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, November 30, 2014

Daiji Man Brothers Band -- Sore ga Daiji (それが大事)

I'll have to admit that figure skating doesn't come high up on my list of winter sports to be watched. For me, ice hockey and luge have more appeal. However, my parents do watch figure skating, and in Japan, where figure skaters can have the same kind of fame and popularity that rock bands and A-list thespians possess, names like Yuko Ando, Mao Asada and Yuzuru Hanyu are regularly heard here at home.

Speaking of that last skater, Hanyu has been going through a small rough patch of late after that injury from a collision during practice a few weeks ago and then not having the greatest performance (so far) this weekend for the NHK Trophy in Osaka.

I have seen the lad psyching himself up in the arena hallway while listening to some sort of song (if someone knows the singer and title, please let me know). However, although he certainly doesn't need my assistance (he's already got another Toronto resident for that...Brian Orser), if he could use a bit of cheering up, I can advise listening to the above song, "Sore ga Daiji" (That Is Important) by Daiji Man Brothers Band.

This song was released back in August 1991. I just barely missed hearing about this group since I went back to Canada after my JET tour of duty the month before, and only heard "Sore ga Daiji" through a mix tape that I got from one of my friends several months afterwards. It was quite the 2 years for me in terms of happy energizing music....I remember it for Bakufu Slump's(爆風スランプ)"RUNNER" and Noriyuki Makihara's(槇原敬之)"Donna Toki mo"(どんなときも)as a couple of examples. And I think the Brothers' most famous hit can be included. It has that sort of beat which would make one want to join them in a march down Chuo Dori in Tokyo, and I wouldn't be surprised if it has been used at weddings and sports events.

Daiji Man Brothers Band first formed in 1990 with Toshiyuki Tachikawa(立川俊之)as its vocalist, and then came their 3rd single, "Sore ga Daiji". It was initially used as the ending theme for a TV Asahi program, "Sports Frontier", After entering the charts at No. 17, it flew up to No. 2 the following week before hitting the top spot at the very end of 1991. Fuji-TV's popular comedy-variety show, "Kuni-chan no Yamada Katsutenai Terebi"(邦ちゃんのやまだかつてないテレビ...Kuni's Yamada Unprecedented TV), then adopted it as its own new ending theme from January 1992. By the end of that year, it was the No. 4 song on the annual charts, having sold close to 2 million copies. That is indeed important. Before their breakup in 1996, they released 14 singles and 7 original albums.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Minako Yoshida -- Lovin' You

After going full throttle with the opening song, "Town" on her brilliant album, "Monsters In Town" (1981), I gather that Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)needed to cool everyone down with the next track. And that she certainly does with the Saturday night soul of "Lovin' You".

Now, this isn't the famous ballad by the late Minnie Ripperton but an original Yoshida creation that simply brings on the good groovy vibes. It's great for an evening out on the town, and once again I will have to mention that hotel-top bar overlooking the bright lights and big city as the setting for "Lovin' You". At first, Yoshida starts off soft and creamy before she lets her voice soar through the highs and lows of the atmosphere, and it just feels like we're all flying with her in the night sky. I'm writing this at night as I'm listening to the song, and after a long day of editing and translating, this is the ideal musical tonic.

Yosui Inoue -- Make-up Shadow

Yosui Inoue (井上陽水) has a strange voice indeed. To me, the guy sounds like he's constantly singing with a Cold - nose all blocked up - and yet it's not bad. In fact I'd say it's quite amusing to listen to, and I got my first full taste of it while listening to his 33rd single, 'Make-up Shadow'.

It was during a view of the Top 30 songs of 1993 that I encountered this strange song. In that video, 'Make-up Shadow' was placed 17th... however in the J-Wiki article on the song, it says that the song peaked at 2nd place on the Oricon weeklies and remained in the Top 30 at 27th by the end of 1993. Now that's annoyingly confusing. You can check out the video below. That year's got some good songs!

But that aside, other than the funky music with acoustic guitar often heard in the noisy background (by Jun Sato (佐藤準)), another thing that piqued my interest during a short snippet of the non-existent full MV on YouTube was seeing Inoue, in his trademark sunglasses, sprawling and almost lounging on a large fallen lipstick sculpture as he sings this song. That's probably one of the funniest things I've seen in such music videos! And then again, I suppose its very Inoue to do something like that. I just managed to find the full music video with the complete dosage of weirdness on Dailymotion, you can check it out here.

Already having 'Make-up Shadow' as the name of a song is pretty strange, to put it bluntly. Unique would be a better word for it, perhaps? So to sort of match that, we have Inoue's lyrics. I have a vague understanding of it, but I'm a 100% sure it's not a song that names the different types of cosmetics. It seems to say something about entering the real world once you put on make-up and... uh... living the good life once you make it out there? I don't know, there's a line saying that the person has 2 panthers by the names of Ruby and Sapphire so I assume she struck gold. Hmm, regular J-pop songs are so much more difficult to decipher than Enka songs.

'Make-up Shadow' was used as the theme song for one of those Thursday dramas on Fuji TV from 1993 called 'Subarashi kikana jinsei' (素晴らしきかな人生), as well as the commercial jingle for a Toyota car in 2006.

Kensaku Morita -- Saraba Namida to Iou (さらば涙と言おう)

I've seen Kensaku Morita(森田健作)pop up on variety shows from time to time as this grinning veteran tarento, and I'd heard he was an actor many years before, but as a Chiba Prefecture resident, I really got to know him when he became Governor back in 2009. My impression of him, besides his ear-to-ear smile, was how loud and fast he was with his speech. I would feel sorry for any of his staff if they had to be chewed out by the boss.

Now, the reason that he's up on the blog starts from the fact that I found a compilation CD of some old kayo kyoku at and tried it out. For whatever reason, the tracks for this disc didn't have any of the singers' names but I came across this hail-fellow-well-met song by the title of "Saraba Namida to Iou" (Let's Say Tears of Farewell). It had that typical happy melody with the sad-sounding title, and I just wanted to find out whose jaunty voice the song belonged to.

Well, as it turns out, it belonged to Governor Kensaku Morita (whose real name is Eiji Suzuki「鈴木栄治」) when he was just young MoriKen, junior thespian. Morita debuted in 1969 in motion pictures but his first TV role was in 1971's "Ore wa Otoko da!"(おれは男だ!...I'm A Man!) as high school student Koji Kobayashi (although the fellow was already 21), and he sang the theme song for the comedy-drama, "Saraba Namida to Iou". Written by Yu Aku(阿久悠)and composed by Kunihiko Suzuki(鈴木邦彦), the song has that good-natured country lilt although the horns also bring it into natsukashii 70s kayo territory. I just want to take that walk among the rice paddies.

Morita has sung a number of singles over the years, a lot of them becoming theme songs for his movies and TV shows. As for his political career, that all started back in 1992 when he was first elected to the House of Councillors, and then he got a seat in the Lower House six years later. He finally got that governorship in 2009 and was re-elected in 2013.

The above are scenes from "Ore wa Otoko da!"

Heading into Urayasu, Chiba

Friday, November 28, 2014

Masayoshi Oishi -- Kimi Janakya Dame Mitai (君じゃなきゃダメみたい)

I've mentioned that I've had a good time watching the droll and gentle humour of the slice-of-life anime "Shirokuma Cafe" with all those zoo animals cracking wise. And so was the case with "Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka?" which dealt with some moe girls working in various cafes.

Well, it seems like humourous slice-of-life has been my sub-genre of anime this past year. Another show that my anime buddy and I enjoyed during its run (and I do hope that a second series is in the offing) is "Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-kun"(月刊少女野崎くん...Girls' Monthly Nozaki-kun). The story of a talented and stoically hulky high school boy,Umetaro Nozaki, who quietly draws girls' comics, he and his buddies make up one big gang of wacky quirks. For me, humour is my spice when it comes to anime, and I got my rack's worth whenever I caught this show.

I've also warmed up to the opening theme for "Nozaki-kun". Masayoshi Oishi's(大石昌良)"Kimi Janakya Dame Mitai" (Seems It Can't Be Anyone Other Than You). It sounds like a particularly fun performance by a busker outside of Shibuya Station one weekend right from the get-go as Oishi just takes that guitar and runs with it. I also love the horns....but for people who have been regularly reading my articles know that I'm a sucker for a good horn section. Oishi took care of both music and lyrics, and it seems like he's taking on the Nozaki role as he sings about how he can't seem to get the words out that he actually loves his assistant (Chiyo Sakura who is relatively more open about her love for Nozaki), although in the anime itself, he stays resolutely K.Y. when it comes to any romance.

For Oishi (who wrote his name in katakana for this song...オーイシマサヨシ), "Kimi Janakya Dame Mitai" is his 6th single since debuting in 2008. The song managed to peak at No. 23 after its release in August 2014. He has released 4 albums.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Milk -- Little Kiss (リットル・キス)

This " cute" moment brought to you by J-Canuck.

Perhaps for those American Yoko Oginome(荻野目洋子)fans, tonight is truly Thanksgiving....depending on how long this video stays up.

I was listening to one of Oginome's BEST albums, "Pop Groover" for the first time in a long time since I wanted to pick one of the tracks for a potential article, and so I went to read up on the singer on J-Wiki. Through the article, I found out that way before "Dancing Hero", even way before her time as the voice actress behind the main character on the 80s anime "Miyuki"(みゆき), she had been part of a very short-lived trio of elementary school-age singers known as Milk(ミルク).

Surprisingly, there was actually one YouTube video that had footage of this group singing their 2nd, and final, single from 1980, "Little Kiss". Listening to it, I thought it was somewhat reminiscent of a little Candies performance from earlier in the 70s. I'm pretty sure you can make her out, but Yoko-chan is on the right. Imagine seeing her with long hair!

Oginome hails from Chiba Prefecture and when she was in the 4th grade, she entered a TV Tokyo-sponsored contest known as "Chibikko Utamane Best 10"(ちびっこ歌まねベスト10...Kiddies' Song Impression Best 10)from which she became a champion. She was quickly spotted and scouted which marked her first entry into show business. With Kazumi Kobata(小畑和美)and Masako Ohmori(大森絹子), the three girls were united to form Milk and even had their own pseudonyms of Mimi (Kobata), Rumi (Oginome) and Kumi (Ohmori) with the first syllables of their names forming the group name as would be pronounced in Japanese. Milk debuted in April 1979 with "The Are kara Ichinen"(ザ・あれから いちねん...The First Years from Then), but "Little Kiss" wouldn't come out until August the following year. Soon after that, the group disbanded.

Not sure what happened to Mimi and Kumi, but obviously Rumi would go onto bigger and better things. In fact, she is celebrating 30 years in the geinokai this year.

Afilia Saga -- Hiko Jisshu ~Learn To Fly~ (飛行実習~Learn To Fly~)

It’s hard to talk about Afilia Saga (アフィリア・サーガ, formerly known as Afilia Saga East [アフィリア・サーガ・イースト]), an aidoru group composed of maids from the famous Afilia Saga maid cafe chain, but I’ll try to get it done today.

The Afilia Saga girls, besides being maids, also incorpores a narrative in which they are magic students from the Afilia Kingdom. So, with maids and RPG as their main gimmicks, it’s clear that this group is aiming towards otaku culture. To make things even harder for the occasional listener, imagine a music style that seems like a fusion of AKB48’s blandest pop songs with’s (でんぱ組.inc) or Momoiro Clover Z’s (ももいろクローバーZ) hyper-energetic and high-pitched vocals. There you are, you now have in your hands a typical Afilia Saga song.

Although the scenary I described above may not look very interesting or promising, I was able to select some nice songs from their not-so-big discography. One of them is “Hiko Jisshu ~Learn To Fly~”, and even though better songs could have been easily selected, this one showcases the typical Afilia Saga sound with noisy guitars and synths all at once.

In “Hiko Jisshu ~Learn To Fly~”, Afilia Saga’s magic students gimmick is as clear as ever. As we can see in the video, they’re studying magic books in order to “learn to fly”, which is also one of the catchy lines of the overly sweet chorus. And the video is an spectacle per se... being honest, no one needs big budget when working with almost a dozen of cute young girls smiling at the camera and trying to “learn to fly”, right? In the end, it’s almost impossible to listen to Afilia Saga without feeling somewhat embarrassed. It’s surely what people call a guilty pleasure.

“Hiko Jisshu ~Learn To Fly~” was the promotional song for Afilia Saga’s debut album, “whitism”, which was released back in June 2011. The album reached #46 on the Oricon charts, selling around 2,548 copies. Lyrics for the song were written by Haruko Momoi (桃井はるこ), while music was composed by Kohsuke Oshima (大島康祐).


Ryoko Hirosue -- summer sunset

Like most people, I remember of Ryoko Hirosue (広末涼子) mainly for her roles in movies (I loved “WASABI” so much that I even recorded it on VHS, and I need to watch the ridiculously entertaining “Bubble Fiction” [バブルへGO!!] once more), but she also had a successful career as a J-Pop aidoru singer. Not that the girl was a great singer, but her cute voice surely wasn’t a problem for an aidoru listener.

The one song I usually listen from Ryoko is “summer sunset”, a bright summer song with lovely “fake” strings (synths doing the job here) and an uplifting melody during the chorus. I almost hop a little while listening to Ryoko’s sugary delivery here. Thanks to this positive vibe, I usually listen to it while traveling to Rio de Janeiro in a hot sunny day.

“summer sunset” was released as Ryoko’s fourth single in May 1998. It reached #5 on the Oricon charts, selling 221,740 copies. Lyrics and music were composed by Kohmi Hirose (広瀬香美), while the arrangement was done by Takeshi Fujii (藤井丈司).


Haruo Minami -- Chanchiki Okesa (チャンチキおけさ)

I had wanted to do this immediately after Hideo Murata's (村田英雄) 'Hana to ryu' to round off the 'Sannin no kai' posts with the aforementioned Enka singer's rival, but then the show with Akina Nakamori (中森明菜) came on and I couldn't possibly miss the opportunity of writing a post on an aidoru while I still felt like it... ... Well, but with that done, here's Haruo Minami's (三波春夫) debut hit 'Chanchiki Okesa'.

Officially starting his singing career rather late at the age of 34, Minami struck it big with this song as it sold around an impressive 2.2 million copies. He would then sing it twice on the Kohaku, though only 23 years after the song was released (1957). And he even starred in a movie with the same name in 1958!

'Chanchiki okesa' definitely sounds more jovial and listenable than the somewhat severe Enka-Rokyoku 'Otone Mujou' that came out 2 years later. Though I did end up liking 'Otone mujou' first since it was the first song that introduced me to the pretty much forgotten world of the narrative singing style that is Rokyoku.

But anyway, 'Chanchiki Okesa' actually sounds like something you'd hear at a traditional Japanese festival of some sort and I can just see Minami in a bright kimono dancing around with two paper fans in his hands. This was all composed by Yoshiji Nagatsu (長津義司). As for the lyrics that Showa period lyricist Hachiro Kadoi (門井八郎) wrote, it basically is about the fellow missing his other half as well as his family whom he had left behind in his hometown when he (probably) came over to the big city to find a job. Quite the odd bokyo song, I must say. Hardly ever hear one this upbeat.

Apparently there's a plaque that commemorates this song in Minami's hometown of Nagaoka, Niigata where the bronze statue of him is. Aw man, I have gotta check it out sometime! Y'know after visiting the Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎) statue and Hideo Murata museum... ...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Miyuki Nakajima -- Headlight, Taillight (ヘッドライト・テールライト)

A little over a year ago, I put up an article on one of Miyuki Nakajima's(中島みゆき)biggest hits, "Chijo no Hoshi"(地上の星)which started as the theme song for an NHK documentary series, "Project X" but grew into this epic anthem for all of the working class, especially for those entrepreneurs.

Well, on the flip side of that single is "Headlight, Taillight". The way it has been presented on J-Wiki, the song isn't a mere coupling song but a co-single to "Chijo no Hoshi". And I think it is an accurate representation. The more famous of the two songs might have that thrilling anthemic aspect with a spear-carrying Nakajima at the head of the group of salaried workers, but "Headlight, Taillight" is no less significant in that it sounds like a ballad representing that same working class.

(cover version)

As was the case with "Chijo no Hoshi", Nakajima wrote and composed this ballad which depicts the never-ending journey with all of its victories and defeats past, present and future. It almost sounds like a lullaby for the challengers as the car drives on that night road with the titular lights shining in front and back of it. I especially like the way that the two lines Nakajima are delivered in the chorus:

Headlight, taillight
Tabi wa mada owaranai (The voyage isn't over yet)

It could almost describe the voyage of the USS Enterprise.

I've already described the just-as-epic journey that Nakajima's 37th single took in the years since its release in July 2000 so you can read about that on "Chijo no Hoshi"

I found out this morning that Nakajima is making her 2nd-ever appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen at the end of next month to perform the theme song from NHK's current morning serial "Massan"(マッサン). Her first appearance was back in 2002 to perform, strangely enough, "Chijo no Hoshi". She performed that at Kurobe Dam. I wonder where she will sing "Mugi no Uta"(麦の唄...Song of Wheat)? Perhaps it will be in that field or distillery in Scotland.

P.S. I actually found the song being used for one of the relatively more wistful scenes from the otherwise crazed anime, "Nichijou"(日常...Everyday). Why was it used? You got me...but Nakajima added an unexpected layer of emotion.

Sing Like Talking -- Try and Try Again

I gotta admit that if it weren't for Chikuzen Sato's(佐藤竹善)smooth vocals, I would have thought that this song came straight from one of my American AOR compilations. "Try and Try Again" was the title track from Sing Like Talking's debut album which came out in November 1988, and Sato with fellow member and keyboardist Chiaki Fujita(藤田千章)were responsible for whipping this one up.

The song had actually been first performed at the Young Jump Song Contest in December 1986 which won the newly-named Sing Like Talking the Grand Prize. However, it would be almost another 2 years before it finally got officially recorded for release. City Pop may have been waning a bit in the latter half of the 80s but happily this band was still holding the torch. The album also has a lovely ballad, "Raining Blues".

(cover version)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Alice -- Tohku de Kiteki wo Kikinagara (遠くで汽笛を聞きながら)

Alice's(アリス)"Tohku de Kiteki wo Kikinagara" (Listening to the Steam Whistle in the Distance) only got as high as No. 51 on the Oricon weeklies after its release in September 1976, and the group was still more than a year away from their first Top 10 hit, "Fuyu no Inazuma"(冬の稲妻). However, I really like this song by Shinji Tanimura and Takao Horiuchi(谷村新司・堀内孝雄). There's something with the guitar and that piano that really gives this folk tune some anthemic oomph.

Tanimura's lyrics about trying to live through the trials and tribulations of each day and survive seem to be speaking to something that we can all relate to. The steam whistle that the band refers to makes me wonder whether Alice was trying to evoke that image of that manly man standing not too far away from a railroad track going to his small hometown as he remembered the good and bad times. The lyrics and delivery (with Horiuchi as the lead vocal) almost sound enka-like.

"Tohku de Kiteki wo Kikinagara" (Alice's 9th single) may have only done modestly on the charts originally, but some twenty years following its release, Horiuchi was able to perform it at the 1996 Kohaku Utagassen. And nine years after that, Alice was able to do it all again as part of a medley at the 2005 edition. By the way, the song is also on their 1976 release, "ALICE V" which peaked at No. 3.

If I ever end up drinking a beer outside on a hill when the sun is coming down, I know what the scene's theme song will be. -- Dempari Night (でんぱーりーナイト)

2014 couldn’t end without a new infectious (でんぱ組.inc) single. Like I said in the “Sakura Apparition” (サクラあっぱれーしょん) post, even though I know since late 2011, it wasn’t until this year that I became a fan of them. Based on that, I was scary that I could possibly dislike their new single “Dempari Night”, which, thankfully, didn’t happen.

“Dempari Night” is a very strong offer from the group, and this time they’re doing a Latin/Carnival themed song, which, as far as I know, is a new thing for them. Not that this theme is innovative, as every other pop act in the world has at least one Latin song in their catalogue, but, as I learned to expect from, their songs are always well seasoned with some special twists.

Released in late November 2014, “Dempari Night” is a trip, in the best way possible. The Latin thematic is mixed with some dark-tinged parade touches and circus elements as well. Also, the whole song is very theatrical, something that is not a surprise coming from One highlight, for example, is when the frantic arrangement gives place to Nemu “green” Yumemi (夢眠ねむ) and Moga “purple” Mogami (最上もが) singing lonely and cold lines before the other girls, especially the incredible funny Eimi “yellow” Naruse (成瀬瑛美), appears and the whole hyper-energetic performance takes over again. It’s a good change of pace that breaks the overall stormy mood of the song and introduces new introspective elements... and again, that’s typical Dempa.

The chorus, as it’s meant to be, is also a special thing with all its dramaticity, a feeling that culminates in the redemptive fairy-tale-esque grand finale (it reminded me of the party thrown at the end of “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace”. Click here for the scene). In the end, just nailed this song and contributed to make 2014 a great year for aidoru music. I hope they keep things at a high level in 2015.

Lyrics, music and arrangement for “Dempari Night” were done by Tamaya2060% (玉屋2060%), but Shunsuke Tsuri (釣俊輔) also worked on the arrangement.


Rino Sashihara -- Ikuji Nashi Masquerade (意気地なしマスカレード)

I don’t know why or when, but somehow my favourite AKB48 member turned to be Rino Sashihara (指原莉乃), leaving behind beauties like Haruna Kojima (小嶋陽菜) and Yuko Oshima (大島優子). Well, being accurate, Sasshi (さっしー) is now part of a sister group called HKT48, but she was part of AKB48 before a scandal in mid-2012 involving a tabloid statement by an allegedly ex-boyfriend who accused her of being “overly sexually aggressive”. Most important, though, Sasshi still participates in AKB48’s songs and she won last year's (2013) General Elections, which resulted in her being the center girl for the big hit “Koisuru Fortune Cookie” (恋するフォーチュンクッキー). Nowadays, together with Mayu “Mayuyu” Watanabe (渡辺麻友), she’s one of the main girls of a group that’s slowly losing its well known faces (just like Morning Musume [モーニング娘。] years ago).

Besides her activities in AKB48 and HKT48, Sasshi also debuted as a solo artist in early 2012 with the happy-go-lucky aidoru tune “Soredemo Suki da yo” (それでも好きだよ), while “Ikuji Nashi Masquerade”, our featured song, was her second single, released in October 2012 as a split single with a sub-unit called AnRiRe (アンリレ).

At first, I thought “Ikuji Nashi Masquerade” was a Sailor Moon (美少女戦士セーラームーン) song because of the whole magical girl vibe both in the melody and arrangement, but it’s just a regular song without an anime tie-in. The synths are pretty nice, especially when doppelgänger-ing haunting strings. Besides that, it’s a straightforward pop song with little variation and Sasshi’s tolerable vocals (a live performance of the song is not recommended at all, but if someone have the need, click here).

Sasshi may not be a good singer, which she surely isn’t, but she has a great and funny personality. A couple of months ago, when she participated in one of Masahiro Nakai’s (中居正広) TV shows, a fan of popular group SMAP started talking bad things about her in a social media. In a smart move, Sasshi went to see other messages posted by the girl and saw how happy she was because of several consecutive dates. Based on that, Sasshi personally answered the bad message with a sarcastic “I’m jealous that you get to date every day”. In the end, thanks to the exposure provided by the answer, Sasshi’s fans started annoying the girl until she closed her account in the social media. Not a very aidoru attitude from Sasshi, for sure, and that’s what’s great about her.

“Ikuji Nashi Masquerade” reached #1 on the charts, selling 85,798 copies. Lyrics were written by Yasushi Akimoto (秋元康), while music was composed by Shunsuke Tanaka (田中俊亮). As for the arrangement, it was done by Yuishi “Masa” Nonaka (野中“まさ”雄一).


Monday, November 24, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 1974

1.  Yosui Inoue                              Kouri no Sekai
2.  The Carpenters                         Golden Prize No. 2
3.  Yosui Inoue                              Yosui Live Modori Michi
4.  The Carpenters                         Now And Then
5.  Kaguyahime                             Sankai Date no Uta
6.  Cherish                                     Best Collection '74
7.  Yosui Inoue                              Danzetsu
8.  Yosui Inoue                              Yosui II Sentimental
9.  Graciela Susana                        Adodro/Reine De Saba
10. Kei Ogura                                Samayoi

Yosui Inoue -- Kouri no Sekai

The Carpenters -- This Masquerade

Kaguyahime -- 22-sai no Wakare

Emy Jackson/Maria Anzai/Sandii & The Sunsetz/Minako Tanaka/Melon Kinenbi -- Crying in a Storm/Namida no Taiyo (涙の太陽)

Golly, I think the above list of names is probably the largest I've typed down for an article since I started the blog. It's kinda like the roll call at the Oscars. Ah, a bit of hyperbole there but I guess with all of the times that this song has been covered since the 1960s, I can't be surprised that as soon as I heard it again on music.163, the recognition factor kicked into high gear.

"Namida no Taiyo" directly translates as "Sun of Tears" but I guess that was too abstract for the studio execs so instead its English title is officially "Crying in a Storm". Considering the images of go-go boots and all of those 60s dance moves like The Shimmy or The Swim that have popped up in my noggin whenever I hear it, I had initially thought that it was Force of Nature Linda Yamamoto(山本リンダ)who was behind the song. Actually, though, it was another half-Japanese lady who started the ball rolling.

Emy Jackson was born in Sussex, England but was working in Japan as an assistant for a radio program at Radio Kanto in 1964 when she met prolific lyricist Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子). Obviously the meeting went very well since Jackson found herself behind a mike within the year recording "Crying in a Storm" as her debut. Yukawa was indeed responsible for the lyrics and in keeping within the entirely English lyrics and non-Japanese taste of the song, she allowed herself to use the pseudonym of R.H. Rivers (Reiko Hot Rivers). Yasutoshi Nakajima(中島安敏)came up with the wild and groovy music.

There was no Oricon chart back then, but according to J-Wiki, once the single was released in April 1965, it placed at No. 4 on the "Music Life" magazine foreign record rankings. And it managed to sell about 700,000 records, so obviously by any reckoning, this was a huge hit.

Just a month later, a singer by the name of Michi Aoyama(青山ミチ)covered it in Japanese with the lyrics also provided by Yukawa. I couldn't find any sign of that version but the above video has the next listed singer on the J-Wiki article to cover it, Maria Anzai(安西マリア). The Tokyo-born Anzai was working at a Ginza nightclub when she was scouted, and it turned out her debut as a singer was "Namida no Taiyo".  Her cover peaked at No. 16 on Oricon and sold almost 130,000 records after its release in July 1973. She also won the Best Newcomer Prize at the Japan Record Awards that year.

Many years later, eclectic band Sandii & The Sunsetz did their own version of "Crying in a Storm" as a single released in June 1989. It went as high as No. 84 on Oricon.

Out of all of the different versions of "Namida no Taiyo", the first one that I ever listened to (or at least remembering listening to) was this one by singer-actress Minako Tanaka(田中美奈子). There must be something about good fortune attached to the song since as was the case with Jackson and Anzai, this particular song was also the debut tune for Tanaka. It was released just a month after Sandii's version and peaked at No. 18. Might I say that she looks rather turn-of-the-decade fetching? :)

Finally, Melon Kinenbi(メロン記念日)released the most successful version of "Namida no Taiyo" according to the Oricon rankings. The Hello Project group's 12th single came out in June 2004 and peaked at No. 15.

Of course, other singers have covered "Namida no Taiyo" but J-Wiki highlighted the above folks so I'm assuming they are the acts that had the most success with it. All of this immortalization of this one song came from a fortuitous meeting at a radio station.

I've gotta say that I'll have to cover Reiko Yukawa under the "Creator" tag sometime soon. I had no idea that she was behind the lyrics for this kayo chestnut, and she has gone on to write songs for a number of pop artists such as Akiko Kobayashi(小林明子), Junichi Inagaki(稲垣潤一)and Ann Lewis(アン・ルイス)into the 80s.

Akina Nakamori -- Jikai (1984) (十戒 (1984))

Now this is a real palate cleanser for yours truly! Listening to the various hits of the much-loved 80's aidoru Akina Nakamori (中森明菜) on an episode of 'NHK SONGS' last Saturday night, I came across a few that have been introduced to me via monomane talent Korokke's (コロッケ) crazy shenanigans. The first ever being 'Desire', then subsequently 'Jikai (1984)' when he was a guest on The Drifters' 'Dorifu daibakusho' (ドリフ大爆笑).

The hilarity of seeing Ken Shimura (志村けん) and Korokke in dresses at a cabaret club aside, I had eventually succumbed to the catchy-ness of 'Jikai (1984)'. Like most aidoru songs I know, it's got the synthesizers loud and clear at throughout - something I miss from 80's pop - as well as the electric guitar in the background that makes it all the more cool. Then we have a bouncy Nakamori dancing and twirling away as she sings with that low and powerful (for an aidoru) voice of hers. That really breaks my stereotype of female pop idols singing at a pitch that drives me up the wall, by the way.

Anyway, just like in the title the song was released in July 1984 as Nakamori's 9th single. Written by Masao Urino (売野雅勇) and composed by Masayoshi Takanaka (高中正義), 'Jikai (1984)' received half a dozen accolades... literally. Some examples include 'Best broadcasting music award' (I have no idea what kind of award that is, but okay) at the 15th Nihon Kayo taisho and 'Best song Award' at the 13th FNS Music Festival. It did really well on the Oricon charts as well, peaking at 1st place and settling at 6th by the end of the year. And she sang it once at the 35th Kohaku. As expected from a song during her time at the top.

Ah yes, if you want you can check out the silly Drifters clip that I mentioned above in the link.

Huh, I'd always thought my first article on aidoru would be on the new Gosanke's Hideki Saijo (西城秀樹). I guess not.


Rie Hatada -- Terminal (ターミナル)

Having listened to aidoru throughout the 80s, I've come to a couple of opinions. One is that the really early 80s aidoru tunes up to about 1983 often had that innocent country girl-in-the-summer arrangement whereas the later 80s examples incorporated some more worldliness in the music while still maintaining that usual aidoru-ness. I once borrowed a mix tape of aidoru songs from an acquaintance and I'm still occasionally kicking myself in the keester since I didn't really keep a good memory of what I listened to. The only tracks I can remember involved Sonoko Kawai(河合その子)and Sayuri Kokusho(国生さゆり), but what I do remember about the songs themselves is that the lot of them had that attractive worldliness I've just mentioned (yes, I am aware that I am talking about aidoru, not timeless classics here).

Case in point: I was just doing my random little walk through YouTube and found a few Tomoko Aran(亜蘭知子) tunes. I have covered a few of her songs as she tackled some of that City Pop but she's probably much more famous as the lyricist for TUBE's big early hits such as "Summer Dream".

Still, I found out that she also provided the words to this song, "Terminal" which was the 2nd single by aidoru Rie Hatada(畠田理恵). After listening to it, I realized that this was another interesting little gem illustrating some of that worldly late 80s aidoru music, and it was special especially since it involved an aidoru who hadn't been connected to Onyanko Club (Kawai and Kokusho were members).

The Osaka-born-and-raised Hatada was scouted by entertainment promotion company Big Apple in 1986 after she had entered and done well in a couple of magazine-sponsored beauty contests. She promptly dropped out of high school and took that train to Tokyo to start her career, initially appearing as a variety show tarento program on TBS titled "Momoco Club"(モモコクラブ)sponsored by the female aidoru magazine "Momoco".

Then in 1987, she debuted as an aidoru in March with "Koko dake no Hanashi -- Ofureko"(ここだけの話 〜オフレコ〜...A Secret - Off The Record)which peaked at a respectable No. 13. "Terminal", which would turn out to be her most successful record, was released three months later and went as high as No. 12. I was drawn to the combination of the typical aidoru beat and that Latin infusion although Hatada's vocals weren't exactly remarkable. Latin fusion musician and composer Naoya Matsuoka (松岡直也)was responsible for the music and if the last few bars of "Terminal" sound somewhat familiar, it might be because they also popped up in the last several seconds of a more successful Latin-spiced song, "Meu Amor e" by Akina Nakamori(中森明菜). And guess who was responsible for weaving that classic?

Speaking of Nakamori, up until her 4th single in 1988, Hatada had been being groomed to emulate Akina's style but from that point onwards, the powers-that-be decided that she would take on a more coquettish Momoko Kikuchi(菊池桃子)brand.

As I said Rie Hatada wasn't exactly the best singer, but, hey, it's the overall effect of aidoru vocals, music and nostalgia that had me enjoying "Terminal". She released 8 singles and 2 original albums in total between 1987 and 1993. Also, she appeared as an actress during that same period before retiring from the industry in 1996 after marrying shogi champion, Yoshiharu Habu(羽生善治).

Ueno Station

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Off-Course -- Kanashii Kurai (哀しいくらい)

Considering the week we've had, I had been about to make a call to Mother Nature to tell her that we still have one more month of autumn owed to us. However, things are much more normal in the temperature department today and will be for a couple of more days, so I think MN was just trolling us last week.

Anyways, it's been some months since I put up an Off-Course(オフコース)ballad. I've been a fan of Kazumasa Oda's(小田和正)old group since first coming across their songs via "Sounds of Japan" on the radio back in the early 80s, and when I started living in Japan for the first time, I bought my first Off-Course CD in the form of "Autumn Winds -- Best From Off-Course".

I got to hear those songs from my old radio show, "Sayonara"(さよなら), "Aki no Kehai"(秋の気配)and "Ikutsu Mono Hoshi no Shita de"(いくつもの星の下で), but I also took a fancy to a track that I hadn't heard, "Kanashii Kurai" (Sad). Written and composed by Oda, it had this cool walking beat with an introspective feel. It didn't take on that epic atmosphere that "Sayonara" had, but it just felt like Oda taking a brisk walk through the streets of Tokyo on an off day to clear his head. In its button-down way, "Kanashii Kurai" had this kakkoii aura surrounding it.

I had thought about categorizing "Kanashii Kurai" as a City Pop tune but reading through the lyrics, I didn't really think the song had anything to do with the city. Instead, and unlike my thoughts from the previous paragraph, Oda wrote words which could be summed up in the phrase "It's complicated". As has been the case with a number of Off-Course songs, "Kanashii Kurai" has Oda singing about a man stating out the weaknesses of both himself and his perhaps/perhaps not girlfriend. In the guy's case, it's just that he is too melancholy while his significant other is guilty of being too nervous about a relationship. However, he wants to see that relationship blossom no matter what since he loves her so much.

After reading those lyrics, I was a little surprised at the faster tempo of the song. Usually for words like those, I would've expected a somewhat more languid ballad with lots of strings. Instead, it came out sounding like a City Pop song.

"Kanashii Kurai" originally was a non-single track placed within Off-Course's 9th album, "Over" which was released in December 1981. The album hit No. 1 on Oricon, and also contains one of the band's evergreen hits, "Kotoba ni Dekinai"(言葉にできない). "Kanashii Kurai" also gained an English version titled "Melody", also sung by Oda, which was included in Off-Course's 1985 release, "Back Streets of Tokyo". It's basically the same song in arrangement except for the English lyrics and some tweaking here and there.

Mayo Okamoto -- TOMORROW

I just heard this one on today's episode of NHK's "Nodo Jiman" performed by a couple of ladies from Chiba Prefecture which jogged my memory of Mayo Okamoto(岡本真夜). She certainly became an overnight sensation with her debut song of "TOMORROW" which was released back in May 1995. It just seemed like every time I turned the TV on back then, there was that cheerful song once again.

"TOMORROW" was written by Okamoto with Anju Mana(真名杏樹)providing the music. Initially, it was known as the theme song for a TBS drama, "Second Chance" starring Misako Tanaka and burly Hidekazu Akai as single parents who decide to hook up against outside objections. According to J-Wiki, the song had originally been written as a ballad to cheer up a close friend but during the creation of the drama itself, the producer requested that it be made into a much more uptempo tune. Apparently it was a wise move since the song would hit No. 1 on Oricon and become the 8th-ranked song of the year. Okamoto herself made her television debut on the Kohaku Utagassen on New Year's Eve to perform it. It eventually sold over 2 million copies.

I recollect "TOMORROW" being sung a ton of times at karaoke and I wouldn't be surprised if it has been sung at various celebratory events such as graduations and weddings. It was used as the entrance song for the 68th High School Baseball Championships at Koshien Stadium in March 1996. In terms of the encouragement level, I think it rates up there with another song with the same title sung by a certain curly red-haired girl.

As for Okamoto herself, she was born in Kochi Prefecture in 1974. In her senior years in elementary school, she had been in the basketball club but switched over to the brass band in junior high. Throughout those years in elementary and junior high, she practiced the piano with the initial hopes of becoming a pianist. However, she experienced a sea change in her dreams when she heard the song "Mirai Yosozu II"(未来予想図II)by Dreams Come True on the radio as a high school freshman. From then on, she wanted to become a singer.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hideo Murata -- Hana to Ryu (花と竜)

I like the name of this song. Though 'Hana to Ryu' (Flower & Dragon) does sound a little tacky by modern day standards, there's 'Dragon' in its name... can't get any cooler and manlier than that! But seriously, what I really like about it is that there is that contrast between the 2 aforementioned things. The gentleness and elegance of a flower balanced out by the mighty and fearsome dragon. And although I have quite a vague understanding of the lyrics (by Shin Nikaido (二階堂伸)), the last part that went:

Sore ga otoko sa  Sore ga otoko sa                 それが男さ  それが男さ
Hana to ryu                                                      花と竜

That then kinda made me realise that this comparison is probably meant to represent the qualities of a man... that he can be tough and gritty, and yet can be polished and refined at the same time.

The music, composed by Kusuo Kita (北くすを), gives you this feeling of grandeur which is most prominent at the beginning with the blare of the trumpets, as if announcing the arrival of some powerful and revered fellow. And how Hideo Murata's (村田英雄) voice fluctuates from a deep rumble to something nasally and borderline whiny is quite amusing too. Boy, it'd be some entrance if he were to strut out on to the stage as this song plays, wearing a kimono with a huge dragon curling itself around him!

Anyway, I don't know much on 'Hana to Ryu' other than that it was released in 1964 and was the theme song to this drama called 'Murata Hideo no Hana to Ryu' (村田英雄の花と龍) since there's no write up on it. The song aside, 'Hana to Ryu' is actually a story written by Ashihei Hino (火野葦平) in 1953, which was then made into multiple movies and TV dramas of the same name throughout the mid 50's to 70's, including one (movie) staring Yujiro Ishihara (石原裕次郎)!

In the video above (unfortunately that video has been taken down and replaced), it looked like Murata was singing the song on an episode of 'Enka no Hana Michi' judging from the fact that he's on one those elaborate sets. I found the full version of 'Hana to Ryu' on Dailymotion, you can check it out here.

One of the movies' posters.
The one with Ishihara looked the coolest.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Akiko Yano -- Gohan ga Dekita yo (Album) (ごはんができたよ)

"New Akiko Yano.....with added synthesizers!!"

Reading the J-Wiki article on Akiko Yano's(矢野顕子)4th album (and her first under the Tokuma Japan label), that is the impression I got. "Gohan ga Dekita yo" (Dinner's Ready) came out in October 1980 and it is my 3rd purchase from her discography, and it happens to be the earliest album I've now got compared to her BEST album from 1996 and "Oui Oui" from 1997. Aside from the tracks from her output in the 70s that are included in her BEST compilation, I don't really have that much knowledge about those early years. However, the way the J-Wiki article read, it certainly felt like Yano was taking on a new layer in terms of her music as she entered the 80s.

That layer included just about everyone in the Yellow Magic Orchestra: Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣), Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一), Yukihiro Takahashi(高橋幸宏), and Hideki Matsutake(松武秀樹). And heck, she was touring as a keyboardist with YMO during that time so she was basically a member (got the wicked YMO shirt and a husband!). Yano still had her elegant piano-playing and her vocally flexible style but this time forward, she also had some of that cool technopop backing her up as well.

I've already talked about some of the tracks on "Gohan ga Dekita yo" over the years this blog has been in existence: the funky "Zai Kuntong Shonen", Yano's silky take on "Tong Poo", and even the title track with the singer sounding like a particularly welcoming Mama armed with a hot pot of soup. I hadn't been sure about whether I would get the album but then when I came across her cover of "Tong Poo" and the amazing first track of "Hitotsudake", I knew that I had to place it on my Must Get list when I went to Japan in October. And sure enough, it was the first CD I got during my trip at Recomints in Nakano Broadway.

Speaking about "Hitotsudake" (ひとつだけ...Just One), those first few bars of music on the first track made it abundantly clear of the YMO influence. Knowing that "E.T." was still 2 years away from release at the time the album came out, the song still sounds like a fun first trip by the Reese's Pieces-munching Extraterrestrial as he descended slowly into Earth's atmosphere before starting a thrilling adventure over the oceans and continents. And then there was the wonderful collaboration between Yano's piano and Sakamoto's synths...I still feel a wind whizzing past my neck as they take over from the singer's initial innocent lyrics. It was the right song to mark the switch in studios and musical style (although I probably wouldn't use "switch" for the latter item...perhaps "technopop enhancement" is better).

(Unfortunately the video has been taken down.)

Now I have to prepare to eat some crow here. All of the time that I've mentioned "Hitotsudake" here and there, I didn't know that Yano's version was actually the cover version for the Agnes Chan(アグネス・チャン)original which was included on her 1979 23rd album, "Utsukushii Hibi"(美しい日々...Beautiful Days). I guess I was afflicted with selective sight when it came to the J-Wiki article. In any case, it was interesting listening to this original version with Agnes' just-as-sweet & high vocals and the 70s aidoru arrangement by Masaaki Ohmura(大村雅朗).

Back to our regularly scheduled album. The second track, "Les Petit Bon Bon" seems to address a lot of folks, including me, when it comes to not being able to stop at one peanut. I'm not sure whether Yano was referring to the unstoppable need to grab that one last candy or just the concept of greed in general, but the song showcases that playful side to her as if she were reverting back to her childhood and getting that urge to sneak one more cookie out of the jar.

"High Time" is one of two English-language tracks, and it's one of the few songs whose lyrics weren't provided by Yano. Instead, Fran Payne wrote this ode to a lover coming back into the protagonist's arms after a time away. Yano's delivery and the airy music seem to reflect the soaring feelings of someone back in love.

Another angle that Yano explores in "Gohan ga Dekita yo" is her interpretation of some of the old kayo kyoku. In this case, she performs a cover of Ichiro Fujiyama's(藤山一郎)"Aoi Sanmyaku"(青い山脈...Blue Mountain Range)in her inimitable way with some of that YMO boppiness. Along with her loopy vocal style, what else is notable is how she manages to make her version sound like a suspenseful adventure through the forest at the bottom of those blue mountains.

The kayo kyoku interpretations also include children's songs. For example, the above is "Genkotsu Yama no Tanuki-san"(げんこつやまのたぬきさん...The Raccoons of Genkotsu Mountain)which was written by Yoshiko Koyama(香山美子)and composed by Akihiro Komori(小森昭宏)in 1973, and features a mother-and-child raccoon duo.

Then, there is "Onigiri Kororin"(おにぎりころりん...Rolling Riceballs)which was also created by Komori with Michio Mado(まど・みちお)providing the lyrics about all those rolling rice balls. Love my onigiri...especially when it has either salmon flakes or bonito flakes soaked in soy sauce!

So, from those two children's songs arose the epic "Genkotsu Yama no Onigiri-sama"(げんこつやまのおにぎりさま...The Riceballs of Genkotsu Mountain). And here I thought that "Zai Kuntong Shonen" was the centrepiece of the album. "Genkotsu Yama no Onigiri-sama" not only beats that song by over a minute but it's truly a crazed roller coaster ride combining Yano's inventiveness, YMO's bleeps and bloops, the eerily amazing work by Hibari Jido Gasshodan(ひばり児童合唱団)and the guitar of Makoto Ayukawa(鮎川誠)from Sheena & The Rockets. I think out of all the tracks on the album since I purchased it, this has been the one that's gotten especially frequent attention by me. Usually when I think of children's choruses, tokusatsu hero theme songs come to mind, but here, the Hibari Children Chorus is more than happy to keep up with Yano through all of the musical zips and dips and their contribution is one of the reasons that I love this one. The other reason is how she is able to ecstatically steer this 7-minute-plus song through all of the happy technopop, prog rock, relaxing piano passages and funky excerpts of the two kids' tunes, especially the way she delivers that latter song almost like a hip-hop line.

Here is a concert version of my favourite new song on the album. 

And for that matter, "Gohan ga Dekita yo" has quickly become a favourite disc. It is that fortified package of what my image has been of Akiko Yano no matter what she did in the 70s and what she has done since the early 80s. Soaring, introspective, techno-cool, welcoming!

The End

Thursday, November 20, 2014

SMAP -- Lionheart (らいおんハート)

For lunch today, I got to meet a couple of my foodie buddies downtown for lunch. We wanted to try the latest example of Japanese cuisine to grace this side of Lake Ontario, gyudon(牛丼), through the restaurant GyuGyuYa. My anime buddy had been raving about this place for months and we finally got the chance to hit the place. And although it was considerably more expensive than the famous example at Yoshinoya back in Japan, I was quite happy with my beef bowl. The thin slices of fatty beef were of the right consistency, the sauce was flavourful without being overpowering, the onions were tender and the beni-shoga added that nice sharp accent.

(from 1:50)

It's always nice to get together with good friends over good food at this time of year. The weather gets colder (today's high was all of -4 degrees C) which further incentivizes the bunch of us to gather and enjoy lunch or dinner in a warm environment. People seem to get mellower as the winter approaches. And so I introduce my article for today, SMAP's 32nd single from August 2000, "Lionheart". Keeping with my food theme, this ballad was not only just as mellow as some non-shopping wintry Torontonians armed with a cafe latte, but it was also used as a theme for a Japanese comedy-drama with a food theme.

"Food Fight" was an NTV show from 2000 that featured SMAP's Tsuyoshi Kusanagi(草彅 剛)as Mitsuru Ihara (for those who know their Japanese, a rather cute little pun considering the point of the show), a legendary food fighter with a black hole for a stomach that enters eating competitions.

I heard "Lionheart" a fair bit over the months following its release, and it was pretty interesting to have it as the theme song for "Food Fight" since it sounds like the perfect song to listen to after a very absorbing dinner. You might say it's music to digest to. As for me, it would be the ideal theme to describe my 2nd paragraph.

Written by the screenwriter Shinji Nojima野島伸司...although he wasn't responsible for "Food Fight"), and composed by Minoru Komorita(コモリタミノル), the lyrics have nothing to do with food at all and everything to do with a man with that proverbial heart of a lion vowing to protect his lady love. Takuya Kimura(木村拓哉)had the lion's share of balladeering here, and apparently since he got married to former aidoru Shizuka Kudo(工藤静香)right after this song's release, people have gotten it into their heads that that this was KimuTaku's musical proposal to Shizuka-chan. It has become one of those wedding-friendly ballads in any event.

Not surprisingly, it did hit No. 1 on Oricon and was SMAP's 2nd million-seller following its 1998 big hit "Yozora no Mukou"(夜空ノムコウ). Takuya and the boys also made it onto the Kohaku for the 10th time to perform the ballad that year and it became the 6th-ranked song for 2000.

And maybe that is what a bowl of gyudon is all about. It's a Japanese form of soul food.