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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ami Ozaki -- Meisou (冥想)

When it comes to singer-songwriter Ami Ozaki's(尾崎亜美)vast discography, I will always be reminded of the light bossa of "My Pure Lady" and the oh-so-soft "I've Been Mellow". Her music in the early days were the aural equivalent of a comforting cup of tea or a mug of hot chocolate.

At the same time, there is also a lot to like about her very first single, "Meisou" (Contemplation) which was released all the way back in March 1976. I kinda wonder what the reaction was like when Ozaki trilled her debut...the sound was very much in the New Music category, reminiscent of some of the sunnier pop tunes that I had heard as a kid on the radio in Canada. Did the younger folks reflexively sigh in relaxation on hearing this new voice for the New Music cause?

Whatever the case, "Meisou" has got those clear Ozaki vocals that I've been familiar with but without that slight rasp of her later songs, and there is that mellow keyboard that I can always see her behind on TV. In contrast to what the title implies, there's isn't anything remotely quiet or still about "Meisou". In fact, the lyrics talk about a giddy girl's happy insistence that she is the one that the particular boy has been searching for. Perhaps the contemplation has been on the laddie's part.

I don't know how well "Meisou" did on the charts but it is included on Ozaki's debut album "Shady" from August 1976.

(from about 4:35)

Flipper's Guitar -- Groove Tube

Mike Myers brought back the 1960s again back in the 1990s with his "Austin Powers" franchise, and an entire generation got to know about what Burt Bacharach, groovy and psychedelic were all about. Mind you, I actually lived through all that although I don't remember much since I was less than 5 at the time. However there was one show that I still have memories of...and that was the American variety hour (yes, the USA did have variety shows back then) "Laugh-In", a prime time comedy tour-de-force starring Dan Rowan and Dick Martin as the hosts of barely contained lunacy mixed in with all that was late 1960s pop culture: go-go dancing, body painting...and groovy. Giggly Goldie Hawn in a bikini dancing it up...yup, she is seared in my memory.

But even before Mike Myers gave us a look-see into that crazy decade, the Japanese at least had already been getting some of those images and music from back then for some years via Shibuya-kei. Of course, there was Pizzicato Five who took care of the Swingin' 60s party-all-night aspect of the genre, but at around the same time, there was also the duo of Flipper's Guitar who carried over their mellower take with some influence from French pop.

However, I was surprised to discover that Keigo Oyamada and Kenji Ozawa(小山田圭吾・小沢健二)did indulge some of that P5 nighttime fun for their 5th single, "Groove Tube" from March 1991. The J-Wiki article for the single had a mass of text that I had to wade through but really couldn't find anything too insightful about "Groove Tube" itself aside from the quote from Oyamada that stated that the men had wanted to put out their most powerful single with this one with the booty-shaking rhythm of B'z and a hard-edged guitar sound reminiscent of Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰).

I'm not quite sure that "Groove Tube" actually gets to the level of some Hotei shredding but the song definitely has a good amount of drive. Written and composed by Flipper's Guitar under their moniker of Double KO Corporation, I think it actually has some influences from not only P5 but also Pet Shop Boys. with the lyrics talking about what seems to be a night out at a cool-as-sin and sexy 60s party. And the video kinda illustrates that...wouldn't be surprised to see Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe there sipping cocktails with a bored look.

"Groove Tube" got as high as No. 22 on Oricon and is also a track on "Doctor Head's World Tower", the duo's 3rd album released in July 1991.

To finish off, I would like to mix in this article's theme of psychedelia and Canadiana with a skit from my dearly beloved "SCTV" comedy show. Here is Dr. Braino as played by the late John Candy.

Dead or Alive -- Nude

Yesterday, my father approached me with some very sad news: Pete Burnssinger/songwriter and frontman of 80s Hi-NRG band Dead or Alive – died from a cardiac arrest on October 23th (Sunday), and he was just 57 years old. Needless to say, I became instantly sad.

Now, I know very well this blog is about Japanese music, but anchored by the fact that Pete Burns and Dead or Alive were very famous in Japan during the mid-to-late 80s, I think this space can welcome my little homage to the now deceased Pete Burns.

Dead or Alive experienced worldwide fame between 1985 and 1987, after working with famous British production team Stock, Aitken and Waterman (SAW) in some catchy Hi-NRG cuts like “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)”, “In Too Deep”, “Brand New Lover”, “Something in My House”, “I’ll Save You All My Kisses”, among others, that resulted in two studio albums and one compilation: “Youthquake”, “Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know” and “Rip It Up”, respectively.

After that, even though their popularity in homeland England and in the United States decreased, the band still had one last stronghold: the distant Japan, where Dead or Alive and their Hi-NRG sound – there called Eurobeat – were very loved.

With that in mind, it was no surprise when 1988’s “Nude”, a self-produced album with no touches from SAW, became a huge success in Japan, but not so much in the English-speaking world. It also helped that lead single “Turn Around and Count 2 Ten” was a true blast of joy, and in a strange way, very similar to the kind of Eurobeat songs that were imported by Japan from Italy at the time.

Here in Brazil, it was second single “Come Home (With Me Baby)” that made similar success among clubbers. The song was more in touch with the Latin Freestyle genre, which was very popular in Rio de Janeiro’s lower class neighborhoods, for example. I think some of my older cousins must probably know this song.

As for my personal favorites from “Nude”, I’d say they are the bouncy “I Don’t Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”, with its dated – yet charming – feel, and the overtly dramatic album closers “I Cannot Carry On” and "My “Forbidden Love” – both of them a mix of Pete’s theatrical singing with some stormy late 80s synths.

Unfortunately, after some time, Pete became more known for all the bad plastic surgeries and reality TV appearances than for the music he created. His outrageously flamboyant looks were far from being tame, and it probably didn’t help his career in the music industry that extreme sincerety and sarcasm were also a big part of his personality. Nevertheless, his talent – beautiful, strong and full of personality vocals, coupled with an accurate sense for catchy melodies and clever lyrics – was truly one of a kind.

The “Nude” album was released in December 1988, and, apparently, scored a #1 position on the Oricon chart (I’d love to find some numbers to measure the success of Dead or Alive in Japan at the time, but I wasn’t able to). All songs were written by Pete Burns, while music and arrangement were done by Pete and Dead or Alive.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Miho Nakayama -- Leave Me Alone

Continuing the exploration of early Miho Nakayama(中山美穂), I found this earlier collaboration between the late 80s aidoru and City Pop singer-songwriter Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)called "Leave Me Alone" from her 3rd album "Summer Breeze" from July 1986. With a title like that, Kadomatsu just had to contribute at least one track. In fact, he provided two more songs for the album, including the Miporin hit "You're My Only Shinin' Star" as the final song.

In contrast to the epic ballad that is "You're My Only Shinin' Star", "Leave Me Alone" is this bass-heavy thumper that stomps across the soundscape like a couple of Gundam legs. As soon as I heard it, I just knew that it was a Kadomatsu creation. It certainly helped that Kadomatsu provides some backing vocals as well, and perhaps that guitar solo. Plus there is that nice sax.

As for the album, "Summer Breeze" hit No. 8 on the charts. Perhaps it may become a future purchase but it's kinda too bad that Miporin looks like she swallowed a bad pickle on the cover.

Fumikichi Fujimoto/The Peanuts -- Gion Kouta (祇園小唄)
from Mr Hayata
Somewhere in the piles and piles of photos from yesteryear in old dusty drawers, there are a few of those photos that I took as a high school student of the Gion Festival(祇園祭)in Kyoto during my July 1981 trip. However, since I don't have the time or energy to go into excavation mode, I have decided to upload this photo of one of the many floats used in the highlight parade from the festival.

I distinctly remember seeing those grand floats slowly going down the street from my particular vantage point deep in the crowds on the sidewalk as I valiantly took photos on my dinky little camera. Being the middle of summer, and a Kyoto summer at that, it was a miracle that I didn't end up being transported to a hospital due to heatstroke. Still, I survived although I also remember taking a long nap in my hotel room afterwards.

The song for this article, "Gion Kouta" (Ballad of Gion), is one that I first heard on a recent "Uta Kon" (うたコン). Elegantly performed by Misaki Iwasa(岩佐美咲), formerly of AKB48, I was intrigued as to its origins, so I did a bit of investigation and found that it had first been sung all the way back in 1930. Not only that, it was performed by a geisha by the name of Fumikichi Fujimoto(藤本二三吉)(1897-1976). Born in Tokyo, the singer was born as Fumi Fujimoto(藤本婦美)and became an apprentice geisha in 1909 under the name of Hanko(はん子)before getting her official geisha name of Fumikichi in 1915. From 1924, she began recording songs in a number of the traditional genres such as min'yo with her first hit being "Naniwa Kouta"(浪花小唄...Ballad of Naniwa)in 1929.

However, her huge hit was "Gion Kouta" which was recorded in 1930 as the theme song for the movie "Ehigasa"(絵日傘...The Decorated Parasol).Written by Mikihito Nagata(長田幹彦)and composed by Kouka Sassa(佐々紅華), Fujimoto sings descriptively about her love for the Gion district in Kyoto. Instead of importing the video directly, I have left the link above since going to it, you will find an English translation of the lyrics by the uploader.

Now to be honest, I am very hazy about some of the very old genres of Japanese music but apparently along with min'yo (民謡...folk songs)and the early examples of enka, there were other genres including hauta(端唄...short love songs), zokkyoku(俗曲...another form of folk song)and kouta(小唄...ballads). I was going to categorize this ballad as a min'yo but seeing the title, I can only surmise that fans of this song would probably want me to place this in the correct category of a kouta although I would need some education in differentiating these genres. Good grief. And here I thought it was just the various techno genres that I needed help with.

"Gion Kouta" has probably been covered by just about every enka singer and I was able to find this version by the late Keiko Fuji(藤圭子)which has that more familiar enka arrangement.

Well, whaddaya know? Here is that performance by Misaki Iwasa.

Heck, even The Peanuts(ザ・ピーナッツ)contributed their own very slightly jazzy take on "Gion Kouta" as a single in 1963.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Noriyo Ikeda -- Dream In The Street

This is another track I found in one of my CDs of the long-running series of "Light Mellow" representing City Pop/J-AOR, this one being labeled "Moment".

"Dream In The Street" is originally the title track from the debut album of Noriyo Ikeda(池田典代), another one of those hidden treasures in the world of urban contemporary Japanese pop from way back when. There is virtually nothing written about this mysterious singer aside from what I could find on one Yahoo Japanese-language music blog which had getting her start in the late 1970s as a performer in clubs located in Shinjuku and Shimo-Kitazawa in Tokyo.

There is even some dispute as to when the album "Dream In The Street" was released with the liner notes in "Moment" stating it was in 1980 whereas a few online sites state that it was actually 1979 (I will go with 1980 for now). In any case, what is notable about this City Pop gem is that was composed and arranged by Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)with Ikeda providing the lyrics about the general goings-on on a night in the big city. The late Hiroshi Sato(佐藤博)was on keyboards and even Yamashita was there as one of the guitarists providing backing vocals.

Ikeda has vocals here which remind me to a certain extent of the voice of Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)...that breathy and coquettish quality. Plus "Dream In The Street" just bursts onto the street with that familiar City Pop beat shuffling things happily along the sidewalk, and as much as I've mentioned the Doobie Brothers whenever I write about the genre, this particular song has that little addition of Steely Dan this time around. And to wrap up, there is that cool little bit near the end when you hear the drums rattling away and then the bass doing its fine plucking. Those were grand years by Tats.

I don't know how many albums Ikeda released but my impression is that "Dream In The Street" may have been the only one.

Isao Sasaki & Mitsuko Horie with Columbia Yurikago Kai -- Susume! Gorenger (進め! ゴレンジャー)

Today I spent the day with some friends for lunch and a movie, the latter being "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" starring Tom Cruise. I had seen most of the first Jack Reacher movie on TV and wasn't particularly thrown over the moon with it, so it was nice that I actually enjoyed "Never Go Back" a bit more. However, I still thought the movie was rather paint-by-the-numbers. It could have been any of the episodes of "NCIS" with Jethro Gibbs played by Cruise instead of Mark Harmon.

As for my thoughts on the annual rash of superhero blockbusters, it was also as hit-and-miss as "Never Go Back". "Captain America: Civil War" was fine although the story became increasingly sadder, while the earlier "Superman v. Batman" was disappointingly dire. "X-Men: Apocalypse" was also another missed opportunity and I didn't even bother with "Suicide Squad" due to the unhappy reviews despite all of the hoopla of last year's filming of a pivotal chase scene down on Toronto's Yonge Street. I'm hoping that "Doctor Strange" will end this year on a high note and from what I've heard from the early reviews is that it will be good if not spectacular.

In a year when the thought of a superhero team on the Hollywood screen was probably a mere dot of out-there-in-left-field fantasy, I had heard that Japan concocted a live-action show of a group of five human superheroes in contrast with the lone warrior of Kamen Rider(仮面ライダー)and the gigantic Ultraman (ウルトラマン) along with the anime Gatchaman (ガッチャマン). The 1975 show was "Himitsu Sentai Gorenger"(秘密戦隊ゴレンジャー...Secret Task Force Five Rangers), produced by Toei Company and televised on TV Asahi as the first of the long-running Super Sentai series. One of its descendants ended up getting over to America in the early 1990s and transformed into the "Power Rangers" series.

But going back to "Gorenger", I first saw this team on those thick children's readers that were sold in the front of the Furuya Japanese food shop in Chinatown, and boy, did I want to know about these guys. I was amazed by the costumes and the weapons that were miraculously stored in their masks such as the whip in leader Red Ranger's mask and the bow-and-arrow setup in Blue Ranger's mask. However, the 1970s were the pre-Internet, pre-VCR prehistoric age so the best I could do was read one manga involving the team when they were going up against a villainous skeleton with a long cape. Fairly disappointed was I.

Things are obviously quite different now, but when I finally got over to Japan again in 1981, there wasn't any mention of any Super Sentai series and my interest had already waned down to a nub by that point. Still, I could find that little bit of the Gorenger in action above.

Also, there is the theme song, "Susume! Gorenger" (Go! Five Rangers) as sung by Isao Sasaki (ささきいさお) and Mitsuko Horie(堀江美都子)with the chorus group Columbia Yurikago Kai (コロムビアゆりかご会). Of course with Sasaki, I've always seen him as the king of the songs used in the "Uchuu Senkan Yamato"(宇宙戦艦ヤマト)franchise, and Horie has also contributed one or two songs to the adventures of the Yamato. But I think this is the first time I've heard them sing a good ol' tokusatsu tune.

And what a heroic tune it is. There is the urgent first part before the melody gives way to something hopeful with the combination of horns and plucky electric guitar. I've heard "Susume! Gorenger" used in parodies of the Super Sentai format by various comedians over the years but never knew that it had been the theme song for the pioneer show. Shotaro Ishinomori(石森章太郎)wrote the lyrics while Chumei Watanabe(渡辺宙明)took care of the music.

Missed opportunity, to be sure. But at least, I get to see some of what made the show so popular with the kiddies and my parents were able to save a ton of dough and frustration toward me for demanding that I get one of the team costumes.

Also, have a look at JTM's playlist for tokusatsu theme songs since he also mentions about the ending theme for "Gorenger" among some of his other favourite tunes from the genre.