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, January 31, 2013

Yumi Matsutoya -- Love Wars

Still on the 1st-year anniversary kick for this blog, my choice for the second profile (along with Yukio Hashi's 1966 "Muhyou") is Yumi Matsutoya's(松任谷由美) "Love Wars", her 21st original album released in November 1989. This was during my time in Gunma Prefecture when I discovered singers like Miki Imai, Mariko Nagai and Princess Princess. However, with Yuming, I had known about her for some years before I made the post-university leap to Japan in July of that year. I came across songs like "Dandelion" and "Ano Hi ni Kaeritai" via "Sounds of Japan"on CHIN-FM in Toronto, and then some more of her tunes via karaoke at Kuri.. Her songs appeared enough times so that I was familiar with her and her enjoyable music, but still wasn't aware how much of an effect she'd had on Japanese pop music. But a few months after my arrival in Japan, I saw the promotion commercials for this album, and decided to plunk down the 3,000 yen for my very first Yuming CD.

The first track is "Valentine's Radio", a sunny start to the album complete with American radio DJ doing a bit of Valentine's Day banter. Although Yuming created the song for February 14th, I've always pictured this more for a Spring day, and my image city has always been San Francisco for some reason. Perfect with a breeze.

Yumi Matsutoya -- Love Wars
The LP version was the last one Yuming would release.
In retrospect, after getting to know all about The Queen of New Music and buying a lot of her previous albums going back to the early 70s, it's kinda strange looking at this cover, seeing her decked out in a PG-13 version of a Barbarella outfit. It didn't chime in with my initial image of Yuming since I'd always listened to her much older stuff. But apparently since the mid-80s, the singer had been moving ever forward into a more American mainstream pop mode, complete with horn section and synths.

Another surprising thing I found out about Yumi Matsutoya was that she was coming up with some monstrously epic effects-laden concerts. I bought a videotape of her 1991 "Wings of Light" tour, and was just floored that she could put on a show that reminded me more of Madonna. And she could hoof it big time as well. Anyways, in the above video, Yuming performs the 2nd track, "Wanderers", one of my favourites on the album, an urban strut of a song which made me realize this was not my teenage year Yuming. There is an actual video for this one but it seems to be as rare as an Elvis sighting. However, according to J-Wiki, it can be seen on her official site (well, only 45 seconds of it). Just go to the DISCOGRAPHY section on the homepage and then there is PROMOTION VIDEO near the bottom of that page.

Track 4 is "Kokoro Hodoite"心ほどいて....Unwrap My Heart), a wistful ballad that sounds even better unplugged as it is done here in the above video. The scenario is someone going to the church to see a former flame getting married, and having his/her heart say goodbye one final time.

Having bought "Love Wars" as my first Yuming album, it was a bit of a revelation to hear all these little toe dips into genres like urban and AOR along with general pop, and the shifts between uptempo and ballads. Up until this purchase, I'd always heard her as primarily a balladeer. And then when I saw some of her concert footage...!

The final track is "Anniversary", the only song to be released as a single from the album. Despite the title, though, it has been made as a song for the blushing bride on her wedding day. And I'm sure a lot of wedding parties since this song was released in June 1989 have made ample use of it. As Yuming's 23rd single, it peaked at No. 2 on Oricon. It would be her last single for the next few years until 1993.

As for "Love Wars" itself, it won The Best Rock/Pop Album Award at the 1990 Japan Record Awards, and was Yuming's 2nd million-seller. In fact, it was the No. 1 album of the year on Oricon, something that she would repeat the next year with her 22nd album, "Tengoku no Door"(天国のドア...The Gates of Heaven).....yup, bought that one, too.

Yukio Hashi -- Muhyou (霧氷)

Well, it's the 1-year anniversary of KK Plus! And I had been kinda wondering which songs I would be putting up on this day. Then, a few weeks ago, I was watching an episode of NHK's "Kayo Concert", and enka veteran Yukio Hashi(橋幸夫) sang this song which immediately turned on a switch. I decided then and there that this would be the one song I would be putting up on January 31 2013, exactly a year after I put up "Memory Glass" by Jun Horie(堀江淳).

"Muhyou"(Silver Frost) just happens to be one of the very first songs I had ever heard....period, so I'm talking about the late 60s. As I've mentioned a few times before, as a toddler, my place was often in front of one of the speakers of that old RCA Victor, and this song was a Japanese standard in our 5th-floor apartment. 

Hearing it again with re-tuned ears, I realized how haunting it was with the chorus and the sad arrangement. This is Mood-y Kayo! Written by Tetsuo Miyagawa(宮川哲夫) and composed by Ichiro Tone(利根一郎), the song is about a melancholy breakup and its aftermath. I can imagine the dumped guy walking down a lonely street on a cold winter night while the song is playing. Now that I've heard it again, I kinda think that the arrangement sounds somewhat reminiscent of a particularly serious 60s James Bond theme, thanks to the shimmery strings in the background.

Yukio Hashi debuted in 1960, and between then and the release of this song in October 1966, he released so many singles (at least 70), I couldn't tell you the exact number of this single. Back in 1962, he did a duet of another kayo kyoku classic with actress Sayuri Yoshinaga, "Itsudemo Yume wo" (already profiled) which was a far more happier piece. "Muhyou" was released before Oricon, but a couple of accolades it did get was the Grand Prize at the 8th Japan Record Awards, and a place at that year's Kohaku Utagassen.

(empty karaoke version)

Maybe somewhere in one of the family lockers, the record is still sitting somewhere....

Machiko Watanabe -- Kamome ga Tonda Hi (かもめが翔んだ日)

After getting that great launch to her career with the jaunty "Mayoi Michi"迷い道...already profiled)in 1977, Machiko Watanabe(渡辺真知子) may have felt a bit let down with her 2nd single, "Kamome ga Tonda Hi"(The Day That The Seagulls Flew). Or to be more accurate, she may have been more disappointed with her recording company's reaction to it. Although "Mayoi Michi" was a megahit in sales with over 800,000 records sold, "Kamome"was apparently treated as a relative failure since it "only" did half as much business. According to J-Wiki, Watanabe was somewhat crushed when some of the staff remarked at the time that the song should've been relegated to the B-side.

Surprisingly, though, a lot of kayo kyoku fans and myself see it as one of Watanabe's most representative works. It may not have broken the Top 100 of 1978, but after its release in April of that year, it did earn The Best Newcomer Prize for Watanabe at the Japan Record Awards, giving her some vindication, since she did compose the song., while Akira Ito(伊藤アキラ) wrote the lyrics. As for the lyrics, they talk of a relationship going sour as Watanabe sings about walking along that harbour alone while the seagulls fly and squawk about. One doesn't usually hear about seagulls getting such a lyrical treatment, especially when they're usually seen as the rats of the avian kingdom.

Along with the fact that "Kamome"has now entered the annals of kayo kyoku legend, it has also become immortalized in some other interesting ways. For one thing, at Horinouchi Station in Watanabe's hometown of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, an excerpt of the song is played as the warning chime for passengers to get on the train.

And for a bit of Japanese baseball trivia, the song is the mascot's theme for the Chiba Lotte Marines, the regional baseball team when I was living in Ichikawa (and it had been Bobby Valentine's old team before he entered....and fled....the Boston Red Sox last year). In the above video, it looks like the real singer dropped by to sing her old chestnut right at home plate itself a few years ago.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Misia -- Marvelous

I've already profiled a couple of Misia's songs in the past few months, her biggest hit, "Everything" and a song that had never been released as a single but still rates as one of my favourites by her, "Sunny Day." Well, I figured it was time to do the album that both came out on. And so as they say, let's give a big hand for the little lady:

Misia - Marvelous...and it is!
I bought Misia's first album, "Mother Father Brother Sister" on the strength of her debut single, "Tsutsumikomu yo ni"(包む込むように). It was a fun album that not only brought hip-pop but also some of that old R&B/disco of the late 70s. But then a few years later, on the strength of three singles in 2000 and 2001,  "Everything", "Escape" and "I Miss You", I had to get her 3rd album, "Marvelous", released in April 2001.

"Escape" was Misia's 6th single, released in July 2000. Written by Misia and composed by Misia & Sakoshin, the song has a bit of a spiritual relationship with Michael Jackson's "Thriller" at least in the somewhat spooky-sounding beginning and ending. But the video is more of a psychological horror tribute that Freud and Jung may have wanted to sink their teeth into than the old-fashioned Vincent Price flick that "Thriller" had been. The video is also notable for Misia going for a bit of choreography there. It's a song that I liked to play back in Japan around Halloween for obvious reasons.

The song peaked at No. 7 on the weekly Oricon and actually squeaked into the Top 100 of the year at No. 100.

I think the other reason that I've enjoyed "Marvelous" is that even the non-singles are great listening. "Sunny Day" is one example; this is the other, "Ano Natsu no Mama de"(あの夏のままで...That Summer). I think you can split it down the middle in terms of has elements of R&B and AOR....but whatever you or I think it is, it's still a wonderful ballad that perhaps I should've profiled half a year ago. Misia can do ballads like a maestra. Of course, "Everything" is the showstopping highlight of the album, but "Ano Natsu no Mama de" is different in that it really does sound like a summer's-end song. to be heard at sunset. This song was also written by Misia and composed by Hidetoshi Yamada(山田秀俊).

(karaoke version)

The 7th single was indeed "Everything", but right on New Year's Day 2001, her 8th single, "I Miss You" came out in least, the stores that would open on January 1st in Japan. It's a short but sweet song that kinda had me reminiscing about the last years of disco/pop. And the other notable thing about this final song on the album is that it was the miracle collaboration of Misia and Dreams Come True. DCT vocalist, Miwa Yoshida(吉田美和), was supposedly one of Misia's inspirations to enter the music world in the first place, so I could only imagine what the first meeting was like between them.

"I Miss You" comes across like a breezy piece that would be perfect for a montage scene in a movie, and sure enough, the official video above has that feel while the ladies produce the song and enjoy the sights of New York at the same time. One wonders if they even bumped into Carrie Bradshaw and her posse somewhere in Manhattan. Written by Misia and composed by her and DCT leader Masato Nakamura(中村正人), it went as high as No. 3 and became the 38th-ranked song of 2001. In a way, I'm a bit disappointed that it wasn't a bit longer.

As for "Marvelous" itself, the album hit the coveted million mark in sales and hit the top spot on the weeklies before finishing the year as the 8th-ranked song. I don't need to tell you Misia fans to buy it since you already have.

"Everything" the single

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Akemi Ishii -- Hibiki wa tutu (響きはtutu)

After taking music fandom by storm in 1986 with the top-selling single of the year (and her debut one at that), "CHA-CHA-CHA", Akemi Ishii(石井明美) decided to stay on the pop-with-a-bit-of-Latin track with her 2nd single, "Hibiki wa tutu"(Echo is tutu....perhaps that last word is the Japanese onomatopoeia for kisses?).

(karaoke version)

Written by Yoko Aki (阿木耀子...who had written a lot of Momoe Yamaguchi's later hits in the 70s), and composed by Kyohei Tsutsumi (筒美京平), the two of them try to get that feel of a Latin jazz club with Ishii as the headliner. Although I'm not sure how it fared week-by-week on the Oricon after its release in November 1986, it didn't break into the Top 100 unfortunately. But since I've enjoyed the Latin jazz genre (thank you, Tito and Desi) for most of my life, I still have a sweet spot for this very short song (less than 3 minutes)...especially when the baritone sax comes barreling in. I never even actually saw Ishii perform on any of the music shows, but it did come on her 2nd album, "Joy" the year after.

Kazuhiko Kato & Osamu Kitayama -- Ano Subarashii Ai wo Mou Ichido (あの素晴らしい愛をもう一度)

A J-Folk song I've been hearing for years and years although it wasn't until recently that I finally learned what the title was and who had actually sung it. "Ano Subarashii Ai wo Mou Ichido"(That Wonderful Love, One More Time) is a gentle mid-tempo kayo kyoku classic that still pops up from time to time on those retrospective specials on Japanese TV. Unfortunately, Kazuhiko Kato(加藤和彦) passed away a few years ago, but such is the song's evergreen popularity that a lot of other artists ranging from Naomi Sagara to members of Morning Musume have continued to keep the legacy going.

Kato first started out in the 1960s, and started up an amateur folk group, The Folk Crusaders, along with four other people, including the lyricist for this song, Osamu Kitayama(北山修), while in university. Some years later, after the group broke up, Kato decided to go on a solo career in 1968, and it was his 6th single that was "Ano Subarashii Ai wo Mou Ichido", released in April 1971.

According to J-Wiki, there were a couple of different stories as to the song's origins. The first, more romantic story had Kitayama coming up with the lyrics with Kato composing the music and then giving the whole song to his first wife, Mika, as a Christmas present. The second origin story, which turned out to be the true one according to Kitayama back on a talk show in July 2010, had the two men being asked to create the debut song for another Japanese folk duo, Simons. However, Kato and Kitayama decided to sing the song themselves leaving the other duo to go with another tune to launch their career.

The song managed to peak at No. 10 on Oricon and it became the 46th-ranked song of 1971. For those who might think that Japanese music is all about the enka and aidoru stuff, have a listen to this one.

Kato had some fame in the anime world as well. He, along with his second wife, lyricist Kazumi Yasui(安井かずみ), created the theme tune for the movie version of the 80s anime "Macross", "Ai wo Oboeteimasuka"愛をおぼえていますか....Do You Remember Love?).

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Seiko Matsuda -- Nobara no Etude (野ばらのエチュード)

For the past month, I've been kinda avoiding putting up any profiles of Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子) or any of the other singers who got the Xmas treatment last month since I think I did throw up quite a few songs from each of them, but now that I've passed the 25th of this month, I'm back in the safe zone again.

"Nobara no Etude"(Field Rose Etude) should come with a medical warning: May cause tendency to sigh wistfully. And yep, since it's been a REALLY long time since I heard this one, I almost blew off the screen of my netbook here. I first saw Seiko-chan perform this, her 11th single, at the 1982 Kohaku Utagassen. It was the 2nd time for me to see her perform on the annual New Year's Eve programme, and she came out wearing this yellow summery aidoru-ish frock. Unlike the previous year, when she performed "Natsu no Tobira"(already profiled) bouncing around like mad, "Nobara no Etude"was her just singing the pretty ballad like a summer breeze. The opening "Tu-ru-ri-ra, tu-ru-ri-ra..." still resonates over 30 years later.

The song was written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆) and composed by Tulip's Kazuo Zaitsu(財津和夫), and was released back in October 1982. Despite the relatively late release, "Nobara no Etude" managed to become the 41st-ranked song of the year, and yep it did hit No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies as just about every single of hers did in the first half of the 80s. Even in 1983, it finished at the No. 75 position at the end of that year.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Spitz -- Cherry

Y'know....this is the first time I ever heard of any band getting their name from a member's love of an English consonant cluster. Spitz(スピッツ) was one of the bands I started hearing a lot about during my early years in my long Ichikawa sojourn. And their vocalist, Masamune Kusano(草野正宗), had a long love since his high school years for the letters "sp" in words like "crispy" and "special"(I've got a feeling that he may have hung out a lot at KFC after school)....this info I did get from both Japanese and English versions of Wikipedia, by the way. Then, when he came across the word "spitz", he discovered that in German, it had the meaning of "sharp and pointy"or "cranky", and apparently that sealed the deal for the name.

In the Japanese Wikipedia, Spitz is classified as a rock/alternative/power pop band. Perhaps in their very early years playing in the cool-and-youthful Tokyo neighbourhood of Shimo-Kitazawa, they may have been rock, but I've always thought of them as just a good ol' guitar-based pop group, post-Band Boom. They'd been around since the mid-80s but it wasn't until the mid-90s that they hit the limelight with hits like "Robinson", the first song I heard from them.

But for me, my favourite tune by Spitz is "Cherry". Written and composed by Kusano, it's a skipworthy song on a nice Sunday afternoon, and I think their music video kinda reflects that happy, breezy feeling. And I enjoy that little ragtime jazz riff near the end. I read that Spitz got some of their musical influence from Scottish singer Donavan who had some jazz and pop in his songs. The lyrics seem to express a man's gratitude toward a former love for their time together before optimistically moving on.

Apparently, the title for their 13th single has an interesting backstory. Originally, the title was to have been "Biwa"(a fruit in Japan), but Spitz decided to go with "Cherry" since their  release month of April 1996 was also Cherry Blossom season in the country, and so it could also be seen as a launch point on a new journey (the information came from that month's issue of "Rockin' On Japan"). In addition, 5 days before the official release of the song on a broadcast of TV Asahi's "Music Station", Kusano remarked, probably when he was asked about the origins of the title, "Well, since all of us are cherry boys..."(i.e. virgins). I can only imagine the conversation among the band members after the show was pretty interesting; perhaps it started with phrases like "Well, maybe YOU are, Masa...."

Whatever the origins, "Cherry" was another home run out of the park as it hit the No. 1 spot on Oricon and became the 4th-ranked song of 1996.

Miki Imai -- Piece of My Wish

If a magnum opus could be chosen for the first pre-Tomoyasu Hotei chapter of Miki Imai's (今井美樹)discography, it would probably be her 7th single, "Piece of My Wish". I just missed out on getting this CD single since it came out in November 1991, a few months after I had returned to Canada from the JET Programme, and it was still the infancy of the Internet (what was it we were calling it back then.....the Information Superhighway?) and many, many years before YouTube and iTunes. So, it would be quite a few years before I finally got my own copy. However, I still had a friend/JET colleague who was a glutton for punishment and continued for a third year in Gunma Prefecture, and he was kind enough to mail me an audio tape of J-Pop songs including "Piece of My Wish".

Created by Yuuho Iwasato and Chika Ueda(岩里祐穂・,上田千華) two familiar faces in Imai's career during the early years, "Piece of My Wish" is one of the sweetest and most uplifting ballads I've heard. The first few bars of music come off as somewhat comical and whimsical before a richer, heart-tugging melody flows in. Iwasato's lyrics tell of looking forward to a new day with encouragement and hope after a night of crying. Over 20 years after its release, it still has quite the kick in it. Not surprisingly, it was also made into the theme song for a TBS drama with the appropriate title of "Ashita ga Aru kara"(あしたがあるから....There Is Tomorrow). Nice to listen to it after a hard day at work.

This song was definitely special. "Piece of My Wish" was Imai's very first No. 1 single and reached that important sales mark of 1 million. And it was the 9th-ranked single of 1992. Moreover, in Imai's career, it is only second to her later megahit, "Pride", as her most successful song. In a way, it was good that it never went into an original album of hers; it rather stands out on its own. However, of course, it's on a number of her BEST compilations.

As I mentioned at the top, I can imagine "Piece of My Wish" being a magnum opus for Miki Imai. And maybe it was a bit of a goodbye song for that first stage of her career which started in the mid-80s; the song retained that 80s Imai sound but from her next single, "Blue Moon Blue", that sound would start to change.

Miki Imai - Piece of My Wish

Friday, January 25, 2013

Shizuka Kudo -- Arashi no Sugao (嵐の素顔)

Thanks to a commenter for Shizuka Kudo's(工藤静香)"Mugon Iroppoi"(MUGO・ん 色っぽい....Silent Sexy), I went over some more of her old hits, and made a reunion with "Arashi no Sugao"(The True Face of a Storm). Released in May 1989 as Kudo's 7th single, I once thought it had been written and composed by Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき) since the theme of a scorned woman was right up Nakajima's alley, and she has written a number of songs for Kudo. But actually it was written by Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子), who had written Seiko Matsuda's(松田聖子) early hit "Aoi Sangosho"青い珊瑚礁....Blue Coral Reef) almost a decade previously, and composed by Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利), who has created a number of Kudo's songs, and is continuing to create tunes for AKB 48 and SKE 48.

The arrangement is brassy with a good splash of don't-mess-with-me. Just imagine Shizuka in a really bad mood with Darth Vader's least in the lyrics. In the performances, she actually looks like she's enjoying herself. And why not? "Arashi no Sugao" is also famous for the one little hand jive that Kudo performs midway through the song. Whoever the choreographer was, I hope he/she patented that hand impression of a right angle; considering how many celebs and karaoke enthusiasts have probably imitated that, he/she should be living right in the middle of Ginza by now. Heck, I even used the move sometimes at a stab at levity in my English classes at the junior high schools.

The song spent 4 straight weeks at the top spot on Oricon right in its first month of release and was Kudo's 4th straight single at No. 1, eventually becoming the 8th-ranked song of the year.

Miharu Koshi -- Love Step (ラブ・ステップ)

(karaoke version)

Miharu Koshi is someone that I've wanted to profile for a while now. She's had one of the more interesting careers I've come across in kayo kyoku....not that she's become an award-winning actress or a member of the Japanese Upper House in Parliament. In all those years that I used to browse for CDs in Tower Records, Yamano Music and some of the smaller shops, I often came across her visage on some of her relatively more recent stuff. She appeared as this techno-gamine La Femme Neo-Japonaise with some pretty stark makeup. One of her songs from the 80s popped up in one of my compilation discs, and it was a lively technopop affair with a French twist titled "Hashire Usagi"走れウサギ....Run, Rabbit). She's also had a long relationship with Yellow Magic Orchestra's Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣) from which they formed a unit, Swing Slow, which took on some old American pop standards. Since then, she's even tackled German avant-garde, talk about a niche genre.

However, before コシミハル made the scene in the 80s, she was 越美晴. Koshi made her debut in October 1978 with this lightly sultry pop song with a Latin twist titled "Love Step". I was surprised to find out via "Japanese City Pop" that back in her early years, she had been a lively singer specializing in the Japanese version of AOR. Came across a BEST album that had been released back in 2006 titled "Miharu Koshi Golden Best RCA Years"which showcases her very early material, and so I was able to discover songs like "Love Step".

 Before the metamorphosis, she came across as this lively bouncy young lady on the piano. Listening to the song, I'm kinda reminded of the other New Music singer who specialized in light bossa nova-touched kayo kyoku, Junko Yagami(八神純子). Koshi's voice, at that time at least, was also somewhat reminiscent of Yagami's although she didn't quite hit the high notes. And like Yagami, Koshi wrote and composed a lot of her music, including this debut.

Guaranteed, I will be showing some of her post-change music as well.

Miharu Koshi

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Yoshie Kashiwabara -- Machikutabirete Yokohama (待ちくたびれてヨコハマ)

The first couple of songs that I've profiled about Osaka-born Yoshie Kashiwabara(柏原芳恵) were the beautifully-crafted and tenderhearted Miyuki Nakajima-penned ballads, "Haru Nanoni"春なのに)and "Saiai"最愛), her 14th and 21st singles respectively (already profiled). However, her 23rd single, "Machikutabirete Yokohama"(Tired of Waiting Yokohama) is a more spritely affair.

Written by Toyohisa Araki(荒木とよひさ)and composed by Takashi Miki(三木たかし), "Machikutabirete Yokohama"has a sparkly and shiny sheen although the lyrics and the video above may show something a little more depressing about a failed love affair. And it just sounds overly obvious as that sounds, since it is a Japanese aidoru tune. Perhaps I should say that it has a pan-Asian pop sound as if it could belong just as easily in a Teresa Teng or Agnes Chan repertoire as it does in Kashiwabara's. And that wouldn't be surprising since Araki and Miki would later create one of Teng's big hits, "Toki no Nagare ni Mi wo Makase"(時の流れに身をまかせ), as they did for her back in 1984 with "Tsugunai"(つぐない).

I first came across this song when I bought an audio tape version of her album of the same title in that ol' Chinatown record store, Wah Yueh, back in the mid-80s. The single was released in April 1985 and peaked at No. 9 with about 100,000 copies sold. The album itself was released in June of that year.

The East Gate of Yokohama's Chinatown

Minato Mirai by Yokohama Bay
One of my favourite places in Japan
Could imagine Yoshie-chan strolling along here!

Oricon Top 10 Albums for 1979

1. Godiego                    Saiyuki
2. Masashi Sada            Yume Kuyou
3. Southern All Stars      10 "Numbers" Carats
4. Satoshi Kishida          Morning
5. ABBA                       Voulez-Vous
6. Alice                        Alice VII
7. Alice                        Eikou no Dasshutsu
8. George Yanagi           Yokohama
    & Rainy Wood
9. ABBA                      Arrival
10. Chiharu Matsuyama  Aruki Tsuzukeru Toki

Aside from Ms. Faltskog and Ms. Lyngstad....and the girl's name "Alice", the Top 10 albums for 1979 were an all-male affair. Godiego capped off their best year ever in their career (5 singles in the Top 100) with the most successful album of the year.

If anyone asks you why karaoke enthusiasts in Tokyo seem to enjoy singing "Dancing Queen"at Big Echo, you can point them to this list. And folk/rock group Alice with Shinji Tanimura and Takao Horiuchi held the middle quite nicely.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Flying Kids -- Tomadoi no Toki wo Koete (とまどいの時を越えて)

Early in my time in Ichikawa, Chiba, I came across this song somewhere somehow. It could've been through that TBS late-night program, "Countdown TV". But in any case, I just found "Tomadoi no Toki wo Koete"(Get Over Confusing Times) cheerfully eclectic (or eclectically cheerful)....which, of course, meant that I had to get it.

Released in April 1995 as Flying Kids' 12th single, the lead singer, Takashi Hamazaki(浜崎貴司), looks like someone who would be at home with the gang on the American geek sitcom "The Big Bang Theory"(especially with his dancing....not that I'm even nearly as good as he is). Originally, Flying Kids had started out as much more of a funk band in 1988 but coming into the mid-90s, they became poppier. "Tomadoi"itself kinda reminds me of stuff that Kome Kome Club were doing especially with the horn section, which in itself reminds me of some of the brass from 1960s British movies such as the original "Casino Royale" with Peter Sellers. I think what also makes the song eclectic is that there seem to be other genres that wanna get their cameos in like a rock guitar and a techno synth.

In any case, the band got their airy name from a Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎) song, "Flying Kid" from the "Niagara Triangle Vol. 1"LP. Flying Kids had their initial run from 1988 to 1998 before going into retirement, only to come back in 2007.

Flying Kids -- Tomadoi no Toki wo Koete

Ramjet Pulley -- Overjoyed

Unfortunately, YouTube doesn't currently have a video of Ramjet Pulley's "Overjoyed"  (well, it does now) but apparently it's out on a number of sites, including this one.

Ramjet Pulley consisted of 3 members of a larger band by the name of rumania montevideo. Not sure how the trio came up with the name although they may have been hanging out at an airport hangar. In any case, I came across their 2nd single purely by accident one day while watching the Top 100 on one of the cable music channels one Sunday morning.

"Overjoyed" , released in April 2001, isn't a cover version of the famed song by Stevie Wonder. It was written by RP's bassist, Satomi Makoshi(麻越さとみ), and composed by guitarist Kazunobu Majima(間島和伸). The soft, breathy vocals were provided by Akiko Matsuda(松田明子) who also handled the keyboards for both RP and rumania montevideo. According to the writeup on the band, Ramjet Pulley did a lot of jazz and lounge until it ended its run in 2003, but "Overjoyed" comes off as a spacy-dreamy pop tune...unlike anything I had come across before....not mainstream pop, but not quite Shibuya-kei either.. Hearing it on Sunday just enhanced the experience enough that I went out some days later into Tokyo and grabbed the single. With a name like Ramjet Pulley, it was hard to forget. For the trio, this song was their most successful single, peaking at No. 90 on Oricon.

Ramjet Pulley -- Overjoyed

Monday, January 21, 2013

Linda Yamamoto -- Nerai Uchi (狙いうち)

Linda Yamamoto(山本リンダ) force of nature. There probably has never been nor will there ever be a personage like her. It was from this song, "Nerai Uchi"(Sharpshoot), that I labeled the singer the Japanese Charo...and no, I'm not referring to that cute little bilingual dog on NHK Educational. I'll explain my Charo later in the profile.

Anyways, "Nerai Uchi"is another Yamamoto classic in which whenever I saw her perform it on Japanese TV, she could potentially out-hustle even the backup dancers. The aidoru singers of that day could probably only just stare and gawk at this whirling tower of power (her height was a pretty tall 168 cm). And then there was the famous line, "Ooh, la, la, ooh, la, la" which has stuck as her catchphrase since the release of the song in February 1973. I can just imagine that even in this day and age, the song still gets picked time and again at a karaoke box just to get everyone up and crazy.

"Nerai Uchi" was written by master lyricist Yu Aku(阿久悠)and composed by Shunichi Tokura(都倉俊一). The meaning in the title was not lost; a number of baseball teams, including that of Aku's alma mater in Tokyo, have used it as a cheering-up song. Surprisingly, considering its fame over the decades, it peaked only as high as No. 14 after its initial release. Still, Yamamoto was brought onto the 1973 Kohaku Utagassen, and then once again in 1991, after "Nerai Uchi" experienced a resurgence in popularity after it had been used in an episode of the popular Sunday-night anime, "Chibi Maruko-chan" since the show was set in the 1970s. Thanks to that song and her other huge hit, "Dounimo Tomaranai"(どうにもとまらない....already profiled), Yamamoto is still shaking her still fine bon-bons some 40 years later.

Ahhh....yes, Charo. The famous Spanish guitarist/comedienne was another force of nature who always brought her brand of "cuchi-cuchi" onto various American shows in the late 60s and 70s, and was a frequent figure on my television back when I was a kid. I couldn't quite focus on her since she was moving around the stage like a nuclear ion. Case in point, you can take a look at the above video.

Sanemichi Ue -- Ichigatsu Tsuitachi (一月一日)

I probably should have given this profile about 3 weeks ago, but "Ichigatsu Tsuitachi"(January 1st) is probably the 2nd-most well-known song around the Japanese New Year, next to "Hotaru no Hikari", aka Auld Lang Syne (already profiled). It has the same ancient roots as the most famous New Year's song, but "Ichigatsu Tsuitachi" is definitely homegrown. Written by Takatomi Senge(千家尊福) and composed by Sanemichi Ue(上眞行) back in 1893, it was published by the Japanese Ministry of Education, and became a customary song to be sung in elementary school from the Meiji Era to just before the war.

The song for over the past half-century, though, has taken on a more pop cultural profile. Just as "Hotaru no Hikari" has become the song to end the Kohaku Utagassen on NHK on December 31, "Ichigatsu Tsuitachi" has been the theme song to launch the January 1 Fuji-TV New Year's special, "Shinshun Kakushigei Taikai"(新春かくし芸大会....The New Year's Hidden Talent Competition). Like the Kohaku, the show has two teams of celebrities (TV personalities and actors) who compete against each other over a few hours in an attempt to wow a panel of other celebs in showing amazing abilities in areas that are not in their usual line of work. Basically, it's an annual presentation of seeing the stars out of their comfort zone.

I would probably say that it's a show that people can watch or not watch while they're carousing or noshing around the huge table laden with osechi ryori, sake and various types of marine protein.

Yoko Minamino -- Toiki de Net (吐息でネット)

I think I first saw this song being performed by Yoko Minamino(南野陽子)on an episode of "The Best Ten". I  just went "Awwwwwwww!" on seeing this lass in a yellow sunhat and sundress sashaying across the stage.

Well, not perfectly sure about the meaning, but judging from the lyrics which deal with the usual pining over unrequited love in high school, I think "Toiki de Net"may mean "Net Him With A Sigh",    perhaps the aidoru romantic version of the fisherman's "Caught Me A Marlin!".

In the latter half of the 80s, I was diversifying away from just listening to aidoru and other residents of the Top 10 lists, so I never became a hugely devoted fan of some of the young singing starlets during that time, but Minamino's 11th single has been a song that has stayed with me over time. Written by Jun Taguchi(田口俊)and composed by Toshihiko Shibaya(柴矢俊彦), "Toiki de Net" is a sunny aidoru tune with that little splash of Latin flavour....a bit like an aidoru version of a Rum and Coke (real Coke, not the Diet one). The song was released in February 1988, so I gather that the song provided some nice summery-ness during that Winter.

"Toiki de Net" was Minamino's 6th of 8 straight No. 1 hits, and this one became the most successful hit of her career since her debut in 1985, selling 300,000 copies. It eventually became the 11th-ranked song of the year.

As for Nanno, she originally came from Hyogo Prefecture before moving up to Tokyo, where she attended the celeb-rich high school, Horikoshi High. Her grademates included fellow aidoru Minako Honda and Yukiko Okada. Of course, she has also seen success on TV as an actress, starring in the 80s as the second of the teenage yoyo-twirling super sleuths (after Yuki Saito) in the "Sukeban Deka"スケバン刑事....Delinquent Girl Detective) franchise, although it's hard to imagine to either see Nanno or Saito shoplifting dust from a store. Currently, she's still appearing on the tube as a regular TV personality, and I just caught her on an NHK show learning how to make French pastries from a chef. Has barely aged a year.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Top 10 Oricon Singles for 1979

1. Jiro Atsumi                   Yume Oi Zake
2. Judy Ongg                    Miserarete
3. Sachiko Kobayashi         Omoide Zake
4. Masashi Sada                Kanpaku Sengen
5. Masao Sen                   Kita Kuni no Haru
6. Godiego                       Gandhara
7. Hideki Saijo                  YMCA
8. Alice                           Champion
9. Mieko Makimura            Michizure
10. Pink Lady                  Chameleon Army

I was rather shocked to realize that in nearly 1 year of operating this blog, I hadn't recognized either the top singles or the albums of 1979, despite the fact that I've profiled half of the list here already. Well, I'm gonna take care of half of that at least right now.

For those enka fans, 1979 must bring back some wistful memories considering how strong the genre still was in the rankings (Atsumi, Kobayashi, Sen and Makimura) As I've mentioned in the profiles for Godiego, the band had a banner year since no less than 5 of their tunes made it into the Top 100 of Oricon, and of course, for kayo kyoku fans, who can forget the epic "Miserarete" by Judy Ongg? Fling those wings, I say! And although, Pink Lady wasn't quite the steamrolling force they were in previous years, it still managed to get one hit into the Top 10....although I can't quite recollect how "Chameleon Army" quite goes.

Ryoko Shinohara -- Itoshisa to Setsunasa to Kokorozuyosa to (恋しさとせつなさと心強さと)

In the months before I left for Japan in the early 90s, I'd heard bits and pieces from some of my anime-loving buddies about this song. As far as I recollect, my friends loved their anime and computer games but were not too much into the music. However, that seemed to have changed when they spoke about "Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie", and its theme song.

I'm not sure what the circumstances were but one night, either my anime friends were having a small presentation of some of their favourite programs or the Japanese drama-viewing segment of the Japanese-Canadian Students Association was having their regular Wednesday-evening meeting at the International Student Centre at the University of Toronto. I stepped into the room and saw a Japanese music video playing in which some fetching young lady was dancing and singing in front of a set of curtains that made it look like she was performing on the set of "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson".

Two decades later, Ryoko Shinohara(篠原涼子) is now a firm fixture on Japanese TV but solely as a dramatic actress and commercial pitchwoman. She was recently the tough-as-nails detective on "Unfair" and had a recurring role in that other police show franchise, "Odoru Dai Sosasen"踊る大捜査線....Bayside Shakedown). However, back in the early 90s, she had been just out of the girl dance-pop group, Tokyo Performance Doll, and making her foray into the solo business. She hit pay dirt with her 4th single, "Itoshisa to Setsunasa to Kokorozuyosa to"(With Yearning and Misery and Reassurance) when it was released in July 1994. It was made for that "Street Fighter"movie, but I think it just took on a life of its own outside of the anison field.

By the way, the above video is Shinohara plugging the "Street Fighter II" game. As I said, "Itoshisa to Setsunasa to Kokorozuyosa to"became a monster hit in J-Pop in general. It hit the top spot on Oricon, and was the 3rd-ranked song of 1994 with only Mr. Children and Kohmi Hirose(広瀬香美) topping her. In fact, Shinohara and her most successful hit ultimately topped the 2 million mark in sales, becoming the very first female solo singer to do so. The song also earned a Japan Record Award and an invitation for the ex-TPD member to appear on that year's Kohaku Utagassen for the first time. Considering where she is now, it seems an eternity ago when she was a commercially successful pop star.

For those who are very familiar with J-Pop of the 90s, the song has that distinctive Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉) techno touch which would become the representative pop sound for several years in that decade. The single was also a track on Shinohara's 2nd album, "Lady Generation", released in August 1995. It would also hit No. 1 and be the 45th-ranked album of that year.

Strangely enough, in my early years in Japan in the 90s, although I knew Shinohara's success as a singer and would know her later career as a full-time thespian, I first saw her mostly as one of the zany sketch players in "Downtown's Gottsu 'A' Kanji"ごっつええ感じ....Downtown's Feelin' Good), the wildly popular Sunday night Fuji-TV comedy show of the wildly popular Osaka manzai duo, Downtown. Far from the sexy figure on that music video, Shinohara usually played the (victimized) straightwoman or a cutesy-cutesy character.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kyoko Endo -- Yuki ga Furu Mae ni (雪が降る前に)

Kyoko Endo(遠藤京子) is one of those singers that I found out about through "Japanese City Pop", that book I bought at Tower Records a few years ago (profiled under Media). That book has helped open up a world of singers that I would never have heard of: Makoto Matsushita, Hitomi Toyama, Takako Mamiya (all profiled), and here, Kyoko Endo.

(karaoke version)

"Yuki ga Furu Mae ni"(Before the Snow Comes) was Endo's 6th single, released in October 1984, and it was a track on her 3rd album, "Yume Miru Star"(夢見るスターDreamwatching Stars). The song is a Christmas-y one, but I'm putting it here and now since my city is on the verge of getting some flakes in the next several hours. It's a pleasant combination of the sound of some of the lusher aidoru ballads created by songwriters such as the Kisugi siblings and Karuho Kureta during the 80s, and the urban contemporary songs sung by chanteuses like Ruiko Kurahashi and Mariko Takahashi. And it was written and composed by Endo, who also did the same with many of her singles. She also had a hand in writing songs for a number of other artists such as Hiromi Iwasaki, Wink and Mariko Nagai.

Well, better late than never, I say. Time to do some more searching for her work.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hikaru Genji -- Glass no Juu-dai (ガラスの十代)

Hey, calling all you Arashi and SMAP fans out there! Come and meet the grandparents. I can bet you some of my old clubmates from U of T will start screaming like little girls again if they catch this video of Moroboshi-kun skating around in his headband. As I probably have mentioned on my first profile of Hikaru Genji(光GENJI), these guys were a fixture on shows like "The Best Ten". A dozen skinny boys gliding around on roller skates and wearing roller disco clothes....yes, indeed, it was the late 80s!

I did say that I thought that "Paradise Ginga"パラダイス銀河....Paradise Galaxy) was the song that I would always link with the group, but this one, "Glass no Juu-dai"(Glass Teens), was another tune by the boys that will always remain eternally part of the Hikaru Genji oeuvre. I hadn't listened to this one for a long, long time but when I did, I started remembering that this song was just as highlighted on those music shows as "Paradise Ginga" was. Like that song, "Glass no Juu-dai" was also created by Ryo Aska(飛鳥涼) of Chage & Aska fame. I can never imagine Aska ever singing a cover of this song, since it's so connected to this Johnny's Entertainment unit.

As much as I enjoy listening to "Paradise Ginga", listening to "Glass no Juu-dai", I think it has also got a pretty neat hook. I don't think Aska meant to do it, but it almost sounds a bit Russian in the melody for some reason.

Released in November 1987, Hikaru Genji's 2nd single soared up the charts to hit the top spot where it stayed for 6 straight weeks. It would become the 2nd-ranked single for 1988, just behind "Paradise Ginga". 1988 was definitely a good year for roller-skating kids.

Godiego -- Beautiful Name

"Beautiful Name"(English title: Every Child Has A Beautiful Name) was one of five Godiegoゴダイゴ)songs that ended up on Oricon's Top 100 of 1979. Beautiful Harvest, I must say. This song is perhaps the most kid-friendly of those five in terms of its happy-go-lucky arrangement, and almost cries for everyone to start swaying and joining hands in mutual harmony.

The song had English and Japanese lyrics. Yoko Narahashi(奈良橋陽子) took care of the English side while Akira Ito(伊藤アキラ) wrote the Japanese words, and lead vocal Yukihide Takekawa(タケカワユキヒデ) composed it. After its release in April 1979, it peaked at No. 2. Only Judy Ongg's "Miserarete"魅せられて)kept it from the top spot. As I said, for the year, "Beautiful Name" came in 4th out of the Godiego hit sweepstakes, ending up in the 19th position behind "Gandhara"(No. 6), "Galaxy Express 999"(No. 14) and "Monkey Magic"(No. 17). One other song, "Haruka na Tabi e"はるかな旅へ....On A Distant Trip)finished in the 90th position.

"Beautiful Name"has been covered in a number of Asian languages such as Chinese and Korean. But here's the Nepalese version of it done by the band itself.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Miyuki Nakajima -- Akujo (悪女)

(karaoke version)

"Akujo" by Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき) was another song that I'd first heard as a karaoke number at Kuri all those years ago. As someone who didn't pay too much attention to lyrics back then, I found the melody familiar to that of a mid-tempo country tune, and the accompanying karaoke video was a bit racy in terms of the illustrations....woman's tongue going into a guy's ear (nice wholesome stuff like that). But then again, the title translated as "Bad Girl" after all, I thought.

The song talks of a woman who finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her and yet can't or won't do anything about it, and the self-loathing that follows. I haven't followed every one of Nakajima's songs but from what I've read and heard up to now, it seems that a number of her tunes from that time especially had that dark twist in the lyrics....if someone can further elucidate on this, I'd appreciate it.

"Akujo" was released in October 1981, and hit the top spot on the Oricon weeklies, and after its few months of release before the end of the year, it ended up at the modest No. 68 spot in the annual rankings. However, at the end of 1982, it finished at a much more muscular No. 6. The song was the first No. 1 song for Nakajima since "Wakare Uta"わかれうた...Song of Separation) in 1977.

(cover by Miki Hirayama)

The album version of "Akujo"was a lot more rock n' roll. Arranged by Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利), who would later help out on songs by a number of individual members in the giant aidoru group Onyanko Club, notably Shizuka Kudo(工藤静香), Nakajima sounds like she's channeling folk/rock singer Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi(長渕剛).

This track was part of Nakajima's most successful album to date, "Kansuigyo"寒水魚...Coldwater Fish), which is a playful little neologism (according to Wiki) created by the singer to be a direct opposite to the word "nettaigyo"熱帯魚....tropical fish). The album became the No. 1 album for 1982 (released in March) and sold about 770,000 copies. It also earned the Best Album Prize at the Japan Record Awards. However, the Kohaku Utagassen was not one of her landing points, since at the time, Nakajima would never make any TV appearances.

There is the mention of the "bad" girl's name: Mariko. When asked about the significance of the name, Nakajima merely mentioned that she enjoyed naming her protagonists. True to her whimsy.

Junko Yagami -- Omoide wa Utsukushi Sugite (思い出は美しすぎて)

Another one of my lovely musical memories of songbird Junko Yagami(八神純子). Of course, the title is "Omoide wa Utsukushi Sugite"(The Memories are So Beautiful), her 3rd single, and the song, according to J-Wiki, that got her on the map. Yagami was a regular addition on the poppier broadcasts of "The Sounds of Japan", so I got to know her late 70s and early 80s stuff. One of them is the one I'm profiling now.

The song, written and composed by Yagami, is another pleasant mix of bossa nova rhythm and her soaring vocals. That period of the 20th century seemed to have been a fruitful time for the Brazilian genre to percolate into a number of kayo kyoku tunes, including those sung by Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美) and Keiko Maruyama(丸山圭子). "Omoide wa Utsukushi Sugite"was released in January 1978, and managed to peak at No. 25 on the Oricon charts and sold a little over 100,000 singles.

The single was also a track on her very first album which had the same title. It was released in June 1978.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mika Nakashima -- Yuki no Hana (雪の華)

I was actually hoping to have gotten Mika Nakashima's(中島美嘉)10th single "Yuki no Hana"(Snow Flower) into the Xmas songs last month, but couldn't pull it off in time. But I found another purpose here since at this time, Tokyo and a lot of the Kanto region have been inundated underneath a very heavy blanket of snow for the past 24 hours. Currently, the area looks more like Toronto than Toronto itself at this time.

Bar none, "Yuki no Hana" is a wonderful ballad. Released in October 2003, it's hard to believe that it's close to a decade since this song came out. The arrangement just seemed to perfectly fit it being sung while surrounded by a forest of freshly fallen snow. In fact, for the actual music video, Nakashima had asked that it be filmed in a studio under zero degrees Celsius. Talk about suffering for one's art. And it's almost a pity that the song became a commercial tune for mere chocolates.

Written by Satomi and composed by Ryoiki Matsumoto(松本良喜), "Yuki no Hana" peaked at No. 3 and was ranked at No. 53 in the yearly Oricon charts. The song won the Gold Prize and the Songwriter's Prize at the Japan Record Awards, and Nakashima not only got to perform it at that year's Kohaku Utagassen but would return for an encore a couple of years later. Nakashima's performance of the song was a good part behind its popularity. I followed her early songs from her debut of "Stars" in 2001, and although her voice tended to get overwhelmed at certain points in certain songs, I think she hit "Yuki no Hana" out of the ballpark here. That delicateness of her voice matched the fragile surroundings of snowflakes and icicles. And since the initial release in Japan, it's been covered by singers in her own country and in other countries such as South Korea, The Phillipines and America. Finally, I gotta say that I haven't come across so many karaoke YouTube videos of a single song until I found "Yuki no Hana".

Vocal Shop -- Mahha Go Go Go (マッハ・ゴーゴー・ゴー)

I have to say that although I was never a huge fan of the cult anime "Mahha Go Go Go"マッハGoGoGo.....Mach Go Go Go), it was always the theme song that grabbed me. As it was sung in the original Japanese by Vocal Shop, a group that specialized in singing anime songs and commercial jingles, "Mahha Go Go Go" was just one of those happy heroic songs with the studio orchestra backing them up like in the old days. It was written by Tatsuo Yoshida(吉田竜夫) and composed by Nobuyoshi Koshibe(越部信義); Koshibe was also behind the themes for two other legendary anime: "Doraemon" and "Sazae-san". The above video is the full version of the theme as the driver Tsuyoshi Mifune takes his Mach 5 across various terrain...and through herds of wild animals (this was probably before PETA was formed).

It seems as if, according to the English and Japanese Wikipedia writeups on the anime, the show was virtually shown on both sides of the Pacific at about the same time....during the year of 1967. In America, the show was dubbed "Speed Racer", and the theme was "Go Speed Racer Go". Not sure who was behind the singing of the English version, but the delivery had a bit more of a hepcat style to it.

One night in Tokyo, I had the chance to watch the Wachowski Siblings' take on "Speed Racer" on DVD at my Aussie buddy's apartment. It rather says something when the ending credits were the best thing in the whole movie. Not that the movie was unwatchable; the racing scenes were eye-candy crack cocaine but the movie overall just seemed to drift and fly all over the place. The Mach 5 had more control over its terrain than the actual flick. Still, Ali Dee and The Deekompressors did a fun job doing their cover of the theme song.

courtesy of jonnaro
from Flickr

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Yukie Kawakami -- Blue Etranger (ブルーエトランゼ)

I came across this singer's video by pure accident a couple of days ago. And I have to confess that I had never heard of Yukie Kawakami(河上幸恵) until January 11...considering the number of aidoru that was going in and out of show business back in the 80s, there are probably hundreds that I've yet to come across.

Kawakami hails from Ashiya City in Hyogo Prefecture, and was selected as the 36th champion in the long-running talent TV show, "Star Tanjo"スター誕生...A Star Is Born) in 1981. Making her way up to Tokyo, she made her debut in July 1983 with "Blue Etranger"at the tender age of 15. The lyrics were by Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子) who had written a number of songs for Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), and the music was by Takashi Takao or Takashige (高生鷹); can't be quite sure of the reading of the kanji.

I have to say that Kawakami's singing is surprisingly well-assured for a teenage aidoru debut, and the arrangement is quite polished....the song sounds as if it were being made for someone like Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子) or Seiko Matsuda at that time in her career. However, Kawakami's career would finish by 1985 with only 5 singles released. Currently, according to J-Wiki, she's a piano teacher and has a side job as a professional emcee in the Kobe/Osaka area.

Nanase Aikawa -- Yume Miru Shojo ja Irarenai (夢見る少女じゃいられない)

"Yume Miru Shojo ja Irarenai"(Can't Stay A Dreaming Girl) was another song I discovered through the wonders of commercial tie-ups. It was the song for what was once my former employer in Japan, the NOVA Corporation, once the largest English-teaching company in the country. NOVA was expanding like the proverbial spill into areas far beyond its original mandate: travel, real estate, computer software, and yes, even auto racing, as you can see above (much to its later detriment). What got me hooked me about this song was the synthesizer imitating some of the rock organ used in songs decades ago both here and over there. There was also the percussion pop that you can hear on the above video at about the 24-second mark that finally said, "J-Canuck....time to head out to the CD shop."

Found out the singer was 20-year-old Nanase Aikawa(相川七瀬)from Osaka. When I saw the video one night, she kinda reminded me of Joan Jett from the early 80s....though in a less dangerous mode. Still, I probably wouldn't have wanted to run into her in a dark alley in Namba City. In any case, her debut song was released in November 1995, and was written and composed by Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎), who had helped out on a number of songs by TUBE back in the 80s. It peaked at No. 12 on Oricon and helped in making her a household word for much of the latter half of the decade. Her debut album had even more success. "Red" was released in July 1996, and made it to the top spot as well as becoming the 10th-ranked album of the year.

A few years back, my student's family took me for lunch to a restaurant near Komazawa Park, a nice area for the well-to-do in western Tokyo. As we were having our lunch, my student's wife pointed out that Nanase and her husband and kid were at a nearby table. I couldn't spot her since my back was turned away from her and I really didn't want to make a spectacle of myself and bother the poor woman by doing so. I guess I can't even approach her in a well-lit dining establishment.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Shinji Tanimura -- Ii Hi Tabidachi (いい日旅立ち)

About a year ago when I started this blog, one of my first profiles was on Momoe Yamaguchi's(山口百恵) "Ii Hi Tabidachi"(Leaving on a Good Day), one of the singer's classic hits. It's one of my all-time favourites with Yamaguchi's wistful singing and the solo trumpet. I will always remember her as much for that song as for "Imitation Gold".

However, there is also Shinji Tanimura's(谷村新司) cover of the song. Tanimura, leader of the folk/rock group Alice, wrote and composed "Ii Hi Tabidachi". Considering his band's music, I was surprised to find out that he had that velvety voice which was perfect for soul-stirring ballads. His version of the song first came out in January 1986 as the B-side to his single, "Gion Matsuri"祇園祭...The Gion Festival). This version doesn't have the soaring trumpet, but it has a sophisticated and even more serene arrangement and Tanimura has a silkier approach to the lyrics. In the years since, his "Ii Hi Tabidachi"has become as representative of his work as Yamaguchi's original has been of hers.

Well, I couldn't resist. Just had to show the two of them, Yamaguchi and Tanimura together, doing the same song.