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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mariko Takahashi -- Triad

This picture of Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子)for her 9th album, "Triad", was the very first image I had for the veteran singer. The album came out in September 1984 and I was lucky to get my own audiotape copy of it when my parents had come back from a trip in Japan. I first heard Takahashi via episodes of "Sounds of Japan" as early as 1982, so for that couple of years, I'd wondered what the lady with the golden pipes looked like.

As it turned out, she was a FOX! That is some fine facial bone structure there.

However, let's get onto the music. My request for Mariko Takahashi to Mom wasn't anything specific. I hadn't known anything about the singer's list of albums or singles at the time; all I had was the lovely songs that I'd heard from "Sounds of Japan" such as her famous ballad "For You". I was pretty ravenous for anything by her. So I was celebrating my own little Xmas Day as I tore off the plastic wrapping from around the tape.

The most celebrated song on the album is "Momo Iro Toiki" (桃色吐息)which was also her 10th single from May of that year. It was a song that I had heard through "Sounds of Japan" that I wrote about a couple of years ago, and it had a different exotic feel from the other ballads that I heard on the radio. Because of that, it took a little while for it to grow on me but I was finally able to accept it as one of Takahashi's trademark songs.

(NOTE: Since music163 is dead, you can hear excerpts of the song at this link. Just scroll down.)

Or you can try the Apple site.

Up to the time that I had first heard Takahashi on the radio, my emerging interest in Japanese pop music basically consisted of aidoru and the Yellow Magic Orchestra. "Sounds of Japan" helped expand my world a lot more, and a good part of the heavy lifting there was due to Takahashi and her mature sound. "Triad", as my very first album of hers, confirmed that sound. The first song, "Joji Queen"(祥寺クイーン)brings me right into downtown Tokyo at night with that great warm sound of the horns and her just-as-sweet voice. Out of all of the tracks, this would be the one that I would love to hear live on stage. As for the definition of the title, I tried to track down the meaning of "Joji" but saw the characters as being part of various temples' names and not its own word. I tried seeing if it were a place name but no dice there either. And for the longest time, whenever I listened to "Joji Queen", I always heard Takahashi pronounce it as "Georgia Queen". Perhaps I still should. Takahashi herself was responsible for the vocals while Ryo Matsuda(松田良)took care of the cool music.

"Modern Deja Vu"(モダン・デジャブ)was written by Goro Matsui(松井五郎)and composed by Keiichi Oku(奥慶一)who also played the keyboards for the second track. Through those keyboards, the song takes on some of that foreign lands flavour that a number of hit pop songs adopted half a decade previously. I'm not totally sure about my understanding of Matsui's lyrics but they seem to be relating about a woman reliving some of her memories with an old flame. As with "Joji Queen", my images with this one are nothing less very high-style and elegant. This woman doesn't eat at The Golden Arches....French for her probably means the finest pate de fois gras, not fries.

"Wasurenai"(忘れない...Never Forget You)is another ballad that most likely shouldn't be heard by anyone just after a romantic breakup. May induce a heavy loss of lachrymal fluid. Another Matsui song with Anzen Chitai's Koji Tamaki's(玉置浩二)contribution to the melody, it's a bittersweet but fond goodbye to a relationship and the song takes on a feeling of a lullaby as the protagonist slowly goes to sleep after a healthy cry.

But it's not all love-gone-south balladry. Track 8 has the jazzy and jolly "Atarashii Gosenshi"(新しい五線紙...A New Sheet of Music)composed by Matsuda again and written by Masako Arikawa(有川正沙子). Given a Latin Jazz kick, Takahashi sings cheerfully about love-going-somewhere....maybe south, maybe a short or long round trip. Perhaps Arikawa was channeling an old Hollywood screwball comedy involving a bickering singing couple who decide to split up the act and go off on separate trains. The woman though gives a bon voyage to her (maybe) ex-partner at the station, and encourages him to write a new score on that titular sheet of music. Well, as with a lot of the old comedies, Judy and Mickey/Cary and Kate will get back together again.

So, what was my initial impression of "Triad"? Well, my "Sounds of Japan" exposure to Mariko Takahashi was via her most soaring ballads such as the aforementioned "For You", so listening to my first Mariko album, I thought the songs here were more down-to-earth. Whereas "For You" would be imagined being sung in the heavens or on a similarly arranged stage, the tracks on "Triad" had more of that contemporary nightclub feel. My education in that area of popular music progressed further. Of course, I'm gonna have to cover some of the other tracks that I didn't get to later on.

And what I found out about "Triad" is that it managed to become the 34th-ranked album of 1984 and it even won Album of the Year honours at the Japan Record Awards.

E-Girls -- RYDEEN ~Dance All Night~

I remember hearing this song earlier in the year, and not caring at all. It wasn’t until today, thanks to a good friend of mine, that I listened to it with calm and a more, let's say, open heart. In the end, “RYDEEN ~Dance All Night~”, by aidoru group E-Girls, left a nice second impression on me.

When I first heard “RYDEEN ~Dance All Night~”, my main problem with it was the fact that E-Girls were sampling the classic YMO’s “RYDEEN” in a contemporary dance-pop song. Yeah, it was purely purism of my part. Today, after repeated listens, the song kinda worked better.

Basically, it starts right with “RYDEEN’s” main synth melody and the chorus. Afterwards, the first verse comes and... it’s a Latin song fused with European dance beats. My favourite part of the song is probably near the end, when “RYDEEN’s” iconic melody is fused with today’s synths, resulting in a great combination of past and present. All in all, this song could easily be played in Ibiza.

Before I forget, let’s talk a little about E-Girls. Frankly speaking, the group is a Frankenstein created by Avex. In other words, they’re five groups put together: Dream, Flower, Happiness, bunny (a non debuted dance group, according to generasia) and EDG (EXILE Dance Girls, a dance group that works mainly as EXILE’s backup dancers). Also, E-Girls can be seen as a direct response from the Japanese music industry after the Korean invasion back in 2010/2011. That said, they’re somewhat similar in style and music with Korean girl groups like Girls’ Generation (Shoujo Jidai [少女時代] in Japan) or T-ara, for example.

"RYDEEN ~Dance All Night~" was used to promote "COLORFUL POP", the second full lenght album released by E-Girls, in March 2014. The album reached #1 on the Oricon charts, selling 157,387 copies. As for the song, lyrics were written by Maria Okada and MNDR, while music was composed by Takahashi Yukihiro (高橋幸宏). Finally, the arrangement was done by CLARABELL.

Wink -- Baby Me

When I started listening to aidoru duo Wink, “Baby Me”, which is actually a Shoko Aida (相田翔子) solo, was one of the first songs that caught my attention. It was a slicky and straightforward eurobeat/pop number that stood out in the “Especially For You ~Yasashisa ni Tsutsumarete~” (優しさにつつまれて) album.

Released in April 1989, “Especially For you ~Yasashisa ni Tsutsumarete~” was the duo’s second full lenght album (I’m not counting the “At Heel Diamonds” mini-album here), but the first one to be released after the success of singles like “Ai ga Tomaranai ~Turn It Into Love~” (愛が止まらない) and “Namida wo Misenaide ~Boys Don’t Cry~” (涙をみせないで). In typical Wink’s style, the album was mainly a collection of Western pop hits turned into Japanese synthpop/eurobeat songs. Based on that, “Baby Me” wasn’t an exception. In fact, it was a cover of Chaka Khan’s R&B/funk song that was released one year before, in 1988, as part of her seventh studio album, “CK”.

If you ask me which version I like better, I will answer you that I love both of them. Although we’re essentially talking about the same song, they are absurdly different. While Chaka’s original recording offers a raw/strong bass line and a mid-tempo swing that seduces the listener, Wink’s eurobeat approach was more urgent and close to the Stock Aitken Waterman’s brand of manufactured electronic pop music that was turning UK criticts crazy (in a negative way) and making huge waves of success in the Japanese market.

The “Especially For You ~Yasashisa ni Tsutsumarete~” reached #1 on the Oricon charts, selling 501,520 copies. It also reached #19 on the yearly Oricon chart. As for “Baby Me”, Japanese lyrics were written by Neko Oikawa (及川眠子), while music was composed by Holly Knight and Billy Steinberg. Finally, the eurobeat arrangement was done by Takao Sugiyama (杉山卓夫).

To finish, here’s my “Especially For You ~Yasashi ni Tsutsumarete~” album. I bought this very well conserved copy of it a couple of months ago on eBay.

Kiyoshi Maekawa -- Oishii Mizu (おいしい水)

Seeing the name of Kiyoshi Maekawa's (前川 清) 29th solo single that was released on the 26th of May 2004 made me do a double take. The thought of Mae-Kiyo singing about water was rather amusing and intriguing. To me, with the name of the song being 'Oishii Mizu' and all, it made it seem as though it was one of those commercial jingles advertising spring/mineral water... actually I wouldn't be surprised if it was used for just that.

Anyway, long story short I eventually got myself to listen to it with the reason being: It's Maekawa, you can't really go wrong with his songs. Why I say that is because about half of his songs (somewhat recent ones to be exact) sound more like regular old pop songs than Mood Kayo or Enka, I know that from experience. So they are generally quite easy on the ears - he's a good choice if you want to start listening to Mood Kayo or Enka. Another such fellow would be Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし).

Okay returning back to the song. It was indeed one of those Mae-Kiyo songs that leaned to the genre of 'Pop'. The moment I heard the music, I literally had that Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie moment from the movie 'Django unchained' where he went, "Gentlemen, you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention."

I would say that like its name, 'Oishii Mizu' sounded refreshing. Cooling. Makes you envision relaxing on a quite green hill with the gentle wind whisking by, all while enjoying the view of a crystalline river flowing from the snow-capped mountains. Ah, actually kinda reminds me of the Montserrat mountains of Catalonia too. This was composed by Takashi Tsushimi (都志見隆), the guy responsible for composing many other Mae-Kiyo songs like one of my favorites 'Otoko to onna no kakera' (男と女の破片) from 1991.

As for the lyrics, they were done by the late Yu Aku (阿久悠). In terms of the song's meaning, I came up with 2 possible interpretations. First one being that it was talking about water itself being essential for people, technical stuff like that. But I highly doubt the legendary lyricist would write about something so literal. So that brought me to the more likely second outcome, which was that the water mentioned was supposed to symbolize something that all humans need and want... they thirst for it - internal desires and what they want to hear. Or well, you know, something on that line. Hmm, for someone who hates literature (the subject) with an intense passion, that's by far the most literary interpretation I came up with.

Just as a side note, I was still filled with that elation of watching Mae-Kiyo on TV just a couple of hours ago as I wrote this article... although my pops was talking on the phone with a friend with that loud voice of his while it was Maekawa's turn to sing and he only hung up when the song ended... *tsk* well, so much for that.

Eh, at least I got to see my... ... Favorite singer on the tube again. What? You thought I was going to say something else other than 'Favorite singer'? Pfft, whaaat? No way... ...

Monday, September 29, 2014

Keiko Maruyama -- Hitori Ne no Lullaby (ひとり寝のララバイ)

(cover version)

Earlier this year, I wrote about Keiko Maruyama's(丸山圭子)arguably most famous album, "Tasogare Memory"(黄昏めもりい), and how it was different from my expectations. I'd assumed that it would be in the light bossa vein since Maruyama's most famous song, "Douzo Kono Mama"(どうぞこのまま)was in there, but I should have smacked myself in the back of my head with a CD case for making such a guess. Instead, there was a bit more of the cordial country swing and some City Pop imbued into the album which actually made things more interesting and ultimately more satisfying for me.

"Hitori Ne no Lullaby"(Lullaby for One) is one such example. When I wrote up the article for "Tasogare Memory" back in February 2014, there wasn't any YouTube video for it but a few months later, a kind soul uploaded one. As I mentioned briefly in that other article, "Hitori Ne no Lullaby" which Maruyama wrote and composed has some of that country music twang and some old-style music from early in the 20th century.

Whenever I walked through the Tower Records branch beside Shinjuku Station, I always noticed that there was a section which held a not-insignificant amount of CDs which covered a lot of that American traveling honky-tonk music. I think there is some of that flavour in "Hitori Ne no Lullaby" which seems to describes a garrulous and increasingly sleepy-headed woman going through the drinks at that dilapidated bar somewhere in the US Midwest. It could even describe a typical scene of a Japanese OL doing pretty much the same thing at a nomiya near midnight....something that I've seen my fair share of in many a TV drama. There is also a mention of Janis Joplin in the lyrics and that had my brain sparking about similarly arranged music that I used to hear on the old car AM radio back in the 1970s.

As nikala commented, "Tasogare Memory" is indeed a keeper and "Hitori Ne no Lullaby" is one of the reasons. I think it was truly a fascinating time for inspiration during those days of New Music.

Mariko Nagai/Midori Karashima -- Hitomi - Genki (瞳・元気)

My impression of both good buddies Mariko Nagai(永井真理子)and Midori Karashima(辛島美登里)is that they are, for the lack of a better word, in squeaky clean. Karashima has that elegant look which befits her nickname of Karashima-sensei; if she had gone into the acting world, she could have easily been typecast as the pretty old-school marm. Meanwhile, my image of Nagai has always been of that slightly rambunctious but basically decent tomboy-next-door; she might get herself muddy from playing out in the fields but her mother guaranteed that she would always be out the next day in the brightest and cleanest of T-shirts.

Before Nagai hit it really big at the end of the 80s with songs like "Miracle Girl", there was her 2nd single from November 1987, "Hitomi - Genki" which was composed by Karashima and written by Natsumi Tadano(只野菜摘). At the time that I first heard it, I didn't know it was one of her very early contributions to her discography. It's more of a slightly slower ballad but even so, the song has a hard time to keep down the irrepressible Nagai cheer completely. As for the translation of the title, I wasn't sure if the "hitomi" was referring to a girl with that name or her eyes themselves, and the lyrics don't really make that crystal clear although they describe a very happy young lady going through her life. For the sake of argument, though, I'll just go with the former choice and translate it as "Cheerful Hitomi".

For some reason, the arrangement and Nagai's slight echo in her vocals has often gotten me into a very nostalgic zone. Her vocals, by the way, come off as being very crystal-clear...and clean.

Strangely enough, the first time I had ever heard of "Hitomi - Genki" was through the old Fuji-TV Monday night comedy-variety program "Shimura Ken no Daijoubuda" (志村けんのだいじょうぶだぁ...way before "HEY! HEY! HEY! Music Champ"). Comedian Ken Shimura (formerly of The Drifters) had a number of warped characters that he played, and one of them was the elderly and innocently deranged Hitomi(ひとみさん). In a bit of a tribute montage to the character, the show used Nagai's single as a theme of sorts.

Since at the time, I hadn't known the exact title of the song, I wasn't sure if I would ever hear it again. But some years later, I ended up buying a Mariko Nagai album, "yasashikunaritai"(やさしくなりたい...I Want to Be Nice), a BEST album of her ballads up to 1992, and luckily enough, the single was included in there. I'm not sure if the original single ever got into the Oricon rankings but "yasashikunaritai" did get No. 1 status on the album charts. The original was also on her 2nd studio album, "Genki Yohou"(元気予報...Happy Forecast) from January 1988; it peaked at No. 35.

(Sorry but the video has been taken down.)

Well, how about that? I was able to get a fan-made montage for the Shimura character and the Nagai song!

Karashima did a cover of "Hitomi - Genki" a few years later as a single released in December 1992, Although her version has a bit more of an urgent beat to it, Sensei's pure and crystalline vocal quality still come through...almost as if it were an even more refined version of Nagai's voice.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mayo Shouno -- Monte Carlo de Kanpai (モンテカルロで乾杯)

I was looking around if I could find another example of that interesting hybrid within kayo kyoku that I like to call European enka. There is that shibui aspect that infuses the usual enka tune but the melody takes on that hue of a travelogue in terra exotica. I've always pegged the heyday of that subgenre around the late 70s so I often think about Teresa Teng, Saki Kubota and Judy Ongg due to their particular hits at that time.

And then there is also Mayo Shouno(庄野真代)who had come up with "Tonde Istanbul"(飛んでイスタンブール), her 5th single in April 1978. Listening to that old chestnut, I think of travel on old-fashioned trains or bumpy cars through exotic lands (not sure if the melody can be truly called Turkish, though). Well, Shouno followed up on her biggest hit immediately a few months later in July with a second improbable hit, "Monte Carlo de Kanpai" (Here's to Monte Carlo). I say improbable because there is quite the similarity to mine ears of her 6th single to her previous one. The creators of the song, Tetsuya Chiaki and Kyohei Tsutsumi(ちあき哲也・筒美京平), are the same, and I feel like I just transferred to another train and moved several hundred more kilometres to the east into Monaco. Mind you, there is that famous image of Monte Carlo with all of those high rollers and palatial mansions and a seemingly mandatory dress code of tuxedos and gowns. However, Shouno's song is definitely more on the business traveler/tourist level of things with camera and fanny pack firmly on call.

"Monte Carlo de Kanpai" didn't do quite as well as its sister song, "Tonde Istanbul" but it still did fine, getting as high as No. 5 on Oricon and finishing the year as the 43rd-ranked song of 1978.

Haruo Oka -- Akogare no Hawaii Koro (憧れのハワイ航路)

Just two days ago I managed to come across this rarity: A pack of 4 CD's filled with Enka and Kayokyoku from back in the day at 'That CD Shop'! As you can see I used rarity. That's because you can almost never find CD's of those genres being sold here in Singapore and also, being a pack of 4 would usually mean that it would cost a bomb, right? Nope, that thing only costed less than 20 bucks (SGD)! I guess no one wanted to buy it until I came along.

Anyway, those CD's had many classics from the 50's and 60's by singers like Hideo Murata (村田英雄) - its got 'Jinsei Gekijo' (人生劇場)! - and for the Mood Kayo side we've got Frank Nagai (フランク 永井) and Wada Hiroshi & Mahina Stars (和田弘とマヒナスターズ). But what was really interesting was that there were even songs from the 40's! And that was where I found the song that had been popping up in my mind occasionally since I had discovered it a couple of years ago while watching Chage & Aska discussing about old songs on a talk show.

That song was 'Akogare no Hawaii Koro' by Haruo Oka (岡晴夫). Its now the oldest song I'm quite fond of, being released in 1948! I'm sure that makes it one of those cheerful and uplifting post-war tunes talking about longing for the beautiful sunsets and coconut tree-lined paths of the exotic islands of Hawaii.

I had actually found it quite silly back then how Oka sang this song: Eyes open as wide as his mouth and seemingly staring into space while standing quite still in front of the microphone. Especially so as he began the distinguishable start with his equally as distinguishable nasally voice.

Same performance as the clip shown on the talk show C&A were on.

HAAAAAre ta sora soyogu kaze
Minato defune no dora no ne tanoshi

And that would get stuck in my head from time to time to the point that it'd be annoying since I only clearly remembered those 2 lines above. It was written by Miyuki Ishimoto (石本美由起) and the jaunty, quintessentially 40's music was composed by Yoshi Eguchi (江口夜詩). From what I gather, it was quite popular since it was used in a movie by the same name in 1950 starring Oka himself and a 13 year old Hibari Misora (美空ひばり) and its sung quite often nowadays too by other singers, most probably when there is a post-war song special or something on that line.

Oka, born as Tatsuo Sasaki, debuted as a Kayokyoku/Ryukoka (流行歌) singer in 1939. Ryukoka was basically any kind of pop music and Enka branched out from that genre, but now it just refers to pop music from the 20's to the early 60's. He had never participated in the Kohaku since he insisted on live performances, which was quite a shame. Unfortunately he passed away in 1970 at only 54 years old.

That's Oka and Misora, by the way.

Hideki Saijo -- Gyarandu (ギャランドゥ)

One of the mysteries that had been blowing through the windmills of my mind (along with the regular air flow) for decades was finally solved (I think) tonight. At the 1983 Kohaku Utagassen, tall and lanky Hideki Saijo(西城秀樹)made another appearance at the top of the order and his weapon of choice that year was the skippy "Gyarandu", his 44th single from February 1983.

Now, usually I would have already written the translation for the title in brackets immediately following it. However, the title was the mystery. What in the world was gyarandu? And why was he twisting to it on the NHK stage on December 31st along with the other members of the White team? As one US commercial catchphrase put it so long ago, "Enquiring minds want to know".

As I've said a number of times through other articles on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", I was never much of a lyrics man so I hadn't investigated too deeply into the words (and music) by Yoshinori Monta(もんたよしのり), the man who hit paydirt a few years previously with "Dancing All Night" via Monta & Brothers. But I did finally look into them tonight thanks to the good folks at Utamap, and it was about Hideki spouting off his desperate desire to meet that tantalizing woman even if for just one night. He declares "gyarandu" regularly throughout the song but I wasn't really any closer to deducing the meaning.

Mind you, in the last several years, I'd heard that "gyarandu" referred to that descending tuft of hair starting from a guy's belly button all the way down to his Well, I guess I could imagine Mr. YMCA singing about something a bit more lascivious as he went further into his career as a musical sex symbol. Still, I was wondering about the derivation of the word. It was in katakana so I assumed it was an example of gairaigo....a foreign loan word, but from which language?

I delved a bit deeper and perhaps finally found an answer. According to Monta himself, the title "Gyarandu" was just a combination of three English words (gal and do) slammed together nonsensically. Therefore, it was all about the girl in the first place. Apparently, all that stuff about the body hair may have come all the way from The Queen of New Music, Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由美), during a radio show in which she couldn't come to describe Saijo's own bushy tuft, so she ad-libbed it "gyarandu". Yuming's new definition had just as apparently made it onto one of the Internet dictionaries I use for my work. Now whether the story of Matsutoya's moniker is true or not may still be up in the air but I will accept Monta's side of the story. 

But getting back to the song itself, the original 1983 version has that typically 80s urban contemporary sound with the electric guitar and what I think is the ubiquitous EVE as the backup team. "Gyarandu" didn't break into the Top 10, only getting as high as No. 14 (and scoring No. 94 for the annual rankings), but it did earn Saijo a Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards and of course, there was the invitation to the Kohaku (could only imagine how the audience thought about the veteran singer and his tuft while he was singing, if the Yuming gag did get around Japan). The song also got onto his 16th album, "It's You" which came out in July 1983.

The above video is an updated version but not sure when and where it came out. But I think that particular mystery can be solved a whole lot faster than the whole mythos about "gyarandu"

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ikimonogakari -- Kaze ga Fuiteiru (風が吹いている)

A few weeks ago, one of the "Anonymous" commenters chimed in about this song by the band Ikimonogakari(いきものがかり)for another article. I had heard "Kaze ga Fuiteiru" (A Wind is Blowing) via TV Japan because of its use as the official NHK song for the 2012 London Olympics but was actually hoping that this particular Anonymous would have been willing to write his/her own take on it since it was obvious from his/her comments that there was a strong love for it. There was no animus from me against the Kanagawa-based group, but it was just that I wasn't very knowledgeable about them and thought that Anonymous would be better with the story. I actually responded to Anonymous with a few questions so that I could glean some insight from the answers after which I would have offered the opportunity. However, the commenter didn't bite so I gather that the need for anonymity was a higher priority.

In any case, allow me to continue. The band did have my attention because of its name. I had never heard of the word ikimono-gakari before, and initially, I mistakenly thought the name meant "disappointed in living things" since I assumed the name was pronounced ikimono-gakkari. Considering that definition, I'd assumed that this was an emo band. However, standing corrected with a bit of crow in my mouth, the term actually refers to elementary school students tasked with taking care of the school flora and fauna...far more optimistic and adorable.

And so it is with Ikimonogakari's 24th single from July 2012. "Kaze ga Fuiteiru", true to its title, is a breezy and inspiring affair....and darn long at around 8 minutes. According to the article for the song on J-Wiki, guitarist and songwriter Yoshiki Mizuno(水野良樹)apparently tuckered himself out completely in giving birth to this one (coming up with a hit Olympic song will do that to one). It's interesting comparing this song as the theme song for the 2012 Games to another Olympic theme song for the NHK coverage back in 1996, Maki Ohguro's "Atsukunare"(熱くなれ). That barnstormer for the Atlanta Games was a musical equivalent of high-octane adrenaline to the system to get all those viewers' blood boiling whereas "Kaze ga Fuiteiru" was able to effectively give gentle encouragement to athletes and non-athletes alike to do their best. Commuters might have felt like plowing through the crowds at Shinjuku Station when "Atsukunare" was all over the airwaves, but "Kaze ga Fuiteiru" was probably able to induce a calmer and happier skip in the step and a desire to stop and smell the bara. Kiyoe Yoshioka's(吉岡聖恵)light and cheerful vocals did a lot to keep those happy feelings up.

One other reason that I hadn't covered "Kaze ga Fuiteiru" was proximity. Since I was no longer living in Japan, I was no longer surrounded by heavy rotation play by Olympic tie-in songs. Due to the usual copyright blather, NHK's coverage of the London Games via TV Japan was restricted to one half-hour of highlight material a day, so it was pretty much just excerpts of the song, the saccharine NHK instrumental arrangement or Ikimono-gakari's performance at the Kohaku Utagassen.

"Kaze ga Fuiteiru" peaked at No. 3 and became the 110th-ranked song of 2012. As for a further description of Ikimonogakari, have a look at the Wikipedia article on the band.

Friday, September 26, 2014


As much as I loved the little lady with the big voice when she entered the music scene in the last few years of the 20th century, I found that going into the first decade of the 21st, Misia seemed to get into the ballads a little too heavy and too often. So I decided to wean myself of her for a little while.

But then in 2006, some kind of commercial came on which featured a new Misia song that was something that I hadn't heard in a few years. It was bright and brassy and had that old-style R&B sound that I missed from her. Titled "LUV PARADE", it came out in July of that year and the more I heard it on the telly, the more I wanted to buy it. And I did, as you can see from that really busy CD cover above.

With lyrics by Misia and music by Andreas Grill and Nick Malmestrom, her 15th single had that ol' disco brio that made me want to go over her uptempo hits again from 1998 and 1999. And I gotta admit that the official video with all of the dancers upped the ante on the enjoyment scale. Unfortunately, it didn't quite hit the heights of old, peaking at No. 16 but perhaps times were a-changin'. "LUV PARADE" was also a track on Misia's 7th album, "Ascension" (February 2007) which hit No. 2 on the album charts.

Still, it was good to hear Misia getting happy again.

Yosui Inoue -- My House

Listening to my 30-year-old compilation tape of Japanese 80s hits earlier this week, I re-acquainted myself with Yosui Inoue's(井上陽水)"My House" and went "Ahh...he did make this song, didn't he?" The tape was pretty worn after 3 decades so the song was pitched fairly high. But even at the right levels, "My House" is a frenetic ride on the highway.

Over the years, I've heard about the veteran singer-songwriter being an amiable if slightly oddball character in the music industry. Well, I've usually just seen him on TV giving these wonderful comradely performances, so I guess "My House" is him showing a bit of that oddball side. He was responsible for both the music and the lyrics. As for the former, it sounds like Jim Carrey going through a bad but hilarious day heading to work (oversleeps, burns toast, car radiator blows), and as for the latter...well, it's about as Dadaist as Japanese lyrics can get (Love is a mashed potato, love is electronic caramel...).

In the first minute of the video above, Inoue gives a straight-faced but slightly bizarre description about how the song came about...about how it had been whipped up while the guy was dressed like a slouch and how he had initially needed to get dressed up for the recording, only to give up and get back to the loungewear. The actual video has Inoue and his band perform on stage while the lyrics of the song take on a life of their own. Not sure whether he wanted to relate his view on the music industry as a whole or just his thinking/executing processes for his songs. It must be something to behold.

"My House" was a track on his 9th album from November 1981, "Ayashii Yoru wo Matte"(あやしい夜をまって...Wait for the Suspicious Night)which got as high as No. 11 on the album charts.

Fuyumi Sakamoto -- Yozakura Oshichi (夜桜お七)

I generally don't listen to female Enka singers (some male singers as well, I have to clarify) as much since sometimes their singing style and pitch at which they deliver the song would just drive me up the wall. But Enka beauty Fuyumi Sakamoto's (坂本冬美) 12th single was one that managed to impress me. It also was a great help that her voice was relatively easy to listen to.

Since my Japanese is quite poor, the first thing I would look out for in a song (especially for Enka) would be its music. In the case of 'Yozakura Oshichi', it started off rather muted and it kinda gave an air of mystery to it. Unfortunately, that immediately flipped the switch on my brain to off and I was just staring at this woman in her kimono blankly, waiting for the song to finish and get the show (Kayo concert) on the road. And then, there was a sudden change in music that slapped me back into reality and actually made me check the song's name at the the top corner of the TV screen to make sure it was the same song, or that Sakamoto was doing a medley of her hits. It was the same song. Whoa, that difference! From such a mellow tune to something so upbeat and sounding like the type of song the singer would sing with a flashing disco ball above her head.

Now that I think of it, that was the second time it had happened to me (yes, same song by Sakamoto). First time was hearing it on YouTube. Exactly the same reaction as the one I described above... I didn't remember the song's name back then... ...

Anyway, 'Yozakura Oshichi' was released in 1994 and was Sakamoto's first single to be released after the death of her mentor Koushou Inomata (猪俣公章). It did quite well, peaking at 24th position on the Oricon charts and staying within the Top 100 for 25 weeks, making a what they call a 'long hit'. This would also eventually become the Wakayama native's representative song which she would sing at the Kohaku 5 times out of her 25 appearances.

Oh yeah, doesn't her mentor's name ring a bell? If it does, its because he had composed quite a number of hits for different singers like Hiroshi Itsuki's (五木ひろし) 'Chikuma Gawa' (千曲川) and Hiroshi Uchiyamada and The Cool Five's (内山田洋とクール・ファイブ) 'Uwasa no Onna' (噂の女).

Moving on, the song's lyrics were written by Amari Hayashi (林あまり) and the one responsible for this strange yet alluring score was the late composer Takashi Miki (三木たかし), who would bag one of the two awards awarded to the song at the 36th Japan Record Awards in 1994. That being 'Best composer', then the other one for Sakamoto herself for 'Outstanding performance'.

Link above is to a more recent performance of 'Yozakura Oshichi'. To end off, here's some trivia: The 'Oshichi' (お七) part of the title was supposed to refer to this woman by the name of Oshichi Yaoya (八百屋お七) from the Edo period, who was burned at the stake for trying to set fire to a temple to see the guy she had a crush on again (a simple love letter wasn't going to cut it eh? ) - they met for the first time when that temple caught fire a year earlier. A tad desperate on the woman's behalf, don't you think?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Miho Nakayama -- I Know

(karaoke version)

Miho Nakayama's(中山美穂)"Miho's Select" is an album of her BEST hits that was released on Christmas Eve 1991. When I saw a picture of the CD in the "Eye-Ai" CD shopping list for one issue, I was struck by the cover with the artistically overexposed image of Miporin sitting down on some street in what looked like a European city as she gazed upward to the sky. I was back in Canada at that point after 2 years in Gunma, and remembering that time period as the one which finally drew me in as a casual fan of hers, it didn't take much thinking to decide to write out that money draft to acquire that disc along with one or two others.

As mentioned, "Miho's Select" consisted of her hits which included "Rosa" and "You're My Only Shinin' Star". However, another song, a ballad, caught my attention as well. Titled "I Know", I initially assumed that it had been a relatively new song (at that time) past 1990 since the arrangement was about as non-aidoru as could be for Miporin. Rui Serizawa's(芹沢類)dreamy lyrics about finding love and the late Cindy Yamamoto's(シンディ山本)mature Latin-flavoured melody had me wondering if this had been a track from one of the singer's albums from 1990 or 1991. In actual fact, though, "I Know" was a ballad from her 7th album released in July 1988, "Mind Game". Unlike Miho, I didn't know.

When it comes to "Miho's Select", "I Know" is the song that I always associate the album with. Not that the other tracks are bad at all....they are her hits, after all. But that soft bossa ballad somehow left something more permanent within my engrams. And for me, for whatever reason, I've usually been drawn to Miho's more mature ballads such as "Midnight Taxi".

Ikuzo Yoshi -- Dream

Ikuzo Yoshi's (吉幾三) pretty darn good at expressing anguish through gloomy, sake related songs where the protagonist would most likely be moping away at some izakaya, longing for Ma, Pa and or that special someone and drinking himself to death. And he himself would always seem as grim as the song itself, face contorted with pain and sorrow. Sometimes he'd even look like he's about to break down in tears, with his face red and all.

Then you have 'Dream'.

Being made to be a commercial jingle for a home renovation company, I'm sure it shouldn't have grey skies or any brooding, am I right? I'd doubt anyone would patronize the company if they were advertising that.

Moving on to the song itself, in 'Dream' we have Yoshi all smiles this time singing about what seems to be the perfect scenarios that everyone dreams of after some home renovation. For example, taking in and enjoying the smells of probably a park on beautiful clear day, or just spending time with the wife and kids in the evening under the stars. Huh, it does sound like a pretty good time to me. So instead being depressed, everything's all sunshine and sparkles in a way for the fellow in the song.

Anyway, this feel-good song was also released as Yoshi's 45th single in 2002 and the pleasant lyrics along with the jaunty toe-tapping melody was written by the big guy himself, as with most if not all of his songs. It was one of the first few Yoshi songs I had come to like from quite a while back and still is one of my favorite songs (overall), commercial song or not. I can't help it, just listening to the music just puts me in a good mood. It even made me sway along to the beat!

Yoshi had some weird hairdo back then...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Kingtones/Yoshihiro Kai/Hibari Misora -- Good Night, Baby

All right....a bit of personal history here so please be patient. When I was but a wee lad (and unfortunately, I did wee quite a bit), part of my television memory scape involved watching those compilation LP commercials by the famous K-Tel Records company. That nasal announcer barked out all those splendid hits of the 60s and 70s by acts like Sammy Davis Jr., ABBA and KC & The Sunshine Band. Another group that seared itself into my memory because of those ads was Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, the famed doo-wop group. Frankie had that supremely high voice when he and the guys performed hits such as "Sherry" and "Walk Like A Man". Frankly, when I first learned what a eunuch was, my mind immediately went to Frankie.

So, here come The Kingtones. Masato Uchida(内田正人)began this vocal quartet in 1960 but it wasn't until almost a decade later when the guys released their very first 45", "Good Night, Baby". I've heard this chestnut off and on for decades via their performances on TV, and always considered The Kingtones to be a Japanese version of The Four Seasons (although they might be closer to The Platters) because of the doo-wop and Uchida's high tones.

Released in May 1968, I had once thought that "Good Night, Baby" came over from the United States. However, as it turned out, it was totally Made In Japan. Written by Manami Hiro(ひろまなみ), whose real name was Toshiko Ohinata(大日方俊子)and composed by Hiroshi Mutsu(むつひろし), it took its sweet time getting up the charts, finally breaking the Oricon's Top 20 in January 1969 and then spending most of March of that year in the No. 2 position. It was even released under the Atco Records label in America where it got as high as No. 48 in the R&B category. The 1969 Kohaku also came knocking and The Kingtones appeared on the stage on New Year's Eve.

A decade later, Kai Band's Yoshihiro Kai(甲斐よしひろ)released a rock cover of "Good Night, Baby" for his debut as a solo artist from May 1978.

(Music163 is no longer accessible.)

The legendary Hibari Misora(美空ひばり)also gave her own version of the song although I couldn't track down the exact year she recorded it. It is available on "Misora Hibari Seitan 70 Nen Kinen Misora Hibari Cover Song Collection"(美空ひばり生誕70年記念 ミソラヒバリ カバーソング コレクション...Hibari Misora 70th Anniversary Memorial Cover Song Collection). Of course, other singers have covered "Good Night, Baby" including one Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之)who also led a doo-wop group of his own some years later.

Masatoshi Nakamura/Aska -- Kaze no Sumu Machi (風の住む町)

I like to wander around quite a bit everywhere I go, especially in the older parts of town with buildings from back in the days of yore like shop-houses which sometimes may not look pleasant due to neglect over the years, little alleys and streets, you know, the lot. Somehow it just gives you that feel of nostalgia even though you hadn't been there during that time.

Masatoshi Nakamura's (中村雅俊) 'Kaze no Sumu Machi', which means the street where the wind resides, was like the feelings that I've mentioned above condensed into a song. And who wrote this comfortable tune? Why, Aska from Chage and Aska of course! I remember reading his explanation for writing the song on their C&A's website, and he kinda said something on the line of nostalgia, that adults want to and like to reminiscent the past, stuff like that, and then ponder whether or not it'd be good to back to the good ol'days or not. I think.

Anyway, the song was released on the 21st of December in 1990 and did average, peaking at 49th place on the Oricon weeklies. It was also the theme song for the 3rd season of a police drama called 'Sasurai keiji ryojouen' ( さすらい刑事旅情編), which lasted from October 1990 to March 1991.

Then 'Kaze no Sumu Machi' made another appearance as a... I don't what its called... y'know, a song that they'd play during the course of the show? Yeah. The hour long special drama that air in 2011 was called 'Tasogare ryuseigun C-46 seiun' (黄昏流星群 〜C-46星雲〜), based on a manga that was based on one of C&A's songs 'C-46'. Nakamura himself played the lead role, a man who was the former front man of a popular band back in the 80's or something like that, and the 'Kaze no Sumu Machi' was supposed to be the band's hit song. And the cassette tape with that song brought back memories of a past lover, yada yada yada, you know, the usual romantic show thing.

I liked it. It had a coupla subtle hints to Aska's 'Hajimari wa itsumo ame' (はじまりはいつも雨). And it kept playing Aska's new version of 'C-46'. And it kept playing one of my favourite songs by Aska... ... Okay fine, and I like Aska, happy now?

On another note, Aska did a self-cover for this song that was released in his 2nd solo album 'Scene II' in 1991. His version had his own personal touch to it and the strings make the music have a more elegant and gentle feel to it, which I prefer by a small margin. While the original felt a little more... I suppose folksy?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Megumi Hayashibara -- I'll be there

It’s been a while since I wrote my last Megumi Hayashibara (林原 めぐみ) entry, and now I intend to redeem myself from this mistake covering one of my favourite songs from her, the beautiful “I’ll be there”.

Released in October 1996, “I’ll be there” was the coupling song to Hayashibara’s “Successful Mission” single. While the title track was used as the opening theme for Saber Marionette J (セイバーマリオネットJ), “I’ll be there” was the ending theme for the same anime.

Not only Saber Marionette is my favourite anime series, it also offered some of Megumi Hayashibara’s best songs. She sang both the opening and ending themes for Saber Marionette J (“Successful Mission” and “I’ll be there”) and Saber Marionette J to X (“Proof of Myself” and “Lively Motion”), two of the theme songs for the OVA Saber Marionette J Again (“hesitation” and a ballad version of “I’ll be there”), and also “Izayoi” (十六夜), a special and touching ending theme that aired in the last episode of the anime’s first season, making a lot of fans (including me) very emotional. Although I’m a big fan, I will not talk about the anime itself here, but I really recommend it, especially the first season.

Back to “I’ll Be There”, although not properly a ballad, it’s a song permeated by a sad feeling that’s enhanced not only by the beautiful melody, but also by the keyboard-driven arrangement. As for Megumi, she really shined in “I’ll be there”, and that’s probably because she was recording a lot of songs during the mid-to-late 90s, which helped her get better at singing. One last thing that I’d like to talk about is the guitar solo that fades with the song..., well, it represents one final moment of the mixture of pleasure and sadness that I usually feel while listening to “I’ll be there”. This song is one of the few that makes me dive deep into everything it can offer... lyrics, melody, arrangement and Megumi’s angelic voice. I can repeat the song anytime I want, but its final moments, accentuated by the aforementioned guitar solo, always makes me feel like I’m losing something important... it’s hard to explain, and maybe that’s because I’ve been in love with this song for long ten years, since I watched Saber Marionette J every afternoon on TV.

The “Successful Mission” single reached #7 on the Oricon charts, selling 139,120 copies. Fifteen years later, in June 2011, it was included in Megumi’s “VINTAGE WHITE” compilation. Lyrics for the song were written by Megumi herself, while music was composed by long collaborator Hidetoshi Sato (佐藤英敏). As for the arrangement, Keiji Soeda (添田啓二) was the responsible.

Here's a picture of my "VINTAGE WHITE" compilation.

Fantastic Plastic Machine featuring Maki Nomiya -- Dear Mr. Salesman

(Sorry but the video has been taken down.)

Couldn't get more Shibuya-kei than this song and its cute kitschy video. I'd been trying to track the YouTube video down for several minutes last night under the impression that it was a Pizzicato Five song, only to figure out that it was a Fantastic Plastic Machine contribution. Under the circumstances, the error was understandable since "Dear Mr. Salesman" has P5's delectable Maki Nomiya(野宮真貴)as guest vocalist and the music by FPM himself has all that wonderful 60s swing.

"Dear Mr. Salesman" was part of the seminal "The Fantastic Plastic Machine", FPM's debut album from October 1997, considered to be one of the audio bibles of Shibuya-kei. Excerpts of the song have been used ad nauseum as background music to introduce various segments on Japanese variety programming to the extent that I can only assume Tomoyuki Tanaka(田中知之)must have "bachelor pads" all over the jet-setting globe from all the copyright money he's made.

I found out that it's one of the relatively few tunes that Nomiya has sung entirely in English, and she acquits herself very well. She always puts the pizzazz in either English or Japanese. And that music has me reliving every game show, DeVol-scored sitcom and a lot of light 60s movies. Last but not least, I have to really find out who that "old guy" nattering away throughout the song is. He sounds like the Pepperidge Farm narrator who used to say "Pepperidge Farm remembers..." in those old commercials.

The song is fun enough to listen to but I think the video makes for a fine accompaniment. I wonder if that fellow in it is Tanaka himself.

Ichiro Toba -- Shigure Tabi (しぐれ旅)

I find it quite amusing to see Ichiro Toba (鳥羽一郎) perform on stage. To me, the stocky fellow with the huge round nose and thick rectangular blocks for eyebrows that always seem to be in a slight frown, looked like a grumpy old bear standing on two legs. Y'know, the type that you may see in cartoons. He also bares some semblance to fellow Enka singer Eisaku Ohkawa (大川栄策) - must be the nose.

Anyway, I had seen Toba on my 3rd 'Nippon no uta' episode performing on the show's 'Special stage' with the elegant Aki Yashiro (八代亜紀) by his side. Well, sorry to say that I paid no attention to him whatsoever at that point in time and was more tickled with the fact that Yashiro looked taller than him. It was only until a month back when I watched an episode of 'Kayo Concert' did I actually have a proper encounter with the gruff-looking Enka singer.

He got to sing two songs on that night, and when I checked the song lineup on the show's webpage I spotted Toba's 'Shigure Tabi', which would be the one to round off the show. I'd seen the name a number of times but never really bothered to check it. I'd wanted to, but I did not have a good impression of him - I didn't like his hit debut song 'Kyodai bune' (兄弟船), thus the hesitance. However, I eventually got over it from pressing curiosity (I wanted to know what I was in for).

Happy to say that I liked it on the first listen. Rather catchy and you'd be able to tell its an Enka song immediately once you here the music that was written by Genda Kanou (叶弦大); the lyrics were by this fella by the name of Makoto Kitajou (喜多條 忠). Somehow I'm quite sure that I've seen these two names together for a couple of other songs. It was also Toba's most recent single released on 2nd July 2014 and from what I've seen on the Enka rankings on Oricon's website, it actually did pretty well, peaking at 6th place in one week in August. Not bad, not bad at all.

Is it me or are these scarves a thing now?

Noriyuki Makihara -- 80km/h no Kimochi (80km/hの気持ち)

One of the other songs that I enjoyed from Noriyuki Makihara's(槇原敬之)debut album, "Kimi ga Warau Toki Kimi no Mune ga Itamanai Yo ni"(君が笑うとき、君の胸が痛まないように....So That Your Chest Doesn't Hurt When You Laugh)was the 3rd track, "80km/h no Kimochi" (My Feelings at 80km/h). Clever title aside, Mackey's lyrics go into the usual unrequited love thing that songwriters in Japan especially love to go over and over. However, it's the music that he whipped up for the song that has often popped up in my head ever since I bought the album back in its original release year of 1990.

When I consider the speed of falling in love, I would usually assume it's equivalent to a Bullet Train at top speed. So, the title's speed of 80 km/h perhaps is just right (although I would love to have been the fly on the wall in Makihara's apartment when he was deciding upon that speed); not that heart-hammering speed of 200 km/h but still at a good gallop to show that the guy still has that torch for the woman out of his reach. 

Returning to the music, it's a pleasant mid-tempo jog, perhaps reflecting the pitter-patter of that heart. I especially enjoy the part where the synth goes "ba-DUM-dum-dum" and the bit where the solo trumpet comes in for an insertion of jazz. In a way, the music seems to tell the story about the lovelorn fellow as he goes out his healthy walk only to spot that lady with the other guy which stops him cold and makes him want to stalk the couple (in that rom-com way) for a little while.

Mackey has a long list of hits but also consider some of the non-singles from his albums. Some nice things could pop up among them as well. Still, his official 2nd single and the first track from "Kimi ga Warau Toki Kimi no Mune ga Itamanai Yo ni", "Answer" is a wonderful ballad.

Junko Yagami -- Lonely Girl

Being the long-time Junko Yagami(八神純子)fan, I have to admit that I had never heard of this gem by her until recently. I was just doing the usual scrolling through YouTube when I discovered "Lonely Girl" there one day.

Never released as an official single, this was the title track from Yagami's 5th original album released in February 1983. Yagami provided the lyrics while Ichizo Seo(瀬尾一三)came up with the lovely melody. As usual, the singer-songwriter comes up with a wonderful delivery but I was even more drawn to Seo's music since it sounds like something that would have been composed more in the late 70s. In fact, I wonder if an English translation would have been an ideal song for Olivia Newton-John to have covered back in her disco period.

The album itself also contains "Love Supreme", the ballad that Junko recorded for the anime motion picture "Final Yamato", and I've also heard the bouncy City Pop second track "Yozora no Earring"(夜空のイヤリング...Night Sky Earring), so now I'm now considering whether to plunk down the yen to put this disc into my collection.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Momoe Yamaguchi -- Kinjirareta Asobi/Papa wa Koibito (禁じられた遊び・パパは恋人)

Momoe Yamaguchi's(山口百恵)3rd single, "Kinjirareta Asobi" (Forbidden Play), was a song that I'd heard on an episode of "Sounds of Japan" that spotlighted the legendary 70s singer. At the time, I'd only known about Yamaguchi in the latter half of her career with hits such as "Imitation Gold" and "Playback Part 2", so to hear nothing of that sultrier voice in her earlier releases was a revelation to me.

What would also be a later revelation was how racy the lyrics got in some of those earlier songs. Obviously, compared to some of the stuff on albums today in the States, Momoe-chan's records wouldn't get that that "EXPLICIT LYRICS" or "NSFW" label, but for a 14-year-old wunderaidoru to sing about her naked lust for a guy back in that decade....well, I'm sure a lot of ears were pricked up.

In the earlier half of her career, it was the tandem of Kazuya Senke and Shunichi Tokura(千家和也・都倉俊一)who were taking care of those hits, including "Kinjirareta Asobi". Here are a couple of examples of the lyrics from the beginning and the middle of the song:

Kowakunai, kowakunai    恐くない、恐くない
Anata to dattara nandemo dekiru あなたとだったら、何でも出来る

I'm not scared, I'm not scared
If it's you, I can do anything.

Rousoku mitai na moeru honoo ni  ローソクみたいな燃える炎に
Watashi no karada wa atsuku naru 私の躰は熱くなる

My body gets hot
in the burning flame like a candle.

Well, yowza! I never would have thought to compare Yamaguchi with Britney Spears or Katy Perry but there you are. Torrid lyrics aside, though, I really like the opening to "Kinjirareta Asobi" with the explosive horns and the chorus' rendition of that first line before Momoe's declaration to her man in the second. I think it's that repeated call-and-back throughout that distinguishes it, and especially with that breathy girlish way the chorus delivers that first line, before Momoe puts her strong stamp on matters.

(cover version)

The song was released in November 1973 and got all the way up to No. 12 on Oricon before becoming the 77th-ranked song of 1974.

On the B-side, to balance things out with the hot and sweaty A-side, is "Papa wa Koibito" (Papa is My Lover), a cute innocent duet between Yamaguchi and the late actor Ken Utsui(宇津井健). Both starred in the TBS drama, "Kao de Waratte"(顔で笑って...Laugh With Your Face)as a father and daughter, and the song was also created by Senke and Togura as the theme song for the show. Unlike "Kinjirareta Asobi", "Papa wa Koibito" simply has all the threat of a "Sazae-san" episode, and I could imagine Yamaguchi and Utsui in character doing a corny little softshoe at the neighbourhood talent show at the community centre. Perhaps more prudish listeners sighed with some relief.

Denki Groove -- Drill King Anthem (ドリルキング社歌)

When I first heard Denki Groove's(電気グルーヴ)cheeky "Drill King Anthem 2001" from their self-tribute album, "The Last Supper" (July 2001), I had thought it was a parody of tokusatsu themes with a bit of techno stuff reminiscent of M.A.R.R.S.' "Pump Up The Volume". And the official video (pity it got banned by SME) added to the hilarity as Takkyu Ishino and Pierre Taki(石野卓球・ピエール瀧)showed off a Monkees-style PG-rated montage of their hijinks including the former nonchalantly walking down a spiral staircase au naturel.

Well, the song was a bit more than that, actually. The original version of "Drill King Anthem" came from the band's August 1994 "Drill King Anthology" album featuring artists under Drill King Records, a company supervised by Denki Groove. Kaoru Endo and Sumiko Endo(遠藤薫・遠藤スミ子)created this march for a pink salon which had made the rounds during live performances, and apparently got enough approval to get onto this particular album. Lyrics that include dreaming of becoming a pink Satan, pissing in the mailbox and setting fire to tempura oil lend to the gleeful anarchy. It was this song that cemented my image of Takkyu and Pierre as a duo that had its tongue implanted firmly in cheek. The album itself got up to No. 8 on Oricon.

Akira Kobayashi -- Akira no Zundoko Bushi (アキラのズンドコ節)

From what I've seen and read, the 'Zundoko Bushi' has had many versions sung by different artistes over the decades. Most notably the renditions done by the somewhat young and  hugely popular Enka singer Kiyoshi Hikawa (氷川きよし), Comedy group The Drifters (ザ・ドリフターズ ), and last but not least, big shot actor-singer from the 60's Akira Kobayashi (小林旭).

I would have to say that out of the 3 aforementioned versions, my vote goes to Might Guy's one. Why? Because of the lyrics... or whatever I can pick out from it. Hikawa's one mentioned something about going to your usual ramen joint and ordering your usual bowl of ramen with 2 or 3 pieces of chashu, which reminded me of this ramen joint my family would always patronize in Shinjuku's Kabuki cho (yeah, not very family friendly huh?) every time we visited Japan. Still remember seeing one of the chefs had half an ear burned/bitten off... heh... 

Gah, sorry for going on a tangent! As I was saying, while Hikawa's version brought back some nice memories, Kobayashi's one kinda talks about the fellow out on the town with his sweetheart, and then one part described their parting scene. For example, the fellow saying, "Good night!" to the lady and gives her a sly wink as he leaves. More romantic in that sense, and yes I can be a sucker for things like that. Also I feel that this set of... I suppose you could say flirty lyrics, done by lyricist Sou Nishizawa (西沢 爽), compliments the nifty music composed by Minoru Endo (遠藤 実) better. 

Anyway, 'Akira no Zundoko Bushi' was actually released twice in 1960. The first time it was released as a B-side to 'Kagoshima Ohara Bushi' (鹿児島おはら節) in June and was the theme song to one of Might Guy's movies 'Umi wo wataru hatoba no kaze' (海を渡る波止場の風) and was a hit, but I don't know how many copies were sold since the J-Wiki page never mentioned it for this one. Then about 3 months later in September it was released again - same songs, but 'Zundoko Bushi' was on the A-side, possibly because of its popularity. This one sold over 200 000 copies.

Above is Kobayashi singing what seems to be an updated version of it with the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (東京スカパラダイスオーケストラ). And man, the music for this one's groovy with all that electric guitar!