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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Chieko Baisho/The Peanuts -- Hamabe no Uta (浜辺の歌)

On tonight's episode of "Kayo Concert", the theme was songs from the north country and there were plenty of nice performances. There was even a performance by opera soprano Norie Suzuki(鈴木慶江)who gave a poignant rendition of an old ballad, "Hamabe no Uta" (Song of the Beach). It's a song that has some resonance for me since the instrumental version was often used as the opening and ending themes for my old radio show "Songs of Japan" back in the 1980s.

"Hamabe no Uta" first saw the light of day when Akita Prefecture-born composer, Namezo Narita(成田為三), created the song in 1916 with Kokei Hayashi(林古渓)providing the lyrics. Considering the date, it has become a classic to be sung by a number of artists, including actress-singer Chieko Baisho(倍賞千恵子). I don't know when her version came out unfortunately but it is still a wonderfully touching performance.

Here is another rendition by kayo duo The Peanuts.

Miho Nakayama & WANDS/Noriko Sakai -- Sekaijuu no Dare yori Kitto (世界中の誰よりきっと)

I had actually been waiting for a friend of mine to give his insights on this song for a few years but I don't think I really can wait any longer, so with all due respect to him, here is my own take on "Sekaijuu no Dare yori Kitto" (Undoubtedly More Than Anyone Else In The World).

Miho Nakayama's(中山美穂)duet with rock band WANDS was released in October 1992 as her 25th single which meant that I first heard about it between my two jaunts in Japan. So I believe I must have first come across it when my university club was operating its weekly Wednesday night offerings of J-Dramas. "Sekaijuu no Dare yori Kitto" was the theme song for the Fuji-TV drama, "Dareka ga Kanojo wo Aishiteiru"(誰かが彼女を愛してる...Someone Loves Her) which also starred Miporin as the target of love.

According to the J-Wiki article, the song had been intended to be a ballad but then Nakayama's producer requested that it be something with a Christmas party feeling which led "Sekaijuu" to become the upbeat song it is. I'm not quite sure even after learning about this piece of trivia that it feels anything like a Xmas song, but it is a happy, happy, joy, joy song. And with the synths and wailing electric guitar arrangement from the early 90s, it's also a memorable nostalgic song.

In fact for me, I think this particular song is probably the one that I identify most with Miho Nakayama with the possible exception of "You're My Only Shinin' Star". The reason for this is basically media exposure. With the latter ballad, I just saw the song performed tons of times on those rentals of "The Best 10" episodes. But with "Sekaijuu", it just became a rather big piece of discussion on that ancient Internet format known as the BBS. My friends and I were half-jokingly talking about it becoming an unofficial song for the aforementioned club, but no doubt it was the popular tune not just within our own rarefied circle but also in Japan itself.

It became Miporin's first No. 1 hit in almost 3 years since "Midnight Taxi" back in 1990 (all of the hits in between the two songs peaked at No. 3), and broke through the 2-million barrier in sales. The lyrics were written by Nakayama and WANDS vocalist Show Wesugi(上杉昇)with Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎)taking care of the music. Even with the relatively late release date, "Sekaijuu" managed to become the 37th-ranked song for 1992 but then a year later, it would also become the 10th-ranked song for 1993. The popularity of the song also earned both halves of the duet a ticket to the 1992 Kohaku Utagassen although WANDS wasn't officially listed on the performer slate (their name appeared just like with this phrase in brackets). And for a while at least, "Sekaijuu" was the most successful single by a solo female vocalist.

Another arbiter of a song's success is how often it's been covered. Composer Tetsuro Oda has done his own take on "Sekaijuu" along with other singers like Junichi Inagaki(稲垣潤一)and Hitomi Shimatani(島谷ひとみ). And even Noriko Sakai(酒井法子)did a cover of the song as an official single in 2007. It would also be her final single to date before those personal problems started to set in.

To leave off, the coupling song for the original single by Nakayama and WANDS was "Sekaijuu no Dare yori Kitto Part II" done in a ballad style with the two halves switching roles. Nice, but I still favour the original.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Kanako Wada -- Sunday Brunch

Along with "Tanjoubi wa Minus Ichi"(誕生日はマイナス1)and "Tori no You ni"(鳥のように), "Sunday Brunch" was another track on Kanako Wada's(和田加奈子)4th album, "KANA" from 1987. I was looking for another song in the Wada discography that had nothing to do with "Kimagure Orange Road"; not that I have anything against the anime or Wada's contributions to it at all. Some of her best work has enhanced the appreciation of KOR but I also want to show some of the fine stuff from her non-KOR list.

You would think with a title of "Sunday Brunch" that it would be a nice and relaxing ballad to be enjoyed with some tea and French toast. But actually, no. The song is an upbeat urban contemporary pop tune written by Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)and composed by Yuji Toriyama(鳥山雄司)about a woman getting together with that guy at a stylish restaurant for a bit of that titular meal with the sole purpose of whether the relationship can be upgraded or re-kindled. Maybe the lady will be staring more at him than her Eggs Benedict during the course of the brunch.

I really like that bass line and the cheerful lightheartedness in Wada's delivery. And I always welcome a well-placed harmonica. Perhaps it could have made for a nice addition in the KOR albums after all.

Ryuichi Sakamoto/Yellow Magic Orchestra -- The End of Asia

There was just a small clip of this song "The End of Asia" on "YMO Go Home!", one of Yellow Magic Orchestra's BEST compilations, so I didn't get a good feel for the song created by Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一). At the time, I had also acquired a VHS tape of the band's old music videos which included coverage of their tour through London, England, and although at the time I hadn't known it, "The End of Asia" was playing in the background.

I did want to get to know it better since it was the only song from YMO's early days that I hadn't really known. Getting down into the information, I found out that it was a track on Sakamoto's debut solo album, "Sen no Knife"(千のナイフ...Thousand Knives)from October 1978, so listening to it for the first time, "The End of Asia" just sounded like this pleasant little jaunt through various countries in the titular region whether it be Japan, China or Korea as related by a computer. There's a musical stroll through the town streets and then some breaks for lunch or tea.

Although "The End of Asia" was Sakamoto's baby, it was also played a fair bit at YMO concerts and would later find a place on the band's 4th album from June 1980, "Multiplies"(増殖). According to the J-Wiki article on the album, this version of "The End of Asia" had an even more Japanesque arrangement evoking "....images of the 53 Stations of the Tokaido and Hiroshige's Utagawa's ukiyo-e...". I'm not all that well versed in my Japanese art history but I didn't really pick up on any major differences in the arrangement between the YMO version and the original by Sakamoto. Still, both versions are fine with me and I'm glad that I could finally listen to the song.

Some very enterprising fellow decided to merge the two versions in the video above.

Keiko Masuda/Miyuki Nakajima -- Suzume (すずめ)

When it comes to the 70s duo Pink Lady, I'm always going to envision Mie and Kei as the high-energy pair wearing the snazzy get-ups and high-kicking choreography. It's hard for me to imagine the ladies as anyone otherwise. And yet, like anything else, all things had to come to an end and Pink Lady did so in 1981. However, although the entertainment entity known as Pink Lady was no more (at least, for several years), the women themselves continued with their own individual careers for sometime afterwards.

Mitsuyo Nemoto(根本美鶴代)stayed with her stage name of Mie(未唯mie)whereas Kei was now Keiko Masuda(増田けい子), and it didn't take too too long for either of them to get their first solo singles out. Less than 6 months after Pink Lady broke up in March 1981, Masuda released her debut single in November, "Suzume" (Sparrow) which was written and composed by Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき). According to J-Wiki's article on the song, when Pink Lady had watched Junko Sakurada(桜田淳子)perform "Shiawase Shibai" (also created by Nakajima) on a music show that they had both appeared on, Masuda remarked admiringly that she had always wanted to sing such a mature song.

Well, go ahead a few years later, and Masuda was now on the music shows by herself, sans sparkly outfit and sans frenetic dancing. She debuted as a solo act with a dramatically more melancholy ballad about a relationship that only seemed happy on the outside. I can't say her singing was the most polished but it did perhaps reflect the fragile state of the heroine in the unhappy affair.

"Suzume" broke the Top 10 by peaking at No. 9 and later becoming the 47th-ranked single for 1982. It was the most successful of Masuda's 10 singles, selling a little over 250,000 records. It was also a track on her debut album, "Hitori ga Suki"(ひとりが好き...I Like Being Alone).

(karaoke version)

Hearing Masuda's version, I thought I had heard it before. And as it turned out, I did hear it on Miyuki Nakajima's BEST compilation. As soon as I heard those pan flutes again in the intro, I remembered the song. I have to admit that I like Nakajima's self-cover better because of the arrangement and her own delivery, but there was no particular fragility or resignation with her own version although the melancholy was still there. The song was a track on Nakajima's 12th album, "Oironashi"(御色なおし...Change)which came out in April 1985 and hit No. 1. It ended up as the 18th-ranked album of the year.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Takashi Hosokawa -- Oenka, Ikimasu (応援歌、いきます)

In the first month or so after I get an enka/kayokyoku singer's yearly compilation album, I'd typically just listen to the handful of songs that made me want to purchase the CD, then leave the rest for later discovery on days where I feel rather adventurous or just plain bored or both. Yesterday was one of those days. I got pretty bored listening to the same songs ad nauseam (Kiyoshi Maekawa, George Yamamoto, Haruo Minami, etc.), then I realised that I hadn't touched my Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし) playlist in a while, and there were still a number of tracks out of the 16 from his 2015 compilation album I had yet to sample.

First one I picked was "Sado no Koi Uta" (佐渡の恋唄), which was decent, but it didn't make me any less bored. Next came "Oenka, Ikimasu", mostly because its title piqued my interest. Now this one finally got my lazy brain to start working again - Friday was a tiring day - since it was a lot faster in pace and more joyful than "Sado no Koi Uta". In terms of the music composed by Motoyoshi Iwasaki (岩崎元是), it seems to lean more to the genre of Pop than enka and, to me, it didn't sound like a song Hosokawa would sing, more specifically at the portions before the chorus. I actually kept envisioning a whole list of other enka singers who'd be a better fit for "Oenka, Ikimasu". However, with all the power-packed, Minyo-backed "Ah ah..." and "Ha...", I'd say Hosokawa made the song his own.

That Noh mask still makes my skin crawl...
While reading (and listening to) the lyrics penned by Shigesato Ito (糸井重里), one line that Hosokawa repeats a total of 7 times in the entire song managed to grab my attention:

Nama biru ga aru janai ka?

I think that translates to, "Is there any draught beer?" or, "Would you like some draught beer?" Either way, every time I hear it, I can't help but imagine Hosokawa starring in a Sapporo/Asahi beer commercial, wearing a sparkly suit with a bow tie - he looks weird with a necktie - and offering up a glass of the golden malt to the masses. Doing some research on "Oenka, Ikimasu" allowed me to find out that I wasn't too far off point in thinking that this cheerful tune would fit perfectly in a beer commercial since it did indeed star in one... not Sapporo or Asahi, but Kirin... Close enough!

On to the song's statistics. "Oenka, Ikimasu" was released on 1st May 1991 as Hosokawa's 38th single. The enka singer sang it twice on the Kohaku, in 1991, then only just last year in 2014, which was my first viewing of the year end competition. No wonder I found it so familiar, especially that "Nama biru" bit.

(Unfortunately, the karaoke video with Hosokawa has been taken down but here is another karaoke video.)

Here's the karaoke version with Hosokawa in it. In the later half when he faces the camera with that smile, it looks like he's in a beer commercial.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Kyoko Koizumi -- Adesugata Namida Musume (艶姿ナミダ娘)

In the last number of years, I've seen actress Kyoko Koizumi(小泉今日子)snark up the screen playing formidable suffer-no-fools-period executives or mothers, so that at times I have to refer to YouTube to remind myself that she was once one of the most popular 80s aidorus, albeit one with a bit more spunk to her.

A couple of nights ago, one commenter asked me about her 7th single, "Adesugata Namida Musume" (The Girl With The Alluring Tears) from November 1983. The title wasn't familiar to me since I wasn't as big a Kyon-Kyon fan as I have been of Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)and Akina Nakamori(中森明菜), but when I checked out YouTube, hearing the tune sparked off some memory cells. I must have seen Kyon-Kyon perform the song on old reruns of "The Best 10" or "The Top 10". And the commenter's indication of the lyric "Darling, darling, darling my love" as sung by her pretty much sealed the deal in terms of my old memories.

"Adesugata Namida Musume" may have been released late in 1983 but it does sound like a summer song with that burst of aidoru liveliness. Both lyricist Chinfa Kan(康珍化)and composer Koji Makaino(馬飼野康二)can be thanked for that. I think Kan's words rather helped Kyon-Kyon's delivery in giving that pop to the song and that imagery of a young lady whose lachrymal output could bring men to their knees. Meanwhile, Makaino provides a melody that starts off sounding a bit like a techno aidoru kayo but then also brings in that battery of horns which reminds me somewhat of Anri's(杏里)tunes at around the same time.

The song managed to peak at No. 3 on Oricon and later became the 48th-ranked song for 1984, selling approximately 350,000 records as one of the representative aidoru songs of the time. At the Japan Record Awards for 1983, though, "Adesugata Namida Musume" won Koizumi a Golden Aidoru Prize.

Hiroshi Wada & Mahina Stars -- Nakanaide (泣かないで)

Came back home from a driving rain today after a pretty hefty foodie session with some old friends in Chinatown and then some gourmet donuts at a place called Jelly. I no longer feel like donuts but I am currently feeling like a donut. Anyways, to get to the heart of the matter, I came home to see my parents watching TV Japan as usual, and the program was some concert special featuring the old kayo. Unfortunately, the special was in its last 10 minutes.

However, I was there to catch Hiroshi Wada & Mahina Stars(和田弘とマヒナスターズ), that venerable Hawaiian-tinged Mood Kayo band perform what was their debut single, "Nakanaide" (Don't Cry), from all the way back in August 1958. Amazing that it's well over half a century and the Stars are still at it. And I think the sound of that steel guitar is well embedded in my long-term memory since I used to hear that instrument being plucked away on the various old records played on the stereo; because my parents were also into American country & western at the time, the sound has been further implanted.

"Nakanaide" was written by Seiichi Ida(井田誠一)and composed by Tadashi Yoshida(吉田正). Original vocalist Naoki Matsudaira(松平直樹)sings as this fellow reassuring...or trying to reassure...this inconsolable woman that everything will be alright and that they have a good chance of meeting again the next night. Although the lyrics are not blatant about it, it seems that the guy may be a regular at some sort of hostess club in Ginza or Akasaka (the perfect setting for a Mood Kayo) and that the woman may be a hostess working there with the two of them...gosh darn it...complicating matters by ending up falling in love with each other. Of course, there are obstacles in the way, and as the song proceeds, it becomes apparent that the fellow is becoming less confident that there will be a happy ending to the affair. That last line in the refrain, "Ashita no ban mo aeru janai ka"(明日の晩も会えるじゃなか...We might see each other again tomorrow night, won't we?)sounds like a temporary-at-best salve. Ahhh...the trials and tribulations of love in the big city. May want to grab that bottle of Hakkaisan for an ochoko or two...or twenty.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Peanuts/Yukari Ito -- Suna ni Kieta Namida (砂に消えた涙)

I saw this performance not on this past week's "Kayo Concert" but the one the week before when the theme was on duets, so it was Yuuki Seguchi and Airi Suzuki(瀬口侑希・ 鈴木愛理)above (sorry, but that video has been taken down but here's Mieko Hirota's version) who performed this summery and sepia song titled "Suna ni Kieta Namida"(砂に消えた涙...Tears In The Sand). I found out from the introduction that it was originally done by The Peanuts.

So it wasn't too difficult to find the YouTube video with The Peanuts' performance of "Suna ni Kieta Namida" from 1965. It is vintage Peanuts but what I found interesting about the song was the arrangement since it sounded like the type of tune that Eiichi Ohtaki(大瀧詠一)and Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)would perform a decade or so later. As I mentioned earlier, there is a laid back and summery vibe to the song that brings to mind those old "Beach Blanket Bingo" and "Gidget" movies that I used to see on Sunday afternoons. Strangely enough, I couldn't find the song as a single release but perhaps it was inserted into one of their albums.

In the same year that The Peanuts released the song, singer Yukari Ito(伊東ゆかり)gave her own version of "Suna ni Kieta Namida". I actually like this version even more than The Peanuts' take since it's even more relaxing. Ito's velvety voice also helps in that regard. Kenji Sazanami(漣健児)provided the Japanese lyrics, but as you can hear on this version, Ito sings part of the song in Italian.

The reason for this was that the song had first been sung by legendary Italian songstress Mina in 1964. "Un buco nella sabbia" was the title which meant "Hole In The Sand". The original songwriters were Alberto Testa and Piero Soffici.

Well, I did mention Mariya Takeuchi, didn't I? Just by happenstance, I discovered this old video of her and Kaguyahime's Kousetsu Minami(南こうせつ)doing their own sweet duet of the song. Not sure how long this will stay up, so savor the moment.

Seatbelts -- Tank!

As I may have intimated in some of the other articles on anime theme songs, my interest in anime was revived only within the last few years...basically after I actually returned from Japan. All those 17 years I was living and working in the Kanto area, I really didn't touch the genre at all...except for viewings of "Chibi Maruko-chan" and "Sazae-san" on Sunday nights. The overarching reason is that I simply didn't have time. Being an English conversation teacher meant that I needed a full night's sleep and that didn't chime in with the scheduling of a lot of the good stuff which was in the really wee hours of the morning. Plus, my anime buddy told me that it was easier to be an anime fan outside of Japan rather than within the originating nation itself. Apparently, it still isn't too cool to be too public about being an anime fan despite all the festivals and the stores in Akihabara and Ikebukuro.

However, what I hadn't been aware of when I was a resident in Japan was that theme songs and excerpts of anime soundtracks were and are being used all the time to be provided as background music for variety shows or news program segments. In fact, just today on NHK's "Asaichi" morning show, the producers used an excerpt from the stage musical-worthy soundtrack of "Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii"(それでも世界は美しい...The World Is Still Beautiful), an anime that I had seen last year, as the BGM for the introduction of a venerable actress.

There was also another excerpt that I heard fairly frequently when I was watching the news and variety shows. It was a snazzy Big Band piece with some really tight horns that livened up any feature about heading out into some especially tony Tokyo neighbourhood or just any segment that needed something spicy and exciting. I didn't know anything about it except for the fact that it was cool-sounding, and it was only when I was back here in Toronto that I found out the piece was the theme song for the much-acclaimed anime "Cowboy Be-Bop", "Tank!". Another anime enthusiast and friend who used to come up to the apartment in Ichikawa from the wilds of Mie Prefecture for a visit used to tell me about this particular show, but aside from the title, I never cottoned on to it.

The above video contains the opening credits for "Cowboy Be-Bop" which first came out in 1998, and after having taking a look at it for the first time last night, I gotta say that those are some of the slickest opening credits I've ever seen for an anime. Now I know where "Space Dandy" got its inspiration. "Tank!" and the credits just seemed to have come out from an imagination fed on reruns of "Peter Gunn", the original "The Thomas Crown Affair" and any other ring-a-ding-ding spy caper from the 1960s. Henry Mancini would see this and smile sagely.

"Tank!" was created by composer and musician Yoko Kanno(菅野よう子), a name that I've seen a lot on various credits for other anime. and I had known she was involved with "Cowboy Be-Bop". She was also helping out with the spiritual descendant of the show, "Space Dandy", (including the arrangement of the ending theme, "X-Jigen e Yokoso") and was also behind the composition of the ballad in dedication of the recovery from the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake for NHK, "Hana wa Saku"(花は咲く...Flowers Will Bloom).

Kanno was also behind the formation of The Seatbelts, the ensemble responsible for the blast radius of jazz that makes up "Tank!". According to the Wikipedia write-up on the band through a fictional description in "Cowboy Be-Bop", the name supposedly "...derives from how the performers wear seatbelts to be safe while they play hardcore jam sessions." I think that could also be applied to the audience members.

All those years ago, I had thought that the song came from some sort of 60s caper flick...the sort which contained lines like "Headin' out on a heist, Johnny?" and scenes with plenty of dollars and dames surrounding Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Instead, it's from an anime near the end of the century. Who'da thunk?

When credits as iconic as those for "Cowboy Be-Bop" come along, I guess it's pretty much inevitable that parodies will arise. I was taking a look at the Internet meme database "Know Your Meme" and discovered those opening credits but with characters from another popular anime. It's really well done and I had a nice laugh, too.

I have already mentioned the legendary composer's name once, so I will finish things off here with Henry Mancini's version of "Sing, Sing, Sing". The famous swing piece created by Louis Prima and popularized by Benny Goodman used to be the go-to song in trailers for movies taking place in The Jazz Age, but Mancini's take was the very first version I got to know through my Dad's collection of standards. And when I listened to "Tank!", I was instantly reminded of "Sing, Sing, Sing". The latter may not be as constantly over-the-top as the former, at least not until the last several seconds, but I wouldn't mind calling Mancini's "Sing, Sing, Sing" a proud ancestor of one of the coolest anison I've heard.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Candies -- Hohoemigaeshi (微笑がえし)

Man, the things you can learn when doing a blog...

I was wondering which song to write about tonight when I decided to pull out the 1978 discs from the "Seishun Uta Nenkan"(青春歌年鑑)series, and second from the top on the CD 1 list was Candies'(キャンディーズ) "Hohoemigaeshi". Coming across a Candies' entry on the 1978 disc was a bit surprising since I had been under the impression that Ran, Su and Miki had already hung up their mikes a couple of years earlier, and the title didn't ring any bells. I had actually thought that there was a figurative baton passed between Candies and Pink Lady, but as it turned out, there was quite an overlap between their eras.

Then on listening to the song, I realized that it was something that I have heard a few times at least in the past. It was still the jaunty and perky Candies song, this time by composer Yusuke Hoguchi(穂口雄右),  that I was accustomed to hearing, but as it turned out, it was their 17th and final single from February 1978. And it's from here for the remainder of this paragraph that things get a little shaky in the telling since a number of statements in the source article in J-Wiki have been hit with the "citation required" tag. So, basically, this is not set in stone. Although Candies and their fans strongly consider "Hohoemigaeshi" as the final single, there was an 18th single which was released in November of the same year to supposedly great protest from the trio but the decision was made by higher-ups. And so, "Tsubasa"(つばさ...Wings)was released at the end of 1978.

But if indeed this was true, then I don't blame Candies and their fans one bit for their resentment at the recording company. "Hohoemigaeshi" has all the hallmarks of being the swan song of a trio which grabbed the hearts of fans hard for over half a decade. Lyricist Yoko Aki(阿木燿子)may have set her words to sound like the slightly sad but overall cheerful story of a young couple making their move to a new home, but there was so much crammed into Single No. 17 to not hint but pretty much bludgeon the listener into realizing that this was the end of an era. There are lyrical shoutouts to past Candies' hits such as "Heart no Ace ga Detekonai"(ハートのエースが出てこない)and the even more famous "Haru Ichiban"(春一番)that Aki incorporated as a gift to the fans according to radio personality ANNA on a 2009 bayfm show. And the title means Smiling Back....perhaps as the ladies walk off into kayo kyoku history. I don't think you can get more goodbye than that. The fans had known for several months that Candies would be breaking up but this song must have still stopped hearts.

The other surprise that I received in digging for information for "Hohoemigaeshi" is that for all of their famous past hits, this song was the one that got Candies their first...and last...No.1 on the charts. There probably wasn't a dry eye among Miki, Su and Ran on learning that. This would be the trio's most successful hit with close to a million records sold, and an eventual achievement of No. 5 in the 1978 Oricon annual charts. The song was also a track on their third and final live album, "Candies Final Carnival Plus One" which was released in May 1978. That album would also reach No. 1 and become the 35th-ranked release of the year.

Hibari Misora -- Ai San San (愛燦燦)

To commemorate Hibari Misora's (美空ひばり) passing 26 years ago, the "Kayo Concert" episode a couple of days ago had just featured some of this veteran singer's songs, and I enjoyed it a lot more than last year's one (my introduction to the show). I suppose it's because most of the guests on board were recognizable by yours truly, like Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし), Aki Yashiro (八代亜紀), Yoshimi Tendo (天童よしみ), etc. and I've already been exposed to the different sorts of enka/kayokyoku that Madam Misora had been known to cover in the past year. But I have to admit, there are still some of her hits that I have yet to be agreeable with, most notably, the heartbreaking and extremely melancholic "Kanashii Sake" (悲しい酒).

Anyway, Itsuki and Yashiro started the ball rolling with one of  Misora's tunes from later in her career in 1986, "Ai San San", and although Yashiro nailed the sadness in "Kanashii Sake" near the end of the show, I felt that her vocal delivery was a little out of place when she sang half of this before passing the baton on to Itsuki. And Mom, who's a pretty big fan of Misora by now (I'm genuinely surprised), was less than happy to hear this rendition. Tendo or Natsuko Godai (伍代夏子) would've been a better choice, in my opinion.

Now about the original, "Ai San San" is a really delicate song especially in terms of its music since most of it just has the acoustic guitar tinkling away, and the strings at the later part add elegance to it. I guess you could say that its kind of like Madam Misora, who seems to be singing each word with such deliberation in a voice bigger than herself. And it just reminds me of rainy days where the rain has slowed to a drizzle, and the sun rays are slowly streaming through the dark clouds. This, including its lyrics, was brought to you by singer-songwriter, Kei Ogura (小椋佳). I don't really understand "Ai San San" lyrics-wise, but so far, I'm able to fully agree with these lines:

Jinsei te Fushigi na mono desu ne                                          Life is a strange thing, isn't it?
Jinsei te Ureshii mono desu ne                                               Life is a happy thing, isn't it?

"Ai San San" did fairly alright on the charts, peaking at 69th place, and there have been quite a number of covers over the years. It was sung twice on the Kohaku, but not by Misora though. It was first sung by fellow Sannin Musume (三人娘... female version of Sannin no Kai) member, Izumi Yukimura (雪村いづみ) on the 40th Kohaku in 1989 in honor of the Queen of Kayokyoku. And then it was sung again many years later in 2007 during the 58th edition of the year end competition by Ogura with "Misora" - video version of her.

Here's Ogura's own take of "Ai San San". He actually sounds pretty good!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tokyo Jihen -- Sounan (遭難)

Where was I when I bought Tokyo Jihen's(東京事変) 2nd single from October 2004, "Sounan" (A Distress)? Strangely enough, I remember quite well where I was. It was another autumn Saturday afternoon in the dandy Omotesando district of Tokyo when I decided to check out a CD shop in the basement of Harajuku's LaForet shopping complex. There were a lot of far younger and hipper folks than me hanging about but I didn't feel too self-conscious since I've always been able to slip through the masses as a stealth gaijin all these years.

Anyways, I hadn't intended to buy "Sounan" and was still fuzzy about what had happened to the divine Ms. Ringo Shiina(椎名林檎). She made quite a splash when she debuted at the turn of the century and then took some time off to have a baby and then she came back with her own band, Tokyo Jihen (Tokyo Incidents). However, as I was browsing through the CD shop in the basement, the staff started to pipe the maxi-single/mini-album over the speakers, and after hearing all of the three tracks, it didn't take too much arm-twisting to shuck out the yen. Plus, the cover of her swooning while the band rescued her just seemed so appealingly Ringo and retro at the same time.

"Sounan" made quite an impression...not that I was surprised. Starting off with a guitar lick that came from "The Twilight Zone", Ringo just jumped in the convertible that was the song and decided to take a drive through the very neighbourhood I bought her CD, up through Shinjuku and make a slight detour into Asakusa...and very much ignoring the fact that there was afternoon traffic. As the title suggests, it's a pretty frantic ride, but Ringo is adamant to get to where she wants to go. Her vocal delivery was just like as it was back in "Muzai Moratorium"(無罪モラトリアム)with those interesting twists and turns. There may have been a band behind her but it still felt like the good ol' Ringo days.

The 2nd song, "Dynamite" was originally a Brenda Lee tune from 1957. I think there was an official music video to Ringo's version, and as soon as I heard it, I just thought, "OK, how far back into the time vaults did she go for this one?" I just imagined some sort of dangerous watering hole in Kansas City in the early half of the 20th century, and the very nonchalant Ringo handling herself with absolute aplomb there. I have to admit that I get quite a kick listening to her English as well as her famous growls. The video above also has "Dynamite".

A bit of a detour. Just for comparison's sake, here is Brenda Lee with "Dynamite". If that Wikipedia date of her birth is correct, she was only 13 years old when she exploded (no pun intended) with this song. Tom Glazer and Mort Garson were the songwriters here.

However, of the three songs on "Sounan", the one that finally got me to part with my cash was the final track, "Kokoro"(心). Although it is directly translated as "mind" or "soul", the Wikipedia article on the single stated that it "...was given the figurative translation "Spiritual" in English." with the source being at this page. Whatever the winning word is, I liked it since there was another retro feel to it but not of Showa Era kayo....there was more of that feeling of 1970s US radio music. Plus, I enjoyed that lush piano intro along with that jazziness during the instrumental bridge. Compared to the first two songs, "Kokoro" had that laidback air and Ringo was in a groovy mood. I have to admit that I listened to this one song back-to-back.

Aside from "Dynamite", the singer-songwriter took care of the other songs. The whole single got as high as No. 2.  I have yet to buy any further Tokyo Jihen albums or singles but with this particular one I purchased, I was definitely not feeling any sounan.

Akiko Kobayashi -- Kokoro no Honoo (こころの炎)

I heard about the sad passing of composer James Horner a few days ago. Although I'm always going to think that John Williams will be the Professor Emeritus for movie soundtracks, there are also people like Horner, Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer and Michael Giacchino as the A-Team in that area. As for Horner, he's also done so many movie scores for "Titanic", "Avatar", "Cocoon", "Aliens", etc. But for a Trekkie like me, he will always be the man who came out with the wonderful soundtrack for "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", still for me, the best of all of the Trek movies. Jerry Goldsmith's theme for "Star Trek: The Motion(less) Picture" may be the most popular song for the USS Enterprise, but Horner's score made for the best soundtrack (with Giacchino's score for the first J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" coming in fairly close).

Knowing Horner for so long as a music weaver for these epic movies, I was surprised to find out that he (along with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil) was also responsible for the soundtrack for the 1986 animated feature "An American Tail", and more notably, the composer for the theme song that can still get a lump into my throat at certain times, "Somewhere Out There" as sung by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram. As I remember it, the ballad was on some pretty heavy rotation on radio and TV when it was released to the masses.

Well, strangely enough, the time that "Somewhere Out There" was hitting the heights of popularity was also the time that I was hitting Wah Yueh for Japanese records and tapes. And being a head-over-heels Akiko Kobayashi(小林明子)fan at the time, I was happy to find out that my favourite store to feed my addiction was also pretty well stocked with Kobayashi albums. I actually bought an audiotape of one of her live concerts titled "In Concert ~ A Changing" from 1987, and found out that she did a cover of the Ronstadt/Ingram duet, under the title of "Kokoro no Honoo" (Heart Fire).

If I'm not mistaken, she actually did the same thing herself on stage with singer Jiro Sugita(杉田二郎). I will have to give that tape a listen again as long as it can still handle being played on the recorder. However, many years later, I was able to buy one of Kobayashi's BEST albums, "The Luxury of Life" which came out in 1990 which had the studio-recorded version of "Kokoro no Honoo". That is the version that she does solo. Not quite as epic or as heart-tugging as the original "Somewhere Out There", the arrangement has more of a Xmas-y bent to it and comes across as something that would be nice hearing while making that Yuletide dinner or wrapping the presents; the original version is very much something that almost has to be listened to. The Japanese lyrics, by the way, were provided by Ikki Matsumoto(松本一起).

Well, here is Horner's soundtrack to my favourite Trek flick. As soon as I saw the movie at the theatre (and I can still hear the thunderous cheers as the soundtrack played while the Enterprise and the Reliant were locked in battle, along with the sniffles when Spock died the first time), I made sure that I bought the original LP of the soundtrack.

And this is Horner's talk on how he made that soundtrack. Lost a great music maker this week.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Southern All Stars -- Furi Furi '65(フリフリ'65)

It's great that I could find a video for the old Saturday night Fuji-TV comedy-variety series known as "Yume de Aetara"(夢で逢えたら...A Sweet Nightmare) when it featured the Southern All Stars single "Furi Furi '65" (Twist '65) as the theme song. It was the first theme song that I remember from the show that starred comedy duos Downtown and Utchan-Nanchan, and comediennes Michiko Shimizu and Naoko Nozawa, and even had the band appear in the credits as well.

As that year in the title would suggest, Southern All Stars' 27th single brings in all those musical cues from the 1960s that had me thinking of go-go boots and twisting on the dance floor (despite the fact that for most of 1965, I was but a fetus). Heck, there are even some lyrical shoutouts to the Beatles and I had thought that the chorus was yelling "Mony Mony" like Tommy James & The Shondells, but it was actually "Let's furi furi". Still the 60s vibe was clear. It was too bad that Keisuke Kuwata(桑田佳祐)never got an official music video to the song. I would have loved to have seen him perform in front of a whole bunch of shimmy-shammying kids having fun on the floor just like in the old days of "American Bandstand".

Kuwata took care of the writing and composing duties. Released in November 1989, "Furi Furi '65" went Gold and got as high as No. 2 on the charts. By the end of 1990, it was the 72nd-ranked song of that year. 

There was another theme song to "Yume de Aetara" that I remembered quite well right here.

Hibari Misora -- Tokyo Kid (東京キッド)

Can't believe this is my first entry for the year 1950. I also can't believe it's been a year since I wrote a Hibari Misora(美空ひばり)article regarding the anniversary of her passing. For that one, it was on "Kanashiki Kuchibue"(悲しき口笛), the somewhat melancholy ballad featuring a 12-year-old Misora in that iconic tux and tails.

Well, tomorrow will be the 26th anniversary so of course, NHK's "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)did their tribute to the Grand Dame of Kayo Kyoku tonight via TV Japan, and one of the guests performed another really early Misora classic, "Tokyo Kid". Released in July 1950, just like "Kanashiki Kuchibue", this song was also created by Ko Fujiura and Tadashi Manjome(藤浦洸・万城目正), and there was a movie with the same title attached to it starring Misora which came out later that year in September.

Instead of the formal tux, though, the 13-year-old Misora was clad as a regular kid trying to make some yen (or sen) in the shoeshining business. And the kid sang something that was quite a bit more starry-eyed and hopeful. Listening to the song, I just thought that this would have been a song that perhaps a vaudeville moppet would have trilled a couple of decades earlier when the Great Depression occurred. The early years of the postwar era were uncertain ones for Japan but I think they were also ones in which people had some image of light at the end of that dark tunnel, and maybe "Tokyo Kid" and the Tokyo Kid were reflections of that feeling. I was especially drawn to that one line in the song: "Dreams in my right pocket, some chewing gum in my left pocket". I could imagine her looking optimistically up at the new buildings going up and determining that she'll be at the top of one of them someday.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Seiko Matsuda -- Himitsu no Hanazono (秘密の花園)

I had a commenter ask me about this song by Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), and I have to admit that I certainly took my sweet little time putting this one up considering it's one of the standout songs I first heard on the album, "Train" which I got down at Wah Yueh in the form of an old-fashioned LP back in the late 80s. I knew about "Rock N' Rouge" and "Akai Sweet Pea"(赤いスイートピー)of course but "Himitsu no Hanazono" (The Secret Flower Garden) was something new for me.

Now, at the time I purchased "Train", I was still only about 5 years into my blooming interest in Japanese popular music, so I didn't know about the fact that the album featured the best of Seiko's hits created by lyricist Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and composer Karuho Kureta(呉田軽穂), and it would literally be decades before I found out that Kureta was the pseudonym of one Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実). But I did know that the music on this BEST album was indeed some of Seiko-chan's finest.

The same goes for "Himitsu no Hanazono" which stood out to me for its seeming combination of a wonderland-like environment and a down-to-earth summer resort. The individual verses contain that melody of a princess' life in a castle in some unnamed European country while the refrain (Moonlight magic...) suddenly gets that beat and mellow trumpet which struck me as being Resort Pop. Then there is the instrumental bridge which just soars into this sophisticated dance party, complete with ballroom gowns. Whichever environment it is, though, there is that feeling of flying into that much-desired land away from gray office buildings and crowded subways.

Lyrically, Matsumoto's words could also belong in either real or fantastical universe. Is the protagonist a bored and spunky princess doing something sneaky with her chosen Prince Charming or is she a university student rebelling against Mom and taking off to Hakone with her secret boyfriend? Again, it was all good for me. "Himitsu no Hanazono" struck me as being a cut above the usual aidoru tune and maybe even a cut above a Matsumoto/Kureta collaboration.

The song originally came out on her 7th album, "Utopia" from June 1983, but had been released earlier as her 12th single in February. Considering the early 1980s were the heyday for the singer, it's not a surprise that it hit No. 1 on the charts but more significantly, it was her 10th consecutive No. 1 which set off a new record in that category, taking over for Pink Lady who had previously scored 9 consecutive No. 1s during their heyday. Her long record started all the way back in 1980 with her 3rd single, "Kaze wa Aki Iro"(風は秋色), and spanned all the way forward to her 26th single in 1988 with "Tabitachi wa Freesia"(旅立ちはフリージア). Maybe Pink Lady became Green (with envy) Lady. Going back to 1983, "Himitsu no Hanazono" was the 22nd-ranked song of the year.

Many years later, I also ended up purchasing "Train" the CD but found out that "Himitsu no Hanazono" wasn't included. Kinda sad since that song was one of the reasons that I had to get another version of the album. But fortunately, it has popped up on other releases.

Kiyoshi Maekawa -- Semete Konya dake wa/ Kokoro ni Kuchizuke te (せめて今夜だけは/心にくちづけて)

(cover version)

So far, "Semete Konya dake wa" is the most boisterous Mae-Kiyo song I've heard, and I enjoy it best with the volume cranked up. The sting of the electric guitar kicks start the song, and that is soon followed by trumpets and Kiyoshi Maekawa (前川清) when he had a stronger, more forceful voice, but it does have its mellower bits too in between the loud choruses. Listening to "Semete Konya dake wa" always makes me envision someone out on the town at night, exploring the bright city and its charms, doing so till the sun starts to rise where he then grabs a coffee to compliment the view. Hmm, that seems like pretty good idea to try out sometime.

Well, the lyrics for this track are were written by Shozo Ise (伊勢正三), who is a member of the Folk group Kaguyahime (かぐや姫) - pretty cool band name, if I don't say so myself. I had only taken a look at the lyrics while writing this article, and from what I understand, our lead fellow is intending to or is drunk in order to forget his sadness of not being able to see his lady again. Quite bitter, I must say, especially when it seemed to be a joyous tune music-wise (composed by Kazuo Wakiyama (脇山和夫)... I'm not sure on his surname).

Ari's version

Anyway, while I was looking for videos for the A-side of Maekawa's 34th single, I discovered that there is an earlier version of this song from 1990, sung by Kazuya Ari (有井和幸), also known as Keisuke Inoue (井上ケイスケ)... Frankly I'm not sure which name he goes by - or who he is exactly, could use some insight here - so I'll just use the former. Ari's version is not as raucous and his vocal delivery is laid-back, especially when compared to how intense Mae-Kiyo sounds. It doesn't really give me the same image as Maekawa's version either, it instead makes me think of the fellow cruising on a quiet highway and admiring the view.

Now, I'd like to talk about "Kokoro ni Kuchizuke te", the B-side to Maekawa's single.  I chanced upon "Kokoro ni Kuchizuke te" while I was checking out the abridged MV to Mae-Kiyo's newest release "Yume no Tonari" (夢の隣り). I was looking through the sidebar with his other performances and songs I've not listened to yet, so I decided to give one of those songs a go, and went with "Kokoro ni Kuchizuke te". It didn't disappoint, and when Mae-Kiyo sung that first sentence of the chorus, it reminded me of this one Chinese song I had taken a liking to when I was younger, which was why I accepted it quickly. Yup, I have no idea who sang it (may have seen who it is before but forgot) or what the title of that particular song is. All I know is that it is sung by a man and that it's quite a popular song back then... not very helpful, is it? Oh well. Noelle from 3/8/2015: I found the song! It's a Mandarin song called "Wen Bie" (吻別) by Canto-Pop star Jackey Cheung.

Coming back the main topic, "Kokoro ni Kuchizuke te" seems to have a hint of enka in it and is more relaxed than "Semete Konya dake wa" - I found out both came from the same single when I saw that picture of Maekawa (I... uh... kinda like it...) in the video above that looked similar to the A-side's cover - but the man himself still sings as intensely and the lyrics by Mami Takubo (田久保真見) have about the same level of bitterness. When I read the first paragraph/stanza, I actually went, "Hey, this seems like it's gonna be a happy one for once!" since it's literally describing a usual date scenario of the couple meeting each other at the bar at 8 for a drink. And then everything started to go down hill as something seemed to have went wrong with our loving pair and are now apart. I'm not sure if Mae-Kiyo is singing in the perspective of a man or a woman, but either one of them is trying to relive their bar rendezvous while missing the other dearly. Kazuya Amikura (網倉一也) had composed the song.

"Semete Konya dake wa" and "Kokoro ni Kuchizuke te" were released 1st January 2007, and it did fairly alright on the regular charts, peaking at 63rd place.

... Nice smile...

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Songs for Me 2

Up until a few minutes ago, I had been prepared to give an Author's Picks on "Psych-Up Songs"...those tunes that would give me that extra burst of energy and joy. But then I remembered that a scant few months earlier, I had already put up something very similar in the form of "Happy Songs for Me (for International Happiness Day)". In fact, there were a couple of songs that I was going to put up in this list that are already up in that other article. So I've just decided to go with the sequel formula here.

1. Minako Yoshida -- TOWN (1982)

When I'm about to undertake a major project, I take a dose of this and don't need to call the doctor in the morning. I realize that in all likelihood the committee planning the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo will assign one of the big songwriters to create a new tune to represent the city at the Opening Ceremonies, but if an oldie-but-goodie can be introduced during the entertainment phase on the opening day, this is the one song that I'd want....with 3D projection mapping of dancing Tokyo buildings! If Yoshida can't perform this, then I nominate Kahoru Kohiruimaki or Miwa Yoshida.

2. Junk Fujiyama -- Hoshikuzu no Pipeline (2014)

The perfect summer song that wasn't sung by Tatsuro Yamashita. And it provides me with a fine sense of catharsis as it did for the finale of that 6th episode of the anime "Space Dandy" when the sudden and happy scene of space surfing came out of the blue. When I finish a major project, this is the song that I would like to I walk off proudly into the sunset.

3. EPO -- Pay Day (1983)

Another epic and EPO-esque song of City Pop coolness. Striding down the main strip of either East or West Shinjuku as the sun is heading out would be the ideal setting for this one. I think it deserved a higher profile when it comes to the EPO discography but for the die-hard fans, it's probably a well-remembered entry in any event. And considering the title, perhaps it's also the tune reminiscent of past economic days of glory.

4. Yellow Magic Orchestra -- Rydeen (1980)

When I recently heard the fictional Kitaoji High School band perform "Rydeen" on the anime "Hibike Euphonium", my jaw dropped and my joy rose. Yep, even after 35 years, a brass band version of a technopop tune had me squeeing like a little boy. At the time I first heard "Rydeen" in its original computer glory, I had no idea that the electronic pitter-pats which introduced the songs actually represented horse hoof beats but I immediately "got"  the high-speed fun of the piece and was more than happy to ride on the YMO express.

5. Tatsuro Yamashita -- Loveland, Island (1982)

I really cannot afford to take luxurious trips to far-flung tropical least, not yet. However, "Loveland, Island" makes for a pleasant aural placebo...heck, a lot of Yamashita's summery works during the late 70s and early 80s would qualify but there is something about this particular song that just has me soaring off into the stratosphere over the Hawaiian coast. It's too bad that the original music video has been taken off the Net since it was fun to watch that supposedly old fellow bust a move like a pro...apparently that was none other than a disguised Noriyuki Higashiyama for 80s aidoru group Shonentai.

6. Kome Kome Club -- Abracadabra (1994)

The mission of Kome Kome Club has been to bring zany, colourful and fun music to all who will listen, and a lot of folks did. Probably a majority of them would place some of their other hits above "Abracadabra", but for me, it's in my Top 3 for K2C. As the title hints, it's just this magic carpet ride led by a master magician...if the magician were Beetlejuice as portrayed by leader Tatsuya Ishii. It's one of a few songs that can actually make me sweat.

7. Maki Ohguro -- Atsukunare (1996)

Referring to Minako Yoshida's "TOWN" at the very top of the list, Maki Ohguro's "Atsukunare" actually was one of the official songs for the 1996 Atlanta Games coverage by national broadcaster NHK. And yep, it did the right job in that it could get any couch potato such as yours truly pepped up enough to take on the planet. At least, it got me pepped up enough to get off the sofa and head over to the nearest CD shop to purchase the single.

But after writing this list down, I realized that although I will still call this "Happy Songs 2", all of the entries here indeed have that energy-building factor. It's not just the smile that has been put on my face but also that psyching-up feeling in my brain.

Senri Oe -- Girlfriend (ガールフレンド)

Hope all of you folks are enjoying a happy Father's Day whether you are receiving or giving the accolades today. Took my parents out for Sunday breakfast at a local branch of The Sunset Grill and I'll be grilling up steaks later tonight. In the meantime, I have time to devote to our beloved blog.

A few days ago, I discovered this sweet adorable song by singer-songwriter Senri Oe(大江千里)on YouTube. Actually, the video was of Oe and Mari Iijima(飯島真理)doing a joint performance of the song on a TV program back in the early 80s with Nobuyuki Shimizu's(清水信之)soulful electric guitar helping out. But the above video is for the original recorded song, "Girlfriend", which came out as Oe's 2nd single in August 1983. Written and composed by the singer, EPO is helping out in the refrain as Oe sings about that high school girl he craves. Hearing how the song goes, I could imagine high school student Oe staring and daydreaming about his object of affection surrounded in sparkles and fluffy clouds...before the teacher comes by and whacks him with the ruler. It's a pie-in-the-sky melody that would fit a fine sunny Sunday which it is today...nice way to start the summer.

There is that video of Oe and Iijima below. I like Shimizu's arrangement (and his apparent prowess in cloning himself) but I prefer EPO as the backup.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Teresa Teng -- Kuukou (空港)

Ahhh....parting is indeed sweet sorrow.

I think Teresa Teng's(テレサ・テン)2nd single, "Kuukou" (Airport), is filled with that sentiment. Originally released in July 1974, when I heard the song performed being performed by singers Kanji Ishimaru and Miyuki Hatakeyama on this past week's "Kayo Concert", that amazing trumpet that started things off jogged the old memory synapses. Yep, I've heard this one over the years whether it be through audiotape and old VHS tapes. I hadn't known who the original singer was, though.

Kosho Inomata(猪俣公章)was responsible for the bittersweet and classic melody and Michio Yamagami(山上路夫)took care of the lyrics about making those final goodbyes at the airport suffused with all of those feelings of "We'll always have Paris" and "Here's lookin' at you, kid". Listening to "Kuukou", I think it's kayo like these that give an extra meaning to the word "terminal" aside from it meaning an airport building. Then there are Teng's vocals which carry those tender, delicate and heartbroken emotions as she reflects that person who has to see off her lover one last time from the observation deck as he heads off for his hometown and his wife.

Just makes me want to get that drink at the terminal bar. Heck, I've got so many options now that Haneda Airport is chock-filled with places. Still, I'm not sure whether there is a drinking establishment over there facing outside which would capture the ambiance of "Kuukou". In any case, the song peaked at No. 29 on Oricon and earned Teng a Best Newcomer Prize at the Japan Record Awards for that year. I think the trumpet player should have also gotten a little something for that performance.

Yuji Ohno & Lupintic Five featuring Yoshie Nakano -- Lupin The 3rd (ルパン三世)

Well, ring-a-ding-ding to you folks!

I'm pretty convinced that the famed theme song for the anime "Lupin The 3rd" is one of those rare creations that cannot be ruined no matter what the arrangement (although I may grow a bit antsy at a heavy metal version).

And happily that record has held thanks to the man who created the song, Yuji Ohno(大野雄二), and his jazz group of the Lupintic Five with an updated version of "Lupin The 3rd". This take was a track on the May 2011 album "Yuji Ohno & Lupintic Five: Let's Dance", and it has a swinging 1960s jazz arrangement that would get the attention of Austin Powers and Don Draper. Brylcreem and martinis for all!

But what makes the song really sing here is the sexy and sultry vocals of Yoshie Nakano(中納良恵)from Ego-Wrappin'. She isn't merely singing to the audience but seducing it like a Japanese Brigitte Bardot for most of the song while unleashing her full volume at certain parts.

The above has Ohno and the Lupintic Six performing that same song, although without Nakano. It's a more standard but no less cool version.

Just in the last couple of months, Toronto has had a couple of visitations by Japanese pop artists: Babymetal and the lead singer of Kome Kome Club(米米クラブ), Tatsuya Ishii (although I'm not sure whether the latter came to sing specifically) just down the street from my place at the Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre. It's a pity that I missed them but if I ever hear of a one-night performance by Nakano somewhere in my burg, I am grabbing that ticket!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Teruo Ikeda -- Neon Bune (ネオン舟)

I really find it interesting that I immediately took a very strong liking to "Neon Bune" at first listen. It even made Ike-Teru one of my Top 6 favourite enka singers (his other songs contributed to that as well)! He's not within the Top 3 though, and if you've been paying attention, you'd probably know who are occupying those spots already.

Anyway, I had taken note of this quintessentially enka song when I read J-Canuck's article on it, but since I had no idea who Teruo Ikeda (池田輝郎) is, it did not cross my mind to play that song. However, on an episode of "Nippon no Uta" early this year - it's originally supposed to be on TV last year if I'm not wrong, but the NHK channel here is quite behind schedule - he was one of the 3 to perform on the "Kayo HOT Zensen" corner since "Neon Bune" did well on the regular charts (peaked at 24th place) Enka-yo charts, and I couldn't stop listening to it since. I can safely say that it's currently one of my most-listened-to enka songs, besides the multiple covers of and the original "Tabi Sugata Sannin Otoko" (旅姿三人男) and Yoshio Tabata's (田端義夫) "Otone Tsukiyo" (大利根月夜), just to name a few.

As to why I am amused by this, it's because I'm actually not a particular fan of this type of enka with a heavy atmosphere, I'd usually go for the more cheery, jaunty sort. And if the tune is sung by someone with the type nasally warbling used by Ikeda and some others like Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎), it'd take a while for me to accept it. So "Neon Bune" was a surprisingly rare exception. The full MV is on Dailymotion, you can check it out here.

Just like J-Canuck mentioned in his article, this song, though only released in 2014, sounds like it came from way back in the 70's, especially in terms of its music. Composed by Hideo Mizumori (水森英夫), what I like about the refined score is that it has some rather dramatic bits throughout. I seem to enjoy listening to "Neon Bune" most after tiring school days, it makes me imagine a white collar worker, probably more worn out than I am, drinking away at a quiet bar - it's too refined for me to picture a gruff fisherman after a tough day at work. Hmm, I should put listening to "Neon Bune" at an izakaya when I return to Japan as a new item on my bucket list. 2 items have already been crossed out: looking at moose, and gawking at American bison (at the Munich Zoo)... They are so BIG. Doesn't sound like much, but those are a couple of my favourite animals and they don't have them in Singapore - most likely too hot.

Moving on, Toshiya Niitani (仁井谷俊也) penned the lyrics to "Neon Bune", and they have Ike-Teru singing about our lead here drinking away his problems e.g. missing home, probably also missing the woman he loves, y'know, just some of the usual enka stuff.

Here's a video of Ike-Teru talking about his 8th single, and he even gives tips on how to sing it during a karaoke session, although I really didn't get that... or about half of what he's saying.