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, May 25, 2015

Fuyumi Sakamoto -- Fuyumi no Soran Bushi (冬美のソーラン節)

For half of the precious weekend, my high patience - I'd like to think so - had been tested as my brain wrestled with a science research proposal concerning herbal extracts and whether or not they're able to kill food-spoiling bacteria. Now here comes the reason for my burning ire, the main purpose is to get us students who don't even know what herbal extracts are - I had only heard of them, but I never knew what they really were - to learn how to write a research proposal, and this was our given topic. So there I was struggling with the decision of how much information I should put into that  because at the end of the day, it's only the structure that's important and being graded... putting in lot's of info could just be a waste of time and effort. With 40% Wikipedia, 30% food safety sites, 15% lecture notes, 5% online grocery store catalogues and 10% pure bull (reserved for desperate situations), that was probably the most effort I had put in for a topic that's probably at least 90% irrelevant to my course of study, Marine Science and Aquaculture.

Looks rather claustrophobic...

Well, nightmarish research proposals aside, while taking breaks from investigating mold and the anti-bacterial qualities of mint, lemongrass and rosemary, I had also been digging around for information about the "Soran Bushi" (ソーラン節), a Minyo with its origins stemming from the gritty, salty fishermen of Hokkaido to cheer themselves on while performing backbreaking labour on the high seas. And just like many other Minyo like it, this rousing sea shanty with its signature, "Yaren soran, soran, soran...!" has been sung a multitude of times by enka singers both young and old, most notably by the late veteran and resident of Hokkaido Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也), the exuberant Kiyoshi Hikawa (氷川きよし) and enka beauty Fuyumi Sakamoto (坂本冬美)... or at least those are the versions I had heard of as of now.

I had first heard of "Soran Bushi" via Hikawa with his rendition that's aptly named, "Kiyoshi no Soran Bushi" (きよしのソーラン節) on a summer festival-themed "Kayo Concert" last August. I must say that this version is very... Hikawa..., and it's sits nicely between contemporary and traditional, but I can't say I'm a fan of it. Michi's take on "Soran Bushi" (that's the title) is a lot more deconstructed and is the most traditional sounding out of the 3 I've mentioned, it doesn't sound bad, it's just that the backup singers with their squeaky "Hai! Hai!" and "Dokkoisho! Dokkoisho!" irks me to no end.

And then we have Sakamoto's version, which is my favourite. I actually heard this on the plane while on the way to Hong Kong. It was the first song under the enka album in the Japanese music section, so I gave it a shot since I had some prior experience with this Minyo. Admittedly, I thought it was quite odd to be listening to a traditional sea shanty, but the music to "Fuyumi no Soran Bushi" allowed me to settle into it quite easily. Composed by Kaoru Hanagasa (花笠薫), it is very much Pop/Rock-like with the sting of the electric guitar and the trumpets blasting away, but the flute... I think it's called the shakuhachi and the constant, manlier "Soran! Soran!" helps the song retain it's Minyo/enka-ness. The lyrics were by Yo Yashiro (やしろよう).

"Fuyumi no Soran Bushi" was released on 2nd November 2005 as the B-side to "Futari no Tairyo Bushi" (ふたりの大漁節), which is her 35th single. It peaked at 24th place on the regular charts.

Yoshitaka Minami -- Moonlight Whisper

Still digesting that Hakata ramen from Sho Ryu Ken, the latest ramen restaurant to appear in my fair city (those who used to play "Street Fighter" will get the joke about the name). So I've still got that mix of sleepiness and wakefulness fighting for control even at this midnight hour.

To finish off my broadcasting day, then, I'm going to go with Yoshitaka Minami's(南佳孝)"Moonlight Whisper" from his 1982 classic album, "Seventh Avenue South" that I wrote about 18 months ago. Despite the title, Minami's melody (also wrote the lyrics too) has more of that broad daylight-by-the-pier feeling to it with that hint of tropical. I think the song would do well for today as well since it was a gorgeously sunny and warm day at 27 C. That laid-back arrangement with the keyboards and guitar really bring up those images of blue sky and ocean and gigantic margaritas. I also have to admire that clear and resonant voice of Minami.

Ryuichi Sakamoto -- Anna

Not quite sure whether Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)was being assaulted by Big Bird on his cover for his June 1994 album, "Sweet Revenge", but it's a cover that I've seen time and again over the years whenever I passed through one of the major CD shops.

And last night, I decided to try one of the tracks from the album on YouTube, "Anna". I've known The Professor's solo works mostly via "energy flow" and the theme song from "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence", but after listening to "Anna", I think I can add this into the "Memories of Ryuichi" file, too. I also knew that he had a flair for bossa nova from his song for Miki Imai(今井美樹), "Martinique no Kaifu"(Martiniqueの海風), but "Anna" just brings back some old-time romantic impressions from the 1960s. In fact, I would have loved to have met this Anna who apparently so inspired Sakamoto. As it so happens, the song was named after the wife of Antonio Carlos Jobim, the father of bossa nova himself.

Interesting thing I found out in the Japanese write-up for "Anna" on J-Wiki. Sakamoto had supposedly written it for NOKKO of Rebecca to sing but the circumstances made that impossible. I would've been intrigued to see how that would have come out.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Chika Takami/EPO -- Kuchibiru Nude (くちびるヌード)

Received some words from commenter Ryan Miller the other day concerning Miyuki Kosaka's(香坂みゆき)"Nuance Shimasho"(ニュアンスしましょ)in which he mentioned about a compilation album under the title of "Yellow Magic Kayo Kyoku"(イエロー・マジック・歌謡曲). The album is chock-filled with popular and obscure techno kayo from the 70s and 80s so I think I might be getting that sometime. But in my little search for that disc, I also stumbled across another similar compilation titled "Techno Kayo - Ultimate Collection 1" at the Tower Records site.

When I took a gander at the playlist inside, I came across a track whose title I was already familiar with. But the singer wasn't. Chika Takami(高見知佳)was an aidoru who debuted back in 1978 but didn't really make much of a dent on the charts until several years into her career (she also did a lot of acting on TV) when she came out with her 15th single, "Kuchibiru Nude" (Lips Nude) in February 1984.

Written and composed by EPO, the song became Takami's most successful single, getting as high as No. 16 on the charts. It's got that hook-happy beat that EPO can concoct in her sleep with the cute technopop, some Chinese flavouring and even some naughty French phrasing that I think came out in some disco song a few years earlier. The main reason that it got made was for a Shiseido lipstick commercial, so of course it's gotta be catchy.

Actually, the first time I heard the song was when I bought EPO-chan's "The Best Station JOEPO 1980-1984", and she did her own cover. The arrangement is basically the same but with that vocal brassiness that I've always known about the singer. Her cover originally came out as a track on her 6th album from February 1984 "Hi-Touch, Hi-Tech".


Ikuzo Yoshi -- Otoko Chumon wa (男っちゅうもんは)

Finally, a recent Ikuzo Yoshi (吉幾三) song that I can really enjoy! His past few releases after the reggae-themed "NDA!" (profiled) have mostly been misses for me since they're quite dreary and unamusing, so it was quite the pleasant surprise hearing Yoshi sing his at the time newest single "Otoko Chumon wa" as one of the two guests on my first viewing of "Nodojiman" late last year - what a way to kick things off. And that was where I had learnt of the odd standards of this amateur singing contest, and that the contestants singing familiar enka tunes are usually above the age of 50.

What drew me closer to "Otoko Chumon wa" was that the livelier music Yoshi composed that sounded more Western than enka gave me the impression that it has some semblance to an English song I had taken note of somewhere along the way. As for the lyrics (also done by him), I'm not sure what they are about, but it seems to be either talking about the life of a manly man, or what it is to be a manly man. Though I do recall not fully paying attention to Yoshi's explaination of the meaning behind "Otoko Chumon wa" to the audience and George Yamamoto (山本譲二) during a perfect "Nippon no Uta Special Stage" pairing... It was already about 75 minutes into the 90 minute show so my brain began to go on hibernation mode.

"Otoko Chumon wa" was released as Yoshi's 58th single on 2nd October 2013. It peaked at 49th place on the regular charts, which is average by enka standards, so it must have placed within the Top 10 on the enka charts for a while.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Saburo Kitajima -- Bungacha Bushi (ブンガチャ節)

I was watching "Kayo Concert" the other night and it was down to a reduced guest list: Saburo Kitajima(北島三郎), Sayuri Ishikawa(石川さゆり), Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ)and Yoshimi Tendo(天童よしみ). The theme for the evening was the debut singles for the four singers along with their more recent numbers.

Saburo Kitajima may have retired from the Kohaku Utagassen (the environmentalists must have celebrated knowing that there will no longer be trees sacrificed for all that confetti), but he was still finishing up the show on Tuesday. As requested, he performed his debut single from 1962, "Bungacha Bushi" (Bungacha Melody), but before he did, he gave a little background on the release of the song way back when. I couldn't quite get all of what he said but I did make out the part where he said that after the song was broadcast on TV 3 times, it was summarily banned from further televised performances. He didn't go into the reason behind its banishment.

Well, when I looked up his J-Wiki entry, I went to the paragraphs surrounding his debut and found that reason. First off, going back to the performance, Sabu-chan's "Bungacha Bushi" was written by Tetsuro Hoshino(星野哲郎), and he included a fair bit of onomatopoeia such as "kyu, kyu, kyu..." and the titular "bungacha-cha, bungacha-cha...". Apparently, the problem was there. The song was about one man going nuts for that young woman, and from that point, the powers-that-be thought that the "kyu, kyu, kyu..." was too reminiscent of bed springs getting a little too much exercise one night. Thus, one week of TV exposure was gone. Kitajima didn't speak about when it was alright to perform the song on the telly again, but I certainly hope Tuesday's performance wasn't the first time.

As it was, I frankly thought all that onomatopoeia was just that romantic heart going "ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump...". And Toru Funamura's(船村徹)lightly bouncy (maybe I shouldn't be using "bouncy") music is a pretty happy-go-lucky thing about an innocent lad skipping down the road, a bit buoyant because of his head-over-heels feelings. Listening to the original song, I thought that "Bungacha Bushi" wasn't a purely enka song with that laddish chorus in the back and the comical horns, but there was enough of an enka-like formality (for lack of a better word) in the arrangements that perhaps it makes for a nice little hybrid.

Kitajima was around 26 years old in 1962, so I'm not how sure he was feeling when he found out that the song he was starting out his career with was given the hook from the airwaves (maybe it was given a reprieve on radio).  But he didn't need to worry for long. His second single, "Namida Bune"(なみだ船...Ship of Tears), which came out in June of that year and was created by the same duo for "Bungacha Bushi", became a million-seller.


Pat Metheny Group -- Last Train Home

"Jojo's Bizarre Adventure" was one of the anime that my friend introduced me to last year. I got through the very first episode before I made the decision to go " thanks". Just wasn't my cup of ocha...seeing that beloved dog getting roasted in the kiln didn't exactly help. From what I've read though is that it's quite the epic odyssey and the anime has had a reputation for picking out some interesting songs as ending themes. I heard that British prog rock group YES' "Roundabout" and The Bangles' "Walk Like An Egyptian" were featured on the first season of the show. Man, I remember the latter tune when it originally came out in the 80's as the ladies were all strutting in the video.

Anyways, when it was time for the usual anison part of my visit to my friend's house last week, he played another ending theme for "Jojo" which was for the second half of Season 2 (2015). As he was getting the computer all lined up, he mentioned nonchalantly that it was by Pat Metheny Group.

Wait a minute, I went. Pat Metheny Group? The last time I heard those guys was also back in the 1980s when they and David Bowie did the theme song "This Is Not America" for the spy flick "The Falcon and the Snowman". Good golly...never thought I would be talking about those guys on this blog.

Then my buddy played "Last Train Home", and as it did, I started getting all these sensations of nostalgia and my body sank even deeper into the chair. My mind flitted back to my memories of being on that sunset train from Sapporo to Shin-Chitose Airport after a 3-day trip to Hokkaido. I had wondered about what would have made a fine accompanying song to those memories. Well, I no longer need to muse. This IS the song.

"Last Train Home" was a track on the group's 1987 album, "Still Life (Talking)", and it apparently has been quite the popular song for TV shows and commercials including one for a Florida supermarket chain according to Wikipedia. I mentioned that it was the perfect song to end my Hokkaido trip, but in train-happy Japan, I think it would make for the optimal theme for any working person heading home from the company after another long 13 hours. Back in the early days, when I was out late with the guys at the izakaya or karaoke box, it was the usual thing to take part in the nightly dash with dozens of other commuters for that last train home at the amazingly late time of 11:55 p.m. (yes, I'm being sarcastic here). However, I don't think Friday nights at that time would have been the ideal platform (no pun intended) for "Last Train Home" since people were still pretty juiced up and gabbing away.

A few nights after the March 11th 2011 earthquake, I took the Tozai Line back home. The subways were running again but Chiba Prefecture was going through its rolling blackout programme. There were not a whole lot of folks on the subway and the lights on it were only at half-power. My area in Ichikawa was blacked out when my train got past Minami-Sunamachi Station and was now traveling outside. In a country where power blackouts had been very rare (up until that week, I never faced the phenomenon in 17 years living there), entering my city in nearly total blackness was an eerie sight for me. Looking back on that commute home, perhaps I could've used a bit of Pat Metheny there. The song has that subtle mix of pride, sadness and even through another long day, will be back for another.

To finish off, here is "This Is Not America".