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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2001

1.  Hikaru Utada                             Distance
2.  Ayumi Hamasaki                       A Best
3.  Southern All Stars                     Ballad 3 ~ The Album of Love
4.  Glay                                           Drive ~ Glay Complete Best
5.  Morning Musume                      Best Morning Musume 1
6.  Mr. Children                              Mr. Children 1992-1995
7.  SMAP                                        SMAP Vest
8.  Misia                                          Marvelous
9.  Love Psychedelico                     The Greatest Hits
10.  Chemistry                                The Way We Are

J-Canuck's 5 Go-To Karaoke Tunes

For almost 20 years, karaoke was one of my leisure activities with the various groups of people I hung out with. However, back in my university days when I first got involved with the Japanese hobby, I spent several months at that Yorkville karaoke bar, Kuri, without getting anywhere near a microphone due to fear. But with growing familiarity to my surroundings and several drinks' worth of Brown Cow (known as Kahlua Milk over there) later, my friend and I finally gathered up the gumption to try out one song together. And this will segue into my list of those go-to songs I had in my arsenal whenever I took part in singing in the years to come.

1. Anzen Chitai & Yosui Inoue -- Natsu no Owari no Harmony

Yep, my humble beginnings in picking up a microphone and singing to that empty orchestra resided with this ballad. It was just the perfect duet for a couple of fairly pickled undergraduates to try out at a time when neither guy was willing to go it alone. Lack of talent was no barrier for us...especially when alcohol was coursing through our veins.

Basically my career in amassing a karaoke repertoire was a matter of trial and error. Gradually, I developed some basic rules in picking a song which I thought I could handle:

A: A nice even melody without any shifts in key.
B: Lyrics that didn't require me to leaf through a kanji dictionary many times.
C: No demand for vocal gymnastics (therefore, Kazumasa Oda and Dreams Come True were out)

2. Ikuzo Yoshi -- Yukiguni

When I finally graduated from U of T in 1989 and got on that plane for Japan to start my teaching career in Gunma Prefecture, trips to karaoke bars became more of a professional demand. After all, the various official dinner functions always required the nijikai(二次会...second party)which often meant a visit to drinking establishments armed with karaoke equipment. I found Ikuzo Yoshi's "Yukiguni" to be fine with me since it fulfilled those 3 rules above, and in a way, it represented The Great White North.

Singing this dozens of times over the years, I was finally able to develop that deep growl that enka singers use to launch the title in the refrain...often got some applause for that.

3. Saburo Tokito -- Kawa no Nagare wo Daite Nemuritai

Mysteriously, I never mentioned in the original article for this bluesy ballad that I had first heard it on "Sounds of Japan". That piano that starts things off had me right there. One time at a karaoke box, I was leafing furiously through the thick tome of the listings when that song suddenly percolated up through my memories. I hadn't thought I would find it but sure enough it was right in there, so I decided to give it a try. Strangely enough, it worked out pretty well although none of my compadres that night knew the song at all. They were quite impressed that it was Tokito who sang it since they (and most other people) knew him just as an actor.

4. Takashi Hosokawa - Kita Sakaba

During those Gunma days, I was giving the aforementioned "Yukiguni" quite the workout so the guys knew my go-to song. However, being the demanding folks they were, they wanted another song from me, so somehow I went with another tune that I had first heard on "Sounds of Japan", the jaunty "Kita Sakaba". This song by Hosokawa is perfect for a lot of the older karaoke-going group to get all cheered up and clapping. And for some reason, the order gets to the front desk for more beer afterwards. "Kita Sakaba" became my Commander Will Riker to the Captain Picard of my "Yukiguni".

(karaoke version)

5. Yumi Matsutoya -- Blizzard

Unlike "Yukiguni", I didn't pick Yuming's "Blizzard" because it had some sort of connection with Canada (last year's Ice Storm aside). I just liked singing it because it sounded good to me (love the dramatic intro) and the three rules were once again met. Yuming's voice may have already become quite high even back then, but I still could get through it in a lower register.

Believe me, there were many others I've tried and succeeded/failed at. But the above are the ones that were my juu-hachi-ban (my go-to tunes). Perhaps some of the other collaborators can clue us in on their karaoke likes.

Also, you can take a look at my article on karaoke in general which I wrote back in April 2012.

And finally, you can take a look at the five that I failed miserably at.

Toshihiko Tahara -- Kanashimi 2 (TOO) Young (悲しみ2「TOO」ヤング)

Happy New Year to you all wherever you are on the planet. Some of you may already be enjoying your o-zoni and o-sechi while others may be getting gussied up for that big New Year's Eve blowout. I actually had my toshikoshi soba about an hour ago at home, but for anecdotal purposes, I would just like to show you my photo of ramen with the extra pork belly slabs when my friend and I went over to the fourth branch of Kinton Ramen in north Toronto the other day. The weather is quickly chilling down after a warm Green Christmas so that bowl of ramen was really satisfying.

Anyways, one of my final entries for 2014 comes from the base year for my launch into kayo kyoku, 1981. I remember Toshihiko Tahara's(田原俊彦)6th single, "Kanashimi 2 (TOO) Young" (Lonely Too Young) primarily from the melodic intro after the impassioned vocalizing...a burst of energy that seems to be perfect for a choreographed Toshi-chan spin-o-rama. But then again, I think the whole song is just half of a Toshi-chan experience. One must see the lad dance around in all that yuppie gear while it's playing.

Nope, the above isn't from those early days but probably some years later judging from the hairstyle and clothing. "Kanashimi" was released in September 1981...just a month after I'd finished my school-day odyssey in Japan. It was written and composed by Kazuya Amikura(網倉一也)who also came up with another exciting tune for Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ)a couple of years earlier, "My Lady". Toshi's contribution peaked at No. 2 on Oricon and became the 35th-ranked song of the year.

The song was also used as a campaign tune for Glico Chocolate, so you can see Toshi in his prize yuppie gear despite the lack of choreography.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top 10 Singles of 2001

1.  Hikaru Utada                              Can You Keep A Secret?
2.  Ayumi Hamasaki                        M
3.  CHEMISTRY                             Pieces Of A Dream
4.  Keisuke Kuwata                         Naminori Johnny
5.  Morning Musume                       Ren'ai Revolution 21
6.  Keisuke Kuwata                         Shiroi Koibito Tachi
7.  Ayumi Hamasaki                        evolution
8.  Kinki Kids                                  Boku no Senaka ni wa Hane ga aru
9.  Dozan Miki                                Lifetime Respect
10. Pornograffitti                             Ageha Chou

Misato Watanabe -- eyes

Back in 2012, I started the Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里)file for "Kayo Kyoku Plus" by talking about the obvious choice, "My Revolution" which was her breakthrough hit and her 4th single from 1986. The song was the template for her music and vocals: big, bold and brassy.

However, when I bought her first BEST album, "She Loves You" (1995), I came across this track, "eyes" which struck me for a bit of a loop. Misato here was more in "sweet voice" form and the arrangements almost made it sound like a very nice aidoru tune from the 80s. Well, as I was to find out, "eyes" was the title track from her very first album which came out in October 1985, so I guess this was more of a proto-Misato. And coming across this track on her BEST album was wonderful for me, since: 1) it's an adorable song and 2) it shows how far she progressed since then.

"eyes" was written by Masami Tozawa(戸沢暢美)who would also provide lyrics for Miki Imai's(今井美樹)mellow "Boogie-Woogie Lonesome High-Heel", and composed by a member of the band TM Network. But unlike the case with "My Revolution", it wasn't keyboardist Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)but guitarist Naoto Kine(木根尚登). Even with the electric guitar in the song, Kine was able to create a pleasant mid-tempo stroll of a track. "eyes" was never an official single from the album, so the fact that it was not only included in "She Loves You", but also in her next BEST album to commemorate her 15th anniversary, "Sweet 15th Diamond" in 2000, may mean that it was a pretty personally special tune for Misato as well.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Chage and Aska -- Meguriai (めぐり逢い)

I've taken note of and experienced a couple of things while on a trip back to Hong Kong. First thing is that Enka is not "in" in Hong Kong. Scouring through any CD shop within my line of sight only allowed me to find 3 or 4 Enka albums, 1 being Sayuri Ishikawa's (石川さゆり) 2015 Compilation Album which I eventually bought (first album I got by a female singer). They are, however, very much into K-pop, J-pop/rock, and Japanese aidoru groups, more specifically, Arashi (嵐 ). They had albums after albums and magazines upon magazines on that boy band!

Next thing was being graced by my Second Granduncle's (Yi Kau Gong, as it is called in Cantonese and that's how I address him) gentle, modulated voice as he presented his well-thought-out political views out of other things to yours truly. I'm not a fan of the political world, but that guy actually made it sound fascinating, and it was a joy to be able to talk to him for some of the night after one whole decade! Plus, a relatively big word was learnt from dear Yi Kau Gong that night... "Heterogeneous".

Eh, moving back to the topic of music. As I've said above, the Hong Kongers enjoy J-pop, this includes acts from the 80's and 90's like Anzen Chitai (安全地帯), Akina Nakamori (中森明菜)Momoe Yamaguchi (山口百恵)Off Course - Kazumasa Oda (小田和正), and my all time favourite from the world of mainstream J-pop/rock, Chage and Aska. Visiting a place by the name of Sino Centre, which is known for selling Japanese stuff - recommended by my Second Grandaunt (YKG's missus, I address her as Yi Kum Po/Paw... which ever is easier for you to pronounce) who knows my liking for such music - I had eventually come across this one shop in particular that sold old CDs from back in the day... you know, after encountering the many Arashi and AKB48 things from other shops.

By golly, that store was like a treasure trove to me! Almost everywhere I looked I saw something I'm familiar with. And then came the real deal: 3 Chage and Aska singles. I bet the cashier must be astounded to see a young person get so excited... okay, in my case it probably looked more like I was just highly interested in a bunch of C&A singles.

Anyway, out of the 3, the one most frayed at the corners (it's actually not that bad...) was the duo's 36th single from November 1994, "Meguriai". Unlike their previous single released a few months before that's filled with loud, heart-racing songs like "HEART", "NATURAL", and "On Your Mark", "Meguriai" feels a lot more relaxing in comparison. "Meguriai" was also released as a track in C&A's 17th album in 1995, "Code Name. 1 Brother Sun", which peaked at 1st place and settled at 26th at the end of the year.

With its slower pace filled with the strumming of acoustic guitars and the occasional electric guitar cutting in to give the song an edge, I find that "Meguriai" makes for a great song to listen to on a clear day while relaxing in some quiet corner of a park under the shade of a big tree and just watch the rowdy world go by. I reckon that's why it's one of my favourite C&A songs.

Like its music, the song's lyrics were done by Aska. Strangely enough, I don't see myself paying attention to the words as much as I usually do for songs where I understand (sometimes only somewhat) the lyrics to. Confusing lyrics from the first chorus aside, its about a man having a faithful meeting - hence the title, "Meguriai" which roughly translates to a... meeting...- with a girl who seems to be able to comprehend his needs and fulfill his heart's complex definition of love. According to Aska, he got the inspiration for the song from a 1957 film of the same name.

"Meguriai" did well on the charts, peaking at 1st place on the Oricon weeklies. By the end of 1994, it placed 57th, but in 1995 it moved up 16 places to 41st. It also is a million seller. This track was also used as the theme song for a 1994 drama by the name of "Imoto yo" (妹よ), and I suppose as a bonus, the last and most viewed episode of the show was titled "Meguriai" as well.

The song was covered twice, once by C&A themselves in 2004 in "SEAMLESS SINGLES", and the other by Aska in 2010 in his 2nd self-cover album "Kimi no shiranai kimi no uta" (君の知らない君の歌). I've not heard the 2004 version, but I have listened to Aska's version since I have the album... a lot faster in pace and rather modern sounding.

Ain't she a beauty!
The other 2 I got are "river" (also used) and "Do Ya Do" (Brand new).

Marcos V.'s selection of Daisuke Asakura's works

The man

2014 is ending soon
, so it’s time for another Author’s Picks post. As always, it was hard to select a theme and, even harder, the songs that were going to be on the list.

At first, I thought about reuniting my favourite aidoru pop songs of 2014, but I soon discarted the idea as a repetitive one, mostly because I gradually worked on that through the year.

After thinking a little more, I realized that one thing which was very stable and omnipresent in my daily routine through the whole year was composer/producer Daisuke Asakura’s (浅倉大介) works. As he’s probably my favourite composer/producer right now, thanks to his high quality and fun electronic pop songs, it was a fair decision to work on a list of ten songs he created for his bands and other artists over the years.

Like other similar composers/producers, such as Tetsuya Komuro (小室哲哉) or Yasutaka Nakata (中田ヤスタカ), Dai-chan, as he’s dearly called by his fans, developed a very personal style in the domain, so you can really tell when he’s the guy behind a song. Also, his songs can be great even if the vocalists are not among the best, as we’re going to see at some point, which showcases how talented he is as a musician.

Other than that, I tried to be very diverse with this list. Of course I couldn’t cover all of Daisuke’s acts in just one list, and I didn’t even wanted that, but I think the artists I included are able to show Dai-chan’s range as a composer/producer, even though his music can sound somewhat similar according to some fans out there.

Now, let's start the fun!


10) Daisuke Asakura -- SIREN'S MELODY (1995)

The song I chose to start this list is “SIREN’S MELODY”, a song Daisuke released as the first single prior to his “ELECTROMANCER” album, a solo project he released in 1995 after the breakup of access.

Daisuke, just like Tetsuya Komuro, is not among the strongest singers out there, but somehow he managed to create a song that combined well with his vocals. Also, thanks to the angelic feel provided by the numerous layers of vocals during the chorus, I often find myself thinking about floating in the sky while listening to it. The gorgeous synth solo also helps creating this atmosphere.

“SIREN’S MELODY” was released as a single in May 1995. It reached #8 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics were written by Makoto Asakura (麻倉真琴), while music and arrangement were done by Daisuke himself.


09) Daisuke Asakura expd. Shingo Katsurayama -- RAINY HEART~Doshaburi no Omoide no Naka (1995)

(karaoke version)

“RAINY HEART~Doshaburi no Omoide no Naka” (RAINY HEART〜どしゃ降りの想い出の中) was the third and last single released by Daisuke for his “ELECTROMANCER” album, but this time with vocals by actor Shingo Katsurayama (葛山信吾).

As already noted, Daisuke is not a strong singer, so he often invites some guest vocalists to take part on his solo projects. When Dai-chan released his first solo album, “D-Trick”, in 1992, he met Hiroyuki Takami (貴水博之). They recorded two songs for the album together, but the partnership went so well that the two decided to start a new band called access.

Back to “RAINY HEART”, it showcases Dai’s love for power ballads. Like any proper song of this type, it have to build and reach its climax, so Daisuke did the homework very well. The extended instrumental bridge with the synths and the guitars before Shingo returns to sing the last choruses is probably my favourite moment of the song.

Talking about Shingo, I haven’t watched any of his works as an actor (apparently, he starred in “Ju-On: The Grudge II”, but I watched it very long ago, at a time when the only Japanese personalities I knew were Pokémon’s creator Satoshi Tajiri [田尻智] and my beloved Megumi Hayashibara [林原めぐみ]. Nori-P also acted in this movie). Anyway, he sings “RAINY HEART” in a very memorable way with his velvet-like voice.

“RAINY HEART” was released in May 1995 and reached #14 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics were written by Akio Inoue (井上秋緒), while music and arrangement were done by Daisuke himself.


08) Fayray -- Taiyou no Gravity (1998)

It’s not a surprise that Daisuke produced more boys than girls, but sometimes he was hired to compose for a couple of aidoru singers as well or, in this case, for the young Fayray.

Before making her “official” debut as a more mature singer in 2000, with the single “My Eyes”, Fayray released a string of singles produced by Daisuke Asakura in 1998 and 1999, which resulted in her first album, called “CRAVING”. That said, these first songs recorded by her had the distinctive electronic feel that’s always present in Dai’s works.

“Taiyou no Gravity” (太陽のグラヴィティー) was the first single she released under Dai’s wings, in July 1998. As his other 90s works, it followed that strange formula of mixing guitars with noisy synths. Other than that, it’s a bouncy pop song that also highlights some percussions and whistles, adding a light Carnival feel in the middle of Dai’s pop-house madness.

I enjoy “Taiyou no Gravity” a lot, but, apparently, Fayray wasn’t the biggest fan of Dai-chan’s Technopop sound, as she preferred a more mature, balladry and piano-driven style of music for her career.

“Taiyou no Gravity” reached #12 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics were written by Akio Inoue, while music and arrangement were done by Daisuke himself.


07) access -- Vertical Innocence (2014)

As noted before, access was formed by Daisuke Asakura and Hiroyuki Takami in late 1992. Together, they released three studio albums, eleven singles, two live albums and one best collection before disbanding in early 1995. Basically, they were active through 1993 and 1994.

After the breakup of access, Dai-chan started his “ELECTROMANCER” solo project and also produced a few other artists that I’m still going to introduce further in the list, while Hiro went back to his solo career as a rock singer. It wasn’t until early 2002, with the release of the single “Only the love survive”, that they decided to reunite and release music as access again. However, after a couple of successful releases, the duo started struggling on the charts, which led to a period without new releases and access focusing only on live converts. This scenery was only reverted in 2007.

In 2007, access recorded two songs that were successfully used in anime series. The first one was “Hitomi no Tsubasa” (瞳ノ翼), which became the opening theme for the last two episodes of “Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion” (コードギアス 反逆のルルーシュ), and the second one was “Doubt & Trust” (ダウト&トラスト), a song used as the third opening theme of “D.Gray-man” (ディー・グレイマン). These two singles gave new life to the duo and they keep releasing music, while also doing lots of concerts, since then.

If the old access (1992-1995) can be roughly described as a fusion of Synthpop with Arena rock, two music genres that were popular during the 80s, the new access (2002-) is way more committed to hard Techno beats, even though they do incorporate noisy guitars sometimes. “Vertical Innocence”, for example, showcases this new direction taken by the duo very well with the complex structure, rushing beat and epic distorted synths.

On a side note, I really enjoy access’s live concerts, and I’m pretty sure the fangirls also have a good time when the duo performs.

“Vertical Innocence” was released in July 2014, reaching #10 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics were written by AXS (Hiro and Daisuke), while music and arrangment were done by Daisuke.


06) Yuki Kimura -- Twinkle Heart (2000)

Yuki Kimura (木村由姫) was a cute gravure aidoru whose singing career was almost entirely produced by Daisuke in the late 90s/early 00s.

At the time he started working with this cute aidoru, Daisuke changed his style a bit in favour of Eurobeat and Trance, so her songs are a good example of how he worked with these genres. Probably, her most famous single with him is the heavy Eurobeat-esque “LOVE & JOY” (the video is hilarious and random with scenes of Yuki Kimura riding a scooter in the middle of the city with the hyper active Eurobeat song playing in the background), but I chose to write about “Twinkle Heart”, mostly because it’s a fairly superior song and I can’t get enough of it.

“Twinkle Heart” is built around a galloping beat that keeps moving things forward in an exciting way. The instrumental sections with the Eurobeat synths taking over are also indicative of the exciting journey. However, the chorus is a bit sweeter and I really like how Yuki Kimura’s vocals sound when she says “romantikku night”. The girl, although a gravure aidoru, could sing well without sounding like a high-pitched aidoru, so kudos for her. Also, as the title suggests, there are a lot of catchy twinkle melodies through the song.

“Twinkle Heart” reached #50 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics were written by Makoto Asakura, while music and arrangement were done by Daisuke.



(cover version)

Like I said earlier, Daisuke’s early post-access career came down to recording a solo album and producing a few artists here and there. In 1996, though, planning to form a new band, he organised a number of auditions, which resulted in the selection of vocalist Michihiro Kuroda (黒田倫弘) and guitarist Kenichi Ito (伊藤賢一). Composed of these two guys, plus Daisuke, Iceman was thus formed.

If access already had that distinctive Arena rock feel in songs like “MOONSHINE DANCE”, Iceman was even more devoted to noisy guitars, mostly because it had an official guitarist on the band. Besides that, Daisuke’s synths were also a big part of Iceman’s style, something that confuses me a lot when trying to categorize them.

“DARK HALF~TOUCH YOUR DARKNESS”, for example, showcases this constant battle between guitars and synths in a very epic way with the exciting arrangement and rushing beat. Although kind of heavy in the overall sound, the band manages to maintain “DARK HALF~TOUCH YOUR DARKNESS” in a poppy vein with the catchy and powerful chorus. I can’t even count how many times I caught myself humming its melody. Apparently, the fangirls were also very fond of Iceman when they were at their peak.

According to generasia, the band stopped their activities in 2001, when vocalist Michihiro Kuroda officially left the band to pursue a solo career as a rock singer. Maybe Daisuke’s heavy electronic interferences were not well accepted by him after a while.

“DARK HALF~TOUCH YOUR DARKNESS” was Iceman’s debut single, which was released in July 1996, and reached #5 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics were written by Akio Inoue, while music and arrangement were done by Daisuke.


04) Daisuke Asakura expd. Takanori Nishikawa (T.M.Revolution) -- BLACK OR WHITE? (1995)

Probably Daisuke’s most famous act, T.M.Revolution started working with him, still as Takanori Nishikawa (西川貴教), during the “ELECTROMANCER” recording sessions in 1995. The second single released prior to the album was “BLACK OR WHITE?”, a song that was later remixed for Takanori’s debut album “MAKES REVOLUTION”, re-released as a single in 1997, and also re-recorded and re-released as a single in 2000 under the name of “BLACK OR WHITE? version 3”. Moreover, Takanori still performs it sometimes.

“BLACK OR WHITE?” is simply a great pop-rock song with Dai-chan’s catchy hyperactive synths in the background. The “L.A. Mix” included in the “ELECTROMANCER” album, and also presented above, is just even more exciting, because adds an entire minute of pure repetitive instrumental near the end (I just love the synths in this song). As for Takanori, I think he’s a great vocalist, even though I don’t really like the majority of his songs.

“BLACK OR WHITE?” marked the first time Daisuke and Takanori worked together. After the release of “ELECTROMANCER”, the two would start their historic partnership in 1996, which led to a big success during the later half of the 90s. Even today, Daisuke is still involved in a good portion of T.M.R’s songs.

The first version of the single reached #17 on the Oricon charts. The re-release in 1997 reached #51. As for “BLACK OR WHITE? version 3”, it reached #6. Lyrics were written by Akio Inoue, while music and arrangement were done by Daisuke.



I start my top three with an unnusual choice in Daisuke’s long history as a producer, the “almost aidoru male duo LAZY KNACK.

Comprised of Sou Shimizu (清水聡) and Yuuna Katsuki (香月優奈), LAZY KNACK’s early songs were created by Daisuke. Their first album, “FLASH” (January 1996), even included some access’s covers like “DRASTIC MERMAID” and an acoustic version of “VIRGIN EMOTION”, but the one song from them that really caught my attention was “NATIVE LOVE”, an infectious and catchy pop tune with Dai’s well known happy and “not-very-subtle” synths (something I just love).

About LAZY KNACK, I really like their lack of talent. Although it may be strange, I do like how the boys sound strange at certain parts, almost struggling, like in the lines before the choruses, for example. That said, it’s interesting how Daisuke’s production can still shine with average vocalists like Sou and Yuuna.

With no surprise, the duo ended a couple of years after their debut. As an “almost aidoru” duo with lackluster sales, they couldn’t succeed in a scenario where Johnny’s acts dominates the whole “boys” side of the coin. Nonetheless, with all that in mind, I still like LAZY KNACK a lot. They have pretty good gems like “NATIVE LOVE”, such as “CRYSTAL GAME” (1995), “SPARK” (1996), “DESTINY” (1997) and “KNIFE” (1997), in their catalogue.

LAZY KNACK’s “FLASH” album reached #16 on the Oricon charts. As for “NATIVE LOVE”, it was written by LAZY KNACK and Akio Inoue, while music and arrangement were done by Daisuke.


02) Akiko Hinagata -- REMAKE IT! (1996)

After the “not-very-talented” male duo LAZY KNACK, we reach the “not-very-talented” gravure aidoru Akiko Hinagata (雛形あきこ) and “REMAKE IT!”, a song included in her second album, “Hina Collection 2” (ヒナ・コレ2), which was released in November 1996.

At first, it was decided that the Akiko Hinagata song I would cover was going to be “Yureru Koi Shoujo Iro” (揺れる恋乙女色), a brighter song that I listen to a lot more than “REMAKE IT!”. However, after thinking a little bit, I changed my option and decided to introduce the more subversive and chaotic “REMAKE IT!”, an electronic pop song full of stormy synths that probably represents Akiko Hinagata’s most interesting moment.

Funny thing about Akiko Hinagata is that she wanted to be produced by Tetsuya Komuro, but, in the end, it was Daisuke who worked on her small singing career. In fact, I consider he did magic with her, because she was probably even less talented than LAZY KNACK, but, thanks to Dai-chan, had pretty interesting electronic pop songs like the aforementioned “Yureru Koi Shoujo Iro” and other gems such as “Wonder Girl”, “DESTINATION” and “FUNKY GAME”, for example.

“Hina Collection 2” reached #73 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics for “REMAKE IT!” were written by Akio Inoue, while music and arrangement were done by Daisuke.


01) access -- REALTIME LOVER

I couldn’t end my list without an old access song, but I have to say... this was a pretty hard and unusual choice.

I could talk about any of access’s early singles here, besides the gay themed “MermaidTrilogy” (“DRASTIC MERMAID”, “SCANDALOUS BLUE” and “TEAR’S LIBERATION”) and the Arena rock inspired “MOONSHINE DANCE”, which I already covered before, but I just decided to talk about a minor song in access’s discography. That said, I will probably regret myself later, but whatever...

“REALTIME LOVE” was not a single, but one of the highlights coming from access’s second album, “ACCESS II”, which was released in September 1993.

About the song, it’s one I always listen to while traveling to somewhere. I don’t really know why, but the verses are sensual and mysterious, which makes me like them more than the chorus itself. It’s probably the combination of Hiro’s vocals with the cold synths. Other than that, it’s a song that reminds me of 80s Synthpop or New Wave bands, such as Duran Duran, for example. In fact, some fans accuse access of ripping off Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” on “REALTIME LOVER”, and I see where the comments are coming from, as the arrangements are very, very similar at certain parts.

What else can I say? Daisuke took a little too much inspiration from “The Reflex”...

The “ACCESS II” album reached #2 on the Oricon charts. “REALTIME LOVER” is credited under AXS (Hiro and Dai).


That’s it for today, guys!

Although I could change some songs here and there, I’m pretty satisfied with the final product. Also, I’m happy that I decided to talk about Daisuke’s work, because, with the exception of access, I’ve never talked about any of the acts in this list here on Kayo Kyoku Plus before.

As I said in the Introduction, I spent most of 2014 covering new aidoru music for the blog, so, consciously or not, I managed to ignore Daisuke’s productions. However, they were a big part of my daily routine of traveling back and forth from Resende, where I actually live, to Rio de Janeiro, where I study.

In the end, it was great that I had the opportunity to talk about the overall happy and fun pop music produced by Daisuke Asakura. I just hope you guys enjoy some of the songs I chose to cover here.

Happy New Year!

From Brazil,

Marcos V.

Larry's Akina Top 6 Picks (post-1991 era)

First of all, I'm extremely glad that Akina (中森明菜) is going to appear in this year's Kouhaku (紅白歌合戦).  I've heard this rumor some weeks back but it's never confirmed until now.  I'll definitely be searching all over the Internet for her footage after New Year, since I don't have any means to watch it live.

Regarding her return to Kouhaku, while it was a still a rumor, I came across a blog that described the situation as "delicate".  Originally, this year's Kouhaku is supposed to honor Seiko Matsuda (松田聖子), Akina's rival during the idol days in the 80s.  That's why they have Seiko appear last in the biggest show of the year.  However, ever since the Akina rumor leaked out, it has taken the spotlight instead.  So, NHK was trying to make sure that all parties were okay before they announced Akina's return officially.

Well, I could imagine that.  In any case, even though Akina and Seiko were rivals during the 80s, I doubt if they privately despised each other like their fans did to each other.  I don't even think they're close privately.  That they're at war with each other was probably the result of the media trying to stir up fans' emotion, with the goal of making more record sales.

Too much diversion.  Let's get back to my personal Akina Top 6 post-1991 songs.  J-Canuck posted his Akina Top 6 a few days ago.  That, along with Akina's return to Kouhaku, fired me up to write about my own picks.

I tend to mentally divide Akina's career into 2 parts - the glorious days before 1991, and the not-so-glorious period after that.  If I had to draw a line, it'd be the release of Futari Shizuka (二人静) in 1991.  Ever since Second Love (セカンド・ラブ), all her singles made either no.1 or no.2 on the weekly Oricon chart.  In fact, only 2 singles, Twilight/Yuugure Dayori (トワイライト・夕暮れ便り) and Kita Wing (北ウイング), were no.2 and never achieved no.1 place.  The highest that Futari Shizuka reached was no.3 on the weekly Oricon chart.  Like a bad omen, from that point onwards, Akina never had any singles or albums in top 5 again.   The last single that was among top 10 was Gekka (月華) in 1994 (it reached no.8).

After Furtari Shizuka, it's obvious that Akina's career began to decline.  And so, here are my top 6 picks during the latter part of Akina's not-so-glorious career.  The picks are in no particular order, as they're all my post-1991 favorites.

1. Rakkaryuusui (落花流水)

This was the theme song of Tokyo TV's New Year Special Historical Drama "Tenka Souran~Tokugawa San Dai No Inbou" (天下騒乱〜徳川三代の陰謀, The Country Revolts~Conspiracy Through Three Generations of Tokugawa Rule).

The translated song title is "Falling Petals, Running Stream".  The lyrics was written by Takashi Matsumoto (松本隆), with petal and stream together as an analogy to the love relationship between men and women. It denotes the uncontrollable nature of love.  The wind blows, a flower petal falls onto the water surface.  The river carries the petal along.  Sometimes, it encounters currents.  Sometimes, the wind blows away the petal, causing it to fall onto a separate river stream.  Love comes and goes.

I like its dramatic melody and its overall arrangement.  Akina's performance was superb.  At that point, Akina's voice did not resemble anything during her idol days.  Instead, it was replaced with a husky voice that I consider to be a pretty sexy.  I think it is especially suited to sing this kind of song.

The YouTube video shows her performance at her 2006 concert, when she's already 41.  It's quite amazing at her age to deliver such a performance.

2. Days

I love Days ever since I saw it on YouTube for the first time.  And it prompted me to buy her 2003 album, "I hope so", on Amazon Japan.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find that video anymore.

The song was a prayer to grant her strength so that she could overcome the hard times she's having.  Her lover has sunk into sadness and depression (most likely not the result of an argument, although the lyrics never clearly mentioned the reason).  She recalled the fond memories with her lover, and the "days that were given to her."  The song expressed her conviction to stay beside her lover, and to overcome any difficult moment that she's going to face.

3. Akai Hana (赤い花)

This is a Korean song sung by the late Park Yong Ha.  It was the theme song of the Korean TV Drama "All In", starring Lee Byung Hun and Song Hye Kyo.

There're 2 Japanese versions of this song.  The other version was called Hajimete Deatta Hi No You Ni (初めて出逢った日のように), and was the theme song of "All In" when it was shown in Japan.  On the other hand, there's no "tied-up" for Akai Hana.

I like Akai Hana more, even though the other version was arranged with piano, my favorite instrument.  It came down to Akina's performance.  When she sang Akai Hana, her voice was stronger and more emotional.  On the other hand, her voice was rather flat when she sang Hajimete Deatta Hi No You Ni.

4. Necessary

I watched this video on YouTube first, before I went to Amazon Japan to buy her 1995 album, La Alteracion.  The same album also carries my other pick, Genshi Onna wa Taiyou Datta (原始、女は太陽だった).  I just love its melody and Akina's live performance.  I wonder if she's thinking about her relationship with Matchy when she's performing on stage.  The video was showing her at her 1995 concert.

5. Genshi Onna wa Taiyou Datta (原始、女は太陽だった)

This was her 1995 single, and it's also included in her album, La alteracion.  For me, it's love by first sight.  It was fast, light and smooth.  I especially love that myterious introduction and the drum beats.

6. Siesta~Koi no mama de (Siesta~恋のままで)

The link shows her performance at her 2002 concert.  Her live performance is actually more impressive than what's on the CD, I think.  In 2002, Akina was 37!  Even when I was 17, I couldn't do what she did in that dance sequence at the end, when she bended herself backward all the way!

Siesta~Koi no mama de was actually a B-side song of her single, The Heat ~Musica Fiesta~.  Both songs feature a heavy Latino flavor, and in my opinion, shows Akina at her best.  Somehow, Akina has an uncanny ability to handle Latino music very well, similar to her signature hit Meu amor e (ミ・アモーレ).  I like The Heat ~Musica Fiesta~, but I like Siesta~Koi no mama de even more.

Also, honorable mention that didn't make my top 6 (post-1991 of course):

  • The Heat ~Musica Fiesta~
  • Utsutsu no Hana (うつつの花) (2nd last song in her "I hope so" album)
  • Ophelia (オフェリア)
  • Hana yo Odore (花よ踊れ)

With the honorable mentions, I guess I have my top 10 :)

Enjoy!  I'm looking forward to seeing Akina in Kouhaku.

Masako Mori -- Chuugaku Sannen-sei (中学三年生)

The other day, I was watching NHK's "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)and the theme for that night was the works of composer Minoru Endo(遠藤実). And it just so happened that the first performance was by Masako Mori(森昌子). Up to that point, the biggest song I knew by her was "Sensei"(せんせい...Teacher), her ode to a beloved teacher and her debut single, also composed by Endo. However that night, she sang her 3rd single from February 1973, "Chuugaku Sannen-sei" (Junior High School Senior)...another school-themed song that I had never heard before.

Endo was also the composer behind "Koukou Sannen-sei"(高校三年生...High School Senior), the trademark song for Kazuo Funaki(舟木一夫)which came out a decade before Mori's song, so it was interesting comparing the two. Whereas Funaki's classic had that feeling of a proud exhortation by a student leader finishing a key era in his life, "Chuugaku Sannen-sei" was a bit more bittersweet as Mori's junior high school sophomore lamented about the imminent graduation of her beloved sempai...whether her senior was a boy or a girl was not really made clear. In any case, her sadness was so profound that she couldn't even sing "Hotaru no Hikari"(蛍の光), one of the songs that are sung to see off the graduates during a ceremony that has as much import as the one for senior high school in Japan. Believe me, I've witnessed a few junior high school ceremonies during my time in Gunma, and yep, plenty of tears were shed among the students.

Endo and Aku created Mori's first five singles, and her 3rd managed to reach as high as No. 3 on Oricon. It became the 27th-ranked single for 1973.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mr. Children -- Everybody Goes

I used to remember the CG official music video that went with Mr. Children's 7th single, "Everybody Goes" along with the hurried rock beat of the song and Kazutoshi Sakurai's(桜井和寿)repeated "Everybody goes, everybody fights" without getting too deep into the lyrics. But getting into them now, it was obvious that Sakurai, who had also provided them, was making his statement on life in contemporary Japan.

The subtitle that goes with the song is "Chitsujo no Nai Gendai ni Drop Kick"(秩序のない現代にドロップキック)that can be translated as The Drop Kick to the Chaotic Generation of Today. Sakurai sings of the typically harried company man from the boonies who is giving his usual 9-to-9 (or more) to the corporate machine, and then leaps forward in time to give that warning about what his wayward daughter may be up to. After years of watching news on topics such as enjo kosai and karoshi, I've gotten the impression that Mr. Children may have been keeping their collective eyes on the news as well. Certainly another image I got from listening to the song is seeing all those working people running around Tokyo like ants searching for that sugar pile.

"Everybody Goes" was released in December 1994. It hit No. 1 on Oricon and managed to sell over a million copies, and becoming the 21st-ranked single for 1995. It is also a track on the band's 6th album, "BOLERO" which came out in March 1997. The album also was a No. 1 for Mr. Children and became the 2nd-most successful release of the year, selling about 3 million copies. Sakurai also composed the music with help from producer Takeshi Kobayashi(小林武史). Kobayashi launched his own band, My Little Lover, in 1995, and the lead vocalist, Akko, was part of the backing vocals for "Everybody Goes".

The song was to have been the coupling song for previous hit "Tomorrow Never Knows", but the buzz around "Everybody Goes" was so good that it was hastily made into its own single. Fine decision.

Shibuya Crossing
It's where everybody goes!

J-Canuck's Favourite Six Akina Songs

Well, according to the headlines at Mixi, NHK made this announcement at 5 p.m. JST December 28 (3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time the same day): Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)would be returning to the Kohaku Utagassen for the first time since her last appearance on the New Year's Eve special in 2002. And considering that she had been out of the geino spotlight since 2010....Christmas will be coming around once again for Akina fans (Akinans? Akirers? Akinoids?). Apparently, she won't be singing on the NHK Hall stage but will be broadcasting live from the United States, and the song will probably be her latest single to be released in January, "Rojo Tierra".

Rumours had been swirling about this possible appearance by Akina-chan, but when the producer of this year's Kohaku was being interviewed live on NHK's "Asaichi", I didn't recall hearing anything about her name, although he did mention that there were some fairly intense negotiations going on as they spoke.

I was planning to write this article in any event, but with this news coming out in the last several hours....well, it's about as good a time as any with the year growing nigh. So I give you my own favourite Akina songs. All of them have already been given their profile on the blog so I won't harangue you too long here...feel free to be harangued at the other articles when you click on the titles.

6. Ni-bun no Ichi no Shinwa (1/2の神話)1983

Along with "Shojo A"(少女A), this is the song from her early years toting that image of tough high school rebel. Right from Note 1, the Yoshiyuki Osawa-composed rocker takes off on its high-octane ride while Akina mouths off at all who dare to tsk-tsk her lifestyle. When I first listened to "Ni-bun no Ichi no Shinwa", that guitar had the hairs on the back of my neck standing at attention during the bridge. The guitar pretty much leapt over that bridge!

5. Kita Wing (北ウィング)1984

When it comes to those early years, "Kita Wing" is the one favourite that will represent that time. As I mentioned in the article for the song itself, it's neither a rocker nor a ballad but a pop flight filled with thrills and uncertainty for the young lady sprinting away from all that she's known. I like both the soaring refrain and the more contemplative passages.

(karaoke version only)

4. Romantic na Yoru da wa  and 3. Kazarijanainoyo Namida wa (ロマンチックな夜だわ・飾りじゃないのよ涙は)1985/1984

The reason that I've considered "Bitter and Sweet" my favourite Akina album of all time is the one-two punch of the first two tracks. Track 2, "Romantic na Yoru da wa", is simply one of my favourite Japanese urban funk tunes, period, regardless of artist. The horns, the keyboards and Akina's vocals just seem to be working overtime, and happily so.

And of course, there is the more famous and popular Yosui Inoue-created song, "Kazarijanainoyo Namida wa" which launches "Bitter and Sweet". With that funky arrangement and Akina's delivery, I think it's the one hit that signified the singer's change from successful aidoru to pop superstar.

2. Lonely Journey (ロンリー・ジャーニー)1985

Yeah, I gotta admit that I went ga-ga over this song right from my first listen to it...and that has only been within the last couple of years. Again, like "Kita Wing", there is that feeling of racing urgency and excitement with this one. This would be one song that I would love to have heard while in a sports car bombing down on the highways of Tokyo on a Saturday night. 

I fully realize that I've chosen the B-side to the A-side of the more well-known "Meu Amore" by going with "Lonely Journey", but hey, paring things down to just 6 personal Akina hits meant that I had to let go of a lot of her other 80s stuff, not to mention the work she released into the 90s and beyond. But I digress...

1. TATTOO 1988

And this is what I'm choosing for my very favourite Akina song. She had already started going into some more eclectic fare with her albums but for her 21st single, Akina and her collaborators seemed to head back into the past for a bopping Big Band sound of the 40s filtered through some of the electronics and rock of the 80s. Those bang-bang-bangs of the synth horns are what grabbed me. And seeing her in the tight red outfit didn't hurt either.

To be frankly honest, I didn't take much time to come up with the list since if I had gone deep into my thoughts about this, I would have ended up catatonic right up until o-zoni time on January 1st coming up with my favourites. From this lady, there are many, and there is a reason that she has the 2nd-largest number of articles on this blog (next to Yuming).

There might be at least one more Akina list coming out by one of the other writers here, so stay tuned. I'm looking forward to the discussion! And of course, I'm looking forward to Akina herself in a few days. The ratings may just spike up like a stalagmite.