I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Momoe Yamaguchi -- Mizuumi no Kesshin(湖の決心)

This song by Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵)was something that I only found out about not too long ago but it's one that I have quickly grown to enjoy. I never saw it in her BEST compilation albums and never heard it performed on any of Yamaguchi's TV appearances but I think that perhaps her discography of wonderful music was so large that it was just treated as a relatively minor hit.

Her 8th single "Mizuumi no Kesshin" (Lakeside Resolution) starts off with a question by the singer herself "Do you believe in destiny?" and then progresses into some soul-searching while Momoe-chan and her boyfriend take a walk by a body of water. She has to ponder within herself whether this man is THE ONE for her.

"Mizuumi no Kesshin" was released in March 1975 and as a relatively early single in her career, Yamaguchi was singing this with the innocence of a girl grappling with these new feelings of love which was quite different from what she would often be singing in the latter half of her career when her persona in those songs was more of a jaded figure who knew her way around the downtown life. Mind you, even in the early 1970s, some of her singles back then also raised eyebrows with their perceived raciness in the lyrics.

Strangely enough, it was the same duo behind one of those supposedly racy tunes "Hito Natsu no Keiken"(ひと夏経験),  lyricist Kazuya Senke(千家和也)and composer Shunichi Tokura(都倉俊一)who also worked on "Mizuumi no Kesshin" which raises much milder sentiments. The dreamy delivery of her vocals, the tenderhearted mandolin in the intro, and the wistful arrangement of the song help bring out the sighworthy nostalgia. "Mizuumi no Kesshin" reached No. 5 on Oricon and ended up as the 44th-ranked single of the year. It was also a track on Yamaguchi's 6th studio album "Juu-roku-sai no Tehma"(16才のテーマ...Theme of a 16-Year-Old)from May of that year; it made it all the way up to No. 3 and was the 48th-ranked album for 1975.

Akiko Wada -- Sono Toki Watashi ni Nani ga Okitta no?(その時わたしに何が起ったの?)

It's the end of April here but in Japan as of now, it's the beginning of a new era: Reiwa(令和). Mind you, I was disappointed with TV Japan and its broadcast of all of the hoopla surrounding the abdication of Emperor Akihito and the accession of Emperor Naruhito since it didn't bother with live NHK footage of the change at midnight (11 am here) but went with the several hours of preamble programming on the national network. I saw the YouTube livestream of Shibuya and saw a whole bunch of umbrellas over the people so the weather was unfortunately not too good for a celebration.

Well, it may be Reiwa but I will introduce the first "Kayo Kyoku Plus" article of this new era as one for a Showa(昭和)song. The husky-voiced Akiko Wada(和田アキ子)has been one of the mainstay pillars in Japanese show business for decades as a TV personality as well as a singer, but I have to admit that I had never known about this particular song by her.

It's a very early single, her third to be exact, and it's titled "Sono Toki Watashi ni Nani ga Okitta no?" (What Happened to Me Back Then?). Released in October 1969, Wada was only 19 years old and exactly one year into her singing career when she came up with this whimsy-laden but punchy song about getting that wanderlust to go with a handsome guy and flee from her sleepy hometown. It's definitely Wada but considering her youth back then, her voice really does sound like her as a teenager. The singer was called the Queen of Japanese-style R&B but although I don't think this song is particularly R&B, it still has some of that hip-swiveling swagger in its arrangement, in my opinion.

"Sono Toki Watashi ni Nani ga Okitta no?" was written by the legendary Yu Aku(阿久悠)and composed by Fusae Taguchi(田口ふさえ). It did rather modestly on the charts, only getting as high as No. 52. The song was also placed on Wada's 3rd album "Sotsugyo sasete yo"(卒業させてよ...Let Me Graduate)which came out in 1971.

Monday, April 29, 2019

My Heisei by J-Canuck

As I write this, Japan is now in the last 24 hours of the Heisei Era, a period of time that I was happy to have spent much of in Gunma and then Tokyo/Chiba. Of course, being the sentimental and nostalgic guy I am, I've decided to put out a small list of the singers and bands which fairly screamed "HEISEI" to me. I'm not going to so much highlight any particular songs but rather put them up as representatives in this Author's Picks this time around...just the artists themselves. Moreover, this is a personal list; I'm not basing this on Oricon charts and numbers of albums sold. It's all about the affection for certain folks that hit the big time during this time, and to be honest, my picks will mostly be in the 1990s.

1. Wink

"Samishii Nettaigyo" was a title that I couldn't remember or say at all even though this was a Wink single that had just gone gangbusters when it was released in July 1989, a few weeks before my arrival in Gunma Prefecture to teach at the junior high schools there. All I could say was "that WINK song"! With expressions and movements reminiscent of porcelain dolls, Sachiko Suzuki and Shoko Aida struck me as being the anti-aidoru: no smiling and no skipping around. Their time at the top was relatively brief but boy, did they pack their hits in.

2. B'z

As I mentioned in the actual article for "Bad Communication", this was the song that woke me up during my mornings in the first year of my Gunma stay because of Rie Miyazawa in those computer commercials. Takahiro Matsumoto and Koshi Inaba did it fun and did it loud and have continued to do so right to the end of Heisei with other rockers such as "Be There" and "Love Phantom". I always wondered which would win the ultimate battle between Inaba's voice and Matsumoto's guitar.

3. Kazumasa Oda

(covered by Chris Hart)

Still awfully hard to find any of his original solo songs on YouTube but that hasn't deterred me to include the former member of Off-Course on the list since this was an artist who managed to come up with his own sound separate from the one that he and his bandmates created back in the 70s and 80s. "Love Story wa Totsuzen ni" was just one example of how he put together those synthesizers and those other instruments to come up with tunes for himself and other singers that would put him up as an urban contemporary balladeer in the last decade of the 20th century.

4. Namie Amuro

I guess for a lot of people that when Namie Amuro announced her retirement from the music business a couple of years ago, they figured that the Heisei Era really was heading for its end. She was one of the first singers that I heard on landing at Narita to start my second stint as an English teacher, this time in Tokyo. She wasn't just dynamic, she was a dynamo! Dancing, singing, showing off her fashion, Amuro started off a pop cultural trend all her own for a few years and I think she was one of the factors in the Komuro Boom that took over J-Pop for the middle years in the 90s. In fact, I still remember being in an Ikebukuro game centre one Saturday night and while my friend was doing his games, I was in a music video capsule watching her "a walk in the park".

5. Ayumi Hamasaki

I wasn't ever a huge fan of Ayumi Hamasaki but as much as Amuro had taken the Japanese pop world by storm around the middle of the 1990s, Hamasaki carved her huge slice of the pop culture pie by the end of that decade and into the new century. There isn't too much exaggeration involved here when I say that ads plugging her next big single and her appearances on "Countdown TV" were basically everywhere.

6. Dreams Come True

This was another band that was making its mark especially in the early 1990s. When I saw that "Music Station" episode on my host family's TV back in 1989 and Dreams Come True make that introduction with a beaming ear-to-ear Miwa Yoshida declaring herself in English, I felt that there was a seismic shift in pop music. I had equated Dreams Come True as a Japanese version of Swingout Sister but that wasn't quite accurate. They also had their own unique voice of sunny uptempo songs and heartbreak ballads.

7. Sing Like Talking

These guys may not have become hugely known on television per se, but I am so glad that I found out about Chikuzen Sato's amazing band and purely by mistaken identity. Cool and urban with plenty of soul, Sing Like Talking was a group that I had thought was another band whose name and output have largely disappeared from my memory. SLT, on the other hand, has stuck with me all these years and I've got a number of their albums to show for it.

8. Misia 

It was through the above video that I first got to know Misia. She among a few others symbolized my opinion that good ol' soul was coming back into Japanese popular music for a while from the late 90s, and that voice of hers was just incredible. One of my wishes that she will participate in the Opening Ceremonies for next year's Olympics...preferably to do a cover of Minako Yoshida's "TOWN".

9. Morning Musume

Just when I thought that the concept of female aidoru had gone onto the pop culture heap of history, Tsunku from Sharam Q took this group of runners-up in a television show singing contest and molded them into the core for Hello! Project. Morning Musume had some successes in their early years, but "Love Machine" in 1999 was the booster rocket that sent them soaring, and for a few years, the hits and the TV shows and the new members kept rolling in. It might be all about the alphabet teams now but for me and some of my contemporaries, Morning Musume was our beloved girl group.

10. SMAP

As was the case with Hamasaki, I was never a dedicated fan of SMAP's music although I did buy a few of their singles such as "Celery" and the super-catchy "Shake". But again, for many years, it just seemed that every one of their songs was destined to reach the top of the Oricon charts or at least hover in the Top 10 for several weeks. It didn't hurt either that all of the members achieved fame in other facets of mass media as well through dramas, variety shows, specials and commercials. I did enjoy my "Bistro SMAP", and wouldn't it have been something if it had still stayed on the air to host The Avengers?

My list is not a complete one by any means but I did want to keep things at 10, and obviously any music memories that you might have of the Heisei Era may be vastly different from mine. So I offer the invitation to commenters and fellow contributors alike...if you have your own Heisei list, by all means, let us know! Meanwhile, let's get ready for Reiwa.

Lamp -- Yume(ゆめ)

A little over a year ago, commenter Matt Gallais recommended this band called Lamp and specifically one of their songs "A Toshi no Aki"(A都市の秋)which I recognized as one of the number of urban contemporary tunes from the past couple of decades that I've enjoyed over the past few years. Well, I decided to get the album it came on, "Yume" (Dream) some months ago, and I'm finally going to write about some of the other tracks.

For a brief recap, I just wanted to lift one of the paragraphs that I had written for "A Toshi no Aki" and state that Lamp's multi-instrumental members Taiyo Someya(染谷大陽), Yusuke Nagai(永井祐介)and Kaori Sakakibara(榊原香保里)started their band back in 2000, and up to the middle of 2018, they've released 8 albums and 2 singles. "Yume" happens to be their 7th album which came out in February 2014.

Also, to paraphrase once more from the "A Toshi no Aki" article, Lamp is all about their refined yet complex sounds based on bossa nova. Having listened to "Yume", I think the band has extrapolated far afield from their bossa nova roots since, true to the title of this album, there is something very dream-like about each of the tracks.

Starting off the album is "Symphony"(シンフォニー)which was written and composed by Nagai, and true to everyone's ability with different instruments, he not only handles the main vocals and background vocals, he also handles a Fender Rhodes, classical guitar, electric guitar, organ, Mellotron, synths, and sleigh bells among others. Sakakibara plays flute and accordion and provides background vocals as well while Someya is on electric guitar and other musicians take care of the strings, percussion, etc.

"Symphony" has three stages beginning with a happy but introspective instrumental prologue for the first minute before Nagai goes into a mellower frame of mind. It's here that I discover that Lamp is not only fine with their external instruments but also with their internal ones...namely their voices, as they weave their dreamscape. Then, just before the second minute, Nagai seems to bring listeners into a more intimate and neighbourly environment as he seeks to find some serene beauty in the cacophony of the city. The home video style of the music video of the city and countryside brings some nostalgia, and just when that word "nostalgia" came to my mind, Nagai actually sang that very word as the last word.

Sakakibara wrote the lyrics and Someya composed the melody for "Roku-go Shitsu"(6号室...Room No. 6)with Sakakibara and Nagai sharing the microphone as they sing about someone's reminiscences of a past romance and life in the titular room. The dreaminess continues here but I also like when the key dramatically shifts into a groove when Sakakibara adds her vocals.

"Nagisa A La Mode"(渚アラモード...Beach A La Mode)by Nagai and Sakakibara is a bit more playful and has a whistle in there which somehow reminds me of bossa nova. The song has a brighter atmosphere of a sunny Sunday with a barefoot walk on the shore although things seem to end on a slightly mysterious note.

The final song for the article happens to be the final song of "Yume", "Sachiko"(さち子)also by Nagai and Sakakibara. In fact, Sakakibara also directed and edited the music video which again takes on that nostalgic feeling of home movies from years past. I get the impression from the arrangement that there is a slightly sweeping Shibuya-kei element in there. There is something quite 1960s about it as the main character in the song is recovering from the end of a relationship.

"Yume" is quite relaxing. I would say that it is so relaxing that it's worth stepping away from the desk and just lie down on the bed while listening to the soft whispery vocals. Listeners may just end up heading over to the land of the title. Moreover, there is a distinct sound with Lamp which is made up of a number of influences including the AOR and straight pop under which I've already categorized the album but also there are hints of Shibuya-kei, groove and jazz, and maybe I can say that the band performs a form of alternative pop.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Hitomitoi -- Summer Breeze '86

It was definitely a busy weekend with a translation assignment, my regular Skype student and even a first-time podcast but it was that first task that has my shoulders in knots right now. Thankfully, I got it done a full 24 hours before its due date. Now I just have to face the music with my doctor tomorrow since I've gained a few kilos over the past several months (sigh). Just can't win.

Well, at least for the evening, I can relax a bit with some good music through the lovely tones of Hitomitoi(一十三十一). Her "Summer Breeze '86" from her "City Dive" album of 2012 provides some super sunset solace. I'm slightly surprised that there was no mention of the second singer since he's in there enough to make this a duet, in my opinion. Written and composed by Cunimondo Takiguchi(クニモンド瀧口)from Ryusenkei(流線形), I wonder if he is indeed singing with Hitomitoi as well.

Anyways, "Summer Breeze '86" is one of those songs that is slightly difficult to classify. It's got that R&B groove although I wouldn't say that it goes into funk but still has that nice and light pop feeling. Plus, it's mellow enough to travel into AOR territory, and even with at least one of those synthesizers in there, I was even wondering whether I should list it as at least a partial technopop tune, but I have held off. Inevitably though, it doesn't matter. It's just a tune that induces me to exhale the fatigue out and inhale some fine vibes.

My Sunday is coming to an end and Heisei is also approaching its finish within the next few days.

Minako Yoshida -- Midnight Driver

Although I have the above album "Let's Do It" and the 1981 "Monsters In Town" by Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子), I have yet to purchase my own copy of the album in between those two, "Monochrome". I certainly know the cover of it, though. That come-hither look on Yoshida with her bare shoulders while a shadow drapes over the rest of her body.

Now, I've been given further impetus in trying to get "Monochrome" which was released in October 1980 as her 7th album. "Midnight Driver" is one of those songs that makes me miss Van Paugam's lamentably departed YouTube radio because it sounds so well-suited to go with that night driving video loop. Wouldn't it be even better to be in a car bombing down the Kan-Etsu around that hour with this playing on the radio?

Although I couldn't find out for sure, I'm still fairly confident that Yoshida wrote and composed this really funky tune anchored by that relentless beat. The singer is our congenial host as she takes on a drive through the megalopolis with her musicians as the accompanying passengers on the bus. I also love the drums near the last two minutes of "Midnight Driver". It's not fair to say at this point since I have yet to get "Monochrome" but I think this particular song is to this album as "TOWN" is to the aforementioned "Monsters In Town" and as the title track is to "Let's Do It".

Friday, April 26, 2019


The first time I wrote about the rock trio SHISHAMO was just after my 2017 trip to Japan. My first look at them was on "Music Station" on the night that I arrived at my hotel in Otsuka, Tokyo, as I was tucking into my beloved karaage bento (nope, shishamo wasn't on the menu).

Well, cue ahead a little over a year. I was watching NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン)a few nights ago and the hosts billed that episode as the final show of the Heisei Era (which I'm sure that a lot of regular TV variety shows and the like have been doing this week). Of course, a majority of the show was devoted to the big hits over the past 30 years of Heisei, but SHISHAMO was there to participate in the theme of the week, but also to debut their latest single, "OH!".

Released as their 9th single a couple of days ago, I wish something like "OH!" would have been put out there during my high school days. I think its message of plowing ahead the way you are in life without having to worry about how anyone else feels or thinks about you could have made things in my life somewhat easier. It's a genki song written and composed by vocalist Asako Miyazaki(宮崎朝子), and makes for a nice melodic version of orange juice in 2019. I especially like how her voice glides at points.

As it has only been released in the last two days, there is no report on how it has done in the rankings but I'm pretty confident that it will make its hold higher up. I was thinking that "OH!" would make for a nice theme song for a J-drama somewhere on the schedule, but it's actually being used for a Lotte commercial according to the uploader for the above video.

Now that we're in the final few days before the transition from the Heisei to Reiwa Eras, I'm confident that SHISHAMO will be among the many bands to hold the torch crossing the ages.

Takanori Arisawa -- Theme for Tuxedo Kamen(タキシード仮面)

Yes, you Sailor Moon(セーラームーン)fans have known this one for the longest time...ever since the original series started in 1992. Sailor Moon, even with her innate goodness and abilities, gets herself into a pinch against the villain of the week and all seems lost, when suddenly, a rose gets thrown down at supersonic speed just scraping past the bad guy or gal enough to disrupt his/her train of thought. Then, on the top of some tall structure, there is the ippiki ohkami himself, Tuxedo Kamen (Tuxedo Mask), appearing as rescuer (well, more like diversion-maker)/mentor to Usagi-chan while the lass has valentines for eyes.

Of course, every dashing hero needs the requisite theme song for his entrance, and so, Tuxedo Kamen got his with a bit of Latin and a bit of elan. It wasn't part of the opening theme or closing theme, and I don't think it ever got lyrics,but Tux's song was that nice and reassuring bit of sweeping strings to help Sailor Moon obtain some of that extra boost to finish off the villain.

Since he provided the music for "Sailor Moon", I'm also assuming that the late composer and arranger Takanori Arisawa(有澤孝紀)was also responsible for the theme for Tuxedo Kamen. Arisawa had provided commercial jingles and other anime soundtracks until his untimely death at the age of 54 in 2005. Even before that, though, he and his wife were two of the members in the City Pop vocal group SOAP.

I have to admit that for one Halloween party back in my NOVA days, I actually made up my own Tuxedo Kamen costume. Considering that most of the students who attended were far above elementary school age and we didn't have any "Sailor Moon" fans in the school, I was given a very hearty round of indifference as a reaction. In a way, I guess I really did want to disappear as quickly as the character always did.

Hisao Ito & Akiko Futaba -- Oshima Sentaro Tabiuta (お島千太郎旅唄)

Besides the usual YouTube, another way I make musical discoveries in the enka-yo department is through natsumelo karaokes. Lately I'd found another kayo haunt in the sleepy town (except when politicians go around blasting their promises) of Kasumigaseki, Saitama, which I now reside in, and on my first couple of visits, I had the pleasure of meeting this fellow, let's call him Uncle S. His singing and guitar skills are the best I've heard thus far from my karaoke romps. However, what threw me for a loop was not only is he a huge fan of Hachiro Kasuga, but, what are the odds, his favourite Kasuga-bushi is the same as mine (currently), "Ore wa Nora Inu" (俺は野良犬)! He seemed more floored than I was, though.

Well, but anyway, eventually finding out I'm a fan of matatabi enka, Uncle S was game to do a proper duet (up to that point we'd just been alternating stanzas for regular tunes from time to time), and he chose "Oshima Sentaro Tabiuta" simply after I said I knew the ryukoka singer Hisao Ito and somewhat recognized the characters' names of Oshima and Sentaro (admittedly, I had thought it was just one name). But, you see, I had no idea of the existance of such a song, and it had some strange transitions a typical enka song wouldn't have, so I wasn't able to wing it. 'Twas from then on when I decided learn it for a second shot at it. Unfortunately, I haven't seen Uncle S since, but I'm ready to redeem myself when he does reappear. Man, this is like the redux of Grandma K (whom I had finally met up with a couple of weeks ago in Sugamo).

Coming to the "Oshima Sentaro Tabiuta" itself, what I had initially thought was a song simply about the trials a roving actor and his wife face on the road turned out to be something quite a lot darker and more dramatic. This song (circa 1947) gets its plot from a popular novel "Jahime-sama" (蛇姫様) and is but one of its many adaptations (music and film-wise). The great Yaso Saijo (西條八十) lyric-fies the story of our hero Sentaro, who, after tragically having his sister and father murdered, goes into hiding by joining a roving theater troupe. Life's tough for Sentaro, and you can hear it in Teikichi Okuyama's (奥山貞吉) forlorn score, but his silver lining comes in the form of Oshima, one of the troupe's members. I don't really know much other details besides that, but long story short, they fall in love and live happily ever after and continuing this more or less ronin-style of life. Playing the role of Sentaro in "Oshima Sentaro Tabiuta" is the aforementioned Ito, and Akiko Futaba (二葉あき子) plays Oshima.

In the way of popularity, "Oshima Sentaro Tabiuta" definitely isn't one of either singers' renowned hits, and, for that matter, it's not even a well-known adaptation of the novel in spite of it being the theme song to the "Jahime-sama" film in 1947. It seems like Hibari Misora's (美空ひばり) own "Oshima Sentaro" that was tagged to the "Shin Jahime-sama" (新 蛇姫様) movie she starred in from 1965 was a lot more well-received (understandably so). Anyways, the second video here is a shorter rendition of "Oshima Sentaro Tabiuta", and it was sung by an under-the-radar enka singer called Sumiko Matsumoto (松本寿満子). I don't know who the male singer is, but I actually like this rendition more because of its slower tempo. I find that it sheds more light into Sentaro's struggle. Also, the snippets of movie with the song are from the aforementioned '47 movie.

P.S. The other folks at the Kasumigaseki joint didn't really know it either. Just last week, I had intended to sing it on my own, but the mama-san insisted that I partner-up simply because "Oshima Sentaro Tabiuta" is a duet. Grandpa 1, who was keen on doing a duet with me waved the white flag for he had no knowledge of this at all, and the key was too low for him. As a result, the mic was dropped on Grandpa 2. He was a good sport, in spite of not knowing the song completely. Ah, well, until Uncle S shows up again.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Rie Ida & 42nd Street -- Party wo Nukedashite(パーティーを抜け出して)

Found another winner on the "Light Mellow ~ Highway" disc that I would like to feature here for all of you City Pop fans on "Kayo Kyoku Plus".

Weirdly enough, this lady and her band weren't featured in "Japanese City Pop" but Rie Ida & 42nd Street(井田リエ& 42nd STREET)were able to get some of their songs onto the "Light Mellow" series including this track from their 2nd of three albums, "Star" from 1980. Titled "Party wo Nukedashite" (Get Me Out of the Party), it has that nice set of warm honeyed horns and mellow keyboards backing up the light and soulful vocals of Ida.

Unfortunately there isn't much else written up on Ida and 42nd Street but unlike Takako Mamiya(間宮貴子)and her lone album, at least Ida was able to get that total of three LPs out. "Party wo Nukedashite" was written by Hiroko Hagita(萩田寛子)and composed by 42nd Street guitarist, Yoshihiro Yonekura(米倉良弘), who would later create some other genre songs for folks such as Hitomi Tohyama(当山ひとみ). Hiro Tsunoda(つのだ☆ひろ)of "Mary Jane"(メリー・ジェーン)fame was on drums here.

In the song, Rie is begging someone to take her out of this stuffy party for much more fun outside in the fresher and healthier air. Considering how smoking must have been back in those days, I wouldn't blame her, although if she had truly been wearing that leopard-skin outfit on the cover of "Star", I would have given her a heavy coat.

Yukino Ichikawa -- Hagurebana(はぐれ花)

A few days ago, someone was asking about featuring some of the more contemporary enka singers including Toshimi Tagawa(田川寿美)and Aiko Moriyama(森山愛子).

Well, another name that cropped up was Yukino Ichikawa(市川由紀乃)who has become a regular face on the kayo programs on TV. I have put up an article on her hit "Kokoro Kasanete"(心かさねて), but now I would like to present her March 2017 song "Hagurebana" (Wandering Flower) which immediately followed "Kokoro Kasanete".

A pretty philosophical ballad about the vagaries of life and love, "Hagurebana" is given the tender delivery by Ichikawa. It was written by Koyomi Asa(麻こよみ)and composed by Koji Tokuhisa(徳久広司)with the typical enka arrangement in mind, but I've also noticed that somewhat haunting whistling in the background as if there were something even more spiritual in the sylvan setting. It's the type of song that would well accompany a person walking over that ancient arched bridge under the blossoming cherry trees.

"Hagurebana" has so far become Ichikawa's most successful song in terms of Oricon rankings as it peaked at No. 11. On the enka charts, it was her 6th song to reach No. 1.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Keiko Maruyama -- Glass no Mori(ガラスの森)

It's been a good 4.5 years since I've written up any article on Keiko Maruyama(丸山圭子). For those who may not know her, this singer-songwriter is probably most famous among kayo fans for her 1976 hit "Douzo Kono Mama"(どうぞこのまま), a bossa nova-influenced ballad that brings back memories of Henry Mancini and Antonio Jobim.

The other articles that I've written about Maruyama were on songs that she recorded back in the 1970s, so I'm quite happy to introduce one that she created and sang in the following decade. This would be "Glass no Mori" (Glass Woods), her 1983 single that was also placed in her album of the same year "Lady Good".

Of course, with the length of time passed since "Douzo Kono Mama", I wouldn't think that she would have stayed with the bossa nova, and the melancholy "Glass no Mori" has that contemporary sound which brings to mind that small genre of Fashion Music sung by singers like Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子)and Asami Kado(門あさみ). Maruyama's lovely voice, those strings and the piano really stand out to me as the protagonist wonders in her darkened room (or plane cabin as you can see above) whether love will ever come to her. The overall sound makes me feel that the ideal setting would be some place in Tokyo which is why I gave it the City Pop tag.

Yuji Toriyama -- Your tender lovin' care

Tis a Wednesday. Therefore, it's Hump Day probably to match the hump of muscle growing between your shoulder blades due to the usual stress. For me during my time in Japan, it really depended on what happened during a day that would have me designate it as not a great day. Luckily, though, there were various places where I could go to de-stress. Of course, along with my apartment in Ichikawa, there were my favourite record shops in Tokyo such as Tower Records and RecoFan, the neighbourhood massage clinic across from Minami-Gyotoku Station, and Tonki, my tonkatsu restaurant in the station plaza (as you can see above).

As well, music can be a balm. As such, I offer you "Your tender lovin' care" from Kanagawa-born guitarist Yuji Toriyama's(鳥山雄司)debut album "take A break" released in 1981. From what I've read in his J-Wiki profile, he actually produced his first project all by himself while still in Keio University. I'm not sure how much stress he was under when creating "take A break", but to my ears, "Your tender lovin' care" is quite de-stressing from the caressing delivery of the title by the chorus to the warm and sunny guitar. It's about as AOR as one can get and could have easily transported Japanese listeners at that time all the way over to California. Both it and the album were well-named.

It's photos like the one above and below for which I can go for some of more of that (pork) tender(loin) lovin' care.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Cools Rockabilly Club -- Sentimental New York(センチメンタル・ニューヨーク)

"Hey, that motorcycle yours?"

If that anecdote on the J-Wiki article is indeed true, then supposedly that line of inquiry in a restaurant may have started a rock band in 1975 which still exists today and has influenced later musical entities such as BUCK-TICK and Fumiya Fujii(藤井フミヤ)of Checkers.

The question was thrown out in the early 1970s by future singer and actor Hiroshi Tachi(舘ひろし)who was in his twenties at the time and perhaps was still wondering what his lot in life was going to be. Meanwhile, the target of his question was another strapping young lad, Koichi Iwaki(岩城滉一), who would go into the acting field a few years later. Iwaki was wondering whether there was going to be a fist-filled conflict but it ended up that he and Tachi would hit it off well over the topic of motorcycles.

At the end of 1974 in Harajuku, that conversation led to the creation of a tough biker club called Cools(クールス)with Hiroshi "Boss" Tachi as the leader, Koichi "Ko-chan" Iwaki as the sub-leader and another buddy Hidemitsu Sato(佐藤秀光)joining in. All in all, there were twenty-one members when Cools started up and they all styled their hair into pompadours and put on the black jackets & jeans. The following year, the club got hired as protection during the final concert of the band Carol(キャロル)with Eikichi Yazawa(矢沢永吉), but apparently Cools may have gotten quite enough attention at the concert to the extent that they were seen as an offshoot band. Some of the younger staff at King Records picked up on the leather-bound cluster of charisma and somehow persuaded an initially reluctant Tachi to get a music act together.

Thus, the first incarnation of Cools the band was born. Tachi, Haruyuki "Pitpi" Mizuguchi(水口晴幸), and Kazuumi "Mura" Murayama(村山一海)were on lead vocals, James Fujiki(ジェームス藤木)was on lead guitar, Kazuo "Frank" Iida(飯田和男)was on side guitar, Kiichi Okubo(大久保喜市)was on bass, and the aforementioned Sato was on drums. Mitsuo "Shacho" Umemura(梅村光男)was on guitar but he soon left once the band was officially formed. As for Iwaki, he had already decided to pursue that acting road so he didn't join.

Cools' first phase lasted between 1975 and 1977 and Tachi decided to model themselves after the band Sha Na Na (I used to watch their variety show) going after a 4-beat American rock n' roll style. Five singles and six albums ensued during that period before Boss made the decision to leave the group.

Drummer Sato became the new leader of the band which also re-named itself into Cools Rockabilly Club from 1978 to 1981. This whole thing with Cools all started from a recommendation from my friend Jerry when he was looking for other doo-wop bands aside from Chanels/Rats & Star from that time frame. Before I found out about all this history with Cools and its many incarnations, I came across this song which was recorded during this second phase.

However, instead of a pure 50s rock n' roll style, what I got with "Sentimental New York", which was their 7th single released in September 1978, was some doo-wop taking a dive into some romantic and bluesy funk and soul. I do like this and although I'm not sure who is on lead vocal (Mizuguchi or Murayama?), he does sound a bit like departed leader Tachi. I gotta say that for a biker club, these guys can carry a tune! I wouldn't mind hearing some more of their stuff if they decided to bring in a bit of the City Pop style. Some fine chorus and horns.

According to J-Wiki, there have been six incarnations up to the present day with Cools RC (1981-1983), Original Cools '90 (1990-1992), The Cools (1992-1997) and back to Cools from 1997 onwards.

Takeshi Matsubara -- Saihoku Cinema(最北シネマ)

Last week on another episode of "Gogo Uta"(ごごウタ), I was introduced to another enka singer that I hadn't encountered before.

I was a bit surprised since the song "Saihoku Cinema" (Northernmost Cinema), though sung by enka singer Takeshi Matsubara(松原健之)in the usual yukata, actually doesn't sound either like a conventional enka tune or a Mood Kayo for that matter. If anything, the elegant arrangement reminds me more of that area of traditional Japanese popular music that could be called European enka (one typical singer was Teresa Teng), and now come to think of it, perhaps it could even fall under that mini-umbrella of music known as Fashion Music of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The elegance of "Saihoku Cinema" is what caught my attention. Supposedly the story of Matsubara's 16th single from November 2018 centers it as a love song set in the city of Wakkanai, Hokkaido according to the description of the shortened version of the official music video from YouTube at the top. The lyrics by Shinichi Ishihara(石原信一)has the protagonist not only involving a movie theatre for the two lovers but perhaps an ardent scene that seems to come out of a movie. Kohei Miyuki(幸耕平)provided the tenderhearted melody.

Matsubara, who hails from Shizuoka Prefecture, has been singing professionally since 2002 with his first-ever single being an indies production before going with a major label in 2005. In addition to those 16 singles, he also has recorded 6 original albums. According to his profile at J.P Room, his catchphrase has always been "The Miracle Crystal Voice".

Monday, April 22, 2019

Takako Okamura -- Kaze wa Umi kara(風は海から)

There was a sad but happily not tragic announcement on NHK's news broadcast this morning. Singer-songwriter Takako Okamura(岡村孝子)announced on her website that she has been diagnosed with acute leukemia which will require immediate and long-term treatment. All of her professional activities have therefore come to a stop.

I can speculate that this must be hard news for all of her fans since for decades, Okamura has been providing her brand of comforting music. That's how I've always seen her. Through her works, I've felt that she was that ever-dependable friend coming over for tea weekly who would lend an ear to any troubles. Hopefully, her listeners will now lend their ears and support to her.

Following the breakup of the duo Aming(あみん)in 1983 which consisted of Okamura and Haruko Kato(加藤晴子), the former made her way back up to Tokyo to begin her solo career. Her first single as a solo artist was "Kaze wa Umi kara" (The Wind is from the Ocean) which was released in October 1985. Apparently, the song was used as the campaign tune for an FM Yokohama radio program with the same title.

"Kaze wa Umi kara" didn't make the Oricon charts but it is what I've expected from Okamura. It's a relaxing and tenderhearted remembrance of an old flame who has gone forward in his life with a new partner. Okamura wrote and composed the song while Mitsuo Hagita(萩田光雄)arranged it. Her first album "Yume no Ki"(夢の樹...Dream Tree)which came out on the same day as the single includes "Kaze wa Umi kara" as a track. It peaked at No. 37 on the charts.

Of course, there isn't much that I can do for Okamura but I can only hope that she will get a handle on this disease so that she can return and entertain her fans once more.

Keizo Nakanishi -- Kanashimi no Storm(哀しみのストーム)

The coupling song to the addictive "Ticket to Paradise", Keizo Nakanishi's(中西圭三)5th single from July 1992, "Kanashimi no Storm" (Storm of Grief) is also very uptempo but has the singer-songwriter begging for his girlfriend to give him one more chance, lest he drowns in an ocean of his own tears.

Instead of the Motown spirit that has gone into a lot of Nakanishi's songs in the 1990s, "Kanashimi no Storm" has got more of the R&B including funk from that particular time period. Of course, Nakanishi's voice propels it forward as much as the beat does. Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子)provided the lyrics while Nakanishi and Takao Konishi(小西貴雄)came up with the musical goods. This particular song didn't get onto any original album but is included in the singer's first BEST compilation "SINGLES" from 1994.

Michiko Takaoka -- Mawari Tourou(まわり燈籠)

Came across this song a few months ago and took a liking to it for its spritely arrangement as a folk/pop song.

"Mawari Tourou" (The Turning Hanging Lantern) was singer-songwriter Michiko Takaoka's(高岡美智子)7th and final single released in July 1981. I couldn't find the lyrics for the song online but I think that the singer is encapsulating the passion of love within that lantern as it keeps turning and turning despite all of the existential storms that may surround it. Perhaps it is a bittersweet story but the galloping beat of "Mawari Tourou" keeps things pretty light, all things considered.

The husky-voiced Takaoka debuted in 1974 with her November single "Watashi no Koto nara Ki ni Shinakutemo Ii wa"(私の事なら気にしなくてもいいわ...No Need to Worry About Me)and along with her singles, she released two albums with the latter one also being called "Mawari Tourou" from 1981.

Nozomi Nishida, Reina Kondo, Saki Minami & Honoka Inoue -- Donna Toki mo(どんなときも)

One of the new anime that we've gotten a gander of this season is "Hachi-gatsu no Cinderella Nine"(八月のシンデレラナイン...The Cinderella Nine of August)which I found out was based on a smartphone game from two years ago. As soon as the first episode started rolling out, I immediately got memories of another baseball-and-high school girls anime from a decade prior called "Taisho Yakyu Musume"(大正野球娘。...Taisho Baseball Girls). That show was based in the Taisho Era almost a century ago, so my imagination started running on whether the characters here were actually the descendants of the students from "Taisho Yakyu Musume". Maybe another title for the new show could be "Reiwa Yakyu Musume"(令和野球娘。)?

I've only seen the first couple of episodes from which the story is showing some similarities with "Taisho Yakyu Musume" in that the energetic and optimistic central character suddenly decides to set up a girls' baseball team in the school with her loyal best buddy in tow after which they recruit a couple of timid students with no particular athletic ability and then an initially disillusioned classmate who has a keen eye for baseball tactics and strategy. There hasn't been a whole lot of drama and despair as of yet but I'm sure that it will be coming from the middle episodes. So far, it's all been happiness and light.

The opening theme for "Hachi-gatsu no Cinderella Nine" hasn't exactly grabbed me yet but I do like the sweetness of the ending theme. My overriding reason is that it's a cover of "Donna Toki mo" (どんなときも...No Matter When), the breakthrough single of songsmith Noriyuki Makihara(槇原敬之)from 1991. The absolute cheerfulness of that big hit has been retained in full for this version as sung by some of the cast consisting of Nozomi Nishida(西田望見), Reina Kondo(近藤玲奈), Saki Minami(南早紀)and Honoka Inoue(井上ほの花). As I've mentioned in my last anime article (from this morning), I wouldn't also mind hearing the full version of this in the coming weeks.

Subaru Kimura and Shinnosuke Tokudome feat. Tomokazu Sugita -- Dancing to Night ~ Kimi e Saitan Warp Kouro(君への最短ワープ航路)

It is indeed Easter Monday and so it seems rather appropriate the above still image for the video has a bunny. Yesterday was the usual anime-and-food outing so with the new Spring 2019 season upon us, I got to see quite a few fresh shows including the heartwarming baseball-themed "Hachi-gatsu no Cinderella Nine"(八月のシンデレラナイン...The Cinderella Nine of August), the mystical horror-adventure "Kimetsu no Yaiba"(鬼滅の刃...Demon Slayer), and the sequel to "One Punch Man".

Another new anime is "RobiHachi" which my anime buddy has described as a mix between "Ixion Saga" and "Space Dandy". I could surely see the comparisons with the latter show but I also view it as another in the long line of squabbling buddy road trip features going all the way back to Hope and Crosby. I've enjoyed these future-based anime series, and anime can certainly make them as gritty or as day-glo as they can. "RobiHachi" has been OK so far although I do agree with one commenter that the humour may not be to all tastes. That first episode just seemed to have one long never-ending scene of Robby and Hatchi bickering before things finally got started with the escape from Earth.

However, although it's no "Love Dramatic"(ラブ・ドラマティック), the first earworm of the season for me has been the ending theme for "RobiHachi", "Dancing to Night ~ Kimi e Saitan Warp Kouro" (The Shortest Warp Corridor to You) as performed by the local crime lord Yang and his two henchfolk, Allo and Gras.

Allo and Gras are portrayed by Subaru Kimura(木村昴)and Shinnosuke Tokudome(徳留慎乃佑)respectively but it's indeed Tomokazu Sugita(杉田智和)as Yang that has gotten my attention. Besides, I'm always a sucker for disco tunes and "Dancing to Night" pays some tribute to Earth Wind & Fire's "September" and it also reminds me of some of the music in the aforementioned "Space Dandy". yamazo took care of the lyrics, music and arrangement. Will be looking forward to the full version in the coming weeks.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

KIX-S -- Mata Aeru...(また逢える…)

Some time ago, Fireminer inquired about some of the female pop-rock bands that had been prevalent around the late 80s and early 90s, and he mentioned about the group KIX-S. I knew about Princess Princess and Pink Sapphire at the time but that was back when I was residing in Gunma Prefecture. KIX-S was also a band that I had heard about but didn't really get to know partially because I was back in Toronto for a few years, and at the time, if I were getting CDs through the "Eye-Ai" mail order, I was focusing on those singers that I knew and was comfortable with. As far as I was concerned, KIX-S was another one of those units alongside ZARD, ZYYG and WANDS which seemed to get its names in all-caps after being inspired by a Scrabble game.

KIX-S consisted of vocalist/lyricist Tsukasa Hamaguchi(浜口司)and guitarist/composer Miharu Ataka(安宅美春), and had their run between 1991 and 1999. Releasing a total of 14 singles and 8 original albums during this period, their most successful single was their debut "Mata Aeru..." (We'll See Each Other Again) from July 1992.

If there were the ideal song to accompany a woman heading up to the top of a windy hill to yell out her undying love for that special someone, "Mata Aeru..." would probably be it. Written by Hamaguchi and composed by Ataka, this has become the pop/rock ballad to signify amore for that lover who has gone far away for the next little while. Indeed, it's wistful, powerful and declarative and a message that distance is no obstacle for the feelings between two folks. Plus, that arrangement has become quite natsukashii.

"Mata Aeru..." was their greatest hit as it reached No. 2 on Oricon and became the 28th-ranked single for 1992. It has been included in their 3rd album "One Night Heaven" from June of that year which peaked at No. 24, and there has also been an acoustic version in their follow-up album "Virginity" from December 1992. That got all the way up to No. 14.

Also participating in the chorus for the original recording were guitarist Seiichiro Kuribayashi(栗林誠一郎), who has helped out bands such as DEEN, B.B. Queens and ZARD, and 90s hit singer Maki Ohguro(大黒摩季).

Yoko Maeno -- Cobra/Secret Desire(コブラ・シークレット・デザイアー)

Still digesting my buffet lunch at The Dragon Legend earlier today. Even at my advanced age and inclusion of wisdom in using pacing and conservatism when it comes to the number of rounds and choices at the buffet tables, I still ate a goodly amount of food. The Dragon Legend comes by its name quite honestly.

Anyways, I start my night on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" from a rather extraordinary setting this time: the toilet in my host family's house while I was on the JET Programme. Yup, you heard me. Ironic that I had started with a report on my huge lunch today and have now transitioned to the end of the digestion process. Well, luckily I will spare you the gory details but the reason that I start here is that by the porcelain god, there was always a pile of manga.

Now, I've always heard about the age-old tradition of taking some reading material into the washroom when you need to do your business. Take in stuff while disgorging stuff. Though that was never something I did while growing up here in Canada, I have to admit that I did pick up a few of those manga and leafed through them. One of those comics was the sci-fi epic "Cobra"(コブラ)about the titular man-of-adventure surrounded by plenty of gritty settings, sex and violence. I didn't convert into a fan but at the time, I kinda wondered if there had ever been a Hollywood live-action adaptation, a merging of Dolph Lundgren and Harrison Ford would have been in order or a really kick-butt version of Owen Wilson.

Getting back to the music aspects of the original 1982 anime "Space Cobra"(スペースコブラ), I was at my buddy's place during anison hour when the opening theme for the series came on. Simply titled "Cobra", I was automatically entranced by that epic jazz orchestra and the silky and sultry vocals of Yoko Maeno(前野曜子)who had been the first vocalist for the 1970s pop group Pedro and Capricious(ペドロ&カプリシャス). Of course, the music was composed by Yuji Ohno(大野雄二)who could come up with some very spicy theme songs. "Cobra" is a stylish and rousing romp with some spectacular horns and strings. Kayoko Fuyumori(冬杜花代子)provided the lyrics.

The same trio of Maeno, Ohno and Fuyumori was also responsible for the ending theme, "Secret Desire" which keeps the jazz. However, whereas "Cobra" is sweeping and action-packed and spy-jazzy, the ender is playful and relaxed with a more swing jazz arrangement. Even Cobra needs to unwind once in a while in his favourite gin-soaked watering hole-in-a-wall. Both songs came out as official and separate singles for Maeno in 1982.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Miharu Koshi -- Kimagure Highway(気まぐれハイウェイ)

Miharu Koshi fans probably already know this, but the above album actually reflects the time when the singer-songwriter turned into a New Wave chanteuse around the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, at this point, this is the only thumbnail photo I could get of her.

Nope, tonight I'm featuring a song from her very early AOR/City Pop days (so the name during this period is in kanji「越美晴」instead of the katakana「コシミハル」 that she's been identified with for years). In fact, this is her 2nd single, "Kimagure Highway" (Whimsical Highway) from March 1979.

Written and composed by Koshi, it starts with a Scott Joplin-esque piano tootle before a warm and honeyed guitar takes things into a happy road-trip type of City Pop. Koshi relates the story of a couple who may be taking that drive anywhere (out of the city, around the city, through the city) just for the equivalent of a one-night stand, but that's OK with them. They just want to cram in as much fun as possible during the evening.

Koshi's bouncing off the piano is ever-present but I also love the sunset strings. "Kimagure Highway" contrasts with her first single "Love Step" from the previous year in that I've always seen that song as something quite Junko Yagami-ish and firmly planted in downtown. This second single takes the happy couple outbound.

Well, I managed to scavenge this actual shot.

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Circus Town

As I was mentioning to fellow City Pop aficionado Jerry a few weeks ago, Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)has such a wide and acclaimed discography of singles and albums spanning 5 decades that it's been awfully easy to get focused on one particular period of his music since it's so good. For me, that has been the early 1980s with albums such as "For You".

I've had to be nudged somewhat to get away from my obsession with Tats' body of work of that time (as wonderful as it is), and realize that he did make good music before and after that period. So Jerry told me about some of his favourite music by Yamashita from the 1970s, and I did find a number of songs that have struck my fancy. Notably, there is the title track from his solo debut album "Circus Town".

"Circus Town" is indeed a gorgeous song by Yamashita, and it's also one of the first songs featuring the lovely partnership between him and lyricist/singer Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子). Starting off whimsically with Julius Arnošt Vilém Fučík's "The Entry of the Gladiators"*, which is that familiar little ditty which folks can associate with the circus (as much as I try, I really cannot imagine Russell Crowe striding in to this song!), against the background of some mellow urban funk and whirling windstorm strings, the first track to his December 1976 album is a paean to New York City where "Circus Town" and the rest of the tracks on Side A were recorded. Try to imagine Yamashita soaking up the sun as he strides up and down the streets of Manhattan while dreaming up the arrangement.

Now I can imagine why I should be looking further afield again when it comes to his material. "Circus Town" is a City Pop song by Yamashita but it's not the City Pop song that I had gotten accustomed to from his 80s stuff. Whereas I think that the tracks from "For You" such as "Morning Glory" and "Loveland, Island" are urban contemporary AOR songs that reside in Japan, "Circus Town" just feels like a Sunday morning in The Big Apple (shall we get brunch at Rockefeller Center or talk a walk through Central Park?). There are those certain hits on the piano keys, the whirling strings and the way that the percussion sets the beat that also has me thinking 1970s soul. Of course, I can't forget those welcoming horns including that sax solo by Lou Marini from Blood, Sweat & Tears and then later, the Blues Brothers Band.

(empty karaoke version)

"Circus Town" might imply the noise of New York but there is nothing visually gaudy or obnoxious hinted in Tats and Minako's love letter to the city. It's just about inviting folks to explore and enjoy an exciting metropolis that is quite different from the largest city in Japan.

*Ah, yes, "The Entry of the Gladiators". From what I read in the J-Wiki article for the album "Circus Town", the liner notes in the remastered CD stated that the piccolo was tooting away "The Oklahoma Mixer" at the beginning. However the writer of that part of the article correctly stated that it was indeed "The Entry of the Gladiators". Believe me, I know "The Oklahoma Mixer". I had to dance to the "Oklahoma Mixer" during the group folk dancing segment of the Sports Day festivities at my school in Gunma. I'm quite glad that I don't have to do that ever again.

Kirinji -- New Town(ニュータウン)

It's Good Friday here although meteorologically speaking, it's far from it. Rather cold, wet and dreary out there, but I hope that it is a better Friday wherever you're reading this.

About 6 weeks ago, I put up Kirinji's(キリンジ)"Jikan ga nai"(時間がない), their fun spacey disco single from 2018. Well, I'm now going back 20 years to the Horigome brothers' early days, represented by "New Town", a track on their very first album "Paper Drivers' Music"(ペイパードライヴァーズミュージック)from October 1998.

Written and composed by Takaki Horigome(堀込高樹), the setting is a rainy one but it doesn't seem to bother the couple (at least, not the guy anyways) as they take a romantic stroll in the New Town neighbourhood. I couldn't find out who arranged "New Town" but from the sounds of it (and they are indeed pleasant), I'm betting it was Tomita Lab(富田ラボ)! "Paper Drivers' Music" peaked at No. 99 on Oricon.

New towns used to describe the bedroom communities that rose up in the suburbs surrounding big cities like Tokyo while the economy was revving up. With those huge danchi concrete apartment buildings going up like some Brutalist fetishist's dream, the neighbourhoods didn't exactly amaze visitors visually, but nowadays the 21st-century versions have picked up a bit more style.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Heavenstamp -- Stand By You

Wow! Hard-rockin' nurses with black stripes over their eyes? Ringo Shiina(椎名林檎)must be near by.

Not exactly, though. It's actually the band Heavenstamp with their first major single "Stand By You" released in May 2011. The vocalist/guitarist Sally#Cinnamon, though, did start listening to Shiina and the band Spitz(スピッツ), before also being drawn in by Radiohead, according to a Tower Records Online interview. At the time, Heavenstamp consisted of her, guitarist Tomoya.S, bassist Shikichin and drummer Mika, although the last two left in 2012 and 2013 respectively, so that it's a duo as of now. According to J-Wiki, Heavenstamp wanted to incorporate guitar rock, shoegazer and dance music into their output.

I do like the video with all of the colours and the nurses and "Stand By You" does have a catchy beat which somehow reminds me of some of the music from New Order back in the 1980s.

The single made it up to No. 39 on the charts. In April 2016, the electro duo 80kidz made a remix of the original song, and I see that the Dancing Baby is back! So far, Heavenstamp has released 4 major singles and 2 albums, along with one mini-album in 2014.

Takao Kisugi -- Sparkle

Y'know...I've once again come across one of those instances of where a purchased album that I had initially didn't think much of has finally blossomed in my mind and soul. Either those two things mellowed out enough or the album was allowed to cook on the shelf for a good long while. That first example was Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)"History: 1978-1984", the very first example of Tabo's works that I had ever bought. It took many years for it and me to come to an understanding.

Well, it's possible that the gap between purchase and final acceptance was even longer with Takao Kisugi's(来生たかお)"Sparkle", the singer-songwriter's 6th album released in July 1981. Unlike Ohnuki, though, I had already known about his famous "Goodbye Day" (which is on this album) and some of his works through other artists. I may have bought "Sparkle" on CD all the way back in my Gunma days 30 years ago; I can't quite remember (although that CD case feels quite heavy). All I know is that I only played the album very sparingly on the stereo and then just put it back on the shelf to occupy space between other discs for years. Didn't quite get his stuff, I guess.

But then last night, I saw the thumbnail for the YouTube video of "Easy Drive" which is Track 2 on "Sparkle", and I said "What the heck?". And it's a good thing that I did activate the video because on hearing it (again), I finally saw the (light, mellow and summery) light! "Easy Drive" was indeed an enjoyably nice n' easy AOR number about a guy playing side saddle for a change while his girlfriend is behind the wheel of a really nice car bombing along the coast.

Kisugi took care of the soothing music while his sister Etsuko(来生えつこ)provided the lyrics. In fact, the Kisugi siblings created all of the songs on "Sparkle". A couple of things that stood out was that AOR/City Pop darlings Tohoku Shinkansen(東北新幹線), i.e. musicians/songwriters Etsuko Yamakawa and Hiroshi Narumi(山川恵津子・鳴海寛), were on backup vocal duties on "Easy Drive" (although they wouldn't have the moniker Tohoku Shinkansen until the following year for their lone album), and this song is the second example of a singer going "Awooo", just like on another beloved City Pop piece.

Going through the liner notes of "Sparkle", I also noticed that there were some other veteran session musicians helping out including Shigeru Suzuki(鈴木茂)on guitar, Jake H. Concepcion(ジェイク・コンセプション)on sax, Tsuyoshi Kon(今剛)also on guitar, Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利)on bass and Masataka Matsutoya(松任谷正隆)on electric piano and synthesizer.

Some of those people along with Tohoku Shinkansen helped out here with "Yume no Hada"(夢の肌...Dream Skin)in which Kisugi is admiring a particular young lady on the beach who may have the looks of a Brigitte Bardot. "Yume no Hada" strikes me in terms of Kisugi's delivery and the overall rollout of the song as very reminiscent of what Akira Terao(寺尾聰)was releasing at the time. The interesting thing is that although 95% of the song has that feeling, the last 5% suddenly veers headlong into a West Coast pop/rock guitar riff as if the fawning admirer returns to his too-cool-for-the-room act in front of his buddies who've just arrived on the shore.


"Tasogare no Ichigo"(たそがれの苺...Sunset Strawberry), which is the final song on Side A of the original LP, has that weird echo of Paul Anka's "My Way" and a Boz Scaggs ballad. There is a lot of intensity placed on that poor strawberry since my feeling on the lyrics is that they and the title seem to be relating the end of a relationship as represented by that fruit as it inevitably gets sliced up. Masamichi Sugi(杉真理)handled the chorus arrangement here while Izumi Kobayashi(小林泉美)was on the synthesizer.

I don't think that I had ever heard of any kayo kyoku being inspired by a script from a Woody Allen film, but according to J-Wiki, the first track on Side B, "Sparking Head", is indeed one of those cases. The story of a guy who's whipping himself into a nervous breakdown about his love for a woman is illustrated through this interesting strut arrangement involving horns, synthesizers and a clacking and haunting guitar.

Speaking of 1970s comedy film inspirations, the following track "Good Luck, My Girl" was inspired by the 1977 film "The Goodbye Girl" starring Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason. A breezy waltz with a jazzy set of horns including Concepcion's sax, it's an urbane but comical swing of music.

My final song of the article is "Madobe no Hito"(窓辺の女...The Woman by the Window)which is a return to the mellow AOR with a slice of wistfulness. Etsuko Kisugi made her lyrics envisioning an older woman who has yet to know love looking out the window in a library. Many sighs apparently ensue. The description for the song on the J-Wiki article has the lyricist stating that actress Uma Thurman was the ideal woman for "Madobe no Hito", although the quote must have been from a much later interview since Thurman would have probably been all of eleven years of age when this song was first written.

Well, as you can see from the time and pixels that I've put into "Sparkle", Kisugi's album does now sparkle for me. Once again, "Better late than never" is something that I would quote here as I finally enjoy and appreciate it. I've mentioned Boz Scaggs as a reference but some of the other tracks also bring to mind Gilbert O'Sullivan. Heck, maybe with further listenings, I will be able to pick up on some of those other AOR singers. The original LP peaked at No. 54.