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.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Frank Nagai/ Hiroshi Uchiyamada & Cool Five -- Sakaba no hana (酒場の花)

When I listen to Frank Nagai's "Sakaba no hana", the image I get in my head would be that of a salary man, tie loosened, hair somewhat scruffy after a tough day at work, and he would be outside on the chilly (yes, it shall be winter time), dimly lit streets of a drinking hole late at night - about midnight or so, or at least when some joints are closed - with a cigarette wedged into the corner of his mouth, wandering around with only his thoughts running through his mind. An occasional pause to stare at the dark sky void of any stars, puffing out a cloud of tobacco smog and his own breath, and he continues on.
Long story short, the soft music, that seems to have both the qualities of an Enka and Mood Kayo song, composed by Koichi Morita (森田公一) just paints a lonely yet strangely comfortable picture. Nagai's crooning with his smooth as brandy voice with an edge just adds to the atmosphere. Ah, "Sakaba no hana" and Yujiro Ishihara's (石原裕次郎) "Yogiri yo konya mo arigatou" (夜霧よ今夜も有難う) just make the perfect pair of night time tunes.

Now, for the Hiroshi Uchiyamada & Cool Five (内山田洋とクール・ファイブ) version. The image I get is similar to the one above, however, the man is sitting at the bar with drink in hand rather than roaming the streets. Warmer and not as alone - you got the bartender staring at him and keeping the lad company, so that's something, I suppose.

I found that the Mood Kayo group's rendition of "Sakaba no hana" leaned more to the genre of Enka in its music, and its fuller, more up-to-date arrangement kinda lost some of the original's loneliness hence the description above. Another thing that contributed to that is the difference in the two fellas' vocal delivery. Kiyoshi Maekawa's (前川清) voice, while deep like Nagai's, is too intense for this delicate song and it felt like he was holding back. Whereas Nagai handled it better as he sounded a lot more relaxed. 

I like both versions just as much as they are slightly different in their own respect, but if we were talking about atmosphere, I would go with Nagai's one... Yeah, first time ever that I picked a version without Mae-Kiyo in it!

Before I forget, "Sakaba no hana" was written by lyricist Michio Yamagami (山上路夫). The original came out in 1976 and the Cool Five's version was released in 1983. Frankly, I don't know which was more popular since there's no write-up on it and oddly enough I did not see this entry in Nagai's discography on his J-Wiki page, but I did see it on the Cool Five's page. And by just searching "Sakaba no hana" on Google, most results are of the Cool Five's version... So the Cool Five's one was more popular?


Apparently Ikuzo Yoshi (吉幾三) tried his hand at this song. I've never heard it, so I can only imagine how it sounds like.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Yasuhiro Abe -- My Dear

Perhaps I should have killed three birds with one stone and wrote a whole article on Yasuhiro Abe's(安部恭弘)3rd album, "Slit" from 1984. After all, I've already got the first two tracks on board in their own articles, "Thrill Down" and "Irene", and now here is Track 3, "My Dear".

That smooth Fender Rhodes comes sliding in like silk along with Abe's voice. "My Dear" is the first ballad on the album after the highway-friendly "Thrill Down" and the mid-tempo stroll of "Irene". The ballad feels like that couple just relaxing after dinner and a few drinks and then standing atop some observation deck on one of the higher buildings in Shinjuku. It might be sunset or it might be the dead of night....doesn't matter, it's all good. Listening to this, I was reminded of some of the material of early Al Jarreau and Rod Temperton from around the same time. Ahh...those were some fine times listening to the radio. Not sure if Abe got as much air time as Al, but I'd like to think he's still well remembered through his music.

Odaiba, Tokyo

Toshiki Kadomatsu -- Sea Line "Rie"

It has been a busy Saturday for the final day of February 2015. I had to take care of a couple of clients' translation requests and then a third request came in this morning. So I was tied to my chair and the computer throughout the late morning and all of the afternoon, and happy to say, I got it all done by dinner.

And now I can indulge in my hobby of continuing to fill in the spaces in this blog. Going into YouTube, I saw this video titled "Architecture in Tokyo", and apparently this is a name of either a single musician or a collective that has brought together mixes of some of the old 80s City Pop. In any case, I tried out MIX 4, and the first song was Toshiki Kadomatsu's(角松敏生)"Sea Line 'Rie'".

This is an instrumental piece by the guitarist that was his 12th single from June 1987, and boy, does it pack a wallop. Kadomatsu lets his guitar do the talking, and his guitar is screaming, "I AM HEADING FOR THE BEACH AND I AM GONNA HAVE THE BEST TIME IN RECORDED HISTORY!!!" Yup, tons of Corona Beer with lemon wedges in the neck, white sand, plenty of surf and beautiful people dressed in less as possible. This is the theme song for Genre: City Pop Sub-genre: Resort Pop.

I wondered where City Poppy contemporary aidoru group Especia and British duo Greeen Linez got their inspiration. I may have stumbled across one of their touchstones with this song. I was lucky enough to find out that there are a few recordings of "Sea Line 'Rie'" on YouTube.

The song was used as the campaign tune for an ancient cigarette commercial (yep, they used to advertise ciggys on TV), and it also became a track on his 10th album (his first instrumental album) from July 1987, "Sea Is A Lady" that peaked at No. 4 on Oricon.

Watch the man in action here.

You can also have a listen to Architecture in Tokyo as well.

Duke Aces -- Ichou namiki/Ii yu dana (銀杏並木/いい湯だな)

I've been to Osaka twice, but I can't say that I've seen much of it. That's the problem of going on those package tours, I suppose. You can never have enough time to explore the place thoroughly, and just when you're enjoying the charm of the place, you gotta leave for the next spot on the itinerary. Oh well, there's always a next time. And during that next time, I shall visit the places mentioned in "Ichou namiki", one of the entries from Duke Aces' (デューク・エイセス) "Nihon no uta series" (「にほんのうた」シリーズ) that represents Osaka.

"Ichou namiki"

It sounds like a pretty fool proof tour. There's Umeda, Nakanoshima, Honmachi, Shinsaibashi, and finally Namba, so that covers quite a lot there... I think. Along with the very walk-able and warming music, the quartet narrates the progression of a couple's relationship as they take walks from the "Kita" (North; more business oriented) to the "Minami" (South; entertainment portion) part of Osaka. Joining the couple are the Ginkgo trees (what "Ichou namiki" means). So as the young sweethearts grow closer by the season, the trees change accordingly. For example, in Spring when the leaves are young and growing back, the two are looking into each others eyes (I think), assumedly on their first date. Everything goes swell, fast forward to Autumn where the Ginkgo leaves have turned a brilliant gold - I've seen it in Asakusa, it was beautiful - and the two are engaged.

Although a pleasant sounding song, "Ichou namiki" wasn't one of the more popular tracks from this series, despite the fact that it was on the A-side. In fact, the B-side song on the Gunma prefecture outdid it and became one of the Aces' hits.

Yes, I'm talking about "Ii yu dana".

Slightly more modern, still quite retro-sounding in a good way.

Jaunty and boisterous when compared to "Ichou namiki", "Ii yu dana" has the Aces singing about the four well-known hot springs in Gunma: Kusastu, Ikaho, Manza and Minakami. It's a fun song to listen to with it being so upbeat and lighthearted, and I can't remember how many times I've had this playing through my earphones during the duller, drier classes... I think there was this one time I had replayed the video above with the guys doing the abridged version of the song more than four times! The lesson was tiresome and dragged on more than it should, so I needed something to wake myself up. And Yasumasa Taniguchi's (谷口安正) exclamation after his, "Tsumete e na!" ("That's cold!") was silly and adorable.

Makino's "dancing" is amazing...

Anyway, what I enjoyed most from "Ii yu dana" is that all four members have a chance to sing solo. I love hearing all of their individual voices, especially Yoshitaka Makino's (槇野義孝) deep rumble that sends shivers down my spine - the good kind! I can safely say that "Ii yu dana" is definitely one of my top favourite Kayokyoku, besides Yuzo Kayama's (加山雄三) "O yome ni oide" (お嫁においで).

Since "Ichou namiki" and "Ii yu dana" are part of the "Nihon no uta series", the lyrics were done by Rokusuke Ei and composed by Taku Izumi (永六輔 . いずみたく). They must've had a jolly good time in Gunma. It was released in 1966.

J-Canuck had done an article on "Ii yu dana" a while ago, that article features comedy group The Drifters (ザ・ドリフターズ) take on the ditty, you can read up on it here. I don't mind their version, but I prefer the original.

"Ii yu dana"

Friday, February 27, 2015

Akemi Ishii -- Sha-La-La (シャ・ラ・ラ)

For all of the snazzy and dynamic Latin-flavoured tunes that Akemi Ishii(石井明美)introduced during the late 80s, it was a bit odd to hear her 10th single, "Sha-La-La". Not that I have anything to complain about the song. It's a pleasant tune that was written by Ishii herself and composed by prolific Kyohei Tsutsumi (筒美京平)about a woman totally in love with her beau, but for the stuff that I have heard from her, it's a bit subdued. Even her voice sounds a bit less energized as if the song was meant to be a cool-down from the previous singles. By the way, it was released in November 1990.

Mind you, "Sha-La-La" wasn't the first case of a relatively quieter Ishii song. A few years earlier, she had released "Joy" which was also very straight-on pop. Actually the song that I was interested in featuring was the coupling tune to "Sha-La-La", "Door wo Akete"(ドアを開けて...Open the Door), a ballad that has a similar lyrical theme to the A-side but has a European Latin/enka vibe that made it sound like something that the late Teresa Teng(テレサ・テン)would have tackled in her sleep. Unfortunately, there is no sign of it anywhere on the Net, so I will just have to bide my time.

The Gospellers -- Towa ni (永遠に)

Leonard Nimoy -- 1931-2015
Earlier this morning, I found out online that a sci-fi icon and a pop culture hero of mine, Leonard Nimoy aka the original Mr. Spock from "Star Trek" had passed away. He had been ill for the past number of years due to an earlier and unfortunate dalliance for smoking, and earlier this week when one of his representatives would give no comment on Nimoy's transportation to the hospital, I kinda figured that the time was close. Being the Trekkie that I have been for over 4 decades (yep, even longer than my time with kayo kyoku), it was no less sad to hear that he has left this mortal coil and millions of other fans across the globe are mourning tonight.

For that reason, I've chosen The Gospellers' first hit from 2000, "Towa ni" (Eternally) as the tribute song. Released in August of that year, it's the one CD that I purchased of the acapella group because of the mellow R&B melody. Written by Yutaka Yasuoka(安岡優), one of the members of the group, and composed by Takeshi Senoo(妹尾武), I'm not particularly crazy about the sappy English at the beginning but once the guys get into it and the song flows along, I was quite happy with the purchase. I hadn't heard it in quite a long time, but a recent "Kayo Concert" episode had The Gospellers on and this was the song that they performed, so I was reminded how nice it was.

"Towa ni" was their 14th single and that's the rank it peaked at on Oricon, No. 14. It wasn't their most successful hit but it was their longest-lasting through the rankings, lasting for 44 weeks on the charts. The single was also a track on The Gospellers' 6th album, "Soul Serenade" which came out in October 2000 and peaked at No. 8 while finishing up 2001 as the 42nd-ranked album.

This article is also the second one featuring The Gospellers but I didn't really give them their due in terms of an introduction in their first entry. The group formed from an acapella circle in Waseda University back in 1991 under the name of Street Corner Symphony by the two current members, leader Tetsuya Murakami(村上てつや)and Kaoru Kurosawa(黒沢薫). Yasuoka, Yuji Sakai(酒井雄二)and Yoichi Kitayama(北山陽一)would be recruited for the cause. The five of them had their first major release in 1994 with "Promise" which went as high as No. 90. For the next several years, their releases would mostly end up in the bottom 50 of the Top 100 until "Towa ni" came along.

For Mr. Nimoy, I can wish him "Live eternally and prosper".

Sheena & The Rokkets -- You May Dream


Last week via Mixi, I discovered that Etsuko "Sheena" Ayukawa(鮎川悦子)of Mentai Rock band Sheena & The Rokkets had passed away from cervical cancer at the age of 61...way too young. I was not a fan of the band but, boy, they were a group that I had heard about over the years and my biggest impression of them was their physical presence. There was Sheena Rokket in that leather getup looking every bit the Hard Rock Queen while her husband, actor and guitarist Makoto Ayukawa(鮎川誠)struck an epic lanky and angular figure with those sunglasses, that guitar and his height. Mind you, 5'11" isn't exactly seen as supremely tall in my country or Stateside, but in Japan, that's still fairly stately. In any case, I saw him as the J-Rock equivalent of James Coburn's character in "The Magnificent Seven", Britt the quiet but deadly cowpoke with the knife. To finish off the group, there is Toshihiro Nara(奈良敏博)on bass and Kazuhide Kawashima(川嶋一秀)on drums.

I mentioned Mentai Rock at the top. Well, according to Wikipedia, it was the name for a group of musicians from Fukuoka City during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Mentai part came from the name of a Fukuoka delicacy, mentaiko, or marinated cod roe. Although I don't eat it too much as it is, I do love mentaiko spaghetti. One of the first bands representing Mentai Rock was SONHOUSE which ended its run in 1978. Makoto Ayukawa was part of that band and once it ran its course, he asked his wife Etsuko to come and join his new project. The missus took on the moniker Sheena in tribute to a Ramones' song "Sheena is a Punk Rocker", and Rokkets was a fusion of "rock" and the first four letters of Etsuko's name. Sheena & The Rokkets were born (by the way, another Mentai Rock group is ARB).

From what I've heard and read about the band, the above video for "Lemon Tea" (originally sung by SONHOUSE) seemed to represent what Sheena & The Rokkets was all about. On the relevant J-Wiki article there is a long list of katakana names associated with the group including Yoko Ono, blues guitarist  Albert King, and British singer Wilko Johnson who was one of the influences behind the whole English punk sound, and US punk legends The Ramones.

I have one song by the band that was part of the "Seishun Uta Nenkan"(青春歌年間)series for 1980. It's "You May Dream" which was their 2nd single from December of that year and was also a track on their 2nd album, "Shinkuu Pack"(真空パック...Vacuum Pack)which had been released a couple of months earlier. SONHOUSE vocalist Toshiyuki Shibayama(柴山俊之)and Chris Mosdell took care of the lyrics while Makoto Ayukawa and Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame composed the music. Hosono also produced "Shinkuu Pack".

Although I get a hint of that growly rock sound in "You May Dream", there is also another layer of synths that brings the song into New Wave territory. And taking a look at the performance video a little higher up, the band certainly looked like a mix of 50s and New Wave with Sheena voicing her words somewhat like a Valley Girl (yup, I just aged myself). And Makoto looks like a fusion between Elvis Costello and the late Harold Ramis from "Ghostbusters". It's no wonder that they had become the opening act for Costello during his swing around Japan in 1978.

I read in an online article in the Japan Times that Hosono and the band had some fights over the production but Makoto graciously stated that the conflicts all benefited the final product. This is just my opinion but with YMO and their runaway success at the time, Hosono and his two compatriots were bringing some of their technopop influence via their works for other singers...i.e. techno kayo...and I'm wondering if Sheena and the Rokkets was just getting a little spooked at the time that Hosono was trying to transmogrify the Mentai Rock band into something that they didn't want to be.

However, "You May Dream" was the band's first hit. The lyrics were basically on the same well-worn path about a girl who has the hots for a guy, but I like that one line where Sheena repeats "yume"(夢...dream)which sounds similar to the first two words in the title.

That new project of a husband-and-wife team-up has now lasted nearly 40 years. As much as it's hard to believe the dynamic Sheena has left this world, it's also hard to believe that Makoto is one year past retirement (if he were a Canadian resident). Still, they released their latest album just last year, "Rokket Ride" and I don't hear anything yet about Sheena & The Rokkets packing it up.