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, July 31, 2018

Love Tambourines -- Spend The Day Without You

Over the years in Japan, there were a lot of longtime presences in the form of CD albums that I kept on seeing whenever I went into Tower Records in Shibuya. My curiosity finally got the better for me with one of those artists and I finally got an album by UA and a number of her singles which I haven't regretted since. But there were others who I left unpurchased. One such group was Clammbon(クラムボン) and I think I ought to try to rectify that situation.

Another band that I'm starting to have the same feelings for is Love Tambourines(ラヴ・タンバリンズ). It seems as if they always had one of their albums on prominent display on the shelves on the first floor or on the J-Pop floor. And yet, this was a group whose time only lasted between 1991 and 1995. For me, the face of Love Tambourines was ELLIE who now goes by the name ELI (still the same pronunciation), but I never found out what kind of music the group represented.

Well, reading their article on J-Wiki, Shibuya-kei was their bag. In fact, the article pointed out that ELLIE had been put alongside Kahimi Karie(カヒミ・カリイ)as one of "the divas of Shibuya-kei", especially with the release of their 1994 single "Midnight Parade". One of the songs on that disc was "Spend The Day Without You" and I heard it first before looking them up on J-Wiki.

Yup, I realize that Shibuya-kei incorporates a lot of influences such as French ye-ye, soul, DeVol scores, and the like but on listening to "Spend The Day Without You", the first impression for me was that this was a sunny soul song of the 1970s (aside from the spacey keyboard solo), plain and simple, old-style R&B. It didn't automatically dawn on me that this was part of the Shibuya-kei family alongside the works of Karie and Pizzicato 5. For one thing, ELLIE's vocals seem so fresh and raw, and my feelings about Shibuya-kei is that there is a lot of smoothness in the production. Plus, there is something in her delivery that reminds me of Gladys Knight, especially through her signature song with The Pips, "Midnight Train To Georgia", although I realize that Knight's voice is more velvety.

Although Love Tambourines disbanded over 20 years ago, ELI is still performing and released her first single in 11 years only two months ago, "Stay Gold". And it looks like she's using her old nom de artiste again.

Junko Ohashi -- Sweet Love

Whether it be through some of her really funky material from the 1970s such as "Funky Little Queenie", her big tenderhearted hit going into the 1980s, "Silhouette Romance"(シルエット・ロマンス)and the post-disco "Telephone Number" which has become a darling in one corner of YouTube, Junko Ohashi(大橋純子)has just enthralled me with her voice. I've said it before but since my introduction to her was through the softer "Silhouette Romance", I was thrown to the ground figuratively when I realized how much of a voice she had when I came across her earlier and later urban contemporary stuff.

Now I can also say that Ohashi can thrill me in the 1990s as well. "Sweet Love", which is the first track on her October 1995 album "For Tomorrow", is another winner. Going with the times, the arrangement is definitely urban contemporary but is still very different from the numbers that I've mentioned in that first paragraph. But that voice of hers is still the wonderful constant. I would say that this would fit the sophisticated pop and champagne synths that started off in the late 1980s. Lovely sax, too.

Her husband of 39 years, Ken Sato(佐藤健), provided the melody while she wrote the lyrics which is very appropriate since "Sweet Love" is all about the joy of being with the one you love.

Just before I logged into "Kayo Kyoku Plus" to write about "Sweet Love", I came across the unfortunate news that Ohashi had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer a few months previously in March, according to this website which was linked to Ohashi's article on J-Wiki. Also, I did find the televised announcement on YouTube. The singer-songwriter has mentioned that it is an early form of the cancer, so I am hopeful that treatment will be successful.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Akiko Yano -- Ashkenazy Who?

Ashkenazy who? Yep, that wasn't only a query from me but also the title of this track from Akiko Yano's(矢野顕子)5th album "Tadaima."(ただいま。)from 1981.

The only time that I heard anything resembling that first word was also a part of a title of one of the more vital episodes of the original "X-Files". However, the truth out there is actually much more grounded on Earth, since singer-songwriter Yano's aim was to devote her song to pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, originally from Russia but now an Icelandic resident.

I couldn't find out the inspiration for the song although the lyrics point to some love for the man's talent. In any case, if someone who had never heard of Yano before but was interested in her work asked me about her, then this would be one song that I would introduce since for me, Yano will forever be that singer who had her own corner of technopop in the early 1980s. Moreover, "Ashkenazy Who?" has those Yano tropes: a melody going its own whimsical way and her breathy voice peppered with her vocal effects. I think it almost strays into Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)territory from that time.

Listening to "Ashkenazy Who?", I wonder whether there will ever be anything like this sort of music again as I realized that there would only ever be one Akiko Yano. Still, wouldn't it be interesting to have this sort of technopop again which doesn't need to be played at an EDM rave?

Yukari Hashimoto -- Sono Koi wa, Shojo Manga Sarete Yuku(その恋は、少女漫画化されてゆく)

Happy Monday to all! Last night, I saw Episode 12 of the 2014 anime "Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-kun"(月刊少女野崎くん...Girls' Monthly Nozaki-kun)which ended up being the 5th or 6th time watching the entire series again. I don't think I've repeated any other show as much as I have this one which goes to show how much I've enjoyed the (mis-)adventures of Nozaki, Sakura, Mikorin and company. Apparently, the manga is still going with the relationship between the artistically talented but otherwise dense Nozaki and the ever-smitten Sakura with perhaps just a smidgen of progress on the latter's side. I'm still hopeful for a second season, although as it has been 4 years since its premiere on TV Tokyo, my hopes may be waning faster than Sakura's ardour for ol' Nozaki-kun.

I wasn't all that surprised by the ending of that final episode although like a lot of other fans, I kinda wanted to throttle Nozaki-kun and knock him about the head like Biff did to Marty McFly:


Heck, I think even self-absorbed Mikoshiba was aware of Sakura's huge love for him. But hey, the manga hasn't had a resolution one way or the other, so neither can the anime.

Well, perhaps the catch screen above may be the final frame of "Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-kun" someday, but until that awaited shot actually happens, we can still enjoy the song from the official soundtrack that I've often felt was Sakura's theme. The official title is "Sono Koi wa, Shojo Manga Sarete Yuku" (That Love Is Being Turned Into a Girls' Comic) which seems to describe the entire arc of the anime. Created by composer and arranger Yukari Hashimoto(橋本由香利)for Volume 1 of the soundtrack, I think the track has that feeling of a day in the life of the high school girl as well as her affections for the big lug.

Looking through YouTube, it would seem as much as some of the fans have grumbled about the wrap-up to Episode 12, there also seems to have been some requests for the music that accompanied the scene for Sakura and Nozaki sitting on the monkey bars while the festival fireworks exploded above them. Apparently, that piece which is a variation on Sakura's theme is titled "Yakusoku no nai hōkago"(約束のない放課後...After School With No Promises)which is on Volume 2 of the soundtrack. Listening to this one and "Sono Koi wa, Shojo Manga Sarete Yuku", I got the impression that they wouldn't have been out of place in the soundtrack of a live-action romantic-comedy on Japanese TV.

However, immediately after the slightly bittersweet "Yakusoku no nai hōkago", Hashimoto follows up at about 18:03 in the video above with a fun and bouncy version that replaces the regular ending theme "Ura-Omote Fortune"(ウラオモテ・フォーチュン). As the rest of the other characters get their final appearance at the festival, I wondered if Hashimoto had been partially inspired by Dexy's Midnight Runners when this piece galloped through the ending credits before returning to the softer version with the two leads. I'm not sure whether this ska-like take made it onto Volume 2; I couldn't find it on Volume 1.

Well, until a Season 2 comes along, there's always watching the special episodes at the beach.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ikue Sakakibara -- Fushigi ne(不思議ね)

It's strange, isn't it? I've been seeing veteran tarento Ikue Sakakibara(榊原郁恵)for years on TV via commercials and variety/quiz shows as this shining presence, knowing that she had started out as one genki aidoru in the 1970s.

The thing is, though, I got hints from actually seeing Sakakibara included in my music bible of "Japanese City Pop"(!) and then learning that she did a technopop tune called "Robot"(ロボット)that she (or her manager) didn't just settle for the run-of-the-mill teenybopper material. Ikue-chan could do the cute aidoru stuff but still have some aspects of other genres flow in freely.

Case in point: "Fushigi ne" (Strange, Ain't It?), the title track from her 6th album released in January 1980, "C'est drole ~ Fushigi ne". It's got this happy teenybopper bounciness but it also has this layer of 1970s City Pop (bass and keyboard) feeling bonded to the aidoru music. Lyricist Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼)and composer Katsuo Ono(大野克大)created the song but I gotta also admire the arrangement by Reijiro Koroku(小六禮次郎). I can still imagine having taken a pleasant walk with Ikue-chan through West Shinjuku to this number, although her future husband would have been none too pleased.

Such was the charm of "Fushigi ne" and a couple of other tunes by the singer that I purchased this album and one other at CD Japan. Must explore!

80kidz -- Weekend Warrior

Well, if the definition of a "weekend warrior" is someone who only takes part in an activity in their spare time, then I think I would certainly fit that meaning since I do the blog whenever I have plenty of free hours and minutes. I had always assumed that the term referred to folks who hit the basketball courts or paintball arenas on Saturdays and Sundays.

For Ali& and Jun of electro and nu-disco outfit 80kidz, "Weekend Warrior" is the boppy technopop title track for their 2nd album released in October 2010. Man, I'm not sure what inspired the band to come up with this one, but those must have been some pretty intensely bouncy games that those amateur athletes were playing. Actually in my head, "Weekend Warrior" provided the background music to the story of a high-flying young fellow racing through the airport so that he could make his flight down to Aruba for some major partying. Sports, nothing...this was about hitting the dance floor running!

Keisuke Kuwata -- Naminori Johnny(波乗りジョニー)

A couple of weeks ago, I caught someone singing this on NHK's "Nodo Jiman"(のど自慢), and as soon as the real singer was identified, I simply went "Ahh...naruhodo."

After all, wouldn't it be just the thing for Keisuke Kuwata(桑田佳祐)of Southern All Stars(サザンオールスターズ)to sing about surfing? This was indeed Kuwata's 6th single (and according to J-Wiki, his first one in 7 years), "Naminori Johnny" (Johnny The Surfer), and yep, everyone bought into the inviting tune to let go of the work togs and head straight for the ocean.

Perhaps not every cog in the working machine will want to grab a surfboard and hang ten, but the sentiment is certainly there to get away from the office and enjoy some form of recreation, and Kuwata tapped into that when he came up with "Naminori Johnny". I can certainly feel the summer sun and wind through the melody. The only thing missing is the rest of the Southern All Stars....well, actually his wife Yuko Hara(原由子)was on the piano when this was recorded.

Released in July 2001, the song was also used as a campaign tune for Coca-Cola, and I'm sure it was quite a coup. One of J-Pop's ambassadors of summer fun matched with a summer drink. It hit No. 1 and eventually even became the 4th-ranked single of the year, selling 1.1 million copies. It was also placed as a track on Kuwata's 2nd BEST compilation, "Top of the Pops" from November 2002 which had a 2-week stint at No. 1 and like the single, it also ranked in at No. 4 for 2003.

I appreciated the fizzy goodness of Coke during the torrid summers in Tokyo. However, another drink that I craved during the hot season in Japan was Georgia's Max Coffee. Coffee connoisseurs and physicians would probably have me tied down in irons but that was also one satisfying drink. Basically it is coffee sugar in liquid form.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Yuki Yagi -- Tak a ja lubię.

Behold the insidious anison earworm! So simple and yet it can enter your brain innocently and wrap itself around your cerebral cortex so thoroughly to be a resident for days (yes, once again, a "Wrath of Khan" reference).

And once again, this is something that I stumbled across during another browsing through YouTube. Apparently, there is this game called "Kakuchou Shoujo-kei Trinary"(拡張少女系トライナリー...Augmented Reality Girls Trinary)which debuted in April 2017 with the simultaneous debut of its anime version. My anime buddy never introduced it in the sessions and perhaps it was way too moe even for him.

One of the character songs that probably got inserted into either the Blu-Ray or even the game revolved around teenage assassin Gabriela Lotalwinska (apologies if I spelled it incorrectly). Titled "Tak a ja lubię.", it's the first time I've ever heard Polish (or maybe faux-Polish, according to some of the YouTube comments) being incorporated into an anison; the title actually means "Yes, I Like It".

Well, yes, I like it, too (I'm kinda sounding like an old Irish Spring commercial). After hearing it the first couple of times, I could slowly feel the addiction coming on, and in the video above, Gabriela doing the gestures with the "PaPa TuTu WaWa" lyrics was the gaffer that got this old fish in the gills. In fact on YouTube, it's been labeled the "PaPa TuTu WaWa" song. It's sung by the seiyuu for Gabriela, Yuki Yagi(八木侑紀), and part of the reason for the earworm effect is her kittenish sing-song vocals.

As I thought about the song and its appealingly weird arrangement, I had wondered if "Tak a ja lubię." was actually created by someone outside of Japan. Perhaps it was even a cover of a Polish folk song. But checking the J-Wiki article for "Kakuchou Shoujo-kei Trinary", it was created by game creator Akira Tsuchiya(土屋暁)and composer Umuya Aneta(姉田ウ夢ヤ). Mind you, I also got a whiff of Shibuya-kei from the song along the lines of Doopees. In any case, the video and song have captured me. And I think it captured a lot of other folks as well considering the number of YouTube videos devoted to it. I've even seen those 10-hour versions which would pay tribute to its earworm status.

Gabriela first ponders whether or not to get a toaster or a rice cooker. Hey, why not both? Amazon's got good deals. The founder can certainly afford both or a hundred of each.

Tombo-chan -- Kokoro Hagureta Hi kara/Kaigansen(心はぐれた日から・海岸線)

Happy Saturday night to all of you folks. And I'm hoping that everyone in Japan is hanging in there OK while Typhoon No. 12 is coursing through the nation. I've got my student to teach in a few hours so I will be gleaning all the details from him, I'm sure.

Killing two birds with one stone here. First off, I'm introducing a band here for the first time that I only found out for the first time last night. Secondly, this is another example where a music group or singer of the 1970s decided to switch genres going into the next decade, so I've decided to show two different songs by the same group from the two separate decades.

As I mentioned, I had never heard of the folk duo Tombo-chan(とんぼちゃん)until the night before. Hailing from Akita Prefecture, two high school buddies, Toyonobu Ito and Yoshimitsu Ichikawa(伊藤豊昇・市川善光)formed their music act in 1972. Now for those who know their Japanese, the word tombo means dragonfly, and on first seeing the name, I had naturally assumed that was what the band name was all about since the dragonfly is a rather amiable countryside insect, a pleasant enough creature to represent folk musicians. Actually, though, I was wrong. Ito's and Ichikawa's nicknames were Toyo(とよ)and Yonbo(よんぼ)respectively so when they made the band, they decided to merge the two nicknames to form Tombo and add the -chan.

In 1974, Tombo-chan entered a national folk song festival in which they were runners-up with their song "Seikatsu"(生活...Life)and also won a prize in songwriting. Later that year in September, they made their official debut with the single "Kai kara no Himitsu"(貝がらの秘密...A Secret From A Shell).

The first song I would like to feature here, though, is the title track from their 3rd album, "Kokoro Hagureta Hi kara" (From The Day That My Heart Was Broken). The album came out in November 1975. The song is quite jovial despite the theme of breaking hearts, and what popped out at me here were the sharp strings that seemed to slice out from the air. I'm not quite sure if they were meant to represent the harshness of romantic upset but they do add to the traveling beat. Additionally, as we near the end of the song, the melody then seems to take on an added rumbling funkiness as if Tombo-chan wanted to bring in a bit of suspenseful James Bond for some reason. It's an interesting introduction to this duo from Akita.

In 1977, the duo decided to shed the -chan suffix from their name to become simply Tombo. And with a switch over to another record company, Ito and Ichikawa may have changed their sound for at least one album to the more urban AOR. Their 10th album "Flash Back" released in June 1981 includes the Perrier-friendly "Kaigansen" (Shoreline), an oh-so-smooth bossa-influenced ballad that had me thinking of the titular shoreline and wrapping a sweater around my waist. Plus a nice cocktail would fit in quite nicely here, too.

Tombo finally broke up in June 1982 with the end of their final concert in Nagoya. On the strength of the two songs I've featured here tonight, though, I wouldn't mind owning both "Kokoro Hagureta Hi kara" and "Flash Back". It's amazing what I can still find even after doing this blog for 6.5 years.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Sandaime J Soul Brothers from EXILE TRIBE -- Welcome to TOKYO

Fireminer contacted me not too long ago and asked me if I had ever written about the group J Soul Brothers in any of their incarnations. My answer was no...until tonight. I've known about the song-and-dance group since the currently 7-strong membership known as Sandaime J Soul Brothers(三代目J Soul Brothers )has appeared on the Kohaku Utagassen several times.

Not being a fan, I only knew that their great ancestor was the song-and-dance group from the early 1990s, ZOO which was famous for the beloved "Choo Choo Train" back in 1991. However, things got a little hazy for me in terms of how we got from ZOO to Sandaime J Soul Brothers. Well, looking at the Wikipedia article for the history of J Soul Brothers, when Hiro, an original member of ZOO, wanted to create his own group following the disbandment of the progenitor group, J Soul Brothers was born with their debut single coming out in 1999. But then vocalist Sasa decided to leave the group in 2001 with the remaining members deciding to rename themselves as EXILE (ahh, so that's how EXILE came to be). Several years later in 2007, EXILE held an audition to recruit members for a second generation of J Soul Brothers, known as Nidaime J Soul Brothers(二代目J Soul Brothers),  but a couple of years after that, they got absorbed into EXILE. Finally, in 2010, another audition begat the third generation known as Sandaime J Soul Brothers, officially known as Sandaime J Soul Brothers from EXILE TRIBE.

Whoosh! Wouldn't it have been nice to have a flow chart for the above? The fans already know this like the backs of their hands, but this was just for my edification and storage into my head. In the "Choo Choo Train" article, I rather compared this song-and-dance franchise to the various wings of X-Men. Perhaps Sandaime J Soul Brothers could be J-Pop's equivalent of Generation X? Discuss.

(short version)

Anyways, Fireminer had recommended an early song from the first generation titled "Main Street" but all I could find was a very rough video of Hiro and the guys performing in concert. The sound was just a little too difficult to hear so I decided to explore further afield.

Well, with the Tokyo Olympics now just two years away, I came across this single "Welcome to TOKYO" created by the husband and wife team of michico and T. Kura. This was their 20th single under the Sandaime incarnation released in November 2016. And the music has come a long way since "Choo Choo Train". I've read that the songs now also dabble a fair bit into EDM which would work for the Brothers since dancing is half of their raison d'etre.

I can honestly say that "Welcome to TOKYO" won't replace the funky and epic "TOWN" by Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)or even YMO's signature "Technopolis" in my heart when it comes to megalopolitan-based numbers, but I gotta say that the music video is indeed glorious. It's like "Miami Vice" arriving in Tokyo Bay with some kids with major attitude. Plus, that funkadelic subway should be opened for tours!

It didn't take long for "Welcome to TOKYO" to hit the top of the pops...or nearly the top. It peaked at No. 2 and speedily became the 37th-ranked single for 2016 after only 7 weeks of release near the middle of November. It also went Platinum and got Sandaime their 5th consecutive invitation to the 2016 Kohaku Utagassen.

To be frank, I think the DJ T.HIROYUKI Tribal Remix above is a version that I like better. Considering that Sandaime J Soul Brothers is not only a singing group but also a visual presence, it wouldn't surprise me if they also got an invitation to the Opening Ceremonies for Tokyo 2020.

"Welcome to TOKYO" is also a track on the group's 2nd BEST compilation "THE JSB WORLD" from March 2017 that hit No. 1 and became the 6th-ranked album for the year.

For the record, the current lineup for Sandaime J Soul Brothers from EXILE TRIBE is NAOTO, Naoki Kobayashi(小林直己), ELLY, Kenjiro Yamashita(山下健二郎), Takanori Iwata(岩田剛典), Ryuji Imaichi(今市隆二), and Hiroomi Tosaka(登坂広臣).

Mari Iijima/Nana Kondo -- Ichi Gram no Shiawase(1グラムの幸福)

For a number of Mari Iijima(飯島真理)songs that I've covered on the blog, one Label that I did place on her was "Aidoru". I've had to re-think that since although her iconic anime character of Lynn Minmay was indeed an aidoru, I've come to believe that Iijima herself wasn't and isn't an aidoru. She hasn't been categorized on J-Wiki as such, and her discography outside of "Macross" has been solidly pop with some aspects of City Pop, AOR and R&B depending on the tune that she has penned. I think it's been because of her looks and sweet voice that the aidoru label had initially come to mind.

However, the songs that Iijima has crafted that I have heard so far such as "Cecile no Amagasa"(セシールの雨傘)and the tracks from her "Rosé" album have been these catchy pop tunes blessed with the songwriter's own lovely vocals. Her delivery is sweet and light like that of an 80s aidoru but there is that maturity and talent as well. It's kinda like eating a chocolate eclair made by Godiva.

Anyways, going away from the food analogy, "Ichi Gram no Shiawase" (One Gram of Happiness) is another fine example which was her 4th single (November 1984) coming right after that famous song. Composed by Iijima and written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆), the arrangement by Nobuyuki Shimizu(清水信之)makes it really tempting for me to say that Minmay the SDF-1 aidoru has come back to put out a single into the real world, thanks to that young and adorable voice. However, I will not cave in here and will still place it as a pop tune. That sweet melody has been underlined with a cruising urban beat.

Not surprisingly, "Ichi Gram no Shiawase" was used as the ending theme for 4 years for the long-running TBS variety show "Waku Waku Dobutsu Land"(わくわく動物ランド...Thrilling Animal Land)which is all about the adorable animals on Earth. The original single version got as high as No. 22 on Oricon.

There is something that can be said about letting a song cook for a while, say, 10 years or so. Iijima recorded "Ichi Gram no Shiawase" again for her 1995 BEST compilation "Best of the Best" (although in 1994, there was also another Iijima BEST release called "BEST OF BEST", also with "Ichi Gram no Shiawase" a year and a definite article of difference). And I have to say that I enjoy this "Best of the Best" version even more than the original single. It seems more resonant and richer for a lack of a better word. More Godiva chocolate!

A year later, another pop singer, Nana Kondo(近藤名奈), gave her own rendition of "Ichi Gram no Shiawase" as her 12th single in August 1996. This cover sounds somewhat more earthier and countryside-ish. And in keeping with the TBS tradition, Kondo's cover was used as the theme song for a drama for that network this time, "Love no Okurimono"(ラブの贈りもの...Gift of Love).

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Hako Yamasaki -- Mukaikaze(向かい風)

Last week, I was having another one of my chats with JTM, and he was telling about his latest purchases. He told me that one purchase was a Hako Yamasaki(山崎ハコ)album. I knew about the singer since I've seen her evidence of her music on YouTube a number of times and so I naturally assumed that I had already written about her on "Kayo Kyoku Plus".

Well, score one for faulty memory. Scrolling down the Labels, I realized that I had yet to put up a single song by the singer/songwriter. Oops! It's time to rectify that situation.

I think this will make up for my boo-boo. I found her 2nd album "Tsunawatari"(綱渡り...Tightrope Walking)from May 1976 and boy, the opening track is amazing. "Mukaikaze" (Headwind) is definitely a keeper. I was automatically entranced by the electric piano and guitar starting things off and holding court throughout, but it is indeed Yamasaki's vocals delivering a story about the freedom of life on the street and people-watching that had me wondering about life in Tokyo during that decade. This is the type of song that I would actually like to try a tumbler of whisky with.

It's just been the one song so far, but I think Yamasaki has a voice that straddles nicely between raw and smooth. It can become soft and velvety at one point and then strong and throaty but not gravelly. At all times, though, it is resonant.

Yamasaki was born and raised in Oita Prefecture but then moved to Yokohama in her mid-teens. Through a contest, she got into the music business and released her first album "Tobimasu"(飛・び・ま・す...I Will Fly)in 1975. Right then and there, she was compared with another singer with a distinct voice, Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき). Up to 2016, she has released 24 singles and 26 original albums.

Anri - Summer Farewells

I have yet to give a write-up on Anri's(杏里)album of self-covers "Meditation" (November 1987) although I did post an article on one of the songs from that release, "Last Picture Show" early in the blog's history. "Meditation" has stood out for me since I saw it as a farewell album of sorts to the second phase in the singer's career when she enjoyed those funky City Pop years with Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生). Mind you, the album struck me more as a BEST ballad compilation but I also treat it as if Anri had decided to give a final concert number 11 times over.

Earlier in May 1987, though, Anri released her 11th studio album, "Summer Farewells", whose cover is probably my second-favourite picture of Eiko Kawashima(川嶋栄子), next to the cover for her 1983 album "Bi-Ki-Ni" (you can see the cover at the bottom for my article on "Kanashimi ga Tomaranai"). There's something so nostalgic yet cool about seeing her in those high heels in front of a suburban California or Hawaii garage next to the red convertible.

Speaking of nostalgia, the first track is "Dance With Nostalgia" which was written and composed by Anri. Certainly the arrangement has that feeling since it reminds me of American dance-pop from the 1980s. You can take my next opinion however you want, but the song could fit in as background music in any of those Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sylvester Stallone action flicks from that decade. As it is, the lyrics talk about a woman struggling with her own feelings about a guy who may have been her beau but has perhaps moved onto someone else on the dance floor.

I actually thought "Boyfriend"(ボーイフレンド)was released as a single since it has been one of Anri's notable songs from the 1980s but nope it never was, although on the J-Wiki article for "Summer Farewells", it has been labeled as the hyodaikyoku(表題曲)or title song of the album. Anri composed this drive-friendly song with Yumi Yoshimoto(吉元由美)as lyricist. In fact, outside of "Dance With Nostalgia" and the final track on the original LP, "Honolulu Birthday Eve", Yoshimoto wrote all of the other songs. It's got that funky beat but I can't really say that it's either City Pop or even R&B. Perhaps I can dub it Anri Pop.😉

Ahhhh...come in horns! "Happy End de Furaretai"(HAPPYENDでふられたい...I Wanna Be Dumped With A Happy Ending)was the official single, her 20th, that was placed onto "Summer Farewells". Another Yoshimoto/Anri concoction, there is something about this light and bouncy number that is reminiscent of her early 1980s work despite the late 1980s arrangement. Perhaps if there is an overarching lyrical theme to the album, it would probably be tackling the aftermath of a relationship. So far, the three songs that I've written about seem to all deal with the post-breakup era. In this case, the lady in "Happy End de Furaretai" is racing cheerfully off to the airport to head over to Honolulu while the fellow is desperately trying to catch up with her to make amends. The single peaked at No. 17 on Oricon. One other interesting point here is that Yasuharu Ogura(小倉泰治)arranged this one and "Boyfriend", and he along with Yoshimoto and Anri would form the triumvirate who would spearhead the production of the third phase albums from 1988 into something more wholly American R&B. Perhaps the arrival of those horns hinted at the new reincarnation.

Gotta have something a little slower here so here is "Kirisame ni Kiete Yuku"(霧雨に消えてゆく...Fading into the Light Rain)which starts off with a saxophone-led intro that fairly yells out a movie based on Mickey Spillane novels. Although this one is another Yoshimoto/Anri collaboration, this number sounds quite a bit different. It seems to be a mix of Anri Pop, smoky nighttime jazz and maybe even late 70s/early 80s Fashion Pop in Japan. The song certainly takes things back more to the shores of Tokyo and Yokohama. Interestingly though, I would say that there is a glancing resemblance here to Michael Franks' "Antonio's Song", a ballad that Anri would actually cover with Franks himself some years later.

Well, I already mentioned "Honolulu Birthday Eve"(ホノルル・バースデイ・イヴ)so let me use it for the final song for the article. Anri took care of both words and music, and once again, the theme is bittersweet separation for whatever reason. Someone is going to celebrate that important date alone, unfortunately. He/she may have tons of friends around him/her at the pool party but the feeling of loneliness will be paramount. The song has got quite the atmospheric presence although the arrangement here eventually takes on a homier bent once those Hawaiian instruments (through synthesizers) come into play. "Honolulu Birthday Eve" may be bittersweet in tone but Anri's voice packs enough power to make it a grand statement.

"Summer Farewells" hit No. 4 on the album charts and became the 39th-ranked album for 1987. As I said at the top of the article, "Meditation" was Anri's farewell album to the second phase of her long career. If that is indeed so, then I consider "Summer Farewells", ironically enough, to be not so much of a farewell album but more of a transitional release, paying some affectionate tribute to the past, taking advantage of the then-current 80s dance-pop scene, and, with the cooperation of Ogura and Yoshimoto, providing a sneak peek at the new sound, starting with the 1988 "Boogie Woogie Mainland".

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Kaoru Akimoto -- HItomi ni Utsushite/Sayonara no Toiki ~ Hold Me Tight(瞳に映して・さよならの吐息)

Roppongi Hills...not Starfleet Academy.

A small brainwave went through my head just now. I was just thinking about all those examples of sophisticated urban music or champagne pop by female singers from the late 80s into the early 90s that I had already written about. One prime example is Chikaco Sawada's(沢田知可子)"Aitai"(会いたい)which was released in June 1990, and I remember it as being the ending theme for the late-night TV Asahi program "Tonight". Somehow, my feeling is that the producers of all those talk/variety shows past midnight must have thought they had found a gold mine of wonderful music for night owls to head to slumberland to.

Well, I'm not sure whether these two songs by Kaoru Akimoto(秋元薫)were ever used as theme songs for those late-night shows, but if they hadn't, they should have. "Hitomi ni Utsushite" (Reflecting in My Eyes) was only Akimoto's 2nd single (released in 1991), years after her debut of "Paradox"(パラドックス)in 1985. And for those folks who haven't immediately picked up on the name, she's the "Dress Down" lady that has become the darling for Vaporwavers and Future Funksters everywhere. "Dress Down" was a track on her only album "Cologne" and that came out in 1986.

Written by Emiri Emily(エミリー絵美里)and composed by Akimoto, "Hitomi ni Utsushite" is a romantic urban ballad worthy of backing that couple taking that close-to-midnight half-sleepy/half-giddy stroll before retiring for the night. I love Masaki Iwamoto's(岩本正樹)arrangement here with those strings and champagne synths, and as much as I love her earlier "Dress Down" as one of the anthems for fans who have discovered 80s urban Japanese pop in the last few years, I think Akimoto's voice is even better here.

I did mention that I thought "Hitomi ni Utsushite" should have been a theme song for a late-night talk show. Well, apparently, it was actually used as the commercial song for the GEOS Language School. I guess English teachers needed a cool urbane theme, too.

The coupling song for "Hitomi ni Utsushite" is "Sayonara no Toiki" (Goodbye Sigh), which this time was written and composed by Akimoto with Iwamoto again handling arrangements. The song also has that sparkly bright-lights-big-city feeling of the 1990s with maybe a hint of 1950s pop balladry included. There is also that feeling of soaring high over Tokyo in the clear night sky as this is being sung.

The above information was gleaned from the site of this Japanese blogger who specializes in talking about the old 8cm CD singles, and he mentions how mystified he is about the fact that this lovely singer released her material very sparsely. I also wonder myself. Akimoto wasn't quite as Greta Garbo as Takako Mamiya(間宮貴子)but with that voice of hers, it's only a pity that she wasn't all that prolific, or as prolific as her admirers had wished her to be.

In any case, if I had purchased this single years ago, I probably would have first played it on my ancient Sony Discman as my head hit the pillow. Ah, incidentally, that blog which I mentioned in the previous paragraph is titled "Ushinawareta Media ~ 8cm CD Single no Sekai"(失われたメディア-8cmCDシングルの世界-...The Lost Media ~ The World of 8cm CD Singles). My respects to the author.

Shonentai -- Diamond Eyes(ダイヤモンド・アイズ)

For the Shonentai(少年隊)file on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", I believe I have covered all of the songs that I knew about from their discography, so the following is rather new to me.

I have to admit that their 3rd single "Diamond Eyes" from July 1986 has got a pretty catchy melody by bassist/composer Hiro Nagasawa(長沢ヒロ)with lyrics from Tamaki Kawada(川田多摩喜)and Emi Kanda(神田エミ)snappily delivered by Nikki, Kacchan and Higashi. Kanda, incidentally, is just an alias for the late lyricist Tsuzuru Nakasato(中里綴).

Not to say that current Johnny's groups such as SMAP and Arashi(嵐)have been slumming on their dancing, but man, that Shonentai was really kicking things up into high gear as far as their choreography went. Anyways, "Diamond Eyes" has got that breathless beat accompanied with some tight horns as the boys sing about trying as hard as they can to get the attention of a certain hard-to-get lady with a pair of really flinty eyes. Perhaps I'm thinking of a Clintonia Eastwood. However, I think the girls in the audience were all armed with more puppy-dog eyes.

"Diamond Eyes" was their 2nd No. 1 after their hit debut of "Kamen Butokai"(仮面舞踏会)in the previous year, and it ended up as the 79th-ranked single for 1986.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Ryusenkei -- Rainbow City Line(レインボー・シティ・ライン)

We've got a bit of weather breezing in right now and things are getting a little humid in my room, so I've got my 40-year-old fan whipping the air about. Something nice and mellow would be just the thing.

I think this cover for Ryusenkei's(流線形)2006 album, "Tokyo Sniper" will be the representative one when it comes to this band of 21st-century brand City Pop/J-AOR. I don't think the jogger is necessarily going to be assassinating anyone...certainly not in that getup, anyways. However, with that expression on her face and the slightly belligerent pose, I believe she's ready to give an exasperated chewing out to her slower-than-molasses boyfriend or husband.

One of the tracks on the album is "Rainbow City Line". At first, since I hadn't focused so much on the title, I had initially thought that this was a direct cover of Minako Yoshida's(吉田美奈子)"Rainbow Sea Line", assuming that the Ryusenkei number actually had the same title. When I heard the melody and read the lyrics for each tune and realized that they were different, I kinda Gibbs-slapped myself up the head. I ought to practice reading the fine print a little more carefully.

Still, I read one comment on YouTube which stated that "Rainbow City Line" was a nice tip of respect to Yoshida, who can be considered to be one of the pioneers for New Music, City Pop, J-AOR and J-R&B. However, I think that Ryusenkei and vocalist Hitomitoi (一十三十一...for whatever reason, she decided to go with the pseudonym Nika Eguchi/ 江口ニカ for this song) were paying tribute to 1970s City Pop in general with the arrangement. Heck, even the lyrics pretty much paint the picture of a typical image on a City Pop album cover:

When I get off the highway,
I feel the sea breeze.
Through the sunset
Reflected on the cafe terrace window,
I still go after that vision in the distance.
The love song gets gradually better
And the city line flows out

Man, could I use a Corona right now! (Uh, no, that's not part of the lyrics. Just my feeling after hearing those dreamy words.)

It must have been quite the feeling listening to City Pop like this in the 1970s while sitting in that cafe or bar in one of the rising hotels in Tokyo. I will still bet on the Tokyo Prince Hotel for that view (personal bias definitely), although hotels since the old Prince have sprouted to much higher levels.

Mr. Children -- Namonaki Uta(名もなき詩)

Oh, I remember this song getting lots of love on NTV's "Yoru mo Hippare"(夜もヒッパレ). In fact, I think that I heard it being sung more as a karaoke tune by celebs than I heard it by the actual band itself.

I am talking about Mr. Children's 10th single "Namonaki Uta" (Nameless Poem) which was released in February 1996. This song was getting plenty of airplay everywhere; certainly it helped that it was also used as the theme for the Fuji-TV drama "Pure"(ピュア), and that show was slotted in the much envied prime time of 9 pm on Monday nights, so I think there was a huge benefit for both series and song.

Vocalist Kazutoshi Sakurai(桜井和寿)took care of both words and music. I hadn't paid attention to the lyrics at all during the heyday of "Namonaki Uta". All I knew was that this enjoyable melodic car ride was the usual Sakurai combination of heartfelt delivery and jangly pop/rock. But looking at the translation of "Namonaki Uta", I've realized that Sakurai was going for a balls-out confession of love but not with any grand promises but an explanation of who he is, warts and all. Apparently, he can't really express this crazy thing called love so it wouldn't do to place a title on his love song.

As I said, the emotion is there in Sakurai's delivery and then there is that one point in which he just speeds through one verse with all of the nervous energy of a kid finally blurting out that invitation for a date with that special someone for the first time. There is that feeling of anticipation and happy giddiness within the song. One other thing that I noticed was that although "Namonaki Uta" is undeniably a Mr. Children single, there is a musical riff included in the refrain that kinda reminded me of some of the parts of music that characterized Anzen Chitai(安全地帯), the big romantic band that was popular in the 1980s when compared to Mr. Children's reign in the 1990s.

No surprise that "Namonaki Uta" was another No. 1 hit for Mr. Children. In fact, in its first week of release, the single sold 1.2 million copies, the first time in Oricon history that any song broke the 1-million barrier in its first week of sales. Ultimately, it ended up selling 2.3 million copies, becoming the No. 1 single of 1996. As of this writing, it currently occupies the 12th rank in terms of the top singles in Oricon history.

The single was also placed as a track on Mr. Children's 5th album "Shinkai"(深海...Deep Sea) which came out in June 1996. It also hit No. 1 on the album charts and was the 6th-ranked album of the year. In terms of historical precedence, it is ranked 31st in the list of top albums in Oricon history. with close to 3 million albums sold.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Stardust Revue -- Kon'ya Dake Kitto(今夜だけきっと)

Another happy-sounding single from Stardust Revue(スターダストレビュー), a band that I sometimes think has been vastly underrated all these decades. Case in point, their 9th single, "Kon'ya Dake Kitto" (Only Tonight For Sure), released in June 1986, only went as high as No. 92 on Oricon and sold just 13,000 records, and yet, it has become one of the most requested numbers on the band's playlist at concerts. Perhaps it can be considered to be the "It's A Wonderful Life" of Japanese pop in the 1980s.

Maybe at the time, there was a clog of really sunny, summery songs getting out into the market but "Kon'ya Dake Kitto" is really a nice heartwarming tune about optimism. Going through the lyrics by vocalist Kaname Nemoto(根本要)and Akira Teshima(手島昭), my impression is that the guy had a fight with his girlfriend but any lingering wisps of anger ought to blow away by the next morning...hopefully.

As I said, the melody, also by Nemoto, is sunny and summery, and I couldn't help but feel that if I hadn't found out the source of the music, I would have easily thought it was a piece created by Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)or Eiichi Ohtaki(大滝詠一). Basically, "Kon'ya Dake Kitto" has that Niagara sound imbued in it. Considering some of the dark times that are upon us, wouldn't it be nice to be serenaded with this as J-Pop fans? The song also made it on Stardust Revue's 4th album "Voice" which was released in April 1986.

Maria Chiba -- Wasureji no Kyoto(忘れじの京都)

Earlier today, I heard from my friend who was in Kyoto over the weekend and he was just telling me about how hot it was over there. For years, I've been hearing about the ancient capital's position in a bonchi (basin) which has led to the traditionally torrid conditions there. When my classmates and I were there in 1981, I remember watching the parade in the annual Gion Festival with a crowd on the streets three people deep and the temperatures as hot as Hades. Yup, I really needed a shower after that.

Well, the heat was the biggest news on NHK today. Kyoto and a lot of other places including my old stompin' grounds of Tokyo were all above 35 degrees Celsius and a couple of other cities had even topped 40 degrees. Heck, for the first time in its history (I think), the Gion Festival was actually canceled due to the especially hellish conditions this year.

So, looking for a Kyoto-based kayo, I discovered this 1973 single by singer/tarento Maria Chiba(千葉マリア)titled "Wasureji no Kyoto" (Forgotten Kyoto), about a woman leaving her romantic woes behind in the titular city. Led by strings and a pretty distinctive-sounding koto (I think), the song has a a mix of enka and some pretty boss 1970s kayo arrangement.

I had never heard of Chiba before but her vocals remind me somewhat of those for Keiko Fuji(藤圭子). For this song at least, the singer has this slightly ragged and forlorn delivery as if she had been through the wringer of love one too many times, although "Wasureji no Kyoto" doesn't quite have the feeling of nighttime and barfly life that Fuji often sang about. I think the koto perhaps keeps things out of Mood Kayo territory.

Unfortunately, I couldn't track down who wrote and composed "Wasureji no Kyoto". As for Chiba herself, though, she was born in Mobara City, Chiba Prefecture as Mitsu Toeda(十枝みつ), and made her debut in 1971 with "Bara no Namida"(薔薇の涙...Rose Tears). She even ran in the Japanese House of Councillors election in 2001 as a candidate for the now-defunct Liberal League political party but didn't win a seat.

There are a couple of other Kyoto-based kayo that I've written about in the past, both by Yuko Nagisa(渚ゆう子), "Kyoto Bojou"(京都慕情)and "Kyoto no Koi"(京都の恋). I just hope that the residents in Kyoto and much of Japan are trying to stay as cool as possible.

And I hope that residents in my city are staying strong and resilient as well.

Plasmagica -- Seishun wa Non-Stop!(青春はNon-Stop!)

We're well into the Summer 2018 season of anime, and so far, the one really catchy anison has been the opener for "Back Street Girls ~ Gokudols". To be honest, I may never ever take that yakuza horn fanfare all that seriously anymore after listening to that theme.

So, I've gone back into the time vaults of anison by only a few years and come across the multitude of songs from the "Show By Rock!!" anime. The second season may have ended with an unfortunate thud but I'm still kinda hoping that there may be a third go for Cyan and the band. In any case, since I have had the ending theme from the first season up on the blog for about a year, it's time to get that opening theme and therefore the very first song that I heard from the good-gal band Plasmagica(プラズマジカ)up here, too.

"Seishun wa Non-Stop!" (Youth is Non-Stop!) was indeed the greeting song for the show in 2015 and has Eri Inagawa(稲川英里)as Cyan leading the all-star seiyuu grouping of Manami Numakura(沼倉愛美), Sumire Uesaka(佐倉綾音)and Ayane Sakura(佐倉綾音)in a fun and bouncy number that still has me thinking Princess Princess and Lindberg at the same filtered through Disney.

Fictionally written and composed by Cyan, everything was actually created by RegaSound. If I had to pick between the opener and closer for Season 1, I would probably still go with "Have a nice MUSIC!!" but "Seishun wa Non-Stop!" still makes for a nice welcome into Midi City.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Yukari Ito -- Misty Hour(ミスティー・アワー)

When I ordered Yukari Ito's(伊東ゆかり)"Misty Hour" (1982) from Amazon along with Ami Ozaki's(尾崎亜美)"Hot Baby" last week, I got that message stating that it may take some time for the Ito album to be delivered. Cynical guy that I am, I took that to mean that it wouldn't be delivered for whatever reason (i.e. not enough demand to inspire supply). However, a couple of days later, I got a subsequent email from Amazon saying that it was on its way. Wow! Not disappointed.

MISTY HOUR excerpts at Amazon....just scroll down to the bottom.

The whole thing about getting "Misty Hour" stems from my discovery of one of the tracks from the album, "SAYONARA", which is the only track that I can hear in its entirety on YouTube. Now, I have featured singers in the past who started out in one genre and took a dip into the City Pop/AOR genres: folk singer Iruka(イルカ)and crooner Akira Terao(寺尾聡)who had begun his career in a Group Sounds band. Having said that, though, it was still surprising me for me to discover that even Yukari Ito had tried out some urban contemporary. For all these years, I've almost seen her exclusively as that 1960s aidoru interpreter of Western hits from that decade such as Connie Francis' "Vacation", so that I couldn't really separate the singer from those pop hits of that decade.

And yet here is "Misty Hour". And it is one humdinger of a City Pop/J-AOR album. From reading the liner notes of the album and the writeup on "Music Avenue", it seems like a good chunk of those genres' artists including Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや), EPO, Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)and Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)all plunged into the pool to help Ito out.

As I said, only "SAYONARA" is available in its entirety,  but I just had to provide an article on "Misty Hour". The excerpts may only be 45 seconds each but they're even better than better than nothing. I really did enjoy the album that much. My favourite tracks include the first one "Konna Yasashii Ame no Hi ni wa"(こんな優しい雨の日には...On This Sort of Gentle Rainy Day) which was created by Machiko Ryu(竜真知子)and Akira Inoue(井上鑑). It has that slickness of a Western AOR tune but it also seems to straddle that dividing line between the Japanese version of the genre and City Pop, thanks to those keyboards and Tsuyoshi Kon's(今剛)crisp guitar.

Mariya Takeuchi takes care of words and music for the 2nd track "Koibito-tachi"(恋人たち...Lovers). I've already included a longer and better clip in the "SAYONARA" article, but having a listen to Ito's plaintive and rich vocals, it does sound a lot like something that Takeuchi herself would sing as a self-cover. Perhaps it's a bit of a stretch, but I can hear a bit of The Eagles' "Desperado" in there as well. Unfortunately, the excerpt wasn't long enough to include them, but Takeuchi, EPO and Tetsuji Hayashi were the backup singers, and City Pop veteran Makoto Matsushita(松下誠)was the guest guitarist.

Track 3 is "Kokuhaku"(告白...Confession) with lyrics by the aforementioned Ryu and EPO while the latter provided the cool and sophisticated music which automatically evokes a night at that really high-class café or restaurant in Tokyo. This is definitely in the City Pop corner of the album, and listening to Ito's singing here, I am convinced that she would have been a fine permanent resident in the genre. EPO and Yasuhiro Abe were great backup chorus here. Masaki Matsubara(松原正樹)handled the arrangement.

My final excerpt represented is the fourth track "After Dark" by the same duo on Track 1, Ryu and Inoue. More City Pop but it sounds like the singer and songwriters were taking things on the road with this one which has a bit more funk. In fact, the arrangement reminds me of Yasuha's(泰葉)more oomphy "Fly-Day Chinatown"(フライディ・チャイナタウン).

Again, it's too bad that whole versions of the tracks aren't available as of this writing, but the excerpts themselves (and all of "SAYONARA") were enough for me to part with my yen for "Misty Hour". If you're a City Pop/J-AOR fan, then I can recommend this as an addition to your collection.

Sheena & The Rokkets -- Namida no Highway(涙のハイウェイ)

It's been over 3 years since the untimely passing of Etsuko "Sheena" Ayukawa(鮎川 シーナ 悦子)from Sheena & The Rokkets(シーナ&ザ・ロケッツ)so I wanted to explore some more of the band's work. And so I went to the very beginning. Their debut single in October 1978 was "Namida no Highway" (Highway of Tears) which was written by Kotaro Aso(麻生香太郎)and Sheena and composed by band guitarist Makoto Ayukawa(鮎川誠), Sheena's husband. The lyrics are about someone trying to flee from someone or a relationship gone sour as quickly as she can.

Looking at the title for the first time, I thought "Namida no Highway" sounded atypically kayo-esque for an identifier for a rock song. J-Wiki pegged it as a song with New Wave, punk and 60s pop elements. I also saw it as a tune that could have launched a thousand ideas for inspired younger folk wanting to create their own bands. Lindberg was the first one on my mind followed by other acts such as Princess Princess. When I think of the late 1970s in Japanese pop music, I usually think of enka and aidoru sharing the TV stage and Oricon charts while New Music/City Pop/Folk were genres streaming nicely underwater, but Ramones-style rock wasn't something that I would have heard much about in those times, unless I were frequenting the live houses.

The's -- Woo Hoo

By chance, does the above song sound familiar to you? If so, I'm not surprised. This is actually "Woo Hoo" by the American rockabilly group, The Rock-A-Teens. The tune by George Donald McGraw was released in 1959 got as high as No. 16 on Billboard and it turned out to be the band's only hit.

The original by The Rock-A-Teens may have sparked off some signs of familiarity but once you hear this version, then the memories should come flooding back in...especially if you are a Quentin Tarentino fan. Yup, that's right. "Woo Hoo" was covered by the Japanese rock trio, The's in "Kill Bill Vol. 1" back in 2003. And for me, next to Tomoyasu Hotei's(布袋寅泰)epic, "Battle Without Honor or Humanity", "Woo Hoo" is the most memorable example of music from the QT film, and it's hard to forget watching these women just jangling away at their instruments in the largest izakaya that I've ever seen. I don't think any of the izakaya in Toronto have ever been that larger-than-life....or dangerous.

I also have to say that the cover by The's has got quite a bit more energy than the original. It fairly bounces all over the place. Although their "Woo Hoo" made its premiere in the movie, it apparently got its release as a single in the following year, although it was also included in their 2003 album "Bomb the Rocks: Early Days Singles".

The's got their start in 1986 as a foursome: RONNIE“YOSHIKO”FUJIYAMA on vocals and guitar, SACHIKO on drums, RICO on guitar and YOSHIE on bass. Undergoing over a few lineup changes over the years, the current configuration is YOSHIKO, SACHIKO and OMO on bass. As of right now, the band has released 8 albums and 17 singles including "Woo Hoo".

I guess "Woo Hoo" did hit a few sympathetic nerve endings since it has also been used in a number of commercials including this one for Vonage.

"Woo Hoo" also reminded me of an old song that we had to practice ad nauseum in band class back in junior high school, "Trombone Boogie". I remember having to play it all the time at the school concerts with it now taking up permanent residence in my memories.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Ami Ozaki -- Hot Baby

I loved Ami Ozaki's(尾崎亜美)"Wanderer In Love", wrote about it, and now I've gone ahead and bought the album it originated from. "Hot Baby" from May 1981 looks pretty darn cute with that envelope design of the times, and I kinda wished that the light blue flap actually worked, but I'm just griping a bit much there.

Anyways, "Hot Baby" is the love child project between Ami Ozaki and David Foster, with the former handling all of the songwriting while the latter took care of the arrangement. Plus, a few members from the band TOTO such as Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro helped out, and even Foster's partner from Airplay, Jay Graydon, joined in the fun. Talk about AOR from both sides of the Pacific!

Track 1 is "Love Is Easy", a rousing number that gets the album launched into the stratosphere via the City Pop airplane fueled by Tom Scott's sax solo and some fine keyboard work. There is also a hint of Latin in the mix so that I'm kinda reminded of some of Junko Yagami's(八神純子)songs from the late 1970s. "Love Is Easy" was also Ozaki's 13th single which came out on the same day as "Hot Baby".

"Prism Train" is another rollicking one backed up by Lukather's guitar and Porcaro's drums. Plus, if that's Foster helping Ozaki behind the keyboards, then he just brought back all of my memories of AM pop radio from my high school days.

Man, I know one has to suffer for one's art, but really?

Pretty amusing and ironic about "Cat's Eye"(キャッツアイ)since it was Ozaki who gave teenager Anri(杏里)her big break with "Olivia wo Kikinagara"(オリビアを聴きながら)back in 1978, and then Anri would get an even bigger hit in 1983 with another "Cat's Eye" (although that was created by other songwriters). Ozaki's "Cat's Eye" is a wholly different animal (no pun intended), and to echo kaz-shin from "Music Avenue", it's a very cute track to the point that I couldn't quite believe that Foster also arranged this one. I would say that it's probably the most Japanese poppiest song on "Hot Baby".

The final song for the article and the final track for the original album (two bonus tracks have been added to the CD version) is "Serenade"(蒼夜曲), which was also Ozaki's 12th single from 1980. The single version is one of the bonus tracks while the album version was recorded in Los Angeles with the rest of "Hot Baby".

According to kaz-shin, reviews were mixed on the album version of "Serenade", with folks preferring to go with the original single version. Although both are fine to me, if I had to choose, I would go with the single version that you can hear immediately above this paragraph. This version is almost a minute longer than the album take, and has more time to breathe. Plus, I like its simpler and slightly more sweeping feeling.

Recently, the City Pop community on Facebook has been putting up their fine choices for recommendations through singles and albums. I would certainly put "Hot Baby" up there.

It's been a David Foster week for me. Not only did I get the Ozaki/Foster collaboration but I also ended up getting that Airplay album. Had no idea that Foster was even in a band until just a few months ago. I should hand in my Canadian passport in shame. 😁