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.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Hiromi Iwasaki/Akina Nakamori -- Shishuuki (思秋期)

I have been hearing this song by Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美) as one of the best in her repertoire for years, but until today, I hadn't known that she had first performed it so early in her career. Mind you, this was her 11th single released in September 1977. However, back in those days, kayo kyoku aidoru singles came out at the rate of once every few months, so this was still just a couple of years since her debut.

One of the reasons that I'm surprised is that "Shishuuki"translates as "The Autumn of My Years". The lyrics by the legendary Yu Aku(阿久悠) express some major regrets about how youth and the once-strong bonds of friendship have managed to slip through the fingers as the person realizes that he/she has reached middle age. As one of the verses go:

The autumn that makes my heart shiver has come. My bitter tears.
Youth is a fragile thing. Even if I love, I get hurt.
Youth is a forgettable thing. I only notice it when it's gone.

Time to grab that bottle of Jack Daniels! Anyways, the surprise is that Iwasaki was all of 18 years of age when she first approached this song. Apparently, she had to stop the recording process several times because she couldn't stop crying....probably due to some frustration. Afterwards, she told Aku, "I just couldn't do it because it was strange how men in their forties could understand their lives and emotions." Of course, Iwasaki being of a different age and gender, how could she know?

And yet this teenager probably had mid-level corporate section chiefs running for their telephones to see about getting that old school reunion planned and executed. Takashi Miki's (三木たかし)composition comes off as something resembling distinctly European, almost chanson-like. And with Iwasaki's amazingvoice for someone her age at that time, I couldn't be surprised for believing "Shishuuki" was a song that was released far later into her career. In J-Wiki, this was labeled as an "aidoru kayo kyoku", but I don't think there is anything remotely aidoru about this song, which turned out to be her first ballad single.

People probably took some good notice of her talent when this song started to make the rounds on radio and TV. It was such a tenderhearted delivery, and I could imagine her tearing up whenever she performed this on the tube or on the stage. It did presage that part of her career as a musical actress later on.

To a certain extent, the timing of the song may have been perfect. The first postwar generation to reach that certain age and status in life was probably around that work that hard to bring Japan up from the ashes and then looking back at what they had been able to achieve and what they'd had to sacrifice.

The song peaked at No. 6 on Oricon, and quickly became the 38th-ranked song for 1977. It was also a track on her 5th album released in October of that year, "Shishuuki Kara....Otoko to Onna"思秋期から。。。男と女/From The Autumn of My Years...Men and Women) which peaked at No. 3 on the album charts. It also won a couple of music awards as well.

(cover version)

For her first cover album, "Utahime"歌姫,....Diva) released in March 1994 and peaking at No. 5 on Oricon, Akina Nakamori(中森明菜) did her own version of "Shishuuki". At the time, she was not yet 29 years of age, so even she was nowhere near the age that Yu Aku had probably been aiming at when he came up with the lyrics. But as a lot of Japanese music fans probably know, Nakamori had gone through quite a bit of trial and tribulation in the last number of years, so she could probably dig up the gravitas needed to successfully navigate the song. And by that time, her voice had also gained that richness, so even at that young age, she could probably convince the company kacho to sigh and look up at the sky.

I just wonder....what could Momoe Yamaguchi have done with this song?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Masashi Sada -- Kita no Kuni Kara (北の国から)

Probably anyone in their teens and older in Japan know this song. As soon as they hear Masashi Sada's(さだまさし) first crooning "la, la, la", they can name that tune as the theme song from the 1981 series "Kita no Kuni Kara"(From the North Country). The famous Fuji-TV franchise that spanned from 1981 to 2002 only had the one original successful serial from October 1981 to March 1982, but the periodic specials that popped up in the ensuing years guaranteed huge ratings with the finale in 2002 getting an average rating of around 35%....something that I'm sure a lot of drama producers would kill for nowadays.

I only saw bits and pieces of the franchise starring veteran actor Kunie Tanaka(田中邦衛) as Goro Kurosaka as he, a Tokyo gas station employee, decides to move his two adorable children up to his old home of Furano in Hokkaido Prefecture on hearing of his wife's affair. From a rather dark plot point, the show opens up on how the Kurosaka family adjusts to their new life in a land that may have as well been northern Canada in terms of the very different landscape. When I went to Sapporo for a brief vacation several years ago, as my plane was landing at Shin-Chitose Airport, I just saw all the pine out there and wondered if my flight had been diverted to the Yukon Territory.

As for the song's origins, I actually didn't have to go to J-Wiki to find out. A couple of weeks ago, Masashi Sada himself appeared on one of the many variety shows hosted by the current top-of-the-heap Johnny's Entertainment group, Arashi, where he explained how he came up with the song in all of 10 minutes! According to Sada, the creator of"Kita no Kuni Kara", Soh Kuramoto(倉本聰) invited the singer up to his house in Furano City and asked him to take a look at the first two episodes, and especially at the opening over and over, after getting the request (the order?) to come up with the score and the theme. Imagining the rolling lavender-covered hills of Furano, Sada created the basic rolling melody within a few minutes. With further encouragement from Kuramoto, he was able to come up with the entire theme within those 600 seconds. When Sada asked about lyrics, Kuramoto shot back that words weren't necessary; the song was already perfect.

The above video is of the opening of the pilot episode of the original series (unfortunately, that video has been taken down so here's one other particular scene). Although the series premiered in late 1981, the song itself wouldn't be released as a single until the following year. However, over the decades, it has come out on a number of releases, including a series of Sada's singles on CD during the 90s.

The completed song included the Hakucho-za(白鳥座) chorus group near the end, and in the middle, there was that wonderful trumpet solo. Sada was the perfect person to perform the theme since his soft and sensitive voice conveyed that heartwarming feeling that seemed to roll over the hills of Furano and towards the viewers. I'd always thought that the show had some resemblance to that old American drama, "Little House on the Prairie", and sure enough, I read on J-Wiki that the concept for "Kita no Kuni Kara" took a bit of a bow towards that show, which was also a huge hit in Japan.

I've mentioned this analogy before for another song somewhere on this blog, but as much as composer John Williams and his works have usually acted as that 10th baseball player on those teams that were Steven Spielberg/George Lucas movies, I think Sada's theme and the score for this drama acted in pretty much the same fashion. You can't think of one without thinking of the other.

Hiroshi Itsuki -- Furusato (ふるさと)

"Hometown" and "furusato" may come from different languages but they still occupy the same place in the heart. And for matters of the Japanese heart, there is nothing like enka to stir things up when it comes to the matter of furusato. There is probably a good chunk of enka songs that directly or indirectly address the matter of home. Masao Sen's(千昌夫) "Kita Kuni no Haru"is one example and another one is yet another enka tune with the same title but totally different in composition. The Japanese, especially those who are originally from the rural areas but currently live in the big cities, are very sentimental when it comes to the old hometown with all of the childhood memories, friendships and nature, which explains the huge rush home whenever the major holidays of New Years, Golden Week and O-Bon come by.

Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし) is one of the male enka crooners who could squeeze lacrymal fluid easily from a stone. And so perhaps it wasn't all that surprising when he was asked to handle "Furusato", written by Yoko Yamaguchi(山口洋子) and composed by Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃). Released in July 1973, it was a song that I also heard a lot on the stereo. The lyrics speak of someone living in the city, getting a little melancholy about his happier days back home, the images of summer festivals, white flowers and green valleys percolating in his memory. The last line of the refrain is one that has always stuck with me: "There is a home for anyone."

It is an enka song, but there also seems to be a country folk-like lilt in the melody, and the chorus arrangements somehow reminds me of something Hawaiian for some reason. Indeed, there may be many homes hinted at via "Furusato". The song didn't break into the Top 10 but peaked at No. 11 but it did stay for a good 40 weeks on the Oricon charts, so it had a nice long run. And it is still a tune that people still remember as fondly as their faraway memories of home.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Fantastic Plastic Machine -- Electric Ladyland

When I read the writeup for DJ Tomoyuki Tanaka(田中知之), aka Fantastic Plastic Machine, in Wikipedia, it mentioned that "Electric Ladyland"was used in a 2004 comedy titled "The Girl Next Door" with Canada's own Elisha Cuthbert (who played Kiefer Sutherland's daughter in "24"). Well, my experience with the song was that the first several seconds of it were being frequently used as musical segues in the morning or afternoon talk-variety shows in Japan at the time.

"Electric Ladyland" is a whimsically happy tune, almost comical. If Charlie Chaplin had been alive at the time, he would've danced to this. It seems to mix in elements of an old comedy instrumental soundtrack along with something from a pan-European movie from the 70s or 80s, and even DeVol, the master composer behind all those 60s American sitcom scores. Hey, that's what Shibuya-kei is all about, isn't it? And the lovely finishing touch is Yukari Fresh's chirpy vocals.

In the last few years, the term "earworm" has been gaining traction in the vernacular. Well, "Electric Ladyland" was my earworm. I had to itch that scratch so I decided to get the album it was on, FPM's "Luxury", the big man's 2nd album, released in September 1998. The album has both the English and Japanese versions of the song; the original Japanese version is at the very top while this one has the version with the cute English lyrics. And the anime tribute makes for a fine backdrop to this song.

As for information on Mr. Tanaka, the Wikipedia article can do this better than I can.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

UA -- Haru ga Kita (春がきた)

Spring has indeed come! For us here in Toronto, the temperatures are slowly rising up through the single digits and the clumps of dark (and other-coloured) snow are also gradually being absorbed into the ground or sublimating into the atmosphere. We may even hit the big 10-degree mark by Saturday! In Tokyo, they're already into the double digits and the cherry blossoms are starting to open up which means another O-hanami season. Of course, the cedar trees have also opened up, which means hay fever season as well. And I had a very congested Skype student to prove that.

Last year, I put up Candies' "Haru Ichiban"春一番), the seasonal classic by the big aidoru group of the early 1970s. Well today, I'm gonna put up the classic children's song, "Haru ga Kita" (Spring Has Come). Written by Tatsuyuki Takano(高野振之) and composed by Teiichi Okano(岡野貞一) in 1910, the song first appeared in the Ministry of Education's "Everyday Elementary School Textbook Songs", and over the century, it would become the customary thing to sing once March and April come around.

Of course, a ton of singers have crooned the children's classic. I just heard veteran actress-singer Chieko Baisho of "Tora-san" fame perform it on an NHK special just the other day. And then, there is UA's short-but-very-sweet performance. In the 1990s, she first showed her great chops as an R&B/pop singer, but some years later, she also gained fame lending her voice to children's songs. Her heartfelt version of "Haru ga Kita" first came to light almost a century after the song's first appearance in that elementary reader through a compilation album titled "Nihon no Uta Dai San Shuu"(にほんのうた第三集.....Songs of Japan, 3rd Collection).

In 2007, the "Nihon no Uta Hyakusen"日本の歌百選), or "The Collection of 100 Japanese Songs" was announced for which "Haru ga Kita"was No. 79, ordered according to the Japanese syllabary.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pornograffiti -- Saudade (サウダージ)

I didn't have a long history with the Hiroshima Prefecture band Pornograffitti but during the turn of the century, I thought they had some great hooks in their early hits. "Apollo" and "Music Hour" were fun tunes to listen to, and the voice of Akihito Okano(岡野昭仁)just had this quality I had never heard before. But, of course, there is the name of the band itself. According to the J-Wiki write-up, one of the members stated early in their career that they needed a name that would have an impact if they were to get a jump on their rivals, so they chose the title of one of the albums by the American heavy metal band Extreme known as "Pornograffitti" (fortified with the extra 't').

It certainly had an impact with one of my students. She related to me that her daughter was a huge fan of Pornograffitti. One day, my student had found out about her girl's new favourite band rather shockingly when the daughter started excitingly asking her mother for money to get tickets to their concert by exclaiming "I WANNA SEE PORNO!!" Enough said. One of the band's abbreviations happens to be just that, but the members have admitted that they have had to be careful about using it, and so probably prefer that some of their other nicknames be used such as "PG", Porugura" or "Gurafu". 

Anyways, onto "Saudade". For me, whenever I hear about Pornograffitti, my first thought goes to this song, their 4th single released in September 2000. It starts out with this great galloping bass piano and bongos before the dramatic strings, guitar and Okano's voice rumble in. The previous single "Music Hour" was a fun-in-the-sun musical romp, but although "Saudade" does its own soaring, it also has a bit more gravitas with the Latin twist and the other arrangements. The original music video for the song was pretty slickly done with the band members portraying their current young selves and then putting on the makeup to become their aged future counterparts.

I'd invited a few students over to the apartment for some yakiniku one Sunday; as we were starting to fry up some of the tenderest Matsuzaka Beef this side of Kobe (yep, you heard me....I was in a pretty generous mood that day), the video came on TV. The lot of us sat transfixed watching the video instead of tending to our tasty (and pricey) morsels; the video was that well done and our first round of steak was also that well done.

"Saudade", by the way, is the Portuguese word that apparently cannot be directly translated into the English language, although I will give it a good try. It supposedly describes a wistful nostalgia for something that cannot ever be experienced Matsuzaka Beef on sale for a yakiniku party in Ichikawa City on a Sunday. All joking aside, I think the Japanese probably have had much better success in translating it into their language since wistful nostalgia is a much-treasured feeling in many aspects including kayo kyoku.

Written by Pornograffitti guitarist Haruichi Shindo(新藤晴一)and composed by ak.honma, "Saudade" quickly hit the No. 1 spot on Oricon....their first time at the top....and was a million-seller. It only took a few months for the song to be placed at No. 28 in the yearly rankings, and even a year later, it managed to stay solidly in the Top 100 at No. 68. A trip to the Kohaku Utagassen was also one of the other benefits. The song was also a track on the band's 2nd album, "foo?", released in February 2001, which made it all the way to No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and finishing as the 20th-ranked album of that year.

Yukiko Okada/Shoko Nakagawa -- Kuchibiru Network (くちびる Network)

During my first forays into Toronto's Chinatown to search for Japanese records, I often came across album covers of Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子) and Akina Nakamori(中森明菜) with their hypnotic come-hither stares ("Yes, I will buy you all with part of my student loans and grants, my mistresses...."), and there was one other album that I remembered seeing with plenty of regularity. The cover had a cute young lady with short hair and a wide smile wearing an electric-blue silk shoulder-less top and matching sleeves, as she rested her face on her palms. The album was "Venus Tanjo"ヴィーナス誕生....The Birth of Venus), and the singer was the late Yukiko Okada(岡田有希子). I never got the album since at the time I was pretty conservative (and economical) in my choices....going with just who I knew like Seiko, Akina and Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美).

Later on, though, I did get to listen to one of the tracks from "Venus Tanjo" on "Sounds of Japan". "Kuchibiru Network" (Lip Network) was one of the chirpiest and quintessentially aidoru tunes I'd ever heard by anyone. And as I had mentioned in one of the other articles on the singer, Okada struck me physically and musically as being one of the quintessential aidorus from that decade. She had the cute face, the short bob and that high wispy voice which seemed to quaver at certain points in a song.

Perhaps that aidoru-ness about her was the reason for not only for a lot of the big songwriting veterans such as Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)and Chinfa Kan(康珍化) to get behind her, but also a number of artists themselves such as EPO, Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや) and Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美). "Kuchibiru Network" itself has quite some pedigree behind it: Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一) of The Yellow Magic Orchestra was the composer, and the Queen Aidoru herself, Seiko Matsuda, was the lyricist. According to the writeup on the song on J-Wiki, Matsuda had some initial misgivings about her work: "I'd thought that the lyrics were just a little too sexy, but when Yukiko-chan sang them, they became a cute and charming song." And certainly when I listened to it, I never got the impression that this was anything but a cute puppy love sort of ditty with Okada singing about how impatient she was getting over who was gonna make the first move.

This one actually has Yukiko's appearance on one of the big music shows.

"Kuchibiru Network" was released as a single in January 1986 with "Venus Tanjo" getting released on March 21. It became Okada's biggest hit, reaching No. 1, and later becoming the 36th-ranked single of the year. It was also used as a campaign song for Kanebo Cosmetics. However, less than 3 weeks after the album came out, the singer would take her own life at the age of 18.

(Unfortunately, the video showing Shokotan performing
"Kuchibiru Network" has been taken down, but you 
can enjoy a 3-minute retrospective of her life here.)

About a couple of years ago, the Otaku Aidoru, Shoko Nakagawa(中川翔子), released her 4th album of cover songs titled "Shokotan Cover 4"しょうこたん☆かばー4) (peaked at No. 14 on Oricon after its release in October 2011) in which she tackled the Okada classic. I first saw Nakagawa on a late-night quiz show of sorts, hosted by the Osaka manzai duo, Downtown, in which the panelists were given a topic for which they had to draw a 4-frame cartoon within a couple of minutes. I had never seen her before so I had thought that she was a young professional manga artist since she usually came up with the best drawings. But her fame quickly spread like Extra Light No. 1 maple syrup across TV and music, and soon she was not only popping up everywhere in the music shops and variety shows, but she had her own fluffy program on one of the music channels in which she waxed poetic on her favourite aidorus, her beloved pets and anime, among her other very varied interests. I've heard that she has even shown up at some of the international ComiCons over the years; not sure if she has ever been to the Toronto equivalents but I've got a feeling that if did ever show up, there would be a fair bit of mayhem. For a bit more information about her, and to see a bit more of her, you can try this link.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Takao Horiuchi -- Kimi no Hitomi wa Ichi-man Boruto (君のひとみは10000ボルト)

I had always thought that this was a song by the folk duo Alice, but officially, this belongs to one-half of the unit, Takao Horiuchi(堀内孝雄). Still, this was a joint effort with Horiuchi taking care of the composing duties while his partner Shinji Tanimura(谷村新司) covered the lyrics. Released as Horiuchi's debut single as a solo performer (although he had been releasing albums since 1975) in August 1978, "Kimi no Hitomi wa Ichi-man Boruto" (Your Eyes Are 10,000 Volts), the song still has that Alice jangly and happy country-folk vibe. I'm sure it encouraged a lot of the audience to stand up and clap when it was first known to the record-listening public, and even now, I'm sure there are still some karaoke rooms from which the song is still happily sung.

The top video has Alice and Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵) performing the song on stage. Yamaguchi had a connection with the group in that one of her huge hits, "Ii Hi Tabidachi"(いい日旅立ち) had been created by Tanimura at around the same time.

"Kimi no Hitomi wa Ichi-man Boruto" broke the Top 10 of Oricon about a month after its release at No. 3 and would hit the top spot a week later. By the end of the year, it would become the 4th-ranked song; the only songs ahead of Horiuchi's hit were all Pink Lady tunes. I think in any other year, it would've become the biggest hit of the year since it earned close to a million sales. However, it did get another accolade in a way in that the karaoke folks have often mistakenly upgraded the titular number from 10,000 to 1,000,000 volts, something that Horiuchi has known and is perfectly fine with. The song was also included on his 3rd album "Aitsu ga Shinda Ban"あいつが死んだ晩...The Night The Bastard Died) which also hit the top spot on the album charts after its release in September 1978.

It also appropriately became the campaign song for Shiseido Cosmetics for that year.

Horiuchi finally got a string of Kohaku appearances under his belt starting from 1988, but surprisingly never performed the song, although it's possible that he may have done so when Alice made its debut appearance on the NHK New Year's Eve special in 2000.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Shogo Hamada -- J.Boy

(karaoke version)

Simply one of the coolest guys around, Shogo Hamada (浜田省吾) has had a solid career during the 40+ years he's been in the industry, and has been steadily popular in terms of sales since the early 80's. HMV Japan, for instance, lists him as No.59 on its Top 100 Japanese Pop Artists list. He's also had a significant influence on other popular Japanese male songwriters, especially in the lyrics department, such as Yutaka Ozaki, Masaharu Fukuyama, and Kazutoshi Sakurai from Mr.Children. I actually decided to give him a try after finding out that he's one of Sakurai's musical heroes...a strong selling point for me. And I'm so glad I did, since his music is a pleasure to listen to. He's a rock star with a big heart. English Wikipedia provides a pretty comprehensive profile on him, so I'll just focus on the song at hand so we can get a glimpse of what this singer is about.

"J.Boy" (i.e. Japanese Boy) was a title track from his 11th studio album released in September 1986. He headed overseas to the US to do the mixing part of the production, where he worked with two artists he wanted to meet for a long time: Jackson Browne and Don Henley. The album peaked at No.1 on Oricon weeklies and became the 21st-ranked album of the year with 419,000 copies sold for the first issue. The two CD re-issues have also charted well thanks to Hamada's new-found surge in popularity during the early-90's. He couldn't have picked a better title track to headline the album, as "J.Boy" is a fantastic number of grand proportions that is meant to be played in an arena concert. It's also got striking lyrics which go hand-in-hand with the music. Huge thanks to J-Canuck for providing the following translation for "J.Boy" and helping me magnify the content. I must say, we're doing pretty well with J-names here.

At the bell at the end of work
The stolen heart and body are returned in the evening
The human wave that sets off for home
I unloosen my tie
Sometimes I wanna scream in anger for no reason
J.Boy …the ideals I set forth are also far away now
J.Boy…I also lose the pride I should protect

I run myself ragged in the endless rat race
And throw out my home and throw out my work, the friends that left me
Then I try to plug the hole in my heart
I endure the mountain of work I bear
J.Boy…in this country of plenty and distrust
J.Boy…What do I gamble on? What do I dream about?
J.Boy…I’m a J.Boy

Several things are going on here. For one thing, the song is a critique of the Japanese working society during the bubble economy and describes the lifeless state of mind of many white-collar workers during that period. At least that's what Hamada's intention was according to J-Wiki, but one could certainly universalize the theme to apply to the youth of today who are trying to make ends meet in the midst of an unstable global economy. You can just feel the protagonist's despair through Hamada's delivery during the verses. No normal human being wants to be just another bolt in the machine. But at the same time, it's a song about pride and freedom, which the protagonist regains by riding away from his prison into the dawn on a motorcycle. Try listening to part where the instruments quiet down with the "4 in the morning..." lyrics in mind. After you get to the line "I wanna break through the sun...", a blast of horns and guitars will come your way, giving off an effect of liberty rushing into the hero's veins.

4 in the morning, can’t sleep
Leave my girl in bed
I stick the key into the motorcycle
In the dark, I slide in
And until everything fades away
I race the wind and ride
Show me your way!

I wanna break through the sun rising over the horizon

J.Boy…smash through the everyday
Overtake the sadness

J.Boy…stop the loneliness
Blow away the isolation


According to J-Wiki, Hamada designed the title to mean "not yet grown Japan". Hence the "boy" part. The protagonist of this song and the album is the same figure that appeared in Hamada's previous album Down By The Mainstreet (1984) as much younger boy, and now he was undergoing a transition towards adulthood as he was figuring out his purpose in life while dealing with all the surrounding mess. This transformation would be more-or-less complete in the following album Father's Son (1988). As for the "Japan" part, Hamada just seemed skeptical about Japan's bubble economy, which he thought was expanding too fast for its own good, especially within such a small territory. I'll let you interpret that comment however you wish. Or you can just simply appreciate the song for its introspective message about finding freedom within oneself.

Like I mentioned previously, "J.Boy" demands to be performed live, and it certainly became one of Hamada's setlist staples since 1986. The above performance comes from a 2001 concert. It's a real treat. The song was also used as a rooting anthem for the Japanese team during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, where it was rearranged under the title "J.Boy remix for J athletes".

Source: wallpaperdreams

Taeko Ohnuki -- Koibito Tachi no Ashita (恋人たちの明日)

Almost a year ago to the day, I posted Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子) album, "Aventure" onto the blog. This was the third of Ohnuki's French titles, and her second of heading full-tilt into her new direction of a techno-and-European mix in melodies in the early 80s. I've been growing to appreciate the various tracks on "Aventure" more and more to the extent that I'm now wondering if it may eclipse my choice of her 1982 album, "Cliche" as my favourite.

I hinted at "Koibito Tachi no Ashita" (Lovers' Tomorrow) in the posting for the whole album, and this is the first track, one of the two truly purely pop songs here along with "Chance" which has been included in the album profile. In fact, when I heard the album for the first time, I was kinda caught off-guard by the cute twinkly and bubbly nature of it all. It was almost hard to believe that this was indeed Ohnuki singing it. And yet this song is fortified with New Music/City Pop goodness. Of course, written and composed by Ohnuki, her old bandmate, Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎) took care of the chorus arrangements with his wife, Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや), and good buddy EPO helping out as the backup (barely heard). And all of the Yellow Magic Orchestra except for Haruomi Hosono are on instruments (Ryuichi Sakamoto on the Prophet 5 and overall arrangement, Yukihiro Takahashi on drums, and Hideki Matsutake as the computer programmer). And yet, "Koibito" would never be mistaken for a YMO song, which is in keeping with the singer's request that she didn't want her tunes to sound like the band's output.

"Koibito Tachi no Ashita" was released as Ohnuki's 7th single in June 1981, a mere month before "Chance" came out as the 8th single and a month after the album had been released. At around the same time, Keiko Masuda(増田恵子) (Kei of Pink Lady fame) was starting on her own solo course after her duo had broken up, and I discovered her version of the song on YouTube. But unfortunately, it's been taken down by the powers-that-be although I am always hoping that it will be back up someday.

However, I was able to find a 1998 cover done by former TV Asahi weathercaster and current wife of L'Arc-en-Ciel's hyde, Megumi Oishi(大石恵).

I gotta say that she looks pretty darn good here!
Taeko Ohnuki -- Aventure

Meiko Nakahara -- Gemini

If I'm not mistaken, one of JTM's first profiles was on Naomi Kawashima's "Gemini" back in February. Strangely enough, last week I was riffing through my CD collection when I came across this very brief (barely 30 minutes) compilation disc called "Japanese Pops Refrain Vol. 9" that I'd bought back in the 90s which contained Meiko Nakahara's(中原めいこ)original take.

Nakahara wrote and composed this enjoyable City Pop tune that sounds like something Melissa Manchester or Christopher Cross would have tackled. And there is this hint of Alicia Bridges' classic disco anthem, "I Love The Nightlife" in the melody. And sure enough, Nakahara's lyrics talk of flirting with that guy on the dance floor by the name of Gemini (perhaps his sign or he was an 80s counterespionage agent). Released as the B-side to her 2nd single, "Go Away" in November 1982, "Gemini" has that fun-loving feel of nighttime urban hedonism. This was years before Julianas or Velfarre. Back then, it was probably The Lexington Queen in Roppongi. Man, what were those nights like there during the Japanese Economic Miracle?

And for all those disco fans, here is "I Love The Nightlife".

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Moonriders -- Jub Up Family (ジャブ・アップ・ファミリー)

I don't really understand why anyone uses drugs when you have music like this. Unless, of course, you were in charge of making this music video and needed something to boost your creativity. It really is something.  I first started exploring Japan's pre-90's music back in 2004 through its techno and new wave scene and became an instant fan of YMO, Ippu-Do, P-Model and the like. And then there was a band called Moonriders (ムーンライダーズ), which I discovered shortly after through the above video for Jub Up Family. I believe someone on a P2P program Soulseek shared it with me. Needless to say, I was young and open-minded to embrace the whole whackiness of it, even the singing washing machines. At that time I didn't know how to describe the sound of the song, other than that it reminded me of Devo, but I later learned through Moonriders' fans that the band went as far as blending into it elements from disco, tropicala, and techno. Yet beneath it all, Jub Up Family is actually a pretty catchy song with a fun melody, in my opinion at least. It's pop music that ridicules its own self. "Funky papa, crazy mama, macho baby, jub jub jub up!"

Moonriders has often been lumped with the YMO and Ippu-Do as pioneers of Japanese technopop, which I'm not quite sure about. I suppose if you look at it from the point of their legacy, then it makes sense. Hiroyuki Hayashi from Polysics and Masaya Matsuura from PSY-S, for example, list the group as one of their influences. But Moonriders themselves are tricky to classify as just technopop, and the band's style altered a lot from album to album. I could probably write a whole book on their massive amount of creative endeavors, but it's better to leave it at this song for now as it shows enough already. They even managed to make the seemingly straightforward genre of AOR sound eccentric in their 1992 album A.O.R. (what a title). Perhaps the best general way to label Moonriders is art rock and new wave.

Originally formed as Keiichi Suzuki with Moonriders (鈴木慶一とムーンライダース) in 1975, the team of Keiichi Suzuki, Tohru Okada (岡田徹)Masahiro Takekawa (武川雅寛)Tetsuro Kashibuchi (かしぶち哲郎)Hirobumi Suzuki (鈴木博文), and Kazuo Shiina (椎名和夫) released their first album Hinotama Boy (火の玉ボーイ) in 1976, in which they played smooth progressive rock backed by artists such as Tin Pan Alley and Akiko Yano. In 1977, the band took on their current namesake and Shiina was replaced by Ryomei Shirai (白井良明) on guitar. It was in 1978 with the release of their fourth studio album Nouvelles Vagues (ヌーベル・バーグ...Jub Up Family is one of its tracks) that the band launched into its experimental phase and alienated itself from the mass audience. Not that the guys cared about being popular, since they were having too much fun collaborating with other cutting edge artists of the time. They also produced a number of songs for popular singers such as Yukiko Okada, Tomoyo Harada, Kenji Sawada, and Minayo Watanabe. I'd say they were just as prolific as YMO members, just not as commercially accessible. And they stuck around for over 35 years in the music industry before breaking up in 2011 after their 22nd album Ciao!.

Source: Amazon

Friday, March 22, 2013

Flipper's Guitar -- Friends Again

Another sign I got that Japanese popular music was undergoing some big changes during my time in the country at the turn of the decade was from hearing this song and watching its video. Until I saw it again on YouTube yesterday, the scene that I had always remembered from the video was the one where Flipper's Guitar was strumming their guitars in that oh-so-fashionable apartment room with all of the pictures behind them. The entire video played out like a cute 60s Euro-comedy where a badly-executed art heist was taking place by the world's worst but lovable thieves. And the thing that really stuck out was that the song was all in English.

The embryo that would gestate into Flipper's Guitar sprouted from a band called Pee-Wee 60s in 1987 with Keigo Oyamada(小山田圭吾) as the vocal and guitarist while Yukiko Inoue(井上由紀子)was on keyboards. Any other members with them soon dropped out, and the pair changed their name to Lollipop Sonic and did the live house circuit for a while before gaining three more members, the final one being fellow guitarist and vocal Kenji Ozawa(小沢健二), nephew of world-famous conductor Seiji Ozawa. Just as they were about to hit the majors, the final name for the band was established as Flipper's Guitar in 1988.

Flipper's Guitar created their 1st album, "three cheers for our side~Umi e Iku Tsumori Ja Nakatta"海へ行くつもりじゃなかった...Didn't Mean To Go To The Sea), an album that had Ozawa in charge of the lyrics which were all in English. With Ozawa's direction seeming to take precedence, most of the group members decided to leave right after the album was done, leaving Flipper's Guitar as a duo consisting of Oyamada and Ozawa.

"Friends Again" was the duo's first single released in January 1990. Written and composed by them under the name of Double Knockout Corporation, I think the best adjective to describe it is "effervescently sunny". Along with the music, the lyrics spoke about a pair whose relationship was so sweet and light that even after a spat, they could reconcile with a cute line.

The sound was indeed different from a lot of what Japanese pop sounded like at the time which put them on a par with groups like Jitterin' Jinn and Pizzicato Five. In the case of Flipper's Guitar's case, their sound was influenced by 80s upbeat British bands such as Haircut 100 ("Boy Meets Girl") and The Style Council ("My Ever Changing Moods"), although "Friends Again"has got more of a Frenchness to it, thanks to that accordion. In that way, I think the duo perhaps had some stylistic connections with the higher-profile Dreams Come True. The single hadn't originally been part of any album, but was included on their BEST compilation and in the 2006 remastered release of "three cheers for our side". By the way, I think that album title is innately British....I would almost expect a subtitle of "Hip Hip Hoorah!"

Shibuya-kei has been considered to be the successor to Japanese City Pop, something that I hadn't been quite sure about. But I think my opinion has started to mellow a bit if only to say that Shibuya-kei would be another name for International City Pop since the sounds of London, Paris and perhaps even Stockholm filtered into Tokyo's Teen Mecca. Flipper's Guitar has been mentioned as one of the pioneers of this internationally-known Japanese music genre; a bit ironic since the unit would break up by 1991 just when the genre was revving up and perhaps even before its name was fully-formed. Ozawa would go on to solo success into the 90s, and Oyamada went into new musical directions under his new moniker of Cornelius.

The Drifters -- Dorifu no Zundoko Bushi (ドリフのズンドコ節)

According to the write-ups on both J-Wiki and Wikipedia for the Japanese comic group, The Drifters, Chosuke Ikariya(いかりや長介) and his group of cut-ups are famous for having a 40-second warmup act opening for none other than The Beatles when The Fab Four came to Tokyo in 1966 (and yes, I am aware that it's 50 years today that the lads from Liverpool cut their first album). Why only 40 seconds? I've got no idea....but, according to a former student who had actually played hooky to attend the historic concert, it was just as well since at least from her section of the stadium, the boys were being roundly booed. I guess even back then it was tough preceding an act like that.

However a few years later, The Drifters would get their musical 15 minutes of fame (along with almost 15 years of fame with their long-running variety show) with "Dorifu no Zundoko Bushi"(The Drifters' Zundoko Tune). As sung by Ikariya, Cha Kato, Chu Arai, Boo Takagi and Koji Nakamoto, the song came off as this slightly jazzy choral group song....a little too quick to be considered enka and perhaps too upbeat to be included in Mood Kayo, although it seems to have elements of both. With lyrics by Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼), each verse was sung by each of The Drifters, each singing about a particular instance of the hopes and pitfalls of being girl-crazy in high school and in the company. Released in November 1969, "Zundoko Bushi"quickly soared up the charts to debut at No. 3 on the young Oricon. and then peak at No. 2. At the end of 1970, it would become the 2nd-ranking song for the year, just behind the monster novelty hit, "Kuroneko no Tango"by little Osamu Minegawa. Selling over 800,000 copies, their 3rd single would become their biggest hit.

And for those folks who have enjoyed the police comedy-drama series "Odoru Dai Sosasen"(踊る大捜査線...Bayside Shakedown), which starred the late Chosuke Ikariya as Inspector Waku, you can get to see what the Morgan Freeman of Japan looked like in his younger days. Strangely enough, a few years after this original footage, I got to see the real Freeman as a kid when he starred as Easy Reader on "The Electric Company".

You may have noticed that aside from Rei Nakanishi's contribution to the writing, I haven't mentioned the composer. Well, the fact is that he/she is anonymous. And to add onto the intrigue, "Zundoko Bushi"is a cover of a song that was originally known as "Kaigun Kouta"(海軍小唄...Navy Ditty). Although Nakanishi was the lyricist for The Drifters' version; the original writer is also unknown. What seems to be the truth is that the song was created over time during World War II by soldiers heading off to war using rhythms sung in coal mines and fishing wharves. It's also been presumed that a student in Kita-Kyushu City had brought everything together. In any case, it became a popular song in 1945.

Since its origins as "Kaigun Kouta", the song has become a chameleon of kayo kyoku. Retaining the basic rhythmic pattern with some variation, it changed its title to "Zundoko Bushi". And depending on who is singing it and who is shaping it, words have been added to the title to differentiate it along with new lyrics. So, there is "Tokyo Zundoko Bushi"and "O-zashiki Zundoko", for example. And there is also "Akira no Zundoko Bushi", a song made famous by kayo kyoku singer/actor Akira Kobayashi(小林旭) (and formerly Hibari Misora's husband) in 1960 which was made into the theme song for one of his movies. Soh Nishizawa(西沢爽) was responsible for the lyrics here and Minoru Endo(遠藤実) did some tweaking of the music.

According to J-Wiki, there are as many as 75 different sets of lyrics created for "Zundoko Bushi". One of the more recent versions is by the young wizard of enka, Kiyoshi Hikawa(氷川きよし). But I will save his song for a different time.

Aira Mitsuki -- COSMiC CHOPPER

Before talking about today’s song, I decided to share a little funny and curious story about a lack of synchrony between the Japanese mainstream music market and some of the Western blogosphere interested in J-pop.

There was a time, back in 2008 and 2009, that a door full of possibilities was opened in the J-pop world. As Perfume became a national success with “Polyrhythm” (ポリリズム) and the album “GAME”, a lot of Western observers thought that some sort of “musical changes” were about to occur in Japan’s mainstream music, with more Technopop artists climbing high on the Oricon charts. As we see in retrospective, it didn’t happen. Perfume was the only act of its type that enjoyed mainstream success. Many artists that started their careers at those particular years were also very well known names in the Western J-pop blogosphere. But those artists, like Aira Mitsuki, saori@destiny, Sweet Vacation, Sawa and Mizca, had their careers fallen apart in 2010/2011, with very few material released since then. We can only say that Western observers were probably more excited about these artists than Japanese music buyers themselves.

As I’ve already said before, the success of the genre simply didn’t happen, and the “musical changes” that we were all waiting for was just a sweet dream. Things were changing, but not in the direction we thought they were. 2009, for example, is an important year in recent J-pop history because marks the first time that aidoru group AKB48 landed in No. 1 on the weekly Oricon charts with the single “RIVER”, and not because Technopop became an important mainstream musical genre. In that sense, the Technopop hype that took over Western Japanese music lovers in 2008 and 2009 was a very singular phenomenon that I kindly keep in my mind. The reason is simple: as I was some years away from the J-pop world at the time, this Technopop scene was “THE THING” to look for when I returned to it. Maybe it was not even a real fad, but I felt as if it was.

Little stories apart, I’m going to talk about “COSMiC CHOPPER”, a song from “electropop idol” Aira Mitsuki. The song was the second b-side of Aira’s fourth official single “Sayonara TECHNOPOLiS” (サヨナラ TECHNOPOLiS), released in January 2009.

“COSMiC CHOPPER” can be roughly described as a funk/disco-influenced electropop song. The bassline is very prominent with lots of slapping, and the disco “synths-trying-to-be-strings” samples used during the chorus just adds to the whole spacey vibe of the song. Aira’s heavily processed vocals works very well in this case too.

All in all, “COSMiC CHOPPER” ended as one of my favorite songs from 2009. I remember that when it was released, I kind of wished it was a Perfume song, because it sounded THAT good. But I can live with it being an Aira Mitsuki song. To be honest with her, though, she had a lot of great songs. Unfortunately, they never reached the success she deserved. Maybe Aira was not that charismatic, or most of her songs were not poppy enough. I can’t really find an answer.

As I’ve already said, “COSMiC CHOPPER” was released as a b-side in the “Sayonara TECHNOPOLiS” single, released in January 2009. The single reached #27 on the Oricon chart (source: generasia), but I couldn’t find the number of copies sold. As for lyrics and music, they were made by TO-WEST. And the whole single was produced by Terukado Onishi (大西輝門), Aira's main producer.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Kenji Sawada -- O-mae ni Check-in (おまえにチェックイン)

I've started diving into the old cabinet and taking out those ancient 30-year-old Canadian Tire tapes of "Sounds of Japan" broadcasts to see if I can find some long-lost songs. A number of them have already been profiled on the blog, but last night I came across an old chestnut that I hadn't heard in years: Kenji Sawada's(沢田研二) "O-mae ni Check-in" (I'm Checking In To You).

When it was released in May 1982, Julie was well into his Visual-kei (glam rock) mode. Knocking me (and most of Japan) for a loop when he appeared on the 1981 Kohaku Utagassen in feathers and make-up as he performed the down-and-dirty "Stripper", he left quite an impression on us. And then on the 1982 Kohaku, he came out in a more New Wave guise to perform "Rokubanme no Yuutsu"6番目のユ・ウ・ウ・ツ....The Sixth Depression). In between those two singles, there were two more, one of which was "O-mae ni Check-in" which was a lot more on the happy-go-lucky side.

Backed by his new band, The Exotics, Sawada also got help on the song from a chorus section consisting of Ginji Ito, Motoharu Sano, Yoshiyuki Osawa(大澤誉志幸) and himself. For years, I'd thought that the four were stuttering out Sawada's nickname until J-Wiki set me straight with the katakana writing of "churururu, ch-ch-churia..." "O-mae ni Check-in" struck me as synthpoppy rockabilly, which was probably a logical synthesis in the days of Yellow Magic Orchestra and dancing about in Harajuku garbed in 50s leather gear. Written by Hidemi (I hope that's correct) Yanagigawa(柳川英巳) and composed by the aforementioned Osawa (Ito handled the arrangements), the song happily goes about describing the joys of having that reunion tryst with a former lover in a hotel. As the last line goes, "Adam and Eve are getting it on!" Pretty teenage-racy lyrics for the time.

It took his 36th single about a month to break into the Oricon Top 10 after its release for which it peaked at No. 8 and sold close to 300,000 records. It was also the first track on Sawada's 17th album, "A Wonderful Time", which came out in June 1982 and peaked at No. 14 on the album charts.

Kikuchi Momoko - 『ゴールデン☆ベスト』

菊池桃子/Kikuchi Momoko has been frequently featured on Kayo Kyoku Plus and for good reasons as she was one of most recognized and popular of the 80s idols. At the height of her popularity she could be seen almost everywhere from the pages of the gavure magazine that bears her name 『Momoco』 to the various CMs that used her as their image model (グリコポッキー, ライオン-アクアミー, ハウスチョコケーキ2, ダイドードリンコ, 資生堂-アクネ, 日立-マスタックス) to appearing in movies like 『テラ戦士ΨBOY』 and 『パンツの穴 』 to TV drama appearance like in 『卒業-GRADUATION』.

J-Canuck has already covered much of モモコ's history and background in previous posts but I'll just add some additional trivia. モモコ was actually discovered in quite an unusual way. Her aunt owned a restaurant in Aomori and it was in one of her shop photos (in which she had been in) that caught the eye of a talent scout who then signed her up for a modeling contract.  

According to J-Wiki, in 1984 モモコ's ブロマイド/Bromide photo sales ranked her as the No. 1 popular new idol for that year (in fact the catch phrase 「It's Real Fresh 1000%」was attribute in relation to her during this time). Yet when it came time to select the Best New Artist for the "Record Taisho" Awards ( 第26回日本レコード大賞新人賞受賞), モモコ was snubbed by the show and the award went instead to another fresh-faced, up-and-coming idol 岡田有希子/Okada Yukiko.  It is said that her snub was the result of her association with her record company VAP and their business dealings with certain TV studios. モモコ will get vindication that same year when her debut single 「青春のいじわる」 would reach No. 1 in the オリコン charts.  モモコ retired from her musical career in the late 80s/early 90s to devote herself more to acting and her CM work. Since then she has married and had two children.

While モモコ has released a number of best hit albums beginning with 『THE GREATEST HITS - マジェスティック・トウェルヴ (1989), followed by the comprehensive 2 volume set 『スペシャル・セレクションI/II』 (1993) and the massive CD/DVD box set collection 『プレミアム・コレクション LEGEND/BRAND』 (2003), I decided to go with VAP's relatively low-key 2011 release 『ゴールデン☆ベスト』 which was part of their series of "Best" collections for various artists. It pretty much has all of her major hits and even includes one of her collaborations with the Rock/R&B fusion group ラ・ムー as well as a few later career songs.

Here's the track list for the album:

7.Broken Sunset
9.Say Yes!
10.Ivory Coast

My personal favorite from the bunch is definitely her 6th single release 「もう逢えないかもしれない」which was used as the CM image song for グリコ 「ポッキーチョコレート」 and was a No. 1  オリコン hit for her in 1985.  The commercial was so melodramatic and done in an almost mini-movie format with モモコ desperately trying to see her boyfriend again before he leaves on a train heading out from their small country town. Waving goodbye to the boyfriend, she looks doe-eyed into the camera and eats her ポッキーチョコレート. Very sweet. It was covered by European musician Donna Fiore in her 2008 album "'Fiore" (which also featured a cover of 斉藤由貴's 「卒業」 )

Another favorite is her collaboration with ラ・ムー the upbeat 「愛は心の仕事です」 which was another CM song used for  ダイドー「JUICE100」. It wasn't a huge hit for モモコ and ラ・ムー but I liked it a lot for モモコ's signature ethereal  locals. This CM definitely freaked me as it superimposed a child's face onto the image of an orange that gave the effect of the orange saying "hello" to モモコ.

「Say Yes!」 (not to be confused with the チャゲ & 飛鳥 song of the same name) is another signature モモコ song with her bubbly vocals and lovelorn lyrics. It was her 9th single release and earned her yet another No.1  オリコン top ranking (her sixth with the others being 「卒業-GRADUATION-」- 1985, 「BOYのテーマ」- 1985, 「もう逢えないかもしれない」-1985, 「夏色片想い」- 1986 and her debut single 「青春のいじわる」-1984 ).

While most of the early songs were atypical lovesick idol songs filled with sentimental and almost sappy lyrics her later songs like 「Nile in Blue」 (inexplicably missing from this collection) and especially her songs with collaboration with ラ・ムー were somewhat more edgy I felt.

While it would have been nice to include some of her B-side songs like 「アドレサンス」, 「ANATAKARA FLY AWAY」 , 「夕暮れのEXIT 」, 「EDEN of Galaxy」 for comparison, their absence here isn't that great of a loss. 

While certainly nowhere near comprehensive 『ゴールデン☆ベスト 』 is a great overview of モモコ's music career from her debut to her later ラ・ムー years and a couple of her later career songs.

Strawberry Pocky
Image courtesy of *Sherima* at Flickr

Not to toot my own horn but please feel free to visit my Live365 web radio station where you can hear many of the songs featured here at Kayo Kyoku Plus.
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70 & 80年代アイドル, ニューミュージック, 歌謡曲の懐かしい 思い出 音楽勢ぞろい. 
Bringing you the best in 70/80s idol, “New Music” and retro songs.  
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RAMU - Shonen wa Tenshi wo Korosu「少年は天使を殺す 」

80s JPop group ラ・ムー (RAMU alternatively spelled La Mu) was one of those eccentric, mixed-up bands that had an almost schizophrenic identity. While band leader and keyboardist 松浦義和/Matsuura Yoshikazu (occasional member of the Japanese fusion band プリズム) and drummer 中西望/Nakanishi Nozomu seemed to want the steer the group towards a more "rock band" sound along the lines of perhaps サディスティック・ミカ・バンド or 安全地帯, the band's songs seemed to be more along the line of R&B and Funk in thanks in large part to the powerful background vocals of American backup vocalists ロザリン・キール/Rosaiyu Renee Keel and and ダレル・ホールデン/Darelle Foster Holden. With the inclusion of guest vocalist, 80s Pop Idol 菊池桃子/Kikuchi Momoko, whose bubbly and ethereal vocals seemed in stark contrast to Keel and Holden's strong R&B chorus, ラ・ムー sure made for a very confusing group sound indeed. Over at his blog J-Pop Oya-Ji suggests that ラ・ムー was formed in response 本田美奈子's "MINAKO with WILD CATS” group but I'm not so sure about that as the latter group seemed more along the lines of SHOW-YA or プリンセス・プリンセス.

ラ・ ムー only released one full album with 1988's 「THANKS GIVING」 which featured their singles 「TOKYO野蛮人」 , 「青山Killer物語」, 「愛は心の仕事です」 and their only hit 「少年は天使を殺す」 which charted at No. 4 on the オリコン charts for that same year. Needless to say, they couldn't really find an audience. Whether it was because of the odd pairing of モモコ's idol pop singing style with Matsuura and Nakanishi's fusion of progressive rock/R&B/Funk sound or the fact that they just didn't have the backing of a major publishing label, they quickly faded into obscurity within a year and a half.  For モモコ (who had mixed feelings in the beginning about collaborating with Matsuura and Nakanishi) this was a blessing in disguise as she had  wanted to move away from singing to pursue her acting and CM work.

I personally love ラ・ムー and thought that their songs were quite upbeat and unique albeit their song titles were a bit morbid and dire sounding. While モモコ was brought on for her 'star power', the real great finds  I thought were Keel and Holden whose vocals were very memorable. While neither spoke a word of  Japanese, luckily most of their song chorus was in English for the most part.

After they disbanded, most of the members went their separate ways. I couldn't really find any more information on the whereabouts of Matsuura, Nakanishi and Keel and where they went. Holden returned to the U.S. where she continued to sing and now headlines a show in Las Vegas as a jazz performer.  The name  ラ・ムー is now more identified with the メガディスカウントスーパー"LA MU" in 大阪/Osaka.

 Couldn't find a live performance of 「少年は天使を殺す」 unfortunately so here instead is a performance of 「青山Killer物語」.  (April 19 2015...But I found a live performance above.)

RAMU - (L-R - Top Row - Matsuura, Nakanishi; L-R - Front Row - Holden, Momoko and Keel.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Oricon Top 10 Albums for 1984

1.  Michael Jackson                      Thriller
2.  Soundtrack                             Footloose
3.  Southern All Stars                   Ninkimono de Ikou
4.  Checkers                                Zettai Checkers
5.  Yumi Matsutoya                      Voyager
6.  Akina Nakamori                        Memoir
7.  Seiko Matsuda                        Canary
8.  Eiichi Ohtaki                            Each Time
9.  Seiko Matsuda                        Tinker Bell
10. Anri                                      Timely!

One of the few times, if not the only time, that the top 2 places on the Oricon album charts were occupied by non-Japanese discs. But it's certainly understandable with the huge worldwide success of The King of Pop's magnum opus, and then the danceable "Footloose" with Kenny Loggins' title track and Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It For The Boy"....saw those on heavy rotation on Canada's Muchmusic.

However, the old faithfuls and the stars of the time you would expect up there are indeed there. While Seiko-chan has got her two albums in the Top 10, Akina, Checkers and Anri are continuing their rise through the decade.

Kohmi Hirose -- Ai ga Areba Daijoubu (愛があれば大丈夫)

Having arrived in Japan in 1994, Kohmi Hirose's(広瀬香美) career had already been well underway. Born in Fukuoka Prefecture as Mami or Asami Yonemitsu(米光麻美), during her college days, she went over to Los Angeles where she caught the late Michael Jackson and Madonna in concert. And that was the spark for her to decide on a career in music. She was able to become a student of Seth Riggs, a voice trainer who had not only been Jackson's coach for 3 years, but also helped out everyone from Ray Charles to Dusty Springfield.

On returning to Japan, Victor Entertainment picked her up as an up-and-coming pop singer, and they and Ms. Yonemitsu went about crafting a stage name for her. Victor provided her with the family name of Hirose while she picked the first name of Kohmi since it sounded like "Call Me"....not sure if she'd also been a Blondie or a Go West fan, but it certainly made for a nice advertising gimmick.

Now, what got her into the big time was her 3rd single, "Romance no Kamisama" in 1993, but I also enjoy her debut single, "Ai ga Areba Daijoubu" (As Long As There's Love, It's OK). I'm not certain whether I first came across this one during a karaoke session or when I bought "Love Winters", her first BEST compilation in 1998. It's an ecstatic, brassy and hopeful song that deserves the adjective "Kohmiesque". Written and composed by Hirose, the arrangement by Shiro Sagisu(鷺巣詩朗) brings together a combination of Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" disco with some old-style Big Band musical feel....whenever I listen to the instrumental bridge, I could imagine a group of dancers making those geometric patterns from a ceiling-view camera like they used to do in old 50s TV variety shows. And Hirose just blasted that voice right from the beginning...kudos to Coach Riggs. She was definitely different from the rest of the pack of 1992/1993. And obviously, Victor Entertainment must have had a lot of confidence in her since she was not only able to create her own inaugural single but that single even got to be the theme for a movie, "Byouin e Ikou 2" (病院へ行こう2....Let's Go To The Hospital 2), a not-inauspicious comedy starring Hiroyuki Sanada (of "The Last Samurai" fame) and former aidoru Kyoko Koizumi.

The song was released in December 1992, so perhaps her nickname as the Queen of Winter may have started its roll from even then. It peaked at a respectable No. 42 on the Oricon weeklies and was a track on her 2nd studio album, "Good Luck!" which was first sold in March 1993 and went as high as No. 50. With such optimistic titles for her debut single and album, she didn't have to wait long before she struck major stardom.