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.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mariko Takahashi -- Gomen ne... (ごめんね…)

Considering how much I've heard "Gomen ne..." (I'm Sorry) all these years since its June 1996 release either on TV, at karaoke, and just through the many YouTube videos, I was surprised to find out that Mariko Takahashi's(高橋真梨子)26th single only went as high as No. 18 on Oricon. And to be honest, there are some other songs earlier from her career that I would put above this one...a few of which cannot be found anywhere online.

Still, "Gomen ne..." has those vibrant and inspirational vocals by Takahashi that really make the song, those same vocals that made her earlier ballads such as "For You", some of my favourite songs by her. And I've got a feeling that this would probably be her most famous song for non-fans. Its profile was expanded by the fact that it was used as the 15th theme song for that long-running TV series "Kayo Suspense Gekijo"(火曜サスペンス劇場...The Tuesday Night Suspense Drama). According to J-Wiki, the ballad is the 2nd-most successful theme in terms of sales, next to "Madonna Tachi no Lullaby"(聖母たちのララバイ)sung by Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)back in 1982, and she's usually the one I think of when it comes to that TV show.

Although the song didn't break the Top 10, it did last a long time on the charts...about 47 weeks in the Top 100. Moreover, it did finish as the 95th-ranked song for 1996 and it finished slightly higher a year later in the 92nd position. Takahashi provided the lyrics while Yasuhiro Mizushima(水島康宏)composed the music. The singer hasn't appeared on the Kohaku Utagassen all that much, but it would be nice if she could appear again one New Year's Eve and do a rendition of "Gomen ne...".

Michiya Mihashi -- Kojou (古城)

Last week, I put on an ancient Hi-Fi record by Michiya Mihashi(三橋美智也)on the turntable. Titled "Michiya Hit Album No. 3", you can see the young Mihashi looking rather Perry Como positioned on that chair. Among all the snap, crackle and pop of the old vinyl, I could still hear the clarity of voice that the late enka singer possessed. Last night, I wrote about Yujiro Ishihara's(石原裕次郎)slightly boozy vocals which made him great for Mood Kayo as the musical background for a night at a tiny nomiya; well, Mihashi's vocals had that purity which seemed to envisage the finest sake poured into that ivory-colored ochoko. When I heard some of his tunes, I saw him wearing a yukata while he stood on an arched bridge somewhere on the grounds of some venerable temple while cherry blossom petals were slowly falling down. Traditional Japan is what I hear....which is par for the course for enka.

And one aspect of traditional Japan is its castles. Regrettably, I couldn't find any of the tunes that were on "Michiya Hit Album No. 3" at YouTube or the usual other sources, but I did come across one of the singer's biggest hits, "Kojou" (Old Castle) which seems to be his dedication to the famous structures that still remain all over Japan (so far, I've visited Nagoya, Osaka and Kumamoto Castles).

The song, released in July 1959, was composed by Junichi Hosokawa(細川潤一)and written by Kikutaro Takahashi(高橋掬太郎), who would be awarded the Medal with Purple Ribbon by the Japanese government about a decade later just before his passing. Mihashi serenades the listener with his loving description of a certain castle that, despite its crumbling facade over centuries of existence, still possesses its majesty and history through the old castle tower and the stone walls. Hosokawa's music relates that mournful but proud feeling with the chorus backing Mihashi and those deep strings and koto.

"Kojou", as I mentioned above, was one of Mihashi's most successful contributions to music as it sold approximately 3 million records. Just imagine if Oricon had existed back then. The single also earned the singer his 4th invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen for 1959.

Here is a young Takashi Hosokawa(細川たかし)performing his version of "Kojou".

The cover has that feeling of old leather!

Scratches and character

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Masaaki Hirao -- Hoshi wa Nandemo Shiteiru (星はなんでも知っている)

Out of all the accomplished songwriters I'm aware of, I find that Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃) is the one with the best singing voice. Others like Tetsuya Gen (弦哲也) and Keisuke Hama (浜圭介) don't have shabby vocals either, but Hirao's seems to be more versatile and is able to hit the high notes easily, as I've noticed in probably his best known single "Hoshi wa Nandemo Shiteiru" (The stars know everything).

As mentioned in an earlier article on Haruo Oka's (岡晴夫) "Akogare no Hawaii Koro" (憧れのハワイ航路), I was lucky enough to chance upon this pack of 4 CDs filled with old tunes ranging from the late 30's (1939) to the 60's late last year. And as I browsed through the lists to pick out anything/anyone familiar, "Hoshi wa Nandemo Shiteiru" appeared as one of the last tracks to one of the CDs with Hirao's name beside it. At that point in time, I had no inkling as to how this song sounded like but I recognized the singer as the one behind the music to many of Hiroshi Itsuki's hits.

As I listened to "Hoshi wa Nandemo Shiteiru", I had assumed that its music that makes me think of someone looking up and contemplatively gazing at the dark starry sky - in the version I listen to, that is - was composed by Hirao himself. It was only after doing some research on the song as I wrote this article did I discover that it was done by Yo/Hiroshi Tsutsumi (津々美洋... I'm not sure how to pronounce his name), and the score from the original recording sounded quite Western, as in like the Wild West Western. Turns out "Hoshi wa Nandemo Shiteiru" was released in 1958, the year Hirao debuted and during his rockabilly days before he started composing. The lyrics were by Tetsu Mizushima (水島哲). Also, in the version I have - probably a new self-cover since it sounds more modern - he says his little monologue at the beginning rather than in the middle of the song.
After looking through the 4 lists of songs on that compilation album, I realise that there were many songs that used to be foreign to me back then but have slowly been discovered over the months that followed. For example, Dick Mine's "Tabi Sugata Sannin Otoko" (旅姿三人男) and Takeo Fujishima's "Otsuki-San Konban wa" (お月さん今晩は). I was quite pleased to see them there.

Yujiro Ishihara -- Koi no Machi Sapporo (恋の街札幌)

Last night on "Kayo Concert", I heard Shoji Koganezawa and Natsumi Kawano(小金沢 昇司&川野 夏美)perform an old Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎)tune, "Koi no Machi Sapporo" (Town of Love Sapporo), and just thought that it was definitely vintage Ishihara of the 70s. I heard the original version via the YouTube video above, and yep, there was that intimate music that automatically evoked images of cigarette smoke and whiskey tumblers punctuated with the saxophone (it seems like an Ishihara ballad has either a sax or a trumpet leading the way). And of course, Ishihara's vocals had that wistful and slightly boozy edge as if The Big Man had knocked back some of that Suntory before hitting the mike.

"Koi no Machi Sapporo" was released in 1972 and both music & lyrics were taken care of by Kuranosuke Hamaguchi(浜口庫之助)who had also composed "Koukotsu Blues"(恍惚のブルース)for the late Mina Aoe(青江三奈)in 1966 and then wrote and composed "Yuuhi ga Naiteiru"(夕陽が泣いている)for the Group Sounds band The Spiders in the same year. Hamaguchi must have known the Ishihara style right down to the last note...or perhaps he was the one who came up with it.

I think this is probably best done as a duet since "Koi no Machi Sapporo" is about a couple showing their love for each other and for Sapporo perhaps...although the Clock Tower is the only landmark that is mentioned in the lyrics.

I don't know if I've mentioned it in any of the other articles I've written, but I did have my own little trip to Sapporo up in Hokkaido several years ago (maybe a decade ago). I do remember it was a June, and landing at Shin-Chitose Airport, and heading into the big city, I also remember it was a lot more cooler and drier than Tokyo which was already heading into humid territory. It was very refreshing walking along the grid pattern streets and visiting the Clock Tower among other sites.

Of course, the food was also the attraction. I had my ramen with pork slabs so plentiful and big that they completely covered the top of the bowl. Unfortunately, I was by myself so it was unrealistic for me to partake in a Jinghis Khan, but I did bring home the requisite omiyage of Rokkatei Marusei Butter Sandwiches (with raisins). They are wholly unhealthy but oh so good. Right now in Toronto, the big sweets craze is for Japanese cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu's but I can guarantee if Rokkatei ever set up shop here, I would line up for 2 hours to get my hands on a package.

Yoshimi Iwasaki -- Koi Hodo Suteki na Show wa Nai (恋ほど素敵なショーはない)

Through the comments for J-Canuck’s post about Yoshimi Iwasaki’s (岩崎良美) debut single “Aka to Kuro”, we agreed that most of her songs are not the type that hook you right away. Some might be unimpressive; others just take a while to warm up to. Nevertheless, there are some truly enjoyable songs scattered within her catalogue, which I assembled into a playlist when I started listening to her, and that playlist has grown since then. There’s one particular tune that I find especially lovely and that’s “Koi Hodo Suteki na Show wa Nai” (恋ほど素敵なショーはない…There’s No Show Business Like Love), her 12th single from January 1983. This beautiful song just oozes with all the delicate feelings that accompany springtime romance. The melody is so positive that I haven't paid attention to the lyrics until recently. Turns out the poor gal in there has no luck with love and wishes it was as magical as it appears in musicals. Before she blinks, their movie is over. Well, the English part in the refrain sort of gave the ending away, but the tune is so sweet like the sight of cherry blossoms that I was hoping it would be a happy one.

Masao Urino (売野雅勇) was responsible for writing the song and based its title off Walter Lang’s 1954 musical filmThere’s No Business Like Show Business”, known as “Show Hodo Suteki na Shobai wa Nai” in Japan (ショウほど素敵な商売はない). There’s also Irving Berlin’s song, which was used in that film among others. Tatsushi Umegaki (梅垣達志) , whom I read a little bit about through this blog, composed the mellow sweet melody and I think it fits Yoshimi’s light delivery perfectly. The breezy country-pop touch makes me time-travel to those charming days of the early 80’s aidoru, though Yoshimi’s natural tone (not the actual voice) aligns more with the classic 70’s idols like Hiromi Ohta as opposed to the new generation with the bouncy curls and girly voices ala Seiko Matsuda. Makes me think that Yoshimi has looked up to her older sister a bit in terms of generational tendencies.

“Koi Hodo Suteki na Show wa Nai” was the seasonal CM campaign song for Nisshin OilliO (日清製油). The single peaked at No.22 on Oricon weeklies and sold about 72,000 copies, according to this page. It's also a track on her 6th studio album "Kuchibiru ni Yume no Ato" (唇に夢の跡).


Yo Hitoto -- Hanamizuki (ハナミズキ)

(cover version)

"Hanamizuki" (Dogwood) was the second song by Yo Hitoto(一青窈)that I became interested in after her debut single, "Morai Naki" (もらい泣き...2002). Not only did her 5th single have that sort of melody which got me in a more contemplative mood, the original music video showed that close-up of the singer's performing style. She just has that way of expression with her face and hands that was simply distinctive. I actually caught her last night on an episode of "Kayo Concert" where she did a cover of an old Duke Aces' chestnut, and once again she revealed some of that Hitoto balletic elegance in her moves.

According to the article on the song in J-Wiki, the singer was inspired to write the lyrics to "Hanamizuki" from an e-mail that she had received from a friend in New York at around the time of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks. It took Hitoto about a week to get it all down on paper, and apparently an early draft of the ballad included words like "terrorism" and "shotgun", which, considering the soft and comforting tone, would have been somewhat jarring to my ears. Fortunately those words were excised, and the lyrics turned out to be those words of comfort and reassurance as if Hitoto were personally addressing her friend. As I've mentioned before, I'm not much of a lyrics guy so with me, the singer's face and gestures were enough to convey to me that she was telling such a story. As with "Morai Naki", the composer was Tatsuro Mashiko(マシオタツロウ).

Another piece of trivia I got from J-Wiki was concerning the title in that Hitoto probably got it from a place that she used to visit frequently as a student, Dogwood Plaza. I could probably speculate that it was her home away from home. Released in February 2004, "Hanamizuki" peaked at No. 4  and ended the year as the 30th-ranked song. However, its feat didn't end there. It became one of the longest-lasting singles on the charts, staying there for 125 consecutive weeks, and finally ending up as the 6th-ranked song of the year in 2007. That year, she performed the song at the Kohaku Utagassen accompanied by her old friends from her university club as they all also conveyed the lyrics in sign language.

In the decade since the song's debut, it's gotten a lot of cover versions by other singers such as Ryoko Moriyama, Hiromi Iwasaki, Hideaki Tokunaga (as shown above in a duet with Hitoto) and most recently, Akina Nakamori in her 2015 release "Utahime 4"(歌姫4).

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Top 10 Singles of 1970

1.  Osamu Minagawa                             Kuroneko no Tango
2.  The Drifters                                      Dorifu no Zundoko Bushi
3.  Keiko Fuji                                         Keiko no Yume wa Yoru Hiraku
4.  Keiko Fuji                                         Onna no Blues
5.  Hiroshi Uchiyamada & Cool Five    Awazu ni Aishite
6.  Saori Yuki                                         Tegami
7.  Hide & Rosanna                                Ai wa Kizu Tsuki Yasuku
8.  Yoichi Sugawara                               Kyo de Owakare
9.  Shocking Blue                                   Venus
10. Yuko Nagisa                                     Kyoto no Koi

Sing Like Talking -- Kaze ni Dakarete (風に抱かれて)

Ahhhh...nothing like the smoovy music of Sing Like Talking back in their early days while the sun is setting on another day. Launching with a gospel-like riff, "Kaze ni Dakarete" (Embraced by the Wind) gets into a comfy light funk as the amazing Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善)handles that voice like a virtuoso. Just him, that steady piano and the marvelous horn section are just the tonic.

Yup, I'm being pretty biased here since I'm the guy who goes full tilt for Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers and Quincy Jones. But SLT's music in the late 80s and 90s was the right stuff for me. And so I remain ever so grateful for making that mistake in the neighbourhood music shop in Ichikawa and picking up their CD, "Discovery", thinking that it was this other band that I'd heard on an episode of "Music Fair" one night.

However, "Kaze ni Dakarete" was actually on their 7th original album, "Togetherness" which came out in April 1994. I eventually purchased that album as well since it also has the amazing "Together" leading things off. Sato and his writing partner, Chiaki Fujita(藤田千章), took care of this song as it was also released as their 17th single that same year in August. I don't think it did anything on the singles charts, but that's perfectly fine....the song will stay our collective secret among the Sing Like Talking fans. And besides, "Togetherness" actually hit No. 1 on the album charts.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Ari Ozawa -- Ura-Omote Fortune (ウラオモテ・フォーチュン)

Yes, I'm going to have to stand up, put up my hand and admit that I've gotten hooked on those YouTube excerpts of "Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-kun"(月刊少女野崎くん...Girls' Monthly Nozaki-kun). I mean, I've already seen the entire series at my anime buddy's place but some of those scenes are just hilarious for me to re-view. Maybe I'll have to follow my friend's lead and splurge on getting the DVD set for the 2014 show.

I've already gotten into the opening theme song for the show, Masayoshi Oishi's(大石昌良)"Kimi Janakya Dame Mitai"(君じゃなきゃダメみたい)with its good-ol'-boy melody about the titular character...maybe...revealing some of his deeply hidden feelings for his assistant and friend, Chiyo Sakura, who is hopelessly in love with him.

Well, the ending theme has Sakura herself (aka seiyuu Ari Ozawa/小澤亜李) bleeding her heart out for the romantically clueless Nozaki (unless it's through the pages of the manga he draws). Titled "Ura-Omote Fortune" (Double-Edged Fortune), Ozawa in character sings about what must be going through her crush's do we all. It took me a little while to warm up to it but after listening to it a number of times on my hard drive as I slogged through my translation work, it finally burrowed and wrapped around my cerebral cortex like a Ceti Eel ("Star Trek" reference). It's all due to Ozawa's moe vocals and the chip tune melody that songwriter Hige Driver(ヒゲドライバー)is known for.

Apparently, this was Ozawa's first starring role in an anime. Very nice that she was able to hit pay dirt so early. Looking forward to any sequels.

Sentimental City Romance -- Miss Biscuit

Ah, back to another practice teaching session after a week and a half off. Thankfully, this one is looking to be lighter than my previous two so there’s always time for blogging at KKPlus. The way I like to conclude these productive yet tiring days is with some tea and biscuits while listening to some relaxing music. Something to soothe my brain for good sleep before I have to rouse myself at 6 a.m. (ugh). I do have a suitably titled song for this occasion: “Miss Biscuit” by Sentimental City Romance (センチメンタル・シティ・ロマンス). Last time I profiled this band through the smooth-as-brandy “Flight Tonight”, I noted how I’d like to hear more of their music, especially the West Coast AOR sound they were going for in the early 80’s. I did acquire a few of their albums last fall, including “Dancing” which that song comes from.

(cover version)

“Miss Biscuit” is another track from it that stuck with me. It’s also mighty relaxing like “Flight Tonight”, but has a more playful quality to it with that light bouncy beat that reminds me of an oxygen balloon bouncing up and down. Love the swirly guitar riff as well. The lyrics by Tokuo Nakano (中野督夫) and Jumi Kazama (風間重身…couldn’t find any sources to verify the romaji) describe a sweet date with a girl over some treats, enhanced by the way Nakano plays with the consonance of phrases like “champagne-sherbet-time” and “boku wa pop-corn…hachikireso” to the catchy tune he composed. Those in the second example bounce off each other like kernels in a popper. Yummy.

What is this creature anyway?

Teruo Ikeda -- Minato Machi Shigure (港町しぐれ)

Out of all the new releases I bothered to listen to and eventually taking a liking to, Teruo Ikeda's (池田輝郎) "Minato Machi Shigure" is the only one I've yet to see on TV. I've already seen and heard Mae-Kiyo's "Hanabi" (花美~はなび~), written by Maekawa Jr., 4 times, Takashi Hosokawa's (細川たかし) 40th anniversary song "Enka Bune" (艶歌船) 4 times as well and it'll soon become 5 when I see the guy again on "Nodojiman" this Sunday, Ichiro Toba's (鳥羽一郎) menacing "Hida no Ryu" (飛騨の龍) twice, just to name a few. No sign of "Minato Machi Shigure" anywhere, which I find really disappointing... Hmm, now that I think of I hardly see Ike-Teru on TV. Oh well, what can I do?

However, although he doesn't appear on the tube much, I realised that instead of publicizing his new singles on the weekly music shows, Ike-Teru does so in a bunch of campaigns around the country, some of them being in those little music (enka) shops. And what he'd do would be perform his new song on a little stage in front of a respectably-sized crowd gathered around the area, followed by a short performance of other songs, then singing the new one, like "Minato Machi Shigure", once more. Quite a small scale when compared to singing on live TV before a large audience, but the plus side is, the fans literally get to see him right in front of their faces and get his autograph and have a picture taken with him! I can only dream of that... If I ever do catch him during one of his campaigns, I think I'd be the only young thing beaming at him with the CD in hand, wanting to have a photo taken with him.

(karaoke version)

"Minato Machi Shigure" was released on 11th March 2015, and like most of Ike-Teru's songs, it was penned by Toshiya Niitani and composed by Hideo Mizumori (仁井谷俊也 . 水森英夫). The music is definitely a lot faster in its pace as compared to his previous two singles (both profiled) and it has sort of a Latin kick that made this song latch on to me as soon as I watched the way too short promotional video. Niitani's lyrics talk about a woman who seems to be reminiscing the time she spent together with the one that got away in the following rainy cities of Kyushu: Sasebo, Nagasaki, Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi, and lastly Marugame, Kagawa. And apparently "Minato Machi Shigure" is Ike-Teru's first go at a song in the perspective of a woman. This song did really well on the charts when it came out, placing 20th on the normal Oricon weeklies and 2nd on the Enka-yo charts. 

And finally, here's a look into one of his "Minato Machi Shigure" campaigns. 

He looks so cool in this photo!

Ah ah ah aaah~~~ Ame ga furu~~

... ... Good gravy, this has become "Neon Bune" (ネオン舟) part 2, hasn't it? 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Miyuki Kosaka/Shiho Fujisawa -- Nuance Shimasho (ニュアンスしましょ)

I came across this cute song purely by accident last night when I just managed to traipse into one of the J-Pop Internet radio stations "70s-90s J-Pop Stream" on Twitter. Miyuki Kosaka(香坂みゆき)was a name that I heard somewhere, and at first, I had thought it was Akiko Kosaka(小坂明子)who created the 70s classic "Anata"(あなた), but of course I was wrong there. Then, it later dawned on me that the Kanagawa Prefecture-born Kosaka was actually a familiar face on the morning wide show circuit when I was living back in Japan. I never knew that she was an aidoru who sang for about 12 years from 1977 to 1989.

"Nuance Shimasho" (Let's Have Some Nuance) is Kosaka's 17th single from August 1984 that was written by Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)and composed by EPO. I remember the two singer-songwriters getting together to write the funky "Magnetic Love" for Akina Nakamori(中森明菜) on her "D404ME" album from 1985, but "Nuance Shimasho" is the type of song that the two would create. The melody is a quirky piece of techno kayo...something that Ohnuki herself sang in her early 80s albums while Kosaka's high and bright delivery sounds just right for EPO to cover.

Not sure how it did on the Oricon charts, but it was used as the campaign song for a Shiseido commercial. And now, I wouldn't mind finding out a bit more about Kosaka's aidoru career.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the exact date or year that this cover came out, but this was a pretty nice take on "Nuance Shimasho" by Shiho Fujisawa(藤澤志保)featuring hiro:n.

Candies -- Sono Ki ni Sasenaide (その気にさせないで)

J-Canuck's post on Saori Minami's warm and summery "Soushun no Minato" inspired me to revisit some of the classic kayo tunes from the 70's, which of course included Candies (キャンディーズ), one of my favorite aidoru acts from that era. For all their harmless looks and choreography, I always thought the group's music had a certain edge to it, thanks to songwriting contributions of Yusuke Hoguchi (穂口雄右), former member of the Group Sounds band Out Cast (アウト・キャスト). "Sono Ki ni Sasenaide" (その気にさせないで...Don't Come Onto Me), their 7th single from September 1975, appeals to me for its upbeat disco groove and earworm melody. It's got the familiar orchestra band backing which was characteristic of Japan's 70's pop sound, which is perked up by the the driving force of guitars and bass. The girls' vocal delivery is self-assured and commanding: quite a contrast to their carefree smiles in the video above where they prance gleefully around the streets of Tokyo.

"Sono Ki ni Sasenaide" was composed and arranged by Hoguchi and written by Kazuya Senke (千家和也). The single peaked at No.17 on Oricon weeklies, charting for 14 weeks in the Top 100, and sold about 190,000 copies by the time Candies broke up. It was moderate hit for the girls compared to their classics "Haru Ichiban" and "Toshishita Otoko no Ko", but it'll always be a winner in my book. It was also included in their fifth studio album of the same title.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

orange pekoe -- Taiyo no Kakera (太陽のかけら)

A few weeks back, I wrote on paris match's "Saturday" which was this sunny and groovy driving tune from the early 2000s. As I stated there, one of my students had suggested the band to me as a cool unit with that mix of bossa and jazz.

Well, another band with an aversion to capital letters from the same time and in the same genre that I've heard is orange pekoe. Unlike paris match, though, I never got an album or single by them, but my recent purchase of "Light Mellow -- Dancing" has a track by them which is incidentally their 1st single from August 2001. "Taiyo no Kakera" (Pieces of a Sun) launches right off the bat with vocalist and lyricist Tomoko Nakajima's(ナガシマトモコ)scatting before this happy jazz riff takes things into the stratosphere. I do love that frenetic bass! Nakajima's guitar-playing partner, Kazuma Fujimoto(藤本一馬)took care of the music and some of the instruments although that old-fashioned bass was handled by Tatsu Kase加瀬達...hope that's the right reading). Time to run gleefully along the shore.

Before hearing about this duo, orange pekoe to me was the type of tea that I used to have every morning for breakfast as a kid. Not that my family was a bunch of Anglophiles, mind you, but it was what we all drank for many years and still do from time to time (coffee's usually the thing for us now). The duo orange pekoe was formed when Nakajima and Fujimoto met as grad students at Kwansei Gakuin University in Osaka, and then started doing the rounds at cafes and live houses, before coming out with "Taiyo no Kakera". The single itself managed to peak at No. 95 on the Oricon weeklies but it was also on their debut album, "Organic Plastic Music" which was released in May 2002. It soared up to No. 5 on the album charts and ended the year as the 75th-ranked album.

Harumi Miyako & Chiaki Oka -- Naniwa Koi Shigure (花恋しぐれ浪)

Okay, although I usually (always) used dear Harumi Miyako (都はるみ) with her shrill voice that makes the hair at the back of my neck stand on end as the prime example of why I prefer male enka singers to female enka singers, I have to admit that if she doesn't hit the really high notes or sing songs from the genre she's classified in, she actually sounds... pretty good. Well, but you know, only if she does those two things. Otherwise her voice is still difficult for me to listen to. So I never thought I'd be writing an article on one of her best known enka songs, "Naniwa Koi Shigure", a duet sung with composer Chiaki Oka (岡千秋). Despite being a little reluctant to check the song out after commenter Ranawaka Aruna recommended it - I don't think I would've looked it up otherwise - I was indeed rather keen to hear it for myself and probably see why it was pretty successful.

After listening to it, I'm glad to say that I enjoyed it on a whole. And I actually did not mind Miyako's enka voice! I thought I would, but I didn't. I must be getting used to it. Instead, I was more disappointed in Oka's vocal delivery, which was way too husky and made him sound like he had to constantly clear his throat. But at least he makes up for it with the cheerful yet elegant score he had composed for "Naniwa Koi Shigure" that made me stay and listen to the whole song rather than clicking the "Back" button after the first few seconds of it.

Takashi Taka's (たかたかし) lyrics are quite odd at first, but it slowly became heartwarming. I managed to find the Mandarin translation to it in the video above, but since my command for the language has greatly deteriorated after a couple of years of disuse (not like it was any good to begin with), I had Mom, who's effectively bilingual, help me out with the more important bits I missed. Basically it's about our main man here striving to be Japan's number one in the world of theater, unfortunately without much success. He'd also spend his time drinking away and horsing around, much to his wife's ire, but being the patient and hopeful woman she is, our leading lady tolerates his behaviour and allows him to do as he pleases, confident that he'll get to the top... eventually. So despite all the obstacles they face, they still stick by each other for love and support and to overcome their difficulties together.

"Naniwa Koi Shigure" was released on 21st May 1983, and like I've mentioned above, it did well on the charts, peaking at 3rd place on the Oricon weeklies and stayed within the top 20 at 18th place by the end of the year. On the same year, Miyako received the Special Prize at the 25th Japan Record Awards and on her 19th appearance on the Kohaku, she had sung this song with Oka. "Naniwa Koi Shigure" continued to stay within the top 50 in 1984 at 39th place.

Here's Kiyoshi Hikawa(氷川きよし)taking Oka's place by Miyako's side (actually that video has been taken down...instead he is with Aya Shimazu in the video). I do prefer hearing like his pleasant, smooth voice, and it's much more fun to watch him and Miyako singing duets too since they've got really good chemistry. Yup, so far, she's the only female singer I've seen this usually composed gentleman hug... like a real, proper, bear hug... many times...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Shozo Ise -- Futari no Shuuki (二人の周期)

Well, as I mentioned in another this week, I got my package of CDs which included another in the series of "Light Mellow" compilations of J-AOR/City Pop. The 2nd CD in the delivery was another "Light Mellow" (every time I read or hear that title, I always get reminded of Coffee Mate) album, but this time, it was one of the spotlight releases focusing on a certain singer of the genre. I decided to get the urban contemporary works of singer-songwriter Shozo Ise(伊勢正三).

Ise is quite the interesting acquisition. He and Kosetsu Minami(南こうせつ)came up with some of the most famous J-Folk songs from the early 1970s such as "Nagori Yuki"(なごり雪)when they were together in Kaguyahime(かぐや姫), and a year ago, I discovered this achingly lovely ballad that Ise wrote and composed, "Kimi to Aruita Seishun"(君と歩いた青春)when he was with another band, Kaze (1975-1979), a duo that was also folk but had elements of New Music and City Pop as well.

The transition further continued as Ise went solo in the late 1970s and embraced the totality of City Pop. I fell in love with the slick "Moonlight" when I first heard it on "Sounds of Japan" decades ago, although at the time, I did not make the connection between it and "Nagori Yuki". But years later, I finally figured it out and always wondered about more of his urban contemporary stuff from the early 80s which leads to this week when I finally got "Light Mellow -- Shozo Ise".

"Moonlight", his 2nd single as a soloist, is in there, but there are also a lot of other cool and urban delights. One of the tracks is "Futari no Shuuki" which translates as "A Period For Two". That struck me as being a bit too vague a title so I think "A Time For Two" may be an improvement. Of course, Ise took care of music and lyrics for this tune that's a bit airier than "Moonlight" but very much in the City Pop realm. 

Not totally sure on the meaning of the lyrics, but I think Ise was trying to weave a story about a fellow who's still really aching for a lady although it looks like the brief and torrid affair is quite over. The featured instrument, according to the liner notes in "Light Mellow -- Shozo Ise", is Ise's operation of the guitar synthesizer but I think the even more intriguing thing is the instrument that are his vocal cords. His creamy and dreamy delivery especially of the first few lines had me thinking of Akira Terao(寺尾聰)and Yoshitaka Minami(南佳孝)...rather balladeer-like. Also, unlike "Moonlight", the feeling of the song is not like being in that hotel-top bar but just walking about somewhere in the concrete jungle that's Tokyo...perhaps aimlessly considering the poor fellow in the lyrics. He probably would need to pace around Shibuya, Harajuku and Shinjuku for a few hours to get all that angst out of his system.

Originally, "Futari no Shuuki" came out as his 3rd single in September 1981 and was a track on his 3rd solo album, "Smoke Glass Goshi no Keshiki"(スモークドガラス越しの景色...The Scenery Beyond The Smoked Glass).  I'm more than happy to delver further into this song as well as some of the other tracks during his City Pop period.

Miu Sakamoto -- Tetsudoin (鉄道員)/Child of Snow

Ah yes, this is the daughter of Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本龍一) and Akiko Yano (矢野顕子), and she’s been recording music since 1997. As one might expect from children of iconic figures, she doesn’t quite fit the shoes of her parents, but I decided to evaluate Miu Sakamoto (坂本美雨) on her own merits and concluded that she’s wonderful artist. Classy, eclectic, and talented singer. (And a massive feline enthusiast.) I’ve been following her releases since discovering her in 2008.

Tetsudoin” (鉄道員…Railroad Man) was her first solo single from May 1999, although she had already released a mini-album and a collaborative single with her father prior to that. I first heard it as its other incarnation, “Child of Snow” (see below), but later encountered it as a theme song of a drama film by Yasuo Furuhata (降旗康男), Poppoya (鉄道員). It’s a quiet poignant piece about an elderly stationmaster Otomatsu Sato (佐藤乙松), played by Ken Takakura (高倉健), who works at a rail station in a dying village in Hokkaido and is haunted by memories of his dead wife and daughter. These memories become stronger as he persistently holds on to his position despite the forthcoming closure of the station, and he imagines his daughter an the different stages of her potential life visiting and talking to him. An earnest tearjerker from what I remember. So when Miu’s song comes over the credits with scenes of a lonely locomotive passing through snow-covered forests of Hokkaido, one is left completely spellbound by the sad beauty witnessed. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s gorgeous melody and Miu’s heavenly vocals compliment one another as pure bliss. Tamio Okuda (奥田民生) of Unicorn fame provided the lyrics.

In September 1999, Miu re-released “Tetsudoin” with English lyrics under the title “Child of Snow”, which became part of her first studio albumDawn Pink”. The individual behind the lyrics here has decided to hide under the cryptic pseudonym jcts. The words are just as poetic as the music and I can definitely relate them to “Poppoya”, but I also keep wondering if they contain some spiritual undertones. It also personally reminds me of the Russian tale “The Snow Maiden”, which was recently adapted into a novel by Eowyn Ivey called “The Snow Child”. This was the first version of the song that I’ve heard and was impressed with Miu’s English pronunciation (not perfect, but good), and it turns out that she has spent a part of her life in New York City and attended high school there.

The single peaked at No.49 on Oricon weeklies despite the success of the film, while "Dawn Pink" fared a bit better at No.28 position.

Just a little note about the reading of the title. 鉄道員 can be read as both “poppoya” and “tetsudoin”. The producers of the film went with the former pronunciation, while those of the song chose the latter, according to the single cover here.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hibari Misora -- Jinsei Ichiro (人生一路)

When it comes to the grand world of kayo kyoku from 20, 30, 40 years back, my remembrances can be divided into two parts. Pretty much all of the straight pop is stuff that I can remember entirely or almost entirely because of all of those video rentals, "Sounds of Japan" and of course the albums that I've bought over the decades. However with enka, it's a bit more complicated. I like enka but I just don't buy a lot of it. However, I've been hearing the genre ever since I was a baby, so although there are some of the classic chestnuts like "Yokohama Tasogare"(よこはま・たそがれ)and "Yukiguni"(雪国)that I could play in my head with ease, a lot of the other songs I can only retain wisps of melodies since they were echoes from long ago emanating from those RCA Victor speakers. I've been awaiting performances of enka on "Kayo Concert" to have those wisps pull out the whole song again.

I got that opportunity once more a couple of nights ago on the latest edition of "Kayo Concert". One of the guests came on and sang "Jinsei Ichiro" (Straight Road of Life) which was one of Hibari Misora's(美空ひばり)singles. It was a really jaunty song but when the song reached a certain point (in the above video, it would be at the 00:40~00:42 second mark), the way the melody turned sparked the neurons and had me going "Ah, it was THAT song, eh?"

A little over quarter of a century since Misora's passing, the song that everyone probably remembers of her is the anthemic "Kawa no Nagare no You ni"(川の流れのように)...her epic look back on (her) life. "Jinsei Ichiro", released in January 1970 is also another tribute to life but with much more upbeat brio and less contented pride as if this were more for the folks in their 20s and 30s...a lot of road ahead for these guys. Through the lyrics of Miyuki Ishimoto(石本美由起), there is that exhortation of just making that decision to hit that road of life and not deviating from it one iota. Misora is the coach pushing the listeners ahead as she seems to be telling them to go for the gusto!

Tetsuya Kato's(かとう哲也)melody has that mix of enka (thank you, shakuhachi) and what sounds like some of the brassier pop that was coming out during those days. This isn't really the enka of the countryside or the sea but that of the metropolis...the hustle and the bustle of making it big at the company. You might have to work 15-hour days, but, dang, you're really sussed about it. I'd probably assume from how bouncy "Jinsei Ichiro" is, the metropolis was probably envisaged to be more Osaka than Tokyo.

Interesting thing, though, is that the song was actually the B-side to "Hana to Honoo"(花と炎...Flower and Fire). However, it's been more of an A-side in its popularity over the years according to the number of YouTube videos of Misora's performances of the song. And according to J-Wiki, the Grande Dame of Kayo Kyoku sang it at the 1979 Kohaku Utagassen as part of a special medley, her very last appearance on the NHK special.

Miki Imai -- smells like you

No...she most certainly does not!

Sorry...very bad joke there. However, I have to say that when I first saw the title for this Miki Imai(今井美樹)song, "smells like you", I just went "ick" and "eww". Let's say that I was never much of an optimist when it came to the topic of body odor. Yep, I realize that there are such things as perfume and cologne, but again that's not the first thing I think of when I see that title on an album, even for someone as lovely-looking as Imai.

However, the soft bossa nova by Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰)is pleasant enough and when I took a look at Imai's lyrics, I realized that the sylph-like singer was just quietly cooing about how much she missed her lover and how much the summer air reminded her of his scent when they were holding each other close. Yep, that's romance for you! Methinks she would be the type to take a deep whiff of his favourite sweater in the closet if he's off on some business trip.

It's been a very long time since I heard "smells like you", and so I had thought that the song came out on Imai's 1992 album, "flow into space", her very atmospheric release and her first time collaborating with Hotei. However, I was quite wrong on that point since it actually was a track on a later CD, "Love of my Life" from 1995 (peaked at No. 2). Imai does quite a nice job with bossa nova-flavoured tunes so it's a bit of a wonder that she hasn't devoted an entire album (at least not that I know of) to the Brazilian genre. Perhaps it's time to revisit some of the mid-90s Imai releases again.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Kazuhito Murata -- Ippon no Ongaku (一本の音楽)

Can you feel that warm breeze in your hair? It’s the humid climate of tropical islands calling you. Man, what a perfect beach song. If “Ippon no Ongaku” (一本の音楽) reminds you of Tatsuro Yamashita (山下達郎), you’re definitely correct, since Mr. Summer himself arranged it. His familiar AOR sound, combined with Beach Boys-esque chorus harmony in the refrain and Kazuhito Murata’s (村田和人) soaring powerful vocals probably sent the listeners into a frenzy of packing their bags and booking an instant flight to someplace hot. It definitely brings the much-needed warmth to my chilly room. Thanks to Yamashita’s bold guitar riff, it also works as a perfect soundtrack for a speedy drive down a clear highway, preferably in a convertible.

In 1978, Yamashita launched the career of then 24-year old Murata after the promising singer-songwriter submitted his demo tape to RCA Records. He started off as a backing singer for Yamashita and in 1982 debuted as a soloist. Like his mentor, Murata has also been influenced by popular American music of the 60’s, though a number of his other songs also showcase his rock roots since he's been a fan on Cream and Led Zeppelin since junior high school. I can hear that side of him through the vocals in some parts of “Ippon no Ongaku”, particularly the bridge leading up to the refrain, though the song itself is largely a pop piece. As for the rest of the credits, it was written by Yoshihiko Ando (安藤芳彦) and composed by Murata.

“Ippon no Ongaku” is the song Murata is best known for since it always pops up whenever I look up his name. It became a minor hit in March 1983 when it was used as a CM tune for Hitachi Maxell. It was included in his second studio album from June that year, Hitokakera no Natsu (ひとかけらの夏). I don’t have the sales data for the single, but the album peaked at No.25 on Oricon weeklies. I first came across that one through the pages of Japanese City Pop, where Yutaka Kimura writes that he’s a big fan of it like numerous other followers of the genre.

Speaking of City Pop, the above-mentioned book highlights a number of Murata’s albums through the “Featured Artists” section. So far, he’s been the only artist from that chapter without a profile on KKPlus, so I took care of that matter with this entry.


Water -- Kotoba ni Dekinai Omoi (コトバにできない想い)

I never really got into the tokusatsu series "Genseishin Justirisers" (幻星神ジャスティライザー) as a young, tokusatsu/Power Ranger-loving little girl. I suppose after watching the horoscope-based "Chouseishin Gransazers" (超星神グランセイザー) with 12 heroes of every colour on the colour wheel to choose my favourite from, "Justirisers" just couldn't match up to that. They only had a quarter of the protagonists and they were literally less colourful - red, blue and black only. However, I must add that in terms of music, the "Justirisers" soundtrack seemed to have a larger impact on me than the "Gransazers" one.

Anyway, I watched a number of episodes, lost interest in it for a short while, then started again about midway through the series too see what had went on. By then they had introduced a new, powerful character in white (a combination of all 3 of the Justirisers, I think) and a purple morally ambiguous fellow, so it got more interesting - the shape-shifting robot the white "ranger" had was a huge, double-headed dragon! And it was at that point in time in the series where the ending theme had changed.

I did not know who had sung the song, all I knew was that it was a woman singing it and I did remember liking this fast-paced song a lot, and I had looked forward to hearing it at the end of the later episodes. Over the many years since "Justirisers" had ended, this particular song had popped up in my head on occasion, just the chorus bit, but somehow it never occurred to me to look it up, or even when I wanted to, I did not know how to search for it. It was only until recently (last year into this year) that the idea of just typing in "Justirisers ed 2 or 3 (I knew it wasn't the first)" in the YouTube search engine came to mind. I managed to find it and listening to it after such a long time brought back some pretty good memories from way back then. I did finally uncover its name and the artist behind it, of course, through the J-Wiki page for the show. The song is called "Kotoba ni Dekinai Omoi" and it's sung by this music unit I'm not familiar with, Water.

I've tried doing some research on Water, but there doesn't seem to be much on them. They had debuted as a unit of 3 in 2004, with Rieko Kobayashi (小林理恵子) as the vocals, Meiko Saito (斉藤芽衣子) as the lyricist and Tomohiro Ando (安藤友洋) as the composer. Together, 3 singles were made and then Kobayashi went solo from there - 2006 onward. The group's catchphrase was "Mizu no yoni pure na uta goe" (水のようにピュアな歌声... A singing voice as pure as water).

"Kotoba ni Dekinai Omoi" served as the 3rd ending theme to "Justirisers" and was Water's 2nd single, released on 27th April 2005, and written by MIZUE and composed by Ando. The song was also in Kobayashi's first album from 2008 "Water colors" with a slightly different, smoother arrangement that I prefer. It's in the link above.

Not as colourful... Still pretty cool though.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Chocolate Lips -- Day Dreamin'

Got my latest package from CD Japan a couple of days ago. It included another in the "Light Mellow" series of J-AOR/City Pop songs, and my new acquisition has the subtitle of "Dancing" which I would really never have associated with anything kayo.

I came across one of the tracks which is easily the shortest song on the disc at under 3 minutes. "Day Dreamin'" is this short n' sweet tune of light pop-funk which had me thinking of The Dazz Band on Ovaltine (for those in Japan, think of Milo). And the band behind it is Chocolate Lips. I never heard anything of these guys before and the only information that I could find was through the liner notes in "Light Mellow Dancing". Vocalist Miho Fujiwara(藤原美穂)had been doing her fair share of backing vocal work for some more famous singers when saxophonist Jimmie L. Weaver came to Japan and had a chance to listen to her at some live house. A conversation ensued and voila, Chocolate Lips was born.

"Day Dreamin'" was a track on Chocolate Lips' self-titled album from 1984. My impression is that the album is one of the rare of the rare, something that even the liner notes hint at when the author mentioned that it might be found at a pretty high price in some old music store. In fact, the notes also state that it is the first time that "Day Dreamin'" has been put onto any CD.  I am further impressed to find out that the original music video actually exists on YouTube. Along with Weaver and Fujiwara who both created the song, I'm assuming the third fellow in the video is James Norwood on bass after referring to the liner notes. For such a pleasantly funky tune, it was pretty funny seeing the guys film the video in what looked like a suburban house in New England. Maybe they were trying to be ironic.

In any case, the song isn't too long but it's got that fine 80s R&B vibe that I used to listen to all the time on the radio. I don't know whether Chocolate Lips ever released any further albums or whether they even lasted the year, but perhaps it might be time for me to go on another rare album expedition.

Hi-Fi Set/Shigeru Suzuki -- Sei Do Ya (星/導/夜)

This is one of the lesser known songs from Hi-Fi Set (ハイ・ファイ・セット). Not only is it hidden deep as an album track from a lesser known album, "indigo" from February 1985 to be exact, but it also sounds nothing like the rest of their songs. It’s mysterious with a multilayered fusion arrangement, almost New Age. I’ve grown accustomed to hearing Junko Yamamoto (山本潤子) and the guys in classic pop mode through their collaborations with Yuming in the 70’s and catchy pop from the 80’s. In “Sei Do Ya”(星/導/夜), the group seems to have taken trip to a mythical kingdom in the Middle East. Their classic harmony is still there, but the overall delivery gives off a howling wind effect.

The music is also intriguing. It starts off with quiet pounding of Motoya Hamaguchi’s (浜口茂外也) percussions, which is joined by Shigeru Suzuki's (鈴木茂) mysterious guitar strumming, Akira Inoue’s (井上鑑) synths and Tatsuo Hayashi’s (林立夫drums. The instruments weave around one another in interesting ways throughout this piece. The bridge around the 3:00 minute mark is particularly epic. The song was composed by Suzuki and written/arranged by Inoue, while the late Toshihiko Yamamoto (山本俊彦) arranged the chorus.

Later in May that year, Suzuki released his own version of “Sei Do Ya” as a title track from his seventh studio album. His arrangement is less showy than Inoue’s for Hi-Fi Set, with more rock and less New Age. He has also changed some of the lyrics, including the refrain, where he replaces the group's echoing of the title with the more grounded “bu re ra…”,

I acquired Hi-Fi Set's "indigo" a while back in 2013, but the song kind of stuck with me so I hunted down Suzuki's album as well.

Saori Minami/Hiromi Iwasaki -- Soushun no Minato (早春の港)

If there is one thing that I used to tell students when they were inquired about the weather in Toronto, I always said "Predictably unpredictable". Catching the weather forecast every morning is a must. And this week is definitely one of those meteorologically wacky times. We were enjoying some seasonably spring weather but the temps are about to drop like the proverbial rock as we go further into the week, and there may even be snow (shudder). My anime buddy won't even change from snow tires until May, just to be sure.

Anyways, let's bring something a bit more seasonally appropriate here with Saori Minami's(南沙織)"Soushun no Minato" (Early Spring Harbour). It's actually been quite a few years since I've put up one of her tunes. Aside from her really big hit of "Juu-Nana Sai"(17才), I never really got to know her all that well, but I decided to listen to the 1973 edition of "Seishun Uta Nenkan"(青春歌年鑑), and came across this song on Disc 1. There were quite a few of Minami's tunes on this album.

"Soushun no Minato" is another sepia-toned kayo that brings an image of walking along the beach during a breezy and comfy spring day (the sound of waves crashing helps a lot). The Kyohei Tsutsumi-penned melody(筒美京平)including flute and steel guitar just brings that warm and mellow feeling as Mieko Arima's(有馬三恵子)lyrics about that woman pining for that far-off fellow are delivered by Minami in a honeyed voice that sounds a whole lot more mature than her age at that time of 18 or 19 years.

According to the J-Wiki article on the song, the song had had a previous incarnation as "Furusato no You ni"(ふるさとのように...Just Like Home) from a previous 1972 album of hers "Soushun no Harmony"(早春のハーモニー...Early Spring Harmony), but when it was decided that there would be a version of it coming out as an official single, the powers-that-be revised the lyrics and arrangement. "Soushun no Minato", by the way, was also a track on her 6th album from May 1973, "Kizu Tsuku Sedai"(傷つく世代...The Scarring Age) which peaked at No. 9

Released in January 1973, "Soushun no Minato" almost broke the Top 10 by coming in at No. 11 and finished as the 79th-ranked song of the year. Popular folk singer Takuro Yoshida(吉田拓郎)was so impressed by the song when he heard it on the radio that he penned an answer song over 18 months later with help from Hiroshi Kamayatsu(かまやつひろし)under the title of "Cynthia" (シンシア)which happens to be Minami's English name. 

Then we have Hiromi Iwasaki's(岩崎宏美)wonderful cover of "Soushun no Minato" from her 2003 "Dear Friend II" album. If there were anyone who could match Minami or even exceed her with this song, it would be Iwasaki. Her voice here sounds as if it hadn't changed in 20 years, and I guess it's the low and mellow vocals of both her and Minami that sell the relaxation in the song. There's even more of an exotic element in her version with what sounds more like a mandolin than a steel guitar. That beach may have been in Greece rather than Japan. In any case, I could use some more of the sunny countenance in these old kayo to get through some of the rain and cold of this week.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Suiyoubi no Campanella -- Marie Antoinette (マリー・アントワネット)

Suiyoubi no Campanella (水曜日のカンパネラ) is one of the standout contemporary J-Music acts for me and one of favorite findings from the past year. My first reaction upon hearing “Marie Antoinette” (マリー・アントワネット) was: “Hah, what a glorious return of trance music!” After playing it several times, I picked up some experimental and dream pop influences. The Asakusa setting from the video has also deceived me into hearing traditional Japanese influences in some parts, but maybe there are some. The vocalist and the group’s face Komuai (コムアイ) is one quirky persona, and there’s something addicting about her playful manner of rapping. A bit like early Halcali, but more indie-spirited. Komuai herself has stated that she prefers not to rap because she isn’t trained at rhyming and thinks her rap sounds fluffy, but Kenmochi Hidefumi (釼持英郁), the group’s musician, constantly persuades her to. I personally like it because it adds personality to the music.

As I mentioned, Suiyoubi no Campanella is a group act, but we only see Komuai because the other two members don’t like being in public. There’s Hidefumi who composes and creates all the music using his sampling magic and the elusive Dir.F, a.k.a. the “jack of all trades” according to their official website. They formed in 2012, releasing a demo and launching a Youtube channel, through which they promote their music. (Do take some time to watch the videos, tons of fun.) So far, they’ve released 5 mini albums (one containing covers), some demos and special digital releases. While it’s difficult to obtain the physical copies of their material from overseas, you can easily buy it digitally from OTOTOY in lossless 24-bit format. “Marie Antoinette” appears on their second mini-album “Rashomon” (羅生門), which came out in October 2013.

One of the things that makes this group interesting is all the historical and pop culture references in their lyrics, Japanese or otherwise. “Marie Antoinette”, for instance, playfully bites at the context of Revolution-era France while scattering references to shopping craze and snacking in modern Japan. It doesn’t make a lot of sense actually, but it’s a fun listen. The last line “Okashi wo tabereba ii janai” is a jab at the popular quote attributed to the titular French princess, “Let them eat cake” (“Cake wo tabereba ii janai” in Japanese), with “okashi”, the Japanese snacks, replacing cake.

As for their name, it’s a Japanese/Italian hybrid that translates to Wednesday’s Little Bell. The “Wednesday” part refers to the fact that in the group’s early days, they would routinely meet on Wednesdays, though the profile on their official website also states tongue-in-cheek that “there are other theories”.

You can learn more about Suiyoubi no Campanella’s music and ideas through MTV Japan’s interview with Komuai (available in English). Some of the trivia available in this post was lifted from there.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Motoharu Sano -- Someday

Because of the high from my first listening to "Sugar Time" and the long reputation behind Motoharu Sano's(佐野元春)"Someday", I plunked down the cash and got my copy of "Someday" the album. There was also inspiration from reading nikala's article on his 1984 album, "Visitors" and listening to the songs there.

Now, I know that I've already written an article on the song, but I just felt like putting up a video of "Sugar Time" again since it's just pure pop pleasure a plenty (although Sano sounds somewhat tortured up in the video)! It is probably the poppiest track on the entire album and I get a small kick from hearing the line "Suteki sa baby"(素敵さBaby...'s wonderful, baby!) since I hear it as "Steak's a baby!" Yep, that's what I think whenever I cook up a juicy sirloin.

"Someday" was released back in May 1982 as Sano's 3rd album. One reason that I got it was reading that "Visitors" article in which nikala remarked that the singer-songwriter was more in the rock and blues vein a la The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, unlike in "Visitors" where he took that leap into New Wave and R&B. After listening to the whole of "Someday" the first time, I definitely got that Springsteen vibe (and boy, am I a fan of "Hungry Heart"). But at the same time, I also got that impression of Billy Joel for some reason, notably through The Piano Man's seminal 1977 album, "The Stranger".

"Downtown Boy" (not to be confused with the Yuming song) had me thinking of Springsteen in terms of the melody if not in the vocals (I realize that Sano doesn't sound anything like The Boss). The track was also his 5th single from October 1981, and when I heard it for the first time, my mind went to George Lucas' 1973 classic "American Graffiti" and the character of John Milner (Paul LeMat), the tough guy cruising down the main strip of Modesto, California back in 1962. He's the lone wolf and he's perfectly happy with that.

Then we have the title track of "Someday", arguably the song that Sano is most famous for. It was his 4th single from June 1981 and I was a bit surprised to hear that it never became all that much of a hit for him in its first release (not even entering the Top 100), but then it got as high as No. 27 on Oricon in its re-release in 1990. In my neck of the woods, though, it was something that I heard from time to time being sung at our old karaoke haunt of Kuri, my first exposure to Sano. As with "Downtown Boy", there is something proudly romantic and American about "Someday" which makes me wonder if the singer had been born a couple of decades too late and in the wrong nation. Methinks he would have been just at home on that Modesto strip in a T-shirt with a pack of cigarettes and a pompadour hairstyle. The lyrics are also plenty poignant as Sano declares to his lady love that despite all the trials and tribulations he will make things right for her someday.

Speaking of "Hungry Heart", that intro had me reminiscing about that song.

"Futari no Birthday"(二人のバースディ...Birthday for Two)is Sano's flight into some mellow air as boyfriend and girlfriend celebrate that important day. That sparkly keyboard by Akira Nishimoto(西本明)which pops up a couple of times pretty much landed the song into City Pop territory.  I can imagine young Jack and Diane heading off to their very first fancy-schmancy restaurant and sipping their very first glasses of champagne with all of the adorkable spillage that most likely occurs. Ah, youth...

(cover version)

What can I say about "Mayonaka ni Kiyomete"(真夜中に清めて...Purify at Midnight)? It's another lush romantic ballad that not only had me thinking of Billy Joel but also a lot of The Beatles, especially John Lennon. And there is even one word in the lyrics that pretty much helps my theory. I love the strings in there which have that soaring quality that I remember from not only some of those 60s ballads but some of Joel's songs especially when he would make his own tribute to that particular decade in "An Innocent Man" which came out a year after "Someday".

The song, though, that had me thinking of both Springsteen and Joel is "Rock N' Roll Night". The Springsteen side of the equation is taken care of by the music, but the Joel part of things came from my remembrance of that one epic track on "The Stranger", "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" which was about the up-and-down lives of a couple over the decades. Like "Scenes", Sano's "Rock N' Roll Night" is a long magnum opus...even lengthier than Joel's song by about a minute, but although it isn't the time-spanning epic of "Scenes", Sano co-relates the story of old friends who have parted on different paths as he represents the final person to cast off that chapter of their old lives and move on to a new life somewhere else. The other narrator is the music itself. It doesn't go into the dramatic shifts in tone and arrangement like "Scenes" but as I said, "Rock N' Roll Night" is about those several hours of darkness instead of several decades, and a lot of the melody has that feeling of a proud tribute to an era about to end, some nervous reluctance and regrets before realizing one more "It'll be OK" blast and then quietly going off into the dark in the last minute or so of the song. "Someday" might be Sano's big hit but I'm pretty sure that "Rock N' Roll Night" is probably the one song that everyone wants to listen to at the end of his concert.

"Someday" got as high as No. 4 on the weekly album charts and finished the year as the No. 38 album.