I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.
Friday, November 30, 2018
Not sure what the most popular dance emporium was in the early 1980s. I think Juliana's was more in the late 80s or early 90s since it seemed to be the disco of the Bubble Era. Perhaps it was still the Lexington Queen in Roppongi? In any case, as a high school kid, it was still way too early for me.
However, Yoshiyuki Osawa's（大澤誉志幸）distinctive "Slow Dance" gets me thinking of some of those dance halls, although the setting here in this song isn't really the Lexington Queen, I think. The sultriness of Osawa's music and the silkiness of his vocals have me assuming someplace more intimate in one of the side streets of Roppongi or Shinjuku where the drinks are still cold, the lights are low and the dancing is hot.
And before I further lapse into my faux-Spillane or faux-Chandler, let me say that "Slow Dance" was written by poet Natsuo Giniro（銀色夏生）, who had also provided lyrics for Osawa's "Soshite Boku wa Tohou ni Kureru"（そして僕は途方に暮れる）. The song does have that urban contemporary feeling (with some Prince-ly riffs) but as I indicated above, the site is not the bright lights on the main street but an area that is necessarily darker. "Slow Dance" is a track on the singer-songwriter's 2nd album "Scoop" from 1984.
Back in April 2017, I wrote up an article about an anison that caught my ears from the show "Kido Senkan Nadesico"（機動戦艦ナデシコ...Martian Successor Nadesico）, sung by seiyuu Houko Kuwashima（桑島法子）, that had the same effect as strawberries and cream in June.
For whatever insane reason, I never wrote down about who had created "Watashirashiku" in the original article. Allow me to rectify that omission, then, by stating that it was singer-songwriter Yuki Matsuura（松浦有希）who came up with this very pleasant song. Composer and producer Kiyoshi Yoshida（吉田潔）also helped out in the creation and arrangement of the music.
Matsuura provided a self-cover of "Watashirashiku" on her 3rd album "Stella Bambina" from August 1997. Dang, the intro for both versions is still splendid and I do like the harmonica in Matsuura's cover. It's a nice way to finish the work week.
The above is a pretty spectacular shot from the condo of my good friend in the Musashi-Kosugi neighbourhood. Unlike my aging area here in Toronto, Musashi-Kosugi is one of the young and growing areas west of Tokyo and I had the privilege of staying with my friend and his family for a few nights. There are a lot of good restaurants and shops and I think it's only 20 minutes away from Yokohama on the train.
Anyways, I wanted to start off my contributions for the final day of November 2018 by paying tribute to the evening in Musashi-Kosugi via Kingo Hamada's（濱田金吾）"Run Thru The Night" from his 1981 album, "Feel The Night". I've always liked the iconography for the album cover since I first glimpsed it in "Japanese City Pop"; it's a bit like LEGO after imbibing a few drinks.
"Run Thru The Night" will probably not be my favourite song by this City Pop/AOR veteran, but it's still a nice slice of urban contemporary with some sprinkling of funk and perhaps even a cameo of Steely Dan sensibilities. Hamada came up with the music but according to the Yamaha Music Holdings Entertainment site, it was a fellow by the name of John Helmes who came up with the words. I couldn't track this Helmes down on the search engines so I'm wondering if this is actually a Hamada pen name. In any case, "Run Thru The Night" has that nocturnal vibe of painting Tokyo red in the high-flying times of Japan.
Yes, folks, the merry fellow you see hanging from the monkey bars was, indeed, Haruo Minami (三波春夫). He truly had a winning smile.
By the way, from now I will start referring to Minami as Haru-san from time to time as well. It's a fitting nickname I'd heard in a clip before, and I think it'd be more interesting to call him that alternatively than simply just Minami in my writings.
|En route to Nagaoka|
I had known about Minami's statue park from the time I discovered him, but visiting him wasn't really a concrete item on my list of things to do during my trip. It might seem odd considering what you all know about me by now, but I wasn't completely sure how frequent train service was on the Shin'etsu line running from Nagaoka to his hometown of Tsukayama.
But, of course, I eventually decided that I might as well give it a go as I don't think I'd have many other opportunities to visit Niigata otherwise (Minami or no Minami), so on one of the days in Tokyo, Mom and I took the shinkansen up to Nagaoka to check out Niigata and what of the Shin'etsu line. As it turned out, this local line does stop at Tsukayama moderately frequently - it was meant to be! ...This taught me to not be overly reliant on Wikipedia's train line information - there weren't many English sites with lesser known railway schedules like this, okay?
Anyways, having gone to Aizubange (Hachiro Kasuga's (春日八郎) hometown in Fukushima) and being impressed by being not so rustic as I thought it'd be, I suppose that gave me the not-so-realistic impression that Tsukayama may be more or less the same. Well, when we got there, it turned out to be what I had previously expected of Aizubange. It was very quiet and the facades of buildings had seen better days. However, it looked exactly like the villages featured on Channel News Asia's "Japan Hour" railway episodes, and it felt kind of strange (in a good way, of course) to actually be seeing it for myself.
And with it being Niigata, there were fields upon fields of rice with some plots being dotted by elderly farmers planting their crop. Up to that point, I had never seen how this Asian carb staple was farmed, so it was another first for this city kid. On the flip side, the farmers must be wondering what these two out-of-town folk were doing in a place like that. On another note, Tsukayama seems to be one of the hubs for the sports equipment company, Yonex. The juxtaposition of the occasional large factory blocks in the midst of old houses and rice fields was quite amusing.
It was the most realistic statue of a singer I had ever seen; his dimensions, that beaming and welcoming expression, the kimono. It felt incredibly bizarre looking up at it. It looked so real, it almost seemed like if I stared any longer, Minami would look down and say, "Hello"... That said, one of my perennial fears is for statues to animate and come after me, but this is one statue I wish would come to life.
|Lyrics and melody of "Chanchiki Okesa" engraved in stone. Beside|
is the music player.
Going on a tangent for a little bit: This was the first video I heard "Chanchiki Okesa" from. I don't know how but I didn't take notice of that first shot of him in his younger days at the very start of the video. Took me long enough (through the Marubell bromides) to realise how
KONNICHIWA, KONNICHIWA, NISHI NO - ARRGH!!
Coming back, as for my mother, she has come a long way since hating Minami. I remember she used to want to throw him into the dumpster - mind you, she didn't like Murata either, but dear Muchi only got the trash can. But she did eventually see merit in him through his versatility and crazy song fusions. Now she has done a complete 180. She even has a favourite song by him which she jumped at the chance to play at the park: "Sekai no Kuni Kara Konnichiwa". According to her, there was no better time than then to play this as we, being foreign fans from far off lands, have come to his hometown so it's fitting that he welcome us with none other than this apt ditty... ... Y'know, I like Minami a lot, and I agree with Mom, and this song is so him with how jolly it is, but I can't stand this song of his. It's just so infectiously annoying with the multitude of "Konnichiwas".
Okay, before the "Konnichiwas" burn a hole through my brain, let's continue. We had ekibens and juice bought at Nagaoka station for lunch at a strategically placed gazebo in the park. It was quite a comfortable place to take a break. But just be sure you have no trash to throw besides cans as there is no trash bin. We had to learn the hard way. Nearest proper bin was back at the station 20 minutes away.
Beside the park sat this firefly education center of sorts, which to my surprise, also had a little room that served as a museum space for this Tsukayama-bred talent. It wasn't particularly fancy, which was understandable as the main attraction is the statue park, and I was happy that there was at least a good number of Haru-san's artifacts on display, as well as pictures what seemed to be his entire discography. So I admired stuff like his calligraphy, movie posters (yes, he acted in stuff too), and old photos, all while lugging along a bag of trash.
And looking at his discography, Minami seemed to have sung an Ondo about essentially anything under the sun, from traffic safety to space to dinosaurs. Also, that pose for the cover on the left though... hmm.😕
|What got the ball rolling. |
Also, how did I NOT notice it from this cover??? I must've been blind.
As for how Minami's typical style came about and how he became the first mainstream male singer to perform in a kimono, it happened that Mrs Yuki Kitazume (Mrs Minami) was the one who had encouraged him to do so. Y'know, one thing I noticed, as far as Haru-san and Hachi are concerned, their wives had a significant role in shaping their musical career. In that sense, I suppose the saying, "Behind every great man is a great woman" comes into play here.
Since he sang the theme to the Osaka World Expo in 1970, there was even a set of commemorative stamps with Minami on them!
|I believe this was a gift he received on one of his anniversaries|
At the end of my round around the room, there was a section which featured the thoughts of school kids from that area on Minami, as well as a little trivia quiz to see how much one knows about him. I scored full marks... ... I... uh... don't know if that's good or bad.
|That's a nice sketch!|
To round this up, here is "Yuki no Wataridori". This song would be perfect if it were snowing. But then again, Niigata gets a tonne of snow and I don't fancy the idea of trudging through snow drifts for nearly half an hour.
Somehow, Minami, in spite of his refined mannerisms, could pull off a convincing ronin.
Well, that's 2 down, 2 more to go. The remaining ones are literally at opposite ends of the country though. I think the painted pikachu scream meme would fit in this situation.
Thursday, November 29, 2018
Almost three years ago, I wrote about the band METAFIVE, this supergroup of some of the more eclectic performers in Japan such as former Yellow Magic Orchestra drummer Yukihiro Takahashi（高橋幸宏）and DJ Towa Tei. I was quite taken with their electro-funk song and music video "Don't Move" along with the groovy "Luv U Tokio", both on "META", their inaugural album from January 2016.
Speaking of YMO, as you have probably figured out, I've been a huge fan of Takahashi, Haruomi Hosono（細野晴臣）and Ryuichi Sakamoto（坂本龍一）for many years as masters of technopop. Having said that, in the relatively few instances that they've actually had to act out in music videos...well, let's say that the results were quite cringeworthy, and one example is their performance in front of a camera for "Kageki na Shukujo"（過激な淑女）. I think Leo Imai's（LEO今井） brief head twitches and dead-eye stare at the beginning of the music video for "Don't Move" were far more effective.
Well, perhaps Takahashi may have learned his lesson with the video for the track "Musical Chairs" from METAFIVE's 2nd smaller album "METAHALF" (November 2016) that what he couldn't pull off in a video through choreography, he could do with the power of....geography!
Good heavens! Google Maps can be cool. "Musical Chairs" isn't too bad as another brand of electro-funk although the funk part is a little more subdued when compared to "Don't Move", but having that mesmerizing bird's-eye view of various sites keeps things even more stimulating. It's to the point that if I ever buy "METAHALF" and listen to "Musical Chairs" just on its own, I'm gonna be thinking aerial photographs forever. Yoshinori Sunahara（砂原良徳）and Leo Imai wrote and composed this song which is vaguely about some pushback in a conflict, presumably romantic in nature. One more thing that I have to mention is that I like Tomohiko Gondo's（ゴンドウトモヒコ）warm and noble horn calmly sounding in the midst of all of the musical technology.
The last time that I saw "Uta Kon"（うたコン）, I noticed the folk group Kaientai（海援隊）led by veteran actor/singer Tetsuya Takeda（武田鉄矢）on stage at NHK. My natural assumption was that the band would perform "Okuru Kotoba"（贈る言葉）, since it is basically the song that Takeda and guitarists Kazuomi Chiba and Toshio Nakamuta（千葉和臣・中牟田俊男）are known for.
But I was given a pleasant surprise (not that I've gotten tired of "Okuru Kotoba" as one of the premier graduation kayo) when Kaientai performed something different. This turned out to be their 18th single, "Hito toshite" (As A Person) which was released in November 1980 and was also the theme song for the second season of "3-Nen B-Gumi, Kinpachi Sensei"（3年B組み金八先生...Mr. Kinpachi of Class 3B）, one of the most famous school-based dramas on Japanese TV, starring Takeda.
"Hito toshite" was a Kaientai creation with Takeda writing the lyrics while Chiba and Nakamuta composed the music. Sounding similar to the good-time folk of "Okuru Kotoba", which might explain why it didn't rise nearly as high as the earlier song on Oricon (peaked at No. 25), Takeda's lyrics relate some advice about people in general. Folks are reliably flawed but they're the only folks we have on the planet so love them all the same.
And since I didn't mention it in "Okuru Kotoba" (I wrote the article back in early 2012 when I had yet to get into the habit of also putting down the songwriters), I should say that it was Takeda who also provided the words there while Chiba took care of the music.
Nope...the song of note here isn't on "Moonlight Island" by Haruko Kuwana（桑名晴子）, but "Akogare no Sundown" is on her 1978 debut album "Million Stars".
Sharing space with the song from the last Haruko Kuwana article that I wrote about in early 2017 "You're Young", the first track "Akogare no Sundown" (Desired Sundown) is a cool and cooling City Pop tune. After hearing it a few times, I went down to the YouTube comments, a few of which were marveling at the interesting sound, and this was after I had internally remarked on the keyboards myself. There's definitely a 70s city vibe because of that, and Kuwana's swooping vocals hint at those sunset breezes coming off the ocean. It truly feels like a sunset song worthy of a glass of wine.
Like "You're Young", I couldn't find out who wrote and composed "Akogare no Sundown" unfortunately, but that's all the more incentive for me to track down and purchase "Million Stars". It is apparently available at Tower Records in Japan. Checking my Xmas wish list.
I'm figuratively and happily eating some crow for dinner tonight (literally, it was fish n' chips) since that package from Tower Records that I had been waiting for actually did arrive earlier this morning. The Canada Post rotating strikes were included in my last article that I wrote on this band NOVO, but they are now over (for now) and the CDs arrived, and one of them was indeed as you can see above the June 2013 release of "Love Is There ~ NOVO Complete Works".
What I found out, though, was that this 2013 release by this band that has been called according to one happy Amazon customer Japan's answer to Sergio Mendes & Brazil 66 is basically a reconfiguration of an earlier NOVO album from 2003 called "novo complete" aside from a couple of additions. One addition happens to be the subject of the first NOVO song that I discovered, the lovely "Ai wo Sodateru"（愛を育てる）in its 2012 form.
Having one go-round with "NOVO Complete Works" earlier this afternoon, I did get that impression of mellow tropicality in the band's music, including the one other 1973 single that NOVO had released, "Shiroi Mori"（白い森...White Woods）. Written by Toshiyuki Nishimori（西森利行）and composed by vocalist and keyboardist Yutaka Yokokura（横倉裕）, the song is a happy-go-lucky bossa nova delight sung by Yokokura and Aoi Fujikawa（藤川あおい）that is pretty darn Sergio Mendes to me. Not quite sure what those white woods are from the lyrics (maybe the white-capped ocean?...couldn't imagine it to be Aspen, Colorado in the winter), though the couple there make a content pair. At the same time as that Mendes influence, I couldn't help but also feel a bit of 60s group The 5th Dimension.
There is also an updated album version of "Shiroi Mori", this time sung slightly more delicately by vocalist Diane Silverson (who is co-vocalist on most of the tracks) and with some more jazz in the arrangement. But hey, there is no doubt about the bossa nova of it all here.
If I've read the liner notes in the album correctly, "Kono Hoshi no Ue de"（この星の上で...On This Star）, this love song was the B-side to "Shiroi Mori". Written and composed by Yokokura, it seems like there's a bit more oomph into his keyboards so I got reminded somewhat of the music of The Carpenters and even Vince Guaraldi.
(Sorry but the video has been taken down.)
The one more song that I will introduce here from "NOVO Complete Works" is the other addition to the 2003 album, "Guanabara Bay" which is titled after the second-largest bay in Brazil according to Wikipedia. Along with the other songs from the album that I've already written about, "Ai wo Sodateru" and "Mado ni Akari ga Tomoru Toki"（窓に明りがともる時）, "Guanabara Bay" has quickly become another favourite of mine with its mix of Latin and AOR.
This time, Yokokura is teamed up with Leeza Miller, and all I can say is that it's amazing about that Sergio Mendes connection, since Miller was one-half of the duet on the 1983 hit "Never Gonna Let You Go" which was a track on Mendes' self-titled album (I remember hearing that song all throughout my junior year in high school). Yokokura was once again responsible for the smooth melody while a person credited as T. Mann took care of the lyrics. Strangely enough, Barry Mann composed "Never Gonna Let You Go", so I'm not sure whether there is a familial connection there.
"Love Is There ~ NOVO Complete Works" is another nice addition to the collection. Surprisingly, despite the 14 songs, the album only takes about 48 minutes of your time...so each song is short and sweet. Since I first heard about Yokokura earlier this year, I've been getting very interested in his back catalog and this album has just kept the interest stoked.
If Episode 8 of "Zombie Land Saga"（ゾンビランドサガ）had been given its promotion commercial by one of the three original American television networks, it probably would have gone like this:
"On an all-new very special episode of 'Zombie Land Saga', the littlest member of Franchouchou has her past come back to haunt her...and while her friends step in to help, she has to make a shocking admission to the band! NEXT ON 'ZOMBIE LAND SAGA'!"
My apologies...I can't write as somberly as the announcer would sound.
Anyways, I did mention in the article for the opening theme for "Zombie Land Saga" that I hadn't quite bought into this original anime about zombie girls getting drafted to become an aidoru band of the 21st century. However, happily, I've become more invested since around Episode 5 when Franchouchou（フランシュシュ）and that local chicken restaurant did that tie-up. I started seeing that heart developing in the middle of that story.
Then, came Episode 8 focusing on Zombie No. 6, aka Lily Hoshikawa（星川リリィ）, aka Masao Go（豪正雄）. That heart just grew about as big as the one that thrusts out of Lily's chest whenever she gets nervous. And since "Zombie Land Saga" is an original anime without any manga or game source material, viewers were uniformly shocked at the plot twist and the sadness of Lily's past.
Plus, there is the final goodbye at the end from Lily that...
EXCUSE ME...I'VE GOT SOMETHING IN MY EYE! DANG! THAT ONION-SCENTED AIR FRESHENER! I JUST HAD TO BUY IT ON SALE!
Yes, I've been reading the various comments about the waterworks that had been generated from the fans over Episode 8 leading up to the culmination of the performance of "To My Dearest" at the end with Lily (as voiced by Minami Tanaka/田中美海) taking lead. When I caught this one on Sunday, my throat did get somewhat lumpy...
...yeah, just like that delectable chicken-and-duck congee that I had for lunch at Congee Queen before the episode.
People were writing about the fact that the lyrics and the melody were ham-fistedly thwacked together as heard through the performance. Well, not all of it...I thought the last half of it came out pretty smoothly, but considering the circumstances, I think for "To My Dearest", it didn't surprise me that things had come out haphazardly. After all, the time to whip up the ballad, then practice it for that someone who may or may not show up was fairly miniscule, I would surmise. Yet, it did have the desired effect on the big lug and the rest of the folks watching. The heart was definitely in the right place. To be frank, when I had first heard it, I thought that Lily was kinda delivering "To My Dearest" in the talking/singing pattern of Rex Harrison in "Doctor Doolittle".
Lyricist Shin Furuya（古屋真）and composer Yosuke Yamashita（山下洋介）took care of "To My Dearest".
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
I've referred to this before, but as much as that huge pyramid of 80s aidorus separated into ranking levels existed, I think there was also that somewhat more obscure but similar 70s pyramid of teen singers.
There were those singers such as Momoe Yamaguchi（山口百恵）, Hiromi Iwasaki（岩崎宏美）and Pink Lady（ピンク・レディ）up at the top of that pyramid in the late 1970s, but to be honest, I don't have nearly as much knowledge about the B-team below those 70s stars as I do for the equivalent ranking with the 80s aidoru. However, I did find out about one such singer recently from the late 70s second tier.
Her name is Yumiko Araki（荒木由美子）and she hails from Saga Prefecture, which is the setting for one of this season's most popular anime incidentally speaking, and she's currently known as a singer, tarento and actress.
In 1976, when she was around 16 years of age, she earned herself a prize at the 1st annual Hori Pro Talent Scout Caravan, a talent show whose Grand Prix winner was none other than Ikue Sakakibara（榊原郁恵）. Then, some months later in June 1977, Araki made her singing debut with "Nagisa de Cross" (Crossing at the Beach) which earned her some Best New Artist honours alongside the aforementioned Sakakibara and Mizue Takada（高田みづえ）.
"Nagisa de Cross" was created by the husband-and-wife team of Ryudo Uzaki and Yoko Aki（宇崎竜童・阿木燿子）, the same tandem behind a number of Momoe Yamaguchi's later hits such as "Imitation Gold"（イミテイション・ゴールド）. Finding this out as I listened to the song, I could pick up on the tough girl feeling as Aki's lyrics seem to relate a fierce rivalry between two girls over a guy during the summer (from the title, I had initially thought it was about volleyball). It's almost as if Araki was the teen version of the jaded seen-it-all done-it-all character that Yamaguchi was portraying through her hits, although we all know that Yamaguchi was still very much an adolescent herself at that time.
One other thing that I picked up on as "Nagisa de Cross" was playing in my ears was the overall arrangement by Koji Makaino（馬飼野康二）. That rumbling melody had me thinking of tough girls and guys and their motorcycles which then reminded me of Akina Nakamori's（中森明菜）"Ni-bun no Ichi no Shinwa"（1/2の神話）that would come out several years later in the 1980s. The interesting point was that Nakamori was seen as the heir apparent for Yamaguchi through her image and deeper voice.
Her debut single didn't particularly take Araki into the stratosphere as "Nagisa de Cross" peaked at No. 56 on Oricon and sold 44,000 records. However, she would release a total of 10 singles up to 1980 along with 4 albums while also entering the tarento and acting worlds of the geinokai. In 1983, she then married fellow entertainer Masayuki Yuhara（湯原昌幸）and retired for many years before making a return in 2004.
There are certain singers who have been seen as one-hit wonders: they get that huge hit which is the talk of the town for several months to a year, only for them to disappear into obscurity with the exception of their die-hard fans who keep holding the flame. As a fellow who has liked to see a bit deeper into the discography of such singers to see if I can find some other hitherto unknown gems, "Kayo Kyoku Plus" has provided me many an opportunity.
One such singer is Tomoko Kuwae（桑江知子）. Japanese pop music listeners of the late 70s and early 80s will probably remember her for her sole hit, "Watashi no Heart wa Stop Motion"（私のハートはストップモーション）from 1979. I think it's one of those pop songs that hit the perfect centre of the kayo kyoku Venn diagram in which it's perhaps a little too uptempo to be considered Fashion Music or AOR but doesn't really step totally into the City Pop genre.
Well, back in May 2012, when I wrote an article about "Watashi no Heart wa Stop Motion", I did mention a single that Kuwae had released in February 1990. This is indeed that single "Tasogare wo Wine ni Somete" (Color the Wine with Sunsets). Up to now, I've had the singer frozen in time in the late 1970s due to that hit, so it was a bit of a shock to see Kuwae in the video above sporting that sauvage hairstyle which was so popular with women back in those days.
Again, like "Watashi no Heart wa Stop Motion", "Tasogare wo Wine ni Somete" has got that sophisticated arrangement which sounds like an updated version of Fashion Music, especially with those epic strings. It feels like it was a Chika Ueda（上田知華）creation, but actually it was written by Toyohisa Araki（荒木とよひさ）and composed by Takashi Tsushimi（都志見隆）. Unfortunately, the video above just has a shortened version for performing on a music show so it would be nice if I could my own copy of the whole thing someday. The song was also used as one of the many ending themes for the late-night variety show "Tonight" on TV Asahi. That show is quite well-known to me for using those high-flying ballads as sendoff music.
Didn't catch "Uta Kon"（うたコン）last night as I usually would because I was actually out last night with a few close friends for a Peking Duck dinner. I didn't want that cholesterol to go to waste, after all. In other news, my latest package from Tower Records has been in Toronto for the past couple of days where it will probably be having an extended stay at a processing centre while the rotating strike-influenced backlog attempts to be cleared.
Anyways, back on Sunday when I met up with my anime buddy, we had our usual anison hour. My friend decided to play a few tracks from his newly-acquired soundtrack of the summer anime "Harukana Receive"（はるかなレシーブ）. Track 1, "Rise", immediately grabbed my attention with its happy and high-paced Latin beat. This is the vocal version (unfortunately I couldn't find out who the vocalist was) created by Rasmus Faber who was behind the entire soundtrack, but the instrumental version of it was played throughout the show at various points.
It's a great tune which has been able to pull me away from the current snow-laden weather outside, and "Rise" even reminds me of "Life" which was the wonderful Mondo Grosso creation from 2000. With a few more of these tropical tunes, I may just survive the Canadian winter to come here.
Monday, November 26, 2018
As I mentioned in the first article that I wrote up for singer Shoko Sawada（沢田聖子）, she's someone that I discovered through an episode of the radio program "Sounds of Japan" on CHIN-FM all those years ago, and is a chanteuse that I never got to see or hear in all those years in Japan. Basically, I've seen Sawada as one of those unsung singers who could have occupied that personally made-up genre called Fashion Music with her brand of mellowness.
Case in point: her song "Asphalt no Ue no Suna" (The Sand on Top of the Asphalt) from her 1984 8th album "Kaze no Yokan"（風の予感...Premonition of the Wind）. Now, from the title, one could be forgiven if the assumption that this was some sort of summery rock n' roll song by TUBE or Southern All Stars. But it's actually a tune that rather falls under this Fashion Music banner.
Written by Masao Urino（売野雅勇）and composed by Mieko Nishijima（西島三重子）, "Asphalt no Ue no Suna" is a fairly skippy song with some dramatic strings hinting in my imagination a train ride through Europe. But according to Urino's lyrics, it's about a woman revisiting a beach that she had once walked upon with her now former beau, and the visit hasn't exactly come off as being too happy. Seeing Nishijima's name connected with "Asphalt no Ue no Suna", I kinda figured that the song would sound pretty exotically classy since I've associated her with Fashion Music as well. By the same token, I would have also assumed that the song was created by Taeko Ohnuki（大貫妙子）.
For some strange reason, though, I think Sawada isn't exactly perfect in her delivery of the song. At some points, it sounds as if she were breathlessly rushing through "Asphalt", kinda crunching certain syllables. Perhaps that may have been the point, but it still sounds a bit strange to me. However, I don't have complaint about the melody since I do like my Fashion Music.
Ladies and gentlemen...readers of "Kayo Kyoku Plus", on this November 26th, we're now officially less than a month away from Christmas. I figure that with American Thanksgiving done and Toronto's annual Santa Claus Parade having taken place last Sunday, the Holidays are once again upon us.
As such, allow me to launch the annual Xmas season on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" with the usual round of seasonal tunes between now and December 25th. We can begin with Koji Tamaki's（玉置浩二）own rendition of a Christmas classic "Kiyoshi Kono Yoru", otherwise known as "Silent Night". Although I'm not sure whether the Anzen Chitai（安全地帯）vocalist had ever officially recorded it in any of his solo albums, I figure that Tamaki would be one of a few Japanese singers who could take something like "Silent Night" and bat it higher than Santa's sleigh's flight altitude on Xmas Eve.
I'm hoping that me and some of the other collaborators here at KKP can track down some J-Xmas tunes and put them up. Over the years, we've managed to put up more than 100 Yuletide-themed numbers, and even if folks like Marcos, Noelle and Joana do follow-up articles on some of the songs that are already up here, that's perfectly fine. Everyone has their own special stories to tell. Of course, singers that are covering some of the Western classics will be covered as well.
Reiko Ohara（大原麗子）was an actress who passed away almost a decade ago, but pretty much all of my sightings of her were through her appearances on TV variety shows and commercials with the latter on display above. For me, it was her slightly squeaky and sexy voice that I got to know her for.
Although she made her debut in show business back in 1964, she first made her appearance behind a recording mike around March 1968 when she first released her debut single "Peacock Baby". Her vocals weren't all that great but listening to the song created by Chihiro Todaiji and Asei Kobayashi（東大路千弘・小林亜星）, I almost had this overwhelming urge to do the Shimmy and do my Austin Powers impersonation. There's quite a bit of inspiration from Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66. Can you dig it, baby? She would release two more singles in 1978 and 1996 along with an album in 1978, but as you can see from the gaps in releases that singing wasn't really a priority with her.
Happy Monday! I've got no idea who the members were in this supposedly one-off project called Air Suspension Club Band, but according to this track "Jack in the Box" from their sole 1982 album "Another World", these guys knew how to funk.
The greatest information that I could find on ASCB is from the Ondas Record Store, and that was only to point out that the band was into fusion boogie. In any case "Jack in the Box" is a nice way to get out of those Sunday night "Oh, woe is me...back to work tomorrow" blues and get back into the swing of things. Along with the funk, there are some of those dreamy passages that take listeners into the sky, and then the clip-cloppy percussion that start and finish the song off.
Saturday, November 24, 2018
In my years living in Japan, I did have a very few sightings of yakuza in the some of the entertainment districts of Tokyo and there were the annual appearances of the ultra-rightists making tons of noise around Ueno Station on one day over Golden Week. But I never caught any sight of the bosozoku（暴走族）...the motorcycle gangs of pompadoured young toughs rumbling through the streets and highways. I occasionally used to hear the sound of motorcycle engines way off in the distance when I went to sleep in Ichikawa, but...happily...I never encountered these guys in person. Well, considering that I never learned how to drive, I think any chances of encountering them were pretty much negligible to begin with.
Over the years watching TV there, I did learn that there had been a few folks who came from the bosozoku or other forms of delinquent gangs to become tarento or actors or singers. One such fellow is Daisuke Shima（嶋大輔）who was born in Hyogo Prefecture in western Japan but became part of a bike gang in his teens around in the southern part of Kanagawa Prefecture in the Kanto. However, according to the Nihon Eiga Jinmei Jiten（日本映画人名事典...Japan Movie Biographical Dictionary）in 1996, Shima was at a Yokohama Ginbae（横浜銀蝿）concert where he was smoking in a public washroom. It just so happened that the president of the production company handling the band was there at the same time, gave him a scolding and then scouted him into show business (that was quite the stick-and-carrot approach). Shima became a younger brother of sorts to the band.
He got his first acting gig on television in 1981 in the TBS series "Akane-san no O-Bento"（茜さんのお弁当...Akane's Box Lunch）but then made his debut as a singer the following year. A couple of months later in April 1982, his second single "Otoko no Kunshou" (A Man's Honour) got him his first big break.
The reason that I'm writing about this is that I heard the song being performed by the enka aidoru group Junretsu（純烈）on last week's "Uta Kon"（うたコン）, and I automatically remembered the melody. Although I did say at the top, I would never want to be in a dark alley facing any one member of a bosozoku, let alone an entire gang, there is still a certain poignancy listening to "Otoko no Kunshou" with the wailing 50s-style guitars and good old-time rock-and-roll while watching Shima in that huge hair twisting away. In recent years, the only time that I've seen anyone looking like that has been in Yoyogi Park next to an ancient ghettoblaster. In a way, "Otoko no Kunshou", a tribute to the life of a biker, reflects one aspect of my observation of Japanese pop culture in the early 80s.
The song peaked at No. 3 on Oricon and sold close to 400,000 records, becoming Shima's biggest hit as a singer. It would become the 25th-ranked single of 1982. "Otoko no Kunshou" was also used as the theme for the NTV drama "Ama made Agare!"（天まであがれ!...Get Up To Heaven!）which also starred Shima.
"Otoko no Kunshou" was written and composed by Johnny who was the guitarist and vocalist for The Crazy Rider Yokohama Ginbae Rolling Special (and is now a senior executive for King Records under his real name, Masato Asanuma), the official name for Yokohama Ginbae. The band did their own cover of the song in their 1983 album "Bucchigiri R"（ぶっちぎりR...Breaking Away Reverse）.
Then, Shima revisited his big hit in 2003. He was a little paunchier (please don't kill me, Mr. Shima, sir) but the pompadour and voice are still there.
As much as there has been a backlog of parcels and mail due to these rotating Canada Post strikes over the past month, I've had somewhat of a backlog of bookmarks for YouTube videos of songs that I have wanted to feature. Slowly but surely, I'm starting to plow through and get them shown on the blog.
One theme that has cropped up in my own backlog is that of the many unsung aidoru who came and went during the 1970s and 1980s. I've shown some of them already and here is another one by the name of Keiko Nose（能瀬慶子）. Born in 1963 in Chiba Prefecture but raised in Bunkyo Ward in Tokyo, according to the Shukan Asahi journal from 1979, she had been selected from 38,700 girls in the Hori Pro Talent Scout Caravan contest in 1978 while she was in high school.
Making her first appearance in show business as an actress, she later made her debut as an aidoru in January 1979 with "Attention, Please"（アテンション・プリーズ）which was composed by Shogo Hamada（浜田省吾）. Then, her second single (and topic of this article), this time written and composed by Hamada, was "Hadashi de Young Love" (Barefoot Young Love) was released just a few months later in April. A typically summery and breezy aidoru tune that is of its time (memories of very early Seiko Matsuda come to mind), "Hadashi de Young Love" has those middling-but-cute aidoru vocals by Nose with some interesting 50s beach party sax thrown in there.
Nose would release two more singles and one album before she retired from the industry at the age of 20 in 1983. She married a musician and raised three children.
A rather damp and dreary final November 2018 day in Toronto. Pity, actually...I was hoping for something a bit more positive, meteorologically speaking.
Well, what Saturday J-Canuck cannot provide can perhaps be alleviated by Monday Michiru（Monday満ちる）via her 2008 album "Nexus". Specifically, I am referring to her track "Sands of Time", which is this gorgeous R&B walk in the park on a sunny day. The video certainly exemplifies that. I can only fantasize walking in such a lovely New York neighbourhood when compared to the not-so exciting area around my home.
Monday Michiru wrote and composed "Sands of Time" which I believe talks about all of the ups and downs to be had in life. The singer-songwriter just makes it sound much more upbeat and fun. I've sometimes hoped aloud that this sort of soul could make its way back into Japanese music at large, but perhaps all I have to do is dig deeper among the current stock of J-Pop.
|Toronto Buddhist Church|
I remember seeing the video for "Knockin' On Your Door" countless times on shows such as "Music Station" and "Countdown TV"; it was quite the longtime resident on the singles charts but at the time, I had never really gotten into the song or the band that was performing it, L⇔R. First off, my big question was how to pronounce that name. As it turned out, it was just a simple "L, R"; apparently, the double-headed arrow was silent.
At this time in the mid-1990s, guitar-based pop-rock bands seemed to be all the rage in Japan, so I've placed L⇔R in the same company as groups such as Mr. Children and Spitz, and listening to "Knockin' On Your Door" again after so many years, which was their 7th single from May 1995, I got a hint that there was a bit of that Beatles influence. Plus, seeing the video again has brought in some nostalgia, to boot. I will never enter an old building again without thinking of that video although I think I will be able to refrain from knocking on one of the doors.
"Knockin' On Your Door" is an uptempo romantic serenade for that special woman, and it also acted as the theme song for the Fuji-TV comedy-drama "Bokura ni Ai wo!"（僕らに愛を！...Give Us Love!）. Written and composed by vocalist/guitarist Kenichi Kurosawa（黒沢健一）, it became the band's biggest hit by going all the way to No. 1, becoming a million-seller, and ending up as the 16th-ranked single for 1995.
As for L⇔R, it had a 7-year run between 1990 and 1997 with 13 singles and 7 albums under its belt. Joining Kurosawa was his younger brother Hideki（黒沢秀樹）and then bassist Hiroharu Kinoshita（木下裕晴）. A former member who had left several months before "Knockin' On Your Door" was Takako Minekawa（嶺川貴子）as the keyboardist.
One thing that I had been curious about was how the band got its unique name. From an interview on the music show "HEY!HEY!HEY!MUSIC CHAMP" via the J-Wiki article on the band, when L⇔R was coalescing, all of the members and a producer agreed that the name should be something resembling a signal of some kind, and one day, while everyone was in the studio, one of the folks at least was looking at the mixing console and saw the left and right channels (L and R) for the audio, and apparently a 💡went off (figuratively). At least, that is one of the theories bandied about on the show but it was never made conclusively clear.
Sad to finish this article this way, but unfortunately Kenichi Kurosawa passed away almost a couple of years ago in December 2016 at the age of 48.
Friday, November 23, 2018
By kismet, I guess this article could be considered to be a sequel to a couple of other articles with one being a slightly more distant cousin of sorts. Earlier today, I had written about the City Pop tune "Tawamure no Koi no Mama ni"（たわむれの恋のままに）whose refrain sounded fairly similar to the one for the song of this article here. And since I didn't want to leave readers hanging, I've decided to write on it tonight. The other cousin is the article that I'd written was "Osaka Tsubame"（大阪つばめ）just in the last several minutes, simply because 80s aidoru Yoshie Kashiwabara（柏原芳恵）is a born-and-bred Osakan herself.
"Shinobi Ai" is Yoshie Kashiwabara's 23rd single from September 1985. According to the J-Wiki article on the song and its lyrics that fairly scream "TAKE ME, I'M YOURS!" (well, not so loudly), the theme is about having an illicit affair. I was trying to figure out the meaning of shinobi in this case since the title is written in hiragana and depending on the different kanji, the definitions are quite different. If it's read as 「偲ぶ」, then it could mean "nostalgic" but the other kanji 「忍ぶ」could refer to "concealed" or "enduring". Frankly, I would go with the latter. The above is of Yoshie-chan's 2nd appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen singing "Shinobi Ai".
I do like the original recorded version for the single. "Shinobi Ai" has that hint of City Pop in it and that breathy synthesizer intro adds some sultriness to the atmosphere. Plus, the arrangement (especially with the backing chorus) makes it sound like a ballad that Hiromi Iwasaki（岩崎宏美）could have performed at that time as well. The song peaked at No. 9 on Oricon and also got onto her 12th studio album of the same name from October 1985. That release got as high as No. 17.
Surprises are always welcomed on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" when it comes to writing about songs here. For example, the lyricist and composer for the song is Toshihiko Takamizawa（高見沢俊彦）, one of the members from rock band ALFEE, and I found out here that Kashiwabara had actually provided a cover and not an original song. The original version was actually recorded all the way back in November 1979 as a B-side for Chika Takami's（高見知佳）5th single, "Cezanne no E"（セザンヌの絵...A Cezanne Painting）, and that original was titled "Shinobi Ai ~ Don't Leave Me Alone" with a different set of kanji（しのび逢い...Secret Encounter[?]）.
Although the lyrics are the same, the song here by Takami sounds more melancholy, innocent, folksy and 70s...perhaps as if the lovers are high school kids in a Romeo & Juliet situation sneaking off for a double-straw milkshake in a cafe on the other side of town. No idea how well the single did, but I'm glad to know of the song's original existence.
I only heard the news within the last half-hour on NHK but apparently Osaka won the rights to hold the 2025 Expo. Many congratulations to them. My first trip to Osaka was 2 years after the 1970 Expo and from that event, I found out about the famous song by the late Haruo Minami（三波春夫）, "Sekai no Kuni Kara Konnichiwa" (世界の国からこんにちは）which became the theme tune.
Now, since I've already written about that legendary kayo and because no theme tune obviously has been created for the 2025 Expo yet, I've had to scrounge around YouTube to see if I could come up with a new Osaka tune in tribute to the happy news (I've actually written up about a number of other Osaka-based tunes).
Well, I've decided to go with Sayuri Ishikawa's（石川さゆり）"Osaka Tsubame" (Osaka Swallow). It's been a while since Noelle or I have put up a song by the veteran enka singer, and I had never heard this one before although it was released in February 1986 as her 42nd single. It's a perfectly mellow enka tune in love with the city, and the use of a bird in the title and song simply reiterates a theme for a lot of these kayo of using birds to represent a longing for a certain area or a loneliness within a person who can't seem to settle down in one place. I think along with tsubame, the kamome (seagull) is another popular bird in these songs.
"Osaka Tsubame" was written by Osamu Yoshioka（吉岡治）and composed by Chiaki Oka（岡千秋）. Folks, if you're heading for Osaka in the next number of years for the first time, you're gonna love the food there.
Commenter Mike gave me a tip back in April this year via my article on Yoshie Kashiwabara's（柏原芳恵）21st single "Saiai"（最愛）about this obscure singer named Sumiko Toyohiro（豊広純子）and her December 1982 single, "Tawamure no Koi no Mama ni" (Tumbling Head Over Heels). Toyohiro provided the lyrics and later, Yoshie-chan would cover it herself in the album "Saiai" in 1984. At the time, a YouTube video featuring the song couldn't be found.
Well, it's here now...and please...let it be here for a good long while. "Tawamure no Koi no Mama ni" is a sizzling torch song (perhaps approaching Level: Acetylene) that can belong to the classy night bar side of City Pop. Kimihiko Shiraishi（白石公彦）composed the shibui melody which should be served with a tumbler of the bar's very best scotch. Perhaps it can even be considered to be a representative of Fashion Music. According to one Japanese blog, "Tawamure" was created as an entry for the 13th Annual World Popular Song Festival sponsored by the Yamaha Music Foundation in 1982.
Along with the shibui aspect that I like in the ballad, I also enjoy Toyohiro's voice since it reminds me a lot of the fine vocals of Junko Ohashi（大橋純子）. I can easily imagine Ohashi covering this one as well. Since Kashiwabara covered it, I also have to mention one other interesting aspect. At first, from listening to "Tawamure", the refrain had me thinking that this was the original version of a completely different Yoshie song since the refrain in that one sounds quite similar. In fact, the song that I had been thinking about was "Shinobi Ai"（し・の・び・愛）, actually created by a different singer-songwriter which I will have to write about very soon.
As for Toyohiro herself, aside from the blog that I mentioned in the last paragraph and what Mike had told me, I have yet to find anything else substantial about the singer-songwriter herself. She did release one album "Water Heart", but methinks that this is one album that would be a lost treasure to track down.
Thursday, November 22, 2018
For all of those folks who are new and ravenous for Shibuya-kei, I think that I may have found just the album for you.
There was a compilation album released by Bungalow Records back in 1998 called "Sushi 4004" that is out as an LP and in CD format chock-filled with some of those samples of Shibuya-kei artists such as Fantastic Plastic Machine, Pizzicato Five and Takako Minekawa（嶺川貴子）.
To find out about the existence of "Sushi 4004" (which sounds like the final piece of fish on rice I had at a buffet years ago before I collapsed), I accidentally came across this song by duo hi-posi（ハイポジ）which happens to be on the album called "You Are My Music". Partnering some hip-wiggling Latin with a bit of technopop, it's also helped by Miho Moribayashi's（もりばやしみほ）characteristically sexy and whispery vocals for a sound experience that calls for a glass of caipirinha.
Now I figured that since "Sushi 4004" is a collection of Shibuya-kei songs, "You Are My Music" must have had a source in the hi-posi discography. And it appears that it had been released as a 12" single in July 1997 with the tracks being different remixes of the song whose title has incidentally been translated into Japanese: "Kimi no Koe wa Boku no Ongaku"（君の声は僕の音楽）.
Whenever I write up a Hiromi Iwasaki（岩崎宏美）article on a song of hers that originates from the late 1970s and early 1980s, I get a tad pensive because then I start wondering whether the song would still be categorized as an aidoru tune or as a pop number. It's almost like trying to answer the question "When did kayo kyoku make the transition into J-Pop?" All of us Hiromi Iwasaki fans know that the subject of our admiration has been blessed with a talented set of vocal cords so that pretty much anything that she has sung since her debut in the mid-1970s was a cut above the usual aidoru tune. Generally though, for the purposes of this blog and overall sanity, I have generally made 1980 the borderline between the aidoru period of her discography and her pop period. Even with that line in the sand though, I know that the singer had performed some pretty mature-sounding music a few years before that.
(brief excerpt only)
One well-worn running trope that I've mentioned throughout the history of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" is always look out for those non-single tracks on albums. There's a reason that I've also invested in original studio albums by great singers and not just relied on their BEST albums alone, and Iwasaki is another one of those great singers. For example, from "Pandora no Kobako"（パンドラの小箱...Pandora's Box）, her 7th album released in August 1978, comes a track titled simply "Conversation".
Keeping with stubborn KKP/Iwasaki tradition, this is within Iwasaki aidoru territory, but in all honesty, "Conversation" is hardly aidoru material to my ears. It starts off at a very leisurely pace and gently evolves into a soulful melody surrounding a city apartment and a dramatic situation between a man and a woman. The song is ironically titled since the point is that some things really need not be verbalized to get the message of love across.
The creators of "Conversation" is the veteran team of Jun Hashimoto and Kyohei Tsutsumi（橋本淳・筒美京平）who were together a decade back helping out the Group Sounds bands. Well, this is them driving into a more City Pop/AOR direction. As Tsutsumi melodically keeps the simmering fire of passion burning, Hashimoto weaves a story of a woman perhaps making amends with her somewhat conflicted beau at her door after it looks like he's been through a few rounds with some other young toughs. In a way, I also thought about Adrian and Rocky Balboa back in those times, although I would never consider thinking of replacing "Gotta Fly Now" even with this Iwasaki love song.
As for "Pandora no Kobako", it scored a peak of No. 11. The album also contains one of Iwasaki's greatest hits, the uptempo "Cinderella Honeymoon"（シンデレラ・ハネムーン）.