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.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Junko Yagami -- So Amazing




Being a Junko Yagami(八神純子) fan of fairly far back (although I had to do catching up with the first 6 years of her career), I've been able to get a good picture of how her music has been evolving and changing over the past few decades. She started off with some Latin-tinged kayo and disco in the 1970s before trying out some pop/rock in the 80s before going into R&B into the 90s.

Several years ago, I came across Yagami's face on a CD in one of the big music stores, but instead of the familiar kanji, I saw her name as June Stanley, an Anglicization of her first name and the last name of her husband, John Stanley. Just seeing the name and the title of her 1997 album, "So Amazing" in small letters intrigued me so out came the yen.

The album consists of some pleasant mid-tempo R&B tracks and a couple of updates of her older material such as "Mizuiro no Ame"(みずいろの雨), but for me, the standout track is the title one. It has that light morning feel to it. Created by John Stanley and Michael Railton, "So Amazing" sounds like Smooth Jazz, but it also takes me back a bit to the late 70s/early 80s, to some of the fine Al Jarreau songs that came back then. And of course, there are Yagami's lovely vocals.

With the name change, the fully American R&B sound and the production behind it, I realize that "So Amazing" perhaps doesn't even particularly belong in the "Plus" part of "Kayo Kyoku Plus", but hey, I like the song and I know where Ms. Stanley has been. I just wanted to show how far she's come. As for the album itself, it would be her last one for several years until the release of "Vreath" in 2012.

June Stanley -- So Amazing

Miyuki Nakajima -- Chijo no Hoshi (地上の星)




Into the 21st century, NHK came up with a new documentary series called "Project X -- Challengers" which depicted some of the unsung heroes who had toiled through postwar corporate Japan to come up with the products and innovations such as the Bullet Train or computers that not just the Japanese but everyone the world over know about. NHK's angle was that these marvels of engineering have become so ubiquitous that they....and their inventors....have been taken for granted. The video above, for example, has the Project X folks looking at the history of the domestically-made computer in Japan. The program took on a somewhat intentional over-the-top blockbuster approach with a cold open and a sage voiceover before the dramatic opening credits rolled on out.




For a documentary that wanted to go epic, its producers went to somebody to provide that epic theme: Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき). They wanted bold, defiant and proud. She gave them bold, defiant and proud. She gave them "Chijo no Hoshi" (Earthly Stars -- Unsung Heroes).

"Chijo no Hoshi" comes off as an anthem with a melody that hints at an oncoming storm with Nakajima as its eye. The lady already starts singing proudly right from the start, but her voice just swells up even further and fires five rounds rapid (yep a "Doctor Who" reference, I know) in the refrain as if she's trying and succeeding to drown out the howls of the hurricane around her. It's the clarion call for all of the corporate cogs to stand up and out from behind the worktables and desks, and for even a moment, just to celebrate themselves and their work. I can imagine Nakajima carrying that spear and shield in front of them. She's become the Patron Saint of The Working Class.

Lyrically, Nakajima created a song that demanded where and why all those unsung heroes went. She mentions about the Pleiades in the wind, the galaxy in the sand, the Pegasus in the plains and the Venus on the ordinary street corner. All those constellations but why isn't anyone looking out for them? Why is everyone looking up at the sky when they ought to be looking a lot further down (perhaps as far down as that basement izakaya where some of those stars are probably ruefully knocking back a few brewskis)?

The single came out in July 2000, a few months after "Project X" had begun. And I think the theme and the show turned out to have a symbiotically beneficial relationship. The song put the show on the map but "Project X" also boosted its theme song's presence on the charts. It certainly helped when the first credit following the title was the song title and Nakajima's name.

"Chijo no Hoshi" also has the distinction of being one of the longest-running singles in the history of Oricon. When it first debuted in July 2000, it initially hit No. 15 but it started taking that long winding road through the chart, hitting No. 100 in its 97th week of release but then in its 130th week (January 2003), it rocketed all the way up to No. 1, thanks to Nakajima's very first appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen of 2002. She performed the song in a tunnel associated with one of Japan's most famous feats of engineering, the Kurobe Dam in Toyama Prefecture...rather fitting place to sing it.

For the annual charts, the song took a more slow-and-steady approach. It was ranked No. 78 in 2001, No. 67 in 2002 and then No. 11 in 2003.

Now, when a salaried worker is feeling the blues as he/she is chained behind the desk at 11 p.m., there isn't just that bottle of Yunker for solace. There is also that certain 37th single by Miyuki Nakajima.

Miyuki Nakajima -- Chijo no Hoshi

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Minako Honda -- Satsui no Vacance (殺意のバカンス)




Minako Honda (本田美奈子) had quite an interesting debut in April 1985 with “Satsui no Vacance”. The song is not one of the most acclaimed in Minako’s discography, but this alone doesn’t make the song less interesting.

“Satsui no Vacance” starts with some nice synth chord progression and a pulsating bass line before Minako joins with the haunting and dramatic chorus. Based on that, the song takes a more serious route if compared to the happy-go-lucky aidoru tunes of the mid-80s, and that was quite a stand-out characteristic for Minako. She certainly wasn’t just a kawaii aidoru singer, or “more of the same”. Back to the song, as the majority of all good synthpop tunes, it eventually breaks into a “cold” synths solo.

At first, by the title, I found this song quite odd. A poor “Google Translator” translation teached me that “Satsui no Vacance” means, literally, “Vacation of Murderous”, which is quite an impacting song title for a debut single of an aidoru singer. Even more bizarre is that the song was used as a CM for the “Toshiba Juice Mixer” (source: generasia). But I ended translating the whole lyrics with “Google Translate” and acknowledged that “Satsui no Vacance” is just another passionate torch song in the veins of Akina Nakamori (中森明菜), and not about murderers.


Also, I find initial synth chord progression of “Satsui no Vacance” quite similar to the the initial synth chord progression of the hit song “Big in Japan” by German band Alphaville.  Take a look below.





To finish, here’s a cute young Minako performing “Satsui no Vacance”. It’s really great that we have videos preserving the great memories of artists that are no longer with us.





“Satsui no Vacance” reached #21 on the Oricon chart, selling 72,520 copies. Lyrics were written by Masao Urino (売野雅勇), while music was composed by Kyohei Tsutsumi (筒美京平). As for the arrangement, it was done by Satoshi Nakamura (中村哲).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Iruka -- Kaigan Douri (海岸通)



I have often thought that Iruka(イルカ) is one of the more underrated singers in Japan. Usually when she appears on TV somewhere, it's usually to perform "Nagori Yuki"(なごり雪). That song is great, don't get me wrong on that. However, she has also had many other wonderful tunes in her repertoire.

"Kaigan Douri" (Seafront Street) is one of those songs. Written and composed by Shozo Ise(伊勢正三) of Kaguyahime(かぐや姫) fame for release in April 1979 as her 13th single, Iruka sings about some of the alternately sad/happy feelings a girl has on the titular street after a not-quite/failed love of her life has gotten on that ship heading for that sunset into a new life. I think the magic of this song is that it sounds old and new, folkie yet poppy at the same time. And the melody seems to carry a child-like innocence at the beginning, progressing to a certain maturity which I think is signified by that lovely horn at the end of the refrain. Life may not be fair but it can be educational.


And in the middle of all that is Iruka's wonderfully warm and slightly lived-in vocals. As those adjectives may hint at, her voice represents those comfy slippers or that nice bowl of soup, something I can imagine the singer cooking and offering up.

The song went only as high as No. 24 on Oricon, but it remains one of my little musical treasures in kayo kyoku.

Akina Nakamori -- Caribbean



I've already given most of my thoughts on Akina Nakamori's(中森明菜)24th single, "Dear Friend", namely the big comeback single after recovering from her suicide attempt a year previously. However, until now I had yet to say anything about the B-side of this very sunny comeback, "Caribbean".

Written by Miho Onishi(大西美帆)and composed by Kazuya Izumi(和泉一弥), I think I like "Caribbean" a bit better than the A-side. The song is definitely upbeat like "Dear Friend" with all of that Caribbean cruise feel. But it, at least in my estimation anyways, sounds mellower and more natural for her. As I mentioned on the article for that A-side, I always had that sense that Akina sounded a bit forced in her gaiety when it came to recording "Dear Friend".

I have to say that she really does look the part of a 19th-century belle in her 1991 concert performance of "Caribbean" above, although I think her apparel would have her fitting more on a riverboat near New Orleans rather than a cruise liner near Port-Au-Prince. In any case, whenever I listen to her 1989 "Cruise" sometimes, I go back to "Dear Friend/Caribbean" to balance the emotional scales, so to speak.

Mari Iijima -- Cecile no Amagasa (Version II) (セシールの雨傘 (Version II))




Although I knew some of Mari Iijima’s (飯島真理) work for some time, it wasn’t until very recently that I came across “Cecile no Amagasa (Version II)” (セシールの雨傘 (Version II)). And while I listened to it for the very first time, my conclusion was that every second of it was great.

A true 80s masterpiece, “Cecile no Amagasa (Version II)” features some minimalistic and repetitive synths that together with the strong and consistent beat will mark the pace of the song. To be honest, this song is full of interesting things, like the melancholic melody, the gentle and vulnerable vocals, the subtle yet present piano, and even a sax solo in the middle of it. All these things together are what make this song such a nice listen. I don't know it that's the case, but I also ended up categorizing this song as City Pop. Maybe I'm wrong, but the idea kept floating in my mind.

Also, as the name points out, the version presented above is not the original single version of the song, but a "(Version II)" that can be found in Mari’s fourth album, “KIMONO STEREO”, which was released in November 1985 (source: wiki.jp). The arrangement of both versions shares some similarities, but are also quite different. My preference, of course, is toward the album version, as, for me, it's a lot more polished, while the single version lacks some impact. But you can check the original single version in its official video below. Quality of sound and video are not amazing, though.


The music for “Cecile no Amagasa” was composed by Mari Iijima herself, while the lyrics were written by Takashi Matsumoto (松本隆).

Fantastic Plastic Machine -- Theme of Luxury


I think there must be something about a number of these Shibuya-kei tunes that makes them popular as musical interludes/backgrounds for the vast majority of Japanese variety shows. And that something is the fact that a number of them sound like those old loungy jingles that were used in American variety/game shows and ads back in the 1950s and 1960s. That was true for one Kahimi Karie song, "Zoom Up", and for a Fantastic Plastic Machine tune, "Electric Ladyland". And the same goes for this short-but-sweet number, also by FPM, called "Theme of Luxury".

"Theme of Luxury" was basically used as just the musical doorman for FPM's 2nd album, "Luxury" which was released in September 1998. However, it's gone on as the one of the go-to tunes on those Japanese shows to introduce a segment somewhere in Tokyo or a particularly effervescent personality. And the barely one-minute sequence has that feeling of a young devil-may-care socialite racing around the most expensive boutiques of New York at warp speed, happily in thrall to her fashion and her wallet. Perhaps this would be the ideal theme for Carrie Bradshaw.



I have to say that the homemade videos for the song got the right tone, especially the one immediately above with all those old consumer products. I could almost imagine a studio announcer yelling, "And we'll be right back to 'The Price Is Right'!"



Hideki Saijo -- Sei Shojo (聖・少女)



Wow! Another oldie and goodie that I haven't heard in eons. I first caught onto Hideki Saijo's(西城秀樹) "Sei Shojo"(Sacred Girl) when I was watching the 1982 Kohaku Utagassen. It was the 2nd Kohaku I had ever seen, so things were still very new, fresh and exciting when it came to the New Year's Eve special. Saijo had appeared on the Kohaku of the previous year, but for me, his performance of his 42nd single on that Shibuya stage was pretty darn entertaining. I'm not sure if he was the top batter for the White Team, but it was still early enough in the show that I remember seeing the tall and lanky Saijo, along with his fellow teammates (including a beaming Hiroshi Itsuki), doing the twist as he went into the refrain. Unfortunately, I couldn't find that Kohaku footage on the Net, but I'm pretty sure the White Team got a good measure of votes just from performance alone.


I later heard "Sei Shojo" in its entirety on "Sounds of Japan" on the radio, and I liked it even better. Written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆) and composed by folk singer Takuro Yoshida(吉田拓郎), the song was released in June 1982, just in time for the summer. It's a brisk song with Saijo giving a flying rendition about setting his sights on that hard-to-get girl on the beach. Listening to the fairly galloping beat with the old-fashioned strings and electric guitar, I usually get transported back to those heady days 30 years back as I was trying to gather as much information as I could about kayo kyoku back then. I also loved how his vocals meshed well with that keyboard when he sang "Say it".

"Sei Shojo" managed to peak at No. 9 on Oricon and ranked in at No. 83 for the year. It also won the Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards, and as mentioned, it also got him an invitation over to the Kohaku for the 9th time.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Chisato Moritaka -- La-La-Sunshine




Another one of my purchases during the mail-order years was Chisato Moritaka's(森高千里) "Pepperland", her 8th album from 1992. It was notable since there were no singles released from it and also because Moritaka went away from the synths and put forward more of the guitar and drums with her handling virtually all of the instruments herself. And the sound was less techno-aidoru and more jangly retro pop-rock. J-Legs was heading into a new direction.

Some years later when I was settled into my home in Ichikawa and doing the English teacher life, my usual morning news show on Fuji-TV, "Mezamashi Terebi"(めざましテレビ), selected the new theme song for the year which would become Moritaka's 29th single from June 1996. "La-La-Sunshine" is this happy-go-lucky early Beatlesque song that would greet me each morning for most of 1996 and into 1997. The synths may no longer be there but the high energy is still intact. It was a nice glass of audio orange juice, especially when one has to wake up in the wee hours.

With lyrics by Moritaka and melody by Hiromasa Ijichi (伊秩弘将...who was behind all those SPEED hits as well), watching the music video was pretty interesting as well. It had been a while since I saw Moritaka performing (never watched her concert videos/LDs). Her hair was shorter and the Sgt. Pepper's uniform showing off her gams was gone; apparently, she looked more like an employee on a Hawaiian cruise liner. Still, that distinctive voice was there.



"La-La-Sunshine" peaked at No. 5 on Oricon and got her an invitation to the 1996 Kohaku Utagassen whose performance you can see above. It also became a track on her album on her 11th album, "TAIYO".

Ah, and if you wanna look at the translation for her lyrics, you can take a look here.

Chisato Moritaka -- La-La-Sunshine
(Aloha!)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Minako Honda -- Temptation (誘惑)


Well, it’s no secret that Minako Honda (本田美奈子) wasn’t just a cute/pretty face. Honestly, she had an incredible voice and was a great singer/performer. She really brought some big guns to the aidoru world with the dramatic synthpop aidoru tune “Satsui no Vacance” (殺意のバカンス), her debut, which was released in April 1985. But it wasn’t until “Temptation”, released in September 1985, that Minako caused some true commotion. And I can see why, as “Temptation” is surely an interesting song in an aidoru’s catalogue. It’s the type of song Akina Nakamori (中森明菜) could have recorded and turned into one of her memorable hits, just like “SOLITUDE” or “Fin”, two of her laid-back masterpieces of the 80s.

But Minako herself did a great job with “Temptation”. The melody is mysterious and even sensual, in a strange way. The arrangement, built around a strong bass line and synths, just contributes to this foggy and funky feeling. Overall, it’s a very nice song and one of Minako’s best offerings during her aidoru days.

If Minako wasn’t so instable during her aidoru career, she could have maintained this style and grown as a singer with it. Her rock phase was really a turn-off if compared with the earlier synth pop tunes like "Satsui no Vacance", "Temptation" and "1986nen no Marilyn" (1986年のマリリン), or even the nice pop-rock ones like “CRAZY NIGHTS”, produced by Queen's guitarist Brian May. To be honest with Minako, though, she did grow as a singer, especially when she started doing her classical work during the 90s, but you know what I mean, she just needed a better artistic/musical direction sometimes.

“Temptation” reached #10 on the Oricon chart (source: wiki.jp), selling 184,000 copies (source: http://wagamamakorin.client.jp/saku-honda.html). A “[New Mix Version]” was later included in Minako’s first full album, “M’ Syndrome” (M'シンドローム), which reached #2 on the Oricon chart and sold 239,000 copies (source: http://wagamamakorin.client.jp/saku-minako.html). The album, which was released in November 1985, also became the #16 best-selling of 1986. Back to “Temptation”, it was written by Takashi Matsumoto (松本隆), composed by Kyouhei Tsutsumi (筒美京平), and arranged by Kazuo Otani (大谷和夫).

Naoko Kawai -- Half-Moon Serenade (ハーフムーン・セレナーデ)



I had a couple of surprises come to me today concerning Naoko Kawai's(河合奈保子) 27th single, "Half-Moon Serenade". For one thing, when my brother's family came to visit today for dinner, my cute little 8-year-old niece wanted to show me something. She unwrapped a piece of paper which had a set of lyrics, and the lyrics turned out to be those for this very song. Well, I thought, it has begun. The next generation of kayo kyoku fan has come forward. Alas, I may be jumping the gun a bit here since it is just the one song, but I was quite taken aback that a relative born in the 21st century would take an interest in an aidoru singer from the 1980s.

Apparently, her mother had come across it on the Net, and then my niece took a liking to it and started to play the tune on her piano. And according to some of the YouTube videos, it seems like a number of young folks have done the same on piano or guitar. "Half-Moon Serenade" is quite the epic ballad for Kawai....someone I had gotten to know through her Kohaku Utagassen appearances as the prototypical bouncy and smiley aidoru of the early 80s. In fact, this was her very first song in which she also wore a second hat as a composer. I remember hearing it for the first time as well on the 1986 Kohaku, her final appearance on the NHK special, and was struck by her performance on the piano and the fact that her voice took on a slightly operatic quality.

The other surprise was that the lyrics were provided by Yumi Yoshimoto(吉元由美), since I had always associated her with Anri(杏里) in terms of some of the really dynamic R&B pieces that they came up with together. "Half-Moon Serenade" was released in November 1986 and got as high as No. 6 on Oricon. It was also a track on her 13th album, "Scarlet"(スカーレット) which came out in October of that year. The album was notable for that all of the songs were created by Yoshimoto and Kawai.

According to J-Wiki, there was some media criticism at the time leveled at the song for having too much of a resemblance to another ballad from about a decade previously, "Shishuuki"(思秋期) by Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美). I have to admit that the two are similar but frankly speaking, even though I've known both songs for several years, I never made any sort of connection between the two until I came across the J-Wiki writeup for "Half-Moon Serenade". And since I've never come across any complaints from the Iwasaki camp, I'm quite happy to let sleeping dogs lie.

In any case, I'm quietly ecstatic that my niece has gotten a little appreciative peek into my....our....musical world.

Ahhhh, as an aside it seems as if the next generation in Ms. Kawai's world has also made her musical debut of sorts. Her daughter, Kaho, is gonna launch her career with "Every Hero" next month. Here is a brief clip from her music video. My hair is getting ever grayer.





Miki Imai -- Blue Moon Blue

(cover version)

As I've said before for Miki Imai(今井美樹), I've seen her career in 2 phases: the early years from her debut in 1986, and then her time with her husband/collaborator Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰) from around the mid-90s. In the relatively brief time I was in Toronto between my JET stint and then my time in Chiba/Tokyo, I bought an Imai album by mail order titled "flow into space", her late 1992 7th album.

For the first time since her debut, there was a new producer behind the helm. Instead of Jun Sato(佐藤準), who had been responsible for the smooth AOR sound for Imai in those early years, Joe Hisaishi (久石嬢....of Studio Ghibli anime fame) produced "flow into space" alongside the singer herself. Imai's go-to songwriters such as Akemi Kakihara(柿原朱美), Yuuho Iwasato(岩里祐穂) and Chika Ueda(上田知華) were still there, but I thought there was a definite change in the sound compared to her previous albums, including the one immediately preceding, "Lluvia". There was more of a richer, and perhaps even spacier, texture to the tracks. Although Hotei wasn't on the production staff for this album, he did compose a couple of the songs.

The lead track is "Blue Moon Blue" which was also released as Imai's 8th single in November 1992. I'd heard bits and pieces of the song through commercials pitching the drama that it had been used as the ending theme for, "Patio", but didn't get to hear the full version until I got my hands on "flow into space". "Blue Moon Blue" was something new to me for an Imai single; right from the lush opening strings, the song sounded like a Nelson Riddle-arranged jazz torch song. Now, being a fan of Linda Ronstadt's "What's New?" and her collaboration with Riddle in the early 80s, I enjoyed Imai's little dalliance into the genre. What also worked with me concerning "Blue Moon Blue" were those high and soft vocals that seem to especially mesh well with the shimmering melody.

Having said all that, it took me a while after first listening to "Blue Moon Blue" (and the rest of "flow into space") to start appreciating it, and for that matter, to start appreciating the new direction that Imai was heading into. Still, if I had to choose between the two phases that I mentioned above, I would probably still go with her earlier period.



Saturday, October 26, 2013

Kazuo Kumakura/Ikuzo Yoshi -- Theme from "Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro" (ゲゲゲの鬼太郎)




Long ago in an apartment far far away (actually St. James Town), I was reading one of those Japanese kindergarten readers that my parents had gotten me at the old Japanese food store, Furuya, in Chinatown. One of the comics in there stood out since the main hero was a young boy who didn't look particularly cute (unlike the heroes in a lot of the other manga I had seen) and only had one eye (that could be a dealbreaker in the omiai scene later on). Plus, when I saw that the kid's Dad was a talking eyeball, and his buddies included a rat/human hybrid and a huge stone block....well, let's say that these guys were not exactly in my neighbourhood.

"Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro" is a manga series that was created all the way back in 1959 by Shigeru Mizuki(水木しげる) who had based his magnum opus on a folk tale from the early 20th century titled "Hakaba no Kitaro"(墓場の鬼太郎...Kitaro of the Graveyard). Although I know that the manga has been adapted into anime since 1968, my exposure to Kitaro and his buddies have mostly been through the printed stuff. There is something of Charles Addams in there; perhaps not through the drawings, but just the idea of normally terrifying yokai(妖怪...supernatural monsters in Japanese folklore) being just folks and trying to fight the good fight with Kitaro in the lead.

The opening theme song for "Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro" , released in September 1968, has also become one of the most recognized in anime history. With lyrics by Mizuki himself and the music by Taku Izumi(いずみたく), the theme has that playful spookiness so that despite the initial outer appearance of the yokai, the kiddies soon find out that they can play with them just as easily as they can run away. And the lyrics point out that it's pretty fun to head to school where the gang doesn't need to take tests, and that they will never get sick or die. But the guy who brings it all together is the singer Kazuo Kumakura(熊倉一雄) with that creepy but enticing delivery of his. Along with his talents as singer, Kumakura has also been an actor, voice actor for a number of anime, and a theatre director. He's also done his fair share of Japanese dubbing for foreign productions such as his voiceover for the title character in "Agatha Christie's Poirot", a program that has gotten a lot of airplay in Japan.



There was a 1980s version of the theme which was performed by enka singer Ikuzo Yoshi(吉幾三). And it definitely sounds 80s.

November 30 2015: I'm sad to announce that Shigeru Mizuki passed away today at the age of 93.

Yumi Matsutoya -- Yabureta Koi no Naoshikata Oshiemasu (破れた恋の繕し方教えます)


Last night, as I was bringing my friends back to the hotel after a few days of traveling around Toronto and Niagara Falls, a number of costumed young folk left a lobby elevator and were on their way to some sort of party downtown. I realized then it was Halloween weekend since the 31st this year lands next Thursday, so the bewitching revelry probably started last night.

I'm not sure if there are any Halloween-themed Japanese pop songs before the 21st century (if any of you can correct me on this, please do) since I think the holiday itself only finally took full hold in Tokyo at least in the last decade. However, since Japanese culture also has a fundamental faith in the supernatural, there have been some cute and silly tunes about ghosts and the like.

From Yumi Matsutoya's(松任谷由実) 16th album, "No Side" comes "Yabureta Koi no Naoshikata Oshiemasu" (I Will Teach You How To Heal A Broken Love). Right from the opening synth notes, the tongue-in-cheek spookiness pops on out like a loosened eyeball, and Yuming herself sings the song a bit more whispery as she gives her somewhat illicit recipe to get that man back. Lest the music get too "scary", though, there is a pretty cool bass thumping away and then a bit of that rock guitar during the refrain. I'm not quite sure if the lady had been watching "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" for inspiration. Whatever the case, Yuming's tribute to all that is bewitching stood out along with some of the other tracks such as the melancholy "No Side" and the ski tune of "Blizzard".



Thursday, October 24, 2013

Miho Nakayama -- 50/50


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XBV69KWRI8


After reading and commenting on J-Canuck’s “Rosa” post, I decided to contribute an article about Miho’s (中山美穂) other Latin-styled hit song, “50/50”. To be honest, this article was written some months ago, but just now, inspired by J-Canuck’s above mentioned post, I decided to give it a proper life in this blog.

“50/50” was one of the few Miho Nakayama 80s singles that I didn’t care at all. Being released in July 1987, I always thought of "50/50" as a silly Latin song trying to emulate Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” (listen to it here), which was released as a single in February of the same year (but appeared first in the 1986 "True Blue", Madonna's third album).

But this scenario changed a couple of months ago when I started watching Miho’s 1987 drama “Mama wa Idol” (ママはアイドル), as the show gave new life to my Miho’s fanboyism. Although “50/50” was not featured on the show, I decided to give the song a chance after two years of remembering it as the worst Miho single from the 80s. Yeah, it’s strange. I can’t even explain properly why I hated the song so much.

But now I changed my mind. In reality, “50/50” is a strong summer song and a great addition to Miho’s discography. “50/50”, as a whole, is very bouncy, while the Latin melodies played by some charming synths are also an interesting touch. Talking about synths, the song is actually full of them, making this a very 80s style Latin song. And the chorus, of course, is a highlight. The melody mixed with the synths makes it a very catchy pop number.

I especially like the live performances of this song, as they made the bass sound more robust than in the studio version. In the video presented below, from “The Best Ten” TV show (ザ・ベストテン), Miho is singing in the middle of Tokuyama Post Office (徳山郵便局). Everyone who knows “The Best Ten” is aware of how transporting an aidoru singer and a live band to a Post Office was really the kind of thing they would do back in the days. Enjoy it.


As a side note, Tetsuya “TK” Komuro (小室 哲哉), the J-Pop wizard of the 90s, composed “50/50”. He even recorded his own version for the self-cover “Hit Factory” album, released in October 1992. The arrangement of his version is very nice and the synths used by him bring some tension to the song. The only turn-off is his vocals. Unfortunately, his version is not on YouTube, and I only found it on niconico, which needs a free registration. But for who is able to access it, here’s the link below.


Released between the catchy and bouncy “Hade!!!” (「派手!!!」), theme of “Mama wa Idol”, and the eurobeat-inspired “CATCH ME”, Miho’s first number one hit, “50/50” was a hit on its own. The song reached #2 on the Oricon charts, selling over 211,000 copies and landing in the year end chart as the #23 best-selling single of 1987. It was later included in Miho’s first best of album, called “SELECTION”, which was released in November 1987 and reached #1 on the Oricon charts. It was also part of the “Perfect Best” compilation, released in 2010. “50/50” was written by Shun Taguchi (田口俊), composed by Tetsuya Komuro, and arranged by Motoki Funayama (船山基紀).

Finally, here is a frontal picture of my own copy of the “Perfect Best” compilation.


Taeko Ohnuki -- Iidasenakute (言いだせなくて)


Another track from Taeko Ohnuki's (大貫妙子)fascinating "Mignonne". "Iidasenakute" (Can't Get The Words Out) could've been great as a theme song for some meet-cute romantic comedy done in the late 1970s. It's one of my favourite tracks on the album. It starts off as if Ohnuki had decided to launch her new phase as a technopop artist a few years ahead of schedule, only to suddenly abort liftoff and go straight into a mellow but fun mid-tempo disco tune. Instead of being inspired by the Yellow Magic Orchestra, "Iidasenakute" seems to be channeling the R&B groove of Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子), especially with the "whoo-whoo-whoo-ing" chorus near the fadeout.


I've heard the song a number of times on the album now (for the above video, it's at 24:34), and along with some of other myriad tracks on "Mignonne", I think it illustrates some of the directions that Ohnuki had been trying to explore at the time...to some frustration, according to the liner notes in the re-release. Ohnuki's loss at that time is our gain now. Although I obviously appreciate her decision to go wholeheartedly for the next number of years into the European/technopop stage of her career, listening to "Iidasenakute", I sometimes wonder what other fun disco tunes she could've concocted. But then again, Yoshida and a few other singers were already dabbling in that area, and so Ohnuki probably came to the gradual decision that she needed to try something very different.

Sentimental Bus -- Sunny Day Sunday




Probably some of my old students and friends back in Japan taking a look at the above Pocari Sweat ad and hearing the song will go "Natsukashii na...".



But I remember the music video for Sentimental Bus' "Sunny Day Sunday" since it got a ton of airplay on the various stations. This band didn't have a long shelf life (1996-2000), but it certainly got its 15 minutes of fame through their 4th single which came out in August 1999. The name of the band itself was worthy of engrammatic storage but watching them in the video jumping all over the place in a garage with a Brillo-headed Natsuyo Akabane(赤羽奈津代) on vocals ensured lasting remembrances for those who were in high school at the turn of the century. That rat-a-tat drumming and the grrrrlish delivery by Akabane has kept it in the 1999 file of my brain.

Akabane took care of the lyrics while keyboardist and co-member Akinori Suzuki(鈴木秋則) handled the music side of things. "Sunny Day Sunday" peaked at No. 4 and was the 39th-ranked song of the year. Even now, it's often used as a rallying song for high school baseball teams.

Hiroshi Itsuki -- Soshite....Meguri Ai (そして。。。めぐり逢い)




I have to say that I hadn't heard this one by Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし) in many a moon. A couple of nights ago, I was watching the latest episode of NHK's "Kayo Concert", and the theme for that show was the output of lyricist Toyohisa Araki(荒木とよひさ) who, like Yu Aku(阿久悠) and Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆), has written for just about everybody.

"Soshite...Meguri Ai" (And Then We Meet Again) is one of those classic enka ballads that can get the middle-aged into sudden sigh mode at the local watering hole (a tokkuri of sake helps). As the title suggests, former flames get together to reminisce about the old days over a drink...perhaps in the hopes that there may still be an active ember amongst the ashes. At one point, in our family's dalliance in watching music shows on VHS tapes back in the 80s, Itsuki and this song were pretty much tied at the hip.

And it's grand Itsuki. Those strings in the intro and during the refrain virtually drip with bittersweet sentimentality. I mean, "Soshite...Meguri Ai", in a Pavlovian way, seems to spark folks of a certain age into remembering past loves. Kudos to the composer, Yasushi Nakamura(中村泰士)....not sure if he was dabbing his eyes as he was creating this song. And Itsuki himself seems to deliver vocals as tender as a filet mignon whenever he sings this one. With his distinctive style, he's been parodied by a whole bunch of comedians, so it wouldn't surprise me one bit if this were the song that these impressionists have gone by. Certainly, I think the karaoke bars and later the boxes were probably popular places for the masses to try it out.



"Soshite....Meguri Ai" was released in April 1985. It won the Grand and Gold Prizes at that year's Japan Record Awards, and it reached up to No. 12 on the Oricon weeklies and eventually became the 32nd-ranked song of the year.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Miho Nakayama -- Rosa



I think one of the very last CD singles I picked up before I officially finished my Gunma stint of 1989-1991 was for this song by Miho Nakayama(中山美穂)titled "Rosa". It was released in July 1991, and I think I left for home at the very end of that month, so I may have very well picked it up somewhere during my travels in southern Japan.

Miporin was a singer that I became more interested in during my teaching gig in the mountains of the Japanese Alps when she started graduating from being an aidoru into a full-fledged pop singer. I was struck by her Anri-esque "Virgin Eyes" and then her sophisti-pop ballad, "Taxi". Then came this spicy Latin dance number, "Rosa". Around those years, there was a big fad concerning the Latin beat, spiked by the whole Lambada dance craze around 1990, so I wonder if the singer and the composer, Yoshimasa Inoue(井上ヨシマサ), wanted to get a slice of that pie.


One of the last memories I had of the music ranking shows before they started disappearing into the ether was the performance of "Rosa" by Nakayama. I'm not sure if it had been on "The Best 10" or "The Top 10", but it was the first time I'd seen her shaking her booty with a choreographed entourage. As for the song itself, I'm not quite sure if Eurobeat is quite the right label despite my categorizing it as such; it seems to have a bit of Italo-disco in there. In any case, it was pretty darn infectious.

The original title was supposed to have been "Chotto Doushita no"(ちょっとどうしたの....Hey, What's The Problem?), which is the line that appears most often in the song, but I think "Rosa" was the right choice. Perhaps the change was made by the lyricist, Saki Ninomae(一咲), who probably didn't get much in the way of disagreement since it was just the pen name for Miho Nakayama herself.

"Rosa" peaked at No. 3 and became the 41st-ranked song of 1991. The song also got her another invitation onto the Kohaku Utagassen.


Miho Nakayama - Rosa

Ii Tomo Seinen Tai -- Uki Uki Watching (ウキウキWatching)




I saw the shocking news via a random Twitter feed just half an hour after it had been announced by the host himself at the end of the program on Tuesday JST. Kazuyoshi "Tamori" Morita(森田一義) stopped the presses by stating to a stunned audience that after 32 years of entertaining the noon hour masses, "Morita Kazuyoshi Hour - Waratte Ii Tomo"(森田一義アワー・笑っていいとも....The Kazuyoshi Morita Hour: It's OK To Laugh) will be bringing down the curtains on itself in March of next year.

One of the big Fuji-TV pillars, the long-running noontime variety show started its history in October 1982, starring Tamori(タモリ), who is pretty much one of the top tarento in all of Japanese show business....there are a few others such as comedian Sanma Akashiya and director Beat Takeshi who are up on that same level. With his sly sense of humour and his penchant for suits (sometimes without tie) and those dark sunglasses, I saw him as the Japanese version of the late host of America's "The Tonight Show", Johnny Carson. Whenever the clock struck 12 noon and the TV was set on Fuji, there would be the shot of Studio Alta in East Shinjuku with the familiar vaudevillian tune, "Uki Uki Watching" (Cheerful Watching), coming on, followed by the shot inside the studio with the Ii Tomo Seinen Tai dancing and singing before Tamori himself would pop on out.

Since I had some rather odd hours when it came to my former career as an English teacher back in Japan, I was able to see "Waratte Ii Tomo" pretty regularly, whether it was at home having my beloved karaage bento or watching the show from my favourite tonkatsu restaurant just underneath my subway station. The show basically is a mix of comedic/game show segments centered around the interview portion called "Telephone Shocking". Along with Tamori and the Ii Tomo Seinen Tai(いいとも青年隊...The Ii Tomo Youth Brigade), there would be a gaggle of established and up-and-coming tarento to add to the frivolity which differed throughout the five days that the show was on. A Sunday digest show was also there so that the working masses who couldn't see the show at lunchtime had a chance to catch up.




Sticking with the comparison to "The Tonight Show", I think "Uki Uki Watching" is one of the most familiar TV themes in Japan, as much linked to its show, as "The Tonight Show" theme during Johnny Carson's reign was to its program. When I heard the news that "Waratte Ii Tomo" was on the way out, I decided to do a bit of digging about its theme song, and found out something rather surprising. The tune was composed by Ginji Ito(伊藤銀次), a singer-songwriter who has been associated with New Music band, Sugar Babe, and has a number of entries in my "Japanese City Pop". nikala also has one article on one of his albums, "Baby Blue" on the blog (Choichiro Koizumi[小泉長一郎] was responsible for the lyrics). I can say that "Uki Uki Watching" is quite different from what I've heard of his usual music. As the various incarnations of the Ii Tomo Seinen Tai have demonstrated over these 32 years, the song is a light little number to be performed while the singers are doing a bit of softshoe. Perhaps the only things missing from the trio are canes and hats.

 The very first Ii Tomo Seinen Tai consisted of Makoto Nonomura(野々村真), Atsushi Kubota(久保田篤) and Kenji Haga(羽賀研二), all of whom are still popping up on variety shows as veteran tarento. Incidentally, these three had their time on the show from October 1982 to March 1985.




Strangely enough, I managed to find a video with Ito himself performing "Uki Uki Watching" on a talk show.





The above here is one example of the "Telephone Shocking" segment.




And here is the start of the very first episode of the show back on October 4, 1982. Not sure what lunchtimes are gonna be like on Fuji-TV from April 2014. As for Tamori, well, he still has his hosting gigs on "Music Station" and "Tamori Club".

I'm sure the final show will be one lollapalooza.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Keizo Nakanishi -- You And I


I could always rely on those Camellia Diamonds commercials for some pretty fine song tie-ups. As a supermodel pranced about the screen, there would be Martin Suzuki's "Wakare no Machi" 別れの街)or Kahoru Kohiruimaki's(小比類巻かほる) "Moving Action" bringing the urban vibe.

And this time, it was Keizo Nakanishi's(中西圭三) turn. He and his soulful pipes introduced some nocturnal cool in the form of "You and I" to the then-latest Camellia ad. Written by Masao Urino(売野雅勇) and composed by Nakanishi and Takao Konishi(小西貴雄) for release in January 1993, "You and I" had that wonderful voice of his paired with that piercing kakkoii trumpet. Walk along the main streets of Tokyo at night to that instrumental and you won't go wrong. It's definitely one of his most famous tunes.

"You and I" was Nakanishi's 8th single. It was also included in his 3rd album from March of that year, "Steps", which hit the No. 1 spot and had three other singles come out through it.



Not sure if Nakanishi and the aforementioned Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之) ever got together in a duet, but if they haven't, I'd love them to tackle "You and I".

Hiromi Go -- Suteki ni Cinderella Complex (素敵にシンデレラ・コンプレックス)


(karaoke version)

Hiromi Go's(郷ひろみ) Kohaku performance of his 47th single, "Suteki ni Cinderella Complex" (Wonderful Cinderella Complex) on New Year's Eve was the first time I came across it. Compared to his performance of the ballad, "Aishu no Casablanca"(哀愁のカサブランカ) at the previous festivities, Go was back in lively dandy mode as he made his way down the grand stairs on the NHK stage with a ton of ladies bracketing him, of course.

Released in May 1983, the single was written by Yu Aku(阿久悠) and composed by former Off Course member Yasuhiro Suzuki(鈴木康博). Heartthrob Go made for a perfect choice to sing "Suteki ni Cinderella Complex" as he declares his love for women and the love of the pursuit of them. As he sings "Without a Don Juan, there is no Cinderella", I could probably see him rubbing his hands with glee, although there may be a philosophical debate on whether that statement would be true or not.

In any case, Suzuki's melody is pretty interesting. The refrain is bold and joyous but there is a seam of sinister intent seemingly undercutting across the whole song. In a way, it might be musically describing a charming Latin Lover on the outside while on the inside, he's already lining up his next 5 conquests.

I also managed to get a copy of the song itself via one of those compilation tapes I bought in Chinatown. It managed to peak at No. 9 on the Oricon weeklies and became the 65th-ranked song for 1983.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Follow-up - Kome Kome Club - 「君がいるだけで」/Kimi Ga Irudake De - Theme Song to 『素顔のままで』/Sugao No Mama De

Image courtesy of http://mak.citylife-new.com/e36511.html


Fuji TV's 『素顔のままで』/"Sugao No Mama De" (1992) is one of the quintessential "Trendy Dramas" of the 90s. With its infectious title song, its amiable and cute lead stars and its bittersweet story of a friendship that spans the course of several years, it garnered huge viewership ratings when it debuted in early 1992 and has since gone on to become one of the most beloved Japanese dramas of all time. "Sugao No Mama De" not only made a star of its young lead 安田成美/Yasuda Narumi but also revitalized the waning career of 80s J-Pop idol and singing diva 中森明菜/Nakamori Akina after tabloid scandal and a suicide attempt in 1989 nearly ended her successful career.    

In his invaluable reference guide "The Dorama Encyclopedia" (2003) author Jonathan Clements notes that the series seems to borrow quite a bit from the sentimental, tear-jerker "Chick Flick" "Beaches" (1988) starring the "The Divine Miss M" Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey (something that J-Canuck also picked up on in his post on Kome Kome Club - 「君がいるだけで」/"Kimi Ga Irudake De").  

As in "Beaches", the story of "Sugao No Mama De" revolves around the deep friendship between two very different woman, the conservative and somewhat withdrawn 香坂優美子/Kosaka Yumiko (portrayed by Yasuda Narumi and similar to the Barbara Hershey role) and the feisty, vivacious and emotionally sensitive 月島カンナ/Tsukishima Kana (portrayed by Nakamori Akina and similar to the Bette Midler role).  The two could not be more opposite in personality yet they somehow are able to put aside their differences to become the very best of friends.


Odd Couple - Yumiko (Yasuda Narumi) and Kana (Nakamori Akina)
As the elaborate and inventive Opening Credit Sequence details, both Yumiko and Kana have had very troubled and tragic pasts.  Although Yumiko comes from a privileged and wealthy family in Ashiyashi near Kobe, she has had to deal with two heart-crushing events in her early years - the death of her mother while still a little girl and the decision to abort her baby while still a student in high school.  This gut-wrenching decision has haunted Kana ever since (she had wanted to go through with the birth) and has made very sheltered and shy and she was complacent to live a lonely and uneventful life as a librarian at a local Tokyo library.  On the other hand, rebellious Kana has always wanted to find her true love. After being abandoned by her mother while still a child, she was neglected and abused by her stepmother while growing up. In High School she met her best friend 沢田卓郎/Sawada Takuro (的場浩司/Matoba Koji) and together they were part of a High School "Bousouzoku" gang that caused no end of trouble.  Yet despite Kana's spunky and rough-and-tumble outward personality, she always had deep romantic longing. While Takuro had always loved her from afar, Kana would seem to always fall for those who would break her heart such as her School's High School Soccer Star.  Kana would eventually leave High School midway to pursue her dreams of becoming a dancer (shades of the iconic 80s film "Flashdance") and would find an artistic kindred spirit in fledgling dance coordinator and writer 村上一也/Murakami Kazuya (幹久/Azusa Mikihisa). Although Kana is deep in love with Kazuya, Kazuya unfortunately only thinks of Kana as a close friend. 

In typical melodramatic fashion, Yumiko and Kana's friendship is tested when Kazuya falls in love with Yumiko which incurs the jealous wrath of Kana.  While Kana eventually comes to terms with and accepts Yumiko and Kazuya's relationship, tragedy strikes yet again and Yumiko and Kana are forced to deal with Yumiko's terminal illness and Yumiko's decision to proceed with the birth of her baby with Kazuya.  

Love Triangle - Kana (Nakamori Akina), Kazuya (Azusa Mikihisa) and Yumiko (Yasuda Narumi) along with "Chibi" the dog.
北川悦吏子/Kitagawa Eriko, who is credited with the screenplay for "Sugao No Mama De", is perhaps one of the most successful screenwriters in Japan during the 90s and early 2000s. She has written the screenplays for some of the most successful and best romantic Japanese dramas such as 『ロングバケーション』/"Long Vacation" (1996), 『ビューティフルライフ』/"Beautiful Life" (2000), and 『オレンジデイズ』/"Orange Days" (2004).  Kitagawa started out as a copywriter for an advertising firm after graduating from Keio University. After a series of other odd jobs, Kitagawa was able to get a production assistant job with the famed Daiei Studios. There she also worked writing the plots and scenarios for various TV drama projects. She also wrote the screenplays for several episodes of the Fuji TV Mystery/Suspense anthology series 『世にも奇妙な物語』/"Yonimo Kimyona Monogatari" (1991). Amazingly "Sugao No Mama De" was her debut as lead writer for a drama series and was both a hit among audiences and critics alike. 

"Queen of J-Drama" Writer Kitagawa Eriko - Coutesy of her Official Blog - http://ameblo.jp/eriko-kitagawa/
安田成美/Yasuda Narumi entered show business while still in High School when she was scouted by talent agents in 1981. She appeared in various CMs for such companies such as Kao Beauty Products and had bit roles in a couple of dramas but oddly enough her first big break was as a singer when she was selected to sing the title song for 宮﨑駿/Miyazaki Hayao's 『のナウシカ』 AKA "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" (which was used for the trailers and promotional purposes but not used in the actual Anime film).  After "Sugao No Mama De", Yasuda would go on to star in a few other TV Series and movies over the subsequent years such as in NHK's 1994 drama series 『春よ、来い』/"Haru Yo Koi" but she wouldn't obtain the same success as some of her peers such as 鈴木保奈美/Suzuki Honami.  Ironically, Yasuda would go on the marry 木梨憲武/Kinashi Noritake, the other half of popular 80s comedy/singing duo とんねるず/The Tunnels of which partner 石橋貴明/Ishibashi Takaaki was married to Suzuki.

Cute Yasuda Narumi - Image courtesy of http://girlschannel.net/topics/19130/
中森明菜/Nakamori Akina certainly deserves a separate post devoted to just her as she is perhaps one of the most influential and successful J-Pop idols of the 80s and has had a remarkable career producing numerous top selling Oricon hits, most of which have hit No. 1.  Nakamori's rise to fame began when she was only 16 years old, when she appeared on Nihon TV's influential 80s music program 『スター誕生!』/"Star Tanjou". Talent Scouts immediately signed the pretty singer with the power vocals up to a record contract with Warner Music Japan. Her debut single 「スローモーション」/"Slow Motion" (1982) would become the first of many hits of which which include 「少女A」/"Shojou A" (1982), 「セカンド・ラブ」/"Second Love" (1982), 「禁区」/"Kinku" (1983), 「北ウイング」/"Kita Wing" (1984), 「飾りじゃないのよ涙は」/"Kazari Ja Nai No Yo Namida Wa" (1984), 「ミ・アモーレ」/"Meu amor é・・・" (1985) and 「DESIRE -情熱-」 (1986) to name but a few.  Akina would win the coveted "Grand Prix" award for the later two songs becoming the youngest artist to win those awards for two consecutive years. Many of her later songs including  「SOLITUDE」(1985),  「SAND BEIGE -砂漠へ-」(1985), 「TANGO NOIR」 (1987), 「BLONDE」(1987), 「難破船」/"Nanpasen" (1987), 「AL-MAUJ (アルマージ)」 (1988),  「TATTOO」 (1988) and 「I MISSED "THE SHOCK"」(1988) would not only display the versatility of her song choices and musical influences (Latin, European, Jazz, Middle Eastern, Rock) but her accompanying live performances would also show off her dramatic and flamboyant fashion sense. and flair for the dramatic.  Akina would even attempt to release a song for the American charts with "Cross My Palm" (1987) but it would prove to be one of her few and rare missteps.

Like iconic 70s singer 山口百恵/Yamaguchi Momoe, Akina's powerful and empowering vocals had a raw, strongly defiant and rebellious tone even when most of her songs talked of sad breakups and lost love. Yet in most personal interviews she seemed very much private and almost fragile. Akina's personal life would become tabloid fodder when she would be involved in a very public romantic breakup with longtime boyfriend and fellow former teen idol 近藤真彦/Kondo Masahiko in 1989.  Tabloids would later report a suicide attempt by Akina after Kondo would cancel their pending engagement.

Shojou 'A' (Akina) - Nakamori Akina- Image courtesy of http://www.hk-fortuneteller.com/akina.htm
It would not be until later in 1990 before Akina would return to the spotlight with the song 「Dear Friend」(1990) which was a surprisingly optimistic and positive song.  Her appearance in the drama "Sugao No Mama De" would be an attempt to redefine and repair her tarnished career, following the lead of other J-Pop idol/singers who ventured into acting as a second career like 菊池桃子/Kikuchi Momoko, 小泉今日子/Koizumi Kyoko, 中山美穂/Nakayama Miho, 斉藤由貴/Saito Yuki, 南野陽子/Minamino Yoko and 松田聖子/Matsuda Seiko.  In fact Akina would often be rumored to be in a contentious professional rivalry with Seiko.  

Image courtesy of http://webspace.webring.com/people/cu/um_2456/sugao.html
The character of Kana wasn't much of a huge stretch for Akina (being both a fashion trend setter and an entertainer/dancer).  While I wasn't all too convinced of Akina being a former "yankee"/Sukeban (she seemed more like a "Harajuku" street performer) but her persona seemed to be very much an extension of Akina's brash and gutsy vocal personality.

Narumi and Akina have a great onscreen chemistry and they seem to be genuinely affectionate towards each other.  I love Narumi's performance in particular. She really gave an enchanting performance (I especially loved seeing Narumi's cute pouting face which was absolutely adorable).
 


The subtitle 「JUST THE WAY WE ARE」was indeed inspired by Billy Joel's signature 1977 class "Just The Way You Are" which was a favorite of writer Kitagawa and whose lyrics seemed to fit with the drama (in the drama, the title "Sugao No Mama De - Just They Way We Are" was used for Yumiko's final children's book which gave a fantasy account of her relationship with Kana).


Confusingly, the title 「君がいるだけで」 is also used as the Japanese movie title for the 1996 Andrew Bergman erotic comedy "Striptease" which famously starred Demi Moore as a FBI Secretary who moonlights as a stripper to pay the court fees to get back custody for her daughter from her estranged husband.

 
Image courtesy of http://www.suruga-ya.jp/database/250012930001.html


J-Canuck has already covered Kome Kome Club's 「君がいるだけで」/"Kimi Ga Irudake De" in his excellent post on the song, but I wanted to just add some additional commentary.

"Kimi Ga Irudake De" is perhaps one of the all-time best J-Dorama theme songs. It's cheery lyrics, catchy hook and K2C frontman 石井竜也/Ishii Tatsuya AKA カールスモーキー石井/Carl Smokey Ishii's amazingly dynamic and powerful vocals make this song an all-time classic.  


Kome Kome Club were first formed in 1979-1981 by Art College classmates Ishii Tatsuya, Onoda Yasuhide, Okubo Kansaku and Tokuno Ritsuo. Ishii had aspirations of being a painter and was also studying art history. His great fashion and art sense gave him a keen eye for style and composition and he often was asked to help evaluate and critique other student's works. They were all part of the school's film society 「A-Ken」 and it was there that they first came up with the idea of forming a performance/parody band.  Onoda was a huge fan of the American New Wave Band and Talking Heads side project "Tom Tom Club" (formed by husband and wife duo of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz) and wanted to come up with a name in homage to them.  While initially they came up with the name "Come Come Club", they eventually refined it to the 「クラブ」 which eventually was written out as 「CLUB」. 

The inital lineup comprised of Ishii and Onoda on vocals with Okubo on Bass and Ritsuo on Guitar. They played mostly parodies and covers of various other artist's songs. They recorded a demo tape to distribute to various record companies but did not get much interest from it. After graduating from college in 1982, the four friends went off their separate ways (Onoda went off to find work and Ishii did occasional street performances).  It would be later that year that the four would reunite again to perform for various colleges and small venues as CLUB.  It was Ishii's idea to incorporate "Edo Yakugou" elements into their styling and music which would explain a lot of the double-meanings and comical word play that would eventually become their signature schtick. 

They would recruit additional members for the group (including Ishii's younger sister Minako) and the line up would swell to over a dozen members. As part of their "performance band" roots, the various members would adopt colorful and flamboyant stage persona. Onoda in particular would don elaborate "Kabuki" inspired face makeup and costuming during his stage performances.

Kome Kome Club - Then and Now - Images courtesy of http://www.excite.co.jp/music/close_up/0709_komekome/  & http://www.excite.co.jp/music/close_up/0709_komekome/

The main core of the group comprised of:

小野田安秀/Onoda Yasuhide AKA  ジェームス小野田/"James Onoda" - Vocals, Chorus, Guitar

石井竜也/Ishii Tatsuya AKA  カールスモーキー石井/"Carl Smokey Ishii" - Main Vocals, Chorus

大久保謙作/Okubo Kensaku AKA "BON" - Bandleader, Bass

得能律郎/Tokuno Ritsuo AKA  ジョプリン得能/"Choplin Tokuno" - Guitar, Keyboards   

林部直樹/Hayashibe Naoki AKA "Be" - Guitar

坂口良治/Sakaguchi Ryoji AKA "RYO-J" - Drums

BIG HORNS BEE - Horns/Supporting Instrument Section金子隆博/Kaneko Takahiro AKA フラッシュ金子/"Flash Kaneko" -Keyboard, Sax, Flute, Shamisen

河合伸哉/Kawaii Shinya AKA 河合わかば/"Kawaii Wakaba" - Trombone, Sax 

織田浩司/Oda Koji AKA 織田ノボッタ/"Oda Nobota"  - Alto Sax 

小林太/Kobayashi Takahiro AKA   フッシー小林/"Fish Kobayashi" - Trumpet

佐々木史郎/ Sasaki Shiro  AKA シローブラッキー/"Shiro Blackie" - Trumpet
SUE CREAM SUE - Chorus/Backup Dancers

天ヶ谷真利/Amagaya Mari AKA "Suzie Sue・MARI"  - Percussion, Vocals

金子美奈子/Kaneko Minako AKA "Suzie Sue・MINAKO" - Dancer, Vocals

Former members would include guitarist 坂本琢司/Sakamoto Takuji AKA 博多めぐみ/"Hakata Megumi" (Sakamoto in drag); Percussionist 丸山龍男/Maruyama Tatsuo AKA マル/"Maru"; Dancer 松井聡美/Matsui Satomi AKA Sweet Sue・サトミ/"Satomi" and Trumpet player 下神竜哉/Shimotsuwa Tatsuya AKA ヒマラヤン下神/"Himalayan Shimotsuwa".
Their unique musical style seemed to draw from many different genres - New Romantic, Ska, Pop, New Wave and Big Band among others.

Their first single was the 1985 song  「I CAN BE」 (a play on the Japanese term あっかんべー) and it would be a moderate hit.  They would soon follow up with a number of subsequent singles which would showcase their unique blend of tongue-in-cheek humorous lyrics, elaborate theatrics, New Wave aspects, funky pop beats and big band/ska influences.  Their other hits would include Shake Hip! 」(1986), Paradise 」(1987), 「Sûre Danse 」(1987), 「KOME KOME WAR」 (1988), FUNK FUJIYAMA」 (1989) and 浪漫飛行」/"Romanhiko" (1990).

"Kimi Ga Irudake De" would be Kome Kome Club's most conventional single and would also be their top selling single up until that point. It is a straightforward love song that proved to critics and audiences that Kome Kome Club wasn't just a "one trick pony" performance band and that were capable of producing touching and sentimental love songs as well.

There have been a number of covers for this song including versions by SOTTE BOSSE (2007),  プッチモニV/Puchi Moni V (2009),  島谷ひとみ/Shimatani Hitomi (2010), aiko (2013), Psycho le Cemu, among others but my favorite has to be by all-girl R&B/Hip Hop Dance Unit trio YA-KYIM which did a pretty nice cover of the song (2008) that samples Ishii's distinct refrain and is a nice compliment to the original.





"Sugao No Mama De" is yet another iconic 90s drama that has been denied a DVD or Blu-Ray release. Perhaps it has to do with licensing issues but it is a shame that this great drama can't be enjoyed by new generations of drama watchers.  "Sugao No Mama De" has however been rebroadcast recently in 2012 on the satellite channel BSフジ.

I really enjoyed revisiting this series for this post and really appreciated Kitagawa's touching tale of friendship.  It is a refreshing and nice change from the dark, brooding and cynical dramas of Nojima Shinji (and Akina and Narumi are so darn captivating).