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.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

TUBE -- Ano Natsu wo Sagashite (あの夏を探して)

Still only the end of April but hey, summer is around the corner, I guess, and today the weather has been quite scrumptious. Therefore, why not throw another TUBE song on the barbie?

TUBE=Summer....a very simple equation. And so to add another variable in there, here is their 22nd single, "Ano Natsu wo Sagashite" (Search For That Summer) from July 1995. Written by vocalist Nobuteru Maeda(前田亘輝)and composed by guitarist Michiya Haruhata(春畑道哉), there's really not that much to add to it aside from the fact that it is one of their usual grand and celebratory paeans to the hot season. One would think that the single adorned a Pocari Sweat ad but actually it was the theme song for a Fuji-TV drama based on a manga, "Hyaku Oku no Otoko"(100億の男...The 10 Billion Man), and nope, it isn't the Japanese version of the 1970s sci-fi TV series "The Six Million Dollar Man" but a show about some poor sap who got saddled with a 10-billion yen debt. Methinks that the guy would need the Six Million Dollar Man for protection from creditors.

"Ano Natsu wo Sagashite" was another big hit for TUBE. It peaked at No. 2 on Oricon going Platinum while becoming the 98th-ranked single for 1995. I heard it covered quite a lot on TV as well, notably through the old series on NTV's "Yoru mo Hippare"(夜もヒッパレ)on Saturday nights. The above video only has the audio but it features the late great Kiyohiko Ozaki(尾崎紀世彦)giving his version of the TUBE song.

Miyuki Nakajima -- Mise no Namae wa Life (店の名はライフ)

Nope it's not Life but a Place...a coffee & tea place.

Having taken care of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" for as long as I have, I have cottoned onto some patterns over the past 5 years, and those include which YouTube videos get taken down faster. Often but not always, videos of songs of the more obscure singers tend to stay up for a very long time (I think one video has been up for 8 years). On the other hand, there seems to be a raging battle between record companies and uploading fans of Johnny's Entertainment boy bands.

The same seems to be true for any videos involving Miyuki Nakajima's(中島みゆき)huge body of work. The karaoke and other cover versions are certainly up there but anything with the actual singer-songwriter has often disappeared after a short while. So, don't be too surprised if you scroll down the Nakajima file in the blog and see a lot of ash gray squares where videos used to be or perhaps those cover versions. After I finish this article, I will probably do my own maintenance of this area.

As a consequence, I've been a bit gun-shy about at times about putting up a Miyuki Nakajima video. However, I just had to put the spotlight on this particular ballad by the singer since it's one of those occasional discoveries that had valentines popping up over my head. Usually when I come across a song for the first time, I listen to a good part of it before I decide whether I want to talk about it on the blog. This one, though, had me listening to all of it...twice!

"Mise no Namae wa Life" (The Shop's Name Is Life) has the sort of title that I would expect Nakajima to concoct. It was a track on her 3rd original album "A-R-I-G-A-T-O" released in June 1977. Right from the get-go, I was intoxicated by the languid arrangement of the melody which perfectly set up the singer's story of the life and times of the Life cafe right down to the description of the second cranky manager of the coffeehouse, the bicycle shop next to it, and the overly spicy curry on the menu. The piano and guitar are great but there are also the strings and other additional instruments, and these very light puffs of brass that waft in later in the song.

And the crazy thing is that Nakajima based the song on an actual cafe called Life which was located by the main entrance of Hokkaido University. In fact, there was indeed a bicycle shop next to it as well. J-Wiki reports that it even made a transformation into a manga cafe with the name also being changed to New Life. However, all things come to an end and Life came to its end in 1992. I wonder whether there was a rendition of the song to commemorate its closing.

Again, not sure how long that original video at the top will last but the one right here is a cover version so it should be OK for the time being. The album itself made it to No. 6 on the charts and eventually became the 26th-ranked album of the year. Incidentally, one of the musicians taking part in the album was Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一).

Friday, April 28, 2017

NMB48 -- Kitagawa Kenji (北川謙二)

Osaka hasn't been a city that I have visited in some decades but way back when, my uncle's family used to live in the downtown neighbourhood of Namba. My recollection of the area was that it was a massive criss-cross of covered commercial streets...a colony of shopping arcades. My uncle ran a stationery shop and the family's apartment was upstairs. I stayed there twice during my childhood and remembering about it now, I just marvel at how several people could live in such a small place. Mind you, my own pad in Ichikawa wasn't exactly a Beverly Hills mansion either.

A few nights ago on the weekly broadcast of NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン), the theme was all about travel across the country which meant that train-based songs were in the majority. However, the last 10 minutes or so were dedicated to other songs. One of the guests was the alphabet girl group NMB48 (now you know why I used the introduction of my time in Namba) and they sang something perky called "Kitagawa Kenji"(Kenji Kitagawa).

It was quite the unusual title for an aidoru tune although my first impression what NMB48 must have been quite enamored with the fellow according to how cheerful the ladies were. Marcos V. put up the first NMB48 number, the technopop "Kamonegix"(カモネギックス)but "Kitagawa Kenji", which was their 6th single from November 2012 released about a year before "Kamonegix", was more along the usual lines of an uptempo aidoru number in the alphabet group era.

Still the question remained. Who or what was Kitagawa Kenji? Well, looking at the J-Wiki account of the song, "Kitagawa Kenji" took its title from the name of an assistant producer in charge of video for NMB48's sister group in Tokyo, AKB48. Supposedly Yasushi Akimoto's(秋元康)lyrics spoke on some school guys' feelings of jealousy against a student with that name. Apparently, he was attracting the girls better than a magnet on iron filings. Shunsuke Tanaka(田中俊亮)took care of the happy-happy music.

I wonder how the real Mr. Kitagawa must have felt at realizing his titular song became another No. 1 for the group, and it even became the 17th-ranked single for 2012...after being released in November of that year! My hope is that he has a wife or girlfriend who kept him very grounded. That sort of recognition could swell a head.

The single was also a track on NMB48's first original album "Teppen Tottande!"(てっぺんとったんで!...Because We Got The Top!)from February 2013. It hit No. 1 and ended up as the No. 5 album of that year.

Chiemi Hori -- Come On! Love Machine ~ Kanashimi no Parade (哀しみのパレード)

Years ago when a bunch of us young folks decided to spend a Friday night carousing at the CN Tower, there was some sort of fortune telling machine which spit out pieces of paper. Basically, it was a very willing fortune cookie. What provided the big laugh of the night was when my slip came out and it said "You are a LOVE MACHINE!!" If irony was truly iron, then my slip would have affected the local gravity.

Well, after years knowing about the most famous "Love Machine"(LOVEマシーン)by Morning Musume(モーニング娘。), I recently found out that there had been another aidoru tune with those two words included. This was "Come On! Love Machine ~ Kanashimi no Parade" (Sad Parade) by 80s aidoru Chiemi Hori(堀ちえみ). It was a track on Hori's 9th album "Yume no Tsuzuki"(夢の続き...The Dream Continues)released in December 1985.

Written by veteran lyricist Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)and made by veteran composer Kisaburo Suzuki(鈴木キサブロー), it's not quite the disco anthem that Morning Musume's "Love Machine" is, but perhaps a slight cut-above-the-average aidoru tune with a pleasant rolling beat somewhat reminiscent of a middle-of-the-road American pop song from that same decade. Plus, perhaps it's my imagination but Hori seems to be channeling even bigger aidoru Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子).

I wouldn't say that it's a timeless number but considering that I never got to know Hori all that well during her aidoru days, "Come On! Love Machine" has given me a kick in the shins to let me know that she did have her nice songs in her discography. Certainly nothing so ironic as my fortune slip at the CN Tower.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Lisa Ono -- Ano Hi ni Kaeritai (あの日に帰りたい)

Must be a good night for soothing music...this considering I've got another rousing NHL playoff game going on behind me on the TV.

As it has been intimated in previous articles and beyond, legendary singer-songwriter Yuming(ユーミン)has been much talked about, especially on the topic of when her best days were. I've pointed out that the 1970s and 1980s and a tad into the 1990s had her best stuff, although others have remarked that her best time was in a much shorter time frame...basically those years when she was known as Yumi Arai(荒井由実)in the early 1970s, before she got married and took on the name Matsutoya(松任谷由実). Then there are others who believe that the 80s were the time for her. Everyone has got an opinion.

Still, there is no doubt that Yuming created some wonderful classics during her early years when she first became known as the Queen of New Music. "Ano Hi ni Kaeritai"(あの日にかえりたい...I Wanna Return to Those Days)is one of those songs for me and so not surprisingly it was one of the first Yuming songs I covered in the blog. There was that nice touch of sunset bossa nova in there with Junko Yamamoto(山本潤子)from Hi-Fi Set(ハイ・ファイ・セット)providing those lovely background vocals.

Well, many years later, someone came up with the bright idea of producing a tribute album to Yuming called "Queen's Fellows - Yuming 30th anniversary Cover Album" which was released in December 2002. Some of the popular artists from the past and present at the time joined in to give their own covers within the Great Yuming Songbook. Lisa Ono(小野リサ)did her bit and gave her lusciously mellow spin on "Ano Hi ni Kaeritai". Of course, she would be the one to cover it. Get the sherry out! The album itself managed to peak at No. 7 on Oricon.

Ruiko Kurahashi -- Itsuka Dokoka de (いつかどこかで)/ HOME

Last night, I got into a story about comparing theme songs from nightly news broadcasts from America and Japan to introduce a Bread & Butter(ブレッド&バター)ballad which was the soothing theme for the late-night news show "NNN Kyo no Dekigoto". Well, I was able to find another relaxing song which became the ending theme for the 1991 version of the show.

And it just happens to be by one of my favourite singers, Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子). She may have been most well known during the 1980s but her "Itsuka Dokoka de" (Sometime, Somewhere) was recorded in November 1991. With a slightly more zippy urban contemporary arrangement, the song is still perfectly relaxing Ruiko, and as I mentioned for that Bread & Butter song, this is the type of tune that I would want to hear after hearing several minutes of depressing headlines.

The saxophone and keyboards are particularly welcome with Kurahashi's lovely vocals. The singer herself wrote the lyrics while Gou Suzuki(鈴木豪)came up with the melody.

This single also had the coupling song of "HOME" which has got that nice American country music feeling. Kurahashi is one of those few Japanese singers who has had the tendency to tackle that genre of music during her career; another singer I often think about is Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子). Richard Leigh wrote and composed this ballad with Kurahashi writing the translated version. Listening to it, I have got this hankering for sourdough bread and barley soup.

Both songs also ended up her 1991 album "Aozora no Shita de"(青空の下で...Under The Blue Sky)which I was fortunate enough to get in the used CD department of Tsutaya right across from Shibuya Station. It's not easy to find a Kurahashi album these days so it took me all of a millisecond to make the decision.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


There are a couple of observations that I have for the vocal group Hi-Fi Set(ハイ・ファイ・セット). First off, for a group that had their heyday in the 1970s, Junko Yamamoto(山本潤子), Toshihiko Yamamoto(山本俊彦)and Shigeru Okawa(大川茂)have had a lot of representation on YouTube. It's great to see a lot of their videos there. Secondly, and perhaps this may not be totally accurate, my impression is that the group seems to enjoy singing about school-related stuff.

Case in point: their "TWO IN THE PARTY", a track from Hi-Fi Set's 8th album "Quarter Rest" from 1979. With lyrics by Mami Kikuchi(菊池まみ), the Yamamotos and Okawa croon about a young lady, perhaps in her twenties, looking forward to what seems like the swankiest school reunion in the city. More importantly, the lass is anticipating catching up with an old friend (wink, wink). There are even some party sound effects to add to the atmosphere.

The music by mellow composer Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)starts off with a funky riff that sounds a lot like it came from an R&B song I used to hear on radio here in Toronto back in the 1970s so I'm wondering if there had been some liberal borrowing. However, the music then heads back into familiar Hi-Fi Set territory with a mix of swingy jazz and downtown feeling. Of course, there are those wonderful harmonies by the trio. May want to pick up some of those old albums of theirs in the near future.