Monday, April 30, 2018
It’s been a while since I last discovered one of these gravure aidoru turned singers from the early 90s. It’s no mystery that this has always been one of my favorite Japanese music niches, mostly because of how bad and really “in your face” it actually is. In fact, most of these artists were not even mainstream at all, being relegated to some shady variety TV shows that only wanted to show the girls in bikinis, but whatever. Really, it reminds me of how TV was decadent in Brazil during the 90s, but no complaining here.
Apparently, Harumi Inoue (井上晴美) was one member of a Onyanko Club-styled (おニャン子クラブ) larger group called Sakurakko Club Sakuragumi (桜っ子クラブさくら組). I’ve read this name a few times, but never listened to the group’s music, which is fine for me, since I’m not in a hurry to meet all B-rated aidoru groups from Japan’s past decades. And as I’m talking about B-rated aidoru, just to contextualize, I discovered Inoue’s songs after searching for some Aya Sugimoto’s (杉本彩) live performances on YouTube. So, nobody's more suited than the raunchy Sugimoto to pave my way for the awkwardly sexy Inoue.
Harumi Inoue only released two singles, in May and October 1991, respectively. The first was “Furimukanaide” (ふりむかないで), one very well known The Peanuts’ (ザ・ピーナッツ) song from the 60s, with a cover of Hibari Misora’s (美空ひばり) “Makkana Taiyou” (真赤な太陽) serving as the coupling song. As for the second single, it’s “Eve no Yuuwaku” (イヴの誘惑), a dance version of Beethoven’s “Für Elise”, which counted with a cover of Akiko Nakamura’s (中村晃子) “Nijiiro no Mizuumi” (虹色の湖) as the coupling song. In fact, with the obvious exception of Beethoven’s “Für Elise”, all of Inoue’s songs were covers from 60s hit singles.
Honestly, I don’t really care for “Furimukanaide” at all, and Inoue’s version does nothing to make the song stand out from the other million versions out there. Yes, this song is always pleasant, but it was probably meant to be a cute and safe debut song before launching Inoue’s brief music career into something sexier and cring… sorry, more interesting.
And with the b-side “Makkana Taiyou” things start to pick up, since Misora’s 60s hit is turned into a sexy funky house song with some slicky synths. Also, the clip is a must, since the seductive Inoue does everything to turn our attention away from the very low budget video. It’s almost as if we were watching one of those infamous image video, but with actual music (and not just some easy listening melodies) serving just as background noise. Well, it’s clear how Inoue’s looks were the true intended product here, but I like the cheesy music as well. I can groove in my chair and tap my feet to it.
Things are not very different in “Eve no Yuuwaku”... but maybe a little worse and less polished (which counts as better and more interesting to me, of course). If it wasn’t obvious enough how bad of a singer Inoue was (and dancer too, it that counts), this bizarre dance version of Beethoven’s “Für Elise” is here to scrub this fact in our faces. It continues in the sexy route and Beethoven would probably be a little bit upset – to say the least – at how one of his famous works turned into a piece of regurgitated pop in our times… or maybe he would be positively hypnotised by Inoue’s captivating persona (really?) and the strangeness of the whole thing. Who knows, right?
To finish Inoue’s adventure in the music industry as a solo act, we still have the delicious “Nijiiro no Mizuumi” with its urgent synth-y arrangement that maybe could pass as a Tetsuya Komuro (小室哲哉) production for Alisa Mizuki (観月ありさ) or Yuki Uchida (内田有紀), or even a Minako Tanaka (田中美奈子) song from her early studio albums. I also like how Inoue is dressed in this video, just like the almighty Reiko Kato (かとうれいこ) did for her video promotions one year earlier. The fashion style of those gravure aidoru turned singers was really something at the time. And the male dancers around Inoue??? Well, I really love how bad they are. Not that I'm a better dancer, but I don't show up on some random aidoru videos. Shame on them, but it's really funny to see.
I can’t tell if I will still be fascinated by Harumi Inoue’s music in the near future, but I'm still having fun with her cute crooked smile and cheap early 90s dance-pop tunes. Long live the obscure late 80s/early 90s aidoru!
"Furimukanaide" (left) and "Eve no Yuuwaku" (right)
Forgot to mention this but it's currently the Golden Week holidays in Japan so would like to wish all of my friends over there a happy holiday season. Also, as I write this, it is now May 1st in my former country of residence so the final year of the Heisei Era has officially begun. It may be several months yet before the government announces the name of the new reign period, though.
I was enjoying listening to the "Twilight" disc of the Light Mellow series of J-AOR/City Pop music last week. And since I don't listen to the CDs all that often, it's always nice to be able to get that repeat of the first bloom of interesting music. So indeed I got that wonderful revelation again, this time through Masamichi Sugi's（杉真理）"Mirai Seiki no Koibito e" (To Lovers of a Future Century).
Originally a track on his 12th album "Made In Heaven" from June 1991, one would think that with a title like "Mirai Seiki no Koibito e", the song would be all spacy and synthesizers galore. In fact, it is a very warm and inviting number with all of the atmosphere of a vacation in the Caribbean (and guess where all of us were last May?) and plenty of cocktails with those paper umbrellas in them. Masahiro Ando（安藤まさひろ）of the fusion band T-Square contributed his lovely guitar to Sugi's words and music.
Nikala once mentioned it in the very first article on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" for Sugi but although the singer-songwriter never quite reached superstar status, he provided lots of mellow songs for other songbirds. In fact, his file on the blog shows more of his clients' names than his own which is partially why I decided to put him up front and centre tonight. Of course, the other reason is that "Mirai Seiki no Koibito e" is such a nice song to hear on a Monday.
Looks like I won't really ever need to do an article on Kahoru Kohiruimaki's（小比類巻かほる）7th album "Distance" from October 1990 since I've covered almost half the album already through "Moving Action", "Twilight Avenue" and "Crazy Lover". Today, I get to do the oddly-titled "Like A Factory".
I gotta say that Kohhy has hardly aged since her debut in the mid-1980s which would put her in the same enviable category as Mariya Takeuchi（竹内まりや）. Sometimes I wonder if there is an ominous picture of Dorian Gray hidden in her home somewhere.
Anyways back to the song. "Like A Factory" was also her 15th single from November 1990 as well as a track on my favourite Kohhy album. When I first saw the title, I kinda thought that this song must have been about the most joyous manufacturing depot on the planet, but of course it was actually about the singer's metaphor for bringing all these different parts in life together to create the wondrous whole that is love. In any case, it's a fusion tune with some gospel overtones and a nice kick of horns to bring some happiness into people's lives.
"Like A Factory" was written by Kohiruimaki and composed by her and the late Yoshiaki Ohuchi（大内義昭）.
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Somewhat belated news but I heard about actress Yuko Asano（浅野ゆう子）getting married late last year with the announcement coming out in early January of this year 2018. So many congratulations to her and the lucky fellow who is just a civilian not involved in the entertainment industry.
Well, I can't just let this piece of happiness go by without paying some tribute to the happy couple. And sure enough, I found this cute little song about love titled "Koi wa Dan Dan" (Love is B-Bump) which was Asano's 2nd single when she had been an aidoru. She was all of 14 years old when she released this ditty of a girl trying to make the leap to some more mature love.
"Koi wa Dan Dan" came out in August 1974. It was written by Mieko Arima（有馬三恵子）and composed by Makoto Kawaguchi（川口真）, the same duo behind Asano's debut single "Tobidase Hatsukoi"（とびだせ初恋）which had come out in May of the same year.
Happy Sunday night folks! Earlier in the day, a friend and I managed to catch the Spielberg flick "Ready Player One" which was actually quite a sweet and Spielbergian sci-fi story. I heard that it did come out in Japan a week before the onslaught that is "Avengers: Infinity War", so I'm wondering if viewers there may have had reason to squee a bit on seeing an icon of anime appear (and no, I'm not referring to Sailor Moon) in the final battle.
Well, a couple of nights ago, I had some reason to squee on catching the above Hideki Saijo（西城秀樹）video. I don't think a lot of you would remember, but for a couple of articles, I mentioned that I once had an ancient Canadian Tire Mastercraft tape on which I had dubbed a "Sounds of Japan" episode which I subsequently erased by stupid accident. Those two articles were on songs that had been on that tape, Kenji Sawada's（沢田研二）"I am I" and Ai & Aki's（あい&AKI）"Roppongi Atari"（六本木あたり）.
Now I have found the final song that I can remember that was on that erased tape, and that would be Saijo's "Moonlight Dancing". I remember the lyric "Dancing in the moonlight, dancing in the moonlight...", and back on Friday, I merely threw in Saijo's name and the word "moonlight" into the YouTube search engine and voila. The song was indeed the one, much to my pleasure.
"Moonlight Dancing" was actually the B-side to Saijo's 33rd single "Ore-tachi no Jidai"（俺たちの時代...Our Times）from June 1980, and it is almost 4 minutes of Saijo dancing away to what sounds like a mix of Barry Manilow disco (with some synth steel drums) and perhaps some New Wave thrown in. Talk about a transitional tune here! Love the guitar solo as well.
Yoshiko Miura（三浦徳子）provided the lyrics while Kimio Mizutani（水谷公生）came up with the rumbling music. "Ore-tachi no Jidai" peaked at No. 6 on Oricon and became the 99th-ranked song for 1980. Both sides of the single ended up on Saijo's 13th album "BIG SUNSHINE/Saijo Hideki" from August of that year.
I can finally close the door to one mystery that had lasted over 30 years.
Saturday, April 28, 2018
When it comes to the vocal group Circus（サーカス）, I will always remember the quartet for "Mr. Summertime", the cover of the 1972 Michel Fugain song "Une Belle Histoire".
Well, I found out that their 3rd single following "Mr. Summertime", "Ai de Koroshitai" (Kill With Love), was another Michel Fugain cover, this time of "Chante la vie chante" from 1976, I believe. Released in July 1978, just a few months following "Mr. Summertime", "Ai de Koroshitai" has got a bit more of the Latin spice infused in there, trying to get folks onto the disco floor.
I will be honest...I'm not sure whether Circus' choreography during their onstage performances would have gotten viewers off their duffs here. Well, the song is still pleasant as an exotic kayo and perhaps even as a City Pop tune.
"Ai de Koroshitai" didn't rank as highly as "Mr. Summertime" but it still placed in at a respectable No. 28 on Oricon. Pierre Delanoe and Fugain were responsible for the creation of the original song but it was Rei Nakanishi（なかにし礼）who came up with the Japanese lyrics. The song was also a part of Circus' 1st album, "Circus 1"（サーカス1）, also from July 1978.
This is the original "Chante la vie chante" by Fugain. It's a bit more laid-back.
A bit sheepish to admit, but I haven't heard this CD in a long time. And yet, Yuki Koyanagi's（小柳ゆき）5th single, "be alive", from July 2000 is her most successful song according to the Oricon charts.
Perhaps it's just my impression but her star never quite reached the heights of other similar singers at the time such as Misia and Hikaru Utada（宇多田ヒカル）for some reason. That is a pity since she does have a glorious voice. Looking at her discography, Koyanagi has released 27 singles up to 2015 and 7 original albums up to 2007, and though she hit the Top 10 on the Oricon weeklies 5 times early in her career, she subsequently ended up more in the 20s and 30s.
But still, as I've pointed out above, that doesn't negate her talent and she is not alone when it comes to underrated singers...I'm thinking bird and Monday Michiru, for example. "be alive" was well-deserving of its No. 1 status, Koyanagi's only top-ranking single up to now. It's an R&B power ballad that I enjoy even more than her debut hit single "Anata no Kiss wo Kazoemashou ~ You Were Mine"（あなたのキスを数えましょう）.
I guess it's because it reminds me of some of the power ballads that I knew from the past in the 1980s and 1990s through Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. I still have a soft spot in my heart for the R&B of those days. Perhaps it doesn't push any envelopes melodically speaking, but it's still a solid song for me and it was the first single that I got by Koyanagi.
Along with hitting No. 1, "be alive" also managed to become the 47th-ranked single for 2000. Yu Higuchi（樋口侑）and Koyanagi wrote the lyrics while Kazuhiro Hara（原一博）came up with the music. The song also showed up on an album for the first time via the singer's 2nd release "EXPANSION" in August 2000 which was also a No. 1 hit, eventually becoming the 12th-ranked album of the year, becoming a million-seller.
Friday, April 27, 2018
This week, this song popped up twice on NHK's "Uta Kon"（うたコン）and "Gogo Uta"（ごごウタ）, and I was already sold on it when it appeared on the former so here it is on the blog tonight.
Hiroshi Itsuki（五木ひろし）is looking dapper as he has been for the last number of decades. Hard to believe that he has just turned 70. "Koiuta Sakaba" (Bar of Love Songs) was released earlier this year in January as a single, and what initially caught my attention about the song is the fact that it is using words by the late lyricist Yu Aku（阿久悠）who had passed away back in 2007. They are a tad saucy and flirtatious in that the protagonist seems to have gone so gaga for a fellow female drinker in the bar that he would be willing to hide his wedding band.
Another notable point is that Koji Tokuhisa's（徳久広司）melody doesn't follow a Mood Kayo pattern as a song in a bar would often go with. However, although it goes more for the enka, even then it's not quiet that either. I might even say that it has more of a European enka flavour, to use a term that I used to cite early in the blog's history. In fact, I would say that it has a folksy, perhaps woodsy, taste to it maybe with a dash of whimsy thrown in as the bar attendee wonders what possibilities there could be to this potential "two-boats-passing-in-the-night" affair.
(empty karaoke version)
Y'know, I could even picture the late folk/pop singer Kozo Murashita（村下孝蔵）tackling this one without anyone showing surprise. It's just a relaxing kayo to be nursed like that desired glass of mizuwari. Good to hear Itsuki and hopefully other singers still posthumously interpreting the creations of Aku.
Natsuki Hanae & Yukari Tamura -- Yokubari Dreamer（欲張り Dreamer）/ Wiseman -- The Wiseman Theme（ワイズマンのテーマ）
There have been a few out-of-left-field anime this Spring 2018 season. I've already spoken about one of them, "Hisone & Masotan"（ひそねとまそたん）with ASDF dragons and a France Gall ending theme.
Another one is "Last Period: Owarinaki Rasen no Monogatari"（ラストピリオド -終わりなき螺旋の物語-...Last Period: The Story of an Endless Spiral）which is based on an RPG and is something of a parody on the RPG itself with one of its characters regularly bashing down the Fourth Wall. It's a fun enough comedy which reminds me a bit of "Mahoujin Guru Guru"（魔法陣グルグル）although from watching the first couple of episodes, it hasn't quite reached that show's zaniness yet. So far, the breakout characters to me are the trio that make up Wiseman (check from about 12:30 in the above video).
Still pretty early on in the series so the full versions of the theme songs aren't up yet (now they are) but both the opening and ending themes are pretty darn catchy, maybe even earworm level. The opening theme is "Yokubari Dreamer" (Greed Dreamer) as performed by Natsuki Hanae & Yukari Tamura（花江夏樹・田村ゆかり）who play the characters of Haru and Choko respectively. There is something about the song that reminds me of a Disney musical (I almost expected Lumiere from "Beauty & The Beast" to welcome viewers most cordially) especially in the beginning until it returned to the usual bouncy comedy anime theme style. The song was written and composed by songwriter-guitarist no_my.
Then, comes the ending theme titled "The Wiseman Theme" by Wiseman（ワイズマン）themselves, the rival team of roving helpers and fixers that disrupt our heroes' attempts to do good each episode. The ladies are just as goofy and clueless as the protagonist Periods but they are also luckier for the most part.
"The Wiseman Theme" has those hints of old-fashioned tokusatsu hero music and perhaps even early 2000s Para Para dance music. Plus the dancing by Wiseman in the ending credits will most likely have videos of real-life people trying to emulate the characters. Sayaka Harada（原田彩楓）, Akari Kitou（鬼頭明里）and Ayumi Mano（真野あゆみ）portray Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru respectively. Shoko Fujibayashi（藤林聖子）provided the lyrics while Kaoru Okubo（大久保薫）took care of the earworm-y music.
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Nice and smooth like a good Brown Cow (sorry, can't handle brandy), this is a pleasant Michiru Kojima（児島未散）number to discover. The title track from her 3rd album in December 1989, "Key of Dreams", this is another fine example of City Pop in the late 1980s or perhaps that sophisticated pop that I've often characterized the latter part of that decade by.
However you want to look at it, it's a bright traipse down a glorious Tokyo avenue during the Bubble Era with those champagne synths and oh-so-mellow chorus work leading the way. Drop by that nighttime cafe-bar? Go shopping in Aoyama? The song seems to be stating that the sky's the limit. According to Music Avenue, Yumi Yoshimoto（吉元由美）, the frequent songwriting partner with Anri（杏里）at the time, took care of lyrics with City Pop maestro Tetsuji Hayashi（林哲司）coming up with the urban contemporary music. Finally to add that sophisticated shine in the arrangements is Etsuko Yamakawa（山川恵津子）, no stranger to the genre.
Considering I was living in the mountains of the Japanese Alps at the time, I do wonder what it would have been like to have resided in the urban jungle of Tokyo at the time. I wouldn't have minded music such as this as my personal BGM.
Long time, no see UA! I gather that it's been about 3 years since I put up a song by her, so time to rectify that absence.
Somewhere deep in my collection of DVDs, there is one which contains a lot of her music videos in the 1990s and early 2000s, so I remember catching her very first one for her debut single "Horizon" released in June 1995.
I was a bit surprised that "Horizon" didn't register in the Oricon charts at all after its release although admittedly in comparison, UA wasn't quite as polished here as she would be in later singles. However, her vocals and the melody by Hiroshi Fujiwara (藤原ヒロシ) showed a lot of promise in terms of the indie-ish pop/funk that I'm hearing here (UA provided the lyrics). It would be another few years before I finally bought her first full album "11" after seeing her otherworldly beauty on a number of other discs often on the shelves at Tower Records.
"Horizon" was also a track on her first mini-album "Petit" which came out in October 1995.
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
The first time I heard this Tatsuro Yamashita（山下達郎）tune recently, I was quite blown away. Well, it is titled "Storm" after all.
Of course, "Storm" impressed me with its urban coolness factor, but that's what I've come to often expect from a Yamashita creation from the 1970s and 1980s. But what surprised me was how soft his vocals were for most of this track from his 4th studio album "MOONGLOW" from October 1979. I mean, it was almost as if he wanted to emulate the calm before the storm rather than the storm itself while those ominous winds were blowing in the background.
There are several seconds of quiet before the melody begins to seep in like a light shower, and then it's another several seconds...into the second minute...before Tats starts and keeps on going in sotto voce aside from a few punchy lightning-strike moments. The funk and soul also slide in very gently as the volume gradually builds before a combination of strings and sax and guitar bring on some drama. You don't just listen to "Storm", you savor it. I can only imagine what the song must have sounded like at his concerts.
As for "MOONGLOW", it peaked at No. 20 on Oricon. Strangely enough, I wonder if "Storm" can be considered to be a Japanese example of Quiet Storm music. According to the J-Wiki article on the album, "Storm" was influenced by some of that Chicago soul music by bands such as The Lost Generation.
Back in early March, I proudly crowed that I was covering the second album of Mioko Yamaguchi's（山口美央子）trio of releases, "Nirvana" when she was actively singing in the 1980s. That is still true but in the past few days, I did receive from the LOGIC STORE one more creation from the singer-songwriter.
"ANJU" was Yamaguchi's BEST album from November 1985 with all of her selections from the previous three albums plus two new songs. Now, since the original albums have come out as remastered CDs in one big bang along with this particular release, the feeling was that there probably wasn't any need to release the totality of that 1985 BEST compilation so the new "ANJU" has come out as a "single" of sorts with just the two new songs. I was fortunate to get from Toshi of the LOGIC STORE not only the CD but also a commemorative 45" with those two songs (many thanks, Toshi). Getting a donut-ban like that would make it the first time in over 30 years that I actually received a fresh vinyl record.
The first song is "Koi Suru Butterfly" (Butterfly In Love) and the second is "ANJU". Both are pretty sparkly technopop numbers written and composed by Yamaguchi.
"Koi Suru Butterfly" has a protagonist who is just as fluttery as that titular butterfly because she has butterflies in her stomach about falling in love with a friend. The melody is also as fluttery with a nice touch of techno steel drums. Yamaguchi did note on the cover that she had wanted to create something with a calypso beat.
Meanwhile "ANJU" is just a tad darker although the boppy technopop is still in there to such an extent that both songs could almost be considered to be siblings. Yamaguchi's lyrics for "ANJU" perhaps relate the aftermath of a fight between a couple with one dealing with the inevitable regrets. The percolating melody reminds me of something slightly New Wave and I could imagine an aidoru of that time singing this one on a show like "The Best 10".
The other notable thing about the two songs is that they were also produced and arranged by none other than Joe Hisaishi（久石譲）who would become famous for all of his creations for those Studio Ghibli movies.
By the way, I gotta say that I love the type face for the title! Sophisticated and 80s at the same time.
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Good golly! I barely drink and yet I'm masterfully mesmerized by these videos I've found on the channel Bar-Times. These Japanese bartenders love to put a bit of style into their mixology. I'm not sure if Mr. Mori put in vermouth into his Mori Martini but it looks like it was barely an angstrom.
Anyways, the above was a nice little aperitif for my last song on this rather prolific evening, "Kanojo ni Dry na Martini wo" which could be translated as either "A Dry Martini for Her" or "A Dry Martini for My Girlfriend". However, let's be optimistic and go with the latter.
A track from Yasuhiro Abe's（安部恭弘）7th album "Tune box the summer 1986" from July of that titular year, it's a pretty good drive song along the shore, although for safety reasons, I hope it's just the passenger enjoying the martinis at the bar. Abe took care of music with Chinfa Kan（康珍化）behind the lyrics, and there is that twangy guitar which seems to be a frequent ingredient of an uptempo Abe number. It sounds like a fairly celebratory song as the singer yells out the title and the melody bespeaks of some good times ahead for the couple.
In any case, have another cocktail on me.
In terms of commuting within the Greater Tokyo Area, I got to know Japan Railways as much as I did the Tokyo subways. Often, I took the looping green Yamanote Line and since I had to regularly hightail it out all the way to Chiba City at one point in my teaching career, I got to take (and sleep on) the yellow Sobu Line. However, due to priorities in commuting, I never took the orange Chuo Line all that much although it had a truly long range between Tokyo Station and the wilds of Mt. Takao which is officially within the Tokyo city limits.
Man, it has been a long time since I wrote about the band THE BOOM. I did write about their most famous hit "Kaze ni Naritai"（風になりたい）back in late 2012, so it's been around 5.5 years.
But this song here is another whose melody is quite familiar to me. "Chuo Sen" was THE BOOM's 19th single from June 1996 although it had actually been the coupling song to the band's 5th single, "Sakadachi sureba Kotae ga Wakaru"（逆立ちすれば答えがわかる...You'll Know The Answer Once You Stand On Your Head）which came out in July 1990. Written and composed by vocalist Kazufumi Miyazawa（宮沢和史）, it strikes me as being a pretty cool and languid ballad about someone reminiscing of a past love while waxing romantic about the titular JR line. Mind you, considering how crowded the Chuo Line could get, Miyazawa must have had some imagination. The single peaked at No. 84 on Oricon. "Chuo Sen" was also a track on THE BOOM's 3rd album "JAPANESKA" from September 1990 which broke the Top 10 by landing at No. 4.
Also, one would be forgiven if he/she thought that "Chuo Sen" would be a shoo-in as a campaign song for the actual line. But then again, why would JR need to create a commercial for a commuter line that is guaranteed tons of passengers every day? In any case, the song was used instead for the contracting firm, Shimizu Corporation, and the Matsumoto Yamaga Football Club in the J-League as a cheer song by its fans.
A decade later in 2006, Akiko Yano & Kazumasa Oda（矢野顕子・小田和正）provided a wonderful duet for their cover of "Chuo Sen" in Yano's 26th album "Hajimete no Yano Akiko"（はじめてのやのあきこ...The First Akiko Yano）. This version really brings relaxation, and it doesn't so much evoke images of train riding than it does bring images of sitting beside a placid pond. The album reached as high as No. 42.
Now I've found out that Yano had made an earlier cover of the ballad in her 13th album "Super Folk Song" from June 1992 which peaked at No. 10. The arrangement seems to be the same for both Yano takes.
To finish off, Miyazawa and Yano also performed a duet that nikala can tell you about.
Tonight's "Uta Kon"（うたコン）, which only finished here a mere 10 minutes ago, took the geographical kayo way outside of Japan to countries like Turkey and even my nation of Canada.
America was also included in the musical whirlwind tour and it was represented by Hamako Watanabe's（渡辺はま子）"San Francisco Chinatown". There were a lot of songs that got my memories going but I never knew the title and the original singer for this number that also sparked my engrams. And what specifically sparked them was the cheerful singing by Watanabe that was almost a yodel.
Released in November 1950, "San Francisco Chinatown" was written by Takao Saeki（佐伯孝夫）and composed by Shunichi Sasaki（佐々木俊一）. And it was a song that was performed by Watanabe on the very first Kohaku Utagassen on January 3rd 1951 when it was only broadcast on NHK Radio. The singer would perform it three more times on the televised versions of the New Year's Eve special in 1956, 1964 and 1973.
I only got to visit San Francisco once in 1990 so far, and although I missed out on getting that wonderful view of the Golden Gate Bridge because of...and it's no surprise...fog, my group and I were able to enjoy a fine dinner in Chinatown. I would proudly put up Toronto's Chinese cuisine against any of the equivalent fare around the world, including that in Hong Kong, but I have to say that dinner in San Francisco that one night was one of my finest culinary experiences ever. I would say more but I don't want to have Larry blush too much.😋
When I was a kid, I used to hear the name Olivia Hussey bandied about from time to time, not really knowing who she was. Well, I found out that she was this actress who got her big break in the 1960s from her role as Juliet in "Romeo & Juliet" (some sort of doomed romance, I think). However, the Japanese especially fell for her hard and it didn't hurt that she was married to singer Akira Fuse（布施明）for a time.
Last week on NHK's "Uta Kon"（うたコン）, some of the male performers gave a rendition of a song by Four Leaves（フォーリーブス）. The name sounded familiar but for the life of me, that was really the only thing I could fathom about this group.
As it turns out, Four Leaves was one of the earliest Johnny's Entertainment groups, so you can say that it is one of the grand ancestors for SMAP and Arashi（嵐）. The group consisted of Koji Kita（北公次）, Takashi Aoyama（青山孝史）, Toshio Egi（江木俊夫）and Masao Orimo（おりも政夫）with their debut single, "Olivia no Shirabe" (Olivia's Melody) coming out in September 1968.
Man, it's quite the groovy trip with some of those nostalgic horns, rumbling drums and jangly guitar. And yep, the song is a lovelorn tribute to the aforementioned Olivia Hussey. She was indeed popular. Kita himself wrote the lyrics while Kunihiko Suzuki（鈴木邦彦）took care of the dynamic music. Nice touch with the harp, by the way. Just the whole arrangement has me thinking Group Sounds but probably none of the members ever touched instruments when performing anyways.
"Olivia no Shirabe" peaked at No. 15 on Oricon and it was also a track on their album "Hit! Hit! Hit! Four Leaves Golden Show ~ Four Leaves 1965-1975". Four Leaves lasted until 1978 after 38 singles and 7 consecutive appearances on the Kohaku Utagassen. In 2002, the four decided to get the old band together and even put out a new single "it's more Ai"（it's more 愛...It's More Love）in that year before finally calling it quits in 2009.
You might want to check out another kayo in tribute to another Olivia.
Monday, April 23, 2018
I was writing my last article when I was called into dinner at around 5pm tonight and that's when I found out about the horrible attack earlier this afternoon in North York which is a huge area in the Greater Toronto Area. At the time of the attack (around 1:30 EDT), I was actually working on my usual translation assignment, and during that time, I didn't have any media on (which is usually the case when I'm working).
At this point, we don't have any idea what motivated the attacker to mow down pedestrians with a van. Various media folks have been yelling terrorism but it's way too early to know for certain now. What is certain is that at this writing, 9 people are dead,16 people are injured and many many more who were in the area are traumatized.
The area I'm talking about is the segment of Yonge St., the main north-south street of Toronto, between Finch Avenue and Sheppard Avenue in the northern part of the city. When I was writing the first paragraph above, I heard one of the folks on CBC saying that she often visited that area and that the carnage could have happened to anyone. I can certainly agree...I could have been there. I often visit that particular segment since a cluster of ramen restaurants has popped up in that district in recent years and one of the major movie theatres I frequent is located there. In fact, "Kayo Kyoku Plus" collaborator Larry and I went to the ramen restaurant Konjiki right there just two weeks ago for lunch.
Police have told all of the owners of those various businesses on Yonge St to close up shop and go home and so, that usual bustling section there is now a very quiet but massive crime scene. It'll probably stay that way for the next few days.
My relatives including my brother have called to make sure that we are OK and one of my former students and good friend checked up on me via Facebook. The rest of my family are also fine but there are several families out there who are enduring the ultimate horror and that is where my sympathies lie right now.
Love the song, love the cover! As for the latter, that is the cover for singer-songwriter Miyako Chaki's（茶木みやこ）1976 album "Tobenakunaru wa"（翔べなくなるわ...Won't Be Able To Fly）. Talk about a great photo to reflect City Pop of the 1970s...the singer in a denim outfit looking rather pensive as she sits in a chic drinking establishment, perhaps watching people and life go by.
J-Wiki has Chaki categorized as a folk singer, and perhaps she was earlier in her career, but this second track from "Tobenakunaru wa" is pure urban. "Chizu douri ni Hashirikitta Anata" (Running Behind The Map) sounds as the title reads: a sunrise intro followed by a speedy and soaring race through a Japanese metropolis. It's fueled by some funky keyboard and a great wacka-wacka guitar, and I would probably get the album on this song alone. Nobukazu Hioki（日置信和）provided the lyrics while Chaki came up with the fast-paced melody. Also love the instrumental bridge with the guitar and the sax, by the way.
Chaki was born and raised in Kyoto. While attending Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts, she and Kyoko Kobayashi（小林京子）formed a folk duo named Pink Pickles（ピンク・ピクルス）in 1970 which was so named after the shibazuke pickles from her hometown. Two singles and an album came out of the relationship before the duo broke up in 1972.
It was a nice Sunday yesterday. Got some really good, really seasonal weather for the first time in several months and it wasn't just me and my anime buddy but we had a guest appearance from another old friend and his son. So it was time to go out for some spicy Szechuan fare and then some dessert.
I gotta say that there are some offbeat shows this season of Spring 2018. We got another anime about dragons although this one isn't listed as a slice-of-life comedy but more of a wartime drama according to Wikipedia. Looking at the first few scenes of "Hisone to Masotan"（ひそねとまそたん...Hisone & Masotan）, I thought it was a straight show about a young awkward lady trying to fulfill her dreams of becoming an ASDF pilot for Japan.
Then I saw the dragon Masotan and, nope, it wasn't going to be all that simple. Still, there is plenty of humour to be had with the main character of Hisone Amakasu（甘粕ひそね）who might have Asperger's and awkwardness, and her frenemy (?), the cranky and resentful punk Nao Kaizaki（貝崎名緒）. My friend told me that Mari Okada（岡田麿里）is the screenwriter for the show, and apparently she has a penchant for killing off her characters in horrible myriad ways so perhaps I shouldn't get too attached to any of them. But then again, the notorious Gen Urobuchi（虚淵玄）was actually pretty nice (relatively speaking) on "Suisei no Gargantia"（翠星のガルガンティア...Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet）, so you never know.
Although Winter 2018 didn't have any instant earworms among the anime themes (although a few of them have grown on me), it looks like Spring 2018 may unearth a few musical maggots including the ending theme for "Hisone to Masotan", a cover of the late France Gall's "Le temps de la rentrée" with the added Japanese subtitle of "Koi no Ieji (Shin Gakki)"（恋の家路（新学期）...Love's Road Home (New School Term)）. As if things couldn't get even more weirder. The show has this cover of a French ye-ye tune performed by all of the Dragon Pilots or D-Pi (although not all of them have been introduced yet as of the 2nd episode) played by Misako Kuno（久野美咲）as Hisone, Tomoyo Kurosawa（黒沢ともよ）as Nao, Maki Kawase（河瀬茉希）, Satomi Arai（新井里美）and Kaori Nazuka（名塚佳織）. Plus, the ending credits have the characters channeling their inner American Bandstand.
The original song was a track on Gall's "Baby Pop" album from 1966 with father Robert and brother Patrice creating "Le temps de la rentrée". The song is only around a minute and change long so perhaps what I heard on the ending credits is the entire version. Short but very sweet.
Saturday, April 21, 2018
(Unfortunately the video has been taken down.)
In the last several months of my stay in Japan in 2011, I had heard of this J-Drama on TV Asahi titled "Bartender"（バーテンダー）starring Masaki Aiba（相葉雅紀）from Johnny's group Arashi（嵐）. I saw the commercials pitching this show and I quickly figured out that Aiba would be playing the typical J-Drama trope of a character who seemed to have one foot in reality and another one in surreality while possessing this otherworldly ability. For this show, Aiba was the bartender extraordinaire who could whip up the perfect drink to not only quench a troubled customer's thirst but miraculously heal his problems.
And I gather that this was an idea whose time had come. Bartenders the world over have been, rightly or wrongly, seen as counselors without the high fees per hour. A joke that I used to do when I was teaching English was whenever I saw one of my students plop himself/herself down in front of me looking a bit more down/stressed than usual, I took my handkerchief and pretend to wipe down the table as if I were a mixologist polishing the bar before asking "O-nayami desu ka?"（お悩みですか。Anything troubling you?）.
Little did I know that "Bartender" had its origins as a manga back in 2004 and that a couple of years later, Fuji-TV even released an anime version, presumably in the late-night hours. I saw Episode 1 just this morning when I first discovered that there had been an anime about it, and yeah, sure enough, the bartender Ryu Sasakura was there in the near-secret Eden Hall bar in Ginza ready to dispense the right drink, advice and solution to the imbiber in trouble. Yeah, the premise is probably corny to all heck but wouldn't anyone enjoy that sort of treatment at a classy all-wooden temple of mixology?...at least, until the bill comes.
I liked the ending theme for "Bartender", "Hajimari no Hito" (The First One) as well. This was the 9th and penultimate single (December 2006) by Natural High（ナチュラル ハイ）, a female duo with vocalist Yuko Shiroki（白木裕子）and pianist Kaoruko Ohtake（大嶽香子）. Ohtake was responsible for words and music, and for that matter, the score for the anime itself.
Although "Hajimari no Hito" relates the story of a woman reminiscing about her first love in high school a decade after the fact, I think it also fits the bar milieu. The soft piano arrangement rather approaches that Bill Evans type of jazz that could be heard in any classy drinking establishment but the song is still a pop ballad to me. Plus, Shiroki's vocals are as enticing as that kind bartender inviting you in for a spell of good drink and banter in comfy surroundings.
"Hajimari no Hito" peaked at No. 161 on Oricon. Along with their 10 singles, Natural High released a mini-album and 2 full albums. Their run lasted between 2003 and 2008.
Earlier this afternoon, I received a message from the contact form from someone who has gotten into 70s and 80s Japanese music and wanted to know a little about this song by singer-songwriter Yasuha（泰葉）. Yasuha is probably most famously known for the gangbusters dynamic "Fly-Day Chinatown" (yeah, I know...ROUND ONE!).
Well, I was quite happy to get the request since it had been a while since I came out with a Yasuha tune. And y'know, it's always nice to hear an 80s Japanese City Pop number with the thumping bass and growling guitar and all those quick key shifts.
The song of note here is Yasuha's 2nd single from March 1982, "Blue Night Blue" which was written by veteran lyricist Toyohisa Araki（荒木とよひさ）and composed by the singer herself. It is a let's-paint-the-town-red sort of number for enjoying the bright lights and big city of Tokyo, and considering the times when this was released, there were probably oodles to enjoy. There was also a request on what Araki's lyrics all meant, and basically it comes down to a young and beautiful couple having a "You, me and the stars" moment while having a night on the town. I'm thinking cocktails at 8 up in a hotel rooftop bar in Shinjuku. Perhaps it's my imagination but I think Yasuha may have even placed a little echo of "Fly-Day Chinatown" in the song, too.
Now that the weather is finally getting more seasonal and reasonable, perhaps it's time to bring back some Anri（杏里）. Always summery and vivacious!
The lyrics and music were provided by Tomohiro Kobayashi（小林倫博）with arrangement by Shigeru Suzuki（鈴木茂）. That intro still reminds me of Yuming's（ユーミン）presence for some reason and the overall song has hints of a 70s soul number whose title I can't remember right now. Perhaps one of you readers may know. In any case, knowing Anri for those huge 80s and early 90s hits, it's always refreshing hearing her early material. Incidentally, another song from the album is also present on the blog, "Chichuukai Dream"（地中海ドリーム）.
Friday, April 20, 2018
For one of the YouTube videos for the singer bird, someone wrote down that if artists like bird actually appeared on the Kohaku Utagassen, he/she would actually watch the NHK New Year's Eve special. That's a personal opinion, of course, but I can also sympathize since I think that bird has been a vastly underrated talent. According to her article on J-Wiki, although her first three albums broke into the Top Ten of Oricon, she's never had a single that broke into that big list; the closest single was her 4th, "Sora no Hitomi"（空の瞳）, in 1999 which peaked at No. 14.
And here is this wonderful number "Kami wo Hodoite" (Undo Your Hair) which was bird's 19th single from September 2004 which apparently didn't even chart. Unfortunately, it isn't included in my copy of "Free Soul Collection" whose picture you see at the top. This is one of those hair-standing-on-the-back-of-my-neck discoveries when I first heard it last night.
It's one of those classy numbers that I can't quite categorize definitively. It seems to weave very comfortably through pop, groove, jazz and J-AOR. But what I can say is that it's just a great song to feel the melody and bird's wonderful voice. It is truly birdsong. And the interesting thing is that bird sings a lot of "Kami wo Hodoite" in this lower register.
bird herself came up with the lyrics of the electricity of falling in love while Takaki Horigome（堀込高樹）came up with the great music. Horigome is one-half of the brother duo Kirinji which came up with the just-as-lovely "Aliens" back in 2000. Wouldn't it be nice indeed to have some of that city groove in the Kohaku?
A few weeks ago, a bunch of us got together at a downtown pub to welcome back an old friend who's now living out in Vancouver with his family. That pub grub was sure plentiful and good. While we were all digesting away later, another old friend suddenly brought out some CDs that he no longer wanted, and the ones he gave me were Michael Jackson's "HIStory" and the one whose photo you see up there. I was a tad surprised and delighted since I was wondering how many more Mariya Takeuchi（竹内まりや）albums I can collect.
I had made a wrong assumption about her "Longtime Favorites". I'd thought the album was a regular release that had come out in the 1980s or 1990s. Considering what a beauty Takeuchi has been all these decades, it's not easy to tell. Actually, it was released in October 2003 and it wasn't a regular original album but a special album of covers that answers the question "What songs had inspired Mariya when she was a kid?"
And for folks who have listened to the song stylings of Ms. Takeuchi like I have over many years, it is a valid question. This is a lady who started out singing this mix of urban contemporary at the time and numbers that hinted at the pop tunes of the 1950s and 1960s. I rather thought that she was perhaps channeling Connie Francis and Lesley Gore among others; perhaps the soundtrack of "Grease" was another inspiration.
Well, according to the tracklist, it looks like Takeuchi must have listened to music from America, Italy, France and the UK. One of my favourite songs from "Longtime Favorites" is the lovely "The Shadow of Your Smile" with Katsuhisa Hattori（服部克久）providing the strings arrangement to this classic so smoothly that Nelson Riddle is probably smiling down from above.
I couldn't find any separate videos for the individual tracks but above there is the link to Tower Records for the entire album (albeit only excerpts). The very first song is "You Don't Know" originally by Helen Shapiro in 1961 with the Japanese lyrics by Kenji Sazanami（漣健児）. As soon as I heard this track, I could go "Yup, indeed that is vintage Mariya."
Track 3 is "Where The Boys Are" (1961) originally by Connie Francis. If someone were to ask me which song could Mariya have sung as a girl in her bedroom, I would point out this one easily. She didn't have the exact same vocals as Francis, but close enough.
Then Track 7 is "Walk Right Back" (1961) by The Everly Brothers. But this time, it's Takeuchi and her husband Tatsuro Yamashita（山下達郎）doing a playful version that could have been performed in front of friends in their living room at a party.
My last track for tonight is Track 8 which is "L'Amore Ha I Tuoi Occhi" (1965) by Bruno Filippini. I have never heard of this song before but Takeuchi gives a romantically sweeping take. If there are any Italian readers here, perhaps you can inform me whether her pronunciation of the language passes muster.
I actually did write about one track from "Longtime Favorites" quite a while back which was another duet, but this time Takeuchi is paired with the late Eiichi Ohtaki（大滝詠一）to do "Somethin' Stupid" (1967).
Happily, "Longtime Favorites" peaked at No. 1 on Oricon and was the 48th-ranked album for 2003.
|The Bishop Burger at|
The Bishop and Belcher.
I was certainly the 2nd name after
downing this baby!
Thursday, April 19, 2018
Two weeks ago, I was writing about this haunting ballad of lost love by Yoshio Hayakawa（早川義夫）titled "Salvia no Hana"（サルビアの花）that has been covered a number of times since his original version was released back in 1969. For me, it is that original that struck me as the most interesting version.
I also found out that Hayakawa had been a member of the band Jacks（ジャックス）which has been described at J-Wiki as covering psychedelic rock, progressive rock and New Rock. That latter category was purely a Japanese creation as recording companies around the late 1960s had wanted to distinguish their young bands somehow from the others. According to J-Wiki, the name really didn't have much of a meaning outside of describing music that wasn't related to Group Sounds or anything that was Beatles-ish in sound. Apparently, Jacks was included in this ephemeral genre along with bands such as PYG, April Fool and Happy End. Happy End has also been seen as one of the first New Music or even City Pop groups.
But going back to Jacks, Hayakawa, Suehiro Takahashi（高橋末広）and Eri Matsubara（松原絵里）who were classmates at Wako High School in Tokyo's Machida City, formed up the folk trio known as Nightingale（ナイチンゲイル）as a predecessor to Jacks. Matsubara left the band in the summer of 1966 with the name change to Jacks, and then jazz drummer Takasuke Kida（木田高介）joined along with others which had the band going into this new direction of rock.
To quote the Wikipedia entry on the band:
Jacks played in a distinct musical style fused with ambient psychedelic, surf, folk and jazz. The group had a dark, introspective sound with an exploratory, improvisational edge and sometimes headed into moody instrumental excursions. The Jacks typically employed reverb, tremolo and subtle fuzz-guitar and also utilized the vibraphone, organ and wind instruments such as the flute. Lead singer Yoshio Hayakawa sung in Japanese and typically ranged from a low, calm and tranquil voice to throaty, desperate sounding wails. Similarly, drummer Takasuke Kida would follow suit, going from subtle jazzy sounding fills to complicated, offbeat rhythms and manic cymbal crashes.
From the J-Wiki article, I also found out that Jacks specialized in expressing the frustrations and discord among youth through the passionate vocal stylings by Hayakawa and Kida's jazz-influenced soundscaping.
Their debut single in March 1968 was "Karappo no Sekai" (Vacant World) which was also the title of their first album that came out later in the year in September. Hayakawa took care of both words and music for this very languid and atmospheric song that is characterized by the use of flute and koto. The vocalist also matches pace with the music as he sings in a dirge about a man who says he doesn't want to die and yet seems to be surrounded by absolute despair and emptiness. I never thought those two concepts could come off sounding so beautiful (?). I wouldn't be surprised at all if "Karappo no Sekai" has been used as background music for the performance art of Butoh.
There was no mention in either the J-Wiki or Wikipedia articles on how well it did on the Oricon charts, and most likely, "Karappo no Sekai" the single may not have even charted due to the lyrical content. In the music world of Group Sounds and enka, the New Rock of Jacks was perhaps seen as too alien. The Wikipedia article even mentioned that the song had been banned from radio. I guess the programmers didn't really like Debbie Downer lyrics.
Jacks' career was relatively short with the band disbanding in 1969. In the J-Wiki article, Hayakawa gave the reason for the breakup: "To be frank, the biggest reason for the breakup was that we couldn't sell. If we had been a bit more successful, we wouldn't have disbanded."
Despite all that, though, "Karappo no Sekai" the album was ranked at No. 13 in Rolling Stone Japan's "The 100 Greatest Japanese Rock Albums of All Time", (although some of the albums listed aren't rock-oriented at all...and strangely, "Karappo no Sekai" is listed as "Jacks on Sekai") and I think Jacks has probably influenced a number of bands including the ones mentioned above. At the very least, the band did let future pop artists know that not all songs needed to be all sunshine and blue sky all the time. Certainly, the use of Western and Japanese instruments in a pop/rock setting as was the case in their debut single has been used by bands as varied as PSY-S and Hiroshima, although I don't know whether Jacks was the first band to do so.
However, being just a blogger who is just as new to Jacks as some of you viewers are, I think there are better insights in this October 2009 article I found via Wikipedia on the "Garage Hangover" site.