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.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Momoe Yamaguchi -- Yume Saki Annainin (夢先案内人)

Wow, I did not see this coming! I never thought I'd see the day where I've come to like a Momoe Yamaguchi (山口百恵) song, and yet here I am sharing "Yume Saki Annainin" with you guys. I don't dislike her, if that's what you're thinking. I just somehow tend overlook Yamaguchi most of the time, which is quite ironic since she had an enormous presence in the 70's Pop idol scene. But it may have been just that, and the fact that the 70's had lot's of good enka, Mood Kayo and kayokyoku that made me not bother to pay attention to her.

As to how I stumbled upon "Yume Saki Annainin", I managed to find an episode of "Music Fair" that aired early this year featuring Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし), Ayako Fuji (藤あや子), and Kaori Kozai (香西かおり). The first segment had them singing Pop songs, starting out with Hosokawa rockin' out to "Julia no Heartbreak" (ジュリアに傷心) with the ladies (he's just so cool when he sings it!), it was then followed by Fuji's crooning of the forlorn ballad "Love is Over". To wrap things up, Kozai sung "Yume Saki Annainin" with the other two chiming in. It wasn't something I was familiar with, but I took a liking to its summery music quickly. I couldn't make out the name of the song as the title was all Kanji. Luckily, there were two huge clues given in the form of the songwriters' names: Yoko Aki (阿木燿子) and Ryudo Uzaki (宇崎竜童).

When I saw that the husband and wife duo were behind "Yume Saki Annainin", my mind immediately went to Yamaguchi since many of her singles were put together by the couple. But comparing some of Yamaguchi's hits I've heard from medleys to what Kozai had picked, a few question marks popped up in my mind. To me, this tune came across as something more on the line of kayokyoku... y'know, not something Pop idols sing, especially not one whom I've known for singing more aggressive stuff. Checking out Aki's repertoire on her J-Wiki page proved that it's indeed one of the stoic lady's singles, and a successful one to boot, peaking at 1st place on the Oricon weeklies and settling at 21st place by the end of 1977.

Aw, they look so cute together...

Despite the doubts I had, listening to the original finally made me relent. In fact (I still can't believe I'm saying this), I actually prefer it to the enka singers' rendition. Well, so much for the stigma I have about Pop idols. Yamaguchi's deep vocals gave the song a comfortable, laid-back feel to it, and together with the relaxing music that has an edge to it, the image of our protagonist having a whale of a time under the stars with her special one during a date comes to mind. Apparently, Aki's lyrics talk about the her wishing to ride on a gondola with the guy - got the meaning from J-Canuck's earlier article.

Anyway, as I've said somewhere up there, "Yume Saki Annainin" was well received, becoming her 4th number 1 single. And it allowed Yamaguchi to bag the bronze award and the Golden... um... Canary (?... カナリ) award at the 6th Japan Music Festival on the year it was released. The song was covered a number of times, most notably by Akina Nakamori (中森明菜), and of course, Kozai.

Carl Anderson -- Pieces of a Heart

Nope, this is not a Japanese artist here. However, I loved this song which was featured on an old Parliament cigarette commercial. I have a feeling that this was often shown during Fuji-TV's "Music Fair" which would fit the classiness of that show, and although of course I watched the show, I would also be looking forward to catching this ad featuring the beautiful people tripping the light fantastic at an urban soiree. I ended up falling in love with San Francisco at night because of the ad.

Well, after watching the commercial over several weeks and digging through the CDs at the local stores in Gunma and Tokyo, I finally discovered that the song was titled "Pieces of a Heart" and the singer was the late Carl Anderson. I did indeed track down the CD single and bought it. The ballad was released in 1990, and it's just that sort of slow song that is best listened to in the late hours while nursing a Bailey's from a balcony looking down at the city below. As it affects me, the commercial failed in getting me to buy a pack of Parliaments (never got into the habit), but I was more than happy for the musical accompaniment.

Taeko Ohnuki -- Metropolitan Museum (メトロポリタン美術館)

Man, is this gonna be a hot week! Looks like Toronto is finally going to relate to what much of Japan has been enduring this summer. 36-degree Humidex today and it's only going to get worse until about Thursday. I do have the fan running behind me as I write and my parents have got the AC going full blast in the living room. These are the times when I think about the existence of any places outside my home that I can escape into to cool down....and save money on the electricity bill.

Along with shopping malls, my memory goes back to last October when I had that trip to Japan. It ended up that a few of us decided to take a look through the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park. It is climate-controlled so it would be the perfect place for a lot of folks trying to beat the heat outside. Mind you, I was a little hesitant about being in Ueno Park at all since there were a few months when the local government closed off several parks due to the incidence of dengue fever transmitted through mosquitoes.

It's not the smoothest segue into today's song, but there aren't a whole lot of kayo kyoku with hakubutsukan or its English translation of "museum". In fact, the only one I know is by Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)who whipped up this cute waltz-like number titled "Metropolitan Museum" in 1984 as a contribution to NHK's "Minna no Uta"(みんなのうた...Songs for All)program of children's songs.

As the video shows, the music has got that toy shop innocence about it as Ohnuki cheerfully wonders whether that angel hanging around in the museum could use some socks since the place can get a bit drafty at night (I could use a bit of drafty right now) and whether the sleeping pharaoh could use an alarm clock to wake up after 5,000 years of sleep. I think for those folks who loved the Ben Stiller movie "Night at the Museum", this could have been the ideal tune for the Japanese release.

"Metropolitan Museum" is also on Ohnuki's 10th album, "Comin' Soon" from March 1986, but I first heard it on one of the singer's BEST compilations. I have never considered myself a museum aficionado but on days like these, I wouldn't mind admiring items like the Mona Lisa or a skeleton of a T Rex in air-conditioned comfort.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Fantastic Plastic Machine -- Steppin' Out

Just some months after my summer 1981 trip to Japan as a high school student, I was just walking around The (Hudson) Bay department store in my neighbourhood (it is still there) when I heard this song over the speakers. It had this good fast beat to it with this feeling of painting the town red. I was automatically drawn to it and so I walked over to the record section at the north end of the store (yep, The Bay actually sold records and tapes even in the boonies way back then).

The song was "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson who I had used to see as this angry New Waver stomping on the piano. But when I saw the video for the song, he looked very urbane in his tux as he sang about his time in The Big Apple. And what better place to step out than in Manhattan? I also liked the album cover for "Night and Day" which had the song as one of its tracks. Very classy.

Several years later, I was well into my Ichikawa stint in Japan, and one night, a few of us got together at a friend's apartment in neighbouring Urayasu (right by Tokyo Disneyland). My friend was not a J-Pop fan by any means but he did enjoy some of the more eclectic and alternative stuff, and that included Fantastic Plastic Machine. As we were all gabbing away in his living room, I suddenly heard a bossa nova version of the already fine "Steppin' Out" playing on his CD player. After doing a quick check of the album covers, it turned out it was indeed FPM behind this more lounge-y and comfy cover. With the bossa rhythm and the synths, I was surprised that it didn't get onto the soundtrack for Steven Soderbergh's version of "Ocean's Eleven" in 2001. However, I think it has made its way onto the background music segments in a number of Japanese variety shows over the years...usually when the topic is of cool relaxing restaurants for the young and hip in Tokyo.

"Steppin' Out" is a track on FPM's debut album, "The Fantastic Plastic Machine" which came out in October 1997. I've already written on a couple of other tracks, "Bachelor Pad" and "Dear Mr. Salesman". Although I never bought the album in Japan, I was able to get my own copy of it, thanks to an old friend here in Toronto.

Ginza's Wako Tower

The Joe Jackson original may have been about the bright lights and big city of New York, but there's also something pretty electric about stepping out into the various areas of downtown Tokyo. I couldn't afford to enter a majority of the happening places in The Big Sushi, but even walking around areas like Ginza, Shinjuku and Akasaka was fine walking entertainment for this old veteran.

Deep in Shibuya

EPO -- Asphalt/Hitori (アスファルト・ひとり)

"I love the nightlife, I love to boogie..."

Yep, good ol' Alicia Bridges with "I Love The Nightlife". I used to hear this song all the time on those K-Tel disco record commercials on TV. And it's what I get reminded of when I listen to EPO's "Asphalt/Hitori".

The song is a track on EPO's debut album, "Downtown" which has the famous title track and another EPO favourite, "Nichiyou wa Bell ga Naru Mae ni "(日曜はベルが鳴る前に). The singer-songwriter was behind the lyrics and music, but it almost sounds like someone else's prototypical City Pop melody grafted onto EPO's lyrics. Perhaps it might be difficult for someone who is not well versed in the singer's discography to understand, but although I've always regarded her as one of the princesses of City Pop, there was a certain EPO whimsy inserted that set her creations apart from the usual urban contemporary melody. However, this song is straight into discoville. Not that I have anything against it all; I do enjoy it but it just seems different.

As I was reading the liner notes for "Downtown" the album, EPO gave her thoughts on each of the tracks, and for "Asphalt/Hitori" (Asphalt/Alone), she said that she based the song on a true incident in her high school life (which would probably have been a few years before the release of the album) when her boyfriend at that time had to suddenly head off back to Osaka for several months with the teenaged Eiko Sato(佐藤榮子)mulling over those complicated emotions of being left alone. However, with the disco feeling of the song, I think the protagonist was probably fully into her twenties. Well, she can always follow Alicia's advice and hit the dance floor. And to be honest, considering the idea behind the song, it really sounds quite celebratory.

The streets of West Shinjuku.
When I think of EPO, I always think of here.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Flipper's Guitar -- Koi to Machine Gun (恋とマシンガン)

Back when I first heard about the Shibuya-kei duo of Flipper's Guitar in my Gunma days, they were very much a group that I only saw and heard on the late-night "MTV Japan" show. And along with "Friends Again", their debut single, there was one other video whose title I didn't catch which had Keigo Oyamada and Kenji Ozawa(小山田圭吾・小沢健二)quickly skipping about Paris with the song beginning with an old-fashioned scatting intro that I have heard a number of times on Japanese TV. For some reason, I couldn't find the video with that scatting back then, which was actually sampled from the theme song of the 1965 Italian movie "Seven Golden Men".

However, I got lucky tonight and finally tracked it down on YouTube. It was their 2nd single from May 1990, "Koi to Machine Gun" (Love and Machine Guns) which also has the English title of "Young, Alive, In Love". And the one sentence I can use to describe it and the video is "Those jaunty Japanese dudes dashing about in Gay Paree!" The song makes for a great musical companion for Keigo and Kenji running through the City of Lights. There's something very sparkly and fresh about "Koi to Machine Gun" that had me thinking that this would be the theme for Flipper's Guitar.

Not sure how "Koi to Machine Gun" did on the Oricon charts...perhaps it and Flipper's Guitar in general were just a little too hip to get too high there.  However, it did indeed find popularity on the telly as a catchy jazzy tune that would perk up the audience. It was used in a Nissan commercial, a TBS wide show as the theme song, and even for a TBS drama (as shown above) called "Yobiko Boogie"(予備校ブギ...Prep School Boogie)featuring some cool slacker students (I think one of them ended up becoming a cop in an old coat some years later). And I think that's what the charm is about "Koi to Machine Gun"/"Young, Alive, In Love", it is the perfect theme for those young turks just having fun about the town and getting into all sorts of trouble. The song was also a track on Flipper's Guitar's 2nd album, "Camera Talk" from September 1990.

And once again, the cover vocal stylings of Miku Hatsune(初音ミク).

Life on the Ginza!

P.S. Here is the theme song for "Seven Golden Men".

Perfume -- Linear Motor Girl

Although I've loved some of the Pixar films such as "The Incredibles" and "Toy Story", I never had much interest in the two "Cars" movies. But in my last several months in Japan, I did hear a fair bit of excitement in the Japanese media regarding "Cars II" since "Polyrhythm" by Perfume was going to be featured in the movie somehow. I saw the clip on YouTube where the cars got into Tokyo and "Polyrhythm" was playing as background music, and it was perfectly fine. However, just in terms of the title, I kinda wondered whether "Linear Motor Girl" would have been even more appropriate.

My anime buddy was kind enough to give me a copy of "Perfume - Complete Best" from 2006 which included "Linear Motor Girl". When I listened to it for the first time, I hadn't known anything about it, and just assumed it was part and parcel of Perfume's heyday when "Polyrhythm" came out. Actually, it was Perfume's debut single under a major label, Tokuma Japan Communications, coming out in September 2005. It was another peppy tune by the ladies that helped me get through part of the usual slog of translation work.

Listening to the song for the first time didn't key me into the fact that this was the beginning of the trio as a major act, but when I saw the official music video above, I just thought that things seemed a bit different, probably because of the different appearance of one of the trio and the partially hiccupy choreography.

"Linear Motor Girl" was composed and arranged by Yasutaka Nakata(中田ヤスタカ)and written by Kinoko(木の子). One of the other startling things I found out about it was that it got no higher than No. 99 on Oricon with about 2,600 copies sold. Of course, this was just the beginning of many better things to come for Perfume.

If I'm not mistaken, this is Shimbashi.