), and first gained some fame in the Kansai area for "Memories", a single that became a campaign song for the kids' apparel shop Miki House at around the same time.

To finish off, I have to say that I was impressed by this brief review of the album "Aperitif" from another site. To translate and paraphrase, this is the type of album that one wants to listen to either on a linoleum floor or in a car with a sunroof rather than a tatami room. Well, not to disagree with the author, but I started my City Pop love in my old Ichikawa apartment, and yep, there was a well-worn tatami floor.

Takao Horiuchi -- Taketombo(竹とんぼ)

Another Friday night so perhaps let's go with a Mood Kayo but this time from the 1990s.

But for those who may not know what the title is all about, taketombo refers to an old-fashioned Japanese spinning toy made from bamboo and is flown when spun with the hands. You might say that it's similar to children in the West and their spinning tops. You can take a look at this video by NQC7 on how a taketombo is made.

(slightly cut off at the end)

Now, getting back to the main topic...

Takao Horiuchi(堀内孝雄)is also one of those singers who has made that transition from one genre to another. In his case, it would be from the folk of his Alice(アリス)days in the 1970s to a crooner of enka and Mood Kayo.

I found this relaxing single, his 42nd to be exact, "Taketombo" which was released in March 1998. Since Horiuchi made the switch to the more shibui genres, I've found his works to be especially elegant; perhaps I can say that he's mastered an even more sophisticated form of Mood Kayo. His songs here can be poured into a snifter and gently cradled.

Horiuchi was indeed the one who created the melody with Toyohisa Araki(荒木とよひさ)behind the lyrics. When I listen to "Taketombo", I don't imagine kids playing with their flying spinning toys in the field. Actually, I think of slickly-dressed folks like the singer-songwriter getting all introspective in some very fancy bars (definitely with bottles of scotch reserved with their names) talking with bartenders and fellow barflies about the meaning of life. As for the link between this song and the toy, Horiuchi is crooning about a fellow resignedly realizing how much happier his past life was and how he would like to fly back to those times like a taketombo, although he still maintains some stubborn pride about not losing quite everything.

"Taketombo" was then a good fit as the ending theme song for the long-running detective series "Hagure Keiji Junjouha"(はぐれ刑事純情派). I think one of the tropes of a Japanese detective drama is having a couple of the police vets sharing a drink during a particularly hard case and commiserating over their lot. Perhaps I can even see one of the cops singing this one at karaoke before the eventual arrest is made.

I've never had any friends in Japanese law enforcement but I speculate that the cops are pretty much up and running 24-7 there as well. However, I'm hoping that at least some of them can take a break and enjoy some nice atmosphere and the occasional, of course.

Saori Hayami -- Yume no Hate made(夢の果てまで)

Back on March 26th in Japan, NHK featured a special documentary regarding singer-songwriter Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)which involved her taking a trip to Sweden to do some recording, interspersed with the variety of songs that she has performed herself and created for other singers over 40 years. There were even a few minutes in which Takeuchi spoke about her regrets concerning the tragic death of 80s aidoru Yukiko Okada(岡田有希子)for whom she had also created songs.

NHK made it quite clear that this had been the first time in decades that Takeuchi allowed herself to come onto TV through a program (she did provide a relatively recent commercial, it seems, for potato chips), so it was quite a special opportunity to see her and actually give her insights.

(short version)

The narrator for the documentary was popular seiyuu Saori Hayami(早見沙織), someone that I've seen very often through my buddy's collection of anime over the past several years, so it was great to hear her in her own voice, too. It was an appropriate choice as well, since Takeuchi had written and composed a song for Hayami a couple of years ago.

"Yume no Hate made" (To The Ends of a Dream) was the theme song for an anime motion picture that had been split and released in two parts in 2017 and 2018, "Haikara-san ga Tooru"(はいからさんが通る...Haikara-San: Here Comes Miss Modern). Hayami herself starred in the movie as the titular Benio Hanamura, a high school girl of the Taisho Era in the early 20th century who seems to have had too much spunk and spice for her contemporaries.

Listening to "Yume no Hate made", which was Hayami's 3rd single released in November 2017, my impression was "Yup, this is a Mariya song!". There is something that is always dreamy, hopeful and heartfelt when it comes to one of her creations whether it be one of her own singles such as "Camouflage" or a song for someone else such as "Miracle Love" for Riho Makise(牧瀬里穂). The overriding image that forms in my mind whenever I hear any of these songs is the particular singer or a much younger Mariya looking out her window up high at the moon one night as she looks for some kind of guidance or solace. Nothing too melancholy, though, and "Yume no Hate made" certainly doesn't reflect any sadness in its melody at least. The song made it as high as No. 21 on Oricon.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Aya Katsu/Aki Yashiro/Shinichi Mori -- Koi Azami(恋あざみ)

Always nice to get that palate cleanser of enka and/or Mood Kayo once in a while. So I've found this song of the two genres that seems to have become a well-covered classic.

Hokkaido-born Aya Katsu(勝彩也)became an apprentice for composer Masao Saiki(彩木雅夫)who provided Katsu's hit in 1970 with "Koi Azami" (Thistle of Love), about drowning those sorrows over a lost romance with lyrics by Junzou Izumi(泉淳三)*. I mentioned both enka and Mood Kayo in the same breath since I think while the bluesiness (including that sax) and lost romance are tropes for that latter genre, there is something deeper in the arrangement that hints at a gentle enka out in the countryside.

According to J-Wiki, Katsu may have had his success with "Koi Azami" but due to health issues, he had to leave show business. However, having learned yoga, he was able to set up some studios in Saitama Prefecture along with a karaoke training school, and then he was even able to revive the singing part of his career.

As I mentioned above, "Koi Azami" has been covered but unfortunately I haven't been able to track down when these other singers did their versions. Still, that won't prevent me from showing Aki Yashiro's(八代亜紀)bouncier take on the song, including some poppier drums. This arrangement almost takes things straight into pop.

Hearing Katsu, I had thought that "Koi Azami" would also be ideal for veteran Shinichi Mori(森進一)due to that warbling delivery. Well, Mori must have gotten the memo, too. Here's his very brief performance of the song.

Finally, we have Katsu once more some years later with his claim to fame. He's got quite an interesting voice with a softer rasp than Mori's and even some crystalline qualities.

*There are a number of ways of reading 「淳三」but I went with one of them for Mr. Izumi. If anyone can confirm or correct the reading, please let me know.

DJ Misoshiru to MC Gohan -- Apron Boy(エプロンボーイ)

Omurice(オムライス)...truly made in Japan. Omelettes? Sure, see 'em all the time. Fried rice? A classic Chinese dish. Ketchup? Without question. But all together? What will the Japanese think of next? I had the above omurice with a special sauce at a restaurant called Pommes in Odaiba back in 2017. I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn't had that tonkatsu set some hours earlier in Akihabara.

Just within the last half-hour, I discovered that there was yet another addition to the "Fate/stay night" franchise. Of course, there was the original serious show with some good old-fashioned brutality, but there were also the side shows such as "Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya" with its good dollop of humour, and the totally wacky "Carnival Phantasm". Now, I found out that there was another adjunct to the franchise whose episodes were shown monthly rather than weekly during 2018 (which may be why my anime buddy didn't really cotton onto it) titled "Emiya-san Chi no Kyou no Gohan"(えみやさんちの今日のご飯...Today's Menu for Emiya Family).

Take some of that light-hearted fun from "Prisma Illya" and "Carnival Phantasm" and add a generous heap of the cooking-based anime "Koufuku Graffiti"(幸腹グラフィティ), and you got this show which has Emiya and Archer whipping up scrumptious dishes instead of whipping out weaponry. I was definitely quite impressed with Emiya's approach to roast beef.

Now, I didn't discover the existence of "Emiya-san Chi no Kyou no Gohan" on its own. Actually, I was watching one of KHORnime's latest compilations, coincidentally showing scenes of delectable egg dishes (man, he is detailed!), and of course, he's got catchy anison to begin and end the sequences. That was definitely the case with some of his videos which started with Little Glee Monster's "Seishun Photograph"(青春フォトグラフ). But the latest round of KHORnime's videos has had this cutesy yet funky number introducing things, so once again I got curious.

As it turned out, the number was the opening theme for "Emiya-san Chi no Kyou no Gohan" which is how I found out about the anime. "Apron Boy" was created and performed by DJ Misoshiru to MC Gohan(DJみそしるとMCごはん). When I saw the name, I had assumed that this was a duo although I only heard the one female voice, but in actual fact, the name covers the one person whose name hasn't been revealed. Hailing from Shizuoka Prefecture, DJ Misoshiru (for short) is a musician and hip-hop MC who made her debut in 2013 with the album "Mother's Food", and it looks like from her name and the titles of her works, her schtick is food-based songs. Perhaps that would make her somewhat like the "Weird Al" Yankovic of J-Pop?

In any case, I have seen DJ Misoshiru often on weekends on TV Japan with some small segments regarding food and rap. Very cute indeed. Heck, "Apron Boy" would be the sort of music that I would like to make my dinner to...provided that I could make it within two minutes and change.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Flat Face -- Honeymoon In Paris(ハネムーン・イン・パリ)

I have to say that after becoming charmed by this pop song, I was stunned to realize that "Honeymoon In Paris" first achieved exposure to the masses all the way back in the mid-1980s. The arrangement sounded so ahead of its time at that time, and I think it possesses a certain indies quality. The song was used several years later from 1994 as the opening theme song for a travel program on regional Kyushu Asahi Broadcasting known as "Ruri Iro no Suna Dokei"(るり色の砂時計...The Azure Hourglass). It ran all the way to 2012 with "Honeymoon In Paris" being used as the theme until 2009.

The duo behind the dreamy "Honeymoon In Paris" was known as Flat Face. Yoshiko Takatori(高取淑子)and Mitsutoshi Takesue(武末充敏)started the band in the early 1980s with their one and (presumably) only album "Face" coming out in 1986 which included "Honeymoon In Paris". According to Takatori's website, Flat Face "...used computers and digital equipments, played music as European sound (sic).", although from this particular song, I don't get an image of the group as being a synthpop act.

Also from her website, Flat Face broke up some time later with Takatori soon heading to the island of Bali where she was awakened to the pleasures of Asian music. She released her first solo single in 1998 and has been releasing material up to 2012.

Found this footage of Takatori and cheebow performing "Honeymoon In Paris" at a 2011 charity event.

And here is the first ending theme for "Ruri Iro no Suna Dokei" which was "Kiss of Life" as sung by Sade.

Miho Nakayama -- Funky Mermaid/Moonlight Sexy Dance

I'm not quite sure what a funky mermaid would look like although I can speculate Ariel doing the Moonwalk and spinning on her head on the ocean floor. King Triton would be absolutely scandalized, though.

This "Funky Mermaid" does exist though as a remix track from Miho Nakayama's(中山美穂)remix album "Makin' Dancin'" from October 1988. I actually found this on one of the radio channels and was immediately sent swooning back to my dancing (or what roughly resembled dancing) days in university. Not sure if this would be properly categorized as Eurobeat or straight-on R&B, but both genres were influences in the dance-pop of the day in America.

For Miporin fans, "Funky Mermaid" is that desired smoothie of various songs from her discography with the overriding flavour being "Moonlight Sexy Dance" from her "Mind Game" album released earlier that year in July. However, it also has chunks of "50/50", "Close-Up" and "JINGI-Aishite Moraimasu"(JINGI・愛してもらいます...You Will Love Me). I'm not sure if this is an accurate statement, but it seems like Nakayama was the favoured go-to 80s aidoru for dance remixes for some reason. "Makin' Dancin'" hit No. 2 on Oricon.

The original "Moonlight Sexy Dance", written by Chinfa Kan(康珍化)and composed by Takao Sugiyama(杉山卓夫), would be the Miporin equivalent of pineapple in that smoothie. There is some musical tropical punch in there through the synthesizers and percussion that makes me think of hot beaches and warm summer breezes. When I used to make smoothies back in Ichikawa, pineapple was indeed one of my main ingredients. "Mind Game" also hit No. 2 and was the 36th-ranked album for 1988.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Kinokuniya Band -- Crystal Magic(クリスタルマジック)

Fellow City Pop fan Jerry and I were talking over the weekend and one topic that we touched upon was the difference between 70s and 80s City Pop. I'm not sure if we were able to answer that one definitively but personally I think one difference was how the keyboard was played in those two separate decades. Not being a musicologist or musician, I can't recognize a certain type of keyboard by sound alone. However some of the genre stuff that I've heard from the former decade had that sound that I can only describe as being reminiscent of fog vaporizing in the morning air. Namely, there was a mistiness to that sound.

I've got another example here tonight via Kinokuniya Band's(紀の国屋バンド)"Crystal Magic" which was a 1979 EP but was also included as the lead track on their album from the same year "Street Sensation". I can hear that misty keyboard but I also pick up on some other 70s City Pop tropes. One is just how free that guitar solo (with that remnant of psychedelia) is, and then there is the mellowness of the funk involved although everything is going at a good beat.

Up to this point, I've written two other articles on Kinokuniya Band, but finally, I have been able to track down all of the members. Of course, I was able to find out about vivacious vocalist Masako Takasaki(高崎昌子)right from that first article, their cover of Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)"4AM", but I was surprised to discover that arranger Nobuyuki Shimizu(清水信之)had also been part of the band as the keyboardist, joining Takasaki and his brother, percussionist Mac Shimizu(マック清水). They were joined by guitarist, vocalist and synth operator Haruto Kawabe(川辺ハルト), guitarist and vocalist Motoki Ichisaki*(市崎元輝), bassist Kinta Moriyama*(盛山キンタ)and drummer Ryutaro Yokozawa(横沢龍太郎).

*Once again, I've come across names that have various readings so I may be wrong in their transcription. If anyone knows the correct reading, I'd appreciate the heads-up.

Masahiko Kondo/Tetsuro Oda -- Baby Rose

Good heavens! It's been a while, Matchy...welcome back.

Some pretty bombastic good ol' rock-n-roll by Masahiko Kondo(近藤真彦)through his 22nd single "Baby Rose" released in September 1986. I think having Matchy show up on the cover in a black leather jacket with a pompadour hairstyle would have been more appropriate. Still, the song written and composed by Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎)has a really boss sound as the singer exhorts and begs his Baby Rose to come back to him after a fight.

According to the J-Wiki article for "Baby Rose", Oda himself had recorded the song in his own 1985 album "Night Waves", after which Kondo requested that he would love to perform this particular song in concert. The songwriter had no problems with that, and "Baby Rose" became an official Matchy single.

"Baby Rose" rose to No. 6 on Oricon and later became the 51st-ranked single for 1986. It first got onto an album, "Kondo Masahiko THE BEST" which was released in June 1987.

And here is Oda's original.

TETSU -- Itsumo Anata ga(いつもあなたが)

Commenter Chasing Showa keyed me in on the ending theme for the 1983 "Sōkō Kihei VOTOMS"(装甲騎兵ボトムズ...Armored Trooper VOTOMS)since I had written about the cool opening theme for the anime a little over two weeks ago.

"Itsumo Anata ga" (You Are Always) was created by the same folks who took care of the opening theme "Honoo no Sadame"(炎のさだめ). It was Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎)under his nom de guerre at the time, TETSU, who performed it with Ryosuke Takahashi(高橋良輔)and Hiroki Inui(乾裕樹)writing and composing the song respectively.

As I mentioned to Chasing Showa, this is a surprisingly urban contemporary tune for a mecha anime. I remarked that I would imagine some bartender getting his/her ear bent by a melancholy VOTOM at a Shinjuku bar while nursing a tumbler of machine oil on the rocks. Despite the obvious nightmare of fitting such a huge mecha into a drinking establishment, it would still look very cool having it carrying on a conversation within the bright lights of Tokyo flashing on and off. "Itsumo Anata ga" is very much an introspective ballad about cherishing that loved one, and the saxophone seals the deal for that City Pop tag.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Hikaru Nishida -- Jinsei Kaechau Natsu kamo ne(人生変えちゃう夏かもね)

Oooh...I remember watching the music video for this one by 80s/90s aidoru Hikaru Nishida(西田ひかる); one scene, I believe had Hikaru with a flower in her mouth or something esoteric like that.

In any case, this is "Jinsei Kaechau Natsu kamo ne" (This is the Summer that Your Life May Change), Nishida's 17th single from March 1995. With that summery theme and some of that zesty Latin in there, you would be forgiven if you thought that this song was something whipped up by Maki Ohguro(大黒摩季)who seemed to have cornered the market on such music back in that decade. But actually, this was written by veteran Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子)and composed by Ichiro Hada(羽田一郎).

But of course, when you think summer, you think beer! And sure enough, "Jinsei Kaechau Natsu kamo ne" was used as the campaign song for one of Asahi Beer's brands at the time. Despite how she looked back then, she was most definitely of age to drink the golden brew when the commercial was shot. The song itself got as high as No. 18 on the charts.

Masako Mori/Nobue Matsubara -- Namida no Sanbashi(なみだの桟橋)

Masako Mori(森昌子)retiring? Now, where did I hear that before? Actually, the veteran singer did retire once before in 1986 after entertaining people for about 14 years when she got married to enka singer Shinichi Mori(森進一). I remember the 1986 Kohaku Utagassen when Masako crumpled into tears at the end of the program while a bombastic chorus heralded the supposed end of a career.

What I hadn't realized was that the former aidoru-turned-enka singer stayed away from the microphone for 20 years while she raised a family but when she got divorced from Shinichi in 2006, she made her return to show business. Now, this morning, I got the news that she will be retiring once more at the end of this year.

Allow me then to pay appropriate tribute to Mori with her 23rd single from August 1977, "Namida no Sanbashi" (Wharf of Tears). From the title, it's pretty obvious that the lyrics by Norihiko Sugi(杉紀彦)will not be the happiest as the singer relates the loss of romance through the typical kayo setting of a pier. Shosuke Ichikawa(市川昭介)provides the dramatic and nostalgic music of strings, guitar and light crystal keyboard. This sounds like the perfect karaoke song.

In performed versions, that wailing guitar seems to have been replaced by a trumpet in fanfare mode. "Namida no Sanbashi" got as high as No. 28 on Oricon, and earned her an invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen that year for her 5th appearance in as many years.

Around the time that Mori was retiring the first time in the mid-1980s, enka chanteuse Nobue Matsubara(松原のぶえ)practically begged the singer to allow her to cover "Namida no Sanbashi", and both Mori and composer Ichikawa were more than happy to give their approval. Matsubara's version was released in May 1987 and has a more elegant and regal arrangement. There is no mention about how it did on Oricon, but Matsubara did get her own 3rd invitation to the Kohaku to sing this very song.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Nav Katze -- Nagori no Bara(名残りの薔薇)

Came across this band, Nav Katze, through my browsings of YouTube and was entranced by this one song, "Nagori no Bara" (The Last Rose in Summer). It's got this indies sort of feeling with the dreamy vocals paired with the grungy guitar and crystalline keyboards. There is that fantasy aspect that has this song stand out in my mind. The band is listed as a rock group but I think "Nagori no Bara" is more of a pop song.

The title track from their 5th album "The Last Rose in Summer" (1992), I'm still trying to figure out where the band's name originated. Nav Katze first formed in 1984 with Miwako Yamaguchi(山口美和子)on vocals and bass, Naoko Iimura(飯村直子)on guitar and Shino Furutachi(古舘詩乃)on drums. After having released their first two albums on the SWITCH label, the band made their switch (sorry) to the major label of Victor in 1991 with Furutachi leaving Nav Katse the same year.

Nav Katze released a total of eight original albums and two singles. Neither Wikipedia nor J-Wiki provides an end date for the band so perhaps they may still be performing to a certain extent out there, although their final original album, "Gentle & Elegance" was released in 1996.

Kazuhiro Nishimatsu -- Crescent Night(クレッセント・ナイト)

I was just conversing with Matt about Kazuhiro Nishimatsu(西松一博)and Aragon, and for the last number of weeks, I've been getting accustomed to Nishimatsu's falsetto delivery and his brand of music which hearkened back to a much older era.

Well for today's Nishimatsu article, I'm going back to his early City Pop days via his 1981 debut album "Good Times". I've already covered his happy-go-lucky doo-wop "My Last Lady", but this time around, it's his straight-ahead City Pop "Crescent Night" which has that feeling of Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎). As was the case with "My Last Lady", "Crescent Night" has Kumiko Tomoi(友井久美子)and Nishimatsu responsible for words and music with guitarist Tsuyoshi Kon(今剛)handling overall arrangements. I'm also assuming that Kon took care of that scintillating solo once more.

Indeed, that whole album smacks of good times. If I can still get a copy of it, I wouldn't mind getting my hands on this one as well along with Nishimatsu's very different "Bouekifu Monogatari"(貿易風物語)and "Aragon".

Friday, March 22, 2019

Yoshimi Iwasaki -- Aishite Mon Amour(愛してモナムール)

It's been a while since I covered a Yoshimi Iwasaki(岩崎良美)song so I'm happy to select a track from her June 1982 5th album "Cecile".

The catchphrase for the album was "Here's the fragrance of Europe just for you!", and judging from Track 2 "Aishite Mon Amour" (Love Me, Mon Amour), it looks like there was some truth-in-advertising here. The song was also Yoshimi's 8th single released in January 1982.

Written and composed by the husband-and-wife team of Kazumi Yasui and Kazuhiko Kato(安井かずみ・加藤和彦), "Aishite Mon Amour" sounds like a very early Anri(杏里)song, and sure enough, there is also that feeling of European elegance as advertised imbued into the melody arranged by Nobuyuki Shimizu(清水信之). The album has been categorized as both aidoru and New Music (even going into the 1980s), and from both this song and another single that was put onto "Cecile", "Vacance", although there is that happy boppiness of aidoru, Shimizu's arrangement seems to kick things up a notch from the usual teenybopper tunes, thanks to that elegance I just mentioned.  Moreover, it's also nice to hear EPO with her backing chorus.

Tan Tan -- Bring Me Your Broken Heart

A couple of nights ago, I wrote about the Group Sounds band, The White Kicks(ザ・ホワイト・キックス)which included a female member by the name of Taeko Morino(森野多恵子). Well, while she had been doing a bit of the psychedelic back in the late 1960s, around a decade later, she was taking on a whole new genre.

Plus, she had a new name. Tan Tan released this album titled "Trying To Get To You" in 1978 (it's listed in my "Japanese City Pop") from which I found this groovy track "Bring Me Your Broken Heart". It almost sounds a few years ahead of its time just from the usage of keyboards, and Tan Tan takes on a vocal style reminiscent of what I've heard from Kimiko Kasai(笠井紀美子)and Noriko Miyamoto(宮本典子). I couldn't find out who the songwriters were for "Bring Me Your Broken Heart" which has this mix of Motown and mild disco, but I would like to raise my glass to them.

I also don't know whether she had any subsequent albums of similar genre under the name Tan Tan, but approaching the mid-1980s, she changed her name again to Harumi Ohzora(大空はるみ)and switched to another genre: that of techno-jazz, kinda like Taco. Ohzora was the first incarnation of this singer that I discovered so I decided to stick with this name in all other articles about her, and I hope to get to the Ohzora albums in short order.

Taizo Jinnouchi -- Dadaism

Up to this point, the only song by singer-songwriter Taizo Jinnouchi(陣内大蔵)that I'd ever known was a reggae-inflected Xmas number, although I also recollect seeing "Eye-Ai" feature him prominently in one of its issues. The photo above is from that article.

However, if any of his other songs are as catchy as his "Dadaism" then I am all in. Coming from his debut album "Moratorium" from April 1988, I really like the keyboard work, the percussion and how the song just struts its way from beginning to end. Moreover, Jinnouchi has that unique voice with a certain breathless soft rasp.

Jinnouchi was born in Yamaguchi Prefecture, and as a child, he took part in the church choir and studied the violin and piano. He's also been a good friend with Sing Like Talking's Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善).

hitomi -- LOVE 2000

I was living in Japan for a good smattering of Olympics coverage and also the World Cup with Japan and South Korea as hosts in 2002. For the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, I was just waking up one Sunday morning when I turned on the TV and had the good luck to see the ending of the Women's Marathon when Japanese runner Naoko "Q-chan" Takahashi(高橋尚子)crossed the finish line to get the Gold medal.

It was later found out that Takahashi got psyched up during training while listening to "LOVE 2000" by hitomi, and so not surprisingly, that certainly helped boost sales of the singer-songwriter's 17th single from June 2000.

hitomi had already been around for some years since arriving under the Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)umbrella, and at the time, I hadn't really thought of her as being the strongest singer around. However, with "LOVE 2000", there was that good fit between her vocals and the uplifting song.

I think one reason is that she and her lyrics seemed more comfortable with Masato Kamata's(鎌田雅人)melody as if she had crafted the music herself. My image of hitomi has always been as that of a rock-loving biker type, and whether or not that's actually true, "LOVE 2000" has become the tune that I will always recognize for. It did become one of her bigger hits by reaching No. 5 on Oricon and ending up as the 78th-ranked single of the year. The song was also her first invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen that year with her only other appearance a couple of years later for "Samurai Drive".

As far as I know, "LOVE 2000" wasn't an Olympics theme song in any official capacity but considering that it may have helped Q-chan get that Gold for Japan, I'll be happy to bestow honourary status in Labels.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

SMAP -- Makeru na Baby! ~ Never Give Up(負けるなBaby! 〜Never give up)

Yup, that's good ol' SMAP in the good ol' days when Katsuyuki Mori(森且行)made the aidoru group a sextet instead of the quintet.

My overall impression of member Shingo Katori(香取慎吾)was that he was the comical one of SMAP in comparison to the smoldering heartthrob Takuya Kimura(木村拓哉)and the shy guy Goro Inagaki(稲垣吾郎). Well, since the group broke up at the end of 2016, he's revealed a new side: introspective artist!

This morning on NHK's "News Watch at 9", there was a short feature with Katori presenting his exhibition of art including paintings and sculpture. From what I saw, he looks like he's going for some abstract works.

It has been a while since I featured a SMAP song and since I have been playing catch-up where their discography is concerned, I went back into the vaults of J-Wiki and found their 4th single, "Makeru na Baby! ~ Never Give Up" (Don't Give Up Baby!) from July 1992.

Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)was responsible for creating the music for "Makera na Baby!" and even though he is represented on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" with 149 articles (including this one), I still marvel at how prolific the man has been, especially after writing about another one of his creations just yesterday, the very different Mood Kayo "Hoshi no Night Club"(星のナイト・クラブ)for Sachiko Nishida(西田佐知子)all the way back in 1969. Takeshi Aida(相田毅)wrote the lyrics about a guy exhorting a female friend or a girlfriend to not let any obstacle or failure get in the way of success. I thought that this was a theme song for some TV drama but actually it was the theme for a 1994 movie titled "Shoot!"(シュート!)starring SMAP, dramatized from the original manga.

I'm happy that the video above shows the lyrics since while I was just listening to "Makera na Baby!", I swore that I heard the lines "Buy my cellphone!...Catch my cellphone!". I didn't think that cellphones had made their debut quite that early and sure enough, the actual lyrics are "By myself Wow...Catch Myself...". At first listen, I had assumed that the guy was really desperate to get rid of his device.

For an early song, "Makera na Baby!" didn't do too badly, peaking at No. 5. But according to J-Wiki, as of 2017, it has remained SMAP's least successful single, selling only a little over 90,000 copies. Happily, though, SMAP never did give up here.

Looks like Katori has made an auspicious start. Maybe someday, he and his works will work their way over to the Art Gallery of Ontario. Yayoi Kusama's(草間彌生)exhibition was a huge hit with residents here so why not Katori?

B'z -- Sekai wa Anata no Iro ni Naru(世界はあなたの色になる)/Mai Kuraki -- SAWAGE☆LIFE

As usual, Thursdays at 6:30 is time for "Case Closed", aka "Meitantei Conan"(名探偵コナン), the adventures of the pint-sized master detective.

Usually it's a case of take-it-or-leave-it when it comes to the large store of "Conan" opening and ending themes. Obviously, the ones that appear here on KKP are the ones that I have actually enjoyed. And in this case, I am currently liking both opening and ending themes for the 2016 season of the show (apparently TV Japan is about two and a half years behind).

The 43rd opening theme, "Sekai wa Anata no Iro ni Naru" (The World Becomes Your Colour) by B'z is a digital download from October 2016. As the original song, I could only find the actual opening credits, and therefore, truncated version. I have to say that the song which was also written and composed by the B'z boys, is helped a lot by that opening sequence that has almost every character in battle mode, and heck, even snarky Haibara looks scared! The song strikes me as being a bit reminiscent of late Beatles with the inclusion of those strings. "Sekai" reached No. 1 on iTunes and was ranked No. 50 for that year according to the mora music store.

The 52nd ending theme, "SAWAGE☆LIFE" (Exciting Life) by Mai Kuraki(倉木麻衣)was also a digital download from July 2016. It comes across to me as this quiet rock strut that could have been sung by someone like Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku Girls. Again the ending credits are of a cast-participatory variety with the Detective Boys and the high school buddies of Ran, Sonoko and Masumi deciding to get the band together. The cheerleading element of the song has dug itself into my brain. While Kuraki wrote the lyrics, Alaina Beaton and Bobby Huff took care of the melody.

Peggy Hayama -- Nangoku Tosa wo Ato ni Shite(南国土佐を後にして)

With the changing of the seasons, NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン)had its spring-themed show a couple of nights ago, and one of the guests, enka singer Hiroshi Miyama(三山ひろし), gave a lovely version of the kayo chestnut "Nangoku Tosa wo Ato ni Shite" (Leave Nangoku Tosa Behind).

The song had its origins in wartime Japan as something that had been sung by soldiers in a regiment, many of whom hailed from Kochi Prefecture (which was once known as Tosa) on the island of Shikoku. After World War II, the song was brought back to Kochi where it solidified as a hometown ditty, according to a 1997 Kobe Shimbun article (via J-Wiki). Songwriter Eisaku Takemasa(武政英策)from neighbouring Ehime Prefecture then transcribed and arranged this original song to write and compose "Nangoku Tosa wo Ato ni Shite", as a kayo of longing for the homeland of Kochi.

"Nangoku Tosa wo Ato ni Shite" was recorded and released in 1953 and 1955 by Kyoko Oka(丘京子)and Mieko Suzuki(鈴木三重子)respectively but neither version made much of a ripple. But then Peggy Hayama(ペギー葉山)was offered the opportunity to sing this very song on a special program commemorating the beginning of the Kochi branch of NHK TV in November 1958. Hayama had initially not been too interested since she considered herself a jazz singer rather than an interpreter of kayo, but she finally performed it in front of the audience and she was surprised due to the rousing reaction from them.

Hayama's version became known around the nation due to the spread of television and transformed into a huge hit, with the single released in April 1959 and sales reaching 1 million within a year, eventually selling 2 million records in total. Hayama would also end up performing "Nangoku Tosa" on the 1959 and 1989 Kohaku Utagassen broadcasts. On top of that, she became only the second person to be granted a honourary citizenship of Kochi in 1974.

The song also got transformed into a movie later in August 1959 with Hayama as part of the cast.