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 20, 2018

Satoru Shionoya -- Let Love Lead Me feat. Chikuzen Sato

The making of this article takes me back to a very long time ago...probably over 20 years ago. I once had a friend who was such a fan of Barry Manilow that whenever she heard him singing something like "Mandy" or "I Write The Songs", she would just curl into a ball and perhaps mew. It was like watching a cat reacting to catnip. Now I wouldn't be so extroverted in my reaction to the R&B family DeBarge but I can certainly relate to it when I hear the oh-so-delectable "All This Love" which is one of my all-time favourite songs from the genre, hands down.

I'm getting the same reaction from pianist Satoru Shionoya's(塩谷哲)"Let Love Lead Me" which is a track from his 1995 "Salt II" (too bad it kinda reads like an old international defense treaty).

Ever since first hearing Shionoya's piano work on Sing Like Talking's fantastic "Mitsumeru Ai de"(みつめる愛で)on their "Discovery" album and then realizing that he was also a member of the Japanese salsa band Orquesta De La Luz, I've kept an eye (and ear) on him. I should actually reward myself by purchasing some of his solo albums such as "Salt II".

However, getting back to the song at hand, "Let Love Lead Me" gave me those oh-so-wonderful soul ballad vibes (or perhaps it could be Quiet Storm), thanks to Shionoya's mellow jazz and R&B piano tones and the soaring vocals of Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善)from SLT. The first time I heard this, something just shot up and down my back, and memories of the aforementioned DeBarge and Anita Baker came rushing back to me from the 1980s. And I realized once more how much I loved some of the mellower side of R&B from that decade. Shionoya and Sato make a great duo and in fact, the duo has gone to work a number of times through one single and a few albums as the unit Salt & Sugar.

It's hearing music such as "Let Love Lead Me" that has had me hoping that someday there might be a resurgence of Quiet Storm-type of music on both sides of the Pacific. Incidentally, along with Shionoya coming up with the marvelous melody, Cat Gray, who has been heavily involved with Sing Like Talking, provided the lyrics. A nice way to finish a Saturday night.

Oricon Top 10 Singles of 2017

1.  AKB48                                       Negaikoto no Mochigusare
2.  AKB48                                       #Suki Nan da
3.  AKB48                                       Juu-ichi Gatsu no Anklet
4.  AKB48                                       Shoot Sign
5.  Nogizaka46                                Nigemizu
6.  Nogizaka46                                Influencer
7.  Nogizaka46                                Itsuka Dekiru kara Kyo Dekiru
8.  Keyakizaka46                            Fukyōwaon
9.  Keyakizaka46                            Kaze ni Fukaretemo
10. Arashi                                       Doors ~Yuuki no Kiseki~


Nice to be outside in temperatures today which didn't require being hermetically sealed from bitter cold. It got up to around +5 degrees Celsius which was downright torrid for us this season although I'm sure Tokyoites would blanch in abject fear on hearing that figure. From what I've gleaned, my old city mates are in for a bit of a snowstorm on Monday.

For an 80s music guy like me, when I hear the title "Gloria", I immediately conjure up some good memories of the late Laura Branigan and her huge hit from 1982. I was a pretty big fan of hers during her time in the limelight.

Earlier tonight, I caught another episode of "Banana Zero Music"(バナナ♪ゼロミュージック), and there was a special guest. He rather ambled onstage looking like an ancient glam rocker in a leopard skin outfit and fluffy blonde hair. This was Juichi Morishige(森重樹一), aka ZIGGY.

ZIGGY started out in 1984 as this band centered around Morishige in some very gaudy garb and crazy hair. So perhaps visual kei may have had part of its ancestry when these guys started to play. I had heard of the band before but really didn't know any of their music way back when. I couldn't imagine what a lot of folks in Japan thought at the time.

During a recap of ZIGGY's career, one song by them was played that I soon recognized as a popular one among my old students back in Japan. Having been a regular member of the teacher-and-student karaoke contingent, I did hear this one played quite a lot while the students sang themselves hoarse. And this was "GLORIA", the other "Gloria" to go with Branigan's in terms of doppelganger titles.

I was happy to finally hear the real McCoy being performed. To be honest, I didn't think of "GLORIA" as being so hard rock...more like rock with a bit of pop in there although I wouldn't be sure whether Morishige would bludgeon me with his axe on hearing that sort of comment from me.

"GLORIA" was released as not only ZIGGY's 2nd single from May 1988 but also as their 5th single from July 1989. That second release was due to it being used as the theme song for a Fuji-TV drama. Morishige was the one behind words and music and according to J-Wiki, the rest of the band had initially been rather unhappy with "GLORIA" since they thought it sounded a little overly kayo.

Well, Morishige stayed the course and kept the faith, and "GLORIA" ended up becoming the band's most successful single, hitting No. 3 on the Oricon weeklies and selling a shade under 330,000 copies. It also became the 19th-ranked single for 1989. The song also appeared on ZIGGY's 3rd album "HOT LIPS" from May 1988. It peaked at No. 12 on the album charts.

The band had its initial run between 1984 and 2008 with sporadic returns in the 2010s, most likely for tours. All of the original members have gone their separate ways so it's just Morishige as the lone pioneer.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Nanako Sato -- Subterranean no Futari Botchi(サブタレニアン二人ぼっち)

Quite the interesting title here. "Subterranean no Futari Botchi" (Just A Subterranean Couple) is the first track on Nanako Sato's(佐藤奈々子)debut album "Funny Walkin'" from June 1977. Seeing her name and picture in "Japanese City Pop" for the first time, I had never heard of this singer-songwriter so I was surprised to see that she was represented on YouTube.

Frankly the first time I listened to "Subterranean no Futari Botchi", I was a little unsure of Sato's singing especially in the first number of seconds but after giving it a second try and then a third, things settled down pretty nicely. But among tries, I began the Sato file with her "Doyou no Yoru kara Nichiyou no Asa e"(土曜の夜から日曜の朝へ)instead which was also a track on "Funny Walkin'".

As I mentioned in that first article for Sato, she had that fateful encounter with singer-songwriter Motoharu Sano(佐野元春)which got her behind the mike. And "Subterranean no Futari Botchi" is one of their collaborations with Sano helping out in the melody while Sato took care of both words and music. For those Sano fans, this song may sound somewhat atypical since it comes across as a sunny 70s City Pop number instead of a jeans-and-T-shirt rock song but I can't deny the appeal of a percolating Fender Rhodes.

"Subterranean no Futari Botchi" has Sato singing about a couple just knocking about one Saturday night, footloose and fancy-free...akin to a pair of Coney Island lovers as is mentioned in the lyrics. The hint is also made that perhaps the two are living life somewhat on the edge as Sato even coos that they may be hitchhiking on the road. That brings my paragraph to this reference that shows up in the lyrics as 「サム・トリッピング」. At first, I had assumed it was about some famous person named Sam Tripping (singer? novelist?) but actually, the singer was referring to a 1972 movie titled "Thumb Tripping". The Wikipedia article gives one sentence for the plot: Adventurous hitchhikers decide to accept every ride they are offered and end up with more than they bargained for.

Returning to that interesting title...I gather that the subterranean part might be talking about the couple going underground, doing their own thing without any one from their respective families and friends being the wiser. But unlike the ominous note that "Thumb Tripping" strikes, it looks like the couple will continue their daring escapade up to the morning...and then get back to their ordinary lives according to that last lyric.

Ultimately what I got from "Subterranean no Futari Botchi" is a young man and woman playing out that American fantasy of painting the town red deep into the night, and I think that's what City Pop was all about: Japanese pop music to transport listeners across the Pacific for a bit of the exotic good life.

Logic System/Kaori Tsuchiya/Yoshihiro Nagamatsu -- Aishuu no Orient Express(哀愁のオリエント急行)

I had heard about the updated version of "Murder on the Orient Express". I saw an earlier version from the 1970s starring Ingrid Bergman, Albert Finney and Sean Connery and that was fine but even with the just-as-star-studded cast in the 2017 remake, I haven't been too intrigued to catch it myself although it's still playing at the theatres here.

The thing with me now when it comes to movies and catching them is that because of all of the superhero movies that have been galloping out the gate since the 21st century (and yep, I'm going all the way back to "X-Men" and Tobey Maguire's "Spiderman"), I'm now seeing trailers and immediately identifying the individual cast members with their superhero/escapist character roles. Therefore when I saw the trailer above for "Murder on the Orient Express", I couldn't help but see Gilderoy Lockhart, Rey, The Green Goblin, Captain Jack, The Master and the great M. Och, my poor pop culture-riddled mind.

Well, the Orient Express also exists in our little sphere of popular Japanese music. "Aishuu no Orient Express" literally translates as "Sorrowful Orient Express" but officially known with the English title "Orient Express". However, considering the plot of the above movie, I think the aishuu part is well-deserved. After all, if I had been on that particular train with all of the death and suspicion hanging about like a shroud, I probably would have gone for room service than head into the club car and then wondered if I could get some of my money back.

The song was created by two veterans in Japanese songwriting, Reiko Yukawa and Kyohei Tsutsumi(湯川れい子・筒美京平). How I found out about the song was notable in that I had just exchanged greetings with Toshi of the Logic Store, the online establishment for composer and computer programmer Hideki Matsutake(松武秀樹)who has worked with singers and bands such as Yellow Magic Orchestra. I had purchased my first Mioko Yamaguchi(山口美央子)album there. The store also represents Matsutake's own technopop unit, Logic System(ロジック・システム).

I have already provided one song by Logic System here, the New Wave-y "Domino Dance" and decided that I wanted to see what else was out there by the unit. So I met "Aishuu no Orient Express" which was the 1982 follow-up single to "Domino Dance". Logic System took Yukawa and Tsutsumi's creation and made it into a catchy spacey and twangy instrumental that seemed to be the answer to the question "What if J.J. Abrams had decided to remake the classic romantic mystery flick 'Charade' and set it in space and then had Matsutake come up with the appropriate theme song in the mode of Henry Mancini's original great tune?". Personally, I wouldn't mind Daisy Ridley and Tom Hiddleston (oops, I'm sorry: Rey and Loki) appear in that one.

"Aishuu no Orient Express" is also on Logic System's 3rd album "Orient Express"(東方快車)which also came out in 1982.

But as they say on commercials, "Wait! There's more". I also found out that in the same year, "Aishuu no Orient Express" was also provided to actress/aidoru Kaori Tsuchiya(つちやかおり)as her 2nd single. This is where Yukawa's lyrics come into play. The above video doesn't exactly have the best quality but you can hear at least an excerpt from the original recorded version through her debut album with the same title as the subject song at There is some of that techno kayo feeling in the arrangement so I wouldn't be surprised if Matsutake had a hand in that.

I had never heard of Tsuchiya before but she does have a J-Wiki page. She's currently identified as a tarento and actress who was born in Tokyo, and appeared in that classic school drama "Sannen B-gumi Kinpachi-sensei"(3年B組金八先生)as one of the many students. As a singer, she released 11 singles and 5 original albums between 1982 and 1986. She was also once married to Toshikazu Fukuwa(布川敏和), one of the trio that made up 1980s aidoru group Shibugakitai(シブがき隊).

Then in 1983, guitarist Yoshihiro Nagamatsu(永松よしひろ)provided his own take on "Aishuu no Orient Express" through what I think was his first album "Music Message I". His version has the technopop in there but it rather sounds like a theme for a spaghetti western. So instead of Cary Grant from "Charade", we might get Clint Eastwood from "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly". Couldn't really find any information about Nagamatsu, though.

As I've said before and will say again, I always love it when a song has a story that takes me places.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Mr. Children -- Sanbyaku-rokujuu-go-nichi(365日)

I actually thought that Mr. Children's "Sanbyaku-rokujuu-go-nichi" (365 Days) was one of the band's singles, so I tried to search through their long list on J-Wiki but only came up with bupkiss. I mean, Kazutoshi Sakurai's(桜井和寿)inspirational love ballad is so uplifting and romantic that I assumed that the studio had been chomping at the bit to release it as such.

However, the fact is that it was "merely" a track on Mr. Children's 16th hit album "SENSE" from December 1st 2010 although it was used as an NTT campaign song. I encountered this song by accident last night on YouTube. As I said in my very first Mr. Children article back in 2013, I never became a huge MisChiru fan even though I do like the songs by the band that I've written about, and so I didn't keep too much focus on Sakurai and company throughout the years, especially once we all entered the new century. I've basically seen them as one of the quintessential 90s bands.

Therefore, listening to "Sanbyaku-rokujuu-go-nichi" for the first time, I just opined that Sakurai could still come up with epic ballads with tearjerking capabilities. It's not surprising that I've seen private YouTube videos of the song being the musical background for weddings. And according to the J-Wiki article on the album, the tune may not have been officially released as a single but it's treated as one of Mr. Children's trademark efforts.

As the NTT commercial attests, the song is all about maintaining those connections no matter how long the distance. "SENSE" went to No. 1 for 2 weeks straight and at the speed of warp became the 5th-ranked album for 2010 (I did say that it was released right on the first day of the last month), going Triple Platinum. It even hung in there to become the 36th-ranked album for 2011. Strangely enough, there were no singles released from the album at all with just a digital download available for one of the tracks, "fanfare".

Atsuko Hiyajo -- Hiyajo(ひやじょう)

Back in November last year, I came across Atsuko Hiyajo's(比屋定篤子)"Kokoro Tokashite"(心溶かして), the first track of her 4th album "Hiyajo" from February 2004, and was immediately charmed by its bossa nova. In fact, I liked it so much that I purchased it as part of my Xmas shopping blitz.

Track 2 is "Otome Knockout Night"(乙女ノックアウトナイト...A Knockout Night for a Young Lady)which was written by Hiyajo and composed by guitarist Shigeharu Sasago(笹子重治)is a cute and scampering piece of bossa nova that I've enjoyed for Hiyajo's use of onomatopoeia at the beginning of each line. I really felt like picking it up and stroking it behind the ears.

"Yuuhi no Uta"(夕日の唄...Song of the Setting Sun)is another mellow ballad that I enjoy as well. Her voice and lilting delivery make this track one of my favourites. Hiyajo was responsible for both words and music.

"Kimi wo Terasu yo"(君を照らすよ...I'll Shine On You)is a peppy number with a goodly amount of percussion as Hiyajo sings about a couple who are obviously very much in love. I would say that it's the ideal song to walk along a tropical beach including Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro itself. Saigenji provided the music to her lyrics.

To wrap up, here is the final track from the album "Tsuki no Hoseki"(月の宝石...Moon Jewel). Another Hiyajo/Sasago collaboration, there is some more nighttime jazz mixed in with the bossa and I think it's a good way to finish the album before retiring for the evening. I would love to listen to Hiyajo sing this one in a classy hotel rooftop club in Tokyo. If only I could afford the New York Grill on the top of the Park Hyatt Hotel.

So "Hiyajo" is another hit album for me. It makes for some fine nighttime listening or even as a disc to be played during a rainy Sunday afternoon. The tracks bring in some tropical sunshine but can also evoke that luxurious evening feeling.