Friday, July 25, 2014
My range of Taeko Ohnuki （大貫妙子）songs has basically been from her New Music time with Sugar Babe in the mid-1970s to her early 1980s technopop/French collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto（坂本龍一）. Well, it's time to stretch out a bit more. Obviously, she's gone far beyond those years in her discography and one of my aims this year is to get a larger BEST compilation by her. And there is one titled "Library" which came out in 2003 and from that album, I managed to find this song.
"Happy-Go-Lucky" is a truly happy-go-lucky song written and composed by Ohnuki herself as her 26th single from May 1997. It is also a track on her 20th album, "Lucy", and the reason that I've already listened to this one four times already in the past few days is that it sounds like a pleasant hybrid of her 70s sunny side stuff with a bit of those 80s arrangements released in the late 90s. Basically, the lyrics just reflect the title: saying a cheerful Hello to the neighbours and enjoying the day. I can certainly use more of that mood.
This driver above had the right attitude during her singalong with Ohnuki. By the way, the coupling song to "Happy-Go-Lucky" is her cover of "Shall We Dance?", the theme song from the movie of the same name starring Koji Yakusho and Tamiyo Kusakari.
The bands Rats and Star (formerly Chanels) and Checkers have a connection: they were both 80s groups which dipped into American pop music of the 50s, with the former going for the doo-wop sound while the latter had a more teenage rock n' roll beat. Also both bands had lead singers who've gone on to bigger and better solo gigs, especially when it came to their balladry.
Case in point: whenever I think of Fumiya Fujii （藤井フミヤ）of Checkers during his solo career in which he has released 31 singles up to 2013, there is one song that comes to mind immediately. His creation of "True Love" may have been his 2nd single but it was his first after the breakup of Checkers at the end of 1992. Released almost a year later in November 1993 and created by the man himself, it's a song that probably has had potential serenaders learning how to play guitar and sing simply for the opportunity to finally woo their loves from below their apartment windows. It is that much of a love song.
"True Love" was the theme song for one of Fuji-TV's jewels in the crown of the 90s, "Asunaro Hakusho"（あすなろ白書...Asunaro White Paper）, a show that was also part of the slate on my university club's Wednesday-night activity of presenting J-Dramas. I remember that there was a pretty full room whenever the episodes were shown at the International Student Centre...right at the same level as "Tokyo Love Story". And not surprisingly, both dramas started out as manga created by Fumi Saimon（柴門ふみ）. At the time, her name was synonymous with prime time pure love.
My memory has gotten pretty hazy over the years when it comes to individual Kohaku Utagassen. But one of the highlights from the 1993 show that I still remember clear as a bell has been Fujii's performance of "True Love". That one part where he played the instrumental bridge on his guitar as the lone spotlight shone on him from behind was one great moment in the history of the show by my estimation. Perhaps even tears were shed from among the audience and viewership. And what made it even more special was that the two leads from "Asunaro Hakusho", Hikari Ishida (as Captain of the Women's Red Team) and Michitaka Tsutsui (as one of the judges in front of the stage) were right there. Ishida even presented a bouquet of flowers to Fujii at the end of the performance.
"True Love" hit the top spot on Oricon for 5 consecutive weeks and despite its late release in the year, it became the 29th-ranked song. A year later, it even rose up to become the 11th-ranked song for 1994. I'm pretty sure if it had been released earlier in 1993, it would have cracked the year's Top 10 easily.
I mentioned about "True Love" being the ideal serenade song. Well, it has also become a very popular ballad to be performed at wedding parties. And Fujii himself has sung it numerous times at those happy occasions which led him to admitting "I've sung it so many times at wedding parties that I don't know how many times I've done it" (translated from the J-Wiki article on the song).
I used to watch a Saturday night program on the same Fuji-TV at 11 p.m. called "Hammer Price" hosted by the comedy duo, Tunnels, in which incredibly weird and/or wonderful artifacts of pop culture were auctioned off to often rabid bidders in the studio audience. Robert DeNiro's rotten Japanese calligraphy? Check! The late porn actress-turned-tarento Ai Iijima's used bath water? Check (and ewwwww)! Well, one of the more wonderful prizes up for bid was the opportunity for a lucky person to have Fujii sing "True Love" at a wedding reception. And it was like watching a shark feeding frenzy. The bidding heated up to the point where there were only two standing: a woman and the president of an event-planner company. The woman finally won and it was the first time in the program's history that the bidding went beyond 1 million yen (a little under $10,000 US today). I'm not quite sure if she had been the bride. The groom should have been enormously proud...or aghast.
I just had to include a sample of "Hammer Price" above. This isn't the crazed bidding war for "True Love", but a chance to go into the ring for 10 minutes with wrestler (and future Upper House councillor) Antonio Enoki.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Another old chestnut from Chanels（シャネルズ）, "Machikado Twilight" (Street Corner Twilight) is another one of their classic kayo doo-wop numbers. This was their 3rd single from February 1981, and it meshes together 50s nostalgia group Sha-Na-Na and something that Quentin Tarentino would love to have on one of his movie soundtracks (must be the trumpet).
Written by Reiko Yukawa （湯川れい子）and composed by Daisuke Inoue（井上大輔）under his pen name of Tadao Inoue（井上 忠夫）, "Machikado Twilight" may have been channeling (or chaneling?) the 50s, but I keep going back to the 1980s since the Chanels brand was very much stamped during and for that decade, even when the group changed its name to Rats And Star. I definitely put Masayuki Suzuki （鈴木雅之）and his fellows along with things like skinny 90-yen Coke cans, the techno cut and tabletop video games in cafes in the annals of 80s Japanese pop culture.
The song reached No. 1 on Oricon and became the 7th-ranked single of the entire year.
Hm...I wonder if J.J. Abrams had ever seen this video...
Anyways, the video is how I got to know about techno fun guy Takkyu Ishino's （石野卓球）"Stereo Nights". Naturally, it was something that came on at night since the entire zany nature of it would probably have it featured on one of those avant-garde video clip shows on MTV or Muchmusic (or MUCH as it now known) here in Canada.
Once again, Takkyu Ishino shows off his slightly Weird Al Yankovic type of humour through this cute parody of all things karaoke video....especially like that little dance thing with the wacky couple on the cruise ship near the end. Considering the somewhat grainy nature of the footage, I think the director got things right with the era of those mini-films accompanying the karaoke. And the whole thing just sparked me as something that the cast of one of my favourite comedy shows of all time, "SCTV" would have done. However, it's Ishino himself as our congenial taxi driver coursing through the streets of Tokyo or Yokohama.
This was Ishino's 2nd single outside of his unit, Denki Groove, which came out in 2001 and was also a track on his 4th album from the same year, "Karaoke Jack". "Stereo Nights" has this perky but gentle nature about it...it's not one of those songs that will make you hit and throb on the dance floor but it makes for a nice little respite between the hard thumpers. And at parts, you will know if your headphones are working optimally.
|Jiyugaoka NIght Festival|
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Ironically, although Japan was the country that finally got me weaned onto the golden brewskis (working for a national government programme in my old country inevitably meant a lot of enkai [drinking parties] and that of course led to practically mandatory consumption of beer), I only rose to the level of social drinker during my 17 years in the Kanto. However, there are millions of drinkers there that absolutely look forward to guzzling down multiple mugs in the various rooftop beer gardens and izakaya at all levels especially with the incredible heat and humidity.
Takao Kisugi's（来生たかお）goodtime "Yaketa Natsu" (Burning Summer) brings back all those memories of imbibing mass quantities. Mind you, the lyrics by his sister, Etsuko（えつこ）, have him crying in his beer about a lost love. However, his jangly melody is pretty chipper...probably good for some car stereo listening while bombing down the Wangan Expressway by Tokyo Bay. Just the way his 2nd single from July 1977 flows (like the proverbial draft from the tap) has me imagining about the summers way back when in a way similar to the feelings I get for Taeko Ohnuki's （大貫妙子）"Summer Connection" which came out just a few days after "Yaketa Natsu".
The single was also a track on Kisugi's 2nd album, "Zig Zag"（ジグザグ）which came out later in the year in October.
Their debut of "P.S. I Love You" may have been the most successful single by rock band Pink Sapphire , but I also enjoyed their 3rd single, "Hello, Goodbye". Having nothing to do with The Beatles, this was a song that came out in January 1991 with music by Hiroyuki Miyaguchi （宮口博行）and lyrics by 美遊砂. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite find the proper pronunciation for the lyricist although the last two characters read out as Yusa according to jisho.org.
In any case, "Hello, Goodbye" has a similar sound to the aforementioned debut but there is that wonderful guitar riff in the refrain and lead vocal Aya's voice is a bit more toned down with this one. I caught the official music video on one of the early morning video clip shows as my eyes were opening up; I definitely made sure the volume button was kept somewhat low to be kind to my neighbours (apartment walls are notoriously thin in Japan), but, yeah, quite the aural way to wake up. The song managed to peak at No. 8 on Oricon.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
When I first heard and saw Teruo Ikeda（池田輝郎）perform "Neon Bune" (Neon Boat) on NHK's "Kayo Concert"（歌謡コンサート） last week (in fact, I think the above performance is straight from last week's show), I naturally assumed that the enka/Mood Kayo song came straight from the 70s or 80s. Then I did my due diligence and found out that it was actually released for the first time THIS year.
Lyricist Toshiya Niitani （仁井谷俊也）and composer Hideo Mizumori （水森英夫）were responsible for the creation of "Neon Bune" for release in June 2014. Niitani has brought in all the tropes for a bar-friendly Mood Kayo: the tired salaryman, the neon of the city and the remedy of alcohol. Back in my Gunma days, I learned an expression from my colleagues: "Neon ga yonderu" (The neon is calling) which is analogous to "The night is young", and they jokingly did some jazz hands when they said that. "Neon Bune" has that inviting tone for the office-weary to head for that nomiya or izakaya in the downtown area (the song seems to be centered on the city of Hakata) after another 10-hour day. As for the fact that the neon is on the boat, I first thought about yakatabune, those floating versions of izakaya sailing through the canals but they are usually equipped with simple lanterns. So, perhaps the neon boat is referring to those much larger cruise ships slicing through the water in the bay at night. Sad to say, but I never got the opportunity to get on either of those vessels during my time in Tokyo.
Teruo Ikeda is 61 years old at the writing of this article and he's a relative newbie in the business. Born in Saga Prefecture in 1953, he had wanted to become a singer since elementary singer after being moved by a Yukio Hashi （橋幸夫）song. However, for most of his twenties, Ikeda didn't pick up a single microphone...at least, not in the professional sense, since after having seen enka singers like Hiroshi Itsuki（五木ひろし） bring their A-game, he'd thought that he wouldn't last a day in the industry. Then at the age of 29, he started singing again in the genre of minyo before transitioning to enka in his early 30s and releasing his first indies record in 1995. Finally, in 2007 at the age of 54, Ikeda released his first record on a major label with "Yu-no-Sato Shigure"（湯の里しぐれ...Shower in Yu-no-Sato）.
"Neon Bune" is Ikeda's 8th single. It's certainly fine to see that enka is not only humming away in the 21st century but that someone starting from middle age can make his/her mark in show business. It's not just AKB 48 and Johnny's boys, y'know.