I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube, Oricon charts are courtesy of and my research is translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ayumi Nakamura -- Tsubasa no Oreta Angel (翼の折れたエンジェル)

I couldn't quite believe the background story behind singer-songwriter Ayumi Nakamura(中村あゆみ)when I read it on J-Wiki. All these years, I'd thought that the Osaka-born singer was hitting the drums or the guitar from an early age. Well, what I found out was that once she graduated from high school, the singer-songwriter had been an office worker and then a road construction worker by day and a disco queen at night. But the kicker was the following incident. One night when a burglar had entered her home, she fled to an acquaintance's drinking establishment where she met music producer Ken Takahashi(高橋研), and he found out (as I have now) that until that fateful meeting, Nakamura had never really listened to music or hadn't even owned a single record in her entire life.

And yet, she apparently had earned enough of a reputation (probably at the discos) that some big talent agencies asked her if she would join them. She didn't bite. It took that home invasion and a run into Takahashi to change her life permanently...such is the stuff that trendy dramas are made of. In September 1984, she made her debut with "Midnight Kids".

However, it was with her 3rd single from April 1985 that she hit pay dirt with "Tsubasa no Oreta Angel" (Angel with Broken Wings), a pop/rock concoction created by Takahashi himself that is reminiscent of early Kahoru Kohiruimaki (小比類巻かほる)and Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里). Like those two singers, she had the husky voice to match although her appearance from the video above had her looking a bit more cutesy pop than rock. I found out about Nakamura via this very song through one of the compilation tapes, and listening to the good old-fashioned rock n' roll beat, I later wondered if there had been inspiration from Motoharu Sano(佐野元春).

"Tsubasa no Oreta Angel" became Nakamura's biggest hit which sold close to 400,000 records. It peaked at No. 4 on Oricon (although her 6th single peaked at the higher rank of 2) and became the 12th-ranked single of the year.

Yutaka Mizutani -- California Connection (カリフォルニア・コネクション)

Usually I catch NHK's morning variety show, "Asaichi" at about 1 p.m. on TV Japan on the weekdays, but perhaps because of the O-Bon holidays, the show's currently on hiatus. However, for the past several days, our cable channel for Japanese TV has supplanted it with reruns of the long-running detective show "Aibou"(相棒...Partners)starring actor Yutaka Mizutani(水谷豊)as the urbane, tea-sipping master detective Ukyo Sugishita. He's the calm, older and intelligent brains while three actors have played the eager young brawny partners.

Considering how much of a Yoda-like figure Detective Sugishita is, it was a bit of a revelation to realize that he once played a much goofier detective in the 1979 series, "Necchu Jidai"(熱中時代...The Zealous Times). Let's say that if Sugishita is indeed Yoda, then his former role as Detective Takeshi Hayano was Grover from "Sesame Street", judging from the opening credits above. The show itself was rather unique in that its first season, the setting was an elementary school in which Mizutani played Kitano-sensei before making that abrupt switch in setting to a police station for the 2nd season.

According to his Wikipedia biography, Mizutani was more of a reluctant thespian who finally got accustomed to his career. Well, perhaps that was also the case with his singing career since it was his managing company at the time that gently prodded him to release a few tunes or so. Up to 2009, he has been able to spin out 18 singles and several albums, but his most famous one is his 5th which was the theme for the Detective Version of "Necchu Jidai", "California Connection".

Released in April 1979, "California Connection" was written by Yoko Aki(阿木燿子), one-half of the married songwriting duo behind a number of Momoe Yamaguchi's(山口百恵)hits in the later years of her career, and composed by Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃), the man who took care of "Canada kara no Tegami"(カナダからの手紙)a year previously. I think there was an unwritten rule at the time about detective-portraying actors-turned-singers that said that they to sing somewhat shibui downtown pop, and I think that rule applied with Mizutani. He sounded like a pro actor putting out a single than a pro singer doing the same, but he acquitted himself well enough here. And as it turned out, the song about someday settling down with that beloved girl and making do in the big city got as high as No. 3 on the Oricon charts and ended the year as the 12th-ranked single of the year.

Some years ago, Mizutani did a self-cover of his old hit with a full-on music video parodying the opening to "Necchu Jidai", to boot. He even got one-half of comedy duo Tunnels, Noritake Kinashi(木梨憲武) to come in and help out as the befuddled police man. It was a bit odd seeing Mizutani looking a lot more like his serene Ukyo Sugishita clowning around like a combination of Charlie Chaplin and Mr. Bean, but hey, I'm happy he doesn't take his most famous character too seriously.

Not sure how long the above video will stay up, but this is the entire premiere episode for the Detective Version of "Necchu Jidai". The American actress in it is Miki Mackenzie who was briefly Mrs. Yutaka Mizutani before the divorce, but for both former partners, there is a happy ending in that Mackenzie re-married some years later, and Mizutani got married to his second wife in 1979, former Candies member, Ran Ito(伊藤蘭).

For some other famous cop show themes, there are "Ninzaburo Furuhata" and "Odoru Dai Sosasen".

Courtesy of
Ken Mat
from Flickr

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


At the beginning of the year, I started talking about the music attached to the zany anime, "Space Dandy". The show has already garnered a lot of attention from the way-out stories and the wackadoodle situations that the crew of the Aloha-Oe end up in. But it seems like the music has also played a good part in the show's popularity. There are the super funky theme songs, "Viva Namida" by Yasuyuki Okamura(岡村靖幸), "X-Jigen e Yokoso"(X次元へようこそ) by Etsuko Yakushimaru(やくしまるえつこ), and the one song that first got me thinking about the music placement for "Space Dandy", the smoothly soaring "Hoshikuzu no Pipeline"(星屑のパイプライン)by Junk Fujiyama.

I just saw the recent episode for the 2nd season which was a seeming tribute to "Glee" and "High School Musical", and although the songs in there were more parody (as they were supposed to be) than actual singles to be released, the dedication of the producers to the additional music had me thinking back to the final episode of the 1st season, "Sōjiki Datte Koisuru Jan yo"(掃除機だって恋するじゃんよ...Even Vacuum Cleaners Fall In Love). 

That episode was about one of the crew, the robot QT, falling in love with a coffee maker. The story reminded me of the plot for the Pixar movie, "WALL-E"; there, I remember Louis Armstrong's version of "La Vie En Rose" following the cute little robot. And just like that movie, there was music following a robot in love in that final episode of "Space Dandy". However, instead of the old-style jazz of "La Vie En Rose", it was a slow-groove techno ballad that accompanied QT and his first love, Maker (at around 8:50 of the episode at the link below).

At first, I thought "Holy Cow! Those guys actually got Daft Punk to perform!" Uh-uh, nope. It was actually a unit called LUVRAW that came up with "ANATATO" (With You), a song that not only reminded me of the French techno duo but also some of the R&B love songs that I used to hear back in the 70s & 80s. I've tried to look up any information about the unit, and he/they have a Twitter account (@LUVRAW), but there isn't much. I've gleaned that LUVRAW has been around since at least 2010 with a couple of albums out, and the unit's weapon of choice is the talk box. Below is another example of their music.

As for "ANATATO", it can be found on the official soundtrack for "Space Dandy". Have a listen to this one at night with the lights down low....except for a lamp on your vacuum cleaner. It looks like no matter what kind of mayhem QT ends up for the remainder of the series, his theme song will always be this one for me.

courtesy of
from Flickr

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Omoide no Ki no Shita de (思い出の樹の下で)

We're back to the 70s Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)which means her bright, brassy and disco-sprinkled aidoru tunes. "Omoide no Ki no Shita de" (Under The Tree of Memories) was created by veteran lyricist Yu Aku(阿久悠)and veteran composer Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)as Iwasaki's 8th single in January 1977, and has the singer trilling triumphantly about that special day of declaring one's love under that tree. Although it was first sold just a few weeks after New Year's, it sounds a whole lot more summery.

Whenever I listened to those 70s Oricon-friendly pop songs, I would usually hear the battery of strings and/or that sharp trumpet, but for "Omoide no Ki no Shita de", it was the first time to hear a French horn start things off which is how I remember this Iwasaki entry. The horn popped up one more time, I guess, in the song but it certainly left an impression. It peaked at No. 7 and ended the year as the 54th-ranked single. It was also a track on her 4th album, "With Best Friends" that came out in May 1977 and also went as high as No. 7 on the album charts.

The team of Aku and Tsutsumi would also create another uptempo hit for Iwasaki over 18 months later, "Cinderella Honeymoon".

courtesy of
Nick Landells
from Flickr

Monday, August 18, 2014

Kozo Murashita -- Yume no Tsuzuki (夢のつづき)

Another singer whose work I haven't revisited in some time. Nice to see him again. I've known the late Kozo Murashita (村下孝蔵)as a singer-songwriter who created some wonderful folk ballads and uptempo pop songs with that early 80s synth sound. "Yume no Tsuzuki" (The Dream Goes On) is one of the latter type in the same vein as his biggest hit from a year previously, "Hatsukoi"(初恋...First Love).

"Yume no Tsuzuki" was Murashita's 8th single from September 1984. I first heard it on "Sounds of Japan", and it has that interesting mix of a near-balletic main melody supported by a surprisingly booming synth. After listening to it the first time, I had initially thought that one of the guys from YMO had a hand in its creation, but it was all Murashita with Kimio Mizutani(水谷公生)handling the arrangements as both did for "Hatsukoi". The song didn't do quite as well as that big hit, but "Yume no Tsuzuki" did score on the Oricon Top 100 by topping out at No. 50, and I think it's still pretty jaunty.

The above YouTube link will take you to the song accompanying a slideshow of the ladies from Perfume, although the uploader may have turned up one of the dials on his stereo a little too high. However, the link below will take you to the original music video for "Yume no Tsuzuki" which is pretty special since the animation is by Tamotsu Murakami(村上保), the kiri-e artist who also came up with designs for the covers of a number of Murashita's albums. Just watching it brought a good deal of iyashi feeling to this author.


Judy and Mary -- Sanpomichi (散歩道)

I was being driven home last night when a tiny excerpt of a song suddenly bubbled up into memory after a very long time. In fact, it took me several seconds to remember what it was and who sang it. And sure enough, the song turned out to be Judy and Mary's "Sanpomichi" (Promenade). So allow me to put it up today, especially since it's been well over a year since I put up anything by YUKI and company.

Bright and happy "Sanpomichi" was something that I knew from watching the turn-of-the-century Fuji-TV comedy-drama, "News no Onna"(ニュースの女...Newswoman)which used it as its ending theme. I had still been a fairly avid J-Drama watcher at that time, although going into the 21st century, my interest dropped like a rock. As for "News no Onna" it was an opportunity to see actress Honami Suzuki (I'll always remember her as force-of-nature Rika Akana in "Tokyo Love Story") again in a program that wasn't too dour for my tastes. In this one, Suzuki was playing Tamaki Aso, a very competent and confident newscaster on the cusp of great things, personally and professionally, when suddenly one report turned her life completely upside down.

The theme song "Sanpomichi" was written by YUKI and composed by Judy and Mary drummer, Kota Igarashi(五十嵐公太)for release in February 1998. It's about as happy-go-lucky as any walk down the titular promenade with a loved one on a sunny day, and the song reminds me of walking through Komazawa Park in the western part of Tokyo (the photo at the bottom) while on my way to teach a student. Judy and Mary's 14th single made it up to No. 3 on the Oricon weeklies and ended up as the 50th-ranked single of the year. Plus, an invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen also didn't hurt.

For some reason, the "News no Onna" excerpts are pretty long, so here is a good chunk of Episode 1.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2004

1. Hikaru Utada                            Utada Hikaru SINGLE COLLECTION VOL. 1
2. Mr. Children                             Shifuku no Oto
3. Queen                                      Queen Jewels -- Very Best of Queen
4. Exile                                         Exile Entertainment
5. Ayumi Hamasaki                      Memorial Address
6. Utada                                       Exodus
7. Mai Kuraki                              Wish You The Best
8. Avril Lavigne                            Under My Skin
9. Pornograffitti                            Pornograffitti Best Blues
10. Pornograffitti                          Pornograffitti Best Reds