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.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Jitterin' Jinn -- Present(プレセント)

The last time that I wrote about the band Jitterin' Jinn(ジッタリンジン)was all the way back in 2013 with "Nichiyoubi"(にちようび).

And yet for all of the Jitterin' Jinn songs that I did cover back then, I had completely forgotten one that I should have remembered as one of their trademark tunes. Once again comes the Gibbs slap. "Present" was the band's 2nd single from Valentine's Day 1990, and I should have remembered it since I did see the original video on MTV Japan back in Gunma, and there were those repetitive lyrics all set to a melody that sounded like the nursery rhyme "Hush Little Baby".

The song, written and composed by JJ guitarist Jinta Hashi(破矢ジンタ, comes across as a spiteful kiss off to a suitor who wasn't all that he had claimed to be. After receiving all sorts of gifts including accessories and various forms of literature, the woman finds out that the heel already had another girlfriend on his arm. To be honest, when I first saw the video, I was starting to get a bit impatient at all of the presents that vocalist Reiko Harukawa(春川玲子)was singing out. Now it feels nostalgic with the recognizable jangly guitar pop that was a characteristic of the Jitterin' Jinn style.

"Present" was the first single by the band to get into the Top 10 by reaching No. 3 and it ended the year as the 41st-ranked single. It's also been included in Jitterin' Jinn's 2nd album "Hi-King" that placed in at No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and became the 18th-ranked album of the year.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Naomi Akimoto -- Bewitched

Can't quite remember which article I included this in, but I did make a "Bewitched" reference via the lovely Elizabeth Montgomery. I can say that my very early years had been spent watching episodes of the witch who just wanted to spend a grounded life with her darling Darrin, much to the chagrin of her mother Endora. Considering that I was born in 1965, it was the colour episodes that I got to know first but then later, I was able to see the very early shows in black and white.

That title has ingrained itself so much into my head as the representation of the one of the most remembered ABC sitcoms in my life that I couldn't help but think Samantha Stevens when I came across this song by Naomi Akimoto(秋本奈緒美)with the same title.

"Bewitched" is a track on her 3rd album "The 20th Anniversary" from December 1982, and Akimoto joins folks such as Yuko Asano(浅野ゆう子)and Jun Fubuki(風吹ジュン)as actresses whom I didn't know had past careers as singers. Yup, Akimoto is someone that I've known for her appearances in TV dramas, commercials and variety shows. But indeed, she started out as a jazz singer in that same year of 1982 according to her J-Wiki profile which makes me wonder whether "The 20th Anniversary" is mostly a jazz record. I say mostly because "Bewitched" is definitely in the City Pop vein of the body of Japanese pop music.

I had to use the Daemonskald method of tracking down photos of the actual record and was successful in finding out that Tomoko Aran(亜蘭知子)provided the lyrics while a fellow named Jim Reevs took care of the mellow melody. Nice touch especially with the harmonica; ever since I first heard Toots Thielemans on one of the tracks for the classic "The Dude" by Quincy Jones (which has the amazing "Ai no Corrida"), I've included the harmonica as one of the things that I like to hear for when it comes to 70s/80s urban contemporary on either side of the Pacific.

One other thought was that "The 20th Anniversary" was a pretty odd title for an album for Akimoto who was just starting out in the business. But apparently, the Nagano Prefecture native was only a few weeks away from her 20th birthday. Yup, she recorded a City Pop tune at the age of 19; not too shabby at all considering that she sounds quite mature. That must have been quite the tale she told at her seijinshiki: "Oh, and I've already recorded 3 albums!"

Hey, I managed to find a commercial with her.

Ah, what the heck. Here is "Velas" by Ivan Lins and performed by Toots. Enjoy the rest of your evening!

Miki Matsubara -- Safari Eyes/pas de deux

I've only known the manga and anime known as "Dirty Pair" just by reputation. My anime buddy never particularly regaled me with stories about these "trouble consultants" who actually leave more trouble rather than less, but I'm sure if I ask, he can give me some insights about Kei and Yuri. From what I've read, there was a movie about the ladies titled "Dirty Pair: Project Eden" released late in 1986, and the above seems to be the opening credits sequence sans credits. Pretty darn artistic.

The opening theme, "Safari Eyes" was provided by singer Miki Matsubara(松原みき)as her penultimate single in February 1987. Written by Akira Ohtsu(大津あきら)and composed by Tsunehiro Izumi(和泉常寛), I think it's a bit more on the power pop side than City Pop but it's hard to divorce Matsubara from her status as one of the more famous messengers of the latter genre. Besides, when I listen to "Safari Eyes", I can't help but think about some of the many tunes from "City Hunter" which got its anime version started up in the latter half of the 1980s.

Logically enough, the B-side for "Safari Eyes" was the ending theme to "Dirty Pair: Project Eden", "pas de deux". I think that the needle between 80s power pop and City Pop swings some more into the latter area in the beginning, and maybe even into Lexington Queen territory, but then by the end, it comes back into power pop. Anyways, it's swinging probably like many of those young folk in the various discos in Roppongi and Shinjuku back in those days....or I should say, nights. Natsumi Watanabe(渡辺なつみ)was the lyricist while Project M took care of the dazzling music with arrangement by Mitsuo Hagita(萩田光雄). Hey, maybe there is an extended remix of it somewhere?

And I assume the above includes the ending credits. I've always wondered who started up that girl swimming in a cocktail glass thing.

Stardust Revue -- Monologue

I just only discovered this one last night on YouTube, and I was left thinking, "OK, when did David Foster and Jay Graydon (aka the duo Airplay) have time to whip this one up?". But, they had nothing to do with "Monologue", a track from Stardust Revue's 2nd album, "Koyoi wa Modern Boy"(今宵はモダン・ボーイ...Tonight, I'm a Modern Boy), released in June 1982.

In fact, it wasn't even regular vocalist Kaname Nemoto(根本要), who you can see at the top there, behind vocals or songwriting. Actually, it was songwriter and keyboardist Yasuhiro Mitani(三谷泰弘) mainly at the mike performing "Monologue" which had me thinking of Airplay and a lot of the late Al Jarreau's AOR material from around the same time. It's that keyboard goodness that got me reminiscing.

That design cover of the album and the carefree pose by Mr. Tuxedo there, plus "Monologue" now has me thinking about investing some money now into "Koyoi wa Modern Boy". Could it be like Jarreau's classic 1981 "Breakin' Away"? I was also smitten enough by Mitani's later creation "Natsu no Jou"(夏の女王)to buy the source 1989 album, "In The Sun, In The Shade", so things look promising.

Off-Course -- Kikasete(きかせて)

It's a Friday afternoon...things are looking pretty sunny though still brisk out there (a high of -4 Celsius), and my work is done for the day. Perhaps, something quiet and contemplative yet cool to start off another stint on "Kayo Kyoku Plus".

Y'know, I listen to Off-Course's(オフコース)"Kikasete" (Let Me Know), and I get all sorts of Doobie Brothers balladry alarms going off in my head. It's the perfect afternoon old-style number by Kazumasa Oda(小田和正), who wrote and composed it, and the rest of the band.

As I've discovered over the years, Off-Course often delved into the sadder aspects of love while having them adorned with wonderful melodies. No difference here as Oda relates the story of a man who seems to be desperately hounding his ex-girlfriend over what happened to them. Perhaps he feels that there may be hope to salvage things although the hint is there that she's now with someone else; in any case, it probably won't end well.

Of course, it's Off-Course, so the mellowness is perfectly intact along with the Fender Rhodes and a harmonica, plus the background chorus. "Kikasete" was actually the final track on the band's 8th album "We Are" from November 1980, the same release with the hit "Yes-No".

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Shintaro Sakamoto -- Omoide ga Kiete Yuku(思い出が消えてゆく)

I heard a theory once some time back. Supposedly as one ages, he/she will only remember the more recent half of his/her life at whatever age with anything approaching clarity. Therefore, if the person is 40, then the time between 20 and 40 will still be in the old melon fairly clearly. At age 80, it may more be like the memories between 40 and 80 that are still pretty strong.

Not quite sure if I really believe in that theory too much since despite the alleged eventual fadeout of the ability to remember one's salad days, it seems to be a reach to think that the period of clear remembrances gets larger and larger as one gets older and older. Plus, although a lot of haziness has set in when it comes to my childhood years, I still retain my earliest memory of crawling on a wood floor at a family friend's house when I was 3, and of course, there are my just-as-if-it-were-yesterday memories of traveling through Japan in 1981 at 16.

Just the introduction to present before showing Shintaro Sakamoto's(坂本慎太郎)"Omoide ga Kiete Yuku" (My Memories Fade). Sakamoto is the former vocalist, guitarist and songwriter for the eclectic band Yura Yura Teikoku(ゆらゆら帝国)which had its run between 1989 and 2010. Once the band was done, Sakamoto went onto his solo career.

His first of three solo albums was "Maboroshi to no Tsukiai Kata"(幻とのつきあい方...How To Live With A Phantom)from November 2011. One of those tracks "Omoide ga Kiete Yuku" is a dreamy sing-songy number with a keyboard relentlessly counting time like a grandfather clock and a twangy guitar that seems to reflect some fellow's slow walk into his second childhood. In fact, he mentions children a fair bit in the song in a way as if he's trying to grasp at those blurry kids from his failing mind. By the end, Sakamoto is simply and forlornly calling out "Memories..." as they scatter like dust in a breeze. It's relaxing and haunting at the same time.

"Maboroshi to no Tsukiai Kata" reached No. 11 on Oricon and became the 79th-ranked album on the indies charts. If you like, you can also take a look at what he was doing with Yura Yura Teikoku here.

Ayako Fuji -- Futari Michi(ふたり道)

On another recent episode of "Uta Kon"(うたコン), I was able to hear Ayako Fuji(藤あや子)with a new enka number.

"Futari Michi" (A Couple's Path) is Fuji's 44th single from November 2019, and it details a woman's devotion to her significant other despite what highs and lows the path might bring. I realize that for a lot of folks who aren't crazy about enka, the various examples from this genre may sound all the same, and to be honest, the same grand strings, accordion and guitar populate "Futari Michi" as well. However for me, although I don't consider myself as much of an enka fan than I am an enthusiast for all things City Pop, I've become a fair bit more appreciative of the traditional genre when compared to my early years. As I've mentioned before, when I feel that I've heard enough of the synths and bass, coming across a classic (or a new) enka number acts as a refreshing tonic.

For some reason, the arrangement for this particular Fuji song has hit me like a good slug of Canada Dry tonic water. It conjures up those images of a bracing belt of cold air while stepping outside an old-fashioned Japanese house in the north country. Then again, if it is a Japanese house, it's pretty bracing inside as well (central heating is often a mere fantasy in the old countryside abodes).

A couple of interesting things about the making of "Futari Michi". The lyricist is someone by the name of Sai Kono(小野彩)which just happens to be the pseudonym of singer Fuji herself. Apparently, it's still rather rare for a female enka singer to write her own material. The other thing is that the composer was Tensho Nakamura(中村典正)who specialized in kayo including enka. He actually passed away last year in August at the age of 83, so "Futari Michi" was probably one of the very last creations by him.

Hana*Hana -- Sayonara Daisuki na Hito(さよなら大好きな人)

A couple of nights ago, "Uta Kon"(うたコン)was presenting its usual mix of kayo and J-Pop. Actor/singer Kenji Ishimaru(石丸乾二)and former Kome Kome Club(米米CLUB)lead vocalist Tatsuya Ishii(石井竜也)started things off with their rendition of the beloved classic "Mata Au Hi Made" (また逢う日まで)on the grand stage in Osaka, but I was surprised to hear very little applause when they finished up. I mean, I got those "Thanks for that great round of indifference!" vibes.

But it wasn't that the audience was in a foul mood. There was simply no audience! Due to the government announcement earlier in the day that cultural events and sports activities were to not have any audiences to help contain the spread of COVID-19, "Uta Kon" took on a slightly more somber air as NHK followed the new protocol. It was basically a grander version of "Music Fair".

Although it was a good idea to value safety over entertainment, perhaps there were quite a few Hana*Hana(花*花)fans who would have enjoyed seeing and hearing the duo perform for the first time on "Uta Kon".

Several months ago, my memory brought back Hana*Hana through their big hit "Aah, Yokatta" (あ~よかった)which was released in July 2000. Later in October, Izumi Kojima(こじまいづみ)and Makiko Ono(おのまきこ)introduced another single "Sayonara Daisuki na Hito" (Goodbye to the One I Love), a song that has become the ballad for farewells of any type. Originally, though, Kojima created the song as a tribute to her grandfather who had passed away when she was only 16, according to the J-Wiki article and the brief talk on "Uta Kon".

"Sayonara Daisuki na Hito" became Hana*Hana's biggest hit when it reached No. 6 on Oricon, eventually becoming the 62nd-ranked single for 2001. It's also included on the duo's 2nd album "2souls" which peaked at No. 2.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ayumi Hamasaki -- appears

For me, one of the most famous scenes of Ayumi Hamasaki(浜崎あゆみ)in her music videos is where she's strutting towards the camera in various types of dress. Not sure where the video was filmed, though. Perhaps it was somewhere in New York City (certainly those night shots provided some confirmation). Probably the reason for that image sticking in my mind all these years was that the song was another big hit for her.

The video was for her 11th single "appears" from November 1999, and perhaps that title was a shorthand for the famous proverb, "Everything is not as it appears". Hamasaki's lyrics hint at observations of various couples walking hand-in-hand and wondering if everything is really OK with the relationship. My take was that the protagonist was making those observations while contemplating her not-so-happy recent experiences at love. Also, those many"guises" that Ayu puts on had me wondering whether the lady had to take on a variety of different incarnations to please her boyfriends over the years.

From the urgent melody provided by Kazuhito Kikuchi(菊池一仁), when I listened to "appears", I had assumed that the song was used for some TV suspense, but the only tie-up here was as a commercial song for a cosmetic. The song reached No. 2 on Oricon and became the 81st-ranked single for 1999. It was also a track on Hamasaki's 2nd original album "LOVEppears" which came out at the same time as "appears" and hit No. 1 for 3 weeks running. By the time the year was up, it had already become the 15th-ranked album, and then by the end of 2000, "LOVEppears" even upped its standing to No. 14. Currently, it is the No. 40 album on Oricon's list of all-time albums.

Saki Kubota -- Orange Air Mail Special(オレンジ・エアメール・スペシャル)

It's been a good long while since I've written about singer-songwriter Saki Kubota(久保田早紀)who is now known under her real name of Sayuri Kume(久米小百合).

Actually, I saw a recent segment from some morning wide show presented on YouTube which featured Kubota, and so that reminder along with the fact that it's another Hump Day today (got a snowstorm coming in later this afternoon which is "perfect" for a Hump Day) had me make the choice to put this one up.

"Orange Air Mail Special" is Kubota's 4th single from April 1981, and though it isn't quite on the same level as her iconic "Ihojin"(異邦人), it's a thriving injection of musical Vitamin C. Plus, there's plenty to get nostalgic about here with those shimmering strings and wailing guitar which characterized many a dynamic Japanese pop song back then. Just the overall feel of "Orange Air Mail Special", which describes someone's encouragement of a friend to get out of the blues, had me thinking of some of the tunes by Queen and Electric Light Orchestra.

With Kubota composing the music, Keisuke Yamakawa(山川啓介)wrote the lyrics. You can take a look below at the segment that I just mentioned.

(Sorry but the video has been taken down.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

All-Points Bulletin -- Name This Tune

Typing this up before I hit the hay for tonight, but earlier this morning, I received a request about trying to identify the source song and singer for this Vaporwave tune called "Come Over the Night" by Android Apartment. The album "The Stars Through Your Eyes" which has this track was apparently released in 2019 (I do like the cover).

I probably wouldn't expect Android Apartment to divulge the sources due to the usual copyright headaches. But from listening to it, the original song does sound rather 1980s and the singer sounds like Mari Iijima(飯島真理)of Lynn Minmay fame. However, that's all I can come up. So if any of you folks out there might be able to identify the original song and singer, let us all know.

December 6th 2020: As you can see from the comments below, the source song was quickly found as Yuko Tomita's(富田裕子)"Naze..."(何故...Why?)from her 4th album "Shampoo" (1983).


Hiromi Go -- Hiromi-kyo no Hanzai(比呂魅卿の犯罪)

Ironic when I consider it. I've known Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ)since 1981 when I first really got into kayo kyoku due to his dynamic appearance as the young man about town on that year's Kohaku Utagassen performing "Oyome Samba"(お嫁サンバ). He's done quite a few more appearances on the NHK special since then, and he was a fairly regular presence on the CHIN-FM radio show "Sounds of Japan" with his hits. But this month, when I got his April 1983 album "Hiromi-kyo no Hanzai", this was actually the very first Go album that I ever purchased in my life after close to 40 years listening to kayo and J-Pop. I had been expecting to get a BEST compilation as my first purchase but never got around to it, so it was pretty special to get this particular original album.

Doing the blog over the past 8 years, I realized that despite his very uptempo material that he provided on the Kohaku and other music shows during the 1980s, he was also exploring some other genres, most notably City Pop. Come to think of it, though, he would have been a natural fit for the Japanese amalgam of Latin, soul, disco and other urban contemporary-themed tunes since coming out from his aidoru 1970s, his music as a young man of the 1980s tended to go that way.

But what got me to buy "Hiromi-kyo no Hanzai"? Well, it was that City Pop-themed "Kimi no Na wa Psycho"(君の名はサイコ)from the album, and there was something about that rather dramatic album cover which made young Go truly look like some court noble of intrigue.

Then I heard the title track on YouTube. "Hiromi-kyo no Hanzai" starts off with what sounds like a first scene from a film noir threatening to go into a lot of flashbacks as Hiromi very haltingly but coolly describes his presumably guilty partner-in-crime, a mystery woman who has flown the coop leaving poor Hiromi in the interrogation room. Mind you, he doesn't sound too panicky with the third degree on him.

Following that comes the music...and it soars. No sign of any street-level 1940s jazz. Instead the frenetic soundscape conjures up images of a Jetsons-style saucer flying through the spires of a future utopian city but with perhaps that level of Mickey Spillane suspense following it and perhaps Go inside. So, suddenly we've got three different settings here: 1) the cover for the album which, by the way, means "Lord Hiromi's Crime" with the image of court intrigue, 2) the film noir narration by him at the intro and in the middle, and 3) that future utopia.

Yup, "Hiromi-kyo no Hanzai" the opening track has really done a number on me. And as it turns out, Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)was the person behind the sound production. In fact, The Professor's bandmates from Yellow Magic Orchestra were helping out with Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)on bass and Yukihiro Takahashi(高橋幸宏)on drums. Immediately, I started wondering whether this album was a cousin of sorts to Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)comeback release of sorts "Romantique" from 1980. The guys from YMO were on hand to help her, too. With "Romantique", I remember reading either the liner notes or the information on J-Wiki and Ohnuki saying that she really didn't want to have "Romantique" sounding simply like a YMO album featuring her. And it wasn't...the synthpop was definitely in there, especially in its opening track "Carnaval", but Ohnuki was most definitely calling the shots with the creation of the songs.

Not sure what the circumstances were with YMO and Go when this project was launched. I haven't known the latter to write his own songs (although the final track on the original release was indeed created by him), and as I said, "Hiromi-kyo no Hanzai" is my first Go purchase, so I can't make any comparisons about the overall sound for this album. But I do figure that Sakamoto's distinct sound is imbued into this one, just like it was for "Romantique".

Indeed, Sakamoto composed the title track and Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき)was behind the lyrics about the mystery woman enticing Go into her web and then taking off. In a way, the story reminds me of the original "The Thomas Crown Affair" with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, except that the roles are reversed. Considering how much I've already written on this one track, it and "Kimi no Na wa Psycho" finally had me pulling the trigger on my money.

Making another comparison with Ohnuki, both "Romantique" and the preceding album "Mignonne" were not total immediate hits with me. It took some time for me to embrace all the tracks but I eventually got there. I'm hoping that this will be the case here since I'm not completely on board with all of the songs on "Hiromi-kyo" just yet.

Case in point: "Ai no Kuuchuu Buranko"(愛の空中ブランコ...Mid-Air Swing of Love)which was composed by Sakamoto and written by Shigesato Itoi(糸井重里). When I listened to this one for the first time, I kinda twisted my face since I wasn't sure whether they and Go were aiming for a really dramatic polka as a tango. However, Itoi's lyrics also speak of some sort of spy activity, perhaps a dead drop. All in all, though, the song is starting to grow on me, and the interesting thing is that Jake H. Concepcion is on the clarinet this instead of his saxophone!

"Bibou no Miyako"(美貌の都...City of Beauty) just happens to be Go's 45th single released in March 1983. The album version has that air of mystery as if the story were taking place in a postwar European city. There's a lot of class and honour among the spies but when something has got to be done, the weaponry will come out...but have at least a glass of the finest champagne. And yet, Sakamoto has arranged it so that there's that sort of techno-jazz along similar lines as Kazuhiro Nishimatsu's(西松一博)"Bouekifu Monogatari"(貿易風物語). Nakajima provided lyrics for Kyohei Tsutsumi's(筒美京平)melody. The original single peaked at No. 18.

"Muchuu"(夢中...I'm Into You) is a creative collaboration between Sakamoto and the late rocker Kiyoshiro Imawano(忌野清志郎), and it sounds like something that Imawano would handle even better than Go. I can get the New Wave feeling from it as Go plays a sleazy Lothario putting his sights on his next target. Maybe there's even a bit of Elvis Costello?

As I mentioned earlier, Go did write and compose the original final track on "Hiromi-kyo", "Dakara Spectacle"(だからスペクタクル...So It's Spectacular) which begins like something almost Vangelis in its dreamy and haunting intro, but then it progresses into some cool City Pop funk as the singer invites his potential partner for a more exciting life. From the arrangement, I'd say that there will be a fast car and rich food involved. Not too bad, Hiromi.

Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)wrote and composed "Mainichi Boku wo Aishite"(毎日僕を愛して...Love Me Everyday), a happy-go-lucky number about once again going after that young lady. From those bright and bouncy opening bars, I could feel that this is indeed a Yano creation...and she does come in at the end to back up Go. But at one point, it almost crosses the border into Steely Dan territory.

The last song that I will put up here is the single version of "Bibou no Miyako" which, for the lack of a better word, sounds more kayo without the Sakamoto influence. I think it's those fast strings. And the original even has an accordion for more of that French effect.

My overall impression of "Hiromi-kyo no Hanzai" is that all of these bigwigs in the Japanese music industry got together to craft an album that seemed to fit the Hiromi esthetic: the young and cocky bon vivant who's searching for love everywhere and usually finds it. In addition to the people that I've already mentioned, Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利), Tsuyoshi Kon(今剛)and Masaki Matsubara(松原正樹)also contributed their instruments to the cause. But when it comes right down to it, I did get the album because I saw that headline in my head: "YMO and Go work together!"

Monday, February 24, 2020

Carlos Toshiki & Omega Tribe feat. Joey McCoy -- Reiko

Last night, I got to hear Rocket Brown's latest podcast of "Come Along Radio" in tribute to Black History Month, and one new song that I heard was "Reiko" by the 1988 incarnation of Omega Tribe, known as Carlos Toshiki & Omega Tribeカルロス・トシキ&オメガトライブ).

The one thing that got to me immediately and was also noted by Rocket and his special guest, The Afrocentric Jukeboxx (I hope that I got the name right) was how much of Earth Wind & Fire's "Let's Groove" was in the intro. Anything EW&F has my undivided attention. The other thing about "Reiko", which was released in November 1988, is that it wasn't Toshiki behind the mike this time, but Joey McCoy who up until July of that year had been helping the band out on backing vocals until he was finally made an official part of Omega Tribe, according to the history of the band on J-Wiki. Furthermore, going back to the intro, the "bao, bao, bao" vocal effects reminded me of what would become the launch into "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson and featuring Bruno Mars, one of my favourite recent songs.

"Reiko" has got a lot going for her with the dynamic horns and those classy strings which remind me of both the disco days and late 1980s City Pop. It rather mixes uptown and downtown nicely. The single was the 3rd under the band's name of Carlos Toshiki, with Chinfa Kan(康珍化)coming up with the Japanese lyrics while Tsunehiro Izumi(和泉常寛)& Hiroshi Shinkawa(新川博composed the melody. Shinkawa and Jerry Hey also worked on arrangement, and of course, Hey is the horn man.

On the same day that the single came out, a 12-inch single with the English and Japanese versions was also released. With the English version (lyrics by Michael Mcfadden), the EW&F/"Uptown Funk" vocal effects were taken out there but then going deeper into the intro, an old Omega Tribe-esque sound came through because of Toshiki's background chorus. However, the "bao bao bao" could be heard briefly in the middle of the song before the arrangement of the original single popped up once more.

I like both versions but feel free to make your preferences. The original "Reiko" peaked at No. 15 on Oricon while the 12-inch single only hit as high as No. 78.

Denki Groove & Yoshiko Goshima -- Niji(虹)

Adorned by those groovy propulsive beats and the rest of the synthpop accessories is this sweet tune regarding rainbows. This was Denki Groove's(電気グルーヴ)6th single, "Niji" (Rainbow) from April 1995 sung by band leader Takkyu Ishino(石野卓球)and singer-songwriter Yoshiko Goshima(五島良子). I didn't quite have time to track down the original less-than-5-minutes single but I think the above live performance by everyone will suffice.

The single, written and composed by Ishino, peaked at No. 27 on Oricon, and also became a part of Denki Groove's "Dragon", their 5th original album released in December 1994. The album went all the way to No. 13 on the charts with the album version of "Niji" clocking in at a little under 11 minutes. Rather contemplative. I really feel like chasing rainbows at supersonic speed...and having some Skittles.

Never saw the 2005 anime "Eureka Seven" although from reading some of the information on Wikipedia, it sounds quite interesting and involved. I'll have to ask my friend about that. Anyways, "Niji" was used as an insert song for Episode 50, and apparently that left quite the impression on viewers.

There are quite a few remix versions of "Niji" but I have to admit that I like this 1999 version by Paul van Dyk the best. Maybe Monday may not be the most optimal of dance nights but if you've got plenty of floor space wherever you are, feel free to cut a rug.

Jiro Atsumi -- Yume Oi Zake(夢追い酒)

Enka still never fails to throw me a melody that I realize that I haven't heard in ages, and yet it's still so familiar.

The Top 10 singles of 1979 included Judy Ongg's exotic kayo anthem of "Miserarete"(魅せられて)at No. 2, Sachiko Kobayashi's(小林幸子)enka comeback hit "Omoide Zake"(おもいで酒)and Hideki Saijo's(西城秀樹)immortal cover of "YMCA" under the title of "Young Man"(ヤングマン)at No. 7. However, the No. 1 single of the year was another enka song, "Yume Oi Zake" (Dream-Chasing Drinking) by Jiro Atsumi(渥美二郎).

Noelle introduced Atsumi onto the blog through his 1983 hit "Busan Ko e Kaere"(釜山港へ帰れ), a song that I heard quite often in karaoke, both during my university days here and also in the karaoke boxes of Gunma and Tokyo over the decades. But strangely enough, I don't think that I ever heard "Yume Oi Zake" all that often sung by friends or other amateur warblers for some reason.

And yet, that gentle melody by Minoru Endo(遠藤実)struck me as a most comforting enka presence although Eiichi Hoshino's(星野栄一)lyrics relate a fellow at his local watering hole drowning his sorrows in drink due to being dumped. I gather that from the arrangement by Michiyasu Tadano(只野通泰), it's a most beautiful and Japanese way to suffer from romantic heartbreak, although one's liver may disagree vehemently. As for the meaning of the title, now that the protagonist with his head on the bar is no longer attached, he's free to follow his other dreams despite the possibility that they may seem much smaller now that the biggest one has flown the coop.

Released as Atsumi's 5th single in February 1978, "Yume Oi Zake" started off rather slowly in sales but the singer's dogged promotion throughout the nation over the next several months started to pay off although the single finished in 91st place at the end of the year. But going into 1979, sales really launched to the point that it finally hit its top spot of No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies, and Atsumi even won the Long-Seller Prize at the Japan Record Awards. By the end of 1979, it was the No. 1 single and as such, NHK invited him to sing at the Kohaku Utagassen that year for his lone appearance. Even at the end of 1980, "Yume Oi Zake" ranked in at No. 68. All in all, his most famous song sold approximately 2.8 million records.

As for Atsumi, he was born in 1952 in Tokyo's Adachi Ward and made his debut in 1975, initially under his real name of Toshio Atsumi(渥美敏夫). Up until 2017, he has released 40 singles but only 1 original album. Noelle did mention that he had suffered from cancer in the late 1980s but he has since recovered fully.

Nao Toyama -- Aruite Ikou!(歩いていこう!)/Minori Suzuki -- Yozora(夜空)

One of the other anime for Winter 2020 that I've been watching is "Koi Suru Asteroid"(恋する小惑星...Asteroid In Love). It's another in the line of "Manga Time Kirara Charat" to be adapted into animated form, and basically my understanding now with anything having to do with Kirara is that it will be a very soft and fluffy slice-of-life show. For example, one other anime that was adapted from the same manga company is "Machikado Mazoku"(まちカドまぞく). So I would say that the likelihood of eye gouging and sexually compromising positions is zero, if not in minus territory.

Something that I've learned from anime viewing at my friend's house is that it's best, though, not to watch a Kirara anime right after coming back from lunch. Digesting a large meal and a show like "Koi Suru Asteroid" don't mix well since the latter is so pleasant and mellow that a viewer can easily head off to La-La Land because of the former. Indeed, that is what happened to me with the first couple of episodes of this particular show (and certain episodes of "Machikado Mazoku") about high school girls getting interested in astronomy and geology. I found that catching the last three episodes was a whole lot more easier later in the afternoon, especially when getting that sugar rush from eating a Tim Horton's donut while downing a Double-Double.

Not surprisingly, the opening and ending themes for "Koi Suru Asteroid" fit very well due to their gentle arrangement. The opener, "Aruite Ikou!" (Let's Go There on Foot!) performed by one of the seiyuu in the show, Nao Toyama(東山奈央), has got that down-home violin and sparkly piano. The song picks up some speed along the way but its tempo is such that it's still more analogous to an excited exploratory stride through a new town. Singer-songwriter Ai Kawashima(川嶋あい)took care of words and music here.

The ending theme, "Yozora" (Night Sky) is sung by Minori Suzuki(鈴木みのり)and has a similar tone to "Aruite Ikou!" but perhaps with a bit more epicness, perhaps in reflection of viewing that vast night sky from the title. Sawa Nakamura(中村砂羽)and h-wonder were responsible for the lyrics and music here respectively. "Yozora" was released as Suzuki's 4th single almost 2 weeks ago. For that matter, "Aruite Ikou!" was also the 4th single for Toyama from almost 3 weeks ago.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the right scenes on YouTube, but for one episode, the girls are in the traditional Koedo district of Kawagoe City in Saitama Prefecture. If memory serves, I believe that it was the one where a couple of them are helping out in their buddy's bakery. I certainly recognized the neighbourhood since I visited that same area back in late 2017 with one of my former students, and one scene even had a shot of Toki no Kane or the Time Bell Tower as you can see below.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Southern All Stars -- LOVE AFFAIR ~ Himitsu no Date(秘密のデート)

Another one from my memories of living in Japan in the late 1990s, it's good ol' Southern All Stars(サザンオールスターズ)with a typically summery hit.

Keisuke Kuwata(桑田佳祐)and the gang came up with their 41st single in February 1998 (hardly summer in timing but summery in execution), "LOVE AFFAIR ~ Himitsu no Date" (Secret Date), a joyful jangly guitar song about having those illicit trysts. There's also something rather reminiscent about the 1960s when I hear it. According to the description in J-Wiki, Kuwata's lyrics match up with the various date spots shown in the TBS drama "Sweet Season" for which "LOVE AFFAIR" was the theme song. Those spots apparently include Yokohama's Daikoku Wharf(大黒埠頭).

"LOVE AFFAIR" was also used as a commercial tune for Mitsuya Cider, and indeed, it was another hit for Southern All Stars as it went Platinum, reaching No. 4 on Oricon. It also finished 1998 as the 39th-ranked single. The song also showed up in "Sakura"(さくら), the band's 13th album from October in the same year which spent 2 weeks straight at No. 1 and quickly became 1998's 32nd-ranked album, going Triple Platinum.

Junko Ohashi -- Itsumo(いつも)

Another weekend is coming to a close here in the Eastern Standard Time zone, and it was a nice balmy day. Good to spend the day with old friends today at a pub that's becoming more and more OUR pub because of the frequency of our visits. The Bishop & Belcher downtown has plenty of good fare and certainly the food can make some of us become that second name quite easily.😋

The song for this article had me thinking about another Junko Ohashi(大橋純子)tune that was composed by her husband, Ken Sato(佐藤健). "Nemurenai Diamond"(眠れないダイヤモンド)from 1988 for me is the quintessential City Pop number for the late 1980s with that arrangement of a champagne-and-caviar night out in the megalopolis during Bubble Era Japan. A fun time is to be had in either Ginza or Akasaka when listening to this one.

Some 14 years previous to the above though, Ohashi sang a tune that was both written and composed by Sato titled "Itsumo" (Always) from her June 1974 album "Feeling Now" (and in fact, this is probably the earliest song that I've done from her long discography). "Itsumo" has a much more humbler, more wistful and more soulful arrangement, and listening to it, there's that sensation of walking home at sunset either in Tokyo or New York City. Another day of hard work is done, so it's Miller Time! Perhaps it can also herald the leadup to a get-together with the guys for a drink in the pub, much like what happened with my group today.

The poignant feeling of "Itsumo" also has me thinking about how Ohashi has been doing over the past couple of years since getting that cancer diagnosis back in 2018. I hope that she's on the mend.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Sario Kijima -- Positive de Ikou(Positiveで行こう)

How's the weekend for everyone out there? Not too bad here...not too cold, relatively speaking and the sun is definitely out.

I recall writing about a song by Sario Kijima(貴島サリオ)titled "Watashi kara Kiss"(私からキス), her 1995 7th single, back in June 2018. From her J-Wiki file, it seems as if the singer-songwriter didn't exactly set the music world on fire, and "Watashi kara Kiss" only rose up to No. 76 on Oricon, but it is a nice sunny song to listen to.

My opinion also holds true for her earlier 3rd single, "Positive de Ikou" (Let's Go Positive) from July 1993. It did even more poorly, only peaking at No. 196, but true to its title, it's a happy-happy number that was written and composed by Kohmi Hirose(広瀬香美), and through Kijima, it indeed sounds like a supremely cheerful Hirose song. Kijima doesn't quite have the super-elastic range that her songwriter does, but dang it, she still reaches for those high notes like a trouper, getting those really nose-bleeder ones just when the song fades out at the end.

AI Hibari Misora -- Arekara(あれから)

For the 2019 Kohaku Utagassen last year, one of the most anticipated segments on NHK's annual New Year's Eve special was the "return" of the legendary kayo kyoku singer Hibari Misora(美空ひばり), who had passed away in 1989 at the age of 52, through the assistance of computer technology. There was a CG-represented Misora on the Shibuya stage with her voice created from Vocaloid technology and a wealth of voice samples via her huge discography to sing a totally new song, "Arekara" (Since Then).

From what I've read online through YouTube and one article regarding the Kohaku appearance and the earlier debut of AI Hibari Misora last September has been mixed, to say the least. I've seen comments rejoicing this return with many people admitting that they cried a good bucket of tears on hearing the song and seeing her. On the other hand, there were people who criticized the finished rendition of Misora and the song. Even Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)gave his own very blunt opinion, calling the Kohaku performance and the use of the technology in this manner "Blasphemy!".

My take on it? I was only half-impressed with the execution. The CG did look pretty clunky considering all of the hype surrounding the creation (I'm only half-joking when I say that I had been expecting something along the lines of "Star Trek" holographic characters). One YouTube commenter compared it to PlayStation 2-age characters, and sure enough, I also thought that it seemed more like a computer-designed figure created circa 2000 which was when the PS2 came out.

However, the aspect that I found intriguing and far more successful was the creation of Misora's voice. Dyed-in-the-wool fans may take issue with how her voice was emulated in the computer, but I thought it was pretty authentic and nothing sounding like Miku Hatsune(初音ミク)singing like Misora. I realize that this obviously isn't the real person herself, but listening to "Arekara", I could pick up on that familiar voice which enthralled people from the late 1940s to the late 1980s. Strangely, I didn't think that her performance was devoid of soul; that Misora warmth did come out. Listening to it a few times now, yep, perhaps I can pick out certain points where the Vocaloid was peeking through, but picking through it like that is kinda like me spending an hour doing a taste comparison between real butter and "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!" spread. And I do love moderation!

Ultimately, I think that how the voice came out is the main thrust. The creation of the not-so-great physical Misora character was just there so that the audience didn't have only beloved photos of the singer flashing on the screen as "Arekara" was playing.

Following the Kohaku performance, I started thinking about the benefits and implications on what had been attained with the near-perfect creation of the voice of a long-dead singer. Could that mean now that software exists to pull this off, will there be new songs by a "resurrected" Misora being released in shops or online? If so, who would be making profits? Would the software maker or the songwriter be getting the majority of the money? Would the estate of the original singer get a cut as well? Moreover, what if an unscrupulous entity steals the software with the ability to emulate any singer's voice authentically without permission? Using Misora's voice as an example, would that person end up uploading videos or music files with the kayo kyoku legend singing profanity-laced lyrics in a genre far from enka or even saying things that would end up demeaning Misora? I think that might be the issue that Yamashita was hinting at in his opinion. He certainly doesn't want an AI version of himself gallivanting away after he's gone, but how would other singers feel?

As for "Arekara", the single came out last December. The song is very reminiscent of Misora's swan song hit from 1989, "Kawa no Nagare no you ni"(川の流れのように), and its delivery sounds as if the lady herself came back to Earth to greet and give thanks to the fans once more. Lyricist Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康)and composer Yoshinori Sato(佐藤嘉風)did a good job at creating this very late-age Misora addition to her discography, although I'm not certain how well "Arekara" did on the charts.

Thrilled? Disturbed? Oblivious? Whatever the reaction, I think this Pandora's Box is now fully open. Will it be possible to hear an AI Yukiko Okada(岡田有希子)or an AI Yutaka Ozaki(尾崎豊)with new material in the next five to ten years?

Friday, February 21, 2020

Toshiki Kadomatsu & Yurie Kokubu -- It's Hard to Say Good-bye

I've put up quite a few articles tonight but none of them thus far has been a City Pop number, and it's a Friday. So, I gotta finish things up with something appropriate.

Folks, I may have indeed found the right tune to end another work week here with the ideal City Pop/AOR duet. May I introduce Toshiki Kadomatsu & Yurie Kokubu(角松敏生・国分友里恵)and "It's Hard to Say Good-bye"? The Japanese title happens to be "Sayonara wa Ai no Kotoba"(さよならは愛の言葉...Good-bye is a Word of Love).

Written and composed by Kadomatsu with brass arrangement by Jun Sato (佐藤準...also on keyboards), this was one of the two songs on Side B of the City Pop master's first 12-inch single "Do You Wanna Dance?" from October 1983. Everything is there for a Kadomatsu love ballad: the heartfully soulful vocals, the mellow horns and the elegant keyboard...ahh, and I shouldn't forget the sax by Jake H. Concepcion! But it does start out with some surprisingly tender strings that made me initially wonder if things were going in a different direction. However, when I heard that horn come in, I was reassured that it was truly another Kadomatsu ballad. Nurse that relaxing cup of coffee or glass of cocktail.

Have a good weekend!

Yuki Kato -- Nazo wa To-ka-na-i-de(謎はと・か・な・い・で)

Some months ago, I wrote about one of the more obscure 80s singers that I've crossed paths with on this blog.

Yuki Kato(加藤有紀)is her name and I'd thought that City Pop was her game according to her song "Gokai"(誤解)which was the B-side to her 2nd single, "Nazo wa To-ka-na-i-de" (Don't Solve The Mystery) from June 1983. However, listening to the A-side a couple of times now, I've realized that it is of a completely different musical nature. Flitting among New Wave, ska and circus pop, "Nazo wa To-ka-na-i-de", it just possesses this fun and flighty nature that seems to emulate an afternoon out in the more bohemian parts of town with Cyndi Lauper.

As with "Gokai", Machiko Ryu(竜真知子)was the lyricist but this time, Daisuke Inoue(井上大輔)was behind the hippy-dippy music.

Toshiyuki Daitoku -- Skifflin'

According to The Free Dictionary: skiffling refers to a preliminary process in stonecutting where projections and knobs beyond the required dimensions of the stone are knocked off.

So I kinda wondered for a few minutes about how that word would apply to jazz pianist Toshiyuki Daitoku's(大徳俊幸)2nd album "Skifflin'" from 1981, and then I surmised from the album cover that you see in the video thumbnail above, perhaps the title may be referring to the natural process of the ocean smoothing off the rough edges of any stones over thousands of years. Perhaps it may even be analogous to how Daitoku shapes his music.

Well, I gotta admit that the title track from "Skifflin'" is indeed smooth as Daitoku glides over those black and white keys like a pro surfer over a massive wave. And indeed, this is a nice number for summer listening...or winter listening when one wishes that it were summer, which would probably apply to just about everybody in Toronto.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a whole lot of information on Daitoku but he was born in Tokyo in 1948 and graduated from Seikei University where he had begun his career. He's participated as a member in a number of jazz groups such as the George Otsuka Quintet, and released his first album as the leader of his own outfit in 1976, "Snapdragon". I'm not sure how active he has been currently, but apparently he is providing jazz piano lessons via Yamaha Music.

Yuki Saito -- AXIA (Album)

I wasn't intending on writing about her entire album tonight. Actually, I was just going to write about Yuki Saito's(斉藤由貴)"Finale no Kaze" since that was in my backlog, but then I realized that I hadn't even written about one of her trademark songs, "Shiroi Honoo"(白い炎)at all. Therefore, I gather that I will be giving myself the second Gibbs slap for today. It turns out that both songs come from her debut album "AXIA" which contains the title tune and another hit for her, "Sotsugyo"(卒業).

Well, let's cover at least some of "AXIA" which was released in June 1985.

So, why don't we begin with "Shiroi Honoo" (White Flame), her 2nd single from May of that year, and compared to her innocent debut single, the aforementioned "Sotsugyo", "Shiroi Honoo" has more dramatic heft as the young lady in Yukinojo Mori's(森雪之丞)lyrics goes into despair mode about seeing the man that she's in love with dating another woman. Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)of Anzen Chitai(安全地帯)composed the music which begins perhaps a bit off-tune for that sinister effect. Plus the other aspect that I think made "Shiroi Honoo" a standout was the refrain where Saito echoes the lady's self-flagellating questions about whether she's being a fool for wringing her hands for a guy.

The song was also the theme tune for the famous school action drama "Sukeban Deka"(スケバン刑事)when Saito had a starring role as Saki Asamiya. Some years ago, my good friend JTM wrote an extensive article on the show, so give that a look when you can. "Shiroi Honoo" reached No. 5 on Oricon.

Also on the B-side of "Shiroi Honoo" and on "AXIA" is "Shabon Iro no Natsu"(石鹼色の夏..Soap Bubble Summer). It's also the flip side in terms of tone as creamy-voiced Saito wishes that she were a bubble so that she can get closer to her love target without him noticing since she's the shy type. I'd say that it's a pretty huggable number. Mori also provided the lyrics here but the composer for this one was Toshio Kamei(亀井登志夫)from the City Pop band NASA.

The one other song that I wanted to cover from "AXIA" and as mentioned above, the song that I was supposed to have covered on its lonesome is the track "Finale no Kaze"(フィナーレの風...Finale Wind), another ballad about romantic tribulations. This one isn't quite as dramatic as "Shiroi Honoo" but it's got quite the jaunty beat and a nice bluesy sax to give it that urban contemporary feeling. Fuyuko Moroboshi(諸星冬子)and Shigeru Amano(天野滋)were responsible for words and music here.

"AXIA" the album was a hit with listeners as it peaked at No. 3 on the charts, and it ended up as the 29th-ranked release for 1985.

Tsukasa Ito -- Kanashimi wo Uketomete(悲しみをうけとめて)

Gonna have to Gibbs slap myself up the head once more since in all these years writing on the blog, I had never included Tsukasa Ito(伊藤つかさ). And yet, this is a name that I've seen several times on YouTube and other sources since starting "Kayo Kyoku Plus" back in 2012.

It's not as if Ito was ever a music superstar. In fact, she began her show business career in the early 1970s as a child actress way before she got in front of the recording booth mike in 1981 as an aidoru. Still, I've seen her name several times on YouTube so I had thought that something was already up on the blog about her. Regrettably, that hasn't been the case until now.

On her J-Wiki file, she's listed in the introduction as actress with no hint of her being a singer. However, this Tokyo-born celebrity was releasing records during her teens up to the mid-1980s, and one of her albums was the December 1984 "Osusume!"(オススメ!)and the track du article is "Kanashimi wo Uketomete" (Accepting the Sadness).

I can't remember the other songs that I've heard by Ito but from listening to "Kanashimi wo Uketomete", the aidoru label fits her pretty well since her voice tends to waver quite a bit during the refrain of this particular song. The actual arrangement is more interesting since overall it has that shiny and metallic synthesizer rhythm joined at the beginning, middle and end by a lonely Maynard Ferguson-esque trumpet. I'm not sure whether I've heard such a combination before in a kayo. In any case, Yuuho Iwasato(岩里祐穂)was the lyricist while Yukihide Takekawa(タケカワユキヒデ)of Godiego(ゴダイゴ)fame provided the music.

Actually, what finally got me to write about Ito was one of the City Pop channels that was playing another track from "Osusume!" titled "Henne"(へんネ!...Strange, Eh!). Like "Kanashimi wo Uketomete", there was also that hint of synthpop in there which has made me wonder whether she was going the techno aidoru route on this album. I actually do like the album cover.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

D-51 -- No More Cry

Yes, it's a heck of a thumbnail that I put up there with Mr. Spock from "Star Trek" about to mind meld with the Horta in the first season episode "The Devil in the Dark". The scene also contains the rock-boring creature desperately etching out "NO KILL I" which has Captain Kirk and his Vulcan science officer wondering whether she's pleading not to be killed or she's stating that she will not kill.

The reason for all that Trekkie lore? The phrase reminds me of a song title by a band that I had completely forgotten about. I was reminded of this song on a recent episode of NHK's educational variety show "Gatten" which dealt with how to improve the activity of your cerebellum (really). Suddenly the tune "No More Cry" started playing in the background as folks began celebrating the fact that those special exercises for their cerebellum paid off in spades.

Well, "No More Cry" is quite a celebratory tune by the Okinawan duo D-51 (pronounced D Go-Ichi) consisting of YU and YASU right from the get-go. Released in February 2005 as their 3rd single, it's certainly a happy, up-with-people sort of number with that slight disco beat...would be good as a music companion on a Bullet Train ride. It was the theme song for the second series of "Gokusen"(ごくせん), based on the manga about a granddaughter of a yakuza don who becomes a high school teacher for a bunch of rowdies. I've seen some scenes for it with the granddaughter showing off her own toughness while dressed in a red-and-white tracksuit.

Written by YASU, under his real name of Yasuhide Yoshida(吉田安英), and composed by singer-songwriter Akira Ikuma(生熊朗), "No More Cry" sold more than half a million copies and peaked at No. 2, their only Top 10 hit thus far. By the end of 2005, it became the 13th-ranked single and earned Yu Uezato(上里優)and Yoshida their invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen on New Year's Eve.

Thus far, D-51 has released 15 major singles up to 2012, and a mini-album, "Late Summer" came out in 2018.