Credits

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.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Mariya Takeuchi -- Kon'ya wa Hearty Party (今夜はHearty Party)




Mariya Takeuchi's(竹内まりや) 25th single, "Kon'ya wa Hearty Party"(Tonight's a Hearty Party), was originally released as a Christmas song since in Japan, the nights leading up to December 25th are the big party nights of the year. However, in my neck of the woods, New Year's Eve (namely tonight), is the time for the super bashes in town.

Mariya was joined in the recording booth by Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎) and SMAP's Takuya Kimura(木村拓哉), something that the singer notes near the end of the song. According to Mariya's description of the song in 2008's "Expressions", she put in the nickname (Kimutaku) of the increasingly popular heartthrob member of the Johnny's Entertainment boy band while writing up the song and thought of inviting the man himself into the recording. Not sure but there may have been a few hiccups in the logistics but in the end, Kimura was able to show up, and apparently had a hearty party with the Yamashitas during recording. According to J-Wiki, Mariya's take on the music was inspired by the Eurobeat of Kylie Minogue.

Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan's Xmas theme song for the past decade or so has been "Suteki na Holiday"すてきなホリデイ....A Wonderful Holiday), a more traditional Western-style Yuletide tune, also created by Takeuchi (and already profiled). But before it, "Kon'ya wa Hearty Party"was the synthpop representative for KFC Xmas released in November 1995. It peaked at No. 3 on Oricon and eventually became the 74th-ranked song for 1996.

You can also check out the coupling song to "Kon'ya", the much more relaxed "Mafuyu no Date" (真冬のデート)

Well, for New Year's Eve, I certainly wouldn't choose the Colonel for dinner but hopefully for you folks around the planet reading this, you're having your own hearty parties tonight. Kanpai!

Mariya Takeuchi -- Kon'ya wa Hearty Party

Genki desu ne!


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ego-Wrappin'/Akina Nakamori -- Midnight Deja Vu Shikisai Blues (色彩ブルース)




In Japan, New Year's Eve and Day are very much family-and-friends affairs....cooking up the special stuff like o-sechi ryori and toshikoshi soba on the 31st and then the visits to the temples followed by a few days of noshing, drinking and chatting. Over here, New Year's Eve is the biggest party night of the year followed by New Year's Day which consists of televised parades and college football games, and recovering from massive hangovers before heading straight back to work from the 2nd.


This entry talks about that small band of time between the party countdown before the big turnover and the time that everyone finally decides to sludge their way home. The Osakan unit Ego-Wrappin' released an appealing bluesy number back in November 2001 as their very first single after the release of their 2nd album, "Michishio no Romance"(満ち汐のロマンス....Tide Flow Romance) some months earlier. After hearing the rockabilly craziness of "Psychoanalysis" and the jazz waltz of "Katsute"(both already profiled), Yoshie Nakano and Masaki Mori(中納良恵・森雅樹) came out with something just as listenable and danceable....at the time of 2 a.m. The mellow sax, the languid guitar and the swishes of the brushes on the drum backing up Nakano's slightly raw, whiskey voice made this work for me.

"Midnight Deja Vu -- Shikisai no Blues"(Colour Blues) made it all the way to No. 15 on the Oricon charts before becoming the 61st-ranked song of 2001. The single, by the way, is more of a maxi-single. It also contains live versions of "Nervous Breakdown", "Katsute" and a more contemporary ballad, "byrd".



I'd always wondered how Akina Nakamori(中森明菜) would have handled a jazz tune. I mean, I know she did do "Tattoo" as a techno big band swing number back in the late 80s, but how would she have handled a Cool Jazz tune from the 50s as if she were singing with a trio or quartet in a smoke-filled basement club? She's had that low, husky voice for years....would work with jazz. Well, I was given a partial answer with her cover version of "Midnight Deja Vu". This was part of her March 2002 album, "ZEROalbum-Utahime 2"(歌姫2....Diva 2), her 2nd album of covers of various artists such as Ego-Wrappin', Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵) and Saki Kubota(久保田早紀). The album peaked at No. 10.

Nakamori's take on "Midnight Deja Vu" is still jazz, but it has more of a Henry Mancini or Nelson Riddle polish with the addition of the shimmery string section. I probably wouldn't hear this in a basement jazz club but this might be more in a more refined setting such as a concert hall, perhaps more reminiscent of Linda Ronstadt's dabbling with the old standards in the early 80s. I also like her delivery of the lyrics....nice addition to the album.


This is a concert video of the Ego-Wrappin' original. So, once you've passed the midnight hour into 2013, just chill with that alcohol and give it a play.

Ego-Wrappin'-- Midnight Deja Vu

Yuzo Kayama -- O-Yome ni Oide (お嫁においで)



Well, now that 2012 is coming to a close, I thought that since New Year's Eve is just about here, I might as well find something nice from one of my nearest and dearest Kohaku Utagassen, the 1981 edition. Over the past year, as a lot of you viewers know, I've been selecting a number of songs from that particular program. So, I've got one more here that I had also heard long before that Kohaku as a little kid.

In the 1960s, singer/actor/bon vivant Yuzo Kayama(加山雄三) was the "Wakadaisho"(若大将), the dashing young man about town. Adept at various musical instruments and the art of love, he sent a lot of young women's hearts a-flutter. In June 1966, he released his 8th single, "O-Yome ni Oide"(Come, Marry Me), a jaunty and flirtatious proposal for any of the female listeners done in an inviting Hawaiian style. At the time, traveling from Japan to Hawaii must've been like traveling from Kansas to Oz, so the Hawaiian mood probably made the song even more enticing.


"O-Yome ni Oide"was composed by Kayama himself under a pseudonym and written by Tokiko Iwatani(岩谷時子). The song was created a couple of years before the Oricon rankings were born so no records on this of course, but the song was popular enough that a cute little 80-minute movie germinated in November 1966 with the same title. Of course, Kayama was the star.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Ieji (家路)



"Ieji"(The Road Home) is another favourite 80s song by Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美). Exploding with a majestic electric guitar intro, Iwasaki softly sings with an ennui-laden melody. Every time I hear this one, I'm always reminded of the Tuesday Night Suspense Drama on NTV since this was another ending theme that she did for the programme. In a way, I think the song fits it to a T since the melody seems to parallel the solemn mission that the middle-aged intrepid detective has to perform to get his man by the time the guitar starts wailing. Stylistically, "Ieji" is a sister to the other ending theme that Iwasaki sang for the show, "Madonna-tachi no Lullaby"聖母たちのララバイ....Madonnas' Lullaby)the year before. No surprise there, since the composer and lyricist for both songs were Toshiyuki Kimori and Keisuke Yamakawa(木森敏之・山川啓介). However, the only difference is that Kimori didn't have to handle a copyright battle with "Ieji" like he'd had to on the other song.

Released in August 1983, it peaked at No. 4 on the Oricon weeklies and was the 36th-ranked song of the year. It also got the Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards and sold more than 300,000 records. However, it would also prove to be Iwasaki's final Top 10 single in her career as of 2012. Not that it has stopped me.....she was still putting out some very nice tunes well after that year.






Karyudo -- Azusa Ni-go (あずさ2号)



"Azusa Ni-go"(The Azusa No. 2) is another 70s kayo kyoku classic. Sung by a brother act known as Karyudo(狩人), Takamichi and Kunihiko Kato(加藤高道・久仁彦) hail from Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture. Karyudo translates as "hunter", and the origin of the name comes from the composer of the song, Shunichi Tokura(都倉俊一) himself. Tokura acted as the lads' mentor and dubbed them as eternal hunters for that elusive hit song.

The Kato brothers didn't have to search for long. "Azusa Ni-go" was their debut song, and after its release in March 1977, it went as high as No. 4 on the Oricon weeklies and became the 15th-ranked song for the year. It also earned Karyudo the Best New Artist prize at the Japan Record Awards, and the single itself sold 800,000 records.


The lyrics were provided by Machiko Ryu(竜真知子), and talk of a woman traveling on the titular train from Tokyo with her new lover in tow, and some of the complicated feelings she's feeling. "Azusa"kinda feels like an enka song in terms of those lyrics but the melody is reminiscent of a melancholy folk ballad. My memories of seeing Karyudo perform on TV is of the two brothers singing their hearts out and on their sleeves.....something that audiences love to see.

However, it seems that the debut mega-hit was too successful for the duo. That hunt actually ended up becoming an eternal one. Despite 26 singles over the next few decades, including a 1995 version of "Azusa", Karyudo couldn't quite match that first big hit. Whenever they appeared on TV, it would always be to perform that one song.

Incidentally, the Azusa No. 2 did indeed exist. It was a special express train which went from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo to Hakuba Station in Nagano Prefecture. However, the train serving that route now is the Super Azusa No. 5.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Yumi Matsutoya -- Blizzard


One of my favourite songs by Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由美) and one of her most representative ones for Winter, "Blizzard" seems to be played for the skiing set, although I think it would be rather insane to be shushing down the slopes during a whiteout. It was one of the songs used for the movie "Watashi wo Ski ni Tsuretette"私をスキーに連れてって...Take Me Skiing) along with Yuming's Xmas hit, "Koibito ga Santa Claus"恋人がサンタクロース). But I guess it's that exciting, suspenseful melody which starts the song off that gets the blood going and the legs a-pumping. It sounds like it was made to herald the arrival of a winter storm.

"Blizzard" wasn't released as an official single but is a track on Yuming's 16th album, "No Side", which was released in December 1984. The album is one of my favourites since it has a number of great songs on it such as the title track and "Downtown Boy", and no doubt, I'll be profiling the rest of the album at a future date. By the way, the video above shows scenes from the aforementioned movie with the full song kicking in at around 2:10.

The main reason for me putting this one up today though is because for the first time in 645 days, my hometown of Toronto finally got walloped by heavy snow. I wouldn't say it was a blizzard, though. More like a steady stream of the white stuff over an entire night. It was pretty darn nice trudging through the snow again.



Nice to get those 10 centimetres at last.

Kahimi Karie -- Zoom Up

Along with Pizzicato Five and Flipper's Guitar, Kahimi Karie(カヒミ・カリイ) is one of the other standard-bearers for Shibuya-kei. I very rarely saw her on television in any capacity....I think the only time I caught her on the tube was on a late-night one-off special starring her having a conversation with another like-minded artist. I don't remember very much of the talk but she struck me as being very refreshingly frank and down-to-earth which dispelled some of that mystery surrounding her. I only usually see her through her photogenic poses with those large sharp-staring eyes.

I've chosen "Zoom Up" for my first Karie profile since it's a song that I've heard so many times on Japanese TV...but only in excerpts. Japanese variety shows and the daytime wide shows seemed to use the beginning of the song as the introduction for segements on fashion or artful coffee houses in the chic quarters of Shibuya, Omotesando or Harajuku. But no wonder..."Zoom Up" has that Frenchness which characterizes part of Shibuya-kei. The other French part is that whispery, kittenish voice of Karie. I would've thought that she had been born and raised for a good part of her life in The City of Lights. But actually, Mari Hiki(比企真里) was brought up in The Capital of Gyoza....Utsunomiya City in Tochigi Prefecture, about an hour's Bullet Train ride from Tokyo. If you like your pork dumplings, Utsunomiya is one of your touchstones.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mika Hino & Shiro Aoi -- Otoko to Onna no Love Game (男と女のラブ・ゲーム)


I've heard this song so many times at the karaoke boxes/karaoke bars at the various enkai (drinking parties) in Japan over the years (and it's probably still being sung right now [at least among the older folks] at the year-end parties) that I was surprised to find out that it was actually created in the late 80s and not a decade before.

"Otoko to Onna no Love Game"(A Man and A Woman's Love Game) is a classic Mood Kayo duet in that the lyrics by Tsutomu Uozumi(魚住勉) can have the male and female singers do that verbal give-and-take, thrust-and-parry, tease-and-flirt while they pretend (or not pretend) to be drunk. The music by Koji Makaino(馬飼野康二), despite my initial thoughts about its origins, has some of that synthesized City Pop/J-AOR that might give away its debut date of December 1986. The song actually made it up to No. 41 in the 1987 yearly singles.

I can honestly say that I have only been witness to this song and not an active participant. Not that I would've declined the opportunity if asked, but I think my karaoke days have gone the same way as my skinny ties and silvery gray suit.


Although probably a number of artists have covered the song on various TV shows over the decades, Mika Hino(日野美歌) and Shiro Aoi(葵司朗) are the originals, and though they seem to be as sober as we karaoke singers in this video, Hino has the role of the gently chiding female half while Aoi is the bumbling sot, drunk in both drink and love.


Yosui Inoue/Yuki Saito -- Yume no Naka e (夢の中へ)



This was folk/rock singer Yosui Inoue's(井上揚水) first big hit in 1973. "Yume no Naka e"(Into the Dream) was released as the sunglassed, ever-grinning artist's 3rd single in March of that year. His first Top 20 hit, the jaunty Inoue folk classic peaked at No. 17 on Oricon and sold 200,000 records, and was used as the theme song for a movie titled "Houkago"(放課後....Afterschool) at about the same time. In "Yume", Inoue cheerfully asks about whether the listeners have aimed for a goal or a dream in life....so, pretty appropriate for the high school kids in the movie.


I vaguely remembered Inoue's original version through TV retrospectives and the odd listen to radio, but it wasn't until pop singer Yuki Saito(斉藤由貴) came up with her Eurobeat-ish cover in April 1989 that the memories of "Yume no Naka e" sealed themselves even deeper into my head. Listening to this version, I half-expected Rick Astley to jump in and harsh her buzz. But fortunately, the only celebrities to come in on the song were the aidoru duo BaBe who provided backup vocals. In terms of sales, Saito doubled Inoue's count at 400,000, making her version of "Yume" Saito's most successful single release. The song managed to peak at No. 2....it just couldn't dislodge Princess Princess' "Diamonds" from the top spot, but it did do quite well in the yearly count as it became the 14th-ranked song of 1989.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Toshiki Kadomatsu -- Santa ga Naita Hi (サンタが泣いた日)



Just from the translation of the title "Santa ga Naita Hi"(The Day Santa Cried) and the minor-key bells in the intro, I got a pretty big hint that the lyrics were not going to bode well for the protagonist. And sure enough, it looks like he ends up being the proverbial Charlie Brown; he tries to kick that football of love, only to have it snatched away from him most cruelly. Tellingly, during the song, Toshiki Kadomatsu's(角松敏生)lyrics talk of "throwing that bouquet of flowers into the night sky".

"Santa ga Naita Hi" was released in December 1991 to peak at No. 30 on Oricon. Written by Kadomatsu and composed by Yoshiyuki Asano(浅野祥之), the song gave plenty of opportunity for that electric guitar to wail away in anguish. It was also a track included on Kadomatsu's album of ballads, "Tears Ballad", his second album of his best ballads, released in the same month. It got as high as No. 7 on the album charts.

Anri -- Christmas Calendar/Mr. Santa Claus



A couple of Anri Xmas songs here. I'm not sure if the singer created these songs out of the same frustration that Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎) did (see my entry for his "Christmas Eve"), but like him, Anri(杏里)has always been seen as a musical representative for summer. But strangely enough, she has come up with these very Yuletide numbers.

"Christmas Calendar" is a song that I first came across on an album of music box covers of Xmas songs....the Japanese just seem to adore music boxes. I've known about Anri since "Cat's Eye" in 1983, so to hear her sing a Xmas song intrigued me enough to find the original on her 1991 "My Favorite Songs II". As with a lot of the Xmas songs that have been covered in this blog, broken-hearted or wistful past romance is a die-hard theme here, as the main character reminisces over a long lost love. The song first appeared on her 10th studio album, "Trouble in Paradise", released in November 1986. Anri took care of the music while Yumi Yoshimoto(吉元由美) was the lyricist.



"Mr. Santa Claus" was a track on her 19th album, "Twin Soul" from October 1997. The song starts out like the music surrounding a girl making a Santa Claus wish before it quickly moves into a more mature and uptempo beat....the girl growing up. Anri was in charge of both lyrics and music with Saeko Nishio helping out on the former. That girl is now a woman who still hopes that Kris Kringle can help out in the romance department, perhaps on a matter of unrequited love. The melody still kinda hints at a certain innocence in the request.

Hmmm....Christmas as a season for lonely hearts....that's probably a theme for a post-graduate thesis.



MAX -- Issho ni (一緒に)




I wasn't as much a fan of the group MAX as I was with their former groupmate from The Super Monkeys, Namie Amuro(案室奈美恵), but I did enjoy their Xmas song, "Issho ni" (Together) when it was released in November 1999. As some of the fashion Mina, Lina, Reina and Nana show in the video, I think the song has that feeling of what it's like to attend a pretty swanky Xmas party in a first-rate Tokyo hotel.

"Issho ni" was written and composed by a unit called PIPELINE PROJECT, namely two of the members from TUBE, vocal Nobuteru Maeda and guitarist Michiya Haruhata. The song peaked at No. 8 on Oricon and was the 80th-ranked song of the year. It's also included in MAX's 4th album, "Emotional History" which was released in March 2001, also with a peak ranking of No. 8.



 

Princess Princess -- Ding Dong


One of the more rollicking J-Xmas tunes out there, Princess Princess' ode to the Holiday season came out as a track on the band's 4th album, "Lovers" in November 1989 which hit the top spot on Oricon. Written by guitarist Kanako Nakayama(中山加奈子) and composed by vocal Kaori Okui(奥井香), "Ding Dong" zooms ahead at the typically Princess Princess speed of Warp 1, but the words are pretty bitter about another person grumbling about being left alone over Christmas. Perhaps he or she is feeling like a ding dong about getting dumped.




Here's the band performing "Ding Dong" back in 1989.

Dreams Come True -- Santa to Tenshi ga Warau Yoru (サンタと天使が笑う夜)



This was the first Xmas song I heard by Dreams Come True via their 2nd album, " Love Goes On", although it did also come out as the coupling song on the single, "forty-three degrees north latitude" in November 1989. Compared to the later "Winter Song", "Santa to Tenshi ga Warau Yoru" (The Night That Santa and the Angels Laugh) is Dreams Come True in Christmas party mode with all of the party streamers and champale included. Of course, Miwa Yoshida(吉田美和) is your congenial and cheerful host. Yoshida provided the lyrics while she and Masato Nakamura(中村正人) wrote the music.

An English version of the song under the title "Very Merry Christmas" would later be released as the coupling song with the original Japanese version of "Winter Song", "Yuki no Christmas"雪のクリスマス....Snow Christmas).


PSY-S -- Christmas In The Air


"Christmas in the Air" was a song that was included in PSY-S Golden Best discs which I bought a few years ago. The techno side has been toned down a bit for this one, as it sounds like something to be heard while on a leisurely trip into the countryside during the Holidays. Written and composed by the duo, CHAKA and Masaya Matsuura, it wasn't included on any of PSY-S' original albums but in a special compilation album titled "Winter Lounge" which was released in November 1986.

It's a very pleasant song....a little different from some of the other Christmas-themed J-Pop/kayo kyoku I've heard. But then again, PSY-S was always a little different.



Off Course -- Christmas Day



The one and only Christmas song I know from Off Course, "Christmas Day" is a short but sweet tune that's arranged as if it were being done in a church during Xmas mass, but still in that distinctive Off Course way. I first heard it during a Xmas broadcast of "The Sounds of Japan" all those years ago.

The song was written and composed by Kazumasa Oda(小田和正) with him and Yasuhiro Suzuki(鈴木康博) on vocals, and was the B-side to "Ai no Naka e"愛の中へ...Into Love), the band's 22nd single released in December 1981.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Miki Imai -- Yuki no Shuumatsu/Shiro no Waltz (雪の週末・白のワルツ)


A couple of more Xmas songs from Miki Imai(今井美樹), the first one being "Yuki no Shuumatsu"(Snowy Weekend), a soothing mid-tempo ballad for cocoa drinking while the kids are destroying the toys you bought them. It was a track on Imai's 7th album, "flow into space" which represented a gradual change in the sound that Imai's songs had up to that point in 1992. The song itself was written and composed by a couple of the singer's stalwarts from her earlier albums: lyricist Yuuho Iwasato(岩里祐穂) and singer-composer Akemi Kakihara(柿原朱美). But producer Jun Sato(佐藤準), who had taken care of Imai's albums from the beginning of her singing career in 1986, was not in charge this time. Instead, it was Joe Hisaishi(久石譲) who has written the scores for many of Hayao Miyazaki's films such as "My Neighbour Totoro" and "Nausicaa". "Yuki no Shuumatsu" has a bit more of a grounding in a lush piano than the pop synthesizers of her past arrangements.

From the next album onwards, though, the transition would continue as Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰), formerly of BOOWY would become Imai's producer.



As a bit of an extra with Imai's original, Kakihara did a cover of "Yuki no Shuumatsu".

(karaoke version here)

I've always loved the beginning of this song with Imai and her husband/producer, Hotei,  "lu, lu"-ing the opening notes before bursting into this waltz melody like a sudden squall. There is a certain court stateliness about "Shiro no Waltz"(A White Waltz) that still doesn't take itself too seriously. In a way, I think it would have been a nice addition to a Disney movie (although it became the commercial song for Canon's PIXUS cameras). In any case, it was the coupling song to Imai's 14th single, "Watashi wa Anata no Sora ni Naritai"私はあなたの空になりたい...I Want to Become Your Sky), released in November 1997.

The song was also written and composed by Hotei, which was a bit of a revelation to me since I'd always seen him as that larger-than-life rocker from BOOWY, and as the master who created the theme song for "Kill Bill", "Battle Without Honor or Humanity".


Chisato Moritaka -- Gin Gin Jingle Bell (ジン・ジン・ジングル・ベル)

By the mid-90s, the techno aidoru Chisato Moritaka(森高千里) may have had her long locks cut shorter and the long legs were not seen as much, but she was still doing the cute. Case in point, anyone who was watching TV at the time during December most likely caught a commercial in which a whole bunch of Santa-capped Moritaka heads were coming down while they sang a "Gin Gin Jingle Bell" jingle for Suntory's Ice Gin. Written and composed by Moritaka, the jingle evolved into a full-blown song.



Given a bit of a bossa nova push, the swinging "Gin Gin Jingle Bell" became Moritaka's 26th single in December 1995. Not sure what it did for Suntory's sales, but it did pretty well in the CD sales as it peaked at No. 2 on Oricon. I have it on that Xmas compilation disc, "Fantastic Christmas", but it originally was placed on her 11th album, "Taiyo"(Sun), released in June 1996.




Hey, it's Christmas! Why not show her strutting her stuff while she sings the song?


Noriyuki Makihara -- Namida no Christmas (涙のクリスマス)


(karaoke version)

Unlike the other Xmas-y tune, "Fuyu ga Hajimaru yo"冬がはじまるよ) on Noriyuki Makihara's(槇原敏之)3rd album, "Kimi wa Boku no Takaramono"君は僕の宝物) (June 1992), "Namida no Christmas" (Tearful Christmas) is another track on the album which falls firmly into the category of the sad and wistful J-Xmas song. A fellow walks along the city streets to his apartment where he used to be with someone special....probably getting just the Kentucky Fried Chicken six-pack instead of the barrel for the 24th. Ah, life.... Still, it's a nice song to listen to; I just love the sax bridge, and Makihara just seems to sing out a scene that probably a lot of men...and women...have gone through during the Holidays in Tokyo.

(cover version)

Akiko Kobayashi, Mariko Nagai, Midori Karashima and Reimy -- Merry Christmas To You


Four of the singers belonging to the recording company, Fun House (now BMG Japan): Akiko Kobayashi, Mariko Nagai, Midori Karashima and Reimy (小林明子・永井真理子・辛島美登里・麗美) got together to create this timely song, "Merry Christmas To You" in November 1989 as a track on their titular album. The album also has the individual chanteuses performing their own tunes as well before the big get-together in the middle.


As for the above video, the four ladies get together first to sing a harmonious version of Mel Torme's classic "The Christmas Song" before going into "Merry Christmas To You".

Written by Nagai and Karashima and composed by Karashima, the song reminds me of some of those large gatherings of Western singers for "We Are The World" and "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which took place back in the 80s.



This is the live performance of the song, minus Mariko Nagai.

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Christmas Eve



Of course, when it comes to Christmas music in Japan, there is none other than Tatsuro Yamashita's(山下達郎) "Christmas Eve". There is no escape....whether you're in a department store, a karaoke box or at home watching the telly, some form of this song will pop up. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that this is the "White Christmas" of kayo kyoku. Or if you're a Trekkie, it's the Borg of J-Pop Xmas songs.

And the song was created from an "I'll show you!" frustration from Yamashita. Getting annoyed at being labeled as "a summer guy" for creating all those happy tunes like "Ride on Time" and "Loveland, Island", he went a full 180 degrees, seasonally speaking, and whipped up "Christmas Eve". I think it worked all too well for the fella...arguably, it has become Yamashita's most famous song.

It originally came out as a single in December 1983 that peaked at No. 44 on Oricon, and was the final track on Yamashita's 7th album, "Melodies" that had come out even earlier in June. The album itself peaked at No. 1. But it took a tie-up with a JR Shinkansen commercial in 1988 to have his 12th single become firmly entrenched into Japan's Christmas consciousness. I think the commercial images of having a young couple being reunited on either a Japan Railways platform or in the station while the song was playing hit a major chord (no pun intended). The video above includes those commercials which star a lot of major actresses (Eri Fukatsu for one) who were only starting out at the time the ads were shot. Once those ads started rolling out, "Christmas Eve" hit No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies in 1989.

Since then, there have been periodic re-releases of "Christmas Eve" with the 2000 release getting as high as No. 6. The 2012 re-release is at No. 29 so far. Yamashita has even come out with an English-lyric version of the song which is included in his semi-Xmas album, "Season's Greetings" (already profiled). However for me, the Japanese original will always be the one.



Here are the original commercials for Japan Railways with the Tatsuro Yamashita classic.

In any case, as I finish writing this, some of you may have just survived the rush of last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve on this side of the Pacific, or some of you are firmly nestled into your futon getting ready for another day of work on a non-statutory Xmas on the other side but with the promise of KFC and perhaps some Fujiya Christmas cake. Wherever you are and whatever you do on the 25th, have a Merry Christmas! メリークリスマス!

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Christmas Eve


Tatsuro Yamashita -- Season's Greetings


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ryuichi Sakamoto -- Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence


All those years in Japan when Christmas came around, I would sometimes hear on TV or in the stores, this haunting simple melody coming through the speakers. Didn't know who made it or what the title was, but it was always there. It would be years before I found out that it was the theme song for the David Bowie/Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一) 1983 movie "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence". I had known about the movie mostly for the star casting of the two pop stars but never was all that intrigued about catching it.

I'm not sure whether Sakamoto had ever meant this lovely little piece to be played around the Yuletide, but it's up there with "Christmas Eve" by Tatsuro Yamashita and "Christmas Carol no Koro ni wa" by Junichi Inagaki. Probably a lot of folks back in Japan feel that it is a setsunai song....rather wistful...meant to have people calm down and reflect instead of jump around in the usual seasonal jollity.

The above video, according to the uploader, contains the original arrangement of the theme from the movie. The soundtrack album came out in May 1983 where it peaked at No. 8 on Oricon. Not surprisingly, the song was once voted on an NHK music program as Sakamoto's No. 1 composition among his Top 10.



David Sylvian provided lyrics to the song under the title "Forbidden Colours" in the same year with Sakamoto providing the arrangement and keyboards. Sylvian's version peaked at No. 16 on the UK charts. Over the years, a number of artists have done their own covers of the song, including Hikaru Utada(宇多田ひかる)for her album "This is the One" (2009).

P.S. January 15 2013: Just wanted to let everyone know that the director behind "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence", Nagisa Oshima,(大島渚)passed away today from pneumonia at the age of 80.

B'z -- Itsuka no Merry Christmas (いつかのメリークリスマス)


B'z gave their own tribute to the Yuletide back in 1992 with "Itsuka no Merry Christmas" (A Merry Christmas One Day), a rock ballad depicting a blissful Xmas with a young couple. It certainly makes for a nice change from the usual Xmas songs of being alone.

My usual impressions of Tak Matsumoto and Koshi Inaba(松本孝弘・稲葉浩志) are of them just strutting their stuff on stage, especially with the latter in various stages of undress while the music is just bouncing off the speakers and the audience like a manic superball (I always think of "Bad Communication" and "Love Phantom"). But while the usual B'z touch is also infused into this Xmas song, it also comes across as one of those sway-worthy ballads that you and that significant other can enjoy in front of that Christmas tree.

"Itsuka no Merry Christmas" came out as the first track on B'z mini-album, "Friends" in December 1992. The album became a million-seller, selling a little over 1.3 million copies (according to Wikipedia), hitting the top spot on Oricon and becoming the 6th-ranked album of 1993. But the song itself managed to get its cellphone ringtone downloaded over half a million times, and the entire song was downloaded 100,000 times onto cellphones.

Kahoru Kohiruimaki -- Moving Action


After enjoying Kahoru Kohiruimaki's(小比類巻かほる) tracks on her 6th album, "Time The Motion", there was no hesitation in getting her next release in 1990, "Distance". I think with that album, Kohhy's transition from pop/rock to funk/disco/R&B was complete.



One of the tracks that has stood out for me is "Moving Action". As the title might imply, it sounds like something that should've been put into an action sequence for a thriller. The opening bars especially had me thinking of Stewart Copeland when he was taking care of the music for the old TV series "The Equalizer" (known in Japan as "The Secret Service" ). However, the song became representative of a Camellia Diamonds commercial starring Canadian supermodel Linda Evangelista.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=IF9ziH83F8I

Written by Kohiruimaki and composed by Yoshiaki Ohuchi(大内義昭), a pairing that was responsible for a number of Kohhy's songs during this period, "Moving Action" reminded me of Japanese music's early era in disco R&B a la Earth Wind & Fire before turning to hip-hop.

Kahoru Kohiruimaki -- Distance

Takako Mamiya -- What a Broken Heart Can Do

In the last number of months since I found and put up the shortened version of Takako Mamiya's (間宮貴子) "Mayonaka no Joke" (真夜中のジョーク....Midnight Joke), a few people have actually put up videos of some of the other tracks from her exceedingly rare "Love Trip" album from 1982.

Listening to "What a Broken Heart Can Do" (sounds like a Doobie Bros. title), I sometimes wonder if arranger/producer Jay Graydon (Al Jarreau, The Manhattan Transfer) didn't have something to do with it. In "Japanese City Pop", that book of the selected 500 albums of the genre, it mentions that this song has plenty of "ennui"....which probably refers to the languid relaxed sound. I think it rather fits a nice Sunday morning like today.

"What a Broken Heart Can Do" is actually the English version of the title track, "Love Trip". Unfortunately, the powers-that-be took down the former song so I've put up the Japanese original version. Prolific lyricist Etsuko Kisugi(来生えつこ)provided the words while the Perrier-friendly music was composed by Kazuo Shiina(椎名和夫).


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Keizo Nakanishi -- Kiss, Merry Xmas



Keizo Nakanishi's(中西圭三) 14th single from November 1994, "Kiss, Merry Xmas" is an appropriately jolly tune, composed by Nakanishi himself and written by Masumi Kawamura(川村真澄). Strangely enough, just in the same month, Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" came out as a single, and both songs seem to have paid a stylistic tribute to Phil Spector and his Wall of Sound techniques. This is the type of J-Xmas song that I would want to listen to if I've had a few too many ballads in my system.

I came across this one just through commercials. "Kiss, Merry Xmas" was being used as the jingle (no pun intended) for a product by Pioneer. I didn't actively search for the CD single but got the song as part of his Best album, "Singles", released in December 1994, which peaked at No. 4 on Oricon and became the 49th-ranked album of 1995.

Keizo Nakanishi -- Singles

Miho Nakayama -- Toi Machi no Dokoka de (遠い街のどこかで)




I can just imagine young Japanese folk 25 years or younger getting that quizzical look on their faces if they listen to this Miporin song for the first time. "Where have I HEARD this song before?" But the caveat for them to exclaim this depends on whether they've watched the Fuji-TV morning news show, "Mezamashi Terebi" (めざましテレビ....Wake-Up TV). For years, those morning producers have been using a cute instrumental version of the song as the theme for a segment called " Kyo no Wanko" (今日のわんこ....Puppy of the Day) which focuses on a selected young pup somewhere in Japan.

In any case, that's just an aside from this Miho Nakayama(中山美穂)Xmas song that was released back in November 1991 as a theme song for its last premium Monday-night-at-9 drama, "Aitai Toki ni Anata wa Inai"(逢いたい時にあなたはいない...You're Not Here When I Want to Meet You) starring Nakayama herself. "Toi Machi no Dokoka de"(Somewhere in a Far Off City) is another one of those Xmas songs that not only has the feeling of distance and travel in its title but also in its melody...apt since the drama itself deals with a couple who has to separate for a while with the boyfriend heading off to Sapporo due to work while the girlfriend stays in Tokyo.


Here are the original ending credits with the theme song and Miho creating her lovely actorly faces on screen. "Toi Machi no Dokaka de" was written by Mika Watanabe(渡邊美佳) and composed by Hideya Nakazaki(中崎英也). It peaked at No. 3 on Oricon and went on during the last couple of months of the year to get ranked at No. 42, and even hung on to become the No. 49 song of 1992.

It was a good year for Fuji-TV for that coveted time slot. Three of the theme songs for the four dramas, including the Miporin song, became huge hits: "Love Story wa Totsuzen ni" for "Tokyo Love Story" and "Say Yes" for "The 101st Proposal" (both already profiled) are in that august group.



Reimy -- Hashiru Soyo Kaze Tachi e/Machi ni Kieta Christmas Card (走るそよ風たちへ・街に消えたクリスマス・カード)


A Christmas double feature from Reimy(麗美) today as we are three days from the big day. I think the Okinawan singer may have been channeling John Lennon or Paul McCartney in inspiration when she created this song, "Hashiru Soyo Kaze Tachi e" (To The Gentle Breezes) for the titular album in 1990. Through the synthesized brass and drums, the song comes across as a solemn march during a wartime Xmas, finishing with the chorus sung in English, German and Portuguese. One of the more interesting J-Xmas songs I've come across.


There are at least three different YouTube videos for the next song here, but I went for this one here. "Machi ni Kieta Christmas Card" (The Christmas Card that Disappeared in the Town) is a more conventional Xmas piece that Reimy recorded in 1989. It didn't make it onto an original album, but I'm fairly sure that it's on one of her compilations. My copy came on a general J-Xmas compilation...the one you see in the photo below you.

Kiss Xmas Love Story

Friday, December 21, 2012

Shogo Hamada -- Midnight Flight: Hitori Bocchi no Christmas Eve (ひとりぼっちのクリスマスイヴ)




Unfortunately, this is still someone that I have yet to know really well, and considering his long years in the music business and how many singers he has written for (Momoe Yamaguchi, Akiko Wada, etc.), I think I should. So, if there are any Shogo Hamada(浜田省吾) fans out there, I'm open to suggestion.

At this point, I have just this one wonderful song by him. And although "Midnight Flight: Hitori Bocchi no Christmas Eve"(A Lonely Christmas Eve) is, as the title suggests, a bittersweet ballad of someone having to separate from a loved one by thousands of kilometres over air on December 24th, there seems to be a feeling of some pride and hope throughout, especially in the refrain, as if the separation will not be a permanent one. There will be more Christmas Eves to spend together. And the arrangement of the song seems to hint at a long voyage ahead.

The song was never a released single but a track on his 11th album, "Club Surf & Snowbound" released in June 1987 with a peak ranking of No. 2 on Oricon. However, the version I know is from his 2nd album of all ballads titled "Wasted Tears" released in September 1989 which hit the top spot on the Oricon weeklies and became the 16th-ranked album of the year.

For all those J-Pop fans who are gonna be hitting the skies in a few days, pop this one into your ears.






Friday May 23, 2014

I received a comment from Faruk Ahmet about the song recently, and so I went into the lyrics once more. After going through them, I realized that my earlier statements about them were perhaps somewhat optimistic and slightly inaccurate since it looks like the woman that Hamada sings about has taken off for The Big Apple for perhaps a good amount of time, and the poor man at the airport assumes that the relationship is as good as dead. I felt like picking that guy up at Narita or Haneda and taking him out for a good stiff drink at a nomiya. However, he might be being a bit too morose (after all, he got dumped on Xmas Eve) and perhaps the next year may find some happier times for him and her.

In any case, here are the translated lyrics for "Midnight Flight":

The flight that I put my girl on disappears into the night sky
There's not even a shadow in the airport parking lot
If only I had stopped her and said "Don't go"
The two of us would've been flying down the highway toward the heart of the city

What I've lost is so big
I still can't even feel the pain
A lonely Christmas Eve
A freezing Silent Night
Where do I go from here? I can't see anything below the sky

She'll be living with her sister in New York for a while
I can't bear to be in Tokyo by myself
She'll call only when she wants to see me
I'll only eat, drive and hit the hay

You, who came to believe in only a love without any meaning
You're only scared of truly loving
A lonely Christmas Eve
A freezing Silent Night
The city lights where we thrived together are receding

The rain mixed in with the falling drizzle
Is changing to snow
Nobody is going back to
the waiting place for the people in love (these last two lines I'm not totally sure about)

The golden ring in my pocket that I was planning to give my girl
I'm still clutching it in the palm of my hand even now
A lonely Christmas Eve
A freezing Silent Night
I can't find anyone to take care of....no one at all

Tuesday May 27 2014

And the following is the romaji version of the song:

Ano ko noseta tsubasa, yozora e kiete yuku
Kuukou no chuushajo, mou hitokage mo nai
"Yuku na" to hikitomereba, imagoro futari
Kousoku wo toshin e to hasshiteita hazu

Nakushita mono ga amari ni ooki sugite
Itami wo kanjiru koto sae mo dekinai mama sa
Hitori bocchi no Christmas Eve
Hiesou na Silent Night
Koko kara doko e ikou mou nani mo mienai sora no shita

Imouto to kurasu tsumori shibaraku New York de
Hitori kiri Tokyo de mou ikite yukenai
Aitai toki ni dake denwa kakete kite
Shokuji shite, doraibu shite, beddo ni hairu dake

Katachi no nai ai dake wo shinjite kita anata wa
Honki de ai suru koto osoreteiru dake
Hitori bocchi no Christmas Eve
Hiesou na Silent Night
Futari de ikite kita tokai no akari ga touzakaru

Furidashita mizore majiri no
Ame ga yuki ni kawatte yuku
Dare mo minna aisuru hito no
Matsu basho e to kaette yuku

Poketto no naka ano ko ni okurou to shita Golden Ring
Ima demo te no hira ni nigiri shimeta mama
Hitori bocchi no Christmas Eve
Hiesou na Silent Night
Mou mamoru mono nante mitsukerarenai nani hitotsu


Dreams Come True -- Winter Song



This isn't just a Winter song; this is a Christmas "Pop The Question" song. I can just imagine a lot of nervous boyfriend types getting down on bended knee in that Italian restauant in Aoyama after having requested the maitre 'd to play the song. The staff probably has the disc on standby in the kitchen. Once you see the lyrics on the video above, you'll understand. The crazy thing, though, is that "Winter Song" was actually released in January 1994.Well, sounds Xmas-y enough to me.

For Dreams Come True, this was their 5th No. 1, penned by vocal Miwa Yoshida(吉田美和) and composed by both Yoshida and leader Masato Nakamura(中村正人). Even though the single was released just a week into the New Year, I think the slow jingle bells in the background can have people thinking that it was originally meant for the Yuletide. Plus, it is a romantic ballad, and in Japan, Xmas is all about the couples. "Winter Song" ultimately became the 19th-ranked song for 1994.



This is the concert version by Dreams Come True.




P.S. Eating an appetizer of ignorance before the main course of turkey today. I'd only known about "Winter Song" and not the original, "Yuki no Christmas"(雪のクリスマス...Snowy Christmas), which came out all the way back in 1990.

Yuki Okazaki -- Do You Remember Me?


To be honest, I don't remember much about Yuki Okazaki(岡崎友紀)herself, and she actually has had a much longer career as an actress, appearing in her first role in "Peter Pan" back in 1961 as an 8-year-old, and then continuing on the stage and then into television. She debuted as a singer in 1970 with "Shiawase no Namida"しあわせの涙....Happy Tears) which peaked at a respectable No. 35 on the Oricon weeklies.


(cover version)

However, her biggest hit was a decade later when "Do You Remember Me?" was released in June 1980 as one of her last singles. I've heard the song off and on in compilations and on TV, and it rather reminds me of some of those old 1960s performances by female pop singers, and songs by British actress Tracey Ullman in the early 80s. The song, written by Kazumi Yasui(安井かずみ)and composed by Kazuhiko Kato(加藤和彦), peaked at No. 18.

19xx Bokutachi no Natsukashii Melody (僕たちの懐かしいメロディー)


I mentioned a few entries ago about the late-night music ranking show on TBS, "Countdown TV" that I often caught during my years in Japan with those three CG characters as hosts. Well, in my earlier 2-year stint in Gunma Prefecture, I used to catch something similar on Fuji-TV in the wee hours. Not sure if it was on a Monday or Tuesday night but it was usually on after midnight.


"19XX -- Bokutachi no Natsukashii Melody" (Our Nostalgic Melodies) was perfectly made for kayo kyoku fans like me. As we lay in the warm comfort of our futon, this half-hour program simply consisted of past performances from the 70s and 80s interspersed with scenes of the breaking news stories from that time. Each episode focused on a certain year, and the opening theme was always The Carpenters' "Yesterday Once More" which couldn't be more nostalgia-brewing. The above video is for 1976, so there may be some songs that have already been profiled somewhere here. And below is 1982.

It was always nice to head to slumberland listening to these old chestnuts.



courtesy of boortz47
from Flickr

Thursday, December 20, 2012

ALFEE -- Seiya - Futari no Silent Night (聖夜・二人のSilent Night)


Ever since first hearing "Marie Anne" back at the 1983 Kohaku Utagassen, I'd always pegged Alfee as a straight-ahead rock band. But one day in 1990 in the CD stores, I came across this disc titled "The Alfee Classics with The London Symphony Orchestra". Well, the exclamation marks rattled off in my head....a Japanese rock band partnered with the orchestra behind "Star Wars" and "Superman"?! I had bought a CD single by them not too long before that titled "Flower Revolution", the band's 34th single and the theme song for that year's International Garden and Greenery Exhibition in Osaka, and I saw that that song was also listed on the back of this new album. Intrigued, I bought "The Alfee Classics", and listened as the band melded some of the classics such as Holst's "The Planets" with some of their hits.

Then, there was this Xmas track which had a chorus singing the first few jaunty verses of "Joy to the World" before the LSO settled into a softer mode, performing Alfee's Xmas song from 1987, "Seiya - Futari no Silent Night"(Holy Night - A Silent Night for Two). And I thought the arrangement was just wonderful....it didn't seem like the usual rock song from the band....more like a typical classical Christmas-ical song that John Williams would whip up. The piece ended with the chorus and the orchestra coming all together and triumphantly fading into the background.


Now, I've had the classics album for over 20 years, but it's only been within the last half-hour that I've actually had the chance to hear the original rock version of "Seiya"for the first time on YouTube. And I enjoy it....it's almost like a victory march by Alfee. This original was from their 12th album, "UK Breakfast", released in December 1987. It peaked at No. 4 on the album charts.

Beam me up, Scotty....pine!

Misia -- Everything


The video for Misia's "Everything" is one of the most memorable for me. I think the three ingredients for a Xmas-themed video are: 1) kids....lots of kids, 2) snow and 3) slow motion. "Everything" has got everything....including footage of what looks like Yokohama's Red Brick Park.

Misia has had a number of uptempo songs and ballads which have become hits since her debut in  1998. But I think when all is said and done, "Everything"may be the one that she will be best known for. It's one of those exquisitely-sung love ballads that depending on the situation and the season, it can just hit me in the throat and tear ducts. At karaoke, if amateur (and decent) singers really want to stop the gang from talking in the booth, they select this one.


Lyrics were by Misia and the notes were by Toshiaki Matsumoto(松本俊明), who had also composed Jun'ichi Inagaki's(稲垣潤一) "Merry Christmas ga Ienai"メリークリスマスが言えない)almost a decade before. The accolades for "Everything" are many. Released in October 2000, it debuted on Oricon at the top spot and stayed there for a non-consecutive total of 4 weeks, quickly became the 14th-ranked song for the year and even jumped up a couple of more ranks the following year. According to Wikipedia, it is the best-selling single by a female artist in Japan in the 21st-century, and the 3rd-best-selling single overall by a female Japanese artist behind Namie Amuro's "Can You Celebrate?" and Hikaru Utada's "Automatic". It sold 2 million copies. And it just happened to be another hit theme song for a Monday-night-at-9 Fuji-TV drama, "Yamato Nadeshiko".....the sweet spot when it comes to Japanese TV dramas which has been occupied by shows like "Tokyo Love Story" and "101st Proposal".

As is plainly evident, I love everything about "Everything", but the special part for me is that instrumental bridge when the strings go into a gospel mode and just hit this crescendo before Misia finishes up with the final verses.

The single was also a track on Misia's 3rd album, "Marvelous" which was released in April 2001.