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, November 30, 2015

Fantastic Plastic Machine -- City Lights


I had actually mentioned about "City Lights" by Fantastic Plastic Machine in my first article concerning FPM, "Electric Ladyland" all the way back in 2013, and was actually thinking about promoting it to full article. Well, fate was kind enough to lend a hand tonight. The original video had been deleted there so I decided to transfer the whole kit and kaboodle to a new page with the video re-uploaded.

Perhaps in a way I should have picked a more appropriate day of the week to feature "City Lights" since Monday night is hardly a great time to talk nighttime fun in the city. Friday or Saturday nights are far better but, hey, I might as well get it out of the way. The jazzy and snazzy song just flies at a mile a second thanks to that virtuoso saxophone fueling the ride through the Tokyo highways in the video above. It was featured in FPM's remix album "Contact" in October 2001.


I guess my affinity for the title can be explained by a couple of local Toronto TV shows I used to know. There was a fairly verbose celeb interviewer by the name of Brian Linehan who back in the 70s and 80s gained an admirable or irritating reputation depending on the interviewee in the way he asked questions. His show was called "City Lights" on City-TV, and Linehan basically rolled out a 1-minute preamble filled with encyclopedic historical knowledge on the celeb right in front of the celeb that he/she had thought was only known to him/her before the host finally unleashed the question. Below is his interview with James Earl Jones. If you have never seen a Darth laugh...



Also on City-TV, there was a late-night video show called "City Limits" (nope, not the same title but close enough) hosted by Christopher Ward which featured the more avant-garde, grungier and just plain weirder music videos from the 80s. I think "City Lights" by Fantastic Plastic Machine would have been featured just for the fact that it was an international video with some panache.


Chikuzen Sato/Daisuke Inoue/Junko Yamamoto -- I Feel Coke


I still remain a Coca-Cola fan after all these decades although my intake has been curtailed somewhat since I returned to Toronto back in 2011. My imbibing of the quintessential drink for hamburgers and pizza (with the accompanying increase in gas afterwards) probably started right from the 1970s just when the famous US commercial campaign jingle for Coke, the hippie-folkie "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing In Perfect Harmony" wormed itself into millions of pairs of ears. Yes, people linked hands for world peace in tribute to a drink that can most likely melt enamel and internal organs.


Many years later when I was in thrall to my Japanophilia, I learned that the Japanese were also in thrall to Coke. And a certain advertising company over there came up with a simple Japlish (or Engrish) catchphrase that has lasted for years: I Feel Coke. Not "I feel like a Coke". That would be too drawn out and grammatically correct. Just those three words.

And there was a jingle under the same title whipped up by composer/saxophonist Daisuke Inoue(井上大輔)for the campaign which began in 1987 with lyrics by Toshiya Mizoguchi(溝口大輔). Unlike the world peace folkiness of "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing In Perfect Harmony", "I Feel Coke" was all about happy happy fun fun even if it was during lunch break during a 12-hour day in Tokyo. And it was sung by soulful Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善)just at the time that his group Sing Like Talking was making inroads; couldn't have asked for a better calling card than his vocals here.


Although it was Sato's voice on the commercials, composer Inoue also had to get his two cents in with his own version, of course, with appropriate saxophone accompaniment. I think it's one of the few times that I've seen a yellow double-breasted suit work. Could be the lighting.


I only found out by accident but apparently Junko Yamamoto(山本潤子)of Hi-Fi Set also gave her own version of "I Feel Coke". As for Inoue, he was also behind songs such as "Hurricane" by The Chanels and "Taboo" by Hiromi Koide(小出広美).


Chage and Aska -- if

Single version.

Ah, at last, I'm able to think clearly again... A cold can do more than just clog one's nose, as I had the pleasure of finding out, and simple tasks like the spelling of the word "fungus" took some time to register in the noggin. Well, but at least I'm glad to say that I feel a lot better right now.

During the week when I was down with the flu, I had the urge to listen to the more mellow sounding stuff that come from the genre of Pop as, at that moment in time, I thought of enka as being too... depressing or just too much, to put it very bluntly, for my state of mind and I didn't want to feel any worse than I already was. So who would be better to listen to than Chage and Aska? I stuck to some of my favourite tracks from assorted albums, and there were these two songs in particular that would constantly be on replay: "NATURAL" and "if". The former due to its relatively quick pace and overall cheerful vibe - makes me think of a sunny and windy autumn day for some reason - and the latter for its comfortable and interesting melody.

Album version.

Composed by the taller half of the duo, most of "if" is rather quiet with the piano tinkling away and the strumming of the acoustic guitar and Aska's delicate vocals; it's only at the chorus after the chiming of the bells when this Checkers-like doo wop beat comes in and spices up the song. This, of course, is only in the single version of "if", which was released on 1st July 1992. In the other version, which was released in C&A's 15th album "GUYS" a few months later in November, "if" becomes more ballad-like and laid-back, but at the cost of that doo wop beat that I like so much from the single version. I wonder if its to allow this song to fit in better with the other tracks in that album as the other tracks in there do have that similar style. The album rendition of "if" is still enjoyable to listen to though. It gives off that same feeling of having the summer breeze blow through your hair.

As for its lyrics, I recalled not being able to make sense of them and I was desperately trying to find the "if-s" in what Aska had written. A few years down the road, when my understanding of Japanese improved and when I found the English translation (can't seem to find it now though), I realised that the "if" in "if" (haha) came in the form of "Moshimo", which is, you guessed it, if in Japanese! Glad that was settled. Anyway, the lyrics basically revolve around the fellow asking the question of what would happen if he hadn't met this person, or at least something on that line.

"if" (single version) did very well on the charts in 1992 and wound up becoming a million seller. It peaked at 1st place for 2 consecutive weeks and was best selling song for July before dropping down to 4th in August. By the end of the year it settled at a respectable 8th place.

auction.rakuten.co.jp

Sunday, November 29, 2015

NEWS -- KAGUYA





I usually don’t care for Johnny’s groups aside Arashi () or SMAP (when I’m in the right mood for KimuTaku [木村拓哉] and his “friends”, of course), but I came across NEWS’ “KAGUYA” and just had a serious reality shock: this song is pretty nice.

Musically, it’s a song that fuses traditional Japanese elements with electronic dance music, which, per se, is not that innovative at all. However, it results in a cool and energic song that loosely reminds me of the best moments from Korean boybands (SHINee, I’m looking at you).

Visually, I wasn’t expecting such a pretty, yet simple, music video, so it was a second reality shock. It’s all courtesy of famous visual artist Mika Ninagawa (蜷川実花), which was also responsible for AKB48’s or infamous “Heavy Rotation” video in 2010, and the visual design for Megumi Hayashibara’s (林原めぐみ) “Vintage White” compilation in 2011.

As I said, the video is simple, yet beautiful, with all the colors, traditional Japanese elements and homoerotic feel. Also, even though the guys aren’t the most amazing dancers in the world, at least a couple of them are charismatic. In fact, the blonde one, Yuya Tegoshi (手越祐也), keeps flirting with the camera through the whole video. Well, all of them are trying to flirt with the camera, but Tegoshi and Takahisa Masuda (増田貴久), the boy with a round face, are the ones who succeeds it in a more natural and suitable way. I liked it, even though I didn’t quite understand how the homoerotic appeal was related to the overall theme, which was the Princess Kaguya tale. In the end, it’s probably just insipid fan service for the fangirls.




“KAGUYA” was released as a single in January 2015, reaching #1 on the Oricon charts and selling 150,052 copies. Lyrics were written by MOZZA, while music was composed by take4. As for the arrangement, CHOKKAKU was the responsible.

Source: jpopasia.com

Yoko Oginome -- Verge of Love (ヴァージ・オブ・ラヴ)


One of my all-time favorite 80s Japanese gems comes from Yoko Oginome (荻野目洋子) and her Narada Michael Walden’s produced album “Verge of Love”, which was released back in 1989. In fact, it’s exactly of the title track, “Verge of Love”, I want to talk about.

I don’t know, but maybe this groovy R&B song could have been an American hit. Instead, Narada Michael Walden gifted Oginome with this treasure, and I thank him for doing that.

“Verge of Love” is beautiful and features an array of interesting sounds through its arrangement. From the groovy bass line, a melodic guitar solo and all the delicate synths, it all comes down to Yoko’s soulful, yet vulnerable, delivery. Honestly, I could not think about another singer to record this song, and I’m not what one would call an Oginome fanboy.

Oginome’s “Verge of Love” album was released in two editions: an English one in December 1988, and a Japanese version in February 1989. She was probably trying to break out in America, which, I think is quite safe to say, didn't happen.


“Verge of Love” was released as a single in January 1989, and reached #5 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics, music and arrangement were composed by Narada Michael Walden, Joyce Imbessi and Carolyn Hedrich. As for the Japanese lyrics, Moritaro Hirai (平井森太郎) was the responsible.

Miki Imai -- Sleep My Dear


This article will have a few parallels with the one I wrote for "Pride" last year. For one thing, this is another 90s Miki Imai(今井美樹)song and for another, "Sleep My Dear" is another Imai song written and composed by Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰)as a theme song for another Shingo Katori(香取慎吾)of SMAP TV drama, "Yomigaeru Kinro"(蘇える金狼...The Resurrection of the Golden Wolf). Mind you, comparing this show with Katori's earlier "Doc" would be like comparing coffee and blood. In "Doc", the usual lovable goofball played a taciturn Vietnamese man living in Japan while in "Yomigaeru Kinro", he was a tightly-wound assassin disguised as a mild-mannered corporate cog out to destroy the company he was working for.


Another parallel comes up with the fact that I was doing some channel-surfing when I came across both programs. With "Yomigaeru Kinro", I had just finished watching one of my favourite travelogue shows on TV Tokyo when I switched over to NTV to see the ending credits of the show with Katori as Asakura walking alone in Odaiba while the Imai song was playing. My impression was that it was a pretty cool way to finish off a show.

"Sleep My Dear" has that perfect title for a theme song to a suspense-thriller series. I mean, it sounds like a title for one of those hard-boiled novels by Mickey Spillane before it gets made into a Humphrey Bogart film noir. And Imai's creamy and reassuring vocals work to make me feel as if she were an angel singing to Asakura to let go of the vengeance and rest (the dreamy arrangement especially at the beginning by Hotei also helped). Not that it really worked...Imai had a small role in the show itself and she didn't quite make it to the end. In any case, the song also had Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)as one of the backup vocals.

This was Imai's 17th single from May 1999 which didn't quite have the Oricon success that "Pride" did, only getting as high as No. 25 on the charts. It was placed on her 2000 album, "Taiyo to Hemingway"(太陽とヘミングウェイ...The Sun and Hemingway)which peaked at No. 2. 


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Yui Horie -- Poker Face (ポーカーフェイス)


Marcos V's article on Aice5 was a revelation in that seiyuu Yui Horie(堀江由衣was part of the quintet. And so, that has finally gotten me to gab a bit on the role that I know her best at this writing: her alter-ego Miss Monochrome(ミス・モノクローム).



My anime buddy has been providing me with the information on her over the years. One tidbit was that Horie created Miss Monochrome as a character at her concerts when then either her or someone else decided that the young-looking but actually aeons-old android would be great having her own anime. Mind you, that first series in 2013 had each episode only being 5 or 10 minutes (can't remember) long. But even in those eps which took up just a fraction of the usual half-hour, I felt that there was a nice kind heart beating in "Miss Monochrome" with the dry deadpan humour of the title character and her sidekick, Ru-chan.


"Miss Monochrome" has now gone ahead into its 3rd season (with longer eps) as of this year, and I've enjoyed all of the theme songs so far, but the one that has been the earworm for me was the ending theme for the first batch of episodes, "Poker Face". Written and composed by Keiichi Kondo(近藤圭一), Horie should have been awarded "Miss Autotune 2013" for this song. Even without the CG video of Monochrome prancing about, I can still listen to "Poker Face" while doing my translation work and still end up bobbing my head rather animatedly.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Tomomi Kahala -- Keep Yourself Alive


Another cultural touchstone of my life in the 1990s, I remember Tomomi Kahala(華原朋美)mainly for her biggest hit "I'm Proud", the disco-like anthem by Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)with the expensive music video in Los Angeles. But some 6 months earlier, she had debuted at the age of 21 with "Keep Yourself Alive" in September 1995.

Komuro was already hitting paydirt with TRF and Namie Amuro(安室奈美恵)so when he introduced Kahala, I just thought he was really trying to carve out his own niche in J-Pop (and he was....Komuro Boom). I remember "Keep Yourself Alive" primarily for the music video with Komuro's young padawan all glossed up in makeup which had me imagining that bizarre fashion trend in Shibuya called yamamba when a certain segment of the gyaru corps there spackled on that makeup which made them look like photo negative versions of themselves. I wasn't too sad to see that fad fade.


So, strangely enough, it was only in the past few hours that I was finally able to hear the entire tune. With the enhancement of time and a sense of nostalgia, "Keep Yourself Alive" doesn't sound too bad. Unlike the disco of "I'm Proud", Kahala's debut has got that old-style punchy Komuro technopop running things behind the singer's high voice. The song got as high as No. 8 on Oricon and went Platinum. It was also on her hit debut album, "Love Brace" in June 1996.


One piece of trivia from the J-Wiki article on "Keep Yourself Alive" was that chanteuse Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子)was apparently quite impressed with the quality of Kahala's vibrato when she listened to the song.


Superfly -- Hello, Hello (ハロー・ハロー)


When I heard that Superfly (Shiho Ochi/越智志帆) was on the list of the Red Team for the 2015 Kohaku Utagassen, I just thought "Good stuff!" I'm hoping that she will bring some fine happy pop-rock to the Shibuya proceedings on December 31st.

I have already gone into my own story about how I found out about Superfly through my first article on the lass, "Hi-Five" from 2008. And whenever I hear Superfly or the name, I still get reminded of that really happy-and-hippie student with the post-nasal drip who introduced me to Ms. Ochi.

I've compared Superfly to booming voices like EPO and Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里). And of course, there is that whole Janis Joplin aesthetic, but on listening to her debut single, "Hello, Hello" from April 2007, my mind went to Miwa Yoshida(吉田美和)of Dreams Come True. Former member Koichi Tabo(多保孝一)handled music and arrangement while he and Ochi took care of the lyrics about the power of the word "Hello" to shoo away the blues.

The song peaked at No. 31 on the Oricon weeklies, but it also got further exposure through its use in a couple of TV shows and a commercial. It was also a track on Superfly's debut album "Superfly" which came out in May 2008 and hit No. 1. The album later became the 22nd-ranked release of the year.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Hi-Fi Set -- Boyfriend

(excerpt only)

When it comes to my knowledge of the vocal group Hi-Fi Set(ハイ・ファイ・セット), it's pretty much divided between their time in the 1970s and the lone studio album I bought in 1990, "White Moon" (although I have a BEST compilation by them). There was that whole decade of the 1980s that I've missed and so I'm happy that nikala has been able to fill in the gaps to a small extent with a couple of articles including their 1984 song "Sunao ni Naritai"(素直になりたい).

But then by accident the other night, I encountered this YouTube video of a Hi-Fi Set ballad from the same decade, "Boyfriend". Usually when it comes to listening to YouTube fare, I've listened to the song partway and then quickly junked it if it didn't particularly appeal to me. This song I not only listened the whole way through but I immediately listened to it twice. I liked it that much (personal opinion will of course vary).

"Boyfriend" is the B-side to Hi-Fi Set's 23rd single from February 1985, "Rainbow Signal" and is a track on their 13th album "Indigo" from the same month. Written by Ryo Koizumi(小泉亮), the lyrics are very melancholy as they delve into the lonely aftermath of a not-too-happy breakup as the girlfriend realizes how empty her world and her apartment are now. Masamichi Sugi's(杉真理)music had me by the throat especially when the soaring guitar bridge and the key changes came in. But it was of course Junko Yamamoto's(山本潤子)echoing vocals which sealed the deal for me. So now I feel like I have to target "Indigo" as my next purchase although it probably won't be until early next year since I've already gone ahead and bought myself several discs for Xmas.

I was just writing about the upcoming Kohaku Utagassen for December 31 2015 in my last article and so I thought about whether Hi-Fi Set could make an appearance some year. Unfortunately one of the trio sadly passed away early last year.


66th (2015) NHK Kohaku Utagassen (第66回紅白歌合戦)

Well, we all know the current year is coming to an end when the announcements for the lineup for the Kohaku Utagassen are released. And that is what happened earlier this morning when I woke up. The folks at NHK News gave the grand announcement with the introductions of the hosts, captains and the participants for both the Red and White teams.


Above is footage of my first Kohaku Utagassen...the 32nd to be exact from December 31 1981. And that is the lovely Hitomi Ishikawa(石川ひとみ)singing and then crying through "Machibuse" (love the aidoru hair!). However, the video also features the big surprise for the 66th edition. As much as she did for that show from 34 years ago, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi(黒柳徹子)will be returning as host with her rapid-fire banter. The legendary co-host from "The Best 10" may have slowed up a bit with age but I think she will still probably verbally outrace most of the folks on the stage. There is the expression "You never forget your first (fill in the blank)"; well, Totto-chan was my first Kohaku host. She will be paired up with veteran NHK announcer Yumiko Udo(有働由美子).

In any case, here is the lineup for the 66th Kohaku Utagassen (and I thank the relevant Wikipedia article):

Akagumi/Red Team
Captain: Haruka Ayase

AAA (6)
AKB48 (8)
Akiko Wada (39)
Aya Shimazu (2)
Ayako Fuji (21)
E-Girls (3)
Fuyumi Sakamoto (27)
Ikimonogakari (8)
Kana Nishino (6)
Kaori Mizumori (13)
μ's (from Love Live!) (Debut)
Mariko Takahashi (3)
Miki Imai (2)
Miwa (3)
Natsuko Godai (22)
NMB48 (3)
Nogizaka46 (Debut)
Perfume (8)
Rebecca (Debut)
Sakurako Ohara (Debut)
Shiina Ringo (3)
Seiko Matsuda (19)
Sayuri Ishikawa (38)
Superfly (Debut)
Yoshimi Tendo (20)

Shirogumi/White Team
Captain: Yoshihiko (Inocchi) Inohara

Arashi (7)
Bump of Chicken (Debut)
EXILE (11)
Gen Hoshino (Debut)
Gesu no Kiwami Otome (Debut)
Go Hiromi (28)
Golden Bomber (4)
Kanjani8 (4)
Keisuke Yamauchi (Debut)
Kiyoshi Hikawa (16)
Hideaki Tokunaga (10)
Hiroshi Miyama (Debut)
Hiroshi Itsuki (45)
Masahiko Kondo (10)
Masaharu Fukuyama (8)
Miwa Akihiro (4)
Sandaime J Soul Brothers (4)
Sekai no Owari (2)
Sexy Zone (3)
Shinichi Mori (48)
SMAP (23)
Takashi Hosokawa (39)
Tokio (22)
V6 (2)
X Japan (6)
Yuzu (6)

The theme for the show this year is "That's Nippon! That's Kohaku!" As for what I'm going to look forward to, I'll be happy to see Miki Imai(今井美樹), Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子), Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), Rebecca(レベッカ) and Superfly on the Red Team while it'll be great to view Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし), Masahiko Kondo (近藤真彦...it'll be interesting to see if he can still pull off those kicks and jumps) and Hiroshi Miyama(三山ひろし). Yes, my age is indeed showing here in my choices (with the exception of Superfly). I am a bit disappointed that Kouhei Fukuda (福田こうへい...despite him being listed on the Wiki article) and Sakanaction won't be appearing though.



NHK also had footage of enka star Sachiko Kobayashi(小林幸子)so I thought at first that even she was returning to the show as one of the Red Team (I could have imagined the set designers screaming "Where the heck are we going to get 100 square kilometers of fabric?!"), but such is not the case. She is actually coming on as a special guest (1000 square kilometers of fabric?).  You can check her costume above at the 4-minute mark.

Last year, the 65th edition apparently scored the lowest ratings in recent memory. It's not particularly surprising since there is a whole lot more to do now outside compared to the early years of the show, and there are weekly music programs on NHK which cover both the enka and pop sides on that same Shibuya stage. So perhaps bringing back Kuroyanagi and singers like Seiko-chan and Matchy and coming up with the overall theme are attempts to evoke past glories, but I am wondering if it might be time for a huge revamp or just to retire the program altogether...that latter choice, I realize, would have the broadcaster and some fans unleashing the dogs on me, mind you.

Anyways, I welcome any comments about on topics such as who you are rooting for or even if the Kohaku should still be existing. One suggestion I do have is to shorten the length of the show back to 1980s levels.




Nicole -- Something Special




NOTE: I’m not a fan of Tudou, but as I had this article ready for posting with a couple of music.163.com links, and I didn’t want to throw it away, I used the Tudou link as a one-time emergency solution.

I became quite sad when I was informed that Nicole (ニコル) had left South Korean girl group KARA in late 2013. She was my favorite member of the group, so the fact she parted ways with KARA just meant the end of an era for me. Also, I could never guess she’d have a solo career as a singer, because, come on, she’s a gorgeous and sexy young lady, but with very few singing skills, to say the least.

I was wrong... Nicole did start a singing career in South Korea with a mini-album called “First Romance”, which was released in 2014. To make things even better, the girl also debuted in Japan a couple of months ago, and it makes sense, as KARA’s fanbase is quite strong there.

At first, contrary to the song’s title, “Something Special” didn’t sound very special to me. It was just a formulaic pop song with some catchy samples of Nicole singing the “something special now” line, but nothing more than that. Well, I was wrong again... I’ve been listening to this thing for three five months now, even though, initially, I thought I’d only tolerate it for two or three weeks, at the maximum.

The thing is, “Something Special” may not be innovative by any means, but it’s a catchy and short tune. The effectiveness resides in the fact that you’re not going to hear the chorus looping for five minutes, which makes this light pop tune a good and quite dynamic listen. Also, the video, even though far from great, showcases Nicole’s beauty in a positive manner with lots of close-ups of her face and lips (she kind of reminds me of Arashi’s () Matsujun (松本潤) because of the cute black mole she has below her lower lip).

I really don’t know how Nicole’s career in Japan will progress, but I’m eagerly waiting for her next step. I hope the powers-that-be makes the right decision with her, maintaining this cute teen-oriented aidoru concept.

“Something Special” was released in June 2015, reached #8 on the Oricon charts, and sold 12,268 copies. Lyrics were written by SONG SOO YOON, MIN YEON JAE and MEG.ME, while music was composed by HAN JAE HO, KIM SEUNG SOO and KO NAM SOO.

Source: generasia.com

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Re: Music.163.com -- The Sequel


I was wondering about which photo I would use to signify some bad news so I'm going with this darkened hallway at Daitokan, the ryokan that my friends and I stayed at last year.

Last year, I mentioned about how NetEase or music163.com was off the air for some days before it came back. Well, the same thing has happened in the last couple of weeks and I've got the feeling that this might be permanent. I've spoken to a couple of the other collaborators, Noelle in Singapore and Marcos in Brazil, and they've both informed me that they can no longer listen to any music there either. And there's been some chatter on the Net stating similar information.

So I'm just mentioning it here lest I get any inquiries about the situation since I've had a lot of links to the site via the articles as you all know. I'm not sure if this is a planetwide thing as far as I know, so if some of you out there can still listen to stuff on NetEase, let us know where you are...and you have my envy. To be honest, I'm not surprised that this has happened and I had actually been wondering when Legal would be bringing down the hammer. If it's happened to Grooveshark then NetEase was going to be a matter of time. Strangely enough, though, I was able to download some cloud app from the site which allows me to play some songs although a good chunk has been greyed out.

Still, I (and Noelle and Marcos) want to be able to talk about the fun music from Japan so we'll be more than happy to check out YouTube unless we get some definitive news about 163 or a new site pops up. Perhaps the photo above could be used to signify that there may be some light at the end of the corridor. :)

Yoko Tsuyama & Hideo Ohki -- Shinjuku Sodachi (新宿そだち)


On last night's "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート), I heard an old Mood Kayo which I hadn't heard in a very long time. It was another one of those songs that I could recognize on first listen, but as has often been the case with enka and Mood Kayo from my childhood, I never knew the title or the singer...or singers in this case...behind it.

Perhaps "Shinjuku Sodachi" (Raised in Shinjuku) is a tune that I heard on the old stereo thanks to my father but I can only be sure about my first listening to it on that fateful 1981 Kohaku Utagassen. It popped up during one of the segments where a good chunk of the participating singers, including the young aidoru at the time including Seiko-chan and Matchy, did an old kayo medley.


Since then, I could always recognize the song if not realize the title or singers just from that snazzy melody by Minoru Endo(遠藤実). Hearing it again last night, "Shinjuku Sodachi" didn't have the usual infusion of Latin. Instead, I realized that it incorporated some of the rhythm of Group Sounds that had been all the rage in the 1960s. That horn section really got the ball rolling on the song. In fact, I can half-jokingly state that it could be one of the first examples of danceable Mood Kayo that I have ever heard.

The song was released in 1967 as a duet with singers Yoko Tsuyama and Hideo Ohki(津山洋子・大木英夫). And not surprisingly, the lyrics by Toru Bessho(別所透)have the two performing a musical back-and-forth of how they may be parrying against the other gender but in reality they really gosh darn love each other. The common denominator is that they are barflys in Shinjuku as they both admit somewhat ruefully. Thanks to that driving GS-inspired melody, it has a bit more oomph than the usual Mood Kayo which may explain why it did phenomenally well, selling 1.6 million records and eventually hitting No. 7 on the very new Oricon charts.


Of course, "Shinjuku no Sodachi" has become a standard kayo duet over the decades although I've never had the pleasure myself of performing it at karaoke. Although Tsuyama is still with us, Ohki unfortunately passed away in 2010 at the age of 67.


Aice5 -- Be with you

Source: generasia.com


Sometimes a CD cover featuring cute girls is enough for me... Yeah, I’m that bad.

I have never been aware of Aice5 (actually Aice⁵) before, but I soon discovered they were an almost disbanded aidoru group comprised of five anime seiyuus.

Looking at their names, two of them were not strange to me. One was Chiaki Takahashi (たかはし智秋), a sexy aidoru/seiyuu who released a horrid single called “Konya wa Chupa Rico” (今夜はチュパ リコ) under Avex a couple of years ago. The other was Yui Horie (堀江由衣), an almost 40 years old woman with a 12 years old look/face (seriously, I’m afraid of her), who started her career in the anime industry back in the late 90s/early 00s. As for the other three, they are Akemi Kanda (神田朱未), Masumi Asano (浅野真澄) and Madoka Kimura (木村まどか).

Apparently, Aice5 briefly reunited to release a 10th anniversary compilation, “Aice⁵ ALL SONGS COLLECTION”, and a new single, which is called “Be with you”.

“Be with you” may sound like a typical anime song from the 00s with its loud mix of strings and synths, but I truly enjoyed some very particular elements, like the piano in the verses and how melodic the combo of piano with strings actually sounds near the end. The vocals are also a good mix of cute and strong deliveries (that glorious high note in the bridge... I think Chiaki Takahashi took care of it, but I’m not certain), which redeems the song and not makes it a tiring one. In other words, I don’t feel like drowning in a cotton candy pool when listening to it.

To finish, here’s a short version of the “Be with you” music video. Chiaki Takahashi is looking extremely sexy as always, which is probably enough to watch it.


“Be with you” was released as a single in September 2015. Lyrics, music and arrangement were all done by Ryujin Kiyoshi (清竜人).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Taeko Ohnuki -- Bleeker Street no Seishun (ブリーカーストリートの青春)


Dipping back into singer-songwriter Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)5th album "Aventure" (1981) for the track "Bleeker Street no Seishun" (My Youth on Bleeker Street). Considering her lyrics, I took this Bleeker Street to be the one in West Village, New York City. However, I couldn't help but feel a bit surprised when I first acquired "Aventure" and saw the title since there is a street with the same name here in Toronto (although it is actually spelled Bleecker). In fact, it was the north-south street next to my family's old apartment in St. James Town. Although I have been to The Big Apple twice, I don't recall ever getting onto Bleeker Street but I imagine that since it is located in the West Village, it is probably a whole lot more stylish than the very inner-city drab Bleecker Street of my memories.

Getting back to the actual song, however, "Bleeker Street no Seishun" may not be one of Ohnuki's more prominent creations but it is still quite appealing to me. By the time she released "Aventure", the singer had created her unique niche as a singer mixing European and technopop sounds; sometimes they were separate and sometimes they were meshed together. "Bleeker Street" is much more of the former. In keeping with the setting of the title, the music has this somewhat artsy French-movie-like nature, cropping up images of college students in black turtleneck sweaters (which are actually mentioned in the lyrics) commuting between their classrooms and the cafes. Perhaps among all those post-academics, there is young Ms. Ohnuki sitting in one of those coffeehouses just staring out the window as she mentally philosophizes about life. I think my university life was far more work-a-day. My buddies and I usually hit the local Pizza Hut or eatery in Chinatown after classes.


Tessei Miyoshi -- Namida wo Fuite (涙をふいて)



Tessei Miyoshi's(三好鉄生)"Namida wo Fuite" (Wipe Your Tears Away) is a song that I used to hear at Kuri, the old karaoke haunt in Yorkville during my university days. I hadn't known who originally sang it or when it was actually released. It was always recognized by me as that slow-strutting bluesy number which seemed to usually get the customers inside the bar singing in unison.

And why not? Written by Chinfa Kan (康珍化...who wrote all those songs for Anri and Omega Tribe) and composed by Kisaburo Suzuki (鈴木キサブロー...who I usually equated with sweeping string flourishes in his music), "Namida wo Fuite" is about a good ol' boy reassuring his girlfriend that better times are ahead so wipe that lacrymal fluid away, honey. And singer-actor Miyoshi does a great job with it due to his vocals which evoke that image of a lone wolf character driving that rig across America.


Miyoshi was born in 1951 and hails from Hokkaido. He debuted in March 1982 with his own self-made song "I Love You Kono Machi"(アイ・ラヴ・ユーこの街...I Love This Town)before his 2nd single "Namida wo Fuite" in August of the same year hit paydirt. It didn't hurt that the song was also used as the campaign tune for Shin-Guromont Vitamin Drink...gotta get that manly stamina in there.


If I'm not mistaken, the above is the karaoke video I used to see on the monitor at Kuri. I have no idea why it alternately featured the skyscrapers of West Shinjuku with some wild animals, but I guess that is how I will always remember "Namida wo Fuite".

West Shinjuku

Dempagumi.inc -- Future Diver



NOTE: After a long absence... I'm back, folks! \o/

I remember the first time I watched/listened to Dempagumi.inc’s (でんぱ組.inc) “Future Diver” and how bad I felt after. The worst part was that I liked and watched/listened to it more times. In the end, I forced myself to erase it from my PC, because I thought it was too wrong for me to like something like that. It was in December 2011, almost four years ago.

My initial experience with Dempagumi.inc was strange. Obviously, they were very different from AKB48, Perfume, or whatever aidoru group anyone wants to choose. In fact, the only group that could be mildly compared to Dempagumi.inc was Momoiro Clover Z (ももいろクローバーZ), but even Momoclo was not that crazy.

Dempagumi.inc’s “Future Diver” was chaotic and the video kind of sexualized the girls in a strange way (not so strange for a moe fan, let’s say), but both the song and video were also very mesmerizing and catchy. I just couldn’t get enough of that, and the only thing I was capable of thinking was how Dempagumi.inc seemed like a group in the darkest edge of the aidoru world. Like I said, it was wrong in so many ways... and no, I could never guess they would turn into a true strong force in the aidoru world a couple of years later.

“Future Diver” was not Dempagumi.inc’s debut song, but it was the first one to really radicalize their Akihabara/otaku gimmick. And you know what? The song did its job very well, thanks to the arcade-like arrangement, exciting feeling and also the girls’ vocals, which were full of dramaticity and interesting melodic shifts. Let’s say it established Dempagumi.inc’s style in a great way.

“Future Diver” is now one of Dempagumi.inc’s true classics, and they show their affection to the song performing it at almost every concert. Also, based on the amount of energy the public disposes everytime the girls are performing it, we can really tell “Future Diver” is very loved by the fans. Here’s a live performance of it.


“Future Diver” was released as a single in November 2011. It was later included in their debut album “Nee Kiite? Uchuu wo Sukuu no wa, Kitto Osushi... de wa Naku, Dempagumi.inc!” (ねぇきいて?宇宙を救うのは、きっとお寿司…ではなく、でんぱ組.inc!), from December 2011, and also in their second album “WORLD WIDE DEMPA”, from December 2013, but as a re-recorded version (there were some members changes between the original release and this one). The single reached #46 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics were written by Aki Hata (畑亜貴), while music was composed by Masaya Koike (小池雅也). As for the arrangement, Kenichi Maeyamada (前山田健一) was the responsible.

Source: generasia.com

Monday, November 23, 2015

Yuki Saito -- Love

Y'know, Yuki...you could put on a few more lights.

I didn't think that I would ever feature a Yuki Saito(斉藤由貴)album. Although I did buy her 10th album, "Love" on ancient audiotape, I never considered myself a die-hard fan of the singer-actress and only listened to this particular album a few times before I left for Japan in 1994. Cracking it open again for the first time in over 20 years, I was surprised with some of the nostalgia and enjoyment along with the bit of dust that puffed out of the case.


"Love" was released in December 1991 so I must have gotten it through the "Eye-Ai" order form since I had already returned from Gunma by that point. I don't remember the particular reason for purchasing the tape aside from the facts that I enjoyed some of Saito's earlier hits and was interested in finding out what she was singing at the time.

One of the songs that I remembered as soon as the tape started rolling was "Itsuka"(いつか...Someday)which would incidentally also become her 15th single from January 1992. As was the case with all of the songs on the album, "Itsuka" was written by Saito herself, and then given its melody by singer-songwriter Mioko Yamaguchi山口美央子. It's a very comfy and folksy ballad which evokes images of traveling on a slow train through the countryside; Saito's soft vocals make a nice match with the gentle music. The single peaked at No. 50 on Oricon.


Compared to her aidoru days, "Love" is about Saito singing more mature arrangements in a mellow pop vein, somewhat reminiscent of Miki Imai and Reimy(今井美樹・麗美). And she's apparently added a whispery element to that high-toned voice of hers. "Yours" is definitely in that pleasant pop vein. It's another Saito/Yamaguchi collaboration about a young lady who very sweetly is putting a flame to her potential boyfriend's feet to get him to commit more. It may have been composed by Yamaguchi but there is something fairly Yuming(ユーミン)about the music as well.


The final song here is "Julia" with music by Akira Okamoto(岡本朗). I'm not sure if the girl from Ipanema was ever named that way, but it's chock-filled with enough bossa nova that to make me go "Hmmm...". Saito probably didn't scare Astrud Gilberto with her delivery...it's not bad but some of those high notes...but I still have enough of a weakness for the genre that I like the song to a certain extent.

After re-acquainting myself with "Love", I think the songs are pleasant enough but perhaps the reason that I let it go for such a long time is that the tracks occupied the same sort of melodic space instead of dipping further into other genres, and I've come to the realization that my most favourite albums have been ones with some good variety. The album reached as high as No.16.

Duke Aces -- Kani Doraku (かに道楽)


During one lesson of marine biology in my previous semester at school, we were learning about the different species of crustaceans, crustacean anatomy, and what allows them to be considered crustaceans. The most incredible thing is that as long as the creature has certain features e.g. a carapace, that thing can be considered a crustacean, so the animals we got to know about ranged from the common prawn and lobster to the sessile barnacle (yep, they're part of the family too), from macroscopic to microscopic. But of course, a lesson on subphylum crustacea wouldn't be complete without the crab, which is probably the first thing you'd think of when the word "crustacean" is uttered. That being said, it was the first thing that popped into my mind, along with it came Duke Aces' (デューク・エイセス) commercial song for the popular seafood chain, "Kani Doraku", which is known for having a huge animatronic crab greeting customers at the front of each store. I remember seeing that in Osaka a number of years back.


I happened to come across "Kani Doraku", the song, about a week or so before that particular lesson and I remembered marveling at how coincidental and amusing this find was, and I also recalled finding it a little odd that I was actually enjoying a tune meant for a commercial as I would a regular song. But I suppose that was inevitable as just like most CM songs, "Kani Doraku" has a catchy melody that gets you hooked on. The strings and the harp makes it sound like you're taking a dive down into the sea where the crabs reside, probably dancing around with bright smiles on their faces (just adding a bit of my imaginary commercial), and then you have the wonderful voices of the vocal group's members as they sing about the exquisite flavours (I'd like to think so) of the fresh crab served up at the restaurant. I'm not a big fan of crab, but listening to this song and watching the commercial makes me want to get some.

Judging from the most prominent and hearty voice you hear throughout the song, it seems to me like former top tenor Yasumasa Taniguchi (谷口安正) was taking the lead here, but I'm not entirely sure. Sometimes I'd think that it's Michio Tani (谷道夫), but then I feel that the baritone's vocal delivery has got a richer and deeper tone.

From 1993

As to when "Kani Doraku" was sung, it was probably in the early 90's since that was when the commercials were out playing, and Taro Kida (キダ・タロー), the composer to this ditty as well as many other CM songs, had released it in his album "Naniwa no Mozart Kida Taro no Subete" (浪花のモーツァルト キダ・タローのすべて) from 1992. Duke Aces had just released an album featuring commercial songs they had done over the years, including "Kani Doraku", just a few months ago called "Duke Aces CM WORKS" (デューク・エイセス CM WORKS). Writing the lyrics to "Kani Doraku" was Noboru Inoue (伊野上のぼる).


To wrap things up on this article, here's Yuki Tokunaga (徳永ゆうき) singing a bit of "Kani Doraku" with the guys. Ah yes, I should mention that Kazuhiko Yoshida (吉田一彦), the second tenor you see here in those shades and one of the longest surviving members, is no longer in commission as of early 2015 due to some health ailments. He is now replaced with this young fella by the name of Gen Iwata (岩田元)... Dang it, I like Yoshida... I already miss him.

Yoshitaka Makino (槇野義孝) was pretty cute then...
He still is now.
youtube.com/watch?v=_FvYAo_NkDU

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Nagi Yanagi -- Aqua Terrarium (アクアテラリウム)



Not all of the anime that my friend introduces at our biweekly functions gets past the gate. A couple of years ago, he showed the pilot episode of a series which featured the emotional ups and downs between civilizations living on land and on the ocean floor as represented by some kids from the latter civilization having to attend a junior high school on land. The anime was "Nagi no Asu kara"(凪のあすから)from 2013 or as it was known in English, "A Lull in the Sea".

To be honest, "A Lull in the Sea" lulled me and my friend to sleep. And so it was quickly forgotten. However, some time later, I was listening to my hard drive filled with anison and came across this haunting ballad which turned out to be the first ending theme for "Nagi no Asu kara" titled "Aqua Terrarium".


Sung and written by Kansai-born Nagi Yanagi(やなぎなぎ), her 6th single from November 2013 has that comfortable and somewhat New Age-y melody as provided by fellow singer-songwriter Chiaki Ishikawa(石川智晶). I think what especially sold me on the song were the "Hee, hee, hee, hee" and the whispery vocals by Yanagi which sounded like something that could have emanated through the sea. Strangely enough, although "Aqua Terrarium" has that hypnotic quality, I am more than willing to keep my ears awake for this song. It got as high as No. 22 on Oricon and is a track on Yanagi's 2nd album, "Polyomino"(ポリオミノ)from December 2014 which peaked at No. 7.


Pizzicato Five -- Happy Sad


It's probably been a bit of a happy/sad 24 hours for the "Doctor Who" fandom. As an old fan of the BBC sci-fi series, I've found that companions to the good ol' Doctor usually get polarizing responses, and last night with the tragic departure of the latest of his companions, Clara Oswald, a certain corner of the Twitterverse was exploding in reaction. As for me, I was sorry to see the lass go but at the same time, I was also looking forward to who would become the Time Lord's new buddy (and frankly a bigger shakeup in the series proper).

A bit of a tortured pop-cultural cross-pollinating start to this article "Happy Sad" by Pizzicato Five, I know, but I wanted to go with something. In any case, it had been a while since I came up with a Shibuya-kei song, and "Happy Sad" is a tune whose title I have come across for years but never covered. I'm glad to hear that despite the title, the song is a very happy tune throughout its measures. And as usual, the divine Ms. Maki Nomiya(野宮真貴)looks her retro-mod self (almost like the lost member of the B-52s) in the video above hoofing it up with the cool hipster guitarist.


Written and composed by P5's Yasuharu Konishi(小西康陽), I read from one of the YouTube commenters that "Happy Sad" sounds like something that the UK's Swingout Sister would do, and I have to admit that it would be interesting to hear Corinne Drewery's version of "Happy Sad". As for the song's lyrics, there is an English-language version in which Nomiya takes some playful pokes at her good buddy (maybe more) for bouncing quickly between emotional states, but despite the very un-Vulcan nature of her friend, she'll stick by his/her side no matter what.


"Happy Sad" was released as Pizzicato Five's 6th single from April 1994 which went as high as No. 66 on the Oricon weeklies. It was also a track on the group's 4th album under the Columbia label "Overdose" which came out in October of that year. The song was also apparently used in a 1995 movie about the modeling industry, "Unzipped" with Isaac Mizrahi. The above link features the English version of "Happy Sad" with the supermodels appearing in that film.

During an NHK news telecast this past week, I heard that Shibuya-kei may be making a comeback of sorts. It should be interesting how the music sounds.


Anri/Toshiki Kadomatsu -- Sunahama (砂浜)


I've been reading some of the comments on YouTube that for a number of Anri(杏里)fans that "Sunahama" (Sandy Beach) is their favourite song by the veteran singer. For me, there are actually a few more ahead of this one that I like even better, but over the years, this particular ballad has grown on me. It wasn't ever an official single but was placed on the fourth of her BEST compilations, "Meditation" from November 1987.

"Meditation" just happened to be one of my first Anri purchases after arriving in Gunma Prefecture a quarter-century ago. Although at the time I hadn't realized it, the album of ballads has come to signify to me an ending of the second stage of the singer's career; that part of her career which largely involved her collaboration with singer-songwriter Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生). From the early to mid-1980s, a good chunk of her music (though not all of it) had a certain comforting AOR-friendly mellowness to it which always echoed the thought "Ah, yes...this is a Kadomatsu work". Once "Meditation" was released, Anri would then enter the funky American R&B genre with Yumi Yoshimoto and Yasuharu Ogura(吉元由美・小倉泰治)starting with "Boogie-Woogie Mainland" in 1988.

But going back to "Sunahama", this has become a nice and contemplative ballad about sitting on that beach as the sun goes down to think about the love lost. It can be considered to be a rather sad song but if I don't pay attention to the lyrics, I can just regard "Sunahama" to be a ballad to contemplate about life in general. And although I've never done it myself, I can imagine that sitting on the sand while the surf is rolling in and out can be quite hypnotically soothing. After all, the album title is "Meditation".


Now, according to sites such as uta-net and kasi-time where I go to check out the lyrics to songs, "Sunahama" was apparently written and composed by Kaoru(かおる). I could only think that the one name was referring to Kaoru Ito(伊藤薫)who had created the early Anri hit "Cotton Kibun"(コットン気分). But then I came across the above YouTube video of a cover by Anri's former collaborator Kadomatsu, and according to the J-Wiki article on his 31st studio album, "TOSHIKI KADOMATSU I", his cover of "Sunahama" is a self-cover from that very album which was released in November 2008. And the wonderful way he sings it with the lush orchestral arrangement can only make me think that he was the man behind it. But I will have to check things further by scanning through my copy of "Meditation".




Friday, November 20, 2015

Yasuhiro Abe -- Double Imagination


Well, I never expected to see the late Paul Newman in the annals of this blog, but here he is. Yes, even Butch Cassidy did Japanese commercials. Specifically, he apparently did a series of ads for Nissan's Skyline, and boy, did he look darn dapper.

And the theme song for those car commercials was Yasuhiro Abe's(安部恭弘)6th single "Double Imagination" from September 1984. To be honest, the song is a pleasant if harmless little ditty which the singer composed along with Kyoko Matsumiya's(松宮恭子)lyrics. However in a way, her words seem to fit a lot of the characters that Newman played such as the aforementioned Cassidy, Hud and Henry Gondorff from "The Sting". Abe basically sings in the role of a laddish cad who just as smoothly leaves a brief fling as he enters one. I'm not sure if the legendary actor ever heard the jingle but if his interpreter had explained about it, perhaps Newman would have given a knowing wink in tribute to Abe.


The above video is an acoustic cover version of "Double Imagination" by the Ovations.


Midori Kinouchi -- Yokohama Eleven (横浜いれぶん)



I once wrote about 70s aidoru Midori Kinouchi(木之内みどり)as having sung the first version of "Garasuzaka"(硝子坂)as the title track of her 5th album even before it became a hit for Mizue Takada(高田みづえ)in 1977. Well, the following year, she finally got that big hit with "Yokohama Eleven" in February.


According to J-Wiki, prolific lyricist Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)had been writing the words for Kinouchi's 5th to 10th singles without any of them becoming smash successes, but a switch over to lyricist Ryo Shoji(東海林良)did the trick with "Yokohama Eleven". The song title doesn't seem to hint at anything within the words of the song aside from the fact that it was the singer's 11th single. Katsuo Ono's(大野克夫)mellow but somewhat peppy melody helped to get the song up to No. 28 on the Oricon weeklies and although it didn't get into the Top 100 for 1978, the song has apparently become one of the signature tunes of that time period.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ruiko Kurahashi -- Kanashimi no Ballad (哀しみのバラード)



Quintessential Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子). "Kanashimi no Ballad" (A Melancholy Ballad) is chock-filled with plenty of fortified ennui to fuel a short French movie. This was Kurahashi's 4th single from April 1983, and I think it's popped up on every BEST compilation that she's released.

There is that lonely piano starting things off before the singer's heart-achy vocals come into play. I realize that it might be a tad strange to call this a Mood Kayo, but Kisaburo Suzuki's(鈴木キサブロー)music sounds like a European take on the genre, and really, "Kanashimi no Ballad" isn't exactly a cheerful tune as the title would indicate. This would be the type of song to cry in your vin. Then there are Fumiko Okada's(岡田冨美子)lyrics which go into the protracted and perhaps agonizing final meeting before the end of the affair. Perhaps the soon-to-be former couple is wrenching its collective hearts but the man and woman are probably looking really beautiful.