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, November 24, 2014

Rie Hatada -- Terminal (ターミナル)

Having listened to aidoru throughout the 80s, I've come to a couple of opinions. One is that the really early 80s aidoru tunes up to about 1983 often had that innocent country girl-in-the-summer arrangement whereas the later 80s examples incorporated some more worldliness in the music while still maintaining that usual aidoru-ness. I once borrowed a mix tape of aidoru songs from an acquaintance and I'm still occasionally kicking myself in the keester since I didn't really keep a good memory of what I listened to. The only tracks I can remember involved Sonoko Kawai(河合その子)and Sayuri Kokusho(国生さゆり), but what I do remember about the songs themselves is that the lot of them had that attractive worldliness I've just mentioned (yes, I am aware that I am talking about aidoru, not timeless classics here).

Case in point: I was just doing my random little walk through YouTube and found a few Tomoko Aran(亜蘭知子) tunes. I have covered a few of her songs as she tackled some of that City Pop but she's probably much more famous as the lyricist for TUBE's big early hits such as "Summer Dream".

Still, I found out that she also provided the words to this song, "Terminal" which was the 2nd single by aidoru Rie Hatada(畠田理恵). After listening to it, I realized that this was another interesting little gem illustrating some of that worldly late 80s aidoru music, and it was special especially since it involved an aidoru who hadn't been connected to Onyanko Club (Kawai and Kokusho were members).

The Osaka-born-and-raised Hatada was scouted by entertainment promotion company Big Apple in 1986 after she had entered and done well in a couple of magazine-sponsored beauty contests. She promptly dropped out of high school and took that train to Tokyo to start her career, initially appearing as a variety show tarento program on TBS titled "Momoco Club"(モモコクラブ)sponsored by the female aidoru magazine "Momoco".

Then in 1987, she debuted as an aidoru in March with "Koko dake no Hanashi -- Ofureko"(ここだけの話 〜オフレコ〜...A Secret - Off The Record)which peaked at a respectable No. 13. "Terminal", which would turn out to be her most successful record, was released three months later and went as high as No. 12. I was drawn to the combination of the typical aidoru beat and that Latin infusion although Hatada's vocals weren't exactly remarkable. Latin fusion musician and composer Naoya Matsuoka (松岡直也)was responsible for the music and if the last few bars of "Terminal" sound somewhat familiar, it might be because they also popped up in the last several seconds of a more successful Latin-spiced song, "Meu Amor e" by Akina Nakamori(中森明菜). And guess who was responsible for weaving that classic?

Speaking of Nakamori, up until her 4th single in 1988, Hatada had been being groomed to emulate Akina's style but from that point onwards, the powers-that-be decided that she would take on a more coquettish Momoko Kikuchi(菊池桃子)brand.

As I said Rie Hatada wasn't exactly the best singer, but, hey, it's the overall effect of aidoru vocals, music and nostalgia that had me enjoying "Terminal". She released 8 singles and 2 original albums in total between 1987 and 1993. Also, she appeared as an actress during that same period before retiring from the industry in 1996 after marrying shogi champion, Yoshiharu Habu(羽生善治).

Ueno Station

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Off-Course -- Kanashii Kurai (哀しいくらい)

Considering the week we've had, I had been about to make a call to Mother Nature to tell her that we still have one more month of autumn owed to us. However, things are much more normal in the temperature department today and will be for a couple of more days, so I think MN was just trolling us last week.

Anyways, it's been some months since I put up an Off-Course(オフコース)ballad. I've been a fan of Kazumasa Oda's(小田和正)old group since first coming across their songs via "Sounds of Japan" on the radio back in the early 80s, and when I started living in Japan for the first time, I bought my first Off-Course CD in the form of "Autumn Winds -- Best From Off-Course".

I got to hear those songs from my old radio show, "Sayonara"(さよなら), "Aki no Kehai"(秋の気配)and "Ikutsu Mono Hoshi no Shita de"(いくつもの星の下で), but I also took a fancy to a track that I hadn't heard, "Kanashii Kurai" (Sad). Written and composed by Oda, it had this cool walking beat with an introspective feel. It didn't take on that epic atmosphere that "Sayonara" had, but it just felt like Oda taking a brisk walk through the streets of Tokyo on an off day to clear his head. In its button-down way, "Kanashii Kurai" had this kakkoii aura surrounding it.

I had thought about categorizing "Kanashii Kurai" as a City Pop tune but reading through the lyrics, I didn't really think the song had anything to do with the city. Instead, and unlike my thoughts from the previous paragraph, Oda wrote words which could be summed up in the phrase "It's complicated". As has been the case with a number of Off-Course songs, "Kanashii Kurai" has Oda singing about a man stating out the weaknesses of both himself and his perhaps/perhaps not girlfriend. In the guy's case, it's just that he is too melancholy while his significant other is guilty of being too nervous about a relationship. However, he wants to see that relationship blossom no matter what since he loves her so much.

After reading those lyrics, I was a little surprised at the faster tempo of the song. Usually for words like those, I would've expected a somewhat more languid ballad with lots of strings. Instead, it came out sounding like a City Pop song.

"Kanashii Kurai" originally was a non-single track placed within Off-Course's 9th album, "Over" which was released in December 1981. The album hit No. 1 on Oricon, and also contains one of the band's evergreen hits, "Kotoba ni Dekinai"(言葉にできない). "Kanashii Kurai" also gained an English version titled "Melody", also sung by Oda, which was included in Off-Course's 1985 release, "Back Streets of Tokyo". It's basically the same song in arrangement except for the English lyrics and some tweaking here and there.

Mayo Okamoto -- TOMORROW

I just heard this one on today's episode of NHK's "Nodo Jiman" performed by a couple of ladies from Chiba Prefecture which jogged my memory of Mayo Okamoto(岡本真夜). She certainly became an overnight sensation with her debut song of "TOMORROW" which was released back in May 1995. It just seemed like every time I turned the TV on back then, there was that cheerful song once again.

"TOMORROW" was written by Okamoto with Anju Mana(真名杏樹)providing the music. Initially, it was known as the theme song for a TBS drama, "Second Chance" starring Misako Tanaka and burly Hidekazu Akai as single parents who decide to hook up against outside objections. According to J-Wiki, the song had originally been written as a ballad to cheer up a close friend but during the creation of the drama itself, the producer requested that it be made into a much more uptempo tune. Apparently it was a wise move since the song would hit No. 1 on Oricon and become the 8th-ranked song of the year. Okamoto herself made her television debut on the Kohaku Utagassen on New Year's Eve to perform it. It eventually sold over 2 million copies.

I recollect "TOMORROW" being sung a ton of times at karaoke and I wouldn't be surprised if it has been sung at various celebratory events such as graduations and weddings. It was used as the entrance song for the 68th High School Baseball Championships at Koshien Stadium in March 1996. In terms of the encouragement level, I think it rates up there with another song with the same title sung by a certain curly red-haired girl.

As for Okamoto herself, she was born in Kochi Prefecture in 1974. In her senior years in elementary school, she had been in the basketball club but switched over to the brass band in junior high. Throughout those years in elementary and junior high, she practiced the piano with the initial hopes of becoming a pianist. However, she experienced a sea change in her dreams when she heard the song "Mirai Yosozu II"(未来予想図II)by Dreams Come True on the radio as a high school freshman. From then on, she wanted to become a singer.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hideo Murata -- Hana to ryu (花と竜)

I like the name of this song. Though 'Hana to ryu' (Flower & Dragon) does sound a little tacky by modern day standards, there's 'Dragon' in its name... can't get any cooler and manlier than that! But seriously, what I really like about it is that there is that contrast between the 2 aforementioned things. The gentleness and elegance of a flower balanced out by the mighty and fearsome dragon. And although I have quite a vague understanding of the lyrics (by Shin Nikaido (二階堂伸)), the last part that went:

Sore ga otoko sa  Sore ga otoko sa                 それが男さ  それが男さ
Hana to ryu                                                      花と竜

That then kinda made me realise that this comparison is probably meant to represent the qualities of a man... that he can be tough and gritty, and yet can be polished and refined at the same time.

The music, composed by Kusuo Kita (北くすを), gives you this feeling of grandeur which is most prominent at the beginning with the blare of the trumpets, as if announcing the arrival of some powerful and revered fellow. And how Hideo Murata's (村田英雄) voice fluctuates from a deep rumble to something nasally and borderline whiny is quite amusing too. Boy, it'd be some entrance if he were to strut out on to the stage as this song plays, wearing a kimono with a huge dragon curling itself around him!

Anyway, I don't know much on 'Hana to ryu' other than that it was released in 1964 and was the theme song to this drama called 'Murata Hideo no Hana to ryu' (村田英雄の花と龍) since there's no write up on it. The song aside, 'Hana to ryu' is actually a story written by Ashihei Hino (火野葦平) in 1953, which was then made into multiple movies and TV dramas of the same name throughout the mid 50's to 70's, including one (movie) staring Yujiro Ishihara (石原裕次郎)!

In the video above, it looked like Murata was singing the song on an episode of 'Enka no hana michi' judging from the fact that he's on one those elaborate sets. I found the full version of 'Hana to ryu' on Dailymotion, you can check it out here.

One of the movies' posters.
The one with Ishihara looked the coolest.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Akiko Yano -- Gohan ga Dekita yo (Album) (ごはんができたよ)

"New Akiko Yano.....with added synthesizers!!"

Reading the J-Wiki article on Akiko Yano's(矢野顕子)4th album (and her first under the Tokuma Japan label), that is the impression I got. "Gohan ga Dekita yo" (Dinner's Ready) came out in October 1980 and it is my 3rd purchase from her discography, and it happens to be the earliest album I've now got compared to her BEST album from 1996 and "Oui Oui" from 1997. Aside from the tracks from her output in the 70s that are included in her BEST compilation, I don't really have that much knowledge about those early years. However, the way the J-Wiki article read, it certainly felt like Yano was taking on a new layer in terms of her music as she entered the 80s.

That layer included just about everyone in the Yellow Magic Orchestra: Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣), Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一), Yukihiro Takahashi(高橋幸宏), and Hideki Matsutake(松武秀樹). And heck, she was touring as a keyboardist with YMO during that time so she was basically a member (got the wicked YMO shirt and a husband!). Yano still had her elegant piano-playing and her vocally flexible style but this time forward, she also had some of that cool technopop backing her up as well.

I've already talked about some of the tracks on "Gohan ga Dekita yo" over the years this blog has been in existence: the funky "Zai Kuntong Shonen", Yano's silky take on "Tong Poo", and even the title track with the singer sounding like a particularly welcoming Mama armed with a hot pot of soup. I hadn't been sure about whether I would get the album but then when I came across her cover of "Tong Poo" and the amazing first track of "Hitotsudake", I knew that I had to place it on my Must Get list when I went to Japan in October. And sure enough, it was the first CD I got during my trip at Recomints in Nakano Broadway.

Speaking about "Hitotsudake", those first few bars of music on the first track made it abundantly clear of the YMO influence. Knowing that "E.T." was still 2 years away from release at the time the album came out, the song still sounds like a fun first trip by the Reese's Pieces-munching Extraterrestrial as he descended slowly into Earth's atmosphere before starting a thrilling adventure over the oceans and continents. And then there was the wonderful collaboration between Yano's piano and Sakamoto's synths...I still feel a wind whizzing past my neck as they take over from the singer's initial innocent lyrics. It was the right song to mark the switch in studios and musical style (although I probably wouldn't use "switch" for the latter item...perhaps "technopop enhancement" is better).

Now I have to prepare to eat some crow here. All of the time that I've mentioned "Hitotsudake" here and there, I didn't know that Yano's version was actually the cover version for the Agnes Chan(アグネス・チャン)original which was included on her 1979 23rd album, "Utsukushii Hibi"(美しい日々...Beautiful Days). I guess I was afflicted with selective sight when it came to the J-Wiki article. In any case, it was interesting listening to this original version with Agnes' just-as-sweet & high vocals and the 70s aidoru arrangement by Masaaki Ohmura(大村雅朗).

Back to our regularly scheduled album. The link above has a concert version of the second track, "Les Petit Bon Bon" which seems to address a lot of folks, including me, when it comes to not being able to stop at one peanut. I'm not sure whether Yano was referring to the unstoppable need to grab that one last candy or just the concept of greed in general, but the song showcases that playful side to her as if she were reverting back to her childhood and getting that urge to sneak one more cookie out of the jar.

"High Time" is one of two English-language tracks, and it's one of the few songs whose lyrics weren't provided by Yano. Instead, Fran Payne wrote this ode to a lover coming back into the protagonist's arms after a time away. Yano's delivery and the airy music seem to reflect the soaring feelings of someone back in love.

Another angle that Yano explores in "Gohan ga Dekita yo" is her interpretation of some of the old kayo kyoku. In this case, she performs a cover of Ichiro Fujiyama's(藤山一郎)"Aoi Sanmyaku"(青い山脈...Blue Mountain Range)in her inimitable way with some of that YMO boppiness. Along with her loopy vocal style, what else is notable is how she manages to make her version sound like a suspenseful adventure through the forest at the bottom of those blue mountains.

The kayo kyoku interpretations also include children's songs. For example, the above is "Genkotsu Yama no Tanuki-san"(げんこつやまのたぬきさん...The Raccoons of Genkotsu Mountain)which was written by Yoshiko Koyama(香山美子)and composed by Akihiro Komori(小森昭宏)in 1973, and features a mother-and-child raccoon duo.

Then, there is "Onigiri Kororin"(おにぎりころりん...Rolling Riceballs)which was also created by Komori with Michio Mado(まど・みちお)providing the lyrics about all those rolling rice balls. Love my onigiri...especially when it has either salmon flakes or bonito flakes soaked in soy sauce!

So, from those two children's songs arose the epic "Genkotsu Yama no Onigiri-sama"(げんこつやまのおにぎりさま...The Riceballs of Genkotsu Mountain). And here I thought that "Zai Kuntong Shonen" was the centrepiece of the album. "Genkotsu Yama no Onigiri-sama" not only beats that song by over a minute but it's truly a crazed roller coaster ride combining Yano's inventiveness, YMO's bleeps and bloops, the eerily amazing work by Hibari Jido Gasshodan(ひばり児童合唱団)and the guitar of Makoto Ayukawa(鮎川誠)from Sheena & The Rockets. I think out of all the tracks on the album since I purchased it, this has been the one that's gotten especially frequent attention by me. Usually when I think of children's choruses, tokusatsu hero theme songs come to mind, but here, the Hibari Children Chorus is more than happy to keep up with Yano through all of the musical zips and dips and their contribution is one of the reasons that I love this one. The other reason is how she is able to ecstatically steer this 7-minute-plus song through all of the happy technopop, prog rock, relaxing piano passages and funky excerpts of the two kids' tunes, especially the way she delivers that latter song almost like a hip-hop line.

Here is a concert version of my favourite new song on the album. 

And for that matter, "Gohan ga Dekita yo" has quickly become a favourite disc. It is that fortified package of what my image has been of Akiko Yano no matter what she did in the 70s and what she has done since the early 80s. Soaring, introspective, techno-cool, welcoming!

The End

Thursday, November 20, 2014

SMAP/Chikuzen Sato -- Lionheart (らいおんハート)

For lunch today, I got to meet a couple of my foodie buddies downtown for lunch. We wanted to try the latest example of Japanese cuisine to grace this side of Lake Ontario, gyudon(牛丼), through the restaurant GyuGyuYa. My anime buddy had been raving about this place for months and we finally got the chance to hit the place. And although it was considerably more expensive than the famous example at Yoshinoya back in Japan, I was quite happy with my beef bowl. The thin slices of fatty beef were of the right consistency, the sauce was flavourful without being overpowering, the onions were tender and the beni-shoga added that nice sharp accent.

It's always nice to get together with good friends over good food at this time of year. The weather gets colder (today's high was all of -4 degrees C) which further incentivizes the bunch of us to gather and enjoy lunch or dinner in a warm environment. People seem to get mellower as the winter approaches. And so I introduce my article for today, SMAP's 32nd single from August 2000, "Lionheart". Keeping with my food theme, this ballad was not only just as mellow as some non-shopping wintry Torontonians armed with a cafe latte, but it was also used as a theme for a Japanese comedy-drama with a food theme.

"Food Fight" was an NTV show from 2000 that featured SMAP's Tsuyoshi Kusanagi(草彅 剛)as Mitsuru Ihara (for those who know their Japanese, a rather cute little pun considering the point of the show), a legendary food fighter with a black hole for a stomach that enters eating competitions.

I heard "Lionheart" a fair bit over the months following its release, and it was pretty interesting to have it as the theme song for "Food Fight" since it sounds like the perfect song to listen to after a very absorbing dinner. You might say it's music to digest to. As for me, it would be the ideal theme to describe my 2nd paragraph.

Written by the screenwriter Shinji Nojima野島伸司...although he wasn't responsible for "Food Fight"), and composed by Minoru Komorita(コモリタミノル), the lyrics have nothing to do with food at all and everything to do with a man with that proverbial heart of a lion vowing to protect his lady love. Takuya Kimura(木村拓哉)had the lion's share of balladeering here, and apparently since he got married to former aidoru Shizuka Kudo(工藤静香)right after this song's release, people have gotten it into their heads that that this was KimuTaku's musical proposal to Shizuka-chan. It has become one of those wedding-friendly ballads in any event.

The above link will take you to the original music video for "Lionheart". Not surprisingly, it did hit No. 1 on Oricon and was SMAP's 2nd million-seller following its 1998 big hit "Yozora no Mukou"(夜空ノムコウ). Takuya and the boys also made it onto the Kohaku for the 10th time to perform the ballad that year and it became the 6th-ranked song for 2000.

A number of artists have covered the song but I personally like a version by Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善)from Sing Like Talking which is a bit more soulful. It was a track from his 2004 release, "Cornerstones 3".

And maybe that is what a bowl of gyudon is all about. It's a Japanese form of soul food.

Megumi Hayashibara -- November Rain

Today’s my dad’s birthday and that’s actually the only thing about November that I really care about (my dad doesn’t like Megumi’s songs, so that post is not really paying homage to him). Besides a couple of holidays here and there, nothing really exciting happens in this month. Also, as I always passes through November thinking about December, I consider it more like a transition month than anything.

Well, but if I had to choose a song that always comes to my mind when I think about November, that would be Megumi’s “November Rain”, a character song from the famous Ranma ½ ( らんま½) anime.

In Ranma ½, Megumi Hayashibara (林原めぐみ) got her first important role in an anime series, the part of female Ranma. Although I’m not going to describe the story here, it’s important to know that Ranma (早乙女乱馬) was a guy who, thanks to a Chinese curse, got transformed into a girl everytime cold water was thrown into him (hot water transformed him back into a guy). That said, “November Rain” starts with Akane (天道 あかね), the girl in love with Ranma, slapping him in the face just when the rain is about to start. Then, with the cold water (the rain), he turned into female Ranma, and that’s why Megumi actually sang the song.

Released in January 1991 as a single (literally a couple of months before her major label debut with the lovely “Nijiiro no Sneaker” [虹色のSneaker]), “November Rain” was Megumi’s third overall single. About the song itself, it’s quite nice to see how hard she tried to sing this sad love ballad with her yet untrained vocals. Although I agree that it isn’t a treat for everyone, I quite like the result, and the melancholic piano-driven arrangement helps as well. Unfortunately, though, “November Rain” was never included in any of Megumi’s albums. As a fan, I’d love to see a compilation with all of her rarities, but it will probably never happen.

“November Rain” reached #64 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics were written by Yoshiko Miura (三浦徳子) and Ranba-teki uta gekidan bungei-bu (乱馬的歌劇団文芸部), while music was composed by Tsugutoshi Gotou (後藤次利). As for the arrangement, Kenji Kawai (川井憲次) was the responsible.