Credits

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, October 7, 2021

The Works of Koichi Sugiyama(すぎやまこういち)

 


Unfortunately, I have to let readers know about another death in the Japanese music world today as composer Koichi Sugiyama(椙山浩一)passed away on September 30th due to sepsis at the age of 90. Commenter Kyle Andrew informed me earlier this morning and I had actually caught the news of his passing even earlier during the NHK News. I actually told Kyle that I would come up with an appropriate tribute sometime over the weekend but it seems as if my project manager today told me that there was nothing coming down the pipe for assignments, so now I have my opportunity to do a Creator article for Sugiyama.


His name has already been well represented within the pages of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" for years since he composed some very famous kayo hits including The Peanuts'(ザ・ピーナッツ)"Koi no Fuuga" (恋のフーガ), The Tigers'(ザ・タイガース)"Mona Lisa no Hohoemi"(モナリザの微笑)and a couple of folk band GARO's tunes "Gakusei Gai no Kissaten" (学生街の喫茶店)and "Kimi no Tanjoubi" (君の誕生日)in the 1960s and 1970s. 

But in the NHK tribute to Sugiyama and for that matter, the Fuji-TV profile on him in the video at the top of this article, it wasn't just his Group Sounds contributions that were noted. He was also lauded within the reports as the man behind the soundtrack for the iconic "Dragon Quest" game that started its long run from 1986, something that I hadn't realized although even I, a non-gamer, could recognize that heroic theme. There were already some messages of condolences within the comments under the above video. Sugiyama himself noted in a past interview during the NHK report that he had wanted to base the game soundtrack on classical music rather than pop music.

In the J-Wiki article for him, his specialization in music was directed towards the genres of kayo, anison and game music; his lists for the last two types in that article are quite long indeed. The Wikipedia profile on him mentioned that one day in the 1980s, Sugiyama, who was already very famous, had sent the Enix Corporation, which was behind "Dragon Quest", a fan letter for the music on a shogi game which sent the staffers there into a major swoon. They were also very impressed with his knowledge of games. I gather that this would be the equivalent of Alan Silvestri or John Williams sending a 👍 to an American game developer on letterhead. This would eventually lead to a collaboration between composer and company, and the rest is "Dragon Quest" history.


Sugiyama was born in what is now Taito Ward in Tokyo on April 11th 1931. Music was all around him during his upbringing which would explain his life's career, but J-Wiki also noted that he and both of his parents were also great lovers of games, decades before video games appeared, so that probably also explains the composer's interest in those.

He attended the University of Tokyo half-heartedly pursuing a science degree after getting disappointed on finding out that he couldn't get into a music college since he couldn't play the piano. On graduating, Sugiyama had a part-time job at a parts factory before getting a position at a radio station and Fuji-TV as a director in 1958. He left the network in 1965 and by 1968, he was fully focused on composing and orchestration. 

However, even before then, he was already coming up with the melodies. In fact in October 1966, one of his earliest contributions to kayo kyoku came in the form of a single by The Peanuts, "Roma no Ame"(ローマの雨...The Rain in Rome). The 20th single by the duo, Jun Hashimoto(橋本淳)was the lyricist with Katsuhisa Hattori(服部克久)as the arranger for this relaxed hip-swiveler of a song characterized by the staccato blast of the horns in the intro and their smooth Bacharach-like feeling in the song itself. I also enjoy the haunting but enticing vocals by Emi and Yumi.


As has been stated, Sugiyama was also providing songs during the Group Sounds period of the late 1960s. In December 1966, he and Hashimoto once more created a song...this time for the GS band Jackey Yoshikawa and his Blue Comets(ジャッキー吉川とブルー・コメッツ)as a B-side for their 7th single, "Izuko e"(何処へ...Where To?). The brief "Sentimental City"(センチメンタル・シティ)is a pretty interesting song which seems to have a couple of rhythms spliced together: a laconic introspective melody with that electric organ and then a really skippy one as if there were two different settings for whoever the protagonist is. Above everything is a boozy saxophone.


Several months later, Hashimoto and Sugiyama would team up again to provide yet another one of the big Group Sounds bands, The Tigers(ザ・タイガーズ), with one of the biggest hits in their career, "Kimi Dake ni Ai wo"(君だけに愛を...Love Only For You). This was their 4th single from January 1968, and this time Sugiyama would also create the melody and arrange it for Kenji Sawada(沢田研二)and the guys. I think that there's even a bit more psychedelic rock in the proceedings. In comparison to The Peanuts' "Roma no Ame" with some of that twisting in any reflective dancing, maybe The Jerk might be the move here. Just guessing. Selling more than a million records, "Kimi Dake ni Ai wo" reached No. 2 on the new Oricon Singles chart.


If someone can identify the dance move in the video above while The Tigers are playing, that would be greatly appreciated. It's probably not The Jerk. Anyways, I wanted to put up this video since all of us can see how Sawada performed his moves. According to J-Wiki, at concerts when he beseeched his fans with "Kimi dake ni..." and flung out the "Golden Index Finger", a lot of them simply fainted away. You must learn the ways of the Force, Kenji.


The Group Sounds era faded away very early in the 1970s but Sugiyama continued to provide his music to the top stars of the day. Hideki Saijo(西城秀樹)was one of them, and for him, the composer created a couple of tracks for Saijo's June 1976 album "Ai to Jounetsu no Seishun"(愛と情熱の青春...Youth Filled With Love and Passion). One of them was "Itsumo Futari de"(いつも二人で...Always the Two of Us) which had Sugiyama pairing up with another prolific lyricist, Yu Aku(阿久悠). A prowling cat of a tune with a flutter of rock over a jazzy rhythm, the lanky aidoru was more than game for the arrangement. One would think that he may have been doing an old-fashioned soft-shoe in the recording booth.


Just one more example of Sugiyama's music that I will put up here also hit the public's ears in the same year as the Saijo album. This time, though, it came out in the form of aidoru trio Candies'(キャンディーズ)11th single, "Heart Dorobo"(ハート泥棒...Heart Thief). Released in September 1976, it's an especially dynamic tune for Ran, Sue and Miki as they sing about a young teenage girl, who may be a bit of a tsundere, quietly falling hard for a guy who has suddenly raised himself to the lass' demanding expectations, according to Haruo Hayashi's(林春生)lyrics. The song rose to No. 17 on Oricon and sold about 190,000 records.


For those who had only known Sugiyama for "Dragon Quest" and the other games that he provided music for, I thought this Creator article could give some more information on how he also contributed to kayo kyoku in general. But in finishing this off, let's get back to the beginning and realize that the "Dragon Quest" overture made it into this year's Olympic Opening Ceremonies. I'm hoping that Sugiyama did hear and appreciate its appearance. Certainly, many fans did from what I've read in the comments. All my condolences to him and his family and friends.

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