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.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Noriko Awaya -- Wakare no Blues(別れのブルース)


As I mentioned yesterday, I'm supposed to be having a talk on "Tokyo House Party" this coming Saturday night about kayo kyoku in the last years of the Showa Era, particularly the Bubble Era. However, thinking about what I'm to prattle on about on the 27th, I keep pondering that I will likely have to explain what kayo kyoku is first.

When I first started "Kayo Kyoku Plus" in January 2012, my feeling was that kayo kyoku consisted of songs created during the Showa Era (December 25 1926 - January 7 1989), and I think that still holds true, generally speaking. But over the years, I've come to realize that there is that category of song within the world of kayo kyoku that can't be placed within enka or Mood Kayo (the previous two rose in the postwar years) or jazz for that matter. Perhaps I can call such tunes jun-kayo or pure Japanese pop songs. And especially in the years before World War II, even though instruments in jazz were used to record these particular numbers, maybe the jun-kayo back then were more akin to the sweet music that was played against jazz. According to one book on the history of jazz that I've read a couple of times, sweet music was more the type of orchestral stuff that was played at those polite afternoon tea parties or classy soirees since jazz at that time was often treated as the devil's music.

I think when it comes to jun-kayo, I will be more than happy to introduce one of the most famous examples and that would be "Ue wo Muite Arukou" (上を向いて歩こう) from 1961. However, although I don't own this particular 45" myself, I can also say that this ballad "Wakare no Blues" (Breakup Blues) from 1937 applies. I certainly wouldn't ever call it an enka and if the original singer, the late chanson pioneer Noriko Awaya(淡谷のり子), were to ever hear me from the other realm use that genre term to describe it as such, she would probably hex me harder than Wanda Maximoff into the 22nd century (Awaya was definitely no fan of enka).

A song of longing and loss in romance, the lyrics by Ko Fujiura(藤浦洸)tell of a woman looking out over a harbour as the sailors get moving onto their ships and their ships get moving onto their next destination overseas. One of those sailors used to be her paramour. From what I've read on the making of "Wakare no Blues" in J-Wiki, the setting that was the model for the song was the Bund Hotel in Yokohama although I'm not sure whether the rooms actually had a good view of Yokohama Bay. Initially from reading Fujiura's lyric of " American harbour light...", I'd wondered whether the setting was San Francisco, but perhaps the American part was a name attached to that certain wharf. 

The music was created by Ryoichi Hattori(服部良一), the man who launched generations of music makers, and although "Wakare no Blues" isn't the first kayo with a title that has "Blues" in it (that honour belongs to "Sweet Home Blues" recorded in 1935 by Helen Yukiko Honda), the song is seen to be the first one that helped popularize Japanese blues. However, according to "Hattori Ryoichi no Ongaku Tengoku"(服部良一の音楽天国...Ryoichi Hattori's Music Heaven) via J-Wiki, even though "Wakare no Blues" has that bluesy mood, it doesn't utilize any of the blues chords. Instead, it is more influenced by chanson and kayo stylings, so it doesn't resemble anything that would be heard in American blues. Perhaps it can be said though that Hattori was indeed the pioneer for those Japanese blues kayo that has gone on through the decades with songs such as Mina Aoe's(青江三奈)"Isezakicho Blues"(伊勢崎町ブルース).

Another interesting thing about "Wakare no Blues" is that there had been some consternation among Awaya, Hattori and the others involved in the production about how it would be sung. Awaya had been known as one of those truly talented sopranos but the desire was that "Wakare no Blues" ought to be sung lower. In the end, the singer decided to spend a night smoking up a storm (she'd never smoked cigarettes before then) and then heading into the recording without a wink of sleep to get that certain gravitas-laden voice. Talk about suffering for one's art.

"Wakare no Blues" was covered by some more of the greats over the decades such as Naomi Chiaki(ちあきなおみ)and Hibari Misora(美空ひばり).

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