Credits

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, October 31, 2017

The Peanuts/Danny Iida & The Paradise Kings -- Kanashiki Kangaroo(悲しきカンガルー)


I've been continuing to go through the additions to my kayo record collection and found one such record by the beloved kayo duo The Peanuts(ザ・ピーナッツ). And yep, I'm quite happy that I finally have a platter by Emi and Yumi.


The record I have is a 33 1/3 maxi-single with two songs on each side, one of which is titled "Kanashiki Kangaroo" (Sad Kangaroo), a cover of a popular 1960 single, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" released by the (now notorious) Australian singer-entertainer Rolf Harris. The Peanuts' cover came out in January 1964 with the Japanese lyrics written by Kazumi Minami.


However, a few months previously, the group Danny Iida & The Paradise Kings(ダニー飯田とパラダイス・キング)provided their own more country music-feeling cover of "Kanashiki Kangaroo" as another example of their Yakushi Pop(訳詞ポップス), Japanese-translated versions of Western tunes. In both the Kings' version and the one by The Peanuts, the wobble board from Harris' original is applied. And I think with both covers, the happy-go-lucky jingly-jangly nature of the song would probably have made it quite popular in Japan and on Japanese TV as well.

And here I thought that there was only one Japanese pop song with a kangaroo in the title.

Ryuichi Sakamoto & Yasuyuki Okamura -- Tokai(都会)


Of all the photos I took back in my last trip to Japan, the above is one of my favourites. It's of the Daimon area, and with that sun hitting the buildings just so, I thought it was one of the nicest shots to show off Tokyo, one heck of a city.




I think I've come across one of the nicest covers of a Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)song through a 2013 album titled "Tribute to Taeko Ohnuki"(大貫妙子トリビュート・アルバム). This is "Tokai" (The City) by Ohnuki's collaborator from the 70s and 80s, Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一), and J-funkster Yasuyuki Okamura(岡村靖幸).

Originally from Ohnuki's 1977 album "Sunshower", as I mentioned in the "Kayo Kyoku Plus" article for it, the arrangement for "Tokai" was inspired by Stevie Wonder while the singer took a pot shot against city life. If anything, though, "Tokai" had me swooning over city life, especially life in Tokyo that I knew so well for so many years. And the new version by Sakamoto and Okamura gets even closer to Wonder...so much so that I wonder (no pun intended) whether the legend was actively taking part in the recording session. Still, the cover doesn't reconstruct or deconstruct from the original; it's truly a tribute and Sakamoto even brings back the meowing synth instrumental.

I will have to listen to the samples presented up at Amazon.jp but perhaps "Tribute to Taeko Ohnuki" will be my next purchase.

Speaking of Tokyo, in a couple of days, I will be taking off for my old stompin' grounds for the first time in a little over 3 years. I'm certainly looking forward to my 2-week vacation...meeting up with old friends, eating my favourite foods (karaage, hambaagu, kaiten sushi...we meet again!) and seeing the old haunts. As such, KKP will be a little quiet for the first half of November.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Naoya Matsuoka -- One Last Farewell


Thank the heavens for Van Paugam's streaming City Pop radio. I've been able to discover some new stuff on it ever since the radio started up some weeks ago.


One example is this song by jazz pianist and Latin fusion musician Naoya Matsuoka(松岡直也). His name has popped up once on this blog since he was behind the creation of one of Akina Nakamori's(中森明菜)greatest hits "Meu Amor e"(ミ・アモーレ). He also took care of the arrangement of a 1970s kayo kyoku which has become a nostalgic favourite, "Taiyo ga Kureta Kisetsu"(太陽がくれた季節)by the group Aoi Sankaku Jougi(青い三角定規).

However, I hadn't heard any of his own music until some nights ago when I discovered his "One Last Farewell" on Van Paugam's "City Pop Radio". It kinda fits that nice genre of Resort Pop and perhaps folks back in Japan dreamed about heading overseas as they were listening to this one. To me, it sounds fresh and nostalgic at the same time. The song was a track on his 1981 album "The Show".

It was sad to hear that Matsuoka passed away in April 2014 at the age of 76 from prostate cancer. One thing I read on J-Wiki via a 2013 magazine interview with bassist Hiroshi Inuzuka(犬塚弘), formerly of  Hajime Hana & The Crazy Cats(ハナ肇とクレージーキャッツ), is that a very young Matsuoka had filled in for a sick member of the group back in 1960 during which he had been asked whether he would like to become a member of the band. However, for whatever reason, Matsuoka declined the offer.


Main Cast of "Sailor Moon" -- Tuxedo Mirage(タキシード・ミラージュ)


Halloween is once again upon us. I was checking a YouTube live stream camera overlooking the famous scramble crossing in front of Shibuya Station in Tokyo on Saturday morning (Saturday night in Japan). Considering the maelstrom of costume-wearing folks that has descended upon the area in recent years, I had been expecting a similar sight. However, due to the effects of Typhoon No. 22, the whole thing was literally a washout. Perhaps things might be different on Tuesday October 31st.

I may have mentioned this before in previous Halloween entries on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" but during the first several years of my stay in Chiba, the spooky holiday barely existed in Japanese pop culture. In fact, the only sign was a rogue bunch of English teachers who would hijack one car on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo for one round trip of costumed carousing. Of course, the local police did their best to deter the relative miscreants.

www.amazon.es


In those early years, some of my fellow English teachers at NOVA and I tried to spread the word about Halloween to students through special events which even involved some of us wearing costumes. I made my own get-up in the form of Tuxedo Kamen(タキシード仮面...Tuxedo Mask), the mysterious figure and love interest of the famous Sailor Moon(美少女戦士セーラームーン)since I did watch the series on videotape when I was back in Toronto in the early 90s.

Basically it involved a dark suit, a bow tie and the mask (both made of construction paper). Unfortunately if not particularly surprisingly, I didn't really get much of a response from most of the students (middle-aged people tend not to watch "Sailor Moon") on the costume but hey, the pumpkin carving was fun! And no, I didn't try to get long-stemmed roses either. There are a few photos of me on that night but they are staying locked up tighter than those JFK files...but the US government finally opened those last week, didn't it?


Let us now segue then to one of the many ending themes for "Sailor Moon", in this case, "Tuxedo Mirage" which was sung at the end of each episode during the third season known as "Sailor Moon S" between 1994 and 1995.

This was performed by the main cast of the show, namely the five Sailors: Moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Venus as acted by Kotono Mitsuishi(三石琴乃), Aya Hisakawa(久川綾), Michie Tomizawa(富沢美智恵), Emi Shinohara(篠原恵美)and Rika Fukami(深見梨加)respectively.


With lyrics by "Sailor Moon" creator Naoko Takeuchi(武内直子)and music by singer-songwriter Akiko Kosaka(小坂明子), "Tuxedo Mirage" kinda struck me as sounding like a 1980s power pop ballad with ambitions of grandeur along the lines of those charity singles that were huge back then such as "We Are The World" and "Do They Know It's Christmas?". One would think that the song was trying to raise money for suffering formal wear stores.

The song was released as a single in October 1994 and reached as high as No. 53 on Oricon.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Emi Wakui -- Mirai kara no Tegami(未来からの手紙)


To be honest, I wasn't expecting to discover another Emi Wakui(和久井映見)song that I would like but I was happily proven wrong. After all, I've always seen Wakui far more as an actress than I ever saw her as a singer.


I can't really go into the nitty-gritty of why I think so, but her "Mirai kara no Tegami" (A Letter from the Future) just sounds so early 90s J-Pop. Maybe it's the way that the arrangement of the song sounds somewhat ZARD-ish. In any case, the down-to-earth pop by Hirokazu Ogura(小倉博和)is quite appealing to me. The lyrics by Rui Serizawa(芹沢類)talk about that final goodbye between a woman and a man going on their separate paths.

The song is on Wakui's 4th original album "Dareka ga Anata ni Kissu Shiteru"(だれかがあなたにキスしてる...Someone is Kissing You)which came out in November 1992.

PSY-S/Shoko Nakagawa -- Angel Night ~ Tenshi no Iru Basho(天使のいる場所)


I had no idea that PSY-S' "Angel Night ~ Tenshi no Iru Basho" (Place of Angels) was used as one of the opening themes for the "City Hunter"(シティーハンター)franchise. It's been on a couple of BEST compilations by the eclectic band but there was no mention of its placement.


In point of fact, "Angel Night" was the first opening theme for Season 2 of "City Hunter" which was followed by Fence of Defence's "SARA". However, the PSY-S contribution to the anime has that energy which starts off another crackling episode. Still, there is no doubt that it is a PSY-S tune. It was composed by Masaya Matsuura(松浦雅也)and written by Yukio Matsuo(松尾由紀夫), and of course, the amazing CHAKA is on vocals.


"Angel Night" was also PSY-S' 7th single from April 1988. Although it isn't listed on J-Wiki how high the song rated on Oricon, it's difficult to imagine that the song didn't get into the Top 100 during the week somehow. Mind you, I think of the opening and ending themes for "City Hunter" that have been put up so far on the blog, "City Hunter: Ai yo Kienai de"(愛よ消えないで)still comes out on top for me. An album version of "Angel Night" is on their 5th album "Non-Fiction" from August in the same year.


Tarento and illustrator Shoko Nakagawa(中川翔子)brought her own cover of "Angel Night" in 2010 through her album "Shokotan Covers 3 ~ Anison wa Jinrui wo Tsunagu ~"(しょこたん☆かばー3 〜アニソンは人類をつなぐ〜...Anison Will Bring Humanity Together)which peaked at No. 10.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

J-Canuck's Favourite Albums...Period

Amazon.jp

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by one commenter about what my favourite albums in Japanese popular music were. I had to admit that I hadn't really given it much thought, weirdly enough. Yet, we have all these lists categorized into Author's Picks with me giving my favourite songs by decade and genre.

One reason that I hadn't given out such a list up to now is that there haven't been any albums in many years that I consider to be go-to heavy-rotation releases. My collection is so large now that my attention has been pulled into so many directions in terms of what I would like to listen to. Plus, I was never one of those guys who would play a record or CD several times a day over and over again. In fact, when one of my high school buddies played his album three times in a row on my stereo, I got annoyed (good golly, dude, let the record breathe!).

Still, I can say that there are albums and tapes (bought from Wah Yueh) that I did listen to frequently back in my university days as I pulled off an all-nighter. And in recent years, there have been albums that I've purchased which bring to mind the statement "Yeah, that is an overall excellent album! Not a poor track to be found."

So as such, I've scrounged around my mind to think of some of my favourites over the past 30+ years. All of them have their own articles on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" so I won't say much more over here since I will leave the usual links. I just want to acknowledge them as some of my well-liked touchstones.


1. Akina Nakamori(中森明菜) -- Bitter and Sweet (1985)



Akina fans have their own opinion about which Akina album is their personal favourite. Mine is this one and I think "Bitter and Sweet" is the album that finally put her over the top from popular aidoru to pop superstar. Her voice and the work of several amazing songwriters can be thanked here.


2. Akiko Kobayashi(小林明子) -- Kokoro no Mama ni(心のままに) (1986)




Along with "Bitter and Sweet" above, Kobayashi's 2nd album was the tonic to help me stay up at night while ripping through textbooks and theses. Aside from one track that hasn't dated well, this is one fine release that could answer the question of "If Karen Carpenter learned now to speak Japanese really well and decided to record an album, what would she make?"


3. Keizo Nakanishi(中西圭三)-- Starting Over (1994)




Thanks to my cousin sending an audiotape containing this album, I was stoked enough to get the full CD a few years later. I found out about this in the 90s so this was never an all-nighter album but I do remember listening to "Starting Over" over and over again. The title track was quite the impetus.


4. Sing Like Talking -- Discovery (1995)

Amazon.jp





As I explained in the original article, "Discovery" was initially a case of mistaken identity that truly became a wonderful discovery. This is how I found out about the wonders of Sing Like Talking as they covered genres such as R&B, AOR and perhaps some 90s City Pop.


5. Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子)-- Dear (1982)

iTunes Apple.jp



I've mentioned this before but Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子)was one of the first singers to make me realize that Japanese popular music wasn't all about enka and aidoru. For contemporary pop of that time, "Dear" is one of the albums to get. I also realized that she has had one of the best sets of vocal cords in the nation.


6. Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子) -- Aventure (1981)

Amazon.jp



This was a tough call to make since I think basically all of Ohnuki's solo albums from "Sunshower" to "Signifie" (and beyond) are all entirely listenable. However, I've decided to go with "Aventure" since she seemed to go into all sorts of directions whether it be technopop, Latin and French pop. It really is an adventure.


7. Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実)-- No Side (1984)




Again, another difficult choice to make due to the vast discography that Yuming(ユーミン) possesses although for me, her best work was in the 70s and 80s. Ultimately I went with "No Side" since pretty much every track on the album is great and the emotions range from sad and introspective to fun and perky.


8. Anzen Chitai(安全地帯) -- IV (1985)




Another all-nighter album, Anzen Chitai had me right from the opening track "Yume no Tsuzuki"(夢のつづき)right to the end. Plus I can say that half of the album got heavy rotation on the karaoke circuit at my old haunt of Kuri back in those 80s. I don't doubt that the ballads on "IV" probably had listeners melting and mewing like kittens (not me, though, since I was too busy writing my thesis on Japanese politics...yeah, that's the ticket).


9. Takako Mamiya(間宮貴子) -- Love Trip (1982)

Auctions.yahoo.jp



My final choice is just one representative from the wealth of City Pop albums I've encountered over the past several years but it is basically the first that I truly wanted as one of the rarest of the rare although it's been getting much love on YouTube recently. The tracks all range from pretty good to dreamy, and the title track has that arrangement that can have an 80s AOR fan swooning. As I stated from the top, I've never been much for playing a disc repeatedly ad nauseum, but with Takako Mamiya, whenever I come across the album while working, I'm more than happy to give it a spin to the end.

Well, those are my favourites. Of course, given time and money, the list can all change next year. But as you can see from my nine above, I am hovering over the urban contemporary genre as my type. What are yours?

Kiyoshi Maekawa -- Uso yo (嘘よ)

I'm not one to snap photos when watching "Uta Kon", but I
couldn't resist. 

I have my - as from what I've picked up from the kayo shows I've viewed - "Yume Kyouen" (夢共演... Dream Collaboration) fantasies where I imagine some of my favourite artistes working/performing together, as any fan would. Some came true, some, unfortunately, won't ever because of how odd they are and/or because the musicians have already left mortal coil. Despite the multitude of Yume Kyouen I've come up with, I don't think a collaboration between the pillar of a man that is Mae-Kiyo and the electric guitar-wielding Forever Wakadaisho has ever crossed my mind. But here we have "Uso yo". Roughly translated, it means something like "That's a lie" or "You're lying", and I got to say that it's quite similar to my thoughts when I first saw the news of that on Twitter. Also, it knocked my figurative socks off so far out they'd probably be on the other side of the Pacific Ocean... y'know, after flying westwards in the direction of the European continent.

50 years on and still that still...

Alright, seriously speaking, from what I knew of Yuzo Kayama's (加山雄三) works, unlike fellows like Yujiro Ishihara (石原裕次郎) and Akira Kobayashi (小林旭), he didn't venture far into the Mood Kayo or enka territories. I do recall this one occasion where he sang "Naniwabushi dayo Jinsei wa" (浪花節だよ人生は) and sounded like an enka singer through and through, but other than that he seemingly stuck to pop, rock, folk and Group Sounds. But recently, it has become evident that the Wakadaisho has always loved MK and enka, and is a big fan of, as you may or may not have guessed (I certainly didn't!), Hiroshi Uchiyamada & Cool Five (内山田洋とクール・ファイブ)/Kiyoshi Maekawa (前川清), so much so that he'd often pick their songs at the karaoke. He even created a piece of music for them in the early 80's! However, for whatever reason Kayama had, the song did not come to pass. Fast forward to over 30 years later, in the light of Mae-Kiyo's 50th anniversary of being in showbiz early next year, Kayama finally revealed this long-kept melody and gifted it to one of his favourite singers to make "Uso yo".



As Maekawa himself said the moment he heard the music, it sounded very him. At first, I wasn't exactly sure what to make of that until the short MV clip came out and I was greeted by the sharp strings and roar of the electric guitar. What followed was a rather angsty MK-enka hybrid that is reminiscent of what a typical Cool Five tune would've sounded like in, well, the 80's. Included in the package are bits of the song where Mae-Kiyo gets to showcase his forlorn and vibrato-filled dragging of the last syllable of a line - very him, alright. The lyrics were written by Seishiro Kuno (久野征四郎), and it was released about a month ago on 20th September 2017, doing fairly OK on the charts by peaking at 95th place.

To be honest, I didn't really take to "Uso yo" all that much and I'm still in the process of completely warming up to it, as I normally do when it comes to this sort of songs. I was also kind of hoping that it'd be more pop-sounding, but oh well... Can't have the cake and eat it too...? It's a collaboration I won't forget, that's for sure, especially since that consisted of the both of them performing side by side on "Uta Kon" and "BS Shin Nippon no Uta".

(Sorry but the video has been taken down.)

Here's the "Special Stage" segment where Mae-Kiyo and the Wakadaisho explored the latter's enka and MK appreciation. Kayama really nailed the Maekawa-ness of those Cool Five songs. That settles it, I'm going to get Kayama's "Enka Nagashi Uta" (演歌流し唄) album - yup, he's apparently got a whole album on covers of hits from the genre too!


At the moment, the only other collaboration that'll garner the same amount of unbridled joy would probably be if Mae-Kiyo (or, actually, Kayama too) performed with Duke Aces (デューク・エイセス).

Salvatore Adamo/Fubuki Koshiji/RC Succession/Maki Goto -- Sans Toi M'amie(サン・トワ・マミー)


As I said in one of my articles from yesterday, I was blessed with a large number of kayo singles and albums from my friend Steve in Manhattan through a large package since he wanted to unload his record collection before moving out West. One of the 45s I saw among the records is a Japanese chanson classic, "Sans Toi M'amie" by the Queen of Chanson in Japan, the late Fubuki Koshiji(越路吹雪).


But before I come to her, "Sans Toi M'amie" (Without You, My Love) was originally created and recorded by Belgium's Salvatore Adamo, a singer that I have already profiled in this blog through his other hit "Tombe La Neige", known in Japanese as "Yuki ga Furu"(雪が降る). Adamo was only 19 when he sang "Sans Toi M'amie" for the first time in 1962.


A couple of years later in June 1964, Koshiji released her version of "Sans Toi M'amie", and it is the version that I know the best. In fact, I was surprised that I hadn't yet covered it in "Kayo Kyoku Plus". It's one of Koshiji's trademark hits along with "Ai no Sanka"(愛の讃歌)and although it has that hint of grandness that I've come to associate with chanson, the song is somewhat tempered by a certain lightness in the arrangement as if the singer is asking listeners not to take things so seriously. There is that feeling of a boozy waltz, thanks to the laidback instrumental accompaniment, and yeah, I think it can be danced to.


Tokiko Iwatani(岩谷時子)provided the Japanese lyrics to "Sans Toi M'amie". Koshiji herself was invited onto the Kohaku Utagassen of 1964 to perform it.


However, "Sans Toi M'amie" was not left behind as a relic of the music of the 1960s. It has been covered by a number of other artists with their own musical imprint. The band RC Succession gave the song its own rocking beat in their covers album, obviously titled "COVERS" which came out in August 1988. It hit No. 1 and went Gold.


I also like freshly-graduated Morning Musume(モーニング娘。)member Maki Goto's(後藤真希)take on "Sans Toi M'amie" with its relaxing pop sound that has an echo from the past. This was her 5th single from December 2002, and I think it's because I didn't follow her solo career all that doggedly that her more mature delivery stood out all the more to me. Her version peaked at No. 6. It was also a track on Goto's special album for a soundtrack from a musical that she starred in, "Ken & Mary no Meriken-ko On Stage!"(けん&メリーのメリケン粉オンステージ!...Ken & Mary's Wheat Flour On Stage!)from March 2003. It went as high as No. 59 on the album charts.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Love Talkin' (Honey It's You)


The weekend is almost here and later on tonight I will be meeting up with some of the guys for a Peking Duck dinner. Such a dinner would practically require proof of ownership of a credit card in Yokohama's Chinatown but over here, it isn't too bad.


In any case, before I take off, I wanted to place at least one Friday article. So why not another Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)City Pop classic from his "For You" album (1982)? At this rate, I don't think I will need to do an album article since I've pretty much covered almost every track on "For You" over the past 5 years such as "Amaku Kiken na Kaori"(あまく危険な香り)and "Loveland, Island".

This track is "Love Talkin' (Honey It's You)" which I had assumed I already covered but discovered such wasn't the case. Tats, of course, took care of the bouncy and lightly funky melody but a frequent collaborator helped out again in the form of Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子). And not surprisingly, she was helping out with the backing vocals, too.

As for the hooky music, according to J-Wiki's article on "For You", Yamashita, drummer Jun Aoyama(青山純)and bassist Kouki Ito(伊藤広規)went into a practice studio one day and hammered out the basic rhythm and let things expand naturally from there. Considering some of the other wonderful songs that Yamashita has created over the decades, I would have loved to have been the fly on the wall in that studio.

"For You" hit No. 1 on Oricon after its release in January 1982 and stayed at the top for 3 consecutive weeks for much of February.

Miku Hatsune/Wagakki Band -- Senbonzakura(千本桜)


Ah, yes...cherry blossom season. It's the beloved time of year in spring when the sakura come out in full bloom, and the populace celebrates it by amassing under the spreading cherry trees in various parks and other natural areas through the custom of o-hanami. Of course, there is the flip side of things which involve the newbies in a company having to clamp down a spot of prime real estate under a tree for several hours in chilly weather before the rest of the folks come after work. Also, o-hanami means lots of drinking which means often enough a lot of angry/overly happy/exhibitionist drunks. I've witnessed examples of some of those.

I had my share of o-hanami experiences during my time in Tokyo. Most of them were fine but in my early years at the Ueno branch of NOVA, the staff and I had to literally swat off several homeless sots from our area in Ueno Park as they tried to cadge alcohol from us by grubbily spitting out greetings like "Me...friend...me...drink?" It didn't take long before we decided to pack up and hit an izakaya instead.


Anyways earlier in the summer, I wrote about "Tabiji Yoiyoi Yume Hanabi"(旅路宵酔ゐ夢花火), the song with the mouthful of a title by the anime-based band Tsurezurenaru Ayatsuri Mugenan(徒然なる操り霧幻庵)from "Show By Rock". I mentioned that this fusion of enka and rock was an example of wagakki music in which bands populated by artists blast away on shamisen and shakuhachi as much as they do on electric guitars and bass.

Perhaps I may have been a bit premature in my nomenclature. Wagakki Band(和楽器バンド)is the live-action group performing this new Japanese fusion of genres but in J-Wiki, the group has been classified as J-Pop, hard rock, heavy metal, alternative rock, progressive rock, folk rock and heavy metal...but there is no sign of enka in there and no mention of wagakki. From what I've read so far, it looks like Wagakki Band may be the only official unit to shred shamisen.

According to the Wikipedia entry, Wagakki Band launched in 2013 as a group bringing together Vocaloid songs, traditional Japanese instruments and a rock sensibility. Apparently, they exploded on the scene through their video of the song "Senbonzakura" a few years back.


I translated the title into "A Thousand Cherry Trees" but according to J-Wiki once more, senbonzakura refers to the blossoming of cherry trees on Mt. Yoshino in Nara Prefecture and by association, any famous place known for a huge blanket of sakura during the season. Whatever the case may be, although I don't think I will ever become a dedicated fan of wagakki (yep, I did say that the genre may not officially exist but I will still use it here), "Senbonzakura" is pretty magnetic especially seeing Wagakki Band perform. It's almost like listening to the most traditional of enka music injected with a high-octane action film.

The song was a track on Wagakki Band's debut album from April 2014, "Vocalo Zanmai"(ボカロ三昧...Vocaloid Samadhi)which peaked at No. 5. Up to this point, the band has released 5 singles and 3 albums. You can learn more about the 8-piece group at Wikipedia and at their own website.


However, Wagakki Band's "Senbonzakura" is a cover of the original released in September 2011 by Vocaloid Miku Hatsune(初音ミク), done up as a straight pop-rock number. It is available on the album "jubeat (jubeat saucer)". The song was written and composed by Vocaloid music writer Kurousa-P(黒うさP).


For a few years now, my anime buddy has been mirthfully telling me that enka singer Sachiko Kobayashi(小林幸子)has been surprising and/or delighting everybody from enka fans to anime enthusiasts recently due to her participation in the various sub-cultures. She performed "Senbonzakura" to mark her return after 4 years to the Kohaku Utagassen in 2015 in a special guest capacity. The above, though, is not the Kohaku.

Well, whether wagakki does become its own genre or not, it will be interesting to see if some form of it gets into the Opening Ceremonies for the 2020 Games.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Naomi Sagara/Saori Yuki/Masako Mori -- Ii Janai no Shiawase Naraba(いいじゃないの幸せならば)


Last night, I was writing about Hiromi Go's(郷ひろみ)"Samui Yoake"(寒い夜明け)and mentioned that I couldn't find a number by the fellow that had been written by Tokiko Iwatani(岩谷時子)who was given that lovely tribute on "Uta Kon"(うたコン)on Tuesday night. Well, there was one song by her that got featured on the show and it is a lovely kayo ballad.


I'm happy to introduce this one, too, since it would be my second song on the blog belonging to Naomi Sagara(佐良直美), someone whom I had only known thus far for the classic "Sekai wa Futari no Tame ni"(世界は二人のために)"Ii Janai no Shiawase Naraba" (Why Not As Long As She's Happy), her 9th single from July 1969.

However, I didn't just opt for this song purely for quota's sake. "Ii Janai no Shiawase Naraba" is also a beautiful, bittersweet and haunting kayo that contrasts rather nicely with "Sekai wa Futari no Tame ni". Sagara's debut is gently optimistic but this particular entry in her discography is gently sad and wistful as the protagonist describes his ultimate parting from a woman who may have a bit of history behind her. Perhaps the relationship couldn't continue because of the innuendo surrounding her or she's dumped him for someone else but his love still remains for her. As long as she's happy, that will be fine with the fellow (I hope).


Listening to the original at the top, Sagara's deeper vocals and the tempo really give "Ii Janai no Shiawase Naraba" that gravity as heavy as the footsteps of the sad fellow as he schlumps through the streets mourning his loss. As I said, Iwatani was responsible for the lyrics and Taku Izumi(いずみたく)took care of the introspective melody.

The song was fully in the age of Oricon so it actually hit No. 2 and became the 22nd-ranked single for 1969. It also won a Japan Record Award for Best Song and earned Sagara her 3rd straight invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen.

(excerpt only)

There have been a lot of covers done of "Ii Janai no Shiawase Naraba". Fellow singer Saori Yuki(由紀さおり)provided her own version of the ballad in her 2011 album "1969" with Pink Martini. The album hit No. 4 on the Oricon weeklies. It would later become the 99th-ranked album of the year and even greatly improved its ranking the following year as it hit No. 26. On iTunes, it actually even hit No. 1 in Japan, Canada and the United States!


As well, Masako Mori's(森昌子)version amped up the Latin jazz flavour. It appeared on her album "Ano Koro"(あのころ...Those Days)which was released in August 2007.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Hiromi Go -- Samui Yoake(寒い夜明け)


Last night on NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン), the tribute was to the late songwriter Tokiko Iwatani(岩谷時子)who provided lyrics for a lot of kayo kyoku and even translated lyrics for covers of Western songs. One singer who popped up on the videotape montage for Iwatani was Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ)back in his aidoru days of the 1970s.


Unfortunately I couldn't find that Iwatani-written song for Go but I figured it was time for another song by the Dandy Aidoru, and since the last article I did for him back in June was for a 1980s City Pop number, I thought it would be nice to take things back to his early age.

So I found the chipper "Samui Yoake" (Cold Dawn) which was his 19th single released in November 1976. The melody by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)is really cheery and bouncy. In fact, I was wondering if this song had actually been meant for another Hiromi...Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美), since Tsutsumi's arrangement with its bounciness, bass and slightly urban feel was the type of music he had created for Iwasaki.


Another kayo trope I found with "Samui Yoake" was with Kazuo Umezu's(楳図かずお)lyrics. Umezu's usual job is being a writer of Japanese sci-fi/horror but although there isn't anything scary about the words, they are still pretty bittersweet. The guy is taking his girlfriend to the station near the end of the year for what is probably the last time since the song is hinting that the relationship is as frozen as the weather. I guess this would be another example of happy music, sad words in the world of kayo.

"Samui Yoake" managed to get as high as No. 5 on Oricon. It was also a track on his 8th album from December 1976, "Machikado no Shinwa"(街かどの神話...Street Corner Legends).

Ken Takahashi -- Natsukashi no Yon-go Sen(懐かしの4号線)


Well, the project took a few days and some e-mails between my friend in Manhattan and myself but a couple of hours ago, I received a pretty large box filled with a lot of ancient LPs and 45s. They are mostly kayo kyoku which I will be taking some time to peruse before I start tracking down any presence of them on YouTube and writing about them on the blog. However, I would like to thank Steve for his generosity in sending this most culturally bountiful shipment. Plus I re-discovered that 12 kg is not too heavy for me; am I glad that I've been lifting weights at night.


Now I haven't written about ALFEE recently and I think I ought to shed a light on the band again sometime soon. However, what I wanted to do here today was provide some attention to the singer-songwriter who helped come up with some of ALFEE's best hits including "Marie-Anne"(メリーアン)and "Hoshizora no Distance"(星空のディスタンス)in the 1980s.

That would be Ken Takahashi(高橋研)who I hadn't known was a singer in his own right. Coming from Morioka City in Iwate Prefecture, he graduated from Waseda University's Faculty of Law before he debuted in March 1979 with his first single, "Natsukashi no Yon-go Sen" (That Old No. 4 Line).

From some of the other songs that I've heard from him on YouTube, I think he's quite similar in tone to folks like Motoharu Sano(佐野元春)and Shogo Hamada(浜田省吾)...that brand of life-on-the-road rock and pop. Certainly "Natsukashi no Yon-go Sen" fits the bill as Takahashi reminisces about making his way down to Tokyo from snow-capped Iwate by train to start a new life whereas his old buddies Joji and Yukio head off to Osaka and Sapporo respectively. The whole feeling is of optimism and giddiness, and the only thing missing in the song is the motorcycle but I guess that would be too cold for him to ride from the Tohoku.

For his own material, Takahashi released 5 singles between 1979 and 1987 and 6 albums including one that came out in 2005.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Miki Imai -- Futari de Splash(ふたりでスプラッシュ)


To be honest, I had considered "Futari de Splash" (Splashing Together), which I first heard on Miki Imai's(今井美樹)first BEST compilation "Ivory", to not be one of the biggest highlights of the album. It just seemed a bit too light (along the lines of unsalted butter which shouldn't be allowed to exist, at least for tasting purposes) for me without any melodic hooks.


The song was originally included in Imai's 2nd album "Elfin" which came out in September 1987. I guess time and nostalgia have smoothed out the rough attitude that I'd had for the song since I accept it much better now although Imai has even better songs out there. Moreover, "Futari de Splash" fits in with that light voice of Imai from her early days; she sounds quite ethereal here.

Written by Masami Tozawa(戸沢暢美)and composed by Satoshi Takebe(武部聡志), the synths are very natsukashii and not reminiscent of technopop at all. In fact, the overall melody by Takebe hints at something more Smooth Jazz. Tozawa touches upon that well-burnished trope of romance: the couple hitting the sea and playfully splashing at each other. Of course, considering that I have a snarky streak within me, whenever I see that sort of scene on TV, I rather wish a shark or a sudden huge wave consumes the two.

As for "Elfin", it peaked at No. 5 on Oricon.

Junko Ohashi -- Mister Smile(ミスター・スマイル)


I was listening to my BEST compilation of Junko Ohashi(大橋純子)a few days ago, and despite her big hits with the dreamy "Silhouette Romance"(シルエット・ロマンス)of 1981 and the slightly more kayo-sounding "Tasogare My Love"(たそがれ マイ・ラブ)earlier in 1978, I have to say that Ohashi was probably right at her prime singing those soulful numbers with that powerful voice during the 1970s.

(19:42)

Another example is her 6th single from September 1977, "Mister Smile". I don't know how it did on the charts and perhaps it was one of those hidden beauties that got buried under the enka and kayo pop of that decade, but for purveyors of City Pop and New Music, I think it's one of those Ohashi songs that deserves some mention.

Composed by Ken Sato(佐藤健)and written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆), "Mister Smile" is one of those lovelorn soul numbers in which Ohashi cries out in sympathy for a fellow (perhaps it's a kataomoi relationship) who has had sticks and stones of all kinds thrown at him but still manages to keep that smile. She might be expressing her pity and love for any rookie eigyo-man or worker in the service industry in Tokyo.

Composer Sato also arranged "Mister Smile" and I love the way how he starts things off with the musical equivalent of a sunrise opening on another day at the salt mines before the triumphant horns come in. It just seems to have Mister Smile going through the usual day of keeping his happy upper lip no matter the trial or the tribulation. This is the City Pop for the modern worker.

Not even sure which album it was originally tracked on. Perhaps "Mister Smile" has only become available on the BEST compilations.


I already wrote about "Telephone Number" some months ago but I couldn't resist putting in the moe video with the song by YouTuber l1o2q3u4i5n. It's hilarious, sweet and urban all at the same time. Awoo!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Machiko Watanabe -- Blue(ブルー)


I've always had a soft spot for some of the old kayo that would be perfect listening in a bar or snazzy nightclub. Mood Kayo is obviously one of the genres but there's also some of the Latin-flavoured numbers in New Music.


Welcome back to the blog, Machiko Watanabe(渡辺真知子)! It has been a few years since she was represented here and though I think I've already gotten her major hits on board, I'm pretty sure that there are also some numbers by her that are worthy of discovering.

Case in point is her 3rd single from August 1978 "Blue". I keep forgetting that despite her abilities as a singer, she is also a songwriter and she did create the words and music behind this sad ballad about falling for a guy who is still blue about breaking up with the lady who may still be his one and only true love.



"Blue" is a nice example of sophisticated pop, and although I'm not sure whether Watanabe had meant it to be a City Pop tune, I cannot imagine any other setting than a metropolis when I listen to this song. Mind you, "Blue" could make it at some sort of resort by the ocean. As I said at the top, it fits into that category of easy listening at a bar or lounge while nursing that drink although not while a romance is on the rocks.

According to the J-Wiki article about "Blue", Watanabe herself stated that it was the first song where she was given carte blanche to write it however she liked, and even the Queen of New Music herself, Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実), gave open praise to Watanabe and the song (this was through a 1982 interview in the journal "Shuukan FM" [週刊FM...Weekly FM]). Also, Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)supposedly has covered it in one of her own albums although the article didn't mention which one.


However, I managed to find another fine singer in the atmospheric New Music tradition doing a lovely cover version of "Blue". I don't know whether Junko Yagami(八神純子)had ever recorded the song officially in one of her albums but perhaps the above video is of her doing a one-off performance at a concert (actually it's from a radio broadcast...check the comments below). Listening to it, Yagami does make it her own.

The original version by Watanabe hit it as high as No. 10 on Oricon, selling a little over 300,000 records. "Blue" is also present on her 2nd album "Fog Lamp"(フォグ・ランプ )from November 1978.

Mika Chiba -- BRAND-NEW TOMORROW



Mika Chiba (千葉美加) is a somewhat minor celebrity in Brazil, especially in the memory of 30 to 35 years old people, who watched TV in the early 90s, thanks to a Tokusatsu series called Cybercops (電脳警察サイバーコップ) in which she starred as officer Tomoko. In fact, while watching some of her rare video on YouTube, I was surprised to see that a good portion, if not the majority, of the comments are in Portuguese, so she really has some nostalgia-filled loyal fans down here in Brazil.

From her catalogue, “BRAND-NEW TOMORROW”, which was released in May 1989 as her second single (debut single was “Shooting Star” [シューティングスター], released months before, was the theme song for the Cypercops series), is one of the most recognizable songs. It’s nothing revolutionary, but I like the pop-rock sound and uplifting chorus here. Also, there are some melancholic keyboard bits right after the chorus (in this video, as the song is cut, this part is only present in the chorus after the start of the song) which takes the song to a whole new level, in my opinion. It’s those kind of arrangement touches that changed the whole mood of the song.

Mika never achieved much success in Japan, which is understandable, since she started at a hard time for new female aidoru singers. Apparently, she built a career in Taiwan as well, releasing albums with songs both in Japanese and Chinese, and even lived there at some point in the 90s.

As for “BRAND-NEW TOMORROW”, it reached #76 on the Oricon chart. Lyrics were written by Shun Taguchi (田口俊), while music was composed by VAX POP. As for the arrangement, Ryo Kunihiko (梁邦彦) was the responsible.

Yoko Oginome -- Stranger Tonight(ストレンジャーtonight)


During the 70s and 80s, there was always an outlier aidoru or at least a female teenybopper singer who gave the impression of being on the wrong side of the tracks. Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵)took care of the side in the late 1970s when she sang those hits about already living the life of a world-weary woman. Then it wasn't long after Yamaguchi retired into marital bliss when Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)appeared on the scene as the school uniform-wearing hellion, a role that she had until she morphed from aidoru into pop superstar in the mid-1980s.


Now, when I mention Yoko Oginome(荻野目洋子), who started hitting it big around the time that Nakamori was evolving, I can't really say that she was giving that tsuppari vibe during her performances on TV or on the stage. She was more of the short-haired perky pixie with the dance-pop melodies and dance moves. But whether I'm accurate enough or not, my impression of the lyrics she sang from those days is that she played the part of one of the happier & nicer members of a teen gang riding on the highways and byways.

It's been almost a year since I put up one of her songs so I've got "Stranger Tonight", her 14th single from January 1988. Masao Urino's(売野雅勇)lyrics tell the sad story of a free-wheeling lass who loves her rich dude in the Alfa Romeo but doesn't get the same love back. C'est dommage! NOBODY is behind the music which I remember well because of that plucky synth-string intro and the interesting keyboard crashes approaching the refrain. It's another hook-worthy Oginome tune.


"Stranger Tonight" hit No. 1 on Oricon and became the 60th-ranked single for 1988. It was also nominated for Best Song at the Japan Record Awards that year, and even became the theme song for a TV Asahi drama "Madonna-sensei wa Rock n' Roller!"(マドンナ先生はロックンローラー!)which starred Oginome. The song was on her 8th album "CD-RIDER" which was released in August 1988 and became another No. 1 for her.

Seikou Nagaoka -- Main Theme to "Shinpi no Sekai El-Hazard"(神秘の世界エルハザード)

www.amazon.jp

Some months ago, my friend showed me an OVA from over 20 years ago called "Shinpi no Sekai El-Hazard" (The Magnificent World of El-Hazard). With a world named El-Hazard, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that there will be plenty of adventure, desired or not.


I was informed that the first OVA from October 1995 was the only good part of the franchise with the subsequent full programs not living up to the original. Well, I'm not sure if the very first "El-Hazard" has been considered an obscure classic but it was a fun trip. What more can you ask for in an old-fashioned anime adventure in an ancient land? Thrills, romance, laughs, crossdressing, yuri, giant bugs and a maniacal villain in the form of a jerkass high school senior. If there had been a live-action version done in Hollywood, I would have cast a young Jim Carrey as the high school senior.

Plus, there was the orchestral opening theme by Seikou Nagaoka(長岡成貢). Simply called "Main Theme", it just has that feeling of epicness in ancient Egypt. The music is just asking listeners and viewers to come along through the deserts and oases while fighting any hordes of villains. One could have even thrust the theme into a few scenes of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" while John Williams was not looking. There were the sung ending themes but it's been Nagaoka's main theme that has stuck in my head all these months. The theme can be found in the soundtrack for the OVA "Shinpi no Sekai El-Hazard Ongakuhen"(「神秘の世界エルハザード」 音楽篇).


Kikuko Inoue, Yumi Touma and Aya Hisakawa -- Coro di dea


Had the usual food-and-anime session with my buddy yesterday. I got to see a number of new anime for Fall 2017 which have been OK so far..."Just Because" was actually funnier than I had thought it would be while "Two-Car" was more dramatic than expected. Of course, "Mahoujin Guru Guru" has continued to be hilarious as usual. The theme songs accompanying the new shows haven't exactly been instant earworms, though.


Of course, there was the anison hour, and I wanted to touch upon one short classical piece that I heard and enjoyed. It was actually from the 2000 motion picture treatment of the beloved anime "Ah! Megami-sama"(ああっ女神さまっ...Ah! My Goddess). Titled "Coro di dea", I guess it must have had its time during the climactic moment during the movie (I never saw it) but it was performed by the three main seiyuu from the original show, Kikuko Inoue(井上喜久子), Yumi Touma(冬馬由美)and Aya Hisakawa(久川綾)as Belldandy, Urd and Skuld respectively.

Accompanied by the Warsaw Chorus, it's quite the grand 2 minutes and very anthemic. Anime fans have commented that a certain anison should be their choice for a song to be played at their weddings or funerals. I would be more than happy to have "Coro di dea" played at my funeral although I'm not particularly religious.

I was surprised to find out that the song was composed by Shiro Hamaguchi(浜口史郎)who would come up with another grand but different song for an anime about a dozen years later. Animation director Hiroaki Gouda(合田浩章)wrote the lyrics to "Coro di dea" with Taro Yamashita(山下太郎)translating them into Latin.

Incidentally, happy belated birthday to Inoue (September 25th) who turns 17...again!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Top 10 Albums of 2014

1.  AKB48                                      Tsugi no Ashioto
2.  Various Artists                           Frozen: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
3.  Arashi                                        The Digitalian
4.  Namie Amuro                            Ballada
5.  NMB48                                      Sekai no Chuushin wa Osaka ya ~Namba Jichiku~
6.  J Soul Brothers                          The Best/Blue Impact
7.  Masaharu Fukuyama                 HUMAN
8.  Exile Tribe                                 The Revolution
9.  Kanjani Eight                            Kanjani-ism
10. Kis-My-Ft2                              HIT! HIT! HIT!



Top 10 Singles of 2014

1.  AKB48                                       Labrador Retriever
2.  AKB48                                       Kibouteki Refrain
3.  AKB48                                       Mae shika Mukanee
4.  AKB48                                       Suzukake Nanchara
5.  AKB48                                       Kokoro no Placard
6.  Arashi                                         Guts!
7.  Arashi                                         Bittersweet
8.  Nogizaka46                                Nando me no Aozora ka?
9.  EXILE TRIBE                           The Revolution
10. Nogizaka46                               Kizuitara Kataomoi



Friday, October 20, 2017

Hiroshi "GWAN" Sato -- Aozora(青空)


A few months ago, I wrote about a song introducing a folk singer/actor by the name of Hiroshi "GWAN" Sato(佐藤GWAN博)whose "Tanpopo no O-Sake"(たんぽぽのお酒)was fun enough to talk about. I mentioned that I would write more about him due to the presence of some other songs on YouTube.

(about 16:12)

Well, I dug up this one that was the title track for his debut album "Aozora"(Blue Sky)from 1976. It's the musical equivalent of a pleasant traipse through a park with that hint of City Pop. However, since I didn't get the impression that there was anything especially urban about the song, I decided to categorize it as a New Music tune. Sato doesn't sound as if he is classically trained in voice but I think that works to his and the song's advantage. He's just the everyday bloke cherishing his time off work and taking that stroll through green scenery under a blue sky.


I'm not sure when Sato performed this above version of "Aozora" but the arrangement this time is much more folksy with a whimsical country tang. Incidentally, the original song was arranged by Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一). This version, though, doesn't take as many flights of fancy as the original did. It's more of a happy straight-ahead telling. Hard to choose which one I like better.