I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Apples (EVE) -- Never Can Say Goodbye


I'm not sure about the rest of you kayo kyoku fans out there, but in the 30+ years that I've been interested in Japanese pop music, I've gone through my fair share of liner notes in the records, audio tapes and CDs. And when it comes to the musicians and other people who have helped the main vocalist out, there are two entities which have popped up constantly from those liner notes. One is the saxophonist Jake H. Concepcion and the other is the chorus group EVE. I've listened to enough songs so that I know when they are there since their backup style seems to strike me as somewhere between operatic and disco. According to J-Wiki, through other singers' tunes and commercial jingles, they have supposedly participated in more than 2,000 songs over the nearly 4 decades they have been in the music biz. A microscopic sample of their participation include Yu Hayami's "Natsu Iro no Nancy" and Akina Nakamori's "Kazarijanainoyo Namida wa".

But I had no idea about their background until last night. Purely by accident, I found this video from YouTube. Now to begin with, EVE didn't start out as EVE. Once upon a time in Okinawa, there were three sisters from the Shinzato(新里) family: Leona, Clara and Lilika. Discovered by singer-songwriter Masaki Ueda(上田正樹), the sisters moved north to Tokyo and made their debut as the singing group Apples in 1976.

There seems to be very little information on the Shinzato sisters, pre-EVE, but apparently this song came out in their debut year, presumably through that album shown above, "This Is Apples". And I was just stunned at how good they were (and probably still are) right at the lead microphone. Mind you, I've got my childhood nostalgia arming my old bias and affinity for disco music, but I was just impressed by Apples' cover of "Never Can Say Goodbye" which was originally performed by The Jackson 5 in 1971 and Gloria Gaynor in 1974. All of those splendid strings and horns had me bopping around in my seat (and at my age and weight, that's not too easy to achieve without bending laws of physics). I can only hope the video stays up there for a good long while since that is the only evidence I can find of the song.

A couple of years later in 1978, none other than 70s aidoru Goro Noguchi(野口吾郎) gave the trio their new name of EVE. The sisters gamely agreed to the change. The J-Wiki article doesn't particularly mention whether Noguchi had any Biblical references in mind when he suggested the change from Apples to EVE. Even with the debut of EVE at that time, their first album, "3 Faces of Eve" didn't come out until 1980 and their first official single under their current name wouldn't be released until 1987. Presumably, the ladies were just too busy helping out other singers for years.

For comparison's sake, here is the Gloria Gaynor classic. Disco ball, anyone?

Tulip -- Semete Saishuu Densha Made (せめて最終電車まで)

(cover version)

One of my fondest first reactions to Japan since coming here in June 2013 was starting to ride trains to work. I suppose I am just fascinated with trains since they remind me of elektrichkas from childhood, though I don't really go out snapping photos of different models. I just enjoy watching scenery pass by the window while listening to humming of the engine. Although GTA back home does have its GO network and VIA Rail connections, they are not that extensive, don't run frequently and are not used much for travel like in Europe and Asia. In Japan, on the other hand, you can access plenty of areas by rail, whether through Shinkansen, JR, local networks like Meitetsu and Kintetsu, and even old-fashioned locomotives that have become a novelty in remote regions of the country. But let's not get derailed from the main topic here. One major phenomenon surrounding trains in Japan is the last train of the day. Since my job is usually in the evening and sometimes finishes after 10 pm (you know, parents not picking up their children on time), catching a train home is a big deal for me, especially if my school is at a remote town with no other connecting transport available. And when I do board one of those last trains, it's usually crowded and smells of sake and beer, due to locals dropping by izakaya bars after work and staying there till the last minute.

The story in Tulip's (チューリップ) 1975 folk/rock piece “Semete Saishuu Densha Made” (せめて最終電車まで...Until the Last Train Calls) takes place at an izakaya during those late hours, but instead of an enkai or a casual drink with friends, it deals with a farewell meet-up that would conclude a regretful breakup. The band's leader and main vocalist Kazuo Zaitsu (財津和夫), who wrote and composed this song, sings about the protagonist's wish to stay with the girl he once loved until the last train takes her away. He is not interested in filler talk or acting drunk but just savoring those last moments together in peace. Being a fan of Tulip's and Zaitsu's work, I don't usually hear him use colloquial jargon in lyrics, but this time he gives an impression of a guy who's emotionally unsettled and just wants to be direct. Even the music is a bit grittier than the band's usual fare, who in the 70's normally emulated the mellower side of The Beatles sound. This is Tulip in the rock Beatles mode. And they did a good job at that. Even before I could understand the lyrics, I enjoyed this song simply for melancholic mood of it all and the images of a lonely night bar by the station that aurally pop up in the intro.

“Semete Saishuu Densha Made” was never released as a single, but it appears on the band's 6th studio albumNippon” (日本). The image in the video above that displays a red umeboshi (unfortunately, that video has been taken down) on a white plate is the album's cover. The song has become one of fan favorites, especially when performed live.

And last but not least, here's the full translated lyrics, courtesy of Found in Translation.

Do as you please
There's no happiness for people like us
If you think about it, we've been together forever
So long, that even the color of the tatami mat has faded

So at least stay with me until the last train calls
That's the last present you'll ever need to give to me

Let's not get stuck on dried up conversation
It'll only make the drinks taste worse
And even if we pretend to be drunk and laugh
Our faces just don't look right

So at least stay with me until the last train calls
That's the last present you'll ever need to give to me

What do you mean to be butting in now
Complaining of the cigarettes and drinking
The one I'm worried about is you
With no place to go on a late night like this

So at least stay with me until the last train calls
That's the last present you'll ever need to give to me


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra & Yoshie Nakano -- Tasogare wo Asobu Neko (黄昏を遊ぶ猫)

I just came across the song and the video a few minutes ago. Enjoyed it so up it goes. And may I say that the melding of Yoshie Nakano(中納良恵) of Ego-Wrappin' and the lads of Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra was pretty much a foregone conclusion. But it isn't just for the music. Both of these entities love to bop around on the stage, so I can imagine any concert appearances by them will be fun.

"Tasogare wo Asobu Neko" (The Sunset Cat) is one of the tracks on SkaPara's 17th album from November 2012, "Yokubou"(欲望...Desire). The ska is in there but when I listen to it with Nakano's vocals, I just get taken back to some of those old-style Latin Jazz bands from way back. And there's a part of the song that harkens back to a Keiko Maruyama(丸山圭子) classic, "Douzo Kono Mama"(どうぞこのまま), so a bit of the kayo kyoku is in there, too. The song was written by Atsushi Yanaka(谷中敦), TSPO's baritone saxophonist and composed by the band's bassist, Tsuyoshi Kawakami(川上つよし).

Would love to hear some more collaborations by Nakano and the Orchestra in the future.

The Blue Hearts -- Kiss Shite Hoshii (キスしてほしい)

For some reason, I kept running into either the whole video or parts of it somewhere on the telly over the years. Leave it to Japan to have a rock band sing a good ol' thumping tune while the official music video has cute animation. And for that matter, all of the band members appear as adorable animals with Ultraman moves.

"Kiss Shite Hoshii" (I Wanna A Kiss) was The Blue Hearts' 3rd single which came out in November 1987 right after "Linda, Linda". No mention about rodents this time, though. It's just the joy of a young man with the love of his life, although the video has the anime version of Komoto and company cheering up a female friend by taking her out on the town. I think this song is just as fun and infectious as the previous single.

Written and composed by main vocalist, Hiroto Komoto(甲本ヒロト), "Kiss Shite Hoshii" managed to get as high as No. 48 on Oricon and is also a track on the band's 2nd album, "Young and Pretty" which also came out at the same time as the single. It hit No. 10 on the album charts.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Miki Imai -- A Place In The Sun

Back in October 1994, I was just a couple of weeks away from launching once more to Japan to have another try at life there, so my friends at the JCSA held a goodbye party for me at the International Student Centre at the University of Toronto. During the two hours there, I received a very nice present from one of my friends from Tokyo. And you see it right above the text. I guess I may have blurted out at one point or another that I was a big Miki Imai(今井美樹)fan. Since it was 20 years back, she probably had someone in her family or circle of friends send it over from Japan, so it was a bit weird that I ended up taking it with me back to the country.

I've decided to cover Imai's 8th album from September 1994, "A Place In The Sun" because being in the midst of one of the wintriest winters in recent memory here in Toronto, I think all of us can use our own place in the sun right now. Also, with me getting this disc just before I made my fresh start in Tokyo, I think "A Place In The Sun" was perhaps a bit of a fresh start for Imai herself. For one thing, it was the full beginning of the collaboration between her and BOOWY guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰). Hotei had actually helped out on a few of her tracks from her previous album, "flow into space" in 1993, but with "A Place In The Sun", he was now the producer for the whole album. And to make things more interesting, Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一) was co-producer.

For the first number of years that I had the album, I considered this album to be a near-reboot of Imai in terms of the overall sound. I may have been a bit hasty in that assessment; in recent years, on hearing and remembering the various tracks, I think now that there were some echoes of her 80s and very early 90s style in terms of some familiar synth arrangements and the gentle rhythms. And sure enough, her songwriting buddies from that period such as Akemi Kakihara, Yuuho Iwasato and Chika Ueda(柿原朱美・岩里祐穂・上田千華) created some of the songs for "A Place In The Sun" as well. However, there were some other tracks that showed a new direction of sorts. One track is "Miss You" which is the only song from the album that had been released as her 10th single a couple of months earlier. Iwasato took care of the lyrics but Hotei composed the music, and I'm pretty sure that that is him on the guitar solo and the background vocals near the end of the song. Compared to her ballads from her early period, "Miss You" seems more epic and less about Imai spending a Sunday afternoon in the apartment. There is more of a "big picture" outlook here, for lack of a better way to describe it. Because of its status as the lone single, it is the most representative track on the album and perhaps the symbol of this new direction. It hit No. 1 on Oricon and was the 26th-ranked song of 1994.

(excerpt only)

My favourite track though is "Martinique no Kaze"(Martinique の海風...The Winds of Martinique) which was written by Imai and composed by Sakamoto. There are currently only cover versions but I prefer the original. I have to listen to "flow into space" one more time to make sure, but I think Imai's record of including at least one bossa nova-tinged song in her albums was still safe, thanks to this tune. In any case, what I love about "Martinique no Kaze" is just how Sakamoto was able to unobtrusively weave a hint of that old techno into the bossa which makes the whole song sing. It brings to mind running along that tropical beach during a summer sunset.

This is a karaoke version of "Kagayaku Machi de"(輝く街で...In A Sparkling Neighbourhood).  but I just wanted to showcase one track that kinda hearkened back to some of her earlier whimsical ballads. Again the words were by Imai with Chika Ueda creating the melody. Despite the whimsy, Imai's lyrics talk about coming across an old flame out of the blue with all of the complicated emotions bubbling out.

I love the bass thumping away here for the title track, "A Place In The Sun". And Imai's voice just seems to lift spirits whenever she sings this one. It hints at that fresh start that I mentioned at the beginning of the article, and the official video illustrates that very well as she drives a car up a fog-enshrouded mountain until she gets out at the peak and has sunlight rain down on her. That famous beaming smile of hers says it all. Iwasato and Akemi Kakihara were behind the making of this wonderful song.

(karaoke version)

The last track for tonight is "Umibe nite"(海辺にて...By The Shore). Iwasato and Ueda created this sad but hopeful ballad in which Imai sings about walking along the beach thinking about the love she has just lost and struggling to go forward by herself. She gives a wonderful performance above.

"A Place In The Sun" went as high as No. 2 on the album charts and eventually became the 21st-ranked album of the year. As I finish up writing this article, I realize that the album itself has this overarching theme of new beginnings to go along with the rebirths of sorts for the professional lives for me and Imai.  Perhaps that friend of mine had something more in mind than making an Imai fan happy when she gave me this album.

Also, I did mention in one of the past articles on Imai  that her earlier music from the 80s and into the new decade was more my preference. That opinion hasn't changed but I also think this album is very worthy.

Jun Togawa/Haruomi Hosono -- Yumemiru Yakusoku (夢見る約束)

I've been meaning to write about Jun Togawa (戸川純) for a while, but often dropped the idea since there is a lot written on her on the web in both Japanese and English thanks to the cult following she has acquired on both sides of the globe. But she is just so intriguing that I had to post something. Just listening to her songs from the 80's and early 90's you will get an idea that she's no ordinary singer. Yes, she was also one of my go-to artists when I was getting addicted to Japanese technopop and new wave in 2004, although I had no idea back then what she actually sang about (she is often associated with eroguro subculture). I was just so fascinated by how she could switch between parodic aidoru squeals and aggressive operatics within a single song. Plus, her PVs are a riot to watch. Some people compare her to Shiina Ringo, but I say her style belongs in a bizarre world of its own. And her life hasn't strayed too far from her ideas. I will bring you over to generasia to explain the rest.

Meanwhile, I chose to profile one of her more "normal" songs, "Yumemiru Yakusoku" (夢見る約束...Promised Dream), and by normal I mean there aren't any vocal acrobatics or disturbing lyrics she is usually known for. Instead, we have a haunting folksy melody accompanied by jittery techno synths as she sings about an innocent picnic with someone on a hillside. I could see Miharu Koshi (コシミハル) tackling this kind of song in the mid 80's, though Togawa's vocals give it a different vibe. Just my opinion, but there's something subtly sinister in her delivery. Perhaps the lyrics are ironic. The song appears on her album "Kyokuto Ian Shoka" (極東慰安唱歌...Far Eastern Comfort Songs) from March 1985, which she released under the collaborative project name Jun Togawa Unit (which also included Yoichiro Yoshikawa and Iio Yoshifumi). It peaked at 15th spot on Oricon weeklies.

Not surprisingly, "Yumemiru Yakusoku" is a cover of an obscure song by Haruomi Hosono (細野晴臣) (who has frequently collaborated with Miharu) which appeared as a bonus track on the limited edition of his 1982 album "Philharmony" (フィルハーモニー). His version is more chunky techno and while it's good technically, Togawa's is still the definitive one. You know, Hosono may be a musical genius but he's not exactly a singer per se...

Lastly, here's Togawa in action performing the song on TV. She definitely doesn't take herself seriously here. Just another day of media exposure.

Source: generasia

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Daishiro Masuiyama -- Yuko no O-Mise (夕子のお店)

I was watching NHK's "Kayo Concert" tonight and the last person to perform was this tall and dignified middle-aged/elderly fellow in a tuxedo. I couldn't quite believe my ears when I heard through him and the host that he was a retired sumo wrestler but has been singing and releasing enka songs for 40 years. Usually when I think of singing rikishi, I usually get reminded of those Fuji-TV prime-time specials spotlighting sumo wrestlers and their families basically performing karaoke in front of millions.

But this is Daishiro Masuiyama(増井山大志郎). And tonight he sang his latest single, "Yuko no O-Mise" (Yuko's Bar), which only got released last November. And he was darn good. I had never heard of him before tonight's telecast, but his song was filled to the brim with nostalgic enka/Mood Kayo flavour that took me to the old days of LPs and that TV Tokyo show, "Enka no Hanamichi". I just had to mention him tonight.

In his other career as sumo wrestler, he made his debut into the dohyo in 1967 (initially under the name of Suiryu before taking on the name of Masuiyama) and has the record of being the oldest man to reach the 2nd-highest rank of ozeki in 1980. However, it wasn't too long before he decided to call it quits in early 1981.

However, several years before he finally clawed his way up the rankings, he had already started singing enka tunes from 1974 with "Sonna Yuko ni Horemashita"(そんな夕子にほれました...I Fell For That Yuko). Yuko has become a bit of a long-running story for Masuiyama since the lass also pops up in his 1976 song "Dareka Yuko wo Shiranai ka"(誰か夕子を知らないか...Does Anyone Know Yuko?)before she comes back one more time in "Yuko no O-Mise"...perhaps the end of a decades-long love story.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a video with the actual singer performing the whole song, but I did find a pretty good karaoke performance which shows what happened to Yuko. The song was composed by Tetsuya Gen(弦哲也), who had created Sayuri Ishikawa's(石川さゆり) classic "Amagi Goe"天城超え), and written by Takashi Taka(たかたかし). Within those lyrics, there is a mention of Monzen-Nakacho(門前仲町). Well, I passed through that very neighbourhood everyday on the Tozai Line on my way to and from work, and it's a part of Tokyo's Shitamachi district with all of the old houses, bars and traditional restaurants. It's nice to know that Yuko was finally able to set up shop there.

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Kesshin (決心)

Being a huge Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美) fan, there is still a tendency of me to think that as the songstress went into the 1980s, she just became the go-to person for melancholy ending theme songs for suspense dramas. I wondered if she just ended up sitting by a rainy window and sighed deeply at the ennui of it all between single releases. Of course, that wasn't the case at all. I have a number of her albums from that decade, and she was perfectly capable of putting out some pretty cheery tunes as well.

One of them is "Kesshin" (Resolution) which was released in April 1985. Her 36th single is a spritely and sparkly uptempo with a touch of class as she sings about going off on that whirlwind romance with a guy she meets at a swanky party. Together they fling any pretensions into the night air and head off for the beach in his car. Keisuke Yamakawa(山川啓介)was responsible for the lyrics and Keiichi Oku(奥慶一) took care of the music here. Oku's melody makes me think that Iwasaki's little romantic fling took place along the Mediterranean or on the Aegean. It also reminds me of that time at the end of the 70s in Japanese music history when there was an influx of these kayo kyoku with a hint of foreign travel such as Saki Kubota's "Ihojin" or Judy Ongg's "Miserarete".

The song peaked at No. 15 on Oricon and was the 82nd-ranked song for 1985. And it did get her onto the Kohaku Utagassen for that year. It's also a track on her 15th album, "Diamant" which came out in June. Not surprisingly, the song was also used for a Camellia Diamonds commercial.

It's not a diamond commercial but hey, it's nice to see Hiromi-chan in an ad!

Minami Kuribayashi -- signs ~Sakutsuki Hitoyo~ (signs 〜朔月一夜〜)

NOTE: I couldn’t find the full video on YouTube, but if, somehow, the Youku link provided above fails, you can watch a part of the video on YouTube just clicking here.

As I told in the “Tsubasa wa Pleasure Line” (翼はPleasure Line) post I wrote last year, Minami Kuribayashi (栗林みな実) is one of my favorite singers. Sadly, I dislike a good portion of her songs. Maybe it’s a bit strange to consider a singer one of my favorites while the songs are not really of my taste. I confirm the strangeness, but trying to redeem myself, when Minami records a good song, it means it’s REALLY good. Most of the time she (or who else is responsible for these choices) chooses to record cute, lame and generic pop/rock synthy anime songs, but sometimes she delivers a great song, and “signs ~Sakutsuki Hitoyo~” is easily in this bunch.

With a dramatic and epic big chorus, “signs ~Sakutsuki Hitoyo~”, which was released as a single in August 2012, is a very strong ballad that showcases what I think is Minami Kuribayashi’s best vocals to date. Her falsettos in some parts of the choruses are just beautiful, and to think that she can also deliver this high quality performance during live concerts is something really great. As for the arrangement, what I like the most, besides the strings, of course, is the nice guitar solo during the bridge. As it follows some melodies used in the choruses, it’s a nice complement to the overall epic vibe of the song.

Finally, Minami Kuribayashi is gorgeous in the "signs ~Sakutsuki Hitoyo~" video (sorry, my everlasting crush on her didn't let me end the article without telling this).

"signs ~Sakutsuki Hitoyo~", which ended being the theme song for the Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse” anime series, reached #20 on the Oricon charts. It was written and composed by Kato Yusuke (加藤裕介), while Narumitsugi Nagaoka (長岡成貢) was responsible for the arrangement.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Yasuyuki Okamura -- Viva Namida (ビバナミダ)

Well, my anime buddy and I have gotten 2014 started with a new rash of programs to check out. One of them that started just on January 5 this year is one of those literally and figuratively out-there shows called "Space Dandy". Starring an Elvis-pompadour-sporting Lothario who searches for rare examples of exobiology throughout the galaxy, he brings along a crew consisting of a long-suffering robot that looks like an evolved Hoover vacuum cleaner and a cat-like Betelgeusian. In terms of looks and tone, the first two episodes that I've seen strike me as being a mix between "Futurama" and "Lensman" from the 1980s.

However, what has also stood out for me is the theme song by Yasuyuki Okamura(岡村靖幸). When I saw his name pop up on the opening credits as his funkalistic and sexy little tune was underway, a bell kept ringing in my memory until I looked up J-Wiki and found out that he has written a number of songs for other singers, most notably for Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里). Okamura has also been releasing his own singles since 1986, and "Viva Namida" (Viva Tears) happens to be his 27th one which got out in October 2013.

As soon as I first heard the song, I knew that I would have to get the full version of it someday. That hasn't happened quite yet but maybe I'll start hitting Amazon in the next few weeks if "Viva Namida" further digs into my brain. Here is the official video above with even Okamura himself getting into the anime act and you can enjoy the live version below.

PSY-S -- Keshiki (景色)

One of my favourite songs by the 80s technopop duo, PSY-S, happens to be "Keshiki" (Scene). It was never released as a single by the band, but I think in its subtle way, it has made me think about married life.

In any case, the above is the original version from PSY-S' first album, "Different View" from 1985. Since I have yet to get this album, I never heard this version before. It's a straight-ahead technopop piece with CHAKA jumping right into the vocals (both the words and music were provided by her partner, Masaya Matsuura/松浦雅也) about what seems to be the ideal life between husband and wife in that apartment or prefab house. However, as the song progresses, things get a little more sinister especially when she starts singing about hubby bleating out the daily chores in a robotic way in both English and Japanese. Trouble in paradise....or boredom?

A new and better version of "Keshiki" was released on PSY-S BEST album, "Two Hearts" in 1991. This is the version that I've been familiar with for years, and perhaps there is a bias from me since my ears have become more accustomed to this take. However, the melody is richer and more varied, and therefore better illustrates the crumbling of the ideal wedded bliss. Matsuura, through his synths, starts off with a classical-sounding riff...perhaps to have the listener imagine the wife seeing off her rushing husband at the door, before the music goes into this warm soft bossa style and then into a roller-coaster-like rise to the robotic delivery by CHAKA. And finally, the song seems to want to illustrate an entire world crumbling down through the dissonance that Matsuura throws in. The original sounds like a beta version in comparison. And although I love CHAKA's voice, I think having her la-la-la's in that 1985 take replaced by the warning synth in the 1991 version was an improvement.

I'm happy that "Keshiki" got its due in "Two Hearts" but perhaps it could have used a bit more representation. Then again, perhaps PSY-S didn't want to make too many couples in the audience too uncomfortable (heh, heh).

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ann Lewis -- Koi no Boogie-Woogie Train (恋のブギ・ウギ・トレイン)

(karaoke version)

Disco, baby, disco!! That's the feeling I get from listening to Ann Lewis'(アン・ルイス) "Koi no Boogie-Woogie Train"(Boogie-Woogie Love Train) and I guess the title pretty much says it all. Time to shed the inhibitions and get on the dance floor and party like it was 1979.

Lewis' 17th single comes in smack dab between the two musical personae that I had recognized the singer as: her initial appearance as the sweet innocent aidoru in the early 1970s and then her rock queen of the early 1980s....from Patsy Cline to Pat Benatar in about a decade. With "Koi no Boogie-Woogie Train", she's in disco queen mode, dancing to a beat that brings to mind a lot of the fun and excess (perhaps for a lot of you, the previous conjunction might actually be an "or") of partying in the big city at that time....Tokyo or New York..

Minako Yoshida/吉田美奈子 (lyrics) and Tatsuro Yamashita/山下達郎 (music) were behind the making of this example of disco kayo, and although I don't think it's quite on the same level as Yoshida's amazing "Town" that nikala talked about on her own Best 80s list, "Koi no Boogie-Woogie Train"is a fun bit of musical nostalgia.

While the original version was released on Xmas Day 1979, an English version of the song with lyrics by Chris Mosdell came out six months later as her 18th single. If there had been a Japanese version of the US dance show, "Soul Train", at the time, I think the producers would have known who to have turned to for its theme song.

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Blue Midnight

(karaoke version)

Blue Midnight....the name of a cocktail or the title of a Charlie Parker song? Well, neither actually (as far as I know), but it is the name of a Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)ballad that could make for a nice theme song in the Tokyo Western-style bar which could possibly make that sort of cocktail or have a guest who could play the jazz of ol' Bird.

"Blue Midnight" made it onto Yamashita's 1983 "Melodies" when it didn't quite get included onto "For You", his album from the previous year. It just sounds ready-made for some good nighttime imbibing while gazing out onto the Tokyo night sky from Shinjuku or Roppongi. Yamashita came up with the music while Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)wrote the words. I think the addition of the Tadanari Ohno strings and Hiroshi Sato's(佐藤博)piano helps give the song a bit more of a yesteryear something that Nat King Cole would have sung. And of course, the sax by Hidefumi Toki is just the cherry on top.

The album "Melodies" also has "Christmas Eve", the first instance of the Yamashita classic on an album of his. As I have written, Yamashita kinda created the Xmas song as an "I'll show you!" to those who may have knocked him as "just" a summer song guy. However, "Blue Midnight" also illustrates that the singer-songwriter can make music that can appeal to any night of the year.

J-COVER 80's ダンス&バラード - The Best of Japanese Cover Songs

I don't buy too many CDs nowadays opting mostly to get most of my music via iTunes however when I recently came across this CD at Amazon Japan, I just had to get it. 「J Cover 80's  ダンス&バラー(Dance & Ballad)」 (ASIN: B004P0A16E) was released in 2011 by GT Music, a division of Sony Music Direct's "Ootona" line of nostalgic compilations geared towards those who are in their 30s-40s who grew up in the 80s. It is very similar to Sony's fantastic 「クライマックス・ベスト (Climax Best)」 series (which I also have) in which they released various themed 80s and 90s music compilation sets sporting such catchy tiles such as ""Sapphire", "Ruby", "Green", "Blue", "Yellow", "Fantastic" and "Dramatic". While most of these CDs generally covered most of the major and well-known J-Pop songs of the 80s, this particular compilation I thought was pretty unique in that it featured a near-complete compilation of all the Japanese covers of various European and American pop songs from the 80s.   

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Miyuki Hatakeyama -- Umi ga Hoshii no ni (海が欲しいのに)

It's been almost 2 years since I mentioned about the Sendai-born singer Miyuki Hatakeyama(畠山美由紀) in this blog through an article about Tomita Lab. "Taegatakumo Amai Kisetsu"(耐え難くも甘い季節) is this wonderfully hammock-friendly song that was featured on TL's album, "Shipbuilding", but actually I had heard Hatakeyama before that one came out (although that album was released in February 2003). It was her 4th single, "Umi ga Hoshii no ni" (But I Want The Sea) which came out in July 2003.

As the release date intimates, "Umi ga Hoshii no ni" is this summery light disco-soul tune that was composed by Hatakeyama and written by Shingo Sato(佐藤慎吾). It reminds me of some of the stuff that singers like Bird and Misia released around the same time (and perhaps I can see British group Swingout Sister doing an English version of it). And yet Hatakeyama's voice remains mellow and distinct from the splendid voices of the other two. I think the song would make for fine listening at any of the trendy little cafes in the Harajuku area of Tokyo.

I'm not sure if that sort of music is still coming out of Japan now, but just a few hours ago, my Skype student mentioned that the 80s were back on the upswing in terms of popular culture over there. Perhaps he was just referring to the aidorus back as well as the fashion statement of letterman jackets, but it would be nice if the 80s boom also included some of the current singers bringing back some of that good ol' American R&B from those days.

Shinichi Mori -- Fuyu no Riviera (冬のリヴィエラ)

I noticed on taking a look at the J-Wiki article on Shinichi Mori's(森進一)"Fuyu no Riviera" (Winter Riviera) where it identifies the genre, the song was labeled as enka but in brackets, the description in a somewhat rationalizing way that it was "pop music that an enka singer would sing".

And that was my exact initial response when I had first seen the veteran sing the song on an old VHS tape of an enka special many years ago. From that distinctive voice, it was indeed Mori but the song didn't sound like the usual enka ballad. At the time, I hadn't known about Eiichi Ohtaki (大滝詠一)but even then the music for "Fuyu no Riviera" struck me as being decidedly un-enka. It sounded very Western heroic which I have stated in some of my other articles for Ohtaki as being one of his characteristics when it came to his compositions. I was just able to catch the word "Riviera" as Mori sang it for safekeeping in my memory since I did enjoy listening to it. As for that title, I had assumed up until recently that it was referring directly to the famed resort area by the Mediterranean, but according to that J-Wiki article, Ohtaki and Takashi Matsumoto were looking to use it as the Italian word for "shores".

Matsumoto (松本隆)wrote the lyrics for the song that the late Ohtaki penned. It was released in November 1982 for Mori and became his first Oricon Top 10 hit in 9 years. And up to the present day, it would be his final Top 10 hit on the peaked at No. 10 where it stayed for 4 weeks and would become the 41st-ranked song for 1983. It would also win a Special Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards and get Mori his 16th appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen to perform it. In 2012, he would appear for the 45th time to perform it again.

Once again, I'm going to refer to that J-Wiki article but when Ohtaki passed away suddenly late last year, Mori commented that "Even now, 'Fuyu no Riviera' is a treasured song for me. I will sing it with all my heart so that it reaches him."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Miharu Koshi -- Yuube no Inori (夕べの祈り)

Having heard Miharu Koshi's(コシミハル) quirky "Hashire Usagi"(走れウサギ)on one of my compilation albums and seeing some of the album covers of this interesting singer, I decided to do a bit more scouting on YouTube to see if I could find more of her mid-80s stuff.

Well, I discovered a few such videos with that album cover photo of her from her 6th album, "Boy Soprano" (1985). Just seeing that punkish New Wave-y appearance of Koshi was enough to decide to check out some of those songs from the album. One of the videos was of her take on "Ave Maria" which was pretty avant-garde for a Japanese pop singer. And then the next one I tried was "Yuube no Inori" (Last Night's Prayer) which was written by Michio Yamagami (山上路夫)and composed by Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣). As with a number of the tracks, the song also had an alternate title, "Prie-Dieu".

I don't know exactly how but I was quickly charmed by this tune. Perhaps it was because of Koshi's little boy soprano vocals or perhaps it was the toy-shop techno march melody, but it wasn't anything that I had ever heard before. Lyrically, Koshi sings about the innocent residents of a mountain village retiring for the night from a good hard day of work and about her character praying for another wonderful tomorrow. It rather comes off like a happy European folk tale told via Kraftwerk.

Because of "Yuube no Inori" and the aforementioned "Hashire Usagi", I decided to head down to my favourite used CD shop in the Jimbocho area of Tokyo, Tacto, and rustle through the shelves to find "Boy Soprano" And I was sure lucky to find the sole copy; I wouldn't have found it (and I never did) at any of the major music shops.

(July 14 2014: "Yuube no Inori" is the 2nd track on the video.)

Toko Furuuchi -- TOKO Best Selection

I heard somewhere that one way to learn about one's own country is to live in a totally different one. Yep, I did learn a fair bit about Canada while living in Japan. I think I can also adapt that theory when it comes to music. Having listened to Japanese artists go full throttle into R&B from different decades over the decades, I learned that I really enjoy the genre from the late 70s and early 80s. Notably, I love the groove and the horns (mellow and sharp)....Earth Wind & Fire is one such example.

So, that would explain why I have enjoyed Toko Furuuchi(古内東子). She just celebrated her 20th anniversary in the business last year with the requisite double-CD BEST pack, but I am going to have my little presentation with her very first BEST album, "TOKO Best Selection" which came out (appropriately enough) on Valentine's Day 1998. To be honest, I have been somewhat laggardly of late over my following of her so I don't really know her recent stuff, but when it comes to her first 5 years, there are some fine entries. Listening to her works, I get reminded of some of the light funk and cool ballads from that particular corner between those two particular decades that I used to listen to on AM radio. All of the songs from the album were written and composed by Furuuchi.

1.  Hayaku Isoide (はやくいそいで)
2.  Dare Yori Suki nanoni (誰より好きなのに)
3.  Peach Melba
4.  Kiss no Temae (キッスの手前)
6.  Usotsuki(うそつき)
7.  Strength
8.  Kawaiku Naritai (かわいくなりたい)
9.  Aitai kara(逢いたいから)
10. Aruki Tsuzukeyo(歩き続けよう)
11. Distance
12. Itsuka Kitto(いつかきっと)
13. Shiawase no Katachi(幸せの形)
14. Hoshizora(星空)

As I said, I love the groove and the horns. And "Peach Melba" provides plenty of it. It wasn't an official single but a track from Furuuchi's 3rd album, "Hug" (1994), and the peach melba that the singer describes doesn't refer to the dessert directly (though I do love a good peach melba) but to the sweet perfume of that woman who passed by. I would be horribly remiss if I didn't mention that I also love Furuuchi's silky and sensual vocals through all of her songs. And for this song, those vocals are just like the best caramel on a peach melba. It would have made for a wonderful fit on a radio playlist back in my junior high school days.

(excerpt only)

"SLOW DOWN" is Furuuchi's reassurance and admonition to that guy who is getting a bit of cold feet at the speed their relationship is taking. The singer is firmly in the control seat here and just like that veteran airline pilot or mother, she's telling the fellow that things will be OK. What I love about this song is that it sounds almost like an AOR version of a lullaby. Perhaps it could work for that overworked employee hitting home after a bad day at the office. I also love the muted trumpet in the bridge. This song is the title track from the singer's first album from 1993.

"Aitai kara" (I Want To Meet You) is a beautifully done song about a fellow who's in love with a woman (perhaps a longtime friend or an old flame) who is in another relationship and can no longer really keep up the I'm-OK-you're-OK pretenses without his heart disintegrating. Not surprisingly, it was used as an ending theme for a TBS drama titled "Dessert wa Anata"デザートはあなた...Dessert Is You). This was also Furuuchi's 2nd single from October 1993 and was a track on her 2nd album, "Distance".

(cover version)

"Usotsuki" (Liar) has this 70s R&B vibe that reminds me of artists like Lou Rawls and Ashford & Simpson. The way her voice just glides and weaves through the music at that relaxed pace makes her great for these bluesy ballads. This track also originally came from the album, "Hug", and considering the suddenly dumped woman in the song, I think she could use that particular title.

"Shiawase no Katachi" (The Form of Happiness) is a mid-tempo song of hope and optimism with that feeling of "plenty of fish in the sea" and "get back on that horse". Although the liner notes don't mention any use of horns in the song, that horn section sounds way too authentic to be just synths. This track came from Furuuchi's 4th album, "Strength" (1995).

Of course, I can't finish this BEST article for Toko Furuuchi without mentioning once more about her biggest hit, "Dare Yori Suki nanoni" from 1996. The individual article for it was my first one for her. And I think any mention of her by anyone will bring this song up first in my head by default.

As for "TOKO Best Selection", it peaked at No. 2 on Oricon and became the 61st-ranked album of the year, going Platinum.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kenji Sawada -- Kimeteyaru Konya (きめてやる今夜)

Despite the New Wave appearance Kenji Sawada(沢田研二) had on the cover of his 40th single, "Kimeteyaru Konya"(I'll Show You Tonight), when I first heard this song via sources such as "Sounds of Japan" and the video tapes of ranking shows, I thought this was a pretty normal pop song for him. After all, getting those impressions of him as a Japanese David Bowie through the 1981 and 1982 Kohaku Utagassen specials, I thought I would always see him as a New Romantic Dandy with the songs to match.

But "Kimeteyaru Konya" is just a fun and happy song about a guy determined to get that girl, a song that would have been easily covered by Checkers. There's a bit of rock and techno in there, genres that dominated "Stripper" and "Rokuban-me no Yuutsu" respectively, but with this song, I gather that Sawada was going for that 50s-ish sound that was so popular back in the early-to-mid 1980s. And I think he pulls it off well with that Sawada swagger in his delivery.

"Kimeteyaru Konya" was released in September 1983 with lyrics by Sawada and melody by Daisuke Inoue(井上大輔). It went as high as No. 14 on the Oricon weeklies and won a Special Gold Prize at that year's Japan Record Awards (according to J-Wiki, his 6th in a row).

Hibari Misora -- Ringo Oiwake (リンゴ追分)

The name Hibari Misora(美空ひばり) had been mentioned within my home for years and years before I finally figured out who this person really was. Once I started getting interested in kayo kyoku in the early 1980s and the Kohaku Utagassen became a regular viewing event in Toronto, Misora's legend seeped into my head. My mother told me a few times that the Queen of Kayo Kyoku was held in such awe that on the Kohaku specials she appeared on, even the most popular and most seasoned singers were supposedly terrified of even approaching her backstage. And though Misora stood very tall on the stage and TV, she was all of 147 cm (less than 5 ft) tall. That is presence.

One of Misora's most famous songs came from 1952. "Ringo Oiwake" (Forked Road in the Apple Orchard) stands out for me for Masao Yoneyama's(米山正夫) melody and Misora's vocals. Yoneyama's music evokes the image of that wooden horse-drawn cart clunking down the dirt road amongst the apple trees, and then there is the way Misora draws out the phrasing of "Ringooooooooooo". I'm not sure if the singer and the people around her had intended it, but that elongated expression reminds me of the old-fashioned declarations from sweet potato wagons that I still heard even within the streets of my old bedroom town of Ichikawa. And then there was her voicing of one single vowel, "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh" which seems to musically paint the image of a single petal from an apple blossom just flying its random path through the air after being torn off by the wind.

But then there is the spoken part in the middle of the song in which Misora talks in the voice of that girl she was when she had first sung "Ringo Oiwake". She speaks about how she loves the blooming of the flowers before saying that the eventual shedding of their petals brings sad memories of her dead mother in Tokyo, perhaps due to the events of World War II. For people who were growing up or who were already grown up in the 1950s, that spoken part must have brought a lot of tears to the surface. In total, the lyrics, music and Misora's slow and controlled delivery work together to illustrate a canvas of simple beauty and peace in the countryside, perhaps in contrast to the organized chaos and pollution of the re-industrializing cities. They could also illustrate the impermanence of life and how that girl has to smile through the tears and just keep going on steadily if not all that quickly.

"Ringo Oiwake" was first released in May 1952 when Misora was just 15 years old. It broke a record for the most successful single in the postwar era at the time, selling 700,000 records. Ultimately, it sold 1.3 million records and is ranked No. 5 within the singer's most successful releases.

At the beginning of the article, I mentioned how much awe Misora attracted. Well, in that video just above, I noticed how the audience kept very silent although the familiar introduction to "Ringo Oiwake" came on as she came down the steps. Only when she finally reached the stage did the people start applauding. In 1979, Misora appeared on the Kohaku Utagassen for her 18th and final time as a special guest. She had been an annual presence on the NHK New Year's Eve special but in the early 1970s, the national network didn't invite her with the reason being her brother's gang-related dealings (although NHK never announced the connection publicly). She was very unhappy with the slight and refused to appear on the show for several years until that 1979 edition. It was the first and last time for her to perform "Ringo Oiwake" on the Kohaku. I could only imagine what the atmosphere was like in NHK Hall.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Junko Sakurada -- This Is A "Boogie"

Back in the early 70s, three young girls of around the same age auditioned on the NTV talent show "Star Tanjo"(スター誕生...A Star Is Born): Momoe Yamaguchi, Masako Mori and Junko Sakurada(山口百恵・森昌子・桜田淳子). The media caught onto the fact that their careers were basically launched there and then, and labeled them initially as the Hana no Chu-San Trio(花の中三トリオ...The Flower Junior High Senior Trio). As they grew up in front all of Japan, the group name appropriately changed in terms of their school year until their final moniker was Ko-San Trio(高三トリオ...The High School Senior Trio).

Of the three, Junko Sakurada was the one that I knew about the least in terms of her music career (although the name often popped up here and there and now and then over the decades) which would explain why I had never featured her in the blog up until now. Her popularity, like Yamaguchi's, was basically in the 70s....though several singles would come out until 1983. However, the first time I heard about her was that special (to me) 1981 Kohaku Utagassen when she performed her 36th (and 3rd-last) single, "This Is A 'Boogie'".

Released in September 1981, it looks like Sakurada was going a bit Manhattan Transfer with the 40s boogie-woogie sound. Her act stood out since her dance partner was the guy who had preceded her in the performance order, Toshiyuki Nishida (who sang "Moshimo Piano ga Hiketa Nara"). Now, knowing NHK, the double act was planned to the second, but it was still nice to see a bit of hamming it up on Nishida's side. Sakurada's appearance in the 1981 show was her 8th, her penultimate Kohaku before her final bow in 1982.

"This Is A 'Boogie'" was written by Toshiharu Jitsukawa(実川俊晴) and composed by Yuuichiro Oda(織田裕一郎) who also created a number of Seiko Matsuda's(松田聖子) songs such as "Aoi Sangosho"(青い珊瑚礁) and Ikue Sakakibara's(榊原郁恵) "Shining Love" (which also got onto the 1981 Kohaku).

Gonna have to explore some more of Junko's earlier hits.

Kenji Ozawa -- Otona ni Nareba (大人になれば)

It's been quite a while since I opened this one up. I had forgotten what the song sounded like and when I re-heard it, it was like welcoming an old friend again. At the time I got the single back in the mid-90s, I hadn't been so much of a die-hard Flipper's Guitar fan but I was starting to get into jazz with folks like Bill Evans and Canada's own Diana Krall. So when I first saw the now-solo one-half of Flipper's Guitar, Kenji Ozawa(小沢健二), in a sake commercial with actor Masakazu Tamura, I rather paid attention to the light pleasant jazz playing in the ad while the two were bantering.

That turned out to be the Ozawa-penned "Otona ni Nareba" (When I Become An Adult). It was his 13th single from September 1996, and it's a happy-go-lucky ditty about a young man who feels that he's somewhere between childhood and adulthood, and is just waiting to cross over that threshold to go through all that bittersweet love stuff.

Instead of sake, though, I often got reminded of the Tom Hanks movie from 1989, "Big", since the overall themes from both song and film were somewhat similar. And seeing that part of the movie took place in The Big Apple, I think the jazz motif of "Otona ni Nareba" kinda fits. As for how the song did, it did get as high as No. 7 on the Oricon weeklies and Ozawa got his second invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen that year to perform it.

Now, as for that One-Cup Ozeki, that rotgut was sold in a lot of vending machines on the way from the subway station to my apartment in Ichikawa. I was never much of a drinker but for some mad reason, I decided to get one from the machine since I was planning to cook with it, and also swigged down half of it. I ended up coming down with one of the worst headaches, and from then on, One-Cup Ozeki was only used for cooking. Make mine Kubota!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Miho Nakayama/Yurie Kokubu -- Tada Nakitakunaruno (ただ泣きたくなるの)

I hadn't mentioned about my old university club's JTV program in a while, but one of the last J-Dramas that got featured weekly at U of T's International Student Centre before I made my last odyssey to Japan was "Moshi mo Negai ga Kanau Nara"(もしも願いが叶うなら...If My Wish Is Granted), a TBS comedy that starred Miho Nakayama(中山美穂) as a soon-to-be wed employee of a family restaurant discovering her three long-lost brothers, one of them being the rough-and-tumble Osaka comedian Masatoshi Hamada(浜田雅功) of the duo Downtown (long sentence, deep breath please).

Unfortunately, I don't remember much from the series itself aside from Hamada yelling a lot and Miporin trying to rein him in. However, I do remember the theme song, "Tada Nakitakunaruno" (I Just Wanna Cry, That's All), sung and partly written by Nakayama herself. It stood out to me since it had this wonderfully romantic aura to it that hit me as being faintly European for some reason. And for me, it stands as one of my favourite songs by her. Masaki Iwamoto(岩本正樹) took care of the melody, and although I'm not sure if it was ever his intention, the music seems to also have this quality of an everyday schlub attempting to gain the affections of the prettiest girl in class. Iwamoto, by the way, is also the man behind a number of Megumi Hayashibara's(林原恵) songs such as "Forever Dreamer".

"Tada Nakitakunaruno" certainly did hit a lot of hearts. Nakayama's 28th single was released in February 1994, and would hit No. 1 on Oricon about a month later. It would later become the 17th-ranked song for the year and break through the million-sales barrier. In fact, in the history of Japanese music singles, the song became the 100th single release to do so. Unsurprisingly, the Kohaku Utagassen came beckoning, and she would answer the call for the final time. Even more sobering is that the song is Nakayama's final release to hit the top spot on the charts....unless she decides to get back into the music-making business.

Yurie Kokubu(国分友里恵) is someone that I had heard over the years through songwriting credits and commercial tunes. She is also the lyricist who jointly wrote the words to "Tada Nakitakunaruno" with Nakayama, and her husband is the aforementioned Masaki Iwamoto. There is no article on J-Wiki about this singer-songwriter, but from what I have been able to glean via her own website and some of her earlier music via YouTube is that she debuted in 1983 with the album, "Relief 72 Hours", a City Pop-themed LP. I've heard a few of the tracks from that album, and her sound back then was pretty reminiscent of EPO's bright and cheerful stuff. And I have come across "Relief 72 Hours" and a few of her other releases in "Japanese City Pop".

Kokubu gives her own cover of the Nakayama hit through her 1995 album, "Akogare"(憧憬...Longing [although the kanji is actually pronounced "doukei" or "shoukei", which I did buy on the strength of "Tada Nakitakunaruno". Although the arrangement is not all that much different from the original, her vocals have a slightly more ethereal and uplifting quality. Now that I've re-discovered this version, I'm interested in checking out some of her earlier work.

Hideki Saijo -- Boomerang Street (ブーメランストリート)

Early in my kayo kyoku collecting career, I borrowed an old VHS tape from a friend which contained a Hideki Saijo(西城秀樹) concert. The tall and lanky guy sang all of the fan favourites including this one, "Boomerang Street", his 20th single from March 1977. At the time, I was still getting a hold on trying to understand Japanese lyrics (not too successfully), so a lot of what Hideki was singing was flying over my head.

However, I did get one word into my head loud and clear. Saijo started going into his next number by rotating his long arm over his own head and yelling, "Boomerang, boomerang, boomerang, boomerang....!" Of course, the crowds went wild. "Boomerang Street" was written and composed by a couple of the big songwriters of the era, Yu Aku and Takashi Miki(阿久悠・三木たかし), and has Saijo singing very confidently about the return of that former love back into his arms just like that Australian toy/weapon. With that dynamic melody and the singer's shouts of "Boomerang", I probably did wonder if this had been a theme song for a tokusatsu series starring a hero by the name of The Boomerang. But it turned out to be a love song of sorts.

"Boomerang Street" managed to get as high as No. 6 on the Oricon weeklies while becoming the 63rd-ranked song of the year. The song also got onto his 5th anniversary album, "Go-nen no Ayumi"(5年の歩み...A Walk of 5 Years)which came out in April of the same year.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Puffy -- Circuit no Musume (サーキットの娘)

Puffy product placement and 'dorably dorky dancing! I give you my alliteration for the day. Along with the rolling fun of the song itself, the video for Puffy's "Circuit no Musume" (Wild Girls on Circuit) provides oodles of amusement, although having the heads of Ami and Yumi on race queen bodies was kinda borderline creepy.

"Circuit no Musume" is Puffy's 3rd single from March 1997. Written and composed by Tamio Okuda(奥田民男) of Unicorn fame, the song goes into the life of being a race queen, a figure that was (and may still be) part and parcel of the racing experience. Especially in the 90s, tall and long-legged and long-haired beauties in revealing fashion and heels while sporting parasols strode by the circuits and on variety shows. Methinks if Chisato Moritaka had been thinking of a different line of work...

The song was used as the commercial tune for Yamaha's Vino scooter line, and I think they were indeed used in the official music video....certainly Ami and Yumi were wearing the corporate T-shirts. I gather having "Circuit no Musume" sponsoring a line of putt-putty scooters must have further added to the daily recommended dose of irony. And according to the J-Wiki writeup, somewhere in the video, Yumi is rubbing her left leg as a bit of tribute to the fact that she had broken that leg some months before the release of the single when she fell off her bicycle; the appropriate lyrics are in there as well.

"Circuit no Musume" hit the top spot on Oricon, and later became the 32nd-ranked song of the year, making over a million sales. Like a number of other Puffy singles, I recall that this was also a popular tune at the karaoke boxes. The single is also a track on the duo's 2nd album, "Jet CD" which came out in April 1998 and also hit the million barrier.

Yuki Saito -- AXIA Kanashii Kotori (かなしいことり)

I dug out some more tapes from the dusty recesses of my shelves, including one from an old friend of mine from university who taped a number of 80s aidoru tunes. One of those tunes happened to be Yuki Saito's(斉藤由貴)"AXIA - Kanashii Kotori" (Sad Little Bird). I hadn't heard it for years and as soon as the adorable melody flowed out from the headphones and Saito's cutesy-as-all-get-out voice started trilling away, images of puppy dogs and all of the characters from a Lucky Charms cereal floated above my head....and nothing was being imbibed at the time. Amazing! Nice use of the synth-organ in there, too.

Unbelievably, "AXIA" was never made into an official single but was the title track on Saito's debut album which came out in June 1985. It made it as high as No. 3 on the Oricon album charts and contained two of her hits, "Sotsugyo"(卒業) and "Shiroi Honoo"(白い炎). As for the song "AXIA" itself, it was written and composed by the poet and photographer Natsuo Giniro(銀色夏生).

At the time, there was an audio tape brand called Axia of which I was a regular purchaser, so I always wondered whether Saito or someone on her team wanted to pay tribute to it. Well, it turned out that perhaps both tape brand and those producers named their respected products after the Greek word for "royal thing".