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.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ichiro Toba -- Kita no Kamome Uta (北の鴎唄)

Well, "Kita no Kamome Uta" is as manly and as cool as a sea/fisherman-related song gets. You got rhythmic beat of the drums that gets you all pumped up, and the powerful sting and revving of the electric guitar brought to you by composer Shinichi Sugimoto (杉本真人), then comes Ichiro Toba's (鳥羽一郎) snarly vocal delivery to make the song more menacing. I can just imagine a middle-aged, hardened sailor in his rubber boots and overalls - let's call him Mr. Briney - raring to go out on his trusty vessel to earn a living on the ocean's dark, choppy waters. And of course, there'll also be a massive flock of gulls up above squalling away, competing with Mr. Briney for the fish. The lyrics were written by Ryuichi Satomura (里村龍一), they seem to be talking about the life of a fisherman, but I'm not entirely sure.

Released in 1989, Toba had sung this gritty song on his 3rd Kohaku appearance on the same year. The first video of "Kita no Kamome Uta" I had watched was with a youthful-looking Toba smiling smugly and dancing and headbanging to the music. Unfortunately this amusing performance got deleted. I really hope the person re-uploads it though since I hardly get to see him do that. He usually just stands there looking quite sullen with his thick, furrowed eyebrows, it's either that or I have to pay attention to him more often.

Here's the karaoke version of the full song with the man himself in it. Considering some of these karaoke videos I've seen with the original singers staring in them, this one ain't bad... there are others that are really cringe-worthy or downright hilarious.

Rumiko Koyanagi -- Hoshi no Suna (星の砂)

A couple of days ago, we "Star Wars" geeks heard the announcement that we had been waiting for: the 2nd trailer to "The Force Awakens" was online. As an early teen, I saw the original movie at a Toronto movie theatre in 1979 that had been showing "A New Hope" everyday for two years since it had opened...and it still had lines snaking around corners!

Feeling a bit creative today, I then thought about which kayo kyoku would have debuted at around the time that the very first movie in the franchise premiered in May 1977. I did some looking on J-Wiki and discovered that there was one tune that had been released about a month before George Lucas' magnum opus hit the screens. And coincidentally enough, it had the title of "Hoshi no Suna" (Star Sand...or my choice of Stardust, although the sand has me thinking of the dusty planet of Tatooine). By the way, the video above actually has her start the song from the 4-minute mark.

The thing is that I have heard the song before since I've got it on the 1977 discs from my "Seishun Uta Nenkan"(青春歌年鑑)series. As soon as I heard singer Rumiko Koyanagi(小柳ルミ子)launch straight into the lyrics of lost love in that really high-pitched voice, I just went "Oh, yeah...I've heard this one before!" Speaking of the lyrics, I was caught a bit off-guard when I saw the lyricist himself show up on the above video of "Yoru no Hit Studio". It turned out to be Hiroshi Sekiguchi(関口宏)...a newscaster (although he's listed on J-Wiki as also being an actor, emcee and all-round tarento) that I used to see back on TV over there, and in much grayer form.

The music for Koyanagi's 22nd single was composed by the late Hide Demon(出門英)who was one-half of the singing duo Hide & Rosanna. Listening to the song, it has all the romanticism of a wind-swept melodrama. Not quite sure whether it would have been able to replace John Williams' mournful version of the Jedi Theme when young Luke Skywalker was looking away at the twin suns setting in "A New Hope", though (yes, I'm being snarky).

I'm not sure when the cover was performed, but Hide & Rosanna did their own version of "Hoshi no Suna". As for the Koyanagi original, it went all the way up to No. 2 on Oricon and became the 13th-ranked song of 1977. It also won Sekiguchi an award in songwriting and got the singer another ticket to the Kohaku Utagassen in the same year which was her 7th appearance on the New Year's Eve special.

As for that movie, I heard it won a few accolades itself.

"Luke...I AM your kayo kyoku!"

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ego-Wrappin' -- Go Action/Girls Just Want To Have Fun

Like a little anarchic fun with your Friday night brandy, sir?

Been a while, Ego-Wrappin'. Good to see you back on the blog. I think not attending...nah, that sounds too polite...not jumping into the mosh pit of an Ego-Wrappin' concert was another missed opportunity for me. As I've mentioned before for the duo of Yoshie Nakano and Masaki Mori(中納良恵・森雅樹), these guys might be from Osaka but they could just be perfectly at home at some underground live house in some alley in Shibuya, Tokyo. Their uptempo stuff is just the thing to bop to while forgetting the week's work.

"Go Action" is another song I remember back in the 2000s. It is Ego-Wrappin's 3rd single from July 2008, and as is always the case with their songs, Nakano and Mori took care of music while the former handled the lyrics. I cannot really place where the song would go in the wide spectrum of popular music; there is a lot of ska but I can also hear hints of jazz and rock but Nakano seems to deliver her words like a flyweight boxer with a combination of punches and jabs or a post-punk rockabilly with the cheerful attitude of k.d. wouldn't that be a cover version? And the singer was just having too much fun in the official music video pulling out some hip-hop hand movies....and doing The Robot?!

Judging from what I've seen in the performance video above, yep, I should have gone to one of their concerts. I think even a stiff like me would have been encouraged to do some slam dancing...although there would've been blood for sure (but that's OK, I'm a Type O, the universal donor). "Go Action" managed to get as high as No. 19 on Oricon, and it was even used in a commercial for Axe Body Spray (would love to see the actual ad), but I just see the song as a great theme for that romp through Shibuya.

When I took a look at the J-Wiki page for "Go Action", I noticed that the coupling tune was "Girls Just Want To Have Fun". And I just thought whether it could actually be the one by Cyndi Lauper. Sure enough, it was. Nakano apparently just wanted to have fun with this one as well and she and Mori provide their own Ego-Wrappin' spin on the 80s classic.

Just had to put up the original Lauper video up there for comparison's and nostalgia's sake. It was one of my favourite videos back in the heyday of music video television, and looking at the eclectic fashion sense of both Lauper and Nakano, I rather wonder if the two are soul sisters of a sort.

Hiromi Go -- Irie Nite (入江にて)

Posting this in the morning with twilight on my mind. What a nice song to unwind to after a long day. When I was sampling Hiromi Go's (郷ひろみ) output during his Casanova days while going through some compilation albums a while back, I always had this sense that he'd be compatible with the urban contemporary side of music. Just a hunch. He certainly has had the right looks and outfits for it.  So I looked up his name next to "City Pop", and voila, this Music Avenue page popped up. The song is "Irie Nite" (入江にて...By the Bay), which appears on his 1979 studio album "Super Drive", Written by Machiko Ryu (竜真知子), composed by the Tetsuji Hayashi (林哲司), and arranged by Mitsuo Hagita (萩田光雄), it has that lovely atmosphere of a rendezvous stroll by the sea just when the buildings behind the couple are lighting up for the night. I have learned a bit about Hayashi from J-Canuck's posts (check out this comprehensive Creator entry) and noticed that he has a knack for these atmospheric urban tunes. I can feel his magic in "Irie Nite" as well. And Go, well, he isn't exactly a soothing crooner, but his delivery is nicely enthusiastic to make the song work.

I ended up purchasing "Super Drive" a couple of years ago based on this tune and a couple of others and it turned out a pleasant listen. Although it was recorded in Japan, many of the songs have a New York City vibe thanks to the contribution of the 24th Street Band (24丁目バンド), a jazz fusion band based in the city. They've had some success in Japan releasing studio albums as a group, while individual members have operated as session musicians on the other side of the Pacific. You can skim through their contributions on English WikiHiram Bullock, Will Lee, Steve Jordan, and Clifford Carter.

Due to some label complications, "Super Drive" has yet to get a CD release, so I ended up getting it on vinyl. "Irie Nite" itself, however, has appeared on a number of compilation released, including the "Best Of" collection of Go's songs from '86 to '91 and Light Mellow Twilight.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Kin'ya Aikawa & Midori Utsumi -- Man Man March (マン・マン・マーチ)

Within the last few hours, I've heard about the passing of one of the big faces of Japanese variety television. But to say that Kin'ya (Kinkin) Aikawa (愛川欽也)was just someone on the prime-time variety show circuit would be giving him short shrift. He's been an actor, a voice actor, a radio DJ, a news commentator and a commercial pitchman, and perhaps my list is still not complete. In any case, he was one ubiquitous figure, and considering how often tarento show up on the tube, that is truly saying something.

He also did some singing as well...something that I hadn't been aware of. And since this is a music blog, I wanted to pay some tribute to him through this medium with his 1978 novelty song, "Man Man March". A parody of the typical tokusatsu hero tune, Aikawa sang this with his new second wife, fellow tarento Midori (Keronpa) Utsumi(うつみ宮土理). There is some Beethoven (and perhaps some Bond as well) in this dedication to a hero who is supposedly faster than a Bullet Train but cuter than a doll. The lyrics also provide an entire Justice League's worth of heroes featuring everyday objects.

Written by Kogo Hotomi(保富康午)and composed by Asei Kobayashi(小林亜星), after having listened to the first few bars which provide a variation of the famed Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, I realized that very part has been used in tons of variety programs over the years.

In my time of watching Japanese variety shows over the decades, there have been a few tentpole TV hosts...premier emcees who have become members of the entire viewing public family. Osaka comedian Sanma Akashiya(明石家さんま)strikes me as being that essentially good but obnoxious neighbour who cannot shut up. The dark sunglassed Tamori(タモリ)is that corporate department chief with the sly sense of humour. And Beat Takeshi(ビートたけし)is that amiable but slightly oddball fellow who always hangs out in your favourite nomiya. Kin'ya Aikawa was the truly avuncular kacho (section chief) who could talk up a storm and be the life of the party...and probably was more than happy to organize a few of them, but nothing fancy. It would be him and his section staff enjoying a few rounds in the local izakaya.

Aikawa had been on TV since the early 1970s, but I think one of the big feathers in his cap was as host of the Fuji-TV variety show, "Naruhodo! The World" (1981-1996), the hybrid travel/quiz program dealing with some of the more interesting places around the planet. Before travel truly became open to the masses in Japan, this show fed the audience with plenty of inspiration.

Personally, though, the Aikawa show that meant the most to me was TV Tokyo's "Shubbotsu! Admatic Tengoku"(出没!アド街ック天国...Pop! Admatic Heaven) (1995-present). Not being a party person at all, I stayed at home most Saturday nights, a pattern that was started early in my Ichikawa life since Saturdays were just a regular work day for me. At 9 p.m., "Admatic" came on and featured a certain neighbourhood in Tokyo revealing some of the atmosphere and notable places in a countdown format such as that really nice ramen shop or that odd antique store. Kinkin was our congenial host as he and his panel of tarento and commentators talked about some of their recommendations and stories about the area. Watching the show every week felt like that virtual stroll, and a few times, I actually got to take the literal stroll through places like Nakano which was at the other end of my subway line, the Tozai Line, all because of that show. I ended up taping a number of episodes and sending the tapes back to Toronto for the parentals to watch.

I'm glad that the show is still going on although I'm sure it's not quite the same after Aikawa left in early March. He passed away on April 16th 2015 at the age of 80.

Good ol' Nakano Broadway
one of my old haunts in Tokyo!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Takeo Fujishima -- Otsuki-San Konbanwa (お月さん今晩は)

On a full episode of "Nippon no Uta" that I had been digging the internet for, through the powerful warbling of Kouhei Fukuda (福田こうへい) I first managed come across a vaguely familiar song I had heard once before. And then after fast-forwarding through the rest of the "Meikyoku Eleven" and most of the "Kayo HOT Zensen", I got to see Kiyoshi Maekawa (前川清) at his max goofiness, which can only be seen when you pair him up with the imposing Akiko Wada (和田アキ子). He even danced up a storm to Little Richard's "Jenny, Jenny"... Uh, yeah... That hardly ever happens. He's actually livelier with her than with Ikuzo Yoshi (吉幾三), which saying quite a lot! And I thought I had seen it all...

But dancing Mae-Kiyo aside, the tune that Fukuda had very nicely pulled off was none other than "Otsuki-San Konbanwa" (Good Evening Mr. Moon). Just at the mention of its amusing title jogged my memory. Then it hit me. I had heard it a few moons (haha) ago by some young Enka on one of of my favourite "Kayo Concert" episodes - first time I had seen Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし) on TV. I recalled not taking a strong liking to it at first since I wasn't yet a fan of the slower, more melancholic-sounding Enka songs... Actually, I can't really say that I'm particularly fond of them right now, but at least I'm used to it. However, I somehow accepted it when I heard the whimsically sung "Otsuki-San Konbanwa".

The original by Fujishima. He sounds a little like Hachiro Kasuga there.

After Fukuda brought the song back to me, one thing that I was certain of after listening to its score was that "Otsuki-San Konbanwa" was most likely from a tune from the 50's, minimally the 60's. After some research, I found out that it was indeed released around that period, 1957, and was originally sung by the late Enka singer, Takeo Fujishima (藤島桓夫). And the piece of haunting music from this hit had actually served as the famed Minoru Endo's (遠藤実) debut work. The lyrics were done by Mataichi Matsumura (松村又一) and they are about our lead man here having to leave the lady he loves so much behind to go to the big city... or is it the other way around? Either way, whenever he feels lonely, he looks up to the Moon at night and asks (and greets) it to tell him everything it knows. That actually kinda reminds me of this show I watched as a kid, "Bear in the Big Blue House", where Bear would go talk to Luna the moon at the end of every episode. Man, I miss that show.

Osaka native Fujishima had sung "Otsuki-San Konbanwa" once during his 2nd out of 7 consecutive appearances on the Kohaku in 1957. One cover that I've found of this song is by singer and guitarist, Yoshio Tabata (田端義夫), and I prefer his version to the original. Tabata had a mellower voice, so I think it suits the heavy atmosphere of the song better.

Misato Watanabe -- Growin' Up

Met up with a couple of old friends earlier tonight for dinner in the wilds of Mississauga, Ontario. We used to get together far more frequently when most of us were single a couple of decades back for food and movies, but my friends have become family men in the last several years. While we were noshing on clearly unhealthy fare, we were discussing on how quickly the next generation was growing. In my case, I was using my niece as a proxy. As I am approaching the big Five-0 this year, my darling daughter of my brother will be hitting the big One-0...I first met her when she was but 18 months old. Amazing how these whippersnappers sprout up like weeds.

Well, the above was an obvious segue to the subject of this article, Misato Watanabe's(渡辺美里)"Growin' Up". It's been some months since I wrote anything by the big-voiced singer so I guess there is some kismet here. This was Misato's 2nd single from August 1985, several months before her breakthrough hit of "My Revolution", and listening to this original version way back when, I kinda went "Awwww..." since she sounded so adorable. Not that I would identify her as an aidoru here but compared to her boomer of a voice later on, her vocals on "Growin' Up" had me thinking of her as that really energized teen trying her darndest to become a star....a J-Judy Garland, so to speak. The single didn't make that much of a dent on the charts, though....just getting as high as No. 83. I kinda wonder if that's the reason she's pouting on the cover above...or maybe it was that haircut.

Cue ahead nearly 7 years. Having become a big Misato fan during my time in Gunma Prefecture, it didn't take too much convincing for me to get her album of self-covers, "Hello Lovers" from July 1992 via "Eye-Ai" money order. Most of the tracks were fine although the orchestral version of "My Revolution" was just a bit on the pretentious side. However, I did think Misato hit pay dirt with the oomphed-up version of "Growin' Up", which was the very first version of the song that I heard.

Compared to the original from 1985, the 1992 cover had a Pet Shop Boys disco sheen grafted onto the Yasuyuki Okamura (岡村靖幸...yes, Mr. "Viva Namida" himself) melody and the Norie Kanzawa(神沢礼江)lyrics. But thanks should be given to arranger Goh Hotoda(保土田剛)instead for making "Growin' Up" a bit more grown up and a bit more fitted for warp speed. Plus, there were the fully adult vocals of the lady herself which sounded as if it had even more joy in them. Let's say in my mind whereas the 1985 version was a wonderful bit of busking fun, the 1992 "Growin' Up" was traveling on a jet going at Mach.

As for "Hello Lovers", it hit No. 1 on Oricon and finished the year as the 22nd-ranked album. The original "Growin' Up" was also a track on Misato's debut album, "eyes" (October 1985) which hit No. 4. Strangely enough, according to J-Wiki, that album finished 1986 also as the 22nd-ranked album.