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

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Miyoko Nagao -- Miyoko ~ Rivage(美代子・リバージュ)

Early last year, I encountered Miyoko Nagao's(長尾美代子)"Ashiya Sailing Spot"(芦屋セーリング・スポット), this really breezy song that I categorized as something of a Resort Pop number, that genre which can be seen as a cousin to City Pop or perhaps a subset of AOR itself. However, I think that I should have been somewhat more precise in my description since when Resort Pop is mentioned, folks (including myself) would think something along the lines of Shonan or Hakone, resorts right along the Pacific coast of Japan.

And yet, "Ashiya Sailing Spot" doesn't describe anything near that area. Ashiya is simply a resort spot in Hyogo Prefecture in the Kansai region, as opposed to the Kanto for Shonan and Hakone. In fact, instead of a beach, I think that Ashiya is more reminiscent of Karuizawa, a resort closer to the mountains where the expensive cottages are situated. Certainly, Nagao and "Ashiya Sailing Spot" come off sounding like a pleasant spring day in the backyard of one of those cottages, perhaps overlooking a pristine blue lake. It is for that reason that I bought her 1981 album, "Miyoko ~ Rivage" which has the song. I was rather curious as to what Ms. Nagao would provide.

Looking at the song list, I saw some very familiar names such as Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司), Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)and Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)as songwriters, so I figured that there could be a mix of City Pop and AOR. The liner notes also point out Nagao as having that ojou-sama image: the well-educated and well-trained high-class young lady. Doesn't particularly sound like a beach bunny to me and that front cover photo of her strengthens my opinion.

The first track is "Namida wo Sango Iro"(涙を珊瑚色...Coral Tears)which also strikes me as an upbeat but languid song with that image of congenial life in the mountain chalet with Nagao enjoying a nice day on the chaise lounge. The lyrics by Nagao and Chizuru Matsunaga(松永千鶴)depict a young lady deeply missing her beau for some reason. Matsunaga is also the one behind the contemporary yet old-fashioned pop with Shigeru Suzuki(鈴木茂)handling the arrangement.

I mentioned them above, but lyricist Miura and composer Hayashi were responsible for "Mou Umi ni wa Kaeranai"(もう海には帰らない...I Can't Ever Return to the Sea), a smooth mid-tempo ballad that has a twangy guitar intro which brings in some West Coast AOR memories. There's also something rather Yuming-esque in the song as well as Nagao sings about one final meeting between lovers before parting for good.

"Ame no Boathouse"(雨のボートハウス...Rainy Boathouse)is another tune with Miura's lyrics and Yasuhiro Abe's drive-friendly melody. Things seem to be back in cottage country and it feels as if Nagao is taking a drive from her place down to the market at the foot of the mountain. It's pretty darn cheerful as she's remembering of a past romance.

Well, well, well. When I saw the title "Friday Night", I figured that this had to be a City Pop tune. Sure enough, the funky beat proved my prediction out, and it looks like Nagao decided to paint the town red in Kobe nearby. Kayoko Ono(小野香代子)wrote and composed this one, about a woman in the big city feeling rather jilted, so perhaps it's time to dance the resentment away.

As has been the case with so many of these remastered re-releases, "Miyoko ~ Rivage" has some bonus tracks, and if I'm not mistaken, the four extra songs represent the A and B sides of her two singles. 

One of those single A-sides is "Bonjour Koi"(ボンジュール恋...Hello Love), a pleasant slice of music done up in the French pop style. Written by Masako Arikawa(有川正沙子), who also helped out in the biggest album of 1981, and composed by Hayashi, the French pop gives out near the end and is replaced by some hard-driving AOR before things come to their natural end. Ichizo Seo(瀬尾一三)arranged everything here.

The other single A-side is "Sayonara Tricolore"(さよならトリコロール), which also has its album equivalent on "Rivage". I believe that this is the album version. The aforementioned Ono composed this tune which has the feeling of a holiday on the French Riviera with some bossa nova thrown in for good measure. Kyoko Matsumiya(松宮恭子)provided the lyrics which are delivered by Nagao as if she's perhaps channeling some Ryoko Moriyama(森山良子)in the 1970s.

"Miyoko ~ Rivage" stands out for that feeling of the Japanese good life in the countryside for the most part with a bit of a city visit. It's fine for the fact that it doesn't insist on staying at the cottage, instead taking those occasional drives into the city and other interesting parts in the surrounding region. Indeed, if the album represented a certain experience, it would be the fun and relaxing weekend with that well-off friend. Although there were at least two singles from Nagao, I'm not sure whether "Rivage" turned out to be her sole album.

Yoko Obata -- Tropical Mermaid(南国人魚姫)

Discovered this one some time ago and rather enjoyed it for its cute 1980s aidoru synthpop feelings. Images of "The Best 10" and Myojo magazines came flooding back into my head.

"Tropical Mermaid" was sung by 80s aidoru and seiyuu Yoko Obata(小幡洋子)as her 2nd single released in January 1986. The song was actually inserted into the anime "Mahou no Star Magical Emi"(魔法のスターマジカルエミ...Magical Emi, The Magic Star), a show in which Obata starred as the main character Mai Kazuki who belongs to a family of magicians.

Judging from the light bleeps and bloops, I had assumed that "Tropical Mermaid" was another Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)tune, but in point of fact, the melody was provided by former Sugar Babe member and City Pop singer Ginji Ito(伊藤銀次), while Yukinojo Mori(森雪之丞)wrote the lyrics. Quirky and perky, indeed.

The song also led off her debut album "Pearl Island" released in December 1985. Obata would release a total of 3 singles and 4 original albums up to the end of 1986, along with a BEST compilation in 2004. Obata, which is her real name, took on a number of stage names to release some more albums and singles up to 1992 until she left show business the following year to become a jewelry designer.

I've never seen "Magical Emi", but from what I can gather, I think Emi-chan probably was a bit more proficient at her craft than the young lady in "Tejina Senpai". 😁

Yoshiyuki Sahashi -- Frida's Freedom

After listening to "Light Mellow ~ Breeze" once more yesterday, I'd wanted to talk about another track in the compilation, guitarist Yoshiyuki Sahashi's(佐橋佳幸)"Diary"(ダイアリー)since it had some sunny 1970s vibes. Alas, though, it wasn't to be found on YouTube.

Now, "Diary" originally showed up on Sahashi's lone April 1994 album "Trust Me", so I decided to go down a rabbit hole and see what else was on that one because I was rather entranced by "Diary". Then I discovered this other track which did exist on the video site, the intriguingly titled "Frida's Freedom".

Man, after taking an aural gander at "Frida's Freedom", I could only imagine if anyone on Steely Dan's team had listened to this one and then rushed over to Donald Fagen and/or Walter Becker at that time to ask "Hey, guys! Did you do this one?". Even they probably would have scoured through their master tapes to confirm whether or not it was one of their creations.

Yup, "Frida's Freedom" is so Steely Dan that I scrunched up my face in shock and awe. The rhythm, the chords, the instruments and even the backup chorus sent orders to my engrams to make me remember "Aja" and Fagen's solo album "The Nightfly". Sahashi doesn't sound anything like Fagen but he does a fine job behind the mike and the guitar, of course. Dang, hard to believe it was recorded in the early 1990s.

I was also glad to put up this Sahashi article since it's the first time I've been able to have him on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" as an actual singer and performer. Up until now, his existence on the blog has been as a songwriter for other artists such as Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里)and Yurie Kokubu(国分友里恵). Furthermore, I found out through his J-Wiki page that he got married to actress/singer Takako Matsu(松たか子)over 10 years ago. Would certainly like to know some other goodies on "Trust Me".

Monday, March 30, 2020

Shinji Tanimura -- Hi wa Mata Noboru(陽はまた昇る)

Yup, indeed I was listening to the above "Seishun Uta Nenkan"(青春歌年鑑)entry for 1979. Nice to wax nostalgic in my ears (perhaps, "wax" and "ears" shouldn't be used in the same sentence unless medically important).

On Disc 2 is singer-songwriter Shinji Tanimura's(谷村新司)"Hi wa Mata Noboru" (The Sun Will Rise Once More). Tanimura's debut single as a solo artist away from his folk group Alice(アリス)was released in June 1979, almost a year before his next creation, the regal karaoke favourite "Subaru"(昴), garnered him plenty of acclaim.

"Hi wa Mata Noboru" is also quite epic although some of his folk roots remain in his creation. Those strings and piano really put some majesty into the story of encouraging someone who has suffered loss...most likely romantic in nature. It can really take the listener farther afield into some courtyard in Europe, perhaps. "Subaru" may have overshadowed his solo debut song, but I think "Hi wa Mata Noboru" can also pull at the heartstrings pretty effectively.

Yuki Okazaki -- Sweet Joke

Earlier today, I put "Breeze", the very first CD that I ever purchased from the "Light Mellow" series onto the stereo, and re-acquainted myself with some of the pleasant sounds of the City Pop/AOR genres.

One of the sources of the pleasant sounds on "Breeze" is "Sweet Joke" by actress/singer Yuki Okazaki(岡崎友紀). Her most famous tune is the swinging 1960s pop "Do You Remember Me?" from 1980 as she started to perform material that was far away from her aidoru beginnings in the 1970s.

Apparently, "So Many Friends" , her album from 1981 (with a darn sexy cover) was that nice veer from her teenybopper days as she tackled some of that urban contemporary stuff. "Sweet Joke" which was the second track on the album sounds like the equivalent of a mug of hot chocolate with a shot of Kahlua for good measure to me. The song has got that nice anchor of the piano with some synthesizer fluttering overhead, and of course, one can't forget the saxophone. Guitarist on the song, Kenji Iwakura(岩倉健二)was also responsible for the melody while Okazaki herself took care of the lyrics relating some possibly mock frustration at her friend for not making any moves on her. Actually, Okazaki would wed Iwakura some years later for her second marriage.

Ken Shimura & Naoko Ken -- Ginza Atari de Gin! Gin! Gin!(銀座あたりでギン!ギン!ギン!)

Veteran comedian and tarento Ken Shimura(志村けん)passed away earlier today at the age of 70 due to pneumonia brought on by COVID-19. I had heard that he contracted the coronavirus as the first Japanese celebrity to announce it several days ago, and when I did, I feared the worst due to his age and the fact that whenever I saw him on TV in interviews, he almost always had a cigarette in his hand. And tragically, the worst came to pass.

Shimura has already gotten some attention on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" through his work with the comedy group The Drifters(ザ・ドリフターズ). As a kid, I got to know him through videotapes of The Drifters' long-running Saturday-night variety show "Hachi-ji da yo! Zen'in Shuugo"(8時だヨ!全員集合). He had replaced member Chu Arai(荒井注)and although I don't remember Arai's temperament and comic skills with the group, I'm pretty sure that he didn't quite match Shimura's level of lunacy that probably often had the TBS switchboard lighting up with complaint calls about some of the naughty bits that characterized the segments introduced by him and his group partner Cha Kato(加藤茶), although their famous "Hige Dance" sketch above wasn't one of them.

Shimura's ballerina with swan head probably was, though. I mentioned this before in a past article but I saw him as Japan's Jerry Lewis and maybe even Jim Carrey, years before Jim Carrey was Jim Carrey. As for some of his comedy, one of my students who belonged to that English conversation circle that I had taught for a decade remarked rather tersely that she considered The Drifters to be offensive and never allowed her children to watch "Hachi-ji da yo!" because of him and Kato.

However in recent years after The Drifters had their heyday, Shimura's most famous character was Bakatono-sama(バカ殿様), a hedonistic and moronic feudal lord who simply wanted to have fun for the rest of his days, usually at the expense of his long-suffering court. Not surprisingly, Shimura brought some of his bawdiness to his character and the situations around him.

Being in variety for decades, Shimura would also do his fair share in music although he was never a recording artist per se. However, from time to time, he did release songs but almost always in collaboration with another celebrity. One such tune was "Ginza Atari de Gin! Gin! Gin!" which I think may translate as "Shine Shine Shine in Ginza".

Released in December 2001 as a maxi-single duet with longtime buddy, singer-actress Naoko Ken(研ナオコ)who often showed up with him in various skits, "Ginza Atari de Gin! Gin! Gin!" is a crazy Mood Kayo with some Boney M. disco about a corporate newbie played by Shimura and supervisor Ken possibly falling for each other. Written and composed by Hello Project head honcho Tsunku(つんく♂), even the footage above is styled like a Morning Musume music video. Officially, the duo name was Ken♀♂ Ken(けん♀♂けん.

Going over the announcements on the various Japanese TV channels about his passing, there have been stunned and very grief-stricken reactions among the other tarento. I can't even imagine how this is striking folks in Japan right now since I believe that they are only starting to enter the beginnings of their own rising COVID-19 wave.

At the time of his death, Shimura was hosting two regular programs. One was a late-night program and the other was the Saturday-night NTV series "Tensai! Shimura Dobutsu-en"(天才!志村どうぶつ園...Genius! Shimura's Zoo), a variety show based on animals. According to a sports journalism website, part of the program scheduled for Saturday April 4th will be adjusted although it's not currently known what will become of the show going forward.

My condolences go out to his family and his many fans. I will finish this article with one of his many favourite catchphrases: "AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN!"

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Hayabusa -- Choten Fever!(超天フィーバー!)

Caught a rerun of an NHK kayo program yesterday afternoon, and one of the featured guests was the group Hayabusa(はやぶさ)with their return of the good ol' kayo in the 21st century. I first mentioned about them in late 2017, and since then, the trio has been whittled down to a duo (just Hikaru and Yamato now).

Hayabusa performed their September 2019 single "Choten Fever!" (Ultra Heaven Fever!), an odd amalgam of enka and disco as the main vocalist Hikaru sings about the good life in the dance clubs with that characteristic vibrato of the former genre done to the beat of the latter genre. As Hikaru goes high, Yamato goes low like the bass guy of a doo-wop group. Written and composed by Kenichi Maeyamada(前山田健一), who I usually associate with zany anison, "Choten Fever!" sounds as if it should have been a theme for an anime somewhere, and sure enough, it was one of the opening themes for "Duel Masters!!" in 2017. It doesn't quite hit the mark for me, but it's fun and quirky enough that I had to mention it.

(short version)

Eiko Hiraiwa -- Kazoku no Eien(家族の永遠)

I've had this in the backlog for a while so it sounds like I'm hearing this song for the first time. And indeed, this is the first time for me to hear the works of Hiroshima singer-songwriter Eiko Hiraiwa(平岩英子).  After graduating from Kunitachi College of Music, she became an instructor at Rythmique, a music school for children, and then received some very nice notices for a demo tape that she'd left at Sony Music during an audition session.

Her debut single "Watashi ga Watashi de aru Toki"(私が私である時...When I am Myself)was released in 1995, and in the same year, her first album came out, "Deep Breath". On it is the track "Kazoku no Eien" (Eternity of the Family), a song that begins with a rich and echoing piano. I guess that I'm also a sucker for those resonant pop ballads with a feeling of old-fashioned flavour, thanks to some warm cello. Listening to this one, I get hints of Chika Ueda(上田知華)and Karyobin, and later on, a tinny horn along with some gospel blues piano come in to provide that grand finale.

Thus far, Hiraiwa has released seven singles and five albums up to 2000. She has also provided songs for singer-actresses Ryoko Hirosue(広末涼子)and Yukie Nakama(仲間由紀恵).

Elephant Kashimashi -- Ore-tachi no Ashita(俺たちの明日)

Hope all of you are having a good weekend. It's been refreshingly cool and not cold today and the rain has let up so I could go out and grab a newspaper. Speaking with my Skype student last night, it seems like there was an unusual amount of snow falling on Tokyo earlier today...probably all melted by now.

This morning after breakfast, I was lounging about watching TV Japan and the NHK documentary series "Mokugeki! Nippon"(目撃!にっぽん...Witness! Japan)came on about a group of middle-aged fellows putting on the gloves and learning how to kickbox. Halfway through the show, an Elephant Kashimashi(エレファントカシマシ)tune came on called "Ore-tachi no Ashita" (Our Tomorrow) as an appropriate theme for the fighters.

Released as the band's 34th single in November 2007, and created by raspy-voiced vocalist Hiroji Miyamoto(宮本浩次), I learned that it was the singer's shoutout to all of his buddies, past and present, to see if they were doing OK. It was actually used as a campaign song for an energy drink, but under the current circumstances, I believe that "Ore-tachi no Ashita" can now be used as a tune of encouragement for everyone on the planet.

The single peaked at No. 18 on Oricon, and as for the music video higher up, that was apparently filmed on a building rooftop somewhere near Yokohama Stadium. "Ore-tachi no Ashita" was also a track on Elephant Kashimashi's 18th album "STARTING OVER" from January 2008, and that release broke into the Top 10 at No. 7.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Keisuke Yamauchi -- Zanshou(残照)

(short version)

A couple of weeks ago, enka singer Keisuke Yamauchi(山内惠介)made one of his fairly frequent appearances on NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン), and I found out that the fellow was celebrating his 20th anniversary in show business! Like, when did he debut? Was he just entering senior kindergarten?!

Well, actually, he was probably going through high school since Yamauchi is now 36 years old. The lad is truly a bidanshi. Anyways, to commemorate that anniversary, his latest single came out a mere few weeks ago. Titled "Zanshou" (Afterglow), it seems to be a yearning for that special someone to not go away, and it was created by the same duo behind a Yamauchi single from the previous year, "Kuchibiru Scarlet"(唇スカーレット), Goro Matsui and Hideo Mizumori(松井五郎・水森英夫).

(karaoke version)

"Zanshou" has got plenty of emotion-on-sleeve-brio with guitar and cutting strings. In fact, because it sounds somewhat similar to "Yukiguni"(雪国), my old karaoke favourite, I had assumed that it was made by Ikuzo Yoshi(吉幾三)himself. But I gather that Yoshi hasn't cornered the market for bay-at-the-moon enka/Mood Kayo. I wouldn't be surprised if Yamauchi performs this one at this year's Kohaku Utagassen.

Yusuke Honma -- Theme from "Sommelier"(ソムリエ)

The other day, I caught former SMAP member Goro Inagaki(稲垣吾郎), the silent one, show up as a physician on the NHK morning serial drama "Scarlet"(スカーレット)which just wrapped up its time earlier today.

Inagaki has had his time on numerous dramas over the decades while being a SMAP guy, and the one series that I remember is "Sommelier", a 1998 Fuji-TV show which featured the man as a top-class sommelier with a near-supernatural ability to pick the right vintage for the right person at the right occasion. His role is similar to a lot of other roles in other shows which focus around a genius fount of wisdom. Those folks maintain this aura of invincibility as the other characters seem to be losing their heads in a crisis while appearing more stoic than Mr. Spock after a successful Kolinahr ritual.

I managed to find the opening and ending themes for "Sommelier", and I was specifically searching for that ending theme since it's been used a ton of times on variety shows since it first made its appearance over 20 years ago. Composed by Yusuke Honma(本間勇輔)who also has another feather in his cap through his creation of the theme for master TV detective Ninzaburo Furuhata, the "Sommelier" theme led by a wonderful trumpet seems to convey not only the regal purity of Inagaki's legendary sommelier Satake but also the majestic tradition of knowing and educating the great unwashed about fine wines. So, not surprisingly, the ending theme has been used whenever a show segment is showing off something having to do with wine or wineries or some sort of high-class establishment in Japan or abroad.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any footage from "Sommelier" on YouTube (not sure if the series ever became a hit), but did find this video from "SMAP X SMAP" with Inagaki in character briefly having to deal with the usual hijinks of a variety show. No majesty here. I gotta say, though, that "Sommelier" did teach me the expression of fusawashii(相応しい)or fitting/appropriate.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Yukari Ito -- Koi no Festa(恋のFesta)

Managed to find something appropriately festive for a Friday night, and this would be "Koi no Festa" (Festa of Love), the opening track on veteran singer Yukari Ito's(伊東ゆかり)April 1986 album "HANAGUMORI". I've always admired how Ito has tried on a number of different genres for size over the decades starting from her teenybopper days in the 1960s performing covers of American pop hits.

Well, she's had her dalliances in the City Pop genre in the 1980s, specifically "Misty Hour" in 1982, but over here with "Koi no Festa", there's more of that Latin sizzle although there is that certain keyboard which kinda keeps one foot in City Pop. Written by Masako Arikawa(有川正沙子)and composed by the late Junko Hirotani(広谷順子), I love that velvety voice behind the mike although sometimes the choice of synths gets the song a little cheesy but not so much that I start doing cringes.

Kingo Hamada -- midnight cruisin' (album)

I think now that the world at large has gotten to know about Japanese City Pop, there is most likely a good number of veteran listeners who can guide the newbies to the genre. Perhaps the figurative Jedi Master will get that question from his/her Padawan: "What is Japanese City Pop all about?" I mean, if I got that question, I would readily point to a couple of albums right off the bat: Takako Mamiya's(間宮貴子)"Love Trip" and then Makoto Matsushita's(松下誠)"First Light". Every Master has gonna have ready references to help out their proteges, so to speak. As for kaz-shin, the blogger behind the Japanese-language "Music Avenue", his answer for that very question is Kingo Hamada's(濱田金吾)"midnight cruisin'".

Released in October 1982, "midnight cruisin'" was released as Hamada's 4th album, and I've already talked about a couple of tracks from there including the title track and the final track "Mayonaka no Tennis Court"(真夜中のテニスコート). It's frankly a surprise that I've yet to grab this one since I've got his BEST compilation. Both tracks are great and hopefully when the current international situation settles down, maybe I can get back to my purchases of CDs including this one.

Allow me, then, to go over at least a few more tracks from "midnight cruisin'", starting with the opening track, "Dakare ni Kita Onna"(抱かれに来た女...The Lady Coming to Embrace Me)which both kaz-shin and I appreciate for that cornet opening by Shin Kazuhara(数原晋). kaz-shin also mentions that the song automatically signals out the city and the night, and I can add that the opening can readily be used for any City Pop radio program. In fact, I could say that it could even adorn a "Lupin III" or "City Hunter" soundtrack. It sets up listeners for that titular midnight cruise on the streets. Hamada took care of the composition for all of the tracks and with "Dakare ni Kita Onna", it was Chinfa Kan(康珍化as the lyricist.

Track 2 is "Yokogao no Taxi Driver"(横顔のタクシー・ドライバー・...Taxi Driver in Profile)which actually comes across as more of a Yuming-esque 70s AOR number. Maybe there is even some Carpenters in there with the addition of the flute. This doesn't strike me as being a nighttime tune; I'd posit that the latest this would be portrayed during the day would be twilight. It's a gentle romantic ballad that can be shared with a loved one on a park bench. Kazuko Kobayashi(小林和子)was responsible for the words here.

Next, we have "So, I Love You", also a collaboration between Hamada and Kobayashi, which takes things into a jazzier bent, perhaps in Shinjuku's famous club DUG. However, those lush strings and that faint oboe once again bring images of Richard and Karen Carpenter along with a lot of AOR balladry. When I was listening to Hamada's BEST album, I noticed that he liked to swing broadly between AOR/City Pop and jazz.

One more song that I'll cover is "Semete Karari to Harete kure"(せめてからりと晴れてくれ...At Least, Make It Fine and Sunny), an intriguing gryphon of a tune with an innocent reggae beat here, some sharp and tight jazz via the horn section there, and that overall feeling of a fun night in a little section of the big city. With Etsuko Kisugi(来生えつこ)behind the lyrics, kaz-shin states that it's both Makoto Matsushita(松下誠)and Hamada performing on the guitars. Maybe the whole nature of the song is about checking some really fascinating corners of East Shinjuku during a major all-night pub crawl.

So it looks like "midnight cruisin'" isn't just about the usual Fender Rhodes and boppy bass-driven City Pop after all. It brings into play some nice touches of jazz and 70s AOR as well. All the better for the listener. One final point by kaz-shin that stuck with me comes at the end of his article on the album. He says that if taking a car drive down to the ocean, Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)and Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)are the go-to guys on the stereo, but when making that trip back home, some Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)and Kingo Hamada are the way to go. I can agree with that since there are a number of tracks on "midnight cruisin'" that have that certain mellowness to go with a drive home after a happy day on the beach (although I hope that it's the passengers and not the driver that get sleepy). In any case, kaz-shin's final sentence is that listeners should pop this into the car stereo during that night drive. I can also state that it's also wonderful listening to it in the evening hours while lounging on some comfy furniture. I'll see if I can take care of the other tracks in the months to come.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Yuko Kawamura -- Kaze ni Naritai(風になりたい)

Had this song in the backlog for a while so I've decided to cover it. But when I accidentally put the title "Kaze ni Naritai" (I Want to Become the Wind) just by itself into the JASRAC database, I ended up getting 4 pages' worth of songs with the same title for the most part. I had no idea that so many songwriters wanted to become just like the wind.

Well, this "Kaze ni Naritai" was written and composed by J-Folk legend Takuro Yoshida(吉田拓郎)and performed by Yuko Kawamura(川村ゆうこ)as her debut single back in April 1976. It's a short song at a little over 3 1/2 minutes but I think that it punches somewhat above its time with its calm and refreshing mood and Kawamura's light but resonant vocals. It's as if that feeling of a comfortable breeze has indeed come wafting in through the window one spring day. Yoshida's lyrics themselves talk about a woman missing the company of a dearly beloved one.

Kawamura, who hails from Aomori Prefecture in the northern part of Japan, won the Grand Prix at the first edition of the For Life Newcomer Auditions back in 1975 after which Yoshida produced "Kaze ni Naritai". A total of 6 singles and 2 albums would follow before she would take a 20-year hiatus and make a comeback in 2008.

Somewhere down the line, Yoshida also performed a more contemporary cover of his creation.

Seishiro Kusunose -- Sugar Stick ~ She Got Married

Won't be having one of the above for a little while since this is the Strawberry Pancake at Fuwa Fuwa. I mean, Fuwa Fuwa does deliver and provides takeout during this global pandemic, but I think it's a little too extravagant to call in for anything this sweet and drippy right now, especially in my neck of the woods. However, if any of you in Toronto are game, you can check out their website.

I came up with that little sweet-toothed preamble so that I can introduce another Seishiro Kusunose(楠瀬誠志郎)song, "Sugar Stick ~ She Got Married" from his 2nd album "Boukensha-tachi"(冒険者たち...The Adventurers), released in April 1987. Listening to this a few times, I think this is generally a smooth pop song but I also gradually came to feel that the underlying rhythms brought things just over the line into City Pop territory. It really is a cool nighttime mid-tempo tune with some good emotion in Kusunose's vocals although they don't get anguished. This was composed by the singer and written by Ryo or Akira Koizumi(小泉; couldn't get a confirmation on the proper way to pronounce his name.

Back in my Japan days, I used to remember getting those sugar sticks whenever I ordered a cup of coffee or tea. I think I relied on those things a little too much.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Hitomitoi -- Last Friday Night Summer Rain

The last couple of nights' sleep have been truncated because of my worries about COVID-19. For instance, I woke up this morning at about 6 am (8 am is usually my get-up time) and my mind started thinking about what could happen over the next number of months which led to less than a full load of sleep and a lot more tension.

Then, later in the morning, on one of the news channels, a mental health expert came on for an interview and he basically stated that everyone is fretting about a future that no one can predict, so he recommended that folks just focus on the present and what has to be handled during today. There was indeed one urgent matter that needed my attention, and focusing on that, the overarching matter of the virus got pushed out so that I could resolve it to my family's satisfaction. As a result, I'm just going to take things day by day (e.g. grocery shopping) and deal with them as best as I can.

Now, let's get going with some middle-of-the-week City Pop of the 21st century. It's been almost a year since the lovely Hitomitoi(一十三十一)has graced these pages on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", so let's welcome her back with her "Last Friday Night Summer Rain" from her June 2013 album, "Surfbank Social Club".

I guess with J-urban contemporary for the past decade, one of the sounds related to the genre can be that certain crystalline synth that inhabits "Last Friday Night Summer Rain". The melody by Kashif brings images of future utopias by the beach but the lyrics by Hitomitoi paint a breezy romantic picture of love in Shonan. And perhaps it's also a playful painting as well since from a translation of Hitomitoi's words, perhaps she was pulling a shoutout to Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎), Noriko Miyamoto(宮本典子)and Toshikazu Miura(三浦年一), all of them City Pop singers. Nice to hear a song of the genre with a sly sense of humour.

Akina Nakamori -- Farewell

Back in 2014, I wrote about "Firestarter", a track from Akina Nakamori's(中森明菜)1988 12th album "Stock". It is one of only two tracks that I remember from "Stock", a tape cassette purchase that was one of a series of her albums in the late 1980s that I've tended to forget and ignore simply because her album material at that time never truly meshed with me.

Well, the other song from "Stock" is "Farewell", that first track which I've always thought was ironically titled since it seems like Akina and song were giving a great big "HELLO!" instead. Hearing this as the launching song for the album, I did have some hope for the rest of the album, but alas, it didn't really come to pass with the exception of the hard rock "Firestarter".

If I were to give a comparison of these two songs, I would say that they were two sides of a coin. "Firestarter" was more rock than pop, whereas "Farewell" was more on the pop side of things with a rock edge. Written by Eiko Kyo(許瑛子and composed by Ken Sato(佐藤健), it's the type of tune that I expect would be sung by rock era Ann Lewis, but I think "Farewell" (and "Firestarter", for that matter) work fine with Akina since she's got that famous low projecting vibrato since her slightly earlier Oricon-friendly hits.

As much as I envisage a city drive with City Pop, the pop-rock "Farewell" also has me thinking of bombing down the highway in a convertible. If I'm going to use a Hollywood movie from that decade as an analogy, "Streets of Fire" comes to mind. Incidentally, the arrangers behind "Farewell" are Satoshi Nakamura(中村哲), who was part of the fusion band Prism back in the 1970s, and Kenji Kitajima(北島健二), a member of the band Fence of Defense.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Fumina Hisamatsu -- Tenshi no Kyuusoku(天使の休息)

Ooh, blast from the past indeed. There was this one song on a compilation tape that my friend made for me back in the 1990s, and listening to it once again after so long had me reminiscing about some of the female rock-pop singers from that time such as Maki Ohguro(大黒摩季)and Pink Sapphire.

For all intents and purposes, Fumina Hisamatsu's(久松史奈)"Tenshi no Kyuusoku" (Rest for an Angel) is the only song that I know by this singer-songwriter from Nagoya, but that electric guitar has had me nostalgic for some of that early 1990s music. I'd assumed from the arrangement and the fact that Hisamatsu has always enjoyed the genre of rock music that she was part of the Being entertainment conglomerate with artists including Ohguro, Zard and B'z, but such was not the case. At the time of this particular song, she was with BMG Victor. Apparently, when Hisamatsu got her start in 1990, she was going to be marketed as an aidoru, but she rather balked at that, and instead aimed for the rock look; not surprising, considering that she wanted to emulate the style of Joan Jett and take on an American rock style in her music.

As for "Tenshi no Kyuusoku", a song of knocking down obstacles and pushing ahead in life, this was Hisamatsu's 5th single from November 1992 which first appeared on the Oricon charts at the No. 44 position before finally breaking into the Top 10 at No. 10, becoming her most successful hit and selling over half a million copies. Singer-songwriter Yukari Fujiu(藤生ゆかり)co-wrote the lyrics alongside Hisamatsu while handling the melody on her own. Ichizo Seo(瀬尾一三)took care of the arrangement. "Tenshi no Kyuusoku" was also a track on her 4th album "Birth" which came out in February 1993 and peaked at No. 9.

"Tenshi no Kyuusoku" was also the theme song for a 1992 NTV drama titled "Kirei ni Naritai"(綺麗になりたい...I Want to be Beautiful) starring Yuri Nakae(中江有里). Ahhh...those opening credits back then...

This April, Hisamatsu will be releasing a BEST compilation "49 Forty-Nine" in which there is a more wistful version of the song.

Hiroshi Sato -- Something in the Air

If I said the title "Baroque Hoedown" to you folks, I probably would be assailed by a swarm of question marks and snarky remarks such as "Classical Country Dancing". However, when you listen to the song with that very title, a lot of you in Japan would recognize it as the main theme for the Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade. "Baroque Hoedown" was first brought to giddy life by Moog synthesizer masters, Perrey and Kingsley back in 1967.

For me, though, I first heard "Baroque Hoedown" as the theme song for the ain't-science-fascinating program "Mr. Wizard" when I was a kid, although the above video is for a much later episode. Still, though, I think many kids and former kids in Japan will identify the song more with Mickey Mouse than Mr. Wizard.

Moving onto the topic of this article, I think this particular track from the late Hiroshi Sato's(佐藤博)"Sound of Science" album from July 1986, "Something in the Air" could have also made a similarly infectiously quirky tune for an NHK science show for kids, especially those first several bars. Being weaned on Sato's classic 1982 "Awakening" album, I didn't think that the musician ever ventured into the synthpop sound.

And yet, here we are. "Something in the Air" was composed by Sato and written by Cindy Yamamoto(シンディ山本), who also sadly passed on nearly a couple of decades ago. As I said for that intro, I don't quite know what the exact name of that synthesizer is but that adorably puffy sound it emits has had me thinking of a more contemporary Mr. Wizard trying to boil water with an ice cube. The rest of the melody is light and bouncy and quite inviting for an intense round of kid-friendly skipping on the street, and yet Sato (and I'm assuming Cindy is being featured here and there) also brings in some creamy AOR rhythms in the middle. I can only gather that Sato truly was Japanese pop music's own Mr. Wizard.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Cast of "Seton Gakuen" -- Gakuen Soukan Zoo(学園壮観Zoo)

Well, thanks to some YouTube happenstance, I was able to catch the final episode for "Murenase! Seton Gakuen"(群れなせ!シートン学園...Seton Academy: Join The Pack!), and subtitled, too. For obvious reasons surrounding us right now, I will no longer be able to meet my anime buddy for those Sunday get-togethers for the foreseeable future, although we might be able to finagle a more virtual solution, if he's willing to accept my idea. But in any case, it was a nice heartwarming finale with the high likelihood of a second season considering what I saw at the end. Still, the ending credits scene while everyone in the Cooking Club was talking seemed a bit incomplete due to the insertion of a generic happy instrumental that I'd never heard before which made me wonder if the producing studio had been under some pressure to get something sorted out pretty quickly.

As stated in that article, my big favourite of the opening and ending themes was the latter in the form of the oh-so-adorable "Ohkami Blues"(オオカミブルース)by Hina Kino(木野日菜). However, in recent weeks, the opening theme has started to grow on me as well, as all of the characters go gallivanting all throughout Seton Academy.

"Gakuen Soukan Zoo" (Academy Spectacle Zoo) has got a good chunk of the main cast including Kino singing a farcical circus march which sets the tone for the zaniness of each of the episodes. It not only has a didgeridoo and tribal drums at the start but everyone: Haruki Ishiya(石谷春貴)as the long-suffering Jin Kazama, Yume Miyamoto宮本侑芽)as the other human Hitomi, Misaki Kuno(久野美咲)as the poo-loving koala Yukari, Konomi Kohara(小原好美)as the ever-dying sloth Miyubi, and Sora Tokui(徳井青空)as the cat Kurumi really got into their animal noises throughout the song.

As with "Ohkami Blues", "Gakuen Soukan Zoo" was created by Shin Furuya(古屋真)and Yosuke Yamashita(山下洋介). It might be a little too speedy and uptempo to be the official school anthem at Seton, but heck, it makes for a good descriptor of what Season 1 has been about.

Yoshiko Goshima -- Shiroi Iro wa Koibito no Iro (白い色は恋人の色)

Wherever you are, I hope you are hanging in there.

Last month, I first mentioned about singer-songwriter Yoshiko Goshima(五島良子)and her collaboration with techno unit Denki Groove(電気グルーヴ)on "Niji"(虹)back in 1995. Apparently, according to her J-Wiki article, that was the song which put her on the map, so to speak, but she did put out a good amount of singles in the 1990s starting from 1990 itself. Not a whole lot more information about her except that she was born in Nagoya, and from another webpage, she has a 5-octave range.

It's more of the high notes from her July 1993 single. For kayo fans, this particular song may sound rather familiar since it is a cover of "Shiroi Iro wa Koibito no Iro" (White is the Colour of Lovers) which was originally recorded by Betsy & Chris all the way back in 1969 with Kazuhiko Kato(加藤和彦)and Osamu Kitayama(北山修)of The Folk Crusaders creating it. Yoko Kanno(菅野よう子)was behind the arrangement of the song, and Goshima's heartwarming and child-like delivery (with the harmonies that also distinguished the Betsy & Chris original) help in selling the ever-calming song. The fantasy element is further enhanced by Kanno's arrangement that sounds as if it had been made for "Lord of the Rings".

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Miyoko Yoshimoto -- Kokoro no Tobira(心の扉)

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the proper clip on YouTube but earlier tonight, I was watching "Chibi Maruko-chan"(ちびまる子ちゃん)and it was most likely the episode that aired following Hideki Saijo's(西城秀樹)passing a few years ago. For those who don't know the connection between him and the show, Maruko's older sister, Sakiko, has long had a major crush on the 1970s aidoru, and the segment dealt with how Sakiko would feel with Saijo as a husband. Of course, having anime characters going ga-ga over other characters and famous people is one of the many tropes that inhabit such a show.

This rather led me to putting up 80s aidoru Miyoko Yoshimoto's(芳本美代子)"Kokoro no Tobira" (Door to Your Heart) that had been in the backlog for some time. It's more on the bubbly and breezy side with a sprinkle of 50s novelty pop sense in there which would probably explain why it sounds more like an early 1980s aidoru tune instead of a song that was released in March 1986 as Yoshimoto's 5th single. However, there are those sweeping strings which I've usually heard in the more European fantastical aidoru songs in the late 1980s. Kazuo Zaitsu(財津和夫)was responsible for the melody with Mitsuo Hagita(萩田光雄)behind the arrangement.

Written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆), the lyrics reflect those falling-in-love anime scenes as the young lady in "Kokoro no Tobira" is doing some major swooning over a guy and fantasizing about holding onto his arm while taking that romantic walk together. I also gotta say that for an aidoru, Yoshimoto doesn't have a bad delivery...fairly solid on hitting those notes, aside from some of those high ones.

Eiichi Ohtaki -- Koi no Kisha Poppo(恋の汽車ポッポ)

My feelings about the COVID-19 terror that's been around us for the last little while and may continue around us for probably the bulk of this year have been having me go up and down somewhat like a kiddie's roller coaster. There have been some moments of sadness and there have also been some moments of "Avengers Assemble!".

Fortunately, one source that has been able to bring out more of the latter moments is the ability to talk with friends via social media or phone. I got to do that today with Rocket Brown from Come Along Radio for a couple of hours, and so we were able to chat on the wonders of City Pop from our respective homes in Canada and the United States.

A song that Rocket introduced me to today was the late Eiichi Ohtaki's(大滝詠一)debut single as a solo act, "Koi no Kisha Poppo" (Love Train Choo-Choo) which came out in December 1971. His band, Happy End(はっぴいえんど)would still be around for several more months, and for "Koi no Kisha Poppo", he still had his three other bandmates, Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣), Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and Shigeru Suzuki(鈴木茂)help out in the recording studio. However, because he probably wanted his debut tune to stand apart from his Happy End material, the credits included the four being given wacky kanji pseudonyms instead. Still, though, it was Matsumoto's lyrics paired with Ohtaki's music. As another interesting twist, the Happy End guys even traded instruments during recording. For example, bassist Hosono took on the drums while guitarist Ohtaki was on bass. Incidentally, it was Matsumoto behind lyrics and Ohtaki handling the melody.

According to the liner notes for Ohtaki's self-titled debut album "Ohtaki Eiichi", which was released the following year in November, the single version for "Koi no Kisha Poppo", launched with a snare drum riff in tribute to the intro for Little Eva's classic "The Loco-Motion" (good job, Harry!), and apparently the comparison was enough for Ohtaki to get the cover photo for the song with him sitting on an old steam engine. I thought that the fellow was noshing on something when Rocket gently corrected me that he was most likely smoking a cigarette (he was a rock n' roll singer, you know).

Perhaps there was some DNA from "The Loco-Motion" intertwined in Ohtaki's debut tune, but I also thought that there was a certain roots rock feeling to "Koi no Kisha Poppo". And sure enough, the J-Wiki article bore my feelings out when it mentioned that the rock n' roll in there was reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Maybe there is even some late-era Beatles in there, too. In addition, I noticed in that same article that the song has been dedicated to the aforementioned Little Eva but also to Neil Sedaka.

"Ohtaki Eiichi" also has the album version titled "Koi no Kisha Poppo, Dai Ni-bu"(第二部...No. 2)which has some different lyrics, some additional 60s Girl Pop feeling thanks to some background vocals, and a fade out at the end, compared to the hard stop at the end of the single version. The album peaked at No. 75 on Oricon.

In any case, during this long COVID-19 winter, don't hesitate to communicate with your friends and family whether by e-mail, Skype or phone.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Hiroshi Itsuki -- Sasameyuki(細雪)

Get this: yesterday morning, the temperature outside was a supremely balmy +18 degrees Celsius. This morning, it was actually -8 degrees C. Go figure on Toronto's weather, eh? Plus, we may have some snow early next week. Meteorologically speaking, it's never a boring time in my city.

For this Saturday night, I have some tenderhearted enka for you, and who else to sing it but Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし)himself. "Sasameyuki" (Light Snowfall) was the veteran singer's 58th single from September 1983. Written by Osamu Yoshioka(吉岡治)and composed by Shosuke Ichikawa(市川昭介), the titular snow from the title provides the atmospheric background outside of a small town bar where the protagonist may be crying in her sake over a lost love before she heads on out into the cold....which may not be a great thing, health-wise.

Couldn't get more shibui than this, and listening to the graceful "Sasameyuki", I almost feel like heading straight to Japan again to head to some small watering hole out in the mountains to order a steaming tokkuri and o-choko. There's something about a snowy landscape that gets the romanticists in Japan waxing plaintively whether it be in some rustic drinking establishment or a rotenburo (outdoor hot spring).

"Sasameyuki" managed to hit No. 9 on Oricon and after becoming the 62nd-ranked single for 1983, it would climb up the Oricon rankings even further by finishing as the 47th-ranked single for 1984. The song also earned Itsuki a Special Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards in 1983 plus another invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen to sing it.

Ruiko Kurahashi -- Chuo Line(中央ライン)

When I think of the crosstown JR lines cutting through Tokyo, I usually think of the Sobu (Yellow) Line and the Chuo (Orange) Line. The Sobu Line was the one that I took most often as one of my early assignments had me taking that particular train all the way from midtown Tokyo to the eastern terminus at Chiba Station. Comparatively though, I never rode on the Chuo all that much. Seeing how packed it got was a pretty good deterrent. But there was that one time when some teachers (including myself) and students got on the Chuo one Sunday morning and headed all the way out to the western terminus of Takao for a hike and picnic. Yes, people who aren't longtime residents might be surprised to realize that the Takao area is that one region in the megalopolis which comes off as rugged and mountainous, relatively speaking.

All that preamble to talk about "Chuo Line", the second track from Ruiko Kurahashi's(倉橋ルイ子)"Main Course" album of 1986. Being a big Ruiko fan, whenever I find a new YouTube video with her, I don't hesitate; I love to talk about it. At one point, the whole album or at least several of her tracks from that album were up on the video-sharing site but they were taken down by the powers-that-be, so it's nice when a few of them make their return.

"Main Course" is one fine album from beginning to end, but still with "Chuo Line", this is the particularly sophisticated mid-tempo track whose melody by Kimio Mizutani(水谷公生)and jazzy arrangement seem to elevate the Chuo from its regular status as a commuter line up to the level of the Orient Express. Instead of a canister of Chip Star and a can of beer from a vending machine, it's more caviar and champagne on this run. And considering that he also provided a wonderful solo on one of the other tracks, "Gas Tou"(ガス燈), I do believe that it is Jake H. Concepcion handling the sax on "Chuo Line" as well.

However, in Fumiko Okada's(岡田富美子)lyrics, Kurahashi, who can provide some wonderful high-class ennui of the jet set, sings about taking the Chuo bound for Takao and back into the arms of what looks like a real cad. She would have left him already except that she still seems to have feelings for him. Consternation done classy! I do like that. Since I've been more of a melody guy instead of lyrics all these years, I had assumed that "Chuo Line" was all about the high life as the bright night lights of Tokyo passed on by.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Marlene -- I'll Take My Time

I will start off by giving my kudos to Keir Hardie for providing another wonderful Marlene(マリーン)tune onto YouTube.

"I'll Take My Time" was actually Marlene's 8th single under her current name and her previous one of Marilyn (her first 4 singles). Released in May 1984, there's so much about "I'll Take My Time" that has me reminiscing about afternoon listens to the radio during high school and university. Yup, I do love my AOR, and another singer that Marlene reminds me of here especially is Melissa Manchester. I also enjoy the combination of the guitar and the chorus in the background there. In fact, maybe there's something rather Steely Dan with that guitar.

The song was created by Jay Gruska and Paul Howard Gordon. Assuming that "I'll Take My Time" was released only in Japan, I wonder whether this would have also had some sort of recognition if actually recorded in America and for American audiences.

Toshiki Kadomatsu -- Yoru wo Koete(夜をこえて)

Now, this is something that I don't encounter all that often: a Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)song from the 1990s!

It's not that I don't appreciate Kadomatsu's material past the 1980s but when I think of the famous musician and songwriter, I usually think of that most influential decade for me. And that's not only for his own works, but also the songs that he helped craft for singers like Anri(杏里)and Miho Nakayama(中山美穂).

So here we are on Friday night and why not take a listen to "Yoru wo Koete" (Beyond the Night), Kadomatsu's 21st single released in September 1992? Interestingly enough, though, the title and the sound of the song itself has me still thinking of a 1980s power pop tune by a band such as Journey. There's something about it that screams "...driving a Porsche at top speed on a Tokyo highway while trying to escape one's feelings".

And yep, Kadomatsu's lyrics reflect a fellow's heartbroken yet defiant stance toward a woman who's just left him that she'll regret her decision. He feels that they had something really good but she wants her freedom now. That wall of chorus and the wailing guitar at the end sets up that atmosphere of bombing down the thoroughfare at 200 kph.

Aw, heck! I'm just a sucker for horns. "Yoru wo Koete" got as high as No. 29 and was also inserted as a track on Kadomatsu's 10th studio album, "Aru ga Mama ni"(あるがままに...As It Is)that was released in July 1992. That album peaked at No. 7 on Oricon.