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.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Otokogumi -- DAYBREAK

Commenter Yuie-chan contacted me the other day and told me about Otokogumi(男闘呼組). Now, this was another Johnny's Entertainment group of guys from the 1980s but I had to be reminded about them since I only knew them by reputation via their appearances in the old "Myojo"(明星)magazines. At the time, my knowledge of Johnny's boys and men was basically restricted to the aidoru groups of Hikaru Genji(光GENJI), Shibugakitai(シブがき隊)and Shonentai(少年隊).

One thing that struck me about Otokogumi was that although they were part of the Johnny's groups which included SMAP and include the current kings of the hill, Arashi(嵐), this particular quartet apparently wasn't considered to be an aidoru team but a rock band. And indeed, the members all played their own instruments; Yuie-chan even mentioned that they had been a progenitor of sorts to the later group TOKIO whose members also play their own instruments.

The lineup for Otokogumi changed at the beginning of their 8-year history (1985-1993), but if I've read the J-Wiki article correctly, the regular lineup consisted of lead guitarist Shoji Narita(成田昭次), bassist Kazuya Takahashi(高橋一也), rhythm guitarist Kenichi Okamoto(岡本健一)and keyboardist/leader Koyo Maeda(前田耕陽). All of them also performed vocals.

Otokogumi's first single was "DAYBREAK" which was released in August 1988, and I gotta say that although Van Halen and Def Leppard had nothing to fear from them, Otokogumi was definitely not a group of aidoru. "DAYBREAK" is actually a pretty good pop/rock song by a Johnny's group.

Written by Akira Ohtsu(大津あきら)and composed by Koji Makaino(馬飼野康二)under his pseudonym of Mark Davis, the rock and vocals are quite smooth and accomplished. The guys may not dance around but they definitely gave a solid performance as a band. And as you can see above, Otokogumi made it onto the 1988 Kohaku Utagassen within the first half-hour of coverage (it started at 9:00 pm back in those days).

"DAYBREAK" went all the way up to No. 1 and stayed in that position for three out of the four weeks in September 1988, and despite that relatively late premiere, the song even managed to become the 4th-ranked single for that same year. Otokogumi also won Best New Artist honours at the Japan Record Awards.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Yuki Saito -- Jounetsu(情熱)

As someone who used to buy empty cassette tapes fairly regularly back in my time in Japan, I really liked the AXIA brand of the Fuji Film group. Thin and clear with those pastel-coloured decals, they just seemed to epitomize Japanese style.

Aidoru Yuki Saito(斉藤由貴)was the pitchperson for AXIA for some time in the 1980s, and this was one of the songs that was used as the campaign tune, "Jounetsu" (Passion), her 4th single released in November 1985.

"Jounetsu" was created by the dream tandem of Takashi Matsumoto and Kyohei Tsutsumi(松本隆・筒美京平), and the song is a good example of how some of those aidoru tunes were changing from sunny and summery to somewhat more elegant as time went into the latter half of the 1980s. Mind you, singer-composer Takao Kisugi(来生たかお)had been doing something similar for some of his clients earlier in the decade.

Couldn't help but feel that the setting of "Jounetsu" was taking place more in Europe than in Japan. I do like those strings and keyboards in this one. The song went as high as No. 3 on Oricon and it became the 87th-ranked single for 1986. It was also used as the theme song for a movie that starred Saito, "Yuki no Danjou ~ Jounetsu"(雪の断章 -情熱-...Literary Fragment of Snow ~ Passion).

Ringo Shiina -- Tsumi to Batsu(罪と罰)

One of the things that I remember about Ringo Shiina's(椎名林檎)"Tsumi to Batsu" (Crime & Punishment) is the music video in which the singer-songwriter looked like some character from a 1970s yakuza movie (complete with katana) and there was a car sliced in half like some fish in a sushi restaurant. As we all know, Shiina always had some stunning music videos back in the day. Unfortunately, I couldn't find that video anywhere online.

Shiina slinking about in a teddy? OK, I can definitely live with that as well. "Tsumi to Batsu" was released as her 6th single in January 2000, and though the J-Wiki description (Wikipedia description right here) has it said that the original recording wanted to infuse some of that 1970s rock ballad style, the videos that I could find of her actually performing "Tsumi to Batsu" has it sounding more like a raunchy soundtrack from a 1950s film noir.

No complaints, though. I like the style and the lyrics certainly come across as if Shiina is relating the story of a woman who's been through the wringer of life and has been pouring out her guts to someone in some dive hidden in the big city. That ragged delivery of hers really is effective here, and the lady plays it up on the stage. I'm surprised that "Tsumi to Batsu" didn't end up getting dramatized on TV or in the movie theatre in some fashion.

I also like this lush orchestral treatment of the song, too, and I almost expect Michael Buble to suddenly jump right in. The song peaked at No. 4 and sold close to 550,000 copies. The single was also included in Shiina's 2nd studio album "Shouso Strip"(勝訴ストリップ...Winning Strip)from March 2000, and that album hit No. 1, ending up as the 3rd-ranked release of the year, selling around 2.5 million copies.

Kenji Sawada -- Ai no Toubousha THE FUGITIVE(愛の逃亡者)

Does anyone remember "The Fugitive"? No, not the 1993 film with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones (although that speech that the latter gives to the troops to go find Dr. Kimble still kills). I'm talking way back to the 1960s to the original TV series starring David Janssen and Barry Morse. As a kid, I used to see the reruns on regular TV rather than on the oldies specialty channels. Although I don't remember ever seeing the 1967 final episode in its first run, I finally did catch Part 2 of "The Judgment" many years later and read that it became the most-watched episode in U.S. TV history, a record that it held for over a decade. I think I even became a bit verklempt in the very final scene of that final episode!

It's been 37 years since I first heard of the flamboyant Kenji Sawada(沢田研二), and yet he still continues to surprise me. He always impressed me as someone who went to the beat of his own drum, and now I found out that he had a song in the early 1970s that he did completely in English as his 11th single (November 1974) and as the title track for his 6th album, recorded in London.

Titled "Ai no Toubousha" (Fugitive of Love), the song has that mix of reggae and exotic Asian as if Sawada had meant it to be recorded for a Bruce Lee film. According to the J-Wiki article, the "Woo Ha" vocal effects were supposedly inspired by Lee as well, although I did hear them being used in Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang" from 1960. And in the J-Pop world, they were used again for Morning Musume's(モーニング娘。)"Koi no Dance Site"(恋のダンスサイト).

"Ai no Toubousha" was written by Tony Weddington and Wayne Bickerton, and composed by Arthur Greenslade with the single released not only in Japan but also throughout Europe. I can only describe it as one cool song with a layer of mystique, and who better to sing of the life of a fugitive than a rebel like Sawada? The single went as high as No. 12 while the album peaked at No. 22.

Yasuhiro Yamane -- Get Along Together ~ Ai wo Okuritai kara(愛を贈りたいから)

When I was coming around to write about this ballad, I noticed that I no longer hear love songs by individual singers anymore....or at least, those that become hits. So, there's a rather thick layer of nostalgia when I hear one of those odes from way back.

Well, then. Welcome to "Kayo Kyoku Plus", Yasuhiro Yamane(山根康広)! Feel free to pick up your inaugural jacket and complementary bowl of soup. All joking aside, Yamane has been a 1990s name that I've heard now and then for years, but I never really got to listen to him. However, when I took the above photo of that ad for Yamane's "Get Along Together" in an ancient issue of "Myojo"(明星)the other day, I figured that it was about time to shine a light on him.

Debuting in January 1993 with "Get Along Together", according to the J-Wiki write-up, the Osaka-born singer-songwriter had originally created the song in about a week back in the winter of 1991 for a friend who was about to get married. It apparently got down to the wire as he finally completed the song right on the eve of his friend's nuptials. That original version made it up to No. 12 on Oricon...not a bad start at all for a new singer.

But then, Yamane decided to re-release "Get Along Together" as his 2nd single later that year in September with an additional subtitle "Ai wo Okuritai kara" (Because I Want To Send You My Love). It's this version that I am providing today.

Y'know...listening to "Get Along Together", yep, I could feel that J-Pop balladry of the 1990s through Yamane's heartfelt vocals, the rich keyboards and that guitar solo. And from his lyrics, I could see how he had originally created them for his friend; it's basically a humble confession of love from an admittedly far-from-perfect person, and hoping for love in return.

This second single version of "Get Along Together" broke into the Top 10, peaking at No. 5. Eventually, it became the 45th-ranked single for 1993, and then it sold 1.5 million copies by summer 1994. As well, it earned Yamane a Best New Artist prize at the Japan Record Awards that year, and although it took another year, the singer was able to get onto the Kohaku Utagassen for 1994 to sing his magnum opus.

Although it didn't say so on the J-Wiki article, I took a closer look at the photograph and discovered that the ballad also became the ending theme for TV Asahi's "Tonight" late-night interview/variety program. I simply went "Naruhodo" since it seems that program was usually providing some dramatic ballads as their good-night tunes. Chikaco Sawada's(沢田知可子)"Aitai"(会いたい)was an earlier example.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Hideki Saijo -- City Dreams From Tokyo

Considering the number of singers who were jumping up onto the City Pop bandwagon back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I guess it shouldn't be surprising that even the triumvirate that made up the Shin-Gosanke(新御三家....The New Big Three)would try their hands and mouths on Japan's urban contemporary music. For example, Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ)tried it with "Irie Nite"(入江にて)and then there was Goro Noguchi(野口五郎)with his hit "19:00 no Machi"(19:00の街).

And finally, I found out originally through New J-Channel's running video of City Pop that Hideki Saijo(西城秀樹)also gave the genre a go of it. It was quite the pleasant surprise to hear the percolating and bubbly "City Dreams of Tokyo" from his 17th album "From Tokyo" released in June 1986. It's all in English, thanks to the lyrics and music by Mayumi Horikawa(堀川まゆみ).

Listeners might have an issue with Saijo's English pronunciation but I'm OK with it. For me, it's all about the cool funk of the mid-80s...makes for a nice little strut through the big city itself. Plus, I think it already sounds ready-made to become a Future Funk/Vaporwave project. Heck, the video is perfect as a visual Vaporwave piece.

"City Dreams of Tokyo" was also the B-side to Saijo's 54th single, "Tsuioku no Hitomi ~ LOLA"(追憶の瞳 -LOLA-...Reminiscing Eyes)from April 1986. It peaked at No. 26 on Oricon.

Miki Matsubara -- Wave

The last time that I had written about a Miki Matsubara(松原みき)song was "Jazzy Night" back around last Xmas.

Well, one of the icons of City Pop actually tackled something jazzy in her October 1984 album of covers "Blue Eyes". For this article, it's "Wave", a bossa jazz number that I first caught on Van Paugam's City Pop radio recently and then heard again last night at the same place. This cover by Matsubara is really elegant and classy, and I think the night driving scene that was playing on YouTube as "Wave" was playing really set a fine mood. Wouldn't it be something to hear on the car radio as you're headed over Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge for some fine dining in a hotel-top restaurant?

The original version of "Wave" was recorded as an instrumental by the one and only Antonio Carlos Jobim as the title track for his 1967 album with the Portuguese title being "Vou Te Contar".

Jobim also provided the English lyrics for other singers such as Frank "Ol' Blue Eyes" Sinatra and Johnny Mathis to use in their versions. Sinatra's "Wave" was released on his 1971 album "Sinatra & Company". I don't think I had ever heard Ol' Blue Eyes hit the low notes like that before.

Jashin Girls -- Ano Ko ni Dropkick(あの娘にドロップキック)

With some of the crazier anime this year coming out this season including "Grand Blue" (ぐらんぶる)and "Asobi Asobase"(あそびあそばせ), one of the other shows that my friend and I caught this time around was "Jashin-chan Dropkick"(邪神ちゃんドロップキック...Dropkick on my Devil!). It's an anime about a brazen serpent girl named Jashin who ends up living with a witch named Yurine in Tokyo with the laughs coming from how much mayhem the former wreaks on the neighbourhood and her friends(?) and how the latter brings her down to ground. I gather that this would be the anime equivalent of "The Odd Couple".

I also guess that if Eli Roth had ever thought about producing a moe anime, this would probably be the result. Actually, considering that title "Jashin-chan Dropkick" and the overall premise, I had assumed that there was a connection with an anime that we had seen early in 2017, "Gabriel Dropout"(ガヴリールドロップアウト), with another not-so-nice otherworldly girl and her just-as-unusual friends. There is a certain similarity, I suppose, but really, I think my assumption was merely based on the fact that the opening theme for that show was "Gabriel Dropkick"(ガヴリールドロップキック).

As for my feelings on "Jashin-chan Dropkick", I kinda see it as a fun but minor show in our summer anime sessions with "Grand Blue" and "Harukana Receive"(はるかなレシーブ)being the heavy hitters for us this season. Still, the theme songs have started to burrow themselves into my head. For example, there is the opener "Ano Ko ni Dropkick" (Dropkick That Girl) as performed by the Jashin Girls(邪神★ガールズ), namely most of the cast: Aina Suzuki(鈴木愛奈...Jashin), Nichika Ohmori(大森日雅...Yurine), Miyu Kubota(久保田未夢...Medusa), Yurie Kozakai(小坂井祐莉絵...Pekora), Chiaki Omigawa(小見川千明...Minos), Riko Sasaki(佐々木李子...Poporon)and Riho Iida(飯田里穂...Persephone II). Of the seiyuu here, Iida already has a couple of entries on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" through Marcos' and Joana's articles.

In going with the wild and woolly antics of the main character, the song written and composed by Agasa.K is mostly a wacky techno rock number with that nostalgic feeling of trance although there are a couple of points where the cast suddenly goes into an aidoru-like melody of fluffiness. The entirety of "Ano Ko ni Dropkick" kinda has that overture feeling from a musical which also resembles that of the just-as-manic "Gabriel Dropkick".

Will do the ending sometime next month and there were a few insert songs as well.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Southern All Stars -- TSUNAMI

The Southern All Stars'(サザンオールスターズ)44th single from January 2000, "TSUNAMI", was one of those songs that seemed to fill the entire atmosphere for months and months during that year. NTV's Saturday-night karaoke show for tarento, "Yoru mo Hit Parade"(夜もヒッパレ)seemed to have the guests performing it on heavy rotation, and if that show was showcasing it, I'm pretty sure that karaoke boxes all over Japan had customers singing it as well. In terms of popularity, it really was a tsunami.

I was a bit surprised, though, that "TSUNAMI" would become the highest jewel in SAS's huge crown of hits, since I thought that something as raunchy and summery as their debut single "Katte ni Sinbad"(勝手にシンドバッド)all the way back in 1977  would have been their No. 1 hit in their long and illustrious career. However, "TSUNAMI" seemed to be a lot more introspective and quieter; plus, there was all that precipitation in the music video. That SAS image wasn't quite there for me.

But then again, I was reminded that there were "Itoshi no Ellie"(いとしのエリー)and "Manatsu no Kajitsu"(真夏の果実), both ballads that have also become Southern All Stars standards. So, maybe it was the rain, eh?

Still, "TSUNAMI", written and composed by Keisuke Kuwata(桑田佳祐), is a wistful song about gaining and losing budding love, perhaps for the very first time, and the tsunami-like emotions which accordingly flood in and out. However, Kuwata also adds that without that poignant pain, people don't really grow and overcome the difficulties. We need the bitter with the sweet, and that last line in the song emphasized that sentiment in that whenever the protagonist thinks of his first love, it's always raining. It's not all sunshine and rainbows over the beach, but that's OK.

Not only did "TSUNAMI" hit No. 1 on Oricon twice (once for 2 weeks in a row, then a second time for 3 weeks), it became the No. 1 single for 2000, and in the top singles in Oricon history, it comes in at No. 4 with close to 3 million copies sold. It also won the grand prize at the Japan Record Awards, Song of the Year honours at the Japan Gold Disc Awards, and the Gold Prize at the JASRAC Awards.

Being a casual fan of Southern All Stars, I may not have done the song full justice in my article, so if there are any big fans of the band and especially "TSUNAMI", they are free to give their accounts for the song.

Zariba -- Aru Hi(或る日)

Earlier today, I wrote about "Swan no Namida"(スワンの涙)which had originally been performed by the Group Sounds band Ox and was one of Kyohei Tsutsumi's(筒美京平)earliest works Well, I listened to that song and the other 21 songs by him on his "Tsutsumi Kyohei: Jisen Sakuhinshuu"(筒美京平自選作品集...Kyohei Tsutsumi's Personal Selection)CD last night, and I enjoyed it as much for the intriguing surprises that I discovered as I did for the songs themselves. A few of those surprises involved finding out that certain bands which were known for writing their own songs had gotten some help from Tsutsumi earlier in their careers. One example was Off-Course(オフコース)and "Wasure Yuki"(忘れ雪...Snow For Forgetting)which I have yet to write about.

The big surprise came when I heard Track 14 which was the very short-lived band Zariba's(ザリバ)"Aru Hi" (One Day) from 1974. It's a lovely elegiac song of sorts that was composed by Tsutsumi of course and written by Yoshiyuki Ishizu(石津善之). Lyrically and thematically, it sounded quite similar to Akiko Kosaka's(小坂明子)hit song "Anata"(あなた)which had its premiere in 1973. At first, I had assumed that "Aru Hi" would be a ballad about a woman enjoying her day from sunrise to sunset, but then from Ishizu's lyrics, I discovered that the woman may have actually been spiritually letting know a loved one who has since passed that she's getting better and will go on.

However, that wasn't the big surprise. When I tried to look up Zariba up in J-Wiki as I was listening to "Aru Hi", it automatically sent me to the article for Akiko Yano(矢野顕子). Initially, I had thought that there was some sort of glitch in the transfer since the band's vocalist didn't sound anything like Yano. But I scrolled down the page and realized to my surprise that the singer was indeed an 18-year-old Yano!...or Akiko Suzuki (鈴木顕子...her birth name) as she was known back then.

Having been a fan of Yano for some years now, I was understandably shocked to hear this very non-Kate Bush-like voice from her when she was just starting out as a session musician and singer. I think she actually sounded more like Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)...and for that matter, the aforementioned Akiko Kosaka. Of course, I still love Yano's voice from "Japanese Girl" onwards, but this early voice is quite the revelation, too.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find out very much at all about Zariba. "Aru Hi" was the only single produced by the band, and according to the J-Wiki article on Yano, the record company ended up only being interested in the singer and not the other band members so Zariba quickly dissolved. I also had to search quite a bit for any information on those other people, only to find out on one page that they were connected with Caramel Mama(キャラメル・ママ), according to Yano herself.

Ox/Chiyo Okumura/Mi-Ke -- Swan no Namida(スワンの涙)

I figured that I would be getting a compilation album of a famed songwriter's works sometime, and sure enough, I purchased this one called "Tsutsumi Kyohei: Jisen Sakuhinshuu"(筒美京平自選作品集...Kyohei Tsutsumi's Personal Selection), not realizing that 2018 is composer Kyohei Tsutsumi's(筒美京平)50th anniversary in the music business. This man has created so many songs for so many different singers and bands over the past half-century that his collection has had to be divided into three 2-CD sets depending on genre (and that still doesn't come anywhere near his total output). There is the set devoted to aidoru, a second devoted to more AOR pursuits and then there is the one that I got: City Pop. Heck on this blog, only Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)has more entries than Tsutsumi as a songwriter. Furthermore, I've already written his own Creator article.

Tsutsumi and Jun Hashimoto(橋本淳)created this ballad for the Group Sounds band Ox (and the two of them also provided the band with their debut single), "Swan no Namida" (Tears of a Swan) as their 3rd single in December 1968. It was not only on CD 1 of the tribute compilation that I now have (although I'm not sure if I would call it City Pop) but by grand coincidence, the song was even performed on NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン)a little over a week ago.

Considering the band was named after a pretty husky animal, "Swan no Namida" is a tenderhearted GS ballad about a young couple who may be keeping their relationship secret and who may be considering a breakup for the good of all. They are having a final walk together and visiting some of their favourite places including a church and a terrace. Hashimoto's lyrics mention some place up in the north so I'm wondering if they had any particular place in mind such as Sendai or Sapporo.

Selling over 250,000 records, "Swan no Namida" managed to reach as high as No. 7 on the embryonic Oricon, and ended up as the 44th-ranked single of 1969.

There have been plenty of covers of the song over the decades with perhaps the earliest being done by Chiyo Okumura(奥村チヨ)in June 1969 for her 3rd album "Anata to Chiyo to..."(あなたとチヨと…You and Chiyo and...). Her take is a bit more of a straight kayo version from that time with the strings and flute.

(cover version)

Another cover was provided by the trio Mi-Ke, whose modus operandi was dusting off a lot of those old kayo and breathing new life into them. It looks like their take on "Swan no Namida" went through the B'z arrangement filter. The song was included in their debut album "Omoide no GS Kujukurihama"(想い出のG.S九十九里浜...Memories of G.S. Kujukurihama)which peaked at No. 19 on the Oricon charts.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Hot Shot

I heard this one through Van Paugam's race on the highway and thought it was another perfect fit as a driving song.

"Hot Shot" is another wonderfully cool and funky Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)and Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)creation that features some guy shedding any pretense and presumably any inhibitions as well to make it not just the best night for him on the town but perhaps the best night for anyone within shouting distance of him. Perhaps it's Clark Kent making like Superman on the disco floor.

Anyways, Yamashita has a bit more of his rock guitar in here and according to the liner notes for "Moonglow" (October 1979), the originating album for "Hot Shot", the singer-songwriter tried to reflect some of the style of the Isley Brothers from that decade. I don't know enough of the Isley Brothers to agree or disagree, but some of that keyboard work had me thinking Gino Vannelli.

"Moonglow" itself was Yamashita's 4th album which peaked at No. 20. I also had to include the video above since uploader fuijiki tnichi does a great job on bass, and after all, City Pop usually needs some great bass to propel things forward.

Ego-Wrappin' -- Oibore Inu no Serenade(老いぼれ犬のセレナーデ)

'Tis Hump Day...stress levels may be at their highest tonight, so allow me to provide a bit of a nice cool down song.

Heck, the term cool down is even included right from the get-go in "Oibore Inu no Serenade" (Old Dog Serenade) by jazzy Ego-Wrappin'. Included as a track in the duo's 3rd full album "Night Food" from July 2002, vocalist/lyricist/composer Yoshie Nakano(中納良恵)and guitarist/composer Masaki Mori(森雅樹)weave a mellow but sexy ballad about what seems to be a walk in the rain, although the atmosphere feels like a more intimate basement jazz club (I'm thinking DUG in East Shinjuku) with brick decor, whisky glasses and cigarette smoke slowly curling up to the ceiling.

"Oibore Inu no Serenade" goes most of its sultry way until the last couple of minutes when Mori and the rest of the musicians go into an intense riff to finish things off.

The music video just has Ego-Wrappin' and a guitar out in the countryside, but the song was apparently titled back then "Oibore Inu no Kuchibue"(老いぼれ犬の口笛...Old Dog Whistle)which is actually used in Nakano's lyrics. Either way, this is another fine number to listen to while relaxing on the sofa with a good stiff drink with plenty of ice. However, I have to admit that I enjoy the music video version even better since it maintains that calming mood all throughout. Indeed, it is night food for the soul.

Speaking of the album, "Night Food" managed to get as high as No. 5 on Oricon, and then took the long way around to become the 60th-ranked album for 2003.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Haruo Oka -- Aitakattaze(逢いたかったぜ)

I was watching a recent episode of "Uta Kon"(うたコン)and a poignant enka was performed about a couple of old buddies meeting for the first time in a few years and having a long-awaited drink at a watering hole. Try to imagine back in the early postwar period when Japan was trying to get back onto its feet again with people just trying to regain some of that order from the chaos. I could envision that some friendships may have been detached for several years only for them to be rejoined, perhaps even stronger than ever.

Perhaps that was the point with "Aitakattaze" (Really Wanted To See You) as sung by Haruo Oka(岡晴夫). According to J-Wiki, this was most likely the final single that was released by the crooner back in July 1955 because illness crept back into his life again (he would pass away in May 1970 at the age of 54). The commentary in that article indicated that this song proved to be another hit for him.

According to the video here, the footage shown of Oka performing "Aitakattaze" was actually from 1970 so the uploader mentions that this may have been the final time of him appearing in front of a camera. Considering the melancholy music by Gento Uehara(上原げんと)and the tenderhearted lyrics by Miyuki Ishimoto(石本美由起), Oka's performance above takes on an even more enhanced poignancy.

Onyanko Club -- O-saki ni Shitsurei(お先に失礼)

Recently, I listened to one of the podcasts from "Japan Top 10" that I had mentioned via an article from earlier this month. It was Episode 114 hosted by Recca which dealt with all of the 80s songs of my relative youth. I recognized a lot of them but there was one that was actually new to my ears.

I've known Onyanko Club(おニャン子クラブ)primarily for their big hit and debut single "Sailor Fuku wo Nugasanaide" (セーラー服を脱がさないで)from July 1985, and right from that song, my impression of the multi-aidoru supergroup was set: super-cute girls-next-door singing super-cute tunes, although my jaw did drop when I could finally translate Yasushi Akimoto's(秋元康)lyrics.

Through Recca's broadcast, I found "O-saki ni Shitsurei" (Pardon Me In Front), their 5th single from July 1986 which was also written by Akimoto and composed by Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利). Another cute tune with a 50s twist, the sunny summer song hides the story of high school girls preparing for battle over the handsome high school boy. But as far as I know, no shivs were used...I gather that it had all the menace and violence of a comedic anime.

It's interesting watching the performances here when compared with Akimoto's longer-lasting venture with AKB48 and the rest of the alphabet aidoru groups. Onyanko Club seemed to have been far less flashy in their music and dance but the kawaii energy was indeed there along with the rabid fandom. And I think the point with the entire group back then was to have that really down-to-earth group of teenage girls without the need for a lot of pizzazz...relatively speaking, anyways.

"O-saki ni Shitsurei" hit No. 1 on Oricon and ended up as the 69th-ranked single for 1986. The main vocals as provided by J-Wiki were Harumi Tomikawa(富川春美), Yukiko Iwai(岩井由紀子), Marina Watanabe(渡辺満里奈)and Tomoko Fukawa(布川智子).

Monday, September 24, 2018

Yumi Tanimura -- with II

I hadn't heard of singer-songwriter Yumi Tanimura(谷村有美)until I entered Tower Records in Shibuya and heard her "Tomodachi" on the speakers. As I mentioned in that article, the gentle balladry and the Burt Bacharach horns kinda got me right here (❤), so I ended up picking up Tanimura's 2nd BEST compilation "with II" from the shelves. The album was released back in August 1994, and it was still a few months before I made it back to Japan at that point, so I think it was kismet that I managed to hear that song although the album was probably no longer being campaigned for.

As has been the case with many an album that I've heard, my first time hearing "with II" and Tanimura's brand of mellow mid-tempo pop didn't leave me with an awesome impression (aside from "Tomodachi"). Her songs struck me as being fine but nothing particularly supremely catchy, and considering how often I was snatching up CDs at the time, it was all too easy to give them a listen and then put the album back on the shelf for the next several years. I think it was basically how I treated my food at the time: it was more about the quantity than the quality. So, I did love my all-you-can-eat buffets.

Well, buffets are no longer my thing anymore and over the past few years during the existence of "Kayo Kyoku Plus", I've been revisiting some of those initially abandoned albums, including "with II".

"with II" includes her songs ranging over the time of her 6th to 18th singles. Unless specifically mentioned, Tanimura wrote and composed these songs.

1. Genki Dashite yo(元気だしてよ)re-mix
2. Ichiban Daisuki datta(いちばん大好きだった)
3. Issho ni Kurasou(一緒に暮らそう)
4. Parade, Parade(パレード・パレード)
5. Hitotsu Tsubu Namida(ひとつぶの涙)Single version
6. Roku-gatsu no Ame(6月の雨)
7. Tomodachi(友達)
8. Tokimeki wo Believe(ときめきをBelieve)
9. Taikutsu na Gogo(たいくつな午後)
10. Ima ga Suki(今が好き)
11. Saigo no Kiss(最後のKISS)
12. Shiawase no Namida(しあわせの涙)
13. Kon'ya Anata ni Furaretai(今夜あなたにフラれたい)
14. Ai suru Yuuki(愛する勇気)

"Genki Dashite yo" (Cheer Up) is a coupling song on her 17th single, the aforementioned "Shiawase no Namida" (Happy Tears) from May 1994. It has that sunny 60s feeling to it and is a nice way to start off this BEST album.

Another coupling song that got onto the album is "Issho ni Kurasou" (Let's Live Together) from her 16th single released in November 1993, "Somebody Loves You". This was one of the songs that got me to re-think my initial thoughts about Tanimura's work. It's pop but it also has a small infusion of soul in there; that soul and the use of synthesizers even reminded me of some of the cooler stuff by PSY-S. Of course, when I read that title, I naturally assumed that it was a guy trying to convince his girlfriend to take the next big step of co-habitation, but apparently, according to the hosts of "Music Station" above, it doesn't necessarily mean so, with one of the hosts stating that Tanimura had been living with her mother at that time.

Her 12th single from June 1992 is "Tokimeki wo Believe". It's one of those recovery songs in which Tanimura sings about finally getting on with her life after the end of a romance. I think it's the one ballad that I felt was rather indicative of the love ballads of that time which were performed by singers such as Mariko Nagai(永井真理子)and Miki Imai(今井美樹). With the help of, the direct translation of the song came out to "Believe in Your Palpitations" or "Believe in Your Throbbing", but one sounded too medical and the other was simply not right, so I went with "Believe in Your Heartbeat". "Tokimeki wo Believe" was written by Kazuko Sakata(坂田和子)and composed by Kenjiro Sakiya(崎谷健次郎).

I kinda had to inflict the Gibbs slap onto myself since I had completely forgotten about "Ima ga Suki" (I Love You Now) which is actually a track from Tanimura's 5th album "Ai wa Genki desu"(愛は元気です...Love is Fine)from May 1991. It's got some pretty cool AOR-type funk in there, and that guitar reminded me of Billy Joel's "Movin' Out". Norie Kanzawa and Hiromasa Ijichi(神沢礼江・伊秩弘将)created this one for the singer, and both of them also had a hand with some of Misato Watanabe's(渡辺美里)songs.

"Saigo no Kiss"(The Final Kiss) is a Tanimura creation which has some of that nice light funk action in there, and it's the other song that I kinda remembered from my initial listening to "with II" along with "Tomodachi". This was her 14th single from June 1993. I'm such a sucker for a good sax (no snickering, please). Perhaps I should actually translate the title as "The Kiss-Off" since Tanimura's lyrics state about not having to see the guy's toothbrush, frying pan and ashtray anymore. Well, being a lifelong non-smoker, I certainly could sympathize with that last item.

The final song that I will be showing tonight is "Kon'ya Anata ni Furaretai" (I Want to Be Dumped by You Tonight). Also not exactly the happiest lyrics as a woman wants to get out of a toxic relationship, but Tanimura's melody has got a bit more of a rock beat in there. This was her 18th single from July 1994.

Well, I've had "with II" all these years, so why not see if "with" is available?

Atsuko Nina -- Communication/Orange Basket(オレンジバスケット)

Happy Monday! Recently, I've come across some more of the works of singer Atsuko Nina(二名敦子)after hearing about her "Soldier Fish" song, and I found them eminently listenable and varied. As a result, I've decided to cover a couple of them in one article today.

The first song is "Communication" from her 1983 album "Play Room ~ Tawamure ~"(PLAY ROOM ~戯れ~...Fun). The album represented a re-birth of the singer's career under this new stage name (her real name is Atsuko Iwai/岩井敦子), following her first start under the name Eri Hayakawa(早川英梨)in 1979.

Now, if "Communication" sounds awfully familiar, it is because that it is a cover of the Latin standard "One-Note Samba". Apparently, a number of tracks in "Play Room" are covers of famous Western tunes but under different titles. Unfortunately, I couldn't find out who provided the Japanese lyrics but I have to give Nina and the arranger for "Communication" some kudos for a slick and assured version, especially with that slightly City Pop feel to the proceedings.

In 1986, Nina released a single which sounds as sweet and bright and refreshing as a glass of orange juice in the morning. And sure enough, her "Orange Basket" was used for TV ads plugging Kirin Orange Juice.

Written by Shun Taguchi(田口俊)and composed by Kenjiro Sakiya(崎谷健次郎), "Orange Basket" does come across as plucky and catchy (thanks to those synthesizers) as any commercial jingle should, but the full version couldn't help but include that cool soaring guitar solo. The single also got onto Nina's 5th album from September 1986, "him".

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Pizzicato Five -- Nonstop to Tokyo (Album)

Last Thursday, just before I met up with my fellow translators for a meeting downtown, I decided to drop into BMV Books which is a local group of shops selling all sorts of books, DVDs and records/CDs. Since returning to Toronto from Japan, I've kept up the bookstore browsing.

Well, as I was in the basement looking at the LPs and CDs, I did manage to find this EP CD by Pizzicato Five titled "Nonstop to Tokyo", selling for just a little over $5 CDN. Not wanting to look at a gift horse in the mouth, I didn't hesitate and bought it. Plus, there is a bit of a personal connection since that is exactly the plane that I use to get to Japan...the Air Canada nonstop between Toronto and Tokyo.

The EP, released in July 1999 (peaked at No. 55 on Oricon), consists of 5 tracks including the title track. As would be expected from a P5 album, "Nonstop to Tokyo" has our congenial hosts, Maki Nomiya and Yasuharu Konishi(野宮真貴・小西康陽), leading our flight with a light vocal delivery paired with some hip-swiveling groovalicious beats. I can only wish that those nonstop flights to Tokyo would be nearly as fun. Alas, perhaps some alcohol on the way would remedy things somewhat...

"Room Service" is a slightly less frenetic number that still retains that Shibuya-kei style. My imagination envisions those "Mad Men" executives sitting nonchalantly in a 60s space-age lounge knocking back those cocktails as this song is playing. Personally, I've never had room service in a hotel, preferring to get my meals somewhere out on the town. However, when I was in Japan in 2014, I did ask to have a massage in the room, and the masseuse did a very intense job on my shoulders and back. Amazing how far sinews can stretch!

I couldn't find "Bossa Nova 3003" but did find "Mademoiselle" which brings back the energy levels. The Divine Ms. Nomiya could be on the stage leading the way with her mike while a bunch of young ladies and gentlemen are shimmying vigorously all over the dance floor. I don't think I've used the term mademoiselle since Grade 12 French!

The last track is a radio edit of "Nonstop to Tokyo" but I couldn't find it on YouTube. However, I did find an interesting version of the song which was included on a P5 2001 album "Çà et là du Japon", since the vocalist here is not Nomiya but veteran singer and frequent informercial guest Shigeru Matsuzaki(松崎しげる). Although the Wikipedia article for the album lists both Matsuzaki and former Sparks keyboardist Ron Mael as the vocalists, I can only hear the dulcet tones of "Captain" Matsuzaki on this version.

Hiroko Moriguchi -- ETERNAL WIND~Hohoemi wa Hikaru Kaze no Naka~(ほほえみは光る風の中)

My anime buddy provided me with "Gundam Build Divers"(ガンダムビルドダイバーズrecently, and to be honest, it hasn't really grabbed me, although he told me that it took until Episode 7 for things to really get going. I just finished Episode 3, and I'm already starting to think of letting this one go, but I will play it by ear.

Anyways, this isn't the first time that tarento and former 80s aidoru Hiroko Moriguchi(森口博子)has appeared in "Kayo Kyoku Plus" with JTM introducing her in his grand article "JTM's 80s Playlist - J-Dorama/Anime/Movie Edition" from nearly 5 years ago (look for entry No. 6). That entry spoke about her debut single, "Mizu No Hoshi E Ai Wo Komete"(水の星へ愛をこめて)as a theme song for one of the many "Gundam" shows that have appeared over the decades.

I've also mentioned in a past article that my personal recollections about her exclusively talked about her status as an overall giggly comedic tarento and impersonator. Just before she made her big break in the 1980s, she received her training with The School Mates(スクールメイツ), an entertainment group in which she often appeared on TV as a background dancer. Basically, her surprise appearance on the Fuji-TV noon time variety show "Waratte Ii Tomo"(笑っていいとも!)as shown above was as one of the School Mates.

I'd had no idea until my anime buddy informed me that Moriguchi was known in anime circles as "The Gundam Oneesan" for her contributions to the franchise's anison.

Additionally, I had assumed that "Kido Senshi Gundam Formula 91"(機動戦士ガンダムF91...Mobile Suit Gundam F91)was another in a line of Gundam TV series, but actually, it turned out to be a movie released in March 1991.

Moriguchi was tasked to sing the theme song for the movie, "ETERNAL WIND~Hohoemi wa Hikaru Kaze no Naka~" (Smile in the Shining Wind). Written by singer-songwriter Yui Nishiwaki(西脇唯)and composed by Nishiwaki and Yoko Osatohara(緒里原洋子...I hope I've got the name right), it's a pretty uplifting song with that taste of pop-rock from that period of time.

"ETERNAL WIND" was also Moriguchi's 9th single from February 1991 which has proven to be her most successful single thus far, peaking at No. 9, and finishing the year as the 47th-ranked song. Apparently, it was also used as the ending theme for the Sony Playstation 2 game "Kido Senshi Gundam Climax U.C."(機動戦士ガンダム クライマックスU.C.)released in March 2006.

Hey, why not leave things off with one of Moriguchi's most popular impressions...that of Shizuka Kudo(工藤静香)?

YMO on the brain

Yesterday, I was writing about all those wonderful pop songs from America and Canada on the radio back in the 70s and 80s that helped me slide right in when it came to the City Pop and J-AOR genres. Well, today, I'm going to finish up with a list that showed that turnabout was indeed fair play.

I had watched Yellow Magic Orchestra's amazing "Firecracker" music video on an episode of "Japanese Panorama" on the multicultural channel here in Toronto some time before I left for my 1981 summer trip to Japan, and then also heard the even greater "Rydeen". Also during and after the trip, I became aware of the examples of techno kayo on display.

Before that, back in junior high school, I listened to an album of computer music (circa 1969) at my library when LPs could be heard back then in such a place, and it was nothing but a series of bleeps and bloops in some sort of very rough arrangement. It was kinda like seeing bits of paper in a suspension of water and calling it a sheet. Perhaps the iconic theme from "Doctor Who" had been the only example of technologically-created pop music that I had known that could be heard as a proper song.

YMO changed all that. Although I wouldn't figure it out for years, I realized that the first album by Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto(細野晴臣・高橋幸宏・坂本龍一)was translating some old genres of music via all of these synthesizers and other technology into something splendid. I've mentioned it in other articles of YMO and techno kayo before, but I was getting YMO on the brain. Basically, along with the fact that I was falling in love with kayo kyoku in general, my ears were also on the hunt for anything electronically and musically bleepy and bloopy.

This influence from Japan had a hand then in also shaping my interests in Western music which was finally blossoming. And the timing was perfect since it was also the time of New Wave. My list this time will be somewhat shorter, though.

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - The Message (1982)
Michael Jackson  - Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' (1982)

Yep, I believe that my YMO on the brain started with the above two songs, specifically the intros for both the classic "The Message" and "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'". Those intros were used for background using for a radio ad midway "Sounds of Japan" broadcasts and during public service announcements for "Japanese Panorama" respectively. I naively got excited that these were actually YMO products. It would be some time before I finally got to hear the entirety of either song and enjoy them both (I do have my "Thriller" album). When I look upon that realization now, I feel like slapping myself silly with a Casio portable keyboard.

However, YMO on the brain also did get me to discover some great songs in their entirety right from the get-go.

The Human League - Don't You Want Me (1981)

Man, did this song get the heavy airplay! And it was worth it...those booming synths and New Wave-y cosmetics. A waitress in a cocktail bar? This was a musical mystery that I was more than willing to explore over and over.

Depeche Mode - People Are People (1984)

When the first music video shows came onto TV, such as the local "Toronto Rocks" on CITY-TV, Depeche Mode was one band which became about as regular as the aunt coming over for dinner. My favourite song by Martin Gore and the gang is "Strangelove", but I did hear some of their earlier stuff such as "People Are People". Nope, their technopop was nothing like YMO's technopop but it was great to hear on the radio and on the dance floor.

Spoons - Nova Heart (1982)

But it wasn't all about the British coming. Canada (specifically, Burlington, Ontario) had its own Spoons. There were a number of hits by this New Wave band that I enjoyed such as "Romantic Traffic" and "Tell No Lies", but when it comes to representing this band, I will always remember "Nova Heart". It's beautiful and haunting, and bassist Sandy Horne will never age in my eyes.

Pet Shop Boys - West End Girls (1984)

Listening to "West End Girls" on "The Top 6 at 6" on CFTR 680 while in the car has remained one of my distinct memories of the 1980s. And even up to the present day, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have been the gifts that keep on giving. The intro to "West End Girls" is one of the truly classic openings to a song that I've heard. It sounds like the beginning to an especially cool super spy novel.

Naked Eyes - Always Something There To Remind Me (1983)

The crazy thing about "Always Something There To Remind Me" was that I used to hear...and enjoy the original instrumental version by Burt Bacharach and Hal David on radio all the time. Then this UK duo Naked Eyes came up with this synthpop cover including an epic crash of synthesizers heralding a Most Important Example of Pomp and Circumstance, and now I can only be reminded of Naked Eyes' version.

There are a few more that I can mention but I will keep it to this short list.

Going back to Yellow Magic Orchestra and the techno kayo...of course, what I heard in Japan back in 1981 and what I heard in Canada in the years since are very different, but YMO and their brand of synthesizer music opened the door to a new and bop-worthy way of aural enjoyment that didn't have any borders. I will always be grateful for that.

Yutaka Yokokura with Pauline Wilson -- Warm & Sunny Sunday Morning

First full day of Autumn 2018, and although it's not exactly warm out there (14 degrees C at last count), it's gorgeously sunny and a nice walk will be enough to have folks work up a bit of a sweat.

Some months ago, I found this wonderful ballad, "Love Light" (1978) by kotoist and keyboardist, Yutaka Yokokura(横倉裕), which brought back all of the loveliness of some of my favourite music from the late 70s into the early 80s.

Now, here is another great track from Yokokura from his "Yutaka" album of 1988. Apparently, it's actually him singing "Warm & Sunny Sunday Morning" alongside Pauline Wilson. It's a nice combination of bossa nova and smooth jazz and his koto to go with that brunch of Eggs Benedict and a cup of coffee. "Love Light" the album might be one of those hard-to-find purchases, but here's hoping that "Yutaka" will be a bit more easier for me.

P.S. This has nothing to do whatsoever with the song, but last night, JTM and I were having a chat and he told me about this fellow who has a blog which seems to be a twin of mine. Actually, I only use "twin" because his Blogger layout is identical to mine. His topic is Japanese words, slang and other expressions, and if you're interested in picking up some of the lingo, you can check out "Japanese Word of the Day".

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Ikimonogatari/Rie Takahashi -- Kimagure Romantic(気まぐれロマンティック)

With some of the more insane anime that have come out this summer, it's hard to believe that earlier this year, my anime buddy and I had been watching something as gently humourous as "Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san"(からかい上手の高木さん...Skilled Teaser Takagi-san). Frankly I wouldn't mind if something similar came out in the soon-to-arrive fall season.

It's been almost 6 months since I put up the last of the multiple ending themes for the show, the gimmick being that they were covers of hit J-Pop songs performed by the seiyuu portraying the titular Takagi-san, Rie Takahashi(高橋李依). Back in March, just when "Takagi-san" finished its run, I wrote about the adorable final theme, a cover of Every Little Thing's "Deatta Koro no you ni"(出逢った頃のように).

Well, today I'm going back to the beginning. For the first couple of episodes and the OVA, the ending theme was the cover of Ikimonogatari's(いきものがかり)"Kimagure Romantic" (Capricious Romantic), a cheerful rendition by Takahashi whose lyrics seem to fit perfectly with the overall story arc of "Takagi-san": for Takagi to get young and crabby Nishikata to like her. If I had been the school counselor, I probably would have advised the girl to stop teasing the poor lad, but then there would have been no purpose for the story to air.

In any case, it was definitely one ultra-happy way to end the show.

The original Ikimonogatari version was the band's 12th single from December 2008, and it's no less cheerful and upbeat. Written and composed by Ikimonogatari guitarist Yoshiki Mizuno(水野良樹), "Kimagure Romantic" is certainly a crowd pleaser as well, judging by the audience response. I haven't been a huge follower of the band but this particular song has struck me as being the most upbeat tune that I've heard so far as voiced by Kiyoe Yoshioka(吉岡聖恵). 

"Kimagure Romantic" went Double Platinum and peaked at No. 4 on Oricon. The song was also a track on Ikimonogatari's 3rd major studio album "My song, Your song" which came out on Xmas Eve in the same year. It hit No. 1 for 2 weeks and was the 14th-ranked album for 2009.

Radio Influences (City Pop/AOR)

Autumn doesn't officially arrive in these parts until 9:54 pm tonight, but it feels like the weather wasn't going to wait around. It was actually quite cool and pleasant after my walk this morning. Y'know, summer is good and all that, but that time between September and December (well, more like November in Toronto) will always be my favourite.

Moving on, I've been thinking about doing this article for about the past week, so I'm happy that I've got this weekend to put it into reality. This is going to be a different Author's Picks since no Japanese songs will be directly placed here although I will be making references to past tunes that I've written on the blog.

In terms of the various genres in Japanese music, enka has been the one genre that can be said to be truly homegrown. However, New Music has been about musicians taking on the American pop stylings and making original songs with Japanese lyrics, while Mood Kayo has all those Latin and jazz influences, and even aidoru music has incorporated things like disco and 50s flavourings.

On a personal level, though, the genres that I've loved in Japanese music have been City Pop and J-AOR so names such as Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや), Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎), EPO and Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)have often been bandied about. The thing is, though, City Pop and J-AOR were words that I hadn't even known about until about a decade ago although I have been listening to the music for far longer. So, the question for me was how did I get to splash so happily (and this from a guy who doesn't like to swim) in this particular musical sea?

Well, perhaps part of the explanation is the fact that I used to listen to the radio quite a lot as a kid, especially in my high school and university years. I did listen to my goodly sum of 80s dance music on Friday and Saturday nights, but on a daily basis, I was just listening to plain ol' pop radio on the AM and FM stations. And a lot of those stations included pretty easy listening places such CKFM and CHFI on the former, and CKEY on the latter.

The following includes songs that I used to listen to over and over on the radio in the age before I even invested in my first pop record and far before the age of CDs and downloads. You might say that they became the soundtrack of my early life and even the template for how I got into City Pop and the Japanese version of AOR. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure that the artists representing those genres were probably very inspired by these folks in the United States and Canada.

Gino Vannelli -- I Just Wanna Stop (1978)

To this day, I can't listen to one of Vannelli's best without remembering that creamy pink (yes, seriously) SONY radio my family used to have on the dining room table. Musically for me, it's all about that keyboard arrangement (Fender Rhodes, I believe) which can have me swooning for my childhood again in the 1970s. That Fender Rhodes became a beloved part of many a City Pop/J-AOR tune later on.

Nicolette Larson -- The French Waltz (1978)

For the longest time, I had assumed that the late Nicolette Larson was Canadian instead of being born in Montana and raised all over America. I think the reason was this song and her beautiful soft vocals. Larson also sang the cool downtown "Lotta Love" which I also enjoyed on radio, but I will always have a softer spot for "The French Waltz". Perhaps this song was part of the key that finally got me to appreciate Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)late 70s and early 80s music.

Joni Mitchell -- Help Me (1974)

Sticking with Ohnuki, I had read somewhere in J-Wiki that one of my favourite Japanese singers was inspired by the great Joni Mitchell, and when I think of Mitchell, I always think of "Help Me". Listening to this 1974 single, I could see and hear how Ohnuki's sound developed during her time with Sugar Babe and then her first couple of albums as a solo performer.

Steely Dan -- Peg (1977)

I first heard "Peg" as part of a TV commercial for adult education in Buffalo, New York in which some ballet dancers were doing pirouettes (yes, I do remember the darndest things, don't I?). I thought it was nice but it wouldn't be years later that I really started appreciating this Steely Dan classic from their 1977 album "Aja" that I finally purchased earlier this year. There is a YouTube video where Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker talk about how all of these elements came together to form "Peg"...just goes to show how hard it is to achieve anywhere near perfection. It's often the case that whenever I hear an electric guitar riff or a certain arrangement on a City Pop song, I hear a bit of Steely Dan, and that includes the genre's darling, "Plastic Love".

The Doobie Brothers -- What A Fool Believes (1979)

There is that whimsical and plucky keyboard play on "What A Fool Believes" that has also become a go-to part to put into a number of City Pop/AOR tunes. And this song certainly stamped itself into my consciousness since I heard it tons of time not only that pink SONY but also on the car radio. Basically, that keyboard riff should have been copyrighted by The Doobie Brothers by now.

Earth Wind & Fire -- September (1978)

Hey, it's the right month. And "September" is one of my favourite uptempo tunes, period while Earth, Wind & Fire remains one of the more beloved bands in Japan. Whenever this came on the radio, I didn't hesitate...I dropped everything (pens, texts, notes, etc.) and dialed up the volume. Moreover, with that bass and horn section, I could imagine a number of Japanese singers in City Pop thinking "Yeah, I think we need to have some of that EW&F arrangement in there". Geez, I miss Maurice White.

Al Jarreau -- Breakin' Away (1981)

And I also miss Al Jarreau, too. He had that golden voice and managed to inject that ray of sunlight from the radio even if it were -18 degrees and snowy outside. "Breakin' Away" is only one example of that Jarreau sound with Jay Graydon's production, and I think some of that sound influenced singers across the Pacific including Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実)and Takeuchi at around the same time.

Chicago -- Hard Habit to Break (1984)
TOTO -- Rosanna (1983)

I've put Chicago and TOTO together since members from both bands have actually helped out singers in Japan including Takeuchi. Also, one of my favourite bands in the country, Sing Like Talking, has taken on that fusion sound from both of them. Although I had heard of their names for years as a kid, it wasn't until the early 1980s that I finally noticed their work and started listening.

The Manhattan Transfer -- Spice of Life (1983)

The Manhattan Transfer has frequently been referred to as a jazz vocal group, and of course, that they are. However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they often dabbled in the fusion and pop genres as well, and arguably, their most famous example is the celebratory "Spice of Life" from their "Bodies and Souls" album. This was also another popular song to play on the radio back then, and I think that this was the theme tune for all that was champagne-and-caviar about living life large in the big city. The late 1980s had their champagne-and-caviar tunes in City Pop with one of my favourite examples being Junko Ohashi's(大橋純子)"Nemurenai Diamond"(眠れないダイアモンド). For me, it was this song that got me to buy my first album by the group which was indeed "Bodies and Souls".

Kenny Loggins -- Heart to Heart (1982)

Perhaps a lot of folks may remember Kenny Loggins for "Danger Zone" in "Top Gun" or even the title track from the first version of "Footloose". my case, I will always refer folks to his "Heart to Heart" from a few years earlier. It's my favourite AOR tune of all, and I always imagine being in a Cessna soaring over the Grand Canyon when I hear this, and the beauty of it is that I don't have to be in a real Cessna perhaps on the verge of throwing up!

Before I finish up this long list, I also have to make reference to "Ai no Corrida" by Chaz Jankel and then further popularized by the amazing Quincy Jones, but it already has its own article. The next day, I will follow up with a far shorter list of what YMO and techno kayo influenced me to listen and enjoy in the 1980s.