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

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Yasuhiro Abe -- Hakujo na Kamisama ni Merry Christmas(薄情な神様にMerry Christmas)

Glad to see and hear that City Pop Prince Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)has still been active in music. As of 2015, he was still releasing albums with his most recent being "Time Is".

And from that album, here is "Hakujo na Kamisama ni Merry Christmas" (Merry Christmas to a Cruel God). Since I couldn't find any lyrics online for the song and my listening to a song for the first time never provides full benefits, I can only speculate that Abe is singing cheerfully about another love gone wrong around the Holidays. This seems to be a perennial theme for some of the J-Xmas tunes.

Still, the music is pretty happy. I don't think it's quite in the Neo-City Pop vein but there's some nice tropical soul going on in the arrangement there. The lad might be mourning about another lost romance on Christmas Eve but the melody seems to be pushing him into a better frame of mind. Abe took care of both words and music with Ren Takayanagi(高柳恋)co-writing the lyrics.

Mitsuko Nakamura -- Kawachi Otoko Bushi(河内おとこ節)

Another TV sign in Japan that the year is coming to an end along with NHK's Kohaku Utagassen and Fuji-TV's FNS Music Festival is NHK's "Wagakokoro no Osaka Melody"(わが心の大阪メロディー...Osaka Melodies of My Heart). A relative baby sister when compared to the first two specials, the national broadcaster's tribute to all music Osakan started only from 2001 but it's been quite popular and certainly my family has made it a custom to see it whenever it broadcasts in December.

The beginning of this year's special which was broadcast here in North America during the same time slot for "Uta Kon"(うたコン)on Tuesday night had bubbly (I'm using Noelle's apt adjective here) Mitsuko Nakamura(中村美律子)and the stalwart Takashi Hosokawa(細川たかし)go into a friendly sing-off. Hosokawa performed the classic "Naniwa Bushi da yo, Jinsei wa"(浪花節だよ人生は)while Nakamura sang a song that I hadn't heard before, "Kawachi Otoko Bushi" (Melody of a Kawachi Man).

Written by Miyuki Ishimoto(石本美由起)and composed by Chiaki Oka(岡千秋), "Kawachi Otoko Bushi" has that same festival jauntiness as "Naniwa Bushi da yo, Jinsei wa". According to the J-Wiki article on the song, the rhythm is based on Kawachi ondo(河内音頭), the brand of Japanese traditional folk song that originated in what is now part of Osaka Prefecture. It was released back in June 1989 as the Osaka native's 3rd single, and the timing was great since festival season usually starts up from mid-summer.

And it has apparently been used for the bon odori performances that take place in the Kansai area. On the Oricon chart, "Kawachi Otoko Bushi" only made it up to No. 69 but it's more than compensated since Nakamura has sung it a total of 8 times in her 15 times on the Kohaku Utagassen which makes it the No. 3 song in terms of the most repeated performances of a particular song on that special. Only Sayuri Ishikawa's(石川さゆり)"Amagi Goe"(天城越え)and "Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyu Geshiki"(津軽海峡・冬景色)have had more appearances at 10 and 9 times respectively.

"Kawachi Otoko Bushi" was a hit right from the start in the Kansai area but it took 3 more years before it got its national attention. That late-coming fame was punctuated by Nakamura's debut appearance on the Kohaku in 1992, singing this very song.

Nakamura hasn't appeared on the Kohaku since 2010 after singing her trademark song three straight times up to that year, so I gather that perhaps she and her listeners probably wanted to take a break. However, it would be pretty nice for her to get onto the NHK stage again and bring back this crowdpleaser.

Top 10 Singles of 2016

1.  AKB48                                Tsubasa wa Iranai
2.  AKB48                                Kimi wa Melody
3.  AKB48                                LOVE TRIP/Shiawase wo Wakenasai
4.  AKB48                                High Tension
5.  Nogizaka 46                        Sayonara no Imi
6.  Nogizaka 46                        Hadashi de Summer
7.  Arashi                                  I Seek/Daylight
8.  Nogizaka 46                        Harujion ga Sakukoro
9.  Arashi                                  Fukkatsu LOVE
10. Arashi                                 Power of the Paradise

Friday, December 15, 2017

Toshiki Kadomatsu -- City Nights

Looking at the Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)file, I've noticed that the most recent entries have almost all involved one of his best clients, Anri(杏里), during the early 1980s.

Well, of course, the songwriter was also a singer and musician at the time, and he really has gotten my attention with his "City Nights" from his debut album "Sea Breeze" from June 1981. Not only is the album well titled considering the image I've often had of him but "City Nights" starts off with such an American AOR vibe that I had to wonder whether Ambrosia or the Doobie Brothers snuck in and helped with the production at one point. I think the arrangement is as much Los Angeles urban contemporary as it is Tokyo City Pop.

I've now got mullets on the brain thanks to this song.😆 Must have been quite the time in downtown Tokyo at the time. But then again, I don't have to wonder too much since I was there.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Tomita Lab -- Etoile feat. Kirinji (Etoile feat.キリンジ)

Wow! It's a bit like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup experience here. On the one hand, there is the wonderfully mellow Tomita Lab(冨田ラボ)and on the other hand, there is also the cool Kirinji(キリンジ), the brotherly duo who I got very interested in after hearing their lovely "Aliens". I never imagined them doing a collaboration although on second thought, I think it was probably due since I think the two acts are nicely compatible.

So, when I discovered "Etoile feat. Kirinji" on YouTube, most of my senses pricked up immediately, especially on seeing the video eyecatch of Tomita Lab standing in front of what looked like West Shinjuku. This was actually Tomita Lab's 5th single from April 2009.

Well, I listened to the song and my first impression wasn't quite as impressive especially when I think about "Aliens" and Tomita Lab's classic "Nemuri no Mori"(眠りの森). "Etoile feat. Kirinji" launches with an arrangement that I thought sounded like some sort of opening theme for a 1970s American cop show by Quinn/Martin Productions. The music by Tomita Lab was fairly chaotic to me although the refrain struck me as being another splendid romantic sweep that I have always come to expect from him. The lyrics by Takaki Horigome(堀込高樹), one-half of Kirinji, center on some sort of eternally dancing ballerina.

My second listen to it came off somewhat better as my ears and brain gradually started to get accustomed to the frenetic activity involved, so I'm pretty confident that this will settle down nicely. I can analogize it to eating a spicy curry on a wintry night...things may get super fiery at first but when digestion kicks in, I can relax well enough in my armchair. Plus I recall that my first exposures to the marvelous band Sing Like Talking went in a similar way.

"Etoile feat. Kirinji" did only modestly on Oricon, only getting as high as No. 88 but even an initially uncertain effort by Tomita Lab will still beat a lot of J-Pop out there in my eyes and ears. The song was also included in his 3rd album "Shipahead" which came out in February 2010; it peaked at No. 46.

Toko Furuuchi -- Lighter

Initially, I thought the title of this article was going to be one of the most ironic of this year for "Kayo Kyoku Plus" since I'm currently in the Holidays which therefore means a lot more eating. As far as I'm concerned, the engorging began last Tuesday when I met up with some fellow translators at an old restaurant, Marche, close to Union Station. There was the chicken schnitzel on top of rosti potatoes with sour cream as my main course before I had the apple crumble pie for dessert.

Lighter is something that I will not be at the end of the year.

However, I misconstrued the meaning of the title for the lovely...and very svelte...Toko Furuuchi's(古内東子)track on her 3rd album "Hug" from September 1994. The singer-songwriter actually meant the cigarette lighter for this mid-tempo song. worries here. It's a nice urban contemporary number that I've always expected from Furuuchi. Came across it earlier this afternoon while I was listening to some of the stuff on NetEase.

"Lighter" is something that I would love to hear in an intimate nightclub like the one above here. Actually, this is the Toko Furuuchi cover band, feve, as uploaded by OKAP1965, taking care of the song. Once again, I do love the saxes.

Meanwhile, I will continue my time at the trough.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Taeko Rei -- Furimukeba In The Rain(ふりむけば In The Rain)

Over the years, some readers of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" have thanked me for introducing a number of the songs to them for which I'm very grateful. By the same token, I've also been very grateful to YouTuber Van Paugam for going a bit further and putting up his own City Pop radio channel.

That would be especially true tonight since I was listening to his City Pop Radio (and watching the traffic on the Tokyo highway) and came across this singer whom I had never heard before by the name of Taeko Rei(令多映子). The song performed was "Furimukeba In The Rain" (Turning Back In The Rain) which came from her 2nd album "Taeko" from 1984. Listening to it, I got all sorts of thoughts coming into mind such as the fact that her vocals reminded me of those of fellow City Pop chanteuse Yurie Kokubu(国分友里恵)while the tight horn arrangement had me thinking of what Kahoru Kohiruimaki(小比類巻かほる)would later put together with her songs in the late 1980s going into the early 1990s. The music also had me thinking about the bright synths found in the similar music sung by female singers at the end of that particular decade...that of champagne and painting the town red. In any case, "Furimukeba In The Rain" is a choice find.

From what little I could find about Rei, and her J-Wiki article is apparently quite incomplete, I discovered that she was born Taeko Shibata(柴田妙子)in 1959 and made her debut in 1983. The early part of her career seemed to have stayed within the confines of urban contemporary music before she settled down and retired. However, the marriage didn't quite take and so she returned to the music industry after which she became known as a gospel singer.

Mieko Takamine & Noboru Kirishima -- Junjou Nijuusou(純情二重奏)

From the new collection of old 45s that I received from Steve some weeks ago, I found this donut-ban by actress-singer Mieko Takamine(高峰三枝子). Looking at the cover, I had imagined that the songs involved were produced sometime in the 1960s being unaware how far back Takamine's career started.

Actually, the first song on the 45, "Junjou Nijuusou" (Duet of Innocence) was sung by Takamine and Noboru Kirishima(霧島昇)all the way back in 1939 as the theme song for the movie of the same title which starred Takamine. I don't know anything of that film but judging from Yaso Saijo's(西條八十)lyrics, it must have been a bittersweet production as the words talk about two young lovers who started out as orphans missing their mothers.

Even though I categorized the song as an enka tune, I'm not quite sure whether it would be considered as such by kayo fans. The melancholy/jaunty melody by Tadashi Manjome(万城目正)perhaps could be equated with the sweet music that had been popular at the oh-so-dainty evening parties back in the United States at around the same time. Some folks in the States back then probably would have seen jazz as being a little too raunchy.

In any case, "Junjou Nijuusou", both movie and song, brought Takamine to everyone's attention according to the J-Wiki article on the film.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Jaa ne!

Well, after 2 weeks and 2 days, my 2nd trip to Japan after coming home for good ended on November 18th. For the most part, a fine time was had by me. Meeting old and good friends, having some great food and visiting the usual haunts. They will all be missed until the next visit.

Living in Japan, I had to go to Narita Airport whenever I returned to Canada on vacation but that wasn't too bad since I was living in Chiba Prefecture. However, now that the tables have turned in terms of my residential status, I've been quite happy with my current transportation hub of Haneda Airport right in downtown Tokyo. I've used it twice in as many trips and both times, I've enjoyed walking through the Edo Market and even dining and shopping there.

It looks like tonkatsu was my dish of choice this trip since I ended up having it three times this time around including as my second-last meal in the nation at Katsusen in the Edo Market. Managed to devour a nice hirekatsu set, only leaving a few bread crumbs and a garnish.

Before I went through Immigration, I took a nice look out on the balcony at the planes. Then on the way to my gate, I saw a row of those Japanese massage chairs. Didn't quite fulfill my "mission" of enjoying a massage chair in Akihabara but at least I got my shot in a pretty generous chair for 200 yen. A good 20-minute session. I needed every advantage to get through another arduous 13-hour flight back to Toronto.

Still, it was a good trip with plenty of nostalgia and newness, and perhaps I can make it back here just before the Olympics. Until then, jaa ne!

Ringo Shiina -- Jinsei wa Yume Darake(人生は夢だらけ)

Kinda hard to believe that it's starting to approach 20 years since I first heard of Ringo Shiina(椎名林檎), the urban firebrand singer whose voice could be a match for Superman. My first impression of her was that of a fairly terrifying force of nature with an iceberg-melting glare who could pull off some catchy punkish pop.

But it seems in recent years, Shiina has been embracing her inner jazz chanteuse. And it's not just a particular type of jazz from a certain decade. I think she did her tribute to 1920s flapper-era jazz with the playful "Juudam"(ジユーダム), for example.

However, with "Jinsei wa Yume Darake" (Ma Vie, Mes Reves), it feels like French jazz with a swinging 1960s element. I mean, it sounds so much like some of the standards that I used to watch and hear on American variety shows as a baby that I actually expected the hired pedestrians in the music video to suddenly go into dance mode.

"Jinsei wa Yume Darake" wasn't released as a single but is the first track on Shiina's 2nd album of self-covers, "Gyaku Yunyuu - Koukuukyoku"(逆輸入 〜航空局〜...Reimport vol.2 Civil Aviation Bureau)which was just released less than a week ago.

I did mention that her latest album was one of self-covers. And so it was that "Jinsei wa Yume Darake" first saw the light as a campaign song for a Kampo Life Insurance commercial performed by actress Mitsuki Takahata(高畑充希)the year before. As the ad shows, the song was more of a grand musical number. Just kinda wonder what wonders could be done with AFLAC and that duck.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Akira Inaba -- Wakatte Kudasai(わかって下さい)

I read over an article that I had written about folk singer Akira Inaba's(因幡晃)"Natsu ni Arigato"(夏にありがとう)all the way back in November 2013 and noted how wintry things had gotten. Well, I'm writing the second article about one of his songs and although things aren't quite as frosty cold today as they were back then, we Torontonians are currently getting our first taste of major snow.

In his J-Wiki bio, I read that after graduating from his high school in Akita Prefecture, Inaba soon started work as a mining engineer. However, I gather that his musical ambitions were living quite large and so he released his debut single in February 1976, "Wakatte Kudasai" (Please Understand). I mentioned this in "Natsu ni Arigato" but never listened to the song until this past week.

Man, does it start with some epic organ! There is a majesty in there which had me initially wondering whether this would be a folk song as Inaba has been categorized. Sure enough, the organ gives way to a gentle melancholy ballad about remembering a love lost around graduation. I'm not sure if songwriter Inaba had thought about him when coming up with his first impressive song but I think with that organ which keeps anchoring things, I couldn't help but think Edgar Allan Poe, specifically "The Raven" where the narrator's lost Lenore comes in. Perhaps that organ is emphasizing the fact that the protagonist has been truly haunted by the experience, seeing her face in other women.

It was interesting when I saw the above video on YouTube since the other recommended videos on the right side included songs by Mayumi Itsuwa(五輪真弓)and Kozo Murashita(村下孝蔵). Indeed, those were the musicians that came to mind as I was listening to "Wakatte Kudasai". There is a lot of depth in the song that has a certain calming effect despite the sadness of the lyrics. It may act as a tonic for me if I have listened to a little too many aidoru or Japanese disco tunes.

Apparently, "Wakatte Kudasai" may not have made too much of a dent in the Oricon charts but it did win Inaba a prize at the Yamaha Popular Song Contest in 1975 which brought about his official debut.

Akina Nakamori -- MILONGUITA

Coming to the end of the year, I think that I need to put in one more Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)article before 2018 makes its entrance.

And so I will bring in "MILONGUITA", the B-side to her 17th single, "Tango Noir" from February 1987. Both songs I found out about through her special album "CD '87".

When I was going through that disc, I got that impression that Akina had a thing going for Latin music at the time. There was "La Boheme", "Saigo no Carmen"最後のカルメン...The Last Carmen [I'll have to cover that one next year]), and "Tango Noir". I'm sure I would have been excused if I had thought the lass was going to be eternally sashaying across the dance floor in a long black gown.

As for "MILONGUITA", I'd had no idea what the title meant aside from the fact that it read as a word from Spain, Portugal or Latin America. Well, I finally decided to dig around online and found this tango blog which basically defined milonguita as a variant term on milonga which itself referred to a rather large tango party where the participants didn't really know each other. Milonguita, on the other hand, is a smaller and friendlier affair where it's just you and your tango buddies dancing the night away. I can certainly relate to that. Nowadays, I always prefer the get-togethers with longtime buddies over those huge ballroom affairs (not that I have been invited to one of those parties in a very long time).

In any case, I now understand why the B-side song sounds the way it does. It is just continuing on the tango party from "Tango Noir" starting from an introduction with some punchy percussion and accordion to lead into Akina's vocals fairly swimming over the hardwood like an intense dance pairing. Veterans Akira Ohtsu and Tetsuji Hayashi(大津あきら・林哲司)were responsible for words and music while Satoshi Nakamura(中村哲)arranged the entire thing. As I mentioned in the article for "CD '87", "Tango Noir/MILONGUITA" was another No. 1 single which ended up becoming the 2nd-ranked song for 1987.

Composer Hayashi also came up with an earlier hit for Akina-chan back in 1984.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Top 10 Albums of 2015

1.  Arashi                                        Japonism
2.  Sandaime J Soul Bros.              Planet Seven
3.  Dreams Come True                   Dreams Come True! Watashi no Dorikamu
4.  AKB48                                      Koko ga Rhodes da, Koko de Tobe!
5.  AKB48                                      0 to 1 no Aida
6.  Mr. Children                              REFLECTION
7.  Southern All Stars                     Budou
8.  Sekai no Owari                         Tree
9.  Kanjani Eight                            Kanjani Eight no Genki ga Deru CD!!
10. Kis-my-Ft2                               KIS-MY-WORLD

Mari Iijima -- The Christmas Song

Yes, folks, Christmas has once again descended upon the good folks here at "Kayo Kyoku Plus". Mind you, I pretty much burned the entire wick in the first couple of years of the blog's existence in terms of J-Xmas tunes. However, I like to think that there are still some undiscovered Yuletide niceties out there.

And I found one. This would be Mari Iijima's(飯島真理)pretty cover of the classic "The Christmas Song" originally by Mel Torme and Bob Wells. Her version comes on her own Xmas album "The Christmas Song" from 1989, and includes "Blue Christmas" which was actually her own creation and not a cover of the song also covered by Elvis Presley. I appreciate the fact Iijima's version has got that nice acapella and an arrangement that reminded me of the classic version by Nat King Cole.

Saburo Kitajima/Mirei Kitahara -- Gyouka(漁歌)

Man, I do love my sushi. What I have to remember then is the fishermen who go out into often stormy waters to get the necessary fish and other sea life.

"Gyouka" (Fishing Song) is the 78th single by enka legend Saburo Kitajima(北島三郎), released in 1983. True to his reputation of singing gutsy brio-filled enka tunes of folks working hard, this song pummels through your ears to send the message of the fisherman who won't let something as little as high waves or punishing storms deter him from providing for his family back onshore. I remember this one especially since it has Sabu-chan giving those high-pitched wails near the end. It's about as Kitajima-esque a song that I have heard from him.

One small note about the above video is that this was Kitajima's contribution to the 1983 Kohaku Utagassen and at the end of the performance, you might see the late supermodel Sayoko Yamaguchi(山口小夜子)as one of the judges for the contest that year. For those Steely Dan fans, she was the lady on the cover of the classic "Aja" album.

"Gyouka" was written by Takao Yamada(山田孝雄)and composed by Keisuke Hama(浜圭介). In the same year of 1983, Mirei Kitahara(北原ミレイ)also released the same song as her 19th single. Not sure if the above performance has the same arrangement in the original recording but it seems like Kitahara's version has a slightly more folksy and romantic quality although it's no less gutsy.

1983 Kohaku Utagassen (34th Edition)

Well, being as it is December and therefore close to the 68th Kohaku Utagassen for 2017, I figure that I will close off the trilogy of my Kohaku remembrances with the 34th, or 1983, edition, following my article on the 1982 show back in the summer.

The 1981, 1982 and 1983 shows are the ones that have remained the most memorable for me. After that, for some reason, the Kohaku Utagassen stopped becoming ultra-special. I can remember a couple of performances for the 1984 and 1985 shows but following those, it all becomes a hazy blur.

First off, let's get the Red and White teams for the 1983 edition out of the way.

Red Team

Hiromi Iwasaki                        Ieji (9th appearance)
Yoshie Kashiwabara                Haru Nanoni (1st)
Naoko Kawai                           UN Balance (3rd)
Miyuki Kawanaka                   Yarazu no Ame (3rd)
Ikue Sakakibara                       Kanashiki Claxon (6th)
Rumiko Koyanagi                   Ohisashiburi ne (13th)
Chiyoko Shimakura                Tsumiki Kuzushi (27th)
Mieko Makimura                    Juhyou no Yado (3rd)
Mika Hino                               Hisame (1st)
Yu Hayami                              Natsu Iro no Nancy (1st)
Akina Nakamori                     Kinku (1st)
Mizue Takada                         Sonna Hiroshi ni Damasarete (6th)
Anri                                         CAT'S EYE (1st)
Harumi Miyako                      Naniwa Koi Shigure (19th)
Mina Aoe                                Osaka Blues (17th)
Seiko Matsuda                        Glass no Ringo (4th)
Aki Yashiro                             Nihon Kai (11th)
Naoko Ken                              Nakasete (7th)
Masako Mori                           Ettou Tsubame (11th)
Sachiko Kobayashi                  Futatabino (5th)
Kiyoko Suizenji                       Asakusa Monogatari (19th)

White Team

Hideki Saijo                            Gyarandu (10th)
Goro Noguchi                         19:00 no Machi (11th)
Hiromi Go                               Suteki ni Cinderella Complex (11th)
Eisaku Okawa                         Sazanka no Yado (1st)
Shibugaki-tai                           Chouhatsu Mugendai (2nd)
Kenji Sawada                          Hare Nochi BLUE BOY (11th)
Haruo Minami                         Sasurai Goza Makura (26th)
Masao Sen                               Yuuyake Gumo (11th)
Tomio Umezawa                     Yume Shibai (1st)
ALFEE                                    Marie-Anne (1st)
Masahiko Kondo                     Tameiki Rockabilly (3rd)
Joji Yamamoto                        Umi Nari (3rd)
Kenji Niinuma                         Sake to Futari Zure (8th)
Hideo Murata                           Karate Ichidai (22nd)
Southern All Stars                   Tokyo Shuffle (3rd)
Toshihiko Tahara                     Saraba...Natsu (4th)
Saburo Kitajima                      Gyouka (21st)
Yoichi Sugawara                     Amant (17th)
Hiroshi Itsuki                          Sasame Yuki (13th)
Shinichi Mori                          Fuyu no Riviera (16th)
Takashi Hosokawa                  Yagiri no Watashi (9th)

Quite some interesting things in this show. For one thing, unlike the 1981 and 1982 editions, the rookie singer didn't start things off. It was actually one of my favourites, Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美), who launched the 1983 special with one of my favourites by her, "Ieji"(家路). I was accustomed to seeing her near the end of the Kohaku.

The show was notable for featuring a lot of singers I have now known for years making their debut on the Kohaku. For example, this was the first time for me to ever find out about Anri(杏里). And it was one of her most famous works, "CAT'S EYE".

Plus, there was ALFEE with "Marie-Anne"(メリーアン). My first impression of them from their individualistic appearances was that this was indeed a band which was a motley crew. Unfortunately, I couldn't find their Kohaku appearance online but at least you can see what the song is all about above.

On the aidoru front, there was Yu Hayami(早見優)with "Natsu Iro no Nancy"(夏色のナンシー)who knocked me for a loop when she actually spoke in English to the folks out there.

But of course, there was future superstar Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)who made her first appearance at a Kohaku with "Kinku"(禁区). Always loved that hairdo from back then.

One of the other highlights for me was seeing Ikue Sakakibara(榊原郁恵)performing "Kanashiki Claxon"(悲しきクラクション)with some of her teammates giving their version of an 80s fashion show.

Of course, the enka side of things was still well represented with folks like Sachiko Kobayashi(小林幸子)and Shinichi Mori(森進一).

One of the reasons that I've remembered Kohakus 1981~1983 so fondly was that all three of them had their big showstopping numbers. The 1981 edition had the young singers give their tribute to Quincy Jones' "Ai no Corrida" (it is the reason that I eventually bought the amazing album "The Dude") and the 1982 show had those young'uns do a Beatles medley.

However, the 1983 number may have have outdone the first two with pretty much everybody on the Red and White teams take part in an epic Latin version of an American standard "Begin The Beguine". The execution wasn't perfect but the energy and intent were full-on. Plus, seeing the old buddies Murata and Minami give the final note and catching Hiromi Iwasaki laugh up her lungs were worth the price of admission.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Top 10 Singles of 2015

1.  AKB48                                      Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai
2.  AKB48                                      Halloween Night
3.  AKB48                                      Green Flash
4.  AKB48                                      Kuchibiru ni Be My Baby
5.  SKE48                                       Coquettish Juutaichuu
6.  Nogizaka46                               Ima, Hanashitai Dare ka ga Iru
7.  Nogizaka46                               Taiyo Knock
8.  Nogizaka46                               Inochi wa Utsukushii
9.  Arashi                                        Aozora no Shita, Kimi to Nari
10. NMB48                                    Don't Look Back!

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Hashi(橋)

The end of the year is night which means that the end-of-year party season is also upon me. First up was the annual gathering involving friends at Kingyo downtown as usual. Food and service were great as usual but I didn't like the table too much since I think it stretched the folks a little too far apart. There will be a couple of more visits to the place this month but there's absolutely no complaint from me since the food is so good there.

Well, it's been a while since I put up a Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)article. So I'll be providing one from her short list of melodic contributions for the venerable "Kayo Suspense Gekijo"(火曜サスペンス劇場...The Tuesday Night Suspense Drama)series in the early 1980s. Her 35th single "Hashi" (The Bridge) can be put alongside "Madonna Tachi no Lullaby"(聖母たちのララバイ)and "Ieji"(家路)as those hauntingly beautiful and melancholy love ballads which typically ended an episode from the mystery anthology show. Not surprisingly, it was the same duo of Keisuke Yamakawa and Toshiyuki Kimori(山川啓介・木森敏之)who provided words and music for "Hashi", a musical metaphor for the end of a romance through a countryside scene. Yeah, it's a beautiful song but I probably wouldn't have it played to celebrate an anniversary.

I didn't know that there was an actual music video for the song and the imagery in there would probably make for a good opening sequence for an episode of "Kayo Suspense Gekijo" itself if sped up a bit.

To be honest, I'm fonder of the earlier Iwasaki/Yamakawa/Kimori collaborations than I am of "Hashi" but still hearing it again after a number of years was a nice experience. It peaked at No. 31 on Oricon after its release in August 1984.

And you can see how the song was used at the end of a "Kayo Suspense Gekijo" episode right here. Nothing better to contemplate life after a crime than a Hiromi Iwasaki ballad. :)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Frank Nagai -- Koi-san no Love Call(こいさんのラブ・コール)

Among just about everybody in the old kayo era, I believe Frank Nagai(フランク永井)was the original crooner of love songs. There is something about his delivery and voice that brings to mind some of those romantic singers in the United States back in the 1920s and 1930s. They're the ones who I would envisage cradling those huge microphones in the radio studios like a lover while the NBC orchestra is playing in the background.

Even among Nagai's long discography, I think I may have discovered his crooniest love song in the form of "Koi-san no Love Call" (Love Call From The Youngest Daughter). Recorded in 1958 and created by Tsuneo Ishihama and Masao Ono(石濱恒夫・大野正雄), the singer pretty much places himself in ancient RKO Studios when I hear him sing this tribute to young ladies, perhaps barely out of their teens, weeping for their beaus leaving town, perhaps to start work elsewhere.

"Koi-san no Love Call" may be just the song to end the radio broadcast before everyone hits slumberland, and so I will close down my computer and hit the hay. Good night!

Hiroshi Sato -- Seat For Two

It's been a little over 5 years since Hiroshi Sato's(佐藤博)untimely passing and I'm still quite stuck on his magnum opus album "Awakening".


However, "Aqua", his 8th album from June 1988 may become a future catch. I say this because I've become quite enamored with the second track, "Seat For Two". It's a dynamic piece that's quite different from any of the tracks from "Awakening". For some reason, I kinda figure that it fits perfectly with Japan's Bubble Era of a high-flying economy, and I do like that album cover which also fits snugly with this particular song.

It could be the percussion involved in here but for another reason, I also think there's a hint of Latin spice and energy in the arrangement. Perhaps it could also be the voice of Sato and his backing singers seeming rather reminiscent of the vocals I've heard from Sergio Mendes' gang back in the 1980s. Anyways, the song promises quite the ride through the streets of Tokyo.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Farewell to the 100% Chocolate Cafe

On the day before I left Japan, Dan and I were walking toward Ginza. And I knew before I had even arrived in the country that there was an establishment that I knew in Tokyo which was going to end its time on December 26th this year.

The 100% Chocolate Cafe was a place that I visited with friends perhaps around 2~3 times during my residency there and has had a good run of more than a decade. In a megalopolis which has a high frequency of restaurant openings and closings, the Meiji-sponsored cafe has done quite well.

I wasn't about to pass this final opportunity to drink at my old haunt so Dan and I did a half-hour there over chocolate drinks. Wish that I could have had some of the chocolate desserts there but after a rather large soba lunch in Akihabara, my stomach didn't have the heart. Still, I was glad that we could have one last time.

Well, perhaps there are other chocolate-themed J-Pop tunes but this is the one that automatically came to mind.

Rentaro Taki -- Kojo no Tsuki (荒城の月)

Instrumental version

At this point in time, I'm aware of a few kayo that are meant to be odes to ancient Japanese castles, namely Michiya Mihashi's (三橋美智也) "Kojou" (古城) and Kiyoshi Hikawa's (氷川きよし) "Haku-un no Shiro" (白雲の城). I'm a fan of Michi's biggest hit and I'm in the midst of getting used to Hikawa's iconic single, but I hadn't yet got formally introduced to their spiritual predecessor "Kojo no Tsuki" until now.

"Kojo no Tsuki", which translates to "Moon Over the Ruined Castle", has a forlorn and haunting atmosphere, created by long drawn out strings and, in some versions I've heard, the tinkling notes of the koto (adds a more Japanese flavour). This eerie composition, written by the short-lived Rentaro Taki (滝廉太郎) in 1901, highlights the fact that these fortresses, once grand in their time, are now nothing but moss-covered ruins and remnants of the past. This brings to my mind the phrase "If the walls could talk, what would they be saying?". Perhaps the cobblestone walls must be lamenting over their fate of being forgotten or having been turned into a tourist attraction after being the epitome of power in their prime.

Yoshiko Yamaguchi's version

I digress. Moving on, the inspiration for the two aforementioned hits by the huge enka stars actually started out as a tune for music lessons in school. After Taki passed on, one thing led to another and some changes to his score were made and the lyrics were added by poet Bansui Doi (土井晩翠). Eventually, it did become popularized nationally as well as internationally in the 1920's, although I'm not very sure who was the first to record it. The English Wiki stated that operatic singer Yoshie Fujiwara (藤原義江) recorded it in 1925, but the J-Wiki has no mention of it. That aside, it was covered a number of times by a myriad of artistes, like the venerable Yoshiko Yamaguchi (山口淑子), Ichiro Fujiyama (藤山一郎), and of course, Michi and Hikawa. I'm not able to find Michi's take, but I've put up the others. I don't have a favourite, but I feel that Yamaguchi's soprano gives "Kojo no Tsuki" an extra layer of loneliness and eeriness.

Mr Fujiyama's version

Between "Kojou" and "Haku-un no Shiro", I think the latter resembles "Kojo no Tsuki" more in terms of its music. You can hear it in the video below. The score of "Kojou", on the other hand, sounds like it has slightly more modern touch to it.

Hikawa's take plus "Haku-un no Shiro"

A little tidbit of information here: The castles the words and the music were based on were different. Taki had Oita prefecture's Oka Castle in mind, while Doi pictured the Aoba Castle in Miyagi and Aizuwakamatsu Castle in Fukushima.

Personally, I've not visited many castles in Japan. The only one I've actually gone up to for a look was the Osaka castle about 4 years back. T'was a majestic sight against the night sky and it's nowhere near ruin, but to be frank, I was more interested in this enormous Siberian Husky or Alaskan Malamute (probably the latter) that was stationed inside a photo shop. I really wanted to give it some love but I was advised not to - the elderly shop owner seemed sour over people going into the shop for the dog and not for the photo services. Well, lady, what do you expect when you've got a dog big enough to be ridden into battle? I wonder if Fido is still there.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

CHAKA with Toko Furuuchi -- Huckleberry Friends(ハックルベリーフレンズ)

Better-late-than-never situation here. This song, and the album that it is included in, is now over 20 years old but didn't know about its existence until tonight.

I've known CHAKA and Toko Furuuchi(古内東子)separately as singers with some wonderful voices, the former during her time with PSY-S and the latter during her early career in the 1990s. Never did I think that the two would actually get together for a duet, though. But that is what they did for one track, "Huckleberry Friends", on CHAKA's 2nd solo album "with friends" in 1996.

CHAKA took care of the lyrics while Furuuchi came up with the groovy and relaxed melody in a nice collaboration about two friends sticking with each other through thick and thin. And as the title would suggest, I would say that the pair makes for good buds hanging out with each other on the weekend at a cafe or at a baseball game. The only other surprise is that "Huckleberry Friends" wasn't used as a theme song for a J-Drama or something.

If I had known about this song and album, it would have been up on my shelf for a couple of decades already. Just goes to show that there are still treasures to be found in the Japanese music iceberg.

Rock A Japonica -- Kyōka Shock!(教歌SHOCK!)

Friday was the final full day of my time in Tokyo. Met up with Dan one last time and did some more shopping around in the big city. Before meeting up with my congenial host from the past weekend, Rob, and some of the others, Dan and I went over to the Shinjuku Station branch of Tower Records. It just so happened that on the 7th floor where the J-Pop stuff was located, there was quite the yelling and shouting.

It turned out that yet another aidoru group was making its presence felt in a Tower Records. This time, it was the 5-girl unit Rock A Japonica(ロッカジャポニカ)and they were actually there performing what I assume was their latest single. The audience was quite the lively mob, being proactive and reactive to what was happening on stage. Of course, I couldn't take any photos lest the Tower Records staff and group's representatives started swarming me with crossed arms (it's happened to me once before).

To give a taste of what Rock A Japonica is like, this is their 2nd single from July 2016, "Kyōka Shock!" (Teaching Song Shock!), a high-speed tune which reached No. 5 on Oricon.

Was getting a tad noisy so we went up another floor to ease our ears. I was surprised to find a small but noticeable display of City Pop in one corner, and as you can see in the above photo, there was even a listening post for Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)"Sunshower" and Takako Mamiya's(間宮貴子)"Love Trip". That latter album was a real shock since for the past decade, I had always understood it to be one of the rarest and most obscure releases that I had ever known about in contemporary Japanese music although it is one of the classics of the genre in my estimation.

Perhaps its popularity on YouTube might have gotten the attention of a few Tower staffers...or perhaps this blog (heh, heh). Whatever the case, I'm glad that Ms. Mamiya has been getting her due at last.

Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku -- Sing along sing a song(シンガロン・シンガソン)

With just two full days left in my Tokyo 2017 trip, my friend Dan and I decided to make November 16th the day for searching for those rare albums.

So I met up with him in Akiba where his hotel was. However, since I got there an hour ahead of schedule, I ended up getting a UNIQLO cardigan and having an impromptu brunch at Vie de France. Golly, I did miss that place. My caloric intake suffered a quick increase but despite the sugar and cholesterol, it was well worth it.

Anyways, we first stopped off at some of the old/used CD shops in Jimbocho including my old haunt of Tacto and I was happy that my friend could track down one of his rarities there. After that, we took the Hanzomon Line down to Shibuya and walked it up to Tower Records. Of course, I went a bit crazy with the disc shopping and I've already talked about a couple of the new acquisitions over the past week.

We decided to have lunch down on the 2nd floor where the Tower Records Cafe is located. Apparently, for a limited time, the cafe was made into the central fan location for the aidoru group Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku(私立恵比寿中学...Ebisu Private Junior High School). We had never heard of these ladies before but the waitress smilingly asked us whether we would want to be seated by the huge poster where the girls were posing. I politely demurred and said that we would be happy being seated anywhere.

We got the comfy sofa set in one corner of the cafe. And the menu consisted of dishes that the individual members of Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku had recommended. I went with the gyoza-and-fried rice combo and the mango juice. I gathered that SEC had garnered quite a fan following since some of them actually came up to our table to take photos of the pictures on the wall above us containing the girls. So this was what fame was all about, eh? To give credit where credit was due, the lunch was quite delicious.

SEC began in 2010 and had their major debut in 2012. I couldn't quite hear any of their songs at the cafe so I did some digging when I got back home to Toronto and found their 11th and latest single, according to J-Wiki. "Sing along sing a song" had come out right in the middle of my trip on November 8th, and the video and song is actually quite fun to hear. Written and composed by Motoki Ohmori(大森元貴), the song went as high as No. 2 on Oricon.

I will have to give my respects to them as well for the food recommendations.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Kiyotaka Sugiyama & Omega Tribe -- Alone Again

I don't think I ever got a photo of an Omega Tribe(オメガトライブ)album to store as an article thumbnail so I'm quite happy that I could get a shot of the actual Aqua City shopping mall in Odaiba, Tokyo.

As for Kiyotaka Sugiyama's(杉山清貴)old band, their "Aqua City" was their debut album from September 1983. Initially when I saw the title for one of the tracks, "Alone Again", I had assumed for a few seconds that the band was actually doing a cover of the 1970s hit by Gilbert O'Sullivan but then again, that song had the extra word "...Naturally" in the title.

Nope, "Alone Again" by Omega Tribe was written by Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康), now the most prolific lyricist in Japan, and composed by Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)who could probably be credited for giving the band its mellow sound. He was the one, after all, who came up with "Summer Suspicion", Omega Tribe's debut single which was also recorded onto "Aqua City".

Listening to "Alone Again", it has all of the tropes that got me interested in Omega Tribe in all of its incarnations in the first place: smooth vocals, mellow beat and that summery sheen. Couldn't have asked for a better song for a young couple strolling on the beach at dusk while holding hands. And I gotta say that the folks who set up the concert above for Sugiyama and the band planned the setting, including the lighting, just right for the song. As for "Aqua City", it peaked at No. 4 on Oricon.

Tetsuji Hayashi/Junko Ohashi -- Rainy Saturday & Coffee Break(レイニー・サタディ&コーヒー・ブレイク)

Another recent acquisition for me is the second album of veteran singer-songwriter Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司), "Back Mirror" from 1977. I had seen the album at Tower Records back in 2014 but unfortunately didn't come around to getting it. This time, I didn't repeat the same mistake.

I've listened to "Back Mirror" just once so far. I will have to get back to it but in the meantime, the one standout track is "Rainy Saturday & Coffee Break" which pretty much says it all there in terms of the music. Perhaps Hayashi had a regular breakfast place that he hung out at during the weekends near his apartment in Tokyo or whichever city he was residing in at the time. I could see him sucking back on his cigarette after having done his coffee and toast and boiled egg while it's showering outside.

Whatever the scenario, I like this song. It's laidback but cheerful and I do groove to that electric piano. There's something very reassuringly 70s City Pop about it. While Hayashi took care of the music, Machiko Ryu(竜真知子)wrote the lyrics.

One of the backup singers for "Rainy Saturday & Coffee Break" just happened to be chanteuse Junko Ohashi(大橋純子)and strangely enough in the same year, she did a cover of the same song for her own album "Rainbow". This time, it was Hayashi backing her up. Slightly different arrangement but still lovely to listen to.

eufonius -- Kokoro ni Tsubomi(ココロニツボミ)

As we approach the end of another year, I've been able to catch the usual 4 seasons' worth of anime. Personally speaking, I haven't been as enamored with the stuff in the autumn season. Not as crazy about "Just Because" since I'm simply not a fan of straight drama and "Two-Car" just seems to have screaming matches and tension for the sake of having them.

However, one show that I have gradually come to enjoy is "Konohana Kitan"(このはな綺譚). The remarkable thing about it is how much, at least on the surface, it resembles an anime that we saw all the way at the beginning of the year, "Urara Meirochou"(うらら迷路帖). Both shows have magic and mysticism infused into the setting but I think "Konohana Kitan" has some more gravitas and perhaps some harder knocks although it often shows a sense of humour among the characters.

I also like the opening theme by the band eufonius "Kokoro ni Tsubomi" (Buds on the Heart) which begins with a piano resembling a babbling brook before having lyricist and vocalist riya sing the song reminiscent of some of the ballads that I used to hear around the early 2000s from chanteuses like Misia. The melody was provided by keyboardist Hajime Kikuchi(菊地創). There may be some melancholy in the some of the episodes but I think there is a certain reassurance within "Kokoro ni Tsubomi" that things will always be looking up at the end.

Plasmagica -- Ryuusei Dreamline

Met up with my anime buddy for the first time in quite a while. He was quite happy with the souvenirs. To be honest, though, I haven't been as enthused about this current group of anime that he has shown me with the exception of the continuing hilarity of "Mahojin Guruguru"(魔法陣グルグル)and the fascinating "Konohana Kitan"(このはな綺譚).

However, during the anison hour segment of my day, I got to hear an old song from the initial season of "Show By Rock!!". "Ryuusei Dreamline" (Comet Dreamline) was a tune by Plasmagica(プラズマジカ)that I heard now and then. My buddy reminded me that it was the song that got Cyan and the band to the top.

"Ryuusei Dreamline" was written and composed by the musical group RegaSound and I'm sure the song is placed on one of the many CDs that the show has spawned since that first season in 2015. Not sure if there will be a third season since the end of the second season was underwhelming but I know that some franchises have a sophomore jinx so perhaps another "Show By Rock!!" can be brought back. If so, a ton of more soundtrack-and-song CDs are on the way.