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.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Yumi Matsutoya -- A Happy New Year

As I write this, people over in Japan are already amassing at the temples and shrines for hatsumode or are gobbling down their ozouni and o-sechi at home. Meanwhile over here in Toronto, my family is spending a pretty quiet time at home as we usually do, while younger and/or more energetic types are hitting the New Year's Eve party circuit.

Yumi Matsutoya's(松任谷由実) "A Happy New Year" is more along the lines of my family's more laid-back attitude towards the end of another annum. However, the lyrics have it a bit more intimate as Yuming sings about spending a romantic December 31st with that significant other, and the music certainly is far away from party mode. In fact, the piano there reminds me of her days as Yumi Arai(荒井由実).

"A Happy New Year" is the final track on her 1981 album, "Sakuban O-Aishimashou"(昨晩お会しましょう).

Well, wherever you are on the planet, I hope all of you and my contributors have a Happy New Year and wish you all the best for a prosperous 2014!

J-Canuck's 80s Playlist

And yes, we have come to the end of another "Kayo Kyoku Plus" broadcasting year. It's been another amazing 12 months considering that when I first started this monster back at the end of January 2012, I thought that it would be go as far as December 2012. However, even now the other contributors and myself are still talking about individual songs and singers, and it looks like the conversation will continue far into 2014.

As we end 2013, I also would like to give my thanks to nikala, JTM, Marcos V. and jari for all of their articles, first as commenters in 2012 and then as contributors to the blog. I know a lot of songs but their contributions and insights have introduced me to new artists and some hidden gems by some of the old ones for which I will be eternally grateful. I would also like to thank JTM for proposing the idea of our own 80s playlists. From our little conversation about the project, I think all of us were probably knocking our heads on the walls and pillows somewhat more than usual...and without the aid of alcohol...trying to whittle down our choices to our favourite 10 items. Frankly speaking, it's been a fun and excruciating exercise. I've enjoyed reading the lists from JTM and Marcos V, and will be looking forward to reading nikala's Top 10 as well.

So, as for my list....well, it's pretty simple when it comes to criterion. When I was wracking my remaining brain cells (I guess I can still use the plural -s here), I decided that my criterion for the list would simply be just to list the songs that are my go-to tunes for pleasurable listening. They are the ones that I would make a trip to YouTube for and they are the ones that I look forward to when I listen to a singer's specific album. But although setting the criterion was easy, execution was hard. Smashing in a Best 10 list from an entire decade's worth of music was about as difficult as threading a needle in the middle of the Queen Elizabeth Way at 1 a.m. on New Year's Day with a whole ton of "happy" drivers rumbling home.

Therefore, there are a lot of songs that had to fall by the Anri, no Ruiko Kurahashi, no Anzen Chitai, no Mariko Takahashi. And strangely enough, no YMO, a choice which made things a bit easier but also heartbreaking at the same time. As it turned out, all of my favourite techno ditties by Hosono/Sakamoto/Takahashi such as "Rydeen" and "Behind The Mask" were released in 1979. So, I think you all know what I'm gonna put in if there is a 70s playlist. In any case, I will not be ranking the songs by level of love but just chronologically.

Well, we go.

1. EPO -- Downtown (1980): If there were a clarion call that I was meant to be walking among the bright lights and tall skyscrapers of Tokyo, it would be in the form of this song. The combination of City Pop, a dash of technopop and Ms. Sato's bright inviting vocals made an impression on me at a time when I was just falling in love with Japan...and music in general. The hotel district of West Shinjuku is what I always envision when I listen to "Downtown" and hitting the izakaya somewhere downtown with friends is what I wanna do.

2. Akira Terao -- Ruby no Yubiwa (1981): Initially, I couldn't figure out what Terao's obsession was with a piece of jewelry, but it sure sounded cool on the stereo. "Ruby no Yubiwa" is seen as being one of the most successful examples of City Pop, and this slightly flirtatious but strutworthy tune once again brings up memories of "bright lights, big city" with a glass filled with two fingers of fine whiskey on the side. For me, it's one of the anchor songs that got me permanently into Japanese music.

3. Taeko Ohnuki -- Kuro no Clair (1981): As I have mentioned in one of the articles for this unique chanteuse, Ohnuki and her works were something that I had to gradually fit into to appreciate. They were unlike anything that I had heard before in the world of kayo kyoku/J-Pop and it simply took some years. Having said that, "Kuro no Clair" is a ballad that still manages to send a shiver up and down my spine. It is those strings and that voice that simultaneously bring images of "Wuthering Heights" and walking down an Aoyama avenue. Ohnuki may not have had a superstar level of fame but her name has been mentioned in hushed whispers all these decades.

4. Yumi Matsutoya -- Mamotte Agetai (1981): For me, this is probably one of the most feel-good ballads. If I'm having a bad day, I can just put this one up into the headphones and within a few seconds, all will be right with the world once more....or at least, things will seem less bad. Last night, I wrote up an article on Eiichi Ohtaki who had passed away on December 30th, much earlier than he should have. Referring to that fact, and certainly hoping that Yuming will continue to live on much longer, when the Queen of New Music finally decides to leave this mortal coil, this would be the song that I would like to hear as a musical elegy.

5. Seiko Matsuda -- Akai Sweet Pea (1982): This is the one song that I identify most with Seiko-chan. It's an aidoru song but it is also a lovely pop ballad, to boot, and musical proof that Yuming doesn't hoard all of the good stuff for just herself. "Akai Sweet Pea" is just one of those numbers that instantly makes me want to relax and wax nostalgic.

6. Takashi Hosokawa -- Kita Sakaba (1982): When I was thinking up of the list, I knew I had to get this one included. It is an enka song but it has a vibrancy to it that fires up that desire to call up the buddies, head over to the favourite drinking hole and dive into the sake or shochu with nice bowls of steaming oden and hot skewers of freshly grilled yakitori. "Kita Sakaba" is my 2nd choice for karaoke behind Ikuzo Yoshi's "Yukiguni", but in terms of listening, Hosokawa's trademark song is my No. 1 enka for the 80s.

7. H2O -- Omoide ga Ippai (1983): I'm such a sucker for a good harp. Well, I may be exaggerating a bit here but the harp in this anime ballad along with just about everything in the arrangement and the vocals make "Omoide ga Ippai" one of my favourites. And it has become one of the go-to songs for graduation. A group of teachers performed it in front of the graduating class when I was up in Gunma, and by the end, there wasn't a dry eye in the room.

8. Kozo Murashita -- Hatsukoi (1983): Having heard this on "Sounds of Japan" as my very first Kozo Murashita song, I hadn't had any idea that he was more of a folk singer. I just found "Hatsukoi" a pleasant mid-tempo pop song with a bit of synth in it. Along the same lines with EPO's "Downtown", listening to the song conjures up walking through Tokyo of that time.

9. Akina Nakamori -- Kazari janai no yo Namida wa (1984): I think this was the song that cleaved Akina's career between high-flying aidoru and genre-dipping pop superstar. Although during those early years, she also had that sweet-but-sassy aura around her, "Kazari janai no yo Namida wa" launched her transformation into that higher if also more distant form of diva. I had heard the single version of the song through the ranking shows, but it wasn't until I heard the slightly extended version on "Bitter and Sweet" that I realized that I was going to be in for a treat with this album.


10. Miki Imai -- Natsu wo Kasanete (1988): This was the first song that illustrated to me that Japanese popular music had undergone somewhat of a sea change when compared to that early 80s era of aidoru and pop. As I mentioned in the article for the song, I first heard "Natsu wo Kasanete" at a very nice café designed like a small mountain chalet in the wilds of Gunma Prefecture and was immediately struck by the different sort of softness in the arrangement and the vocals. I actually asked the teacher who I was with point blank about the identity of the singer, and it wasn't too long afterwards that I tracked down Imai's BEST album, "Ivory" just on the merits of this one song.

As I hinted at the top of the article, this is my Top 10 list but it is not by any stretch of the imagination an exclusive list of my favourites. There are many more out there by folks like Masayuki Suzuki, Anri, Misato Watanabe, Mariya Takeuchi, etc., but I'm gonna stick with the rules today. However, if I ever decide to follow up and talk about the next 10...

Oh, by the way, you can also take a look at my 70s and 90s lists.

Eiichi Ohtaki -- Shiawase na Ketsumatsu (幸せな結末)

It's with some great sadness that I have to report the sudden passing of Eiichi Ohtaki(大滝詠一). I only learned about the news about half an hour ago via Yahoo Japan. Apparently, in the early evening of December 30th, after choking on an apple in his home in Tokyo, he collapsed and was rushed to hospital but was soon pronounced dead. The singer-songwriter-producer was 65 years old.

Ohtaki as the producer started up his own record label, Niagara, in the mid-1970s....a name which refers to the meaning of his family name: "Big Waterfall". However, when I listened to an Ohtaki song, whether it was one of his tracks from his hit 1981 album, "A Long Vacation" or one of the many songs that he had created for singers like Hiromi Ohta(太田裕美) or Shinichi Mori(森進一), I never got that feeling of the northeastern United States. Instead, I always got that geographic, and temporal, impression of either the Wild West of the late 19th century or 1950s Midwest America. Still, it was often referred to as the Niagara Sound. It just had such a distinctive aural footstep that whenever I hear something like "Saraba Siberia Tetsudo" さらばシベリア鉄道)by Ohta or the Ohtaki-penned "Fuyu no Riviera" (冬のリビエラ)for enka singer Mori, I can just go "Yep, that's an Ohtaki tune".

However, it was when the man himself got behind the mike to sing one of his creations that his Niagara Sound really resonated, and brought me back to some old days that I had never lived except through ancient 45" records from my father and movies like "American Graffiti". And perhaps it is right that I use my elegy of sorts to introduce a quintessential Ohtaki entry, "Shiawase na Ketsumatsu". Released in November 1997 as the theme song for the Fuji-TV drama, "Love Generation", I had first thought it was a rather odd selection for a guy from the yesteryear of Japanese pop music to come up with the theme for a romantic-comedy/drama in the coveted Monday-at-9 p.m. slot....and especially a drama that starred brooding heartthrob Takuya Kimura(木村拓哉).

But the match worked. And in retrospect, I guess having "Shiawase na Ketsumatsu", a song that once again brought up those old Americana memories and perhaps an image of the lone wolf looking far off into the sunset, paired quite well with KimuTaku who had often struck me as a Japanese version of a rebel with a cause, although I admit that comparisons with James Dean may be stretching a things a tad.

I think what gives "Shiawase na Ketsumatsu" that old-fashioned romantic feel are those lush strings and Ohtaki's laconic "Lonesome Boy" croon. And although I don't think the song itself quite matches the images of nighttime Tokyo running through the opening credits of that pilot episode in the same way that Kazumasa Oda's(小田和正) "Love Story wa Totsuzen ni"ラブ・ストーリーは突然に)did several years earlier, the song seems to give that reassurance to the viewer that no matter what fate throws at Kimura and his love, played by Takako Matsu(松たか子), they will come out OK in the end. And sure enough, the title does indeed mean "Happy End"....which was also the name of Ohtaki's old band in the early 70s which also included Shigeru Suzuki, Takashi Matsumoto and Haruomi Hosono.

"Shiawase na Ketsumatsu" was Ohtaki's 14th single, his first release in 12 years. It peaked at No. 2 on Oricon, and although it finished the year at 167th place, it would go all the way up the chart to finish at 24th place for the 1998 Oricon annual.

I think Japanese popular music lost a true original today. However as with any artist, even though the man has departed, his works are still very much with us to be enjoyed for far longer.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Marcos V.'s 80s Playlist - Eurobeat Edition

Hi everyone. It’s my time to contribute with a list of some personal favorite Japanese songs from the 80s. I don’t pretend to waste many lines in the introduction, but some important characteristics of my list must be told before starting with the proper songs.

First, my main theme, eurobeat, is one of the key music genres of mainstream Japanese music during the mid-to-late 80s as it contributed with new musical and fashion aesthetics to the Japanese pop landscape. Based on that, my method in most of the entries is to introduce one special song and kinda tell a story related to the particular style of eurobeat of the song and, also, related to the performer. It’s an interesting exercise I’ve been developing in the blog since I started contributing earlier this year. This practice also helped me organize my ideas and conclusions, and I’m very grateful to JTM, nikala, Jari and especially J-Canuck for letting me write my confuse thoughts in this very special space.

Second, an important, and maybe secondary, characteristic of my list is that it’s only comprised of aidoru singers, with no single exception. Some of them might be perceived as being more aidoru than others, but, in the end, they’re all aidoru singers. This particular feature is secondary because, in no moment, I had the intention of doing an aidoru list. To be honest, most of the aidoru singers I chose to be part of my list would be out of any serious aidoru-focused list. That’s why I put emphasis on the eurobeat theme and not in the aidoru one. Summarizing, I see my list as a compilation of interesting fusion moments between aidoru and the eurobeat sound. Also, this post isn’t just about the songs. Sometimes I’m going to talk more about other things, like fashion or the transformation suffered by the aidoru world, than of the songs themselves. But the writing is ALWAYS based on the song, so try to understand what I’m talking about with the song and the video (when it’s available) in mind.

Third, I must warn that although my list is MAINLY based on eurobeat, some songs are not in this category. They are kinda shuffled with the others, but it’s not that difficult to identify them.

Last but not least, the reader must pay attention to one important thing. This list is, by no means, absolute. My main intention while selecting the songs was to construct a nice balance between singles (some of them hit singles, some of them not) and album tracks. This choice was very arbitrary, as I wanted to highlight some hidden gems over the well known singles and hit songs. With other acts, I simply chose to talk about famous singles.

Well, I ended wasting everyone’s patience with the introduction. Let’s just start this list and have a great time.


10) Hidemi Ishikawa (石川秀美) -- Everynight

I always found very interesting how trends come and go. As the aidoru days were slowly coming to an end, some accomplished aidoru singers just decided to change their styles and adapt themselves to new trends, like the eurobeat trend that emerged after the mid-80s.

The beautiful and tanned Hidemi Ishikawa, owner of one of the cutest cheeks of the aidoru world, started releasing synthpop inspired songs around 1986 with a cover of the Pet Shop Boys sophomore single “Love Comes Quickly”. But “Everynight” is, for me, the best example of her eurobeat ambitions before retiring from the music scene in 1990 after a scandal involving pregnancy and rushed marriage. Typical unfortunate aidoru story.

Released in 1988, “Everynight” is different in sound from the "Stock Aitken Waterman" brand of eurobeat that became very popular in Japan one year after, in 1989, with Chisato Moritaka’s (森高千里) “17-sai” (17才), Wink’s “Ai ga Tomaranai ~Turn it Into Love~” (愛が止まらない), Minako Tanaka’s (田中美奈子) “Namida no Taiyou” (涙の太陽) and Eriko Tamura’s (田村英里子) “Shinken (Honki)” (真剣). That said, it was an early type of eurobeat more comparable with the Italo Disco sound that was starting to fade away in Europe in favor of House music.

About this subject, it’s interesting to note that while Italo Disco and eurobeat were decreasing in popularity in Europe, it was, at the same time, becoming even more popular in Japan (and in Soviet Union, but that’s not the point here). This process resulted in a natural change of focus as Japan virtually became the only Italo Disco importer during the late 80s and early 90s. Basically, Japan became the main cash cow to Italy’s disco producers, a phenomenon that constituted what I call Japan’s “first dance craze”. This phenomenon faded around 1992 and 1993 to resurge even more powerful in 1995 as the “second dance craze”, when Namie Amuro (安室奈美恵) conquered the charts with her eurobeat covers of Lolita’s “Try Me”, Veronica Sale’s “Season” and Sophie’s “Stop the Music”.

Back to the “first dance craze”, Italo Disco also faced competition from the English brand of eurobeat masterminded by Stock Aitken Waterman (SAW). Their main “product”, the cute little Australian singer Kylie Minogue, hit really big in Japan around 1988 and 1989. This instant popularity led to many Japanese covers of her hits, like the aforementioned Chisato Moritaka, which covered Kylie’s version of “The Locomotion” in her “Mite Special Live Concert” (見て ~スペシャル~ライヴ in 汐留PITII 4.15.'89), and Wink, which covered many songs of the teen star, with “Ai ga Tomaranai ~Turn It Into Love~” being the most representative of them.

In the end, both Italo Disco and SAW’s artists were popular in Japan, while Italo Disco experienced a much more important role in the advance of eurobeat with the “Super Eurobeat” compilation series that started in 1990 and… well, it’s still going on in 2013.

In the case of Hidemi’s “Everynight”, its charm consists of the aggressive synths and the edginess portrayed by Hidemi’s vocals. Aidoru singers who started recording eurobeat songs during the “first dance craze” period had two options. First, the fluffy and sugary vocals combined with playful eurobeat melodies and, second, a more serious and clubby approach. Hidemi went with the second option here on “Every Night”, and it was a nice idea as she was kind of leaving the cute aidoru days behind.

All in all, I enjoy Hidemi’s “Everynight” a lot. It represents very well this transition from mildly successful aidoru singer into a more “dance diva” kind of singer that happened quite frequently during the late 80s.


09) Eriko Tamura (田村英里子) -- Tsumetaku Shinaide (冷たくしないで)

Eriko Tamura is not a common artist in any list, but I had to include her beautiful “Tsumetaku Shinaide” in my list for one specific reason: the melodramatic melody combined with the orchestral synthpop arrangement offers a nice example of majestic pop sensibility that was common during the 80s. Of course Eriko’s voice (and pin-up beauty) was a nice treat too. I always think that she should have been a more successful aidoru based on her vocals, but some lackluster songs didn’t help her achieve the deserved fame. We must remember that the late 80s also represents the end of the aidoru era, and Eriko’s image was more suitable for the early-to-mid 80s than for the end of the decade. Despite that, her debut album, “May Be Dream” (released in July 1989), is a nice and polished selection of late 80s dance-pop/eurobeat songs. Based on that, the inclusion of “Tsumetaku Shinaide” in this list is my tribute to this great phase of her career.

Being honest, though, Eriko’s material is not the best example of 80s dance-pop, neither is “Tsumetaku Shinaide” an outstanding song that stood the test of time. At the same time, although her production team was clearly emulating a trendy sound in order to sell more records, the melodic pop sensibility that I talked earlier is very noticeable in this little romantic piece. In fact, Eriko sings it like a Cinderella. A beautiful song, indeed.


08) Yuka Onishi (大西結花) -- Shadow Hunter (シャドウ・ハンター)

This song is probably the most out of place of the bunch, but I like it so much that I needed to include it in this list. On the other hand, it would not be so off in JTM’s list that was posted earlier.

Not an eurobeat or synthpop song, “Shadow Hunter” (released in February 1987) could be better placed in the early-to-mid 80s, during the start of the burikko aidoru era inaugurated by Seiko Matsuda (松田 聖子). It reminds me vaguely of some Kyoko Koizumi’s (小泉 今日子) hits around 1984/85. Also, the song has quite a dynamic with all the horns and the bouncy bass line. Its overall sound makes me think of some spy movie or series. In reality, it was a “Sukeban Deka III” (スケバン刑事III) related song, which may explain its live action sound and adventurous feeling.

Yuka Onishi was never the best aidoru singer, nor the most famous one, but the "Sukeban Deka III" exposure had quite a positive impact on her career (she was one of Yui Asaka’s [浅香 唯] sisters in the series). Around 1989, though, instead of switching to an eurobeat sound like many of her contemporaries, she invested in a rock sound with an aidoru approach. She was quite daring trying to compete with PRINCESS PRINCESS and other all-female rock bands. Even the talented Minako Honda (本田 美奈子) failed to be successful with a similar strategy.

Back to Onishi, she slowly retired from the music career, and eventually got nude in a photo shoot (1999). I must confess that it wasn’t nice to see a former 80s aidoru getting naked in exchange of some bucks. I felt bad for her, and seeing the photos I can almost assure she wasn’t happy at all. Or maybe I’m being too sentimental about my 80s aidoru.

Nonetheless, the young and cheery Yuka Onishi will always be in my memory singing “Shadow Hunter”. I bought an old Yuka Onishi CD just because of this song (I ended liking the whole CD, though).


07) Megumi Hayashibara (林原めぐみ) -- Yoake no Shooting Star (夜明けのShooting Star)

Megumi Hayashibara is not a 80s singer. Although some rare and not memorable late 80s songs can be found in her discography, her major label debut as a singer was only in early 1991. On the other hand, she recorded one solid pop song in the 80s, “Yoake no Shooting Star”, an image song for the character Christina “Chris” MacKenzie (クリスチーナ・マッケンジー) from the anime OVA “Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in My Pocket” (機動戦士ガンダム0080 ポケットの中の戦争).

“Yoake no Shooting Star” is a nice song, but nothing spectacular. The arrangement is just straightforward pop with a loud and cool synth melody that tastes like 80s right from the beginning. But what make it stand out is Megumi’s vocals, which are strong, full of cheerfulness and charisma. Based on that, it’s interesting to notice that “Yoake no Shooting Star” was also Megumi’s first recording ever. According to her autobiography manga series, she had to sing the song at an event in place of Megumi Shiina (椎名恵). Firstly, though, she had to have her vocal range tested, and in that specific day, she was sick with a high fever, which resulted in horrible vocals. But a man from the King Records (キングレコード株式会社) label listened to her and, somehow, liked what Hayashibara delivered. Finally, it was decided afterwards that “our” Megumi was going to officially record the song, which she did (for the source of this story, click here). And that’s the story behind Megumi Hayashibara’s first recording in early 1989.

“Yoake no Shooting Star” got a spot in Megumi’s sophomore album “WHATEVER” (1992), and in two of her compilations, “VINTAGE A” (2000) and “VINTAGE WHITE” (2011). Also, Megumi seems to like the song very much because she often includes it in her concerts, like in the 2002 concert that is featured above. The arrangement is the original 1989 one (Megumi rarely sings with a live band in her concerts), but with Megumi’s live vocals.


06) Aya Sugimoto (杉本彩) -- 13-Nichi no Runa (13日のルナ)

The late 80s/early 90s were a very curious moment of Japanese mainstream pop music. Some strange characters, like Chisato Moritaka and Minako Tanaka, were artistically created in this period, and with a sexy appeal that was buried since the late 70s. We all know that, overall, the 80s aidoru era was a time where the virgin and naïve aesthetics were an essential factor in the construction of female stars. Of course a very specific type of sexuality was present in this discourse, but it was different from what aidoru acts during a pre-Seiko Matsuda period, like Pink Lady (ピンク・レディー) and Momoe Yamaguchi (山口百恵), represented.

Although the aforementioned Chisato Moritaka and Minako Tanaka were sexy aidoru singers, Aya Sugimoto was more explicit and wild if compared to them. Her stage persona, directly influenced by Italian eurobeat singer Sabrina Salerno, was famous for some raunchy and over-the-top performances. For instance, Aya’s debut single, “Boys”, was a cover of Sabrina’s hit that became famous around Europe because of the explicit music video where she happily reveals her large breasts in a swimming pool (check this AMAZING video here. Unfortunatly you need to have a YouTube account because of some age restriction). And although Aya couldn’t go that far in Japan, her bouncy breasts were also a highlight of her dance-oriented performances.

As for “13-Nichi no Runa”, which was released in December 1988, I don’t quite remember when I discovered it, but I do remember that I became quickly addicted to its catchiness. And yes, I know Aya Sugimoto was a very bad live singer, but I just tend to ignore her lack of singing talent in favor of nice disco songs and some sexy appeal. Back to the song, like most of her other wannabe hits, it’s a nice example of the eurobeat/Hi-NRG sound of the late 80s. Her energetic performances were nice to watch too.

After reading a 2008 interview with Aya Sugimoto (for the interview, click here), I concluded that she acts like a self aware woman who was defending feminine empowerment back in the late 80s. In her words, “it would be difficult to wear clothes like that if it were not accompanied by a new kind of spirit”. Also, “when I [Aya Sugimoto] wore sexy clothes in the ’80s and the ’90s, it caused a stir”. These phrases induces the reader to believe that Aya Sugimoto was almost revolutionary at the time, which is kind of ambiguous as she was more like a sex toy teasing a male fan base than a female empowerment icon. Besides that, she really devoted her entire career in maintaining the status of a sexy symbol that defends sexual freedom.

Aya’s concrete and apparent sexiness, like the tamer sexiness portrayed by Chisato Moritaka and Minako Tanaka, was one example of the transformations experienced by the aidoru category during the late 80s/early 90s. That strange transition of pure/virgin aidoru into a more sexualized type of aidoru is one of my favorite subjects and one that it’s not very discussed in the English speaking world. I, for example, consider singers like Aya, Chisato and Minako to be kind of ahead their time, just because sexy divas like Namie Amuro and MAX were yet to rule the J-Pop world. These three young ladies were not actual aidoru artists, but not out of this particular landscape either. And I just find kind of strange how everyone actually ignores the blatant sex appeal of these artists when constructing the J-Pop history. It gives the impression that the kawaii and virgin aidoru ideal model of the 80s gave space to the energetic and sexualized image of Namie Amuro in the mid-90s while nothing else was created between these two extremes. Based on that, I believe that Aya Sugimoto, for example, can be seen as a transition artist, or something like that. I’m also aware that this type of sexualized aidoru singer was not very successful, with the exception of Chisato Moritaka. The lack of success is probably a reason for their constant absence in the J-Pop history, and that’s understandable. It’s also important to remember that the fall of the aidoru category from the top of the entertainment world represented a niche division where different types of aidoru singers with a specific fan base in mind were created, and the sexy aidoru type was one of many new types that were trying to survive with a limited fan base.  Well, I’m not advancing in this territory now, but some other artists of this specific list are going to be used to talk a little more about this subject.

Strange theories aside, Aya Sugimoto is one of my many guilty pleasures. I just have a thing for cheap dance-pop music of the 80s and not so talented performers. As for “13-Nichi no Runa”, it’s not a groundbreaking song, but I remember how much I liked to study while listening to it and other Aya Sugimoto’s songs during my graduation years. She was probably the first “forgotten aidoru” I became a fan.


05) Tomomi Nishimura (西村知美) -- Nemurihime (眠り姫)

I was in serious doubt if Tomomi Nishimura’s “Nemurihime” was the right song for my eurobeat list. This song was in a serious battle with Noriko “Nori-P” Sakai’s (酒井法子) “Wagamama Syndrome” (ワガママ・シンドローム) (you can listen to it here, if you want), but I ended up with “Nemurihime”. Basically, I chose it because of a more complex arrangement if compared to Nori-P’s “Wagamama Syndrome”. I like both, but I don’t think Nori-P’s song would add something new to this list. Besides being a catchy and straightforward pop song, “Wagamama Syndrome” didn’t offer significant twists and innovations.

Back to “Nemurihime”, it’s a 1989 eurobeat song with some interesting elements. Although I’ never been a true fan of Tomomi Nishimura, mostly because of her weak vocals, I liked her delivery in “Nemurihime”, especially when the ballad introduction gives place to the full synth arrangement.

One of the main characteristic of “Nemurihime”, and of Nori-P’s “Wagamama Syndrome” as well, was the mixture of a mildly cutesy style with a mysterious synth arrangement. In fact, it wouldn’t be out of place in a Wink album of the late 80s.

In the “Yoru no Hit Studio” live version presented above, a lot of the synths are not audible. Like in many “Yoru no Hit Studio” performances, the horns are actually taking the place of the synths. I only decided to post this performance because the song is played almost in its entirety, and, well… 80s, for me, is almost synonym of “Yoru no Hit Studio”. But trust me, “Nemurihime” is a cool eurobeat song, and not a full orchestra disco.


04) Minako Tanaka (田中美奈子) -- Namida no Taiyou (涙の太陽)

Maybe I’m just a fool, but I like Minako Tanaka very much. I like her image, her beauty, her sound and her vocals a lot. No deeper reasons. Just like it. And do I know her entire discography? No, it’s rare. I only know her singles and some of her album songs, nothing more. But I consider myself a fan.

The first time I saw Minako Tanaka on YouTube singing “Namida no Taiyou” I just couldn’t stop thinking of Chisato Moritaka. It was the same style of music and a very similar image (Chisato’s image became a lot more extravagant and campy, though). But besides being a “copy”, I liked Minako’s vocals and beauty very much, which was a plus for her. Like I said above, I’m a fan, and I started considering myself one right after the moment I just described. It was around May or June 2011.

“Namida no Taiyou” was Minako’s debut single in 1989. Let’s just call it the eurobeat rendition of “Namida no Taiyou”, as the song was covered by a lot (and I really mean a lot) of different artists since it was originally recorded in English as “Crying in a Storm” (1965) by “Japanese-born-but-raised-in-England” singer Emy Jackson (エミー・ジャクソン) (for Emy's original version, click here). About that, I think Japanese eurobeat singers had a thing for turning non eurobeat songs into eurobeat. Chisato Moritaka did that with the classic “17-sai”, while Wink… well, Wink did that with so many songs that it’s hard to make a proper account. In fact, Minako Tanaka’s second single, “Be My Baby”, was also an eurobeat cover of an old classic.

Back to Minako’s version of “Namida no Taiyou”, I find it very energetic. The arrangement is not made of classy or laidback electronic sounds, but of loud, memorable and sharp synths. And combined with Minako’s girly vocals, the result was an interesting listening experience. The bridge is also something to keep an eye for (or ear, in this case) as the keyboard sounds are mixed with a robust bass that features a lot of slapping.

Minako’s version of “Namida no Taiyou” was not a big hit, reaching only #18 on the Oricon charts. To be honest, none of her songs would conquer the status of hits. She was just a sexy female pop singer that could hardly be labeled as an aidoru. Nevertheless, I thought she deserved a spot on my personal list.



“SOFT TIME” is just a bonus I decided to include in my “eurobeat” list before my top three songs. As it’s a classic 1989 eurobeat song which was included in the first volume of the “Super Eurobeat” series, the only thing that makes it an outsider is the fact that it isn’t a Japanese song, but the original Italian recording sung by Sophie (Elena Ferretti).

I first discovered this song in early 2011 when my Wink fanboyism was bigger than the stratosphere. Although I had had contact with eurobeat before in two different times, in special when I discovered Chisato Moritaka a year before, in 2010, I just didn’t became a fan of the genre before 2011. As I recall, Chisato got me into the overall aidoru world, and eurobeat was just a secondary factor for me at the time. It was really with Wink and their “Stock Aitken Waterman” brand of dance-pop (which was somehow called eurobeat) that I started listening to eurobeat more seriously, and “SOFT TIME”, a song I found listening to this first “Super Eurobeat” volume, still is my favorite song of the genre (I soon discovered that almost nothing really sounds like it, but that’s another story).

As for “SOFT TIME”, well…, the song is just amazing, and this “RED MONSTER MIX” I decided to include just take things to another level (it’s an official remix. I have it on CD). It’s not very different from the original in structure, but the slight changes are just amazing, just like when the synths in 6:13 mark are apparently going into a higher register, and then Sophie comes back with the chorus before the ending. What I also like is the common eurobeat practice of intercalating vocals with the arrangement, just like after the 4:53 mark. Finally, the vocals, just like the title, are very soft and beautiful, which contributes to the overall melancholic vibe of the song. In the end, it’s a killer song, for sure.

But let's go back to my top three songs...


03) Miho Nakayama (中山美穂) -- Mermaid (人魚姫-mermaid-)

Nothing better than a song starting with very sharp 80s synths and a groovy bass line.

“Mermaid” is my favorite song by classy aidoru singer Miho Nakayama. Released in 1988, this summer gem is a funk/synthpop masterpiece. I just can’t get enough of the raw and sharp synths used in this song. As for Miho, her vocals became very mature around late 1987/early 1988, and that’s visible in “Mermaid”. She really did a good job with this one. It’s a pity she couldn’t deliver a high-level performance of it in live TV shows, although she nailed it in her 1991 concert (you can watch it here).

Besides being a very pretty young lady and a decent singer, I never found Miho very charismatic on stage. Her songs, on the other hand, were very nice during the 80s. Just like Wink’s “Samishii Nettagiyo” (淋しい熱帯魚), “Mermaid” is a very synth rich song, which is an important characteristic of the 80s. Unlike today’s American mainstream electronic music, which relies heavily in one or two synth hooks, mainstream electronic music in the 80s was, overall, more sophisticated (although raw and rudimentary in its sound). As synthesizers were one of the main new musical technologies of the decade, experimentation (and exaggeration) was at its peak. Nowadays, on the other hand, synthesizers are not used in a very creative way. Maybe the overall musical aesthetics changed a lot in the last thirty or twenty five years. Of course that’s just a personal feeling, but I thought it was nice to share my view.

Back to “Mermaid”, it earned Miho’s third #1 single on the Oricon charts. Also, it was released in the same day of her seventh album “Mind Game”. Although it wasn’t featured in the album, “Mermaid” is a nice start to the overall feeling and sound of this album, as both relies in a summery funk/synthpop sound. In that way, it works like an appetizer before the main dish. Some songs from the album, like “Strange Parade” (my favorite from the album. Check it here right after the 5:40 mark) and “Mind Game” (listen to it here), are even kind of similar to “Mermaid” in structure and arrangement, which is not a bad thing at all. All in all, I deeply recommend this one Miho album, “Mind Game”. It’s my favorite from her career.


02) Chisato Moritaka (森高千里) -- Korekkiri Bye Bye (これっきりバイバイ)

Her name has appeared many times before in this list, but her real time was yet to come. She's the main artist now, and she holds the second position in my ranking.

First of all, I must confess that I have the bad, very bad habit of including this song in most of my “favorite songs” lists. And the poor Moritaka, a singer with an overall great catalogue, ends up being represented with this song, one she probably isn’t proud of nowadays. Cheap talk aside, I love this song very much. It represents Moritaka’s extravaganza at its best, both sonically and visually. We can really tell that after “17-sai’s” success, she went even far into the campy style.

With typical late 80s synths, “Korekkiri Bye Bye” is a very cheesy and horribly outdated song, or, in a more positive view, a straightforward shameless bubblegum dance-pop song from the late 80s (“Stock Aitken Waterman”, I’m looking right at you). The girl surely had guts to perform a song like "Korekkiri Bye Bye" dressed like… well, I don’t know how to describe THIS "fashion style", but it looks like a heroine from a cartoon, at least (and this was before “Sailor Moon”, for god’s sake). I’d really like to know what Moritaka and her fashion staff were thinking when they came up with this look.

“Korekkiri Bye Bye” can be found in Moritaka’s fouth studio album “Hijitsuryokuha Sengen” (非実力派宣言), which was released in July 1989. This particular album represents the start of Moritaka’s peak as an aidoru singer. To be honest, though, there’s quite a discussion about Moritaka’s status of an aidoru. As pointed out by Ian Martin, “she [Chisato Moritaka] existed in a strange sort of limbo between the end of the kayokyoku in the late 80s and the birth of J-Pop in the early 90s” (click here to read the full article). Also, Patrick St. Michel wrote that “the peak of her career happened after the golden-age of ’80s J-Pop, and just before acts like Namie Amuro and Ayumi Hamasaki became powerhouses across all of Asia” (click here to read the full article). As I agree with both of them, I understand that it’s difficult to call Moritaka an aidoru strictus sensus, but I can’t help thinking of her as such. That’s a tough dilemma.


01) Wink -- Samishii Nettaigyo (淋しい熱帯魚)

Wink’s “Samishii Nettaigyo” could not stay out of my list. Although “Ai ga Tomaranai ~Turn It Into Love~” is a personal favorite, “Samishii Nettaigyo”, which was released in 1989, is not very far. Also, the plus of this song, or the reason why I chose to reserve a spot for it in my list, is that it’s a very influential pop song. Besides being a classic on its own, “Samishii Nettaigyo” has been covered by a lot of artists, like actress Nana Katase (listen to it here), 90s eurobeat girl group MAX (listen to it here), Hello! Project aidoru duo W (listen to it here), and also by Anglo-Irish girl group from the 70s The Nolans, which Wink also covered some of their songs like “Sexy Music” and “I’m in the Mood for Dancing” (by the way, The Nolan’s english version of “Samishii Nettaigyo” is called “Tidal Wave”. Listen to it here).

For me, personally, “Samishii Nettaigyo” also marks the real birth of Wink as a musical act on its own. I’m saying that because most of their earlier hits were Japanese covers of European pop/disco songs, while with “Samishii Nettaigyo” the duo started to make their successful path as a true act, and not a cover based act (they continued relying heavily in cover songs, but they also released a bunch of successful original tracks). Their songwriting team did that emulating the overall trendy synthpop/eurobeat sound of their time, and also combining it with Wink’s emotionless and vulnerable stage personas. The result was the great “Samishii Nettaigyo”, an upbeat but sad dance-pop song about an unrequited love and some water metaphors. Also, worthy of note are some specific parts of the song like the main synth melody, the instrumental breakdown with the melancholic synth notes and, of course, the catchy chorus. Overall, this song offers an amazing synth arrangement full of details and spacey sounds in the background (my favorite performance of this song is from "Yoru no Hit Studio" where three keyboard players were reproducing all the electronic sounds live. It was a dream to see a band with so much live synthesizers being played and just one guitar player. Something like the revenge of the synthesizers. You can check it here after the 5:40 mark). Making it even better, like a cherry at the top of the cake, the bass line is monstrously groovy. In the end, “Samishii Nettaigyo” surely deserved to be the smash hit it was and, also, the top song of my list.

As a funny story, one of my best friends says he can’t like Wink, especially this “fish” song (that’s how he calls it). The raw synthesizers are probably too much for him, and Wink’s lifeless stage personas don’t help at all. One day, after a discussion involving Wink, I put a Perfume concert, and he instantly said it was a lot better than Wink. But he’s a nice guy who watched the whole Wink concert in DVD with me some years ago simply because we’re friends.


Well guys, that’s it for today. Thanks a lot for taking some time to read this long post. I just hope this selection introduces some nice songs and a couple of ideas I chose to develop as well. It was a very difficult, but pleasurable exercise. Of course I could change this list almost every day, but that’s just one bad consequence of “best of lists”: in the end, we are never truly satisfied with them. But I think it’s ok for now.

Happy New Year for everyone.

Marcos V., from Brazil.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Reimy/Yumi Matsutoya -- Seishun no Regret (青春のリグレット)

My audio relationship with Reimy(麗美) started when she had already been well into the singer-songwriting phase of her career in the late 80s and early 90s, so it was a revelation to find out that she had started out in the mid-80s singing somewhat more aidoru-ish songs. I think the distinction between the two phases was sharp enough that at this point, I have a couple of BEST albums by the Okinawan singer representing those two different eras.

In any case, "Seishun no Regret" (Teenage Regrets) is Reimy's 2nd single from that early era, released in May 1984. I may have mentioned in one of the early articles on her that she seemed to have had some career grooming by the Matsutoyas, including a stint as one of the backup chorus during Yuming's (ユーミン)concerts. And so it was pretty natural that the Queen of New Music created this song for Reimy. Since I had become acquainted with Yuming's cover of the song first, it was interesting to hear the original ballad arrangement with that somewhat gloppy techno beat holding things down. And watching the official music video above, early Reimy was quite different in the looks department, compared to the short haircut and the zippier fashion that she was sporting at the end of the decade. And her voice was more akin to that of Hiroko Yakushimaru(薬師丸ひろ子) back in those days.

As I said, the first version of "Seishun no Regret" that I had heard was Yumi Matsutoya's(松任谷由実)cover which got onto her 1985 17th album, "Da-Di-Da", although my first time with it was via her BEST album, "Neue Musik" from 1998. Yuming's version is quite a bit more fun-loving and would probably be figuratively better translated as "Teenage Celebration". My image whenever this song plays is of some high school girls on the weekend taking off in a convertible for the beach. Not sure on the lyrical level, but the song certainly sounds joyful.

And in a bit of a cameo, Miki Imai(今井美樹) gives her own take on "Seishun no Regret" via her latest album, "Dialogue" which is a tribute to Yuming's music.

Friday, December 27, 2013

J-Canuck's Top 5 J-Xmas Songs

Nope, this isn't my own Top 10 of the 1980s. That will probably be coming in the first half of next week. But I still had my own itch to scratch when it came to the ton of J-Xmas songs out there, so I have decided to put up my own list of favourite Japan-made Yuletide songs.

1. Junichi Inagaki - Christmas Carol no Koro ni wa
2. Tatsuro Yamashita - Christmas Eve

Now, why did I put the Top 2 together? Well, it's because their two Yuletide entries also happen to ironically be their most famous hits when it comes to the general populace. And I mention "ironically" since these songs don't represent the usual items in their respective discographies.

Now for Inagaki, I've known him as the Perry Como of kayo kyoku/J-Pop...a crooner of City Pop/J-AOR laid-back melodies. I get cravings for Perrier when I listen to him. But "Christmas Carol no Koro ni wa" is pretty darn uptempo for him. In fact, unlike its use as a theme song for a trendy drama, I've always seen it as a go-to tune for a Xmas-based suspense-thriller set in Tokyo.

As for Yamashita's "Christmas Eve", as I mentioned in the original article for the song, this was the "I'll show you" song that the former Sugar Babe member concocted after he kept being referred to as the "Summer Song" guy. That piece of critical grit in Yamashita's oyster ended up becoming Japan's pearly equivalent of Bing's "White Christmas". And even today, it's being passed around as a commercial jingle for various companies during the Yuletide season....the most famous client being Japan Railways.

3. Kazumasa Oda - Kimi ni Merry Xmas

In the past year since I put up this beautifully bluesy ballad by Oda, I have had a couple of friends tell me with some surprise that they had never heard of this Xmas song by the former vocalist of Off Course. Better late than never, I say. And I have to say that I was surprised by their surprise. Lyrically, it's similar to the first two songs since there is that melancholy thread of loneliness going through them. But it's a wonderful ache at the same time, especially when that nighttime city saxophone blows over.

4. Yumi Matsutoya - Koibito wa Santa Claus

This is the only song on the list that is actually quite bouncy AND happy. Since I did an analogy with "Christmas Eve", I can also compare Yuming's contribution of Yuletide joy to songs like "Rockin' Around The Xmas Tree" and "Jingle Bell Rock". Every time I hear this at the start of the Xmas season, I can't help but shimmy a bit in my seat (just imagine Jello except it takes longer to settle in my case). The Santa Claus in this song steers a warp-powered sleigh and may have a girl in every chimney.

5. Ruiko Kurahashi - December 24

This is probably the one that wouldn't be known by too many people since Kurahashi never became a huge star like the others. However, "December 24" has been another must-listen J-Xmas song for me for decades. There is just something about this City Pop-flavoured tune that had always got me wondering what Xmas in Tokyo was like. Of course, this song came out in 1981, so my image of an urban Christmas was rather skewed when I finally got to see it in person for the first time at the end of 1994. Still, my love for the song hasn't abated since then.

Well, this is my Christmas list and it's made for a good practice run for my own 80s list on the way in the next number of days.

Namie Amuro -- Can You Celebrate?

The No. 1 song for 1997! No surprise there since for what I remember as a very long time, this song was just about everywhere at almost every time whether I was in a karaoke box or in front of a TV. I never saw the Fuji-TV drama, "Virgin Road" which used it as the theme song (I'm hoping that JTM will give his expertise on it someday), but I didn't need to watch it to realize the impact that "Can You Celebrate?" had on pop culture for the next year or two.

Namie Amuro's(安室奈美恵)magnum opus came out in February 1997 as her 9th single, and her 7th consecutive single written and composed by Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉). "Can You Celebrate?" kinda snuck up on me; usually when I thought about an Amuro/Komuro collaboration, my mind had always envisaged a dance-and-soul beat with the singer showing off her dynamic moves in the video. This time, it was different. It started out quietly, almost elegiacally....I'd probably say the song progressed just like the ideal Western wedding ceremony with the church doors opening to introduce the bride as Namie softly sang the first words. And as the ceremony eventually reached the vows and the kiss, Amuro's vocals started launching into a crescendo of power and joy before the happy couple drove off in that limousine as she ended the song in the same way it began. Quite the ballad indeed.

As popular as the drama "Virgin Road" was, "Can You Celebrate?" pretty much outgrew its status as a theme song and a commercial jingle for a Maxell mini-disc (remember that medium?) to become a phenomenon itself. I bet a good ton of professional and amateur wedding videographers couldn't resist using the song to commemorate their assignments with sage approval from their clients. And I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that the song has pretty much been stamped as Amuro's own theme song. "Can You Celebrate?" was re-released on Xmas Day 1997 to commemorate (but not guarantee) her wedding to SAM from the band TRF, and I recall her performing the song on consecutive Kohaku Utagassen shows bracketing her year-long absence from the spotlight.

According to Wikipedia, "Can You Celebrate?" sold about 2.3 million copies, and as mentioned, it was the No. 1 song of the year and even hung on to the end of 1998 as the 54th-ranked song. In fact, Amuro's most successful hit has become the most successful song by a solo female artist in the history of Japanese music and the 14th-ranked single in history.

Since that banner year, Amuro has released 31 more singles and will release her 41st single late next month. However, I think for most people who aren't die-hard fans of the singer, any mention of her name will probably invoke that title.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rebecca -- Maybe Tomorrow

There's almost something religiously inspirational about Rebecca's "Maybe Tomorrow", the final titular track from the band's 4th studio album, released in November 1985. Lead vocal NOKKO seems to tiredly but resolutely sing out her words of pressing forward no matter how hard since "maybe tomorrow" the goal will be attained; the climax is that sustained final word. And keyboardist Akio Dobashi's(土橋安騎夫) music reminds me of church music in a way, right down to the synth's final two notes thrumming "Amen". Overall, there is a bit of a "Bridge Over Troubled Water" feel to it.

"Maybe Tomorrow" was used as a song for a coming-of-age NTV drama, "Half-Potato na Ore Tachi"(ハーフポテトな俺たち....Us Half-Potatoes) which involved the turbulent lives of some high school sophomores via part-time work at a hamburger shop. One of the cast members happened to be a young Miki Imai(今井美樹) just before her singing debut. The drama also profiled a couple of other Rebecca songs as its opening and ending themes, including their big hit, "Friends".

As for the album, "REBECCA IV -- Maybe Tomorrow", it hit the No. 1 spot twice in November right after its release and even enjoyed an extended stay at the top spot for most of February 1986. Despite the late release date, the album managed to be ranked No. 45 on the 1985 yearly chart and went all the way up to No. 3 for the annual Oricon album chart the following year. Pretty darn inspirational there, too. And I think that final track should be used as a rallying cry for any high school sports team.