I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube, Oricon charts are courtesy of and my research is translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Anri -- Circuit of Rainbow

"Anri, Tom Mix called. He'd like his wardrobe back."

Up to 1989, my musical knowledge of the ever-smiley Anri(杏里)was restricted to two of her big hits: "Olivia wo Kikinagara" (1978) and "Cat's Eye" (1983), both of which were representative of her earlier eras as a pop idol (not aidoru) and summery kayo singer under the aegis of Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生). But then thanks to one episode of "Sounds of Japan" on CHIN-FM, I had my first experience of Anri's 3rd era when the program decided to highlight her 12th dynamic album, "Boogie Woogie Mainland" (1988) with its infusion of American R&B and the production team led by composer Anri, lyricist Yumi Yoshimoto(吉元由美)and arranger Yasuharu Ogura(小倉泰治).

The success of "Boogie Woogie Mainland" led to her next album, "Circuit of Rainbow", released right on the first day of summer 1989, continuing on with her new sound (although compared to what was going on with R&B in the United States at the end of the 80s, this new sound was probably more akin to what was being heard on the radios and stereos in America nearly a decade previously) and team of Anri, Yoshimoto and Ogura. I bought Anri's 13th album as one of my first purchases since starting my 2-year stint on JET in August of that year. Having been a fan of hers since those early 80s and seeing this fresh 6-week-old album on the CD shop shelves, it was simply a must-have for me as my very first Anri album.

Track 1 starts with the instrumental "Break of Dawn" before things start flying like that proverbial image of a jet plane leaving the runway on a lot of those City Pop albums with the title track itself. Although not quite as explosive as the title and opening track on "Boogie Woogie Mainland", "Circuit of Rainbow" is Anri's welcome to all of us listeners to her brand of summer holiday fun. The strings that start things off almost feel like the perfect cue for one of those California radio DJs to rat-a-tat off the beautiful weather before Anri comes on in. And the Jerry Hey horns let us know that the singer and her team are going to promise a nice smooth flight.

Somewhere deep in the bookshelves in my living room is the VHS tape (yes, folks, I do like my antiques) of "Circuit of Rainbow" which includes the official videos for the above title track and this one, "Groove A Go Go" (Track 8), an example of nighttime funk and pop which could be quite Janet Jackson-friendly. As for the video, I wonder if the Wachowski siblings had gotten their inspiration solely from watching "Ghost in the Shell".

"Who Knows My Loneliness?" is a nice mellow breather among the high-tempo tunes that incorporates some gospel blues with a fine assist by the Hey horns. And among the backup singers is one Philip Bailey from Earth Wind & Fire.

One of my other favourite tracks is "Shitsuren Game ga Owaru made"(失恋ゲームが終るまで...Until the Lovelorn Game Ends)which has made me wonder if Anri internalized every one of Earth Wind & Fire's uptempo songs while she was creating this one. I mean I could actually imagine Bailey and Maurice White doing an English-language cover of Anri's love advice. Bailey himself is not listed in the liner notes for this one but it wouldn't surprise me if he snuck into the session. And since I've mentioned him, let me also state that the late great drummer Jeff Porcaro from TOTO was also part of the album recording.

My final track is the final track of the album, "Lovers on Venus". The somewhat cheesy sci-fi impression of the title aside, Anri does a marvelous job delivering this ballad about reminiscing of a past love. I was surprised that it had never been released as its own single since I think it is up there with "Summer Candles", the big love song from her previous album. In fact, none of the tracks were ever released as singles at all.

Still, "Circuit of Rainbow" did even better than "Boogie Woogie Mainland" by reaching the top spot on Oricon, the first Anri album since her 1983 "Timely!!" to do so (that album contained "Cat's Eye") and going on to earn 6th place on the annual rankings. It also received a Grand Prize for Album at the Japan Record Awards. And personally speaking, buying this one made for a nice impression in my Japanese CD-collecting hobby.


“MOONSHINE DANCE” is access’s most epic songs. Period. Every time I listen to it loud, I feel like the world is coming to an end, thanks to the explosive chorus and the “chaotically amazing” synth work by Daisuke Asakura (浅倉大介), who is sometimes trying to sound like the guitarist or just disputing with him who plays louder in the mix. And THAT synth solo that comes after the 2:47 mark just makes me feel very pumped. Dai and Hiro (貴水博之) were very stereotypical 80s rock stars, even though their songs were more pending towards electronic music than rock itself. That’s probably why my father always compare them, mostly in attitude and theatricality, to the Glam metal movement that was famous in the United States during the mid-to-late 80s. Let’s say that access, besides all the homoerotic content, was tamer than those guys, though.

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for access, especially in their early days of glittery electronic-rock music. I’m a fan for just one year and a couple of months, but I just can’t get enough of them. In the beginning, “MOONSHINE DANCE” was far from being one of my favorite songs, but it slowly conquered me. That’s probably because it’s a concert banger, and I just love to watch concerts. Now, you all excuse me because I’m going to watch my access DVDs.

“MOONSHINE DANCE” was released as a single in August 1993. It reached #4 on the Oricon charts, selling around 260,860 copies. Lyrics, music and arrangement were all done by access (AXS).

ASX SINGLE TRACKS "best album" (1995)

Yoshimi Iwasaki -- Vacance

Forgive the bad timing of this entry. I'm actually returning to school for my final year of post-secondary studies tomorrow, and I'm sure many students around the world aren't that thrilled about this time of the year, but it never hurts to dream about summer vacation. Hope you had a fun one. Here's a gift for you all: a sunny tune by Hiromi's younger sister Yoshimi Iwasaki (岩崎良美). I've listened to a number of her works over the past couple of months, and "Vacance" stands out thanks to those chirpy techno synths, the interludes with galloping drums, and the celebratory vocals in the chorus. The line where Yoshimi sings "Nami ni naritai" ("Kaze ni naritai" in the second verse) is wonderful. The whole melody is an aural equivalent of a freeway drive by a Mediterranean coast. Would like to visit that part of the world someday.

"Vacance" originally appeared on  her fifth studio album, "Cécile", released in June 1982. A month later, it took on a single status as a second half of her double A-side single "Margarita Girl/Vacance" (マルガリータガール/Vacance). The lyrics were written by Yuko Kanai (金井夕子) under her pen-name Mei Aoki (青木茗), but the composer was surprising: the radical rocker Panta (パンタ). Listening to the song carefully, I can sense a subtle rock edge underneath the windy poppiness of it all. The arrangement was handled by Nobuyuki Shimizu (清水信之). I don't have the Oricon data for the album, but according to this page, the single peaked at No.41 spot on the charts and sold 36,000 copies.

Here's Yoshimi performing the song with a glowing smile on (what looks like) "Yoru no Hit Studio".

Source: hitchartmania blog

Duke Aces -- Onna Hitori (女ひとり)

I would have to say that 'Onna Hitori' ('Woman by herself/alone' when literally translated) by Duke Aces (デューク・エイセス) really represents Kyoto quite nicely.

Written by lyricist Rokusuke Ei (永 六輔) and composer Taku Izumi (いずみ たく), this song is part of this series appropriately named 'Nihon no uta series' (「にほんのうた」シリーズ) or 'Songs of Japan series', beginning in 1966 and ending in 1969. Wherein the two aforementioned fellows traveled around Japan and wrote a song (2 for Tokyo, 3 for Hokkaido though) for each of the 47 prefectures in the country, and each song tailor-made for Duke Aces to sing.

Out of the 50 songs, the most successful ones were 'Ii yu dana' (いい湯だな), released in 1966 which represented Gunma prefecture. And of course, 'Onna Hitori', released in 1965 representing the former capital and cultural center of Japan. Strangely enough, they did the song a year before the actual project... weird...

Anyway, like 'Ii yu dana' mentioned 4 well-known (I suppose) hot springs in Gunma, 'Onna Hitori' mentioned 3 temples in Kyoto. Namely Sanzen in in Ohara, Kosan ji in Togano and last but not least, Daikaku ji in Arashiyama, or as sung in the song, Ranzan. Same words, different pronunciation. In that particular order. To me, Sanzen in looks the most beautiful...  in pictures that is.

The quiet, relaxing, and traditional Japanese sounding instrumental. The smooth main vocals of second tenor Kazuhiko Yoshida (吉田一彦) along with the harmonizing of the 3 other Aces : Top tenor Hideki Osuga (大須賀ひでき), Baritone and leader Michio Tani (谷 道夫), and Bass Yoshitaka Makino (槇野 義孝).

Really makes me want to return to Otawa san Kiyomizu-dera up on that hill and enjoy the warm colours of autumn against the clear blue sky while sitting in a quiet, secluded corner far away from the hoards of tourists. Ah..., good times.

Here's a video of Duke Aces singing it in 2013. From left to right: OsugaYoshidaTaniMakino. Heh, I always find it amusing that Yoshida had left this streak of white hair on his head.

Sanzen in and the garden around it, Ohara.

Masako Takeda -- Sayonara Binanshi (さよなら美男子 [メイナンツウ])

Recently, I came across the above video on YouTube and got instantly fascinated. It consists of an aidoru singer called Masako Takeda (武田雅子) singing a song called "Sayonara Binanshi" (or "Sayonara Meinantsuu"). First of all, I did a little research, but couldn't find many satisfactory meanings for the word meinantsuu (maybe an stylised Chinese word?). Then, I looked up for the definition of binanshi (美男子) and learned that it means handsome man. I searched for some images, but mostly got delicate Chinese guys with Imperial clothes, so I don’t really know if the word can be a generic term applied to all types of handsome men in Japan or is some kind of old word that came directly from the Chinese language. Well, I can only conclude that, if it's something specifically related to Chinese men, we can go with "Goodbye, handsome Chinese man"

Moving on to the song itself, it’s a cute late 80s Eurobeat inspired tune that features what I like to call stereotypical Chinese synth melodies. Masako Takeda, as I could see, didn’t release many songs, and was probably just a tarento that happened to release a couple of singles. She may be cute and wear nice shorts, but was very bad in the vocal department. I’m not complaining as, in the end, I liked her very much (well, that’s probably because I’m a sucker for weak and obscure aidoru singers, but whatever).

In this link, we can see a picture of the song's lyrics. At first, I assumed that binanshi was the right word to be used here, but Masako actually says meinantsuu in the first verse, so I had to consider it..., but, in the end, I must confess that this was a very hard article to write. As my Japanese language knowledge is extremely limited, I'm open to discussions here.

“Sayonara Binanshi (Meinantsuu)” was Masako's debut single, which was released in June 1990.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Team Syachihoko -- Iikurashi (いいくらし)

As Momoiro Clover Z’s (ももいろクローバーZ) youngest sister group, Team Syachihoko (チームしゃちほこ) delivers what must aidoru fans learned to expect from a group promoted by Stardust Promotion Agency’s 3B Junior section: quirky and over the top songs with dubious vocals.

That’s the case with “Iikurashi”, an interesting attempt that mixes aidoru pop with late 80s/early 90s style of house music (something in the lines of Madonna’s hit single “Vogue”, Black Box’s classic “Ride On Time”, or, staying in J-Pop’s domains, Perfume’s “GLITTER”). The result is an edgy song that still sounds cute. Let’s say that while the vocal lines during the verses are cute and strangely hypnotic (Team Syachihoko is good in this department, as we can see in "Ai no Chikyuusai" [愛の地球祭], their previous single, which was released in late 2013), the background arrangement just goes along between steady beats and dynamic synths.

Based on the pop music standards, “Iikurashi” is a fairly long song with its six and a half minutes, something that made me remember of the extended and 12’’ singles that were around mostly during the mid-to-late 70s, 80s and early 90s. In “Iikurashi’s” case, it’s never a boring or very linear song, thanks to a cute rap interlude and some instrumental buildups. The vocals can be considered a weak point, but an aidoru listener is more than used to rough and endless out of tone notes.

To finish, I found quite educational to post this amazing video of SynthMania, an YouTube channel that I like very much. In this video, he shows how a typical Italo house song of the early 90s was created. Enjoy!

“Iikurashi” was released in May 2014 and reached #2 on the Oricon charts, selling 34,830 copies in its first week. Lyrics were written by Mochiishiriri (もちいしりり), while music and arrangement were done by Tetsuto Yoshida (吉田哲人).

Hiroshi Sato featuring Wendy Matthews -- I Can't Wait

Ahhhh....a mellow glass of brandy for the ears and soul. "I Can't Wait" is another track from Hiroshi Sato's(佐藤博)wonderfully comfortable album, "Awakening" (1982) that I wrote about a little over a year ago. Wendy Matthews once again adds her lovely pipes to Sato's vocals and keyboards to create this slow and dusky ballad which fits it hand-in-glove with the rest of the album.

I listened to "Awakening" again on the stereo since I knew that I hadn't covered every song on that album and wanted to find another gem there to profile. And it was "I Can't Wait" that caught my ear once more. I'm definitely not one of those romantically mushy people by any stretch of the imagination, but I could see a couple of those folks suddenly go into a slow dance on hearing the lyrics.

And for those who have never seen the singer, this is Wendy with "The Day You Went Away".