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.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

J-Canuck's 90s Playlist


Wherever you are, it's either January 31st 2015 or will be pretty soon. And that means we have hit the 3rd anniversary of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" and are currently nearing the half-million view mark. Good heavens! And I remember getting excited when we just hit one-thousand...

So, how do we commemorate it? Well, I've done my playlists for the 70s and 80s, so why not go with the 90s? And an interesting thing about 1990-1999 personally is that at the beginning of the final decade of the 20th century, I was halfway through my JET days in the mountains of Gunma while at the end, I was living in the bedroom city of Ichikawa-shi, Chiba Prefecture. Music obviously evolved during that time as well. During my days of teaching at the countryside junior high schools, J-Pop had just started with all of these bands diverging into different styles such as Princess Princess, Jitterin' Jinn and Dreams Come True, and at the same time, there was also a softer side via these female singers and songwriters like Miki Imai, Midori Karashima and Reimy. But then, coming into my far longer stint close to Tokyo at the end of 1994, the Tetsuya Komuro era was gaining steam and the end of the decade started featuring new forms of aidoru and R&B. Of course, what I've stated isn't even a full summary of what was going on...it is just throwing out a few tidbits.

And once again, as was the case with the other two lists, I had to think quite a bit about what to include. And of course, I'll probably later slap myself upside the head for the ones that I've excluded but just remembered.

In any case, it's time to proceed...





1. Misato Watanabe -- Summertime Blues (1990): Of course, Misato's "My Revolution" will arguably be the trademark song for the Kyoto-born singer with the voice as huge as her eyes. But for me, "Summertime Blues" has acted more and more like the welcoming tune to my 2 years teaching in Gunma. The intro with the picky guitar before the strings go into crescendo mode felt like a curtain rising on my first decade residing in a foreign country. It's simply one of the happiest and most hopeful songs that I have ever come across.



2. Kazumasa Oda -- Love Story wa Totsuzen ni (1991): There was no way that I could leave this one off the list. For the baseball game that was "Tokyo Love Story", Oda's magnum opus was that 10th player; I would be exaggerating if I said it was the secret character in the show featuring urban love in the one of the world's largest metropolises, but simply speaking, I cannot imagine any of the episodes or the cast without thinking of the theme song. It's a killer to sing at karaoke (believe me, I know), so since that one disastrous time I tried to sing it, I've become old and wise enough to leave "Love Story wa Totsuzen ni" to the professional.


3. Noriyuki Makihara -- Donna Toki mo (1991): As much as "Summertime Blues" was the song to usher in my time as a resident/rookie teacher in Japan, Makihara's "Donna Toki mo" was the just-as-optimistic tune to see me off home to Canada. While I was sweltering through my vacation in Kyushu and Kobe during that final summer, I just had to hunt down the CD single for that happy song. I could get it at last and couldn't wait to put it into the player back in Toronto. Of course, there was the matter of actually buying the CD player...


4. Masayuki Suzuki -- Mou Namida wa Iranai (1992): One of the coolest urban contemporary songs that I have ever heard on either side of the Pacific Ocean, the default image I process through my mind whenever I hear "Mou Namida wa Iranai" is being in a car racing on an expressway with the well-lit nightscape of skyscrapers in the background. The saxophone that comes on halfway through is the cherry on top here. I'm not surprised that it was Martin's most successful contribution to his discography.



5. Dreams Come True -- Kessen wa Kin'youbi (1992): Since I was back in Canada for 3 years between tours of Japan, I missed out a lot on Dreams Come True's roll through the national pop culture, including their foray into late Friday night TV programming. But I was able to catch "Kessen wa Kin'youbi" through a brief snippet of "Ureshi Tanoshi Daisuki" that was tacked onto the end of a VHS tape that one of my friends had sent me. The disco tune had me pulling out the money order to get the album that it was placed on, "The Swinging Star". Naturally there have been other DCT songs before and after that were bigger hits, but personally for the 90s, this was the song for me.


6. trf -- Boy Meets Girl (1994): This may have been a jingle for a Coke commercial, but it was not only the song that represented my new beginnings as a teacher in more urban surroundings in Japan. It also served as a signpost of sorts for my entry onto the Magical Carpet Ride that Tetsuya Komuro had been supervising. Now, trf had already been pumping out the hits before I arrived at Narita Airport, but I couldn't get a better song to introduce me to the danciverse that Komuro created for us and acts like globe, Namie Amuro and Tomomi Kahala. "Boy Meets Girl" had me soaring through the headphones.


7. Kome Kome Club -- Abracadabra (1994): Again, there are a lot of other great songs by one of the great entertainment acts during the decade, but "Abracadabra" basically sums up why K2C was so popular live. Carl Smokey Ishii and his band regularly provided song and spectacle on the order of a Cirque de Soleil performance mixed in with good ol' Tito Puente. This particular song just brought together a fun combo of rock and R&B with some of that K2C magic that's hinted at in the title.



8. Maki Ohguro -- Atsukunare (1996): Like the average J-drama and its theme song, tie-ups between J-Pop and the Olympics are nothing new. However, one of the few examples of this that actually got me doing the dash toward the nearest CD store was Maki Ohguro's "Atsukunare". I don't remember much from the Atlanta Games outside of the tragic bombing there and an exhausted Yuko Arimori getting the Bronze in the Women's Marathon, but there was NHK's coverage of the Games, and I actually looked forward to the end of each broadcast just to see the sports montage with "Atsukunare" playing. Atsukunatta!


9. Hikaru Utada -- Automatic (1998): I first heard this as the theme song for a Sunday night variety program featuring comedy duo Utchan-Nanchan, and just thought that this was a little too cool for a zany show like that. Not too long after, I saw the famous video starring Utada shimmying around in the apartment with the lowest ceiling...man, the real estate market was really tight in New York City. But all kidding aside, I don't think "Automatic" by Utada revolutionized J-R&B (I may have been somewhat florid in the original article), but she and it certainly made things quite pleasant for the ears and added a bit more depth to the Japanese interpretation of the American genre.




10. Morning Musume -- Love Machine (1999): What can I say about the ragtag group of runners-up that turned into winners? "Love Machine" added that extra oomph to year-end parties and karaoke boxes at the end of the century, and sent Morning Musume into the pop culture ionosphere. And for a guy like me who gets all nostalgic for disco/funk, seeing this group hit the big time through this old 70s musical fad rather warms the heart. And for a few years at least into the new century, the girls had almost as much exposure as a certain group of guys from another aidoru conglomerate. Speaking of which, considering that at the beginning of the decade, aidoru were considered to be an endangered species, Morning Musume made it cool to be super cute again at the end of it.

Once again, I would like to thank everybody who has been reading in at some point during the past 3 years, and especially I would like to show my gratitude to the collaborators, JTM, Marcos. V, nikala, jari, Noelle and Larry for all of their insights and articles, and the commenters for their replies. Admittedly, our blog is a very niche one but I've been heartened by the fact that there are a lot of people out there who enjoy the myriad genres that are covered here and look forward to keep on going for the next little while at least.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Norihiko Hashida and Climax -- Hanayome (花嫁)


Yesterday, commenter Ranawaka Aruna referred me to a couple of his favourite kayo kyoku covered by Alfee's Konosuke Sakazaki(坂崎幸之助)at a live performance via YouTube. I recognized the latter song, "Saraba, Koibito"(さらば、恋人)by entertainer Masaaki Sakai(堺正章)right off the bat, but I initially informed Ranawaka that I hadn't ever heard of the first song.



Well, I should slap myself on the back of my head. I actually did know this song, "Hanayome" (The Bride) but just didn't recognize it in Sakazaki's version because of the different arrangement. After reading the title and the songwriters on the screen, I tracked the original version down to YouTube and as soon as I heard the honeyed tones of the female vocalist, a certain number of my memory engrams went PING!

"Hanayome", one of the representative songs of the folk period in the 1970s, was familiar but I hadn't ever found out about who actually sang it and when it did come out. Well, let me rectify that right now. The band was Norihiko Hashida and Climax(はしだのりひことクライマックス), and for the guitarist and vocalist, Hashida, it was his 5th group of musicians that got together after serving with bands Doody Rumblers (1964), The Folk Crusaders (1965), Norihiko Hashida and Shoe Belts (1969) and Norihiko Hashida and Margarets (never released a record). "Hanayome" was the debut single for Hashida and Climax, released in January 1971.


For the Climax group, Hashida(端田宣彦)was joined by Yoji Nakajima(中嶋陽二), Shogo Sakaniwa(坂庭省悟)and the lady with the golden vocals, Mie Fujisawa(藤沢ミエ). The music was provided by Hashida and Sakaniwa; I really liked the brass and rolling drums at the intro, but it was Fujisawa's lovely delivery that sold the song to me. The lyrics were written by Osamu Kitagawa(北山修)who also worked with Hashida in The Folk Crusaders and also came up with his own hit with the late Kazuhiko Kato(加藤和彦)in that same year of 1971. The folk song dealt with a couple eloping to a faraway town, and although (according to J-Wiki) elopement had a pretty dark image in the past (and perhaps still does), the words in "Hanayome" made it clear that this wasn't so much an escape from a bad situation as it was a gleeful leap into something far more positive as the newlywed couple boarded that train for an amazing adventure. I'm not sure if the runaway bride and groom felt the same way after discovering the arduousness of taxes, child rearing and mortgage payments, but hey, let the kids celebrate for today!

And the listening public celebrated as well. The song hit the top spot on Oricon for 2 weeks in a row, and ended up as the 7th-ranked song for 1971 as well as a million-seller. Hashida and Climax also got that invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen when it was still being televised at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theatre near Ginza.

"Hanayome" also had me recollecting about another old kayo dealing with brides, Rumiko Koyanagi's(小柳ルミ子)classic "Seto no Hanayome"(瀬戸の花嫁)which came out in 1972. Incidentally, Hashida still had one more band up his sleeve, Norihiko Hashida and Endless before he went on a solo career.


Ichiro Toba -- Hida no Ryu (飛騨の龍)





The start to "Hida no Ryu" (Dragon of Hida) is really menacing, and the rest of it sounds no less sinister with the sweeping notes of the flute. A manly song, needless to say, and who else better to sing it than the rough and tumble, gruff-looking Ichiro Toba (鳥羽一郎) with his husky growl?

Now, for this next part, imagine this with the song playing: A towering, lush mountain range with a thick blanket of white mist concealing most of it, only leaving craggy outcrops of rock visible. The sun blocked out by the grey clouds to make it more foreboding. And let's not forget a little village that got stuck in time while the rest of the world progressed at the foot of the mountains, literally at the mercy of whatever the area has to... offer. A disembodied growl is heard, striking fear into the hearts of even the bravest of souls, followed by glimpses of a long, heavily scaled body and clawed, reptilian limbs undulating in the sea of fog. Then, the creature rears its enormous head out of the clouds and into plain, horrifying - to the poor villagers - sight with flowing tendrils from its broad snout leading up to a pair of deep red, serpentine irises, before letting out an earth-shattering roar.

Well, I shall stop there before I end up writing a full monologue, and I'll leave the fate of the villagers up to you. But I suppose now you know what it's like to take a step into my mind.

Anyway, so that's what I thought of when I had first heard of "Hida no Ryu", and that's even before Toba opened his mouth! As to who had composed this nicely done ominous score, it was none other than Saburo Kitajima (北島三郎) under his pen name, Joji/George Hara (原譲二). And the one who wrote the lyrics was Chikudo Shibata (柴田ちくどう).

The song was officially released on 7 January 2015, and on the week it was released, "Hida no Ryu" decimated its competition and ranked number 1 on the Enka-yo charts. In the weeks that followed, it dropped to 2nd - beaten by Kouhei Fukuda's (福田こうへい) newest single that was initially at 2nd place - and it is currently remaining in the Top 10 at 9th place. It's highest position on the normal charts was 21st... that's amazing.

Hida is a city in Gifu, by the way, and it's rather mountainous there as well, so my description of "Hida no Ryu" wasn't too far off. But I'm quite certain that the lyrics aren't talking about a dragon that resides in the mountains terrorizing an unfortunate hamlet.

Oh, and the dragon shall be matte gold, because no other colour seems to make it look intimidating and fearsome enough.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Princess Princess -- Seven Years After



This particular Princess Princess single, their 12th from October 1991, sounded just a little more different than the usual pop/rock that emanated from the ladies. Although "Seven Years After", which was composed by lead vocal Kaori Okui(奥居香)and written by drummer Kyoko Tomita(富田京子), dealt with a woman's coming-to-terms with a dead romance several years after the breakup, the song came off as even more sprightlier than usual...may have been the strings that did it. To me, it came across as either a theme song for a mecha anime or a tune that Kahoru Kohiruimaki(小比類巻かほる)would have performed in the late 80s. It simply has that really heroic fanfare-ish tilt.



As it was, though, "Seven Years After" was indeed the ending theme for a half-hour travel variety series on TBS titled "Chikyuu ZIG ZAG"(地球ZIG ZIG...Earth Zig Zag). The music probably heralded the zipping off of the various celebs and reporters to countries near and far for some wild and televised adventures. It managed to peak at No. 3 on Oricon and was included on Princess Princess' 6th album, "Dolls In Action" from December 1991. That album hit No. 1.



Anzen Chitai -- No Problem



"No Problem" comes straight out of Anzen Chitai's(安全地帯)6th album, "Tsuki ni Nureta Futari"(月に濡れたふたり...Moon-Bathed Couple)which I profiled a little over a couple of years ago. As I mentioned in that posting, Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)and his band were trying out various new sounds in that 1988 album, and "No Problem" was one of the more notable tracks for that reason.

I recall back in the early 80s this singer from Holland by the name of Taco who put on his synthpop version of Irving Berlin's classic "Puttin' On The Ritz" which subsequently became that one hit for him. "No Problem" has a similar feel except for the fact that the song was originally by Tamaki and Goro Matsui(松井五郎). It's got that synthesized jazz sound that would make me wonder if this could have been played at that famed Tatooine cantina from "Star Wars"

Whatever the case, Koji just takes the song and runs with it. He probably would have looked very debonair in a tuxedo back then while he was twirling around the microphone stand as it was playing. "No Problem" is certainly not in the Top 10 list of Anzen Chitai songs but it's a fun little musical diversion.



Just for the heck of it, here is that Taco version of "Puttin' On The Ritz".


And since I'm at it...I just wanted to relay something brief. Some years ago while I was doing a bit of browsing at the Tower Records by Shinjuku Station, Apparently, there was some sort of mini-fad out called Electro Swing which involved taking some of the ol' Big Band classics and putting them through the modern DJ equipment. I actually ended up buying a compilation album representing the genre but the one song that still stands out among the tracks is Cafe Des Belugas' tribute to "Puttin' On The Ritz". And I gotta say the video does Fred Astaire proud!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Yuri Shiratori -- Heart Break Down

From left to right: Bloodberry, Lime and Cherry


When it comes to anime, my favourite era is certainly the 90s. Also, it’s not a mystery that my favourite series of all times is Saber Marionette (セイバーマリオネット). So, today, let’s talk about “Heart Break Down”, which was the third ending theme to “Saber Marionnette J Again” (またまたセイバーマリオネット), the OVA series aired from late 1997 until mid-1998.

“Heart Break Down” is performed by aidoru/seiyuu Yuri Shiratori (白鳥由里), who was responsible for voicing Cherry (チェリー), one of the main Marionettes of the series. As a good seiyuu, Yuri incorporates very well Cherry’s characteristics as the cute and romantic housewife of the group, which was also comprised by the “Lolita-esque” Lime (ライム - voiced by Megumi Hayashibara [林原めぐみ]), who had the mentality of a child, but a body of a woman, and Bloodberry (ブラッドベリー - voiced by Akiko Hiramatsu [平松晶子]), an adult and seductive woman with short temper. Closing the main cast, there was also Otaru Mamiya (間宮小樽 - voiced by Yuka Imai [今井由香]), a poor young man who was lucky enough to awaken the three special Marionettes.

Unlike Lime and Bloodberry, who were more direct about what they wanted from Otaru (yeah, you guessed right), Cherry was shy and romantic, which is why she was always caught fantasizing about Otaru being a prince in love with her. Based on that, “Heart Break Down” is a cute pop song with those lovely synths that were used a lot in the 90s. The song is so cute that, when I was younger, I was kind of ashamed to listen to a girly song like that. Nowadays, though, I listen to songs that are more saccharine-filled than “Heart Break Down”, so this is not a problem anymore.

On a side note, I still have a VHS tape with a Brazilian Portuguese dubbed version of “Saber Marionette J Again”, which I recorded from TV in 2005. I remember the day very well, as I let the machine scheduled to record the entire show while I went out to eat pizza with my parents. When I arrived home, it was late to watch, but the next day, when I came back from school, I watched the whole series (six episodes) and heard “Heart Break Down” for the first time. It was love at first listen. These are very fond memories from almost ten years ago, and it was great to finally share it here.


Apparently, “Heart Break Down” was never included in any CD released by Yuri Shiratori. However, it was included in some “Saber Marionette Again” OST CDs through 1998, and also in the definitive “Saber Marionette Vocal History”, which was released in 1999. Lyrics were written by Miho Matsuba (松葉美保), while music was composed by Gouta Wakabayashi (若林剛太). As for the arrangement, Shou Itsushima (五島翔) was the responsible.

Yosui Inoue/Masahiro Motoki -- Higashi e Nishi e (東へ西へ)


When it comes to the Kohaku Utagassen, the first few years that I viewed the program were the ones that I generally have a good idea about what happened there. I guess it's as the saying goes, "You always remember your first one". After the mid-80s, it was more about which highlights/lowlights I remember throughout my viewing history than the actual particular year's performances. So, of course, I can recall Sachiko Kobayashi's(小林幸子)appearances in dresses bigger than Godzilla, Rie Miyazawa's(宮沢りえ)cringeworthy cover of David Bowie's "Game", and Koji Tamaki's(玉置浩二)triumphant return from serious illness singing "Den'en"(田園)with the band TOKIO.


Then there is Masahiro 'Mokkun' Motoki(本木雅弘). I remember him from his days with Shibugakitai(シブがき隊)appearing on "The Best 10" and "The Top 10". And of course, many years later, there was his starring role in the Oscar-winning "Okuribito"(おくりびと...Departures) as the jaded cellist who finds a new calling as a mortician. However, Motoki entered my list of special Kohaku performances when he appeared on the 1992 show for the first time as a solo act. Until I looked up his article on J-Wiki and found out which year it was, I had completely forgotten when he made that notorious appearance. I certainly remember what that appearance was, though.

He sang "Higashi e Nishi e" (To The East, To The West) and the lyrics I recall were "Ganbare, ganbare"(がんばれ、がんばれ...Keep on going). However, what probably had the audience in NHK Hall in Shibuya and millions of television viewers lollygagging was him dancing about seductively with a necklace of gigantic condoms filled with stuff. I wasn't quite sure whether he was channeling a mix of Klaus Nomi and Prince, but the piece de resistance happened during the musical interlude when he turned his back on the camera and promptly unzipped his butt. GOOD NIGHT, EVERYONE! I bet the NHK switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree....as perhaps did his ardent fans during his aidoru jidai. According to that J-Wiki article, Mokkun had intended to send a message about the AIDS situation.


"Higashi e Nishi e" was Motoki's 2nd single from May 1992. What I hadn't known until I started looking up the information last night was that the song was originally by singer-songwriter Yosui Inoue(井上陽水), all the way back to his 2nd album in December 1972, "Yosui II Sentimental". Instead of the rock treatment by Mokkun, "Higashi e Nishi e" started life as a folk song in which Inoue was giving the young rebellious man's view of why people around him were just running in all directions like ants studying like crazy for university, and then once graduated and into society, why they were expending all that energy as corporate cogs or executroids day in and day out. From the way that he was singing it though, I wasn't quite sure whether he was being sarcastic or perhaps envious. In any case, I could easily imagine him strumming his guitar in front of Shibuya Station just watching the hordes zip around him everyday. Of course, Inoue wrote and composed the song but what really stuck out was the inclusion of that French horn near the end, giving the original song some more gravitas.

As for "Yosui II Sentimental", it peaked at No. 10 on the album charts, but it became the 8th-ranked release for 1974 and then the 15th-ranked album for 1975. Good ol' staying power there.


Apparently the above video features Inoue's performance of "Higashi e, Nishi e" at NHK Hall itself in March 1982. I actually like this rolling arrangement most of all out of the three versions I've featured. Aside from Motoki, Tomoyasu Hotei (2004) and Ayumi Nakamura (2010) have also covered the song. 


Michiru Hoshino -- “Seikan Renrakusen ~Night Voyage~” (星間連絡船 ~Night Voyage~)


A couple of nights ago, I had a great surprise with a song called “Seikan Renrakusen ~Night Voyage~”, which was recorded by an aidoru called Michiru Hoshino (星野みちる). After listening to it two or three times, I quickly learned, thanks to the video, that “Seikan Renrakusen ~Night Voyage~”, which was originally the b-side to her “Ame no Naka no Dreamer”, ended as the promotional song for her second full-lenght album “E.I.E.N Voyage”, which was released in July 2014.

According to generasia, Michiru Hoshino is an ex-AKB48 member who graduated from the group back in 2007 with plans to become a singer/songwriter. Based on that, it’s obvious that she didn’t experience what AKB48 became after it finally reached the top spot on the Oricon charts in late 2009.

When I listened to “Seikan Renrakusen ~Night Voyage~”, some things caught my attention. In a more general view, it’s a bubbly pop song that’s not over-processed like the majority of today’s aidoru music. Thing is, the arrangement is airy and can breath at some points. Also, the sparse piano twinkles are a lovely addition.

The video is also a nice piece of “art”, as, although simple, it drinks from the “retro” fountain in a very interesting way. Somehow, it made me think about the 70s and 80s, when the capitalist societies shared a dream about what the future in the 21st century would be like. This dream, which is called “retrofuturism” by the specialists, shows how the futuristic beliefs of not-so-long-ago were more on point with the society of its time than with the future itself. It was something like “imagining the future based on what we already have”.

In a more specific way, I just loved the silly dance routines performed by Michiru (her faces were a mixture of fun and shame while doing them), and also when she acted as if the yellow game boy was a cell phone. In the end, although light and happy, the video, plus the song, shared some melancholy... no, maybe nostalgy is the right word... or both melancholy and nostalgy.

The “E.I.E.N Voyage” album reached #240 on the Oricon charts.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

George Yamamoto -- Oirase (奥入瀬)


On Sunday, during an episode of this travelogue  "Japan Hour" on Channel News Asia - it's the only thing I'd watch on that channel - that featured Aomori, I had myself a good look at one of the prefecture's natural prides, the Oirase river. The hosts were there on a hike in early summer, so you could see the very green foliage hanging over and surrounding the gently flowing stream. I'm usually not the outdoor-sy type, but such scenery really makes me want to just get out there and join the fellas on their hike to admire its beauty.

That brings me to the song of the day, George Yamamoto's (山本譲二) "Oirase", which is based on this very river that drains from Lake Towada. I've been to the lake once a number of years ago in winter... there were dozens upon dozens of black and white swans, and ducks skimming along the frigid water's surface. I wonder if they were looking for handouts.

Anyway, just like the real thing, "Oirase" sounded really comfortable and relaxing with its easy pace and overall soft feel. This song may most likely be considered an Enka song from its lyrics, which I'm guessing is mostly about our protagonist saying his goodbyes to his lover, and hopes that one day they'll have the chance to meet again... by the river, I reckon. There is also a shout out to the Asura no nagare, mighty stunning in autumn, I must add. However, it hardly sounds like one with the un-enka-like score (by the late Nobuyuki Sakuraba (桜庭伸幸)) and Yamamoto, who I would usually consider quite Enka, sang in such a way that you could hardly hear the genre's trademark singing style's strong vibrato/peaks and dips... it sounded like a Pop song, or at least a Kayokyoku.

"Oirase" is a pretty good song to listen to if you just want to wind down after a long day. You know, like playing at a low volume at home while you kick back and relax with a cup of tea. Or in my case, it helps me take my mind off things during the long train rides home after a harrowing day of the nightmare spawn: Molecular and Cell Biology or Biochemistry. Urk, the thought of those things sends shivers down my spine. Just listening to Yamamoto's smooth, deep vocals already calms the nerves...

There's no write up on Yamamoto's 27th single (released on 21/6/1992) , but the J-Wiki page on the singer mentioned that "Oirase" is one of the handful of representative singles he's got under his belt... 6 in total, including this one.


Oh wow.
www.suruga-ya.jp

Wink -- Celebration


Vanessa Williams...it took me a number of minutes to even recall the name. I initially plugged in Deniece Williams into the search engines, only to find out that she was the singer who had that hit, "Let's Hear It For The Boy" in the original version of "Footloose" back in the mid-80s. The target of my search though did, as I recall, appear on the American remake of "Ugly Betty" and a couple of episodes of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine". And of course, there was all of that early kerfuffle about her having to resign as Miss America after a scandal arose.

However, all I really had to do was plug in "Save The Best For Last" (January 1992) into YouTube, and out popped her name. I got to see that Xmas video of hers and then the most famous scene of her singing to the camera in black-&-white. And of course, there was the smooth chart-topping radio-friendly ballad which became a theme song for Williams.


I've bought my fair share of Wink albums during the early 90s, and "Nocturne" was my final purchase of the ladies. It came out in November 1992, and a couple of singles were on it: "Real Yume no Joken"(リアル夢の条件...Conditions of a Real Dream)and their cover of the kayo classic "Furimukanaide"(ふりむかないで)by The Peanuts.

However, I was rather surprised to hear a familiar tune done in Japanese on the album. It came under the title "Celebration", but it was no doubt "Save The Best For Last" as done by Shoko Aida(相田翔子). Rui Serizawa(芹沢類)came up with the Japanese lyrics, and the arranger was Satoshi Kadokura(門倉聡), but frankly, I couldn't really tell the difference between his music and the arrangement for the Williams original. I would have said that it was basically Aida doing karaoke...except that Aida's version was beyond-karaoke good! Although it was a pretty straight-on interpretation of "Save The Best For Last", I have to say that it was one of the better covers of an English-language song by a Japanese singer. In fact, it was the one song I remember from "Nocturne". For about three minutes, I rather forgot that she was one-half of a Eurobeat-driven aidoru duo that took the late 80s by storm. Good on her!


Monday, January 26, 2015

Kaientai -- Omoeba Tooku e Kitamonda (思えば遠くへ来たもんだ)



Along with discovering new old songs via "Kayo Kyoku Plus", another one of my pleasures from my pet project has been discovering new old songs because commenters or my fellow collaborators wrote about or inquired about them.

The former is indeed the case here with Kaientai's(海援隊)"Omoeba Tooku e Kitamonda" (I've Come So Far When I Think About It). Commenter Ranawaka Aruna asked me about it on the one other song I wrote about the band, the graduation season favourite, "Okuru Kotoba"(贈る言葉). Veteran actor Tetsuya Takeda's(武田鉄矢)folk group released "Omoeba" as its 2nd single under the Polydor label (they had 11 previous singles with 2 other recording companies since their debut in 1973) in September 1978, more than a year before their most famous hit, "Okuru Kotoba" came out.


To be honest, I had thought that the go-to song for graduation ceremonies would be the only song by Kaientai that I would ever add to KKP. Happily, I am wrong. "Omoeba" was written by Takeda and the wistful melody was composed by Yasuyo Yamaki(山木康世), who was one-half of the folk duo, Fukinoto(ふきのとう). In the song, Takeda sings about a man at the ripe old age of 20 as he remembers what he was like 6 years previously when he was still living in his small town. He reminisces about that train track which ultimately led him away from home and that love he left back there, although he also states that he now has a wife and kid(s) and has been hitting the booze at night. Man, middle age already?!

Still, the sentiment is there and I'm sure that there a lot of businessmen in their 40s or 50s who would hear this song and get all swoon-y. And there is something about that melody that gets me all sepia and nostalgic for all those old J-Folk ballads. Incidentally, "Omoeba" was the theme song for a TBS drama of the same name starring Takeda in which he played a substitute teacher straight from Kyushu who had to teach at a school up in the northern prefecture of Akita...perhaps this was good training for him before he got that even more famous teaching role later on.

The song was also included on Kaientai's first album on Polydor, "Tsuirakuhen"(墜落編...Falling Edit), which came out in November 1978. One other thing...on how the group decided on its name. Apparently, Kaientai (Maritime Support Group) came from the first modern corporation in Japan founded by Ryoma Sakamoto in 1865. Sakamoto is one of the most famous folk heroes in Japanese history as he attempted to overthrow the Tokugawa feudal government in its last years.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fairchild -- Sagashiteirunoni (探してるのにぃ)


Back in May 2013, I featured a song by former aidoru Yukiko Ehara(江原由希子), "Chotto Dake"(ちょっとだけ). Now, one might think that this 80s J-teenybopper was another one of those female singers who had her 5 minutes in the spotlight before fading into obscurity and ending up as a permanent employee in a company. However, Ms. Ehara merely slid herself from aidoru-dom into the world of TV tarento where she became known as YOU and has since become one of the most recognizable faces (and voices) on terebi for almost 30 years.



But during the transition, YOU also became the lead vocalist of quirky band Fairchild. In fact, as I mentioned in the "Chotto Dake" article, the above commercial was how I was first introduced to the diminutive but feisty lady with the Betty Boop voice. YOU was in this ad for tea-flavoured booze (and I say now as I said then....ick) while costumed as a polar bear rolling down the snow-covered hill (after taking a sip of the liquid?), all the while her song was playing in the background. I'm not sure how popular Kocha no O-sake became, but YOU certainly became the talk of the town, and it's one of the more memorable commercials from my time in Japan.

The song was "Sagashiteirunoni" (Looking For You), Fairchild's 7th single from October 1990. The band was launched in 1988 and was made up of YOU, bassist/programmer Seiji Toda(戸田誠司)and guitarist Hirokazu Kawaguchi(川口浩和). Initially starting out as a technopop act, it made the change into a more regular pop act in the latter half of its existence, although this particular single still has that synthesizer sound. It was written by YOU and composed by Toda with the lead vocal chirping about not giving up that search for the right woman.

"Sagashiteirunoni" was also a track on Fairchild's 4th of 8 albums, "Sekai no Uta"(せかいのうた...World Songs)which was released in November 1990 and peaked at No. 13 on the album charts. 

According to J-Wiki, the band broke up in 1993, and YOU has been on several programs stating that Fairchild ended definitively when bassist Kawaguchi punched out guitarist Toda. However, she later amended this by saying that the decision to break up had already been made and on that last day, Kawaguchi stormed in to vent his feelings via a well-placed fist before quickly making a getaway with his girlfriend at the wheel. Supposedly the seeds of discord were sown with an argument about the guitar-playing. I kinda wonder if Lennon and McCartney experienced the same sturm und drang...



The first time I got to see YOU in a regular TV program was "Gottsu Ee Kanji"(ごっつええ感じ...Downtown's Feelin' Good), the often hilarious skit show starring Osaka comic duo Downtown. Yup, Sunday nights were definitely amusing.



(Unfortunately that video has been taken down but enjoy this other Downtown video with that mystery guy.)

I realize I'm going out of bounds here but I just had to include this excerpt from the program since I remember seeing it in its first run. The point of the skit was to have one-half of Downtown, the volatile Masatoshi Hamada(浜田雅功)beat the tar out of one of the featured players in the show, Hong Kong, while both were costumed. However, in a classic Candid Camera switcheroo, it was decided that Hong Kong would swap places with someone far more famous and venerated without Hamada knowing. Be patient and see if you recognize the poor fellow....he, and his band, have been featured on the blog a number of times. All I can say is that it was the only time that I have ever seen Hama-chan humbled.


Creation -- Lonely Hearts (ロンリー・ハート)



This is a song that proved somewhat elusive to me, but whenever I hear it on some retrospective or on YouTube, I go "Oh, yeah! I remember this song."

Creation(クリエイション)was a rock band that first launched in 1969 under the name of Blues Creation as a 7-member group with Kazuo Takeda(竹田和夫)as the first guitarist with the late Fumio Nunoya(布谷文夫)and Hiromi Ohsawa(大沢博美)as the co-vocalists. According to the Wikipedia article on the band, Takeda was the "brainchild" for Creation which underwent a number of lineup changes, including at one point in the early 70s when the band was down to just Takeda and bassist Masashi Saeki(佐伯正志). Takeda himself took over as vocalist in 1971. The band name even changed a couple of times with Blues Creation becoming Bloody Circus for one year between 1971 and 1972 before settling on Creation.

Apparently, Creation only released two singles, both in 1981, with "Lonely Hearts" being the debut. I've only heard one other song by them along with "Lonely Hearts", so I don't really have the impression of them being a hard-driving rock band. Single No. 1 has a sound more reminiscent of 70s hitmakers Godiego: a good ol' laid-back feeling with a sense of folk in the music which was composed by Takeda. The Akira Otsu(大津あきら)-penned lyrics talk about a lonely young turk on the streets of presumably Tokyo looking for love but just as happy walking through the night life.

By the way, the actual singer for "Lonely Hearts" was the late Ai Takano(高野アイ)who had also been with the Group Sounds band, The Carnabeats, back in the 1960s. He stayed with Creation from 1981 to 1984.


"Lonely Hearts" was released in May 1981 and managed to become the 37th-ranked song of the year. The song was also the theme song for a detective show titled "Pro Hunter" starring Tatsuya Fuji and Masao Kusakari. Kusakari is someone these days that I see fairly regularly on TV Japan as a somewhat befuddled navigator of an NHK arts program titled "Kanshou Manual: Bi no Tsubo"(鑑賞マニュアル 美の壺...Appreciation Manual: Vase of Beauty).




To hear more of Creation's rock sound, you can check out the link above.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Akemi Ishii -- Nettaiya (熱帯夜)



I think that saxophone intro alone had me needing a cold shower. So it figures that this Akemi Ishii(石井明美)song is titled "Nettaiya" (Sultry Night). It comes from her 1990 album of the same name that also included her version of "Lambada"...the one dance that grabbed a lot of attention in Japan for at least half of my time in the mountains of Gunma.

Along with "Lambada", the title track from "Nettaiya" is one of the songs that stood out in the album. There is this sense that the music by Hideya Nakazaki(中崎英也)was a fond echo from another steamy ballad back in the 1960s, "The Look of Love" sung by Dusty Springfield (created by Burt Bacharach and Hal David) and used in the first wacky "Casino Royale"; some have said that the song was probably the only good thing about the movie. Kaoru Asagi(麻木かおる)provided the lyrics concerning that torrid romance in the tropics somewhere. That famous image of a woman taking an ice cube and trailing it down her slim neck comes to mind as Ishii is singing away.


Ladies and gentlemen, the incomparable Dusty Springfield



Hikaru Genji/Chage and Aska -- STAR LIGHT



While sifting through the various videos featuring medleys of hit songs of the different decades, I thought I had finally found something worth a watch when I came across this one titled "J-History"... the "History" part was in katakana. What came to mind first was that the video would feature Japanese music as it progressed over the years. However, it became evident that the "J" represented "Johnny's (& Associates)" when Hiromi Go (郷 ひろみ)Masahiko Kondo (近藤真彦), and the lot were shown. Turns out it was a medley on the hit songs from some of the Johnny's-spawned Aidoru acts from across the decades... I did not see the words "Johnny's hit song compilation" at the top right hand corner of the video at first.


Though it was unexpected, it was equally as amusing as well as educating. Before it all got boring in the new millenium, I have to say that the acts had the most pizzaz back in the 80's. You know, with fellas doing back flips and were actually dancing (no matter how cheesy the choreography) in weird outfits like their lives depended on it. You can have a look at that in the link above. And then we have Hikaru Genji (光GENJI) that up-ed the ante by having a bunch of adolescent boys with prepubescent voices prancing around and doing dizzying spins on roller-skates.

Despite me finding it odd and difficult to see all 7 of them (I can't tell them apart really) gliding around in circles, I can't help but enjoy their high-octane, disco-like, dramatic at some parts, debut single "STAR LIGHT". In fact, it's one of my favourite Aidoru songs... well, sort of. You'll see in a while.

The song was released in August 1987 with Pop duo Chage and Aska doing the composing duties, while Aska himself took care of the lyrics. It did really well on the charts, peaking at 1st place on the Oricon weeklies before settling at 4th for the entire year. In total, "STAR LIGHT" sold about 850 000 copies.



My memory's a little fuzzy as to where I had first come across "STAR LIGHT", but I think it was a couple of years ago during one of C&A's performances on Music Station (I think) in 1989 where they did a medley of their own songs and of course, "STAR LIGHT" itself. The Genji boys appeared, or should I say, rolled on when their hit came on too. From the looks of it, it seemed like the duo was celebrating their 10th anniversary.


To this day, I still find that C&A's cover - which I had finally found months ago - is better with the reason being it's Chage and Aska! Frankly, that's a good enough reason for me to prefer the cover over the original. Okay, but on a more serious note, it's also because I'm not used to listening to such boyish voices - a couple of them were only 14 at that time!

Good gravy this song is gonna be stuck in my head for a while.

The fan-girls must've gone nuts over this
laughy.jp

Friday, January 23, 2015

Kaela Kimura -- Funkytown



Oh my word...it was the best of times and the disco of times. "Funkytown" by Lipps Inc. by virtue of its release year (1980) was probably one of the last gasps of disco. I had never heard of this band (from Minneapolis, Minnesota) and would never hear from them again. But they grabbed their 15 minutes of fame and squeezed for all its worth to worldwide success. I used to hear "Funkytown" all the time and then when Mel Brooks' "History of the World, Part 1" appeared on the big screen, I saw Gregory Hines funking to it in the commercial...while he was playing an Ethiopian slave in the Roman Era (I did say that this was a Mel Brooks film).


Then, half a decade later, as I was watching local video show "Toronto Rocks" as a university student, I was introduced to the oh-so-80s even more kinetic cover of "Funkytown" by Australian band, Pseudo Echo....complete with mullets. I have to admit that I like this version even more than the original.


Then, when I was looking up material for yesterday's article on Takkyu Ishino's(石野卓球)"The Rising Suns", I came across Kaela Kimura's(木村カエラ)album, "ROCK" which was released in October 2013. It was an album of cover songs performed with artists such as Ishino and reformed J-funkster Yasuyuki Okamura(岡村靖幸). And these covers were of tunes from my ever-fading-past-the-horizon youth. There was stuff like Blondie's "Heart of Glass", Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love"....and "Funkytown"

Ishino helped out on Kimura's cover of Lipps Inc.'s big hit, and that collaboration I was very keen on listening to, remembering their work together on "Jasper". And yep, it was very much as I expected from the duo...the Ishino techno touch along with Kimura's bright and slightly clipped vocals although both of them kept things fairly faithful to the original version. Then when I heard her sing "Welllll...", I just thought Lipps Inc. had come on back to the fold. To be honest, I was surprised that in the land where disco never really died...or sucked..."Funkytown" hadn't really got its due from the singers there.


The above is just a highlight video of three of the songs from the album including Kimura's take on A-Ha's "Take On Me" with Okamura, "Funkytown", and "Sunday Morning" with Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣).


Taeko Ohnuki -- Futari (ふたり)



As I mentioned in the article for Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)"Romantique" (1980), this was the album that had the eclectic singer-songwriter make a sea change in her sound, going from pure New Music to a Ryuichi Sakamoto-mentored technopop/European feel. It had never been done before and happily for Ohnuki, it was a great move in her career.

I'm happy to say that some kind uploader recently put up "Futari" (Two People) which I mentioned very briefly near the end of the "Romantique" article. Written and composed by Ohnuki, this track bent more towards the European side of things, and as soon as I first heard it, I immediately got reminded of Mary Hopkin's "Those Were The Days" (I think I referred to this same song in another article on the blog). My imagination created this scene of an ennui-laden torch singer draped over a grand piano as she languidly sang the lyrics before popping off the piano as soon as the refrain started and encouraged the audience to sing along. The thing that distinguished "Futari" from "Those Were The Days" was that sudden melodic shift from France or Germany to South America. Ohnuki was definitely traveling across continents for this one.



And once again, I give you Mary Hopkin!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Takkyu Ishino -- The Rising Suns



I have to say that part of the fun of Takkyu Ishino's(石野卓球)5th single from 2004, "The Rising Suns" is the music video. That presentation on TV one night had me glued to my sofa when I first caught it. It was a bird's-eye view of Tokyo alright, except that it threw in a combination of Sim City and a gigantic ant colony with all those Tokyoites running around like the world's biggest flash mob convention.

As for the song itself...or maybe it's more accurate to call it a soundscape of techno-whimsy..it's not something that I would assume hearing at a disco (or do you whippersnappers call it a rave now?), but it would make for some nice background music for a computer game...like Sim City. And perhaps it would have done the same thing for some sort of movie starring parkour-performing teens flying through the skyscrapers. In any case, that mesmerizing video was enough for me to get my copy of "The Rising Suns".



Hibari Misora -- Yuukyou Kaidou (遊侠街道)

(karaoke version)

Somewhat along the lines of David Bowie, I've seen the late Hibari Misora(美空ひばり)in many forms: as the stoic iron lady in traditional Japanese dress, the tiny girl in the tuxedo and the genki jazzy entertainer in that sparkling gown among others. 

When it comes to her March 1964 single, "Yuukyou Kaidou" (Road of Chivalrous People), it's that first persona that I envisage. Just like the single that came out some months later that year, "Yawara"(柔), this particular song had Misora in strut-worthy proud mode as she sang about those samurai who fought the good fight while traveling down that lonely road which more than likely ended at their respective graves. Master enka composer and guitarist Masao Koga(古賀政男)was behind the quiet but grand music that melodically introduced the warriors while lyricist and scholar of French culture, Yaso Saijo(西條八十), wrote what seemed to be the code of an austere life with the Sword of Damocles always hanging over those who practice it.

Last but not least, Misora sang it the same way that Koga had composed "Yuukyou Kaidou": quietly grand. There was nothing histrionic about her pride for the warriors. It was simply a straight tale of respect. The reason I wrote about it today was that I was able to find the 45" of it and played it on the stereo. The link above will give a very clear recording as opposed to my slightly scratchy copy, but I think the static adds that extra layer of nostalgia to it, although the needle on the playing arm may not be too happy.

The above is a karaoke video showing about what the lyrics wanted to illustrate about the feelings in the song. 


Ginji Ito -- Ame no Stella (雨のステラ)


Once again, having started "Kayo Kyoku Plus" almost 3 years ago has paid off some dividends for me. With Marcos V. introducing me to my eventual purchases of singles by current aidoru such as especia and Tokyo Girls' Style, I'm also now indebted to nikala for providing me information on Ginji Ito's(伊藤銀次)"Baby Blue". With his brand of City Pop and 60s tribute in this album, I was attracted to tracks like "Planet Girl" and "One Way Ticket to the Moon", especially the latter tune since it was such a riff on good ol' Hall & Oates, one of my favourite American bands when I was in high school.

So when Xmas passed on by, I decided to buy "Baby Blue" after wondering about it for almost 2 years. And having put it into my computer hard drive for a spin while I was doing some translation assignment (and how I needed the music to get through my grunt work), I was still very enamored by the variety in this 1982 album.

nikala has provided some fine information on the tracks via her own article on "Baby Blue", so I just wanted to give a bit of a follow-up by talking about one song that she didn't cover, "Ame no Stella" (Rainy Stella) or as it's written on the back of the cover, just plain "Stella". It's another one of the relaxing ballads where Ito seems to be channeling a bit of Eiichi Ohtaki(大滝詠一)as he languidly croons about the wonders of the titular lady. This is nice hammock-and-sipping-alcohol music.

While Ito came up with the music, the words were provided by singer-songwriter and current jazz chanteuse Hiromi Kanda(神田広美). "Ame no Stella" also happened to be released as Ito's 5th overall single in April 1982. He wasn't all that prolific considering his very first single came out in 1972 and was hopping among a number of studios until he landed at Polystar where he recorded "Ame no Stella" and "Baby Blue" and spent the longest time of his career, releasing 7 albums and 9 singles there between 1982 and 1985.

Whenever I listen to a new album for the first time, my mind gets a little overeager and tends to process the entirety of the disc a little too zippily. So I'm happy to have listened to this new experience by Ito by itself and to appreciate it even more.




Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Kumiko Ohsugi -- Doraemon no Uta (ドラえもんのうた)



Ah, yes, Doraemon(ドラえもん)....took me several years to figure out that the famed manga/anime character was a robot cat from the future, but he and his buddies have been in my memories since I was an elementary school student. Born from the mind of the late manga artist, Fujiko F. Fujio(藤子・F・不二雄)in 1969, I remember reading my first manga of Doraemon as he helped his best friend, feckless student Nobita-kun out of his latest jam...I think what the earless cat robot pulled out of his TARDIS-like pocket that time was an instant hole which allegedly could allow the two to escape any bad situation (or Nobita's mom). Of course, the conclusion proved to be far less happier (funnier for the reader) when Doraemon and Nobita ended up crawling out of a stinky can of garbage after Mom innocently threw away the hole.






I didn't get to see my first episode of the anime adaptation until my graduation trip in 1981, though. I was spending the last two weeks of my trip with my relatives in Osaka and Wakayama Prefecture. And one of the things I remember during that leg of my vacation was staying with my uncle and aunt in the tiny apartment over their old stationery shop in Namba City. Incidentally, I caught Princess Di's and Prince Charles' epic wedding live on my relatives' TV, but with my cousins who were themselves elementary schoolers at the time I dropped on by (I was almost 16), we saw that episode of "Doraemon".

Of course, there was the cheerful and magical opening theme song that has become instantly recognizable to basically anyone in Japan (and beyond). Any adult would also probably revert to childhood again on hearing "Doraemon no Uta" (Doraemon's Song) as originally sung by anison legend Kumiko Ohsugi(大杉久美子). It has that light marching beat that would most likely have the littlest of children start proudly strutting on the tatami whenever the show came on. I also got in on the act by actually singing the last couple of lines in Ohsugi's voice which caused no end of mirth for my cousins.

The song made its debut when TV Asahi's "Doraemon" debuted in April 1979. It was composed by Shunsuke Kikuchi(菊池俊輔)and written by Takumi Kusube(楠部工). Kusube, who was only in his mid-teens at the time, has stated that the lyrics were a family effort; his father was Daikichiro Kusube(楠部大吉郎), the president of Shin-Ei Animation(シンエイ動画), the company that produced the show. Whoever was ultimately responsible for the words, there were shoutouts to the various wonderful things that came out of Doraemon's pocket such as the take-coputa(タケコプター...Bamboo Copter)and the dokedemo doa(どこでもドア...Everywhere Door). And Doraemon himself (as played by Nobuyo Ohyama/大山のぶ代) would make a cameo in the song as well.

The song was a huge success as it became the No. 1 song of the year on the Oricon Anime/Children's Songs chart. Of course, it's been covered by a number of artists since its 1979 debut, one of them being Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里)in 2003.





In getting the information for this article, though, I found out that the 1979 anime hadn't been the first try at adapting the manga for the telly. In fact, "Doraemon" had its very first start on the visual medium via NTV's version in 1973 which lasted only a year. And the theme song, "Doraemon" was far different from "Doraemon no Uta" in terms of the melody. As sung by Harumi Naito(内藤はるみ), it sounded like a kayo of a drunken spree on an izakaya-filled street...not that I'm lambasting the song. It was just a very different animal. Doraemon's creator, Fujiko himself came up with the lyrics while Nobuyoshi Koshibe(越部信義)composed the music.


The above video features the opening of the original NTV version of the show.