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.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Misia -- Sunny Day

This wasn't a hit or an official single from Misia, but it's just one of my favourite songs by her. "Sunny Day" came from her 3rd album "Marvelous" which came out in April 2001 and hit No. 1 before becoming the 8th-ranked album of the year. The album also has one of her bona fide hits, "Everything", a Xmas and karaoke favourite.

But "Sunny Day", true to its title, is just a happy-go-lucky strutworthy outing for the Nagasaki native. The concert version is great but I love the album version for the backing chorus behind her. It was written by Chihiro Close(黒須チヒロ) and composed by Nobuyuki Shimizu(清水信之).

Off Course/Hideki Saijo -- Nemurenu Yoru (眠れぬ夜)

This is another song that perennially gets onto any Off Course BEST compilation. Written and composed by Kazumasa Oda(小田和正), "Nemurenu Yoru"(Sleepless Night) is a tale of a man literally begging his girlfriend to forget about him, but after a sleepless night and a rainy day, he finds that their love has renewed. Remembering all of Off Course's songs, I've always found this one to be a little sprightlier than usual in terms of the melody, and the intro synthesizer is a dead giveaway to the identity.

From what I've read of the J-Wiki writeup on "Nemurenu Yoru", this song seemed to have paralleled its lyrics in terms of Off Course's career trajectory. The producer of the band's 3rd album that included it, "Wine no Nioi"ワインの匂い...The Bouquet of Wine), Toshi Buto(武藤敏史), came to the conclusion that up to that point in Off Course's repertoire, there was a distinct lack of simple songs, and just songs that people could enjoy. He made that point abundantly clear to Oda, who had originally made "Nemurenu Yoru" into a ballad, and ultimately the leader saw the light and changed the arrangement. It was a good tip by Buto since the song in its new form became the band's first decent hit, peaking at No. 48 on Oricon.

Off Course's 7th single was released in December 1975, at the same time as the album.

Having known the Off Course original for decades, I was surprised to hear that aidoru Hideki Saijo(西城秀樹) did a cover version of "Nemurenu Yoru" in 1980. I took a listen to it, and I think he did a pretty good job of it.....none of the usual Saijo nasal gasps. It was a pretty straight rendition. It was released in the same month as the original, but Saijo's cover got as high as No. 10. The song can also be found in "Hideki Song Book"(1981), his album of kayo kyoku covers. In the album, he also gives his own rendition of another Off Course classic, "Ai wo Tomenaide"愛を止めないで....Don't Stop Love).

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hiromi Go -- Ni-Oku Yon-Sen-Man no Hitomi (2億4千万の瞳)

Once again, time for Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ), the cute boy wonder of the 70s aidoru who was now the young Casanova of 80s kayo kyoku. This could be his most famous song although most people probably know less of the title than of the explosive final line in the refrain, "....EXOTIC JAPAN!!" Always fun at the karaoke box.

Released in February 1984, "Ni-Oku Yon-Sen-Man no Hitomi" is translated as "240 Million Eyes". Written by Masao Urino(売野雅勇) and composed by Daisuke Inoue(井上大輔), the title is a parody on a 1952 short novel titled "Ni-Juu-Shi no Hitomi"(二十四の瞳...24 Eyes). Go's magnum opus refers to the 120 million people living in exotic Japan. The song was actually penned as the final campaign song for the former Japan National Railways (before it started becoming the privatized Japan Railways in 1987). The campaign's name? What else....Exotic Japan.

I have a feeling though that the song has become more well known for Hiromi Go being Hiromi Go rather than for any Bullet Train. It peaked on Oricon at No. 7 and became the 61st-ranked song of 1984. And of course, I couldn't finish this entry without having the man himself perform "Ni-Oku Yon-Sen-Man no Hitomi" in concert.

Pizzicato Five -- Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji (東京は夜の七時)

I was born in the mid-1960s and some of my earliest sense memories involved music. On the Japanese side, it was all enka as I have mentioned in a few of my entries over the past year. But on the Western side, I heard a lot of standards via a collection of 5 records that came with the huge RCA Victor stereo. It included a lot of the music that would later be called Lounge in the 90s; stuff by Hugo Winterhalter and Peter Nero. And there were the popular pop acts of the time like Nancy Sinatra and The Fifth Dimension. Plus there were all of the sitcom theme songs that I'd absorbed by osmosis from "Bewitched", "Family Affair", "The Brady Bunch", etc. When I heard Shibuya-kei for the first time, my memories of those early days rushed back.

The Wikipedia entry for Shibuya-kei states that this genre of Japanese pop music is a mix of electropop, French ye-ye music, jazz, bossa nova, lounge, etc., although when I have been in the actual Shibuya, the Teen Mecca of Japan, I got the impression it was more of a grunge rock area. In any case, a number of different musicians have been associated with Shibuya-kei, but if I were doing a word association exercise with a medical professional and he/she said "Shibuya-kei", I would automatically respond with Pizzicato Five.

Now, Shibuya-kei didn't start with Pizzicato Five. I distinctly remember the duo Flipper's Guitar, a group in the genre, when I was in Gunma-ken and that was 1989-1991. However, the arrival of P5's third lead vocalist, Maki Nomiya(野宮真貴)in 1990 catalyzed the look and style along with the music through her flamboyant  60s-reminiscent fashion sense. And from that point forward, P5 was Maki Nomiya and Yasuharu Konishi(小西康陽).

I'm always going to associate Pizzicato Five with two songs, "Baby Portable Rock"(1996) and this one, "Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji"(7pm in Tokyo....although it's better known in English as "The Night is Still Young"). Released in December 1993 as their 6th overall single and their second with Nomiya, the duo's declaration of the title at the start of the song sounded like a clarion call that there was a new P5 in town and Tokyo had better get ready. The overall song also had that feeling of the beginning of the duo's new phase....the constant busy melody with the percolating synths and percussion while Nomiya's vocals lightly danced over the hustle and didn't seem to quite end. It was almost like the prelude to the next song. And of course, there was the smooth announcer stating "A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular" as if he were selling my family's 1960s stereo.

The song itself only made it as high as No. 50 on Oricon, but along with Flipper's Guitar and Kahimi Karie, Pizzicato Five in the 90s helped kick off the new sound spectacular of Shibuya-kei into the next century.

Shinjuku at 6:30 at night

Ann Lewis/Mariya Takeuchi -- Linda

Ann Lewis(アン・ルイス) and Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)are good buddies. In fact, they hit it off so well that in August 1980, Takeuchi created this ode to her friend and named it with Lewis' middle name. Probably one reason for the special present was that Lewis was getting married that year. Since it was early in Takeuchi's career, "Linda", Lewis' 19th single, has that 50s bobbysoxer ballad lilt to it. I can imagine Olivia Newton-John tackling this one.

(karaoke version)

A year later, Takeuchi did her own cover of "Linda" on her 4th album, "Portrait". For a while, the song was a popular one to play at weddings in Japan; just imagine anyone named Linda getting married there. Just my personal opinion, but I prefer Takeuchi's take on it just because her voice has that timbre to it. Neither version particularly leaped up the Oricon charts but that's OK; it was a personal message of love, after all.

Noriyuki Makihara -- Mou Koi Nante Shinai (もう恋なんてしない)

After enjoying Noriyuki Makihara's(槇原敏之) breakthrough hit, "Donna Toki mo"(どんなときも....already profiled) in 1991 just coming back home from 2 years in Japan, I saw an opportunity to get his 3rd album, "Kimi wa Boku no Takaramono"君は僕の宝物...You Are My Jewel)in 1992. The English-language Japanese pop culture magazine, "Eye-Ai" offered readers to buy J-Pop CDs through its own mail-order program. So as soon as I saw Mackey's album, I got to the bank, drafted a money order and sent it with my application form. About a month later, I got the disc with his face plastered with his goofy smile on it. Yup, that was the state of trying to get Japanese music back 20 years ago. No Amazon, no PayPal, no Internet shopping.

The big single from the album was "Mou Koi Nante Shinai"(I Won't Fall In Love Again). Compared to the optimistic urban rush-rush of young people in "Donna Toki mo", Makihara's 5th single is also musically uptempo but a bit more laid-back, perhaps reflective. And the lyrics are sadder as the video shows a young man played by the singer himself trying to and not yet quite succeeding at getting over the end of a romance. The tune does get me back in a nostalgic mood, and the video certainly has quite a lot of sepia in it. The whole idea behind the song came as Makihara's attempt to cheer up his then-keyboardist, Akimitsu Honma(本間昭光), who was getting over his own breakup. Honma is now a producer of other artists such as band Pornograffiti and Ayumi Hamasaki.

Released in May 1992, "Mou Koi Nante Shinai"was Makihara's 2nd million-seller as it peaked at No. 2 and became the 7th-ranked song of the year. It was also the theme song for an NTV drama, "Kodomo ga Neta Ato de"子供が寝た後で....After the Children are Asleep).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Toshi Ito and Happy & Blue -- Hoshi Furu Machikado (星降る街角)

Another one from my karaoke days at Kuri in Yorkville. Once in a while, as I drank down my Brown Cows in the lounge, someone would choose this salsa-ish number. I never knew who sang it or even what the title was....until now. Just purely by accident, I came across it while I was looking for something different on YouTube earlier today.

Toshi Ito(敏しいとう) and Happy & Blue was one of the later Mood Kayo bands to set up shop. It formed in 1971 and still is in action today although members have naturally come and gone over the decades. At the very least, it has one of the more interesting monikers for a kayo kyoku outfit. "Hoshi Furu Machikado" (Stars Falling on the Street Corner), written and composed by Hitoshi or Jin Hidaka(日高仁) (not sure of the pronounciation of the kanji) was originally released in 1972, but it didn't become a hit for the vocal group until its re-release in May 1977 with a different arrangement. Since then, it was re-recorded in 1981, and "Hoshi Furu Machikado 2012" was just released earlier this August as Happy & Blue's 34th single. The 1977 version is probably the one above, and it managed to become the 33rd-ranked song of the year.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kanako Wada -- Ano Sora wo Dakishimete (あの空を抱きしめて)

It would seem that Kanako Wada(和田加奈子) and the 80s anime series, "Kimagure Orange Road" were just like this (imagine me crossing my fingers). I love one of the ending themes for the TV series that was sung by Wada, "Natsu no Mirage"(夏のミラージュ....Summer Mirage)(already profiled) in 1987. Then a year later came the October 1988 movie treatment of the adventures of Madoka, Kyosuke and Hikaru. Titled "Ano Hi ni Kaeritai"あの日にかえりたい....I Want to Return to That Day), the ending theme by Wada here was well made for that title.

"Ano Sora wo Dakishimete"(Embrace That Sky) is a wistful, atmospheric ballad that probably has all of those old KOR fans instantly transporting themselves back to the theatre on hearing this song. I've always loved the sweeping arrangement of the strings and the synths, and Wada's tender vocals.

"Ano Sora wo Dakishimete" is also Track 3 on Wada's 5th album "Vocu"released in 1988. The song was written by Wada herself and composed by Hiroyuki Izuta(伊豆田洋之).

Shinichi Mori/Teresa Teng -- Minato Machi Blues (港町ブルース)

I was watching a retrospective on enka singer Shinichi Mori(森進一)tonight on TV Japan in which he sang a number of his hits. The first song up was "Minato Machi Blues"(Port Town Blues) which struck me as one of those wonderfully classic take-me-back tunes that a lot of enka is very capable of doing.

Written by Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼)and composed by Kosho Inomata(猪俣公章) (who had been responsible for Mori's 1966 debut hit, "Onna no Tameiki"), Mori's 11th single is a geographical tribute to a lot of the port towns along the Japanese archipelago. Some of the towns mentioned in the lyrics are Hakodate, Takamatsu and Beppu. Enka loves to highlight the various places throughout the country. Released in April 1969, "Minato Machi Blues"hit the No. 1 spot on the new Oricon and became the 2nd-ranked song for that year....just behind Saori Yuki's(由紀さおり)"Yoake no Scat"(already profiled). It won a number of awards including one for Best Singer at the Japan Record Awards, and the single sold 2.5 million records, a mega-hit in any era.

The above video has the then-22-year-old Mori performing for the second time at the 1969 Kohaku Utagassen. 42 years later, Mori performed "Minato Machi Blues" at last year's Kohaku in tribute to the port towns that had been hit by the tsunami on March 11 2011 such as Kesennuma, Miyako, and Kamaishi.

Teresa Teng(テレサテン) also gives a powerful version of the song here, and the trumpet intro is lovely. Where Mori has that distinctive high, gravelly delivery, Teng provides a bright vocal, just about on a par with that trumpet.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Miki Imai -- Ame ni Kiss no Hanataba wo (雨にキッスの花束を)

"Ame ni Kiss no Hanataba wo" (A Bouquet of Kisses in the Rain) is a track on Miki Imai's(今井美樹) marvelous 1990 album, "Retour" which I have already profiled. I honestly can't say it's my favourite song on the album because all of the songs are great; it'd be like choosing who my favourite child was. Composed by KAN and written by Yuuho Iwasato(岩里祐穂), it's a cheerfully whimsical tune which befits its composer. Of all of the songs on the album, this track was the one that has gotten the most radio airplay, according to J-Wiki.

Perhaps one of the reasons for its popularity on the radio is because of TV. Following Mariko Nagai's(永井真理子)"Miracle Girl" as the perky theme song for the anime "Yawara" in its first season, "Ame ni Kiss no Hanataba wo" became the new opening theme for "the fashionable judo girl's" second season. Above is the opening credits sequence for the second season. As I may have mentioned in the Nagai entry, "Yawara" was an anime that I often caught on Monday nights on NTV.

And this is the concert performance of the song by Imai.

Kai Band -- Hero

Well, my hometown Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League just won the championship Grey Cup game last night. For anyone who has lived in Canada's largest city, they know that sports championships have been awfully hard to come by of late, and so the Argos' win over Calgary is definitely one to savour. In tribute to them, I give you "Hero" by the Kai Band(甲斐バンド).

Formed in 1974 in Fukuoka, the band is led by Yoshihiro Kai(甲斐よしひろ), and initially lasted until its breakup in 1986. About a decade later, it reformed for a limited time and since then has come in and out of action a number of times. Their 11th single, "Hero" was the biggest hit of their career. With the subtitle of "Hero ni Naru Toki, Sore wa Ima"ヒーローになる時、それは今...The Time to Become a Hero is Now), the song was released in December 1978 and hit the top spot on Oricon. It eventually became the 13th-ranked song for 1979.

It was also one of those songs that got a lot of airplay at the karaoke bars and boxes that I visited on both sides of the Pacific.

Now, if only our other teams can become heroes as well....

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Oricon Album Rankings for 1978

1. Pink Lady                         Best Hit Album
2. Alice                                Alice VI
3. Soundtrack                       Saturday Night Fever
4. Alice                                Alice V
5. Kenji Sawada                    Omoikiri Kiza na Jinsei
6. Masashi Sada                    Shikashuu
7. Eikichi Yazawa                   Gold Rush
8. Miyuki Nakajima        Aishiteiru to Ittekure
9. Twist                               First Album
10. Alice                              Eikou no Dasshutsu

Pink Lady were once again dominating the singles chart for 1978, and this time, Mie and Kei even topped the album charts. But it looks like the folk duo Alice had its year with 3 albums in the Top 10 including one album (No. 10) which was their live album at the Budokan in Tokyo. And hey, even John Travolta is in there (well, his movie soundtrack is)

"Star Wars" did get into the Top 50 at No. 38.

Rie Nakahara -- Tokyo Lullaby (東京ららばい)

I've profiled Yasuko Naito's(内藤やす子)"Roppongi Lullaby"(1984) which is either bluesy and brassy or bluesy and tenderhearted depending on which of the 2 versions you listen to. Rie Nakahara's(中原理恵)"Tokyo Lullaby" which was released in March 1978, is more cheerfully rollicking. It starts with a Spanish guitar riff before going into a melody which sounds slightly enka-ish but also has a touch of exoticism that was fairly popular in a number of pop songs coming out around the late 70s. In any case, it's one of those songs I've heard a number of times in TV music retrospectives and in the karaoke boxes. I think it kinda reflected (and still reflects) the hustle and bustle of one of the world's largest metropolises as it gives a shout out to places like Yamate Road, Tokyo Bay and Tokyo Tower.

Born in Hakodate, Hokkaido as Tamie Mekata(目加田貴美恵) Nakahara debuted with "Tokyo Lullaby"at 19. Sounding mature for her age with a huskier voice, her managing agency initially bumped up her age a couple of years for the sake of "authenticity". Written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and composed by Kyohei Tsutsumi (筒美京平), the song peaked at No. 9 on Oricon and earned Nakahara a berth in the 1978 Kohaku Utagassen as well as a Japan Record Award as Best Newcomer.

Nakahara also gained further fame when in 1984, she became one of the Madonnas in the Tora-san movie series entry for that year. And she was the first female co-host of TV Asahi's long-running "Music Station" for its first year.

Denki Groove -- Ace (A)

I bought this album back in 1997 on the strength of their first single, "Shangri-La"; plus, the only Japanese techno albums I'd had were by Yellow Magic Orchestra, so I was interested in listening to how the techno scene was in the late 90s as opposed to the late 70s-early 80s.

Way back in the mid-70s, there was a disco hit that I'd liked hearing (although it would be another 5 years before I really got into music of any sort) since it was also the theme for the local CBC 6 o'clock news telecast: "Love's Theme" by Love Unlimited. Although the song sampled by Takkyu Ishino(石野卓球)for "Shangri-La" wasn't that song, it sounded similar enough to get my attention. Actually it was Argentine composer Bebu Silvetti's "Spring Rain", and that opening string flourish sounds very much like how "Love's Theme" started.

As for the single itself, "Shangri-La" was released in March 1997 as the first single from "Ace" and Denki Groove's 8th single overall. It peaked at No. 10 on Oricon and is, to date, their most successful single; overall, it finished the year as the 73rd-ranked song. Compared to the other entries on the album, it's the most mainstream-sounding. Of course, Ishino and Pierre Taki's(ピエール瀧)collective tongues were firmly in cheek as they did the video.


"Ace" was Denki Groove's 7th album which peaked at No. 3 on Oricon. Released in May 1997, all of the tracks can be described in the same way that the character in "Pocket Cowboy" is described: cool and nihilistic. "Pocket Cowboy" was the 2nd single to be released from the album, and it was also the ending theme for an anime (TBS' "Coji-Coji") created by the woman behind the hit manga and anime, "Chibi Maruko-chan", Momoko Sakura(さくらももこ). Ishino, and a battery of other voices, create a whimsical vocal quilt. 

"Volcanic Drumbeats" was never released as a single, but it's my other favourite track on "Ace". If you can imagine a psychotically heartfelt ode to the art of drumming against a major brawl amongst The Transformers, this would be the result. Pierre and Takkyu go absolutely nutso as they talk about colliding with yokozuna-class bulldozers, 2-metre long nunchakus as drumsticks and killing people with the crash of the cymbals. Not to be listened to under the influence (half-joking).

And before I forget, this is Bebu Silvetti's original "Spring Rain" from 1976. Except for one track, Ishino and Taki were responsible for writing and composition, but they were very generous in including Silvetti in the credits for "helping" compose "Shangri-La".

Friday, November 23, 2012

Junichi Inagaki -- 246:3AM

 Junichi Inagaki(稲垣潤一) started his solo career with the release of his first album, "246:3AM" in July 1982. Two singles came from the album; his first one was "Ame no Regret"雨のリグレット....Regret in the Rain), a mid-tempo pop ballad. The other one was the title track itself, released on the same day as the album, and I think it's the one that started his reputation as a City Pop crooner much like his contemporary Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘). Composed by ex-Off Course member Kazuhiko Matsuo(松尾一彦)and written by frequent Inagaki collaborator Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子), Inagaki's 2nd single is a shibui 4 minutes of Japanese urban contemporary along the lines of what Akira Terao(寺尾聡)put out in his 1981 album, "Reflections".

As for the title, it refers to a time and place: 3 in the morning somewhere along Japan's National Route 246. In Tokyo, that portion of the highway is represented by tony Aoyama Avenue which starts from Shibuya, and passes through Omotesando, Aoyama, Gaienmae and Akasaka before finishing its part in political Nagatacho. I am assuming that lyricist Yukawa was thinking more along the lines of the high-style Omotesando or Aoyama. Inagaki reminisces about snippets of a romance coming to an end in a cafeteria in the wee hours which he states right off the bat.

It's interesting to compare Inagaki and Terao. Both singers were singing the same style of City Pop around the early 80s, but their voices were quite different. Whilst Terao had that low and cool delivery, Inagaki sang in a much higher register and yet his voice carried a somewhat haunting, echoing quality which has struck me as being appropriate to some of the wistfulness that a number of his songs have.

The main intersection at Gaienmae right on
Route 246.

Los Indios & Silvia/Purple Shadows -- Wakarete mo Suki na Hito (別れても好きな人)

For couples of a certain age who still like to hit the karaoke box circuit, this is still one of the must-do songs to choose on the PADD (the modern karaoke box chains now have the "Star Trek" Geordi LaForge displays....saves time, paper cuts[from flipping those pages in those tome-sized karaoke menus] and calloused thumbs [from pressing the oversized remote controls]).

Los Indios has been around since 1962 playing their izakaya & bar-friendly Mood Kayo and Latin-tinged music. In 1968, they had a huge hit with "Como Esta Akasaka"(already profiled), and then 11 years later, the group had an even bigger hit with "Wakarete mo Suki na Hito" (Even If We Part, I'll Still Love You). And for the first time, Los Indios invited a female vocalist to sing with them, Silvia.

Silvia, who was born as Rieko Matsuda(松田理恵子) in 1958, was scouted while singing at an establishment owned by another singer/TV personality, Mitsuo Sagawa(佐川満男). Her first known assignment was with Los Indios, and the pairing was a fortuitous one since "Wakarete mo Suki na Hito" ended up becoming the 8th-ranked song for 1980 after its release in September 1979. Listening to it (along with similar songs of the genre) reminds me of some of those high times Tokyo must have been having back then, and this was even years before the Bubble Economy.

The pairing of Los Indios with Silvia started a tradition that has lasted up to the present day. Besides Silvia, 7 other female singers have worked with the group, and the 9th singer, Nina, a jazz singer, will be joining as of December 15 2012 according to J-Wiki.

As with a number of songs in kayo kyoku (such as Hiromi Iwasaki's "Sumire Iro no Namida"), the successful version has often concealed its previous versions. That has been the case with "Wakarete mo". Originally, singer-songwriter Ben Sasaki(佐々木勉) had created the song for the Group Sounds band, Purple Shadows, as their 5th single in November 1969. That version is above. It wasn't a hit for them, and some years later in 1975, the leader of Los Indios, Shizuo Tanahashi(棚橋静雄), did his own solo version of the song without it becoming a hit.

Its popularity as a duet song hasn't been lost even on the professional singers. I'm sure a lot of them on the various TV shows have gotten together to do their take on the Mood Kayo classic. Here are Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ) and Junko Sakurada(桜田淳子).

And heck, how about a real surprise? Not sure which show or when this came up, but even the boys from B'z and comedienne Kuniko Yamada(山田邦子) did their take. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Eri Hiramatsu -- Suteki na Renaissance (素敵なルネッサンス)

During the time of the girl rock band boom (Princess Princess, SHOW-YA, etc.) and the waning days of the late 80s aidorus, there was also the group of female singer-songwriters who were in the middle, singing straight-ahead pleasant pop. Singers like Miki Imai, Reimy, Midori Karashima and Mariko Nagai come to mind.

There is also Eri Hiramatsu(平松愛理). Although the Kobe native debuted in 1987 with a couple of bands, her breakthrough was in the early 90s. That big song was "Heya to Y-Shirt to Watashi"(部屋とY-シャツと私...The Room and The Dress Shirt and Me) in 1992, her 8th single. One of my old friends from university would always make sure her girlfriend at the time would sing that at karaoke.

However, I first heard of Hiramatsu a couple of years previously when her 5th single was the ending theme for one of my favourite comedy-variety shows with the duo Ucchan-Nanchan. "Suteki na Renaissance"(A Wonderful Renaissance) was a sparkly pop number that had that hint of Latin piano.

Here is Hiramatsu performing at a 2004 concert. Written and composed by Hiramatsu, "Suteki na Renaissance"was released in December 1990, and managed to go as high as No. 13 on the Oricon rankings. It finished 1991 as the 80th-ranked song. As I mentioned, I would put Hiramatsu alongside Miki Imai and Reimy, but her angle seems to be that little bit of Latin music she puts into her compositions. Not just with the piano or synthesizer, but in the entirety of her uptempo numbers, it often sounds as if there is a Cuban salsa just itching to burst out. Would love to know if she has ever worked with Orquesta de la Luz. The music goes along well with her warm and slightly fuzzy voice...and in a way, I wonder if she's a musical descendant of veteran singer-songwriter Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美).

The single is also a track on Hiramatsu's 3rd album, "My Dear", which was also released in December 1990.

Sugar -- Wedding Bell

I remember back in the 1982 Kohaku when the Southern All Stars gave their bizarre performance of "Chako no Kaigan Monogatari" and ended up having the NHK switchboard light up like a Xmas tree with tons of complaints. But I also remember just before the band came on, the Red team had this other unit, Sugar, appear for their first and only time.

The three members, Miki Kasamatsu(笠松美樹) (lead vocal, keyboards), Kumiko Nagasawa(長沢久美子) (vocal, guitar), and Kimiko Mohri(毛利公子) (vocal, bass, leader), sang their only big hit, "Wedding Bell". They started off with a harmonious intro before going into a bossa nova swing worthy of listening while drinking cocktails by a swimming pool. Kasamatsu's really high vocals made the aidorus sound like the baritones in a barbershop quartet, but all three were aiming for the stratosphere. Since I'm also a casual bossa nova fan, it was nice to hear this song as a contrast against some of the aidoru pop songs that had preceded it. And at the end of their performance, their harmony started quivering a little before they all gave a very cute "Domo Arigato"in unison.

Sugar was formed in 1981. Mohri and Nagasawa first met in high school in Kanagawa Prefecture and then formed the unit, Karinto (named after the sweet crunchy Japanese snack). When Kasamatsu joined up, there was the name change. As for the reason for choosing "Sugar", they simply said "We are not the salty types". Uh....yeah. In any case, their debut song was indeed "Wedding Bell" released in November 1981.

However, as sweet as the music and vocals are, the lyrics by Yoshiaki Furuta(古田喜昭) (who also composed the song) are pretty bitter. "Wedding Bell" tells of the story of a young woman invited to her old flame's wedding, and her grousings of resentment against the groom and bride. And the final line in the refrain is "Kutabacchimae! Amen!"(くたばっちまえ!アーメン!)That first word roughly translates as "F**K YOU!" Kinda like getting cursed at by Minnie Mouse. I'm sure a lot of the more refined audience members were waving their sensu a little more quickly in front of their faces after that one....but then again, Southern All Stars may have trumped Sugar in that department.

The song peaked at No. 2 on Oricon and became the 13th-ranked song of 1982, so the band waited over a year to get their limelight on the Kohaku. Sugar released 13 singles and 4 original albums before breaking up in 1987. By that time, the members had given up their instruments and became known as a purely vocal group. Sadly, in 1990, the leader Kimiko Mohri passed away at the age of 29 due to complications during pregnancy.

Kotaro Satomi & Tadashi Yokouchi -- Aa, Jinsei ni Namida ari (ああ人生に涙あり)

Ah, earliest memories of Japanese TV mostly consisted of this TV program, "Mito Komon"水戸黄門). Heading to the old Toronto Buddhist Church basement on Wednesday nights to watch tapes on this newfangled machine called a Video Cassette Recorder (which was the size of a small coffee table in the 70s), the longest-running jidaigeki時代劇...period drama) in Japanese TV history (it finished its run almost a year ago....43 years!) started out with the brass blast before going into a military march while the crest of Lord Mito was proudly displayed on screen.

Everyone who watched knew the story, and I'll let the Wikipedia entry help out with the explanation:

The title character is the historic Tokugawa Mitsukuni, former vice-shogun and retired second daimyo of the Mito Domain. In the guise of Mitsuemon, a retired crepe merchant from Echigo, he roams the realm with two samurai retainers, fun-loving Sasaki Sukesaburo (Suke-san) and studious Atsumi Kakunoshin (Kaku-san).

Each episode was about the same as every other episode. The trio, joined by reformed thief-turned-Edo Era foodie Hachibei and one other female character, travel through a particular region of Japan often famous for a particular dish (Hachibei must've been the planner), come across some form of injustice being perpetrated on a few of the locals which they resolve by stealth and an episode-ending sword-clanging battle. Of course, for boys like my brother and me, this was our favourite part of the show (although we appreciated the long talky portions to get some nap time), and of course, who can resist the scene in which seemingly frail Mitsuemon reveals himself as the mighty Mitsukuni when one of his two retainers flashes out the sign and everyone, enemies and allies alike, prostrate themselves in awe? (I wonder how Lucas came up with the character of Yoda.....hmmmmmm.)

But this is a kayo kyoku blog, after all, so back to the theme song. Written by Michio Yamagami(山上路夫)and composed by Chuji Kinoshita(木下忠司), the actual title is "Aa, Jinsei ni Namida Ari"(Ahh, There Are Tears in Life) and actually debuted on TV when the series did in 1969. Throughout the history of "Mito Komon", there have been 8 different "generations" or duos responsible for the singing of the famous song. The first generation had actor Ryotaro Sugi(杉良太郎) the very first Suke-san, and Tadashi Yokouchi(横内正), who played Kaku-san, performing it.

However, it was the second generation that I remember the best. When Sugi left the role, the new Suke-san, Kotaro Satomi(里見浩太朗), took on the singing duties along with Yokouchi. I think Satomi's rich baritone really made this song; this version was recorded in 1973.  In any case, this started the tradition of having mostly actors on the show (often Kaku-san and Suke-san) perform "Aa, Jinsei ni Namida Ari". Every time I hear the theme, I just feel like I should sit up a bit straighter.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chage & Aska -- Yah Yah Yah

Want to liven up that karaoke party? A bit too many enka ballads? Well, click on this song. This is probably one of the most adrenaline rush-inducing fist-pumping uptempo tunes in all of J-Pop, provided by Chage & Aska. Less than 2 years after coming up with their most successful song in their career, "Say Yes"(the 4th-ranked song in Oricon history), the duo from Fukuoka came up with another that also has one of the easiest-to-remember titles, "Yah Yah Yah". Simple is best, indeed.

The song was released in March 1993. At that time, I was in the middle of my 3 years back in Toronto...between my Gunma and Tokyo stints. The Japanese-Canadian Students Association at the University of Toronto had a weekly Wednesday program of showing Japanese dramas at the International Student Centre, and one of the popular shows for the folks who came out (undergrads, Japanese working-holiday visa students) was a medical drama, "Furikaereba Yatsu ga Iru"(振り返れば奴がいる....If You Turn Around, You'll See Jackals). Starring Yuji Oda and Ken Ishiguro, the pair played rival doctors at a hospital; Oda played  the embittered surgeon with a past. "Yah Yah Yah"was the theme song for the program, and Ryo Aska(飛鳥涼)even helped out with the score for the episodes. The song was an often-heard tune on those Wednesday nights.

As you can see on the video above, "Yah Yah Yah" is a real crowd-pleaser. And Chage & Aska get everybody jumping when the refrain gets screamed out and the winds blow through their trench coats. You can even bring your own "Yah Yah Yah" kit to karaoke. Just make sure you and your mate wear those coats, and bring along a small electric fan to plug in.

The song became the No. 1 song for 1993, and sold at least 2 million copies. And in the history of Oricon, it is currently the 11th-ranking hit. It is also on the duo's 16th album, "Red Hill", released in October 1993, which also enjoyed its time at the top of the album charts and was ranked 8th overall for the year.

Above is the opening credits sequence for the drama with Ishiguro and Oda running on the beach. For such a dark drama, "Yah Yah Yah" just seems so atypically up-with-people. And if you look at the complete sequence, Chage and Aska themselves show up for a few seconds. In retrospect, it's strange seeing Oda as a villain of sorts considering that a few years later, he would take on the character of his career, the fecklessly idealistic Detective Sergeant Shunsaku Aoshima in "Odoru Dai Sosasen"踊る大捜査線...Bayside Shakedown).

A piece of trivia about the drama itself. The screenplay was by famed director Koki Mitani(三谷幸喜), who, a year later, would come up with the Columbo-like detective, Ninzaburo Furuhata(古畑任三郎). However, he was shocked to learn of his script undergoing so many re-writes on unpleasant experience that he used to write one of his movies, "Radio no Jikan"(ラジオの時間....Radio Time).

THE BOOM -- Kaze ni Naritai (風になりたい)

For many years, I'd thought that THE BOOM had originated in Okinawa, but actually the four founding members are actually from the landlocked prefecture of Yamanashi on the main island of Honshu. But they were inspired by the music of Okinawa, and they created their band in 1986 to perform initially as buskers on hokoten...the pedestrian paradises....streets that were closed off from vehicular traffic during the weekends so that people could enjoy a nice stroll.

However, THE BOOM also explored Brazilian music in the middle of the 1990s, and my favourite song by them is "Kaze ni Naritai"(I Want to Become the Wind). It's just a glorious percussion-happy Japanese samba that leader and vocal Kazufumi Miyazawa(宮沢和史) had always wanted to write. Originally on the band's 6th album, "Kyokuto Samba"極東サンバ...Far East Samba) (1994), it was released as a single in March 1995. It took four months, but the song finally broke into the Oricon rankings and peaked at No. 19.

The music video for "Kaze ni Naritai" was filmed on the Ginza.....the biggest hokoten in Tokyo which, weather permitting, is open on Sundays. It looks like the weather was permitted to be just as happy as the band.

Good ol' Ginza
Yamano Music is just on the right across the street.

Akina Nakamori -- Desire

Get up, get up, get up.....BURNING LOVE!

For me, it's hard to say which song is the ultimate Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)tune. Is it "Tattoo" or is it "Kazari ja nai no yo Namida wa"飾りじゃないのよ涙は)? Or is it "Desire"? Probably a lot of her fans, casual or devoted, would pick that last one.

Released in February 1986, it was composed by Kisaburo Suzuki(鈴木キサブロー), who has woven songs for everyone from Mariko Takahashi to Kenji Sawada, and written by Yoko Aki(阿木耀子), who had written several of Momoe Yamaguchi's latter hits the decade before. Aki had written a track for Akina's 1983 album, "Etranger"エトランゼ), but "Desire" was her first Akina song released as a single. I'd heard in the past that Nakamori was seen as the musical heir of Yamaguchi (and the former had sung the latter's "Yume Saki Annainin" on the talent TV show "Star Tanjo"スター誕生) when she was starting out), so perhaps writing for Nakamori was a bit of deja vu for Aki. Her husband and fellow collaborator on those Yamaguchi songs such as "Imitation Gold" and "Playback, Part II", Ryudo Uzaki(宇崎竜童), wasn't involved in "Desire", but composer Suzuki certainly amped up the dynamism in the music; I could've imagined Yamaguchi trying this song if she had continued her career beyond 1980.

As for the singer herself, Akina took "Desire" and crafted that now-husky voice of hers to ride the music like a roller-coaster veteran. Velvety in the relatively quiet sections, she unleashes the full force of that voice in most of the refrain, including the lyric written above....a challenging but fun song for all those karaoke fans.

"Desire" debuted on Oricon at the top spot from the get-go and became the 2nd-ranked song of 1986, just behind Akemi Ishii's(石井明美)"Cha-cha-cha", although I think "Desire" has probably stayed in the memory a lot longer. It won a number of awards, three from the Japan Record Awards alone: Best Artist, Gold Prize and Grand Prize. Not surprisingly, the Kohaku came knocking as well.

But one of the other factors that helped launched "Desire" into the stratosphere was her performance at concerts and on the various music shows. Akina may have been known for that cute peacocky ponytail in her early years, but with this song, it was the short bob wig. It was also her wish to wear a stylized kimono and the high heels. As for the dance, there is that one point in her performance where she cries out "nante ne" and suddenly bends like a ratchet going down; apparently that was inspired by a baseball pitcher's windup. In any case, it would be hard to separate the song from the choreography. And it will be impossible to separate Akina from "Desire" in any retrospective on her.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sachiko Nishida/Yoko Oginome -- Coffee Rumba (コーヒー・ルンバ)

The first time I'd ever heard of this Latin number done J-Pop style was back in the early 90s when 80s aidoru Yoko Oginome(荻野目洋子) sang it. At the time, I didn't know that Oginome was doing a cover of Sachiko Nishida's(西田佐知子)original back in 1961, itself the Japanese version of "Cafe Moliendo", an instrumental made by either Venezuelan composer Hugo Blanco or his uncle Jose Manzo Perroni (whichever side of the lawsuit you're on) back in 1958.

In Japan, "Cafe Moliendo"was re-titled "Coffee Rumba"and given lyrics by Seiji Nakazawa(中沢清二). Osaka-born Nishida debuted in 1956, but it looks like her big year was 1961 as she got one hit earlier with her version of "Never On Sunday"and then an even bigger hit with "Coffee Rumba". Strangely enough, she wasn't a coffee drinker at the time but after she got married to current TV announcer and personality Hiroshi Sekiguchi(関口宏), she started downing the java.

As I mentioned, Yoko Oginome did a fun, synthed-up version of "Coffee Rumba" as her 25th single in May 1992, along with plenty of choreography and dancers when she performed it on the various music shows and ultimately, the 1992 Kohaku Utagassen. The song didn't make it into the Top 100 singles of the year on Oricon but her 14th album, "Ryukou Kashu"流行歌手...Trendy Singer) got as high as No. 3.

And this is the original, "Moliendo Cafe" by Hugo Blanco.

July 11th 2021: I found another different cover by Yuka Kamebuchi (亀淵友香).

Ego-Wrappin' -- Katsute (かつて)

I mentioned this song in my first profile for this Osaka jazz/rock duo, Ego-Wrappin'. That profile was for the raucous "Psychoanalysis" in which vocalist Yoshie Nakano(中納良恵) rips through the song like a buzzsaw. It certainly got my attention....went out and bought the album, "Michishio no Romance"満ち汐のロマンス....Tide Flow Romance) (May 2001).

"Katsute"(かつて。。。Never Before) is the first track on the band's 2nd album, before the craziness of the second track which is "Psychoanalysis". On the other hand, "Katsute" starts out for the first minute with just Satoru Takeshima's lone soprano saxophone playing out in the night before this jazz waltz starts dancing in. Then, Nakano brings out her other voice: sweeter, slightly higher but with a bit of that downtown ragged edge still in retention. There's a violin solo by Hiroo Mutou which reminds me of Stephane Grappelli when he was jamming with gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt back in the 1930s.

Nakano provided the lyrics while she and partner Masaki Mori(森雅樹) composed the song. Since Ego-Wrappin' is a band that also should be seen live, here is a concert version of "Katsute".

Anzen Chitai -- Anata ni (あなたに)

"Anata ni"(For You) is a filet mignon ballad....yep that tender. One of the tracks from Anzen Chitai's(安全地帯) second album, "II"(May 1984), composer (and singer) Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二) and lyricist Goro Matsui(松井五郎), it's an early Anzen Chitai song which was seemingly meant to be played at a wedding banquet for karaoke or that first dance. Tamaki just belts this one out of the park. I remember listening to this on a car stereo at night for the first time....would've bought the stereo right then and there.

Allow me to throw in another concert version of the song as well. This one came from Yokohama Stadium in 1985. I recall watching another concert video in which Tamaki sang this song. The camera panned into the audience....not a dry eye in the girl-heavy crowd.

"II"was released in May 1984 and peaked at the No. 2 position on Oricon.

Mieko Nishijima -- Ikegami Sen (池上線)

"Ikegami Sen"(Ikegami Line) is arguably Mieko Nishijima's(西島三重子)most famous hit. It was her 2nd single, originally from her debut 1975 album, "Fuusha"風車...Windmills) before it was given its own release in April 1976. Written by Jun'ei Sato(佐藤順英)and composed by Nishijima, the title refers to one of Tokyo's private train lines on which a young couple is undergoing a sad but quiet breakup. Listening to Nishijima's soft but unyielding vocals, her description of the situation and the couple's neighbourhood creates an intimate atmosphere; something akin to one of the most famous folk songs in Japan, "Kandagawa"神田川)by Kaguyahime(かぐや姫...Princess Kaguya) a few years back (already profiled). It would probably make a lot of listeners give off a wistful sigh.

Although Nishijima has had a career for the past few decades as an illustrator, less than a couple of weeks ago, she released a new single titled "Ikegami Sen Futatabi"池上線ふたたび...Ikegami Line Revisited), created by her and lyricist Kenji Kadoya(門谷憲二).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Yuji Oda & Maxi Priest -- Love Somebody

Well, for the past couple of weeks, TV Japan has been playing each of the "Odoru Dai Sosasen"踊る大捜査線....Bayside Shakedown) movies. As I'm typing this, the second movie...the one dealing with the evacuation of Odaiba (the modern Tokyo Bay entertainment area in the Japanese capital) playing right now, and next week, the somewhat inferior 3rd movie will make its appearance.

Akihiko Matsumoto(松本晃彦) was responsible for the techno opening theme (already profiled), one of the most recognized themes in Japanese TV history. However, there needed to be a friendlier, more organic song to balance things out. Star of the show, Yuji Oda(織田裕二), was more than happy to oblige, and he brought a friend, British reggae artist, Maxi Priest (who I remember on this side of the Pacific for singing "Wide World"in 1989). Together they wrote the lyrics to the happy-go-lucky "Love Somebody", a musical reflection of Oda's character on the show, Shunsaku Aoshima(青島俊作).

The musical unit, GARDEN, provided the music and Matsumoto arranged everything. It's one of those light reggae-pop songs that has managed to insinuate itself into my brain all of these years with its lyrics of "love somebody tonight" and "never never never never never never never ever let love go". No matter how dire the situation got for Aoshima and the cops at the Bayside Precinct, "Love Somebody" at the end reassured the audience that everything was gonna be alright. Released in January 1997, Oda's 13th single peaked at No. 9 on Oricon, and was the 65th-ranked song of the year.

All things come to an end, and apparently that was true also for "Odoru Dai Sosasen" since the very last movie in the series came out in September. I'm not sure if this was the actual version of "Love Somebody" played during the end credits, but if so, it's a combination of all the past versions of the song played for the original TV series and the first three movies. I watched those first three at the theatre in Tokyo; the first two were great but the third one let down the side. I hope No. 4 left a fine legacy.

And these were the opening credits to the final movie. They had a pretty soft opening without the frenetic "Rhythm and Police" for the previous movie which may have foretold how the rest of the movie was gonna go, but with this one, glad to see that the techno and the excitement are back.

Goodbye, Aoshima!

Seiko Matsuda -- Train

"Train" was Seiko Matsuda's(松田聖子) compilation of all of those hits written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and composed by Yumi Matsutoya (under her alias of Karuho Kureta[呉田軽穂]) released in March 1985. It was also the very first Seiko album that I ever bought. Compact discs were still a few years away from me back in my university days, so when I ran down from Japanese class at University of Toronto to Chinatown (just 10-15 minutes walk), it was to get the original LP at a Chinese record shop. That come-hither face of hers on the yellow cover just seemed to say "Just $25 CDN plus tax! C'mon! You passed the kanji test...treat yourself!" Who am I to refuse the Queen Aidoru?

Since these were the Matsumoto-Kureta hits, "Akai Sweet Pea"(赤いスイートピー), "Komugi Iro no Mermaid"小麦色のマーメイド) and "Hitomi wa Diamond"瞳はダイヤモンド)are all in there (and already profiled). However, I also want to profile some of the other tunes in there, starting with her 9th single, "Nagisa no Balcony"(渚のバルコニー) which was originally released in April 1982 and was also a track on her original album, "Pineapple". As the title hints, it's a summery, breezy song reminiscent of an even earlier hit, "Aoi Sangosho"青い珊瑚礁), one of my favourite Seiko-chan classics. It was her 7th straight No. 1 song and the 11th-ranked song of 1982.

I remember going home from Robarts Library at U of T with a classmate of mine from EAS120Y (1st-year Japanese) on one very cold night, and we were locked into a conversation about this very song, "Rock n' Rouge". My friend just couldn't figure out the significance of the lyrics "Pure pure lips." I merely said to him that there was a $5 all-you-can-eat buffet at Pizza Hut that had our names on it and we could discuss the oeuvre of Seiko over there. As it turned out, her 16th single was used as the Spring campaign song for Kanebo Cosmetics which would explain the reference to those facial features.

Yuming and Matsumoto showed two different sides of a date. Melodically and lyrically, a lot of the song portrayed the cool dude picking up his girlfriend in that sports car while adjusting the grease in his hair before the sweet refrain representing the girl comes in with Seiko-chan lisping "yes" and "please". Probably a lot of her male fans were melting into the tatami by that point.

"Rock n' Rouge" was Seiko's 14th straight No. 1 released in February 1984, and it was also a track on her album, "Tinker Bell". It was the 3rd-ranked song for that year.

The final song for this entry is "Jikan no Kuni no Alice"時の国のアリス...Alice in the Land of Time) which would be Yuming's final contribution to Seiko's repertoire up to now. It's a fun, uptempo song which seems to incorporate a lot of tropes from fairy tales right up to one of the most famous names in Alice. There are apples, horse-drawn pumpkin carriages and witches galore in here. Melodically, it seems to be a kissing cousin to Yuming's "Destiny" and I can imagine both her and Seiko doing a duet with this song easily.

"Jikan no Kuni no Alice" immediately came after "Rock n' Rouge" and was No. 15 in her unbeatable record of consecutive No. 1s. It also placed in 15th place for the yearly rankings and was another track on "Tinker Bell".

For any Seiko-chan fan, "Train" is a must-have. It also hit No. 1 and was the 38th-ranked album for 1985.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Akiko Yano -- David

The biggest mystery about this song is the title itself. Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)has never divulged who this David is. According to her lyrics, she uses "We" when talking about how much they want to see him again no matter how far away he is, almost as if she were referring to a fan club more than any sort of personal love. Could it have been David Bowie or David Sylvian, the latter with whom she has worked with? Who knows? Love the song, though.

"David"is a track on Yano's February 1986 9th album, "Touge no Wagaya"峠のわがや...One's House on a Mountain Pass). According to the J-Wiki writeup, it and one other track, "Home Sweet Home"are the only songs that retain the techno flavour of her earlier works in the late 70s and early 80s, while the other tracks start going into a more jazzier direction.

The song had never been sold as a single when "Touge no Wagaya"first came out, but a few years later, when a late-night Fuji-TV comedy called "Yappari Neko ga Suki"やっぱり猫がすき....I Like Cats After All) used "David"as its opening theme, it was given its own release. There was no particular connection between the characters and a person named David, but I gather it sounded pleasant enough.

Chiharu Matsuyama -- Jinsei no Sora kara (人生の空から)

I first heard Hokkaido-born Chiharu Matsuyama's(松山千春)"Jinsei no Sora kara"....or part of it....back on "The Sounds of Japan" about 30 years ago. At the time, I'd forgotten that it was on....I probably got engrossed in a hockey game on TV...and ended up rushing to throw in an empty Canadian Tire tape. So I missed the first half of the song. Now, Matsuyama has been labeled as a folk singer, but "Jinsei no Sora kara"(From the Sky of Life), his 9th single (September 1980) since his debut in 1977, sounds more like a City Pop/Smooth Jazz hit with the synths, flute and saxophone in there. However, Matsuyama's characteristic high crooning voice is very much in charge.

Written and composed by Matsuyama, it peaked at No. 4 where it stayed for 6 straight weeks. It sold half a million copies and ended up as the 45th-ranked song of 1980. I'm happy to say that I was able to get a full copy of the song finally when I bought the 1980 disc in the "Seishun Uta Nenkan" CD series (profiled in the Media section).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mitsuko Mori -- Tokyo Shitamachi Atari (東京下町あたり)

A few days ago, a veteran actress and entertainer left this mortal coil at the age of 92. Mitsuko Mori(森光子) was definitely a well-known presence on screen and stage. Especially on the latter, she was famous for a play titled "Horoki" in which one of the big scenes involved her gleefully pulling off a front-forward somersault, something that she did well into her 80s. It almost seemed like a custom for Japanese TV to show the annual somersault on the news.

Mitsuko Mori was known primarily as an actress but she also released 5 songs during her career. "Tokyo Shitamachi Atari"(In Downtown Tokyo) was her first single released in April 1973 as the theme song for a popular homespun comedy, "Jikan desu yo"時間ですよ...It's Time!) during the 70s. Mori starred as the operator of a sento銭湯)in Gotanda, Tokyo. Translating "shitamachi" as downtown in English is inadequate since shitamachi actually also involves the lifestyle and even how one speaks in traditional neighbourhoods like Asakusa and Kanda. Small wooden houses and old-fashioned mom-and-pop shops are compacted with each other in these areas so that very close-knit communities form. And the neighbourhood sento in Japan was the equivalent of the local pub in the UK in that folks often gathered in the bath to talk about the latest goings-on within and without the area.

Kohmi Hirose -- Shiawase wo Tsukamitai (幸せをつかみたい)

I was in Japan for just a month into my long stay and I was still getting settled in my new digs in Ichikawa. Of course, being December, the Christmas commercials were starting to pop up, especially those for Tokyo Disneyland (just a stone's throw away from the apartment). At the same time, the ski resorts were also powering up for the season, and the Japanese just L-O-V-E to ski (ski suki, see?....terrible oyaji joke). So Alpen, a famous winter sporting goods company, started throwing their ads on screen. Their sonic spokesperson? Leather-lunged Kohmi Hirose(広瀬香味美).

It was the first time for me to hear this lady with this powerful voice as she sang a portion of her latest hit, "Shiawase wo Tsukamitai"(I Wanna Grab That Happiness) on the Alpen commercial. There was that one note in the refrain where I thought she was gonna crack the ceiling. As usual, it's a funky uptempo song which probably has attracted a ton of the young folk onto the slopes over the years as a Pavlovian response. Written and composed by Hirose herself, her 5th single peaked at No. 6 on Oricon.

However, being someone who would like to give as complete a song as possible, here is a karaoke video of someone trying the song. Speaking of karaoke, on TV Japan, via NHK, for the past several weeks, the singer has also put on a teacher's cap as she teaches a trio of students (two tarento and one university student) on how to excel in the karaoke box. Hirose-sensei is very much the nurturing den mother here. As for me, if I ever attended her class, I'd probably end up with a dunce cap in the corner.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Top 10 Albums of 1980

1.  Chiharu Matsuyama             Kishou Tenketsu
2.  Yellow Magic Orchestra      Solid State Survivor
3.  ABBA                                  Greatest Hits, Vol. 2
4.  Saki Kubota                         Yume Gatari
5.  Miyuki Nakajima                 Okaerinasai
6.  Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi            Gyakuryuu
7.  Chiharu Matsuyama             Roman
8.  Seiko Matsuda                      Squall
9.  Yellow Magic Orchestra      Multiplies
10. Yellow Magic Orchestra     Public Pressure

1980 was definitely the year of YMO with their 2nd, 3rd and 4th albums all in the Top 10, but Folk/New Music singer Chiharu Matsuyama had the top album of the year, "Kishou Tenketsu" album of his best hits....and his follow-up album, "Roman". And at No. 8, new aidoru singer Seiko Matsuda would have her first album, "Squall" containing her debut single, "Hadashi no Kisetsu" and her first big hit in "Aoi Sangosho".

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Aki Yashiro -- Ame no Bojou (雨の慕情)

This was a song that I heard a fair bit in the 1980s, and it's one of my favourite enka tunes. Sung by Aki Yashiro(八代亜紀), "Ame no Bojou"(Yearning for Rain) is one of those songs that makes me imagine having a drink in an izakaya somewhere or walking along a pier in Yokohama....just like one of those scenes on "Enka no Hanamichi"(already profiled under Media), that old TV Tokyo music show on Sunday nights.

Yashiro was born in Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in 1950. Her love of music came from her father who often sang rokyoku (Japanese narrative singing) and lullabies. Yashiro had been painfully self-conscious about her raspy voice as a child, but after her father had bought some Julie London records for her to listen to, the future enka singer realized that London's husky voice could apply to her as well. After graduating from junior high school, Yashiro became a bus guide for a while until she decided to seek her fortune in Tokyo against her father's wishes. She found a job performing in a Ginza club singing pop and standards. She debuted in 1971 with the song "Ai wa Shindemo"(愛は死んでも。。。Even if Love Dies).

29 singles later, in April 1980, "Ame no Bojou"was released. The song, penned by Yu Aku and Keisuke Hama(阿久悠・浜圭介), dealt with a woman's feelings after a romantic breakup. When I first heard it, that raspy voice seemed to fit the song to a T since it sounded as if Yashiro, or the protagonist, had been crying. Also, one of the parts of the song that has become famous in the enka world was the lyric, "Ame, ame, fure, fure, motto fure"雨、雨、ふれ、ふれ、もっとふれ...Rain, rain, fall, fall, fall some more) and the gesture that the singer uses to express it.

"Ame no Bojou"would win a slew of awards by the end of the year including the Grand Prize at each of the Japan Record Awards and the Japan Kayo Awards. Of course, there was also the appearance at the Kohaku Utagassen. On Oricon, the song managed to peak at No. 9 while it ended up being the 26th-ranked song of the year.