Credits

I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Aming -- Matsu wa (待つわ)




I was watching the 1982 Kohaku Utagassen when this pair of women appeared and harmoniously sang this adorable tune. Little did I know at the time that this was the top song of the year according to Oricon. Takako Okamura(岡村孝子) and Haruko Kato(加藤晴子) were classmates at Sugiyama Joshien University(椙山女子園大学) in Nagoya when they decided to form a singing pair.

Aming has quite the trivia attached to it right down to the origin of the name. Until the duo's return in 2007, Aming would have ended up as the act with the shortest life that sang the No. 1 Song of the Year. Releasing their debut song, "Matsu wa"(I'll Wait for You) in July 1982, the pair announced their breakup at the end of 1983. The origin of the name came from the name of a cafe, Amin(安民), used in the lyrics of a song, "Pumpkin Pie and Cinnamon Tea" sung by folk singer Masashi Sada(さだまさし)in 1979. Sada himself derived that cafe's name from Ugandan dictator Idi Amin! Consider my jaw thoroughly dropped!

"Matsu wa"was written and composed by Okamura and was first sung at the 1982 Yamaha Popular Song Contest in the Spring where it won the grand prize. It was released as a single in July of that year and reached No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies where it stayed for 6 weeks from late August to early October. And of course, they got onto the Kohaku in December. It has also become a popular song in the karaoke boxes.

The notable thing about their performance of the song, which covered the evergreen theme of unrequited love, was their minimalist approach. The ladies stood side by side and sang the song without any facial expressions and just shifted their feet. Quite the counter-intuitive maneuver when considering the frenetic bopping about by the various aidoru. Of course, another hit female duo, Wink, would pick up a similar choreographic theme about half a decade later.



As for the reason behind the brief duration of the duo, according to an NHK program in 2005, Haruko Kato said that she had come to the realization that she didn't really have any talent and felt that she didn't belong in the music world. Kato left Aming and returned to a regular life, while Okamura proceeded with a solo career that has continued. However, the friends maintained contact, and in 2002, Kato joined her former partner in a song commemorating the 20th anniversary of Aming. Then in 2007, the pair officially revived the act, even appearing once more in the Kohaku of that year.

Miki Imai -- Retour



"Retour" is not only my favourite Miki Imai (今井美樹)album but one of my favourite Japanese CDs bar none. It's kinda like the Japanese equivalent of Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly", one of those albums that seems to get better over time, with every song a winner. The songs from both albums didn't immediately scream "HIT!" but gradually permeated themselves over the years. The singer had great support from composers Chika Ueda(上田知華)& Akemi Kakihara(柿原朱美), and lyricist Yuuho Iwasato(岩里祐穂). Even Imai provided lyrics for some of the tracks. Unlike "The Nightfly", there isn't any overarching theme to "Retour"; just 12 wonderful pop songs. Strangely enough, none of them were ever released as singles. The album was released in August 1990 where it reached a peak of No. 2 on Oricon.

The above video is for the first and title track itself, penned by Imai and Kakihara. In it, Imai pensively sings of a change of sorts in her life. The album was her first original album in over 2 years and several months after "Ivory", her first Best album of hits from her first 4 albums, so perhaps the song is a signal of things to come.

(cover version)

The second track is "Sol y Sombra", a lovely bossa jazz tune which was written inspired on festivals such as the Falles in Valencia, Spain and Carnaval. I love the song but there is one line that Imai sings which keeps me wincing since it sounds like "Hairy Hombre".


The final video is the official video for the 6th track, "Shiawase ni Naritai"(幸せになりたい...I Wanna Be Happy)....something that I hadn't seen since I saw it the first time two decades ago on MTV Japan. Generally, Imai is known for her ballads but this is an uptempo tune written and composed by Ueda. Finding her early videos is not that easy so it was great that I could track this one down. But watching it again, I almost felt like telling her to try that tradition called eating regularly.

March 29, 2016: I've a written a follow-up on the album right here.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Kome Kome Club/HALCALI -- Roman Hiko (浪漫飛行)



I guess I should say 「ただいま!」 I'm back from my weeklong vacation, and I thought I should start things up on the blog by using this song. I would've done some stuff on the cruise ship but when Internet rates are 65 cents a minute, I thought I could wean myself off the Net for a week.

The first time I came across the eclectic band Kome Kome Club (米米クラブ)was through a TV commercial. They were singing "Funk Fujiyama", and the band struck me as a group of folks who looked as if they had been kidnapped and tortured by the Takarazuka acting troupe. But I gradually became a fan of theirs, and one of my few regrets about my time in Japan is that I never got a chance to see these guys in concert. Apparently, K2C was THE band to catch during the 90s with a showmanship that only Southern All Stars could rival.

Anyways, after "Funk Fujiyama" was Kome Kome Club's 10th single, "Roman Hiko"(Romantic Flight). Released in April 1990, it had that jaunty traveling beat and Tatsuya 'Carl Smokey' Ishii's(石井竜也) fun & mellow vocals. As someone had remarked for the video on YouTube, it sounds like an anticipated trip. The folks at Japan Air Lines at the time must've come to the same conclusion since the song was used as their campaign song for their Okinawa vacations. During my time in the karaoke rooms, "Roman Hiko"was also a favorite for folks behind the mike. The song is also included on the band's third album, "KOMEGUNY", which was actually released back in 1987. Talk about the slow way to become a hit.

"Roman Hiko"became the 2nd-most successful single of the year in 1990, just behind gimmick unit, B.B. Queen's "Odoru Ponpokorin".


Last year, Okinawan dance/singing duo, HALCALI, gave their own ska treatment of the song.. The two ladies are a fun pair to watch as well as hear (although the above video is of two other ladies performing the dance).

Friday, April 20, 2012

Akiko Yano -- Zai Kuntong Shonen (在広東少年)


"Zai Kuntong Shonen"(Canton Boy) was actually the B-side to Akiko Yano's(矢野顕子) hit single "Harusaku Kobeni"春咲小紅), but I think it still merited its own A-side. It's such a funky and eclectic piece of technopop with the Yellow Magic Orchestra providing all the synth magic and electric guitar while Yano provides some of her own vocal acrobatics. When I first heard it, I couldn't quite figure it out but once I got used to Yano's unusual delivery and initial dissonance, it's become a fun song for me.


When I tried to watch this for the second time on YouTube, there were some technical difficulties so I hope you are a bit more successful when you watch it here. This is actually during the YMO concert in Budokan when Yano toured with the band as a second keyboardist. For the past several years, I've usually seen Yano behind a grand piano playing pop and jazz, so it's pretty exhilarating seeing her just getting down and whooping it up behind her synths while wearing the YMO uniform back 30 years ago.

Miyuki Nakajima -- Jidai (時代)


Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき) was also one of the earliest singers I heard when I started listening to Japanese pop music in the early 80s. On "The Sounds of Japan"broadcast on Saturday nights, I first heard this acoustic version of "Jidai"(Time Goes Around) which has become one of her signature songs. Her second single won the grand prize at the World Popular Music Festival in November 1975, and was released as a single the next month. It peaked at No. 14 on the Oricon weeklies and became the 88th-ranked song of 1976.

There have been various versions of "Jidai" but the version at the link below is, by far, my favourite rendition by her. I can pretty much guarantee some listeners may get that lump in their throats just from the melody and Nakajima's delivery.

The single also became part of her first album, "Watashi no Koe ga Kikoemasuka"(私の声が聞こえますか....Can You Hear My Voice?) in April 1976. It peaked at No. 10 but remained a long seller on the charts, becoming the 34th-ranking album of 1978.

(the above video has limited operating hours)

Ami Ozaki -- My Pure Lady


Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美) was born in Kyoto in 1957. Along with being a veteran singer of mellow ballads and medium-tempo pop tunes, she has written and composed hit songs for other big names such as Anri(杏里) and Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子). It was her 3rd single, "My Pure Lady" in February 1977, that was the breakthrough hit for her. Originally written as a jingle for a Shiseido cosmetics commercial, the single release was given more of an appealing bossa nova touch. It rose up to No. 4 on the Oricon weeklies. I've always enjoyed her songs since they're the ones that can be heard while having a nice cup of tea.

Ozaki was actually born Misuzu Ozaki(尾崎美鈴). Her stage name of Ami came from the French word for "friend".


This is the 1977 Shiseido commercial featuring "My Pure Lady". The young lady with the binoculars is popular model Asami Kobayashi (小林麻美)who had her own singing career from 1972. Arguably her most famous hit was a cover version of "I Love Chopin"by Gazebo.

P.S. Ozaki also helped out as backing vocal on Yuming's hit album, "The 14th Moon" in 1976.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

TUBE -- Season In The Sun


For close to a decade, when it came to summer music, the Japanese would usually imagine legendary band Southern All Stars or singer Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎). The entertainment conglomerate, Being Incorporated, decided to get in on the summer racket by launching its own band. In 1985, The Tube was born.

Two singles were released which didn't dent the charts too much in their debut year. The leader and singer of the band, Nobuteru Maeda(前田亘輝), stated that if the third single didn't do well, then it would be the end. The Tube dropped its definite article and released "Season In The Sun" in April 1986, written by Tomoko Aran(亜蘭智子) and composed by Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎), both established singers in their own right.

I had just replied to a commenter that I didn't really listen all that much to TUBE albums as a whole anymore. But listening to "Season in the Sun" for the first time in several years while watching the video above reminded me how great this song still is. Consider the hairs on my neck duly raised. I especially love the intro with the choral harmony before Maeda punches it off with "STOP the season in the sun..."

Of course, the band did survive since "Season in the Sun" was the first big hit for TUBE. The song stayed up in the Top 20 of the Oricon singles charts (it peaked at No. 6) from May through August (pretty logical) and became the 16th-ranked song of the year. The album picked up that lost definite article, and "THE SEASON IN THE SUN", released in June, went as far as No. 3 and became the 12th-ranked album of the year.


I did not know this even existed. This is the seven-and-a-half minute extended remix of the single! Enjoy those extra ounces of Corona while listening to it.

Considering Maeda's prediction about the consequences of their 3rd single not succeeding, the next bit of trivia is pretty amazing. Since the release of TUBE's 3rd breakthrough album, "THE SEASON IN THE SUN", every album that has been released by them up to 2012 (No. 31 "RE-CREATION"was released last summer) has been able to break into the Top 10, a 26-year streak which is the second-longest run in Japanese music history!

Hiromi Go -- Otoko no Ko , Onna no Ko (男の子女の子)



For anyone who has seen the wonderfully wacky world of Japanese TV programs and their sponsoring commercials, you may have seen a youthful-looking middle-aged man occasionally spinning around in a shiny disco suit, yelling "Ja-PAN!"once in a while. Enter Hiromi Go!

Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ) was born Hiromi Haratake(原武裕美)in Fukuoka Prefecture in 1955. He joined Johnny & Associates(ジャニーズ事務所) in 1971 as a back dancer for one of the earliest groups signed by founder Johnny Kitagawa, The Four Leaves (Arashi's great ancestor), before getting his chance behind the mike. His stage name was born due to his already emerging popularity with the female members of the audience even as a dancer. They screamed "LET'S GO, HIROMI!"and from the last two words came Hiromi Go.

The 16-year-old Go debuted with "Otoko no Ko, Onna no Ko" (Boys, Girls) in August 1972. Even now, he's known for his nasal delivery, but back then, he sounded like a helium-filled cartoon character. The song is a cheeky adolescent exhortation of his desire for the opposite sex, completed with his "Hey, hey, hey", a porn-y guitar and a Benny Hill sax.

It was instantly a hit for Go as it broke into the Top 10 at No. 8. The following year, he and two other male aidoru, Hideki Saijo(西城秀樹) and Goro Noguchi(野口五郎) became known as the Shin-Gosanke (新御三家...The New Big Three), to distinguish them from the previous decade's most popular trio of male singers. Of The New Big Three, Go is the most active even now in Japanese show business, still hoofing it up and singing away at the age of 56.




Feifei Ouyang/Ruiko Kurahashi -- Love Is Over



As someone noted on YouTube, this is to be listened over a good drink. Considering the lyrical content (a woman dumping a guy), that bar stool is gonna be occupied a long time.

The singer most associated with "Love Is Over" is Taiwanese singer Feifei Ouyang (欧陽菲菲) who had first started her career in 1967 in Taipei before coming to Japan in 1971. She became an instant hit with her first single there called "Ame no Midosuji"雨の御堂筋...Rainy Midosuji), which sold more than a million records and earned Ouyang a Newcomers Prize at the 1971 Japan Record Awards. She also appeared the next year at the Kohaku Utagassen.

In 1979, Ouyang first sang "Love Is Over" as a B-side to another song which only sold 20,000 to 30,000 copies. However, it seemed that the singer never gave up on the ballad and by 1982, the song was re-released as the A-side, hitting the big time throughout 1983 and 1984. At the end of 1983, it had finally reached the top spot on the Oricon weekly charts and stayed there for 2 weeks. It became the 18th-ranked song of the year in 1984. Furthermore, in 1991, she finally performed the song at that year's Kohaku. By the way, the song was written and composed by Kaoru Ito (伊藤薫).


In 1981, Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子) debuted with her album, "Without Sugar". On the album, she gave her own version of "Love Is Over"; it was similar in style to the Ouyang version in that it was recorded as a pop power ballad with Kurahashi actually openly sobbing near the end of the song. However, a later version was recorded in which the arrangement had been changed so that this newer rendition was done as a jazz ballad. In this case, it's just Ruiko's voice and a piano. This version can be found in a number of her BEST albums, but it seems like its first appearance was in the 1985 album, "Ballad wo Kaban ni Tsumete"(バラードをかばんにつめて....Put the Ballads in the Pouch).

Take a listen to both Ouyang and Kurahashi versions and tell me what you think. In any case, the song has been a popular one (for us older folks anyways) at the karaoke box.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ANNOUNCEMENT

Thank you all from Canada, America, Russia, Japan, Italy and all of the other countries who have visited Kayo Kyoku Plus over the past 2.5 months. I hope that at the very least you got a chance to listen to some Japanese pop you like.


I just wanted to let you know that I will be away for several days from April 21 to April 28, but feel free to peruse some of the postings that you have seen and the ones that you have yet to see. I will be back posting from either the 28th or the 29th.


Arigatou gozaimasu.


J-Canuck

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Amaku Kiken na Kaori (あまく危険な香り)






Another mellow summery early 80s Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎) ditty. I have to admit that within Yamashita's long career, the output during this period is the one I've enjoyed the most. The arrangement of the horns and electric piano and guitars just makes one want to open that Schlitz and take that ride in the open convertible down the bayside highway (of course, not at the same time.....kids, drinking OR driving: GOOD, drinking AND driving: BAD).



"Amaku Kiken na Kaori"(Sweet Dangerous Scent) was actually the theme song for a drama of the same name, and reached a peak of No. 12 on the Oricon weeklies. It's included on one of Yamashita's BEST albums, "Greatest Hits! Of Tatsuro Yamashita".





With all of the summery City Pop songs that was coming out of Yamashita at this time, it's ironic that he also released in the same year what would become his most famous song......"Christmas Eve".
By the way, the above video is a cover by Original Love.


And of course, we can't miss Miku Hatsune's(初音ミク)chip tune version.


Minako Yoshida -- Hoho ni Yoru no Akari (頬に夜の灯)


I've heard about Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子) for years as this amazing singer/songwriter/composer/arranger and compatriot of other kayo kyoku New Musicians such as Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由美), Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎) and the Yellow Magic Orchestra. In fact, Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆) and YMO's Harry Hosono(細野晴臣) encouraged Yoshida to go into music during her high school days. Initially, she went into the direction of Carole King and Laura Nyro but she also gradually got into funk and R&B.

After reading her entry on "Japanese City Pop", I took the plunge and bought her 1982 album, "LIGHT'N UP". And the second track, "Hoho ni Yoru no Akari"(The Light of the Night on Your Cheek), was pure City Pop heaven. The critic in "JCP"remarked that the album was worth getting for this song alone. And he is right. It is a tune to be played in the car stereo while driving on the highway at night...with that special someone. The horns are SO mellow and then David Sanborn comes in with his sax solo. It's gotten a lot of play on my stereo since I got it.




Misato Watanabe -- Summertime Blues





Next to "My Revolution" in 1985, this is the song that I often remember Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里) for. Despite the title, the song is a happy paean to the hot season. Just hearing her belt out the title in the refrain makes me think of those sweltering days back in Gunma Prefecture.



"Summertime Blues"was released in May 1990 as her 16th single and peaked at No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies. It was included in her 6th album, "tokyo" a couple of months later. "tokyo"itself hit the top spot on the album charts a week after its release. The song was the first one that Watanabe composed and wrote.



A bit of Watanabe trivia. She is currently tied with Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), Akina Nakamori(中森明菜), and rock band B'z at No. 3 for having No. 1 albums annually (8 years in a row). No. 2 belongs to Ayumi Hamasaki(浜崎あゆみ) at 12 consecutive years and No. 1 goes to Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実) at 18 years.




PUFFY -- Asia no Junshin (アジアの純真)




The first time I heard of PUFFY was when I saw the official music video. At a time when the Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉) era of J-Pop was coming up with Shibuya-gal friendly artists, seeing these plain Janes dancing appealingly clumsily was a bit refreshing. Ami Ohnuki(大貫亜美) and Yumi Yoshimura(吉村由美) were lone singers lost in the giant SONY machine until Ohnuki asked former Unicorn frontman, Tamio Okuda(奥田民生), to include her newfound friend as a duo.

Okuda composed and arranged "Asia no Junshin" (Purity of Asia) as a song that ELO would love, with Yosui Inoue(井上揚水) providing the zany lyrics (Berlin, Dublin, Liberia, balalaika, lasagna). Weird Al Yankovic would have swooned about this debut song.

This eclectic mix of singers, lyrics and melody had a Cinderella ending. Released in May 1996, it hit the No. 3 position on the Oricon weeklies and earned PUFFY the Newcomers' Prize at the Japan Record Awards. It also sold over 1 million copies and launched the duo onto a successful career which has extended beyond Japan.



(June 17 2015: I've got a follow-up here)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Kiyoko Suizenji -- Sanbyaku Rokujuu Go Ho no March (三百六十五歩のマーチ)



In my infancy, I remember the old RCA Victor stereo and with it, the LP rack filled with Japanese enka record albums. One of them had a picture of someone that I couldn't distinguish between a boy or a girl. There went my fragile little mind. Anyways, the one who ruined me was Kiyoko Suizenji(水前寺清子), a singer who hails from Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu.

Even today, she still has that very short haircut, and unless you are a very hardcore fan of hers,  you know her for one song and for one song only. "Sanbyaku Rokujuu Go Ho no March"(The 365-Step March), Suizenji's 13th single since her debut in 1964, is one song that everyone of all ages can identify from the opening brassy notes and the timpani stomps, and whenever she appears on a music show, it's pretty much a given that she will perform that song.

The song is a rallying cry for all those workers getting through the days, weeks and years of hard toil, as Suizenji encourages everyone to get off their duffs in her half-gravelly, half-helium voice. And if one is going to be known for just one song, why not a song that can get the population working and productive?

Soon after its release in November 1968, it peaked at No. 12 and became the 36th-ranking song for 1969. Not surprisingly, it has been used as theme songs at events such as baseball tournaments.


Yumi Arai -- The 14th Moon (14番目の月)


(karaoke version)

"The 14th Moon"was the final Yuming album I bought before leaving Japan. And it was a good thing that I did, too, since it's a winner from start to finish. This was Yumi Arai's(荒井由実) 4th album and her final one before she got married to the producer of the album, Masataka Matsutoya(松任谷正隆). She had even thought it would be her final album, period, before changing her mind.

Released in November 1976, "The 14th Moon"is notable in that most of the songs are generally more upbeat and poppy, and the production values have more oomph with the addition of more brass and strings. The additions included bassist Leland Sklar and drummer Mike Baird. The album hit the top spot on the Oricon weekly charts and became the 4th-most successful album of 1977. 

The first link above is for the very first track, "Sazanami"さざ波...Ripples), an optimistic song about looking forward to some time alone after the end of a relationship. It's also known amongst kayo kyoku fans as one of the more popular Autumn songs. The rhythm piano just keeps the good times rolling.



(cover version)

"Chuo Freeway"中央フリーウェイ...Central Freeway)has become a kayo kyoku standard that has been covered by everyone from The Hi-Fi Set to one of the Morning Musume units. It refers to the actual Chuo Expressway which runs from Tokyo to Nagoya, and to Yuming, being on a road without any signals represents freedom; in a way, this might be the Japanese cousin to Bobby Troup's "Route 66". In an interview on another YouTube video of the song, Yuming talked about how the song came about during the times that she used to commute by subway to work from Hachioji (a Tokyo neighbourhood) but would usually be given a ride home in a car after midnight, and how in a metropolis of mass transit such a ride home would be a slice of the high life.



The final song in this entry is "Good Luck and Good Bye", a wistful song of that final meeting between former lovers which feels like something that would happen in one of those Hollywood romantic comedies of the 1960s...ones in which Gidget doesn't get the guy. Found the video with Yuming singing it, but I also managed to find a nice cover version above by French singer Carole Serrat.







I think this was one of the remarkable things about Yumi Arai, and perhaps why many critics feel that as Yumi Arai, she had the finest songs of her career during the early to mid-70s. At a time when foreign travel by Japanese was still considered a luxury, her New Music helped to bring that exotic and international feeling to the masses.

In any case, a number of these songs are available on her various BEST CDs, but I would still recommend getting "The 14th Moon". Someday when I get back to Japan or have enough money to invade Amazon, I'm gonna finish my mission to get the remainder of Yuming's long line of albums.


Takao Kisugi -- Yume no Tochuu (夢の途中)



You may have come here from my entry on Hiroko Yakushimaru's(薬師丸ひろ子) debut single, "Sailor Fuku to Kikanjuu"(セーラー服と機関銃). If so, I bid you welcome.

As I said in that entry, both "Sailor Fuku"and "Yume no Tochuu"夢の途中...In The Middle of a Dream)were written and composed by the Kisugi(来生) siblings because they were both one and the same (cue dramatic music: DAN, dan, dan, DANNNN)!

The whole thing came about when Takao Kisugi(来生たかお), who had already composed and sung the song, was unceremoniously dropped from the project by his recording company, Kitty Records (currently Universal Music), after the director of the movie "Sailor Fuku to Kikanjuu" had demanded that aidoru Yakushimaru sing the theme. Etsuko Kisugi(来生えつこ), the lyricist and Takao's older sister, was furious and matters reached the point where Takao was about to storm off to another company, when the president of Kitty Records declared that the song would be released under both titles, "Yume no Tochuu"under Takao Kisugi and "Sailor Fuku to Kikanjuu"under Hiroko Yakushimaru. Except for one changed line, the two songs were identical. Crisis averted. And besides, Kisugi had a huge hit some months earlier with "Goodbye Day".

Kisugi's song was released as part of the album with the same name just a couple of weeks after Yakushimaru's version had started its run. The album would peak at No. 2 on the Oricon album charts and finish 1982 at No. 24.



Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hiroko Yakushimaru -- Sailor Fuku to Kikanjuu (セーラー服と機関銃)



Hiroko Yakushimaru (薬師丸ひろ子)started her acting career in 1978 in a film by Kadokawa Pictures alongside Ken Takakura, who would later star in "Black Rain" with Michael Douglas. But three years later, she would earn iconic status when she posed in a picture as a high school student in the typical sailor suit uniform....packing major heat via a machine gun.

"Sailor Fuku to Kikanjuu"(Sailor Suit and Machine Gun) was another Kadokawa film which was a satire on yakuza flicks with Yakushimaru as the young heroine/teenage delinquent who ends up becoming the new oyabun of her late father's criminal gang. She also sang the eponymous theme song, her debut single which was released in November 1981. Written by the prolific brother-and-sister team of Takao and Etsuko Kisugi(来生たかお・来生えつこ), it would stay at the No. 1 spot for 5 straight weeks from late December to mid-January and end up being the 2nd-ranking song of 1982.

Another unusual thing is that this song has a bit of a split personality in that Takao Kisugi, who also does double duty as a singer, sings this under the title of "Yume no Tochuu"(夢の途中...In the Middle of a Dream). This will have its own entry along with the reasoning behind the double titling.

Keeping on the theme of twos, "Sailor Fuku to Kikanjuu"seems to have two versions: there is the one above which is the original softer version while another exists that has a bit more of a dramatic melody line. I heard the latter version first many years ago but can't seem to find it anywhere on YouTube.

By the way, Yakushimaru was the second Mrs. Koji Tamaki (玉置浩二)(of Anzen Chitai fame) for a time.

Ahhhh....found the more dramatic version of the song although it's a karaoke cover.

Yamano Music -- Ginza Branch

Yamano Music is the CD store that I had the longest relationship with. Located right at the main intersection in Ginza 4-chome(銀座4丁目), it's very easy to find.

When I used to come on down from Gunma Prefecture to get that monthly exposure to city life back in the early 90s, Yamano Music was the first place I hit to search for those discs. It has never had that cool vibe of Tower Records or HMV, but like the outer structure that it inhabits, it's nice and solid. Often when there is a big artist promoting a new album, there is a huge poster overhanging the entrance and tables outside selling the discs with the songs blaring out the speakers.

The first floor has all the kayo kyoku/J-Pop albums and singles while the Western discs and DVDs can be located in the basement. As I said, the store is in a very central location. If you're coming on the yellow Ginza Line, just look for Exit A9 and walk upstairs. Once you reach topside, just walk a few metres ahead and it'll be on your left. It's open from 11 a.m. but best look out for Mondays since one Monday a month, the store closes for inventory-taking. The red Marunouchi Line and the gray Hibiya Line also stops at Ginza Station, in which case just search for the Ginza Line gates and then A9.

I have to also come out of my usual zone of kayo kyoku into that of Japanese foodie-ism, since there is a great tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet) restaurant just across from Yamano Music. It's called Genkatsu,(ゲンカツ) and it is located in the Ginza Act Building on the 3rd floor. It's open from 11:30 a.m. and is famous for its mille-feuille tonkatsu...basically the pork is cut into 25 super-thin slices and fried as one piece. Fillings such as cheese and garlic can line the spaces between the slices! Gotta try it! The Act Building is located next to the mammoth Mitsukoshi Department Store(三越) on Chuo Dori (中央通り)。

Akina Nakamori -- TATTOO


In the latter half of the 1980s, after her big successes with the singles "Meu Amore" and "DESIRE", Akina Nakamori(中森明菜) made the transition from superaidoru to artiste starting with her 9th album, "Fushigi"不思議...Strange) in 1986. That album and the ones following it were notable in that they were produced by Nakamori herself, she started getting more experimental with her sound (hard rock, exotic, etc.), and they didn't include the hit singles that she was still releasing regularly. I did buy "Fushigi", "Crimson" and "Stock" and gave them a listen when they came out over 20 years ago....I have to admit that I didn't really cotton onto them...but that was then, this is now. Perhaps I might appreciate them better in the 21st century.

But my point is that during this career parallelism, when I thought I was losing Akina-chan to avant-gardism, this single just went....BOOM....in a whole lot of noggins, including the hollow one on my neck in 1988. She showed up on the music countdown shows wearing a tight red mini-skirt and a Madonna-worthy bodice, and started shimmying those shoulders to a synthesized Big Band melody! Yowza!




"TATTOO" was written by Yuriko Mori(森由里子) and composed by progressive rock band EUROX keyboardist, Asato Sekine(関根安里), who had helped craft "Fushigi"a few years previously. According to Mori, she'd had the movie "Blade Runner" in mind, and the lyrics do mention "replicant" and push the idea of an android revolution. Not sure if Mori had also been trying to send a message about Japanese society at large.

The song was first released on May 18, 1988 and it hit No. 1 on the Oricon right from the get-go and stayed there for 2 weeks. It would also be the 15th straight single to reach No. 1 for Nakamori since "Southern Wind"in 1984. It became the 13th-ranked song of the year and would also earn a Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards.

Motohiro Makaino(馬飼野元宏) a critic for "Hotwax Presents: Kayo Kyoku Famous Songs and Recordings 1980s"gave the following impressions:

"This was a bold undertaking melding a Benny Goodmanesque motif with a Big Band orchestration and a jungle beat, realized through a digital sound. It's a cutting-edge number which deviates from the usual structure of a kayo kyoku."






Shimmy, Akina, shimmy!


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Akiko Kobayashi -- Diary (ダイアリー)


(brief excerpt only)

Akiko Kobayashi(小林明子), whose "Koi ni Ochite"(恋におちて....Fall In Love) became her breakthrough hit in 1985, also had another lovely ballad on her eponymous album. "Diary" was never released as a single and didn't make any hints at possibly denting the Oricon charts, but nonetheless it's one of my favourite songs by her. I guess I'm just a sucker for a Rhodes Piano in a ballad.

Composed by Kobayashi herself, the lyrics were provided by Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼), who has given the words to a variety of kayo kyoku/J-Pop hits over the decades from Takashi Hosokawa's(細川たかし) enka tune "Kita Sakaba"北酒場...Northern Sake Bar) to Johnny's group TOKIO's "AMBITIOUS JAPAN".

Just one of my observations but it seems like from around the mid-80s to the early 90s, there was a small boom of female singers creating these very mellow ballads. Other artists such as Miki Imai(今井美樹)and Reimy(麗美)come to mind.



Friday, April 13, 2012

Yoshie Kashiwabara/Miyuki Nakajima -- Haru Nanoni (春なのに)


"Haru Nanoni"(Although It's Spring) is another song that has become popular during Graduation Season in Japan. Written and composed by singer-songwriter Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき) and first sung by aidoru Yoshie Kashiwabara(柏原芳恵) in January 1983, Kashiwabara's version has a more classical feel than a lot of other aidoru-sung ballads thanks to the strings arrangement. Lyrically, it probably hit a nerve and tugged at the heartstrings of many a graduating female student as Yoshie sings about the parting between a girl and a boy after leaving school for good.

Kashiwabara was born in 1965 in Osaka and was found via the talent show "Star Tanjo"(スター誕生..."A Star Is Born") in 1979. She debuted in the following year with "No. 1" and joined the ranks of a new generation of aidoru along with Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子) and Naoko Kawai.(河合奈保子) "Haru Nanoni"was her 14th single and peaked at No. 6 on Oricon. It later became the 31st-ranking song of 1983. The singer gathered a lot of fans even within the celebrity field, including the current Crown Prince of Japan. Crown Prince Naruhito even went so far as to present her with a bunch of roses (Oooooh...) at a 1986 concert for which she gave him an autographed photobook of hers in return.

(Sorry, music163 is dead.)

This is Miyuki Nakajima's own version of the song, which incidentally won a Gold Award at the 1983 Japan Record Awards. Nakajima's take on it is more mature and world-weary, a bit at odds with the lyrical content, but befitting her own singing style.

The Peanuts -- Kawaii Hana (可愛い花)



Going really far back here. Not sure if some of you folks remember some of those Godzilla monster movies from the 50s and 60s. In a few of them, everyone's favourite mutant giant lizard had a friend-or-foe relationship with everyone's favorite giant moth, aptly named Mothra. Well, Mothra and her baby caterpillars were good buddies with a couple of tiny twin princesses. Whenever the pint-sized princesses needed kaiju help, they would yelp "MOTHRA----AH!", and the grubs would come running with spinnerets firing.

The princesses were played by the Ito twins, aka The Peanuts. Emi and Yumi (whose real names are Hideyo and Tsukiko respectively) were raised in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture and were discovered while working in a restaurant by Shin Watanabe(渡邊晋), the president of Watanabe Productions, a huge talent agency.


"Kawaii Hana"(Cute Flower) was The Peanuts' debut song, released in April 1959. It was a cover of jazz saxophonist Sidney Bechet's instrumental "Petite Fleur", which had been released in January 1952. The Peanuts' cover was given lyrics by Takashi Otowa(音羽たかし) and arranged by Hiroshi Miyagawa(宮川秦). Miyagawa would become even more famous several years later for composing the title march for the anime "Uchusenkan Yamato"宇宙戦艦ヤマト).

The Ito twins would become famous on TV and radio for nearly 20 years, not only singing pleasant Western pop melodies but appearing as hosts and guests on various musical-variety shows in Japan (as well as the Mothra gigs). They also appeared in America on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Danny Kaye Show.




Thursday, April 12, 2012

Off Course -- Kotoba ni Dekinai (言葉に出来ない)



Probably one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful songs in Off Course's repertoire, "Kotoba ni Dekinai" (Can't Put It Into Words), it's no surprise that writer/composer Kazumasa Oda(小田和正) broke down crying when he tried to perform it live. It's also no surprise that so many J-Pop artists have covered it...from Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美) to EXILE. But it is Oda's soaring "La, la, la" that will always have him wearing the crown when it comes to this song. Released as a single in early 1982, it peaked at No. 11 on the Oricon charts.

In the Japanese Wikipedia entry for "Kotoba ni Dekinai", Oda gives a blow-by-blow account about he struggled to get this song written. He had needed to get one more song for "Over", the album that "Kotoba ni Dekinai" had gone onto late in 1981, and he felt that he wanted to make a song which included the "La, la, la". At one point, he thought about not putting any lyrics in it at all, but changed his mind. "But in any case," he said, "I was certain that singing that refrain was strong and simple, and that was our band's theme at the time."

While going through the refrain, he just fine-tuned the melody and then gradually added the concept lyrics of regret and sadness and how he couldn't put them into words. However, he did end the song with some hope. "I just didn't want to end it on an insecure and dark note, so I tied in the lyric of being so happy that there are no words. That resolved it."

The result is a bittersweet story about a love that was ultimately unsuccessful but with both people parting in a way that they were glad that they had met.



Here is one cover by Midori Karashima (辛島美登里).



And even one by chip tune unit, YMCK.

Princess Princess -- Diamonds


One of the more memorable songs of my time in Japan between 1989 and 1991, it's also the most popular song by the band Princess Princess. The late 80s were the Band Boom era, and I'd mistakenly thought that one of Japan's premier pop/rock bands had come from that time, but in actual fact, they had been around since 1983! They were under a different name back then, Akasaka Komachi(赤坂小町), at a different studio, and they diligently paid their dues for the next several years, adopting another band name before finally settling on Princess Princess in 1987. Then, their ship started to finally come in the following year with their second album "HERE WE ARE".

In April 1989, the band released their 7th single, "Diamonds", one of their poppier efforts about having a really really fun life. They finally hit it big with the single becoming the No. 1 single of the year. And the following single which was a July re-release of a 1987 song "Sekai de Ichiban Atsui Natsu"(世界で一番熱い夏....The Hottest Summer in the World) was in the 2nd spot, which had the media dubbing 1989 as the year of the Princess Princess boom. "Diamonds" certainly was a hit with the kids. My junior high school Sports Days were often filled with the sounds of "Diamonds" over the speakers.


Although there was no official connection, I think it was interesting that after the success of "Diamonds", there was the social phenomenon called the Oyaji Girl(オヤジギャル)Boom in the early 90s. The term was coined by the late Yutsuko Chusonji(中尊寺ゆつこ)in her 1990 manga, "Sweet Spot" and won a "Catchphrase of the Year"award. The OG Boom referred to the emerging trend of young women aggressively participating in the activities that had formerly just belonged to the middle-aged mid-level male executive: golfing, reading sports newspapers, betting on the horses, and smoking like chimneys. 

The lineup of the band is:

Kaori Okui (奥井香)as lead singer and guitarist
Kanako Nakayama(中山加奈子) as lead guitarist and vocals
Atsuko Watanabe (渡辺敦子)as bass guitarist and vocals
Tomoko Konno(今野 登茂子)as keyboardist and vocals
Kyoko Tomita(富田 京子)as drummer and percussionist




I was just curious so I took a look through YouTube to see if there were any videos of their very early days as Akasaka Komachi. And I managed to find one with a brief medley. Although their tunes back then made me wonder if some of the YMO boys had helped out, I could hear hints of what they would become.

Ah, and I heard that the band has gotten back together 16 years after their breakup in 1996. They'll be doing concerts in November this year to help out with the continuing relief efforts following the 2011 Earthquake.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Recomints in Nakano Broadway

The 3rd floor
 An unusual name to be sure...sounds like a rival for Tic Tacs. But Recomints has been another source to troll for the old and used CDs. Located in that other otaku emporium, Nakano Broadway, Recomints One is one branch of three located on the 3rd floor of Broadway...this is the branch which sells the kayo kyoku while Recomints Two around the corner sells the Western discs. Recomints Three sells DVDs...also an interesting shop.
  Recomints is a tight squeeze, especially on the weekends when a lot of us middle-aged folk try to browse there on a Sunday for those rare EPO or Off Course discs. However, the store also sells the contemporary stuff, too.


 
Recomints One

But my favourite section of the store isn't even inside it. It's the bargain bins set outside. There were two big ones bracketing the narrow entrance which held used discs for as low as 100 yen a pop. Most of the stuff were 90s J-Pop discs although there may be the odd 80s CD as well. I managed to pick up an Anri, PSY-S and a Miki Imai concert disc from the bins. I even found some Dip In The Pool (an avant-garde unit). Inside the store, I went on a tear for Miharu Koshi(越美晴) for a while.

For those kayo kyoku fans who may not have been to Nakano Broadway, all you have to do is get on the blue Tozai Line (Tokyo Metro) and just take the westbound train bound for either Nakano or Mitaka stations. By JR, take the yellow Sobu or orange Chuo lines. Once you get off and downstairs, just head for the North Exit. You'll see the entrance to the shopping arcade, Nakano Sun Mall, across from the station. Just go down the mall (lots of restaurants there...including a McDonalds on the left side) for a few minutes (could take longer depending on the pedestrian traffic) until you reach the end which begins Nakano Broadway. Walk several metres more and you'll see an escalator on your right and a staircase right beside it. The escalator will take you straight to the 3rd floor. Just get off at the top and hang a left. You'll see the corridor that is shown in the photos. Turn right and walk straight on down for a minute or so. Recomints One is on your right. But the rest of Nakano Broadway is so interesting, you can be forgiven if it actually takes you several minutes to get there.

In fact, I'll present you with a link to give you a photographic method on getting there.

I just loved going there since the entire four-floor complex is a trip back in time 30 years.

(July 5 2016: please check out this link for an update on Recomints. Also there is an official English website for Nakano Broadway.)

Junko Ohashi -- Crystal City




This was another album, Ohashi's fourth, purchased at Tacto from the recommendations of "Japanese City Pop", although remastered Junko Ohashi(大橋純子) albums are now available at the big shops like Tower Records.

Junko Ohashi is another one of those veteran singers who never ended up appearing daily or weekly on countdown shows or in commercials but still garnered a loyal fan base with her music and powerful voice. So, it's a bit ironic that her two biggest hits "Silhouette Romance" and "Tasogare, My Love" have her singing relatively quietly.

Even the reviewer for "Crystal City" in "Japanese City Pop", Yutaka Kimura(木村ユタカ), relates his surprise on hearing the album and realizing how much soulful power she had belted out a few years before her biggest commercial hits came out.

The above video is for the title track right at the top of the lineup. A soul number, Ohashi sends her love for the titular city, whether it be Tokyo or New York, by referring to the 52nd-floor sky restaurant, the highways, the subways and the smell of fresh ink from a newspaper. Clearly, she's taken a more positive attitude toward urban life than Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子) who tended to disdain it through some of her songs. Machiko Ryu(竜真知子)was responsible for the lyrics with Ohashi's husband, Ken Sato(佐藤健), taking care of the music here.



"Funky Little Queenie"was a revelation for both me and Kimura. As the title suggests, this is a funk number on the order of Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" in which Ohashi belts out her inner demons. It was written and composed by the guitarist in Ohashi's backup band, Minoya Central Station(美乃家セントラル・ステイション). Masami Tsuchiya (土屋昌巳)would later become famous as the lead singer in New Wave/Technopop band, Ippu-Do(一風堂), famous for their 1982 big hit "Sumire September Love"すみれ September Love).


ZOO/EXILE -- Choo Choo Train




I came back from Japan after my 2-year stay there in the summer of 1991, but I was still getting some packages from my former residence in the form of old VHS videotapes filled with the latest in  music. One show presented this rather....angular-looking...group of young folk who looked like refugees from early 90s Shibuya doing a corkscrew version of the conga line. I first thought....well....Oooooh K....interesting stuff is still going on there. But the song did catch on with me, especially the intro when singer-songwriter Keizo Nakanishi(中西圭三) is providing the chorus lead-in.

"Choo Choo Train" may sound more appropriate as a title for a kindergarten reader, and the English teacher inside of me may cry a bit at some of the lyrics, but it is a fun (fun, we hit the step, step) song! This can even get ME up and boogeying away. And the video takes me back when the ski boom was in full bloom. In fact, "Choo Choo Train" was the theme for the Japan Railways Ski Ski campaign push...I'm not sure, but I think the video was filmed somewhere in Karuizawa, a popular resort town.

The song, ZOO's 4th single, was released in November 1991, just in time for ski season, and peaked at No. 3 on Oricon. It also became a million seller. It was included in the group's first mini-album, "Present Pleasure" , released in December where it reached the top spot. In 1992, it became the 18th-ranking album of the year.

The group itself began in 1989 and disbanded on Christmas Day 1995. There was apparently a revolving-door policy when it came to members but the average size was 9-10. In the group, Satsuki was the lead singer, but a couple of other members also found later fame. YU-KI would front her own group, trf, in the early 90s, and HIRO would start up the singing-and-dancing men's group, EXILE, in 2001. This must be J-Pop's version of the X-Men franchise!

In 2003, HIRO and EXILE covered "Choo Choo Train" which did one better than the original by reaching No. 2 on Oricon. And it was also a million-seller. I'll let you guys decide which version you prefer.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kaguyahime -- Kandagawa (神田川)


I think when Japanese are asked about a folk song they remember, almost everyone will probably answer with this song. Kaguyahime(かぐや姫....Princess Kaguya)is arguably the most famous folk band that ever existed in Japan, and "Kandagawa" (The Kanda River) is their biggest hit. Kaguyahime, which was named after the classic 10th-century folktale of a moon princess found in a bamboo stalk as a baby, has had several reunions over the decades, but their first run was in the first half of the 1970s.

The song, released in September 1973, was written and composed by two members of the band, Makoto Kitajo( 喜多条忠)and Kosetsu Minami(南こうせつ)...the latter having sung it as well. In the lyrics, Minami portrays a woman who sings her soft admonitions to her boyfriend (reportedly Kitajo in his college days) while the two of them lived in a small ramshackle room by the Kanda River. It struck a chord with listeners as it stayed at No. 1 for a total of 7 weeks (from late October to late November, and then a cameo appearance in December). It also became the No. 6 song of the year and earned the band an appearance in that year's Kohaku Utagassen. It sold 1.6 million copies. The single also appears on the album "Kaguyahime Third", which had been released a couple of months earlier than the single.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Seiko Matsuda -- Akai Sweet Pea (赤いスイートピー)




Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), Queen Aidoru of the 80s...not a title to be taken lightly. Especially when she was on a streak of 22 straight singles(3rd to 25th) which went to No. 1 from October 1980 to April 1988. "Akai Sweet Pea" was her 8th single, released in January 1982. The song has quite a pedigree. The lyrics were provided by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆), former drummer for 1970s New Rock band Happy End, and the 2nd-most commercially successful lyricist after Yu Aku(阿久悠). But the composer for this adorably sweet tune of undying love (with an almost unhealthy interest in sweet pea) for a guy was Karuho Kureta(呉田軽穂). Who that, you say? None other than Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実) herself under an alias that she's often used.

That alias came about due to Queen of New Music Matsutoya's reluctance to the world of old-fashioned kayo kyoku. She initially had had no intention of helping out a rival in that world. But Matsumoto gradually broke down her resistance, and Yuming acquiesced under the condition that she use an alias. Of course, when reading a Japanese name, the last name comes first so she was known as Kureta Karuho...a bit of a pun on Greta Garbo. And thus Seiko-chan was the first singer to be given a Kureta hit tune (...or so I had thought).

And the collaboration hit it out of the park. "Akai Sweet Pea" is one of Seiko's most beloved songs. It was at the No. 1 spot for 2 weeks in February and became the 12th-ranking song of 1982. And even more notable, it hung around the top 20 for 17 straight months. I can only presume that Yuming was either supremely proud of her achievement or was smacking her head repeatedly for 17 straight months for contributing to an aidoru's success. I certainly hope it was the former since the song is also one of my favourites.

"Akai Sweet Pea" originally came out on the album, "Pineapple", but has always come out on every Best Hits package that Seiko has released.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Takako Mamiya -- Love Trip




A mystery for me...and for anyone who reads this. I came across this album, "Love Trip" (1982) through the auspices of "Japanese City Pop". Furthermore, I found just one song by Takako Mamiya (間宮貴子) on YouTube, and I'm not even sure if it's been uploaded in its entirety. "Mayonaka no Joke"(真夜中のジョーク...Midnight Joke) is a pretty decent City Pop tune. But despite looking throughout the Net, I haven't been able to find any more information about this singer. Would like to track it down someday, but I've got a feeling that this could be one of the rarest of the rare. (April 15, 2017: Obviously since my original comments, things have improved on this front...as long as the powers-that-be don't take it down. And I hope they don't. I still consider the album a very rare find.)




"Mayonaka no Joke" was written by lyricist Ichiko Takehana(竹花いち子)and composed by Hiroyuki Nanba(難波弘之). Takehana apparently has her own foodie blog.

(full album)




Saturday, April 7, 2012

Etsuko Sai -- Reach Out


I'm not sure about the current J-Pop situation, but back in the kayo kyoku age, Japanese record companies released singles and albums like a proverbial rapid-fire Gatling Gun. Of course, the most popular songs that got to the top were more likely to be enka, aidoru or works by top superstars like Yuming, Off Course or Anzen Chitai.

But then there are some of the unsung heroes and heroines that were never quite able to tap into the mass media zeitgeist but still had something lovely to say. I've already highlighted a couple of them: Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子) and Makoto Matsushita(松下誠). I've been listening to kayo kyoku/J-Pop for decades, but I only came across Etsuko Sai(彩恵津子)within the last few years.


In 1984, she released her first album, "Reach Out", and by the cover that you see at the very bottom, I could imagine that this would be music that didn't fit the usual categories of kayo kyoku. There was that very summery and foreign appearance to it. The first track has the same title, and I first found it when I bought my first disc in the "Good Times Diva" series, a turn-of-the-century collection of songs sung by various female Japanese singers during the last 30 years of the 20th century. At the same time, she's been mentioned in my "Japanese City Pop" guide.

"Reach Out" the single is a ballad that has that breezy carefree feeling, reminiscent of Charlene's "I've Never Been to Me", the 1982 sleeper hit. The song was composed by Tetsuro Oda(,織田哲郎)who would also bring hits to bands like Tube & Zard, and rocker Nanase Aikawa(相川七瀬)in the 90s.

Here is the English version, also sung by Sai, below.




Hiromi Iwasaki -- Romance (ロマンス)




1975 was an auspicious year for the 16-year-old Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美). Launching her long career with "Duet" in April, which managed to attain No. 19 on the Oricon charts after 22 weeks, her second single, released a mere 3 months later in July, went much higher much faster. "Romance" is a classic kayo kyoku aidoru song with its orchestral backing and chorus, but what made it special was Iwasaki's voice which already had hints of that richness which would blossom when she progressed into more adult pop songs.

Iwasaki's first two singles were created by lyricist Yu Aku(阿久悠) and composer Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平). Both of them have made history by being the most commercially successful in their areas of expertise. "Duet" may have been promising but it was "Romance" that transformed Iwasaki into a star. After its July release, it reached No. 1 on September 1, 1975 and stayed at that position for 2 weeks. It became the No. 6 song of the year and earned Iwasaki a Japan Record Award for Best Newcomer and a spot on the 1975 Kohaku Utagassen, a show on which she became a regular participant into the mid-80s. Both "Duet" and "Romance" were tracks on her first album, "Aozora"あおぞら), released in September. That album managed to peak at No. 4.



Oricon Top 10 Singles of 1983

1. Eisaku Okawa         Sazanka no Yado
2. Takashi Hosokawa   Yagiri no Watashi
3. Warabe                 Medaka no Kyoudai
4. Hiroko Yakushimaru Tantei Monogatari
5. Akio Kayama          Hisame
6. Anri                      Cat's Eye
7. Seiko Matsuda        Glass no Ringo
8. Akina Nakamori       Second Love
9. Irene Cara             Oh, What A Feeling
10. Rats & Star          Me Gumi no Hito

Notable list for that year since the top 2 and the 5th song were enka tunes. I don't think there has been even a single enka tune in a yearly Top 10 list for several years. And yep, that is indeed, the theme from "Flashdance"in at No. 9....the torn sweatshirt was also a fashion statement for a while in Japan, too.

Yujiro Ishihara -- Brandy Glass (ブランデーグラス)



He was known as The Tough Guy, The Boss (all due respect to Bruce Springsteen) and The Big Man. He went from a rebellious James Dean type to a seen-it-all wiser and older Robert Mitchum elder statesman.There are several bars around the country which are devoted to his fans a quarter-century after his death. And his older brother was the irascible governor of Tokyo.

Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎) pretty much cemented his legend as an all-round entertainment bigwig right from an early age as he played the tall (at 178 cm, he really did stand out in those days) young, devilishly handsome rebel in postwar movies. Then, 30 years later, he was probably the most trusted police squad leader on TV with the most dedicated officers under his command. In real life, he commanded Japan's own version of The Rat Pack, the Ishihara Gundan (石原軍団...The Ishihara Army), some of whom were part of the casts of the two police shows he starred in. One of them. Masaki Kanda(神田正輝) was the first husband of Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子) and the father of current singer/TV personality, SAYAKA.


Crooning enka was one of Ishihara's other activities, and one of his prototypical songs was this 1977 single called "Brandy Glass". Just from the title, you know that this was something to be sung in a karaoke bar while swishing around the eponymous container since the lyrics hint at drowning one's sorrows in drink. It's also a notable song for the orchestral arrangement and the female chorus throughout it, since I kinda wonder if the producer recruited her from the classic "Star Trek" theme song. Yoko Yamaguchi and Mitsuru Kotani(山口洋子・小谷充)were responsible for the creation of "Brandy Glass".


Friday, April 6, 2012

Anri -- Cat's Eye




The first time I came across Anri(杏里) was on the 1983 Kohaku Utagassen where she performed "Cat's Eye". I just remember this very glammed-up singer just whizzing through the lyrics at warp speed, only catching the English phrases "passion fruit" and "wink at you". I mused about the philosophical depth of the expressions while I ate my New Year's osechi food later that day.


Of course, I would find out later that "Cat's Eye" has become one of the more beloved of anime themes for the eponymous series featuring a sister trio of gorgeous and leggy cat burglars. And for Anri, the song would make for a huge boost in her career. Five years since she started singing, her 13th single, released in August 1983, was at the No. 1 spot on the Oricon weeklies for 5 weeks straight from the end of September to the end of October, and would become the 6th-ranking song of the year. It sold 1.3 million records. And no doubt, it was probably a hit in a lot of dance studios and aerobics gyms!


A lusher more disco-y version was made for Anri's 6th album, "TIMELY!!"which was released in December 1983. There's a brief but intense bass solo by Tomohito Aoki(青木智仁) which would make the musicians on "Seinfeld"weep for joy.

By the way, "Cat's Eye"was written and composed by Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子) and Yuuichiro Oda(小田祐一郎), the same duo that had created"Aoi Sangosho"(青い珊瑚礁)for Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子) in 1980.