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, July 7, 2013

Mariya Takeuchi -- Beginning

As I mentioned, the very first Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや) song that I had ever heard was "September" back on "Sounds of Japan". It just seemed like a disco updating of a 50s/60s American pop song, and it has become one of my earliest touchstones in the era that I first truly started getting interested in Japanese popular music. Afterwards, I also heard "Fushigi na Peach Pie"不思議なピーチ・パイ) which was also this weirdly cute mix of disco and retro, as if Jaye P. Morgan decided to try "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?". Of course, during my time in Japan, I got to hear her later material which went more into conventional pop/urban contemporary music, but my brain was pretty much imprinted with the style of her first songs.

Not too long ago, after getting her big 4-CD BEST collection, "Expressions", I decided I had to get her very first release, appropriately titled, "Beginning". Recently, the recording studios have been remastering and re-releasing a lot of albums from the 70s & 80s, but strangely enough, the copy of "Beginning" I got from the vintage seller Tacto in Tokyo was a used copy; the liner notes were very well worn and yellowed but the CD sounded just fine.

The first song that I'd like to present here is Track 2, "Modotte Oite, Watashi no Jikan"戻っておいて、私の時間....Please Come Back, My Time) which was her debut single. According to Takeuchi's own comments in "Expressions" for her official first song was that it all came about from a purely chance meeting with the composer Kazuhiko Kato(加藤和彦) in front of an elevator in a studio. Kato had been searching for someone to sing this commercial song for the Isetan Department Store, and apparently the 23-year-old Takeuchi was the one. With words by Kazumi Yasui(安井かずみ), this tune, like "September", brings together a couple of eras from American music...big band here, disco there. Hearing phrases like "I'm dancing, singing, I'm calling you, I'm cookin' pie, I'm happy, too...", I kinda wonder whether Yasui had been channeling June Cleaver from "Leave It To Beaver" in domestic bliss. The next few singles by her would follow this retro-contempo style; I wonder what would have happened if that chance meeting hadn't come to pass?

"Beginning" was released on November 25 1978, the same day that her debut single came out. For a lot of these veteran singers who have basically become one with the Japanese pop cultural soundscape (Seiko Matsuda, Miyuki Nakajima, Kazumasa Oda, etc.), it's usually interesting to hear their first albums. Takeuchi's debut album stands out in that it was obvious that she was testing out her voice on different styles. As a reviewer for the album in "Japanese City Pop" pointed out, the album came out as a proto version of the singer. "Beginning" wasn't all about that retro style I had initially pegged her with, though. The first track is "Goodbye, Summer Breeze", an AOR/City Pop ballad by Machiko Ryu and Tetsuji Hayashi(竜真知子・林哲司), which sounds somewhat like an Air Supply song. Also, for this track as well as for a number of others, Takeuchi had some American session musicians helping her out such as guitarist Lee Ritenour, bassist Mike Porcaro (from TOTO) and drummer Jim Keltner during the album's partial recording at Larrabee Sound in Los Angeles.

Track 5, "Mezame"目覚め...Waking Up Alone) by Takeshi Matsuyama and Masamichi Sugi(松山猛・杉真理)is an introspective ballad. It almost sounds like a song that Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子) would have sung during her techno/European phase. Very interesting coming from Takeuchi. Ironically enough, on the album, she does cover an Ohnuki song, "Totsuzen no Okuri Mono"突然の贈りもの).

On the Japan side of things, Mariya also had the rock band Sentimental City Romance backing her up on some of the tracks such as this one (Track 6), "Just Friends". Written by Mieko Arima (who also wrote "Juu-Nana Sai"[17才] for Saori Minami) and composed by SCR's leader Nobutaka Tsugei(有馬美恵子・告井延隆), the singer delves into soft rock here.

Unlike her later albums, neither Takeuchi nor her future husband, Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎), made a huge contribution to the writing or the composing (although Yamashita did contribute one track which I'll talk about in a future posting) within "Beginning". However, she did provide lyrics and music to the last song, "Suteki na Hit Song"(すてきなヒットソング....My Hit Songs). I think this is her pronouncement of love to those old songs in America that she patterned part of her career after, namedropping the titles of some of those chestnuts within the song itself. It's a nice Takeuchi way to finish the album. Unfortunately, there is no more video for the original Takeuchi song so I've put in a cover above.

Her arrival on the charts wouldn't arrive either in single or album format until her 2nd album, "University Street" became the 32nd-ranked album of 1979. Still, I think "Beginning" is a must-buy for any Takeuchi fan.

Mariya Takeuchi -- Beginning

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