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, May 28, 2016

Kozo Murashita -- Oka no Ue kara (丘の上から)

Keeping with today's theme of worthy B-sides that I started with Tomoyo Harada(原田知世)this morning, I found another one with another singer from the 1980s, the late Kozo Murashita(村下孝蔵).

"Oka no Ue kara" (From The Top of the Hill) was the B-side to Murashita's biggest hit, "Hatsukoi"(初恋)released in February 1983. The singer-songwriter was playing around with synthesizers during that time including in his magnum opus, but with "Oka no Ue kara", it was more back to his folky roots as he crooned about the sweet sorrow of parting while on the top of the hill that he and his old flame had frequented in happier times.

(cover version)

Languid as a calm brook, the effect was further heightened with a country-like twang thanks to what sounded like an old steel pedal although there was a slow and majestic bass line that hinted at the finality of the relationship. It was quite the counterpart to the jumpy city beat of "Hatsukoi".

Tomoyo Harada/Yumi Matsutoya -- Zutto Soba ni (ずっとそばに)

When it comes to the topic of B-sides or as they later became known on the older CD singles, coupling songs, I've found that there can be some gems hidden among those chosen songs that may have been simply thrown in by the producers simply because they needed to fill up the vinyl or polycarbonate. One of the first examples of these hidden gems came in the form of a Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)ballad titled "Akai Ito"(赤い糸...Red String)which was the B-side to her biggest hit "Madonna Tachi no Lullaby"(聖母たちのララバイ). Alas, there is no sign of it on the Net but it remains one of my favourite Hiromi songs nonetheless due to its arranged mix of Japanese pop balladry of those days and a hint of City Pop.

This B-side is also a very pleasant surprise. Tomoyo Harada(原田知世)sang "Zutto Soba ni" (Always By Your Side) as the B-side to her breakthrough 3rd single "Toki wo Kakeru Shojo"(時をかける少女)from April 1983. And like that hit, "Zutto Soba ni" was written and composed by Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実). What I like about it is that Matsutoya mellowness that seemed to infuse a lot of Yuming's own ballads during the early 1980s and the songs that she provided for other singers such as Harada. The icing on the cake is the singer's own voice as she sings about always being a friend to that someone although she secretly wants (but may not achieve) an upgrade in their relationship. I've been currently watching the last few episodes of the anime "Chuunibyo demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren"(中二病でも恋がしたい!戀...Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions -Heart Throb-)and I think this musical equivalent of bittersweet chocolate would have made for the ideal theme song.

Yuming also gave her own lovely version of her own song as a track on her 14th album "Reincarnation" from February 1983 which means that her cover of "Zutto Soba ni" predated that Harada B-side by a couple of months. As for the Harada version, it was also on her debut album "Birthday Album" from November in the same year and got on her BEST compilation "Image"(イマージュ).

ZOO/EXILE/Kiyoshi Maekawa -- Choo Choo Train

Post-apocalyptic world with some fine entertainment.

Looks like Mom's now a fan of EXILE. Her rationale for liking this song and dance unit is that they actually look cool, ATSUSHI and TAKAHIRO sing decently, and their moves are on point.

While they are a group I don't exactly mind and it is quite hypnotizing to watch such synchronous dancing, I can't say that I know very much about them save for a couple of songs. So being exposed to more of their works and who's who in the whole hoard of them by Mom was an interesting feeling. The tables had been turned this time around! I'm usually the one introducing her to enka-yo stuff whether she likes it or not, and now she's educating me on the EXILE TRIBE... whether I like or not. But of course, that's only that much EXILE/J Soul Brothers I can take before I shut it out and return to my comfort zone. Also, I thought this to be rather amusing as if I were to be completely normal, it could have been the other way round.

Anyways, I'm still in the process of getting to know EXILE's other works, so I thought I'd write about something by them that I'm most familiar with, "Choo Choo Train". While I got to know this tune a few years back via the group behind the original version from 1991, ZOO, I often see it associated with EXILE who had remade it in 2003. It's one jaunty and catchy song so it's no wonder that both versions were hits in their time. I enjoy "Choo Choo Train" for its nice beat and the trumpets in the background makes it more funky. However, similar to what J-Canuck had said in his own article regarding this song, the English words in the lyrics have me wondering what they even mean. Comparing both versions, I have to say that EXILE's one sounds more soulful, especially when ATSUSHI comes in, but I have no favourites; both are good.

Hang on, actually, I stand corrected. I do have a favourite version. He's not as flexible as the members of ZOO or as smooth as the EXILE guys, but Kiyoshi Maekawa (前川清) made up for that in terms of effort in his attempt at this pop classic. He wasn't doing his usual pillar shtick in this bit of his 40th anniversary concert in 2008, alright! Mae-Kiyo's version can also be found in the album "Enka no Chikara Saikyo Z White" (エンカのチカラ 最強Z ホワイト) from 2011. Ah, he really never fails to surprise me. :) Dang, this feels like the Itsuki-"Aishitsuzukeru Bolero"-thing all over again.

Friday, May 27, 2016

EPO -- Yokogao (横顔)

Glad that I could find this video since the song is perfect for the warm sunny day we're having today. It really does feel like al fresco-friendly summer weather in the Six.

EPO provided her cover of the Japanese pop standard "Yokogao" (Profile) as originally done by Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)for her 1978 album "Mignonne". EPO's cover was placed on her 1987 album of covers "Poptracks" which I wrote about several months ago. Instead of the whimsical jazz and the delicate voice that Ohnuki had provided in the original, EPO brought her strong pop-happy vocals to her version although that light and breezy air has still been retained. Mind you, some jazz guitar enters near the end.

Hope all of you enjoy the weekend.

Masayuki Suzuki -- She-See-Sea

Weather can be very changeable overall and even more so in my city. 2 weeks ago, we were looking at a temperature barely reaching 6 degrees Celsius and snow showers whereas today, Toronto will reach at least 28 degrees with a Humidex of around 35 degrees. Summer has landed prematurely...not that many of us are complaining. In other news, we've had a couple of missing capybaras from the High Park Zoo for the past few days.

It's a very warm Friday so perhaps it's time for some hot soul from the guy who owns the lion's share of it, one Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之). I bought his 7th album from October 1994 at a used CD shop one day several years ago and the case certainly saw its share of abuse; the hinges were broken so basically the CD case was a convertible.

Still, nothing wrong with Martin's music. Track 2 is "Toubousha"(逃亡者...Fugitives), an urgent and speedy number about a couple being on the run...whether from parents, creditors, the Mob, it doesn't matter. The man and woman are crazy in love. Written by Saeko Nishio(西尾佐栄子)and composed by Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)who decided to go with a pen name that could be read in so many ways that I'm not going to bother translating it, the backing band has got a couple of known names in veteran saxophonist Jake H. Concepcion and keyboardist and arranger Akihiko Matsumoto(松本晃彦)who later provided the soundtracks for the "Odoru Dai Sosasen"(踊る大捜査線)movie franchise.

Track 7 is "Sokonashi no Umi"(底なしの海...The Bottomless Sea)by Abe again and lyricist Kitsuma Ohki(大木きつま). Slightly mellower in sound but the theme of turbulent love is still in there. I sometimes think that Suzuki would have made the ideal Rod Serling-type of host for an anthology series on romance.

The next track is "Nanimo Iwazu ni"(何も言わずに...Without Saying A Word)written by Hideki Ando(安藤秀樹)and composed by veteran Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平). Suzuki goes even more tender as he croons about having those sleepless nights over that special someone he has fallen head over heels with. There seems to be a certain 1970s soul feeling in the arrangement, and the strings really add to the experience.

"She-See-Sea" also has the single "Chigau, Sou Janai"(違う、そうじゃない), Martin's musical plea for another chance. The album managed to get as high as No. 4 on Oricon.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hibari Misora -- Namida no Beni Bara (涙の紅バラ)

Japanese music historians were probably popping open the champagne yesterday when they saw the above feature on the NHK prime-time news broadcast as I did. Apparently, a lost movie was re-discovered in a Kobe movie museum of all places. The movie in question titled "Nankai no Jouka"(南海の情火...South Seas Passion)wasn't itself the big find (although it was significant) but the 40-second appearance of a prepubescent Hibari Misora(美空ひばり)in the movie was the huge gold nugget. Strangely no one had any idea that the future legend was in "Nankai no Jouka" although the J-Wiki article on Misora did have the movie and her role in it listed along with the song that she sang, "Namida no Beni Bara" (Red Rose of Tears).

According to the news report, the studio that had produced "Nankai no Jouka" went out of business soon after the movie had been released and so probably aside from its initial run, it was never seen again in public. However, I'm sure the song has popped up here and there in the media and certainly since it was sold as a single, many Hibari fans have heard it over the decades through records, audiotapes, CDs and perhaps even downloaded MP3s. But the main point is that the movie that had featured the song, however briefly, has been re-found after 60 years. In the above video, a very scratchy version of "Namida no Beni Bara" can be heard from around 5:00 although the narrator talks over the intro for the first several seconds or so. The song, by the way, was written by Yashio Okuno(奥野椰子夫)and composed by Takio Niki(仁木他喜雄)...had to dig into Misora's website to find that out and then figure out how their kanji were read.

Misora had been featured in film before this particular movie, most notably in "Kanashiki Kuchibue"(悲しき口笛)in 1949, and then soon after "Nankai no Jouka", she hit it big with "Tokyo Kid"(東京キッド)so perhaps for a lot of folks who are not fans of the late singer and actress, they may be wondering what the big fuss is all about. Well, speaking as someone who is also not a die-hard fan but still enjoys a number of her songs, I gather that any discovery of long-lost paraphernalia related to Misora this far into the 21st century is worthy of a news feature. Such was the power of this lady who only stood 153 cm but managed to terrify many a fellow singer with her presence.

Chika Ueda + Karyobin -- Aki Iro Kesho (秋色化粧)

As is probably the case with the vast majority of people out there, I've got a few very specific likes when it comes to music. There are the velvety-smooth sounds of a Fender Rhodes, the sonic bang from a City Pop electric guitar and some mellow piano in an indie pop setting. And I've also appreciated strings in a jazzy or whimsically pop arrangement. That last one is well represented by the legendary jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli especially when it came to his partnership with jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.

One of my favourite comedies of all time has been "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" with Michael Caine and Steve Martin. In addition to the often-hilarious scenes that made the movie was that 10th player in the outfield represented by Miles Goodman's soundtrack which had plenty of those jazzy strings to oomph things up.

Last night, I was doing my usual maintenance of checking over the past articles to see that their videos still existed when I re-acquainted myself with nikala's article on Chika Ueda's(上田知華)"Purple Monsoon". She was kind enough to include a video that had a goodly amount of her work with her quintet Karyobin in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and after taking a good listen once more to the fine combination of pop strings and Ueda's voice, I once again gained some wonderful appreciation to this little unique corner that the singer-songwriter provided in the world of Japanese popular music at the time.

When I first read nikala's article, she pointed out the main song of "Purple Monsoon" which comes on that video at 11:43. To be honest, all of the songs are great but as I mentioned in my comment to her at the bottom, there was one song that I believed to have heard years ago on one of the more uncommon, and probably more New Music-oriented, episodes of "Sounds of Japan", that old CHIN-FM radio program I used to listen to for years. And sure enough, the very last song on the video was that very song.

"Aki Iro Kesho" (Autumn Makeup) was originally written, composed and sung by Chika Ueda as one of the singles for her and Karyobin in August 1981. When I had first heard it on that Saturday night broadcast, I thought it was a rather odd quiet tune during a time of synth-happy aidoru songs and the traditional enka. Thinking about it now, it reminded me as a throwback to the music of nearly a century ago when orchestras played what was called sweet music, the genre of non-jazz music played at events such as formal parties. I didn't know what to make of it then but I appreciate it much more now. It was quite the revelation back then since at the time that I had first heard of Ueda, it was because of that one pop song she sang for a Fuji-TV drama in 1991 titled "I Will".

"Kayo Kyoku Plus" has a number of articles involving Ueda including this article as of this writing but almost all of them involve her songwriting duties. Therefore, it's nice when I can include her as an actual singer since she does have a pleasing voice to my ears. By the way, while the above two videos show cover versions of "Aki Iro Kesho", the original version can be found in the video in nikala's article at around the 19:12 mark. That version was also a track on Ueda + Karyobin's 5th album from 1981, "Miss Heart".

Thiking about the title, it was no surprise that "Aki Iro Kesho" was used as the campaign song for Pola Cosmetics. Unfortunately it didn't get into the Top 10 commercial jingles for cosmetics as shown in the above video, but looking at it, I found out that all of the entries except for No. 4 and No. 2 are represented in the annals of this blog.

I actually had the opportunity to get a Chika Ueda + Karyobin album one time a low low price at Recomints in Nakano Broadway but didn't bother to shuck out the yen. Consider that an opportunity lost but I will try to get one of their releases someday if it isn't too late.