Sunday, January 31, 2021
I'd heard this song all throughout my life in various forms on TV, but the first time I found out its title was, strangely enough, in Tim Burton's "Batman" (1989). "Beautiful Dreamer" was used as the Joker's theme (as heard from 1:32 in the above video) with arrangements ranging from pompous to tinny.
From what I read at Wikipedia, "Beautiful Dreamer" was created by American songwriter Stephen Foster and published posthumously in March 1864 (Foster had passed away earlier in January that year). Apparently, it was about a lovelorn fellow serenading/bereaving a lover who may have already departed this mortal coil.
Of course, "Beautiful Dreamer" has popped up here and there over the past century-and-a-half, and I found this happily waltzing version by this trio known as KRYZLER & KOMPANY. I'd first heard about this group that has been described in J-Wiki as a New Age band (though they can also do classical and fusion) through the pages of "Eye-Ai" a few decades ago, and it consisted of violinist Taro Hakase（葉加瀬太郎）, bassist Yoshinobu Takeshita（竹下欣伸）and keyboardist Tsuneyoshi Saito（斉藤恒芳）.
Hakase is someone that I saw frequently on television to the extent that I considered him to have TV personality status, and his wife, Mayuko Takada（髙田万由子）, is indeed a tarento herself. The violinist formed KRYZLER & KOMPANY with Takeshita and Saito in 1987 while attending Tokyo University of the Arts. The name of the trio supposedly originated from Fritz Kreisler, an Austrian-born violinist and composer who lived from 1875 to 1962. Initially, K&K was arranging some of the classics for their recordings but they gradually came to create their own original works.
According to Hakase's Wikipedia page, K&K reached a certain rock star status and their February 1991 second album "Kryzler And Company #" sold around 81,000 copies and reached No. 30 on Oricon which isn't too bad at all for a string trio. Their version of "Beautiful Dreamer" is on this album as well, and as I said above, it fairly waltzes across the soundscape with the soul of a late 80s AOR ballad. I think that there's even something Christmas-y in the arrangement as well.
Their initial run was between 1990 and 1996 starting with their debut single which was their cover of Kreisler's "Liebesfreud" under the Japanese title of "Ai no Yorokobi"（愛の喜び） after which followed another seven singles. In addition, there were also seven albums including their most recent 2015 "New World" when K&K got together again during that year. That particular album hit No. 48 on the charts.
Saturday, January 30, 2021
Buzz（バズ）has been the folk duo consisting of Masakazu Togo（東郷昌和）and Hiroshi Koide（小出博志）, famous for "Ken to Mary ~ Ai to Kaze no yo ni" (ケンとメリー〜愛と風のように〜), the song that adorned a commercial for the Nissan Skyline back in the early 1970s and probably had tons of viewers rushing off to Hokkaido. I wrote that article back in early 2017 and since I've also discovered a more City Pop-friendly song by them, "Tokyo Samba"（Tokyoサンバ）that was also released around that time period.
Buzz's initial run together lasted from 1972 to 1982 and their final album before the breakup was "Buzz Again" released in July 1981. From hearing some of the tracks kindly put up by Neon Sono, it looks like Togo and Koide were following the lead of a lot of folk bands and singers from the 1970s such as Off-Course（オフコース）and Iruka（イルカ）as they were trying out some of that City Pop and J-AOR.
Case in point was the first track on "Buzz Again", "Kimagure Kotoba wa Yoshite" (Never Mind the Whimsical Words). Written and composed by Togo, the song does have those folk guitars in there and at least for the first minute and a half, it does sound as if the Japanese folk has yet to leave the duo despite the fact that it's 1981. But then, the melody and arrangement take off into another direction that has me thinking of American soft rock although the placid feeling is maintained, and interestingly enough, I also get vibes of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" and 10cc's "I'm Not In Love".
"Buzz Again" is another album worthy of further exploration. As mentioned in my first article for the duo, after the initial breakup in 1982, Togo and Koide got back together in 2007 and released two more albums.
Almost two years ago, I wrote about singer-songwriter Sayaka Kushibiki's（櫛引彩香）1999 debut single "Itsumo no Kibun de"（いつもの気分で）, a Tomita Lab-assisted creation, perfect for listening in a trendy café on a sunny weekend afternoon.
Then I found out about the title track for Kushibiki's 3rd album in April 2004 "I'll be there". Written and composed by her, the video and the totally English lyrics give an autobiographical account of her dreams of getting out of her hometown of Mutsu in Aomori Prefecture to make something out of herself. She was obviously successful but there also seems to be an admission and a realization that a cost was paid to achieve her goals.
That sentiment resonates me with me as well to a certain extent. But from Kushibiki's melody, it all feels quite lighthearted as if she's looking back and also realizing that she's learned from the experience with things being rather copacetic now. Hopefully, the singer has been able to visit Mutsu frequently over the years.
Well, it is January 30th. At the risk of sounding like one of the closing segments for "Entertainment Tonight", the following people were born on this day: the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1882, actor Gene Hackman in 1930, and Yumi Yoshimura（吉村由美）of the J-Pop duo Puffy in 1975.
And as crazy as it sounds, "Kayo Kyoku Plus" just turned 9 years old today. I swear that it doesn't look any older than 3.5, although in dog years, Fido would be beginning to collect an old-age pension. Moving on, Happy Birthday to my cute little kayo Frankenstein that got its start with the January 30th 2012 article on Jun Horie's（堀江淳）"Memory Glass"（メモリーグラス）. Furthermore, my thanks to all those who have given their articles over the years such as co-administrators Marcos V. and Noelle Tham, and contributors Larry Chan, Joana Bernardo, JTM and nikala (plus the newcomers in the last several weeks: Oliver and HRLE92), and those who have commented frequently including Jim Laker, Francium, Mike and Michael, Scott and Fireminer. We've all done our part for the blog and talked about our common love for Japanese popular music for almost a decade, and I'm looking forward to hitting the 10-year mark this time in 2022. Let's see if we can even reach 1000 articles by the end of this year...in a non-COVID environment.
Knowing that the 9th anniversary was coming up, I'd been wondering what I could for an article to commemorate the occasion. Then, I was catching some of the funnier moments in last year's anime "Ochikobore Fruit Tart"（おちこぼれフルーツタルト...Dropout Idol Fruit Tart） when this Future Funk-ified song came out as the outro for one of the videos. I knew it was sped up but it was still pretty darn catchy, so I decided to track down the source.
Indeed the source was Meiko Nakahara's（中原めいこ）"Happy Birthday, Love for You", the final track on the singer-songwriter's 7th album "Puzzle" from March 1987. Nakahara is someone that we've known as one of the City Pop representatives, but this is actually a slow and romantic straight-up pop ballad about giving those loving birthday wishes to someone who's currently off somewhere else. It's too bad about the parted status between the two lovebirds but if they did have the opportunity, they would be having that special dinner in an Italian or French restaurant somewhere in the Aoyama neighbourhood of Tokyo.
Heck, if I could take the KKP gang out somewhere to celebrate in Toronto, it would be to my favourite izakaya downtown, Kingyo, or somewhere in Greektown. I can only imagine what my dreams for the 10th would be like.
Friday, January 29, 2021
Nowadays, when folks hear Nogizaka, they usually think of the aidoru group Nogizaka 46（乃木坂46）as I do. However, it's also an area in Tokyo that is known as a high-class residential neighbourhood with Nogizaka Station on the Chiyoda Line. I recollect walking through the area as I was making my way from just-as-tony Akasaka to the entertainment district of Roppongi. According to the Wikipedia entry for the subway station, the commercial complex of Tokyo Midtown, as you see above, isn't too far away and I've had my various lunches and dinners there.
But it's not time for an aidoru tune here. Instead, I've got this languid and classy tune by actress/singer Ayumi Ishida（いしだあゆみ）from her 1981 album "Ayumi Ishida". Some months ago, I also profiled another track from the release called "Otokotachi"（おとこたち）which is a convivial and sultry City Pop tune of the time, hinting at some downtown nighttime enjoyment. But with "Nogizaka Melancholy", although it's also a pretty sultry City Pop song (and I've also thrown in the label of Mood Kayo this time around), there is a feeling of higher sophistication and, as the title suggests, some sadness or bitterness with hints given from that uncertain keyboard crash off the top and a clang of an electric guitar. I love the overall classy arrangement but especially there is that wonderful descending passage in the intro from about 11 seconds and the slips of Latin and jazz near the end. It's somewhat Mancini-esque.
As with "Otokotachi", "Nogizaka Melancholy" was written by Tokiko Iwatani（岩谷時子）but this time, the music was provided by singer-songwriter Yoichi Takizawa（滝沢洋一）. Perhaps the hostess in "Otokotachi" has finished her shift at the Roppongi club and schlumps her way to her favourite late-night hole-in-the-wall in Nogizaka where she drowns her sorrows in drink alone while "Nogizaka Melancholy" acts as the soundtrack. Life in the megalopolis, indeed.
I wrote about Yuko Ishikawa's（石川優子）1979 "Doyou no Yoru wa Party"（土曜の夜はパーティー）about a month ago, and I thought it was typical of her style of rock n' roll-tinged pop.
Today, I found this track from the singer-songwriter's June 1982 album "Full Sail", "Toki no Odoriko" (Time Dancer), and this time around, her words and music come together to form this breezy light n' mellow number in the Caribbean or the Riviera. It practically demands a tropical cocktail by the speakers. Another interesting thing about "Toki no Odoriko" is that the breeziness surrounds a major-chord refrain of happy kayo that takes the action off the cruise ship and back onto the West Coast.
From what I could gather from the lyrics, the titular dancer is heading off on a cruise ship to see what adventures she can get into while of course dancing the night away. It wouldn't surprise me if she were on the actual Love Boat itself.
Happy Friday from a very frigid Toronto today. As I'm typing this, it's only -12 degrees Celsius or a shade above +10 degrees Fahrenheit outside, so it definitely feels like a Canadian winter again after getting accustomed to what had been a pretty warm start to 2021. I'm pretty sure that there are fellow Torontonians though who may be looking askance at the sky and yelling out "WHY?".
Well, it is winter after all for one thing. But speaking of that question word, I have another track from Koh Suzuki's（鈴木こう）1982 album "Sa-Ra-Vah Street", "Y [why?]". Armed with a relentlessly thumping bass synth beat, I think this one created by Suzuki straddles the line between pop and City Pop. I think that I've heard that particular bass beat in a number of American/Canadian/European pop tunes during that decade, but at the same time, there is something about the overlying music with the guitar and keyboards that hints at me that the events in the lyrics are taking some place in the concrete jungle of West Shinjuku. By the way, the jazzy guitar solo is fun plus I enjoy how Suzuki throws out those triplets of whys.
Not a lot of information on Suzuki anywhere and I'm not sure whether the singer-songwriter had created other albums in the past. But I did find out that "Y [why?]" was released as a single according to the image that I could find at Discogs as shown below.
Thursday, January 28, 2021
For this week's ROY article, it looks like we've got our second "Family Guy" reference for the day following the article on "Bond Street" earlier this afternoon. Years ago, I bought a box set of the first seven seasons of the long-running Fox show and for the Season 5 "Hell Comes to Quahog", the beginning of the episode has Peter, Cleveland, Quagmire and Joe give a brief but tour de force performance of their roller skating skills, and all to the nostalgic disco sounds of "A Fifth of Beethoven" by Walter Murphy.
I'm sure that there was a bit of delightful laughter in production on the episode since Seth MacFarlane didn't need to sort out too much of the difficulties in getting permission to use "A Fifth of Beethoven", simply because the fellow who created the disco ode to ol' Ludwig all the way back then was the same guy who has been creating the music for "Family Guy"...Walter Murphy! I'd forgotten the name of the person behind "Fifth" so it was quite the surprise to find out that Murphy who had been providing some very jazzy and snazzy tunes for the show's characters was arguably the guy who started out all those disco versions of tunes in the 1970s.
Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5" of the very early 19th century is absolutely unforgettable due to those opening notes, and the first time that I had ever heard it was through a commercial for some medicine and Lucy Van Pelt's demonstration of Beethoven spray on one of the "Peanuts" specials. However, it was with Murphy's disco version that brought the song from the concert hall onto the dance floor when it was released on May 29 1976 (according to the Wikipedia article for Murphy), and from my memories, it spread like wildfire all over the radio.
Never saw "Soul Train" or "Saturday Night Fever" at the time and obviously at the time, I couldn't get into any discos in Toronto, but I could imagine folks making like John Travolta from that latter movie. Certainly the weekly charts in Canada and the United States reflected the success of "Fifth" with the song hitting No. 1 on RPM and Billboard. Also, as with anything becoming a winner, other musicians decided to see if they could replicate success by putting the disco touch on the themes for "Star Wars", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and even "I Love Lucy" among other tunes. In fact, I have to say that the first time I heard "Star Wars", it wasn't the John Williams original but the disco version by Meco!
So, with that May 29 1976 release date, what kayo was released during that month? Well once again, thanks to the wonders of Showa Pops' charts, here are three singles.
Minako Yoshida -- Yume de Aetara （夢で逢えたら）
Hi-Fi Set -- Tsumetai Ame （冷たい雨）
Mieko Nishijima -- Ikegami Sen （池上線）
Back in my childhood (and no, this isn't a ROY article although one will be coming up later tonight), I remember watching a Canadian game show called "Party Game" with Billy Van, Julie Christie, Jack Duffy and host Bill Walker. If I recollect, "Party Game" popped up in the afternoon hours just after lunch or before dinner depending upon the channel, but it was basically good-natured competitive charades taking place on a set that resembled the basement in a house of a well-to-do family.
Although I hadn't been aware of it at the time, that rollicking theme song for "Party Game" must have made quite an impression on me since when I heard it being used on one of the "Family Guy" running gags, specifically Stewie's Sexy Party, I automatically pegged it as the "Party Game" theme. But then again, I also realized that it had been used in the very first "Casino Royale" with Peter Sellers.
Eventually, I found out that this was composer Burt Bacharach's "Bond Street" from his 1967 album "Reach Out", and listening to it now, I can definitely hear it as a Bacharach tune with all of the go-go boots and hip swiveling dance and of course, the sexy horns and electric piano. I'm wondering whether "Bond Street" even made it onto an "Austin Powers" soundtrack.
I also found out from one of the YouTube comments that there was a cover of "Bond Street" done on a 1996 Shibuya-kei compilation titled "Sushi 3003 - A Spectacular Collection Of Japanese Clubpop". Recorded by a band called Les 5-4-3-2-1 consisting of at least lead guitarist/songwriter Sally Kubota and vocalist Hitomi 19, the only information that I could find thus far of this group is on the All Music website.
Even with the original version, "Bond Street" could have been given honourary Shibuya-kei status on its own because of that Bacharach arrangement pedigree, but Les 5-4-3-2-1 has given the song an adventurous new life of swinging and traveling (the song is probably accompanied by Samsonite products) with sexy scatting vocals taking over for the horns. It's about twice as long as the original, and indeed has an overture-ish quality as if it had been meant as a theme for a movie about airline travel. Keep your seat belts fastened and the tray in the upright position!
Incidentally, Bacharach has actually been part of KKP for a long while since he was also responsible for Hitomi Tohyama's（当山ひとみ）"Our Lovely Days".
I forgot that the rock band Kishidan（氣志團...The Knights） had already gotten some representation on KKP not too long ago when vocalist Sho Ayanokoji（綾小路翔）contributed a song to Masayuki Suzuki's（鈴木雅之）"ALL TIME ROCK 'N' ROLL". However, this time around, Kishidan is on board on its own.
To be honest, I had thought that Kishidan had been around a lot longer than its official 1997 debut, and I guess that might be because of the whole thing about Ayanokoji and his guys sporting the punkified high school uniforms and making like the toughest of bosozoku bikers. It was all kinda 80s going into the 90s for me. But actually despite the appearance and the rock n' roll music, Kishidan has been categorized as a comic rock band on Wikipedia, although on J-Wiki, they've gotten the labels of indies rock, pop rock and pop punk. I'd known about some of the comic bands of the 1950s and 1960s such as The Drifters（ザ・ドリフターズ）but Kishidan is my first comic rock band.
Kishidan had its indies period for a few years after its debut in the late 1990s which is when their first song "One Night Carnival" was released in June 2001. With words and music by Ayanokoji, who's been called the Mad Dog of the Boso Peninsula, it's an invitation and love letter for some gasoline-powered escape down the highways, away from the boring everyday and towards a dangerous but far more thrilling life. Reading the translation of the lyrics, though, I'm also wondering whether that one night carnival is a one-way road into the afterlife.
The 2001 single peaked at No. 20 on Oricon and sold an impressive 800,000 copies. That led to Kishidan getting under a major label, Toshiba EMI, to release "One Night Carnival" once more in May 2002 with the only major difference being a different voiceover by Ayanokoji. Results were even better for this version which went as high as No. 7. I think part of the not-so-serious part of the band comes in the music video above which has the choreography looking as if Kishidan took a detour through a para-para dance club for lessons.
"One Night Carnival" also appears as a track on the group's 2nd album "Boy's Color" released in March 2003 which soared up to No. 3 on the album charts. It also became the 57th-ranked album of the year. Kishidan also appeared on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen twice in 2004 and 2005 to perform this very song.
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
I have to admit that I never watched a full episode of "Urusei Yatsura"（うる星やつら）but I know of how famous and popular it was back in the 1980s, and of course, there is the main character of Lum, played by seiyuu Fumi Hirano（平野文）. Awfully hard not to notice a floating young lady with blue-green hair in a fabric-sparse black-and-yellow striped outfit.
Hirano also released her fair share of albums and singles, almost all of them in the 1980s. The first of those albums was "Call me Funny Minx" released in March 1983. I haven't heard all of the album so I can't give a judgement on what genre or genres are covered there, but I can give some observations on one track "Uptown".
"Uptown" is one of those songs that is as tasty and juicy as a tenderloin steak done rare. It's an odd description to be sure, but it's just that I've had to give the song a few listens to get a handle. The first thing is that I enjoy that intro drum riff and then the keyboard coming in which reminded me of Melissa Manchester's hit "You Should Hear How She Talks About You" from 1982, so there is that West Coast pop thing, or so I thought. But then, as I get further into "Uptown", the melody takes on more of a New Wave vibe from the UK, and additionally, there are the vocal stylings by Hirano herself as she takes on an insouciant tone as if she's channeling a bit of Asami Kobayashi（小林麻美）. The Tokyo-born singer provided the lyrics.
The topper is that "Uptown" is a cover of the far-shorter original 1962 single by the New York-based girl group The Crystals. The group was responsible for other Phil Spector-produced hits including "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me".
Welcome back, Akira Fuse（布施明）! Missed that boomer of a voice of yours.
The last time that I wrote about him was back on Xmas Day 2019 for his 1982 City Pop "Tamaranaku Tasty"（たまらなくテイスティー）. But it looks like his experience with the urban contemporary stuff went even further back according to this track from his May 1978 album "Kon'ya wa Kidotte Mitara Ii" (今夜は気取ってみたらいい...Try Pretending Tonight).
With the title of "Natsu no Owari no Memory" (Memory at Summer's End), I kinda figured that it would have to do with a former romantic relationship on some beach somewhere. Sure enough, Fuse's own lyrics talk of a fellow in what is probably a fine convertible coming across an old familiar slice of seashore and remember that relationship from last year. Tetsuji Hayashi（林哲司）, no stranger to City Pop or AOR, whipped up the contemplative if boppy melody as if the lonely beach is still not too far away from a busy street of bars and restaurants.
As I mentioned, Fuse has got one of those voices that can really project, but for "Natsu no Owari no Memory", he keeps things relatively sedate here.
Looking at that title again, I had been wondering why all sorts of memory alarms were going off in my head when I realized that this was very close to the title for a classic 80s duet tune between Anzen Chitai and Yosui Inoue（安全地帯・井上陽水）, "Natsu no Owari no Harmony" (夏の終わりのハーモニー）. Completely different song, though. Ironically, Fuse and Hiromi Iwasaki（岩崎宏美）performed that very ballad on a music show.
"Uta Kon"（うたコン）was on last night and the hosts, actor Shosuke Tanihara（谷原章介）and announcer Nonoka Akaki（赤木野々花）, were back up on the stage seating instead of the audience seats, so perhaps there has been a slight relaxation in the restrictions although I think that audiences are still not allowed into the hall. Well, baby steps and all that...
Enka singer and kendama master Hiroshi Miyama（三山ひろし）was back to perform his 14th and latest single, "Kodama" which was released on January 13th. As for the definition of the title, I took a look at jisho.org once more, and initially I'd assumed that it meant "tree spirit" because like a lot of enka singers, Miyama has exhorted the wonders of certain topographical features in Japan such as rivers in his music.
However, looking at the lyrics by Haku Ide（いではく）, kodama in this case means "echo". Miyama is relating the story of his yelling his fond resonant farewells to the grand mountains of his hometown before heading to the big city some fifteen years previously. He also wonders about the young lady he left behind and whether she's already got married to another fellow. The melody strikes me as a signal that he will be coming back home for at least a triumphant visit.
Akito Yomo（四方章人）was responsible for the just-as-grand music which brings a lot of nostalgia to me especially during the winter months here since that sort of enka always seems to ring in my head during the cold season. Miyama comes from Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku, so I'm not too sure whether snow falls down in his old hometown at around this time; "Kodama" strikes me as being more of a Tohoku kayo but that's just my opinion. In any case, the song peaked at No. 12 on Oricon.
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
It looks like we have our 2nd 2021 single for this year following Kaori Mizumori's（水森かおり）"Naruko-kyo"（鳴子峡）.
However, it's not an enka tune but something more along the lines of hip-pop thanks to this song-and-dance group called Atarashii Gakko no Leaders (新しい学校のリーダーズ...New School Leaders). I'd seen this group on YouTube here and there over the past few weeks suddenly, and then I finally opted to give this particular song a try, "NAINAINAI" (No, No, No) which was released about a week ago on January 20th.
Written and composed by yonkey, "NAINAINAI" is very Yes, Yes, Yes about someone or a group of students in high school throwing out their frustrations about their current state of life in the world of social media, adolescent insecurities and raging hormones. The song and performance are funny and cool at the same time, and as someone commented, the whole Atarashii Gakko no Leaders thing seems like the anime "Asobi Asobase"（あそびあそばせ）brought to real life.
AGL has actually been around since 2015 and consists of Mizyu, Rin, Suzuka and Kanon. According to their J-Wiki bio, the whole concept of the group is standing out with their individuality and freedom over a crappy intolerant society which is in more in praise of just the so-called cream of the crop. I'm going to have to check out more of their past music videos, but I think, yeah, the ladies are fulfilling their mantra. Looking at their Wikipedia page, AGL has released eleven singles and two albums.
In the last number of days, I've been hearing some rather sad news about musician/producer (among other hats that he wears) Ryuichi Sakamoto（坂本龍一）. Remembering a few years ago that he had been diagnosed with throat cancer, something that he eventually did beat into remission, it was heartbreaking news on reading that he has now been diagnosed with rectal cancer. He is undergoing treatment and on his website, he has left a message for fans to keep everyone's spirits up. Of course, I am hoping that The Professor will defeat this one, too.
One song that he composed was for the rock band Sheena & The Rokkets back in 1979 as the final track for their 2nd album, "Shinkuu Pack"（真空パック...Vacuum Pack） released in October. Titled "Rocket Koujou" (Rocket Factory), it's a brief robotic instrumental coda to wrap things up but although I can hear some of that New Wave among the bleeps and bloops, I think it was a bit of an odd way to finish "Shinkuu Pack" for a band of the mentai rock vein.
I mentioned in the article for The Rokkets' "You May Dream" which is also a part of the album that Haruomi Hosono（細野晴臣）, Sakamoto's bandmate in synthpop legend Yellow Magic Orchestra, had produced "Shinkuu Pack" and that there were some conflicts between him and the band about the direction that the album was taking. Perhaps "Rocket Koujou" was one of the points of contention. Still, it was also stated that any arguments were all for getting the best out of the project, and the song was in there at the end.
Sakamoto and YMO did a cover of "Rocket Koujou" as a track for their May 1991 album "Faker Holic" which consisted of their live appearances in London, Paris and New York City in October and November 1979 (which is why I threw in the two years in Labels). Considering the brevity of the song, the video above has the first two-and-a-half minutes devoted to who I think is Sakamoto introducing the band members through his vocoder before going into "Rocket Koujou". If anything, the YMO version isn't too different from the one for The Rokkets except for a sudden onrush of YMO-esque beats. I think especially for this version, there is a feeling that the factory isn't producing rockets but a robo-Frankenstein of Asian design. The album reached No. 50 on Oricon.
Once again, I'm wishing for Sakamoto's complete recovery.
Monday, January 25, 2021
Often when it comes to the kayo of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost main island, the genres revolve around enka and Mood Kayo. I gather that there is something about the striking topography and the climate of the prefecture that lend themselves to the traditional music.
For that reason, I think "Souya Misaki" (Cape Souya) by the folk duo Da Capo（ダ・カーポ）is a bit of an outlier. For one thing, it's actually a relaxing folk song and not an epic enka about Cape Souya right at the northern tip of Hokkaido, and in terms of meteorology, the lyrics by Hiroshi Yoshida（吉田弘）depict the gradual warming-up of the region as spring approaches.
Another thing is that the melody is composed by the late Toru Funamura（船村徹）, someone that I usually expected an enka from through the songs that Noelle and I have covered over the years. But "Souya Misaki" is as gentle as a children's folksy lullaby as the environment thaws out from the winter. The song was released as a track on Da Capo's May 1978 album "Yuuhodou"（遊歩道...Promenade）.
You can read more about Da Capo including how the duo got their name at my first article about them, "Yuki Moyo"（雪もよう）.
Well, on the COVID front, there are issues on the vaccine supply front since Canada will not be getting anything from Pfizer this week and there won't be much coming in next week. However, the daily infection rates seem to be flattening out and perhaps even decreasing somewhat. Still high at just a little under 2,000 cases but we're hoping that we are slowly getting out of the second wave though we have to face February.
In any case, let's start the week on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" with something nice and cheery to complement the sunny afternoon we have in Toronto. This is "You Are Falling On My Star", the first track from Kochi Prefecture-born saxophonist Hisaaki Kanzaki's（神崎ひさあき）1981 album "Long Romantic Road" with his band Kanzaki On The Road.
"You Are Falling On My Star" is a nice way to start off with the album due to the intro seeming to start off someone's fine sunny morning. We can all do with a pleasant walk outside before heading to our favourite diner for a good hearty breakfast. Some nice Latin beats in there but basically the song is some refreshing jazz/AOR instrumentality.
Soon after graduating from Aoyama Gakuin University, Kanzaki formed Kanzaki On The Road and released three albums in short order in 1980 and 1981 including "Long Romantic Road". He also put out a solo release in 1988, "Kanzaki" with artists such as pianist David Benoit and bassist Rickey Minor pitching in.
Sunday, January 24, 2021
If memory serves correctly, Etsuko Yakushimaru's（やくしまるえつこ）"X-Jigen e Yokoso"（Ｘ次元へようこそ）isn't the first song by the singer-songwriter that I've heard, but it is the first one that made an impression on me. It certainly didn't hurt that it was the ending theme for one of anime's most enjoyably loopy shows in recent memory, "Space Dandy", but under her songwriting name of tica alpha（ティカ・α）, Yakushimaru made one really catchy techno-disco masterpiece which fit exactly with the look of the series.
Another Yakushimaru distraction has been "Houkago Di(e)stra(u)ction" (After School Distraction) which served as her 9th single from August 2018. It has that blippity-bloppity technopop sound and the singer's distinctive whispery voice describing some rather Dadaist images in the lyrics combining what seems to be a few news headlines and a student's rather boring lifestyle at school. Although the disco isn't there this time, "Houkago Di(e)stra(u)ction" has the above plus some nice twangy guitar going for it.
Let's add to the avant-garde dreaminess here. The official music video above is a 360-degree visual experience that you can control with your mouse.
For some reason, my anime buddy never included this show into the schedule when we used to do our biweekly Sunday routine, but "Hi Score Girl"（ハイスコアガール）was a 2018-2019 anime adaptation of a 2010-2018 manga by Rensuke Oshikiri（押切蓮介）, and it turned out that "Houkago Di(e)stra(u)ction" was the first ending theme. Coincidentally, one of the minor characters in this gamer romance anime is Junichi Suwabe（諏訪部順一）, the seiyuu who played Space Dandy himself.
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Tomoyuki Tanaka earned the first name of his nom du guerre, Fantastic Plastic Machine, by being able to loop a whole variety of disparate sounds into pure crazy catchiness, and for this particular song, that includes frenzied guitar striking, beeps and beats along with the inclusion of key words including the word "dance" by MC Su, a member of the hip hop group RIP SLYME.
Yup, "Dance Dance Dance Dance" is from FPM's 5th studio album "Imaginations" from February 2006. I mean, there shouldn't be anything by stringing those sounds together that would make me funk it up. And yet, each time I listen to "Dance Dance Dance Dance", I end up becoming that joyous fellow from the "Dancing Man at the Wedding" meme photo. Mind you, in all likelihood, he probably dances far better than I ever did at the Copa.
It's plainly evident in the music video above by houng ju mun that the lyrics state "How we doing?" but when I hear Su rap that out, I can't help but hear Joey from "Friends" saying his immortal line.
The past 24 hours have brought about the obituaries of a few people. Broadcaster Larry King whom I watched from time to time on CNN both here in Toronto and back in Japan over a few decades died earlier this morning at the age of 87, while baseball legend Hank Aaron passed away at 86 yesterday. I'm just a casual fan of America's Pastime but even I knew about his record-breaking 715th home run over that of Babe Ruth.
I added it to her first "Kayo Kyoku Plus" article about an hour ago but I learned from Mixi and J-Wiki that actress and The Queen of Latin Music, Sumiko Sakamoto（坂本スミ子）, passed away at the age of 84. That first article addressed her contribution to the 1961-1965 NHK music-variety show "Yume de Aimashou"（夢であいましょう）with the titular theme song itself.
"Yume de Aimashou" is a standard of romantic dreams and starry nights but it doesn't reflect Sakamoto's nickname of the Queen of Latin Music. So I looked up her J-Wiki biography and found out that she had appeared on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen for 5 years in a row between 1961 and 1965, and for all of her appearances, she performed a Latin song. Her second stint on the 1962 edition of the New Year's Eve special, for instance, was to perform "El Cumbanchero", the 1943 creation by Puerto Rican songwriter Rafael Hernández Marín. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any of Sakamoto's appearances on the Kohaku via YouTube but I can believe that when she did come onto the stage during those 5 times, things got pretty lively.
I could neither track down when exactly a recorded version of "El Cumbanchero" by Sakamoto was first released so as for the year to put into Labels, I will just go with 1962, the year that the singer presented the song on the Kohaku. The other thing was how is el cumbanchero defined. I've read things with vegetables such as "manly cucumber" and "spicy pickle", but apparently in Puerto Rican, the title means "The Fun Lover". Good enough for me and the lyrics translated into English seem to describe the titular person having a grand old time at a Latin jazz club.
I had heard of "El Cumbanchero" before just from that descending horn riff, and when I heard Sakamoto's version a couple of times, I wondered whether Latin jazz legend Tito Puente had tackled this one. Well, that was a silly question to myself and sure enough, here he is. With that frenetic percussion in the music and lyrics, there was no way that he could ignore this tune.
I also figured that salsa band Orquesta de la Luz has covered "El Cumbanchero" and sure enough, vocalist Nora and the gang did so on their 2008 album "¡CALIENTE!". It sounds like the band added some contemporary beats to their version...maybe it's House (forgive me, I'm not a dance music expert here)? Calling for any wisdom on this part. Anyways, the band is so good and smooth that they managed to make the corner of an empty lounge the most happening place on Earth in the video.
Friday, January 22, 2021
Ichiro Nitta（新田一郎）is looking like a combination of Roy Orbison and the world's most self-assured yuppie. Pass it on!
Anyhow, the trumpeter and former Spectrum No. 1 released his debut solo album "Cool ga Atsui"（クールが熱い...Cool is Hot） in June 1982, and one of the tracks is "Tokyo Jazz Club". I think it's safe to say that "Tokyo Jazz Club" isn't really a jazz tune but it is a catchy post-disco City Pop which demands its own mirror ball placidly spinning over the dance floor.
As the popular character Stefon from "Saturday Night Live" would say, "Tokyo Jazz Club" has got everything...for a City Pop fan who also loves his/her Earth Wind & Fire: a snazzy horn section, the bass, and high-pitched backup vocals. Nitta came up with the music while Yasuhito Miyashita（宮下康仁）provided the lyrics. Miyashita has also been the lyricist for a number of Spectrum's songs along with the output by other singers including Hideki Saijo（西城秀樹）and Midori Kinouchi（木之内みどり）.
With the added burden of COVID-19, I gather that there are a lot of folks out there who really want to flee like scampering antelope away from winter as far and as fast as possible. Someday, they can head off to warmer climes such as Florida or Hawaii.
Apologies but I cannot help you with your travel logistics. However, perhaps what I can do is provide some appropriate music to assist in your imaginings of those heavenly areas. As I did with my last Satoru Shionoya（塩谷哲）article, I've got another track from his "SALT III" album of 1997.
Unfortunately, I keep thinking of bilateral missile treaties when I see that title, but otherwise, there is some comfortable music with the pianist's album. "Chase for Truth" has oodles of heat and refreshing summery cocktails within Shionoya's virtuoso playing and Latin beat. I've said it at least once before and I'll say it again, but whenever I see his name in liner notes, I automatically take notice and look forward to the arrangement.
Well, seeing that I have just done a Miho Morikawa（森川美穂）song today, I felt that I should also provide another article on Miho Nakayama（中山美穂）since the last time she popped up on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" was June last year. But this isn't one of the danceable Toshiki Kadomatsu（角松敏生）hits by her.
Still, Miporin's 9th single "Hade!!!" (Flashy!!!) from March 1987 is plenty vibrant and happy late 80s aidoru music to match the title and three exclamation points. According to the J-Wiki article on the song, this was the final song of many songs that the combination of lyricist Takashi Matsumoto and composer Kyohei Tsutsumi（松本隆・筒美京平）provided for her. Motoki Funayama（船山基紀）arranged "Hade!!!" as that speeding sports car holding a young lady and her secret beau who has an excess of personality among other things.
One other piece of trivia that I found from the J-Wiki article is that when Nakayama and her staff made the announcement about "Hade!!!", they did so at a shopping mall somewhere in Chiba Prefecture which attracted about 10,000 fans. I can only hope that the various establishments there reaped up all the yen. The song went up to No. 2 on the charts and ended up as the 24th-ranked single for 1987.
The video below doesn't start with footage from that shopping mall mayhem but it's actually the first episode of the TBS comedy-drama "Mama wa Aidoru"（ママはアイドル...Mama is an Idol） starring Miporin herself. It's strangely meta in that her character's name is actually Miho Nakayama, a popular aidoru, but in-universe, it's a stage name for Yumi Nonomura（野々村裕美）who gets married to a widower with three kids. Perhaps much hilarity ensues.
TGIF! For me, when it comes to singer Miho Morikawa（森川美穂）, until recently, all roads have led to her theme songs for the NHK anime "Fushigi no Umi no Nadia"（不思議の海のナディア...Nadia, The Secret of Blue Water), so I've seen her as someone who loves her power pop, and my lone Morikawa album "Pop The Top!" (1991) as you see above in the thumbnail continues to show that.
The last Morikawa article I did was back in August 2020, and I was happy to hear that she also had gone for a downtown party phase in the late 1980s with songs like "Splash Blue" from her "1/2 Contrast" album released in June 1988. Well, she also explored some R&B as well through her later 10th single, "Real Mind" which came out in October that year.
Veteran lyricist Etsuko Kisugi（来生えつこ）, who would also pen the opening theme for "Fushigi no Umi no Nadia", wrote "Real Mind" as this scathing telling of a relationship that has been abruptly stopped by the cad. Bad news obviously, but I can't complain about the funky music by the duo of Hitoshi Haba and Tsunehiro Izumi（羽場仁志・和泉常寛）; will never turn down the offer of a beefy bass and bang-and-crash horns. When I first heard the song, I was rather reminded of the output of another Miho...Nakayama（中山美穂）, to be precise.
"Real Mind" peaked at No. 32 on Oricon and it's been included on her November 1988 5th album "Ow-witch!" whose LP version went as high as No. 16 while the CD peaked at No. 12. That title is quite intriguing, though. It sounds like what Bugs Bunny said in reaction to getting his head banged on something.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
Tonight, I was thinking of doing a Creator article for Mitsuo Hagita（萩田光雄）as I had hinted late last year when I wrote "Oricon Top 5 Most Commercially Successful Arrangers" because of all of the songs that he has handled over the decades.
But then, when I was reading through his J-Wiki biography, I came across one line which said that he had actually come up with a solo album, and thus far, it's the only album that he has created for himself in his long career. His 1976 "Secret Love" under the Toshiba label is an intriguing fusion take on some pop and jazz standards, most of which I've heard from my own variety of sources since I was a kid. In November 2013, the album was re-released just through Tower Records and according to the page devoted to the album on the Tower website, with Hagita arranging all of the nine tracks, some big session musicians were in on the project as well such as Jake H. Concepcion on saxophone/flute, Shin Kazuhara（数原晋）on trumpet, and Kentaro Haneda（羽田健太郎）on keyboards.
Since it's just the one YouTube video for the entire album by Xerf Xpec, I'll also include the original or previous cover versions of some of the songs that are handled by Hagita in "Secret Love". And that would include the first and title track, "Secret Love", which was originally sung by Doris Day in her 1953 movie "Calamity Jane". Written by Sammy Fain and composed by Paul Francis Webster, I hadn't actually heard the Day original but my first experience with the song was strangely through Bugs Bunny in one of his cartoons. Thanks, Mel Blanc!
"Secret Love" the first track under Hagita's ministrations is how one commenter for the video described it: the cover looks like how the song sounds. It's a romantic 70s disco-fueled soaring cruise through the night sky above the sleepy seaside town. The aforementioned Haneda is having a great ol' time on the keyboards while the horns blast away. Overall, "Secret Love" fulfills that one rule of a jazz cover in that it does contain the recognizable main melody but it's not a straight line from intro to coda; the melody is given a very liberal scenic route all over the place by the musicians.
I was indeed around as a little squib for "Aquarius (Let the Sunshine In)", the 1969 single by The 5th Dimension which I always felt was the pop theme song for all of the hippies back then. Hagita's space funk take on the song at 10:56 (Track 3) is probably something that I would have heard at a summer music festival. The "Let the Sunshine In" part is more of a really funky echo with the backup singers.
Track 4 at 14:41 is "Sunrise, Sunset" which is from the 1964 musical "Fiddler on the Roof". I first heard it, though, at my elementary school's musical cavalcade one night without knowing the original source. Hagita's take is more of a bluesy jazz sax and guitar ballad as if it belonged to some sort of Mickey Spillane-based film noir. For some reason, I think this version can even fit in an episode of "Cowboy Be-Bop" or even "City Hunter".
"Alexander's Ragtime Band" , all the way from 1911 by the legendary Irving Berlin is performed here by The Andrews Sisters and at 27:13 on "Secret Love" as Track 6. But The Andrews Sisters weren't the ones to introduce me to the song; actually, my ears first came upon this on one of the old afternoon cartoons that I used to watch. It's done by Hagita here as if someone decided to invite the cimbalom used in all those 60s spy movies including the Harry Palmer series for a country jazz-pop jam session in the barn.
It's approaching a century since Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" came out in 1929 but my introduction to it was an instrumental version on one of those long-gone LPs of standards that had come with our old and oaken RCA Victor stereo record player in the 1960s. I wouldn't know about its origins for many years until I started waking up to the pleasures of jazz while I was living in Japan. However, the "Secret Love" version at 36:32 is a relentlessly cheerful funky fusion cover with some swing horns that could almost serve as a theme song for a 1970s TV sitcom.
That's all that I will provide but give the rest of the tracks a shot and hear what you think. If it's available, I would be happy to get my hands on a copy, and considering that all this time, I've known him as one of the names on liner notes for many many songs by many singers, "Secret Love" is indeed a revelation. But I'll get that Creator article up for Hagita soon.
In this Reminiscings of Youth article, I will let you know what the "power" songs were with my university friends and I when we hit the discos back in the 80s. I may have already mentioned at least some of them in past articles but here goes: Ministry's "Every Day is Halloween", Paul Lekakis' "Boom Boom" (although not my personal favourite), and Depeche Mode's "Strangelove".
Then, there were the works of British band New Order. I swear that all of their songs were worthy of wearing out our shoes on the dance floor, no matter how late the hour, but the one single that had us rushing from our drinks, conversation and tables was the Extended Mix of "Bizarre Love Triangle". As was the case with Pet Shop Boys and the aforementioned Depeche Mode, New Order had its own distinctive sound when it came to the synthesizers, bass and percussion, plus of course, Bernard Sumner's cooing vocals. No matter where we went to dance, whether it be the Copa, the Diamond or Sparkles in the CN Tower, the DJ would always play the Extended Mix...had to keep the joy going for as long as possible.
"Bizarre Love Triangle" was released in early November 1986. I remember that our disco-ing days began soon after I joined the inaugural form of the Japan-Canada Students' Association when it started up in that same month, so the timing was excellent. From what I've read of the song on Wikipedia, I gather that my fellow club members and I weren't alone in our love of the song. Although it didn't exactly set the general charts in the US or the UK on fire, it did well on the dance and indies charts and has been included in Rolling Stone's "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" at No. 204 as of 2004.
I can no longer see myself getting anywhere close to a dance floor nowadays except in the possible position of a chaperone which is just as well. If I hear "Bizarre Love Triangle" again in that situation, my legs may just propel me back onto the floor. That would probably launch this reaction from the younger folk:
Anyhow, since the release date of "Bizarre Love Triangle" was November 5th 1986, what were the Top 3 songs on Oricon's October 1986 list?
1. Akemi Ishii -- Cha-Cha-Cha
2. Akina Nakamori -- Fin
3. Marina Watanabe with Onyanko Club -- Shinkokyuu shite（深呼吸して）