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.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Happy Songs for Me 3

The above photo was something that Rocket Brown of Come Along Radio was very kind to send to me some weeks ago. If you look closely, you can see a very young Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)in the middle of Masamichi Sugi(杉真理)and Red Stripes. With all that heavy garb, they look positively Canadian! I hope that provides some happiness especially to the Mariya fans out there.

And that is the point of this Author's Pick article. Over five years ago in March 2015, I posted up an article in commemoration of the United Nations' International Happiness Day on March 20th (coincidentally Mariya's birthday!) titled "Happy Songs for Me" which listed some of the many songs that have made or kept my spirits happy and light. Just a few months after that, I then provided "Happy Songs for Me 2" just to show that the list was far from complete.

Well in July 2020, I've decided to go for a three-peat. And I think it's especially important now when the pandemic and its various ill effects have left millions upon millions of people feeling anything but happy. Not to say that this article is going to provide the ultimate cure to the population of Earth obviously. However, perhaps for those who do like Japanese popular music, some of my choices in "Happy Songs for Me 3" (along with its two cousins) can be your choices that make you feel happy.

Here are my choices in no particular order:

1. Taeko Ohnuki -- Summer Connection (1977)

For a fellow who got his education in all things Taeko(大貫妙子)first through her synthpop offerings at the turn of the decade into the 1980s, hearing the singer-songwriter going really high into the 1970s City Pop was quite the revelation. In the years since listening to "Summer Connection" repeatedly, this has become one of my summer must-hears and it's a grand aural sepia-toned photograph into the Tokyo hot season of that decade. Especially when the brass launches it and then she hits her highest notes in the song, I get to go to my happy place.

2. Seiko Matsuda -- Aoi Sangoshou (1980)

This wasn't the first Seiko-chan(松田聖子)song that I ever heard but it's been the one that has struck me as being one of the purest grin-giving aidoru numbers of the 1980s. When I first heard this on "Sounds of Japan" decades ago, I thought that this was the ultimate Seiko song. It's just a buoyant summer song of yesteryear powered by disco strings that takes flight over the beach and surf while the teen aidoru and a beau are frolicking the days away.

3. Anri -- Shyness Boy (1983)

There's nothing like listening to an Anri(杏里)song from the 1980s with a Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生) engine to drive the blues away. Of course, that includes many tunes but one of my very favourite is "Shyness Boy" from her "Timely!!" album. As soon as I hear this one on the stereo with the sunny brass, I get transported to wherever Anri was having her photograph taken on the cover of the album; I'm assuming that it's either Hawaii or Los Angeles. Just imagine the rise on the happiness scale when listening to "Shyness Boy" while in a convertible driving along the California coastline.

4. Sing Like Talking -- Mitsumeru Ai de (1995)

SLT's "Together" is already included in one of the previous "Happy" lists and while that is just one joyous caper through the city, "Mitsumeru Ai de"(みつめる愛で)has me preparing for a fun night out on the town. It's pure fantasy but this song is the theme for throwing on a Hugo Boss suit (that would probably have to go beyond its usual parameters to fit me), getting into a limo with the lady of my dreams (no comment on that), and tripping the light fantastic for dinner and drinking and dancing. Pianist Satoru Shionoya(塩谷哲)absolutely helps in batting this one out of the park.

5. KAN -- Ai wa Katsu (1990)

One of my friends on the JET Programme frankly had the same attitude toward KAN's magnum opus "Ai wa Katsu"(愛は勝つ)that I had (and still have) toward natto: GET IT AWAY FROM ME! She really wasn't much for whimsical pop. For me, "Ai wa Katsu" was one of the musical touchstones in my life since it became that big hit during my two years in Gunma Prefecture. Perhaps the message is as corny as a field in the Midwest but the song still manages to prop up some happy memories of pop culture and life back then.

6. Blue Peppers feat. Shiori Sasaki -- Roku-gatsu no Yume (2015)

The next few entries involve some of the wonderful new urban contemporary acts in the last decade that I've discovered in the years since the first two "Happy" lists have come out. Case in point: the cool AOR duo Blue Peppers with vocalist Shiori Sasaki(佐々木詩織)with their "Roku-gatsu no Yume"(6月の夢), one very happy-go-lucky number that deserves its own light sitcom set in a Tokyo suburb. I get some of that lovely Steely Dan vibe here and I still eagerly await that next album.


7. BLU-SWING -- Flash (2015)

Around the same time that I first heard about Blue Peppers, I came across the coolness of BLU-SWING which has been around for over a decade. I really am a late bloomer. At least, I was fortunate to discover "Flash", a great calling card for the band and perhaps the theme song for the nightlife in any major city in Japan. With a combination of sultriness in the vocals and the snap-and-bang in the arrangement, any listener can potentially be enticed to plan a vacation for the metropolises of the nation (although unfortunately not now).

8. Kirinji -- Jikan ga nai (2018)

It was quite the re-introduction to Kirinji since I had known them mostly for their soulful ballads back in the early 2000s. How was I to know that the band made a change into catchy/spacey pop tunes some years back? And then I get hit with "Jikan ga nai"(時間がない)with its video that has gone worldwide with that middle-aged manager and his disco moves. I didn't stand a chance. Even now, as I write this, my shoulders instinctively started shimmying to the groove. I won't ever hit a dance floor but I can imagine that I'm on one thanks to this one.

9. Mariya Takeuchi -- Morning Glory (1980)

Of course, I'm going to end this list with the first singer that I mentioned off the top. There's something so adorably 80s AOR about "Morning Glory" and since I'm a big AOR fan, it's downright Pavlovian how I react whenever I hear this track from "Miss M". Thankfully, I tend to get happy instead of salivating all over the CD. Maybe Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)thought it was a little too AOR for his tastes, but I'm perfectly happy with his future wife's original (although Tats' version on "For You" is also fine).

Well, that is my third list of happy songs. I hope that at least some of them made you happy in these uncertain times. Already there are tunes that are stabbing me in the head demanding why I haven't included them so I'm pretty sure that there will be a fourth list sometime down the line without having to wait another five years. For commenters and collaborators, let me know what your happy song or songs are.


  1. That's a great list you've compiled. A lot of good vibes throughout.

    'Morning Glory' features a lot of West Coast AOR session players like Jeff Porcaro, David Foster and Jay Graydon. Both 'Shyness Boy' and 'Mitsumeru Ai de' are superb, and you can't miss with Kirinji and Taeko Ohnuki. Blue Peppers' first EP comes highly recommended. BLU-SWING I'd never heard of before, featuring that catchy jazz-pop sound which has been a staple of Japanese music since the city pop of the 1980s.

    I'll have to compile a list of my own and share it with you. Thanks as always.

    1. Thanks very much, Michael. Just glad that I have all of these aural treats. Hope to hear about your favourites as well. I think jazz-pop is a good name for what BLU-SWING has provided.

  2. Hi J, here's a list I compiled last night. Hope you enjoy.

    1. Original Love - Zeroset

    2. Shin Rizumu - Unidentified Superstar

    3. Negicco - Cream Soda Love

    4. Gentouki - 鈍色の季節

    5. Kukikodan - Tabi Wo Shimasenka / "Don't You Travel?" (remake edition) (feat. Ying-Ying Shih & Yasuyuki Horigome)

    6. Mellowhead - Zanzou No Heya (feat Gouta Nishidera)

    7. Orangeade - Never Let Me Go

    8. Maaya Sakamoto - Kinobori to Akai Skirt

    9. Cymbals - Highway Star, Speed Star

    10. Kirinji - 家路 / The Way Home

    1. Hi, Michael. Thanks for your own list of 10 of your favourites. I've listened to the first 5 so far and all of them are winners. Of course, I know Original Love and Shin Rizumu has been a recent discovery along with Negicco. But Gentouki and Kukikodan are new bands for me, and they sound great because of their mellow pop leanings. I'll have to talk about these songs in the next little while. How did you find out about Gentouki and Kukikodan?

  3. When Yasuyuki announced the collaboration with Kukikodan, that's how I found out about them. Looked into their catalog and liked their sound.

    As for Gentouki, I don't exactly remember how I came across their music. Probably was investigating something else entirely and then happened upon one of their songs by chance. Sounded similar to early Kirinji. Incidentally, Jun Tanaka of Gentouki collaborated with Yasuyuki on his latest album, 'What a Wonderful World', so we've come full circle.

    Sorry I couldn't find videos for the Mellowhead and Negicco songs. That Negicco track, 'Cream Soda Love', was produced by Minami Kitasono who has also worked extensively with Lamp and Fujin Club, among others. He then rebranded himself as Osawa Kentaro and formed Orangeade.

    The video for the Kirinji track is truncated at the end, so it's missing about 40 seconds of the outro. Nothing I can do about that. The other upload of that song is the full version but oddly only comes out of one speaker.

    1. Hi, Michael.

      It looks like Yasuyuki has had some good influences on a number of artists over the years. Not a bad thing at all.

      Actually, I could find "Cream Soda Love" although it's just from a record player in some guy's room: . It's the type of song that I would like: Sunday mellow. Amazing how Negicco developed over the years considering that they were only put together just to advertise the local green onion crop. I'll check out the others later today. Thanks!

  4. At least two of the Negicco trio have been pursuing solo careers, most notably Kaede who has collaborated with a number of other songwriters including (you guessed it) Yasuyuki. lol

    Too bad her solo material isn't made available for purchase outside Japan. You can listen to the tracks with various music subscription services but cannot purchase them. I'll never understand the rationale behind that.

    1. I don't quite understand myself. I think it may be along the same lines as needing a Japanese address to get stuff ordered and delivered from Tower Records.

    2. Also, took a listen to the remainder of your list. Good stuff there as well and interesting to hear Sakamoto and Asako Toki in their earlier days. Especially with Toki when she was vocalist for the Cymbals, her voice was quite a bit higher. Orangeade is another band to look out for, and of course, Kirinji is dependably splendid as usual.

  5. Cool, glad you enjoyed it.

    Music licensing probably plays a role in the decision whether or not to release Japanese music abroad. Perhaps the artists themselves have a hand in it? I don't know to be honest.

    1. No idea myself but I think the almighty JASRAC probably has a lot to do with it.

  6. I suppose my list would start off with “Marine Blue Sky” by Kaja:

    I listened to it just before reading this post, and it always makes me think of summertime, always puts a smile on my face.

    Pressured to come up with a list, off the top of my head I can think of “Sparkle” by Tatsuro Yamashita and “Asayake” by Casiopea.

    1. Hi, Mike. Thanks for letting me know some of your favourites. "Marine Blue Sky" is quite nostalgic although I never knew about Kaja until your comment. There's something very summery 1970s and Circus about these guys. How did you find out about them?

    2. Kaja (no relation to the Kajagoogoo spinoff) were another Yamaha Festival act. Award winner at the 19th Popcon in May of 1980, and a finalist at the 11th World Popular Song Festival in November of that year. It seems they only ever recorded one more single, 1981’s “Anata e no sanka.”

      Here’s a live performance, presumably from the Cocky Pop TV show. Not Tony Levin on bass, but an amazing simulation:

    3. Hi, Mike. Man, that footage on Cocky Pop (I've finally been able to read that without giggling) is so 80s. I do like that soulful voice of the vocalist. Come to think of it, when I first read that band name of Kaja, I was indeed reminded of Kajagoogoo. :)


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