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.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Chiyono Yoshino -- Kanashimi no Tapestry(悲しみのタペストリー)

Understanding that there were several years ranging from the late 1980s into the early 1990s during which some female singers dove into this form of sophisticated pop with those champagne synthesizers, I was kinda wondering who jumped off the diving board first.

Well, names like Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子)and Etsuko Sai(彩恵津子)popped up in my head. Then, there is Chiyono Yoshino(吉野千代乃). I introduced her through "Kayo Kyoku Plus" with the very first song that I got to know her for, "Tsukiyo no Monologue"(月夜のモノローグ)that came out in 1988.

Her debut single, though, had been released a couple of years earlier in March 1986, and that was "Kanashimi no Tapestry" (Tapestry of Sorrow). From the words and music provided by Sanae Ohta(太田早苗), that urban contemporary feeling was evident from the first bar. The Oricon charts at the time may have been populated with the songs of various aidoru and enka singers, but I appreciated the fact that there was this somewhat "hidden" genre of kayo that didn't seem to care about rankings but could give forth a classier type of Japanese pop.

Of course, City Pop had been around for several years by the time Yoshino made her debut but it seems as if the late 1980s was a time for another form of Japanese urban contemporary music to appear off to the side. In any case, on the same day that "Kanashimi no Tapestry" was released, Yoshino's debut album also came out, "Rain Ballade".

Shinkichi Mitsumine -- Battle of Rose

Yesterday was the first anime-and-food session of the year so of course, there was the anison hour as is customary. Once in a while, my friend has put on an instrumental that has always struck me as being rather cool.

It's kinda too bad though that I never really got into the anime it was part of. My friend once gave me a copy of the most recent incarnation of "Rozen Maiden"(ローゼンメイデン)but beyond the first few episodes, I have never given it another glance since I simply never gained any interest in a group of snarky sentient dolls pushing around a former hikikomori.

However, for the original anime more than a decade ago, I have to admit that composer Shinkichi Mitsumine(光宗信吉)came up with a pretty kakkoii sequence in "Battle of Rose". It sounds like a fleet musical passage by one of the masters of classical music then having someone like James Newton Howard or Hans Zimmer have at it with an electric guitar and some snappy contemporary percussion. Forget dolls...have the Three Musketeers go into battle in the castle to this music!

For those who don't already have the album, the track is on the original soundtrack for "Rozen Maiden" which was released back in January 2005. En garde!

Minori Suzuki -- FEELING AROUND

It's a cold and damp Monday here in Toronto although a lot of the snow has gone and the absolute zero-type of temperatures are not with us for now. Watching NHK's "News at Nine" this morning, Tokyo underwent its first horrifying snowstorm in about 4 years...something that we go through here perhaps around 4 times a year. In either Toronto or Tokyo, perhaps a good chunk of the population wouldn't mind having a steaming bowl of ramen in a warm restaurant. Incidentally, the ramen above is the Tonkotsu Black at the branch of Sansotei up in the northeast suburbs. My favourite soup when it comes to ramen is indeed the pork bone variety. Mind you, though, my heart and circulatory system may get their revenge on me someday if I went for the stuff weekly but once in a while is always welcome.

Now the reason that I'm enticing you with ramen today is because yesterday was the first anime-and-food session of the New Year that is 2018. To let you in on an opinion, I wasn't all that happy with the Fall 2017 season of anime aside from the reboot of "Mahoujin Guru Guru"(魔法陣グルグル)and the gradually heartwarming "Konohana Kitan"(このはな綺譚). "Two-Car"...? Aaugh. However, it seems like the Winter 2018 season is pretty hopeful; in fact my anime buddy mentioned that for the first time in a long while, we may have to look through about 20 prospective shows since he posits that they all look rather interesting.

One of those shows that my friend showcased yesterday was "Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san"(ラーメン大好き小泉さん)which, as you can guess, is about somebody with the name of Koizumi who greatly loves ramen. She pretty much breathes it, actually. It's almost cruel for us ramen lovers as to how lovingly the animators have shown Koizumi's ardor for her dish of choice and of course the different kinds of ramen.

It was about a year ago that the first 2017-based article for "Kayo Kyoku Plus" dealt with the catchy anison theme for a show titled around another Ms. K. Well, I'm doing the same here with "Koizumi-san" although Minori Suzuki's(鈴木みのり)"FEELING AROUND" isn't quite the classic earworm that fhana's "Aozora no Rhapsody"(青空のラプソディ)has been. I would put that song as my favourite anime theme for 2017, by the way.

Still "FEELING AROUND" has got a nice bounce to it with a bit of an Asian beat as the opening credits provide everything and everyone we need to know about the premise for "Koizumi-san". Suzuki, who was known up to now as a budding seiyuu, has made her debut as a solo singer with this one and it's due to be released in a couple of days. The song was written and composed by Koji Mihara(三原康司), the bassist for the band Frederic(フレデリック)who came up with the catchy "oddloop" a few years back.

To be honest, considering the theme of the show, I was wondering whether Akiko Yano's(矢野顕子)ode to plain simple ramen would have been used.

Finally, to completely torture you into racing to the nearest noodle shop or, at least, the nearest supermarket which sells Sapporo Ichiban, you can take a look at this video for the Yokohama Ramen Museum.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Satoru Shionoya -- Let Love Lead Me feat. Chikuzen Sato

The making of this article takes me back to a very long time ago...probably over 20 years ago. I once had a friend who was such a fan of Barry Manilow that whenever she heard him singing something like "Mandy" or "I Write The Songs", she would just curl into a ball and perhaps mew. It was like watching a cat reacting to catnip. Now I wouldn't be so extroverted in my reaction to the R&B family DeBarge but I can certainly relate to it when I hear the oh-so-delectable "All This Love" which is one of my all-time favourite songs from the genre, hands down.

I'm getting the same reaction from pianist Satoru Shionoya's(塩谷哲)"Let Love Lead Me" which is a track from his 1995 "Salt II" (too bad it kinda reads like an old international defense treaty).

Ever since first hearing Shionoya's piano work on Sing Like Talking's fantastic "Mitsumeru Ai de"(みつめる愛で)on their "Discovery" album and then realizing that he was also a member of the Japanese salsa band Orquesta De La Luz, I've kept an eye (and ear) on him. I should actually reward myself by purchasing some of his solo albums such as "Salt II".

However, getting back to the song at hand, "Let Love Lead Me" gave me those oh-so-wonderful soul ballad vibes (or perhaps it could be Quiet Storm), thanks to Shionoya's mellow jazz and R&B piano tones and the soaring vocals of Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善)from SLT. The first time I heard this, something just shot up and down my back, and memories of the aforementioned DeBarge and Anita Baker came rushing back to me from the 1980s. And I realized once more how much I loved some of the mellower side of R&B from that decade. Shionoya and Sato make a great duo and in fact, the duo has gone to work a number of times through one single and a few albums as the unit Salt & Sugar.

It's hearing music such as "Let Love Lead Me" that has had me hoping that someday there might be a resurgence of Quiet Storm-type of music on both sides of the Pacific. Incidentally, along with Shionoya coming up with the marvelous melody, Cat Gray, who has been heavily involved with Sing Like Talking, provided the lyrics. A nice way to finish a Saturday night.

Oricon Top 10 Singles of 2017

1.  AKB48                                       Negaikoto no Mochigusare
2.  AKB48                                       #Suki Nan da
3.  AKB48                                       Juu-ichi Gatsu no Anklet
4.  AKB48                                       Shoot Sign
5.  Nogizaka46                                Nigemizu
6.  Nogizaka46                                Influencer
7.  Nogizaka46                                Itsuka Dekiru kara Kyo Dekiru
8.  Keyakizaka46                            Fukyōwaon
9.  Keyakizaka46                            Kaze ni Fukaretemo
10. Arashi                                       Doors ~Yuuki no Kiseki~


Nice to be outside in temperatures today which didn't require being hermetically sealed from bitter cold. It got up to around +5 degrees Celsius which was downright torrid for us this season although I'm sure Tokyoites would blanch in abject fear on hearing that figure. From what I've gleaned, my old city mates are in for a bit of a snowstorm on Monday.

For an 80s music guy like me, when I hear the title "Gloria", I immediately conjure up some good memories of the late Laura Branigan and her huge hit from 1982. I was a pretty big fan of hers during her time in the limelight.

Earlier tonight, I caught another episode of "Banana Zero Music"(バナナ♪ゼロミュージック), and there was a special guest. He rather ambled onstage looking like an ancient glam rocker in a leopard skin outfit and fluffy blonde hair. This was Juichi Morishige(森重樹一), aka ZIGGY.

ZIGGY started out in 1984 as this band centered around Morishige in some very gaudy garb and crazy hair. So perhaps visual kei may have had part of its ancestry when these guys started to play. I had heard of the band before but really didn't know any of their music way back when. I couldn't imagine what a lot of folks in Japan thought at the time.

During a recap of ZIGGY's career, one song by them was played that I soon recognized as a popular one among my old students back in Japan. Having been a regular member of the teacher-and-student karaoke contingent, I did hear this one played quite a lot while the students sang themselves hoarse. And this was "GLORIA", the other "Gloria" to go with Branigan's in terms of doppelganger titles.

I was happy to finally hear the real McCoy being performed. To be honest, I didn't think of "GLORIA" as being so hard rock...more like rock with a bit of pop in there although I wouldn't be sure whether Morishige would bludgeon me with his axe on hearing that sort of comment from me.

"GLORIA" was released as not only ZIGGY's 2nd single from May 1988 but also as their 5th single from July 1989. That second release was due to it being used as the theme song for a Fuji-TV drama. Morishige was the one behind words and music and according to J-Wiki, the rest of the band had initially been rather unhappy with "GLORIA" since they thought it sounded a little overly kayo.

Well, Morishige stayed the course and kept the faith, and "GLORIA" ended up becoming the band's most successful single, hitting No. 3 on the Oricon weeklies and selling a shade under 330,000 copies. It also became the 19th-ranked single for 1989. The song also appeared on ZIGGY's 3rd album "HOT LIPS" from May 1988. It peaked at No. 12 on the album charts.

The band had its initial run between 1984 and 2008 with sporadic returns in the 2010s, most likely for tours. All of the original members have gone their separate ways so it's just Morishige as the lone pioneer.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Nanako Sato -- Subterranean no Futari Botchi(サブタレニアン二人ぼっち)

Quite the interesting title here. "Subterranean no Futari Botchi" (Just A Subterranean Couple) is the first track on Nanako Sato's(佐藤奈々子)debut album "Funny Walkin'" from June 1977. Seeing her name and picture in "Japanese City Pop" for the first time, I had never heard of this singer-songwriter so I was surprised to see that she was represented on YouTube.

Frankly the first time I listened to "Subterranean no Futari Botchi", I was a little unsure of Sato's singing especially in the first number of seconds but after giving it a second try and then a third, things settled down pretty nicely. But among tries, I began the Sato file with her "Doyou no Yoru kara Nichiyou no Asa e"(土曜の夜から日曜の朝へ)instead which was also a track on "Funny Walkin'".

As I mentioned in that first article for Sato, she had that fateful encounter with singer-songwriter Motoharu Sano(佐野元春)which got her behind the mike. And "Subterranean no Futari Botchi" is one of their collaborations with Sano helping out in the melody while Sato took care of both words and music. For those Sano fans, this song may sound somewhat atypical since it comes across as a sunny 70s City Pop number instead of a jeans-and-T-shirt rock song but I can't deny the appeal of a percolating Fender Rhodes.

"Subterranean no Futari Botchi" has Sato singing about a couple just knocking about one Saturday night, footloose and fancy-free...akin to a pair of Coney Island lovers as is mentioned in the lyrics. The hint is also made that perhaps the two are living life somewhat on the edge as Sato even coos that they may be hitchhiking on the road. That brings my paragraph to this reference that shows up in the lyrics as 「サム・トリッピング」. At first, I had assumed it was about some famous person named Sam Tripping (singer? novelist?) but actually, the singer was referring to a 1972 movie titled "Thumb Tripping". The Wikipedia article gives one sentence for the plot: Adventurous hitchhikers decide to accept every ride they are offered and end up with more than they bargained for.

Returning to that interesting title...I gather that the subterranean part might be talking about the couple going underground, doing their own thing without any one from their respective families and friends being the wiser. But unlike the ominous note that "Thumb Tripping" strikes, it looks like the couple will continue their daring escapade up to the morning...and then get back to their ordinary lives according to that last lyric.

Ultimately what I got from "Subterranean no Futari Botchi" is a young man and woman playing out that American fantasy of painting the town red deep into the night, and I think that's what City Pop was all about: Japanese pop music to transport listeners across the Pacific for a bit of the exotic good life.