Credits

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.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Seishiro Kusunose -- Miss You


nikala wrote about singer-songwriter Seishiro Kusunose(楠瀬誠志郎)a few years ago for his 1990 song "Eien no Yakusoku"(永遠の約束...Eternal Promises). Unfortunately, the video with the original song has been taken down (although I've put up a cover version). To be honest, I forgot how the fellow sounded after listening to the video but my impression is that he has come up with some solid polished pop.


Earlier today, I found this compilation of City Pop songs that have been appearing like squirrels in my neighbourhood on YouTube over the past several months. And when I checked out the first song, it turned out to be a Kusunose track from his first album "Takarajima"(宝島...Treasure Island)from April 1986. Now, the uploader for the compilation tagged the song as "Shizuka na Gogo" (also on the same album) but listening to a cover version of that song elsewhere on YouTube, I realized that there was a mixup of sorts judging by the lyrics. So, the song is actually "Miss You".

If memory serves me correctly, "Eien no Yakusoku" from 1990 was pretty City Pop in its original form. Well, "Miss You" from four years earlier also definitely has that vibe but with a bit of something extra...something dreamier. Yep, Kusunose wrote and composed the song about getting in that car alone and driving on the highway while thinking about a loved one....perhaps permanently or temporarily parted.

Kusunose has got quite the voice and he certainly can weave quite an arrangement. That particular synthesizer and the backing vocals stand out. In fact, that first yell of what sounded like "HARD TIME" in the song knocked my neck back when I heard it for the first time.

The singer is still active today and he released his latest album, "Let's Sweet Groove",  in the last few months although it hasn't been mentioned in his J-Wiki entry but his new website has got it. As well, nikala has already written a bit of his bio in her article.

aiko -- Kabutomushi (カブトムシ)


Summer means a number of things in Japan (for me, it was meteorological torture). A couple of insect representatives come to mind: the cicada and the rhinoceros beetle. The former insect was most likely more heard (through their late-summer screams) than seen although I have seen cicadas since I was a little boy when at my grandfather's place in Wakayama Prefecture, a neighbour showed me a cicada larva transform into an adult by cracking out of its brown shell.

The rhinoceros beetle is far quieter but it's a huge insect, and quite a popular one, too, in Japan. Kids love finding them and I've seen pet shops selling them in small plastic cages with a piece of cucumber to feed them. In Japanese, the rhinoceros beetle is known as kabutomushi which translates literally as "helmet bug".


"Kabutomushi" is also the 4th single by J-Pop moppet, singer-songwriter aiko, from November 1999. I remember seeing the official music video with the images being washed out except for aiko's clothing and fingernails; it was quite the constant presence on the music shows for several months. The fall release date was interesting but apparently aiko had thought that the rhinoceros beetle was a winter insect instead of a summer insect.


aiko wrote this ballad's lyrics to compare someone with a rhinoceros beetle: the hard shell covering a soft body. A person might come across as a strong entity with plenty of attitude covering what is perhaps a very scared and uncertain type. We've all been there...often at discos. "Kabutomushi" was her second Top 10 hit following her previous single "Hanabi"(花火...Fireworks)by peaking at No. 8. The song was also a part of her 2nd album "Sakura no Ki no Shita"(桜の木の下...Under The Cherry Tree)which came out in March 2000. It hit No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies and eventually became the 10th-ranked album for the year.

It's pretty interesting comparing female singers like aiko at the end of the 20th century with their equal number a decade prior. Back in the late 80s/early 90s, there was this combination of mellow pop and urban sophisticated pop with images of perfume, necklace and taxis. Closer to 2000, I saw female Japanese singers going into R&B or, like aiko, down-home pop out in the countryside. I haven't paid too much information on the current J-Pop scene so I'm not quite sure what the trend is now.


Saburo Kitajima/Hachiro Kasuga -- Hakodate no Hito (函館の女)

Haaaaru baru kitaze Hakodateeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee ~

Just a couple of months ago, I happened upon the popular food-related manga, and subsequently, TV series "Shinya Shokudo" (深夜食堂), otherwise known as "Midnight Diner", via its second movie when returning from my trip to the US and Canada. This sort of anthology series centers around the characters, ranging from AV actors and yakuza to your run of the mill salary men, who patronize a nondescript late night diner in a little, grubby alley of Shinjuku run by a middle aged fellow only known as Master. There isn't much else known about Master besides his motto of preparing any item requested by the customer as long as it's within his means.

Nothing insane happens in the anecdotes told in "Shinya Shokudo", especially when compared to the other seinen manga I read, the gore fest that is "Berserk", but its quaint charm, warm atmosphere, and realism of the characters and their predicaments without excessive exaggeration drew me to it. The shout-outs to pop culture are an added bonus. I have since read the first three volumes (in English) online, and purchased their Japanese hard copies from Kinokuniya soon after.


At the moment, one of my favourite chapters from "Shinya Shokudo" comes from the third volume. Titled "Butter Rice", it features a butter rice-loving nagashi* (流し) and a food critic in what may as well be the comic adaptation of Saburo Kitajima's (北島三郎) "Hakodate no Hito". There was even a section where the elderly nagashi, Goro (ゴロー), "sang" said song, as you can see from the picture above. Plus, the design of the food critic, Masao Toyama (戸山正夫), reminds me of a certain Masao in enka history.

Masao Koga Toyama

Anyway, this leads me to the topic of the article, "Hakodate no Hito". J-Canuck already wrote an article on it so you can check it out for more details on the song. Moving on, I had been aware of Grandpa Enka's jaunty smash hit well before reading "Butter Rice", but never listened to it in its entirety - just the first line was all I really knew - till after the comic was read so I could get all the references throughout the chapter. Don't get me wrong, I like "Hakodate no Hito" and its signature belted-out intro has a penchant for getting stuck in my head, but for some reason it didn't occur to me to listen to it fully until then.


When I finally went to look up "Hakodate no Hito", I went for Hachiro Kasuga's (春日八郎) version first before the original since I'd heard pieces of the latter on multiple occasions and I was curious as to how the late enka veteran handled the song that has also been covered by a myriad of other singers.

I must say that their individual deliveries give "Hakodate no Hito" different vibes. Sabu-chan's sounded more "grass roots", like a common man and his guitar dedicating his love for his (Hakodate) sweetheart, or just like in "Butter Rice", a nagashi taking on a customer's request in an uramachi. On the other hand, Hachi's take was more polished, like a professional singer in a tux standing before a stand mic performing for a large audience. In that sense, I find Sabu-chan's delivery to be best suited for "Hakodate no Hito". However, I ended up preferring Hachi's rendition for his smooth and deeper vocals... Objectively speaking, of course. Kasuga's version can be found in his 1973 cover album "Enka Hyaku Sen" (演歌百選), where he did self-covers and covers of hits from the pre-war period up to the late 60's.

P.S. Y'know, reading and watching "Shinya Shokudo" has made me realised how easily persuaded I am by food - except beansprouts and ginger, that is. One chapter about chicken karaage and suddenly I have to have it. I'm not even a fan of fried chicken... Or at least I wasn't.

Master

*Nagashi are those wandering performers, most common back in the day and rare now, who'd go to bars with their guitars/shamisens to sing requested songs from the bars' patrons. They've been the topic of many older enka tunes, like Hachi's own "Nigate Nandayo" (苦手なんだよ).

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Masaaki Hirao -- Kangoku Rock (監獄ロック)


On this day in 1977, Elvis Presley "left the building" for the last time, so to speak. Although I was born during an era when The Beatles had become the biggest pop act in the land (meaning Earth), Elvis was quickly made known to me since my parents had his Christmas album. And of course, there were all those movies he made along with the old footage of the guy swiveling his hips. Not surprisingly, Turner Classic Movies had a full-on marathon of Elvis movies today.

Of course, one of his biggest hits was "Jailhouse Rock" (1957) as you can see above.


Along with The Beatles, Elvis also had a lasting effect on Japanese pop culture. Basically, fans didn't just want to sing Elvis but they wanted to be Elvis. So as in America, there have been various Elvis impersonators from various points of his life, including his paunchy Las Vegas persona.

I tried looking for any Elvis covers that were done in Japan, and it didn't take too much effort to realize that the late Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃)did indeed do a Japanese cover of "Jailhouse Rock" under the title "Kangoku Rock" (1958) with Shoichi Kusano(草野昌一), the then-president of Shinko Music Entertainment, writing the lyrics under the pen name of Kenji Sazanami(漣健児). I just mentioned that it didn't take too much effort to find out that it was Hirao simply because he was a rockabilly singer. I figured it was going to be him or Mickey Curtis(ミッキー・カーチス).


Well, how about that? I managed to find a video with Hirao, Curtis and fellow rockabilly singer Keijiro Yamashita(山下敬二郎)doing the old "Kangoku Rock" in 1996. Back in the 1950s, the three of them were dubbed "Rockabilly Sannin Otoko"(ロカビリー三人男...The Three Rockabilly Guys)and took the country by storm.




Kaori Kuno -- Thank You For You


You might say that this is a reincarnation of this article. Originally, I had written this as the first article for singer/songwriter/saxophonist Kaori Kuno's(久野かおり)representation in "Kayo Kyoku Plus" way back in 2012. The song "Thank You For You" did have a YouTube presence until some months later when due to the usual copyright issues, it was taken down. Not having quite the patience back then that I do now, I re-molded the article so that it would take care of another song whose YouTube video was still there "Rifujin na Koi"(理不尽な恋)which was the opening track on her 3rd album "Breath". After all, I had also included how I got to find this album and what this singer was all about, so it would have been a waste to start totally from scratch.


Well, the video has returned much to my happiness. And "Thank You For You" is the one other song along with "Rifujin na Koi" that I do remember from "Breath" which came out in 1989. In fact, it is my favourite song by her from the same album. For the longest time, I had thought that it was the campaign song for an insurance company (the title would certainly seem appropriate), but as it turned out, it was actually the jingle for the Sendai branch of Mitsukoshi Department Store.

"Rifujin na Koi" feels like a city tune with a hint of drama but "Thank You For You" is definitely even breezier...more of a Sunday afternoon stroll in the park. Plus it is representative of a number of the works of female singer-songwriters during the late 1980s and early 1990s which tended to straddle between mellow and sophisticated pop.

Glad to see the song back up online and this time if and when it disappears again, I'll just retire the article back to Draft status. Hopefully, though, Apple or Amazon will have at least an excerpt. By the way, I listened to the entirety of "Breath" yesterday and I have a better appreciation of the other tracks. Provided that there is some more online presence of it, I may be able to do an article on the whole album someday.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Shinichi Mori/Keiko Fuji -- Sakariba Blues (盛り場ブルース)


I hadn't seen veteran enka singer Shinichi Mori(森進一)in quite some time so I was glad that he did show up on the annual "Omoide no Melody"(思い出のメロディー...Melody of Memories)broadcast about a couple of weeks ago. I was a bit worried about his health.


Had a craving of sorts for some of that old-fashioned Mood Kayo from a time when I was still toddling around in my diapers so I went with what was probably his 7th single from December 1967, "Sakariba Blues".

When I first saw the term, I had no idea what sakariba meant. And at the relevant J-Wiki article for the song, there was a fairly comprehensive list of these sakariba areas in 7 major Japanese cities. Several of them were already known to me and so when I punched the term into jisho.org, I found out that it was another expression for "entertainment district".

In any case, Mori namedrops the whole lot of these places while he's crooning away. I know the Tokyo ones: Ginza, Akasaka, Roppongi, Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. "Sakariba Blues", despite the relatively fast pace of the ballad, is very much a blues song since the singer relates the hard-luck story of a woman, presumably a hostess working in one of those areas or even a frequent customer there, who is grieving at the loss of a relationship. There is probably no lonelier situation than crying in your beer while everyone else is living it up around you.

Although this was about a year before the Oricon rankings came in, "Sakariba Blues" did well enough so that there was a movie adaptation with the same title (with the English title of "Blue Neon"). According to the J-Wiki article, it was the second such adaptation following "Yanagase Blues"(柳ヶ瀬ブルース)the year before, and so the movie has been labeled as the second movie in the "Yoru no Kayo Series"(夜の歌謡シリーズ...The Night Kayo Series). Mori even has third billing as an actor. Come to think of it, I have never seen the man in a movie or TV drama.


Saburo Fuji(藤三郎)and Chiaki Murakami(村上千秋)wrote the lyrics while Miyoshi Jo(城美好)composed the song. There was also a cover version by none other than the Queen of Kayo Blues herself, Keiko Fuji(藤圭子)although I couldn't find out when this cover came out. "Sakariba Blues" may have been made for Mori but with Fuji doing her version, I couldn't have asked for anyone better to handle the concept of loss deep down in the hard-bitten streets of Tokyo or any other city.


Pearl Kyodai -- Sugar Sugar Tengoku (シュガシュガ天国 )


Coming from a time when I first knew Archie Andrews, Veronica Lodge, Jughead Jones and friends as a Saturday morning cartoon in the 1970s, I remember listening to "Sugar, Sugar", a song that went down in music history as one of the few hit tunes from a fictional band, The Archies, to hit No. 1 on Billboard. It became a staple on radio and also on those K-Tel compilation LPs (do I need to explain what an LP is?).


So you can imagine some of the memories that came when I first encountered the title for this song by the band called Pearl Kyodai (パール兄弟...The Pearl Brothers). "Sugar Sugar Tengoku" (Sugar Sugar Heaven) doesn't sound anything like "Sugar, Sugar", mind you. It's a bit of light New Wave-y music that sounds like it could have come out a decade earlier instead of the late 1980s. It was indeed a track from Pearl Kyodai's 5th album "Toyvox" released in April 1989, and along with the New Wave, I could hear a bit of PSY-S in there, too.

The band was actually formed in 1983 with the five "brothers" being led by Kenzo Saeki(サエキけんぞう)as main songwriter and vocalist. In their initial run between 1983 and 1994, it released 8 singles and a little over 10 albums. There was a hiatus lasting about a decade before Pearl Kyodai got back together in 2003 and they've apparently been performing ever since.

One reason that I've put this one up is that Saeki has already been mentioned in this blog due to his contribution in the creation of one of the cooler anison that I've heard "TRY UNITE!" by Megumi Nakajima(中島愛).

Tons of sugar sugar in this Cinnabon and Iced Milk Tea.