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.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Asako Toki & EPO -- Gift - Anata wa Madonna (あなたはマドンナ)

Taking into consideration that in the last number of days I've come to the realization that there has been a resurgence of the City Pop groove from the late 70s/early 80s, I think it was once again time to bring Asako Toki(土岐麻子) to the fore.

In the last number of years that I lived in Chiba Prefecture, I often saw the lovely Ms. Toki do a lot of fine covers of songs from the 80s, Western and Japanese. In fact, the first two articles devoted to her are on a couple of her interpretations of classics from the Yellow Magic Orchestra and Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子). However, "Gift ~ Anata wa Madonna" (You're The Madonna) is an original but created and written by one of the prime participants in City Pop over 30 years ago. Songbird EPO was responsible for coming up with this shiny tribute to the metropolitan sound of Japan in words and music with Takeshi Ono(小野健) collaborating on the lyrics.

The original version of "Gift" is played in the official video above. It was the starting track on her BEST album from February 2011, "Toki Asako 'LIGHT!' -- CM & Cover Songs" which, as the title says, had all of her tunes for commercial usage. She covered not only some of the old 80s J-Pop but Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" and Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debby". Toki has a light and sunny touch to her versions, nice for a Sunday listen at home or over the speakers at the neighbourhood café. What finally triggered me, though, to plunk down the yen at Tower Records for the album was the look of the cover: the colours and the type style just declared "CITY POP!"

"Gift" was used as the commercial campaign song for a Shiseido cosmetic, and not surprisingly the official video has that sort of feel as well....y'know, in my eyes Toki somewhat resembles Maggie Gyllenhaal.

While the official single (her 4th from January 2011) was Toki solo, in her next mini-album from November of the same year, "sings the stories of 6 girls", Toki and EPO herself teamed up for an even more spritely, perhaps even more EPO-esque duet version of "Gift". It sure was nice to hear that voice again.

Yellow Magic Orchestra -- Best One '82

Well, ever since that magical moment when I first witnessed the official video for Yellow Magic Orchestra's "Firecracker" on the local multicultural channel's "Japanese Panorama" programme around the late 70s/early 80s, the band has been tied into my full-scale dive into the world of Japanese pop music....and therefore, this blog. My first purchase at a record store in Japan was YMO's debut album as an audiotape in 1981, and then it would be a full year before I got another release via my younger brother's graduation trip. During that year, anything that sniffed of computer music on TV, I would automatically think "YMO". In fact, I heard one riff during a commercial on "Sounds of Japan" and swore it was from the band; actually it was the intro to Grandmaster Flash's classic "The Message". Fortunately, I didn't go into complete withdrawal and didn't wear out my first tape into ashes, since I was also discovering how much I was getting into music in general from my country, the States and the UK as well. The Human League, Gary Numan, Pat Benetar, Billy Joel, Al Jarreau, and a list of many others kept my attention fully engaged.

Still, I was ecstatic when my brother returned from Japan in August 1982 and opened up the bag of souvenirs for the family which included three 45" singles from Seiko-chan, Hiromi Iwasaki and Matchy...and the tape whose photo you see above you. My gifts even had an interesting smell of lavender infused into them for some aroma that didn't dissipate for years. Still, whenever I pass an air freshener somewhere, I instinctively think, "Rydeen" (any immediate friends of the band who are reading this...please don't tell them). In any case, here is "Best One '82".

Side A

1. Behind The Mask
2. Rydeen
3. Jiseiki - Hirake Kokoro  磁性紀~開け心
4. Nice Age
5. Solid State Survivor
6. Cosmic Surfin'
7. Absolute Ego Dance
8. Day Tripper
9. Rap Phenomena
10. Castalia
11. Cue

Side B

1. U.T.
2. Technopolis
3. Citizens of Science
4. Tong Poo
5. Mass
6. Tighten Up
7. 1000 Knives
8. La Femme Chinoise
9. Firecracker

Now, in the J-Wiki article on YMO, this tape (ALC-38001) doesn't seem to show up in the list of their BEST compilations for some reason, although Alfa Records (the band's recording studio at the time) did release "YMO -- Best Selection" in October 1982 which is not my tape.

Now, as the track list above shows, Side A launches with "Behind The Mask". Thanks to my fellow classmate who was with me on the trip to Japan, he fed my YMO habit briefly when his parents held an after-trip party a few months later at their house, and my friend played "Solid State Survivor", the band's 2nd album. Hearing "Behind The Mask" once again several months later was like manna from heaven to my ears. And what a great way to start off the BEST. Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一) composed the song while British poet and lyricist Chris Mosdell created the lyrics. Again, jari has his comprehensive take on what is probably the band's most well-known song internationally.

One of the reasons that I was so hungry for that second YMO album to come into my hands was that as much as I loved the first album, "Yellow Magic Orchestra" always struck me as a prelude to bigger and better things....kinda like how the first "X-Men" film was, compared to "X-Men United". Listening to "Solid State Survivor" at my buddy's place and...much later...discovering that YMO's 2nd album became the top-selling LP of 1980 cemented my theory. "Behind The Mask" was one of the songs responsible for my opinion. And then came "Nice Age"....which is an electro-metaphor for a fire-breathing woman making one too many visits to Shinjuku or Roppongi. The synths sound just as sultry as that doomed lady, and drummer/vocalist Yukihiro Takahashi (高橋幸宏)comes across as the hand-mincing pimp/emcee snidely describing her life. Both he and Sakamoto created the melody while Mosdell wrote the lyrics.

Mosdell had a big hand in the band's early creations, and often wrote about how civilization advanced technologically but at the cost of its soul. Sometimes when I listen to "Nice Age", I'm reminded of the robot doppelganger of Maria from the 1927 film "Metropolis" at how she was able to twist men around her metal finger.

As for the female vocal in the refrain for "Nice Age", according to the liner notes for the bigger BEST album, "YMO GO HOME", the singer was Mika Fukui of The Sadistic Mika Band.

Mosdell and Takahashi were also behind the title track from YMO's most successful album, the aforementioned "Solid State Survivor", a song that has a theremin-sounding synth which seems to represent the shiny bastion of a technopolis before Takahashi quickly patters out lyrics stating that not all is wonderful under that gleam. The barely audible phone conversation that happens throughout the song has a creepy feel, especially that laugh near the end.

While the first three songs that I've mentioned have YMO going into New Wave territory, Takahashi's cover of The Beatles' "Day Tripper" sounds like the band's application of synths into various musical genres such as Ventures-style music for "Cosmic Surfin" for their first album. Here, it's Lennon/McCartney territory with the added guitars and Takahashi kinda aiming for The Fab Four vocal style. Strangely enough, YMO's version of "Day Tripper" was the first time I had ever heard the song performed by anyone.

"Rap Phenomena" was the first of the new songs that I hadn't heard prior to getting this tape. Originally from YMO's 5th album, "BGM" (1981), it was written and composed by Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣), and as nikala once mentioned in one of her articles, he was never all that strong a singer, and admittedly when I first heard this on the tape recorder, I kinda went "What the...?". Mind you, he was rapping here, but the lyrics about unified fields, corpuscles and a guy named Lamue always made me wonder about this weird entry. It hasn't been included in "YMO GO HOME" and I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't make it onto any other of the band's BEST compilations. Somehow I don't think Grandmaster Flash got too worried about "Rap Phenomena".

The final track on Side A, "Cue" was the 2nd completely new song that I came across, and I think it has fared better than "Rap Phenomena". It also struck me as being about as close to a mainstream New Wave-y pop song that YMO got at the time (before "Kimi ni Mune Kyun"). Hosono and Takahashi were responsible for the lyrics and melody with radio personality/music critic Peter Barakan also helping out with the words. According to the J-Wiki article for the song, it had been inspired by British band Ultravox, although I sometimes wonder how David Bowie would've done with this one.  "Cue" was also on "BGM" and even had a single release, the band's 4th in April 1981.

My last track for "Best One '82" is "Citizens of Science" which also came from "Solid State Survivor". It was another Mosdell/Takahashi collaboration with even Mosdell taking part in the vocals. Not surprisingly, the song is about the leaching of all emotion and soul from society. It was likely an indictment of Japanese society back 30 years ago, but it could even be something similar against all 1st-world societies today.

To finish off, I just had to include this feisty Miku Hatsune cover of "Nice Age".

The first album (1978)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Marcos V.'s Retro Grooves and Underground Aidoru Gems Playlist

Inspired by my own post about Greeen Linez’s “HibiscusPacific”, I came up with a small playlist of retro inspired songs focusing mostly in late night grooves and some underground aidoru-pop gems that also flirts with a retro style. As always, I had a lot of fun “building” this entry, and I hope you guys enjoy the songs presented here. Also, different from my other lists, there's no preference order here.


Hitomitoi -- Dive

I consider Hitomitoi’s (一十三十一) “Dive” to be Greeen Linez’s “Hibiscus Pacific” sister track. They’re not directly related, but both songs were released around the same time (summer of 2012) and featured a City Pop inspiration. Based on that, “Dive” is a lovely light disco song that would not be out of place in a late night walk around the city. It was included in Hitomitoi’s 2012 City Pop album, “City Dive”. Also, the video portrays a beautiful and sexy Hitomitoi. It’s worth a watch.


Especia -- Umibe no Sati

Especia is quite an underground aidoru group with a gimmick focused on a retro 80s style. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I couldn’t find the original version of “Umibe no Sati” (海辺のサティ), which is not as lengthy as this one. On the other hand, this "Vexation Edit" remix is amazing for people that, just like me, love extended versions of these types of grooves. As for the song, it’s a nice late-night funky gem with a warm melody. Also, the arrangement is incredibly rich with lots of synths and catchy electronic drums. Finally, “Umibe no Sati” can be found in Especia’s “Midnight Confusion” (ミッドナイトConfusion) single ("Midnight Confusion", the title track, is also a killer synthpop aidoru song).

As a side note, a Greeen Linez remix of "Umibe no Sati" was also included in the "Midnight Confusion" single, but I couldn't find it on YouTube.


Negicco -- Aidoru Bakari Kikanaide

Negicco’s shibuya-key styled “Aidoru Bakari Kikanaide” (アイドルばかり聴かないで) is a bright aidoru song about a girl who wants her boyfriend to pay more attention to her instead of keep listening to aidoru songs. It’s a fun critique that reveals the self-awareness of this aidoru group. The song, which was released in 2013, features strong and tense strings, courtesy of Pizzicato Five’s Konishi Yasuharu (小西康陽). As for the video, while not very complex, features an interesting retro and classy style.


saori@destiny -- OFF THE WALL

NOTE: If the link above gets deleted, here's an alternative link featuring half of the song (click here). Since this alternative link is from the label's official YouTube channel, it probably won't go away.

saori@destiny was an electro-pop artist that started singing around 2007, when Perfume and a bunch of other auto-tuned artists were trying to conquer the Oricon charts. Also, as everybody knows, only Perfume reached stardom while the others faded after a couple of good releases. In the case of “OFF THE WALL”, it’s an album track that was included in saori@destiny’s 2011 mini-album “Domestic domain”. Alongside the laid-back funky vibe, I dig the synth melody that comes along in the 1:07 mark. It also makes a second appearance in a filtered form after the 2:29 mark. As for saori, her vocals, although auto-tuned to death, are kind of wispy and sexy in a way that matches the song’s vibe very well.


Tomato n' Pine -- Captain wa Kimi da!

The now disbanded Tomato n’ Pine released the glittery disco “Captain wa Kimi da!” (キャプテンは君だ!) as their first "indies" single back in 2010. The song is quite something and I remember that it was the only “new” thing that caught my eyes when I watched the DVD featuring performances of the first Tokyo Idol Festival at the time. Although not a laidback groovy song like some of the others it has a nice throwback sound and a bright aidoru vibe. Bass, strings, horns, cute girls and a good melody… what more could I ask?


Bracket” was KAN's second single released on October 25th, 1987, the same day his second album “No-No-Yesman” dropped. I was very surprised to see that one included in Japanese City Pop, the 2011 edition at least, since KAN is not exactly the name I would associate with the genre. His sound is more akin to a casual and lighthearted side of everyday life than to the glamorous images of the beach and urban nightlife. But there were a few tracks with a bit of jazz and horns in the arrangement that compelled the reviewer to include the album in the book anyway, though I forgot what he actually wrote (and currently have no access to the book, which I left back home). “Bracket” was probably one of those. With those low notes in the verses and the jazzy feel, it gives off the image of the singer in a proper suit and a tie in place of that comical bowtie he sported in the early 90's. On the other hand, the bouncy chorus melody and that adorable scat he does around 2:20 mark still make me go “That's KAN alright.” It's a really fun song, I think, and it doesn't matter that his voice is flawed because he's a pro at livening up songs with personality.

While searching for working links of the song a couple of days ago, I came across its music video which I've been curious to watch for the longest time because of its background. You see, the year before KAN debuted in 1987, he was asked by the director Nobuhiko Obayashi (大林宣彦) to create background music for his film “The Strange Couple”, officially titled in Japan as “Nihon Junjouden Okashi na Futari Monokuru-hoshiki Hitobito no Mure” (日本殉情伝 おかしなふたり ものくるほしきひとびとの群) that was still in the making to be released in 1988. Obayashi returned the favor by directing the music video for “Bracket”. I don't even know how the two met or how a total freshman like KAN got such an assignment as his first recording work, but according to a magazine account that I can no longer track down, Obayashi thought his light poppy sound with a hidden edge was a perfect fit for his film. For those of you familiar with the director's work like “House” and “Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo”, you'll know that he loves surreal and dreamy visuals and uses them to the max in the “Bracket” video. The set and the concept are pretty simple, but the editing makes it a quirky little clip, which has even got film-like opening and credit sequences. The 25-year old KAN looks like his usual casual self there, making silly faces and playing the piano. The female actress is Aura Lani (オーラ・ラニ), and she has appeared in minor roles in some of Obayashi's films such as his adaptation of “The Drifting Classroom”. Lastly, the credit sequence features an excerpt from another “No-No-Yesman” track, the lovely ballad “All I Know”.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tomoko Tane -- Mermaid In Blue

I'm not quite sure how the song got onto one of my ancient audiotapes, but I've remembered the refrain from Tomoko Tane's(種ともこ) "Mermaid In Blue" although I didn't know that it was the theme for the anime, "Sangosho Densetsu -- Aoi Umi no Elfie"(サンゴ礁伝説~青い海のエルフィ...Coral Reef Legend -- Elfie of the Blue Sea) back in the mid-80s. From what I've seen of the excerpt above, those submariners must have had a grand time on those adaptable jet-skis.

Tane released her song as her 2nd single from May 1986, and even without the anime knowledge, I immediately got this image of a fantastical underwater kingdom just from her vocals and the melody. "Mermaid In Blue" just has that sparkling quality about it, and reading the other articles of her songs by nikala pretty much cemented my impression that Tane is quite a unique pop singer. Usually when I go and see a movie, it's to escape for a few hours. This song also has that escapist quality....perhaps it's just for 4 minutes, but often that is enough to get into a nice headspace.

Tomoko Tane

Friday, March 28, 2014

Chisato Moritaka -- Hachi Gatsu no Koi (八月の恋)

The first time I heard Chisato Moritaka's(森高千里) "Hachi Gatsu no Koi" (August Love) was perhaps via a concert video on TV in which the then long-haired singer was in her over-the-top techno-aidoru togs while she was singing this ballad and strumming a guitar. From my foggy memory, she rather resembled a balladeering matador in the bullring.

"Hachi Gatsu no Koi" was released in June 1991 as Moritaka's 13th single. The singer provided the lyrics about a summer love about to finish its course while the ever-prolific Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平) came up with the romantic sigh-worthy melody. And this begged the question "Why does this song sound like something that came from the Disney movie 'Lady and the Tramp'?" Namely, I was thinking about "Bella Notte"....the song that was sung during the spaghetti dinner between the two dogs. There seemed to be something distinctly Italian.

And sure enough, Tsutsumi, in his search for a certain style, apparently based the melody on a canzone. I could have easily seen Moritaka singing this from a balcony overlooking a piazza in Rome. No doubt a lot of young men would've been exhaling valentines right up to her.

In any case, "Hachi Gatsu no Koi" got up to No. 6 on Oricon and is a track on her 1991 remix BEST album, "The Moritaka"(ザ・森高) which peaked at No. 2. The video below is her self-cover of the song years later. Ciao!

TOKIO -- Uwasa no Kiss (うわさのキッス)

I have to admit that I never saw a single episode of the anime "Kiteretsu no Daihyakka"(キテレツの大百科...The Encyclopedia of Kiteretsu), but at one point, I did enjoy one of the program's ending themes. That was "Uwasa no Kiss" (Rumoured Kiss) by Johnny's Entertainment unit TOKIO. It just had that catchy beat that managed to hold my attention. Written by Tetsuo Kudo(工藤哲雄) and composed by Takashi Tsushimi(都志見隆) as the band's 3rd single released in April 1995, the song's "Yea, Yea" and rumbly guitar basically drew me in like a magnet.

Tomoya Nagase and Tatsuya Yamaguchi(長瀬智也・山口達也)were on the lead vocals with "Uwasa no Kiss" which became their most successful hit under the Sony label (even higher goals were met once TOKIO moved over to Universal Japan at the turn of the century). It hit No. 2 and became the 88th-ranked song of 1995. The song was also a track on their 2nd album, "Bad Boys Bound".

Cherish -- Tento Mushi no Samba (てんとう虫のサンバ)

It doesn't really sound like a samba, but "Tento Mushi no Samba" (The Ladybug Samba) is just one of those old-fashioned folk songs from Japan that just makes me wanna grab a butterfly net and head out into the fields (mind you, if I skipped around and did that at my age, that net should probably be around MY head). It's one of those tunes that has come in and out of my memories over the decades via the various retrospectives and commercials.

Back in 1968, Yoshitaka Matsuzaki(松崎好孝) started his band, Cherish, with three others in his hometown of Nagoya. The name of the group came from the 1966 song of the same name by the US band The Association that used to pop up on my AM radio back in the 70s and on Muzak speakers everywhere. In 1970, Etsuko Matsui(松井悦子)joined to make a 5-strong group with an official debut a year later with the song "Nanoni Anata wa Kyoto e Yuku no"(なのにあなたは京都へ行くの...But You're Heading To Kyoto). However in 1972, Cherish became a simple duo with Matsuzaki and Matsui.

Their biggest hit was "Tento Mushi no Samba", a cheerful and skippy song about that wedding day in the forest. It became a million-seller peaking at No. 5 on Oricon after its release in July 1973 as Cherish's 7th single and would eventually become the 24th-ranked song of the year. Written by Daizo Saito(さいとう大三) and composed by Shunichi Makaino (馬飼野俊一...the younger brother of composer Koji Makaino), it has also become a popular song to be played at weddings, giving it a certain immortality. And perhaps the song sprinkled some further good luck to the duo....Matsuzaki and Matsui would get married in 1977.

MANNA/Juicy Fruits -- Tokio Tsushin (TOKIO通信)

Going through "Japanese City Pop", I've come across a fair share of record covers that just popped out at me because of their design. One of them was for the LP you see above, the self-titled "MANNA" from 1980 with the stylized illustration of a woman with the big orange hair and tatsumaki eyes. Well, a couple of nights ago, I decided to go exploring YouTube again and just put this name into the search engine and came up with this song, "Tokio Tsushin" (Tokyo Call) which was included in the album.

According to the writeup in "Japanese City Pop" for the album, the music reviewer Shinichi Ogawa(小川真一) referred to "Tokio Tsushin" as a highly-regarded Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)composition with a cult following. And Tsutsumi has written a ton of songs that are more well-known than this one ranging from Kiyohiko Ozaki's(尾崎紀世彦) evergreen "Mata Au Hi Made"(また逢う日まで) from 1971 to "Ambitious Japan" by TOKIO in 2003. I was definitely interested in this mystery tune.

And it does start out rather enigmatically with this seemingly one-finger hopping on the keyboard and a ring tone before the song begins spreading out as this mix between a musical Parisian travelogue and something that almost dips into Mood Kayo territory. MANNA(マナ) herself glides through the Tetsuya Chiaki(ちあき哲也)-penned lyrics as if she were sitting at some café in the City of Lights nursing a café-au-lait while the rain is steadily falling down (although Milan is mentioned in the words there). For me, "Tokio Tsushin" is one of those tunes that makes for a welcome respite when I've been listening a bit too much to the aidoru side of things...kinda like on the same level as a Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子) song of those times.

Unfortunately, information on the singer herself, akin to the overall theme of mystery of this article, is sadly lacking on the Net. According to one Japanese site, she got married to a sibling of the brother folk duo Bread & Butter, and provided an ending theme for the anime "Dragonball Z". Also, according to the article in "Japanese City Pop" for her debut album, "Chabako Trick" (1979), her 1st single was "Yellow Magic Carnival" created by Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣). During her high school years, she was even involved in a band with Motoharu Sano(佐野元春).

In 1982, the pop band Juicy Fruits gave their own cover of "Tokio Tsushin" as the final track on their 4th album, "Ni-juu Nana Fun no Koi"(27分の恋...27-Minute Love). This version has a bit more of a rock-n'-roll kick than the original but the Frenchness still comes out. And the other remarkable thing about it is that Atsuko Okuno's(奥野敦子)voice is a whole lot mellower compared to her vocals from the band's debut single, "Jenny wa Gokigen Naname"(ジェニーはご機嫌ななめ)in 1980.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Greeen Linez -- Hibiscus Pacific

“Hibiscus Pacific” is not a proper Japanese song, but one composed by Greeen Linez, two British musicians (Chris Greenberg from the electronic pop band “Hong Kong in the 60s” and Matt Lyne, an UK-born/Tokyo-based DJ/producer who is also co-founder of the Diskotopia label) that decided to collaborate in order to release some songs that are, in essence, trapped in the Japanese 80s.

“Things That Fade”, their full length 2012 album, is a well crafted and cohesive package of instrumental pieces that takes inspiration from the urbane City Pop landscape of the 80s in Japan. “Hibiscus Pacific”, the album promotional song, is a melodic and breezy light number that relies heavily in the nostalgic factor. Also, the accompanying video, which is a compilation of 80s VHS-quality footage, such as commercials and some aidoru singers shots, is a great way to feel the song. In the end, the combined work of song and video represents the decadence of the bubble years very well, a time when consumerism and hedonism were concrete values thanks to the quick economic growth experienced by Japan.

“Hibiscus Pacific” is a nice song that captivates the listener with its retro vibe. As a new song composed by British musicians, it ends being an interesting interpretation of what the Japanese bubble years sounded like. Of course the video plays an important role in creating the whole mood, as if the listener/watcher was part of that particular space and time, but “Hibiscus Pacific” is a strong instrumental work on its own as well.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Perfume -- Monochrome Effect

Well, a few years after discovering that a Pizzicato Five tune got onto an episode of prime time American cartoon, "Futurama", I found recently that another example of J-Pop managed to invade the ears of viewers watching another popular wacky US animated series, "American Dad" by Seth MacFarlane. Now, I've been a big fan of his other long-running series, "Family Guy" so I've often considered "American Dad" the younger brother of sorts. And I've known that MacFarlane: 1) has used pop and jazz over the decades for both shows, and 2) is apparently an anime fan (just from what I've heard over the grapevine).

However, I would never have imagined a Perfume song from long ago making its way into an episode of "American Dad". But apparently "Monochrome Effect" was the song backing a montage in a 2010 ep "May The Best Stan Win". As main character, nutty CIA agent Stan Smith's cyborg doppelganger explained, "It's Japanese funk from the future!"

Well, not so fast, Stan. It's actually Japanese technopop from the past. In fact, "Monochrome Effect" premiered as Perfume's 2nd single under the Bee-Hive label and the trio's 4th single overall (thank you, Wikipedia) all the way back on March 17 2004 which would make it just a little over 10 years old. Good golly! I can hardly believe that Perfume has been around for 13 years. Mind you, they seem to have virtually become permanent residents on the Kohaku Utagassen.

I only found about Perfume through their huge hit, "Polyrhythm" much later in the decade, so it was pretty surprising watching the official video for "Monochrome Effect". I realize that it was a decade ago, but still, I had to really stare at the girls closely to realize who they were; I could only recognize one of them initially. And at that time, the Perfume look and style was still evolving, so seeing Yuka Kashino, Ayaka Nishiwaki and Ayano Omoto in various 60s getups and handling musical instruments without too much dancing was a bit of a revelation. Still, the computers were still in the Yasutaka Nakata/Kinoko(中田ヤスタカ・木の子)-penned song, and I liked the blippity-bloppity chip tune intro. With the sing-songy nature of "Monochrome Effect" and how far back its origins were, I kinda treat it as the toddler example of the Perfume we all know and love today. And to further show how far the group has come since those early 2000s, "Monochrome Effect" charted no higher than 117th place on Oricon.

Apparently, the original single is now out of print according to the Wikipedia article on the song, so "Monochrome Effect" has taken on a bit of a rare collector's-item status, although it can be found on the trio's BEST album from 2006, "Perfume -- Complete Best" and was re-released in 2008. And of course, there is always that episode on "American Dad".

Checkers -- Kanashikute Jealousy (哀しくてジェラシー)

Ah....third time's the charm. And that certainly applied to Checkers' 3rd single, "Kanashikute Jealousy" (Sad Jealousy). Written by Masao Urino(売野雅勇) and composed by Hiroaki Serizawa(芹沢廣明) who brought in that 50s sound for the band, the song became the 1st No. 1 single for Fumiya Fujii(藤井郁弥 )and company when it was released in May 1984.

And the doo-wop translated quite well to our regular karaoke-happy university crew whenever we visited Kuri. We didn't exactly wave towels whenever one of us or one of the other guests sang "Namida no Request"(涙のリクエスト), but we all went all in for "Kanashikute Jealousy". The chorus arrangement by Urino was such that everyone liked to come in with our "Lonely, lonely, lonely" and "Hah, hah, hahhhh" whenever anyone decided to go for that particular Checkers hit. A few of us (such as me) didn't really understand what the song was all about or how to read the kanji back then, but it didn't matter one whit. It was too fun a tune to sit on the sidelines. Plus when one has had a few beers already...

"Kanashikute Jealousy" ended up becoming the 5th-ranked song for 1984, one of three Checkers hits that got onto the Top 10 on Oricon along with the aforementioned "Namida no Request" and the No. 8 "Hoshikuzu no Stage"(星屑のステージ).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mondo Grosso featuring BoA -- Everything Needs Love

I would love to see the video again on Super High Resolution. I did catch it a decade or so ago on the music video channel and almost immediately went on a search-and-purchase mission to get the CD single. And getting back to the present, I think I ought to consider getting a BEST compilation by Mondo Grosso;I've loved the songs that I've heard so far that have been crafted by this DJ/producer. He's been able to mix in the groove, the nightclub and some Latin, often collaborating with Bird.

No Latin in "Everything Needs Love" and no Bird here. Instead, there's some urgent groove and Korean singer, BoA, for Mondo Grosso's October 2002 single. According to the lyrics and the video, this could be just the perfect cool song for a superhero whose motif Well, the X-Men did have Sunfire on its roster briefly; why not a heroine by the name of Sakura? (pink eyebeams, razor-sharp blossoms...defeats overaggressive drunk salarymen during the O-hanami season...could work...or not)

As for BoA, she started her career in South Korea in 1998 but her debut in Japan came around a few years later in May 2001 with "ID; Peace B" but I think most of us got to know her very well with the arrival of her 6th single, "VALENTI" in August 2002. When I saw the video, I just thought, "Wow! The Korean Janet Jackson". She's got the voice, looks and the moves. Since that point in time, her popularity soared. And this was still a year or two away from the huge first wave of Korean culture that was sparked by the broadcast of the drama "Winter Sonata" on NHK before the second wave of Korean boy bands and girl groups crashed onto Japanese shores later in the decade.

In any case, I gotta do that search-and-purchase for Mondo Grosso now. And amen to the title...especially to the ailing Toronto Maple Leafs.

Pink Lady -- Wanted

To be honest, I don't remember too much of this song other than the title and the opening choreography where Mie and Kei are facing each other and singing into each other's microphones. I had to listen to "Wanted" a few times before getting the impression that this was a tune that Boney M would've loved to have performed in Japanese.

"Wanted" was released as Pink Lady's 5th single in September 1977, and it certainly was wanted as it raced up to No. 1 on Oricon and stayed there for 12 consecutive weeks between September and December. In fact, by the end of the year, it became the 3rd-ranked single for all of 1977, snugly fitting into a Top 10 that had 3 other of the ladies' singles including the No. 1 song of the year, "Nagisa no Sinbad"(渚のシンドバッド)which was single No. 4.

Written by Yu Aku(阿久悠) and composed by Shunichi Tokura(都倉俊一), the songwriting mainstays for Pink Lady, the message was simple and clear. Mie and Kei were out to wrangle the heel that stole their hearts. However, Pink Lady was the one to steal everyone else's. "Wanted" was the song that got them onto the Kohaku Utagassen for their very first appearance, and it was the next million-seller after "Nagisa no Sinbad".

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Junichi Inagaki -- Ano Koro no Mama (あの頃のまま)

Well, I'm happy to say I was able to get a link to Junichi Inagaki's(稲垣潤一) cover of "Ano Koro no Mama" (Just Like Those Days) after all. I had been mentioning on the original article for the song from January 2014 that I lamented the fact that YouTube had taken down the video featuring the Inagaki version, but with a bit of a search today, I could track it down.

The reason for me following up on this is simply because of the three versions I now have on the blog (the original by Bread & Butter and another great cover by Haruko Kuwana in the January entry), I have to go with Inagaki as my favourite version. As I mentioned earlier, the singer does put down a mean City Pop twist on the Bread & Butter sunset beach song, and it could accompany any guy striding down any of the major downtown streets of Tokyo as a theme song. And yet, it was placed as just a B-side to his 7th single, "Ocean Blue" from April 1984. I don't believe it got onto an original album, but I was happy to get it on one of his BEST compilations, "Rainy Voice" from 2007.

H2O -- Goodbye Season (Goodbye シーズン)

Well, as you might guess, the anime "Miyuki"(みゆき)and the pop band H2O are tied at the hip. Along with almost all of the other entries on the duo with the molecularly-inspired name, here is another single (their 6th from October 1983), "Goodbye Season" which was used as the ending theme for the show.

Compared to the other ending theme, the wistful and graduation ceremony-friendly "Omoide ga Ippai"(思い出がいっぱい), "Goodbye Season" is more upbeat if still somewhat bittersweet. It's centered on the end of the summer season when the holidays are about to come to an end along with any romantic entanglements. Written by Keisuke Yamakawa(山川啓介)and composed by Kisaburo Suzuki(鈴木キサブロ)and arranged by Katsu Hoshi(星勝), there is something about the delivery of Kanji Nakazawa and Masaki Akashio(中沢堅司・赤塩正樹)that brings out the goosebumps of nostalgia in me.


Not sure which original album the song appeared on, but it is also available on any of H2O's BEST compilations.

Miho Tsumiki -- Jidai yo Kaware (時代よ変われ)

If I were you, I wouldn't be deceived by this girl's sunny face and voice and the fact that this entry is tagged as "aidoru". The current actress Miho Tsumiki (つみきみほ) may have been officially labeled as an idol during her short singing career from 1987 to 1989, but it seemed that her producers had a more inspired concept in mind when coming up with her image. Judging by several online comments from people who saw her on TV, she was definitely considered unique. Perhaps it's because she didn't fit into any of the usual idol archetypes: cute, sexy, comical, or the diva. And the song she is most well known for, "Jidai yo Kaware" (時代よ変われ...Times, Change), is pretty profound. It is sung from a perspective of a troubled 17-year old teenager (same age as the singer at the time), who desires to be freed from the constraining values of Japan's adult generation while being troubled by her puberty crisis as neither a girl nor a woman. The first verse also vaguely hints at a suicide attempt, though my optimistic side likes to think that there is some light at the end of the tunnel due to the hopeful tone of the chorus.

The single was created by the golden trio of Takashi Matsumoto (松本隆) (lyrics), Haruomi Hosono (細野晴臣) (music) and Nobuyuki Shimizu (清水信之) (arrangement) and released on July 21st, 1988. A bit of an unusual composition for Hosono, but then again he did create those fluffy tunes for Seiko Matsuda, so he can do anything. The melody and Miho's delivery slightly remind me of the late Kaori Kawamura (川村かおり), who debuted four months after "Jidai yo Kaware" was released. She also had a fair share of songs about teenage tribulations though her approach was more solemn. I gotta admit, for someone who's main profession is acting, Miho was a pretty competent singer. She delivers this one like a soaring bird that the subject of the lyrics aspires to be. Another interesting bit about the song is that Ceddin Deden intro. Certainly left an impression!

Just a bit of trivia about the singer herself. Born in Chiba in 1971 as Miho Toyama (富山みほ), she graduated from the Tokyo Metropolitan Yoyogi High School, which also groomed talent such as Takuya Kimura from SMAP and Hiro from SPEED. While in middle school, she won an acting audition in 1985 to play two characters in a film "Take It Easy" featuring Koji Kikkawa and Yuko Natori. Since then, she has starred in numerous films and dramas including "Hebi Ichigo" and "Umi wa Miteita". During her brief stint as an idol, she released four singles and one self-titled album. I listened to other samples from that one and they have a similar sound to "Jidai yo Kaware" but with fewer synths.

Source: Amazon Japan

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Akiko Yano -- Cream Stew (クリーム・シチュー)

A little over a couple of years ago, I wrote an entry on Akiko Yano's(矢野顕子) "Ramen Tabetai"(ラーメン食べたい), her musical yearning for a bowl of simple ramen in a time when it was intimidating for a lot of women to enter a ramen shop on their own. That song was back in 1984.

Well, some 13 years later, Yano came up with another slurp-themed tune, but this time it was on the Western side of things. I listened to "Cream Stew" for the first time in ages last night and was reminded of those old House Foods commercials on TV for the titular stuff whenever the autumn came around. It's kinda interesting comparing how beloved cream stew is in Japan while in North America, we seem to go ga-ga over beef stew or chicken soup.

In any case, "Cream Stew" was released as a single in May 1997 although my relationship with the song was via her July 1997 album, "Oui Oui" (peaked at No. 21 on Oricon). Composed by Yano and written by copywriter-lyricist Shigesato Itoi(糸井重里), the song was also arranged by Noriyuki Makihara(槇原敏之) who also pops up as a backup vocal in the refrain. Unlike the mild urgency and thriller aspect of the earlier "Ramen Tabetai", Yano sings "Cream Stew" as the best remedy for the blues by the cheeriest doctor. Chicken soup indeed. To her, there's nothing like a bowl of the creamy broth and tender vegetables to clear away any negativity.

For me, I was more partial to a hearty bowl of minestrone but her point is well taken. It was just a happy-go-lucky Yano yarn that got me to buy the entire album.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Uchoten -- Bye-Bye

"Bla bla bla bla bla bla!"

This video was uploaded on Youtube way back in September 2006, though I first watched it when it was still new. Uchoten (有頂天...Entrancement) was a relatively obscure technopop and new wave band from the 80's with a cult following from the indie crowd, which extended to some overseas fans on the net in the recent years. One of the songs they will always be associated with is this nonsensical and catchy tune “Bye-Bye” from 1986, which happened to be their most successful single peaking at No. 63 on Oricon weeklies. It also had a different version on the band's third studio album “Peace” (ピース), which ended up at a No.18 spot. I could've chosen to highlight a more ambitious song by these guys and I've heard a lot, but the poppy “Bye-Bye” is still the special one for me because of the special role it has played in my daily life in Canada. Allow me to elaborate. When my younger sister, who also likes the group, would leave the house and I sent her off with “bye bye” (the phrase), we would immediately burst into the chorus like two little girls. It also went vice versa, every single time. I can recite this one by heart without even trying.

As you can see by the video, the guys from Uchoten really didn't take themselves all that seriously. They remind me of cheeky boys in some of my classes who like to stir trouble. And the vocalist Kera (ケラ), who goes by an extended alias Keralino Sandorovich (ケラリーノ・サンドロヴィッチ), has a childlike and fancyfree tone to his voice that fits the song perfectly. If you watch more of their videos, you'll notice that he's quite a character. With that Robert Smith-esque hairdo of his and quirky stage antics, he took pleasure in confusing the audience. Someone from Yoru no Hit Studio once made a terrible decision to invite Uchoten to perform "Bye-Bye" on the show and the result wasn't pretty. They treated the studio like it was some small live venue rather than a TV domain. Shame on Youtube for removing that one. In any case, Kera and the drummer Zin (ジン) were the only two permanent members of the band while others came and went through seven phases of lineup changes. Uchoten lasted between 1982 and 1991, releasing eight studio albums total. But the members also had some projects outside of the band, including recording collaborations with another quirky techno band P-Model. Perhaps the most extensive of these was Kera's own label Nagomu Records (ナゴムレコード) which he created in 1983, signing groups that were even more eccentric than his own. In the recent years he's been more active as an independent film director, while performing on the side with his new technopop group Kera & The Synthesizers.


Etsuko Yakushimaru -- X-Jigen e Yokoso (X次元へようこそ)

As I may have mentioned about my bi-weekly get-togethers with my anime buddy, about an hour of my visit to his place involves listening to music and theme songs from his humoungous collection of various anime soundtracks. I'm not quite as big into the anison as he obviously is, but I have been keying in on "Space Dandy" since its debut in January this year. It's one of a few examples in which I have enjoyed both the opening AND ending themes. In fact, I've already talked on Yasuyuki Okamura's(岡村靖幸) Princely piece of funk, "Viva Namida" as the opening theme, and not too long ago, I also mentioned about one song that was inserted at the end of Episode 6, "Hoshikuzu no Pipeline"(星屑のパイプライン)by Junk Fujiyama that probably has been satisfying fans of City Pop/Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎).

So, this is the ending theme, "X-Jigen e Yokoso" (Welcome to the X Dimension), an appropriately titled song for an anime that's pretty way out there. Sung by the enigmatic and whisper-voiced Etsuko Yakushimaru(やくしまるえつこ), it's an infectiously catchy little technopop tune with a bit of old disco, to boot. It goes quite well with the ending credit graphics, and apparently, the multitasking Yakushimaru was also responsible for coming up with the alien illustrations during those credits, too.

Yakushimaru is a stage name for this singer-songwriter and producer and illustrator and narrator. She also goes under the name of Tica Alpha while in songwriter mode (she was responsible for the music and words behind "X-Jigen"), and also belongs to a just-as-mysterious rock band by the name of Sotaisei Riron(相対性理論...Theory of Relativity) which debuted in 2006. The above video is the official one for the song in which the singer (maybe?) is co-starring with what is apparently a future employee of The intro is pretty interesting in that it sounds like the beginning of Pink Lady's "UFO". Considering the song's spacey nature, it wouldn't surprise me in the least.

"X-Jigen e Yokoso" came out as Yakushimaru's 7th single in January 2014, and is most likely a track on the official soundtrack album for "Space Dandy", something that my anime buddy has already ordered and is waiting for with great anticipation.

What I hadn't also realized until very recently was that she was also behind the opening theme for the anime, "Mawaru Penguindrum". Now, that was truly a mind-screw of epic proportions.

P.S. I just found out about this fusion between "X-Jigen e Yokoso" and Musiq Soulchild's "Love", and I'm pretty impressed. Put the lights down low, baby!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Seiko Matsuda -- Cherry Blossom (チェリー・ブラッサム)

Ahhh....Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), back in the early days when she had that Seiko-chan cut. I was looking around for a particular song to herald the arrival of spring, which incidentally came to Toronto at about 12:57 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time today (instead of the desired green, we got a rather ash-gray appearance).

Then, I came across a site on the Net which highlighted some of the seasonal J-Pop/kayo kyoku tunes and discovered Matsuda's 4th single from January 21, 1981. Yup, the release date for "Cherry Blossom" was a tad early but I gather the producers wanted to get that happy spring feeling through to everyone as early as possible. And Seiko certainly succeeds at that with her singing about looking forward to the future with all those sunny images of waves and good times on campus. Yes, you kids going through Examination Hell in Japan....there is a spanking new tomorrow for you....provided you pass.

Written by Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子), who was also responsible for Seiko's 2nd single, the just-as-bouncy "Aoi Sangosho", "Cherry Blossom" was composed by Kazuo Zaitsu(財津和夫), the lead singer of Tulip. This was Zaitsu's first song for Matsuda, and he knew how to put a zip into this aidoru tune. To me, it kinda starts off with a bit of drama in the disco before it drives off into another happy, shiny song for her. The lyrics may hint at that scene of heading off to college among the blossoming sakura, but the melody is ready to propel the listener right off to the beach.

The song hit No. 1 on Oricon where it stayed for most of the month of February, and it eventually became the 9th-ranked song for 1981. The good times were just beginning for The Queen of the 80s Aidorus.


Hello, everyone. This is J-Canuck here.

Recently, thanks to nikala, we've been able to use as a link for Japanese pop songs for which I've been very grateful. Now, I'm not sure if this has been the case for you, but when I've tried the link to access those songs, I've been able to get the page but sometimes I cannot get the tabs to play them for some reason and occasionally, I get a "Cannot display page" message.

If that is the case for you, it seems to be just a glitch getting from the article page to the 163 page. When I return to the article page and then go back to the 163 page and press the blue tabs again, everything seems to be OK. Hopefully, that will work for you. If not, you may have to simply access outside of "Kayo Kyoku Plus". My apologies for the inconvenience.

In any case, I hope all of you have been and continue enjoying the blog.

Yutaka Ozaki -- Sotsugyo (卒業)

This time of year is the time for the emotionally-wrought school graduation ceremonies. Those seniors gussy up their uniforms and somberly receive their diplomas from the principal while their kohai and former teachers look on, and then later on, a lot of the students have a good ol' cry about it. However, considering the winter we all seem to have had this past year, I suspect that there was a whole lot more snow than cherry blossoms surrounding the schools.

In 1985, there also seemed to be quite the influx of graduation-themed pop songs. Mid-80s aidoru Momoko Kikuchi and Yuki Saito(菊池桃子・斉藤由貴) had their hits that year with songs of the same title, "Sotsugyo" (Graduation). Rock balladeer Yutaka Ozaki(尾崎豊) also had his own "Sotsugyo" ready, and his 4th single was the first out of the gate as it was released in January 1985. However, unlike the cutesy namesakes of Kikuchi and Saito, Ozaki's take on the annual academic event was just like him and his songs: gutsy and filled with emotion. And in this case, the emotion seemed to be that of frustration.

According to his lyrics (there is an English translation at "The Last Dream", an unofficial Ozaki fansite), Ozaki sings out loud about all of that pent-up energy that builds up in a lot of teens but has nowhere constructive to some of it may just get distributed into the act of breaking the school windows or fighting. The singer is chomping about this but at the end, he also laments the fact that by the time he finally gets out of the verdamnt educational system, he'll most likely lose that power and end up as that salaried droid. Talk about going from the frying pan into the fire. And yet, his music sounds like a proud anthem. Most of the kids might be growing into the life of corporate obedience but Ozaki is going to make sure that they get at least a warning from him.

The original 45" single of "Sotsugyo" peaked at No. 20 on Oricon, but 5 years later, the 8-cm CD single release managed to get as high as No. 8 on the charts. It was also a track on Ozaki's 2nd album, "Kaikisen"(回帰線...Tropic of Graduation), which was released in March 1985 and went to No. 1. In fact, it also received a prize for Excellent Album at the Japan Record Awards.