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.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Michiya Mihashi -- Iwate no Osho-san (岩手の和尚さん)

This article isn't on Hiroshi Tachi, but I thought this snapshot of him from an "Abunai Deka" episode I found on Twitter thoroughly represents how I felt as I watched the "Uta Kon" tribute to the Minyo superstar from Hakodate, Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也). "Uta Kon" is definitely taking a step in the right direction with their weekly tributes to singers/songwriters from bygone days. Now if they could just do that for the rest of the Yon'nin Shu and the likes of Yujiro Ishihara, that'd be great.

Besides a brief history of him, a good number of Michi's hits were highlighted via the night's guests and the VTR clips. I felt glad that I knew and I liked almost all of what was being mentioned save for one or two. There were my old and perennial favourites like "Hoshikuzu no Machi" (星屑の町) and "Kojou" (古城), and the newly acquired "Ringo no Mura kara" (リンゴ村から) and "Akai Yuhi no Furusato" (赤い夕陽の故郷). However, I was sort of hoping to hear this tune that's both a favourite and relatively new to my Michi playlist, "Iwate no Osho-san". It would definitely have spiced things up, especially since the tribute focused more on his serious and/or melancholic tracks.

With the musical styling by Kenji Yoshidaya (吉田矢健治) , "Iwate no Osho-san" feels like fusion of East and West. The former would be from the screaming trumpets and droning horns that provide an Oriental vibe that befits a song that revolves around a monk; the latter comes from the catchy, upbeat percussions which have a Latin touch. Ryo Yano's (矢野亮) lyrics then has Mihashi singing about what I think are monks from the said prefecture coming down from the frigid mountains to the main village to celebrate some festival. From how Yoshidaya's score changes from quiet to raucous within the first few seconds of the song, the abbots must've been meditating or going about their peaceful lives before they realise it's time head down the mountain to "PARTY HARRDD!!!"... Well, maybe not too hard.

"Iwate no Osho-san" was released in 1958 and was also one of Mihashi's many successes. Looking at the J-Wiki, it wasn't one of his top 18 enka-yo hits, so perhaps that was why it wasn't featured on "Uta Kon" - or at least there wasn't time to include it.

One thing I've realised about the tributes to Michi I've watched (mostly online, until now) is that they don't talk about his disco phase. I thought that there would be minimally some mention of it since that was quite a transition he made in the 70's, but I guess not. I wonder if it wasn't that memorable, or many only want to remember the veteran by his enka and minyo, and disco which may have been seen as an act of folly. Too bad, "Disco Tengoku" (ディスコ天国) on the NHK stage would've been incredible.

Here's Kouhei Fukuda's (福田こうへい) rendition of "Iwate no Osho-san" to round things up. It was from this great "Special Stage" on a "Shin Nippon no Uta" episode where I discovered this song - there were tributes to a whole barrage of showa era enka/ryukoka singers.

Dang, would'ya look at that smile. This album doesn't have
the song, but it's really amusing.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Serani Poji -- Boku no Mashu (僕のマシュ…)

Just last night, I was talking about how the technopop or New Wave genre in Japan was quite a bit deeper than I had thought all those decades ago through the song "Myun Myun" (ミュンミュン) by Chakra (チャクラ). And of course, all throughout this blog's existence, I've been remarking about how many hidden delights have revealed themselves from City Pop.

Well, now I can add R&B to the list and from an unusual source...a Sega Dreamcast game that was first sold in 2000. Called "Roommania #203", it was some sort of simulation game which involved trying to get some young fellow to do stuff in a room; I was never a big fan of video games so the concept for this game hasn't exactly floored me but I found out about this one song that is in the game that has.

It's called "Boku no Mashu" (My Love, Marshmallow) by a music unit called Serani Poji (セラニポージ) that was brought together for the purposes of the game. Man, it's got that old-style R&B beat that I love and miss and it came out on the group's debut album "manamoon" (まなもぉん) which was released a few months before the game in October 1999. Some of the other songs on the album sound pretty good as well although they are in different genres. The album also acts as the official soundtrack for "Roommania #203".

The more laid-back Gentle Whisper version of the song is also pretty darn easy on the ears. Pretty darn good timing as well since the J-R&B boom during the turn of the century was in full swing. Wish the pendulum would swing back once more. I realize the vocalist here has a whispery and cutesy voice but I can't help but feel if PSY-S had gone more into a soulful direction, this could have been one of their tunes.

Serani Poji consists of three members: Yukichi (ゆきち) from the pop group CECIL, actress/singer Yumi Higashino(東野佑美), and Tomoko Sasaki(ササキトモコ)who was responsible for the music behind the game. A few more releases by the unit came out before it decided to go into "hibernation" as it described its status in 2004. However, the group woke up once more to release a new album in 2010 titled "Merry Go Round Jailhouse".

And here is a sample of the game as provided in English, although I'm more interested in the soundtrack.

The Savage -- Itsumademo Itsumademo (いつまでもいつまでも)

Almost a month ago, I featured Akira Terao's(寺尾聰)debut album as a solo artist, "Futari no Fuusen ~ Koibito to Issho ni Kiite Kudasai"(二人の風船 ~ 恋人と一緒に聴いて下さい)from 1970 where I also mentioned about his membership in the Group Sounds band, The Savage(ザ・サベージ).

Well, I managed to track down The Savage's debut single "Itsumademo Itsumademo" from July 1966. Realizing that the word itsumademo can be translated as always or no matter what, I've decided to go with "Never Ever" according to how it's used in the lyric "Itsumademo, itsumademo, hanashitakunai" (いつまでも、いつまでも、離したくない...I never ever want to let you go). From that line, you can guess it is an ardent love song.

Although Terao was a co-vocalist for the band, guitarist Yoshio Okujima(奥島吉雄)was the lead vocal here for "Itsumademo Itsumademo" and I have to say that I really like his deep resonant tones. Considering that The Savage started out in 1963 as an instrumental band, it must have been quite the find that both Okujima and Terao could hold a tune rather nicely.

The president of the talent agency Hori Productions at the time, Takeo Hori(堀威夫), asked Ben Sasaki(佐々木勉)to compose and write a song for the up-and-coming The Savage since Sasaki himself was seen as an up-and-coming songwriter with his eye on the genre of garage folk. It was Hori's intriguing plan to have a nice folk song start off the Group Sounds phase of The Savage in line with some of the folk ballads sung by Yuzo Kayama(加山雄三)and Mike Maki(マイク眞木). I'm not quite sure how Okujima, Terao and the rest of the band felt about their boss' plan but as it turned out, "Itsumademo Itsumademo" became a hit and a standard in both the folk and Group Sounds genres. And to be honest, for my ears, its arrangement still strikes me as being quite firmly as a GS ballad. Perhaps, it can still be a song to be played at Japanese wedding receptions.

The video above was apparently from some special profiling those old Group Sounds hits including "Itsumademo Itsumademo" at 5:22. And The Savage is there including Terao.

As for The Savage, the band shifted in its lineup a fair bit but in the beginning it was an electric guitar group fronted by Okujima, Renkichi Hayashi(林廉吉)on guitar, Shuurou Matsuda(松田守朗)on bass and Takashi Kondo(近藤タカシ)on drums although he was eventually replaced by the late Yoshio Oba(大場吉雄). In 1965, Oba and Matsuda left the band with Terao coming in at bass and Junichi Watanabe(渡辺純一)becoming the 3rd drummer.

Supposedly the name of the band originated from a hit song by the British band The Shadows "Savage" and that was about as close to wild as Okujima and company would get. Even the J-Wiki article pointed out that their appearance on stage was more on the gentlemanly side. Judging from the cover of their first single, I think they would be the guys who would be warmly welcomed by any bobbysoxer's mother with milk and cookies.

As for Ben Sasaki, he was the same fellow behind hits such as the Mood Kayo classic "Wakarete mo Suki na Hito"(別れても好きな人)by Los Indios and Silvia(ロス・インディオス&シルヴィア), and "Natsu no Ojosan"(夏のお嬢さん)the 70s aidoru hit for Ikue Sakakibara(榊原郁恵). Unfortunately, he passed away at the young age of 46 in March 1985.

ASKA/Saburo Tokito -- Kimi ga Ai wo Katare (君が愛を語れ)

This ballad by Ryo Aska(飛鳥涼)rang a bell with me when I heard it on YouTube and it turns out that it is on my purchase of his June 1991 album "Scene II". It was also the coupling song for his mammoth hit single "Hajimari wa Itsumo Ame"(はじまりはいつも雨)which had been released earlier in March that year.

Written and composed by the singer-songwriter, "Kimi ga Ai wo Katare" (Express Your Love) starts off with some pretty piano to relate the story of some fellow who finally got the message that he was loved despite his own doubts about the relationship. I think the diagnosis here was that although he had been hearing, he really hadn't been listening. Well, it looks like that has been resolved happily and he has given standing orders to his significant other to let him know that specific reassurance whenever he falters.

Of course, being an Aska ballad, there will always be that sense of epicness (forgive me, I realize that it isn't a real word) infused in the arrangement, and sure enough, the second half sounds like the clouds parting to let the rays of sunshiny wisdom and joy filter into the guy's brain. I would say that there is even some passing resemblance to The Beatles' "Hey Jude" near the end. Break out the swaying glow sticks!

Gotta include the concert performance of "Kimi ga Ai wo Katare" with an orchestra although I think the original recorded version still takes the gold medal in terms of glory.

Now the whole reason that I've put this ballad up in the first place was that I was actually looking for any Saburo Tokito(時任三郎)songs featured online. Up to this point, I was able to profile a couple of songs by the actor/singer, his bluesy and romantic "Kawa no Nagare wo Daite Nemuritai"(川の流れを抱いて眠りたい)from 1981 and his comic hit, "Yuuki no Shirushi"(勇気のしるし)which was the jingle for all those Regain power drink commercials a decade later. And those songs were profiled way back in 2012.

Unfortunately, Tokito will probably only be known for his skills as a kakkoii thespian since I really wasn't able to find anything except videos representing the above two songs. However, I found out that he covered Aska's "Kimi ga Ai wo Katare" in June 1992 as his 16th single for which the above video is a cover.

Going back to Aska, I know about his personal problems from last year and I hope he gets better.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Chakra -- Myun Myun (ミュンミュン)

Ah, if only my awareness and ambition about Japanese popular music had been more open back in 1981 when I visited Japan back then, I probably would not only have been able to pick up a lot more singles in the aidoru category but also go further afield.

Why did I just get all so philosophical above? Well, I discovered this YouTube video featuring this New Wave band from that same year, and it wasn't Yellow Magic Orchestra. At the time, I had thought that YMO had a monopoly on that sound but if I had been smarter, I would have known that the influential band had been around for a few years which meant that other synthesizer bands probably did emerge from the woodwork to get on the bandwagon.

In this case, this was the band Chakra (チャクラ) which had a number of members but the main two were Mishio Ogawa(小川美潮)on vocals and Bun Itakura(板倉文)on guitar. The song featured here tonight is "Myun Myun" (try 3:27) from their 2nd album "Satekoso"(さてこそ...As Expected)from 1981 and it's quite the technopop earworm. In fact, I would say that it's the far older and cooler cousin to that "Nyan Cat" song which was all the rage several years ago. Itakura and Ogawa wrote the vocals while Itakura took care of the music. Listening to it, I got that feeling of Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)in there when she was also on her own technopop kick at the time. Along with Ogawa chirping the title, I also like the guitar work.

Chakra started in 1980 with a self-titled album produced by Makoto Yano(矢野誠)who had been married to the aforementioned Akiko. Then "Satekoso" came out the following year with Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)from YMO taking care of the production. One more album came out in 1983 titled "Nanyo de Yoisho"(南洋でヨイショ...Heave Ho on the South Seas)before Chakra finally broke up. Only one single was released in 1980 "Fuku no Tane"(福の種...Seed of Fortune).

And since I mentioned that feline...

J-Canuck's 5 Attempted-But-Failed Karaoke Tunes

Got hit with a good bunch of articles to translate earlier today so I'm feeling a tad frazzled right now. Luckily, dinner helped take the edge off. Plus, I'm feeling that whimsy tonight so I've decided to go for something silly and provide a follow-up to my article on those five karaoke tunes that were always a part of my singing arsenal whether I went with teachers and students to the nearby Karaoke Kan or a tiny karaoke bar.

This follow-up actually involves those five karaoke tunes that I tried that not only not become part of the arsenal but had me vow never to try them again. For that other article, I mentioned three conditions for me to have a chance of singing a song without clearing the room, and for the sake of this article, I will mention them again:

A: A nice even melody without any shifts in key.
B: Lyrics that didn't require me to leaf through a kanji dictionary many times.
C: No demand for vocal gymnastics (therefore, Kazumasa Oda and Dreams Come True were out).

Now, of course, there were plenty of other tunes that I did try out and never resumed but these five's failures left residual and painful memories of shame that have popped up now and then like unwanted cold sores.

Let me begin in no particular order.

1. Kazumasa Oda -- Love Story wa Totsuzen ni

Well, obviously I broke Rule No. 3. But actually I made the rule because of what had happened with this song. I absolutely love Oda's magnum opus....personally I think "Love Story wa Totsuzen ni" had a lot of the non-fans or casual fans of Off-Course forget that he had ever been a member of that amazing band.

I sang...or tried to sing..."Love Story wa Totsuzen ni" at karaoke when I was visiting my relatives in Osaka not too long after "Tokyo Love Story" had finished its run on Fuji-TV. Ugh! That refrain especially twisted me in conniptions...I hadn't realized that that part of the song undulated and twisted in 3D. Practice might have improved things somewhat but I was rather mortified at the time and my relatives were politely encouraging which made things worse. Ironically enough, I haven't seen them again in over 25 years.

2. Keizo Nakanishi -- Nemurenu Omoi

Another case of breaking Rule No. 3. Nakanishi has an amazing soaring voice. I do not. I can only guess the multiple glasses of Brown Cow did all the talking one night for me at the karaoke box. In any case, I did my rendition of this wonderful nighttime ballad which was rendered not so wonderful since my voice didn't get anywhere near as high as the original singer's vocals when needed.

Let's say this. Nakanishi = soaring jet. J-Canuck = Monarch butterfly with a case of hiccups. Once again, I received a sympathetic smile from a friend of mine which fairly screamed "Nice try, bro!". After that, I let the professionals handle this one.

3. YUKI -- Joy

Indeed, this is a joyful song. I loved the way YUKI contracted some of her lyrics as if a foreigner were trying to say them, and "Joy" in general sounded quirky and inspirational at the same time. And that was some music video.

One night, while I was teaching at the local juku in Urayasu City right next to my own city of Ichikawa, I made the suggestion to those night students of mine about having a karaoke outing at the nearby Shidax (which was the high-end karaoke box). Of course, they all leaped at the opportunity but I made one condition: the first hour would have my charges sing only English-language tunes. They were initially wary but, hey, they did a great job on that night.

The second hour was back to the regular stuff, and that was when I was interested in giving "Joy" a shot. It didn't clear the room but things were silent for a few awkward moments. Finally, the senior student basically remarked "Well, that was interesting...". Damning with faint praise indeed. YUKI with her high-pitched voice was fine with this, but the song didn't work quite as well with a baritone like me.

4. Anzen Chitai -- Friend

One of the saddest ballads ever released by the Hokkaido band, Koji Tamaki probably had his fans in tears with his powerful and heartrending delivery. I had listeners crying for a different reason. Strangely enough, I was OK with some of the other hits by Anzen Chitai, and in fact, one of my go-to tunes is another one of the band's ballads but I think with "Friend", there was just some subtlety required that I couldn't emulate.

5. B.B. Queens -- Odoru Ponpokorin

I didn't usually sing anison at karaoke but I did make an exception for the mighty theme song from "Uchuu Senkan Yamato" since the vocals were well within my range. However, whenever I tried B.B. Queens' biggest hit, "Odoru Ponpokorin", it wasn't just a little too high but it was a little too far out of my silliness range. For a number of songs, a good amount of body movement is encouraged but I was never all that expressive a fellow. Therefore, what my friends saw was more "Suwaru Ponpokorin" than "Odoru Ponpokorin".

So if any of you folks have your own karaoke stories, good or bad, please let me know.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Naoko Kawai -- Shasou (車窓)

There's quite the love affair with trains in Japan. For the most part, they're clean, prompt and efficiently run whether they belong to JR or one of the private corporations. The train otaku treat the wide variety of rail-bound vehicles with the same sort of awe and deference that royalists would give a king or queen. And when a long-running train is put out to pasture after many years, the crowds that gather to see it off on its final voyage is nearly tear-rendering in its sentimentality, and that scene is always included in the news.

While in Canada, it could still all be about the automobile and the airplane, I think Japan's fastest-running and romantic transportation arteries still belong to the train. Most of my train rides there have been on Japan Railways with a few trips on the Bullet Train itself. Although I cannot consider myself a tore-ota by any means, I've enjoyed those railroad voyages as the trains have passed through the cities and countryside. In fact, my fantasy ride was to savor that trip on the Cassiopeia from Ueno Station to Sapporo up in Hokkaido but alas it finished its run in March 2016. Not that I could have really afforded the prices anyhow.

Allow me then to introduce Naoko Kawai's(河合奈保子)"Shasou" (Train Window). I have to thank my friend Michael for providing me with a lot of these Naoko songs since there are a few of them which perhaps didn't quite get onto her usual BEST albums. In fact, this particular song was placed onto a Naoko album that had only come out on audiotape back in March 1984, "Ai ~ Naoko no Wakakusa Iro no Tabi"(愛・奈保子の若草色の旅...Love ~ Naoko's Bright Green Trip [although the official English title is "Journey of Love"]). So "Shasou" could be one of the rarest of the rare; I certainly hadn't heard it or even heard of it until I started listening to that collection.

"Shasou" makes for a wonderfully poignant theme for one of those countryside train rides, especially if that train is an old diesel rather than a super-advanced Bullet. With that slowly undulating piano, the mellow oboe and those shimmering strings, even without the video, a very relaxing image of that ride can come into view that can put away any thoughts of the city as the listener/rider stares out the window. Plus, I can appreciate Naoko's vocals even more; for me, she probably had the finest voice among the early 80s aidoru at the very least.

Of course, for such a lush arrangement and lyrics, it would be Etsuko and Takao Kisugi(来生えつこ・来生たかお)who created the song.