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, February 28, 2014

Seiko Matsuda -- Pink no Mozart (ピンクのモーツァルト)

Well, I just wrote about "Ame no Oto wa Chopin no Shirabe"(雨の音はショパンの調べ), so I decided to bring up another 80s oldie with a title containing a classical music reference. Unlike Asami Kobayashi's(小林麻美) classic cover of "I Love Chopin", though, Seiko Matsuda's(松田聖子)"Pink no Mozart"(ピンクのモーツァルト)is about as light and fluffy as cotton candy on a breezy day.

Written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and composed by Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣),  I was wondering if the latter guy had a big puffy white wig on his head while seated behind an old piano when he was writing down the notes for Seiko-chan's 18th single. The song does sound a bit like something that would have been written by a composer of that era (not necessarily Amadeus himself) if he'd been asked to create an aidoru tune. Reading through the lyrics, though, Seiko is actually singing about a wonderful day at the beach using Mozart and all of the images associated with him as an analogy.

Released in August 1984, it hit the top spot on Oricon and would become the 17th-ranked song for the year. It also won a Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards. My first encounter with "Pink no Mozart", though, was as a track on her 10th album, "Windy Shadow" which came out in December of that year. I bought the album at Wah Yueh back in the late be honest, although I didn't know any of the tracks by title, the thing that had me parting with my money was the cover picture of her looking unusually happy and kinda tarty.

Asami Kobayashi -- Ame Oto wa Chopin no Shirabe (雨音はショパンの調べ)

I think JTM or one of the other contributors wrote about Asami Kobayashi(小林麻美) and this song in an article, but for the life of me, I've forgotten which one so if any of them can set me straight, I will be happy to link up with the appropriate article. Ahhh....found it.

In any case, I've also forgotten when I first heard Asami Kobayashi's cover of "I Like Chopin" by Gazebo but at the time I hadn't known that it was a cover. All I knew was that the song with the title of "Ame Oto wa Chopin no Shirabe" (The Sound of Rain is a Chopin Melody) had quite the impact with me since it didn't at all sound like anything aidoru or enka or even Japanese, for that matter. Classical music was never my forte (no pun intended) so I can't tell you the difference between a Chopin or a Beethoven composition, but the melody had that pleasant classical feel to my ears along with some synth thrown in.

When it comes to faces of the 1980s in music, the three that come to mind are Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子) in her Seiko-chan cut, the poker faces of Yellow Magic Orchestra, and the woman who made "Ame Oto wa Chopin no Shirabe" a hit in Japan, Asami Kobayashi. It was those high cheekbones and waifish look that made her look like the live version of those really stark illustrations of 80s models. And I think it was that look that made her fit the part when it came to her vocalizing the Japanese cover version of "I Like Chopin". At the time, I didn't know anything about her past as a 70s aidoru and actress, so I just assumed that this song was simply a one-off by her, but the way she delivered the lyrics in that fragile and ennui-laden way against that introspective music was a home run out of the park. Listening to that delivery easily had me imagining Kobayashi lying on a chaise lounge in a way-too-large house while sucking back on a cigarette. The only other singer who I could relate to her is singer-actress Kaori Momoi(桃井かおり).

"Ame Oto wa Chopin no Shirabe" was actually Kobayashi's 8th single, released in April 1984. Although the original version was produced the year before in Italy with Pierluigi Giombini behind the melody and Gazebo (aka Paul Mazzolini) writing the lyrics, Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実) provided the Japanese words for the song, which would explain her own cover of it for her album "Yuming Compositions: FACES" in 2003. The Japanese cover went all the way to No. 1 on Oricon for a couple of weeks in July 1984 and became the 12th-ranked song of the year.

Below is the original version by Gazebo.

And finally, here is an old 80s commercial starring Kobayashi.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kazuhiko Kato – Small Café

As far as the work of the late Kazuhiko Kato (加藤和彦) is concerned, he is primarily known for Sadistic Mika Band, his numerous compositions for 70's and 80's singers and The Folk Crusaders, the folk group from the late 60's that scored the first hit in the genre in Japan. That was the order in which I listened to his music myself. Just to reiterate my comment for JTM's great first entry on SMB, “Kurofune” is a must-listen album for any Japanese rock fan. But Kato also had a wealth of solo material, which I discovered through the pages of Japanese City Pop. The best of it came out between 1976 and 1994 when he was married to Kazumi Yasui (安井かずみ), also known as Zuzu. She became not only his close life partner, but also his lyricist. The two were an inseparable songwriting duo that brought us some fine tunes from various idols and artists, including Mari Iijima's timeless “Ai wo Oboetemasuka”. When it came to Kato's solo work though, they focused on European music, inspired by the couple's travels and residences in places like Paris, Venice and Berlin. He even dabbled into some reggae and American jazz from time to time.

The above song, “Small Café”, is an opening track from his 5th studio album from October 1979, “Papa Hemingway” (パパ・ヘミングウェイ), and right from the get-go it just oozes with everything Europe. For the most part, it plays like a French chanson but Kato also throws a tango rhythm in there and sings the line “Auf Wiedersehen” in the chorus (I like how he pronounces it). If you can understand some of the lyrics, you'll notice how purposely exaggerated it all is, and not in a comical way. The picture is of a pensive personage reminiscing over a past romance in a small cafe somewhere in Paris as he admires the beauty of the interior and the autumnal surroundings. This is an opinion I borrowed from another site, but perhaps Kato was trying to reverse one of YMO's motifs “the Western perception of the East” into “the Eastern perception of the West”. Walking by some French-styled cafes here in Japan, I can see where he was coming from. At the same time, the song sounds pretty earnest and not parodic like some of those YMO creations. Kato and Yasui did show real interest in the elegant side of European cityscapes. And speaking of YMO, there's Yukihiro Takahashi (高橋幸宏) on drums (the two go back to SMB days) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本龍一) on keyboards playing on this track. Sakamoto also arranged the strings for various songs on “Papa Hemingway” including this one. It's a lovely piece, not just for the lyrical melody but also with how it blends the antique with a subtle tint of new wave. Though it never crosses over into techno like Taeko Ohnuki's (大貫妙子) European creations from 1980 on – some of which Kato happened to arrange on her “Romantique” and “Aventure” albums.

Kato would stop recording solo after Yasui passed away from lung cancer in 1994.

I also found a portion of what looks like a promotional video for “Small Café”, complete with monochrome shots. Thank you for your music.


SMAP -- Yozora no Mukou (夜空ノムコウ)

This was another SMAP song that seemed to fill the airwaves entirely when it was released. It just felt like I saw the scenes of the guys on that pedestrian bridge on a daily basis on the telly, and that was no surprise since it was such a big hit. In fact, "Yozora no Mukou" (Beyond The Night Sky) placed only 2nd to GLAY's "Yuuwaku"(誘惑)on the Oricon yearly charts for singles in 1998.

I wasn't ever a hugely dedicated SMAP fan in terms of their music but I'd felt that the Johnny's Entertainment group until that point was the group that took over from their sempai group, Hikaru Genji as the 80s went into the 90s. So I had usually thought of SMAP as the boisterous aidoru boy band. But then, "Yozora no Mukou" came along and Nakai-kun and the rest performed this down-to-earth mature contemporary ballad, and I got the impression that SMAP grew up a bit.

Released in January 1998, singer-songwriter Yuka Kawamura(川村結花) came up with the music while singer-songwriter Shikao Suga(スガシカオ) wrote the lyrics....or almost didn't. Allow me to explain that last part. According to the J-Wiki article for "Yozora no Mukou", Suga had been asked to come up with the words for the SMAP song but the request was totally forgotten by the singer until the very day that the lyrics were due. When his manager reminded him while at Tokyo's Haneda Airport en route to a job in Sapporo, Suga pulled off a small miracle by whipping up the words while on the plane and at the hotel in Hokkaido's capital city. Perhaps he must've heard he would have had to deal with an angry KimuTaku if he hadn't gotten it done.

In any case, the rest is history as they say. "Yozora no Mukou" became SMAP's first million-seller and has since been covered by a lot of other artists including the pair who created it. Of course, it hit the top spot on the Oricon weeklies and that invitation to the Kohaku that year came knocking.

Mayumi Kuroki -- Koibito to Yobarete (恋人と呼ばれて)

I was doing a bit of random searching around YouTube when I came across this lovely summery song by Mayumi Kuroki(黒木真由美). "Koibito to Yobarete" (Called a Lover) is a track from Kuroki's sole album, "12 no Rakugaki"(12のらくがき...12 Graffiti) from November 1975, and the song has that sort of laidback melody which evokes memories of driving in the countryside in any nation. There's a feeling in there that reminds me of Yumi Arai(荒井由実)and early Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎). And sure enough, Yamashita was the one who created the song while Makoto Kitajo(喜多篠忠) took care of the lyrics.

Kuroki hails from Fukuoka Prefecture and was discovered in 1974 at the age of 15 when she auditioned on the talent show "Star Tanjo"(スター誕生...A Star is Born) when it was making the rounds in Kokura City in her home prefecture. She debuted in March 1975 with the single "Kokishin"(好奇心...Curiosity) and in her brief career as a singer, she released five songs with the final one being in summer 1976. However, she has continued on as an actress and TV personality, and her eldest daughter, Marina, is currently a tarento as well.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sentimental City Romance -- Flight Tonight

Sentimental City Romance (センチメンタル・シティ・ロマンス) is a band that has popped up a number of times in Japanese City Pop as I was flipping through the book, and while I found their name striking, I didn't think about investigating into their music for a while. Then a couple of weeks ago while sampling some songs from Hiromi Ohta's “Feelin' Summer” on Youtube, I decided to try out this song called "Flight Tonight" on Jazz Bossa's channel. The atmospheric West Coast sound along with Tokuo Nakano's (中野督夫) vocals were to my ears what a fine glass of whisky would be to my tastebuds. It was love at first listening. I could just picture myself in some nightime upscale bar (either L.A. or West Shinjuku will do) savoring the romantic mood. The distant-sounding sax in the background was also a nice touch. I'm not a huge expert when it comes to Western AOR, but the song did remind me of early-80's The Doobie Brothers and even Toto in some way. Well, apparently Jeff “Skunk” Baxter from The Doobie Brothers did contribute to the band's album “Dancing” that this song comes from, so that explains the sound. The album was released in November 1982.

The band originally formed in 1973 in Nagoya (yep, I live close to there), but with various lineup changes at the beginning it was not until 1975 that they released their self-titled debut album with CBS Sony. Their current line-up consists of Nakano, Yutaka Hosoi (細井豊), Shinji Segawa (瀬川信二), Akihiko Noguchi (野口明彦), and Nobutaka Tsugei (告井延隆). They never had a real hit, but managed just fine by making money by recording with other artists like Miyuki Nakajima, Mariya Takeuchi and Sunny Day Service and just touring like there's no tomorrow. As of 2013, they currently have the longest career span of all Japanese bands, going strong for 40 years, even though they haven't been in the studio between 1987 and 2011. Looking at some of their recent pictures, they just seem like a happy bunch of guys who love what they do.

With a name like Sentimental City Romance one would expect more of the smooth AOR of "Flight Tonight", but judging by other samples of their music, it was only in 1982 with albums “Smiling” and “Dancing” that the band truly explored the genre. Most of their music, from what I've heard, is more along the country rock of Buffalo Springfield and Poco. The reasoning for their inclusion in Japanese City Pop is probably the same as for Happy End and Hachimitsu Pie. And hey, Happy End's Haruomi Hosono (細野晴臣) did produce some of their early work including that debut album, so that explains the connection. Nevertheless, the band seems likeable enough that I'll listen to them from time to time.


Kaoru Sudo -- Mayonaka no Shujinko (真夜中の主人公)

As nikala mentioned in this blog's very first article on Kaoru Sudo(須藤薫) via her song "Kokoro no Haikei"(心の背景), I was also very surprised and saddened at her sudden passing almost a year ago at the age of 58. "Japanese City Pop" had opened my eyes to a good chunk of those seven-eighths of Japanese popular music that had been underwater to me, and Sudo's albums were well-represented there.

Also like my fellow contributor, I was able to get my own copy of Sudo's 5th album, "Drops" while I was still in Japan, thanks to a visit to my oldies shop, Tacto in Jimbocho, Tokyo. I'd already bought her BEST album and liked what she had on that disc so I'd wanted to purchase an original album, and I have to admit that I chose "Drops" simply because I liked the classy design of the cover. I was wondering if the singer had gone into jazz mode for this album, but one fellow in the J-Pop 80s community on Mixi set me straight by saying that the songs were solidly crafted works in the City Pop/J-AOR vein.

"Mayonaka no Shujinko" (Midnight Heroine) is the first track on "Drops", and in my own way, seems to serve as the happy and contented sequel to EPO's "Downtown" in that the woman in Sudo's song is just finishing off a wonderful Friday night in the big city. And coincidentally enough, there is a melodic tribute throughout "Mayonaka no Shujinko" to Petula Clark's "Downtown". With lyrics by Shun Taguchi(田口俊) and music by Yoichi Takigawa(滝川洋一), the song seems to illustrate what is shown on that distinctive cover....a luxurious night on the town by the bay under a crescent moon. And words like "champagne" and "perfume" come to mind when I listen to it. Considering that "Drops" was released in November 1983, I wouldn't be surprised if some of those working ladies in the big corporations could have a fine old urban time once in a while, and December is the time for those Christmas party cruises.

For a bit of comparison, have a listen to Clark's "Downtown".

Marcos V.'s Top Three Carnival inspired J-Pop songs

Hey guys! Carnival (Carnaval, in Portuguese) has unofficially started in Brazil and it will get started for real this weekend. Based on that, I selected three J-Pop songs that are connected to carnival or, somehow, made me remember of it. Also, this is by no means a very serious post because I don’t really know a lot of J-Pop songs with carnival as its main theme. I just wanted to have some fun with the theme and talk about three songs that I like very much. Also, although I’m not a big carnival fan, I just wished to pay homage to this very important date in Brazil’s calendar and one of our most recognizable cultural expressions abroad. Carnival is so important around here that a famous proverb teaches us that the year in Brazil just starts for real after carnival. Well, all in all, I just hope you guys like this short list.


3) Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ) -- Mi ()

NOTE: Sorry for this, but the full version of "Mi" was up on YouTube until yesterday. As it was blocked and I didn't want to erase it from this short list, I decided to represent "Mi" with the cute commercial that contains a small part of the song. As the commercial features the main part of "Mi", I think it's ok to work with it.

Starting this little carnival themed post, “Mi” is my chosen song for the third place. Honestly, “Mi” is not a carnival song, but as I was listening to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s 2013 “Nanda Collection” (なんだこれくしょん) album a couple of days ago, my father teased me saying how “Mi” reminded him of Bahia’s (one of the 26 states of Brazil, Bahia is located in the northeastern part of the country on the Atlantic coast) carnival songs, which are called Axé. He made the comparison because of the monosyllabic chorus, the percussion and the fast-paced Latin sound that “Mi” shares with a good portion of the Axé music world.

What you guys have seen above is an example of an Axé song with monosyllabic chorus. It was the only example I could remember right now, but there are plenty of songs of this type in the Axé music world. This one is called “Prefixo de Verão” (something like “Summer’s Prefix” or “Prefix of Summer”), which was originally released by Banda Mel in 1990. Although almost laidback and not as frenetic as the majority of the Axé music that became extremely mainstream in Brazil during the 90s, “Prefixo de Verão” is, for me, one of the best examples of the genre, a genre which, unfortunately, became kind of trashy and nonsense when cheap sex innuendos became the norm during the mid 90s. All in all, “Prefixo de Verão” kind of reminds me of a nostalgic sunset, if that makes sense.

Back to “Mi”, I don’t see much resemblance between it and Axé music, basically because the former is very robotic and video-game inspired if compared to the latter. Like I said, the only similar things are the somewhat Latin sound, the party atmosphere, the percussion and the use of a monosyllabic chorus (a common element in Axé music). My father was probably just teasing me like he always does when I’m listening to J-Pop. Nevertheless, the episode was kind of funny and, as I was already working on this post, I decided to share it here.


2) Akina Nakamori (中森明菜) -- Mi Amore [Meu amor é...] (ミ・アモーレ〔Meu amor é・・・〕)

J-Canuck had already talked about “Mi Amore [Meu amor é…]”, Akina Nakamori’s 11th single, here, but it also ended being my second favorite carnival inspired J-Pop song. Although Latin in essence, the single cut of “Mi Amore [Meu amor é…]” is more 80s J-Pop than carnival in the arrangement department, but that’s not a bad thing at all. The special album version, on the other hand, is arranged in a very Brazilian way during the beginning, and that’s why I was very happy to find it on YouTube.

When the song begins, I almost feel as if Akina was singing in the middle of a roda de samba (dance circle) while the sambistas kept moving on with the song. After the 1:35 mark, the bass comes along segued by a Latin, but not specifically Brazilian, piano before the song enters in its full arrangement form. When this happens, it resembles the single version, but it’s nice to have two different takes on this song at once.

As always, Akina sings “Mi Amore [Meu amor é…]” with deep and strong vocals while the lyrics talks about carnival in Rio de Janeiro and, of course, falling in love during carnival. Also, “Mi Amore [Meu amor é]”, which came out as a single in March 1985, was released at a time Akina was maturing as a singer and leaving the whole aidoru aesthetics behind. Based on that, the latter half of the 80s would see a sexy and dark Akina instead of the cute aidoru who sang about some audacious themes like in “Shoujo A” (少女A).

The interesting samba inspired special version of Mi Amore “[Meu amor é…]” can be found in the “D404Me” album, which was released in August 1985.


1) Megumi Hayashibara (林原めぐみ) -- Dance with me...Saigo no rakuen (Dance with me…最後の楽園)

On top of my list, here’s another Megumi Hayashibara gem. “Dance with me…Saigo no rakuen”, a song from her 1994 fifth album “SpHERE”, is not a direct Carnival song, but it talks about Rio de Janeiro in a cool way with a Latin arrangement in the background. The lyrics, for example, pays homage to interesting local terms like “Carioca’s summer” (karioka samaa), an expression that means Rio de Janeiro’s summer, and pinga, which means cachaça, a traditional Brazilian alcoholic beverage.

The arrangement, besides some synths and piano, is built around a steady dance beat with someone playing cuíca, a very traditional instrument used in samba and in carnival songs, in the background. Also, the lyrics describe Rio de Janeiro in a very positive way, making us believe that the city is just full of joy and it’s like a real paradise (the line atsui natsu no yoru paradaisu is just great to define how the song describes Rio). With that in mind, let’s not talk abour Rio's reality, because it could kill the carnival/festive mood of “Dance with me…Saigo no rakuen”. As for Megumi, she sounds sexy and does a great job with this song. Taking in consideration I’m a big fan of Megumi’s vocals, one can tell that I’m kind of biased stating that, but I really think her unique vocals did justice to this song. Now, I just wonder if Megumi ever came to Rio…

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Momoe Yamaguchi -- Playback Part 2 (プレイバック・パート2)

I think the two big jewels in the Ryudo Uzaki/Yoko Aki(宇崎竜童・阿木耀子) songwriting tandem as it pertains to Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵) are "Imitation Gold" and this one, "Playback Part 2". In a way, I think the two songs have the same protagonist in different moods. For the former, the woman is in world-weary mode while "Playback Part 2" has her in a very, very bad mood....someone to avoid at all costs.

The big line that I (and probably many others) know from the song is "Baka ni shinaide yo!"(バカにしないでよ...Don't screw around with me!) Momoe delivers it with something akin to a right cross to the face, and yep it's a fightin' mad tune. Released in May 1978, I had always wondered what the title was all about, so questions about what the playback was referring to and why it had Part 2 used to bubble up in my mind every time I heard it.

Well, I did a bit of looking around so J-Wiki and a Yahoo! Q&A on this very song provided some much needed help. Even the J-Wiki article on "Playback Part 2" mentioned that folks probably first thought about the function on an old-fashioned tape recorder, but actually it was more of the tape recorder in all of our heads. To elucidate, the furious woman in the song is racing away in a cherry-red Porsche, presumably from a fight with her lover, when her car clips the side mirror of another car at an intersection and gets screamed at by the other driver. She then launches that verbal counterattack along with "Socchi no sei yo!" (そっちのせいよ!It's your fault!)when her memory kicks in and she realizes that she had actually said the same thing the night before.

The second verse has the woman getting another verbal cue when the lyrics state that Kenji Sawada's(沢田研二) "Katte ni Shiyagare"(勝手にしやあがれ) is playing on the car radio as she continues to speed away. Once again, her mind starts playing back the horror from the previous night for a second time as she remembers that her punk boyfriend yelled "Katte ni Shiyagare" (Do whatever the hell you like!) at her. For that reason, it's been said that "Playback Part 2" is an answer song to the Julie hit from 1977.

The melodic highlights I got from "Playback Part 2" is that electric guitar and the frantic strings which seem to represent the absent boyfriend and the irate girlfriend still duking it out. Meanwhile, Momoe delivers most of the song in "Hell hath no fury" mode and the straight face she often keeps during her songs is especially very effective this time at warning of a volcanic temper. That face is telling me right now "DO....NOT....MESS...WITH...ME!!"

"Playback Part 2", Momoe's 22nd single, went as high as No. 2 on the charts and ended up as the 15th-ranked song for 1978. It sold over half a million records and earned her the Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards that year. It also got her an invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen which starts things off in the above karaoke video.

Some months after all that fury, Yamaguchi would come up with a much softer hit and my favourite tune by her, "Ii Hi Tabidachi" (いい日旅立ち).

TUNNELS -- Kayo Kyoku (歌謡曲)

Those wild n' crazy guys! Takaaki Ishibashi and Noritake Kinashi(石橋貴明・木梨憲武) were the reasons for my must-see TV on Fuji-TV on Thursday nights when I was living in Gunma. I would always have the telly on Channel 8 at 9 p.m. to see what limits the Tunnels(とねるず) would push and often burst through on their flagship program, "Tunnels no Mina-san no Okage Desu"(とんねるずのみなさんのおかげです...The Tunnels' Thanks to Everyone). No matter what was put on the screen that night: movie parody, high school sketch, game show, anything...I knew that the two nutbars would have me laughing my guts out while my lower jaw was firmly planted into the floor. I cannot really explain some of their past antics in words, but let's say this; prime time nudity was not an issue for these guys.

But even before then, the Tunnels were already making their marks as the wild n' crazy comedic duo for years, and once in a while, they would also cut records. JTM has already given his account of the boys' take on Mood Kayo via "Ame no Nishi-Azabu"(雨の西麻布). Well, the song did so well that they and songwriters Yasushi Akimoto and Akira Mitake(秋元康・見岳章) did another round and came up with....the title of my blog! Yep, "Kayo Kyoku" was the title and it was released in January 1986.

The lyrics have the guys pining for their favourite Ginza club hostess, Achako. In addition, there were the other genre tropes of Takaaki and Noritake giving their introductions in humble and hushed tones, the background chorus and the enka arrangement. The Tunnels may have been poking fun at Showa-era music but I think they were good enough that they could've made a fairly decent living at being kayo kyoku balladeers. And in fact, the listeners thought so too. "Kayo Kyoku" did even better on the Oricon charts than "Ame no Nishi-Azabu" by getting as high as No. 2. And the Tunnels managed to win a few special awards, including one from The Ginza Music Festival sponsored by the radio station Nippon Broadcasting System.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Yuki Saito -- Doyoubi no Tamanegi (土曜日のタマネギ)

Up until last month, I hadn't heard of this song by 80s aidoru Yuki Saito(斉藤由貴), but I was rather intrigued by the title of "Doyoubi no Tamanegi" (Saturday's Onion), especially since it did break into the Top 10 on Oricon at the peak of No. 6. The doo-woppy music was by Toshio Kamei(亀井登志夫), and the lyrics by singer-songwriter Hiroko Taniyama(谷山浩子) give the analogy of a ruined soup as representing a young relationship on the rocks. With the kitchen sounds in the song, I thought Saito in danger of slicing a finger off considering her depression, but apparently there was the titular onion at the very bottom of the pot refusing to give up and encouraging her to do the same.

There was even an extended single version of "Doyoubi no Tamanegi", which was Saito's 6th single released in May 1986. For the first half of this version, there is an overture treatment of the melody before Saito sighs and gets on with the chopping and slicing. The original single, though, was placed as a track for the singer's 2nd album, "Glass no Kodo"(ガラスの鼓動...Glass Beat) which came out in March of the same year and hit the top spot on the album charts. The above link, however, is not for the extended version but has a lot of Saito musing out loud before she starts singing.

A final bit of trivia here. The guy providing the backup vocals is Toshinobu Kubota(久保田利伸)just around the time of his debut.

Junk Fujiyama -- Hoshikuzu no Pipeline (星屑のパイプライン)

Junk Fujiyama(ジャンクフジヤマ)was a name I've heard before....strangely enough, right here in Toronto. As part of our cable TV service, we get several stations which basically act as video radio specializing in specific genres. I heard Junk on the Asian Music channel once and thought his music was very nice but didn't really go into the research about him.

Then, yesterday, my anime buddy and I got together again for another round of viewings. One of our must-sees has been the wild-&-crazy "Space Dandy". I've become a fan of the opening theme of the funkalistic "Viva Namida" by Yasuyuki Okamura(岡村靖幸)and I'll probably be writing about the ending theme by Etsuko Yakushimaru(やくしまるえつこ)pretty soon as well.

However, my buddy told me beforehand about this tune that starts up at the finale of Episode 6. As has been the case with most of the shows for "Space Dandy", the plot is nuts but my friend told me that the song was by Junk Fujiyama, who basically set out to croon in the style of Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)back in his City Pop days of the late 70s and early 80s.

Junk's tribute to Tats in what I found out was titled "Hoshikuzu no Pipeline" (Stardust Pipeline) is a smooth and summery and oh-so-nice song. It fits the surprisingly simply big-hearted scene of the main character surfing away through the space waves after trying and failing to avert the tragicomic demise of two hardened enemies. My ears and eyes are now fully alert to the Junk. I did a bit of digging and the song has just come out and included as a new track on "The Best of Junk Fujiyama" which came out on January 22 2014.

According to his bio on J-Wiki, Junk Fujiyama was born as Naofumi Fujiki(藤木直史) in 1983 and is a singer-songwriter/guitarist who can go into rock, soul and jazz....and do his Tatsuro Yamashita thing, so City Pop as well. It's nice to see that genre slide back in a bit, and the design for the cover for his BEST album brings back memories of those times as well. I'm sorely tempted to dish out the yen for this one.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mioko Yamaguchi -- Tsukihime ~Moonlight Princess~ (月姫)

Thank goodness for the huge size of Japanese music market. It's like a bottomless pit of hidden gems to discover. Just yesterday, I came across this playful yet pleasant techno tune from 1983 by a singer-songwriter Mioko Yamaguchi (山口美央子) and it just made me feel all warm inside. I think with the temperatures here in Gifu rising, which means the blossom season is upon us about a month from now (still early, I know), I've been in a mood for something with a traditional vibe. "Tsukihime ~Moonlight Princess~" (月姫) delivers exactly that, even though the lyrics have nothing to do with sakura and the like, and the bouncy techno colors it with joy. Yamaguchi wrote and composed this song and Masami Tsuchiya (土屋昌巳) handled the arrangement. His involvement is always welcome.

There's not much information available on Yamaguchi. Her singing career was very brief, lasting between 1980 and 1985 during which she released only three studio albums and one best-of, and as I'm writing this, none of these have been remastered on CD. Her most successful release was the third album "Tsukihime", which peaked at No.64 on Oricon weeklees and sold about 5000 copies. According to J-Wiki, she was labeled as a "synth utahime" due to how her elegant vocals combined with the synthesized sound. From mid-80's on, she withdrew to the background to compose songs for singers like Miki Imai, Junichi Inagaki, Masayuki Suzuki, and Yuki Saito. I found a site that lists some of those works. She had great potential as a singer though.

Back to springtime, "Koi wa Shunkan" (恋は春感) from "Tsukihime" sounds more springlike than the titular track, but I felt like highlighting that one for some reason. Either way, both songs are wonderful, and this one in particular gives me Akiko Yano vibes. Perhaps I should hunt down that LP after all, even though it must be pretty rare.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Dreams Come True -- Snow Dance

One of my favourite scenes during the year is the change that occurs as autumn passes by into winter. There is a snap in the air and the sky takes on a grayer hue. I mean, that sort of weather would likely send other people into a major depression, but it's perfectly fine and welcome for me. And it's also one reason that I enjoy Dreams Come True's 26th single, "Snow Dance"....because of that video.

"Snow Dance" was released just on Christmas Eve 1999, and Miwa Yoshida & Masato Nakamura (吉田美和・中村正人)brought it in some counter-intuitiveness by introducing a bit of Latin into this song about falling snowflakes. It's a nice introspective ballad about the changing seasons. And going back to that video, that walk Miwa takes through the neighbourhood would be the type of walk I'd like to take just when the year is about to come to an end. And walking through Japanese neighbourhoods was one of the smaller joys I had during my time there. The zoning isn't quite as strict as it is here in the West, so a stroll through any neighbourhood in Tokyo, for example, can bring forth a hodgepodge of interesting establishments: there could be a tiny tonkatsu restaurant that suddenly pops out amongst a clump of apartments while down the street, there may be a shop selling Gundam robots and then a cute little café around the corner next to a cleaners.

Watching that video, I did expect Nakamura to show up but then when I saw now-former member Takahiro Nishikawa(西川隆宏)appear during Yoshida's walk considering some of the troubles he'd had, I reflexively reacted "He was still with the band?"

The song peaked at No. 3 and ultimately became the 88th-ranked song for the year 2000. An acapella version appeared on the band's 2003 "DREAMAGE - Dreams Come True Love Ballad Collection" while the original single appeared on "DREAMANIA - Dreams Come True Smooth Groove Collection" the following year.

Naoko Kawai -- Unbalance (UNバランス)

"Unbalance" was Naoko Kawai's(河合奈保子)14th single from September 1983. I first heard it at the Kohaku Utagassen from that year, and noticed it had more of a disco beat when compared to her 1981 Kohaku entry "Smile For Me". But then again, when I go over the first several years of Kawai's career, I notice that she dabbled into a few other genres such as Mariya Takeuchi's(竹内まりや) bobby-soxer ballad style and the AOR from her 1985 album, "9 1/2".

As for the disco beat, well, according to J-Wiki, composer Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)was probably inspired from Donna Summer's "She Works Hard For The Money" which came out the same year. Masao Urino(売野雅勇) was behind the lyrics. It peaked at No. 4 on the Oricon weeklies and ended the year as the 64th-ranked song. It also appeared as a track on Kawai's 7th album from October 1983 titled "Half-Shadow"(ハーフ・シャドゥ)which went as high as No. 2.

I don't know...I always look at that title and just end up wondering about the balance of power in The Security Council at the United Nations for some reason.

Ah, by the way, Marcos V. was very kind to have provided a follow-up for "Unbalance" right here.

Akira Ifukube -- Godzilla (ゴジラ)

Before running home from junior high school with my friends to catch "Star Blazers" (aka Space Cruiser Yamato), I used to run home from elementary school (luckily a 3-minute run at most since my apartment building was across the sidewalk from the school) during Monster Week.

Monster Week, you say? Well, the local Buffalo affiliate of NBC had a show in the late afternoon which broadcast old movies, but once in a while, the theme for the week was Japanese monsters. And heck, boys and kaiju were always a great match. I think the first one I saw was "Monster Zero" which was known in Japan as "Kaiju Dai Senso"(怪獣大戦争...The Great Monster War) and officially known now as "Invasion of Astro-Monster". The late Nick Adams was in there, along with the hilarious dubbing, but the stars of course were Godzilla, Rodan and King Ghidorah duking it out.

I read on the "Dark Horizons" movie website that this year is Godzilla's 60th birthday. So, the big green guy is celebrating a yellow diamond anniversary, eh? Then, I think it's time to also celebrate his/her/its epic theme song. Yep, those urgent strings and horns signalling that something of dreaded nature is stomping its way to a fragile city near you. We Godzilla fans should thank movie score composer Akira Ifukube(伊福部 昭)for the theme. The Hokkaido native actually majored in forestry at Hokkaido University while practicing composing in his spare time. He finally became a professional composer near the end of World War II after suffering from radiation exposure due to his duty of performing X-rays without the necessary lead protection.

His first of more than 250 film scores was for the 1947 movie "The End of the Silver Mountains", but the big one for Ifukube was the one for the very first "Godzilla" movie in 1954. I remember watching the version that had Raymond Burr (the future Perry Mason and Ironside) spliced in for the English-language version of the movie, and realizing that this movie was a whole lot more serious on the dangers of the new nuclear age than the near-campy stuff from Monster Week. Ifukube was also the one who came up with the iconic Godzilla roar which was produced by "....rubbing a resin-colored glove over the loosened strings of a double-bass". He even generated the monster's footstomps via an amplifier box.

I caught J.J. Abrams' "Cloverfield" when I was living in Japan, and although I didn't think the film managed to quite live up to the hype, I did love Michael Giacchino's tribute to Ifukube's masterpiece via "ROAR".

You can take a look at the above patchwork battle royale among Godzilla, Ghidorah, Rodan, MechaGodzilla and spiky little Anguirus. The music from around 40 seconds into the clip was what I'd thought was the original Godzilla theme.

As I mentioned at the top, 2014 is Godzilla's 60th. However, it would also have been Ifukube's 100th birthday at the end of May this year. Unfortunately, he passed away at the age of 92 in 2006.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Otokichi Shop

Before a lot of the old CDs got re-mastered, before I started dropping in at Tacto, and even before I looked deeper into the time-slipped Nakano Broadway in Tokyo, I used to go to a tiny place just a few metres or so near the north end of Nakano Sun Mall, just several metres away from the automatic doors leading into the geek town of Broadway.

I discovered it by accident actually. As I was looking for a bite to eat somewhere in Sun Mall, I saw a signboard on the west side which advertised old and used CDs. I didn't quite catch the name but later found out that it was called Otokichi(音吉). It was up on the 2nd floor of one of the many short and narrow buildings that were jammed into the covered mall. As was usually the case for these places, the stairs were steep and narrow...thank heavens there was a banister of sorts. The café just across from Otokichi was barely 30 cm away.

Of course, by that point I'd become a point card-carrying customer of the big stores like Tower Records, HMV and Yamano Music. However, one of the things that I had lamented about the major franchises was that they had very few of the really old stuff....from the 70s and 80s, unless the artists were still well-known commodities like Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)or Akina Nakamori(中森明菜). Well, things changed when I first set foot into Otokichi. Greeted by a very small space, the shop looked like a section of one of the old library stacks that I had to visit to do research back in university. The fluorescent lights above glowed over shelf-lined walls with another couple of shelf cases smack dab in the middle of the narrow room. So, the aisles that were formed by that central shelf made things very tight indeed for a guy of my girth. I was just fortunate that I always swung by Nakano during weekday afternoons; at most, there was only one other browser and myself thankfully. Off on the west end of the long room was the office area manned by just one person at the desk which had the cash register.

I don't quite remember what I bought there. I know that I did get a few old CDs....perhaps one was an Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美). But I do remember that the classics were there from the 70s and 80s in disc format and even in 45"s and LPs. There was an Ikue Sakakibara(榊原郁恵) here, some old Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美) there and a number of 80s aidorus too numerous to mention. And the important thing was that I paid a fair bit less than the de rigueur 3,000 yen plus tax that the major stores usually charged. I distinctly remember that I even made one purchase of a rare Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子) disc (as all of hers are) via the Otokichi website which got the owner's English-speaking customer buying a Kurahashi CD?! Incredible!

But all good things come to an end. And I found out that Otokichi was closing up shop after several years in Nakano Sun Mall. Apparently, the owner was packing up to head back to Hiroshima. By that point, I had discovered Tacto and some of the other used & old CD places in Tokyo, but it was still a pity to see that a shop that specialized in my admittedly very niche area of music was coming to an least in the metropolis.

I had heard that Otokichi also had a store in Shizuoka Prefecture or thereabouts, but I never went all the way out there from Chiba. However, recently a friend over here in Toronto who also still buys the old stuff asked me about Otokichi since he discovered the site online. Apparently that store still exists and selling ancient pop CDs for at low prices. I'm not sure if that owner is in direct supervision of that branch but I hope he can allow international purchases. In any event, I sometimes miss my weekday browsings through places like that....wondering if I will come across a gem of an album.

Akina Nakamori -- BLONDE

"BLONDE" is probably one of the coolest songs I've heard from the Akina Nakamori(中森明菜) discography. Mind you, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it at first when I saw Akina-chan slinking all over the dance floor on the music shows like a disco girl with something she needed to prove. However, when I kept hearing it on the audiotapes and CDs over the months and years, I started getting it. As the song gradually dug into my appreciation, I realized that the intro itself could've made for a fine beginning to a particularly hip detective show. But the whole song with the tight horns and sax is just great.

Nakamori's 18th single was released in June 1987 and hit the top spot on Oricon. It ultimately became the 7th-ranked single for the year. But the trivia that struck me about this song was that "BLONDE" was actually based on a slower and funkier original song titled "The Look That Kills" from her all-English album, "Cross My Palm" which was released a couple of months later in August. Biddu and Wilson Sela were responsible for the original music and lyrics, but lyricist Keiko Aso(麻生圭子) provided the Japanese lyrics for the more fast-paced "BLONDE".

Y'know...I wouldn't mind the right person or even Akina herself revisiting this one someday.

Hiromi Go & Kirin Kiki/Yuko Ando & Takafumi Ikeda --Ringo Satsujin Jiken (林檎殺人事件)

Several months ago, I wrote an article about one of the more odder duets in kayo kyoku history with boy aidoru Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ) and actress Kirin Kiki(樹木希林) performing "Obake no Rock". One of the things I neglected to add to that story was that the song had actually been a theme song to a TBS sitcom from the 70s titled "Mu"(ムー)which included both singers in the cast.

Well, a year later, the sequel to that show was "Mu Ichizoku"(ムー一族...The Mu Family) with the same large cast including Go and Kiki. Apparently, "Obake no Rock" was so successful that the two got together again to do another number for the show that had a more disco bent called "Ringo Satsujin Jiken" (The Apple Murders). From what I could understand about the show itself, the Uzaki Family is a rather weird one so the theme song got a similar treatment in the lyrics by Yu Aku(阿久悠) which detail a detective's search for a killer with only a half-eaten apple as a clue.

Of course, I also have to show a video of Go and Kiki performing another dance that drunken salarymen could love. I'm not sure if I would ever sing this at karaoke and do the choreography but I enjoy the disco. In fact, the Yusuke Hoguchi(穂口雄右) melody almost spills over into City Pop territory. The song was released in June 1978 and reached No. 6 on Oricon and became the 42nd-ranked song for the year.

Now, what perked my memories of "Ringo Satsujin Jiken" was coming across the above video by pure accident last night. A few years ago, chanteuse Yuko Ando(安藤裕子) and vocalist/musician Takafumi Ikeda (池田貴史...formerly of the funk band Super Butter Dog) got together on Ando's March 2011 album of cover songs, "Otona no Majime na Cover Series" (大人のまじめのカバーシリーズ....An Adult's Serious Series of Covers) to not only perform a cover of the Go/Kiki tune, but also make the official music video.

I have to say that I was taken a bit aback by witnessing a happy smiling Ando doing the goofy dances since my image of her had been rather rainy and melancholy. But she and Ikeda go for the gusto all over Tokyo, including nearby Tokyo Sky Tree. And to add further fun, Kiki returns for a cameo in her first appearance in a music video in 33 years. By the way, "Otona no Majime na Cover Series" peaked at No. 19 on the album charts.

As for "Mu Ichizoku" itself, well, it certainly doesn't start off in the usual home comedy way.

And as a bit of a gift, here's Go with AKB 48 performing "Ringo Satsujin Jiken". Ole!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mahina Stars & Kazuko Matsuo/Frank Nagai -- Dare Yori mo Kimi wo Aisu (誰よりも君を愛す)

I heard this one for the first time a couple of nights ago on an NHK kayo kyoku show (not "Kayo Concert" since it has been pre-empted for the Sochi Games), and it certainly fulfilled the criteria to be a Mood Kayo. There was the melancholy melody, a wonderful trumpet and its ability to prompt images of drinking away the blues in some Tokyo nomiya.

The singer that night happened to be enka wunderkind (well, he's not that young anymore) Kiyoshi Hikawa(氷川きよし), but the originals were Hiroshi Wada & Mahina Stars(和田弘&マヒナスターズ) with Kazuko Matsuo(松尾和子), two of the legends of Mood Kayo. Matsuo had struck one out of the park in July 1959 along with her duet partner, Frank Nagai(フランク永井), with the classic "Tokyo Nightclub"(東京ナイトクラブ)before partnering up with Mahina Stars for "Dare Yori mo Kimi wo Aisu" (I Love You More Than Anyone) later in December.

"Dare Yori mo Kimi wo Aisu" doesn't have the Latin cha-cha that "Tokyo Nightclub" has, but it still has that comfortable atmosphere of fine drinking and dining and dancing with a bit of that Hawaiian twang that Mahina Stars is famous for. Written by Kohan Kawauchi(川内康範) and composed by Tadashi Yoshida(吉田正), I just love that crisp if sad trumpet that slices through the air. What if Harry James or Chet Baker had tried a solo on this one?

The Oricon charts were still several years away, but the song got its accolades by earning the Grand Prize on the 2nd annual Japan Record Awards and getting an invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen a year later. And even more importantly, it has been recognized as being one of the seminal examples of the genre. According to the J-Wiki article for the song, lyricist Kawauchi had been writing a short story of the same title for the monthly magazine "Myojo"(明星) from which he crafted the lyrics.

A decade later, the King of Mood Kayo himself, Frank Nagai, finally did a solo cover version (although he also did a duet of this song with Matsuo at some point as shown below) for his 1969 album, "COLEZO! Dare Yori mo Kimi wo Aisu -- Frank Nagai Yoshida Melody wo Utau"(COLEZO! 誰よりも君を愛す~フランク永井吉田メロディーを唄う....THIS IS IT! I Love You More Than Anyone -- Frank Nagai Sings The Yoshida Melodies). No one sings up a clinking glass of whiskey on the rocks in Akasaka better than Nagai.

Tomoyo Harada -- Tengoku ni Ichiban Chikai Shima (天国にいちばん近い島)

I recall seeing the album cover for this single somewhere in Wah Yueh back in my university days, but at the time, I didn't cotton onto the fact that this was Tomoyo Harada(原田知世). However, I did get this lovely song on a homemade compilation tape that a friend of mine made for me.

"Tengoku ni Ichiban Chikai Shima" (The Island Closest To Heaven) was Harada's 6th single released in October 1984. It was used as the theme song for the movie of the same title which was itself based on a 1966 story by Katsura Morimura(森村桂). Harada herself stars as the heroine of the movie adaptation in which a teenage girl, Mari, who suddenly lost her father remembers what he once said about an island that was the closest to Heaven...namely New Caledonia. Mari then decides to go on a voyage of discovery to that island.

I hadn't listened to the song in several years, so re-discovering it after so long literally raised not a few goosebumps of both newness and nostalgia. The summery ballad sounded so well-crafted that I had thought it was created by Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実), who had also penned Harada's hit 3rd single, "Toki wo Kakeru Shojo"(時をかける少女)from 1983. Actually, the songwriters who could take the bow were Chinfa Kan and Tetsuji Hayashi(康珍化・林哲司). They were able to create a soundscape that just seemed to describe floating on a calm blue ocean under azure skies.

The song hit No. 1 and ended up becoming the 71st-ranked tune for 1984.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hikaru Utada -- Movin' On Without You

Well, first off, congratulations to Hikaru Utada(宇多田ヒカル) for getting engaged for a 2nd time. I'm no longer in Japan, but I'm pretty sure that on the day of that announcement, the media wags there were trying to put every scrap of information on the lucky fiancé through every form of media.

In any case, under these circumstances, perhaps this may not be the best Hikki song to put on since it deals with breaking up and daring the poor sap to stop her. However, just a few months after Utada had released the cool "Automatic" to mass popularity, she came up with the more uptempo and beat-happy "Movin' On Without You" as her second single from February fact, I think it's now 2 days after the 15th anniversary of that release.

After repeatedly seeing the video for "Automatic" with Utada strutting inside that dimly-lit apartment with the low ceiling, the new video came out with her in a more space-age setting. And like the debut video, it also got the heavy rotation treatment on the ranking shows. People were still marveling at the fact that this Japanese-American could create "Automatic", and then out comes the just-as-cool "Movin' On".

According to the J-Wiki article on the song, the CD was sold in the two sizes of 8 and 12 cm. I will just go with the more successful of the two formats, and say that the 12-cm version hit the top spot on Oricon and became the 16th-ranked song of the year with a little over 1.5 million copies sold. Probably by this point, the Japanese media (and her new fans) were begging her to come on TV if they hadn't already started to do so. From what I remember back then, they were just saying "Who IS this girl?"

Chage & Aska -- Big Tree

Some time after getting back to Toronto after my 2 years in Gunma, I ended up buying Chage & Aska's 14th album from 1991, "Tree" through money order on the strength of their humongous hit in "Say Yes". And yep, I could still say yes to "Say Yes"; it still had plenty of juice. However, the other notable song I found on that album was the penultimate track, "Big Tree".

Man, I've known that C&A songs (ballads or uptempo tunes) tend to be epic affairs. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that some of them are the J-Pop equivalents of the sword-n'-sorcery flicks in which the actors speak their lines AT HUGE DECIBELS, ENUNCIATING EACH...WORD...AS...IF...IT...REPRESENTED...A...BULLET...FROM...A....357...MAGNUM!!!

"Big Tree", written and composed by Ryo Aska(飛鳥涼), is then one howitzer of a song. Immediately starting with a kingly fanfare, he and his partner Chage proudly sing about the trees that reside in all of our hearts, ready to grow high and wide, filled with all of the goodness that we can muster. OOMPH! Talk about the parting of the Red Sea. Heroic and inspirational, after first listening to this one, I felt like building a log house, running a marathon and negotiating a peace deal between dogs and cats....preferably within a day. Any countries looking for a new anthem? Even Aska's leather jacket in the official video above looks epic.

"Big Tree" was never released as an official single but its album, "Tree" hit No. 1 on Oricon, and despite its late release in October 1991, managed to become the 2nd-ranking album of the year. Within a couple of weeks of its release, it reached the top spot having already just under a million copies and ultimately, it would sell 2.3 million discs.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Chiyono Yoshino -- Tsukiyo no Monologue (月夜のモノローグ)

I'm glad I could finally find this one by mellow pop singer, Chiyono Yoshino(吉野千代乃). "Tsukiyo no Monologue" (Moonlit Monologue) starts off with some percussion that sounds slightly African before it takes off to become this pleasant J-AOR tune that feels like a nice nighttime flight over the city. I first heard this one on "Sounds of Japan", and it took me some years but I was able to track the song down through her album, "Montage" from April 1988. It wasn't the easiest hunt since I was still wrapping my mind around the kanji and Yoshino wasn't exactly the most well-known singer out there. Fortunately, I did live in a town called Tsukiyono. In any case, the lyrics were written by the singer and the music was by Tsukasa Fujita(藤田司).

As for Yoshino, she hails from Chiba Prefecture and debuted in March 1986 with the single "Kanashimi no Tapestry"(悲しみのタペストリー....Tapestry of Sorrow) and the album, "Rain Ballade". Her singing career lasted into the early 90s, and since then, she has been a vocal trainer for some of the groups under the Hello Project umbrella such as Morning Musume, Melon Kinenbi and Country Musume.

Chiyono Yoshino