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

Friday, January 31, 2020

Goro Noguchi -- Kirameki(きらめき)

Commenter Jim Laker recently informed me about this one by 70s aidoru Goro Noguchi(野口五郎). Speaking about Goro, I just saw him on the latest episode of NHK's "Nodo Jiman"(のど自慢)as guest performer, and he got all embarrassed when one of his biggest fans sang one of his old hits while holding and showing off an album of his idol to everyone in the audience. What was impressive was that as he was singing, the fellow opened up the album to show a pretty gorgeous picture of young Goro with some massive field in the background. There was absolutely no need for the singer to get all red in the face there.

Anyways, what Jim was asking about was Noguchi's 20th single from June 1976, "Kirameki" (Sparkle). It is very appropriately sparkly in tone and message as he sings about a couple having their dream date in town...things are looking really good for them. All sunshine all the time and all that. I gather that it's a nice kayo to have around you as you and your significant other are traipsing through the shopping streets.

Lyricist Michio Yamagami(山上路夫)and composer Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)were behind the very relaxing and optimistic "Kirameki". It hit No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and ended up as the 33rd-ranked single of 1976.

ikkubaru -- Amusement Park/Neko wa Moufu no you ni(猫は毛布のように)

A few days ago, Matt K. contacted me again about this Indonesian City Pop band called ikkubaru and he introduced a song of theirs (with collaboration from JULIE) to me titled "Neko wa Moufu no you ni" (Cat's Like a Blanket). I'm sure the average pet feline is as soft and cuddly as a blanket, but unfortunately when our family cat, Mako, was still around, he and I weren't exactly too friendly with each other so I couldn't really find out. In any case, listening to this one, I did get that feeling of the warm and fuzzy variety, and even the vocals struck me as being someone cat-like. The somewhat cautious and deliberate delivery reminded me of ol' Mako trying to sneak up on me when I was in bed; cat paws getting ready for the strike. Luckily, with this song, the strike never occurs. Instead, I'm just enjoying the Vaporwave/Future Funkiness of it all.

I'd thought that this was the first time that ikkubaru would get its due on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", but actually nikala mentioned about the band in her 2018 article for Ko Nakashima's(中島考)"drop". As for the band itself, the name is derived from the katakana rendition of the leader, Muhammad Iqbal, and ikkubaru itself was formed on Christmas Eve 2011 with their raison d'etre being the wonderful City Pop from Japan with artists such as Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)and Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎).

ikkubaru's debut album "Amusement Park" came out in October 2014. City Pop fans can rejoice since the song has some of that summery influence from Kadomatsu's "Sea Line" with that guitar hook. I would probably say that the Kadomatsu hook has been grafted nicely onto some of those crystalline synths of more recent J-urban contemporary. In addition, looking at Iqbal in the music video above, I also got reminded of another City Pop god, Fujimal Yoshino(芳野藤丸).😀

Regrettably, I couldn't quite pinpoint when "Neko wa Moufu no you ni" was released, although the Soundcloud version has pegged it as being put up 6 years ago.

Thanks to Matt K. for letting me know about ikkubaru, and now I'm curious about some of the other non-Japanese bands/singers who are providing their own City Pop.

Minnie -- Like A Rainbow

Golly....I guess that in addition to the Doobie Bounce and the Steely Dan secret sauce chords, City Pop songwriters must have really liked the groovy intro to Whitney Houston and Jermaine Jackson's "Take Good Care of My Heart" since I think it's popped up in at least two other songs, "Eien no Morning Moon"(永遠のモーニング・ムーン)and "Lonely Chaplin"(ロンリーチャップリン), along with this tune. I mean, if this groove were personified, it would be someone cool and urbane striding to his/her favourite bar in West Shinjuku or Roppongi with a purpose; generally happy, of course, but with a purpose.

As for this song, I've seen the thumbnail photo a number of times on YouTube but it wasn't until earlier tonight when it popped up on New J Channel that I got dang interested. Yep, you got it. I do love this particular groovy's like my Brown Cow...or that occasional (really) can of Pringles. In this case, this is "Like A Rainbow" by singer Minnie, who I thought was actually someone from abroad with a good handle of the Japanese language, but actually is from Hokkaido according to Meguru Records. And that's basically all the information that I could find about her. However, I gotta say that I like her vocals which remind me a bit of Reimy's(麗美)delivery later in her career.

From JASRAC and the image of that 7-inch single of "Like A Rainbow", I could find out that Osny Melo, Fumiko Hiratsuka(平塚文子)and Stephen Pashley worked on the lyrics with Melo and Pashley also handling the melody. Yuji Toriyama(鳥山雄司)arranged everything into this soulful city number that takes more of a tangent away from "Take Good Care of My Heart" than the other two songs.

Anyways, give all three a shot and make your comparisons.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Noriko Matsumoto -- Haru Iro no Air Mail(春色のエアメール)

Indeed, it's rather cheaply done but it is to signify that "Kayo Kyoku Plus" just turned eight years old today.

So in the day or so leading up to January 30th, I was thinking about what to do to commemorate this admittedly not-so-commemorative anniversary. I mean, 1, 5 and 10 are fine but 8? Supposedly, according to tradition, something bronze is the way to go as an anniversary gift. However, I couldn't really find a kayo kyoku with anything to do with that alloy.

Then, I decided to look for anyone who's celebrating a birthday on January 30th, and as it turns out former aidoru Noriko Matsumoto(松本典子)was one such person. Happily enough, I have yet to write about her debut single.

"Haru Iro no Air Mail" (Spring-Coloured Air Mail) was how she entered the music business publicly. Matsumoto's first song came out right on the first day of spring in 1985, and it's a cheery and bouncy number that was written and composed by EPO. Listening to the melody with those strings in there, I feel indeed that the song is quite EPO-esque, plus the other remarkable thing is how grounded her vocals sound in her delivery. I'm certainly not saying that she's a baritone here but it's not the usual high-and-chirpy voice that I've often associated with 80s aidoru.

The song managed to get as high as No. 28 on the Oricon weeklies. Plus, it was given an album version on her first album "Straw Hat" released in July 1985. That release peaked at No. 31.

Kohmi Hirose -- Ai wa Ballad(愛はバラード)

I caught my first "Uta Kon"(うたコン)of the year on Tuesday (the actual first episode for 2020 was the Tuesday before but I missed that due to a movie), and the theme was winter songs, so the usual lineup was trotted out. But of course, Kohmi Hirose(広瀬香美), the Queen of Winters herself, was invited on to perform her famous "Gerende ga Tokeru hodo Koi Shitai"(ゲレンデがとけるほど恋したい), to get everyone in that skiing mood.

However, I've already gotten that song up on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" along with a whole bunch of her other high-energy hits. But I saw this one tune that I hadn't tackled yet, her 6th single from May 1995, "Ai wa Ballad" (Love is a Ballad).

Released between the very first song that I had ever heard by Hirose, "Shiawase wo Tsukamitai"(幸せをつかみたい)and the aforementioned "Gerende", "Ai wa Ballad" represented a dip in the rankings as it only went as high as No. 41 compared to the No. 6 rankings that the bracketing tunes received. Written and composed by the singer as usual, it's still her great delivery but I guess the somewhat subdued tone and the fact that it was released in a non-winter month may have explained its relatively tepid standing. Moreover, instead of ski wear, "Ai wa Ballad" was actually used to adorn a commercial for life insurance. The song was then placed onto Hirose's December 1995 album "Love Together" which hit No. 10 on the Oricon weeklies and even ended up as the 72nd-ranked release on the album charts for 1996.

Considering her status as the Queen of Winters, it was ironic to find out last night when she appeared on "Uta Kon" and admitted that she was now currently living in sunny tropical Hawaii. Maybe JTM can get a sighting someday.😉

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Mr. Children -- Hana ~ Memento-Mori(花)

Man, I heard this song all the time back in the late 1990s, especially on the old NTV Saturday night program "Yoru mo Hippare"(夜もヒッパレ), a televised version of celebrity karaoke...yes, years before James Corden's "Carpool Karaoke". If the tarento were getting into this one, then I can only imagine how popular it was in the karaoke boxes with the regular folks.

As I've said before, I never became a big Mr. Children fan; I only have 2 CD singles by Kazutoshi Sakurai(桜井和寿)and his band: "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "[es] ~ Theme of es". However, there is no doubt that back in the 90s that Mr. Children were up there with Dreams Come True and all of the singers associated with Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)as the premier music acts of that final decade of the 20th century.

Mr. Children's 11th single from April 1996, "Hana ~ Memento-Mori" (Flower) has had the benefits of a memorable title and a refrain that simply loves to invite everyone in for a massive singalong. I had always wondered about what the significance of the addition of the Latin memento mori was. Apparently, it means "Remember that you must die" according to Wikipedia. At first, I thought that I just encountered the most buzzkill Latin phrase but then I put it alongside another Latin phrase, carpe diem (Seize the day) and figured that it can also be thought of as being advice to live each day to its fullest because we all have temporally limited lives here on Earth.

Sakurai himself used the phrase for the title because he was impressed by a 1983 book of the same title written by the photographer and author Shinya Fujiwara(藤原新也). According to the J-Wiki article for "Hana", Sakurai wrote the lyrics from a woman's point of view and from reading the English translation, it seems like the protagonist has come to the realization that after a portion of her life has been spent disappointed with friends getting married and raising families, she will take a new tack and live life as it comes without getting too worked up.

I felt that Sakurai's melody followed that same pattern with the opening verse sounding melancholy before the hopeful singalong refrain bursts forth. Intriguingly, although the statement hasn't been sourced (a common J-Wiki issue), the J-Wiki article points out that Sakurai generated the melody in his head while playing baseball under a hangover after a night of drinking. Maybe that Latin title came in handy for a second reason.

"Hana" became a million-seller as it hit the top spot on Oricon for two weeks straight and ended up as the No. 5 single of 1996. It also currently holds the 81st ranking in Oricon's All Time Single Rankings. The song also became a track on Mr. Children's 5th album "Shinkai"(深海...Deep Sea)which was released in June of that year. It was also a No. 1 hit and was No. 5 on the yearly album rankings. Not surprisingly, "Shinkai" also has a place in Oricon's All Time Album Rankings, coming in at No. 31.

Tazumi Toyoshima -- Machibouke(待ちぼうけ)

Over the Holidays, I received a very nice gift from fellow contributor JTM in the form of a US-compiled City Pop album titled "Pacific Breeze". Was pleasantly surprised since I hadn't been aware of any such collections being created Stateside although I should have been due to the genre's rise outside of Japan in the past few years. Very City Pop cover, may I add.

The final track on this compilation is Tazumi Toyoshima's(豊島たづみ)"Machibouke" (Waiting in Vain), and from the title, I would say that the lyrics are probably not the happiest but the music is plenty funky. Both were supplied by Hiro Tsunoda(つのだ☆ひろ)(I used Daemonskald's technique of searching for image scans of album liner notes), so the funkiness is explained right there. One commenter wrote that the opening bars of "Machibouke" sounded like the theme for an 80s cop show (either in America or Japan) which I laughed it in understanding. There is that indeed that feeling of "Let's go get those scumbags, partner!" with those horns declaring the good guys getting into gun-toting action.

Originally, "Machibouke" was a track on Toyoshima's April 1979 2nd album "Tomadoi Twilight"(とまどいトワイライト)whose dreamier title track is arguably her most famous contribution. As for "Pacific Breeze", a lot of the tracks have already been covered in the blog but there are a few more for me to explore. Interestingly enough, there is even a Wikipedia article on the compilation so that you can find out what some of the other tracks are.

Hiroshi Uchiyamada & Cool Five -- Yume Sakaba/Yoibanashi (夢酒場/酔い話)

I hope everyone's having a good start to 2020. Now that I'm not drowning in essays and have swapped this year's oddly volatile winter in Japan for the equally volatile rainy season in Singapore, I have the time to do what I want, like some reading and, well, writing. I've also been reflecting on the past year's events; my 2019 was madder than usual with the lows being rock-bottom and the highs being sky-high. But I suppose that comes with adjusting to more or less a new way of life. One of the major highs was being able to catch my top favourite enka-yo singers (who are still in mortal coil) in action, and actually getting the chance to interact with most of them. In spite of the knowledge that enka-yo artistes hold events and concerts and dinner shows at high frequencies, somehow, I didn't think that I could see Kiyoshi Maekawa (前川清), Ikuzo Yoshi (吉幾三), Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし) and Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし) within the span of a year - nay, nine months. What a ride.

As most of you probably know, Mae-Kiyo ranks the highest in my mind, so I suppose it would come as no surprise that I went to see him and the Cool Five (four, really) twice: during a regular concert and a dinner show, the latter instigated by Mom. The former more or less fulfilled my dream of seeing the statue-like singer and his cronies, but the latter took it up a notch with the fellow literally standing right in front of me... Did I smile like an idiot when he noticed me. Yes. Did I get a hug from him? Yeah - I wouldn't let myself live it down if I didn't. Did I melt into the floor after that? Like an ice cube in tropical weather. Well, as much as that sent me straight to cloud nine, I can't help but feel a little bad that the Cool Five fellows barely got any attention from the audience. I would love to shake their hands and get a photo with them too. I shall keep that in mind should I go for another of their concerts.

Anyways, in the way of the musical set list, I gather that the selections are more or less the same (for 2019, at least) with the Cool Five classics sung in two medleys. Hits synonymous with the group were sung in the later half of the show. The earlier half, on the other hand, includes their much lesser known singles. Most were pleasant-sounding, though one in particular really caught my attention. I wasn't able to put a name to it the first time round during the concert and went on a wild goose chase through YouTube in an attempt to find this song whose ending I only so vaguely remembered. I found many other Cool Five gems in the process which all seemed like likely candidates, but a re-listen at the dinner show proved that the answer had literally been right under my nose the whole time.

Sorry, fellas, but y'all look like the poster boys for awkward family photos from the 80s.

That song was "Yume Sakaba", a single released late in the Cool Five's career in 1982. I say that it was right under my nose because, for quite some time prior I had been happily listening to its B-side, "Yoibanashi". I even remember seeing the former's thumbnail from time to time, and going, "Nah, that ain't it." I'd tuned in to it once before - it wasn't bad, but it was more... lukewarm at the time. It had a nice Mood Kayo rhythm going on, but its slower tempo and the slightly more somber vibe was probably where I lost interest, especially when I was used to the lighter and jauntier melody in "Yoibanashi". It took the live version to change my mind with its faster and modern arrangement and Mae-Kiyo's own bellowing of the titular phrase at the end of each stanza. Frankly, I do prefer the live rendition, but I nevertheless have become a big fan of the recorded take of "Yume Sakaba".

This one's "Yoibanashi"

When it comes to the lyrics, both numbers in the group's 43rd single involve a love-lorn heroine trying to get over some fellow who had ditched her. However, with the slightly differing veins of "Yume Sakaba" and "Yoibanashi",  I like to view them as two halves of a singular narrative wherein we see the emotion progression (or degradation) of our protagonist. "Yume Sakaba" marks the start of her downward spiral; from the words Mae-Kiyo softly utters in a contemptuous manner, the woman seems angry that she let herself be played then left behind by her lover, yet she can't seem to let go. Then in "Yoibanashi", she finally settles in a bar and tries to drown out the pain with sake. The alcohol turns the scorn into sorrow, and all she wants is to see the guy again even though it's nothing but wishful thinking. Ah, classic Mood Kayo drama. Someone should do an anthology style drama series based on these enka and Mood Kayo. I would watch that.

Toyohisa Araki (荒木とよひさ) and Kunihiko Suzuki (鈴木邦彦) were in charge of the words and music for "Yume Sakaba" respectively, and Kazuya Senke (千家和也) and Shigemi Iwaki (岩城茂美) did "Yoibanashi". I suppose it was no wonder that the "Yume Sakaba" single was one of the Cool Five's more renowned entries in spite of coming out in the 80s since the songs were put together by songwriters who had each created at least one Cool Five hit prior. Also, Iwaki himself is actually part of the Cool Five chorus; he's the one in between the bespectacled Etsuro Miyamoto (宮本悦朗) and the crazy-haired Masaki Kobayashi (小林正樹) in picture in the videos above.

In spite of the pickle the world seems to be in at the moment, I hope everyone's year will go smoothly from here on out. And have a Happy Chinese New Year too! 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Masahiko Kondo -- Samidare Good-bye(五月雨Good-bye)

Yes, folks. Obviously, it's way too early in the year to think about this, but there is the age-old Japanese trope of ai-ai gasa(相合傘)...the habit of romantic couples sharing an umbrella in the rain. If there's a slice-of-life anime, then there's a likely chance of one of those scenes popping up.

Now, to be honest, the sound of this song by 80s aidoru Masahiko Kondo(近藤真彦)feels like something in the dog days of summer, but the title of this track from his 1983 album "Rising" is "Samidare Good-bye". From the three kanji beginning the title, I would have translated it as "May Rain Good-bye", but actually according to, it doesn't even read as go-gatsu ame but samidare which is defined as an early summer rain. Hence my translation as "Good-bye in an Early Summer Rain", probably when the rainy season is holding court in Japan in the latter half of June.

Anyways, that whole thing about ai-ai gasa? Forget about it here. Matchy is actually singing about the breakup of a relationship in the rain as the one umbrella becomes two as the former lovers put some distance between each other. However, the lyrics by Yoshihiko Ando(安藤芳彦)aside, Masahide Sakuma's(佐久間正英)music is surprisingly glossy and groovy, more along the lines of AOR than the usual electric guitar-riffing that I've usually associated a Matchy song with.

I've experienced my share of rainy season showers and humidity in Tokyo. It's not quite as torrid as when the season ends in July, but it gives plenty of warning of the discomfort to come.

Hoki Tokuda -- Orfeu no Uta(オルフェの唄)

I never saw the 1959 movie "Black Orpheus" but a song from it, "Manha de Carnaval" could be the second bossa nova song that I became well acquainted with after Jobim's "The Girl From Ipanema". The first time I heard it was as a cover done by chanteuse Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)when I got one of her audiotapes as a souvenir from my mother back in the early 1980s. Then, much later during my time in Japan, I learned that the late great jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi had done his own version of it via a BEST hits collection.

Recently, I discovered this 1968 version, titled "Orfeu no Uta" (Orfeu's Song) by singer-actress Hoki Tokuda(徳田ホキ)through her album "Love Forever in Bossa Nova". I'm convinced that it would take a majorly strong effort to actually make a bad version of "Manha de Carnaval", and happily, Tokuda doesn't make any effort to do so. Her efforts are focused on a jazzier, perhaps Sergio Mendes style with a bit of hip-swinging although I think as with the other covers of this bossa classic, this ought to be appreciated with a cocktail on some chaise lounge on a balcony.

The one thing that got my notice when skimming through Tokuda's biography via J-Wiki is that the Tokyo-born singer, whose real name is Hiroko Tokuda(徳田浩子), was once married to the American writer Henry Miller between 1967 and 1977. However, although J-Wiki states that she was his 8th wife, Wikipedia claims that she was actually his 5th wife.

For comparison, here is the original "Manha de Carnaval" (Carnival Morning) by Luiz Bonta and Antonio Maria. Not surprisingly, considering how popular it became outside of Brazil, the list of musicians and singers covering it is very long, and that's not including Japanese singers.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Tomozo/Maiko Hino -- Lupinus(ルピナス)

Some months ago, I found this rather fascinating short song on YouTube titled "Lupinus". Voiced by a Vocaloid named Maiko Hino(日野舞子), "Lupinus" is said to be an 80s technopop-ish number created by a fellow named Tomozo(友蔵).

With Hino in there along with the various examples of technology, yes, I would say that it was a technopop song but instead of it being an 80s thing, I would opine that "Lupinus" actually has a certain timeless quality. There's something traditional Japanese and also traditionally classical infused into it so that I believe that I've heard this sort of soundscape in the 1990s and the 2000s as well.

Tomozo's lyrics are also pretty atmospheric and fantastical. The images I get are of someone in a vast desert approaching an amazing oasis while visions of the past come flying at warp speed. Perhaps there is something rather therapeutic about this Lupinus.

According to his history on his website, the Tottori-born, Osaka-residing Tomozo encountered his first synthesizer in 1990 and it was apparently love at first sight. Since then, he's been collecting his variety of electronic instruments much in the same way that my anime buddy has been harvesting electric guitars. On his YouTube channel, Tomozo Hokanko(友蔵保管庫...Tomozo Vault), he's quite self-effacing in his introduction stating that if you're looking for the power of rock, the technique of classical and the passionate soul of enka...look elsewhere.😀 Instead, he states that if his creations can get even a smirk and a slightly more relaxed mind from viewers, then he's perfectly fine with that. That's good with me.

Yudai Suzuki -- Just Your Life (Heisei Version)

You might call this a happy sequel to that All-Points Bulletin that I had originally posted nearly a couple of weeks ago. Misha had been wondering about some mystery songs and asked for "Kayo Kyoku Plus" assistance, but as it turns out, he didn't need my help. He was able to identify almost all of the tunes on his own hard-won efforts.

I mentioned Misha's success as an update at the bottom of that article, but one of those songs that was featured really caught my ear and heart so I've decided to focus my writing energies on it.

This would be a song that I had assumed was a Sing Like Talking tune that I had never heard of before. Certainly, the vocals there had me automatically thinking the dulcet tones of SLT singer Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善). However, I was completely fooled because the singer was actually Yudai Suzuki(鈴木雄大)who was known as one of the four City Pop gods in the 1980s.

Strangely enough, when I first told Misha of my suspicions that this song "Just Your Life" was a Sato tune, I had no idea that I wouldn't be alone in my assumptions. Even kaz-shin of the blog "Music Avenue" noted how much Suzuki and "Just Your Life" sounded so much like Sing Like Talking from that cool and urbane arrangement, and the heart-on-your-sleeve delivery by Suzuki. SLT itself was already making its own path at around the same time.

As for the song itself, the version that has been put up is the Heisei version from his 7th album "Kimi no Heart ga Kikoeru"(君のハートが聞こえる...The Beat of Your Heart)released in March 1989. An original single of the song had been put out in November 1988 but I don't know how different that one is. I know that I'm more than happy with this Heisei version, though. Along with its SLT similarities, I would peg "Just Your Life" as a late 1980s/early 1990s City Pop/AOR number which makes it interesting to compare it to the first Suzuki song that I put up on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" back in 2015, "Rainy Summer" (1983) since that one sounds more like a City Pop song from that particular era. Even his vocals were a fair bit different back then.

In any case, glad to make this song's acquaintance.

Chiaki Watanabe -- Natsu ni Refresh(夏にリフレッシュ)

"So, Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi also composed aidoru tunes, eh?"

I translated the comment by the uploader of this video, and like him/her, I was also quite surprised to find out that the tough Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi(長渕剛), who has been behind folk-rock songs such as "Tombo"(とんぼ), also provided music for the teenybopper singers of the 1980s.

His client here was Chiaki Watanabe(渡辺千秋)whose career was not too short and not too long (1983-1992). In April 1984, she released her debut single "Natsu ni Refresh" (Refresh In Summer) and is an appropriately bouncy aidoru tune composed by Nagabuchi with future AKB48 organizer Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康)taking care of the lyrics. "Natsu ni Refresh" is breezy and skip-worthy but Nagabuchi also includes some West Coast AOR sounds in the middle as well...kinda feels like a vacation in California or a commercial for orange juice. However, in actual fact, the song was used for a Nivea skin cream ad.

Watanabe released a total of 3 singles with no albums, although those singles did end up as part of an overall aidoru compilation called the "Aidoru Miracle Bible Series"(アイドル・ミラクルバイブルシリーズ). She also appeared as an actress and tarento in a number of series before calling it a showbiz career and returning to her native Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Eiko Segawa -- Inochi Kurenai(命くれない)

Was doing the usual maintenance of the blog last night and so was wrapping up the articles in 1987. One of them was the Top 10 Oricon Rankings for 1987 Singles and I noticed that I had covered all of the songs listed except for one...the No. 1 single for that year.

Obviously, I wasn't going to let that one go. But the interesting about this No. 1 of the year is that unlike the recent No. 1s of the year which have been owned by the alphabet aidoru groups, the No. 1 single for 1987 had been recorded by an enka/Mood Kayo singer. Now, how poignant is that?

Yup, Eiko Segawa(瀬川瑛子)got her No. 1 via her 40th single "Inochi Kurenai" which was released in March 1986. This was almost 20 years after her career had begun in the late 1960s, and at first, when "Inochi Kurenai" was released right on the first day of spring, it hadn't been expected to make that much of a splash. In fact, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper via J-Wiki, record stores all over only requested a shade over 1800 records to sell. Talk about humble beginnings.

However, going into 1987, thanks to a growing reputation through Japanese cable radio (yuusen), Segawa's single would finally reach No. 2 on Oricon and then end up as the top-selling single for that year. By the end of January 1988, "Inochi Kurenai" ended up pressing its one-millionth record. And even by the end of 1988, the song came in as the 20th-ranked single of the year. The song also earned Gold Prizes from the JASRAC Awards for 1987 and 1988.

Written by Osamu Yoshioka(吉岡治)and composed by Jun Kitahara(北原じゅん), the story revolves around a woman vowing to make her marriage work no matter what the obstacles are. When I first saw the title "Inochi Kurenai", I had thought that it meant "I Won't Get My Life", but through looking at Yoshioka's lyrics which repeat the title, and even putting the title through Google Translate, the answer I got was "Will Not Give Up". And I thought: good enough.

The other realization is that I've heard the weaving opening notes time and again over the years but never knew that it belonged to this particular song and singer. Well, perhaps before the fame of "Inochi Kurenai" grew to huge proportions, a lot of folks may have forgotten about Segawa but that was no longer the case. She received her very first invitation to the 1987 Kohaku Utagassen to sing this one. She would be invited three more times to the NHK special with the most recent appearance being in 1996.

Actually, my first article on Segawa can be seen here.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Golden Bomber -- Memeshikute(女々しくて)

I was writing up the previous article on GACKT when I looked for the band Golden Bomber(ゴールデンボンバー)thinking that I had already put up their magnum opus "Memeshikute" (Unmanly) onto the blog. Well, as it turns out, that wasn't the case...actually up to now, the only song by them that I had included on KKP was their contribution to the anime "Ixion Saga DT". Big oops there!

And that was a big slip-up by me since "Memeshikute" had become an almost permanent fixture seemingly on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen. For a period of 4 years straight in the mid-2010s (2012-2015), Golden Bomber showed up like clockwork every New Year's Eve on the Shibuya stage to liven things up with the audience (although personally speaking, having a band come up to perform the same song over and over again was starting to wear on me).

Released by the Visual-kei air band as their 7th single in July 2009, "Memeshikute" sounded like a poke at the whole Herbivore Man phenomenon in Japan or maybe even a comical self-indictment of Visual-kei. Ironically, it was the hit that got Golden Bomber onto the big stage as it got up to No. 4 on Oricon, but on the Oricon weekly karaoke rankings, "Memeshikute" really showed its power by staying up at the top spot for 51 weeks straight, dethroning the former champions, AKB48 with their "Heavy Rotation" (48 weeks straight). "Memeshikute" first appeared on an album via the band's "Golden Best ~ Pressure" released in January 2010 which topped off at No. 28.

GACKT -- Returner ~ Yami no Shuuen(闇の終焉)

GACKT is life...the high life, that is.

GACKT is an Okinawan-born singer-songwriter-actor who specializes in hard rock and was also the vocalist for the Visual-kei band Malice Mizer. I actually had to look that up on J-Wiki and Wikipedia to make sure since, really, the only knowledge and sightings that I've had of this fellow, who reminds me of a Japanese Jeff Goldblum in his looks, has been through an annual TV Asahi special known as "Geinojin Kakuzuke Check"(芸能人格付けチェック...Celebrity Status Check).

As much as he is a rock singer, GACKT seems to have an almost supernatural ability to distinguish the true versions of the good stuff from the cheapo knockoffs (relatively speaking). He's an uber-esthete, so to speak. For the past decade or so, on "Geinojin Kakuzuke Check", he's been able to, without any hints to identification of the product, tell through his senses which one is Matsuzaka beef and which one is some inexpensive supermarket meat, which glass has the rarest and tastiest and most expensive vintage of wine and which glass contains a perfectly drinkable wine of merely 5000 yen a bottle, and so on.

The show has had GACKT compete with other celebrities. For every wrong choice made, the celebrities get taken down ranks from their initial "First Class" standing down to "No Status" in which case through the magic of special effects, they're rendered null and void. Up to this year, GACKT on his own has passed the past 58 tests over the 2010s and so has usually kept his "First Class" standing by the end of each special, thanks to a partner who apparently has had just as much aesthetic taste as he does. At the same time, he's become famous for his stoic Spock-like assessments with his barbed tongue (although he has a brilliant smile when he does smile) and for his constant consumption of snacks and pistachio nuts while he's waiting for the final judgement after each test.

Unfortunately for GACKT, the most recent edition which was televised on New Year's Day a few weeks ago had his partner, Sho Kiryuin(鬼龍院翔)of Golden Bomber(ゴールデンボンバー), make a couple of mismatches which brought the duo down all the way to "Third Class", a level that had the singer fuming. Still, his solo record is intact.

With his outsized presence on "Geinojin Kakuzuke Check", it can be pretty easy for me to forget that he's in the music business. However, I did find this June 2007 single, his 27th, "Returner ~ Yami no Shuuen" (Demise of Darkness). Written and composed by GACKT, the song is about that futile search for one more embrace from his beloved before the end, something that is echoed in the music video which has him as a samurai in his final battle.

"Returner" has been GACKT's first and so far only No. 1 single and has also shown up on his July 2010 "The Eleventh Day ~ Single Collection" which peaked at No. 7 on the album charts. The song also got him his final of 5 appearances to date on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen.

Considering that my musical images of Japanese historical epics have usually been that of Mexican trumpets and dramatic strings, it's been interesting that in the last several years, hard rock seems to have become the genre of choice for such shows or movies either in anime or live-action. Still, I was surprised to read on J-Wiki that "Returner" was actually the theme song for the Christopher Nolan movie "The Prestige" in Japanese theatres.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Yuko Tajima -- Kumori Glass(くもりグラス)

Glad to introduce another one of those obscure City Pop singers.

Just a smidgen of information about singer-songwriter Yuko Tajima(田島裕子)in that I could only find out that she had earned a prize at the 1975 Popular Song Contest before releasing a 1980 album titled "Variation". On that album, there is the track "Kumori Glass" (Frosted Glass) which was written by Rei Suzuki(鈴木れい)and composed by Tajima. A mid-tempo relaxing Resort Pop number of remembrances of a past romance, the website where I could glean that smidgen also mentioned that Makoto Matsushita(松下誠)had arranged the song along with providing his guitar-playing. I do like Tajima's voice and so I wonder if she did release any further albums.

I see that there are a few more songs at least on YouTube featuring her so I will give them a gander as well.

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Pandora no Kobako

Good to read Joana's article on Qumali Depart(クマリデパート), one of the contemporary aidoru groups, especially because they've delved into my old genre of disco (strangely enough, I was actually alive when people danced en masse to the music). Perhaps, QD might become part of the next Next Music from Tokyo tour through Canada if there is one this year (haven't seen any news yet).

Now, let's head back into time once more into the aidoru of the 1970s and 1980s. Once again, I bring you Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美). When I think of descriptors for some of the major ones around that time, I treat Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)and Naoko Kawai(河合奈保子)as the summery happy-go-lucky cheerleaders whereas Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)was always the lonely and misunderstood high school punk.

Iwasaki had debuted much earlier than the above aidoru in the mid-1970s and so she was already a veteran at the turn of the decade. Still, she was considered to be an aidoru but my image of her just from judging her discography going into the latter part of that decade was that she was a femme fatale or a mystery woman getting involved in some city-based trysts or romantic issues. Perhaps with the premier aidoru of the 1970s, Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵), Iwasaki was the one singer who danced over the borderline between teenybopper and City Pop.

Another typical song by her for that time period is "Pandora no Kobako" (Pandora's Box), the title track from her 7th original album released in August 1978. Written by Yoko Aki(阿木燿子), who also wrote a lot of lyrics for Yamaguchi, and composed by prolific songwriter Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平), Iwasaki sings about what might be a woman seeing an old flame with a new lady friend at the movies, and then having the green-eyed monster pop up from the titular box.

Tsutsumi's music has got plenty of that urban atmosphere with the electric guitar and Latin beats which become really pronounced during the instrumental bridge. Plus, those strings seem to depict the woman's whirlwind state of mind. And of course, there are those velvety vocals by Iwasaki. Just life in the big city. The album "Pandora no Kobako" peaked at No. 11.

Qumali Depart - Goku LOVE Jodo (極LOVE浄土)

It has been a while since I last posted on Kayo Kyoku Plus. Since then, Christmas has passed. Me and J-Canuck exchanged postcards, which was a very pleasant experience! I decided to send handmade postcards to my friends because I love crafting and it was a lot of fun.

As of recent, I have been re-listening to a lot of my favorite artists, especially aidoru, in order to remake my favorites playlist. It has been a really pleasant experience because I have been feeling like exploring what is going on the aidoru scene and put aside my most listened artist my last year, BiS, since the line-up I was most familiar with has disbanded. I still love them a lot, though.

One song that was frequently stuck in my head since its release is the focus of today's post: Goku LOVE Jodo (極LOVE浄土) by Qumali Depart (クマリデパート), released in November 2019.

Qumali Depart is the second group founded by the agency ekoms, after Maison book girl. I have always seen them as Bukuga's "little sisters", but Qumali's sound is a lot closer to traditional idol tropes. As for their peculiar name, their concept is stated as "the department store for the world's hearts", which explains the Depart. They have also played with the double meaning as "departure" by dressing as flight attendants. As for Qumali... I don't know, but it sounds cute. I would also like to praise their round-looking logo, which looks very cool.

The logo makes for very cool merchandise (retrieved from ekoms' online shop)

The title Goku LOVE Jodo is a pun on the phrase gokuraku jodo (極楽浄土), which is essentially the Buddhist paradise (more specifically, of the Jodo sect). This motif is very present in the music video for the song, as the members show up dressed as angels, and the lyrics feature other mythological themes, such as the Sanzu river (三途の川), which is said to separate the world of the living from that of the dead.

Other than those interesting tidbits, the song is essentially a dance tune. Although penned by Kenta Sakurai (サクライケンタ), ekoms' producer and Maison book girl's mastermind, the arrangement by Dance☆Man (ダンス☆マン) is the main feature of this song. The choreography is fun and the music video is bright, with a lot of bling. Combining 90's over-the-top aesthetics, some late Heisei references such as the tapioca milk tea craze, and hope for Reiwa, it makes for an overall very fun and catchy song.

I have seen Qumali live in Japan during my trip last summer and took a picture with my favorite member, Fuuka (white color member). They delivered a very fun performance, and I really want to see them again and meet the other girls.

P.S.: Click here for my favorites playlist on YouTube! It is still under construction, but it has a lot of my most listened artists in the past few months.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Namie Amuro -- Never End

With the return of regular programming on TV Japan after the Holidays, Friday nights are once again alive with alternating episodes of "VS. Arashi" and "Sekai no Hate made Itte Q!"(世界の果てまでイッテQ!).

Of course, one of the main presenters on the latter show about tarento going all across the globe and within Japan on their own exploratory missions is Ayako Imoto(イモトアヤコ), the young lady with the magic marker eyebrows and sailor-suit uniform. In addition to her steely willingness to take on all sorts of challenges, she is also known as the biggest fan of recently retired Okinawan singing superstar Namie Amuro(安室奈美恵). On tonight's episode, she performed Amuro's "Never End".

Completely forgot about this Amuro single, her 17th from July 2000, and its background. According to its Wikipedia article, it was then-Prime Minister Obuchi who had commissioned songwriter Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)to come up with a song to commemorate the G7 Summit that was taking place in Okinawa that year.

To be honest, when it first came out, I wasn't particularly all that excited about "Never End" although I remember hearing it on television through programs and commercials. I think by that time, my interest in Amuro had waned somewhat. But now that years have passed, Amuro has retired, and I've been given my sense of nostalgia through this blog, it's poignant to hear this one again after two decades.

In the J-Wiki article for "Never End", it's mentioned that Komuro, along with his many visits to Okinawa to get a feel for the culture and music after getting that request from the Prime Minister, incorporated a Ryukyuan minyo melody into the song and recruited Okinawan singers such as Sadao China(知名定男and the group Nenes(ネーネーズ)to participate along with thirty junior high school girls as a back chorus. 

Not sure when exactly he had requested Komuro to create what would become "Never End", but sadly, Prime Minister Obuchi would never get a chance to hear it officially since he suffered a stroke in April 2000 and then died a couple of months later. However, about a week after the song was released on July 12th, Amuro and Komuro performed it in front of the G7 Summit dignitaries hosted by Prime Minister Mori.

(short version)

Going Double Platinum, "Never End" peaked at No. 2 on Oricon and ended the year as the 32nd-ranked single. Amuro would appear for a 6th consecutive time on the Kohaku Utagassen to perform it. It was also placed as a track on her 5th original album "break the rules" which came out in December 2000; that also hit No. 2 on the album charts and finished 2001 as the 69th-ranked album.

The one other thing that I remember about the 2000 Summit is that the special 2000-yen bill was issued. I did handle a few of those bills around that time but I believe those are now extremely rare to find. In fact, I recall one friend humorously telling me that when he tried to use of those 2000-yen bills in a Tokyo convenience store recently, the young cashier looked at it (and my friend) with some suspicion thinking that it was a fake.

Naomi Miyanaga -- Party ni Furarete(パーティーにふられて)

I've got another track from Naomi Miyanaga's(宮永尚美)"Moment" debut album (1984). Last September, I wrote about her City Pop "Summer Rain" and the fact that she's another one of those singers of the genre that we don't have a whole lot of information about.

Well, this time the track from "Moment" is "Party ni Furarete" (Rejected at the Party) whose lyrics (which I couldn't find) may be rather unhappy but the song is pretty darn bouncy. I would say that it's a mellow mix of AOR, City Pop and even some kayo; there's something rather old-fashioned and a fair bit jazzy about the overall arrangement and yup, from looking at the images of the original LP, Fujimal Yoshino(芳野藤丸)was behind this. In fact, along with Yumi Morita(森田由美)providing the lyrics, Miki Matsubara(松原みき)was the one who took care of the melody.

Could drink a Planter's Punch alongside this.

Masaki Matsubara -- Tequila Toast

Although I didn't mention it in session guitarist Masaki Matsubara's(松原正樹)first article dedicated to him a few years back and may have stated it in one of the other articles where he helped compose or arrange a song for another singer, I think that I should cite that one of the most prolific instrumentalists in Japanese music had passed away back in February 2016 at the age of 61.

I have his second article here, though, and it's also a song from his 4th album from November 1983, "Painted Woman". "Tequila Toast" is an instrumental track which has quite the funky beat supporting it but there is also a light and whimsical layer consisting of horns and flute. In between, Matsubara goes in and out with his guitar like that ever-present neighbour making the rounds in his area looking in on the residents. But since we have that title there, I can also imagine that the naïve and innocent young imbiber of horns and flute is also covering up the raucous guitar-wailing state of his insides as the tequila (maybe not 100% pure) is coursing through his mouth, throat and digestive tract.

From personal experience, I give tequila a lot of respect. That one time I didn't, I was indeed toast.

Kirinji -- Ai wo aru dake, Subete(愛をあるだけ、すべて)

I came for the "Jikan ga nai"(時間がない)but I ended up staying for the rest of the album. This CD with the cover of what looks like two teaspoons in love belongs to Kirinji's(キリンジ)13th album "Ai wo aru dake, Subete" (Just With Love, Everything...which seems to be the final line from "Jikan ga nai") from June 2018. Having fallen for the band's 2003 "Sweet Soul" e.p. single and the aforementioned "Jikan ga nai", I opted to get both of them for the Holidays.

Quite amazing how Kirinji has evolved its sound between its start as a fraternal duo in the late 1990s and its current incarnation as a full group including anchor/songwriter Takaki Horigome(堀込高樹), and singer-songwriters Erino Yumiki(弓木英梨乃)and Kotringo (the latter having left in 2017 after a 4-year stint). My introduction to Kirinji was through their 2000 "Aliens", a love song so tender that I could have cut it with a fork, and from listening to some of their early work including "Sweet Soul", I could have been forgiven if I had assumed that Kirinji was a specialist in contemporary AOR balladry.

Well, some time down the line, the band increased their membership and started going more for some catchy spacey disco beats along the path of Jamiroquai which got me further interested. "Jikan ga nai" was just the bait for me to get hooked (line and sinker) onto "Ai wo aru dake, Subete". The entire album has had me already playing it a couple of times with the power middle of the (baseball team) order starting from Track 2. "AI no Touhikou"(AIの逃避行)has that cool spacey sound with plenty of bass groove as Horigome's lyrics read like a synopsis out of a movie for a couple of androids who have discovered the concept of love and have taken off from minders who don't particularly like their discovery. Cyber-Romeo and Cyber-Juliet, so to speak. Kotringo has apparently come back to help out on backing vocals according to the liner notes, and special guest DJ Itsuka from rap group makes her own contribution. Have this on the car stereo while bombing down the more futuristic lanes of Tokyo. "AI no Touhikou" was actually released as Kirinji's 16th digital download single from November 2017.

Track 3 is "Hi Zero Wa Game" (非ゼロ和ゲーム...Non-Zero Sum Game) is my new favourite song...maybe for the entirety of 2020! Rather bold prediction, I know, but man, this is one supremely catchy number even more than "Jikan ga nai". One commenter referred to it as very Doobie Brothers while I've compared it to Steely Dan, and since both bands have a very close connection with each other, I'm good with both descriptions. Out of all of the tracks, this has been the one that I've listened to the most. Another commenter was wondering what the song was all about. Even Horigome has playfully stated in the lyrics that even he isn't sure what all the caterwauling is about, spitting out "Go Google it!" in one of the lines.

Then comes "Jikan ga nai". I realize that it already has its own article but I just had to include the song here. Since I've written about it, it looks like the music video has garnered a lot of compliments due to the now-famous dancing salaryman, identified as choreographer Reijiro Kaneko. I'm a couple of years older than the guy and seeing him trip the light fantastic in the video has made me wonder about getting some more exercise in. But then, I see the Pringles...

Unfortunately, those are all of the videos that I could find representing the various tracks on "Ai wo aru dake, Subete", but you can check out excerpts from all of them in the summary video above. Yup, plenty of stuff for Doobie Bros./Steely Dan fans. And may I say that the secret sauce here is that splendid synthesis of the voices of Horigome and Yumiki?

The album peaked at No. 17 on Oricon. Now that I've gotten a lot of fun from "Ai wo aru dake, Subete", I would very much like to give Kirinji's latest album "Cherish" that came out late last year a try as well.

May 15, 2021: Because of some interesting developments over the past 12 hours that will be explained at the end of that article, we now have two articles on this album.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Ayumi Ishida -- Kyo kara Anata to(今日からあなたと)

The last time I wrote about singer-actress Ayumi Ishida(いしだあゆみ)was around a year ago when the article was on one of her more City Pop-oriented songs in 1977, "Roppongi Lullaby"(六本木ララバイ), in cooperation with Tin Pan Alley and her two tried-and-true songwriters, Jun Hashimoto and Kyohei Tsutsumi(橋本淳・筒美京平).

Well, that relationship among Ishida, Hashimoto and Tsutsumi can go all the way back to the late 1960s with that breakthrough hit, "Blue Light Yokohama"(ブルーライトヨコハマ). Several months after that release, the three of them worked together again on "Kyo kara Anata to" (From Today With You), which is a story of a woman happily in a relationship with the guy of her dreams.

Some similar sounds to "Blue Light Yokohama" here as well with those thumping drums, silky strings and of course Ishida's plaintive vocals. I think the only thing missing is the horns. "Kyo kara Anata to" didn't hit the top spot like "Blue Light Yokohama" did but it didn't too shabbily either as it went into the Top 10 to peak at No. 7.

I can easily see why she was quite the popular young lass about town.

Ayumi Shirota -- Koishikute(恋しくて)

Getting the information together for this article, I realized that Takashi Tsushimi(都志見隆)has been one of those relatively rare composers who have created melodies spanning everything from enka to City Pop. He's also done Mood Kayo and even helped one famous singer of that genre to cross over into pop.

Moreover, Tsushimi has also provided music for aidoru including Ayumi Shirota(白田あゆみ)who I had never heard of before. Shirota herself was born in 1970 in Itabashi Ward, Tokyo and was scouted through an idol-based magazine, Momoco, in the early 1980s. However,  nothing really developed for her until the latter half of the decade, when she finally released her debut single "Koishikute" (I Miss You) in September 1987.

"Koishikute" is that wistful aidoru song that was created by Tsushimi with lyrics by Hiroto Natsu*(夏裕人), and actually I like it because it goes over the border into straight pop. There's nothing especially treacly about "Koishikute" and even its arrangement reminds me of some of the works of Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美). Shirota's vocals also come off as sounding quite self-assured which is why it's a pity (mind you, I'm only judging from this one song) that her singing career was so short having ended at only 3 singles and 2 albums. There were no hits that came about from Shirota and she retired from show business in 1989.

*That first name gave me some fits about how to read it so I'm going with Hiroto for now but if anyone can either confirm or correct me, please let me know.