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.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Yuji Mori and Southern Cross -- Suki desu Sapporo(好きですサッポロ)

Though I did make that one trip to Sapporo on the northernmost major island of Hokkaido many years ago, that was in June since I was trying to make some attempt to escape some of the humidity of Tokyo. I loved the city but one thing that I've regretted is that I never got to attend the annual Sapporo Snow Festival in February. My experience with it has merely been through news highlights with the festival highlights being the massive and expertly carved ice sculptures. I can only imagine that reservations are scarce and prices are pretty high during that time which has fairly blunted any keen desire to attend it.

Apparently this song was used as the theme song for the Sapporo Snow Festival way back when and became a huge hit for the Mood Kayo group Yuji Mori and Southern Cross(森雄二とサザンクロス). Released in 1981, "Suki desu Sapporo" (I Love You, Sapporo) is a pretty jaunty example of the genre. Often when I think of Mood Kayo numbers with famous place names in the titles, the music is somewhat languid introspective and even sorrowful, but "Suki desu Sapporo" has a beat and a boss horn section which remind me of some theme songs for tokusatsu shows. Indeed it works as something advertising the merits of a festival.

Written by lyricist Tetsuro Hoshino(星野哲郎)and composed by Hiroyuki Nakagawa(中川博之), "Suki desu Sapporo" has become one of the trademark songs for Southern Cross. You can also take a look at one other song by the band, "Ashide Matoi"(足手まとい)which had also been created by Nakagawa a few years earlier.

Hiroko Moriguchi -- Sumire no Kimochi ~ TRY ME AGAIN(すみれの気持ち)

Yup, couldn't resist putting up another video of impressionist, tarento and singer Hiroko Moriguchi(森口博子)plying that first trade...this time, it's Ringo Shiina(椎名林檎). I mean, her most famous target has been 80s aidoru Shizuka Kudo(工藤静香)so it was nice to encounter this video for the first time.

Now, let's go all the way back to Moriguchi's own aidoru career in the 1980s. And this time, it's with her 2nd single "Sumire no Kimochi" (Feeling Violet) from February 1986. It didn't rank too highly when it was first released, only getting as high as No. 87, but hearing it now, I don't think it's a bad song at all. Written by Chinfa Kan(康珍化), the melody is by singer-songwriter Akiko Kobayashi(小林明子), one of my personal favourites when it comes to the mellower side of Japanese pop and she had her own breakthrough hit with "Koi ni Ochite"(恋に落ちて)the previous year.

As I said, "Sumire no Kimochi" isn't too bad. When I first realized who was behind the composition, I went "Ah...naruhodo". It's got that very pleasant AOR vibe for an aidoru tune and I can easily imagine Kobayashi herself covering it, although I don't think that it's ever been covered by her. I may not particularly feel like violets while listening but the sun is out in my feelings.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Angela Aki -- Tegami ~ Haikei Jūgo no Kimi e(手紙 ~拝啓 十五の君へ~)

As I mentioned long ago in the article for Akai Tori's(赤い鳥)"Tsubasa wo Kudasai"(翼をください), when I was teaching on the JET Programme in Gunma, one of the major events during a junior high school year was the annual school chorus competitions. During one of the two years I was there, I went with the teachers and students of one grade for the day to watch our choruses compete against their counterparts from other schools in the prefecture through songs that had been practiced over and over again daily. "Tsubasa wo Kudasai" was one of the mainstays as a go-to chorus song along with "American Feeling", originally by Circus, and then "Die Moldau" as seen above. "Die Moldau" is actually the German name for the original "Vltava" as one of 6 symphonic poems in the set known as "Má vlast" by Czech composer Bedřich Smetana.

In the years since my time in Gunma (1989-1991), there probably have been multiple additions to the chorus song slate. One that has been added is singer-songwriter Angela Aki's(アンジェラ・アキ)"Haikei Jūgo no Kimi e" (Letter: Greetings to a 15 Year Old) that was her 8th single from September 2008. And as you can hear in the video, it's a perfect fit. According to the Wikipedia article for the song, her single was a self-cover for the original version that had been created by Aki at NHK's request for a 2008 national school chorus contest that the national broadcaster was sponsoring.

The whole premise behind "Tegami" is a communication between a teenager and his/her much older self during which the latter provides some of the necessary reassurances and wisdom that have been gained during the time difference. It is almost like a reverse time capsule to lovingly benefit the young student.

"Tegami" became Aki's most successful hit to date, selling over 210,000 copies and going Platinum. It reached No. 3 on the Oricon weeklies, becoming the 45th-ranked single of 2008 and then hanging around to become the 71st-ranked single of 2009. Not only has it become a part of the chorus competition lineup but it's also become popular as a ballad to be performed at graduation ceremonies (dry eyes would probably be fairly rare here).

Continuing with the NHK connection, the song also became part of the "Minna no Uta"(みんなのうた)lineup although I couldn't find that particular video, and Aki was able to perform "Tegami" in consecutive Kohaku Utagassen broadcasts in 2008 and 2009. In total, she appeared on the NHK special 6 times. It has also ended up in a few commercials as well.

Yumi Matsutoya -- Shinkai no Machi(深海の街)

I didn't think that I would be putting up an article about such a recent single by Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実)since my greatest interest in her music really only goes up to the early 1990s. However, I was given a heads-up from her YouTube channel earlier today that her latest digital download single (her 8th) is due for sale tomorrow (September 18th) although the date has already arrived in Japan.

"Shinkai no Machi" (Deep Sea City) has been described in the comments under her YouTube video as "...the latest 2019 Neo City Pop number by Yuming". And apparently, the song was an amalgamation of an idea that had popped up in her head of a resort of the mind while visiting Berlin the previous year and a fusion/AOR approach. From that, I started thinking of urban contemporary "Inception".

In any case, I did sense that newer version of City Pop (can hear that wacka-wacka guitar and that crystalline synth) that has been appearing since the 2000s but also hints of her work from the late 1980s and early 1990s. The overall effect is a dreamy utopian cityscape at night and I guess that must have been the same idea for the producers of the music video with Tokyo in a starring role while hints of its future pop up. And I think that there were also hints of the past as well through the various kinds of animation that appear. Plenty of "Inception"-like images additionally crop up including the dapper mystery woman that Yuming herself portrays who seems to tower over an uncertain heroine who I can't be sure is either a young girl or a young woman. Then, of course, there is that feminine figure flying in the night sky: is she the older version of the heroine or is she an angel looking out for the heroine? Moreover, what is the significance of that apple that the heroine finally bites into? Is there some some of religious element in there? Mysteries aside, I've always liked the idea of a metropolis with a style that brings in elements of the past and the future, and that's what the video seems to bring.

Yuming's newest release isn't an instant earworm. Her high tones have tended to quaver a little too much in recent years so I'm glad that those have been largely restricted to the beginning of "Shinkai no Machi". Also the song is mellow enough that there isn't any immediate hook that has grabbed onto me. Still, I think it's one of those numbers that will eventually wend itself into my happy place as the singer's contribution to the latest in Japanese urban contemporary.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Katsuya Kobayashi & The No. 1 Band -- Rock'n Roll Saigo no Hi(ロックン・ロール最後の日)

For a certain generation in Japan wondering about what was up in the music business outside of the nation, Katsuya Kobayashi's(小林克也)"Best Hit U.S.A." on TV Asahi was the program to see during the 1980s. Kobayashi is a radio DJ, TV personality and actor who hails from Hiroshima Prefecture and his voice is a distinctive one in Japanese & English. In fact, I remember a product when I was living in Gunma that he had been endorsing called "Kobayashi in a Can", I think, which contained tapes on how to enunciate the English language better. Perhaps if Mr. Kobayashi ever reads this article, he can confirm my old memories for me.

Well, I managed to find the above video. Anyways, if he actually ever responds, I will be extremely happy but I will also inform him that we were also in the same house together many years ago. To explain, I was at my student's Xmas party one year and my student knows a whole lot of famous people including Kobayashi, so though we never conversed, I can say that I did see him around the living room along with tennis player Kimiko Date and former New York Met Tsuyoshi Shinjo (man, that guy really held court in one section with his entourage).

One thing that I didn't know until recently was that Kobayashi also had his time behind the recording mike. According to his J-Wiki biography, he as a teen was enthralled with the early artists of rock n' roll in the 1950s such as Bill Haley & The Comets and Elvis Presley. So, starting from 1982, he released a number of albums and singles.

Included on his May 1986 album, "Bad Songs" was "Rock n' Roll Saigo no Hi" (The Final Day). I couldn't find out who had created the song but as you can see above, Kobayashi put in his all (though, to be honest, I think I prefer him as a TV host and English teacher). The good ol' rock n' roll is in there but I think there is also some New Wave (maybe even some punk energy?) included, thanks to those keyboards.

Since I mentioned a bit about "Best Hit U.S.A." and that era of pop music, I would be remiss if I didn't state the passing of a couple of singers that I used to enjoy often from my high school and university days. Eddie Money died a few days ago at the age of 70 and I will always remember "Take Me Home Tonight" (1986) with Ronnie Spector. And then, just earlier today, I heard that Ric Ocasek of The Cars passed away yesterday at the age of 75. That band's "You Might Think" from 1984 was a heavy-rotation hit on radio and TV...always had fun with the music video. Time, of course, will fly past but it's still hard to imagine Money and Ocasek leaving this mortal coil.

Light House/Rei Nakanishi & Kazumi Yasui with Hiroshi Kamayatsu/Miki Imai -- Hatachi no Koro(ニ十才の頃)

Once in a while, I come across a song purely by accident that gives me the thrill up my spine or the warm and fuzzies or as they seem to call it on YouTube now, ASMR!

This particular song popped up from YouTuber Marty McFlies' account (for which I'm grateful) and at first when I took a look at the thumbnail image, I'd assumed that it was a severed arm holding a bloody tissue.💀 Perhaps it was a punk album, I thought. However and thankfully, I did realize that it was indeed an extended arm grabbing onto an orchid.

The cover was actually one for the 1984 album "A-bec" by Light House which was a side project consisting of one-half of the brother act Bread & Butter(ブレッド&バター), vocalist Satsuya Iwasawa(岩沢幸矢), and his wife, pop singer MANNA, aka Mariko Iwasawa(岩沢真利子), according to the J-Wiki article on the long-running duo. One of the tracks on "A-bec" is "Hatachi no Koro" (When I was Twenty), and it's this relaxing orange mimosa-friendly synthpop song with an infusion of bossa nova. As I mentioned above, I received that ASMR buzz as I was listening to whom I'm assuming is indeed MANNA (I couldn't find out for sure if Light House was just the Iwasawas or if there were other vocalist members involved). I don't know what the rest of "A-bec" is like...whether it's all synthpop or if "Hatachi no Koro" represented one of a number of genres on the first of two albums that Light House released (the other one being called "Box Seat").

After listening to "Hatachi no Koro" on "A-bec", I soon found out that this was actually a cover version of the original song from the late Hiroshi "Monsieur" Kamayatsu's(かまやつひろし)February 1970 album "Monsieur/Kamayatsu Hiroshi no Sekai"(ムッシュー/かまやつひろしの世界...Monsieur/The World of Hiroshi Kamayatsu). Composed by Kamayatsu and written by Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼)& Kazumi Yasui(安井かずみ), the two lyricists even performed "Hatachi no Koro" along with Monsieur, a song of remembering one's youthful follies way back when. The bossa is still happily in there and considering the era, there is that sense of the genre's pioneers such as Jobim and Mendes.

Chanteuse Miki Imai(今井美樹)knows her way around a bossa nova tune and so it's no surprise that she also covered "Hatachi no Koro" as a coupling song for her 25th single "Toshishita no Suifu"(年下の水夫...The Younger Seaman)released in October 2006. There's some more jazz included in this version and Imai's vocals fairly wind themselves around the melody like a silk veil. Imai's cover is also included in her 2006 17th album "Milestone" which peaked at No. 35 on Oricon.

i☆Ris -- Fantastic Illusion/Minori Suzuki -- Dame wa Dame(ダメハダメ)

It's fifteen minutes long, absolutely goofy and has made me wonder at times whether it's really more about magical fan service than magic (the originating network is showing this at 11 pm). Still, "Tejina Senpai"(手品先輩...Magical Senpai)has been a fun little equivalent of chocolate-centred candy for the past few months during the usual biweekly anime routine with my friend. Strangely enough, though, in a season where I've gotten to know hyper-competent characters who can give advice on fitness and island survival, the titular Senpai is just the opposite; she's about as good with her magic as Inspector Clouseau is with policing.

"Tejina Senpai" is about as gaggy as gag comedy anime can get and what got me interested was that Kaede Hondo(本渡楓), a seiyuu that I had gotten accustomed to hearing in long-suffering straight-person roles such as the central member of the undead aidoru group Franchouchou in last year's "Zombie Land Saga"(ゾンビランドサガ), was playing the boke (funny man) to her assistant's tsukkomi. The other thing is that on first seeing the character, I wondered if she had any sort of familial relationship with either the snack-obsessed Hotaru in "Dagashi Kashi"(だがしかし)or even the sex-crazed Anna in the even more notorious "Shimoneta"(下ネタ).

Of course, it's also the theme songs that I'm aiming for, and this season, there's been a fairly bumper crop of interesting openings and endings. I've enjoyed both for "Tejina Sempai" including the opening "Fantastic Illusion" by the 6-member aidoru group i☆Ris with the music and lyrics pretty much echoing what happens in each episode: doubt and zaniness.

I think that I was gradually entranced by one of the group proudly exhorting "Ladies and gentlemen!" each time the opening credits started up, and it's got that smash-bang feeling of getting the show up and running. "Fantastic Illusion" is actually i☆Ris' 19th and latest single released just a few weeks ago in late August, and it hit its peak of No. 13 on Oricon. Incidentally, the song was written and composed by Motokiyo.

There was a full version of the music video by the group but it's apparently been taken down so here's a 1:20 take on "Fantastic Illusion", and I think i☆Ris has more success here than Senpai does with her own tricks. The group has been around since 2012 and has released four albums along with those nineteen singles.

Admittedly the ending credits to "Tejina Senpai" bring up the dial on the more salacious aspects of the show, but I also have to admit that the ending theme "Dame wa Dame" (No Means No) is a corker of a tune. Sung by seiyuu Minori Suzuki(鈴木みのり)although she doesn't appear in the program, I do like that skippy ska beat.

Plus, the full version also starts off with a guitar riff that might even have Quentin Tarentino nodding in approval. Unfortunately again, we only have the short version of the music video and even a full audio version of "Dame wa Dame" is not currently available. The song is Suzuki's 3rd single released earlier in August, and it peaked at No. 27. The lyricist is acane_madder with Shingo Asari(浅利進吾)composing the quick melody.