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.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Yumi Matsutoya -- Shiokaze ni Chigirete (潮風にちぎれて)/ Shoutou Hiko (消灯飛行)

For those superhero & kayo kyoku enthusiasts out there, does everyone remember that famous "Action Comics" Issue No. 1 circa 1938 which introduced Superman? Well, according to an online article from a couple of years ago, a "pristine" copy (and I do agree with putting up the quotation can anything that old be pristine unless it got a near-lethal dose of Botox?) of Issue No. 1 sold for $3.2 million via an eBay auction! I hope the fellow who bought (or invested in) it had that lead-lined Baggie or vault to store his acquisition.

This begged the question of what the most expensive J-Pop album that I have ever purchased was. Well, I remember that I did get that double-CD BEST album of Hitomi Tohyama(当山ひとみ)at Tacto for about 5,000 yen but I don't consider that a crazy collector's snag. There was another CD on the shelves there for a Mai Yamane(山根麻衣)disc that was going for 8,000 yen! I wasn't sure whether it was covering her earlier City Pop days or her later rock stuff or was spanning both periods. All I knew was that as much as I was curious about the singer, that CD was just too much cholesterol for my blood.

Now the reason I bring up this thing about rare releases and their corresponding costs is that I was looking for a new Yuming (ユーミン) tune to put up onto the blog when I came across "Shiokaze ni Chigirete" (Torn Apart by the Sea Breeze) which came out in May 1977. This was the singer-songwriter's first single (her 8th) since she switched names from Arai to Matsutoya when she got married. Perhaps that fact would have been reason enough to everyone go bonkers and buy it up considering how respected she was. But there's also the point that the A-side had never been put into an original album until it was placed as a track for a couple of her BEST compilations in the 21st century. The B-side, "Shoutou Hiko" has yet to be placed anywhere on an album, so basically it is that single that you have to get if you want your own copy of that particular song. And that single apparently costs close to 25,000 yen on Amazon! Nope, it's no "Action Comics" but still...

Anyways onto the main event. "Shiokaze ni Chigirete" may have been the first single in the new era of Matsutoya but the gentle ballad despite that violent title has that folksy Arai feeling (accentuated by that harmonica). Yuming still had more of that velvety flavor and less of the nasal tones in her voice back then which reminded me of those early days of New Music. Her lyrics go into a woman's visit to a favourite beach post-breakup as she struggles with her feelings on the matter. She wonders aloud why she is still wearing those sandals that he used to like so perhaps there is some ember that could be rekindled if the guy hasn't already hooked with someone else.

This is the true rarity here. I was wondering how to translate "Shotou Hiko" when I just decided to pitch the title into the Weblio search engine. It came up with "Lights Out Flight". Good enough, I say. For me, "Shotou Hiko" is a mix of her Arai days with some of that Matsutoya pop she would be bringing in over the next few years through some hints of urban contemporary...I hear a bit of jazz and soul with that piano in there. This song is the breakup in progress as a woman has got her visa ready to head out to a new country and leave her lover in the dust. There doesn't seem to be any regret in her decision. I'd say that the song is the Night to the Day of "Shiokaze ni Chigirete". And according to J-Wiki, the instrumental version of "Shotou Hiko" has regularly been used as the ending themes for radio programs.

"Shiokaze ni Chigirete/Shotou Hiko" went all the way up to No. 31 on the charts. It was a pretty quiet beginning for the newly-married Yumi Matsutoya but of course as we all know more successes came her way not too long after.

Strangely enough, about some days after the release of this single, there was a release Stateside of a movie with some Kurosawa elements about battles in space. It actually did gangbusters. And I only wonder how much a poster labeled "Revenge of the Jedi" would cost these days if the auction fans haven't already bought out the market.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Kiyoshi Nakajo -- Uso (うそ)

Well, let's see here....the Top 10 Singles for 1974 had a mellow enka, "Namida no Misao"(なみだの操)by Tonosama Kings(殿さまキングス)take the No. 1 spot while No. 2 belonged to Akiko Kosaka's(小坂明子)wonderful love anthem, "Anata"(あなた).

So, curious about No. 3 for 1974, I saw Kiyoshi Nakajo's(中条きよし)"Uso" (Lies) up there. I couldn't recognize it from the title or the singer behind it so I gave it a listen on YouTube. I didn't exactly give it a " I remember it!" but that intro was certainly familiar to me. Probably I've heard it on one of the NHK music programs or it was played on an episode of "Sounds of Japan".

In any case, "Uso" is another fairly mellow enka with a bit more Mood Kayo sung by Nakajo most likely from the point of view of the scorned other woman as she sees her soon-to-be-ex lover sleaze away to be with someone more "wholesome" to start a family. He may be using every platitude in his black book, but the lady can see right through his uso. Listening to this surprisingly wistful take on a bitter breakup, I already had the perfect setting mapped out in my mind. They were probably sitting at some sort of old cafe franchise such as Renoir in Tokyo or a cafe in one of the older hotels such as the good ol' Tokyo Prince. The tension was probably as thick as that strawberry shortcake I had at that cafe in the Prince.

Perhaps it was the knowing lyrics by Yoko Yamaguchi(山口洋子)or maybe it was the music by Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃)with that alto sax but "Uso" was that breakthrough hit for Nakajo when it was released in January 1974. It took 3 months for it to crack the Top 10 and another 6 weeks before it finally hit the top spot on Oricon where it would stay for a straight 8 weeks with sales of over 1.5 million records. When it rains, it pours as the saying goes and this time it was raining gold for the singer as it won a few awards at contests such as the Japan Record Awards. Of course, the Kohaku Utagassen dropped by and asked if he had some time on New Year's Eve, and of course, he accepted. However, although Nakajo had some more success, it would be his only time on the NHK special.

All that good news in the last paragraph must have sounded even sweeter and more poignant for Nakajo who was actually born Kiyoshi Shimomura(下村清)in Gifu Prefecture in 1946. It wasn't a particularly smooth ride to the top. After graduating from high school, Shimomura worked on a boat and then joined an acting troupe in Osaka where he tried to become an actor, sometimes coming in as a singer in the warmup before the main performance. A record company executive caught one of his performances and signed up him. Kiyoshi Shimomura was given the stage name of Akira Takanami(高波明)and he debuted in 1968.

Unfortunately, he didn't particularly sell so a second attempt was made in 1971 under the name of Ken Atsumi(渥美健)but the results were the same. So the singer went to a salaryman's life and in his mid-20s, he even set up his own little bar in Tokyo which drew regulars consisting of folks in the mass media industry (did this guy set up in front of NHK studios?!) and was encouraged to try once again to be a singer. In 1973, he tried out for the 1970s Japanese equivalent of "American Idol", "Zen Nippon Kayo Senshuken"(全日本歌謡選手権...The All-Japan Kayo Championships)on Yomiuri TV where he won the title of Grand Champion after winning 10 weeks in a row. The songwriters for "Uso", Masaaki Hirao and Yoko Yamaguchi were actually two of the judges on the show which set up the fateful meeting, and with that final name change to Kiyoshi Nakajo, the stage was all ready for him to finally grab that brass ring.

It still wasn't all wine and roses for Nakajo, though. Between the release of "Uso" and his appearance on the Kohaku that year, he and his manager ended up on a Japan Air Lines flight that was hijacked. They had the bad luck of being seated right up at the front of the plane so that they had to hear all of the vitriol spewing from the terrorists in the cockpit. Then, many years later, it was found out that Nakajo had been playing a round of golf with a mobster so his NHK appearances were curtailed for about a year. Such is life. And he survived both incidents to release a total of 38 singles including his last one to date in October 2015, "Tanpopo"(たんぽぽ...Dandelion).

The cake set at the Tokyo Prince Hotel

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Toshiki Kadomatsu -- No End Summer

Unfortunately, all summers eventually end but I understand Toshiki Kadomatsu's(角松敏生)sentiments here. At the risk of sounding like a beer commercial, it's wonderful to get together with friends, spend quality time at the beach, and watch the sunset. It's indeed Miller Time!

But hey, wouldn't it be wonderful if that commercial for the brewski had Kadomatsu's 7th single "No End Summer" tagging along for the ride? Released in August 1985, Kadomatsu's wonderfully summery creation was also the final track of his 5th studio album "GOLD DIGGER ~ with true love" (curiously ironic) from May of that year. That album peaked at No. 7 on Oricon. The song was also used as the image song for the famous long-running variety show on Fuji-TV "Naruhodo The World"(なるほど!ザ・ワールド).

To me, the original single sounded a little slow and incomplete since I had heard a re-done version from his 2012 album "REBIRTH 1 〜re-make best〜" first. This new version has a bit more oomph, and listening to this version, I felt as if there were a rousing round of windsurfing during that beach get-together.

Kadomatsu was having an intimate get-together of his own at Yokohama Arena with...oh, say, a hundred thousand of his buddies back in 2013. His performance of "No End Summer" starts at about 4:50. Please do listen to it. He certainly gave Tatsuro Yamashita (山下達郎)a run for his money in the Summer City Pop department.

Ruiko Kurahashi -- AM 10:15 18℃ Hare ~ Ii Koto ga Arisou (《AM1015 18℃ 晴》 いいことがありそう)

Well, I can imagine that the past couple of days have started out at 18℃ and sunny. Supposedly, we've still got some heat and humidity on the way but, by and large, autumn is around the corner, and it's been pretty comfortable out there.

Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子)is looking mighty comfortable there in that photo although I am wondering whether she was heading to view the Kentucky Derby in that getup. Anyways, it's notable to mention this about one of my favourite singers from the 80s since my default impression of the Hokkaido native has been of a lass with close-cropped hair and a placid expression of ennui singing rather melancholy if beautiful tunes. It's not that she has never sung a happy song in her career but I tend to see her more in ballad mode. Plus, she's got a whole lot of hair under that hat....and a shy little smile!

That photo of her at the top was actually from her 14th album "Jun'ai ~ Kono Ai ni Ikite"(純愛 〜この愛に生きて〜...Pure Love -- Live in This Love)from April 1988, and the song of the article is from there, "AM 10:15 Hare ~ Ii Koto ga Arisou" (10:15 AM and Sunny ~ Good Things are Around the Corner). It's quite the happy if not super bouncy tune by Kurahashi who sings Kyoko Matsumiya's(松宮恭子)lyrics of spending a nice relaxing morning making breakfast and looking forward to the rest of the day and some potential romance. Matsumiya was also the one behind the happy-go-lucky melody that might be considered downright skip-worthy. The arrangement was done by Keiichi Oku(奥慶一).

I'd even say that Kurahashi sounded almost like the truly happy-go-lucky EPO.

Jun'ai ~ Kono Ai ni Ikite

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Afilia Saga -- Magical Express Journey (マジカル☆エクスプレス☆ジャーニー)

Afilia Saga (アフィリア・サーガ) is definitely not a group for everyone! If AKB48 is considered unpleasant –  saying the least – to some people, this group, which is comprised of maids, can be even more cringeworthy with the gaudy cute vocals, clumsy dance moves, moe shouts and – sometimes – sexy cosplay-like uniforms. It’s a full-on cotton candy aidoru group.

I, however, enjoy some of the songs released by them, even if I can’t help but feel a little bit guilty while listening to them. “Magical Express Journey”, for example, is so cheerful and over the top that when the chorus explodes I imagine myself in a magical journey to the “Care Bears” land.

“Magical Express Journey” was released in July 2014, reaching #3 on the Oricon charts and selling around 25,000 copies. Lyrics and music were composed by veteran anime singer/composer/seiyuu Haruko Momoi (桃井はるこ), while the arrangement was done by Kouji Ueno (上野浩司). In 2015, the song was included in Afilia Saga’s third studio album, “Realism”.

THE GOOD-BYE -- Kimagure One-Way Boy(気まぐれOne Way Boy)

Ah, the Tanokin Trio(たのきんトリオ), my first instance of seeing a Johnny's Entertainment conglomeration in action on the screen. Everyone knows about Matchy and Toshi-chan but there was the third member who I always thought was the quietest and frankly reminded me of WHAM!'s Andrew Ridgely in terms of profile. That would be Yoshio Nomura(野村義男)...the "no" of the Tanokin Trio who could handle the guitar, and it was the way that I always saw the fellow over the decades. He has always had that disarming Jackie Chan smile but never heard all that much from him, relatively speaking.

I was browsing through one of my ancient "Young Song" booklets, which was the inserted songbook in every issue of the pop music magazine "Myojo"(明星), when I came across the page for THE GOOD-BYE. This was the rock band with Yotchan (Nomura's nickname) that was formed in 1983. And I figured that if Matchy and Toshi-chan can get their day in the sun on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", well, then Yotchan has to have his due here as well.

At first glance, I was a bit surprised that the J-Wiki article on THE GOOD-BYE didn't categorize it as a Johnny's band but then I found out that Yotchan wasn't the leader but a fellow by the name of Yasuhisa "Yacchin" Soga(曽我泰久)who became the other guitarist and co-vocalist. The other two members were Hachiro "Hachi" Kaga(加賀八郎)and Koichi "Ko-chan" Eto(衛藤浩一). That same article mentioned that the band was supposed to have been just the backup for Yotchan's debut with the official name being Yotchan Band and then Yotchan & The Good-Bye before settling into its final form. Not sure how Yotchan must have felt with this lessening of his responsibilities.

Their first single came out in September 1983. Called "Kimagure One-Way Boy" (Moody One-Way Boy), I think one YouTube commenter hit it on the head when he remarked that the urgent intro sounded exactly like Frank Stallone's "Far From Over" from that "Saturday Night Fever" sequel. Ah, there was a fair bit of melody lifting at the time. However, the rest of the song by Kantaro Yamamoto(山本寛太郎)has that typical Japanese rock-n-roll beat from the early 80s trying to emulate the feel of the 1950s. Jun Hashimoto(橋本淳)took care of the lyrics about a James Dean type perhaps making his way into an early grave through all of his carousing. There's even a lyrical homage to the Beatles via "twist and shout" and those "Happy Days" tropes of the backseat and double dates. It's a wonder that the Fonz wasn't given a shoutout. Although the band would gradually have both Yotchan and Yacchin singing together, since this particular song was the debut, I think it's just Yotchan here, and to be honest, he doesn't sound too bad when compared to his old trio mates.

THE GOOD-BYE would release a total of 15 singles and 9 albums until they called it a day in 1990. However, the band did get back together in 2003 and has been touring around since then although no new material has come out.

Misia -- sweetness

I was referring to Misia a couple of times over as many weeks recently and discovered that I hadn't written a bona fide article on the singer in well over a year. The above picture is for her 7th album from 2007 "Ascension", and I had been thinking about selecting a song from that release for tonight's article. However, my personal feeling is that her earlier stuff was better for me (circa turn of the century), and I was able to find another song from that time period. Besides that cover kinda looks like a dream sequence for an environmentalist.

The song I've chosen from Misia's discography is "sweetness", her 5th single from November 1999. I realize that the song had all that contemporary arrangement but I can't help feeling that there is an old slow groove working in there that has me thinking of Michael Jackson and DeBarge from the 1980s. For me, when it comes to R&B, I'm such a sucker for slow groove...along with a darn tight horn section. "sweetness" doesn't have the horns but that's perfectly fine. Misia's vocals and the music by Satoshi Shimano(島野聡)satisfy me to a T.

Misia's lyrics go into some vague message about trying to reach that special someone among the clouds, and I think the original music video above rather sums up the imagery in part. It looks like all those models from the Apple commercials decided to take an intense break at the beach while the singer had fun on the swing. I guess it kinda sucks when everyone has forgotten to bring their iPods.

The original single managed to peak at No. 7 on Oricon and sold a little over 225,000 copies. "sweetness" was also a track on Misia's 2nd album "Love is the Message" which was released in January 2000 and scored not only a No. 1 on the charts but was the 4th-ranked album for the year, earning a Best Album prize at the Japan Record Awards. "Love is the Message" even registered on the 2001 yearly chart with a 169th ranking.

Still, even more than the original, I remember the amped-up version of "sweetness" by Satoshi Tomiie(富家哲)for her "MISIA REMIX 2000 LITTLE TOKYO" which came out in April 2000. Not surprisingly, that album also hit the top spot and was the 27th-ranked release for the year. Dang, I love the instrumental in the remix version although maybe it goes on a tad too long.

Hearing this song again, I'm wondering whether it would be too much of a stretch to wish for Misia to perform at the 2020 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Tokyo.