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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

1986 Omega Tribe -- Stay Girl, Stay Pure

Well, as I write this, I only have 1 hour left before August turns into September. I realize that summer still has 3 weeks to go but there is something symbolic about the transition from the eighth month into the ninth month, so I wanted to get in a summer song before the midnight hour strikes.

I'm not sure but "Stay Girl, Stay Pure" may be the first Omega Tribe (under its then-incarnation as 1986 Omega Tribe) song that I ever heard. In any case, it is the first Omega Tribe song that I saw performed by the band on "The Best 10". "Stay Girl, Stay Pure" was the 5th single by 1986 Omega Tribe (so not including the singles by its previous incarnation as Kiyotaka Sugiyama & Omega Tribe) released in November 1987. At the time, the lead vocal was Carlos Toshiki Takahashi from Parana, Brazil who had an even higher voice than Sugiyama.

To be honest, the only thing I remembered from viewing that particular episode of "The Best 10" was this band, since Carlos and company sounded really different in comparison. At the time, I didn't know the terms City Pop or J-AOR, but I do remember comparing their sound (perhaps erroneously) to that of the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based family band, The Jets, who were making their mark on the US Billboard charts at around the same time. To me, Omega Tribe sounded less Tokyo and more Los Angeles.

In any case, "Stay Girl, Stay Pure" reached No. 5 on Oricon. Masao Urino(売野雅勇)provided the lyrics while Tsunehiro Izumi(和泉常寛)was responsible for the smooth melody (do love the sax in there). The song itself was the reason for me to purchase the band's 1988 album, "Down Town Mystery". The single was also used as the theme song for the NTV drama, "Koi wa Hi-Ho!"(恋はハイホー!...Love Is Hi-Ho!)

nikala's Online J-Music Merchant Guide. Part 1: Purchasing Directly

While I haven't been buying Japanese music for as long as J-Canuck here, my 10 years of experience with this hobby has led me to some nifty shops. My current collection is nearing 400 titles, 98% being albums. I only spent one of those years in Japan; otherwise I've depended on online retailers. I figure most readers of this blog are in the same boat and might be interested in buying Japanese music from overseas but have limited resources. Since I'm mostly interested in the oldies, I can't always afford to buy the items in brand-new condition. Even with all these wonderful CD reissues that have graced CDJapan and Amazon over the past few years, a lot of material still remains obscure and out-of-print. More often than not I stick with used items, but it's not much of the issue because the Japanese tend to take good care of their stuff. Almost all CDs I've received had zero scratches, and even records tend to be sold in pretty good shape. Just make sure you check the item grading, looking for key words like M (Mint), NM (Near Mint), EX+/- (Excellent +/-) etc.

My guide will be divided into two entries: A. shops that let you purchase directly and B. middleman services. This one deals with the former.

Let me get these places out of the way first, but I'll be brief because they're fairly well-known and have extensive English-language Help Guides. With the exception of eBay and the marketplace division of Amazon, they deal exclusively with brand-new items. CDJapan is my personal favorite because they offer numerous payment and shipment options and have a handy point system. Their catalogue is very extensive, which can only be beaten by Amazon Japan.

Yesasia is not as popular as it used to be and their Japanese music selection is relatively limited but if you're interested in Chinese and Korean stuff, they're the place to stop by. They also offer free shipping for orders over $39 USD, but from what I know, the CD prices are already a little inflated to include a bit of the shipping charge.

I can't say anything for HMV Japan because I've found everything I looked for elsewhere. Like Amazon, they only take credit cards. Check their help guide.

eBay is self-explanatory. You may be surprised at what you can find there. My only warning about eBay is when you buy from stores based in China and sometimes Japan, please make sure that the CD is not a promo or sample. Those basically have limited resell value in case you ever want to sell them away. They were meant to be played on radio and in shops on the street, yet those stores got them for free and are planning to sell them to you for a profit. I'm saying this as someone who mistakenly bought a few promos myself. You may dismiss this warning if you don't care.

I haven't used Amazon much outside of Japan because their shipping charges are steep and the couple times I bought from them, the local post office has slapped a huge customs charge on top of it all. And all I ordered were a few CDs for each order. J-Canuck apparently didn't have such unpleasant experience, and we both live in Ontario, Canada, so go figure. What I do love about Amazon is their Marketplace, which sells a ton of new and used CDs. Shipping for those is cheap but be prepared for the slowness of SAL delivery because the sellers don't let you choose. Basically, just search for the CD you want in regular search (copy/paste the name in Japanese after googling or just type if you can), and then look for links to the right of the cover image that say something like this:
When you are directed to the page that lets you compare what various retailers offer, look for text that says "International & domestic shipping rates" or "海外向け&国内向け配送料金" in the Delivery column (second one to the right). If it only says "Domestic shipping rates" or "国内向け配送料金" then you'll have to use a deputy/middleman service based in Japan to obtain that item. I'll talk about those in another post.

Otokichi Premium was the first used item shop I had the pleasure of buying from. I even visited the main store in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka this April just for fun. Masa is an awesome owner and sometimes takes the time to write to you about the items in your order. Basically, kayokyoku and 70's/80's aidoru enthusiasts can find many gems at Otokichi, but because the store is fairly well-known online, it's just as easy to miss something before it goes out of stock. The selection is still impressive but not as mindboggling as it used to be a few years back. Being interested in New Music/City Pop and technopop, I don't usually find much there anymore. There are handy FAQ/help links at the bottom left corner of the page, though the "How to Order" guide is old. Just add the items to the cart and go from there.

I found FanFan though Amazon Marketplace and then discovered that they have their own website. They ship overseas, accept PayPal, price the used items reasonably and have a large selection of both CDs and records. I love that store. The only downside is that you need some knowledge of Japanese to browse it without confusion, but you can always use the automatic Google Translate feature on top of the page to help you out. Just make sure that your search keywords (キーワード) are in Japanese.

Besides being a handy resource for information on albums from anywhere in the world, Discogs also contains a huge marketplace full of independent sellers that have those items. Most of them deal with vinyl rather than CDs. As far as I searched, the J-Music sold at Discogs is everything but aidoru and straight pop (with some exceptions) but you can find those elsewhere. If you're looking for something rare, you might be in luck. I purchased an ultra-rare vinyl copy of Mioko Yamaguchi's "Yume Hikou" from there last week, which made me very very happy. All the sellers can communicate in English regardless of where they're based.

If you're into Japanese vinyl, DiscLegend should be the first stop on your list. They carry a few CDs but mostly it's just vinyl paradise. The website is easy to use and the used records on there are usually in M or NM condition. The prices are cheap unless it's something rare, they take PayPal and you can choose from four different shipping methods. One note is that the PayPal process is manual. Just follow the instructions after you confirm the order and don't forget to enter the order number in the message section on PayPal's Send Money page. After that it's all smooth.

Another good place for Japanese vinyl is Takechas Records. They restock items more frequently than DiscLegend and their New Music/City Pop selection is excellent. They carry some 60's rarities as well. The site it mostly in Japanese, but they deal with overseas customers though email correspondence. See the English guide here.

Like Amazon, Rakuten also has an extensive Marketplace. You'll be surprised at how cheap some CDs are. The English version of the page will only let you search through the shops that ship overseas. They only accept credit cards. But please, do not search in romaji if the artist's original name is in Japanese; you'll just get silly irrelevant results because this site tends to translate names rather than romanize them. Just search in Japanese and refer to cover images to figure out the results. Copy/paste if you have to.

Tower Records Online used to be available to overseas customers until about 5 years ago when they decided to limit delivery to Japanese addresses. Which is a shame because they even put Amazon to shame when it comes to selection. They carry a ton of store-exclusive editions that are not available elsewhere, for example, a recent CD reissue of Mai Yamane's "Tasogare" album. Middleman services will help you out if you want to buy from there.

These are my places to go to for buying J-Music directly. Tower Records is an odd inclusion, but I just wanted to highlight them in case you wanted to get something nice via a deputy service. If I missed a store you like, feel free to mention it in the comments.

Part 2 about the middleman services will be posted within the next couple of days.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Koji Tamaki -- Family (ファミリー)

In September 1996, Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)released his 5th solo album away from Anzen Chitai(安全地帯), "Cafe Japan". At first thought, the title sounded like the name for the perfect place for Japanophiles to congregate with lots of matcha ice cream, Hello Kitty dolls and Gundam figures. However, the album was Tamaki's way of inviting the listener into his world of blues, jazz and mellow pop. It also had "Den'en"(田園), his huge galloping hit from that year.

The first track set quite the tone. "Family", which was written and composed by Tamaki (and arranged by his ex-wife, Satoko Ando), starts off in what sounds like the last minute before showtime in an intimate after-hours nightclub starring the man himself. Then, he launches into a slow and sweet swinging jazz ballad with a synth big band as his backup before he brings it all home with a crescendo into "LOVE!" I wouldn't have minded being there in the audience.

In the liner notes for "Cafe Japan", it mentions that "Family" is a tribute to the late jazz drummer, singer and actor Frankie Sakai(フランキー堺)who passed away that year. I didn't know anything about his prowess on the drums but I remembered watching a comedy starring him, and he had quite the burlesque sense of humour. And for people on my side of the Pacific of a certain age, he was known in the dramatization of the James Clavell novel, "Shogun" as the ultimately treacherous Lord Yabu when it was broadcast in 1980 on NBC.

Mariko Takahashi -- Mayoi Bato no You ni (迷い鳩のように)

If I had to be persnickety about how to classify Mariko Takahashi's(高橋真梨子)"Mayoi Bato no You ni" (Just Like a Lost Pigeon...yep, it loses a bit in the translation), I would probably make up a new sub-sub-genre and call it Sunset Pop. In a Venn diagram, Sunset Pop would be encircled by Resort Pop which would be surrounded completely by City Pop. It just has that 7 p.m. (8:30 in Newfoundland) feeling.

Like my last entry for Mariko Takahashi last month, "Mayoi Bato no You ni" is from her 10th album, "Mellow Lips" which came out in September 1985. I first heard it on "Sounds of Japan" and the image of being on the Lido Deck of a cruise ship at cocktail time has stayed with me ever since. Kenjiro Sakiya(崎谷健次郎), who I've spoken about recently in terms of his own brand of mood music, came up with the soothing melody while Takahashi herself wrote up the lyrics about trying to cope with some romantic crisis while envying that titular pigeon which seems to keep on flying or strutting no matter what injuries it incurs. I ended up buying "Mellow Lips" for this song and for the first track, "Jun".

Yoko Oginome -- Wangan Taiyozoku (湾岸太陽族)

Wow! Haven't heard this one in a long time. And a quarter of a century ago, I was relentlessly listening to Yoko Oginome's(荻野目洋子)"246 Connexion", the album that "Wangan Taiyozoku" (WANGAN-Taiyozoku Bay Area Gang) was on. It was also her 7th single from July 1987 with what I like to call her "Oginoman" sound: her sharp nasal vocals paired with those 80s synths. It and a lot of her album helped me get through those all-nighters during tea worked as well.

I don't think any bike gang from Chiba Prefecture would ever have this song belting out of the gang ghettoblaster but any of Oginome's discography from the 80s often put quite a bit more oomph into the aidoru proceedings. Minoru Yamazaki(山崎稔)came up with the music while Masao Urino(売野雅勇)provided the lyrics. It went as high as No. 3 on Oricon and became the 44th-ranked single in the annual rankings.

Good ol' Odaiba...right on Tokyo Bay.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Eisaku Ohkawa -- Sazanka no Yado (さざんかの宿)

Veteran enka singer Eisaku Ohkawa(大川栄策)always had that look as if he had retired from a previous career in the boxing ring. I've never noticed any cauliflower ears but he's had that stocky build and puffy nose. And yet, he has a voice that is pure and resonant and distinguishes itself from the whispery huskiness of Shinichi Mori(森進一)and the powerful crackliness of Saburo Kitajima(北島三郎).

And when it comes to Ohkawa, one song always comes to mind since it has been his greatest hit thus far. "Sazanka no Yado" (Inn of the Yuletide Camellia) is about as enka as an enka song can get with Jiro Takemura's(竹村次郎)arrangement of Shosuke Ichikawa's(市川昭介)delicate music. It almost comes across as the musical equivalent of a geisha making her walk down the side streets of Kyoto to where she works. Meanwhile, Osamu Yoshioka's(吉岡治)lyrics speak of a man's agony in his love for a woman who's already betrothed to another. The words refer to the season of winter and therefore of the man's discontent as he prays somehow for spring to return.

For Ohkawa, his sad vocals could have come from his own life. He debuted in 1969 with "Men nai Chidori"(目ン無い千鳥...Plovers Without Eyes)under the aegis of his mentor, composer Masao Koga(古賀政男). The song became a hit but after that, Ohkawa never could grab that brass ring again for 13 years. It was a very long and difficult dry spell for him during which Koga passed away in 1978. However, "Sazanka no Yado" became a huge hit after its release in August 1982, getting as high as No. 2 on Oricon and becoming the top song of 1983 with a total of 1.8 million in record sales. It won the Long Seller's Prize at the Japan Record Awards, and I wonder if Ohkawa had been keeping his old master in his head when he went to pick up that prize and then perform at the Kohaku Utagassen. It made for a fine story of redemption.

One humourous story of Ohkawa I will share with you. I'm not sure if he has ever lived it down but he was once a victim of a practical joke on the Japanese version of "Candid Camera" in which he found himself playing golf with a pretty woman. It turned out that the woman was really a porn actress and she was wearing a skimpy mini-skirt and a V-neck sweater with no bra. The audience had a ball laughing as they watched Ohkawa squeeing like a little boy at Xmas as he supposedly nonchalantly tried to look down the woman's sweater. I was rather lucky to have seen that episode on a video tape somewhere.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ruiko Kurahashi/Yoko Nishigori -- Kono Ai ni Ikite (この愛に生きて)

Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子)has often looked so ennui-ridden and downcast on her album covers that it's always a surprise (and a pleasure) when I see her actually smiling. And she looks pretty Hollywood on the cover of her 9th single from October 1985, "Kono Ai ni Ikite" (Live Through This Love). This was not a major Kurahashi song but from listening to certain phrases from it, I could recognize it pretty easily and it is a pleasant enough ballad that has that European air which often characterizes a Kurahashi ballad. It's nice to hear in that study on a rainy Sunday.

However, I just found out that Kurahashi's ballad was actually a cover version. The original "Kono Ai ni Ikite" was sung by Yoko Nishigori(西郡よう子)who hails from Fukuoka Prefecture. Debuting in 1976 after becoming known in her area as a folk singer, her version of this song was released in 1978 as her 3rd of 4 singles. I've listened to it twice and Nishigori sounds similar to another singer from that time, Machiko Watanabe(渡辺真知子). In addition, the arrangement here also has that jaunty exotic feeling that was being imbued in a number of pop songs in the late 70s such as Saki Kubota's "Ihoujin"(異邦人). Toshiyuki Kimori(木森敏之)came up with the music while Masami Sugiyama(杉山政美)provided the words.

Nishigori left show business soon afterward in 1980 but returned in 2004 as a jazz singer under the name of Kei Hoshino(星乃けい).

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Wasurenaide/Lucky Girl ni Hanataba wo (忘れないで/ラッキー・ガールに花束を)

Well, I figure if they could make an anime out of Lucy Maud Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables", then what could stop the industry from making a similar product out of the works of one Agatha Christie? The Japanese love their mysteries, and there are die hard fans over there in Japan who love her works along with the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle (heck, a famed pint-sized detective is partially named after him).

And sure enough about a decade ago, NHK broadcast an anime series for the better part of a year titled "Agatha Christie no Meitantei Poirot to Marple"(アガサ・クリスティーの名探偵ポワロとマープル...Agatha Christie's Famed Detectives Poirot and Marple). I watched a good portion of the episodes which came right after the 7 p.m. news, and was pretty impressed by the clarity and the richness of the images. Of course, being an anime, there just had to be a cute girl character and an unusually sentient duck by the name of Oliver.

I gather that for such a production, NHK also wanted to bring in the big guns for the opening and ending themes. And so came in Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎). I'd been expecting something somewhat more classical due to the 1930s setting, but the ol' New Music/City Pop veteran brought some of his old flavour into those themes. I liked both of them so much that I ended up getting the single. The ending theme was the designated "A-side" and titled "Wasurenaide" (Don't Forget Me) which is this fairly epic love song that sounds a lot like the music that his old friend, the late Eiichi Ohtaki(大瀧詠一)would have composed. Yamashita was actually the composer here though and his wife Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)took care of the lyrics. Although I thought there was something 50s about it, according to the J-Wiki article on the song, Tats patterned the melody after a canzone (or Italian ballad), something that he had apparently wanted to do once he passed the age of 50. I don't think I've ever heard a canzone, so if there are any experts in the genre reading this who would like to confirm whether "Wasurenaide" sounds a bit Italian, please let me know. In any case, I thought it was a pretty dramatic way to end a weekly anime. The above video is an episode, but below is the full version of the song.

(Unfortunately the video has been taken down.)

Mariya herself did a cover of the song with the same arrangements, and listening to her sing "Wasurenaide" brought back some of those memories of her early days as a singer.

The opening theme (and the coupling song on the CD), "Lucky Girl ni Hanataba wo" (A Bouquet For The Lucky Girl) is definitely Tatsuro Yamashita from his 80s City Pop days. As soon as I heard the opening credits roll, I just thought "Yup, he's back." Those first few bars just sounded like the theme he created for the 80s surfing movie "Big Wave" which certainly got me in the nostalgic mood, and yep, it sounded rather atypical for an old-style detective anime, but I didn't complain about it. It was nice to hear some of the old Tats again after a long while. I had that urge to hit a beach although I have never surfed a day in my life. He took care of both the melody and lyrics.

Not sure how long the video at the top will stay up, but this is the first episode from "Agatha Christie no Meitantei Poirot to Marple". In any case, Yamashita's 39th single from August 2004 got as high as No. 14 on the Oricon chart. Both songs were also included on his 12th album, "SONORITE" from September 2005 which peaked at No. 2.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Works of Kyohei Tsutsumi (筒美京平)

I never thought I would be adding a new section to the blog, but in the last few days, I just kept seeing composer Kyohei Tsutsumi's name pop up so often through here and J-Wiki that I felt that I really needed to set aside an article just for him and create the category of "Creator". The term prolific is an understatement when describing Tsutsumi who has been weaving kayo kyoku/J-Pop songs for 50 years. It's pretty mind-boggling realizing that this is the same fellow who created evergreen standard "Blue Light Yokohama" for Ayumi Ishida in 1968 and a theme song that any train otaku would embrace, "AMBITIOUS JAPAN" in 2003 for TOKIO.

Tsutsumi has popped up as part of a small sentence in many of the entries I've contributed to "Kayo Kyoku Plus", but I've yet to write anything about the composer himself. So, to give a quick rundown, he was born as Eikichi Watanabe(渡辺栄吉)in 1940 in Tokyo, and began playing the piano at a very young age. His entire education was connected through the Aoyama Gakuin University schools and as a university student, he started getting into jazz. Once he graduated in 1963, he started work at Nihon Gramophone which is now known as Universal Music. There, he was placed in charge of the Western music, and at the suggestion of his sempai at Aoyama Gakuin, lyricist Jun Hashimoto(橋本淳), he began writing music under his nom de plume of Kyohei Tsutsumi.

(instrumental cover)

Now, according to his official profile on J-Wiki (where I'm getting the information on Tsutsumi), his chosen profession of composer started officially in 1967 but he had already been creating songs before then. Case in point: according to another article for teen pop singer Hiroshi Mochizuki(望月浩), there was a cute teen song written by Hashimoto and composed by Tsutsumi, titled "Kiiroi Lemon"(黄色いレモン...Yellow Lemon)which had been sung by Mochizuki as his 7th single in September 1966.  The song got me thinking of folks like Neil Sedaka and Paul Anka, and in fact, a member, Gus Backus, of the doo-wop group The Del-Vikings did his own cover of it under the title of "For I Smile 'Cause I Think Of You". Unfortunately, the YouTube video for Mochizuki's original was taken down but I was able to find another cover version by Little Patty at the above link.

Most of the entries here have already been covered, so I will provide the links to their articles without having to repeat myself. Moreover, since the breadth and depth of his contributions to Japanese pop music have been so huge as the most prolific (yep, I'm using that term again) composer, I'm going to go with J-Wiki's categorization of his biggest hits by decade.

His first breakthrough came in 1968 with the aforementioned Ayumi Ishida(いしだあゆみ)hit, "Blue Light Yokohama"(ブルー・ライト・ヨコハマ)(although according to J-Wiki, his first minor hit came with "Barairo no Kumo"(バラ色の雲...Rose Clouds)for the Group Sounds band Village Singers). I'm never going to be able to set foot in the Minato Mirai 21 neighbourhood again without hearing that horn which starts off the song.

His biggest hit in the 70s was "Miserarete"(魅せられて)for Judy Ongg. Again, another memorable intro and a geographical music meme. I'm not sure if I will ever head for Greece but if I ever do hit the Aegean, I may get this uncontrollable need to search for some woman with a billowing winged dress.

Apparently in the 80s, his top 3 songs then all were sung by over-caffeinated aidoru Masahiko Kondo(近藤真彦), with the top rung being occupied by Tsutsumi creation "Sneaker Blues"(スニーカーぶるーす). I would guess that Matchy sends New Year's cards annually to the composer after that feat.

This is the one song that I hadn't written about previously. Tsutsumi's most successful hit in the 90s was "Ningyo"(人魚...Mermaid)by NOKKO. For the lead singer of 80s pop/rock band Rebecca, this was her 1st single following the first breakup of the band in 1991. Released in March 1994, the song had me first thinking whether Tsutsumi and NOKKO (who wrote the lyrics) were going for an ethereal ballad reminiscent of something that would have been made almost a century back on the Vaudeville stage. "Ningyo" was used as the theme song for a Fuji-TV drama series "Toki wo Kakeru Shojo"(時をかける少女...The Girl Who Leapt Through Time). Not sure if this had anything to do with the 1983 movie starring Tomoyo Harada(原田智世), but it did have future superstar Namie Amuro(安室奈美恵) in a supporting role. In any case, "Ningyo" hit No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and became the 32nd-ranked song of the year.

Yup, if you're excited about Bullet Trains whizzing past you at hundreds of kilometres per hour, you could do worse than having Tsutsumi's "AMBITIOUS JAPAN" soaring through your ears. The song by TOKIO was his biggest hit in the first decade of the 21st century.

We're still not quite halfway through the 21st-century teens yet but it looks like a Kyohei Tsutsumi song has also been making the rounds. Mind you, "Sentimental Journey"(センチメンタル・ジャーニー)was originally sung back in 1981 by aidoru Iyo Matsumoto(松本伊代), but it's been the popular Tsutsumi tune this decade. The cover version is sung by Ami Maejima(前島亜美)from the aidoru group SUPER☆GiRLS which formed in 2010, and the above video is so pink and sweet, I have most likely gained a couple of kilograms in the last few minutes. Even my usual Xmas binging isn't quite that successful.

For comparisons, have a look at the original performance and the article on the Matsumoto hit.

Currently at the age of 74, I'm not sure whether his pace is quite the same as it used to be, but I wonder if he may just end up whipping up the official song for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. However, for those who want to take a listen to a retrospective of his long history, there is his "Hitstory Ultimate Collection 1967 - 1997". 

For Marcos V, alina and JTM, feel free to create your own retrospectives on a favourite songwriter.

Yo Hitoto -- Morai Naki (もらい泣き)

As much as I enjoyed Yo Hitoto's(一青窈)cover of "Tanin no Kankei"(他人の関係)that I found out about when I did the posting for the song yesterday, I think I would be rather remiss if I didn't profile some of the songs that propelled her to stardom in the first place lickety-split.

So, there is her debut single, "Morai Naki" (Crying in Sympathy) from October 2002. When I first saw her on TV, I thought she looked like an old acquaintance from my university days, and like my friend, Hitoto is also half-Taiwanese and half-Japanese. What also stood out about her was her vocal style which reminded me of Okinawan music and the distinctive way she expressed herself while performing. The song itself also had a certain exotic brio about it.

Hitoto graduated from Keio University from the Department of Environmental Information, but during her time there, she also explored her musical possibilities by attending jazz seminars and participating in the university a capella group K.O.E. There, she met Yoichi Kitayama (北山陽一...later of The Gospellers) who complimented Hitoto on her poetry, something that she had been doing since her elementary school days, and encouraged her to think about a singing career. And the rest is history, as they say.

"Morai Naki" was a home run for Hitoto who wrote the lyrics. Daichi Mizobuchi, Tatsuro Mashiko and Satoshi Takebe(溝渕大智、マシコタツロウ、武部聡志)came up with the music for the song which peaked at No. 4 and became the No. 13 song on the 2003 annual chart. Going Double Platinum, Hitoto also got that invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen and received Best Newcomer Prizes for the various awards shows such as The Japan Record Awards and The Japan Gold Disc Awards. "Morai Naki" is also on her debut album, "Tsuki Tenshin"(月天心...Providence of the Moon)which came out in December 2002 which also went as high as No. 4 on the album charts and became the 17th-ranked album for 2003.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Katsuko Kanai/Akina Nakamori/Yo Hitoto -- Tanin no Kankei (他人の関係)

Just like Teppei Shibuya's(渋谷哲平)"Deep", Katsuko Kanai's(金井克子)"Tanin no Kankei" (Relationship with the Other Woman) was a kayo kyoku that I'd found out about through the comic duo, Tunnels, on their Thursday night show. The guys always loved to take a poke at some of the old songs especially if the singer had a rather distinctive set of choreographic moves, and Kanai was definitely one beloved target.

"Tanin no Kankei" is a kayo classic partially because of the opening "pa pa paya pa" scat and Kanai's right-hand signalling. I think when it comes to the 70s stuff, that performance puts it on a par with any of the Pink Lady hits in terms of instant recognition. And considering that it was from the early 70s, the conspiratorial jazzy music by Makoto Kawaguchi(川口真)makes "Tanin no Kankei" sound like something from a decade before. Mieko Arima's (有馬三恵子)lyrics about a woman stating her relationship with a guy who makes two-timing a regular hobby evokes a lot of images of seedy lounges and bars.

Kanai's 31st single was her lone big hit out of the 42 records she released between 1962 and 1982. Debuting with "Hapsburg Serenade", the Tianjin-born, Osaka-raised singer started out in ballet before entering show business as a model. As with the above video from the early 60s, she both sang and danced in her appearances, and watching her here, she reminded me a bit of the young Shirley MacLaine.

She appeared in the 1966 and 1967 Kohaku Utagassen, and apparently earned the perhaps undesired label of being the first performer in the history of the NHK New Year's Eve special to show a bit too much underwear. I don't have that video but the above is of a very young Kanai performing a familiar song.

There was one more appearance by her on the Kohaku and that was in 1973 for "Tanin no Kankei" which was released in March. It was her only Top 10 hit, reaching No. 7 and becoming the 31st-ranked single of the year. It also won a prize at The Japan Record Awards.

(Sorry but the music163 link is dead.)

Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)gave a pretty smoky cover version of "Tanin no Kankei" when she released "Mood Kayo -- Utahime Showa Meikyokushu"(ムード歌謡 〜歌姫昭和名曲集...Showa Divas' Famous Song Collection)(peaked at No. 30) in 2009. Maybe it's my imagination, but she sounded a fair bit like Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵).

And then singer Yo Hitoto(一青窈)will release her most recent 19th single (August 27th...tomorrow at the time of this writing) in the form of this song. This version seems to have more of the funk in there. Of course, Yo Hitoto has some famous past hits from the past decade so I will be covering those soon enough.

Eri Ohno -- Destiny Love

When I made the surprise discovery of a Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子)song as a "Lupin the 3rd" theme a number of weeks ago on YouTube, I tracked the song down with the urgency of Inspector Zenigata going after the snickering thief. There was a CD on the market with the title of "LUPIN THE THIRD TV Special Best Opening & Ending Theme Collection" which had that Kurahashi song, but I wasn't quite sure whether to plunk down the money or not.

Then I tried out this other ballad on YouTube which was associated with "Mihatenu Yume wo Oikakete"(果てぬ夢を追いかけて). Titled "Destiny Love" and sung by jazz singer Eri Ohno(大野えり), the ballad could certainly earn the prize of epic torch song. I have yet to see "Lupin Ansatsu Shirei"(ルパン暗殺指令...The Assassination Order for Lupin) which was first broadcast on NTV in July 1993 and has "Destiny Love" as its theme, but I could imagine Lupin and Fujiko-chan taking that nighttime romantic hot-air balloon ride over The City of Lights while the song was playing. The rich orchestral arrangement and Ohno's vocals were the final trigger for me to get the Lupin theme song collection. Yuji Ohno(大野雄二)and lyricist Mami Takubo(田久保真見)were behind the making of the song.

Eri Ohno was born in Nagoya  in 1955 and raised in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. Entering Kyoto's Doshisha University in 1973 where she got her first taste of jazz vocalizing, she debuted in 1979 with the album, "Touch My Mind".

Here's Ohno in her element singing "April In Paris".

Monday, August 25, 2014

Kenjiro Sakiya -- Mou Ichido Yoru wo Tomete (もう一度夜を止めて)

I had already referred to this Kenjiro Sakiya's(崎谷健次郎)ballad in an article for another song of his, "ROOMS", last year but admittedly, I merely threw it out so I'm providing something more proper today. And deservedly so, since I think this is a wonderful love song by the singer-songwriter. Sakiya composed it with Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康)providing the lyrics.

"Mou Ichido Yoru wo Tomete" (Stop The Night Once More) is Sakiya's 3rd single from October 1987. It's imbued with some so much warmth and soul for a crisp autumn night that I wonder if Sing Like Talking had ever covered it. Actually, according to the J-Wiki article for the song, it was covered by another band, Skoop on Somebody, but it certainly has had its exposure through other avenues. It was not only used for a Citizen watch commercial back then, but it has also been used in a few TV dramas and at least one motion picture, one of which was Fuji-TV's "Tokyo Love Story" (not included on the soundtrack though)! I'm gonna have to check my copy of that, but I am not surprised that it would be included.

The song has been included on his 2nd album, "Realism" from March 1988, and is also on his "KENJIRO SAKIYA COMPLETE BEST Love Ballads" from March 2003. As for the single itself, it went as high as No. 25 on Oricon.


Sakiya was born in Hiroshima Prefecture in 1962. His first name was given by his father as a mixture between the English language-friendly Ken and the name of the famous actor-singer Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎). His father had been studying jazz at the time when Sakiya was little so the singer would also follow in Dad's musical footsteps and would start studying piano when he was 3 years of age. Jazz, country and classical music would all influence him and later on, these would be joined by disco, punk, new wave and techno. In the early 80s, Sakiya would form a band during his days at Nihon University. Called VIZION (sounds just like 'vision'), one of its other members was keyboardist Akihiko Matsumoto(松本晃彦)who would create the famous soundtrack for the popular police comedy-drama "Odoru Dai Sosasen"(踊る大捜査線) over a decade later. There would be a few more years where Sakiya continued as a session keyboardist before he made his debut as a singer in March 1987 with "Omoi Gakenai SITUATION"(思いがけないSITUATION/Unexpected Situation).


Mariko Kurata -- Sayonara Rainy Station (さよならレイニー・ステーション)

I was going through YouTube last night looking for a video for another article when I encountered Mariko Kurata's(倉田まり子)name. It's been a name that I've seen bandied about through various literature on Showa Era music over the years but I'd never come about to listening to any of her works until then. So I saw the video above for her September 1980 7th single, "Sayonara Rainy Station" which sounds like the type of title for a New Music ballad from that time.

With the soaring strings and gentle arrangement, "Sayonara Rainy Station" reminded me of the similar songs that a couple of my favourite songstresses were putting out in the late 70 and early 80s, Ruiko Kurahashi and Mariko Takahashi(倉橋ルイ子・高橋真梨子). Chika Ueda(上田知華), who would create a number of famous songs for Miki Imai(今井美樹)several years later, was behind the music here (and man, was she ever rockin' that Farrah Fawcett hairstyle back then) and is singing along with Kurata in the above video. The lyricist was Kenji Kadoya(門谷憲二), who was also responsible for one of Mieko Nishijima's(西島三重子) trademark songs, "Chitose Bashi"(千登勢橋)a year earlier.

Mariko Kurata was the stage name for Mariko Tsubota(坪田真理子)from Nagasaki Prefecture. She was born in 1960 and came up to Tokyo in 1974 after being discovered by a talent scout on a TBS music variety show. Kurata made the leap to singer and later actress from 1979, and as for the last name of her stage name, she decided to take a kanji character from her mentor at the time, Shunichi Tokura(都倉俊一)who was creating hits for a number of singers, notably Pink Lady.

According to J-Wiki, it seems like the entertainment phase of her career ended sometime in 1984 and has been a career counselor ever since under her real name. I can only imagine what she would say to folks interested in entering show business.

Maihama Station, the gateway to Tokyo Disneyland.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Fantastic Plastic Machine -- Why Not?

This was another one of those impulsive purchases by me when I was browsing through the CD shop...most likely Tower Records in Shibuya. I just heard this rather loopy and quirky song over the speakers, tracked it down and realized it was Fantastic Plastic Machine's 4th single titled "Why Not?". Featuring Ryohei Yamamoto, this came out in November 2002. Considering this was created by FPM, it didn't sound like his usual Shibuya-kei, Austin Powers-friendly output from the late 90s. I never had a huge collection by the fellow...something that I plan to rectify in the near future....but I figured that he had to evolve from the genre as we all entered the 21st century.

I didn't realize that there was an official music video for "Why Not?". But several months ago, I came across it on YouTube. A fair bit of skin n' tease here and on the cover of the CD itself.

A clothing-optional CD, apparently.

Candies -- Abunai Doyoubi (危ない土曜日)

Just shortly before I was to leave Japan permanently a few years ago, I received some extra convenience store campaign mini-discs of classic kayo from a former student of mine at one of the sayonara parties. One of the discs happened to be Candies' "Abunai Doyoubi" (Dangerous Saturday).

It was one of the early Candies singles, their 3rd, so instead of Ran Ito(伊藤蘭)spearheading the effort, it was the late Yoshiko (Su) Tanaka(田中好子) as the main vocal. Released in April 1974, the song was interesting to me in that the sound was a fair bit more urgent than their later jauntier hits, almost as if the melody was meant to introduce some superhero or police squad. Perhaps this could have been fine as a cover tune by Pink Lady. The lyrics about a woman wondering what was coming next while on a date with her beau were written by Kazumi Yasui(安井かずみ), and the punchy music was by Koichi Morita(森田公一).

"Abunai Doyoubi" peaked at No. 46 on Oricon after its first release but saw a boost in sales a few years later during their farewell concert tour. The single was also a track on Candies' 2nd album from June 1974, "Abunai Doyoubi -- Candies no Sekai"(危ない土曜日~キャンディーズの世界...Candies' World).

It looks more like an innocent Saturday to me.

trf -- Masquerade

Ahhh....the heyday of trf. Back in the mid-90s, there didn't seem to be a month in which the TK Rave Factory wasn't somewhere on the top of the charts. And "Masquerade" was another one of those hits. Up to that point, the only "Masquerade" I'd known was "This Masquerade" by Leon Russell as covered by singers such as George Benson and The Carpenters.

"Masquerade" was created by the ringmaster of the whole TK circus, Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)as trf's 9th single from February 1995. Unlike some of the other hits by the unit, there wasn't nearly as much techno stuff in "Masquerade"; I would say that it could have made for a good TM Network single back in the early 90s. The video is the aspect I remember the most for this song with vocalist YUKI singing in that abandoned public works factory.

This was another No. 1 for trf and sold close to 1.4 million copies. It eventually became the 15th-ranked song for 1995.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Nagisa no All-Stars/Tomoko Aran -- Be My Venus

Depending on who you ask here in Toronto, there hasn't been much of a summer. We've had quite a lot of rain this year and the temperatures haven't officially gone over 30 degrees Celsius (although the Humidex has done so) thus far with a month left in the season. The good news is that we also haven't had any smog alerts, so the breathing has definitely been easy these past few months. Over in Japan, though, people there might say that they've gotten far too much of a summer. Hey guys, feel free to come and visit my city....we have the CNE, FanExpo, one final big RibFest and TIFF in the next couple of weeks!

It's Friday, so let's pop up another summer song. Back in my Gunma days, I was browsing through some CD shop when I came across this album called "The Best of Nagisa All-Stars" (1991) on the shelf. I'd never heard of this unit but looking at the cover, I did recognize at least four faces, and those four faces belonged to summer band TUBE (Nobuteru Maeda, Michiya Haruhata, Hideyuki Kakuno, Ryoji Matsumoto). Then there were some others that I didn't know on sight, but I later found out that I had heard them.

But more on the lineup later. Let me get the song out of the way and into your ears. One of the tracks from this album I decided to get was "Be My Venus" which was also the first single by this expanded TUBE band back in July 1988. Like any of the big TUBE hits, it's fun, summery and soaring....and it was created by singer-songwriters Tomoko Aran and Tetsuro Oda(亜蘭知子・織田哲郎). And it also seems to have been concocted so that a number of folks could take over the mike....perfect for the karaoke box.

"Be My Venus" was also on the 2nd of 3 albums by Nagisa no All-Stars, "Nagisa no Cassette Vol. 2" (June 1988). Not sure how the single did but this album went as high as No. 10 on Oricon. As for the BEST album, it peaked at No. 43.

Now, getting back to the band's makeup, Nagisa no All-Stars(渚のオールスターズ...Beach All-Stars)was formed in 1987 with singer-songwriter Tetsuro Oda as the heart of the group. As I mentioned, TUBE came on board, but I was surprised to realize that a couple of other recruits were Fusanosuke Kondo and Yuiko Tsubokura(近藤房之助・坪倉唯子). On that BEST album, they looked like regular folks which is why I didn't recognize them but it turned out that they were the heavily-disguised lead vocals for B.B. Queens, the unit behind the No. 1 song for 1990, "Odoru Ponpokorin"(おどるポンポコリン). Tomoko Aran also joined the group along with musicians Kazuyoshi Ito(伊藤一義), Seiichiro Kuribayashi(栗林誠一郎), Chuei Yoshikawa(吉川忠英), Takashi Masuzaki(増崎孝司), Nobu Saito(斎藤ノヴ), Hojin Egawa(江川ほーじん) and Monsieur Kamayatsu(ムッシュかまやつ) from the Group Sounds-era band The Spiders. It was quite The Avengers of Japanese summer pop.

And like any superhero group, the rotation has changed over the years. Nagisa no All-Stars got together again in 2006 with TUBE, Oda, Aran and Kamayatsu, but they were also joined by Rina Aiuchi(愛内里菜)and Miyu formerly of ZONE.

Aran did a slightly more languid cover of her own song in 1989 through her 8th album, "Stay In My Eyes". This would be the version to sip a caipirinha with.

Akina Nakamori -- Bitter and Sweet (Follow-Up)

One of my first entries for "Kayo Kyoku Plus" was Akina Nakamori's(中森明菜)"Bitter and Sweet" album from 1985. I had been enthused to write about it, and yet I only wrote about the first two songs which troubled me to a certain extent considering that I've always considered her 7th album as the gamechanger in her career. For this album, composers and lyricists from EPO to Yosui Inoue to Toshiki Kadomatsu to Minako Yoshida had their fingers in this pie, so to speak, and from that factor, Akina-chan was stretched to try a number of genres within Japanese pop music.

(karaoke version)

As I mentioned in the original article, "Bitter and Sweet" was divided into the bitter A-side and the sweet B-side, and it was there that I talked about the two songs on that former side, "Kazarijanainoyo Namida wa" (飾りじゃないのよ涙は)and "Romantic na Yoru da wa"(ロマンチックな夜だわ). And I also talked about "Yokan"(予感), Track 3 on Side A which also got a place on a smaller mini-album, "My Best Thanks" which came out at the end of 1985.

The other notable song from that bitter side was "Babylon" which was created by the good folks at Sandii and the Sunsetz. Sandii herself took care of the fiercely enticing lyrics and the backup vocals while her bandmate Makoto Kubota(久保田麻琴)came up with the alternately mysterious and raucous melody. Throughout "Bitter and Sweet", Nakamori was a melodic chameleon....or a block of tofu, if you like....absorbing the various flavours of the styles of the singer-songwriters, and here, she took on that pop/rock pose. The song portrayed Babylon as this hedonistic palace where angels and devils could both sip their champagne and make merry....hmmm....sounds like the ol' Gas Panic in Roppongi. In any case, what struck me was the usage of English and the way that Akina kept enunciating the title in a silky and dangerous voice as if she were Lorelei herself. She could promise a lot of pleasure but could not guarantee protection from the potential pain. "Babylon" was definitely well-suited for the A-side.

As much as "Babylon" put a definite period onto the bitter side of "Bitter and Sweet", "Unsteady Love" set the tone for the sweet side with its summery boppy beat by Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生). Akina grabbed the song and ran down the beach with it like a post-exam coed on vacation. And considering it was written and composed by Kadomatsu, there was a certain Anri-ness(杏里)to the overall feel of the tune. Yet, there was also a bit of a connection between "Unsteady Love" and "Babylon" in that the first song of Side B hinted at young, shallow and tenuous early relationships. But unlike the devilish leer of "Babylon", "Unsteady Love" presented its hedonism with a feckless grin. Hey, it was fun but gotta go....y'know what I mean, eh? (air kiss)

"Koibito no Iru Jikan"(恋人のいる時間...Lovers' Time)had Akina covering the City Pop beat with that sax and synth. I could see the skyscrapers of West Shinjuku at sunset listening to this one easily. Written by SHOW and composed by drummer Akira Jinbo(神保彰)of the famed Japanese fusion band, Casiopea, the song related a relaxing day (despite the urgent beat) of a young couple probably high up in a hotel suite or swanky apartment in that very area. As I put in the "Bitter and Sweet" album into the player again, I had to think about how the melody went but as soon I heard it again, I finally realized how cool and urban it was.

"So Long" was another Toshiki Kadomatsu creation for Nakamori. Unlike the happy-go-running "Unsteady Love", "So Long" was a much more laid back "Smell the roses" ballad with some old-fashioned soul thrown in for good measure. I think it made for a nice little warm-down for the listener as the album started to draw to its end.

And finally the album came to a soft landing with the even softer ballad "April Stars" by the Empress Dowager of J-R&B, Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子). The singer sang about a couple confessing and acknowledging their love one night almost like a lullaby, and it made for a fine quiet ending to an album that began with a roar.

As I said before, the first album I bought of Akina was "D404ME", a good work in itself that was released just 4 months after this album. However, getting introduced to "Bitter and Sweet" was the point where I solidly became an Akina Nakamori fan. All that variety in melodies and styles matched with the former aidoru's developing and deepening vocals came together to create one of my favourite albums in my collection. There are actually a couple of tracks left that I haven't covered yet but it will just be a matter of time before my talk on the No. 9 album of 1985 is complete.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

the brilliant green -- There Will Be Love There

I wanted to track down the original music video for the brilliant green's breakthrough hit, "There Will Be Love There" since the image of the band singing on top of that nighttime swimming pool will always be the enduring one for me. And the song itself will always be the one that I associate the band with.

When I first heard "There Will Be Love There", my first impression was that there was something new and yet nostalgic about Tomoko Kawase's(川瀬智子)vocals. Words like "indie" came into my head since I think at the time (memory's a bit fuzzy) there was a transition of sorts from the dance-oriented music of Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)to the J-R&B offered by units like m-flo along with the rising star of the aidoru groups such as SMAP and Morning Musume. BuriGuri (their nickname) just sounded different from all that, but I soon felt that there was also some association of their sound with bands like Mr. Children and Spitz. When I read that the group based a lot of their music on The Beatles, a light did go off....especially when I re-heard those guitars.

"There Will Be Love There" was first released in May 1998 as the brilliant green's 3rd single, and the song was also the theme for the TBS drama "Love Again". The show didn't particularly wow too many viewers but "There Will Be Love There" did very well as it debuted at No. 14 in its first week and then went all the way up to No. 1 by the end of its first month of release. Kawase was responsible for the lyrics while bassist Shunsaku Okuda(奥田俊作)took care of the music. By the end of the year, the song was ranked No. 22 on the annual charts.

the brilliant green was formed back in 1995 when Okuda and his classmate at Murasakino High School in Kyoto, guitarist Ryo Matsui(松井亮), discovered Kawase singing at a live house. A couple of years later, the band would make its major debut with "Bye Bye Mr. Mug", a single that had entirely English lyrics. That song peaked at No. 69. 20 singles in total have been released up to 2010 along with 5 albums although the brilliant green went on a hiatus from 2002 to 2007 (mind you, Kawase was still humming along with her solo projects Tommy february 6 and Tommy heavenly 6 at the time).

Kawase and Okuda eventually got married and Matsui later left the group in 2010. As for the guys' alma mater, Murasakino High has had quite the few celeb grads over the years including Shibuya-kei master Fantastic Plastic Machine and a number of announcers on TV and radio.

Michiko Namiki & Noboru Kirishima -- Ringo no Uta (リンゴの唄)

About a few days ago, I had written about Ringo Shiina's(椎名林檎)Latin swan song of sorts (or so I thought) "Ringo no Uta"(りんごのうた...Ringo's Song). Well, today will be about the original "Ringo no Uta" (Song of the Apple), a jaunty song that I've heard off and on since I was a baby and has been considered to be the first postwar kayo kyoku hit, according to the Wikipedia entry. Wiki explains the history about the song so without having to repeat it, you can take a look at the article here.

Written by Hachiro Sato(サトウハチロー)and composed by Tadashi Manjome(万城目正)for release in January 1946, less than 6 months after the end of World War II, it was sung initially as a duet with actress Michiko Namiki (並木路子)and singer Noboru Kirishima(霧島昇)who also later sung another kayo classic, "Mune no Furiko"(胸の振り子). Although the official release of it as a 78 rpm single was in that January, its reputation had already grown a few months earlier through its use in the movie "Soyokaze"(そよかぜ...Soft Breeze)which also starred Namiki. In fact, its popularity translated into a then-unheard-of sales record of over 100,000 copies sold.

I'm not sure whether my father's collection includes "Ringo no Uta" although I know that there are several 78s in there, but I have been hearing the song on tape and through some of those old retrospectives on TV over the decades which included the recent airing of the 46th annual "Omoide no Melody"(思い出のメロディー...Melodies of Your Memories)on NHK. For a people who really love their nostalgia, "Ringo no Uta" has been one of the crowd-pleasers among the older set and perhaps even some of the younger generations.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ayumi Nakamura -- Tsubasa no Oreta Angel (翼の折れたエンジェル)

I couldn't quite believe the background story behind singer-songwriter Ayumi Nakamura(中村あゆみ)when I read it on J-Wiki. All these years, I'd thought that the Osaka-born singer was hitting the drums or the guitar from an early age. Well, what I found out was that once she graduated from high school, the singer-songwriter had been an office worker and then a road construction worker by day and a disco queen at night. But the kicker was the following incident. One night when a burglar had entered her home, she fled to an acquaintance's drinking establishment where she met music producer Ken Takahashi(高橋研), and he found out (as I have now) that until that fateful meeting, Nakamura had never really listened to music or hadn't even owned a single record in her entire life.

And yet, she apparently had earned enough of a reputation (probably at the discos) that some big talent agencies asked her if she would join them. She didn't bite. It took that home invasion and a run into Takahashi to change her life permanently...such is the stuff that trendy dramas are made of. In September 1984, she made her debut with "Midnight Kids".

However, it was with her 3rd single from April 1985 that she hit pay dirt with "Tsubasa no Oreta Angel" (Angel with Broken Wings), a pop/rock concoction created by Takahashi himself that is reminiscent of early Kahoru Kohiruimaki (小比類巻かほる)and Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里). Like those two singers, she had the husky voice to match although her appearance from the video above had her looking a bit more cutesy pop than rock. I found out about Nakamura via this very song through one of the compilation tapes, and listening to the good old-fashioned rock n' roll beat, I later wondered if there had been inspiration from Motoharu Sano(佐野元春).

"Tsubasa no Oreta Angel" became Nakamura's biggest hit which sold close to 400,000 records. It peaked at No. 4 on Oricon (although her 6th single peaked at the higher rank of 2) and became the 12th-ranked single of the year.