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.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Anzen Chitai -- Ano Koro e (あの頃へ)

As I mentioned in the article for Anzen Chitai's(安全地帯)"VIII ~ Taiyo" album from 1991, I think Koji Tamaki's(玉置浩二)band started losing their appeal for me with "VII ~ Yume no Miyako" in 1990, although I liked a number of their tracks on that later album. Since then, it hasn't been quite the same so for me Anzen Chitai has been more the band of the 1980s.

Having said that, listening to the band's 22nd single from December 1992 "Ano Koro e" (To That Time) is a wonderfully moving experience, thanks to Tamaki's incredible voice. It's a well-titled ballad since the music and vocals easily brings me back to the time when Anzen Chitai was one of the top bands in Japan.

As usual, it was Goro Matsui(松井五郎)on the lyrics and Tamaki on the music. "Ano Koro e" sounds as if it were a love letter by the band to their home in Hokkaido. A big sloppy heart is on everyone's sleeve as Tamaki starts off with words like these:

The snow falls in my faraway hometown
They become tears of nostalgia
I wait for the spring. My memories
Can probably make someone happy

That sky, those winds
They still unfailingly stay in my heart
If I can take you
To that heartwarming time someday

If I'm not mistaken, I think the song was actually used as a campaign song for tourism somewhere, probably Hokkaido itself. "Ano Koro e" could sell it. Tamaki makes the whole scene epic and intimate at the same time right down to the keyboard putting forth those sounds of snowflakes falling softly.

I don't think the ballad ever made it onto an original album but it did get onto at least one BEST compilation since that is where I first heard the full version. Anzen Chitai's best days may have been behind them by the early 90s but the band could still come out with the one big amazing tune. And Tamaki will go down as one of the best singers that Japanese popular music has ever seen.

Akira Mita -- Utsukushii Juudai (美しい十代)

Saw my first "Nodo Jiman"(のど自慢)in a few weeks. One indication that the old kayo ought to be lasting for a good while longer is seeing some of the young kids performing it on stage. I saw a 13-year-old boy singing the tune of this article less than an hour ago, and although he didn't get the full triumphant barrage of bells, he still got a thumbs-up from me. He wasn't totally on tune but it was because of that, he probably got the lion's share of accolades.

The song in question was "Utsukushii Juudai" (The Beautiful Teens) as originally sung by Akira Mita(三田明). It's been included in that sub-genre known as seishun kayo(青春歌謡...salad day pop music)with all of those nostalgic stories of high school life. I believe Kazuo Funaki's(舟木一夫)"Koukou Sannen-sei"(高校三年生)would be the quintessential example of such a song.

According to J-Wiki, "Utsukushii Juudai" was the debut single of Mita who became popular for his innocent looks and wonderful voice. Released in November 1963, the song was written by Tetsuo Miyagawa(宮川哲夫)and composed by Tadashi Yoshida(吉田正), and focused on that adorable young love during those tender if sometimes turbulent time in life. Couldn't get more musically sepia than those strings and backup chorus.

A few months after the release of the single, its success meant that a movie with the same title was produced with Mita taking on a supporting role.

Mita was born Ushio Tsujikawa(辻川潮)in Tokyo in 1947. In 1962, while appearing on the NTV music variety program "Ajinomoto Hoihoi Music School"(味の素ホイホイ・ミュージック・スクール), composer Yoshida took the young Mita under his wing, and several months later, the singer and actor made his debut. At the time, the Gosanke(御三家...The Big Three)trio of Yukio Hashi(橋幸夫), Teruhiko Saigo(西郷輝彦)and the aforementioned Funaki were the singing heartthrobs but although Mita was seen as being a Johnny-come-lately to the proceedings, the media did place him with those three, thus having the quartet dubbed as the Shitennou(四天王...The Four Heavenly Kings).

It looks like Mita's heyday was the 1960s which was punctuated by his 6 straight appearances on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen. However, he never sang "Utsukushii Juudai" during that run between 1964 and 1969.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

NSP -- Kyonen no Natsu (去年の夏)

The above photo is of a Coco's restaurant while we were on the way to Kamakura. One of the things I realized about my home for 17 years is that there is a plethora of family restaurants...or famiresu in the Japanese vernacular. Of course, the United States and Canada have their own such places such as Denny's and IHOP but I thought there were more brands of them in Japan. Coco's, Skylark, Denny's, Gust, etc...they were pretty much everywhere, including a Skylark in my own neighbourhood of Minami-Gyotoku.

In fact, in the early years of my stay there when I was much more gastronomically receptive (re: a glutton), I often went to Skylark for that breakfast buffet on a weekly basis before heading off to the school. And boy, the staff didn't skimp and it wasn't exactly typical breakfast fare, either. There was pasta, hamburgers, deep-fried chicken, salad, soup, etc. The average Japanese salaryman must have really needed his protein! I patronized my Skylark so much that the manager started recognizing me and greeted me with "Ohaiyo gozaimasu! Itsumo osewaninatteorimasu"(お早うございます!いつもお世話になっております...Good morning! Thank you very much for your continued patronage). I was flattered and mortified at the same time since the other bleary-eyed customers could see me for the hog I was. I did indeed see the tables more as troughs, though. Still, I sometimes miss my famiresu. They were a good place to eat and hang out with friends. In terms of the closest analog here in Toronto, the shopping mall food court would be the thing.

Now, for the matter at hand. In my last article, I wrote about that mystery song by 70s aidoru legend Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵), "Tokyo no Sora no Shita Anata wa"(東京の空の下あなたは)which was written and composed by Shigeru Amano(天野滋)of the folk-pop group NSP. Well, I had heard of the name before and since a number of YouTube videos featuring them popped up beside the Momoe video on YouTube, I decided to try them out.

Well, Land O'Goshen (yup, I still like to use the archaic exclamations from time to time)! I heard this one song above and one part of the song suddenly started to ring memory bells in my head. And so I realized that this song "Kyonen no Natsu" (Last Summer) had been featured in an episode of "Sounds of Japan" on CHIN-FM. However, I should say part of the song. One small thing that peeved me about the radio broadcast was that it didn't have an official ending theme or music to finish off the show, instead opting for a "sacrificial" tune that sounded perfectly interesting but was merely used to help the DJ finish things off before abruptly fading out. I found out last night that "Kyonen no Natsu" was one of those songs without me knowing who performed it or what the title was.

Now that I've heard it in its entirety for the first time since I heard its excerpt about 30 years ago, I'm now quite intrigued about NSP. "Kyonen no Natsu" was also written and composed by Amano and it's a sad introspective ballad about reminiscing about that lost love from a year back while walking along the seashore. I'm not sure who was handling the vocals for this particular song since apparently all three members of the group had their turn behind the mike but I was quite entranced by the haunting delivery and the overall arrangement, especially with the fairly dramatic intro involving the drums, the strings and the piano.

NSP consisted of Amano on guitar, Takayuki Nakamura(中村貴之)on guitar and Kazuto Hiraga(平賀和人)on bass. All of them were born and raised in Iwate Prefecture and while in high school in 1972, the three of them first met while being active in other bands. Deciding to create their own unit, they initially went the rock route and came up with the name New Sadistic Pink. However, since they debuted in 1973 with a folk song, they decided that that particular name was a bit odd and just shrunk it to the more generic NSP. Years later going into the 1980s, the guys decided to have some fun over their initials with the fans and invited them to come up with new variations on the name such as Non Stop Progression and Nasa Shopping Plaza. Personally, Natto Sukiyaki Piiman would have been my choice but that's just me.

"Kyonen no Natsu" was a track on their June 1982 album "Meguriai wa Subete wo Koete"(めぐり逢いはすべてを越えて...Completely Beyond The Encounter). Considering the success of another folk-pop group, Off-Course(オフコース), through those same decades, I was rather surprised that I hadn't heard of NSP in all this time, at least not officially. If I can hear some more songs by Amano and company, I think I can do more comparison between NSP and Kazumasa Oda's(小田和正)band.

NSP called it quits in 1987 with the three of them going their separate ways and providing songs for other singers and bands, although Amano continued to release solo material. However, all three got back together in 2002 during which they held their first comeback concert at Nippon Seinenkan in Shinjuku, Tokyo. According to J-Wiki, the tickets sold out within an hour. In February 2005, NSP even released their first single in 19 years. Tragically, though in July of that same year, Amano would pass away at the age of 52 from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Momoe Yamaguchi -- Tokyo no Sora no Shita Anata wa (東京の空の下あなたは)

As I've often said here, one of the reasons that I've enjoyed adding onto the blog for so long now is that I've been able to encounter some rare gems among all the kayo kyoku. Once again, it's all about the iceberg analogy. However this time, it has to do with a rare tune but by a well-established singer.

There has been that comparison between the quintessential 70s aidoru Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵)and 80s aidoru Akina Nakamori(中森明菜). I've mentioned before that both singers became known as these teenage stars with a certain darkness and talent that came out in their respective discographies. And as Nakamori gradually turned into a pop superstar, the tone of her Oricon-friendly singles diverged from her more eclectic albums starting from the mid-1980s.

Perhaps Yamaguchi had a similar thing going in the latter half of her decade although to a smaller extent. One of my first entries about her involved her 1979 album "L.A. Blue" which fascinated me since a number of her tracks there had her exploring some American-style AOR and perhaps even City Pop. Until that point, I had always known her for those Oricon chart-toppers which were solidly within that kayo kyoku sphere.

Now I find out that this wasn't her first foray into recording outside of Japan. In 1977, she had also gone overseas to London to record her 12th album "Golden Flight". Although the album has one of her landmark songs, "Imitation Gold", I don't know how the rest of the songs sound...were they more into the New Music vein? One thing about the tracks on that album is that a majority of them are titled in full-cap romaji. Would be interesting to find out. For a singer who purportedly said that she only continued her career simply to provide for her family and retired as soon as she got married, I think Momoe tried to spread her wings out a bit, professionally speaking.

Even regarding that special album, there was a special song that had been recorded but ultimately didn't get placed onto "Golden Flight". Titled "Tokyo no Sora no Shita Anata wa" (You, Under the Tokyo Sky), it was never even made into a single or even a B-side of one, although it was performed by Momoe a number of times at her concerts. In fact, it finally saw the light of day in 2003 as the only song on the 24th disc of the 24 discs of "MOMOE PREMIUM", that huge CD-BOX set...26 years after the fact.

My question is "Why the heck did you keep it under wraps for so long?!" It's a wonderful song to me. Starting out with a wacka-wacka electric guitar, "Tokyo no Sora no Shita Anata wa" rolls out to a pretty propulsive Latin beat to accompany those familiar Momoe vocals. The song probably wouldn't belong on "L.A. Blue" but it's certainly not the usual stuff by her that I have been accustomed to. I'd say that the arrangement was more along the lines of another singer who was up and coming at the time, Junko Yagami(八神純子). Still, Yamaguchi made this her own tune. It's short but oh-so-sweet. And if I had the funds, I would get "MOMOE PREMIUM" just to get this song; I will have to hope for that bonus or lottery win. Perhaps I can still aim for "Golden Flight" and "L.A. Blue".

The creator of the song was Shigeru Amano(天野滋)who was a member of the folk group NSP. Now that is a group I'm going to have to cover shortly.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Da Capo -- Sora kara Koboreta STORY (空からこぼれたSTORY)

Yup, a few days ago, I heard of the passing of Roger Moore who had his several years of playing secret agent James Bond 007. Someone once told me that a fan's very favourite Bond depended on when that fan was born, and for me that would mean my favourite 007 is Sean Connery...and that is true. Moore was more in the middle of the pack for me.

I mean, he was fine enough but I thought he just extended himself a little long in the part, especially after catching his final tilt as the British superspy, "From A View To A Kill". Plus, I thought he was a bit too arch(ed eyebrow) for my taste at times. Then again, Moore himself once countered that how could anyone take Bond all that seriously since he was the most recognized secret agent (and therefore worst secret agent) in history. Point taken, Sir Roger.

Still, there were a few of his movies as Bond which thrilled me such as "The Spy Who Loved Me" with the scene of the Lotus Esprit chase and the above opening scene of him falling seemingly forever until that Union Jack parachute opened up to the famous theme song. I heard that audiences in the UK screamed their approval at that point.

I can't remember which character I saw first portrayed by Sir Roger but I vaguely remember seeing him in black-&-white episodes of "The Saint" when he was playing the debonair Simon Templar. Man of adventure, catchy theme song, very British....I'm sure it wasn't too difficult for producers to choose him when Connery decided to finally leave the role.

Now, folks, before I completely go over the line and turn this article into the blog's first 007 entry, I would like to say that in the Japanese-dubbed version of Moore's Bond movies, he was voiced by the late seiyuu and narrator Taichiro Hirokawa(広川太一郎). Hirokawa, of course, didn't make Bond his sole bread-and-butter. He took on a lot of roles including that of another British crime-busting legend, Sherlock Holmes.

The thing is, though, that his Holmes was a dog. In fact, all of the characters in the anime "Meitantei Holmes"(名探偵ホームズ...Sherlock Hound)were dogs. If the style of the 1984 anime looks rather familiar to you, it may be because that the first handful of episodes were directed by Hayao Miyazaki(宮崎駿). The above is the English-dubbed version.

The opening theme for "Meitantei Holmes" is "Sora kara Koboreta STORY" (The Story That Spilled From The Sky), performed by the folk-pop duo Da Capo(ダ・カーポ). Man, they sure don't make anison like that anymore (I kinda miss that relaxing style). Created by lyricist Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)and composer Ken Sato(佐藤健), the song sounds perfect for a Miyazaki flick! Plus, the duo did their best to bring in the British flavour into the arrangement. It kinda straddles between what I would imagine the soundtrack for an animated Sherlock Holmes for kids would sound like and a bouncier contemporary beat. It's certainly different than any of the themes for "Meitantei Conan"(名探偵コナン...Case Closed).

Try as I might, I couldn't find Hirokawa voicing Moore anywhere but perhaps he is represented in this Japanese ad for the DVD-BOX set for the 007 movies.

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Parade (パレード)

I was listening to Disc 1 of Tatsuro Yamashita's(山下達郎)"OPUS 〜ALL TIME BEST 1975-2012〜" earlier this afternoon. Gotta say that even one disc of his is enough to uplift the spirit...right from his starting days of New Music going into his years of City Pop. I'm also happy to say that there is still a number of songs by him to explore for the blog.

One such song is "Parade". Now I actually introduced the song many months ago back in 2015 through EPO's cover of it in her well-regarded 1982 album "Goodies". I did say there that I would talk about Tats' original "soon" but of course, me being me, promises are often forgotten and I did the same here. Well, as I have always said, better late than never.

"Parade" was originally a track on the album "NIAGARA TRIANGLE Vol.1" from March 1976. The album involved having Yamashita collaborate with fellow singer-songwriters Eiichi Ohtaki(大滝詠一)and Ginji Ito(伊藤銀次)to get some songs together on the same LP. They were also helped out by Tats' buddy from his old band Sugar Babe, Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子), Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)and two-thirds of the future Yellow Magic Orchestra, Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)and Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)among some other big lights in New Music.

As for "Parade", whereas the track on that 2012 BEST compilation cuts to the chase, apparently the original version is book-ended by a rolling piano intro and some sort of background music at the end. Perhaps Yamashita wanted "Parade" to feel as if the song suddenly burst in like a real impromptu parade down the main street, capturing everyone's attention for those few minutes. I can also say it's like a melodic sunny day with that nice dollop of 70s soul put in there to support his joyous vocals (I always envision colourful balloons floating into the sky as I hear him).

Considering that I've often featured Yamashita's late 70s/early 80s City Pop work, "Parade" is an interesting example of some happy-go-lucky New Music without too much of that feeling of being in the big city. However, it is darn summery which has been another characteristic of his discography.

As someone who used to catch the Fuji-TV morning kids' program "Ponkikies"(ポンキッキーズ)after waking up, the above video is natsukashii. It was the custom of the program to provide a happy musical ending to each episode and I did remember this thing about a group of talented girls bopping about with brolleys while a song was playing. I just didn't know at the time that it was Tats and "Parade".

For some reason, "Parade" was even released as a single (his 26th) in January 1994, perhaps in favourable response to the "Ponkikies" ending. It did modestly well by peaking at No. 29. As for "NIAGARA TRIANGLE Vol.1", it also reached as high as No. 29 as an LP.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Chisato Moritaka -- HEY VODKA

I wasn't going to disembark the Harmony of the Seas without having at least one order filled by the robot bartenders Bio and Nic at the Bionic Bar. And so a little over halfway during my voyage, I decided to have a seat at the bar and made my order via a Samsung tablet with the help of the bonny Russian manager of the premises. I went with the classic rum and coke. I would have ordered something a bit more ambitious so that one of the robots would have gotten a workout with the shaker but alas, I couldn't recognize too many of the cocktails listed.

The rum and coke came out very well, though. In fact, it worked so well that it took me a few seconds to sign my name for my purchases later that night. Furthermore, the wonderful thing is that I don't need to tip a robot...just a squeeze of oil now and then, probably.

My anecdote is just the thing to introduce another whimsical Chisato Moritaka(森高千里)song. This time, it's "HEY VODKA" to add onto her other alcohol-themed tunes, "Gin Gin Jingle Bell"(ジン・ジン・ジングル・ベル)and "Kibun Sokai"(気分爽快). Just like those two, "HEY VODKA" was also a campaign song for a booze ad; in this case, it was for Suntory's Ice Vodka.

Moritaka's tribute to the Russian liquor (at least, the self-cover version above) may well as be the sister to "Gin Gin Jingle Bell" since it has that similar Latin Lounge music vibe. The singer-songwriter also provided the melody while Doushee Uozuka(ドーシー魚塚)gave the lyrics about how wonderful vodka is as one of the ultimate mixers. I had almost forgotten about this one until I heard it again; yup, I now remember catching it on TV way back when.

Like "Gin Gin Jingle Bell", "HEY VODKA" was also a track on Moritaka's 11th album, "TAIYO" from July 1996. The above video is for an updated version, and may I say that the lass was still looking pretty fine although she no longer wore those techno-aidoru duds.

To wrap up, I managed to track down the original commercial for that Ice Vodka.