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.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Minako Tanaka -- Weekend Pain

Minako Tanaka (田中美奈子) was an edgy and sexy girl during the late 80s and early 90s. Her debut album, “Kimi no Hitomi ni Utsukushiku” (君の瞳に優しく), which was released in January 1990, featured some of her most memorable singles, but also had interesting hidden gems inside, just like “Weekend Pain”, for example.

Although Minako Tanaka started her career in a more Eurobeat vein with songs like “Namida no Taiyou” (涙の太陽), “Be My Baby” and “Tell me”, the overall sound used in her album was an interesting fusion of the Stock Aitken Waterman’s Eurobeat sound with touches of Janet Jackson’s New Jack Swing. “Weekend Pain”, for example, follows this formula, and it works.

It may be strange to somes that I brought up New Jack Swing to the table, but although really melted down (well, the genre itself is a melted result of fusing Hip-hop, R&B and Pop), Minako Tanaka’s debut album features an evident New Jack Swing in songs like “Weekend Pain”, “Shinku no Kyouhansha” (真紅の共犯者), “Fujitsu Paranoia” (不実パラノイア) and “Amai Sensou” (甘い戦争), for example.

Back to the song, I like the beginning with the synth twinkles (they really sound like “the party is about to start” to me), the background percussion and the steady electronic bass. Also, although the verses are kind empty in the arrangement department during the first half of the song, some interesting crashing synths are introduced in the second half's verses. As for Minako, it’s not a mystery that I really like her vocals. They’re sexy and, most of the times, she sings in a correct manner.

After the album release, her subsequent single, the Komuro-penned (小室 哲哉) “Yume Mite TRY” (夢見てTRY), was a return to a more SAW Eurobeat sound, but she soon would commit herself with the edgy New Jack Swing sound once more in “Dancing in the shower”, the lead single for her sophomore album, “Gimmick”.

The “Kimi no Hitomi ni Utsukushiku” album reached #15 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics for “Weekend Pain” were written by Natsumi Tadano (只野菜摘), while music was composed by Paul Chiten and Sue Sheridan. As for the arrangement, Tatsuya Nishiwaki (西脇辰弥) was the responsible.

To finish, here's my "Kimi no Hitomi ni Utsukushiku" album.

You Kikkawa -- URAHARA Temptation (URAHARAテンプテーション)

I’m a longtime You Kikkawa (吉川友) fan. In late 2011, she released a great single called “Konna Watashi de Yokattara (こんな私でよかったら), and when she performed it on Music Japan in early 2012, I watched it live on my television. I just adored the song, and really hoped she kept releasing nice songs. Well, Kikka didn’t release another interesting song during 2012 and 2013, unfortunately. In 2014, though, she redeemed herself with the club banger “URAHARA Temptation”.

“URAHARA Temptation”, which was released in June 2014, was a departure from what she’s been doing since her debut in Hello! Project. Unlike her cheerful aidoru stuff, this new song was dance-oriented and even sexy in its nature. I confess that Kikka is not very good at portraying a sexy girl in the video, but she tries, and that’s adorable per se.

About the song, it’s not very different from nowadays America’s mainstream electronic pop music. I didn’t think I’d be so hooked on this song, mostly because I have some restrains when J-Pop acts tries to emulate what’s trendy in America, but I’m listening to it non-stop since it was released three months ago. Even Kikka’s rap is fun.

I really think this new direction Kikka is following will be good for her (I’m waiting for a new album next year). Now, in late October, she’s releasing another single which follows the same formula inaugurated with “URAHARA Temptation”: a double a-side single with the first song being edgy and the second one portraying Kikka’s cute persona. But this new single is a talk for another day.

“URAHARA Temptation” reached #17 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics were written by NOBE, while music and arrangement were done by michimoto.

Tetsu and Tomo -- Horoyoi blues (ほろ酔いブルース)

This week's episode of Kayo Concert was pretty interesting, with the theme revolving around trains and all. We had the sibling duo of Karyudo (狩人) - that's such a cool name - singing their debut single 'Azusa ni go' (あずさ2号). It was the first time I heard most of the song, and now I know why it was such a big hit. And then there was this young Enka singer by the name of Hiroshi Miyama (三山ひろし) singing the late Enka veteran Michiya Mihashi's (三橋美智也) 'Aishu no resha' (哀愁列車). His delivery of the angst-filled song was alright save for the fact that he kept smiling throughout!

Moving on, the performance that piqued my interest was by this other duo present, Tetsu and Tomo (テツ . トモ). I pretty much knew they weren't an Enka duo when they began to sway and dance in such a lighthearted manner as they sang their latest single that mentioned something Shinbashi train station (released on the 15th October 2014). After a little research a while later, I learnt that these fellows are in fact a comedy duo who began their careers in 1998, comprising of Tetsuya Nakamoto and Tomoyuki Ishizawa (中本哲也 . 石澤智幸). Well, that explains their names, overall goofiness and enthusiasm. Hmm, so I guess they're something like Tunnels?

'Horoyoi blues' had its lyrics done by Natsumi Watanabe (渡辺なつみ) and was composed by renowned composer Keisuke Hama (浜圭介). Listening to the music, I could just see the 2 of them doing that little jig of theirs in tuxedos and canes. Actually, it sounded more like an Enka/Mood Kayo song that someone like Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし) would sing!

There's this other thing that I had just discovered this morning while listening to 'Horoyoi blues' again: This song seems to sound a little like the sped up and funkier version of 'Hoshi wa nandemo shite iru' (星は何でも知っている), sung by another famed composer, Masaaki Hirao (平尾昌晃) in his younger days. It's either that or I was still groggy from waking up early again for school, or as I had said in an earlier article, I do not very very discerning ears.

In Red most of the time: Tetsu
In Blue most of the time: Tomo

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Keiko Fuji -- Kyoto kara Hakata made (京都から博多まで)

I heard this torch song, "Kyoto kara Hakata made" (From Kyoto to Hakata) last night on NHK's "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)sung by one of the guest performers, and on hearing that this was a Keiko Fuji(藤圭子)song during the introduction, the Yu Aku(阿久悠)lyrics pretty much cemented that fact. Fuji once again brings forth a story of womanly woe about going on a seeming fool's errand by getting on that train from the ancient capital to one of the major cities in western Japan to go after that man that she's fallen for.

Kosho Inomata(猪俣公章)was responsible for the cool urban feel of Fuji's 11th single from January 1972, and as usual, I'm a sucker for a lonely trumpet. I could imagine the singer in that trenchcoat as a lonely figure waiting for that last train on a rain-soaked platform. Apparently, the supposedly quixotic voyage was patterned from an actual train run by the Matsukaze (now known as the Super Matsukaze according to Wikipedia), a limited express service operated by JR West. Inomata, by the way, was also behind Fuji's big hit from a couple of years previously, "Onna no Blues"(女のブルース).

"Kyoto kara Hakata made" peaked at No. 20 on Oricon and first appeared as a track on Fuji's 8th album, "Shiranai Machi de"(知らない町で...In a Town I Don't Know)from December 1971 before it got its official single release. Several months later, she would perform it on the Kohaku Utagassen of 1972 which is shown above.

Courtesy of

Revisiting the old shops

During my 2 weeks back in Tokyo, I managed to visit some of my old music haunts in the hopes that I would be able to pick up some good discs.

First off, my anime buddy and I hit Nakano Broadway. Now, it was my buddy who told me that Recomints had closed down during his last visit there in 2012. Well, going there in 2014, Recomints has apparently given a Wolverine-like "I got better" response, and to my relief, was very much alive, However, the two different outlets in Broadway selling discounted Japanese and Western discs respectively have merged into the original space for the Japanese stuff on the 3rd floor. The tables of cut-rate discs are gone only to be replaced by shelves as you can see above but the mix of Western and Japanese albums is still very cheap.

Happily, I was able to make my first purchase for the trip there, Akiko Yano's classic "Gohan ga Dekita yo".

Of course, a visit to the planet's largest music store, Tower Records in Shibuya, was mandatory. At around 2010 and 2011, the store enabled the re-mastering kick of some of the old albums from the 70s and 80s. Well, going back to Tower three years later, that re-mastering has gone into high gear. In fact, I found a section on the 3rd floor which paid tribute to 70s/80s City Pop. As much as I had wanted to grab the entire selection, I just went with Tomoko Aran's "More Relax" from 1984. Such is the lot of a person on a limited tourist's budget and yet, I hit the place twice and purchased a total of 8 CDs there.

The J-Pop section was moved sometime during those 3 years from the 2nd floor to the 3rd floor. Now, the formerly 7th-floor magazine/book department was moved down to the 2nd floor, and to boot, a pretty cool-vibe cafe has been placed on that same floor. After that first giddy visit to Tower, we just had to relax a bit there with some lattes. Early in my time as a teacher in Tokyo in the mid-90s, Tower Records Shibuya did have a cafe in the basement which had the rather hilarious arrangement of having a non-smoking spot in the centre of the remaining smoking area without any barriers. That incarnation didn't last too long.

*Ah, I should let you know about one thing about Tower. The store does accept credit cards, but the staff doesn't ask for PIN numbers to be typed in...they just swipe it through something. I made my purchases on credit there and there was a bit of a consequence. Some days later when I was to pay my share of the hotel bill by that same credit card, I was rejected, even though I had informed the credit card company before the trip that I would be using the card overseas (thankfully, I was armed with another card). After returning to Toronto, I called up the credit card hotline and the operator there told me that it's possible that Tower apparently not needing the PIN but having the purchases go through anyways may have put up some red flags and froze things on my card for security purposes. However, the operator told me that things were fine and dandy now.

After my second trip to Tower a few days later (and a satisfaction for a craving of McDonalds), I hopped onto the Hanzomon Line (purple on the Tokyo subway map) and made a beeline toward Jimbocho Station. And I was reassured when I saw the familiar blue-and-white sign of Tacto once more. Tacto, as I mentioned in the article for the shop, specializes in the older and/or rarer CDs and I gave the shelves on the first floor there a good browse before I settled on four or five discs, including Kenjiro Sakiya's BEST collection.

I also visited RecoFan in Shibuya and Yamano Music in Ginza although I didn't take any shots of those old haunts. But as you have noticed, when I go to Japan, there will always be a standing order for me to replenish my want of kayo kyoku/J-Pop.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Gamu -- Ai wa Kagero (愛はかげろう)

Yes, out of the cobwebs of my mind. I heard this once more after years and years, and the nostalgia, oh the nostalgia, started flowing through the arteries again. This is Gamu's(雅夢)"Ai wa Kagero", the folk duo's oh-so-tenderhearted debut song from September 1980. Kazuto Miura(三浦和人) and Toshikazu Nakagawa (中川敏一...I hope I got that last name right) formed Gamu (elegant dream) sometime in the late 1970s while studying at Chukyo University in Nagoya.

In May 1980, the pair entered the 19th annual Yamaha Popular Song Contest with "Ai wa Kagero" that Miura had written and composed, and subsequently won a prize in composition. It wasn't too long before it was released as the official debut and became Gamu's biggest hit, selling close to 700,000 copies. The song would also become the 13th-ranked single for 1981.

I've seen "Ai wa Kagero" translated as "Love is a Heat Haze" but I'm wondering if "Love is Fleeting" wouldn't have been a more romantic way to express it. It may have been a folk song but there is also that hint of European sentiment which gives it another interesting dimension to my ears. I guess with the additional fact that I am also a big fan of Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)from her early 80s pop music with a French twist, I probably have an affinity for that particular fusion of music from two different continents.

Nine singles and seven albums later, Gamu called it a day and decided to break up in December 1984. The above YouTube video is from their final concert, and apparently Miura got rather choked up during the performance of their most famous song.


Toshinobu Kubota -- Sunshine, Moonlight

Back in my days in Japan, there was the above commercial for Nippon Ham featuring J-funkster Toshinobu Kubota(久保田利伸)meeting cute with some street thugs (trust the ad) while selling those wieners which snap. Yup, the Japanese love franks which make sounds when you bend them. My brother came to Tokyo one year while I was there and at the Shinagawa hotel where we had breakfast, he admitted that he wasn't too fond of the snappy variety.

In any case, the funkiest commercial song ever to be tied up with frankfurters is "Sunshine, Moonlight" written and composed by Kubota himself. And it worked well as a jingle since it has that groovy hook. And both for the ad and the concert footage above, it's got that nice strutting beat to it.

"Sunshine, Moonlight" was originally the title track on Kubota's debut album in the United States, released in September 1995. The song was sung in English with Tawatha Agee on backing vocals, and it was a slower version which I was a tad disappointed by. I remember my first time listening to it on the old Onkyo and waving my hand to get it to speed up.

The album did well on the Oricon charts by hitting No. 1 and selling over 500,000 copies. And I can only imagine how many packages of snappy wieners cleared the supermarket shelves on Kubota's say-so.