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.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Anri -- Windy Summer

I was writing about Miku Hatsune's(初音ミク)"City Pop" last night and made that reference to that small artistic movement called Vaporwave. Well, I wanted to get down another summer tune before July 2015 finishes up in a few hours, and then I thought about Anri's(杏里)6th album, "Timely!!" which is one of the classic Anri/Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)collaborations from the early 1980s.

Anri's big anime hit, "Cat's Eye" is the opening track but I also remember the 2nd track quite well, "Windy Summer". Having just had a bit of exposure to Vaporwave, I can probably tell fans of the genre that they can listen to this dynamic summery cone of musical ice cream to find out where the folks who came up with it got inspired. Basically, Kadomatsu can be considered to be one of the godfathers.

Indeed it was singer-songwriter Kadomatsu who came up with the music and lyrics for this example of the Resort Pop subset of City Pop. The horns, the backup singers and the Jake Concepcion sax solo weave that picture of a chaise lounge by the Pacific seashore next to the beach umbrella and table with the cocktail on top. I also enjoyed the way Anri stretches out the title in the refrain "Here we are! Windy Summmmmmmer" (although the liner notes have it transcribed as "Here we're Windy Summer!!").

The trio of Anri, Yumi Yoshimoto and Yasuharu Ogura made a great trio during the late 80s and early 90s with their brand of American-style R&B, but I also have quite the affection for the work of the Anri/Kadomatsu pair.

Kiyoshi Maekawa -- Himawari (ひまわり)

I think he'd have looked better in a darker suit...

Most of what I consider to be "Summer songs" would ordinarily give me the image of soft sand beaches with the blue waters of the lagoon lazily lapping against the shore or, depending on the tune, eager surfers dudes, surf boards in hand... arm... dashing towards the large waves that would soon swallow them whole...Watch out for sharks! The latter would more often than not be derived from Yuzo Kayama's (加山雄三) discography. I can just imagine him in his Wakadaisho-movie days gliding across the surface of the sea on his board. But both of the aforementioned scenarios don't apply to Kiyoshi Maekawa's (前川清) "Himawari". Rather than the sand and the surf and tanned surfers, I think of the strong afternoon sun shining down on to rolling fields crowded with bright yellow sunflowers swaying away in the warm, gentle breeze. Actually, there is this old Oregon photo book that my parents have (they got it as a gift from friends there) that has got a picture similar to what I described above. I just love leafing through that book as it boasts the state's natural beauty.

The photo was taken by Ray Atkeson
from "Oregon III", "Cascade Range" section.
Anyway, written and composed by the popular singer-songwriter, Masaharu Fukuyama, who hails from Nagasaki as well, "Himawari" gives out this really relaxed and, in my opinion, lazy-weekend vibe with its slow yet cozy pace and Mae-Kiyo's deep, slightly husky delivery. Although it isn't one of my top favourite tunes from the veteran singer due to its length, clocking in at almost 6 minutes - I have gotten used to the briefness of most kayokyoku - and its lullaby-like music, I do appreciate it from time to time on bright, clear days with the scenery from the car or train carriage whipping by. The video below has Fukuyama's version, which is gentler and more deconstructed compared to the one he put together for Maekawa. He kinda sounds like a combination of ASKA and Keisuke Kuwata (桑田佳祐), if you ask me.

"Himawari" was released in June 2002 as Mae-Kiyo's 24th single, and by far, it his only solo single to break into the top 20 on the Oricon charts, peaking at 13th place, if I'm not wrong. He also sang "Himawari" once during his 12th appearance on the Kohaku on the same year.

(The "Kayo Concert" video was taken down but 
here is another performance by Maekawa.)

As for the video here, it was from a "Kayo Concert" episode last August, and it happened to be the first time I caught Mae-Kiyo performing on TV. Needless to say, I was... delighted. Ecstatic. On cloud nine.

Yup, that's the very expression that
sums up "Himawari" perfectly.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Miku Hatsune -- City Pop (シティポップ)

As probably a lot of the readers of the blog know, I have put in a number of Miku Hatsune(初音ミク)covers of other much older songs (everything from YMO to Ruiko Kurahashi) when the opportunity presents itself although I know that the prime Vocaloid has sung original material in the past.

However, I encountered this new original song by Hatsune that came out just a couple of weeks ago (July 2015), and it's kinda stuck to my brain right now. Titled "City Pop", it has that usual techno touch and the familiar Hatsune vocals but the melody (and lyrics) by Tama(たま)seems to be filtered through a jaunty City Pop atmosphere (or perhaps Vaporwave might be more accurate) complete with rousing electric guitar solo. In any case, it's a short-but-sweet-but-fun song, and I was somewhat amused by this artificial persona trying to gut out a day in the big city. We've all been there, Miku, especially when we are from Tokyo heading home on a blistering hot night.

Good ol' Shibuya

Shizuka Kudo -- Again

Not being a supremely huge fan of Shizuka Kudo(工藤静香), I can probably say that I have heard this song, "Again", on some of the old retrospectives or on reruns of "The Best 10". This was her 2nd single from December 1987, and as with her debut outing, "Kindan no Telepathy"(禁断のテレパシー), the creators of the song were Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康)and Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利).

I'm not sure if it would be accurate to say that there was a "Kudo sound" since I'm not totally well-versed in her discography, but it seems that a number of her early singles at least had that steady balance of rock guitar and fast-paced synths (perhaps with the exception of her 3rd single "Daite Kuretara Iinoni " which sounded a bit more 50s to me). As soon as I heard "Again"...again...I just thought, "Yep, that's a Shizuka song alright". Perhaps it's also Shizuka's distinctive voice.

Lyrically, the song has all the makings of a typical 2-hour suspense program as the heroine tries to disavow herself of a romance with a dangerous fellow although her heart still isn't quite convinced it's time to go. I can only jokingly imagine if Kudo and her hubby, Takuya Kimura(木村拓哉), would have ever dramatized the song through some 12-episode series. In any case, "Again" managed to peak at No. 3 and became the 53rd-ranked song for 1988.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sing Like Talking -- Perfect Love

Sing Like Talking's "Perfect Love" is the final track from the band's 8th album, "Discovery" for which I already went into some detail a few years back. As I mentioned for that article, it was by pure blissful accident that I ended up buying the album, and as I continued to listen to my "mistaken" purchase, I realized that I had a keeper on my hands. "Discovery" has a potpourri of songs which are jazzy, spacey, funky and just plain cool. I now think that the album title was very well-placed.

"Perfect Love" seems to be the logical antithesis of the opening track for "Discovery", "Subarashii Yume no Naka de" (which is featured on the article for the album). That opening song was pretty experimental and had that daytime vibe. The nighttime final track also has, to a lesser extent, that same sort of vibe with the quiet groovy jazziness mixed in with an orchestra that seems to be channeling John Williams at times. It doesn't quite work completely but it makes for a nice enough finish for "Discovery" and vocalist Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善)does his usual fine crooning.

m-flo loves Emi Hinouchi & Ryohei -- Summer Time Love

For those who love summer time here, they are certainly getting it now. I wouldn't mind frolicking about with those folks from m-flo in the above video but I don't think I quite pass the beauty index or the waist size conditions.

In any case, I do remember watching this video for m-flo's June 2006 20th single, "Summer Time Love" a fair bit on the music stations around 10 years ago, and what better choice for a summer article than this one. When it comes to the "m-flo loves..." series, I've known some of the folks helping out the DJ such as Bonnie Pink and Chara, but there are also these other hip folks that I had never heard of and for that matter, haven't heard since.

This time, it's Osaka-born urban singer-songwriter Emi Hinouchi(日之内絵美)and Kyoto-born singer-producer Ryohei who m-flo loves this time helping out in the writing and performing of this tune which is bursting with the atmosphere of an island paradise. It's kinda weird saying this considering that this was produced less than a decade ago, but the music sounds so natsukashii since I haven't heard this sort of retro-disco portion of J-R&B that I often heard from bird and Misia in recent years. I wouldn't mind hearing a revival (neo-retro-disco?) again someday.

"Summer Time Love" made it as high as No. 12 on Oricon and got onto m-flo's 5th album, "Cosmicolor" from March 2007 which peaked at No. 3.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Michiru Jo -- Iruka ni Notta Shonen (イルカにのった少年)

It's Tuesday night, so of course it was another night for NHK's "Kayo Concert" on Japan TV. The theme was the summer and the sea, so some of the oldies-but-goodies such as "Miserarete"(魅せられて)by Judy Ongg and "Juu-Nana Sai"(17才)by Ai Nishida (originally by Saori Minami) were performed on the stage. But there was also the live location shoot at a marine resort where a middle-aged fellow performed his song with the background of flipping dolphins.

To be honest, I had never of the fellow, Michiru Jo(城みちる), before. But he made quite the splash (oops) when he debuted as a 16-year-old aidoru. When I saw the video above, I couldn't quite tell whether Michiru was a guy or a gal (so it was lucky that I got to see him as the older fellow tonight), but his team certainly made him look like quite the fop back in the early 70s. His debut song was "Iruka ni Notta Shonen" (Boy on a Dolphin) from December 1973. Just from how the tune sounded, I had wondered if it had been the theme song for an anime or a tokusatsu but it was actually just a plain single whose title was settled by the president of Jo's entertainment company, Jun Nagara(長良じゅん), since he was a big fan of a movie titled "Chinbotsusen Senshu no Iruka ni Notta Shonen no Zou"(沈没船船首のイルカに乗った少年の像...The Statue of A Boy On A Dolphin On The Sunken Ship's Bow). In any case, the song has that heroic beat to it, and in a way, it reminds me of an early Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ)entry as well.

Written by Satomi Sugi(杉さとみ)and composed by Shosuke Ichikawa(市川昭介)under his pen name of Akira Hayashi(林あきら), "Iruka ni Notta Shonen" became a huge hit for Jo, selling half a million records although I couldn't find out how high it went on Oricon. Some 3 years and 10 singles later, Jo decided to take a break from show business for about a decade to help out his family and get some post-secondary education under his belt, but then returned in the mid-80s as a tarento.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Momoe Yamaguchi -- Yume Saki Annainin (夢先案内人)

Wow, I did not see this coming! I never thought I'd see the day where I've come to like a Momoe Yamaguchi (山口百恵) song, and yet here I am sharing "Yume Saki Annainin" with you guys. I don't dislike her, if that's what you're thinking. I just somehow tend overlook Yamaguchi most of the time, which is quite ironic since she had an enormous presence in the 70's Pop idol scene. But it may have been just that, and the fact that the 70's had lot's of good enka, Mood Kayo and kayokyoku that made me not bother to pay attention to her.

As to how I stumbled upon "Yume Saki Annainin", I managed to find an episode of "Music Fair" that aired early this year featuring Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし), Ayako Fuji (藤あや子), and Kaori Kozai (香西かおり). The first segment had them singing Pop songs, starting out with Hosokawa rockin' out to "Julia no Heartbreak" (ジュリアに傷心) with the ladies (he's just so cool when he sings it!), it was then followed by Fuji's crooning of the forlorn ballad "Love is Over". To wrap things up, Kozai sung "Yume Saki Annainin" with the other two chiming in. It wasn't something I was familiar with, but I took a liking to its summery music quickly. I couldn't make out the name of the song as the title was all Kanji. Luckily, there were two huge clues given in the form of the songwriters' names: Yoko Aki (阿木燿子) and Ryudo Uzaki (宇崎竜童).

When I saw that the husband and wife duo were behind "Yume Saki Annainin", my mind immediately went to Yamaguchi since many of her singles were put together by the couple. But comparing some of Yamaguchi's hits I've heard from medleys to what Kozai had picked, a few question marks popped up in my mind. To me, this tune came across as something more on the line of kayokyoku... y'know, not something Pop idols sing, especially not one whom I've known for singing more aggressive stuff. Checking out Aki's repertoire on her J-Wiki page proved that it's indeed one of the stoic lady's singles, and a successful one to boot, peaking at 1st place on the Oricon weeklies and settling at 21st place by the end of 1977.

Aw, they look so cute together...

Despite the doubts I had, listening to the original finally made me relent. In fact (I still can't believe I'm saying this), I actually prefer it to the enka singers' rendition. Well, so much for the stigma I have about Pop idols. Yamaguchi's deep vocals gave the song a comfortable, laid-back feel to it, and together with the relaxing music that has an edge to it, the image of our protagonist having a whale of a time under the stars with her special one during a date comes to mind. Apparently, Aki's lyrics talk about the her wishing to ride on a gondola with the guy - got the meaning from J-Canuck's earlier article.

Anyway, as I've said somewhere up there, "Yume Saki Annainin" was well received, becoming her 4th number 1 single. And it allowed Yamaguchi to bag the bronze award and the Golden... um... Canary (?... カナリ) award at the 6th Japan Music Festival on the year it was released. The song was covered a number of times, most notably by Akina Nakamori (中森明菜), and of course, Kozai.

Carl Anderson -- Pieces of a Heart

Nope, this is not a Japanese artist here. However, I loved this song which was featured on an old Parliament cigarette commercial. I have a feeling that this was often shown during Fuji-TV's "Music Fair" which would fit the classiness of that show, and although of course I watched the show, I would also be looking forward to catching this ad featuring the beautiful people tripping the light fantastic at an urban soiree. I ended up falling in love with San Francisco at night because of the ad.

Well, after watching the commercial over several weeks and digging through the CDs at the local stores in Gunma and Tokyo, I finally discovered that the song was titled "Pieces of a Heart" and the singer was the late Carl Anderson. I did indeed track down the CD single and bought it. The ballad was released in 1990, and it's just that sort of slow song that is best listened to in the late hours while nursing a Bailey's from a balcony looking down at the city below. As it affects me, the commercial failed in getting me to buy a pack of Parliaments (never got into the habit), but I was more than happy for the musical accompaniment.

Taeko Ohnuki -- Metropolitan Museum (メトロポリタン美術館)

Man, is this gonna be a hot week! Looks like Toronto is finally going to relate to what much of Japan has been enduring this summer. 36-degree Humidex today and it's only going to get worse until about Thursday. I do have the fan running behind me as I write and my parents have got the AC going full blast in the living room. These are the times when I think about the existence of any places outside my home that I can escape into to cool down....and save money on the electricity bill.

Along with shopping malls, my memory goes back to last October when I had that trip to Japan. It ended up that a few of us decided to take a look through the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park. It is climate-controlled so it would be the perfect place for a lot of folks trying to beat the heat outside. Mind you, I was a little hesitant about being in Ueno Park at all since there were a few months when the local government closed off several parks due to the incidence of dengue fever transmitted through mosquitoes.

It's not the smoothest segue into today's song, but there aren't a whole lot of kayo kyoku with hakubutsukan or its English translation of "museum". In fact, the only one I know is by Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)who whipped up this cute waltz-like number titled "Metropolitan Museum" in 1984 as a contribution to NHK's "Minna no Uta"(みんなのうた...Songs for All)program of children's songs.

As the video shows (sorry it's been taken down), the music has got that toy shop innocence about it as Ohnuki cheerfully wonders whether that angel hanging around in the museum could use some socks since the place can get a bit drafty at night (I could use a bit of drafty right now) and whether the sleeping pharaoh could use an alarm clock to wake up after 5,000 years of sleep. I think for those folks who loved the Ben Stiller movie "Night at the Museum", this could have been the ideal tune for the Japanese release.

(a jazz version)

"Metropolitan Museum" is also on Ohnuki's 10th album, "Comin' Soon" from March 1986, but I first heard it on one of the singer's BEST compilations. I have never considered myself a museum aficionado but on days like these, I wouldn't mind admiring items like the Mona Lisa or a skeleton of a T Rex in air-conditioned comfort.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Fantastic Plastic Machine -- Steppin' Out

Just some months after my summer 1981 trip to Japan as a high school student, I was just walking around The (Hudson) Bay department store in my neighbourhood (it is still there) when I heard this song over the speakers. It had this good fast beat to it with this feeling of painting the town red. I was automatically drawn to it and so I walked over to the record section at the north end of the store (yep, The Bay actually sold records and tapes even in the boonies way back then).

The song was "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson who I had used to see as this angry New Waver stomping on the piano. But when I saw the video for the song, he looked very urbane in his tux as he sang about his time in The Big Apple. And what better place to step out than in Manhattan? I also liked the album cover for "Night and Day" which had the song as one of its tracks. Very classy.

Several years later, I was well into my Ichikawa stint in Japan, and one night, a few of us got together at a friend's apartment in neighbouring Urayasu (right by Tokyo Disneyland). My friend was not a J-Pop fan by any means but he did enjoy some of the more eclectic and alternative stuff, and that included Fantastic Plastic Machine. As we were all gabbing away in his living room, I suddenly heard a bossa nova version of the already fine "Steppin' Out" playing on his CD player. After doing a quick check of the album covers, it turned out it was indeed FPM behind this more lounge-y and comfy cover. With the bossa rhythm and the synths, I was surprised that it didn't get onto the soundtrack for Steven Soderbergh's version of "Ocean's Eleven" in 2001. However, I think it has made its way onto the background music segments in a number of Japanese variety shows over the years...usually when the topic is of cool relaxing restaurants for the young and hip in Tokyo.

"Steppin' Out" is a track on FPM's debut album, "The Fantastic Plastic Machine" which came out in October 1997. I've already written on a couple of other tracks, "Bachelor Pad" and "Dear Mr. Salesman". Although I never bought the album in Japan, I was able to get my own copy of it, thanks to an old friend here in Toronto.

Ginza's Wako Tower

The Joe Jackson original may have been about the bright lights and big city of New York, but there's also something pretty electric about stepping out into the various areas of downtown Tokyo. I couldn't afford to enter a majority of the happening places in The Big Sushi, but even walking around areas like Ginza, Shinjuku and Akasaka was fine walking entertainment for this old veteran.

Deep in Shibuya

EPO -- Asphalt/Hitori (アスファルト・ひとり)

(cover version)

"I love the nightlife, I love to boogie..."

Yep, good ol' Alicia Bridges with "I Love The Nightlife". I used to hear this song all the time on those K-Tel disco record commercials on TV. And it's what I get reminded of when I listen to EPO's "Asphalt/Hitori".

The song is a track on EPO's debut album, "Downtown" which has the famous title track and another EPO favourite, "Nichiyou wa Bell ga Naru Mae ni "(日曜はベルが鳴る前に). The singer-songwriter was behind the lyrics and music, but it almost sounds like someone else's prototypical City Pop melody grafted onto EPO's lyrics. Perhaps it might be difficult for someone who is not well versed in the singer's discography to understand, but although I've always regarded her as one of the princesses of City Pop, there was a certain EPO whimsy inserted that set her creations apart from the usual urban contemporary melody. However, this song is straight into discoville. Not that I have anything against it all; I do enjoy it but it just seems different.

As I was reading the liner notes for "Downtown" the album, EPO gave her thoughts on each of the tracks, and for "Asphalt/Hitori" (Asphalt/Alone), she said that she based the song on a true incident in her high school life (which would probably have been a few years before the release of the album) when her boyfriend at that time had to suddenly head off back to Osaka for several months with the teenaged Eiko Sato(佐藤榮子)mulling over those complicated emotions of being left alone. However, with the disco feeling of the song, I think the protagonist was probably fully into her twenties. Well, she can always follow Alicia's advice and hit the dance floor. And to be honest, considering the idea behind the song, it really sounds quite celebratory.

The streets of West Shinjuku.
When I think of EPO, I always think of here.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Flipper's Guitar -- Koi to Machine Gun (恋とマシンガン)

Back when I first heard about the Shibuya-kei duo of Flipper's Guitar in my Gunma days, they were very much a group that I only saw and heard on the late-night "MTV Japan" show. And along with "Friends Again", their debut single, there was one other video whose title I didn't catch which had Keigo Oyamada and Kenji Ozawa(小山田圭吾・小沢健二)quickly skipping about Paris with the song beginning with an old-fashioned scatting intro that I have heard a number of times on Japanese TV. For some reason, I couldn't find the video with that scatting back then, which was actually sampled from the theme song of the 1965 Italian movie "Seven Golden Men".

However, I got lucky tonight and finally tracked it down on YouTube. It was their 2nd single from May 1990, "Koi to Machine Gun" (Love and Machine Guns) which also has the English title of "Young, Alive, In Love". And the one sentence I can use to describe it and the video is "Those jaunty Japanese dudes dashing about in Gay Paree!" The song makes for a great musical companion for Keigo and Kenji running through the City of Lights. There's something very sparkly and fresh about "Koi to Machine Gun" that had me thinking that this would be the theme for Flipper's Guitar.

Not sure how "Koi to Machine Gun" did on the Oricon charts...perhaps it and Flipper's Guitar in general were just a little too hip to get too high there.  However, it did indeed find popularity on the telly as a catchy jazzy tune that would perk up the audience. It was used in a Nissan commercial, a TBS wide show as the theme song, and even for a TBS drama (as shown above) called "Yobiko Boogie"(予備校ブギ...Prep School Boogie)featuring some cool slacker students (I think one of them ended up becoming a cop in an old coat some years later). And I think that's what the charm is about "Koi to Machine Gun"/"Young, Alive, In Love", it is the perfect theme for those young turks just having fun about the town and getting into all sorts of trouble. The song was also a track on Flipper's Guitar's 2nd album, "Camera Talk" from September 1990.

And once again, the cover vocal stylings of Miku Hatsune(初音ミク).

Life on the Ginza!

P.S. Here is the theme song for "Seven Golden Men".

Perfume -- Linear Motor Girl

Although I've loved some of the Pixar films such as "The Incredibles" and "Toy Story", I never had much interest in the two "Cars" movies. But in my last several months in Japan, I did hear a fair bit of excitement in the Japanese media regarding "Cars II" since "Polyrhythm" by Perfume was going to be featured in the movie somehow. I saw the clip on YouTube where the cars got into Tokyo and "Polyrhythm" was playing as background music, and it was perfectly fine. However, just in terms of the title, I kinda wondered whether "Linear Motor Girl" would have been even more appropriate.

My anime buddy was kind enough to give me a copy of "Perfume - Complete Best" from 2006 which included "Linear Motor Girl". When I listened to it for the first time, I hadn't known anything about it, and just assumed it was part and parcel of Perfume's heyday when "Polyrhythm" came out. Actually, it was Perfume's debut single under a major label, Tokuma Japan Communications, coming out in September 2005. It was another peppy tune by the ladies that helped me get through part of the usual slog of translation work.

Listening to the song for the first time didn't key me into the fact that this was the beginning of the trio as a major act, but when I saw the official music video above, I just thought that things seemed a bit different, probably because of the different appearance of one of the trio and the partially hiccupy choreography.

"Linear Motor Girl" was composed and arranged by Yasutaka Nakata(中田ヤスタカ)and written by Kinoko(木の子). One of the other startling things I found out about it was that it got no higher than No. 99 on Oricon with about 2,600 copies sold. Of course, this was just the beginning of many better things to come for Perfume.

If I'm not mistaken, this is Shimbashi.

Friday, July 24, 2015

PSY-S -- Parachute Limit

I was having a nice conversation with a fellow PSY-S fan by the name of Skye Tronn the other day when I realized that it was time to put up another song by the unique band. Well, I'm gonna go with "Parachute Limit" which was their 9th single from October 1988.

I did not know that there was an actual music video that went with "Parachute Limit", so I'm indebted to my commenter since it was indeed Skye that found the video. I first came across the song on PSY-S' BEST album, "Two Hearts" from 1991. Composed by Masaya Matsuura(松浦雅也)and written by Seira Asakura(あさくらせいら), I'm unsure what the inspiration was for the title, but it is a soaring tune that doesn't let up for a minute, powered by CHAKA's blockbuster vocals.

The lyrics are quite imaginative as well: cellophane skies, glass deserts and gold & silver trees. I wonder if Asakura was thinking about Gallifrey when he/she was coming up with the lyrics, but the gist of the song seems to be a couple trying to have as much fun as possible as quickly as possible before gravity-laden reality sets in. Unlike the title, I don't think these kids want parachutes.

Not quite sure whether "Parachute Limit" was ever a theme song for an anime but I wouldn't be surprised if it had been so. It would make for quite the heroic and inspirational theme for the main character. Along with the relentless melody, I simply love CHAKA's delivery of the lyrics and the slight echo during the refrain which makes me think of that couple finally escaping gravity (and the bad guys) and heading into space.

I may have found "Parachute Limit" on a BEST album, but the song was originally on PSY-S' 4th album, "Non-Fiction" also from 1988.

Kimiko Kasai -- Vibration

I guess I've been doing quite a few articles based on albums and singles from 1977 this week. However, I just had to add this one as well concerning former jazz singer Kimiko Kasai(笠井紀美子)since I finally got her album "Tokyo Special" in the mail today. It took several weeks for it to arrive since there was a sticking point with the other album that I had ordered with it...a compilation of techno kayo that would never come since the originating company eventually stated that there wasn't enough interest to make it worthwhile to print another batch of the CD. C'est dommage! However, the funny thing was that the postman who usually called me up at the security door must have arrived while I was out getting the paper at the nearby convenience store. He ended up literally squeezing the package with Ms. Kasai in it into the family mailbox. I had to do some emergency surgery with a box cutter to extract the CD!

No matter....I was just happy to get "Tokyo Special" intact. I got the CD initially because of the ballad "Natsu no Hajime no Image"(夏の初めのイメージ)that is Track 3. Now, I've got the whole kit and kaboodle, and it was nice to hear this alternately relaxing and funky album on a hot Friday afternoon. The first track is "Vibration" which is this funky entry that has Kasai putting on a bit of a sultry cat of a performance evoking images of the hot summer streets of the city. Dang, for a jazz singer, she could really strut on those old platform shoes.

"Vibration", which also has the alternate title of "Love Selebration" (that's exactly how it was spelled on the album), has some fine pedigree behind it. Prolific lyricist Kazumi Yasui(安井かずみ)provided the words; in fact, she was responsible for writing for all of the tracks on "Tokyo Special". And none other than Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)gave the groove to the melody.

Ebisu Garden Place

Minoru Obata -- Nagasaki no Zabon Uri (長崎のザボン売り)

That skit by The Drifters (ザ・ドリフターズ) in the clip above was one of the first I've watched from the comedy group, and it's also one of my favourites. This sketch has the 5 fellas doing a parody of what normally goes on during NHK's "Nodojiman", and despite some purposely made inaccuracies for laughs and how ridiculously idiotic it got, it was a great introduction to the singing competition for yours truly... although it did made me anticipate the ringing of the bells immediately after the contestants opened their mouths when I actually tuned in to the real deal on TV for the first time last year.

Anyway, since the skit featured "Nodojiman" in post-war Japan, our four contestants, played by Boo Takagi (高木ブー ), Ken Shimura (志村けん), Koji Nakamoto (仲本工事), and Cha Kato (加藤茶) respectively, all "sang" some really, really, old kayokyoku, or should I say, ryukoka. And out of all the 1/10ths of a song I've heard, I took a liking to the one Takagi's character had attempted to sing, "Nagasaki no Zabon Uri" as it had a rather cheerful start and I easily understood those few words he belted out, that being, "Kane ga naru naru" (the bells are ringing), right before his time in the limelight came to an abrupt halt when our pretentious and faux courteous MC and bell-ringer, played by Chosuke Ikariya (いかりや長介), appropriately struck the bell once... ...Now you know why I had the impression that the contestants would only survive about 5 seconds on stage.

Now, on to "Nagasaki no Zabon Uri". It did not occur to me to look for information regarding this song, I suppose it's because I was just satisfied hearing that one line or less from that Drifter's skit. In fact, it was only just this Wednesday when I re-watched the video for the nth time that the curiosity of finding out the original singer of "Nagasaki no Zabon Uri" got to me. I found it rather quickly after copying and pasting the Japanese characters for "Nagasaki" and "no" in the YouTube search bar, and I immediately recognized the name of the original singer as I skimmed through the results. He was Minoru Obata (小畑実). I got to know this native of North Korea via a medley of ryukoka that featured Batayan and Dick Mine - the number of times I hit repeat on that video is astronomical - and he seemed like a rather jolly fellow with his face beaming and all as he warbled in a very nasally voice.

Obata had that same merry manner as he sung "Nagasaki no Zabon Uri", an upbeat and jaunty tune about selling pomelo fruits (that's what a "Zabon" is) at the Nagasaki harbor. The music, composed by Obata's mentor, Yoshi Eguchi (江口夜詩), just makes you envision a bustling market scene with people moving in all directions with various goods, including pomelos, on a breezy, clear day. No sadness here! Not even in the lyrics that were written by Miyuki Ishimoto (石本美由起). Well, "Nagasaki no Zabon Uri" is a post-war song (released in 1948) after all, so I guess its meant to lift the dampened spirits of the folks.

Here's some background information on Obata. Born in North Korea as Gang Yeong Cheol (강영철) in 1923, he decided to move to Japan, together with tenor singer Genjiro Nagata (永田絃次郎) when he was sixteen, where he enrolled into the Japan Music School (日本音楽学校). He became one of Eguchi's students after graduating in 1941, and debuted the same year in February with "成吉思汗" (translates to Genghis Khan). He had participated in the Kohaku 3 times, first in 1953, then 1954, and finally in 1957.

If you're wondering how a pomelo looks like, it's in the picture below. I see them here (Singapore) occasionally at some super marts, but they spike in popularity during the Mid-Autumn festival as they are eaten with the moon cakes. The clear, pulpy flesh is bittersweet, some times more bitter than sweet, and I don't really fancy it, though I don't mind them in this dessert (originating from Hong Kong) called "Mango Pomelo Sago"... Actually I may find myself picking the pomelo out of the mango puree and grimacing whenever I bite into a bitter pulp...


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Anzen Chitai -- La La La

Last weekend, I had my brother's family come over for dinner when my sister-in-law told me that her sister had gone to an Anzen Chitai(安全地帯)concert over in Hong Kong very recently (man, those guys are still hitting the concert circuit, I see), and was thoroughly charmed by the dulcet vocals of  Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二). I can only imagine that she would be; after all these decades, the man may have packed on a number of kilograms but he can still sing like no one else.

In any case, I lent my brother and sister-in-law my entire collection of Anzen Chitai so that the sister can pick and choose among the songs she likes by the band. I've got a feeling that she will be taking quite a bit of time on that, but no surprise there.

Going back to some of the earliest days of the Hokkaido band, I remember one particular song from their second album, the appropriately titled "Anzen Chitai II" from May 1984. "La La La" was a track and not a single, but it had that soothing AC guitar sound that evoked a lot of cool mystery and urban settings. As usual, Tamaki provided the melody and Goro Matsui(松井五郎)wrote the lyrics about this tryst in the making although the lead singer's music felt almost like an Anzen Chitai attempt at a lullaby (well, in a way, the tryst and the lullaby are kinda aiming for the same thing, I suppose). I wouldn't be surprised if a die-hard fan actually played the song right by the bed to head for beddy-bye land and into the arms of Tamaki. The whispery vocals of the singer can work just like some good warm milk.

Minako Yoshida -- Twilight Zone

Well, I read on an old post that I had gotten Minako Yoshida's(吉田美奈子)"Twilight Zone" back around October 2013, and aside from the absolutely gorgeous "Koi wa Ryuusei"(恋は流星...Shooting Star of Love), I hadn't done anything about the album. That ends now.

The long lag between getting Yoshida's 5th album from March 1977 and finally doing a writeup on it is due to my initial reactions to the album. I had already heard some of her later, funkier work from the early 1980s so when it came to listening to "Twilight Zone", I was caught a bit off-guard at how intimate and introspective it sounded overall. It was as if she had recorded the album while performing at a basement Shinjuku live house with her and the piano just a few feet away from the nearest audience member. To be honest, I was intimidated at how I was even going to talk about it on the blog.

Yoshida was responsible for all of the writing and composing.

Track 2 has that very feeling of intimate introspection. Titled "Love", it's an atmospheric ballad with images like midnight streets, wafting smoke and the wings of sprites. Melodically, there's some soul-searching and hope in there, and listening to Yoshida, I can understand why she was once called the Laura Nyro of Japan after having listened to some of the late Nyro's works on YouTube.

(Unfortunately the video has been taken down.)

"Runner" , Track 3, is a more uptempo piece which feels quite uplifting as well. I love the horns and the arrangement here which brings back some of my memories of 70s soul from the old radio. I don't think Yoshida ever intended for the title to refer to an actual jogger since I don't think the jogging craze had even begun, but I could imagine a music video of the song showing such an urban athlete happily and dutifully running around the streets of The Big Apple just after a major storm to take advantage of the refreshing coolness and the returning sun in time for dusk. Perhaps the song might be a spiritual child to the album title.

"Melody" , Track 4, is a wonderful gospel-tinged tribute to the city. It's just the balm to listen to after a long day at the office with a beer or a glass of wine. The intro reminded me of some of the ol' satisfied organ that played at the end of the really old episodes of "Saturday Night Live" way back when, and it's the late Hiroshi Sato(佐藤博)who's responsible for the organ solo here.

The final track is the title track itself which is another epic piece in which Yoshida seems to be longing for that twilight zone to come back into her life. The first few minutes are uncertain ones for the heroine here until the zone arrives and the tempo picks up. I can only imagine the exciting city once again when that happens. 

I have to leave off with "Koi wa Ryuusei, Part II". It didn't make it onto "Twilight Zone" but it should have. Some very fine riffing here. The liner notes had among all of the musicians, Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)on guitar and Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)on percussion and background vocals, so it would be nice to know that the two of them were also involved in the jam session.

JP/Clammbon/Saki & Rie fu -- Opening Themes for "Shirokuma Cafe" (しろくまカフェ)

I haven't been all that prolific on the blog over the past few days since I've been battling a bit of a gastrointestinal issue. It's pretty obvious to say that it hasn't been all that fun but it looks like I've finally started getting a handle on things again. Last night, though, since I wasn't feeling all that happy, I decided to check out an anime once more that brought more than its share of gentle smiles to my face when I watched it for the first time.

"Shirokuma Cafe" (Polar Bear Cafe) had a good year. Aside from a certain magical girl franchise or two, it's awfully hard to encounter an anime that actually goes beyond the typical 13-episode cour, and the adventures of Panda, Penguin and Shirokuma went four times as long, from April 2012 to March 2013. It was the anison equivalent of a good hot cocoa with a marshmallow as I viewed this odd fusion of "Cheers" and "Wild Kingdom" with its quirky yet amiable characters and the running gags such as the one above where Panda would frequently fall prey to his Mom's vacuum cleaner.

So, now that some of my energy has been replenished, I've decided to cover all of the three opening theme songs that greeted me through the 50 episodes of the series. The first opening was "Boku ni Invitation"(ボクにインビテーション...An Invitation For Me) by JP which is short for American singer-songwriter John Paul Lam from Hawaii. According to Wikipedia, he collaborated with Misia to write a song titled "Work It Out" for her 2009 album, "Just Ballade". However, "Boku ni Invitation" from 2012 was JP's debut single with Avex Group. JP took care of the melody while Yoshiharu Shiina(椎名慶治)wrote the lyrics.

"Boku ni Invitation" was an appropriately weird and hip-hop way to start off this series about a gently droll animal comedy. I had never heard quite that much Auto-Tune in an anison before, but the song had that 21st-century vibe but was reminiscent of the old welcoming theme song from "The Flintstones" as Shiina incorporated some of the cafe's goodies and the opening credits had the three main characters dancing away. The credits automatically set the friendship core for the series.

(Sorry but the video has been taken down)

Strangely enough, the episode I re-watched last night is represented in some of the stills in the above video. It was the 2nd episode in which the gang hold a picnic in the park. The highlight was seeing a drunk Penguin give his ode to Penko-san, his unrequited love.

Some months later, the opening changed. The credits now centered upon one of the few main human characters, Sasako, as she made her spirited bike commute to the cafe while the new opening theme of "Rough & Laugh" flowed. Of the artists covering the songs here, Clammbon(クラムボン)is the band that I have heard the most about. I've always associated this alternative pop-sounding unit with my old Tower Records in Shibuya since often when I entered the huge emporium, I would usually see either a display of their latest album or hear one of their songs on the store speakers. But to be sheepish, "Rough & Laugh", which was their 11th single from November 2012, was the first song that I've heard by them in its entirety. Written by vocalist Ikuko Harada(原田郁子)and bassist Mito(ミト), and composed by the latter, I liked the melody which was as spirited and cheerful as Sasako's race to work, and also Harada's sweet vocals. The song peaked at No. 57 on Oricon.

Then, there was the third and final opening theme, "You & Me" by singer-songwriter Rie fu and Saki(紗希)who was behind all of the ending themes sung by the characters of "Shirokuma Cafe". Splitting up the composing and writing duties, Rie and Saki came up with this huggable tune that seemed to wrap its arms around the entire cast and setting for the series in a sign of affection and thanks for a job well done. Although there were several weeks to go before the show finally wrapped up, "You & Me" and the credits seemed to signify a goodbye of sorts from Shirokuma and the bunch with everyone heading back to that park for another picnic which for me was the first memorable scene from the show.

Allow me to end this tribute to "Shirokuma Cafe" with another one of the show's rituals, the introduction for the next episode. Also, you can check out a couple of my favourite ending themes from the show by Panda and Penguin.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Aki Yashiro -- Ai no Shuuchaku Eki (愛の終着駅)

It's becoming a Tuesday night ritual with me as I pick out another old kayo from "Kayo Concert". The theme tonight was on love letters, and one of the songs was "Ai no Shuuchaku Eki" (Love's Last Station) by Aki Yashiro(八代亜紀). Written by Mitsuo Ikeda(池田光男)and composed by Shinichi Nozaki(野崎眞一), this was one of Yashiro's original singles from September 1977. It peaked at No. 13, and although it wasn't the song she sang at the 1977 Kohaku, she did get her chance to sing it on the 1992 show.

Yashiro's performance tonight was a bit growly so I actually preferred her earlier takes. Right from the title, "Ai no Shuuchaku Eki" sounds like it was created for its own segment on that old show "Enka no Hanamichi"(演歌の花道), and I have no doubt that it most likely did make it onto TV Tokyo. I'm sure there was a set of a passenger train heading up north with the snow steadily coming down as Yashiro sadly sings her ballad of heartbreak as she writes her letter pleading her paramour to return.

The song is listed as a straight kayo kyoku. And I guess I can't be that surprised since I'm not quite sure whether to place it solidly as an enka ballad or as a Mood Kayo tune, although I'm tending more toward the latter genre since I think this could be sung easily by the late Keiko Fuji(藤圭子). And perhaps she did.

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

And speaking of covers, Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし)did his crooning best on the song.

I remembered that the late Minako Honda(本田美奈子)was trying out some other genres after getting out of the aidoru business. One of those genres happened to be enka and she actually popped up on "Music Fair" one time in kimono. I can't remember which song she sang on the program but it may have actually been "Ai no Shuuchaku Eki" since the background looks just like it's from that very program.

Monday, July 20, 2015

KOTO -- Platonic Planet (プラトニックプラネット)

So far, 2015 has not been an amazing year for aidoru. Some unique acts, such as (でんぱ組.inc) and Especia, are still releasing interesting songs, but the more mainstream stuff seems quite slow or stagnant (with the surprising exception of AKB48, the infamous monstrous act that usually releases lackluster singles, who is having a somewhat strong year).

One other thing that started gaining attention in 2015 is the mixture of aidoru pop with rock/heavy-metal, something very well done in BABYMETAL’s case, but that is kind of ruining all the fun of aidoru pop this year, as a good portion of embryonic acts are trying to be successful with this particular style (without BABYMETAL’s sophistication, of course).

On the other hand, traditional-style aidoru Yufu Terashima (寺嶋由芙) has finally released her lovely major debut single “Fuhehehehehehehe Daisakusen” (ふへへへへへへへ大作戦) in May, and that’s a solid start, even though she still have to continue the hard work until getting the well deserved recognition. A little bit different from Yufu, but also on the lonely solo route, we have KOTO, a young (sixteen years old) and cute aidoru that adopted a quirky Technopop style since her debut in early 2014.

KOTO started with a cute video game-like song called “Kotorippu” (ことりっぷ) and the more modern “Ai wo Todokeru Oningyo” (愛を届けるお人形). Both songs were nice and surely were enough to keep me paying attention to this new and promising talent. After the release of “Ai wo Todokeru Oningyo”, she continued releasing even more interesting songs (“Question Quest” [くえすちょん くえすと] and “Valentine’s Ballerina” [バレンタインズ・バレリーナ], for example) that were all accompanied by stunning live performances from the girl, as it’s well documented in her YouTube channel.

Now, in July 2015, she’s releasing her first album, “Platonic Planet”, which includes eight amazing songs. And here I have to emphasize... all the tracks are really amazing, with no fillers at all, which is probably due to the fact that KOTO is an indie aidoru still trying to find her space (or not. Maybe she’s fine being an indie aidoru).

“Platonic Planet”, as the title suggests, is the album’s promotional song, and it does a great job at introducing KOTO’s sound to a new listener. The song is quite busy with lots of synths and blips, helped, of course, by KOTO’s aidoru vocals and the playful melody in the chorus. In a way, some Techno Kayo songs (テクノ歌謡) from the past came to my mind while listening to it, probably because of the primitive electronic usage and space disco sound, but it also screams early Perfume in some areas, which is not a bad thing at all (especially now that the famous trio is trying a little too hard on American-style electronic pop music). However, besides all the comparisons, I still find KOTO quite an adventurous Technopop aidoru on her own, and also a nice adition to the scene.

The aesthetic presented in the video is also eye candy for all the retro lovers. If I had to guess, I think they were trying to recapture the vibe of some late 80s/early 90s shows with the very low budget scenery. As one who follow aidoru’s history probably knows very well, the aforementioned period was a downpoint for aidoru singers. So, with the end of popular TV music shows like Yoru no Hit Studio (夜のヒットスタジオ) and The Best Ten (ザ・ベストテン), less popular aidoru singers (not Chisato Moritaka [森高千里] or Wink, of course) had to perform at not very glamorous TV shows.

As an example of what I think video director Yoshiaki Kotani (小谷佳晃) tried to accomplish with the “Platonic Planet” video, and also a way to finish the post in a somewhat cultural way, here’s a beautiful performance of “Cosmic Rendez-vous” (コズミック・ランデブー) by Rumi Shishido (宍戸留美), an aidoru with a Techno Kayo approach who started her singing career in 1990 with that very specific song.

“Platonic Planet” was written and composed by Kissa Sasaki (佐々木喫茶), while arrangement was done by IG.

The cute girl looks like a doll!!!

Rumiko Koyanagi -- Imasara Jiro (今さらジロー)

As I hinted in the article for Rumiko Koyanagi's(小柳ルミ子)"Ohisashiburi ne"(お久しぶりね), there was quite the change between the singer-actress' early 1970s innocent country girl persona and the super-confident maneater that she showed from the early 1980s. Obviously, a decade is more than enough time for anyone to metamorphose, but still it was like seeing Olivia Newton-John's Sandy character from "Grease" making that switch from Sandra Dee into that leather-clad vamp at the end of the movie.

"Ohisashiburi ne" was performed by Koyanagi at the Kohaku Utagassen of 1983, and I got to see the new playgirl side to the singer then. The next year, she came out with her follow-up single, her 38th, "Imasara Jiro" (Too Little Too Late Jiro). Written and composed by the same fellow behind "Ohisashiburi ne", Masato Sugimoto(杉本真人), "Imasara Jiro" had Koyanagi feeling even brasher and more ravenous on the stage with another harem of good-looking fellows tripping the light fantastic with her. Of course, there was another appearance at NHK Hall at the end of 1984.

The singer took on the gleeful role of a spurned vengeful lover as she took the screws to a fellow who had dumped her a few years back, only for the heel to come crawling back for a second chance. Not this time, Jack...or Jiro. The lass has got some new plans and none of them include the guy, since she probably has a whole ton of guys now at her beck and call.

"Imasara Jiro" was released in May 1984. It didn't do quite as well as the previous single, only peaking at No. 66. But that's OK...I'm sure Koyanagi didn't really mind too much with all those fellows around her. The interesting thing is that in the J-Wiki article for the song, it was labeled as an "aidoru" tune! She may have started out as one back in the 1970s, but I think she certainly graduated from that era by the time this song came out.

Takashi Hosokawa/Naomi Chiaki -- Yagiri no Watashi (矢切の渡し)

As mentioned in J-Canuck's article on Koichi Aoki's (青木光一) "Kaki no Kizaka no Ie" (柿の木坂の家), the recent "Kayo Concert" featured the works of Toru Funamura (船村徹). Needless to say, I was wonderfully surprised to see that the renowned, aged composer was still alive and kicking - he's in his early eighties, but from his frail exterior and wispy voice, he looked like a nonagenarian. That aside, Funamura had composed a great number of hits back in the day, some of which were sung by deceased enka veterans I love. So you could say that the first 3 minutes of the show knocked my socks off (figuratively, I don't wear socks at home) by showing old footage of Hideo Murata (村田英雄) who was at his imposing/intimidating best as he sung his most successful hit "Osho" (王将), which was then followed by a rather dapper-looking Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎) mournfully warbling "Wakare no Ippon Sugi" (別れの一本杉), and to wrap things up for that little segment was Michiya Mihashi's (三橋美智也) performance (in COLOUR) of a song I'm not yet familiar with... it sounded good though. I would have been satisfied to just see just one, but ALL three of them!? That was like hitting the enka-jackpot! It was absolutely aMAzing!

Anyway, another highlight for me during the rest of the 40 minutes were the appearances made by Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし), who looked as regal as ever in an all black, and later, all white, kimono and haori. He first appeared to sing one of his many successes from the 80's, "Yagiri no Watashi". Now, although I didn't give "Yagiri no Watashi" the attention it deserves, I had seen the title of this hit many times, usually associated with the man himself or Naomi Chiaki (ちあきなおみ), and I had read that both singers (and actually along with a few others) "competed" to see whose version did better. Long story short, Hosokawa's rendition received more love, peaking at 1st place on the Oricon monthlies and it eventually came in 2nd by the end of 1983, he even sang it on his 9th Kohaku appearance that same year. And through his performance that night, I could see why.

"Yagiri no Watashi" occurred to me as rather grand, both in an elegant and manly sort of way from the combination of accordion and the deep, rhythmic thumping of the drums. It kind of reminded me of  Muchi's "Osho", though not as forceful, which allowed me to learn the stark musical styles of this grey composer - he could either go cry-in-your-sake-melancholic, or I'm-the-big-cheese-grand, or maybe somewhere in between. But the important thing is, I appreciated this interesting contrast going on in Hosokawa's version - it fits his stage persona. This contrast was what was lacking when I had a listen to Chiaki's rendition. While I enjoyed her deep, husky voice, there just seemed to be something missing... ... Come to think of it, I suppose it's actually meant to be gentle and feminine like that since it was first sung by Chiaki in 1976 (B-side to another single), but it was beefed up years later to accommodate Hosokawa's stronger vocals.

Moving on, lyricist Miyuki Ishimoto (石本美由起) had penned the lyrics for "Yagiri no Watashi", and from what I've been trying to understand from the J-Wiki pages, "Yagiri no Watashi" is actually just a ferry to cross the Edogawa, from the city of Matsudo, Chiba, to Katsushika, Tokyo, where the Shibamata Taishakuten temple is. Well, the "Watashi" part makes sense now, but I'm still figuring out the "Yagiri" part. The temple and the ferry ride have been included as one (yes, just one) of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan. (Noelle from 4/11/15) Found out the meaning of "Yagiri no Watashi". It's sort of a Romeo-and-Juliet story as the couple in the song are intending to elope (by way of the Yagiri no Watashi) due to their parents objecting to their relationship. Hopefully they don't end up killing themselves even before executing their grand escape across the Edogawa.

As I've said earlier, Hosokawa's rendition did a lot better than Chiaki's, who had re-released "Yagiri no Watashi" on the A-side while her cover of Hachi's "Ippon Sugi" was on the B-side in 1982. It did fairly alright, placing at 57th on the charts.

(Yup, the video didn't stay up for long.)

The video above showcases the old footage of the San'nin no Kai from the "Kayo Concert" episode. I don't think it'll stay up for long, so enjoy while you can. Man, I'm still ecstatic that I've seen these enka veterans on TV! And as Muchi is performing, you can actually see that unmistakable, beaming countenance of Haruo Minami (三波春夫) in the back as he proudly watches his rival growl out the song.