Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Man, Yoshie Nakano's（中納良恵）voice can be the equivalent of a 1940s comedy-crime caper. The way she can just dive into "Paranoia" and scat all over the place at one moment while going into sultry vamp mode at another moment.
"Paranoia" is another jazz track from the 2nd album by jazz unit Ego-Wrappin', "Michishio no Romance"（満ち汐のロマンス...Tide Flow Romance）from 2001, and the first album that I got by the Osaka-based duo of Nakano and Masaki Mori（森雅樹）. I've always wondered about how some of the tracks have been named weirdly after psychology terms; there is the chaotically fun "Psychoanalysis" which was the very first Ego-Wrappin' song that I covered in the blog, and another song elsewhere by them labeled "Nervous Breakdown". I can only gather that Nakano and Mori were emulating the old tradition of some of the old jazz masters from America giving just-as-weird titles to some of their masterpieces such as "Salt Peanuts" and "Stereophonic".
In any case, when I first listened to "Paranoia" and some of the other tracks by Ego-Wrappin' on "Michishio no Romance", I had thought some of them were covers of somewhat more obscure jazz songs by American artists. However, I was impressed to find out that all of the tracks were written and composed by Mori and Nakano.
And "Paranoia" has that frenetically chuggy beat as if the song was melodically illustrating a traveling jazz band in the 1920s or 1930s moving from city to city, from low-paying gig to low-paying gig all over the Midwest as the members come across their various trials and tribulations on their sputtering bus. There's even some hint of Latin mixed in with some of that ragtime; maybe there's a whole bunch of jazz stuff that I have yet to pick up on. But it's all good to me.
For quite a few years, I was very interested in the different forms of jazz when I was in Japan, so I did pick up a number of albums which included a couple of the songs that I have already mentioned. So to finish off, here is "Salt Peanuts" by Dizzy Gillespie.
And here is the really cool "Stereophonic" by Count Basie. If I want to get pumped up by jazz, this is the song for me.
Like that lady above in the video, there are a number of folks in Japan currently drinking some of that sake in celebration. And perhaps I can join in on the celebration as well. It's always great to hear when both the land of my birth and the land of my ancestry can jointly rejoice in something, and that was the case earlier this morning when Japanese physicist Takaaki Kajita of Tokyo University and Canadian physicist Arthur B. McDonald of Queens University just up Highway 401 in Kingston, Ontario jointly won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on neutrinos. Apparently one of the things they revealed was that neutrinos actually had mass...which means that I will need to shed about 3 billion neutrinos before my next physical. Physics humour, folks!
Anyways, while NHK was getting annoyingly gushy with everyone who had anything to do with Dr. Kajita this morning on the news, I noticed that there was a lot of reference to the Super-Kamiokande Neutrino Observatory in the city of Hida, Gifu Prefecture. Hida has also come up a lot recently in my professional life as well since I've had to translate a few articles on the area for their hot springs.
Plus, there is the fact that Hida reminds me of a high-ranking enka song from the early 1980s, "Oku-Hida Bojou" (Longing for Oku-Hida). The title didn't ring a bell but as soon as I heard the very enka melody, I knew it was a popular song that often gets its due on the various kayo shows.
The late Tetsuya Ryu（竜鉄也）wrote, composed and sang his debut from June 1980, although he had been singing professionally for some time. According to what I read on the song on J-Wiki, he based "Oku-Hida Bojou" on his two weeks performing in a Hida district onsen town back in 1972. He produced and released his song by himself with just 2000 records pressed. However, over the years, the song got noticed as it got played on the old yusen (wire) networks. Some 6 months after its release in 1980, it broke into the Oricon Top 10, eventually reaching No. 2. And that is where it ended up by the end of 1981, No. 2, just behind Akira Terao's（寺尾聡）City Pop classic "Ruby no Yubiwa"（ルビーの指輪）. He also won the Long-Seller Prize at the Japan Record Awards. Because of all of that success, Ryu was able to make his only appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen in 1981. According to Oricon, the single managed to sell about 1.5 million records.
Including "Oku-Hida Bojou", Ryu released a total of 9 singles but no albums between 1980 and 1999. Sadly, he passed away in late 2010 at the age of 74.
Here is a cover of the song by Aya Shimazu（島津亜矢）.
Including "Oku-Hida Bojou", Ryu released a total of 9 singles but no albums between 1980 and 1999. Sadly, he passed away in late 2010 at the age of 74.
Here is a cover of the song by Aya Shimazu（島津亜矢）.
Monday, October 5, 2015
Last week on "Kayo Concert", actor/singer Kanji Ishimaru（石丸幹二）gave this dramatic rendition of a song that I had never heard...or at least do not remember hearing...under the title of "Yuki ga Furu" (Snow Falls). It was originally sung by Salvatore Adamo who also wrote and composed the ballad in 1963. "Tombe La Neige" (the original title) became a huge hit for the singer-songwriter, who is known as Belgium's most successful musician, all over the planet in countries including Spain, France, Latin America and Japan.
I'm not surprised that "Yuki ga Furu" became a hit as well in Japan since the song has that certain shibui quality which envisages a fellow walking totally alone in the midst of heavy snow with only a cigarette in his mouth to keep him company...couldn't get more Mood Kayo than that. Plus, the original is in French, and I think the ladies were just absolutely ga-ga about Alain Delon at the time.
Sure enough, there would be covers of "Yuki ga Furu". And I figured that the big-voiced fellows would have been happy to give their own contributions to the Japanese version which was given lyrics by Kazumi Yasui（安井かずみ）. Of course, there is the late, great Kiyohiko Ozaki（尾崎紀世彦）who provided his take on the classic as his 4th single in October 1971 accompanied by a saxophone. The song reached No. 68 on Oricon. Adamo's delivery, by the way, reminded me a lot of another leather-lunged singer, Shigeru Matsuzaki（松崎しげる）.
And here is Adamo singing the original French version.
As a resident in Japan, periodically I often got visitors from the homeland including my anime buddy and a couple of his compadres. Several years ago on one of their visits, the bunch of us ended up in Ikebukuro in Tokyo, one of the enclaves for all things anime and manga in the metropolis. I kept hearing them talk about something called "The Idolm@ster", which being a total babe in the woods when it comes to the genre, I had no idea about. We went into one of the huge game centers near the Sunshine 60 Building and went to one of the higher floors and saw a whole bunch of games concerning this Idolm@ster, and it turned out to be this game about grooming computer-generated pop aidoru into superstars. And as the outsider, I just went "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhkay..."
Cue ahead many years later and I'm at my anime buddy's house watching the various anime and listening to my host's latest round of anison. "The Idolm@aster" definitely had its 15 minutes of fame and that includes the large collection of songs as sung by the digital aidoru themselves. I've listened to a number of them over the past few years at my friend's house, and I have to admit that some of them were pretty fine.
Case in point: seiyuu Asami Imai, Hiromi Hirata and Chiaki Takahashi（今井麻美・平田宏美・たかはし智秋）in their roles as Chihaya Kisaragi, Makoto Kikuchi and Azusa Miura（如月千早・菊地真・三浦あずさ）respectively singing "9:02 p.m." It sounds like a combination of aidoru and Takarazuka Revue performers hitting the stage in Las Vegas and giving a showstopping finale. Written by yura and composed by NBGI, I was always a bit of a sucker for a soulful band arrangement although the instrumental bridge threatened to fall off the rails at one point. Still, there was something so glitzy and starry-eyed about this song that I was almost expecting an emcee to pop out at the end of the song to thank everyone for coming to The Sands and to get home safe.
"And for our last number tonight, here is the incomparable Azusa Miura!"
"9:02 p.m." is a track on the 2-CD album "THE IDOLM@STER 765PRO ALLSTARS+ GRE@TEST BEST! -COOL&BITTER!-" (OK, don't forget to breathe here) which was released in 2013, but apparently it originally came out as one of the songs featured in the arcade game from 2005....which could mean that my friends may have been playing it when we all went to the game center.
Back in my childhood, my family and I saw our share of game shows on Canadian and American TV. One of our mainstays was "The Newlywed Game" hosted by Bob Eubanks in which the new husbands and wives guess each other's answers through often embarrassing questions such as "When you are making whoopee, which animal would you be?" A lot of the answers went over my head at the time but my parents got quite a kick out of them (they knew more English than they let on).
There was a similar show in Japan. Titled "Shinkon-san Irasshai!"（新婚さんいらっしゃい!...Welcome the Newlyweds!）, this has been a show that's been on since 1971 which, like its US counterpart, has newlywed couples on as guests, but instead of the game show format, the first half of the show involves the hosts interviewing two couples and letting the banter naturally provide the humour. It doesn't seem to be that difficult, especially since one host, who's been the host right from 1971, happens to be veteran TV presenter and rakugo comedian Katsura Bunshi VI (桂文枝), formerly known as Katsura Sanshi. After both couples are interviewed, then comes a game show segment in which the couples vie for prizes including the famous Yes-No pillows!
"Shinkon-san Irasshai!" was often a must-rent at Nippon Video after we got our Panasonic top-loader VCR in the early 80s. I was getting into university at the time, but once again some of the rapid-fire stuff was over my head, although I did enjoy it whenever Katsura sensei literally fell out of his seat at some particularly hilarious quip by hubby or wife or when his partnering host would start giggling uncontrollably.
Ah, about his co-host...since the beginning of "Shinkon-san Irasshai!", Katsura has had 7 co-hosts with the current lady being aidoru-turned-tarento Mami Yamase（山瀬まみ）who's also been the longest-serving co-host since she started in 1997 (she is featured in the video of the show above). However, the co-host I knew back on those VHS tapes was the comely Nagisa Katahira（片平なぎさ）(1981-1992...the second-longest reign). Now I had no idea who she was when I did see those episodes way back when...I just knew her as Miss Gigglesworth. She would just start speaking in the wonderful language of laughter whenever either Katsura or the newlyweds said something even semi-funny. It's a pity that I couldn't find any really old footage of the show featuring her.
I'm not sure how the current episodes of "Shinkon-san Irasshai!" begin now, although I get the impression that TV Asahi just has the two hosts go straight into the introduction of the first couple. But back then, Katahira would start the show by singing an excerpt of a mellow ballad that I really enjoyed before Katsura appeared on stage. I had never found out what that song was or even if it had merely been just a quickly written-up little ditty just for that intro of the show.
Well, I found out a few hours that the song in its entirety exists on YouTube. It was an official single of Katahira, her 16th from 1982, titled "Futari no Symphony" (Symphony for Two), and it was created by Etsuko and Takao Kisugi（来生えつこ・来生たかお）. As soon as I saw those names, I rather knew that I was in for a lush ballad. And even though I had heard Katahira's rendition of it on the show often enough, I was pretty impressed by the original recording....she just sounded like one of my favourite singers, Ruiko Kurahashi（倉橋ルイ子）. Nice soaring piano and strings with those breathy vocals.
In the years since I first saw Katahira on "Shinkon-san Irasshai!", I learned that she started out as an aidoru in 1975 and has branched into acting. I now usually associate her with suspense dramas, but one of her notable shows on her resume was "Stewardess Monogatari"（スチュワーデス物語...Stewardess Story）from 1983 in which her character of Mariko lost both hands in a skiing accident...and apparently inherited Dr. No's hands.
From one episode of the crazy cop series "Seibu Keisatsu" (西部警察) I viewed, I must say that it drastically improved how I saw Tetsuya Watari (渡哲也). I thought he was amazingly cool as the tough-as-nails Detective Chief, Keisuke Daimon (大門圭介), with that scowl, sharp eyes behind a pair of aviator shades and commanding voice. And did he look good in a three-piece suit (as do the other Ishihara Gundan fellows, I realise)! To think that I used to just see him as Yujiro Ishihara's (石原裕次郎) thuggy sidekick and constantly got him confused with another tough guy, the late Ken Takakura (高倉健) - both had crew cuts and have a similar stoic expression on their faces.
Just like Ishihara, Watari had a singing career aside from his acting. He debuted as a singer in 1965, a year after he began acting, and his most notable single was probably "Kuchinashi no Hana" (it means Jasmine flower, I think), a slow and gentle Mood Kayo tune with a slight Latin flavour to it. Quite the contrast to the rough-and-tumble characters he used to play, if you ask me. I first heard it via the same video that introduced me to Hiroshi Tachi's (舘ひろし) "Nakanaide" (泣かないで), which started with Ishihara having a go at Watari's hit. I guess that was one of the reasons that got me to like the song, besides its catchy-ness. And yes, I did visit that clip many, many times (for... reasons...) so I was bound to get hooked on to it. Watari doesn't have the most pleasant of singing voices as heard later in the clip, especially when compared to Yujiro's, but it's not particularly bad either so I got used to the original - he sounds exactly like how I envision a gruff salary man tackling some enka/Mood Kayo at a karaoke bar after a hard day at work.
"Kuchinashi no Hana" was released in August 1973 and peaked at 4th place on the Oricon charts. It sold about 1.5 million copies, allowing Watari to perform on the Kohaku for the first time in the following year. He then sang "Kuchinashi no Hana" on the annual year-end competition once more in 1993. Writing the lyrics was Kaoru Mizuki (水木かおる), who had also written a number of Watari's songs, and the music was done by the renowned composer Minoru Endo (遠藤実).
I know "Seibu Keisatsu" is supposed to be a relatively serious police show, but I couldn't help but snicker as I watched its first episode. I mean, the characters were cool albeit a little over the top in their own ways, but a tank chugging through Ginza and so many things going "boom" and going up in flames? Now that was hilarious.
To end off, here's a fun fact: Watari and Ishihara share the same birthday, just that they're 7 years apart.
Saturday, October 3, 2015
A small and slightly nutty anecdote here today. As you regular readers of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" probably already know, I've been a pretty big fan of Hiromi Iwasaki（岩崎宏美）since I first heard her back in 1981 with her cover of "Sumire Iro no Namida"（すみれ色の涙）, and so my image of lovely Hiromi was always her in that shimmering long black hair that dropped all the way down to her lower back, the bright wide smile and her elegant fashion sense (I was only beginning to hear her 70s material and had yet to see her in her teenage short bob).
So when I saw some of her albums on sale at Wah Yueh in Chinatown, I absolutely couldn't believe that it was her on that cover of her album "Diamant" (pronounced "Giaman" according to the hiragana). She looked like an avant-garde snowflake, for heaven' sake! It was such that I even refused to buy the album for several months. I actually ended up getting her later LPs, "Cinema" and "Wa Ga Ma Ma" first at my old shop. However, after hearing some of the smooth songs from "Diamant" on my friend's audiotape, I finally relented and picked up the album. I'm sure the cashier was probably thinking "Well,what took you so long?"
Seeing some of the covers from her previous albums and then finding out that "Diamant" was her first domestically-produced album in a couple of years, I guess Iwasaki and the producers at Victor wanted to shake things up a bit in the photography. Vive la neige!
One of the songs that helped persuade me to finally purchase "Diamant" was the opening track "Koi Kujaku"（恋孔雀...Love Peacock）. Goro Matsui（松井五郎）, who was also working a lot with Anzen Chitai（安全地帯）at the time, provided the lyrics to almost all of the tracks on Iwasaki's 15th album from June 1985 including this one, while Yoichi Takizawa（滝沢洋一）came up with an atmospheric melody that reminded me a bit of some of those Anzen Chitai ballads. Along with that dreamy music, Matsui's lyrics are just as dreamy about the concept of love.
By the way, one characteristic of the album is that all of the titles were written in rather elegant kanji so I was grateful that there was the hiragana beside the more esoterically-titled tracks to help me read them, if not really understand them. Case in point was the first song on Side B of the LP, "Gi Shuushi"（偽終止...Fake Cessation）. Etsuko Yamakawa（山川恵津子）was the one behind the music here which starts off like something that was meant for a sad clown before going into some contemporary pop about uncertainty in a relationship. It seems as if Iwasaki is the angel/devil whispering doubts into a woman about her sleeping partner next to her.
Back in my first-year East Asian history class at the University of Toronto, I learned about the expression "mobo, moga" to refer to the modern boys and girls during the Taisho Era. The moga especially was an equivalent to the flapper girls in the 1920s Jazz Age of the United States. I never heard it used outside of my classroom in Sidney Smith Hall...except for this song by Hiromi-chan called "Yokohama Moga"（横浜嬢...Yokohama Modern Girl）. Matsui and Yamakawa were also behind this atypical track that sounds so loosey-goosey that it could have been sung by an 80s aidoru. And instead of the Taisho Era, the lyrics seem to describe painting the town red in a BMW in one of Japan's great cities in the last years of the Showa Era. The computer yelling "Mo-ga, Mo-ga" is admittedly a bit annoying.
There is something quite Manhattan Transfer-esque about "Kuchibiru Misui"（唇未遂...Attempted Kiss）, and since I was a big fan of the Transfer in the 80s, this is a song that I also appreciate. This time, it was Keiichi Oku（奥慶一）of the Moonriders who took care of the city-&-champagne music about what seems to be a one-night stand with a "don't call me, maybe I'll call you" sensibility. Nice (I'm being snarky here). There is that nice sax added with the fine backup chorus.
Some nice 80s pop/rock beats here with my final song, "Kaze Kankei"（風関係...Windy Relationship）, another Matsui/Oku collaboration. Iwasaki had a good hold on these urban contemporary "love done wrong" songs back then. That would probably explain how popular she was for providing those ending themes to suspense dramas on TV.
The only track on "Diamant" which wasn't written by Matsui is "Kesshin"（決心）which was provided by Keisuke Yamakawa（山川啓介）and Oku as her 36th single. I wrote about that song much earlier. Also, I have yet to write about one other notable song on its own, "Yume Karyuudo"（夢狩人...Dream Hunter）which I should do pretty soon.
"Diamant" peaked at No. 13 on Oricon in its LP form but soared up to No. 5 as a CD. As for my story at the top, the take-away from here is that I shouldn't judge a record by its cover. And Hiromi-as-a-snowflake aside, it's another fine album by her.