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.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Tohoku Shinkansen -- Kokoro no Mama ni(心のままに)

 

Earlier today, both Rocket Brown and I got together to make our latest album-centered podcast on "Come Along Radio". The target album was one that we had been looking forward to doing for some months so definitely we were very glad to finally tackle it: Tohoku Shinkansen's(東北新幹線)lone 1982 album "Thru Traffic".

Now, I've given my fair share of love to "Thru Traffic" through a couple of articles on the album proper and articles on a few of the individual tracks over the years, and frankly the album articles covered only a few tracks with some of them being repeated from the individual articles since the tracks by Hiroshi Narumi(鳴海寛)and Etsuko Yamakawa(山川恵津子)who made up the short-lived but fantastic duo Tohoku Shinkansen have been just that good. I gather that giving the tracks their own little articles keeps the good times going.

One that had yet to be covered here on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" was "Kokoro no Mama ni" (As You Please). The tracks had Narumin and Etsu doing their own solo work or working together in duets. "Kokoro no Mama ni" was another Narumin solo with him also providing words and music in addition to the vocals. It's an oh-so-soft and lush AOR ballad about a bittersweet story of letting the one you loved go to be with the other person he/she truly loves. The singer-songwriter sings his words in a very tenderhearted matter as if he's floating around the very scene, being careful not to interfere with the sad but necessary separation. 

At the risk of giving some of our talk away before the podcast gets put up sometime later, Rocket posited that this was the Christopher Cross track of the album, something that I can agree with wholeheartedly. For me, the arrangement had me thinking a bit of Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville". All in all, it's something very hammock-worthy with a cocktail on the adjacent end table.

Sentimental City Romance -- Potato Chips Kajirusuriru(ポテトチップスかじるすりる)/Turning Point

 


At this point, there really hasn't been any media announcement about it outside of J-Wiki and a Facebook page, but unfortunately for the rock band Sentimental City Romance(センチメンタル・シティ・ロマンス)and their fans, they lost a prime member in the last few days. Guitarist and vocalist Tokuo Nakano(中野督夫)passed away on July 27th of a subarachnoid hemorrhage at the age of 67. I'd just written about "U.S. Time Machine"(U.S.タイムマシーン), a track from one of their 1970s albums, "Holiday"(ホリディ), earlier this month. I actually found out about the news of Nakano's passing from my good friend, Rocket Brown of "Come Along Radio", while we were doing a taping of another podcast this afternoon.

Nakano was born in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture in February 1954 and outside of his work with Sentimental City Romance, he was also providing support to other singers such as Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや), EPO and Hiroko Yakushimaru(薬師丸ひろ子)through songwriting and backing musician support. He also released three solo albums between 1997 and 2016.


As a tribute, I'm putting up a couple of Sentimental City Romance songs up here to show some of the band's versatility during some of their career. The aforementioned "U.S. Time Machine" from 1976 was about their roots rock roots. But the above video has SCR's "Potato Chips Kajirusuriru" (Gnawing on Potato Chips) from their December 1977 album "City Magic". Written and composed by fellow guitarist and leader Nobutaka Tsugei(告井延隆), this strikes me as being a gritty and subdued urban rock tune with some hazy hints of progressive rock as someone slowly gets overwhelmed by life among the bright lights in the metropolis with only his potato chips to console him. I can imagine the poor fellow walking the seedy streets of 1970s Kabukicho, a notorious district in East Shinjuku.


KKP contributor nikala was the first person to bring SCR into the blog with her articles on "Flight Tonight" and "Miss Biscuit", both of which appeared on the band's November 1982 album "Dancing". What was interesting about these two was that the album was Sentimental City Romance's foray into a more AOR direction. Another track is "Turning Point" at 3:28 of the above video (Track 2) which was co-written by Nakano and Takao Ito(いとうたかお)and composed by Nakano. I think that this particular song has more of that TOTO AOR/rock edge to it as Nakano sings about overcoming all the bricks and sticks being thrown and knowing that there is always a brighter tomorrow...a theme that all of the current Olympians in Tokyo would be happy to accept.

In any case, I would like to offer my condolences to Nakano's family, friends and fans out there. YouTuber Toru Imai uploaded the following video to his channel featuring Nakano and friends covering "Downtown".


Friday, July 30, 2021

Takiko -- Alone and alone

 

I've mentioned it to Rocket Brown of "Come Along Radio" a few times but though I like all aspects of City Pop ranging from the hazy feelings from its 1970s iterations to the new types coming out in the 21st century, there is something that I like to call the "down-home" version of the City Pop umbrella that I've also enjoyed. Now, when I say "down-home", I don't mean that there is a vein of country music running through the Japanese urban contemporary; what I've intended to say that any City Pop tune with that "down-home" feeling is truly something of Japan without any (or barely any) influences from Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers or Airplay. It still feels like a city-bound song whose setting could be a Shinjuku hotel-top bar. If I could mention one example, it would be Akira Terao's(寺尾聰)"Ruby no Yubiwa"(ルビーの指輪).

Come to think of it, I think I may have found another one of those down-home metropolitan tunes via singer-songwriter Takiko(多喜子). I have never heard of her before but encountering her "Alone and alone" from her 1980 "Jinsei no Waltz"(人生の円舞曲...The Waltz of Life) album, there is something there that also has me thinking of drinking alone in a classy Tokyo watering hole far above the traffic.

She's been listed as a folk singer but with "Alone and alone", at the very least, I see her tackling New Music here but with that cool horn arrangement and a really classy use of the piano, I keep imagining a tryst playing out on the shiny dance floor in a sophisticated environment. Takiko took care of words and music while Kazuo Otani(小谷和夫)arranged everything for "Alone and alone" which reminds me melodically of Junko Yagami(八神純子)and vocally of Naomi Chiaki(ちあきなおみ).

Again, no J-Wiki article for Takiko, who was born Takiko Sato(佐藤多喜子)in Iwate Prefecture. According to "idol.ne.jp", she became interested in music after listening to Harumi Miyako(都はるみ)and began singing folk songs from her high school years. From the mid-1970s, Takiko began working at the Sendai branch of Yamaha Music as a vocal instructor but she also became a DJ at the local NHK radio station in the city where she hosted a segment on one of the shows for 6 years. In 1979, she released her debut single "Jinsei no Waltz" at the age of 25 after which the album of the same name was released the following year. Her catchphrase (and the Japanese seemed to love adding catchphrases onto their new talent) was "A warm breeze blowing in from the north".

I don't know exactly how many singles she released but I think the 1980 "Jinsei no Waltz" was all she wrote in terms of albums.

Amy -- Dance in Dream

 


Once again, I'm adding to the Amy file here on KKP that not only takes care of her career but also that sole album of hers, "Amy" from 1983

"Dance in Dream" is the penultimate track from "Amy" and it was written and composed by Hiroshi Suzuki(鈴木浩)with arrangement by Masaki Matsubara(松原正樹). I had initially wondered whether Suzuki here was the jazz trombonist Hiroshi Suzuki(鈴木弘)but I realized that the kanji for the first name was different. Then, there is the Hiroshi Suzuki whose kanji matches and is also a composer, but he was only around 18 years old in 1983 and would later join the Neo-Acoustic band b-flower whose music is a totally different kettle of fish. I'm not saying that it's impossible that it could be the same guy but I think it's pretty unlikely.

And that is because Amy's "Amy" is all about the City Pop and AOR. "Dance in Dream" has a few drops of tropical punch added to the beachside warmth of a melody that seems to weave somewhere between City Pop and AOR. I'll have to go through the rest of Amy's tracks once more, but I think out of all of them, "Dance in Dream" seems to get the most aidoru-esque vocals out of the singer although that's just my opinion.

Beers -- Hold Me

 

A little over a decade ago, I was rather intrigued by this campaign sparked by a collaboration between Sapporo Beer and Royce' the Japanese chocolate manufacturer to create some limited-edition chocolate beer for Valentine's Day. In fact, I was so curious about it that I actually bought a can of the stuff for consumption in my Ichikawa apartment.

The above is indeed my very busy coffee table and dominating the photo is a goblet filled with the Sapporo and Royce' concoction of chocolate beer. During my 17 years in Japan, I never drank beer at home, although on occasion I made my own Brown Cows, so it was something for me to bring home this particular brew. It didn't sound as crazy as one would think initially because I think something like a pint of Guinness would have those taste notes of chocolate and/or molasses. Well, as it turned out, the chocolate beer really did taste like regular beer but then during the aftertaste, the chocolate did kick in. It wasn't a bad thing at all but it didn't change my rules on beer at home.

Anyways, I make my groan-worthy segue into the City Pop/AOR duo Beers, and I recall that one of the KKP commenters thanked me for introducing Megumi Saito(斉藤恵)and Yoko Takahashi(橋本ヨーコ)to him. You're very welcome, I will say, and also in return, I have another track that I didn't cover from their 1983 album "Mistress". "Hold Me", which was created by Takahashi and Saito (words and music respectively), is a journey into the Japanese equivalent of Margaritaville, thanks to the husky voices and the mellow Fender Rhodes, and it hints at that same feeling that I had after downing the entire goblet of Sapporo/Royce' chocolate beer. Fortunately, I didn't have work the next day.

JADOES -- Windy Noon

 

I was planning to get my hair cut at an actual barber nearby for the first time in almost a year but the place looked plenty full with two customers waiting and two customers in the seats so I made a beeline back home once more. Not that I look like the beginnings of a human haystack but things are starting to appear fairly straggly on my scalp. Anyways I'll see how tomorrow looks for a trim.

Yes, as that album screams out, it is Friday which means that the more urban contemporary will be coming out to play today on "Kayo Kyoku Plus". And from JADOES' November 1986 debut album "It's Friday", I bring you "Windy Noon". 

Written by JADOES percussionist Kensaku Saito(斎藤謙策)and composed by vocalist/bassist Hideki DANCE☆MAN Fujisawa(藤沢秀樹), "Windy Noon" has a bit of disco here and some sparkly Tokyo City Pop there put into the mix. DANCE☆MAN goes full bore on the bass at one point, drummer Yukio Shimamura(島村幸男)brings the sticks crashing down and it sounds like Kazumasa Denda(伝田一正)is having a fine time at the electric guitar. Still, with all of the instruments acting out, "Windy Noon" perhaps does reflect that particular part of the day since I don't get that four-to-the-floor nighttime dance club parade. It is more of that sunny afternoon in the big city and a prelude to even bigger things in a few hours after the sun goes down.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Eisaku Ohkawa -- Yanagawa no Hito(柳川の人)

 

Earlier today, I did my weekly ROY article featuring Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." and one kayo that hit No. 3 on Oricon in the same month that Newman's album "Trouble in Paradise" was released was enka singer Eisaku Ohkawa's(大川栄策)big hit "Sazanka no Yado"(さざんかの宿). In fact, I'd say that "Sazanka no Yado" is the song that Ohkawa is probably known for the most.

It has been a very long time since I put up an article featuring one of Ohkawa's songs (maybe 5 years) so after doing the ROY article, I figured that Ohkawa was due for some more attention. And so I opted to go with one of his very early singles, "Yanagawa no Hito" (Man of Yanagawa). This was his 3rd single from April 1970, and it was written by Miyuki Ishimoto(石本美由起)and composed by the late Masao Koga(古賀政男), Ohkawa's mentor.

What caught my ears was Koga's enka melody which has an arrangement by Mitsuru Kotani(小谷充)that seems as if it was given a slight contemporary lift from what I've heard of the instrumentation and subtle key shifts. Ishimoto's lyrics first struck me as a story surrounding what I think is one of the quintessential traditional scenes in Japan, whether it be through karaoke videos or a historical drama: the slow cruise down a river lined by willow trees, and indeed, yanagawa translates into English as willow river.

However, after going through the lyrics, I've realized that "Yanagawa no Hito" is actually a go-tochi(ご当地)enka or traditional song about a specific region in Japan. In this particular case, Ohkawa is singing about the city of Yanagawa in southern Fukuoka Prefecture which is known for its canals. The key word in the lyrics which corrected my path about what the song was all about was Gonshan(ゴンシャン), written in katakana. Putting it through the Yahoo Japan search engine pulled up multiple hits about a certain coffee shop known as Gonshan in Yanagawa. It's all quite poignant since the protagonist in "Yanagawa no Hito" is planning on leaving the city for a bigger place...perhaps Tokyo. The video below incidentally is of Yanagawa and it was created by Kevin Caption.


As I mentioned in the article for "Sazanka no Yado", Ohkawa had to go through many years without a hit before that big song from 1982 finally reached him. However, just judging from "Yanagawa no Hito" alone, I think perhaps a reappraisal of those perhaps forgotten tunes of his throughout the 1970s might be considered.

Randy Newman -- I Love L.A.

 

Welcome to another Reminiscings of Youth with your cordial host, J-Canuck. On today's article, we take a look at what has been determined to be the 3rd-largest economic area on the planet after Tokyo and New York City, according to J Utah, the fellow above with all those wonderful driving videos on YouTube.

I've only been to Los Angeles once and that was back in the summer of 1989. On top of that, it was purely by happenstance that we ended up in the City of Angels since on my way to Tokyo to start my career on the JET Programme, the United flight from Chicago had some technical issues (something about an engine falling off) which meant that we Toronto recruits into the programme had to stay over in LA for a night. Well, as it turned out, it wasn't too difficult making lemonade from lemons because apparently several of us had never been to the city before so we got a nice little tour through Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills and Venice Beach. Plus, what we heard when we eventually did get to the Keio Plaza Hotel was that the welcome ceremony for everyone on the first day (that we "unlucky" Canadian JETS had missed) had been about as exciting as watching paint dry.

However, that little spark of interest in Los Angeles had been lit several years before, thanks to a video that I'd caught on television. Randy Newman is probably most well-known now for all that music that he provided to the "Toy Story" franchise, but my first remembrance of him was through a song in the late 1970s called "Short People". It wouldn't be for many years but I eventually heard and realized that Newman had a pretty sardonic/sarcastic streak when it came to his lyrics.

Anyways that video I saw was for Newman's 1983 song "I Love L.A.". As a teen who was not particularly all that aware or sharp when it came to song lyrics, I really did think that this catchy pop/rock number was a love letter to this huge metropolis in California instead of this Gibbs slap upside L.A.'s head criticizing citizens' self-absorbed nature and ignorance of the problems hitting the outside world. Dang, as nasty as Newman's words stung, Newman's music (and the chant of "WE LOVE IT!") was as inviting and fun as that cool convertible he's driving in the video. And he had good chunks of the bands TOTO and Fleetwood Mac helping out in the recording booth, too!

But it wasn't just me who had fallen for the melodic charms of "I Love L.A.". Even the residents of Los Angeles were more than happy to welcome the song as their new anthem, and from what I've seen of the comments on YouTube, the fans of the local sports teams there have also been unhesitating in their love of the song. I remember that it was used in connection with something for the 1984 Olympics which just happened to be held in Los Angeles. Watching the music video and then all of the footage from the city during the Olympics, there was something that did make me wonder about visiting the place someday. Well, fortune favoured the foolish when it came to me several years later.

"I Love L.A." was a track on Newman's January 1983 album "Trouble in Paradise", and so how was the Oricon chart for that particular month faring? Here are the Top 3 songs.

1. Akina Nakamori -- Second Love (セカンド・ラブ)


2. Hiroshi & Kibo -- San Nen-me no Uwaki (3年目の浮気)


3. Eisaku Ohkawa -- Sazanka no Yado (さざんかの宿)

Super Chorogons -- Maid with Dragons(めいど・うぃず・どらごんず︎❤︎)/Ai no Supreme!(愛のシュプリーム!)

 


Well, a third of the way into "Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon S"(小林さんちのメイドラゴンS...Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid S) and it appears as if the fans are happy with what they've seen so far including the inclusion of the newest resident in the Kobayashi household, the foe-turned-friend Ilulu. Yup, that second season opening "Ai no Supreme!"(愛のシュプリーム!)is a bona fide earworm in the same steps as "Aozora no Rhapsody"(青空のラプソディ).

As much as the tradition of having the band fhana come up with the opening theme, the ending theme custom of having the female dragon portion of the cast perform it is also continuing. However, Chorogons have been upgraded to Super Chorogons(スーパーちょろゴンず)with the addition of seiyuu Tomomi Mineuchi(嶺内ともみ)as the aforementioned Ilulu, joining Yūki Kuwahara(桑原由気)as Tohru, Maria Naganawa(長縄まりあ)as Kanna, Minami Takahashi(高橋未奈美)as Lucoa, and Yūki Takada(高田憂希)as Elma.

"Maid with Dragons" begins with a bit of that vaudevillian feeling that infused the ending theme for the last season, "Ishukan Communication" (イシュカン・コミュニケーション), but then it shifts over to a more conventional pop style although the upbeat nature is retained. As was the case with "Ishukan Communication"Yohei Matsui(松井洋平)is the lyricist but the composer this time is Ginnojo Hoshi(星銀乃丈).


Gotta have the live-action video, too. And it looks like Super Chorogons have followed up on their cover of fhana's "Aozora no Rhapsody" by even performing their version of this season's opener "Ai no Supreme!". No need to ingest any desserts tonight.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Cotton Time -- Ame Agari ni Dance(雨あがりにDANCE)

 

A few days ago, HRLE92 put up his "Introducing 5 Rare Albums I bought (That Are Probably A Total Waste of Money)" article so have a look at those CDs that he felt that he gambled upon but ultimately lost. 

Of course on YouTube, he's known as Island Fantasia and it was through his channel that I discovered a band that I had never heard of before. With the unusual name of Cotton Time, according to our fellow KKP contributor, their 1998 release "Lost Season" may have been the only album that was released by them, and further information on Cotton Time is rather sparse.

From the band's official site, I'm informed that "the Cotton sound" as the writer puts it is mellow, jazzy and comfortable, and has hints of what female vocalists in the 1980s including Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美)and Miki Imai(今井美樹)were delivering. Yukiko Nagao(長尾由起子)was the vocalist with Cotton Time, with Masashi Hino(日野雅司)on guitar, Hiroshi Nagino(奈木野浩)on bass, Minako Yamashita(山下美奈子)on keyboards and Naoki Iwata(岩田直樹)on drums. According to Island Fantasia, "Lost Season" generally has a mellow City Pop sound reminiscent of the early 1980s, although he also says that the particular track featured here is not representative of that sound but is one of the better tracks.

And that track is "Ame Agari ni Dance" (Dance When The Rain Stops). I would agree that though it doesn't really sound like an early 80s City Pop song, Yamashita's keyboards still hint at that champagne-and-caviar feeling of the late 80s version of City Pop with the inclusion of sophisti-pop. In that respect, there is something that reminds me of the aforementioned Imai, specifically with her great album "Retour" from 1990. That piano solo near the end also impresses me as it has Island Fantasia. The lyrics were provided by vocalist Nagao with the music coming from Yamashita.

Just some late "breaking news" that I found while riffing through the rest of Cotton Time's site, the band did release a maxi-single of 3 songs in 2002 and then finally broke up in 2006. I also found out on their home page that they included the word "cotton" in their name since, aside from the original meaning of the plant, they also discovered that through colloquial English, it has been used to mean "to come to like", as in "I'm really cottoning onto Cotton Time".

Junichi Inagaki -- TRANSIT (Disc 1)

 

The very first song that I had ever heard from City Pop/J-AOR crooner Junichi Inagaki(稲垣潤一)was "Natsu no Claxon", this very relaxing end-of-summer ballad that I saw performed by the Sendai-born singer-songwriter on an early morning episode of Fuji-TV's "19xx" while I was shivering in my futon in snowbound Gunma Prefecture. Listening to this one was enough for me to get my first Inagaki album which turned out to be "TRANSIT", his 2-CD BEST compilation released in December 1990. "TRANSIT" was actually his 6th collection of his best stuff and it hit No. 7 on the Oricon weeklies.

Seeing that cover of him in the cool pale clothing and the tasteful silhouette, I figured that Inagaki was going to be about the classy urban contemporary. But as I gradually discovered over repeated playings of the discs, within that particular genre, the singer touched upon a number of influences whether it be Doobie Bros. AOR, some light doo-wop or down-home City Pop.

In any case, because of the number of total tracks involved, I've decided to do this first entry for "TRANSIT" by focusing on the entries for Disc 1 only today. Several of those have already gotten their own articles so you can click on the links. By the way, all of the tracks featured here were arranged by Akira Inoue(井上鑑).

01. Ame no Regret 雨のリグレット

02. Aoi Tsuioku 蒼い追憶

03. Getsuyoubi ni wa Bara wo 月曜日にはバラを

04. Dramatic Rain ドラマティック・レイン

05. Long Version ロング・バージョン

06. LONG AFTER MID-NIGHT

07. MARIA

08. Natsu no Yukue 夏の行方

09. Natsu no Claxon 夏のクラクション

10. Iidasenakute 言い出せなくて

11. Kanashiki Diamond Ring 悲しきダイアモンドリング

12. Ocean Blue オーシャン・ブルー

13. Dare ga Tame ni... 誰がために・・・

14. J no Kanojo Jの彼女

15. Ai wa Ude no Naka ni 愛は腕の中で

16. TRACES

First off is "Aoi Tsuioku" (Blue Recollections) which was the B-side to Inagaki's 3rd single "Dramatic Rain" released in October 1982. Written by Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子)and composed by Akira Mitake(見岳章), as the title hints, it's a minor-key mid-tempo song about picking up the pieces after a breakup and realizing that there so many pieces remaining on the wet ground. It's got all of the feeling of a modern film noir in 1980s Tokyo but there is one passage near the end which actually shows a melodic beam of light shining in through the clouds for some reason. "Aoi Tsuioku" also ended up on Inagaki's debut album "246:3AM".

The opening notes for "Getsuyoubi ni wa Bara wo" (Monday Rose) struck me as being so Boz Scaggs or Bobby Caldwell. Also a track from "246:3AM", this is a gentle ballad over what seems to be a disagreement in the philosophy of love with one believing that love is nothing but a fleeting little game while the other feels that their relationship should be taken with the seriousness it needs. With lyrics by Yoshiaki Sagara(さがらよしあき)and music by Toyonobu Ito(伊藤豊昇), I especially like the part near the end where Inagaki stretches out the title phrase of "Monday Rose".

"MARIA" is West Coast AOR concocted by lyricist Masao Urino(売野政男)and composer Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)and the message is clear as a bell...a guy is in love with a lass named Maria. Hopefully the lucky fellow and Maria are in that convertible bombing down the Ventura Freeway. "MARIA" was a track on Inagaki's 1983 3rd album "J.I.".

When I hear "Natsu no Yukue" (Summer Whereabouts) which followed "MARIA" on "J.I." and is the B-side to "Long Version", I gather that Inagaki had wanted to infuse some of that 1950s/1960s balladry into the music, thereby joining the likes of singers like Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや). Once again, that oft-traveled theme of the end of summer meaning the end of romance is parlayed again as a man stands alone at the countryside cottage after his paramour has gone back home to the city. Maybe they'll have that tryst again next year or maybe not. AKB48 Svengali and lyricist Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康)provided the words while Kazuhiko Matsuo(松尾一彦)came up with the sweetly lilting melody.

This time, it was Akimoto and Hayashi working together to create "Iidasenakute" (Can't Say It) for "J.I.". A breakup doesn't sound much more bittersweet than this one, and with the shimmering strings and the electric guitar solo working with Inagaki's high-toned and resonant vocals, I wouldn't be tremendously surprised if there were quite a few fans who grabbed the nearest box of Kleenex. There are also some similarities between this one and "Long After Midnight".

From Inagaki's May 1984 4th album "Personally" comes "Kanashiki Diamond Ring" (Melancholy Diamond Ring) which has the singer returning to some of that old-fashioned vocal group pop. This song starts off the album and though it can be called bittersweet, there is more of the sweet rather than the bitter in this one written by Urino and composed by Hayashi. A man returns to his hometown to see an old flame getting married to another fellow and the wedding has him thinking about opportunities lost but well wishes given out all the same.

I really love the epic intro and the rich piano behind "Dare ga Tame ni..." (For Whom...) as Inagaki takes on a slightly more measured delivery and he sings about a happy relationship going through the usual things before the vows are taken. Also a track on "Personally", Sagara was the lyricist with Hayashi on music. I think among the ones that I've covered on this Disc 1, "Dare ga Tame ni..." is about as straight-ahead pop as I've heard so far.

But then we come to "J no Kanojo" (J's Girl) which is an upbeat pop number which launches his May 1985 5th album "No Strings". In fact, there is one frantic instrumental bridge that almost takes things into New Wave...and maybe a bit of Dire Straits thanks to the guitar. However, generally speaking, this is a good-time pop tune about having some risky thoughts for J's girl on the dance floor. I have no idea who this J is. Is it Junichi himself or is it someone with a scarier name like Jaws or Jack the Knife? It was lyricist Akimoto and composer Yasuhiro Kido(木戸やすひろ)on this one.

At 1:04:40, there is "Traces" which ends Disc 1 on "TRANSIT". It is not only the B-side to Inagaki's April 1987 11th single "Omoide no Beach Club"(思い出のビーチクラブ...Beach Club of My Memories), but it's a cover of the original 1968 ballad by the American band Classics IV that ended up becoming its biggest hit.

Hopefully I'll get Disc 2 up and running some time in August.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Genji Sawai & Bacon Egg -- Skipjack

 

Early on last decade, shortly after returning from Japan for good, my family doctor informed me that I should be laying off the bacon. You can imagine how accepting of that advice I was. Not very. I will always be an omnivore and happily devour the famous breakfast meat.😈

The reason that I'm even starting this article with one of my foodie loves is that I encountered this jazz musician and his band which has been dubbed Bacon Egg. The Japanese love to say this gastronomical combination made in heaven as "Bacon Egg" and not "bacon and eggs". Anyways, the leader of this group is jazz saxophonist Genji Sawai(沢井原兒)who has worked in session with singers such as Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之), Eikichi Yazawa(矢沢永吉), REBECCA, and Miki Imai(今井美樹), etc.

Sawai released this 1981 album with Bacon Egg called "Skipjack" and I'm not really sure whether the album was named after one of the species of tuna out there. Still Sawai's title track which launches the LP seems to follow the titular fish with its speed and energy. It's funky and jazzy as any fusion song ought to be and possesses that fun feeling of striding through downtown New York or Los Angeles. As well, I get reminded of what I wrote about a few days ago through Teruo Nakamura(中村照夫)and Rising Sun Band's "Mr. & Mrs. Funk".

A couple of days ago, I also whipped up an article about veteran saxophonist Sadao Watanabe(渡辺貞夫)for his 1993 "Till We Meet Again", and I found out that Sawai studied under Watanabe when he first started his career in 1973. Couldn't find out much otherwise on the musician aside from what I've read on a Japanese website called "The Sax Online". Sawai was a big fan of John Coltrane which got him onto the saxophone and his time with Watanabe lasted for a year during his days in university after which he participated in several bands and other units. In 2016, he released another solo album, "Tokyo Kaihouku"(TOKYO解放区...Tokyo Free Zone).

To finish off, let me say that having those traditional Sunday morning strips wasn't the only form of bacon that I had eaten during my 17 years in Ichikawa. From time to time, when I hit a patisserie such as Vie de France in Tokyo, I also bought something called a Bacon Epi. And yep, it absolutely was epi(c)!

Leo Ieiri -- Sora to Ao(空と青)

 

It was a few months ago, but NHK's "Uta Con"(うたコン)featured Leo Ieiri(家入レオ). I'd never heard of her but this singer-songwriter comes from the city of Kurume in Fukuoka Prefecture. Kurume is a familiar place to me because the city has had quite a few famous people in the Japanese music industry hail from there over the decades including 80s aidoru Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), Checkers' leader Fumiya Fujii(藤井フミヤ)and kayo composer Hachidai Nakamura(中村八大). According to her Wikipedia article, Ieiri started her career in 2012 and she gained her stage name of Leo from a couple of sources in pop culture: 1) the movie "Leon: The Professional" and 2) the character of Leo from the Osamu Tezuka(手塚治虫)manga classic "Kimba The White Lion". Her actual name is Wakana Ieiri(家入わかな).

On "Uta Con", Ieiri performed her most recent 17th single "Sora to Ao" (The Sky and the Blue) which was released in January 2021 and peaked at No. 9 on Oricon. What attracted me to the song was the uplifting feeling of the song during a pretty dark time in the pandemic and the guitar pop arrangement which reminded me some of the similar music from the early to mid 1990s. The lyrics seem to talk about one half of a couple which has separated under unknown but perhaps not permanent circumstances, talking of the day that they can be back together again.

Although Ieiri is also a songwriter, "Sora to Ao" was handled by different folks this time around. Yohei Kawakami(川上洋平), vocalist/guitarist of the band ALEXANDROS composed the music and the band itself took care of the arrangement along with Takeshi Saze(佐瀬貴史). Meanwhile, the lyrics were written by movie director and TV scriptwriter Eriko Kitagawa(北川悦吏子). Kitagawa was also behind the script for the NTV romantic drama "Uchi no Musume wa, Kareshi ga Dekinai!!"(ウチの娘は、彼氏が出来ない!!...Date My Daughter!!), the show for which "Sora to Ao" became the theme song. I recall seeing the ads for the show via TV Japan and it stars Miho Kanno(菅野美穂)in the mother role this time. Time has really flown when I actually see Kanno as Mommy rather than as the wayward daughter.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Hiromi Miyano -- Ame no Suspicion(雨のサスピション)

 

Ah, yes...the all-seeing, all-knowing Shinjuku Eye! Glad that I didn't pass by it all the time.


For your approval, I bring you Hiromi Miyano(宮野比呂美), another in the long line of 80s aidoru that never got into the top tier of teenage singers such as Seiko Matsuda or Akina Nakamori(松田聖子・中森明菜)but had their five minutes in the spotlight, all the same. According to that aidoru page that I sometimes refer to, Miyano, who hails from Yamanashi Prefecture, only had a couple of singles under her belt before she called it a day in 1986.

Her debut single was "Yokohama Gigolo"(横浜ジゴロ)but the topic for this article is her B-side, "Ame no Suspicion" (Suspicion in the Rain) which seems to describe many a suspenseful scene in a Japanese drama. Released in July 1985, it's got that urgent techno aidoru beat which grabbed my ear initially, but I find Miyano's vocals here lacking in range and expression although I like the arrangement. There's also some similarity in the refrain to Hiroko Yakushimaru's(薬師丸ひろ子) "Sailor Fuku to Kikanjuu" (セーラー服と機関銃). Lyrics were provided by Masao Urino(売野政男)while Makoto Kawaguchi(川口真)took care of the music and arrangement.

Mitsuko Watanabe/Sayuri Ishikawa -- Haru no Uta(春の唄)

 

Happy Monday! Perhaps a bit late in the year to do this one since this is titled "Haru no Uta" (Song of Spring) but, hey, it's warm and jaunty...just the thing to start off this final week in July. Besides, there's a bit of a story behind this one that I hadn't been aware about.

The term "heavy rotation" has been internalized within anyone who listens to music often enough, and there's even an AKB48 hit that has that very title. Certainly during my years growing up, I've noticed which songs were getting a ton of airplay on the radio and, for that matter, which music videos were getting their heavy rotation on television.

Well, I found out that almost a century ago, Japan had their own early version of heavy rotation through a radio program called "Kokumin Kayo"(国民歌謡...The People's Kayo) which was on the air between 1936 and 1941. Said program featured a new kayo and played it every night for a week from Monday to Saturday during its 5-minute time from 12:35 am. That was a heck of a time to play a song that wanted to become a hit. I guess folks really liked listening to the radio that late.

Anyways, one such song that did get the Queen Bee treatment was "Haru no Uta" which was written by Gen Uchida*(内田元)and composed by Kunizo Kishi(喜志邦三). It was first featured on "Kokumin Kayo" from March 1 1937 and was sung by Mitsuko Watanabe(渡辺光子), a Showa Era singer who had apparently gone by a lot of stage names such as Haruko Wada(和田春子), Nobuko Kawashima(川島信子)and Ayako Kawase(川瀬綾子). For "Haru no Uta", though, her official stage name at that time was Mitsuko Tsukimura(月村光子). It became a huge hit once it went on sale on that old 78 rpm later in July, and it was certainly a skip-worthy song to celebrate the coming of the green season.

To be honest, I'd encountered the cover version of "Haru no Uta" first via Sayuri Ishikawa's(石川さゆり)1974 2nd album "Omoide/Aoi Sanmyaku"(おもいで・青い山脈...Memories/The Blue Mountains) during her early aidoru phase. I had simply assumed that "Haru no Uta" was a song that was originally created for Ishikawa since my impression was that the then-teenaged singer was singing all these very cutesy kayo. Her take on the 1937 original was also in that vein with the marimba and mariachi trumpets playing away, a combination back then that I usually associated with comical or kiddy tunes.

*「元」can be pronounced as Gen, Moto or a number of other ways as a given name. If anyone can confirm the lyricist's name, that would be greatly appreciated.

Introducing 5 Rare Albums I bought (That Are Probably A Total Waste of Money)


I love to gamble. That is why I always like to pick up some albums that I have no idea about what it is when I go shop for CDs. I could win big if the music turns out to be good, but most of the time these rare albums contain nothing good and are hardly worth anything at all. 


Through a year of intensive buying, I have accumulated a stack of these rare albums. Some of them are kind of good, but most are only a waste of money. Here, I want to introduce some of these finds I made on the journey to dig out Japanese grooves on CDs. Since most of these albums are quite rare, I will try to provide audio samples for each album along with commentaries. 


(All images taken by myself.)


  1. Hideaki Fukutomi - Lydia (1996)

Label: ROH Inc. 

Catalog: ROH-0001

When I was searching for the term AOR on Yahoo Auctions, I came across an auction history of this EP that sold for 2,000 yen. Later, I encountered a copy on a local online marketplace, so I bought it and gave it a try. 


After a listen to the whole CD, I honestly think this EP does not worth 2,000 yen. The music is definitely worth a listen, but the songs are not so good that they are worth that much money. M1 “Lydia” is a good city pop-flavored ballad song. M2 “Lovin' You” is a jazz-like arrangement. Although the arranger tried to take city pop influence, the effort does not sound successful. M3 “Moonglow” is a very average ballad song that you would forget after hearing it. 


        2. Yuko Sasaki - I Honestly Love You (1993)

           Label: Spur

            Catalog: CO-9304

Looking at the cover image, I thought this album was going to be a jazz album. It did turn out to be somehow jazz-related, but all of the tracks are cover versions of classic songs. Of the 10 tracks recorded, the latter 5 songs are instrumental versions of the first 5, in which there are 3 jazz-like songs and 2 rock/pop songs. According to the insert sheet, the first 3 songs are arranged by Hiroya Watanabe, and the latter 2 are arranged by Hachi Kodera & Super Pickers. The video below shows the second track.


    


3. Kai Hasegawa - Hawaiian Dream (Unknown Year)

        Label: Not On Label

        Catalog: PRD-653

Besides jazz, city pop, and funk, I also listen to a little bit of Hawaiian music. This is one of the albums I picked up for that genre. 


This album features cover versions of Hawaiian songs in very, very low sound quality. Since purchasing the album, I did not finish listening to it. Part of the reason is that there is no original compositions on the album, another part is because of the low sound quality. The artist might had made the recording with care, but the bad sound quality just ruins the efforts he puts into this album.




4. JC Cornerstone - JC Cornerstone (1993)

        Label: Hosanna Music

        Catalog: HMCD-9306

I picked up this album for some light mellow AOR tunes, but it turned out that the album has more to do with religious music than with AOR. Overall this is quite a bad purchase for me.




5.Masaya Band - Crescent Night (1992)

        Label: Not On Label

        Catalog: MB-41810

Looking at the album cover and title, I expected to get some fusions songs from this album. However, it turned out that most songs are rock songs. There are only two songs that are kind of funky, but all are badly arranged.





Sunday, July 25, 2021

Sadao Watanabe -- Till We Meet Again

 

Another sunny and steamy day in the GTA. Some of my fellow Canadians have lamented that it's been a wet and cool summer but I sure don't believe it. It's been plenty warm here for me although we have gotten goodly buckets of rain now and then. Now that things have been opening up in Toronto for the past week in the province's Stage 3, I'm certain that many folks who have been starved for outdoor dining have been taking advantage and hitting the patios and going inside for a table. For now, Torontonians should be one pretty happy bunch.

I swear that jazz saxophonist Sadao Watanabe(渡辺貞夫)is one of the most perpetually happy musicians I've ever seen. Whenever he shows up in a photo, his beaming smile reaches my eyes before the rest of his face does. He also seems to hit some of the most picturesque settings as well such as certain parts of the Big Apple.

Well, the song "Till We Meet Again" in Watanabe's 1993 album "Earth Step" can also be described as blissfully happy. The title might be saying goodbye but that saxophone he plays is saying "Hello there! Come and stay for a while! The sangria is nice and cold." Maybe I'm stretching the analogy a bit here but it is an inviting track with not only Watanabe but also the dreamy keyboard action that could hint at either a gorgeous sunset afternoon or a clear night under the stars on the balcony part of a tony bar.

Franchouchou -- Kaze no Tsuyoi Hi wa Kirai ka?(風の強い日は嫌いか)

 

I've finally started watching "Zombieland Saga Revenge"(ゾンビランドサガ リベンジ). Those YouTube videos gave me plenty of hints of what was to come for the second season, but I'm still satisfied with what I've witnessed through the first couple of episodes.

There was quite a bit of buzz with Episode 2 since actor Hakuryu(白竜)contributed his voice as a long-standing radio host about to finally leave his post and give the keys to Franchouchou band leader Saki, his No. 1 fan, to provide the passionate energy for the soul restoration of Saga Prefecture. According to his Wikipedia profile, Hakuryu has played a lot of scheming gangland heavies in movies but here, his character of White Ryu(ホワイト竜)is a reassuring and rumbling voice of the night...kinda like a Japanese version of actor Sam Elliott, although he was probably much more of a hellraiser in his younger and less wise days.


At the end of the episode, Saki as lead vocal and Franchouchou perform a cover of an old song by White Ryu, "Kaze no Tsuyoi Hi wa Kirai ka?" (Do You Hate Windy Days?) which reminds me of the 70s/80s good time rock n' roll provided by performers and bands such as Eikichi Yazawa(矢沢永吉)and Shogo Hamada(浜田省吾). Maybe there's even a bit of Yosui Inoue(井上陽水)in there, too. My anime buddy told me some weeks ago that Franchouchou was exploring some of the other genres this time around, so I'm definitely looking forward to the other insert songs that will be popping up.


"Kaze no Tsuyoi Hi wa Kirai ka?" was written and composed by musician and songwriter Takeshi Isozaki(磯崎健史). I found a shortened version of White Ryu's original song which has a much more laidback arrangement but still feels like that exhortation to get out of the doldrums and seize the day. 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Anzen Chitai -- V (Friends, Side 1)

 

The first time that I wrote about one of Anzen Chitai's(安全地帯)big albums, "V", was back in the summer of 2012, and even before that article, I'd already covered one of the songs there that has become a karaoke staple for the older of us, "Natsu no Owari no Harmony" (夏の終わりのハーモニー). Frankly since then, I've covered more of the 36 tracks in total over the years of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" individually: "Suki sa" (好きさ), "Gin'iro no Pistol" (銀色のピストル), "Yakusoku" (約束), "Parade ga Yatte Kuru"(パレードがやってくる)and "Tooku e(遠くへ)/Miss Miss Kiss".

And Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)and crew just keep on giving with this album of the Anzen Chitai sound, City Pop, jazz and blues. So much so that I've decided to get a little side project going of covering what remains in the massive "V" which had originally taken up three full LPs but has had the CD version covering it in two discs. Until I'm finished and/or I can no longer find anything from "V" on YouTube, I'll probably keep at it on a monthly basis. But just to keep my sanity and retain my laziness, I will follow up by each of the original LP sides...hence the title above of "Friends, Side 1" Apparently what I hadn't known was that each of the LPs had their own title: "Friends", "Suki sa" and "Harmony".

Well, from "Friends, Side 1", I've already covered the first two tracks of "Tooku e" and "Miss Miss Kiss" as cited above, and there is the final track, the single "Friend" which was covered in the original article for "V". Incidentally, all tracks were written by Goro Matsui(松井五郎)and composed by vocalist Tamaki.

Tracks 3 and 4 of that Side 1 are "Party"(パーティー)and "Futari de Odorou"(ふたりで踊ろう...Let's Dance) which make up two sides of the same coin especially with a fuzzy foreshadowing of the latter song starting off "Party". As for "Party", Tamaki delivers a teasing and whispery affirmation about a woman getting ready for that huge soiree somewhere in the city. There is almost something borderline stalker-y but before we get into criminal proceedings, allow me to say that there is also new and old with the Fender Rhodes and synth-strings. But then a little over halfway in comes "Futari de Odorou" which is louder and splashier as that party gets into high gear and Tamaki exhorts everyone to get onto the dance floor with all those horns. That latter song is another hybrid of the traditional Anzen Chitai sound with some of that fusion that the band wanted to introduce in "V".

I remember watching the VHS video for the concert version for "V" and it began with the tandem of "Party" and "Futari de Odorou". Fine choice, too, since "Party" was all about the preparations before the big event and then with "Futari de Odorou", Tamaki flies up on stage for all to enjoy.

"Silhouette"(シルエット)is a dreamy ballad that has Tamaki doing his usual wonderful achingly tenderhearted delivery of love between a couple. It's very short at under two minutes and it seems to serves as an interlude between the party of "Futari de Odorou" and the dramatic "Friend" which finishes up the side. I guess, in a way, it's a cooling AOR breather with the hint of a nice flugelhorn chaser.

Hope to have Side 2 up and running early in August.

Anri -- SHARE Hitomi no Naka no Hero(SHARE 瞳の中のヒーロー)

 

Well, for better or worse, the Tokyo Olympics are under way, and it appears that Japan has already gotten onto the medal list with a Gold and a Silver at least in judo. Canada came close in the Men's individual road race with Michael Woods coming in 5th. COVID hasn't taken it easy on the Olympic Village and now Tokyo has to contend with a typhoon potentially crashing the party in the middle of next week.

Of course, when we have Japan + Olympics, the result will be official theme songs and for the national broadcaster NHK, that has been the case since 1988 when Mari Hamada(浜田麻里)sang "Heart and Soul" for the Seoul Games. The commercial TV networks have also followed suit. For example, Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里)sang "My Love, Your Love" which was used as the Olympic theme by NTV for the 1996 Games in Atlanta while Anri(杏里)contributed her own "Ano Natsu ni Modoritai"(あの夏に戻りたい)for TV Asahi for the same competition.

Speaking of Anri, when the Winter Games arrived in Nagano, Japan in 1998, her 31st single, "SHARE Hitomi no Naka no Hero" (The Hero in My Eyes), had originally been released in November 1994 as this love ballad that the singer wrote and composed, but it was then selected to be the official Nagano Olympics song by the Japan Olympic Committee. In comparison with the pleasantly light and summery "Ano Natsu ni Modoritai" for the NTV coverage, "SHARE Hitomi no Naka no Hero" has a bit more gravitas and an inspirational mood which probably caught the JOC's eyes and ears.

"SHARE" was then given its own separate release in January 1998 as an Olympic single. The original peaked at No. 47 and can also be found as a track on "Anri The Best", her 9th BEST compilation released in May 2000. Meanwhile, the Olympic single, which also has an English version, only got as high as No. 78. Supposedly, both versions have different arrangements.

For me, the Nagano Olympics meant those Ski Jump Golds earned by Takanobu Okabe, Hiroya Saito, Masahiko Harada and Kazuyoshi Funaki. I was happy to see that victory live on TV in Ichikawa, but that was only because I was stuck at home with a busted ankle.😧

Friday, July 23, 2021

Ginger Root -- Loretta

 

I was talking with commenter Matt K. earlier today regarding one of his recommendations, and that had me thinking about this whole City Pop craze which went worldwide starting a few years ago with Mariya Takeuchi's(竹内まりや)"Plastic Love". If I'm not mistaken, it's been about three years now and I'm happy to say that there are still folks finding out about City Pop, J-AOR, Neo City Pop and the like. 

However in my opinion, I believe that the early stage of falling head over heels in the thralls of hatsukoi with this wonderful umbrella encompassing jazz, Latin, soul and other genres has generally crested and it's now most likely the case that J-Urban Contemporary has taken up a solid niche among the many world music genres. It's not a fad...longevity and continuing popularity have seen to that. There are probably three groups of people: 1) the ones who jumped onto the bandwagon but have decided to get off, 2) the ones who continue to like City Pop but want to move onto other genres out there, and 3) the true believers. At least, some of 2) and all of 3) will keep the flame alive. 

But I think that City Pop has already entered a second stage of sorts in its time on the world stage. Folks outside of Japan are not only putting their own spins on the established works by artists such as Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎), Fujimal Yoshino(芳野藤丸), the aforementioned Takeuchi and Miki Matsubara(松原みき), but they are also creating their own original songs based on those certain funky/soulful patterns and arrangements. For instance, I've seen some YouTube videos of artists in Mexico and South Korea coming up with their own City Pop tunes.

One person that I've already mentioned is Masa, a singer-songwriter who I've been able to communicate with occasionally via Discord, and from his videos on his YouTube channel, I've found out that he has wanted to meld some of that Neo City Pop sound with blues through his own works such as "Komorebi"

And now finally we come to Matt's recommendation. He informed me about a singer-songwriter based in the United States, Cameron Lew aka Ginger Root. Hailing from Huntington Beach, California, he's been performing since 2017 with this indie soul project which he describes as "aggressive elevator soul". Well, if his "Loretta" is of any indication, then there must be a whole ton of neon and disco glitter in that lift along with several people dancing about.

His latest single from June 2021, "Loretta" has got that late 1970s City Pop and Vaporwave feel paired with a video which brings the fond memories of bleary VHS. I definitely love those spacey and sparkling keyboards as well. Not sure if Ginger Root was trying to emulate Tatsuro with the shoulder-length hair (although Ginger seems to be using a more effective conditioner than Tats) and those high tones in the video, but as I was mentioning to Matt, I think this cat from California is pretty much his own man with his creations. 

Anyways, "Loretta" will also be appearing on Ginger Root's next EP, "City Slicker", which will supposedly be released in a few weeks in August. Many thanks to Matt and I will have to explore a little more of Ginger's discography.