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.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Yasuhiro Abe -- My Dear

Perhaps I should have killed three birds with one stone and wrote a whole article on Yasuhiro Abe's(安部恭弘)3rd album, "Slit" from 1984. After all, I've already got the first two tracks on board in their own articles, "Thrill Down" and "Irene", and now here is Track 3, "My Dear".

That smooth Fender Rhodes comes sliding in like silk along with Abe's voice. "My Dear" is the first ballad on the album after the highway-friendly "Thrill Down" and the mid-tempo stroll of "Irene". The ballad feels like that couple just relaxing after dinner and a few drinks and then standing atop some observation deck on one of the higher buildings in Shinjuku. It might be sunset or it might be the dead of night....doesn't matter, it's all good. Listening to this, I was reminded of some of the material of early Al Jarreau and Rod Temperton from around the same time. Ahh...those were some fine times listening to the radio. Not sure if Abe got as much air time as Al, but I'd like to think he's still well remembered through his music.

Along with Abe taking care of the music, the legendary Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)provided the lyrics.

Odaiba, Tokyo

Toshiki Kadomatsu -- Sea Line "Rie"

It has been a busy Saturday for the final day of February 2015. I had to take care of a couple of clients' translation requests and then a third request came in this morning. So I was tied to my chair and the computer throughout the late morning and all of the afternoon, and happy to say, I got it all done by dinner.

And now I can indulge in my hobby of continuing to fill in the spaces in this blog. Going into YouTube, I saw this video titled "Architecture in Tokyo", and apparently this is a name of either a single musician or a collective that has brought together mixes of some of the old 80s City Pop. In any case, I tried out MIX 4, and the first song was Toshiki Kadomatsu's(角松敏生)"Sea Line 'Rie'".

This is an instrumental piece by the guitarist that was his 12th single from June 1987, and boy, does it pack a wallop. Kadomatsu lets his guitar do the talking, and his guitar is screaming, "I AM HEADING FOR THE BEACH AND I AM GONNA HAVE THE BEST TIME IN RECORDED HISTORY!!!" Yup, tons of Corona Beer with lemon wedges in the neck, white sand, plenty of surf and beautiful people dressed in less as possible. This is the theme song for Genre: City Pop Sub-genre: Resort Pop.

I wondered where City Poppy contemporary aidoru group Especia and British duo Greeen Linez got their inspiration. I may have stumbled across one of their touchstones with this song. I was lucky enough to find out that there are a few recordings of "Sea Line 'Rie'" on YouTube.

The song was used as the campaign tune for an ancient cigarette commercial (yep, they used to advertise ciggys on TV), and it also became a track on his 10th album (his first instrumental album) from July 1987, "Sea Is A Lady" that peaked at No. 4 on Oricon.

Watch the man in action here.

You can also have a listen to Architecture in Tokyo as well.

Duke Aces -- Ichou Namiki/Ii Yu Dana (銀杏並木/いい湯だな)

I've been to Osaka twice, but I can't say that I've seen much of it. That's the problem of going on those package tours, I suppose. You can never have enough time to explore the place thoroughly, and just when you're enjoying the charm of the place, you gotta leave for the next spot on the itinerary. Oh well, there's always a next time. And during that next time, I shall visit the places mentioned in "Ichou Namiki", one of the entries from Duke Aces' (デューク・エイセス) "Nihon no Uta series" (「にほんのうた」シリーズ) that represents Osaka.

"Ichou Namiki"

It sounds like a pretty fool proof tour. There's Umeda, Nakanoshima, Honmachi, Shinsaibashi, and finally Namba, so that covers quite a lot there... I think. Along with the very walk-able and warming music, the quartet narrates the progression of a couple's relationship as they take walks from the "Kita" (North; more business oriented) to the "Minami" (South; entertainment portion) part of Osaka. Joining the couple are the Ginkgo trees (what "Ichou Namiki" means). So as the young sweethearts grow closer by the season, the trees change accordingly. For example, in Spring when the leaves are young and growing back, the two are looking into each others eyes (I think), assumedly on their first date. Everything goes swell, fast forward to Autumn where the Ginkgo leaves have turned a brilliant gold - I've seen it in Asakusa, it was beautiful - and the two are engaged.

Although a pleasant sounding song, "Ichou Namiki" wasn't one of the more popular tracks from this series, despite the fact that it was on the A-side. In fact, the B-side song on the Gunma prefecture outdid it and became one of the Aces' hits.

Yes, I'm talking about "Ii Yu Dana".

Jaunty and boisterous when compared to "Ichou Namiki", "Ii Yu Dana" has the Aces singing about the four well-known hot springs in Gunma: Kusastu, Ikaho, Manza and Minakami. It's a fun song to listen to with it being so upbeat and lighthearted, and I can't remember how many times I've had this playing through my earphones during the duller, drier classes... I think there was this one time I had replayed the video above with the guys doing the abridged version of the song more than four times! The lesson was tiresome and dragged on more than it should, so I needed something to wake myself up. And Yasumasa Taniguchi's (谷口安正) exclamation after his, "Tsumete e na!" ("That's cold!") was silly and adorable.

Makino's "dancing" is amazing...

Anyway, what I enjoyed most from "Ii Yu Dana" is that all four members have a chance to sing solo. I love hearing all of their individual voices, especially Yoshitaka Makino's (槇野義孝) deep rumble that sends shivers down my spine - the good kind! I can safely say that "Ii Yu Dana" is definitely one of my top favourite Kayokyoku, besides Yuzo Kayama's (加山雄三) "O Yome ni Oide" (お嫁においで).

Since "Ichou Namiki" and "Ii Yu Dana" are part of the "Nihon no Uta series", the lyrics were done by Rokusuke Ei and composed by Taku Izumi (永六輔 . いずみたく). They must've had a jolly good time in Gunma. It was released in 1966.

J-Canuck had done an article on "Ii Yu Dana" a while ago, that article features comedy group The Drifters (ザ・ドリフターズ) take on the ditty, you can read up on it here. I don't mind their version, but I prefer the original.

"Ii Yu Dana"

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Gospellers -- Towa ni (永遠に)

Leonard Nimoy -- 1931-2015
Earlier this morning, I found out online that a sci-fi icon and a pop culture hero of mine, Leonard Nimoy aka the original Mr. Spock from "Star Trek" had passed away. He had been ill for the past number of years due to an earlier and unfortunate dalliance for smoking, and earlier this week when one of his representatives would give no comment on Nimoy's transportation to the hospital, I kinda figured that the time was close. Being the Trekkie that I have been for over 4 decades (yep, even longer than my time with kayo kyoku), it was no less sad to hear that he has left this mortal coil and millions of other fans across the globe are mourning tonight.

For that reason, I've chosen The Gospellers' first hit from 2000, "Towa ni" (Eternally) as the tribute song. Released in August of that year, it's the one CD that I purchased of the acapella group because of the mellow R&B melody. Written by Yutaka Yasuoka(安岡優), one of the members of the group, and composed by Takeshi Senoo(妹尾武), I'm not particularly crazy about the sappy English at the beginning but once the guys get into it and the song flows along, I was quite happy with the purchase. I hadn't heard it in quite a long time, but a recent "Kayo Concert" episode had The Gospellers on and this was the song that they performed, so I was reminded how nice it was.

"Towa ni" was their 14th single and that's the rank it peaked at on Oricon, No. 14. It wasn't their most successful hit but it was their longest-lasting through the rankings, lasting for 44 weeks on the charts. The single was also a track on The Gospellers' 6th album, "Soul Serenade" which came out in October 2000 and peaked at No. 8 while finishing up 2001 as the 42nd-ranked album.

This article is also the second one featuring The Gospellers but I didn't really give them their due in terms of an introduction in their first entry. The group formed from an acapella circle in Waseda University back in 1991 under the name of Street Corner Symphony by the two current members, leader Tetsuya Murakami(村上てつや)and Kaoru Kurosawa(黒沢薫). Yasuoka, Yuji Sakai(酒井雄二)and Yoichi Kitayama(北山陽一)would be recruited for the cause. The five of them had their first major release in 1994 with "Promise" which went as high as No. 90. For the next several years, their releases would mostly end up in the bottom 50 of the Top 100 until "Towa ni" came along.

For Mr. Nimoy, I can wish him "Live eternally and prosper".

Sheena & The Rokkets -- You May Dream

Last week via Mixi, I discovered that Etsuko "Sheena" Ayukawa(鮎川悦子)of Mentai Rock band Sheena & The Rokkets had passed away from cervical cancer at the age of 61...way too young. I was not a fan of the band but, boy, they were a group that I had heard about over the years and my biggest impression of them was their physical presence. There was Sheena Rokket in that leather getup looking every bit the Hard Rock Queen while her husband, actor and guitarist Makoto Ayukawa(鮎川誠)struck an epic lanky and angular figure with those sunglasses, that guitar and his height. Mind you, 5'11" isn't exactly seen as supremely tall in my country or Stateside, but in Japan, that's still fairly stately. In any case, I saw him as the J-Rock equivalent of James Coburn's character in "The Magnificent Seven", Britt the quiet but deadly cowpoke with the knife. To finish off the group, there is Toshihiro Nara(奈良敏博)on bass and Kazuhide Kawashima(川嶋一秀)on drums.

I mentioned Mentai Rock at the top. Well, according to Wikipedia, it was the name for a group of musicians from Fukuoka City during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Mentai part came from the name of a Fukuoka delicacy, mentaiko, or marinated cod roe. Although I don't eat it too much as it is, I do love mentaiko spaghetti. One of the first bands representing Mentai Rock was SONHOUSE which ended its run in 1978. Makoto Ayukawa was part of that band and once it ran its course, he asked his wife Etsuko to come and join his new project. The missus took on the moniker Sheena in tribute to a Ramones' song "Sheena is a Punk Rocker", and Rokkets was a fusion of "rock" and the first four letters of Etsuko's name. Sheena & The Rokkets were born (by the way, another Mentai Rock group is ARB).

From what I've heard and read about the band, the above video for "Lemon Tea" (originally sung by SONHOUSE) seemed to represent what Sheena & The Rokkets was all about. On the relevant J-Wiki article there is a long list of katakana names associated with the group including Yoko Ono, blues guitarist  Albert King, and British singer Wilko Johnson who was one of the influences behind the whole English punk sound, and US punk legends The Ramones.

I have one song by the band that was part of the "Seishun Uta Nenkan"(青春歌年間)series for 1980. It's "You May Dream" which was their 2nd single from December of that year and was also a track on their 2nd album, "Shinkuu Pack"(真空パック...Vacuum Pack)which had been released a couple of months earlier. SONHOUSE vocalist Toshiyuki Shibayama(柴山俊之)and Chris Mosdell took care of the lyrics while Makoto Ayukawa and Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame composed the music. Hosono also produced "Shinkuu Pack".

Although I get a hint of that growly rock sound in "You May Dream", there is also another layer of synths that brings the song into New Wave territory. And taking a look at the performance video a little higher up, the band certainly looked like a mix of 50s and New Wave with Sheena voicing her words somewhat like a Valley Girl (yup, I just aged myself). And Makoto looks like a fusion between Elvis Costello and the late Harold Ramis from "Ghostbusters". It's no wonder that they had become the opening act for Costello during his swing around Japan in 1978.

I read in an online article in the Japan Times that Hosono and the band had some fights over the production but Makoto graciously stated that the conflicts all benefited the final product. This is just my opinion but with YMO and their runaway success at the time, Hosono and his two compatriots were bringing some of their technopop influence via their works for other singers...i.e. techno kayo...and I'm wondering if Sheena and the Rokkets was just getting a little spooked at the time that Hosono was trying to transmogrify the Mentai Rock band into something that they didn't want to be.

However, "You May Dream" was the band's first hit. The lyrics were basically on the same well-worn path about a girl who has the hots for a guy, but I like that one line where Sheena repeats "yume"(夢...dream)which sounds similar to the first two words in the title.

That new project of a husband-and-wife team-up has now lasted nearly 40 years. As much as it's hard to believe the dynamic Sheena has left this world, it's also hard to believe that Makoto is one year past retirement (if he were a Canadian resident). Still, they released their latest album just last year, "Rokket Ride" and I don't hear anything yet about Sheena & The Rokkets packing it up.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Takashi Hosokawa -- Yakushima (屋久島)

Hey, isn't that the Jomon sugi in the background?

Yakushima looks like one of those off-shore islands where you can kick back, relax and just enjoy the easy pace of tranquil island life. Take a hike through its dense forest of Japanese cedar and appreciate its wildlife, if that's what you're into. I kinda envision it to be like an Okinawa but smaller, closer to the mainland (Kagoshima) and more forest than sandy beaches.

"Yakushima" on the other hand is quite the opposite of the little island's placid image. Being one of Takashi Hosokawa's (細川たかし) recent singles - released in 2013 - it definitely sounds modern, and by modern I mean it sounds like an Enka-tinged rock anthem. Listening to the loud, intense score with the wailing electric guitars composed by Shinichiro Inoue (井上慎一郎), I was impressed that Hosokawa had decided to deviate  from his comfort zone Enka - well, not completely - this one time to mix things up a little.

As for the lyrics to "Yakushima", they were penned by the late lyricist Riku Ono (おのりく) and are what puts the Enka into the song. It has the veteran singer and his big voice singing about the various natural landmarks of Yakushima, like the ancient Jomon sugi (縄文杉) and how it boldly stood up to all the weathering to survive for more than a millennium. The other two include the Miya no ura peak (宮之浦岳), which apparently is the highest point on the island as well as on the whole of Kyushu, and the Oko no Taki (大川の滝), one of Japan's Top 100 waterfalls. Wow, this place has almost everything a Geography buff dreams of!

I can't imagine Hosokawa wearing modern-looking rocker clothes when singing "Yakushima"... he would look too weird. And a tux/suit ain't gonna cut it either, that's too refined for such an abrasive, machismo-oozing song. I suppose a manly kimono plus hakama would suffice. Preferably all black like in the first video. Now that's cool.

"Yakushima" did quite alright on the regular Oricon charts, peaking at 55th place.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kakko -- We Shoud Be Dancing

I warn you right now... this is pure Stock Aitken Waterman (SAW) magic!!!

First of all, Kakko is a Japanese actress and tarento that started her career as a singer for Stock, Aitken and Waterman back in 1990. Apparently, her name was Kakuko Yamagata (山形香公子), but she also worked under the pseudonym of Anju Suzuki (鈴木杏樹). Yeah, the girl surely changed her name a lot.

“We Should Ba Dancing” was released in February 1990 as Kakko’s debut single under SAW’s wings. As the Hit Factory’s hits were really big in Japan, it’s a great coincidence that a Japanese tarento happened to work directly with the powerful production trio in UK.

About the song, it’s that type of pop tune that, for being so bad, ends sounding good. Well, maybe good isn’t the right word, but it’s surely a strong piece of kitsch pop music from the late 80s/early 90s that probably feels confortable in the guilty pleasure category.

When “We Should Be Dancing” came out, SAW, although still at their peak, was already starting to decline. Their distinctive and happy Disco sound, a mixture of Synthpop and Italo Disco with newly added House elements, still worked very nicely in their favor, but acts such as Kakko and The Reynolds Girls, for example, didn’t reach the success of top artists like Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley, Sinitta, Bananarama and Jason Donovan, to name a few.

In the end, though, “We Should Be Dancing” offers what SAW did best... a catchy chorus and a lively arrangement full of dated synths that people love to hate, but, like Tina Charles sang in the 70s, “I love to love”.

And tell me... how not love the video? As if the song wasn’t kitsch enough, we also have to deal with the bubbly video of “We Should Be Dancing” and a cute Kakko dressed with a gorgeous red bodycon (ボディコン) dress, similar to the dresses used by OL and young disco girls in Japan at the time.

Here’s a young and cute Ryoko Shinohara (篠原涼子), still at Tokyo Performance Doll (東京パフォーマンスドール), singing a Japanese version of “We Should Be Dancing”. What a rarity!

“We Should Be Dancing” was a commercial failure, reaching number 101 in the UK charts. Kakko would release one more single, called “What Kind of Fool”, before quitting her music career and returning to Japan under the aforementioned Anju Suzuki pseudonym.

Finally, there’s a legend about a full lenght Kakko album that was recorded back then, but have never seen the light. Rumours point out that it might get released someday, but, until now, nothing happened yet. Personally, I’d love to hear this underground pop gem...

Megumi Hayashibara -- Makenaide, Makenaide... (負けないで、負けないで…)

I usually cover one of Megumi Hayashibara’s (林原めぐみ) early-to-mid 90s songs when I talk about her here on the blog, but today I decided to write about a song called “Makenaide, Makenaide...”, which she released as a single in September 2003.

When I started listening to Megumi, “Makenaide, Makenaide...” was a song I didn’t care too much, because of its predominant acoustic and light sound. I was a kid at the time, so I only liked to listen to Megumi’s edgy anime songs. However, this feeling changed after some years, and I soon learned to appretiate “Makenaide, Makenaide...” as a beautiful contribution to Megumi’s remarkable singing career.  Also, as the title suggests, it’s a song about being strong and not giving up, which is a somewhat regular theme in Megumi’s repertory.

“Makenaide, Makenaide...” was used as Megumi’s “Heartful Station” (林原めぐみのHeartful Station) radio show theme instead of “Nijiiro no Sneaker” (虹色のSneaker), which was being used as the theme since 1991, when the song was released as her debut major label single.

Here’s Megumi singing a small part of the song live. I just love how beautiful she is with this lip gloss (fanboy mode on).

(I'm sorry but the video has been taken down.)

The “Makenaide, Makenaide...” single reached #8 on the Oricon charts. The song was later included in Megumi’s 2007 album, “Plain”. Lyrics and music were composed by Midori Karashima (辛島美登里), while the arrangement was done by Tomoji Sogawa (十川知司).

Yuko Ogura -- Koi no Jumon wa Papapipupa (恋の呪文はパパピプパ)

NOTE: This is a stock article I wrote in the first days of 2015.

Yuko Ogura (小倉優子) was probably the first aidoru I “met” in 2015. As far as I know, she was a famous gravure aidoru with legendary status in the 00s that also ventured into singing at some point, with varied success.

The first song I heard from her is also the one I present here, a guilty pleasure called “Koi no Jumon wa Papapipupa”, which was used as the ending theme for the anime “School Rumble” (スクールランブル) in 2004.

A simple, yet effective, cute pop song, “Koi no Jumon ha Papapipupa” is a catchy tune that never overstays its presence with three minutes and around fifteen seconds of duration. Also, even while I was listening to Yuko’s “not so big discography”, I quickly learned that her songs were a mixture of cute aidoru pop with Shibuya-kei influences, which is something quite clear in “Koi no Jumon wa Papapipupa” thanks to Yasuharu Konishi (小西康陽), one of the founding members of Pizzicato Five.

As for Yuko Ogura, well..., she was a gravure aidoru, so we must not expect great things from her singing. The girl was cute, though.

“Koi no Jumon wa Papapipupa” was the b-side of Yuko’s “Onna no ko Otoko no ko” (オンナのコオトコのコ) single, which was released in November 2004. This was her highest charting single, reaching #20 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics, music and arrangement were all done by Yasuharu Konishi.


Aya Sugimoto -- Gorgeous (ゴージャス)

I don’t know, but I can pretty much guess Japan haven’t created any mainstream female singer more outrageous than Aya Sugimoto (杉本彩).

The girl was a very bad singer that came to light around 1988, a time when the old and cute aidoru aesthetic was starting to melt down in what we might call its last breath with acts such as Wink and Noriko Sakai (酒井法子), for example. Meanwhile, ambiguous types of aidoru singers, like the sexy Chisato Moritaka (森高千里) and the edgy Shizuka Kudo (工藤静香), were also emerging around the same time of Aya Sugimoto.

In fact, Aya has always been the more “in-your-face” of the bunch, as Chisato Moritaka, although flashy and sexy, never really meant to create controversy.

Aya started her career with “Boys”, a cover of busty singer Sabrina Salerno’s Italo Disco hit from 1987, which had some memorable scenes of the Italian beauty “accidentally” showing her big breats in a swimming pool. Of course, as this wasn’t something very likely to happen in Japan, Aya’s performance, even though rich in "breast bouncing", was very tame if compared to Sabrina’s more “explicit” video.

After a somewhat tame start with “Boys”, Aya Sugimoto continued her career as a secondary class aidoru singer, and, in early 1990, she released what’s probably one of her most memorable hits, “B&S” (it was a moderate hit, but, for Aya Sugimoto’s standarts, it was a proper hit). Even though both “B&S” and the coupling song, “GIRL FRIEND”, are both great songs, what’s important for us here is how Aya’s image changed with this release.

The thing is, before “B&S” Aya had a sexy image, but one more natural and “girl next door”. However, starting with the release of “B&S”, and probably thanks to the success of the song, her image became quite raunchier, and that’s where our featured song, called “Gorgeous”, enters in scene.

“Gorgeous” was released as a single by Aya Sugimoto in early November 1990, and, alongside “Usagi” (うさぎ), a song which featured the girl wearing cheap bunny clothes, was one of the main standouts of the “Japanese Dream” album, released in late November 1990.

About the song itself, it’s an Eurodisco song that follows the same formula used by Aya since her debut with “Boys” a couple of years before. The song, with its bouncy sound, combined well with Aya’s choreography, and the outfit, which, by the way, strangely reminded me of one outfit Cher used in her “If I Could Turn Back Time” (1989) video, was obviously one of the main marketing strategies around her for this release.

In the end, “Gorgeous” is one of the highlights in Aya Sugimoto’s not very striking singing career. For me, she’s a very odd type of aidoru singer that, somehow, existed during aidoru’s dark days. And some people believe Namie Amuro (安室奈美恵) started the sexy trend... in all their innocence, they know little or nothing about Aya Sugimoto and other sexy ladies, such as Chisato Moritaka, Minako Tanaka (田中美奈子), Reiko Kato (かとうれいこ) and Akiho Sendo (千堂あきほ), to name a few.

Lyrics for “Gorgeous” were written by Saikure Go -???- (崔呉五), while music was composed by Akihiro Yoshimi (吉実明宏).

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Seri Ishikawa/Reiko Kato -- Moonlight Surfer (ムーンライト・サーファー)

I think one of the reasons that the Japanese have been so much in love with Hawaii is surfing. There is nothing more that hints at the pure hedonistic pleasure of leisure than hanging ten on that surfboard on a big wave. And for folks who have often been perceived to approach the act of work like a military mission, hitting the surf must feel like to some as absolute joy.

"Moonlight Surfer" is a song that I've got a couple of copies of. I've got the original by Seri Ishikawa (石川セリ)but over the past Christmas as I was listening to one of my latest acquisitions in the form of "Moonlight Island" by Haruko Kuwana(桑名晴子), there was a cover of Ishikawa's 8th single from 1979. However, the Kuwana version cannot be found anywhere on the Net but hearing it on the CD was enough for me to talk about the original.

The single may have come out in 1979 but it was originally the first track on Ishikawa's 3rd album, "Kimagure"(気まぐれ...Whimsy)which was released in June 1977. Written and composed by rock singer Haruo Nakamura(中村治雄), it's about that girl tagging along with her guy who just has this thing for trying to catch that wave at night. There is that hint of 50s in the arrangements, although the tinkling piano intro had me first thinking whether it was Yuming behind the melody as was the case with "Asayake ga Kieru Mae ni"(朝焼けが消える前に), but it soon became apparent that it musically described that trip down to the beach in that old DeSoto with the surfboards tied up on top.

Marcos V. covered pin-up model-turned-singer/actress/tarento Reiko Kato(かとうれいこ)for her song "Love Motion", and he mentioned about her Eurobeat tunes. Kato's cover of "Moonlight Surfer" had none of that influence, instead going for a slightly reggae beat when it was released as her 3rd single in October 1991. I never knew Kato as a singer since I primarily saw her as a regular on various variety shows on the telly, but she's got a pretty good voice, and especially with her cover here, she does have quite a bit of enthusiasm for the material.

Sorry, only daylight surfers here.

Seiko Matsuda -- Aisaretaino (愛されたいの)

I've wondered whether "Aisaretaino" (Wanna Be Loved) the song actually wanted to be loved itself. I couldn't find any videos of it on YouTube (at least, by the actual singer) and didn't read any notes about it on J-Wiki. And yet, it's one of my favourite songs by Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子).

Written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and composed by Kazuo Zaitsu(財津和夫)of Tulip fame, "Aisaretaino" has that mix of fairly lush fantasy-type arrangement with something a bit more contemporary. Plus, it works perfectly with Seiko-chan's aching aidoru vocals of longing for that guy to either notice her or commit to something deeper. It's about as sweet a Seiko song that I've heard.

The song also seemed to go further and further back in time. I first heard it as a track on Seiko's "Snow Garden" (1987) , and then I came across it again on an earlier album, "Touch Me, Seiko" (1984). Finally, I found out that it was the B-side to her 11th single, "Nobara no Etude"(野ばらのエチュード)from October 1982. The arrangement did sound as if it were more from the early 80s than the late 80s since the singer had already gone for a more mainstream pop sound by that point. In any case, although it might not get quite the love that some of her other bigger hits have received over the decades, I'm still perfectly happy with it. Below is a nice karaoke version of it.

Hideki Saijo -- Hageshii koi (激しい恋)

Watching Hideki Saijo (西城秀樹) dance along to his 9th single, "Hageshii koi", just makes me wonder who was the one who choreographed it. I mean, I've seen some peculiar moves by other Aidoru acts but this one with Saijo lifting a leg and setting it back down with his arms out while doing so is pretty bizarre.

Strange dance moves aside, this was possibly the song that made me more accepting of the dance-worthy music from the high-octane world of Aidoru. Well, Aidoru from the 70's to the 80's to be more specific. It's a fun little tune to listen to with its quick pace and the synths blasting away in sync with Saijo's dancing.

I had listened to the full version of "Hageshii koi" through the video above after encountering it on a music show online - for the life of me, I can't remember the name... Really want to revisit it too! - and since that clip seems like it was taken from a performance during the 80's, Saijo's voice was already more of a man's than that of an adolescent boy, so it was easier on the ears in comparison to the original - sung/released in 1974 when he was only 19. The original score also had some funny, cartoonish sound effects similar to that of someone slipping on a banana peel... Constantly. Now I wonder what musician Koji Mukaino (馬飼野康二) was thinking when he added that into the music! The lyrics were written by the late Kazumi Yasui (安井かずみ).

"Hageshii koi" peaked at 2nd place on the Oricon weeklies and eventually settled at 8th for the year. It also won Saijo the... I think it translates to "Most popular" award at the 7th Japan Cable Awards. This award category was one of the many that have been removed, only lasting for 4 years, from '70 to '74. So in that respect, Saijo got the last one.

Yukari Ito/Sachiko Nishida/Mariya Takeuchi -- Boy Hunt (ボーイ・ハント)

My memories of 1970s television was often punctuated by those commercials for K-Tel Records. Usually, it was a compilation record of the latest disco hits, but the one oldies star that got her own special album by the good folks at K-Tel was none other than Connie Francis. So I got to hear excerpts from her hits like "Stupid Cupid" and "Who's Sorry Now", but the one big tour de force number was "Where The Boys Are", the absolute paean to pining for that guy. The original writers for the song were Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, and they made it the theme for heartfelt sighs.

Since the song was released back in 1961, there have been a number of cover versions by folks such as LeAnn Rimes and Tracey Ullman. And that was the case as well in Japan. In fact, back in the postwar years before Group Sounds and New Music, a lot of the non-enka singing pop singers were given to performing Japanese-language covers of the Western hits from the USA and the UK

With the somewhat saucier title of "Boy Hunt", one singer who covered it was Sachiko Nishida(西田佐知子). Listening to her version, I imagine her performing it as the finale of a night in a small smoke-filled bar instead of on the beach where I think Francis would be singing her magnum opus. I wasn't able to find out when Nishida's cover was released but knowing how quickly a hit American song could get covered in Japan, I wouldn't be surprised if it had been released in the same year, and considering that the original came out in January, there would have been plenty of time to get the Japanese take out by springtime. I found the Nishida cover on her 2007 5-disc BEST album, "Nishida Sachiko Kayo Dai Zenshu"(西田佐知子歌謡大全集...Sachiko Nishida's Great Kayo Collection).

Yukari Ito(伊東ゆかり)may just be the Queen of Covers. I bought a double-CD album of her BEST material when I was back in Japan with one disc of original tunes while the other disc had all of her cover versions of non-Japanese stuff. According to one site, her take on the Connie Francis classic was released in 1971 but I'm not sure if that was a re-release. Considering that she debuted in 1958, I would have thought that the powers-that-be would have had her singing the song not too long after the original had come out. In any case, among the kayo kyoku singers who have done their version of "Boy Hunt", Ito is the definitive example.

However, if there were someone else who would be perfect for "Where The Boys Are", that someone would be Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや). Starting out her career back in the late 1970s with original songs done to melodies that seemed to have been woven out of the various incarnations of American pop over 3 decades, performing "Boy Hunt" was pretty much inevitable for her. And her take is absolutely luscious...she would be that girl in the poodle skirt looking out her bedroom window into the moon. I heard her cover through the last BEST compilation I got from her, "Expressions" from 2008, although it was originally on "Longtime Favorites", her album of covers from 2003.

Actually, this whole article was inspired by yet another cover version by the girl group Go-Bangs. But unfortunately, I couldn't find their take anywhere on the Net, although it was the coupling song to their biggest hit, "Ai ni Kite I Need You"(あいにきて I Need You) from 1989.

Down at Ito (no connection with Yukari)

Top 10 Singles for 1971

1.  Rumiko Koyanagi                                          Watashi no Joukamachi
2.  Tokiko Kato                                                   Shiretoko Ryojou
3.  Kiyohiko Ozaki                                              Mata Au Hi Made
4.  Koji Tsuruta                                                   Kizudarake no Jinsei
5.  Hedva & David                                              Naomi no Yume
6.  Hiroshi Itsuki                                                 Yokohama Tasogare
7.  Norihiko Hashida & Climax                          Hanayome
8.  Masayuki Yuhara                                          Ame no Ballad
9.  Shinichi Mori                                                 Boukyou
10. Masaaki Sakai                                              Saraba Koibito

Sunday, February 22, 2015

B'z -- Don't Wanna Lie

It's an irony that is worthy of any of the plots on this anime, but in all of the years that I was in Japan, I never saw "Meitantei Conan"(名探偵コナン...Great Detective Conan)over there, but I have ended up watching the long-running adventures of Conan Edogawa and his buddies every Thursday night on TV Japan over here in The Great White North under its official English title of "Case Closed". My parents and I have been enjoying it although my overall impression is that it never really caught on all that much in North America for some reason (maybe those 10 minutes of the shrunken pipsqueak explaining how he cracked the case were just too much for anime fans).

I'm not quite sure about how successful that other long-running adventure caper, "Lupin The Third", has been here, but the one thing that probably did strike pay dirt was the legendary theme song. In the case of "Conan", however, the series has usually relied on ever-changing theme songs by folks like Mai Kuraki(倉木麻衣), Zard and Garnet Crow.

Then there is B'z. Y'know...I never took Koushi Inaba and Takahiro Matsumoto(稲葉浩志・松本孝弘)to be anison guys, but apparently they have been providing theme tunes for "Meitantei Conan" since 1999 with "Giri Giri Chop"(ギリギリchop). And the one I've been hearing for the past several weeks on the family TV is their 49th single from June 2011, "Don't Wanna Lie".

Inaba wrote the lyrics and Matsumoto provided the melody. It's definitely a B'z tune with the blistering guitar and it's appropriately heroic as well. There's almost something operatic as well which has me comparing it to some of the more dramatic Queen songs from my youth such as "Bohemian Rhapsody". And according to Inaba (via J-Wiki), that was his intention for the overarching theme for the song: Don't lie to yourself at that important time in your life. In fact, the temporary title before its release was "Moment of Truth".  After reading this and listening to the song in its entirety, I simply want Conan to come clean and tell Ran-chan who he really is. Not that it's going to happen any time soon or ever.

"Don't Wanna Lie" debuted at No. 1 and hit Platinum. By the end of the year, it was the 28th-ranked song. The song also was a track on their 18th album, "C'mon" from July 2011. Not surprisingly, it also hit No. 1 and was the 11th-ranked album of the year. It also got onto "The Best of Detective Conan 4", an album of the various theme tunes from the series.

Checkers -- Mrs. Mermaid (ミセス マーメイド)

All those years in the 1980s and all those Friday nights at Kuri had imprinted on my memories that Checkers(チェッカーズ)would always be that group of guys singing 50s doo-wop. Therefore, listening to their 25th single from September 1991, "Mrs. Mermaid" was more atypical for me. I'd already gotten back from my first tour of duty in Japan, so I managed to see the song being performed on the old videotapes again, and of course, the Kohaku later that year.

For one thing, the song struck me as being more Adult Contemporary in beat. I'm not quite sure if it went as far as City Pop but it was definitely different from what I had been accustomed to hearing from Fumiya Fujii(藤井郁弥)and the rest of the Checkers. It was almost as if they decided to walk the path of Rats & Star, another group of cool former doo-woppers under their old name of Chanels.

In any case, it was a pretty cool song. Fujii came up with the lyrics while side vocalist Masaharu Tsuruku(鶴久政治)composed the tune. "Mrs. Mermaid" may have conjured up images of painting a night in late 20th-century Tokyo more than it did bobbysoxers and tail-finned Cadillacs, but I think Fujii's words were still in the Checkers vein of pining for that desirable woman in a nice summer setting. Despite the relatively late entry, Checkers got onto the Kohaku Utagassen of 1991 for their 8th appearance in a row. And the song broke into the Top 10 by peaking at No. 4 and ending the year as the 77th-ranked song.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Miki Imai -- Shizuka ni Kita Solitude (静かにきたソリチュード)

(instrumental version)

Wow! Haven't heard this one in quite a while. Miki Imai's(今井美樹)"Shizuka ni Kita Solitude" (The Solitude That Came Quietly) was not only her 3rd single from March 1988 but it was also on her 3rd original album, "Bewith" which was the second album that I had ever bought by her after getting her 1989 "Ivory".

There's nothing like a pre-1990s Imai song to bring in the nostalgia since I've tied in a lot of her songs back then with my time in Gunma Prefecture. Written by Masami Tozawa(戸沢暢美)and composed by Hideya Nakazaki(中崎英也), "Shizuka ni Kita Solitude" has that adult contemporary laid back beat with the soft Imai vocals that had me falling in love with her material in the first place. The lyrics may be sad as the singer pines for that lost love but the melody itself is so comfortable.

The song did pretty modestly, reaching No. 25 on Oricon but it won Nakazaki a Japan Best Composition Award at the TBS Tokyo Music Festival in 1988. As with many a Miki Imai song during the late 80s, "Shizuka" is great to sip a coffee to in some cafe...which is how I got introduced to Imai in the first place.

Pizzicato Five/Plastics -- Good

First off, a bit of humble Canadiana from me. Back in the 1980s...and yep, I actually lived during the fashion of that decade which you can see in all its blow-dry glory in the above video...there was a local music news program on City-TV called "The New Music" (no connection with Yuming's genre) which not only featured the latest hitmakers but also the up-and-comers in Toronto and the rest of Canada. For all of the cable news nuts out there, that fellow sporting the electric guitar and mullet? It's John Roberts...currently at FOX; he used to be known as J.D. Roberts 3 decades ago.

Now, why did I bring that first paragraph up in a blog about old Japanese music? Well, one night back then, "The New Music" devoted its one hour to the wild and wacky world of Japanese popular music years and years before AKB48, Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu made the scene. And during those fascinating 60 minutes, I got to see Pizzicato Five for the very first time. There was the divine Ms. Maki Nomiya(野宮真貴)looking like a disco diva flouncing about in some music video and then there was some concert footage of P5 with Nomiya crazily spouting out the following lyrics: "Nice to meet you, nice to meet you, nice to meet you..."

Yep, that was pretty nuts. OK, I thought...they probably won't be getting onto "Music Station" any time soon. Well, little did I know. And many years later, I would pick up one of the band's albums, "Romantique 96" from September 1995. I'd already gotten used to and started to enjoy Pizzicato Five's  "new stereophonic sound spectacular" from the land of Shibuya. And I would make my re-acquaintance with that wacky song that first introduced me to Nomiya and company, "Good".

"Good" was that hypercaffeinated tune that mixed in that part of the distinctive P5 sound which resembled the stuff from DeVol, the grand master of American sitcom theme songs of the 60s and early 70s, and French pop. Lyrically, I thought it was a recording of some of my English lessons after copious amounts of alcohol or something in a more weed-like form. Personally I would have loved to have seen Maki dance to "Good". It would have been an epic medley of all of the big dance moves from that decade from The Swim to The Hitchhike.

I've mentioned about earworms, especially when it comes to anime theme songs. Well, I think I may have across the very first example of an eyeworm (as disgusting as that sounds) via the above video. At first, I thought it was another example of the GEDDAN phenomenon. Not sure where that CG footage came from but it relates the crazy happy-happy-joy-joy to a royal T. Try not watching under the influence.

Then I got some more bonus information. Thanks to some of the comments for the YouTube video, I managed to find out that "Good" hadn't been an original P5 tune after all. It was actually a cover of New Wave band Plastics' 3rd single from 1980. Well, that was a bit of a full circle starting with an 80s Canadian show and then finishing up with an 80s Japanese song, wasn't it? Anyways, the original song has that somewhat avant-gardish vibe that I would usually associate with something that would appear on another old Canadian music show that I used to know called "City Limits". Written by co-vocalist Chica Sato(佐藤チカ)and written by guitarist Hajime Tachibana(立花ハジメ), I think their "Good" could be considered to be the ancestor of the image of all that is appealingly nutty and wacky about J-Pop from overseas.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Suteki na Kimochi (素敵な気持ち)

Ahhhh....that's a musical glass of Perrier. Hiromi Iwasaki's(岩崎宏美)30th single, "Suteki na Kimochi" (A Wonderful Feeling) is just so comfortable that it can make me forget that today's high temperature was only -14 degrees C. Chinfa Kan's(康珍化)lyrics have no hangups about love at all. Everything is going swimmingly between the woman and her beau in the romance department, and I believe the blissful couple is probably spending a lovely time at their luxury apartment in Hakone.

Meanwhile Kyohei Tsutsumi's(筒美京平)soft and strolling melody seems to take one on that barefoot walk along a sunny and warm beach. On reading that this song came out in February 1983, my initial impression had been that this was a bit atypical for Iwasaki since she was doing some fairly dramatic ballads during this part of the 80s with all those ending themes for the weekly suspense dramas. "Suteki na Kimochi" sounded more akin to her dabbling in summery City Pop during the turn from the 70s to the 80s.  And one commenter for the YouTube video mentioned that the intro reminded him of Mariya Takeuchi's(竹内まりや)bouncy "September" which came out at around the same time. But you know, I'm pretty sure that a number of her non-single tracks from her albums were also quite relaxing. As it is, Iwasaki does her usual warm and wonderful work with the song.

"Suteki na Kimochi" managed to peak at No. 32. It is also a track on her 13th album, "Shiteki Kuukan"(私・的・空・間...Personal Space)which came out in July 1983 and went as high as No. 31 on Oricon.

That morning view from our Ito ryokan

Saburo Kitajima -- Takao San (高尾山)

You should've seen the look on her face when I told her that I like this song. A look of pure disgust and resentment on Mom's face can only mean one thing when it comes to Enka, Sabu-Chan is the one behind the vocals. Well, she doesn't dislike "Takao san" per se, she just has very strong negative feelings - to put it nicely - about the veteran singer himself. I myself have gotten used to Saburo Kitajima's (北島三郎) nasally warbling in the months that followed after the discovery of "Kita no Ryoba" (北の漁場), and I am generally okay with seeing him on TV.

Well, moving back to the song itself. I recalled watching Sabu-Chan singing this song on one of my first few Kayo Concert episodes in the later half of last year. I think it may have been pre-"Kita no Ryoba", so I was quite surprised to have actually somewhat enjoyed the noble-sounding "Takao San". But of course, despite making a mental note to look up the song online after the show, it did not come to pass and I just left it in the corner for a few months until it popped back into my mind on one of those days.

As I've said earlier, "Takao San" has got a pretty dignified score, brought to you by the man himself as George Hara (原譲二). You have the manly thumping of the drums coupled with the elegant strings that gives it a gentle side, and to make it a little more realistic, there's the sound of the blistering wind at the start to simulate being up in the mountains.

It's lyrics, written by Haku Ide (いではく), seem to tap on the lush mountain's religious significance and its benevolence, and has Sabu-Chan beseeching the mountain/its "native residents" for protection, out of other things. Y'see, other than having the Yakuo-in, a Buddhist temple, up there, according to folklore, it's one of the places well-known to have this type of formerly-morally ambiguous forest/mountain Yokai called the Tengu (天狗), as well as one of the Daitengu or Great Tengu (presumably the most powerful one of the lot in the area) by the name of Naigubu (内供奉) residing there. These fearsome creatures were known for their destructive nature - as well as their red face and long proboscis, but eventually that view changed and they became seen as more of a guardian, and are considered as a Shinto deity. As someone who loves to read about mythological creatures, I have to say that the Tengu is one of the coolest of the lot I've seen.

"Takao San" was released on 5th June 2014 and it did really well on the regular charts, peaking at 21st place. From that I'm going to assume it hit 1st place on the Enka-yo charts. Also, Sabu-Chan got invited to sing this song at the temple!

Great Tengu from the game "Okami".
I've played this beautiful game, and dang,
is this fella a force to be reckoned with!

Oh yeah, and if you're currently celebrating the Chinese New Year, Happy Chinese New Year!

The Peanuts/Sachiko Nishida/Yujiro Ishihara/Lisa Ono -- Una Sera di Tokyo (ウナ・セラ・ディ東京)

Main intersection of Ginza

Imagine someone asking me back in Japan, "What did you do last night?" If I had answered, "Oh, I went to Tokyo", my conversation partner probably would have looked at me in askance and given me a look that would have matched the same expression if I had been asked "What did you have last night for dinner?" and I answered "I had food".

There are too many different areas in the The Big Sushi. If I went to Akihabara, it would be to race into the electronics shops before they closed up. If I went to Shibuya, it would be to browse in Tower Records or some of the used CD shops to look for a hidden gem. If I went to Shimbashi or Ginza, it would be having dinner with some friends at a local izakaya, and if I ended up in Akasaka, people would be asking me how many zeroes there were in my client's bank book. One night in Tokyo means many things depending on which area I go to.

A few nights ago, I was watching the latest episode of NHK's "Kayo Concert", and the theme of the night was classic kayo duets. Two of the guests came out and did an exquisite number called "Una Sera di Tokyo" by The Peanuts. I had never heard of this entry by Emi and Yumi before, and the title alone screamed Mood Kayo even before I heard a single note. The rest of the performance was just so soothing and bar-friendly. Needed to swirl that whiskey on the rocks.

Well, when I started looking up the information for this song, I uncovered quite an interesting story for this Friday night. And as you can see from the heading for today's article, I think I may have brought together the Ocean's Eleven of Mood Kayo stars. First off, "Una Sera di Tokyo" (One Night in Tokyo) started life slightly differently. It had actually been conceived as a November 1963 single by The Peanuts titled "Tokyo Tasogare"(東京たそがれ...Tokyo Twilight), and that is the above video. Created by lyricist Tokiko Iwatani(岩谷時子)and composer Hiroshi Miyagawa(宮川泰), it was a pleasant enough ballad, I suppose, but I think it suffered a bit from a lack of oomph and an intro that sounded like something from an old monochrome horror movie. Not surprisingly, it wasn't such a big hit.

However, there was an unforeseen catalyst that came in from Italy. Singer Milva, who had gained a popular reputation in Japan as The Queen of Canzone (another title to add to two others: La Rossa and The Panther of Goro, arrived in 1964, presumably to hold some performances. King Records (which produced "Tokyo Tasogare") must have sponsored the tour since it was a staffer from that company who suggested that Milva could do a cover of The Peanuts song. The singer not only agreed to do the cover version but she did it in accurate Japanese.

Well, the skies opened, the rays of light beamed down and a chorus of Hallelujah rang down. Milva scored raves for her version of the song.

Light bulbs turned on above the folks at King Records, too. They and The Peanuts decided to give the song another chance. And with some tweaking in the arrangement and a wholesale change of the title from "Tokyo Tasogare" to "Una Sera di Tokyo", the new and improved version came out as a single in September 1964, almost a year after the first version had come out. To use my baseball analogy, a bloop single became a grand slam home run.

In fact in that year, a lot of musicians jumped onto the bandwagon. The Peanuts were up against Mood Kayo experts Hiroshi Wada & Mahina Stars(和田弘とマヒナスターズ), Sachiko Nishida(西田佐知子)and Sumiko Sakamoto(坂本スミ子)in the "Una Sera di Tokyo" sweepstakes. All of those folks had released their own version of this hit. The above video is Mari Sono's(園まり)version.

Sachiko Nishida's version had a more intimate and sultrier vibe to it. According to the J-Wiki article on the song, the winner of the "Una Sera di Tokyo" race was the Mahina Stars. However in terms of legacy, I think The Peanuts ultimately got the trophy.

And in the years hence, a lot of other singers have done their own special take on the song...never bad if a song is aiming for a certain timelessness. Master crooner Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎)just had to cover it as well. In addition, Yosui Inoue(井上陽水)and Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)have covered it.

Then, I came across this lovely and rich version by Lisa Ono(小野リサ)when she included it on her 2011 album, "Japao".

Of course, Oricon didn't exist at the time so the song's success didn't register on the charts. However, to add to the Cinderella effect, both Iwatani and Miyagawa earned prizes in their areas at the Japan Record Awards of 1964. And The Peanuts ended up performing "Una Sera di Tokyo" three times on the Kohaku Utagassen: 1964, 1969 and 1973. The above video is for their 1969 performance.

And in a great tribute to the composer, when Miyagawa passed away in 2006, it was this song that was playing at his wake. It would also become one of The Peanuts' most remembered songs.

Side street in Shibuya