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.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Yutaka Ozaki -- Kizutsuketa Hitobito e (傷つけた人々へ)

It's been nearly 2 years since I put up my last article on a Yutaka Ozaki(尾崎豊)song, and I just realized that I passed his 50th birthday last November. It's hard to believe that it's been nearly 24 years since his untimely passing, and just to realize that he was born less than 6 weeks after me makes me wonder what would he have been doing had he lived. I'm sure he would have kept up his songwriting and perhaps even his singing although considering how much emotion he put into this stuff, I'm not sure if he could have kept up that level of performance in his concerts if he were still here. And perhaps he might have gone into other genres such as blues or jazz. But I'm merely speculating...

Recently, I put the CD of his debut album "Juu-nana Sai no Chizu"(十七歳の地図...Seventeen's Map)from 1983 into the player after a good long while. Of course, on the album there are his two famous ballads, "I Love You" and "Oh My Little Girl". My impression is that the much of the rest of the album has that old rock-n'-roll style of the happy lone wolf crossing the country on his motorcycle.

However, there is one track that I remember very well outside of those two ballads. "Kizutsuketa Hitobito e" (To All That I Hurt), although it has those strings which remind me of some of those 50s and 60s love songs, strikes me as being more of a contemporary West Coast pop tune. In addition, unlike the title, it's a pretty happy-go-lucky one written and composed by Ozaki and quite a bit lighter when I think of some of those emotional ballads.

I've only started to go through the lyrics and although the title implies that he's referring to a number of people he's hurt in the past, I kinda wonder if he's apologizing...or at least explaining a single erstwhile or forgiving love. And considering the relatively bouncy melody, I also wonder if the protagonist is being somewhat feckless or insincere in his explanation and basically saying that he can't help who he is. There is a point in the video above when Ozaki just gives a sheepish grin and a shrug as if to transmit a "Hey, what can I do, man?"

In any case, "Kizutsuketa Hitobito e" may not be one of his most recognized works but it works for me since I like the genre that he covers here. It was actually the B-side to his debut single "Juu-go no Yoru"(15の夜...The Night)from December 1983.

Ozaki died in 1992, less than a decade after he had released this particular album. And hearing this particular track now, I also just wonder if this can also be a message to his fans from the beyond.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Drifters -- Chotto dake yo! Zen'in Shuugo (ちょっとだけョ!全員集合)/ Michiya Mihashi -- Hokkai Bon Uta (北海盆唄)

Yup, my whole family were regular fans of the old long-running Saturday-night TBS show "Hachi-ji da yo! Zen'in Shuugo"(8時だョ!全員集合...It's 8 O'Clock! Everyone Assemble)starring the comedy group, The Drifters(ザ・ドリフターズ). I didn't know though that the show had 2 incarnations: the first one lasted from October 1969-March 1971, and after a brief absence, the second incarnation had its long run from October 1971-September 1985. Of course, for my brother and I, it was all about the zany skits, and for me later personally, the singers who guested in the intervals between skits and segments. Of course, there was the memorable ending theme "Ii Yu da na"(いい湯だな)performed by The Drifters themselves and the catchy "Hige Dance"(ヒゲダンス)which always accompanied Ken Shimura and Cha Kato(志村けん・加藤茶)when they did their own tuxedoed shtick.

So I think it is time that I also talk about the opening of "Hachi-ji da yo!" Leader Chosuke Ikariya(いかりや長介)would be on stage, make a few quick greetings to the audience before heartily launching "Itte mi yo!"(いってみよー!...Let's go!)to get the rest of the cast running down the aisle stairs and the various guests and players out on the stage to a jaunty marching beat before everyone in a single line starts with the opening theme song. Hearing that, we knew that we were about to get into the hour of nutty comedy.

Before I decided to write this article, I had assumed that the song was just something that some songwriter concocted on the fly for the producers. However the truth was a bit more involving. For one thing, I had a bit of a problem trying to read through the dense explanation for the opening sequence on the J-Wiki piece on "Hachi-ji da yo!" I wasn't quite sure for one thing what the title was since there were a couple of titles bandied about. However after checking both of them out on YouTube, I am pretty sure that the official title for the jaunty opener is "Chotto dake yo! Zen'in Shuugo" (Just a Little! Everyone Assemble).

The second thing is that unlike the ending theme of "Ii Yu da na" which was a straight adoption of the Duke Aces hit from 1966, "Chotto dake yo! Zen'in Shuugo" was actually a parodic riff on an old Hokkaido minyo titled "Hokkai Bon Uta" (North Seas Bon Song). Although I couldn't find out exactly when the song was created, it was apparently born in the coal mines in Mikasa City in western Hokkaido and spread across to other regions to be used in the various Bon dances. It is still performed annually at the Bon dance in Mikasa in August.

Originally known as "Beccho Bushi"(べっちょ節...Coal Mine Melody)with obscene lyrics, the miners used the song to perform Bon dances. However early during the war years, lyricist Kouzan Imai(今井篁山)who was known as the father of Hokkai minyo cleaned up the lyrics and adjusted the melody. Then many years later, it was released as a record performed by Michiya Mihashi(三橋美智也) in February 1959 which became a huge hit, selling 2.6 million records and coming in at No. 5 among his 12 minyo million sellers (got that information from the comments for the above YouTube video). Listening to the original version, I could tell that the Drifters' take on it was much more sped up.

In 2001, the Drifters had their first and final official appearance on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen performing a medley of their tunes including the opener. During that time, I wasn't paying too much attention to the Kohaku so it was too bad that I missed this performance which must have been very poignant for many in the audience and at home.

As for the meaning behind part of the title, "Chotto dake yo" was one of the popular catchphrases from "Hachi-ji da yo!" that caught fire due to Cha Kato's famous schtick of pretending to be an erotic dancer.

Just to finish off this article, since I'm talking about the opening here, I might as well relate to you about one episode which I caught on rental video. The 1984 show was about to start when the hall suddenly suffered a power outage and the entire place was plunged into darkness. But as the saying goes "The show must go on", and it did with the help of good humour and some battery-operated lights.

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Yoru no Te no Hira (夜のてのひら)

Ahhh..."Kayo Suspense Gekijo"(火曜サスペンス劇場...The Tuesday Night Suspense Drama). Now, this would be the show for the website "TV Tropes" since the program was filled with them. The dramatic intro music, the weird graphics intercut with vital scenes in the opening, the final resolution with a hat-wearing detective taking the bad guy away (well that wasn't true for the episode above). And of course, a Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)ending theme.

Iwasaki didn't have a monopoly by any means on the ending themes for "Kayo Suspense Gekijo" but she's one of only 2 singers (the other being Mariya Takeuchi) who performed multiple themes for the show during its 24 years on NTV; the first five ending themes were done by her. As of this writing, I've already got three of those Iwasaki themes up: the proud if melancholy "Madonna Tachi no Lullaby"(聖母たちのララバイ), the dramatic "Ieji"(家路) and the urban contemporary "Ni-juu-go-ji no Ai no Uta"(25時の愛の歌). 

And here is "Yoru no Te no Hira" (The Palm of Your Hand at Night) which was her final ending theme for the series and her 41st single from October 1986. Written by Etsuko Kisugi(来生えつこ)and composed by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平), her last contribution to the show was a light and romantic number. It may have been the Kisugi sister who may have taken care of the words but the flexible Tsutsumi created a melody that sounded like something the Kisugi brother would have woven. The sister's lyrics related the woman's impressions in bed as she lay beside her paramour about what the future may bring in their relationship; the words could describe one of the quieter scenes in a "Kayo Suspense Gekijo" episode...before she finds out that the guy is...gasp...the killer.

"Yoru no Te no Hira" peaked at No. 55 on Oricon and was a track on Iwasaki's 18th album "Yokubari"(よくばり...Avarice)from 1987. The original LP got as high as No. 38.

It doesn't happen all that often on the news here but whenever I see some perp get arrested and dragged off to jail on Toronto TV, one of those Iwasaki themes start filtering through my brain. That's how much her ballads have been associated with crime shows...and with me. For the record, though, my favourite of her themes will be "Ieji". I just wanna be a wise and wizened Japanese detective whenever I hear that one.

So I gather that I will have to cover "Hashi"(橋...Bridge)the middle Iwasaki/Kayo Suspense entry sometime soon.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Arashi -- Love So Sweet

Do I feel weird when I listen to this song? Yes.

Should I feel weird for listening and liking this song? Yes. Wait, no. Uh, I don't... know.

Those were the 2 questions that went around my mind as "Love So Sweet" by the mega-popular Arashi (嵐) played through my earpieces. Technically, I shouldn't feel strange for doing so as I still am within the aidoru quintet's target audience, but I cannot help but feel that way. I'm guessing this is due in part to a couple of reasons: 1) As you all know, I always stick to the senior performers, most with receding hairlines, of the genre the older crowd listen to, so the sudden switch, albeit for less than 5 minutes, to something people of my age may listen to was a shock. 2) Apologies to Arashi fans but Arashi is one of the many aidoru groups I tend to diss/ignore/roll my eyes at; having taken a liking one of their works was like eating a big scoop of irony with crumbs of humble pie sprinkled on top.

*Sigh* But a nice song is a nice song... ... There, I said it.

As to how I came about knowing "Love So Sweet", I'd like to take you back to when I still watched and was able to watch "Music Station" - the channel showing this pop music version of "Kayo Concert" got cancelled after a couple of years... Honestly I'm not surprised. If my memory serves it was during a Christmas Special and of course Arashi was one of the guests as they're always in Oricon's top 10. I think Keisuke Kuwata (桑田佳祐) was on too, which was why I tuned in. But moving on, Arashi did a medley of some of their past hits and though I was zoning out, one song managed to capture my waning attention for a brief moment. I never took note of its title so for the longest time since that "Music Station" episode, I knew it as "The only Arashi tune I don't mind". It was only until a few months back when J-Canuck had written his article for "Love So Sweet" did I finally solve this not-particularly-dire mystery. I had a feeling that that was what I was (sort of) looking for, and lo and behold I was right.

Listening to "Love So Sweet" once again, I'd describe it as your typical sweet (no pun intended) aidoru song with its jaunty and oh-so catchy melody and the boys going "Yeah, yeah, yeah". The piano part that greets you at the beginning was pleasant too. No wonder it was a hit. But the clincher was the chorus that made me wave my white flag... I suppose it was bound to happen some day. If I were to ever like Arashi, I think my favourite would have to be Kazunari Ninomiya (二宮和也). I mean, he has that innocent little smirk that is, let's be honest, cute.

A pretty good cover. It's what I listen to most of the time.

Also in J-Canuck's article as well as Marcos's comments was the topic of the quintet's choreography as they sang "Love So Sweet". They weren't a fan of it and neither am I. I find it rather cheesy - trying to be smooth and cool with varying degrees of success. However, if I were to view it from the perspective of a fan or just a normal teenage girl for that matter, I'd probably see their dancing as what I just mentioned, smooth and cool, and maybe cute too.

To end off, I guess I'll share this tidbit of personal information with you guys. One of my ultimate music fantasies, as odd as it may be, would be to see the enka-yo singers Mae-Kiyo, Hosokawa, George, Yoshi and Itsuki tackle "Love So Sweet". I think it'd be hilarious, especially when they try their hands at the choreography. Itsuki would do a fine job at that, the rest on the other hand...

Oh, I almost forgot. A Happy Chinese New Year!

Akina Nakamori -- Second Love (セカンド・ラブ)

I think I've been pretty good these past 4 years about covering the Japanese pop songs I've enjoyed over the past 35 years. However, considering the large number of tunes that have managed to get onto the blog since early 2012, I am bound to make a few rare omissions. Akina Nakamori's(中森明菜)"Second Love" is one of them.

Covering so many of her songs, I had assumed that "Second Love" was already up somewhere on the blog perhaps not as its own article but in the very first of the BEST articles that I concocted a couple of years ago. After taking a look at that one, I came to the discovery that I laid an egg. Well, as they say, when you get an egg, you can make a small omelet.

What makes my omission rather shocking to me at least is that "Second Love" was a song that I heard tons of times at Kuri, my old karaoke haunt in downtown Toronto during my university days. I would say that I heard the karaoke version of it more than I did the original version by Akina herself. Hearing this absolutely adorable and sappy love ballad created by Etsuko and Takao Kisugi( 来生えつこ・来生たかお)with the singer pulling out the high tones in her voice, I had assumed for the longest time that this was her 2nd single following the just-as-cute "Slow Motion" (スローモーション)from 1982. But as it turned out, it was her 3rd single, between the tough chick tunes of "Shojo A"(少女A)and "Ni-bun no Ichi no Shinwa"(1/2の神話). Apparently for the early part of her career, she was going AC-DC with her vocals.

As I mentioned in one of my early articles for Akina, I started listening to her when she had already attained superstar status so it was all about the funky and snazzy music accompanying her husky vocals by that point in the mid-80s. So it was with some surprise to finally hear the original version of "Second Love" when she still sounded truly like an early 80s aidoru. There was quite the "Awww" factor when I heard it.

"Second Love" was released in November 1982. It hit No. 1 on Oricon; in fact, it had an extended stay at the top spot a couple of times from November to December, and then in 1983 for a few weeks in January for a total of 6 weeks. That long stay helped it to attain the No. 8 ranking for 1983. It also earned a Grand Prize for Takao Kisugi at the Japan Composers' Awards in that same year. Furthermore, Kisugi did his own classy cover.

Another omission...cannot believe there is yet to be any Nana Mizuki(水樹奈々)article on the blog. Will have to rectify that sometime soon but in the meantime, here is her cover of "Second Love".

Monday, February 8, 2016

Gesu no Kiwami Otome -- Watashi Igai Watashi ja nai no (私以外私じゃないの)

Just a few minutes ago, I finished up writing the article on Superfly's "Beautiful" since the performance of that song on last year's Kohaku Utagassen was one of the high points for the broadcast for me.

I could say the same thing for a band that also made its first presence on the show. However, as soon as I saw the original kanji for this group from Western Japan and the Kanto, I just thought, "Yep, that's eclectic...that's properly eclectic." To be honest, I didn't even know to how say it until I looked it up on Wiki. But it was a string of kanji that I had seen a few times before but never got to hear until Kohaku time.

It doesn't happen all the time but sometimes I feel that a Kohaku performance by a singer or a group is fine but not the best. I got that impression from Gesu no Kiwami Otome(ゲスの極み乙女。)when they did "Watashi Igai Watashi ja nai no" (Not A Me Other Than Me). Basically as the song title implies, I discovered a tune that wasn't quite that tune when I first heard it on the Shibuya stage on December 31st. However, I could feel that this was a good tune.

Thankfully, I was able to find the original music video for "Watashi Igai Watashi ja nai no" which was released in April 2015 as Gesu no Kiwami Otome's 2nd single. For the band's J-Wiki entry, I read a whole shopping list of musical genres that they include: rock, jazz-rock, progressive rock, post-rock, math rock, indie rock, experimental rock. More rock in there than in a small hunk of granite but I think "Watashi Igai Watashi ja nai no" isn't so much rock but some nice and healthy eclectic pop. I like the rolling piano along with the indie-ish of it all with spurts of fusion and some pure jazz. There's nothing I appreciate more than a tune that masterfully blends disparate genres into a wonderful whole.

"Watashi Igai Watashi ja nai no" hit No. 11 on Oricon and earned a prize for either Best Song or Best Composition at the Japan Music Awards last year. The song, by the way, was written and composed by Gesu no Kiwami Otome's main songwriter and vocalist Enon Kawatani(川谷絵音). The other band members are Kyujitsu Kacho(休日課長)on bass, Chan Mari (ちゃんMARI)on keyboards and Hona Ikoka(ほな・いこか)on drums. From what I've read on their Wikipedia page, most of them have positions in other bands as well.

Ah, before I forget, the song was also used in a Coca-Cola campaign.

Superfly -- Beautiful

When it has come to the last two Kohaku Utagassen broadcasts, I think I've started to look forward to a couple of things. Of course, for comfort's sake, there are the enka and pop veterans with some of their chestnuts that they've dusted off. And then there are the few new acts that have been invited to see what kind of oomph they provide.

For Kohaku No. 66, I was actually rooting for Shiho Ochi(越智志帆), aka Superfly. Now, Superfly isn't exactly a new act since she's been around since I was still living in the Kanto. Just to recap, one of my hippie-ish students happily introduced the singer to me in one of our first lessons together near the end of the last decade. So, perhaps she isn't a new face overall but it was her first appearance on NHK's venerable (if no longer quite venerated) New Year's Eve special.

Just to see her by herself on the Shibuya stage perform the upbeat and inspiring "Beautiful" (she provided words and music) did put a thrill through me for some reason. Although I can't say that I've become a die hard fan of hers, I was happy to see Superfly with those vocals of her joyfully press forward with those optimistic lyrics about getting past the gloom and into the sunlight. I think she gave one of the highlights for the broadcast and she got some appreciative applause for her performance.

"Beautiful" wasn't even an official single but a track on her most recent album, "White" from May 2015. It's her 5th studio album which peaked at No. 2 on Oricon and became the 23rd-ranked album for the year. The song itself was used as the theme for the TBS drama "Mother Game".