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.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Ichiro Nitta -- O-mezame Aerobics(おめざめエアロビクス)

Was feeling unusually sleepy tonight...didn't think that chicken had that much of a drowsiness effect. In any case, I was getting tired of getting tired in front of the TV so I decided to search for something to do for the blog that would have me feeling a little more energized. And happily, I did find the cure.

Dang, somebody should have told former trumpeter of Spectrum, Ichiro Nitta(新田一郎), that disco had been dead for quite a few years already. No, I really don't think that way at all. I'm happy that he kept the good times of the 1970s in hand even in November 1983 when he composed this track for his third album "Kotobuki".

"O-mezame Aerobics" (Wake-Up Aerobics) did what it promised in the title. My eyes were sparkling and my ears were singing with that intro. Memories of Cheryl Lynn's "Got to be Real" floated through my head as "O-mezame Aerobics" thoroughly woke me up; worked better than a cup of straight black Blue Mountain. Not sure if Nitta had actually meant this as accompanying music for an aerobics class, but I think it would get those folks in the gym up and running. Kazuko Kobayashi(小林和子)wrote the lyrics, and she and Nitta also provided words and music in my first entry on the singer-musician, "Ryuusei City"(流星City).

V.A. -- I Love Dance Number [September, 1990]

Recently, I’ve found a compilation called “I Love Dance Number [September, 1990]” in a Brazilian online marketplace. Comprised of singles released in 1989 and 1990 by female pop singers signed to Victor Entertainment (ビクターエンタテインメント), most of them aidoru, I knew right away that I had to buy it… and it was cheap, which is always a good thing.

The artists were quite diverse, ranging from famous aidoru such as Noriko Sakai (酒井法子), Kyoko Koizumi (小泉今日子) and Yoko Oginome (荻野目洋子), passing through some middle ground names like Saki Takaoka (高岡早紀), to a good portion of obscure singers (that’s the fun of these compilations, by the way). Musically, despite the word ‘dance’ in the title, it also offered a good variety of genres, from rock, American pop, aidoru-pop, some exotic stuff and even a more laidback Japanese-style ballad (not enka, but something middle-of-the-road).

Before talking about some of the songs, here's the complete tracklist:

01) ダイヤモンド☆ブルー (酒井法子)
02) 好きだから (久我陽子)
03) La La La… (小泉今日子)
04) ギャラリー (荻野目洋子)
05) Wet Wet (葉山レイコ)
06) 独立戦争 (鈴木彩子)
07) ボクはパワー (相原勇)
08) フリフリ天国 (高岡早紀)
09) 恋のハレルヤ (渡辺めぐみ)
10) アプローチ (深津絵里)
11) 微笑みを見つけた (酒井法子)
12) 見逃してくれよ! (小泉今日子)
13) 悲しくてやりきれない (松本伊代)
14) イフ・ウィ・ホールド・オン・トゥゲザー (長山洋子)
15) ユア・マイ・ライフ(荻野目洋子)

The compilation starts in a good note with the summery “Diamond Blue” (ダイヤモンド☆ブルー) by Noriko Sakai, a song I could totally see AKB48 recording nowadays, or maybe five years ago. Following, there’s the obscure “Suki Dakara” (好きだから) by Yoko Kuga (久我陽子), which, as a friend pointed out to me earlier, could have been the ending theme to a shoujo/magical girl anime at the time, thanks to its overall dreamy and romantic feeling. Unfortunately, though, the video above only showcases a small bit of the song.

Like I mentioned earlier, besides Noriko Sakai, the other two big stars on this compilation are Kyoko Koizumi and Yoko Oginome. While Nori-P was still a relatively new aidoru in 1990 and, therefore, still seeking her true big break (it would eventually come in the form of her many acting roles in trendy dramas and, musically, “Aoi Usagi” [碧いうさぎ]), Kyon Kyon and Oginome were already past their prime (both girls also branched out into acting, but I think they were bigger as aidoru singers in the 80s). In the case of Yoko Oginome, even if the edgy “Gallery” (ギャラリー) wasn’t something completely fresh or different from her 80s streak of Euro-oriented singles, I think it was still able to showcase a more mature side of her.

One of the things I liked the most in this compilation was how adventurous a couple of the songs sounded, even if the ending result came out as a little awkward at times. Like Yoko Kuga’s “Suki Dakara” before, it’s unfortunate that just some seconds of “Wet Wet” are available on YouTube, since this song by sexy aidoru Reiko Hayama (葉山レイコ), with its heavy sexual mood, is one of the most unique songs compiled here (the song begins in the 1:47 mark, by the way). The other strange song is the lysergic and almost psychedelic “Furifuri Tengoku” (フリフリ天国) by another sexy aidoru, this time our beloved Saki Takaoka. The link for this song is not available to me here in Brazil, but maybe it’s open to other countries.

Between “Wet Wet” and “Furifuri Tengoku”, one can listen to “Dokuritsu Sensou” (独立戦争), the anthemic arena-rock style debut single released by Saiko Suzuki (鈴木彩子), and, while I wouldn’t rank it as one of my favorites, it’s nice to have something like that in the compilation, since those were the days when Pink Sapphire, Princess Princess (プリンセス・プリンセス) and other all-female rock bands were booming in Japan.

Like I said earlier, even though there’s ‘dance’ in the title, the compilation also offers some slower songs, like Eri Fukatsu’s (深津絵里) beautifully arranged “Approach” (アプローチ) and Iyo Matsumoto’s (松本伊代) “Kanashikute Yarikirenai” (悲しくてやりきれない), which could be seem as something close to a more traditional Kayo song (it’s actually a cover of a song of the same name by The Folk Crusaders [ザ・フォーク・クルセダーズ]). Regarding Matsumoto, long gone were the “Sentimental Journey” (センチメンタル・ジャーニー) days, so she was also way past her prime here, and “Kanashikute Yarikirenai”, one of her final singles, wasn’t even released in 1990, but in the year before, 1989.

“Hohoemi wo Mitsuketa” (微笑みを見つけた) is Noriko Sakai’s second offer, and I like how it comes later on the CD, since it goes well with other mellower songs, like the two mentioned before. Besides Nori P’s cute vocals, I think the nostalgic arrangement combined with the melody results in these type of warm song that connects well with the heart. Unfortunately, though, I can’t give much praise to Kyoko Koizumi’s “Minogashitekure yo!” (見逃してくれよ!), even if acknowledge its quirkiness and fun style. It’s an okay song, but not one of favorites here. In fact, Kyon Kyon got the short end of the stick, since her two featured songs, the other being the slow reggae “La La La…”, were quite weak, in my opinion.

Our final song is “You’re My Life” (ユア・マイ・ライフ) by Yoko Oginome, and I think it’s a good way to end the compilation. Next to Yoko Nagayama’s (長山洋子) “If We Hold On Together” (a cover of a Diana Ross’ song of the same name), which I didn’t include, “You’re My Life” is the most direct American-style song here, and that’s basically because it was composed by an American rock musician called James Christian. Other than that, it does sound like your typical watered down FM rock ballad, and while I have nothing against it, it’s funny to see Oginome pull something like that off. Also, it’s another song that was originally released in 1989, and not in 1990.

Meiko Nakahara -- Miami Dream -Don’t be shy-

Once again, we're at Hump Day so perhaps something nice, slightly uptempo yet mellow would be nice to take the edge off. Haven't written about Meiko Nakahara(中原めいこ)since the beginning of the year, so let's have her back into the mix.

I've always treated the vivacious Nakahara as an 80s City Pop specialist so it's nice to discover this gem in her final original album to date "On The Planet" from October 1991. "Miami Dream ~Don't be shy~", which was indeed written and composed by the singer, has her taking on that late 80s/early 90s champagne night-on-the-town form of City Pop with the synthesizer and horns.

It's more of the Swingout Sister side of jazzy sophisticated pop side of the genre compared to her early and mid-80s part of her discography which could delve into ol' disco and Doobie Brothers such as "Gemini". Quite refreshing. I guess along with the mysterious Takako Mamiya(間宮貴子), Nakahara pulled off her own disappearing act although she continued to write songs up until sometime in the early 2000s. Hope she's doing well.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Sentimental City Romance -- Sutekissukippu(ステキッスキップ)

When I heard the intro for this song the first time, I wondered whether I was about to hear music history's first country ambient tune.

This is actually "Sutekissukippu", a track on the December 1977 3rd album "City Magic"(シティ・マジック)by the band Sentimental City Romance(センチメンタル・シティ・ロマンス), an act that I've come to realize has been somewhat underrated over the years. Digging into some of their discography, vocalist Tokuo Nakano(中野督夫)and his bandmates have come up with very pleasant and mellow fare.

Under normal circumstances, I would have romanized the title here as "Suteki Skip" (Lovely Skip) but there is the issue of that middle part: キッス. Nakano, who wrote and composed this romantic ditty, must have had a method to his madness when titling "Sutekissukippu", and perhaps he wanted to run three words together cleverly: suteki, kiss, skip. Therefore, maybe, he wanted his title to mean "Lovely, Kiss, Skip".

Whatever the reason, "Sutekissukippu" sounds like a sunset invitation for a slow dance by the beach. Nakano may have been the one behind the creation of the song but when that keyboard plays in the solo, I can't help but feel that there is something very Tin Pan Alley(ティン・パン・アレー)and/or Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)in the arrangement. A nice tune for the romantic couples.

Masayoshi Takanaka -- E.S.P.

Can't quite believe it's been over a year since I put up that first Masayoshi Takanaka(高中正義)article for his epic "An Insatiable High", the title track for his 1977 album.

Well, I've got another track from "An Insatiable High" called simply "E.S.P.". It's not quite on the same level as the title song, but it's a happy and brisk 4 minutes and change of Latin-infused fusion that would make for a nice accompaniment for that jogger on the cover of the album, if he were sporting a Sony Walkman (not sure if they were actually already out in 1977).

I'm just going with what kaz-shin said on his review of the album at "Music Avenue", but it looks like Jim Gilstrap was handling the main vocals with Maxine Anderson, Julia Tillman Waters, and Maxine Willard Waters as the backup, and maybe it was indeed Lee Ritenour noodling on the guitar with Patrice Rushen on the keyboards. The Tower of Power horns are also in there as well.

Gilstrap is stating that the titular special power has been responsible for that special connection with that special someone. I can just imagine some nightclub Lothario trying that line with an unimpressed woman back in the 1970s; it probably had as much success as "What's your sign?".

Monday, July 29, 2019

Naoko Kawai -- Love Letter(ラブレター)

When I first came up with the Follow-Up category for the blog, I'd already written a lot of articles on various songs and albums, and so it was to give my fellow collaborators on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" that reassurance that they were more than free to give their own opinions and stories on songs that they liked that had already been written about by me. I may have done a Follow-Up myself for a song by Marcos or Noelle or JTM or nikala, but I can't remember one recently.

I listened to Naoko Kawai's(河合奈保子)"Love Letter" tonight, her 7th single from December 1981 and enjoyed it hearing again so much that I decided to give my take on it even though Marcos put down his own article on it back in 2014 for which I've already given my comments.

My take on the Osakan-born Kawai is that she, along with Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)and Yoshie Kashiwabara(柏原芳恵), represent that very first group of aidoru that I'd fallen for when my love for kayo kyoku sprouted in earnest at the time of their debuts. I knew about Pink Lady and Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵)before through the various VHS tapes but at the time, I had no idea about what aidoru was. Naoko, Seiko and Yoshie were therefore the first aidoru that I got to know. As for Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美), although she was probably still considered an aidoru even in the early 1980s and most likely though I've even categorized some of her early 1980s material as aidoru, I think that she had already blossomed into a full pop chanteuse at the beginning of that decade.

Kawai's "Love Letter" is the quintessential sound of aidoru music that I got to know. Added to her ever-cheerful vocals was the combination of disco melody, soaring strings, enthusiastic horns, happy chorus and big electric guitar. Especially in "Love Letter", that guitar really sings in its solo. I would really like to know who was handling that when it was recorded. Despite the December release, this is all about summer living.

Marcos has already mentioned how well it did on the charts, so allow me to say that "Love Letter" got its album debut on "Summer Heroine"(サマー・ヒロイン), Naoko-chan's 4th original album released in July 1982. That album got all the way up to No. 6.

Eri Hayakawa -- Metamol City(メタモル・シティ)

Just to reassure everyone, this song has nothing to do with Maya from the second season of "Space:1999" or Constable Odo from "Deep Space Nine". There were actually no metamorphs involved in the making of this song.

However, there is apparently one in the title of this song "Metamol City" which is the lead track for Eri Hayakawa's(早川英梨)one and only album from August 1981, "City". Hayakawa was the first stage name for singer Atsuko Iwai(岩井敦子)who would later take on the name Atsuko Nina(二名敦子). She's already represented on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" with her later discography, but I had been hoping to hear her City Pop material under the name of Hayakawa, and happily under the aegis of Kimi no Station: The Home of City Pop up on YouTube, I can get a listen.

Perhaps the metamol in "Metamol City" is the Japanese abbreviation for "Metamorph" or "Metamorphosing" , but whichever the case may be, it's a good and mellow urban contemporary number for Hayakawa which begins with an interesting arrangement of what sounds like a marimba. Then enter some of those silky strings, Fender Rhodes and even a lone trumpet. It's got that nice sheen of early 80s City Pop. In fact, I'd say that "Metamol City" would make for a fine accompaniment for that morning walk through West Shinjuku.

Composer Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)took care of the music and lyricist Yuriko Matsuda(松田侑利子)provided the lyrics. Apparently, "City" got a Tower Records-only remastering release earlier this decade but I'm not sure whether there are any more copies remaining. But I wouldn't mind going for this one rarity along with some of the later albums under the name of Nina. At the same time, I'm also curious about even further into her past since she made her debut under the name Eri Hayakawa in 1979 with the single "Sasowarete Natsu"(誘われて夏...Inviting Summer). Her J-Wiki profile stated that her first song is more of a regular kayo rather than a City Pop tune.

Kyosuke Kusunoki -- For Our Love

Back to the rat race with all that hot weather out there. Perhaps it might be time for something soothing to start off the work week.

"For Our Love" is another track from urban contemporary crooner Kyosuke Kusunoki's(楠木恭介)1985 album "Just Tonight", a release that I would love to get if it's available somewhere. Hopefully, Tower Records is reading this.

Compared with its trackmate, the Bobby Caldwell-reminiscent "Come to Me Again", "For Our Love" is an English-language song with an intro that reminds me of Rod Temperton while Kusunoki has that appealing mix of Fujimal Yoshino(芳野藤丸)and Michael McDonald in his voice. There is also that nice sax solo to go along with those rich keyboards. I couldn't confirm the songwriters but I think it was probably Kusunoki behind the melody with the late Hiroshi Narumi(鳴海寛)handling the arrangements (he's also on guitar), if "Come to Me Again" is of any indication.

Sunday, July 28, 2019


It's a Sunday night so it's time to get that sleep for another round of commuting and the rat race from tomorrow for another work week. Perhaps it may be some time to get some of that angst out of your system before realizing that the weekend is almost done.

Maybe some lively rock? I found this nifty music video for SEAGULL SCREAMING KISS HER KISS HER's "No Star". A track from the band's 4th album from 2000 "NO!NO!NO!", "No Star" is the type of bang-away rock that I had first expected by SSKHKH when I first wrote about them back in 2017 for what was a surprisingly more eclectic pop tune "Sister Sister" (1998).

Instead with "No Star", it's all guitars on full and set to fun. Plus, I like that video and all of the special effects gimmickry...nice apartment, too, may I add. The thing is though that "No Star" reminds me for some reason of the stuff that I used to hear in the early 1980s as a teen. Vocalist Aiha Higurashi(日暮愛葉)sounds a bit like Deborah Harry from Blondie, and altogether there is a bit of a Joan Jett feeling to "No Star" with even a refrain that has me thinking The Police's "Message in a Bottle" from 1979.

Maki Ohguro -- Natsu ga Kuru(夏が来る)

Well, I would say that summer has indeed come and has been around for a little while now, but the title of this song is "Natsu ga Kuru" (Summer Will Come) by one of the singing representatives of the season, Maki Ohguro(大黒摩季). This was her 8th single from April 1994 and it's that racing pop tune with some Latin percussion that I would always expect from Ohguro.

The thing is, though, despite the title and the good feelings of the hot season within the arrangements, "Natsu ga Kuru" isn't really about having fun in the good ol' summertime. Written and composed by Ohguro, the lyrics are actually a friendly advice column about not letting any doubts generated by oneself or surrounding people about Mr. Right get in the way of a potentially happy life together.

I'm surprised that the song wasn't a theme for some comedy-drama on one of the private TV networks. However, it did serve as the opening theme for the TBS music program, "Countdown TV" and as the commercial song for Sapporo Ice Lager, a most appropriate drink for "Natsu ga Kuru". The song became a million-seller peaking at No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies. It also joined another Ohguro hit, "Anata dake Mitsumeteru"(あなただけ見つめてる)on her 4th album "Eien no Yume ni Mukatte" (永遠の夢に向かって...Facing the Eternal Dream) which came out in November 1994. That release quickly hit No. 1 in its first week. For the yearly rankings, it rapidly became the 13th-ranked album for 1994 and hung around for another year to rank in at No. 25.

Denki Groove -- Flashback Disco

Had a late night at the clubs yesterday? Pray to the porcelain gods this morning? Well, maybe you ought to steer clear of the music video for this one.

Welcome to "Flashback Disco", the 10th single by techno unit Denki Groove(電気グルーヴ)from July 1999 (yep, 20 years ago). It's another pulsing and throbbing technopop creation by the group and leader Takkyu Ishino(石野卓球)that has been described in its J-Wiki article as the first single since the departure of Yoshinori Sunahara(砂原良徳)from Denki Groove. I'm not sure whether Sunahara was the resident lyricist but J-Wiki seems to intimate that it was his departure that meant that "Flashback Disco" was going to be an instrumental largely devoid of lyrics outside of variations on the words "flash" and "back". It apparently got some flack from critics saying that Denki Groove had lost its sense of humour, although it's still popular with the fans.

As for me, I don't have anything against "Flashback Disco" but then again as I've mentioned a number of times before, I was never much of a lyrics person. Plus, I think that Denki Groove's songs were always more about getting up and jumping about at a rave. Then, there is that weirdsmobile music video in which the setting looks like it had been inspired by one of my go-to spots in Tokyo, the Village Vanguard in the VenusFort mall in Odaiba, Tokyo. The above video is of the Village Vanguard in the bohemian neighbourhood of Shimo-Kitazawa. Let me tell you, this has absolutely no connection with the famed jazz club in New York City. Let's say that it's a massive shop of knick-knacks with a good dollop of "Stranger Things" sensitivities.

Anyways, getting back to "Flashback Disco", it managed to peak at No. 35 on Oricon. The song also got onto Denki Groove's 8th album "VOXXX" from January 2000, and that release went as high as No. 5.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Takao Kisugi -- Eien no Toki(永遠の瞬間)

Folks, let me talk to you about real estate!

Well, not to sell you any...since I couldn't sell a square centimetre of gold-flecked dirt. First off, I've seen plenty of real estate commercials on TV here in Canada and usually it's about how these companies can do the best job of selling houses with their newfangled formulas and tactics. Meanwhile in Japan, their TV ads of real estate take a much softer approach showing nothing but beautifully photographed condos or neighbourhoods filled with new attractive houses while a quiet song (new or old) plays in the background. No hint of sales representatives and SOLD signs...just happy residents coming home to happy families and happy food.

So I gather that Mitsui Fudosan Co., Ltd.(三井不動産)had the right idea when they asked the songwriting sibling tandem Takao Kisugi and Etsuko Kisugi(来生たかお・来生えつこ)to create a song for one of their commercials in 1991. And that's what the Kisugis did...they created the title track for Takao's 16th album "Eien no Toki" (Eternal Moment) which was released in April of that year.

Especially when Takao sings a ballad made by himself and his sister, I know that it's going to be tender and lush and so comfy. "Eien no Toki" is exactly that, starting with that piano and a keyboard that sounds a bit like a synth-oboe. Then the strings come in which makes me wonder whether the Kisugis and arranger Mitsuo Hagita(萩田光男)were thinking Carpenters when they created this one. I couldn't find the Mitsui ad with "Eien no Toki" but listening to it here, I can imagine that the executive board for the company was internally screaming "WE ARE GONNA SELL HOUSES LIKE PANCAKES!! HELL, WE'RE GONNA SELL THE INTERNATIONAL HOUSE OF PANCAKES!!" with this. To be honest, I would love to see what that ad looked like.

I also wonder whether the album "Eien no Toki" was thrown in with every purchase of a condo unit under Mitsui's purview. It would make for a nice memory. Anyways, the album peaked at No. 31, and it also has the sweeping "Yume yori Tooku e" (夢より遠くへ).

Etsuko Sai -- Pygmalion(ピグマリオン)

I was reading kaz-shin's "Music Avenue" blog entry from October 19th 2010 about the singer Etsuko Sai(彩恵津子). He had been half-jokingly wondering aloud in his article whether Sai's voice was good or bad. However, he did point out that it did stand out, and regretted the fact that such distinctive vocals were far and few between at that time. I wonder what he would say now.

However, he has gone to the floor to say that Sai's 1986 album "Passio" is his favourite album, and considering that tracks "Eien no Morning Moon"(永遠のモーニング・ムーン)and "Airport Dance" are now part of KKP, I think that I may have to get my own copy of this one. Moreover, there is this track from "Passio" titled "Pygmalion".

Although kaz-shin stated that he was in that quandary about Sai's vocals, he also admitted that they were strangely comforting. I've got no problems about her voice whatsoever and it does stand out since it is high but it also has a bit of huskiness in there. As for "Pygmalion", it does sound fairly familiar to something that I've heard before but I can't quite place the song. It's not the Sheila E. percussion, though. "Pygmalion" doesn't exactly aspire for Top 10 ambitions but it's a pleasant enough City Pop/R&B tune written by Chinfa Kan(康珍化)under his pseudonym Shirusu Morita(森田記)and composed by Tetsuya Tsujihata(辻畑鉄也)with arrangement by Yuji Toriyama(鳥山雄司).

Yuko Ando -- Merry Andrew

Merry weekend to you all. The heat is back on in my hometown but so is the sun, therefore the weather is great for all those summer worshipers.

When it comes to contemporary J-AOR, namely within the last couple of decades, I usually think of bossa nova-influenced rhythms that are as soft as trailing a finger on the surface of a lake and mellow horns. That's kinda why I fell for the charms of singer-songwriter Yuko Ando(安藤裕子)so many years ago. Although the above commercial isn't the one I saw featuring Ando for the first time, it does feature the first song that I had ever heard by her, "Samishigariya no Kotobatachi"(さみしがり屋の言葉達), and it has all of those characteristics that I've mentioned for the genre.

So I tracked down the album that had the song, "Merry Andrew", and this was Ando's 4th release from January 2006 (although the first 2 albums were mini-albums). Ando was responsible for words and music for all of the tracks with Ryuji Yamamoto(山本隆二)handling the arrangements.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect with "Merry Andrew", to be honest, although I got some clues from the design of the album booklet with Ando looking quite fantastical in that dress and the artsy drawings surrounding her. The first thought that came to mind was Indie Pop.

Sure enough, the first track is titled "Nirakainaririhi"(ニラカイナリィリヒ). Of course, I had no idea what it was, and seeing a well-drawn picture of a tattooed bullfrog next to the lyrics, I thought that maybe the title was referring to the scientific name for this particular amphibian. It took a bit of doing but I finally found out through the Yahoo Japan Q&A and ultimately from "Excite Music" that in an interview with Ando, she confessed with a giggle that "Nirakainaririhi" has no meaning whatsoever and it just sounded good. Suddenly, images of Phil Collins' "Sussudio" spun around my head.

Still for a first track, the song leaves quite the impression. Spacey and atmospheric and introspective, it's an Ando song for sure because of her distinctive vocals which can bounce from soft and soothing to high and crackling.

Another track is "Lost Child,", and no, that isn't a punctuation mistake with the added comma. The ballad was Ando's 3rd single from July 2005, and it seems to relate the story of someone in crisis. However, the arrangement by Yamamoto with those strings and the lone piano leavens some of that sadness as if hope were just around the corner. There is also something about "Lost Child," that is reminiscent of the various ballads by R&B chanteuse Misia. The song was also the theme for a movie known as "Ningyo Rei"(人形霊...Departed Soul of a Doll).

Unfortunately, the only other track that I could find from "Merry Andrew" with YouTube representation was "Nouzenkatsura"(のうぜんかつら), a mid-tempo happy number that just gains in jollity as it goes on. Again, like "Nirakainaririhi", this was another title that I had to look up, and from the flowers depicted on the CD booklet page where this particular track's lyrics were situated and a Hail Mary lookup on, it looks like it might be referring to nouzenkazura(凌霄花)or the Chinese trumpet vine which actually grows in East Asia. The lyrics by Ando, though, go into the developing romance between two people. A few members from Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra helped out in the recording.

The final track is actually another version of "Nouzenkatsura", officially known as "Nouzenkatsura (Reprise)", done more as a bittersweet ballad, and it's this version of the song that had been used in a sake commercial as well.

Before I forget, there is another track on "Merry Andrew" that got its own "Kayo Kyoku Plus" article, "Anata to Watashi ni Dekiru Koto" (あなたと私にできる事). The album is a long one with 14 tracks, none of them being bonus add-ons. According to the J-Wiki article on "Merry Andrew", the album gained a lot of popularity because of that sake commercial, and I'm hoping as well, the ads which featured "Samishigariya no Kotobatachi". It peaked at No. 10 on Oricon, going Gold and selling around 100,000 copies.

Ando's album here is quite the cafe-friendly accomplishment and I wouldn't be surprised if the CD were playing in some coffeehouse in Japan or even abroad. On that point, I think the singer could join the same ranks as the calming sounds of Tomita Lab(富田ラボ)and Miyuki Hatakeyama(畠山美由紀).

Friday, July 26, 2019

ZARD/Aika Ohno -- Get U're Dream

Yes, folks, we've now passed the 1-year mark in the countdown toward the Tokyo Olympics, something that NHK has not failed to inform us about. I figure that there will be features on the athletes and venues every day on the national network from now til late July 2020.

To be honest, when it comes to my benchmarks for Olympic theme songs, and all of the Japanese TV networks have loved coming up with such tunes for the past couple of decades, I have to go with Maki Ohguro's(大黒摩季)blood-pumping "Atsukunare"(熱くなれ)for the Summer Games in Atlanta 1996 for the uptempo stuff, and the epic ballad "Hatenaku Tsuzuku Story"(果てなく続くストーリー)by Misia for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, both from NHK.

Now, it seems as if when it came to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, hitomi's "LOVE 2000" became the popular tune associated with those Games due to marathon runner Naoko Takahashi's(高橋尚子)love for it. But that wasn't the official NHK theme. Actually, it was "Get U're Dream" by ZARD that was her 32nd single released in September 2000.

I'm not sure but perhaps "Get U're Dream" may have gotten overshadowed by "LOVE 2000". Still, ZARD's contribution to the Olympic theme songs isn't too bad. With lyrics by the singer under her name of Izumi Sakai(坂井泉水), and music by singer-songwriter Aika Ohno(大野愛果), "Get U're Dream" won't get listeners wanting to run the 100-metre dash or do a clean-and-jerk like "Atsukunare", but it's a fun enough song to get folks in the mood for some sports viewing. The single managed to peak at No. 4 on Oricon and was also placed as a track on ZARD's 9th album "Toki no Tsubasa"(時間の翼...Wings of Time) from February 2001. It went Platinum and hit the top spot on the charts.

On Xmas Day 2013, Ohno released her own 3rd album "Silent Passage" which contained a cover version of "Get U're Dream" (the entire album consists of covers of songs that Ohno had composed for other artists including ZARD). When it comes to her Ohno's own presence on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", she's just been listed as being the songwriter for Mai Kuraki's(倉木麻衣)tunes including that singer's debut "Love, Day After Tomorrow", so it's nice that I can have Ohno show up here again this time as a singer herself.

Ohno's "Get U're Dream" has got the same level of cheer but with its synth orchestral arrangement, it sounds like something more attuned as a theme for a story of gothic intrigue. "Silent Passage" went as high as No. 110.

Yuuki Matsuzaka -- Reiwa Yume Oi Daiko(令和夢追い太鼓)

Just like with strapping young lad Yuuto Tatsumi(辰巳ゆうと)a month ago, I found another enka singer through the venues of NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン)and "Gogo Uta"(ごごウタ).

(short version)

Although Yuuki Matsuzaka(松阪ゆうき)isn't quite as young as Tatsumi (Matsuzaka debuted all the way back in 2004), the fellow born in Suzuka City, Mie Prefecture as Yuuki Ninomiya(二宮優樹)looks very fresh-faced indeed. I found out on "Gogo Uta" today that he had actually started his geinokai life as a monomane artist or impressionist, and apparently he's quite good in impersonating his fellow enka singers (according to the Nippon Columbia website, he can imitate more than 30 celebrities). Matsuzaka had been interested in enka since his childhood days but during the early part of his career, he was a musical actor, narrator and voice trainer in addition to his time as an impressionist. But in 2012, he started training in minyo and then made his major debut as an enka singer in 2015 with "Furusato Gaeri"(ふるさと帰り...Going Back To My Hometown).

The song I heard today by Matsuzaka was released in May 2019, and "Reiwa Yume Oi Daiko" (The Taiko Drums Pursuing the Reiwa Dream) is a jaunty and zesty number with an air of festivity. That's pretty appropriate considering that Japan is entering its festival and fireworks season (hopefully, Typhoon No. 6 doesn't ruin things this weekend).

(empty karaoke version)

Natsumi Watanabe(渡辺なつみ)was the lyricist here while Keisuke Hama(浜圭介)provided the music. According to Matsuzaka's file on J-Wiki, "Reiwa Yume Oi Daiko" has been his first ticket to get onto the enka charts of Oricon although I couldn't find out which place the song reached. Good for the lad; maybe an invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen might be in order since the New Year's Eve special can always use a performance with plenty of tradition and spice.

Shuki & Aviva/Linda Yamamoto -- Aijou no Hanasaku Ki(愛情の花咲く樹)

Woke up early yesterday morning at 5:55 for whatever reason. My brain then suddenly thrust out the idea of "go, go, go" (go being the Japanese word for "five"・五), but I didn't start thinking about the famous sound meme from "JoJo's Bizarre Adventure". Strangely enough, it was the following.

Yup, I immediately thought of Inspector Gadget and his way of summoning his vast array of gadgets by saying "Go, go, gadget something or other". I was never a dedicated fan of the cartoon but I did see the odd scene here and there as the character was voiced by the late Don Adams whom I knew better as the bumbling original Maxwell Smart Agent 86 on "Get Smart" as a kid.

Recently, I did find out that composer and television producer Shuki Levy was behind the music for "Inspector Gadget" and loads more of other animated shows such as "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" and "The Real Ghostbusters". On top of that, many years earlier, he had been a singer and in 1970, he teamed up with Aviva Paz to form the duo Shuki & Aviva with their songs becoming popular in Europe, Asia and Africa.

One of their songs was "Love Is Like" for which I couldn't find the original version by Jane Schwartz and Levy with Zack Laurence as arranger. However, I did find the Japanese-language version sung by Shuki & Aviva which was given the longer title of "Aijou no Hanasaku Ki" (The Tree with the Blossoms of Affection). This was released as the duo's debut single and their first of four singles recorded in 1973. The Japanese lyrics were provided by veteran Yu Aku(阿久悠).

How about that? Thanks to the commenter below, I was able to find the French-language version under the title of "L' amour c' est la musique de la vie".

A very short but pretty intense song, the slightly fuzzy guitar and the vocals caught my attention. Levy's voice really reminded me of at least one of the Bee Gees, and the beat felt like the drama was taking place in France.

An even shorter cover was done by Linda Yamamoto(山本リンダ)in May 1974. I didn't find it as part of a single so I'm assuming that it was a track on one of her albums at that time. That guitar is in there and it's accompanied by a sharp trumpet this time. Considering Yamamoto's reputation as a very dynamic entertainer behind the mike and on the stage, her take on "Aijou no Hanasaku Ki" is relatively sedate.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Akira Kurosawa & Los Primos -- Utagawanaide(うたがわないで)

"Uta Kon"(うたコン)wasn't on last night for some reason, and sometimes when the show does come on, I tend to go to the enka or Mood Kayo file. Therefore, I will do so now as well.

It's a Wednesday night so let's go for some Mood Kayo...not to say that Hump Night and this particular genre have any set connection, but I figure that being the middle of the week when things are into the nitty-gritty work-wise, perhaps it's the ideal time for some of the older work buddies to hit the izakaya or nomiya for some stress-busting drinks...or even karaoke.

Nothing more Mood Kayo than Akira Kurosawa & Los Primos(黒沢明とロス・プリモス)with their "Utagawanaide" (Don't Doubt Me), their 19th single from August 1970. The tender Latin melody with the bluesy sax and silky strings by Masao Saiki(彩木雅夫)and the emotion-on-sleeve delivery by Kurosawa and Los Primos of Katsuko Murakami's(村上克子)lyrics can create the setting of introspective drinking at the neighbourhood drinking establishment all by themselves. As for those lyrics, vocalist Shoji Mori(森聖二)seems to take on the role of a woman who may be a hostess in some club in the big city as she pleads with her current paramour that this is indeed true love she feels for him instead of the fake emotions that she has had to express to previous clients.

Listening to the old songs has me missing those Sunday night episodes of "Enka no Hanamichi"(演歌の花道)at times. "Utagawanaide" would be the perfect inclusion in one of them on one of those fancy sets.

Hikaru Nishida -- Tokimeite(ときめいて)

I'm crushing your head!

The famous veteran songwriting tandem of lyricist Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and composer Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)have been responsible for a lot of kayo hits over a number of decades. Some of them are Hiromi Ohta's(太田裕美)"Momen no Handkerchief"(木綿のハンカチーフ)and Rie Nakahara's(中原理恵)"Tokyo Lullaby"(東京ららばい)from the 1970s, and boy band CCB's "Romantic ga Tomaranai"(Romanticが止まらない)which came out in the 1980s.

This also continued into the 90s. Matsumoto and Tsutsumi created aidoru Hikaru Nishida's(西田ひかる)11th single "Tokimeite" (Beating Fast) which was released back in August 1991. From the intro, I had been expecting something pretty rock in tone but the music quickly toned down to what was still a very uptempo piece about a girl falling in love and trying and failing to still her throbbing heart.

I was a bit surprised that the song hadn't been covered up to now since the singing of the title is one of the few things that continues to remind me of Nishida.

"Tokimeite" got as high as No. 7 on Oricon and was a track on Nishida's 4th album "Esprit" from October 1991. That album peaked at No. 24. Later that year on New Year's Eve, the bilingual singer also got her first of four invitations to come onto NHK's Kohaku Utagassen to sing the song itself.

Oh, how natsukashii! The song was also the theme for the TBS drama "Depaato! Natsu Monogatari"(デパート!夏物語...Department Store! Summer Story) starring Nishida and Masahiro Takashima(高嶋政宏)which was broadcast in the summer of that year. The video above at 52 seconds has a brief commercial for its 1992 sequel "Depaato! Aki Monogatari"(デパート!秋物語...Department Store! Autumn Story). Strangely enough, the thumbnail at the very top has Nishida getting her cheeks squeezed by Masahiro's brother, fellow actor Masanobu Takashima(高嶋政伸).

Alessandra Mussolini -- Love Is Love

I was probably too harsh and unfair when I said Alessandra Mussolini's album "Amore" (1982) was bad and had only two nice songs, the already covered “Tokyo Fantasy” and “Amai Kioku”. After listening to the full album a few more times, I can say that I’m totally okay with all eight songs right now, and the reason why I’ve changed my opinion is basically because I came to accept the album for what it really is, instead of wanting more songs like the two aforementioned Japanese-language ones.

From the other six songs on “Amore”, four of them were sung in Mussolini’s own language, Italian, while second single “Love Is Love / Tears” was sung in English. So, there’s some variety in the album, and even the atmosphere of the different language songs is diverse, since the Italian material, besides the language itself, have that strong Mediterranean touch in the arrangement and a more romantic feel, typical of countries embedded in Latin traditions (Brazil included). The same can be said about the two Japanese-language songs, since they don’t seem like strangers in the Japanese music market.

As for “Love Is Love / Tears”, the two English-language songs, they are also kind of different from the rest in their own way. In the case of “Love Is Love”, which is our featured song of today, we can say it’s that kind of sleazy disco song that would not sound out of place in a hazy cabaret, with Mussolini longing for her lover to come back and, well, make love to her again. I can almost picture the woman rolling in a bed hugged with a pillow while singing this piece of dirty Eurodisco, and the song itself, even if kind of silly with all the ‘love is love’ repetition, is backed by a relentless and vigorous bass line punctuated by insertions of wonderful sharp synths. All of this while Mussolini seductively sings lines such as “just try me again and you’ll see / the chains of your love makes me free”.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Kingo Hamada -- Dream is Alive

I've been to the hotel district of West Shinjuku enough times over my years in Japan to know about the dessert buffet that the Hilton had way back when, the nice washrooms that are in the Hyatt Regency, and of course, the myriad restaurants in the Keio Plaza since that was the place we all stayed at during the JET Programme Orientation.

When I hear this song by singer-songwriter Kingo Hamada(濱田金吾), I get those feelings of lounging around in one of those hotels while taking in a cocktail...or as in the case of the Hilton...downing another slice of cake. But man, listening to that spacey intro to "Dream is Alive" after the percussion starts things off...well, I think the song is ahead of its 1988 launch time. It sounds like a song that should have been placed onto the "Space Dandy" soundtrack or a new cool tune by Nona Reeves, Kirinji or even Jamiroquai.

"Dream is Alive" is a track from "Original Album 1" for the anime "Earthian"(アーシアン). I had never heard nor seen this 80s show although according to the Wikipedia article, it's based on some sort of yaoi manga. Hamada composed and arranged the song while Kazuko Kobayashi(小林和子)created the love lyrics. In fact, Hamada took care of the entire music for the series apparently.

The spacey introduction soon gives way to a romantic City Pop number enhanced by the sultry delivery by Hamada and the backup chorus. Then, there is also that jazzy sax that helps out during its solo and at the end. But all throughout "Dream is Alive", a feeling of high living, street lights and class imbues the proceedings, with perhaps one of those Shinjuku hotels being a stopping-off point for some libations and entertainment. Would be nice to hear this one on the car stereo while driving through the neighbourhood at night.

Keio Plaza Hotel in the back.

Ruiko Kurahashi -- Without Sugar

I guess Ruiko must've attended the Kentucky Derby one year.

Last night, I was given a kind invitation by a fellow named Mitchell to come aboard the City Pop Discord server, and so I dropped on in earlier this morning before I had to run my usual errands. Had a nice chat with some of the members there and with time permitting, I hope I can drop in again soon.

Even the initial talk was very beneficial since I found out during our banter online that a YouTuber by the name of City Pop Dave had uploaded the June 1981 debut album of Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子), "Without Sugar". For those who have known the blog well enough and long enough, it's probably already internalized that I'm a huge fan of Kurahashi and have been for almost as long as I have been a kayo fan, and I was more than happy to attend her Minami-Aoyama concert years ago on a very rainy Friday night. New uploads of Kurahashi material onto YouTube are quite rare so it's doubly celebratory when something like "Without Sugar" is up.

City Pop Dave said in the YouTube description that he found "Without Sugar" at a record store in Toulouse, France. For me, I was able to get my copy of it thanks to my friendship with a fellow Ruiko fan over Mixi. He was just very impressed that there was indeed a Canadian east of the Rockies who was actually a fan of our mutual singing heroine.

If I were to describe Kurahashi and her music in a number of words, they would be: stylish, sophisticated, poignant, urbane, down-home and folksy. And even though "Without Sugar" was her first album, this album already showed all of these traits. I've already written on four of the eleven tracks, the old-fashioned standard of "Glass no Yesterday"(ガラスのYesterday), the truly mellow "Never Fall In Love", the heartbreaking "Love Is Over" and the innocent "Uwasa...Still Love You"(噂...Still Love You), so let's see if I can do a few more here.

Track 2 at 3:50 is "Asahi no Shizumu Toki"(朝日の沈むとき...When The Morning Sun Sets), created by Fumiko Okada(岡田冨美子)and Kazuya Amikura(網倉一也). It's a typical Ruiko ballad as it combines her soft and plaintive vocals with the sweeping arrangement of violins and keyboards.

Track 3 at 7:09 is "Twilight Cafe"(トワイライト・カフェ). This one is interesting as it seems to meld the eternal couple banter of Maurice Chevalier & Hermione Gingold's "I Remember It Well" with a bossa-tinged City Pop/Parisian melody. Kurahashi's partner is none other than musician-composer Katsuo Ono(大野克夫), who created those dynamic theme songs for shows like "Taiyo ni Hoero"(太陽にほえろ). It's not my absolute favourite track but it does fit nicely around the premise of an older and very comfortable duo at a much-beloved coffee establishment. Machiko Ryu(竜真知子)provided the lyrics while Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)gave the sweet melody.

"Billy no Yasashii Yoru"(ビリーの優しい夜...Gentle Night for Billy)at 16:28 goes even more bossa and for me, this would be up there as one of my favourites because of how more whispery Ruiko's vocals become. They just glide silkily along with Akira Inoue's(井上鑑)arrangement. With the name in the title and the shoutouts to the Piano Man's hits in Ichizo Fukuda's(福田一三)lyrics, this is a tribute to Billy Joel. I love the guitar and sax solos and the way once again that the ballad combines bossa nova and that definitely made-in-Japan version of City Pop. When I hear it, I know that I have to be in that Shinjuku hotel-top bar.

My final song for this article is "Haru no Kareha"(春の枯葉)at 31:41 that fulfills the side of Kurahashi's discography involving that European feeling and Fashion Music. Those zippy strings and the jaunty beat can take listeners to Paris once more, and the final flourish by the instruments finish these on a definitively dramatic note. The same duo of Okada and Amikura behind Track 2 is also behind this one. The English subtitle is "Bye-Bye My Love" but the literal translation for the title is "The Falling Leaves of Spring" which, in a way, can also describe our professional hockey team (inside Toronto joke).

I've realized that Kurahashi's "Without Sugar" is plenty sweet on its own and it has a potpourri of other flavours, to boot. It's not just City Pop but it mixes in some other genres which illustrates how versatile she has been. Having said that, I will always love the creaminess of her vocals.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Chu Kosaka/Akiko Yano/Haruko Kuwana -- Horo(ほうろう)

Happy Monday! Thankfully, the torrid heat and humidity have decreased noticeably over the past 48 hours. A lot of people appreciated the summer weather but even the most ardent sun worshipers were admitting that Saturday was just a tad too hot. Well, that wasn't certainly not the case today.

Y'know...I had thought that one of us here at "Kayo Kyoku Plus" already provided his or her article on "Horo", the title track from Chu Kosaka's(小坂忠)4th album from 1975. But actually such was not true. I guess it was because that some of us often referred to the album in other articles and correspondence concerning Kosaka.

Then, allow me to rectify this situation. "Horo" was written and composed by Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣), Kosaka's old bandmate from Apryl Fool(エイプリル・フール)which had its days in 1969. Now, I'm not sure whether the above video is the original 1975 recording or the remake that Kosaka made for his "HORO 2010" album in March of that year, but this is a nice funky and bluesy number with great vocals by him that I could imagine the late great Ray Charles swaying back and forth to. "Horo" means "wandering", and considering that another track from the 1975 album, "Fuuraibou"(風来坊), also referred to "wanderer", I'm kinda wondering if the singer-songwriter and his fellow musicians including Hosono did think of themselves as somewhat vagabond-ish Japanese New Musicians in their existence in the music industry back then.

Listening to "Horo", I think the best setting for this in a live session wouldn't be in a huge arena such as Tokyo Dome, but a small basement club in a bohemian neighbourhood such as Shimo-Kitazawa. To be specific, it would be Kosaka and his small group headlining on a tiny stage in front of a stylish brick wall.

"Horo" has gotten its cover versions. In fact, Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)provided one such cover on her 1977 album "Iroha ni Konpeito"(いろはにこんぺいとう). Yano takes things just a bit slower and provides some of those silky and kittenish vocals, but the original funkiness and bluesiness aren't lost here.

Now, the reason that I decided to write this article in the first place was that I listened to Haruko Kuwana's(桑名晴子)1982 "Moonlight Island" album of cover songs, and felt that it was time to take a look at one of the tracks there that I hadn't written about in my original article on the album. Plus, Come Along Radio has given his own thoughts on "Moonlight Island" on Reddit, so you can take a look at it right here.

"Horo" is the first track on "Moonlight Island" for the video of the album above, and Kuwana ramps up the funk right from the get-go with that joyful "ALL RIGHT!". There is much more of a proud strut down the main street with this version, further emphasized by an electric guitar solo by either Fujimal Yoshino(芳野藤丸)or Makoto Matsushita(松下誠). In fact, according to the liner notes, it looks like the entirety of AB'S helped out in the recording of the album.