Credits

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.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Junichi Kawauchi -- Koi ni Ochita Hi ~ Anyday You Love Me(恋に落ちた日)

 

I guess that I can make another observation of a pattern taking hold in the mid to late 1980s: that of the presence of soulful male balladeers crooning of love over a pop melody. So far, I can think of folks like Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘), Yudai Suzuki(鈴木雄大)and Kenjiro Sakiya(崎谷健次郎).

Now, I found this fellow by the name of Junichi Kawauchi(河内淳一)who is a singer, guitarist, composer and arranger. According to his J-Wiki file, he's enjoyed rock of the 1970s and 1980s along with the West Coast sound of that time and his favourite musician is Bill Champlin from the band Chicago. His career began in 1973 as a studio musician but then in 1986, thanks to his participation in the house band for singer Keisuke Kuwata's(桑田佳祐)radio show the year before, he joined KUWATA BAND.

Beginning in 1988, Kawauchi went into a solo career and started releasing singles and albums. His second single was "Koi ni Ochita Hi ~ Anyday You Love Me" from August that year. With lyrics by Akira Ohtsu(大津あきら)and melody by Kawauchi with Hiroshi Shinkawa(新川博)in charge of arrangement, the song does sound like it belongs on the West Coast and the singer's vocals had me thinking of those crooners that I mentioned at the top, especially Suzuki and Sakiya. "Koi ni Ochita Hi" also seems to be made for an old Parliament cigarette commercial but it was actually used to sell Mitsuya Cider...one of the most urban contemporary numbers that I've heard for a soft drink.

"Koi ni Ochita Hi" can also be found on Kawauchi's debut album "One Heart" which was released in April 1988. On that note, since this will be my final entry for 2020, I would like to wish everyone a Happy and Safe New Year! See you in 2021! I'd also to state that this is the 94th article for December 2020, and it breaks a record for the highest number of articles for any month in the history of the blog. I hope that we can all keep the good times rolling and I just want to thank all of the collaborators, commenters and readers for all of their attention and insights over the past year.

よいお年をお迎えください。

Michael Mark -- The "Entertainment Tonight" theme

 


First off, a Happy New Year to everyone in Japan who are, as I'm typing this, over nine hours into January 1 2021. I wouldn't say that it's the happiest Happy New Year on either side of the Pacific, but let's have some hope that we'll have a reverse of what happened in 2020: COVID now, no COVID by the latter half of the year.

Anyways, this might be one of the more unusual ROY articles that I've written since this particular song never hit the Billboard charts as far as I know, although it is probably one of the most recognizable television theme tunes in the United States and Canada. The TV show in question is "Entertainment Tonight" or "E.T." for short that started its run on September 14th 1981 (yes, that's right...it got the initials even before that Reese's Pieces-loving alien).


I used to watch the show in its half-hour 7pm time slot on the NBC affiliate on weeknights, and then there was the weekly review through "Entertainment This Week" on Saturday nights. Basically, I got to know what was up with the movers and shakers in Hollywood including the stars along with the latest on the escapist movies that I craved so much about back then as a high school kid. So, Mary Hart, Leeza Gibbons and John Tesh were regular names to me as hosts of the show, although they hadn't been there for the very first episode shown in the video at the top of the article.

But getting back to the music, I remember and currently cherish the original version of the theme by musician/composer Michael Mark because it is so 80s fusion and I found it so Hollywood back then. Folks who are watching the show even now (2021 will mark the 40th anniversary) may be surprised at how groovy it was back then. I knew that it had gone into a very brassy version from the late 1980s but frankly it just comes across as a sound bite now.



I stopped watching "Entertainment Tonight" once I graduated from university and headed out to Gunma Prefecture in the summer of 1989. But that original "E.T." theme has stuck me with me all these decades...along with the celebration of celebrity birthdays at the end of each show. 

So, which songs were 1, 2 and 3 at the top of the Oricon chart for September 1981?

1. Imo Kin Trio -- High School Lullaby



2. Toshihiko Tahara -- Kanashimi 2 (TOO) Young (悲しみ2「TOO」ヤング)


3. Yumi Matsutoya -- Mamotte Agetai(守ってあげたい) 



The Works of Motoki Funayama(船山基紀)

 

In the last few months, I realized that I was doing a disservice to arranger Motoki Funayama by not mentioning him in a large number of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" articles. Although I had long been mentioning lyricists and composers, I never really included arrangers for whatever reason. However, the fact that I kept seeing his name in the songwriting notes for songs and I was reacting with a "What?! He arranged THIS song?" much in the way that I had first reacted on seeing the late composer Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)in a huge amount of kayo and J-Pop, I figured that the Tokyo-born Funayama had to get his due on KKP. The tipping point was when I was writing up "Oricon Top 5 Most Commercially Successful Arrangers", I discovered that he was the second-most prolific arranger after Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉). Keeping on the Tsutsumi connection, according to Funayama's J-Wiki biography, the arranger had the biggest association with Tsutsumi in terms of songs arranged.

Funayama was born in Meguro Ward, Tokyo in 1951 and from a young age, he had been interested in maps and sheet music, and on entering elementary school, he was on the bass drum in the school band. Jumping to his higher learning days, he attended the School of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University but kept his music connections by participating in the High Society Orchestra there where he was the concertmaster as he played the saxophone. However, according to the above video interview, Funayama mentions that he was absolutely horrible on the sax due to his inability to improvise...so I gather that jazz musician wasn't going to be one of his titles.

Once he became a junior at Waseda, he began working at the Yamaha Music Foundation including their Popular Song Contest where he learned the basics of music arrangement. Soon after, he dropped out of university and from 1974, he went on the path of a freelance composer and arranger.

(cover version)

According to J-Wiki, the first song that he arranged was "Azami-jou no Lullaby" (アザミ嬢のララバイ)for singer-songwriter Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき)in 1975. Knowing Nakajima's distinct melodies and singing style, perhaps I can say that Funayama had a good hand in creating that style.

(short version)

Funayama's first big success was Kenji Sawada's(沢田研二)"Katte ni Shiyagare"(勝手にしやがれ)from 1977 for which the song earned a Japan Record Award Grand Prize. That dramatic bullfight intro probably has gone down as one of the more famous in kayo.

Ikue Sakakibara's(榊原郁恵)"Robot"(ロボット)from 1980 was one of those Tsutsumi/Funayama collaborations and it was another winner for both since Sakakibara ended up appearing on the Kohaku Utagassen because of its hit status. As such, Funayama was also willing to get into the synthpop craze of the time, and it's interesting in J-Wiki that following his stay between 1981 and 1983 in Los Angeles, he decided to purchase a Fairlight CMI synthesizer. He then incorporated some of that computer technology into the music for some of his other clients later into the decade.

One of the songs mentioned taking on that synthpop style is "Romantic ga Tomaranai"(Romanticが止まらない)by C-C-B in 1985. This was another Tsutsumi/Funayama collaboration with Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)as the lyricist. It is one of the band's trademark tunes and the arrangement was impressive enough that techno group Denki Groove(電気グルーヴ)adopted one riff from "Romantic ga Tomaranai" into their kakkoii "Nijuu-ichi Seiki mo Motetakute"(21世紀もモテたくて).

However, it wasn't all upbeat music with Funayama. He also arranged Mayumi Itsuwa's(五輪真弓)1980 hit "Koibito yo"(恋人よ) as this epic heartrending ballad dealing with an absolute end of an affair. The version above has some horns blazing away, but I think the original recorded version with the strings hits the heart best. If there's an image created thanks to the arranger's work, it's that of the saddest person in the world lingering in a French café while the relentless rain represents the tracks of his tears. I wonder if an arranger comes up with those images as well when coming up with a way to illustrate a song to the finest degree.

There's no way that I could ever come close to totally encapsulating the oeuvre of Funayama's work no matter how grand I make this Creator article, so I will just include one more song here, and that would be Wink's "One Night in Heaven" from 1989. I have this one here because the arranger worked on so many of the duo's songs and I gather that his Fairlight CMI was helping out in the work behind this hit.

Anyways, more to search in the blog to see whether I have to put in the Motoki Funayama label. As of the 1990s, Funayama was also working on anison and commercial jingles along with songs by the various Johnny's groups. As of 2019, he has more than 2700 songs to his credit.

Rika Himenogi -- Glass no Kiss(硝子のキッス)

 

Indeed, yes, it's the final day for 2020. Unlike the above 2019 photo, though, it's not quite as bright and clear out there today although the temperatures are above normal. Another December 31st also means that I caught the last third of this year's Kohaku Utagassen live earlier this morning, and I figure that one of us here on the blog will give our thoughts on this most different edition of the annual NHK special. 

Perhaps we can start off then with some articles from all over the spectrum starting with another musical contribution to the "Maison Ikkoku"(めぞん一刻)ethos. This time, I found this theme song for "Maison Ikkoku ~ Kanketsuhen"(めぞん一刻完結篇...The Final Chapter), the cinematic representation of the famous anime released in 1988. Titled "Glass no Kiss" (Glass Kiss), it was sung by Rika Himenogi(姫乃樹リカ), and she joins the pantheon of "Maison Ikkoku" themes by Picasso(ピカソ), Anzen Chitai(安全地帯)and Yuki Saito(斉藤由貴).

I was looking at Himenogi's J-Wiki and Wikipedia profile, and I didn't really see any indications that she had been groomed as a late 1980s aidoru but there's certainly something quite aidoru-ish with the bouncy "Glass no Kiss". Written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and composed by Tsunehiro Izumi(和泉常弘)with overall arrangement by Mitsuo Hagita(萩田光雄), along with the grand happy-go-lucky melody, I've also found something rather Naoko Kawai(河合奈保子)-ish about Himenogi's delivery. "Glass no Kiss" reached No. 21 on Oricon and it serves as the singer's debut single from February 1988. It can also be found on her December 1988 album "Reminiscence 〜Singles vol.1〜".

Himenogi was born Rika Nishimura(西村理香)from Oita Prefecture and pretty early on in life, she found herself and her family moving from place to place due to the demands of her father's occupation. Sometime in 1982, she entered a music contest broadcast on TV Tokyo which resulted in her getting scouted by an entertainment company, and later on in 1986, she made her appearance in the June issue of the magazine "Momoco" and then on the TBS show "Momoco Club"(モモコクラブ)as a regular personality. At the time, though, aidoru Tomomi Nishimura(西村知美)was also on the program so to prevent any sort of conflict due to identical family names, Rika took on the stage name of Himenogi. Shortly after "Glass no Kiss" came out, she started her own radio program "Himenogi Rika no Oshaberi Salad"(姫乃樹リカのおしゃべりサラダ...Rika Himenogi's Talk Salad) and became a regular in the journal "Radio Paradise"(ラジオパラダイス)which boosted her popularity.

As a singer, she put out a total of 7 singles and 3 original studio albums under her stage name of Rika Himenogi up to 1990, but later that decade, she changed her name into a variant of her real name, Rika Nishimura(西邑理香)and released a few more singles and albums. In 1995, she married musician Dave Crigger and then moved to America where they have a family including three children.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Yukino Ichikawa -- Nagori Uta(なごり歌)

 

Enka singer Yukino Ichikawa(市川由紀乃)has been on the Kohaku Utagassen twice in the 2010s but unfortunately will not be showing up on tomorrow's 71st edition.

However, I have to say that I've been enjoying her 31st single from April 2020, "Nagori Uta", which could mean "Parting Song" or "Traces of a Song" (probably the former). I think it's just the way that the song flows with those strings and the oboe. I mean, I realize that strings and oboe (or is it a soprano sax?) have often accompanied an enka tune but the arrangement here just does it for me and I'll leave it at that.

Composed by Kohei Miyuki(幸耕平), who has been a go-to composer for the group Junretsu(純烈), and written by veteran Ou Yoshida(吉田旺), who provided the lyrics to the wonderful "Kassai"(喝采)by Naomi Chiaki(ちあきなおみ)all the way back in 1972, Ichikawa sings about a woman who has fallen for the charms of a certain song and the person who sings it knowing that the latter is most likely unattainable. Maybe the singer is an old friend from college.

In any case, this was another pretty good hit for Ichikawa as it peaked at No. 11 on Oricon.

Yuko Ishikawa -- Doyou no Yoru wa Party(土曜の夜はパーティー)

 

Well, as I was telling my good friend just now, I've set up the PVR to record this year's Kohaku Utagassen early tomorrow morning. As much as it's interesting to watch (especially this year under the new restrictions), I don't think it's quite worth it for me to wake up at 5:30 in the morning. Just can't believe that tomorrow will be the final day of 2020.

Partying isn't going to be the thing tomorrow for medically obvious reasons but I'm hoping that folks will try to enjoy New Year's Eve in their own way. At my home, we'll be having the customary toshikoshi soba for dinner and I'll be continuing to put up my fair share of KKP articles as we race toward the blog's 9th anniversary in late January.

Speaking of parties, here is some Yuko Ishikawa(石川優子)with her "Doyou no Yoru wa Party" (Party Saturday Night) which is a track on the Osakan singer-songwriter's October 1979 debut album "Yuko ~ Tokimeku Koro"(優子 ときめくころ...Anticipation Time). I don't have a lot of her material on the blog quite yet but from what I have heard, Ishikawa has enjoyed that rock n' roll with her pop as can be heard on her "Cinderella Summer"(シンデレラ サマー)of 1981. And "Doyou no Yoru wa Party" is no exception.

Written and composed by singer-songwriter Tatsushi Umegaki(梅垣達志), this track from "Tokimeku Koro" launches with that buzzy electric guitar and cool saxophone. It's not particularly a melodically raunchy number, though; "Doyou no Yoru wa Party" is a merrily-as-we-go-along tune as if Mary Beth has invited her fellow poodle skirt-wearing classmates for an at-home sock hop. Well, I'm not sure if they'll twist again to this particular song but you get the idea.

Aru Takamura/Tatsuro Yamashita/Minako Yoshida -- Last Step(ラスト・ステップ)

 

Yes, there was that cringey scene in "Spiderman 3" in which evil Peter Parker was shuffling on that New York street into meme legendry, wasn't there? When I caught this in the theatre, I had to turn my face away in embarrassment.

Not that the song "Last Step" is cringey whatsoever but when I hear it and the lyrics by Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子), I get that image of poor Peter shuffling off to Hell. The reason is that Yoshida's words express some fellow getting over a failed romance on the same street where the once happy couple walked with that titular last step being the final one in a dance on the pavement to commemorate the affair. Not sure how that would be possible on a Shinjuku or Ginza main street on a regular day but imagination is good. Incidentally, I first heard about "Last Step" through Aru Takamura's(高村亜留)cover of the song in her debut album "Aru First" in 1985

As I mentioned, Takamura performed the cover based on the original recording by Yoshida in her March 1976 album "Flapper" with Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)providing the music. The magical partnership between Yoshida and Yamashita ended up in a lightly funky strut-fest that was reminiscent of Rickie Lee Jones. Unfortunately, no copy of "Flapper" or the song itself is up on YouTube but I could find at least an excerpt provided by iTunes.

Tats himself did a cover of "Last Step" through his "Circus Town" LP which was released some 9 months after "Flapper" on Xmas Day, and his version is more of a Motown doo-wop shuffle. Takamura's take on the song is OK but even though her vocals are top-notch, I personally found the arrangement a little too sparse and tinny although I did like the instrumental break which reminded me of some of the techno-jazz of Kazuhiro Nishimatsu(西松一博).

Haruo Minami -- Kiyomori Tenka wo Iru (清盛天下を射る)

The Heike Monogatari (The Tale of Heike) when compared to Japanese literary classics like the Chushingura (The 47 Ronin) and Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), seems to be lesser known internationally. In Japan, however, it seems just as popular, having spawned multiple book, movie and TV adaptations for the longest time. I, for one, had invested in Eiji Yoshikawa's rendition (English translated) earlier this year. The Tale of Heike is basically about the power struggle and drama between two warring clans, the Heike (A.K.A Taira) and the Genji (A.K.A Minamoto), which culminated into the decisive Genpei War during the Heian era about a thousand years ago. I believe it's borderline non-fiction, but the intricacies of how certain events turned out are probably fictional. I'm not too sure on this and I could be wrong.

On the note of characters, there are many. SO MANY. One of the prominent figures, however, is Taira no Kiyomori (平清盛), or Kiyomori of the Heike... I'll call him just Kiyomori. He was a warrior of the Heike who managed to claw up the ranks of the imperial court, became too powerful for his own good, and his family had to pay for it. Interpretations often depict him as evil - *ahem* and a mad arsonist - but I'd consider him an anti-hero of sorts, which I'll go into a bit more soon.

Anyways, quite some time ago I actually had no inkling as to what this story was about and who Kiyomori dono was until my beloved folk history teacher Haruo Minami brought "Kiyomori Tenka wo Iru" to the table when I was searching for more of his kayo-rokyoku. 

Admittedly, what drew me to it first was its short length; clocking in at less than 6 minutes, it was markedly shorter than Haru-san's other kayo-rokyoku. But then that dramatic melody hit. The blare of the trumpets and the rolling drums created an air of dignity while the muscular strings and buzz of the electric guitar added a brazen, youthful edge. How abrupt it sounds at times also seem to convey a feeling of urgency. It was love at first listen. From the kanji in the lyrics and Minami's accompanying gestures, I surmised that he was relating a story of some heroic archer/soldier named Kiyomori fending off baddies from Kyoto. Some research and reading the novel much, much later proved that that were the case in a sense, and where Kiyomori had one of his "hero" moments.

To summarise what went down, a 30 year-old Kiyomori, then one of the captains of the Imperial army in Kyoto, had a showdown with a bunch of rogue warrior monks making a scene in the capital because the Emperor hadn't given in to their demands. Sick of their behaviour he boldly faced them head on with just his bow and arrow, showing off his renowned archery skills by shooting an arrow directly at the holy mikoshi the monks had been parading around. It was also to rub in the fact that the thin veil of religion the monks had been using as an excuse to cause chaos was nothing but a farce. As with his other works, Haru-san stepped into the soldier's sandals for a moment to deliver that defiant message prior to his act of heresy. 

Yokku miyo, san-sen no souhei-dono, (Behold, all three thousand of you warrior monks,)

Ise no Hei-shi no yumi-ya no chikara wo! (the might of the Heike of Ise's bow and arrow!)

Minami didn't end it in a crazed, out of character roar as he often did with his other rokyoku songs, and yet it's easily one of my favourite serifu because of how - *cue 17 year-old me* - cool it sounded. It was of no surprise that "Kiyomori Tenka wo Iru" very quickly became one of by go-to Minami tunes; and the Heike Monogatari and its characters were really intriguing in it of itself, so I found myself glomming on to it more than the other folk tales Haru-san had introduced me to.

"Kiyomori Tenka wo Iru" was actually part of the biggest project Minami embarked on simply titled as "Heike Monogatari" (平家物語) where he turned the entire story into a giant work of kayo-rokyoku with the hopes of keeping Japanese folk history alive and emphasizing the need for peace. It took him 10 years of planning and 6 years of writing to come up with a 2 hour plus compilation of the happenings in this epic, and was released in July 1994 to commemorate his 55 years in showbiz. An apt way to celebrate, but it wasn't without its trials it seemed. Aside from nearly two decades of relentless working, apparently penning down the horrors of war so very prevalent throughout the story triggered his wartime trauma, which caused the poor fellow to break down multiple times... That's some dedication. (Oh, Haru-san, why do you do this to yourself? :')) But, one can't deny that he succeeded in his goal. 

If you're keen on tuning in to the whole collection, it's actually available on Spotify - Kiyomori's Kobe venture and Minamoto Yoshitsune's (源義経) battle rally are pretty awesome too, so I recommend them should you check the collection out.


To round things off, here is Miyuki Minami (三波美夕紀) doing a buyo (Japanese traditional dance) routine to her father's song. Thank you, Ms. Minami for allowing so many of Minami Senior's stuff to be available online.


P.S. And to think, all the kerfuffle that ended in the disastrous Dan-no-Ura wouldn't have happened if Kiyomori were more ruthless.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Heaco -- Winter Lovely Day

 

Wasn't too bad a day at all during these Holidays. It was sunny and clear with some snow still on the ground and the temperatures weren't too frigid for the average Canadian. Any opportunity to get that batch of Vitamin D will always be welcome.

Over the last number of weeks, I've been introducing what amounts to a family of singers and musicians. First off, I wrote about the band GREAT3 and then discovered that the wife of one of the members Akito Katayose(片寄明人)happened to be Chocolat, a model-turned-singer who was in the Shibuya-kei line of things and someone that I used to see in commercials a fair bit in my early days in Ichikawa.

Well, Chocolat has a twin sister who was also a model and then also became a singer by the name of Heaco. Her singing career was a brief one, though, just lasting between 1998 and 2000, but she managed to put out 4 singles and 2 albums; one of those singles, the October 1999 "Konna Watashi wo Waratte"(こんな私を笑って...Laugh at Me Like This), included a track called "Winter Lovely Day". Now, while her sister was known for her Shibuya-kei material, Heaco has been classified on J-Wiki as a pop singer, and "Winter Lovely Day" is straight-ahead pop with some jangly guitars and Heaco's light and pleasant vocals. It actually does seem to whip up images of that nice walk during a sunny winter day in a small town.

The song is also available on her first album "One Fine Day" from November 1999. While Heaco provided the lyrics, Yasuyuki Horigome(堀込泰行)of Kirinji fame came up with the fun melody and Keiichi Tomita(冨田恵一), aka Tomita Lab, produced the song and I'm assuming the entire single.

The Firsts by J-Canuck

 

Now that we are all looking toward the final days of 2020, I was wondering what I could do in terms of a special KKP article, so of course, I was thinking about an Author's Pick. Then I remembered about the category of The First which had centered around 2017 and 2018 and invited some of the blog collaborators to write about what the first song to bring them into the world of kayo kyoku/J-Pop was. 

Therefore, I've decided to combine the two categories of The First and Author's Picks together to provide a quick list of firsts so that you good folks can find out what some of the seminal songs in my kayo life have been. I have covered them individually over the past 9 years, so you can get a fuller picture through the links to them but here, I'm just gonna provide the bare bones. As well, you can get a look at my original The First article which has what I first heard during my summer trip in 1981, my first City Pop song and the first song that I'd heard on the radio program "Sounds of Japan".

1. First Kayo (that I can remember as a baby): "Muhyou" by Yukio Hashi or "Ue wo Muite Arukou" by Kyu Sakamoto


Both in their own ways are melancholy and both have stuck in my heads for the past several decades. I also remember being right in front of the RCA stereo speaker as they were played. Not sure if sitting by something with a big magnet affected my brain.😱

2. First Aidoru song: "Hitori Janaino" by Mari Amachi

Such a cute and schmaltzy song thanks to those muted trumpets. Too bad when I first heard this, I was in the process of barfing all over my good clothing in the taxi on the way from Haneda Airport in Tokyo. The driver seemed rather nonplussed...true professionalism.

3. First 80s Aidoru song: "Natsu no Tobira" by Seiko Matsuda

Yes, it just had to be Seiko-chan that I first heard on landing in Tokyo for the 1981 summer trip, and what better ambassador to introduce me to the world of Japanese teenyboppers. I have to thank that Suntory commercial and that appearance on the 1981 Kohaku Utagassen to sear the image of idolatry into my brain forever.

4. First Karaoke song: "Yukiguni" by Ikuzo Yoshi

Had to represent my country on the JET Programme and my pride in the karaoke bar so I went all Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and combined the two concepts to choose "Yukiguni" as my go-to karaoke song. Considering the number of times that I've sung this all over Gunma and Tokyo and all places in-between, the singer should have gotten quite a healthy royalty cheque from me.

5. First J-Pop song while on the JET Programme: "Samishii Nettaigyo" by Wink

My third landing in Japan at the end of the 1980s would be for my first post-university job as an English teacher in the Japanese educational system. The song that would line my welcome into Gunma was by a couple of newfangled aidoru at the time that had the distinction of presenting themselves as human porcelain dolls on a rotating stand with expressions that the Vulcan Science Academy would actually praise highly.

6. First J-Pop song while on my 17-year stint: "Try Me" by Namie Amuro with Super Monkey's


I arrived for my fourth landing to work at NOVA, once the English-teaching corporate beast of Japan, in early November 1994. This song didn't come out until January 1995. I can only assume that I was so focused and stressed out from my new job that I didn't really pay much attention to J-Pop for those two months. However, I do remember that rather racy commercial plugging the song and thinking "Well, there goes the kinjo".

7. First enka/Mood Kayo that I truly enjoyed: "Brandy Glass" by Yujiro Ishihara

Before this slice of traditional Japanese pop, I merely listened to the genres of enka and Mood Kayo simply because my parents were playing it on the stereo but after having returned from that 1981 trip, I somehow gained the ability to actually enjoy these genres. "Brandy Glass" by the Big Man was one of a string of genre kayo that I would begin to cherish from the early 1980s. I didn't particularly become a drinker even in drink-friendly Japan but the music was good enough for me to savor.

8. First Technopop song: "Firecracker" by Yellow Magic Orchestra

KKP readers might assume that it was "Rydeen" which was my first when it came to the music of YMO, but it was actually "Firecracker", and for that I would have to thank the local show "Japanese Panorama" for introducing the music video one night. I had heard "computer music" before through a record that I listened to in the junior high school library, but it was all an avant-garde mish-mash of bleeps and bloops. "Firecracker" proved to me that synthesizers and other musical technology named with a combination of letters and numbers (and the musicians behind them) could produce some truly magical and catchy songs.

Well, those are my eight Firsts. If any of you have your Firsts that you would like to share, I'm all eyes and ears.

Kaori Kuno -- Love in the Mist

 

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm a sucker for certain instruments from certain periods of time when it comes to Japanese popular music. There's the wailing electric guitar for City Pop in the early 1980s and the Fender Rhodes for all seasons.

Another instrument and time combination that I appreciate is the electric piano of the late 80s and early 90s as I've often heard it in songs by Akiko Kobayashi(小林明子)and Miki Imai(今井美樹). It also pops up in singer-saxophonist-songwriter Kaori Kuno's(久野かおり)"Love in the Mist" from her 4th album "Rose" of 1991. From this underrated artist, by my opinion anyways, I've been further appreciating the fact that I did invest my yen into "Rose" and the 1989 "Breath" back in my Gunma days as you can see in the article thumbnail above. It's just very relaxing straightforward pop.

Garnering my feelings about that electric piano from that part of the 20th century, I guess my amity toward the instrument is that it does show off that feeling of the sophisti-pop side of City Pop from the late 1980s but at the same time, it wasn't just stuck in downtown. There is also that bright and breezy openness which that piano brings as if we listeners were suddenly transported to some lovely resort in Guam or Mykonos.

Incidentally, "Love in the Mist" was composed by Kuno and written by Yu Fukuoka(福岡有). I'm hoping that I got the first name right for the lyricist there. As well, the video for "Love in the Mist" comes from the YouTube channel Island Fantasia whose proprietor, HRLE92, was generous enough to provide an article for the blog on Xmas Day.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Chanels -- Tamashii no Brother(魂のブラザー)

 

Was a tad disappointed to read that Masayuki Suzuki's(鈴木雅之)appearance on NHK's annual Kohaku Utagassen later this Thursday night will have him sing just "Yume de Aetara"(夢で逢えたら). Not that "Yume de Aetara" is a bad song by any stretch of the imagination; it is a great ballad created by the late Eiichi Ohtaki(大滝詠一), originally sung by Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)and also hit out of the ballpark by either Martin or his old group Rats And Star (formerly Chanels). 

It's just that I had been hoping that he would sing those two amazing theme tunes that adorned as many seasons of the hit anime "Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai"(かぐや様をこくらせたい)including "DADDY! DADDY! DO!" or even a medley of his hits since he has been celebrating his 40th anniversary in the music business. But perhaps the logistics have proven to be a little difficult. Not sure, but I'm still hoping that the announcement is more of a duck blind for something more substantial and funkier.

Anyways, speaking of the 40th anniversary, I did write about his "ALL TIME ROCK 'N' ROLL" album which had come out earlier this year to celebrate the auspicious occasion, and there was one song there that I didn't cover since I'd wanted to take care of it on its own. I promised that it would be talked about in October, but well...it's now here in late December instead.

"Tamashii no Brother" (Soul Brother) on "ALL TIME ROCK 'N' ROLL" is an updated version with special guests Kaoru Kurosawa(黒沢薫)from the vocal group Gospellers and Kaname Kawabata(川畑要), one-half of Chemistry. However, let me first show you the original "Tamashii no Brother", a track on Chanels' December 1981 album "Hey! Brother"(Hey!ブラザー).

Written by Masao Urino(売野雅勇)under his pseudonym Reiji Aso(麻生麗二)and composed by Suzuki with arrangement by Chanels and Kunio Muramatsu(村松邦男), "Tamashii no Brother" ought to have been the theme song for cool-as-all-get-out TV detective partners of the 1970s. Oh, those bongos, the guitar solo, the bass and the chorus work. For some reason, it sounds as if it should also have adorned the soundtrack of one of the "Ocean's 11" movies. According to the J-Wiki writeup on "Hey! Brother", Chanels' trumpet player and tarento Nobuyoshi Kuwano(桑野信義)is supposed to be the lead vocal, but if that is indeed the case, he sure sounds a whole lot like Martin himself.


Well, now we come to the new version on "ALL TIME ROCK 'N' ROLL" which is more of a disco-fied take as if the song had been taken from the mean streets to the starry neon-lit avenues. Pretty cool too but y'know, I still have to go with the original...for now. As for "Hey! Brother", it peaked at No. 9 on Oricon.

Kaori Kawamura -- Merry-go-Round ni Notteru Kimi no Koto ga Suki da yo(メリーゴーラウンドに乗ってる君のことが好きだよ)

 

Rock singer-songwriter Kaori Kawamura(川村かおり)left this Earth way too early at the age of 38 back in 2009 due to cancer. Although she didn't burn up the Oricon charts like some other singers or bands, she remains one of the musical touchstones for me when I was living in Gunma Prefecture between 1989 and 1991 because before I arrived in Japan at the end of the decade, it was unusual to see a female Japanese singer who wasn't bouncing around in a white frilly dress or singing enka in a formal kimono on stage. However, the turn of that decade had a lot of diversification going on in the new format of J-Pop and one of the new wings that unfurled in the mainstream was the female rocker either through bands like Princess Princess and solo singers such as Kawamura. 

I got to know Kawamura basically in 1991 via "Kamisama ga Oritekuru Yoru"(神様が降りてくる夜), a catchy number that I used to hear often because it was used as the theme song for a segment on the extremely popular Fuji-TV Wednesday night variety show "Kuni-chan no Yamada Katsutenai Terebi"(邦ちゃんのやまだかつてないテレビ). And then there was her cover of "Tsubasa wo Kudasai"(翼をください), a 1970s folk song that has become a standard in those high school chorus competitions.

When I first caught this music video, I was initially a little confused. My image of Kawamura had been that of the singer with that close-cropped haircut in the leather outfit who felt that it wasn't too cool to smile. But here she was with slightly longer (but not long) hair in pretty casual wear and actually beaming a bit more.

My assumption was that this one of her later efforts on the basis that perhaps Kawamura had mellowed out, but it was actually the video for an earlier 4th single "Merry-go-Round ni Notteru Kimi no Koto ga Suki da yo" (I Love Ya on the Merry-go-Round) that had been released in September 1989. A rolling and jangling pop/rock tune, this was written by Kawamura and Ken Takahashi(高橋研)with Takahashi handling the melody and arrangement. The lyrics are all about some fellow asking a young lady for a fun afternoon at the amusement park. My compliments on the guitar work.

"Merry-go-Round" was also used as the theme song for an anime motion picture, the boxing-based "Eiji"(エイジ)in 1990 at the request of the creator of the original manga, Hisashi Eguchi(江口寿史). The song was also Kawamura's first to get into the Top 100 of the Oricon charts by placing in at No. 90.



Well, I found out some of Eguchi's work through a Denny's commercial.

Yuri Tanaka/Saori Hayami -- Plastic Love


Geez...how long has it been since thanks to that lucky YouTube algorithm, the world became cognizant of Mariya Takeuchi's(竹内まりや)famous "Plastic Love"? A couple of years, I gather. Well, along with the multiple videos of the singer-songwriter's 1980s single that have materialized on the site, plenty of the amateurs and professionals have also plied their vocals to the tune that has also ended up on Takeuchi's comeback 1984 album "Variety".

Among the pros is vocalist for the Neo City Pop band BLU-SWING, Yuri Tanaka(田中裕梨), and in 2019, she released the sequel to her 2016 album of covers "City Lights", "City Lights 2nd Season". It even starts off with a cover of "Plastic Love" which doesn't stray too far off from the original and retains all that groovy goodness with the boppy bass and the horns. On listening to this, I had to go "Naruhodo" on Tanaka, one of the new generation of City Popsters, taking on this 80s City Pop classic.

I don't think that this has been released as an official song in her discography, but seiyuu/singer Saori Hayami(早見沙織)performed an unplugged version of "Plastic Love". Takeuchi has created songs for Hayami and I gather that this could be Hayami's way of paying tribute and saying thanks to the lady. Boy, wouldn't it be something if Blue Mountain Aoyama were to perform this one at Rabbit House during Amateur Night there? Sorry, just geeking out a bit.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Yutaka Yokokura & Pauline Wilson -- Brazasia

 


Last year, I was able to purchase a couple of Yutaka Yokokura's(横倉裕)albums: "Yutaka" (1988) and "Another Sun" (1993) and thoroughly enjoyed them. There's another in between those two, "Brazasia" which was released in 1990. Though I couldn't get that one at the time, I have found that it may still exist on Amazon so I will try to make a go at it.

Certainly that first and title track by itself makes it really enticing for me. "Brazasia" the song is one very relaxing tune and I found out on the Japanese-language "Music Avenue" that Yokokura on the koto works with the late Brazilian guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves to provide a wonderful fusion of jazz and bossa nova. But the piece de resistance is indeed the sharing of vocals provided by Yokokura and Pauline Wilson. Wilson has given her expertise on a number of Yokokura's songs over the years much to all our appreciation.

"Brazasia", as I'm listening to it during the cold of winter, does help in taking me out of the Great White North and down south to sunnier and warmer climes. It's the aural tonic to help me forget about the cold and the pandemic, if only for five minutes and change.

Tomoko Kei -- Pink no Kuchibeni(ピンクの口紅)

 

I was listening to this cute little candy cane of a kayo and I was wondering what was it about "Pink no Kuchibeni" (Pink Lipstick) that fired off some memory engrams in my head. Well, first off, allow me to introduce Tomoko Kei(恵とも子)who had debuted in show business as one member of the dance-and-entertainment group Schoolmates back in 1963, joining the 1964-1966 NTV music show "Star Parade"(スターパレード), and then she made her debut as a singer with the aforementioned "Pink no Kuchibeni" in October 1966. At one point, according to a very brief file at this website, the half-American/half-Japanese Kei had gained enough popularity that she was even compared to movie star Sayuri Yoshinaga(吉永小百合).

Written by Kazuko Katagiri(片桐和子)and composed/arranged by Osamu Shoji(東海林修), I like "Pink no Kuchibeni" for its arrangement that has me remembering some of that on-the-road country-style pop that I used to hear on the radio and see on TV via those old K-Tel record commercials. Even the lyrics are so innocent in that the heroine here is asking all listeners to keep the fact that she's putting on the titular cosmetic secret from Mom while she tries to lure in that boy of her dreams. 

From what little more I could glean about Kei's career, she put out one more single in 1967 and then called it a day in 1968 as she left for the United States.

Now, as for that melody of "Pink no Kuchibeni" that sparked off some hints of familiarity, I think Shoji's music was probably given some inspiration from The Cascades' classic doo-wop "Rhythm of the Rain" from 1962.

Charisma.com -- Like It

 

Well, we did get our White Christmas, one of the few blessings here during this COVID-influenced Holiday. I was able to have a nice conversation with a couple of friends that I hadn't seen for several months via Skype this morning in which we talked about our different situations and how we've been keeping the virus at bay all this year. So it was pretty ironic and concerning a few hours later that I got the email from our condo's management company to announce that our superintendent and his wife have to self-isolate due to exposure. Our building will be getting that deep cleaning and our family is even more stringent about ensuring safety without our walls, so I'm not too worried, but the final week of 2020 may be a little antsy.

Launching today's round of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" on the final Sunday of the year, we've got Charisma.com with another catchy rap and stomping beat via their "Like It", a track from their March 2017 album "not not me". Written and composed by MC Itsuka with further composition collaboration by KO-ney, I think Itsuka and her partner back then, DJ Gonchi, just have a way to put together an addictive hip-pop tune just from listening to some of their works such as "Otsubone Rock"(お局ロック)that I wrote about back in September.

In the video for "Like It", the ladies are joined on their Momotaro-like quest by TEMPURA KIDZ, who had also shown up on "Mummy Killer" (ミイラキラー), the first time that "Kayo Kyoku Plus" heard about them and Charisma.com, thanks to Marcos V.'s article back in 2014, dance artist Koutei Sennin and his crew, and Pako and Tom (?). Got a nice little memory tour of Sugamo and Odaiba in Tokyo, too. As for the album, "not not me" peaked at No. 55 on Oricon.

You can have a further look at Koutei Sennin and his dance with fellow artist Poppin John.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Johnnys & Jackey Yoshikawa and his Blue Comets -- Batman

 

"Kayo Kyoku Plus" friend and collaborator JTM kindly sent me a rather large book called "The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films ~ Mutated Edition" as a birthday present some months ago. It's all about the monster movies of past decades that for whatever reason never got as far as the celluloid stage. The one aborted project that really got my attention was "Batman vs. Godzilla"!

Yes, there had been thoughts and fantasies about the Dark Knight of Gotham going up against the Big Green One of Monster Island. And what better actor to battle the rubbery monster than the late great Adam West himself? I'll have that ham on ham right now ("Quick, old chum! Hand me that can of Bat-Oxygen Destroyer!" "Holy Atomic Breath of Death, Batman!")! I mean, could anyone have expected Christian Bale or Ben Affleck signing off on that one?

Indeed, the 1966 TV series of camp was my very first exposure to the Caped Crusader. Back then, it wasn't about the angst of Bruce Wayne in terms of morality and filial tragedy along with the horrible decay of Gotham City. It was all about the onomatopoeia-friendly fights, the Batmobile, the goofy villains and all those other devices with the Bat prefix. Of course, there was also the super-catchy, go-go boot-friendly, and lyrically economical (aside from the "nanananananana", it was just the title being chanted) theme song by Neal Hefti.

Well, I actually rolled the dice here and searched via Wiki/J-Wiki on whether there was a Japanese theme song for the original show (1966-1968) since I assumed that "Batman" the series also got its time in Japan as did many American shows. Guess what? I rolled a 7!

Yup, the opening had the original version but the ending theme consisted of the cover version thanks to a collaboration between the prime Johnny's Entertainment group, Johnnys(ジャニーズ), and the Group Sounds band Jackey Yoshikawa and his Blue Comets(ジャッキー吉川とブルーコメッツ). And this one had Japanese lyrics although I haven't been able to track down who took care of the words. Furthermore, there was some more of the beatnik music thrown in with a bevy of finger snaps and bluesy sax. Fun for the whole family!

Couldn't resist...just had to include the fight scenes! Plus, if you wish, you can take a look at Johnnys' take on an old standard.

The Works of Taiji Nakamura(中村泰士)

 

2020 has been a rough year for many reasons, a lot of them due to COVID-19 but it's also been a sad year in that a number of famous songwriters have passed away. Kayo kyoku's most prolific composer Kyohei Tsutsumi (筒美京平)died earlier in September and then another famed lyricist Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼)left this mortal coil only a few days ago. Then on December 20th, lyricist/composer Taiji Nakamura also passed away from liver cancer at the age of 81.

According to a Sankei Sports article from 2017 via J-Wiki, the songwriter was born in Nara Prefecture in May 1939. He was a junior high school student when he joined the brass band club where he played the trombone. Feeling restricted from performing marching music, Nakamura turned into more of a jazz enthusiast. However, although there was no band club in senior high school, as a sophomore, he became enamored with the rock n' roll of Elvis Presley and Neil Sedaka, and at the height of the rockabilly boom, he even got his own pompadour hairstyle.

At the age of 18, Nakamura joined a band which included actor/musicians Yuya Uchida and Mitsuo Sagawa(内田裕也・佐川満男)called Blue Jean Bops(ブルージーン・バップス)where he took on the stage name of vocalist Taiji Mikawa(美川鯛二). This is where J-Wiki takes a huge leap forward in time, only then mentioning that Nakamura had actually run for the Nara Prefecture gubernatorial election in 1995, only to finish in second place.

But of course between 1957 and 1995, Nakamura had all those years to create many songs for many singers, some of which have become kayo classics such as the elegiac "Kassai"(喝采), a huge hit and trademark tune for Naomi Chiaki(ちあきなおみ)in 1972. The video at the very top has Nakamura singing the song himself.

As mentioned, though, he had his time behind the mike as Taiji Mikawa but the only song that I could find of him singing is "Kimagure Date"(気まぐれデート...Whimsical Date), a B-side to his 2nd single in 1962 "Akai Yacht wa Shindeita"(赤いヨットは死んでいた...The Red Yacht was Dead) and a cover to Bryan Hyland's "Every Other Night" released the same year. Hyland is more famous for his 1960 novelty hit "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini". As for "Kimagure Date", listening to the Hyland original with the male chorus, I have to confess some confusion as to why the Mikawa cover had to include a female chorus that's practically shrieking.

Not exactly sure when Nakamura made his foray as a full-time songwriter but perhaps one of his early works was "Ima wa Shiawase kai"(今は幸せかい)for his old bandmate Sagawa in 1968

Nakamura didn't just focus on the more melancholy aspects of kayo. He also provided a huge number of songs for 70s aidoru Junko Sakurada(桜田淳子) such as her "Watashi no Aoi Tori"(わたしの青い鳥)in 1973

In 1982, Nakamura also composed the song that would be another big hit for enka singer Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし), "Kita Sakaba" (北酒場). It's a kayo that has been my second choice in the karaoke box all these years.

There are quite a few songs that I've also put into the Nakamura list here on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", but I also wanted to include a couple of more that I had yet to cover. One example is "Futari wa Hitori"(ふたりはひとり...Two are One), a song performed by Sachiko Kobayashi(小林幸子)and written by Kotaro Aso(麻生香太郎). Recorded in 1980, it's a light and cheerful enka thanks to the singer, the strings and the guitar.

One more discovery that I'll include to wrap up is Nakamura's music for Miki Obata's(小畑ミキ)1968 B-side, "Goodnight Andy"(グッドナイト・アンディー)with the A-side being "Kono Hana ni Ai wo Komete"(この花に愛をこめて...These Flowers With Love). Obata herself provided the lyrics to Nakamura's melody which sounds like his old roots of rock n' roll. 

Perhaps Nakamura's output wasn't quite as prolific as those of Tsutsumi but he has also left his generous share of kayo classics to be performed and cherished.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Seiko Matsuda -- Seychelles no Yuuhi(セイシェルの夕陽)

 

Slightly sheepish about this, but I've almost made a horrible mistake and was going to go end the year without acknowledging the fact that 80s aidoru Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)is celebrating her 40th anniversary in show business. Officially according to her J-Wiki file, she started her career in 1979 but her first single, "Hadashi no Kisetsu"(裸足の季節)didn't come out until April 1980.

I was given the reminder of this important point in her timeline via an NHK special that apparently aired in the summer but wasn't shown on TV Japan until tonight; in fact, I finished watching it less than 15 minutes ago. The special went over her career with a lot of footage of her aidoru days and then the switch into straight pop along with interviews with her and some of her songwriters such as Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実), Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and Kazuo Zaitsu(財津和夫). I also found out that her contribution to this year's Kohaku Utagassen will be an updated version of "Ruriiro no Chikyuu" (瑠璃色の地球).

Another Seiko song that I got to hear for the first time tonight is "Seychelles no Yuuhi" (Seychelles Sunset), a track from her 7th original album "Utopia"(ユートピア)released in June 1983. Written by Matsumoto and composed by the late Masaaki Omura(大村雅朗), I got to hear part of it during the career montage and immediately enjoyed the light & mellow sound in there with what I think is the fluegelhorn, the waves crashing quietly on the shore, and just the general AOR love in there. Plus, there is the way that Seiko-chan pronounces her "oh" that makes it completely Seiko.

"Utopia" was another one of her No. 1 albums and "Seychelles no Yuuhi" shares album space with other tunes that I've covered such as "Tengoku no Kiss"(天国のキッス).

Mitsuko Komuro -- Taba no Aida no Manatsu wa Iranai(束の間の真夏はいらない)

 

Had the annual Xmas dinner with my immediate household. As has been the case over the past several years, it was the usual no-muss-no-fuss frozen stuffed turkey breast with mashed potatoes with fruitcake for dessert. Things are digesting smoothly.

Maybe the same is going with you...just relaxing in the chair while all your energies are devoted in breaking down your Christmas feast. Well, then...how about the more relaxing side of City Pop since this is a Friday, and Fridays often mean City Pop and J-AOR on KKP? What I've got here is singer-songwriter Mitsuko Komuro's(小室みつこ)"Taba no Aida no Manatsu wa Iranai" (Don't Need the Midsummer Between the Bunches). Rather odd title but I think the bunch is perhaps referring to the flowers?

However, what is not odd is the melody for the song which is provided by Komuro (along with the lyrics). It's smooth-sailing bossa nova and hopefully that will make for a very pleasant aural form of a digestif. As the second track in the singer's 1983 album "Mishiranu Koibito"(見知らぬ恋人...Unknown Lovers), "Taba no Aida no Manatsu wa Iranai" also makes for a nice contrast with the opening track of the splendid "Highway Rendezvous"(ハイウェー ランデブー)which is more of the active bombing-down-a-Tokyo-highway type of City Pop.

AB'S -- By the End of the Century

 


Musically speaking, whenever I hear or see that expression which is in the title of this song by AB'S, "By the End of the Century", my mind wanders over to Donald Fagen's "I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World)" and the singer's supposedly snarky opinions on what the future will bring (personally, I still think it's a wonderful thought).


When I was an elementary school student back in the inner city of Toronto, St. James Town, there was a book in the library there that I signed out at least a few times. It had the title "Automobiles of the Future" and it was written by Irwin Stambler. I was absolutely fascinated by his images of what cars would look like in the future but looking at them now, I can say that those amazing conveyances reflect more of the retro-future. Still, they are interesting to look at and although the book hasn't been put up in YouTube form, I did find this video by uploader TwoBrokeGuyz illustrating this very topic.


Getting back to AB'S "By the End of the Century", this was the first track on the band's "AB'S-3" released in February 1985. Written by Yoshihiko Ando(安藤芳彦)and composed by Fujimal Yoshino(芳野藤丸), I'm assuming that this is the smooth-sounding Yoshino as the vocalist. It is what I've come to expect of the AB'S sound: the combination of percussion and guitars for that funkiness and those smooth vocals (it sounds like I'm describing some dark rum here), but this time, there is also that underlying synthesizer that brings in that subtle hint of technopop as if to emphasize what the title is all about.

Well, self-driving cars are just beginning to rear their AI heads. Let's see what the 2020s will bring.


Shizuka Kudo -- X'mas ga Ippai(X'masがいっぱい)

 

Ladies and gentlemen, wherever you are, I hope that all of you are enjoying a Merry and Safe Christmas. Perhaps some of you are already digging into the turkey and all of the other surrounding side dishes. If so, I'm deeply sorry for disturbing your repast. I will be partaking in my own dinner in a few hours.

We have not seen aidoru Shizuka Kudo(工藤静香)within the pages of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" for almost two years and it just so happens that I came across this Xmas song by her on YouTube a couple of days ago. So, in the spirit of the Yuletide and multiple bird-killing with one stone, I'm putting up her "X'mas ga Ippai" (Filled with Xmas).

A new song that was specifically added to Kudo's first BEST compilation "gradation" from November 1988, it's a light and pleasant tune about love and proposals during the Christmas season. Considering her aidoru status back then, "X'mas ga Ippai" does have a more mature ring in the arrangement and melody by Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利), a frequent composer of Kudo's songs. Goro Matsui(松井五郎)was responsible for the lyrics. I do love the keyboard work and the background chorus behind Shizuka-chan's instantly recognizable vocals.

"gradation" hit No. 2 on Oricon and became a long-running hit by becoming the 9th-ranked album for 1989.

Platinum 900: One of The Most Overlooked City Pop Bands

Hi, I am HRLE92, a new author of this blog. I run a Youtube channel called "Island Fantasia" to upload music. If you like city pop, AOR, or jazz, you might find something interesting there.

This is my first time posting here at this great Japanese music blog. I initially thought that I would begin by introducing city pop in the 90s, but I found that I did not have enough knowledge to write an article about Japanese music in the decade. So I scrapped that plan and decided to start by introducing one of my favorite city pop bands: Platinum 900. 

(Please note that all text below only reflects my personal opinion. You may find some of the information below inaccurate or not true for you.)

You can listen to this unofficial compilation I made while reading.


Platinum 900 was a band from Tokyo, Japan. It was a trio that consists of vocalist Naoko Sakata (坂田直子), guitarist and bassist Kazuhiko Nishimura (西村一彦), and keyboardist Hiroshi Iihoshi (飯星裕史). Iihoshi was also in charge of computer programming. The trio was released three albums and one EP in the course of three years, from 1997-1999. If I were to find a western counterpart for this band, it would definitely be Vulfpeck. In fact, the music of this band really seems like what Vulfpeck would release if it had city pop influence. Unfortunately, the difference is that Platinum 900 did not have Youtube and the Internet to help them get more exposure. 

I discovered the band when I stumbled across a Japanese blog that introduced rare albums. The author put a Youtube video under each album for sample listening. The album I saw in the blog was the group’s last album “Free (At Last)”. I genuinely did not think that this album would be one of my favorite city pop albums of all time when I saw the album cover, which features a weird, half black face of a man with sunglasses which has a reflection of a woman’s face on the left and a planet on the right. The fact that it was released in 1999 only further confused me. But it all became clear when I clicked on that play button. The song I heard was "Let’s Boogie The Night", track 9 of the group's last album. The first thing that stunned me was the fluid guitar movement and the funky bass line in the intro. Then it was the string section and vocals that kicked in later. However, the greatest part of the song was the flute solo. It brought the city pop vibe to an absolute apex. 

Since then, that Youtube video has been luring me to look for more grooves by this unfortunately forgotten band. I found a couple of pieces of audio on Youtube and later made an unofficial compilation from it (“Platinum No Rare Groove”, the video above), but that was it. There were no more materials on the Internet. 

Sometime later, I sent the audio of "Let’s Boogie The Night" from Youtube to a private city pop group chat I joined to share the discovery. I was very surprised to hear from a member that he actually had the audio of all three albums by Platinum 900. He was nice enough to send me all of it and let me have a listen to the band's discography, but he did not let me share any of them, which was unfortunate but reasonable.

Track information is from Tower.jp


1st album: "Platinum Airways Flight 900", 1997

CD originally packaged in jewel case housed in a thin cardboard box. Comes with a hype sticker on shrink but no obi strip.


This was where the legend started. I think this album has more jazz and funk influence than the band's later albums. 

Since I am not good at categorizing music, I will quote and translate a blog that introduces this album posted by a DJ from Taiwan. This guy goes by "勝野武士" and makes lots of great Japanese music mixes. You can check them out here. The original text in Chinese can be viewed here.

"The first song, "恋のレスキュー隊" (Koi no Rescue-tai...Rescue Squad of Love), starts the album with the style of acid jazz music and lounge music. Then it's the Japanese city-style AOR track "Never Stop". After the interlude "Never Stop" comes "I can't listen to the BOSSA NOVA on a Sunday afternoon", which is a lighter track that fuses bossa nova with drum'n bass music. "Eternity" is another AOR track. The urban soul song that incorporates jazz and funk influences, "Platinum Airways", comes next. [The last track,] "History", is as warm as a hug. Although [this album] has a little less variety compared to the group's last album "Free (At Last)", it is definitely a famous one that symbolizes the Japanese shibuya-kei musical culture of the late 90s." 

1.恋のレスキュー隊 00:04:56

2.Never Stop 00:05:02

3.Flight 900 00:00:43

4. I can't listen to the BOSSA NOVA on a Sunday afternoon (ボサノヴァ日曜日)00:07:49

5.Eternity 00:04:21

6.Platinum Airways 00:04:10

7.History 00:05:24

Track 3 is a shorter take, or possibly taken from, track 6. 

All tracks composed by Kazuhiko Nishimura, except for track 4, which is composed by Hiroshi Lihoshi and Kazuhiko Nishimura, and track 5, whose composer is not listed

All lyrics by Naoko Sakata, except for tracks 2,3, and 6, whose lyrics were written by Naoko Sakata and Kazuhiko Nishimura.

All songs arranged by Satoshi Nakamura (中村哲) and Platinum 900

2nd album: "Concerto für Jazz, Disco and Bossa Nova", 1998

CD originally packaged in standard jewel case inserted into a thin cardboard box. Comes with a hype sticker on shrink wrap but no obi strip.

This album is more simply known as “白金”, which means “platinum”. The track “Platinum Airways [Live Version] is what confirms that Platinum 900 was from Tokyo. I do not know if this was really recorded live, but I did hear audiences cheering and a host introducing the band. What is heard in the song is transcribed below. I cannot understand some parts so I marked them as "[unclear]".

Narrator: “Alright, alright, people. I now want you to know to give a big [unclear] welcome, all the way from Tokyo, Japan, is the Platinum nine… Something, whatever. Here they are! Let's hear from [unclear].”

Naoko Sakata: “Hello, New York! Are you having a good time? We are Platinum 900, from [unclear] Tokyo. We love you!"

In this album, the sentimental mood of the music shown more apparently in the third album was starting to develop. However, different from their third album, the string section did not play an important role in this album.

Except for tracks 2, 3, and 6, none of the tracks are available for online listening.

1. 第一楽章:今すぐ受話器をとって 00:04:59

2.第二楽章:アップル -APPLE- 00:05:57

3.第三楽章:Mercedes Life 00:06:01

4.第四楽章:Platinum Always [Live Version] 00:04:30

5.第五楽章:My Philosophy 00:05:17

6.第六楽章:ファンタスティック・ジャーニー 00:05:44

All lyrics by Naoko Sakata

All songs composed by Kazuhiko Nishimura

All songs arranged by Platinum 900

Tracks 1,2, and 3 are groovy city pop songs. Track 4 is a live version of track 6 in the group's first album “Platinum Airways Flight 900", Track 5 is a samba/bossa nova song. Track 6 is a cheerful and funky song.

3rd and last album: “Free (At Last)”, 1999

CD originally packaged in a standard jewel case with obi strip.


Tracks:

1.天国と地獄 (Heaven or Hell) 00:05:42

2.眩しいフォトグラフ (Mabushii Photograph) 00:06:02

3.フリー (アット・ラスト) (Free (At Last))00:05:13

4.夜明け前 00:06:25

5.ハリーは毛むくじゃら (Hairy Henry) 00:05:03

6.月灯りの下で 00:04:56

7.セイ・ホワット? (Say What?) 00:03:43

8.クライ、ベイビー クライ (Cry, baby cry)00:04:16

9.レッツ・ブギ・ザ・ナイト (Let’s Boogie The Night) 00:05:22

10.カミーニョ・ド・マー (Caminho Do Mar) 00:06:27

All lyrics and songs composed by Naoko Sakata and Kazuhiko Nishimura

This is probably Platinum 900's best album. It contains their most listened song, "Let's Boogie The Night", which has over 10000 views on Youtube. My favorite song from this album is Mabushii Photograph, which features an absolutely amazing string arrangement. 

I think this album accurately reflects the sentimental city mood. It is suitable to listen when driving downtown. The melodies may not seem "comfortable", or "perfect" as it often is in many classic city pop albums. But I think that the imperfection is the album's brilliance because it is meant to portrait the painful, yet beautiful, moment of heartbreak in city life. 

In this album, the string section has completely merged into the song as one of the main instruments: the drum and bass provide a solid groove, the vocal tells the story when the guitar and the strings create the atmosphere.

(Tracks 4,5,7,8, and 10 are not available online yet)

Track 1 is the beginning. It starts the album off with crazy horn sections and bass grooves. I do not understand the lyrics, but I think that the vocal sounds desperate and confused. This song sets up the mood for the rest of the album. 

Track 2 is a slower song. This song is highly rated by many Japanese music blogs. I feel that the best part of the song is the string section, which feels like that it is breathing and alive. 

Track 3 is the theme song of the album. It does not make me think of anything, but with the low-pitch chorus and bass sections, it feels like the perfect song for cruising at midnight.

Track 4 is the most emotional piece in the album. I feel that Sakata has really got good vocal skills. She can handle the mood of every song just so accurately and perfectly.

Track 5 takes the "uncomfortableness" of the melody to a peak. Sakata's voice feels rather relaxed in this song.

Track 6 has got some bossa nova influence.  It was performed with drum machine.  

Track 7 is a groovy jazz-funk jam.

Track 8 is a funky but relatively slow ballad song. Kazuhiko Nishimura was in charge of the main vocal. Sakata did not sing much in this track.

Track 9 is the funkiest in the album. It feels like the beginning of something like joining the dancefloor in a disco downtown. However, it simultaneously feels like the last chance you can get on the dancefloor and dance with someone. It feels like the last "boogie night" you would have before leaving and never returning or dancing with the same person. I think the theme here is pretty similar to that of Mariya Takeuchi's "Plastic Love". It is both sentimental and beautiful.

Track 10 is a bossa nova song. It is a chill ending for the whole album. 


If you want to get one of Platinum 900's album, I would recommend you to get it sooner than later, because when CDs typically do not hold value well, some CDs can sell for high prices. A few years earlier, Platinum's third album sold for a little more than 10000 yen, today it would take you more than 20000 yen to buy a copy. The second album is the most abundant, you can frequently see some buy-it-now listings on Yahoo Auctions listing them, in good condition, for around 12000 yen. However, the first album is, I think, as rare as their third album, but it would not cost as much. A copy without the original cardboard outer packaging was sold for 7000 yen on Yahoo Auctions a few months earlier.

Having heard these albums and known their rarity, I am actually surprised that there are no reissues for any of Platinum 900s album since the Japanese reissue labels are sometimes willing to reissue many lesser-known and more common albums. I do hope that a reissue would come soon and make the amazing sound of Platinum 900 available for more people.