I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Logic System -- Domino Dance

I realize that I could have chosen a photo of a synthesizer for the greeting picture above but I couldn't find one so I decided to go with my ancient copy of "Star Trek III: The Search For Spock" since we are going to be entering logic here.

Logic System, ロジック・システムto be exact. Good heavens....all these years thinking that Yellow Magic Orchestra was the only technopop band in town back in the early 1980s. But actually speaking, Hideki Matsutake(松武秀樹), who was seen as the 4th member of YMO as the band programmer (although I think Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)should also get at least honorary band member status), started up his own unit by the name of Logic System in 1981.

For the next year or so, Logic System released 2 singles and 3 albums with the first single being "Domino Dance", a bouncy number that alternately reminds me of the B-52s and surf rock bands. And for another reason, I get images of ska music and Adam West's Batman doing the Batusi. Not cold at all...there's a nice sense of warmth buried in all those circuits.

I'm going to have to listen to some more of Logic System's output to see if Matsutake wanted to make his own techno sound apart from what YMO was doing at the time. With "Domino Dance", it doesn't sound too vastly different from the music of Sakamoto, Hosono and Takahashi.

I didn't realize that Matsutake had been into electronic music for much of the 1970s and was even an apprentice to the late Isao Tomita(冨田勲). Then after helping out on Ryuichi Sakamoto's(坂本龍一) "Thousand Knives" in 1978, he joined the YMO ship.

Logic System took a long hiatus after 1982 but then after Matsutake had been involved in some other projects, he decided to bring back the old band in 1991 for a couple of more years. Three more singles and two more albums came out during that time. Then, in 2003, there was another go at it with one single, "Clash" coming out in 2011 with three albums having been released between those two years. According to J-Wiki, the band is still going on and it even has its own store.

Of course, there was another dance of dominoes done by another technopop band.

Taeko Ohnuki -- History: 1978-1984

All the way back in early 2012, I wrote my first article on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" regarding singer-songwriter Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)through her early song "Itsumo Douri". In it, I spoke about how the very first album by Ohnuki I had purchased was her 2-CD BEST set of "History: 1978-1984". Her name was something that I had heard for years through various sources and never knew the lady, but finally my curiosity got the better of me, so when I came across this BEST album, I decided to invest my yen and check it out.

Well, as I also mentioned in "Itsumo Douri"(いつも通り), I guess I wasn't quite ready for the alternately quirky and sweeping stylings of Ms. Ohnuki since after giving it one listen, I simply put it back onto the shelf and let it stay there for a number of years. And I guess I really wasn't ready since at the time I bought it...perhaps in its release year of 1999 or shortly thereafter, Japanese pop music was in a much more different space.

Obviously, I finally got over my hangup and gave it another go into the 21st century. And this time, I had to slap myself in the back of my head since I wondered whatever would possess me to ignore the songs by this lady.

Anyways, the lineup over the 2 CDs represents Ohnuki's output through the following albums:

A) Mignonne (1978), B) Romantique (1980), C) Aventure (1981), D) Cliche (1982), E) Signifie (1983) and F) Kaie (1984)

I've yet to actually cover "Kaie" which is why it hasn't been linked. The other albums have been covered and the songs that appear on "History" will have the corresponding letter next to it to refer to their original albums and follow-up articles. At the same time, there will be linked entries without any letter since they already have their own individual articles.

CD 1

1) Tema Purissima
2) Kuro no Clair (黒のクレール)D)
3) Ai no Yukue(愛の行方)C)
4) Bohemian B)
5) Aventure(アヴァンチュール)C)
6) Kaze no Michi(風の道)
8) Mitsuya Cider '84(三ツ矢サイダー’84)
9) El Tourmanie(エル・トゥルマニエ)
10) Umi to Shonen(海と少年) A)
11) Shikisai Toshi(色彩都市) D)
12) Peter Rabbit to Watashi(ピーターラビットとわたし)
13) Cosmos Mitsuketa(宇宙みつけた)
14) Mizuumi(みずうみ)
15) Yokogao(横顔) A)
16) Atarashii Shirt(新しいシャツ)
17) Totsuzen no Okurimono(突然の贈りもの)

Basically although from the title for those dedicated Ohnuki fans, it's assumed that this BEST album is covering her era of French-titled albums and collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一), a few songs from beyond that time into the late 1980s have managed to sneak into the set. In fact, the very first song on CD 1, "Tema Purissima", is the first track from her 13th album, "Purissima" from September 1988.

"Tema Purissima" is away from that European/French sound and the technopop influence that characterized much of Ohnuki's work during the early 1980s. In fact, I'd say that it even sounds like a ballad from a Disney musical, several months before even "The Little Mermaid" was released, starting that whole musical animation ball of wax rolling.

But of course, that period is well represented by "Kuro no Clair". I've already written about it, but it still remains one of her best songs, in my estimation.

"RECIPE" is from "Signifie" and I'm happy to cover it here. It's about the joy of whipping up a dish for that beloved one, and one of the highlights is hearing Ohnuki rattle off her the contents in her spice rack.

Along with creating all those wonderful singles and albums, Ohnuki was also known for whipping up commercial jingles for a number of products. "Mitsuya Cider '84" which starts popping up at the 57-second mark in the above video is one example. I personally miss the drink myself.

CD 2

1) Kaie(カイエ)
2) Grand Prix(グランプリ) C)
5) Genwaku(幻惑) E)
6) Natsu ni Koi suru Onna Tachi(夏に恋する女たち) E)
7) Rinbu(輪舞)
8) Amour Levant
10) Ame no Yoake(雨の夜明け) B)
11) Saigo no Hizuke(最後の日付) C)
12) Metropolitan Museum(メトロポリタン美術館)
13) Hikari no Carnival(光のカーニバル)
14) Kuro no Clair (Reprise)
15) Himawari (ひまわり)

"Kaie", as I said off the top, is an album that I have yet to cover. It is her 8th album from June 1984, and its first track, "Kaie I", is another memorable jingle that Ohnuki had created for Konica Film. I used to hear this "pom pom" song all the time on TV but hadn't known it was Ohnuki. For a camera film ad, the song sounded rather "Lord of the Rings" during a more introspective scene to me.

At 5:52 of the same video above is "Rinbu" (Round Dance), a pleasant little ditty that has an arrangement of what sounded like "sweet music" that was popular almost a century ago. I'm sure you can even dance to it....provided with a bit of help of some sherry or something as strong.

At 6:56 of this video is "Amour Levant" which is the French version of "Wakakihi Bourou"(若き日の望楼), a song that was first performed in her album "Romantique". It's pretty rare to see Ohnuki in any sort of conceptual music video and I have to say that she looks lovely in this short version.

The final track of the whole album is "Himawari" (Sunflowers), the theme song from the soundtrack of the 1997 movie "Tokyo Biyori"(東京日和...Fine Tokyo Weather)starring Naoto Takenaka(竹中直人)and Miho Nakayama(中山美穂). It was also released as an Ohnuki single and it's quite the mellow song for a lazy Sunday afternoon. One of the scenes from the movie is the couple enjoying a boat ride..."Himawari" would be the ideal tune for that especially with that liquid introduction, thanks to the guitar and keyboards.

Glad to have gone through the two discs again in preparation for this article. Once I finally "got" Ohnuki, "History: 1978-1984" was the starting point for me to start tracking down those original albums and then going back further in time to her New Music days. What I will need to do now is find out more of her discography from the late 1980s onwards.

Hachiro Kasuga -- Otoko no Butai (男の舞台)

Lookin' pretty good there, Hachi. Kinda prefer the white
double-breasted blazer though.

Seeing Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎) decked out in a proper kimono feels like sort of a rarity. I'd usually find pictures of him in either in suits or tuxedos, but I suppose those suit (haha, pun intended) the image for most of his songs in his discography better. However, there are a few of his entries where I find western outfits would not suffice, like one of his earlier singles from September 1955, "Otoko no Butai".

The premises of "Otoko no Butai" revolves around what may be a kabuki actor and his struggles that come with the profession. What I find interesting is that Hiroshi Yokoi's (横井弘) incorporated certain elements that relate to a kabuki play, such as the geza - as I learnt from this site, it's basically like the performance's accompanying score - to make the fellow Hachi sings about look like he's an actor in his own play. In that sense, it reminds me of Tomio Umezawa's (梅沢富美夫) "Yume Shibai" (夢芝居), although that one seems to lean more to using theater to describe the ins and outs of love rather than the life of a thespian.

Of course, like most songs, what first drew me to "Otoko no Butai" was none other than its music. Brought to you by Tadaharu Nakano (中野忠晴), the melody leans to the traditional side with the shakuhachi rasping away and the shamisen taking the lead - must be because of the kabuki theme. It's also got this dramatic and even slightly regal flair when the trumpets and western strings kick in, especially at the start. I can just imagine what an entrance that would have made with Hachi marching on to the stage in a kimono and hakama as this song plays. Actually, I think "Otoko no Butai" could fit someone like Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也) too - I was thinking, maybe Hideo Murata (村田英雄), but the melody feels a bit too light (for want of a better word) for him.

To end off, here's a video that's a mix of Hachi's songs taken from his recitals from 1964 to 1976. I love the version of "Otoko no Butai" here for its fuller arrangement and - oh boy, Hacchan's vocals here - hot dang, it was amazing... I'm not sure exactly which recital it was from, but his voice sounded a little less shrill and slightly lower so I'm guessing it'd most likely be from the 70's. The song is in at the the 10:58 mark.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Marcos V.’s Special Selection Vol. II

Miho Fujiwara – Streets Are Hot

Probably the rarest song featured today, Miho Fujiwara’s (藤原美穂) “Streets Are Hot” is a true 80s gem, direct from 1986. Apparently, it was one of the songs used in “California Crisis”, an obscure anime OVA that seems not very great aside from its OST. Anyway, the song is a great example of City Pop from its time, with the irresistible groove, catchy melody, and sunny feeling. Even Miho’s vocals, which may sound a little too Kate Bush at some points, adds an admirable heat to the song.

Takako Ohta – MAGICIAN ~in the midnight~

And here’s another 80s gem, but now in the form of Takako Ohta’s (太田貴子) “MAGICIAN ~in the midnight~”, from 1989, that was produced by jazz saxophonist and composed Bobby Watson, and features a delicious and funky singalong chorus. Aside from all the Creamy Mami (魔法の天使クリィミーマミ) stuff that Ohta recorded in her aidoru days, she also released some interesting City Pop/R&B albums during the late 80s. Unfortunately, her fame has always been restricted to the anime niche, and true funky gems like “MAGICIAN ~in the midnight~” just got buried with time.

CHAGE and ASKA – Trip

After becoming with “Boku wa Kono Me de Uso wo Tsuku” (僕はこの瞳で嘘をつく) earlier this year, I had the pleasure of buying CHAGE and ASKA’s “SUPER BEST II” compilation from a fellow Brazilian for a very cheap price. Time passed by and it became the album I listened to the most this year (2017 is not over yet, but still). Aside from the aforementioned upbeat tune, “Trip” is the one song I keep returning to, thanks to its gorgeous melody and ASKA’s powerful delivery. Well, he’s always great, but there’s something special in “Trip”, and even a hint of sadness at some points. It’s interesting how it wasn’t a true hit when it was released back in 1988. The duo had to wait until the economic bubble burst to have their second, and definitive, wave of success.

The Checkers – Sea of Love

Even though it’s was not released as a single, “Sea of Love” is a big highlight from The Checkers’ (チェッカーズ) final album, “Blue Moon Stone”, which was released in 1992. Coupled with the band’s usual groove, the charming and soulful Fumiya Fujii (藤井フミヤ) delivers a sexy vocal performance that represents very well their maturity in this last effort.

Rica Matsumoto – Alola!! (アローラ!!)

Pokémon is a big part of my life, since my childhood days. Last year, when new titles Pokémon Sun and Moon were announced for the Nintendo 3DS, I knew it was my chance to buy a Nintendo portable for the first time in my life (a very old dream, since the Game Boy days) and start a new journey in a place called Alola, which was heavily inspired by Hawaii. Game story aside, new Pokémon games means a new season of the anime, which also got me pumped (I stopped watching the anime years ago, but playing the new games just got me interested in accompanying Ash/Satoshi and Pikachu in their journey again). So, after a few episodes, I started liking the opening a lot, even if it’s just another upbeat tune for a kids show. Maybe it was the Hawaiian touches, such as the timid inclusion of ukulele in the arrangement, or the infectious chorus sang by Rica Matsumoto (松本梨香), or the wild horns playing non-stop… or even that cute singalong interlude featuring Pikachu. The thing is, “Alola!!” (2017) became one of my favorite Pokémon opening themes, right next to the very old ones.

Hikaru GENJI – Nettaya (熱帯夜)

I remember talking about Hikaru GENJI’s (GENJI) “Waratte yo” (笑ってよ) a while ago, and “Nettaya” is somewhat similar in the sense that both are Latin-inspired songs. Released in 1991 as the coupling song to the single “WINNING RUN”, “Nettaya” explodes in an exuberant and glossy summer song that almost makes me want to sing the owaranai masquerade… owaranai natsu (終わらないマスカレード終わらない夏) from the first chorus together with the boys. The melody is so vibrant that almost masquerades (yeah, pun intended) Hikaru GENJI’s limited vocals, and I also love the arrangement composed mostly by keyboards, strong horns and the main synth line that shares its melody with the chorus. Great summer song by the guys!

Chisato Moritaka – Kanojo (彼女)

I generally tend to write about Chisato Moritaka’s (森高千里) Eurobeat tunes, but the hard rock of “Kanojo” just hit me hard since she released 1991’s “The Moritaka Tour” DVD/Blu-Ray (「ザ・森高」ツアー1991.8.22 at渋谷公会堂) for the first time ever a couple of months ago. The song is almost a duet of Chisato with the guitarist, thanks to the well-executed guitar solos. Of course, the rest of her band was also essential, like the omnipresent bassist, and it’s strange to almost see her as part of a band instead of as a solo artist. In the end, rather than the colorful and light sound we’re used to from her, I see “Kanojo” as a grey and hard song thanks to its very specific sound (at least in Moritaka’s overall discography).

Takuya Nakazawa – Aoi Diamond (青いダイヤモンド)

“Aoi Diamond” was a nice surprise that was released at the beginning of this year (2017). Takuya Nakazawa (中澤卓也) was also a new name for me, since I don’t follow the enka world with dedication. In fact, I don’t know if the song can be classified as pure enka, since it misses some of the genre’s main quirks and characteristics. Maybe some sort of Kayo Kyoku or Showa Era pop would be more adequate, even if rather vague… and I really like how the meaty vocal performance are a good show off of Takuya’s crooner skills (the big smile and plastic appearance helps too). As for the song, it’s surprisingly catchy for what it is, and I just love to sing it while watching the live performances. I want to hear more from Takuya, since he has such a beautiful voice and pleasant style.

Greeen Linez – Sallot Ski

After “Hibiscus Pacific”, “Sallot Ski” (2012) is my favorite offer from the British duo Greeen Linez and their obsession with 80s Japanese aesthetics. There’s some sort of mystique in this song that I’m not even able to explain, but I drown into this strange feeling every time I play it. Of course I do a little head dance as well, but that’s only because of the obvious groove. In the end, this is a gorgeous underground tune.

Tatsuro Yamashita – REBORN

To end this list, a song from a true master! Honestly, I’m not well familiarized with Tatsuro Yamashita’s (山下達郎) songs, but I know how the singer-songwriter is considered a legend in the Japanese Record Industry. And “REBORN”, released in 2017 as a theme for the movie Namiya Zakkaten no Kiseki (ナミヤ雑貨店の奇蹟), showcases a basic element that Japan seems to like very much: melancholy. Thanks to the keyboard bits, coupled with Yamashita’s soulful vocal, all the melodic shifts, and the song’s overall ethereal mood, we’re simply in front of a great song.

Shinichi Mori -- Tokyo Monogatari (東京物語)

I do like it whenever an episode of "Uta Kon"(うたコン)yields a number of songs that I had never heard about. And it was a bounty of riches last night since the theme was Tokyo kayo.

Case in point: Shinichi Mori's(森進一)single from October 1977, "Tokyo Monogatari" (Tokyo Story). Mori will always be known as one of the top-notch enka singers but he has crossed borders, so to speak. In fact, the first song that I got to know him by was the definitely un-enka "Fuyu no Riviera"(冬のリヴィエラ), a sweeping heroic-sounding ballad created by Takashi Matsumoto and the late Eiichi Ohtaki(松本隆・大滝詠一).

Well, "Tokyo Monogatari" has somewhat of a film noir intensity about it, as in the old saying of there being a thousand stories in the city. With Tokyo, there are probably ten times that number. Like the later "Fuyu no Riviera", the song composed by Makoto Kawaguchi(川口真)also doesn't sound like enka but neither does it have that conventional Mood Kayo quality although I have categorized it as such. The J-Wiki article on "Tokyo Monogatari" ever refers to Mori taking on a Kawaguchi melody for the first time.

I have a number of Kawaguchi-penned songs on the blog but I never heard of the term "Kawaguchi melody". But taking a look at some of those tunes, I have the impression that the composer comes up with some hard-boiled music of the city, not so much taking place in the bars and nightclubs but out on the dirty streets of Tokyo. Perhaps there is a goodly amount of brassiness in the arrangement of his creations.

Lyricist Yu Aku(阿久悠)wrote the words about a typical story in the big life involving a high-class relationship in which at least one of the participants is not quite sure where it's going but is at least keeping a nonchalant face about it while perhaps harbouring a deep desire hidden away.

"Tokyo Monogatari" went as high as No. 20 and it earned Mori another appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen that year. As well, a 1977 TBS detective show "Ashita no Keiji"(明日の刑事...Tomorrow's Detectives)based its 4th episode on the song itself and even had the singer on in a guest role.

Namie Amuro -- SWEET 19 BLUES

Well, I guess it won't just be Emperor Akihito who will be stepping down in the latter half of 2018. Today on her 40th birthday, Namie Amuro(安室奈美恵 )announced on her website that she would be retiring from show business on September 16th (the anniversary of her debut) next year in both Japanese and English. I actually got the announcement on NHK's nightly news earlier this morning.

This would be the end of an era for me personally since Amuro was the first new face in music that I had seen soon after arriving in Tokyo for my second stint as a teacher in Japan back in late 1994. She was just a gangly teenager from Okinawa but not only did she strike with a force of a typhoon in the music world but also in the fashion world with her style. Not too many singers have had so much charisma that a trend would be named after her.

And even now, looking at her website, the lass doesn't seem to have aged at all even though her child is probably at the same age when she hit it big. But for me, knowing that she has been releasing singles and albums up to this year, I think the biggest highlight for her was the 1990s. She was pretty much everywhere in the media during the remainder of that decade.

"SWEET 19 BLUES" was Amuro's 7th single released in August 1996. Written and composed by Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉), it wasn't my favourite song by her; my favourites are already up on the blog but it was another one of those tunes that got a lot of airplay through her appearances and commercials.

Looking at Komuro's lyrics, they seem to depict a young woman just months away from being officially considered as an adult wearily going through her life in the big city, perhaps as a hostess in some swanky club, while holding out hope that she may have met a kindred spirit so that she could escape the downtown life.

The single itself peaked at No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies while ending the year as the 64th-ranked song. It did go Platinum, selling around 650,000 copies. Amuro's 2nd album, also titled "SWEET 19 BLUES", came out a month before the single and incredibly amassed sales of nearly 2 million copies in its first week alone, according to Wikipedia, not only hitting No. 1 and becoming the 2nd-ranked album of the year, but becoming the best-selling album in Japanese music history briefly, although it has since dropped out of that Top 10 list. It still remains her most successful album.

She has announced that she will be making one final album although there was no mention about a single before her retirement. However, my question is whether she will be invited one last time to the NHK Kohaku Utagassen this year or even next year.

Don't wanna cry?
I think a number of her fans
may be disagreeing right now.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Aya Matsuura -- Nee?(ね〜え?)

Last week, I was watching the popular Fuji-TV program "HONMADEKKA!?TV"(ホンマでっか!?TV)when it went into a certain segment with the excerpt from a popular song. The variety shows all like to do that...borrow snippets from kayo kyoku or J-Pop or even anime soundtracks to add as appropriate introductory music. Well, the snippet in "HONMADEKKA!?TV" was introducing a segment where the hosts and guests had to make a decision between two choices, so the song went as follows:

Sexy na no? Cute na no? Docchi ga suki na no?(セクシーなの?キュートなの?どっちが好きなの?...Which do you prefer, sexy or cute?)

If you could name that tune with that lyric, then congratulations. It is indeed Aya Matsuura's(松浦亜弥)"Nee?" (Hey?), her 9th single from March 2003. That lyric alone can pretty much represent the former Hello Project aidoru, and it's one of the lines that I know her by.

What is notable about "Nee?" is how much it sounded like a DeVol-produced 60s American sitcom theme song or background music for a game show from the same nation and time period. And that is because although Tsunku(つんく)was the fellow behind the lyrics and music of "Nee?", the arranger was Yasuharu Ogura(小西康陽), one-half of Shibuya-kei band Pizzicato Five. Also what helps out is that Ayaya delivery.

It's all bubbly fun as Ayaya does her cute stumbling around the stage and in the music video while she sings about how she tries to get her boyfriend to pay more attention to her. Coincidentally, I saw an article in The Toronto Star today about how relationships have often hit the rocks because one of the two is simply too drawn to the smartphone. In "Nee?" though, it's done in a much more lighthearted vein.

"Nee?" reached No. 3 on the charts and was also used for a Tessera shampoo commercial. After all, do you want your hair cute or sexy?