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.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Hiroshi "GWAN" Sato -- Aozora(青空)

A few months ago, I wrote about a song introducing a folk singer/actor by the name of Hiroshi "GWAN" Sato(佐藤GWAN博)whose "Tanpopo no O-Sake"(たんぽぽのお酒)was fun enough to talk about. I mentioned that I would write more about him due to the presence of some other songs on YouTube.

(about 16:12)

Well, I dug up this one that was the title track for his debut album "Aozora"(Blue Sky)from 1976. It's the musical equivalent of a pleasant traipse through a park with that hint of City Pop. However, since I didn't get the impression that there was anything especially urban about the song, I decided to categorize it as a New Music tune. Sato doesn't sound as if he is classically trained in voice but I think that works to his and the song's advantage. He's just the everyday bloke cherishing his time off work and taking that stroll through green scenery under a blue sky.

I'm not sure when Sato performed this above version of "Aozora" but the arrangement this time is much more folksy with a whimsical country tang. Incidentally, the original song was arranged by Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一). This version, though, doesn't take as many flights of fancy as the original did. It's more of a happy straight-ahead telling. Hard to choose which one I like better.

Some [Early] Works of Tetsuya Komuro (小室哲哉)

Earlier this week I was discussing with a fellow Brazilian friend about Tetsuya Komuro’s works before his heyday as a producer in the mid-to-late 90s. As I told my friend, TK was already an accomplished producer before he started working with TRF, Ryoko Shinohara (篠原涼子), or Namie Amuro (安室奈美恵). In fact, besides being a member of the famous and glittery band TM NETWORK, he was also one of the rising composers during the 80’s aidoru era, and these are the works I want to introduce a little bit here. For a more well rounded view of his career as a Creator, here's J-Canuck's original article on the topic.

Starting with one of my favorites, TK produced an entire single for sexy aidoru Minako Tanaka (田中美奈子) in 1990. Released in May of that year, it was called “Yume Mite TRY” (夢見てTRY), a lovely and very aidoru-like pop song full of sharp synth stabs in the arrangement, just like was the norm in the late 80s. The coupling song, “I Say Hello Again”, was also a song created by TK, and it’s a little bit more adventurous than the tame “Yume Mite TRY”. Let’s say it was more club-ready than the a-side, which is comprehensible. For me, both songs are very nice, and, as a big fan of the beautiful Minako Tanaka, I’m very happy with them. “Yume Mite TRY” is catchier, though.

Eternal aidoru Seiko Matsuda (松田聖子) also had a song composed by TK for her comeback album “Strawberry Time”, in 1987. Called “Kimono Beat”, this funky and cute melodic piece with its singalong chorus is easily one of my highlights in Seiko’s late 80s phase. Based on that, I’m more than satisfied when I see her performing it during concert tours, even nowadays.

Another one of my favorites, CoCo’s “Haru Milky Way” (春・ミルキーウェイ) wasn’t a song produced by TK for the group. In reality, their song is a different version of “I WANT YOU BACK”, a song TK recorded himself for his debut album “Digitalian is eating breakfast”, released in December 1989. I don’t know if he sold the song for CoCo, even if it wasn’t entirely new, or if they simply agreed to release it, albeit with different title and lyrics. Well, strange things aside, “Haru Milky Way” was included in CoCo’s debut album “Strawberry”, released in March 1990, and it’s a fine synthpop tune coming from the aidoru group.

Yuko Imai’s (今井優子) second single “Niji-Iro no Aura” (虹色のオーラ), released in December 1988, was also composed by Komuro, and I just love the uplifting melody in the chorus. In my opinion, it could easily have been a hit by Misato Watanabe (渡辺美里), since they were already famous for songs like “My Revolution” and “Kanashii ne” (悲しいね). Nothing against Imai, of course, since she was a cute girl with a pleasant voice, but just a little reminder that maybe Komuro’s songs were purposely similar to what he did with Watanabe back then.

Cute aidoru Chiemi Hori (堀ちえみ) also recorded one Komuro song, and it was “Ai wo Ima Shinjite Itai” (愛を今信じていたい) back in 1987, when her aidoru career was already close to an end. Like J-Canuck acknowledged in his original Tetsuya Komuro post, it’s interesting to notice how different those 80s songs were from the more hard-hitting Techno he created in the 90s.

Finally, Miho Nakayama (中山美穂) was another example of top aidoru who recorded some hits composed by Komuro. One of them was the Latin-tinged “50/50” in July 1987, and the other was “JINGI Aishite Moraimasu” (JINGI・愛してもらいます) in July 1986. While “50/50” was a bouncy song full of stereotypical Mexican or Caribbean sounds, “JINGI Aishite Moraimasu” was more on the cute side with the twinkly keyboards and overall cheerful tone.

In the end, these are just some examples of what Tetsuya Komuro was doing during the 80s. At the time, he also had commercial success with his band TM NETWORK, with hits for Misato Watanabe, and, by 1989, launched his own solo career with some nice songs as well. However, today I wanted to concentrate just on the female aidoru side of his work here. To a couple more examples of female aidoru singers he produced back then, there was also Kyoko Koizumi’s (小泉今日子) “GOOD MORNING-CALL” (1988), and also Rie Miyazawa’s (宮沢りえ) “DREAM RUSH” (1989).

Anzen Chitai -- VII ~ Yume no Miyako(夢の都)

Well,'s been a very long time since I cracked this one open. This was pop/rock band Anzen Chitai's(安全地帯)7th album "Yume no Miyako" (Capital of Dreams) from July 1990. I don't remember much about when I bought it but I could imagine that I, as a big fan of Anzen Chitai, was fairly focused on getting it as the first album of the band that I ever bought in their home country. Moreover, as much as I was impressed with the multi-LP or multi-CD format of the band's "V", "VII", at least with the first batch, arrived in this box with pictures of sky and fluffy clouds encasing the album.

But then listening to Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)and the guys that first time on the CD player, for whatever reason, I was not all that overwhelmed with the product. In fact, I can admit that I was underwhelmed and only listened to "VII" a few times. Doubly in fact, I think over the past 25 years or so, I can count the number of times I listened to it on one hand!

A few months ago, my brother, who usually doesn't listen to any Japanese pop music, actually requested to borrow almost all of my Anzen Chitai stuff. Partially it was out of curiosity, partially it was also to get some copies made for his sister-in-law who is a huge fan of Tamaki and company. I don't know if he gained any respect or enjoyment from the albums but I did get my albums back and with one of them being "VII", I decided to pop it in again once more. To be honest, since I started "Kayo Kyoku Plus" in January 2012, I hadn't listened to this album at all.

Perhaps the reason that I never particularly accepted "Yume no Miyako" was that compared to the previous albums of "V" and "VI", this one struck me as being a bit more subdued. There didn't seem to be any one track that popped in my mind like the early hits of Anzen Chitai in the early 1980s or even some of the tracks from "V" and "VI" that had a slightly different sound from the band.

All of the tracks for "Yume no Miyako" were written by Goro Matsui(松井五郎)and composed by Tamaki. It was kinda strange listening to it this time around. I had assumed that I would forget most of the tracks but strangely enough, a number of them actually sparked my memory. That was the case with the first song, "Kimi ga Nemuru"(きみは眠る...You Sleep). The opening track has the gravitas of a spaceship launch and that feeling is further enhanced when I look at the inner liner notes with the photographs of the band standing on a plateau and the background of massive mountains in their native Hokkaido.

However, now that I've been paying more attention to the lyrics alongside the music, I realize that "Kimi ga Nemuru"  is a song of despair. Tamaki sings that the world is heading for hell in a hand basket and by the end, the man finally states that perhaps it is better that we just keep on sleeping. Strangely enough, I will be seeing "Blade Runner: 2049" tomorrow.

On the other hand, the second track, "Jounetsu"(情熱...Passion)is a much more high-flying number exhorting youth to look ahead and not back. This was also Anzen Chitai's 20th single released later in November that year. Again, Tamaki's voice is great and all that but I initially got that sense that this was more of an echo of "I Love You Kara Hajimeyou"(I Love Youからはじめよう), the opening track for "VI" rather than a creation that could stand out on its own.

Track 4 is "Seaside Go Go", and it was also the coupling song to "Jounetsu". This is the band just having fun on the beach while the bathing suit set simply twists the night away. I don't know why but I get as much of an impression of 80s pop/rock as I do some of that older surf rock.

Then we have "...Moshi mo"(。。。もしも...If)which sounds me to like a welcome throwback to Anzen Chitai's early years with that distinctive guitar anchoring things. And man, is it an atmospheric ballad with some fairly mystical lyrics by Matsui about love, sorrow and all that jazz. It might be some philosophical reflection but I think listeners will simply be enthralled by Tamaki's vocals once more.

(from 1:16)

Unfortunately the sound isn't the greatest above but "Big Star no Higeki"(Big Starの悲劇...Tragedy of a Big Star)is a funky piece that would have gotten some love from Prince. I think it's also the shortest track on "VII" with Tamaki singing about the trials and tribulations of being that successful superstar. Could be autobiographical with a slice of tongue-in-cheek.

The final track is the title track. "Yume no Miyako" is the one song that I have remembered all these years on the album. It's another timeless Tamaki tune about finding that Valhalla or Shangri-La paradise somewhere out there, with the singer's voice and the guitar conveying that ethereal feeling. Nice way to wrap up the album.

Although I still think that among Anzen Chitai's albums, "VII" is not one of the band's greatest achievements, I have some more appreciation for the release now. There are some gems that, while not shining as brightly, are still gems nonetheless. The album got as high as No. 2 on Oricon.

Sayuri Ishikawa -- Danryuu(暖流)

Looking through enka singer Sayuri Ishikawa's(石川さゆり)vast discography, it was obvious that her big breakout year was 1977. Her classic "Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyu Geshiki"(津軽海峡・冬景色)was released right on New Year's Day of that year and became an enormous hit, then came "Noto Hanto"(能登半島)a little over 5 months later which was another Top 10 achiever.

To wrap up 1977, Ishikawa released her 17th single in September "Danryuu" (Warm Current). As was the case with the previous two singles, this one was also created by Yu Aku and Takashi Miki(阿久悠・三木たかし). I actually caught it back on Tuesday night during "Uta Kon"(うたコン), and it had been a while since I heard an Ishikawa enka from decades past so it was quite nice listening to the nostalgic arrangement again. I've been accustomed to seeing her in a kimono in recent times so it was interesting to see her when she first started singing "Danryuu" dressed in Western clothing as above.

Also another common thread weaving through all of her 3 singles of 1977 was that it was another geographical enka about love lost. "Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyu Geshiki" was set on the Tsugaru Strait between Aomori Prefecture and Hokkaido, and "Noto Hanto" was based on the famous peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture. "Danryuu" had its breakup theme placed in Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. Perhaps the only difference here is that whereas the first two songs dealt with the aftermath of the breakup, the lyrics for "Danryuu" have the breakup happening right within the song itself with Ishikawa's character quietly but resolutely stating that she will be leaving the guy and starting afresh by the ocean.

"Danryuu" just missed the Top 10 by peaking at No. 11 but it still managed to get into the Top 100 of the year by ranking at No. 67. It was quite the hat trick year for Ishikawa but her collaboration with Aku and Miki didn't start in 1977. Actually, the three of them were together from 1976 for her 12th, 13th and 14th singles but the breakthrough didn't occur until the following year.

Seiko Matsuda -- Seifuku (制服)

As a teacher on the JET Programme, I realized that junior high school graduation ceremonies had far more gravitas than their counterparts in Canada. Well, for one thing, my junior high school never had a graduation ceremony...once we passed Grade 9, it was just head for the different high school come September. The only thing notable was a semi-formal prom night and the bravery that I had to wear a corduroy suit!

Nope, graduation ceremonies in Japan are big deals. Diplomas are given with a lot of grave pomp and circumstance, and there is quite a bit of crying involved. Plus, the popular boys are asked to give mementos to the girls who like them by giving away those gold buttons on their dark school uniforms. Basically, the really popular guys probably end up heading to the ceremonial lunch with their suits open. Not sure how the parents would react to that.

This brings me to another wonderful B-side to a Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)single, "Seifuku" (School Uniform). I first heard this on her special BEST album from 1985, "Train", which consisted of all of those hits that had been created through the collaboration of lyricist Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and composer Karuho Kureta(呉田軽穂). However, originally, this was the B-side to Seiko-chan's huge 8th single from January 1982, "Akai Sweet Pea" (赤いスイートピー).

Beginning like some sort of dramatic piece of classical music, "Seifuku" quickly morphs into a cheerful bit of music about a high school couple after the boy's graduation with the girlfriend realizing that this will be the last time that she will see him in the uniform. In fact, he is due to be heading to university in the big city but she seems to be taking the news in stride. Perhaps she is glad to see the lug going from boy to man.

For how the single did, you can check out "Akai Sweet Pea" through the above link. The other piece of trivia I got from students and media is that a good number of those former young charges have said that they preferred their uniforms instead of regular street clothes during their school years since they didn't have to fret about what to wear each day in class.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Emiko Shiratori -- Irodori no Aki(彩りの秋)

A couple of weeks back or so, one of the commenters was suggesting some other singers with one of them being Emiko Shiratori(白鳥英美子). Now, I've actually heard of Shiratori since she was part of the 1970s duo Toi et Moi(トワ・エ・モワ)and some of her songs were played on my old radio program "Sounds of Japan" back in the 1980s.

Although Shiratori has been listed in J-Wiki as a pop/folk singer, my impression of her through the songs from "Sounds of Japan" is that of someone who is an expert in healing music. As soon as you listen to her, the effect is almost something you would get from a cup of chamomile tea. Her beautiful voice is very calming to the soul.

Some time after the initial breakup of Toi et Moi, Shiratori began her solo career. Her first single coming out in 1982 but it wouldn't be until 1988 that she got her first hit through her cover of "Amazing Grace". However, she had been releasing solo albums since 1973 and her 9th album "Irodori"(彩り...Colours)from September 1992 has this lovely number called "Irodori no Aki" (Colourful Fall).

I did forget what a lovely voice Shiratori has and it's nice to be reminded of it through this ballad. Perhaps that cup of chamomile and some cookies would be fine to have right now. Also, if my tape recorder Jaws is in a kind mood, I may try to track down those old songs of her on the ancient audiotapes of "Sounds of Japan".

Charan-Po-Rantan -- Ocha Shiyo(お茶しよ)

The above is from a local Doutor coffee shop in Tokyo. Yep, a hot dog and an iced milk tea is my thing. No, I didn't need to visit a washroom and then have an Imodium afterwards. It all went down smoothly. Still, even as of 2014, I think Japan needed to work on their frankfurters when it came to hot dogs...just not quite the hot dogs I love here back in Canada. When I came back here to visit over the Holidays, I just had to have my hot dogs for lunch at least twice.

I don't know quite what it is. Nathan's Famous did give it a go in Tokyo for a few years but ultimately failed. I can say that I was one of their more loyal customers since I did love their dogs as something reminiscent of home. But I guess it's just one of those things. The Japanese didn't really go for our franks and I don't particularly go for theirs. The Doutor hot dog was OK but Nathan's or Maple Leaf or Schneiders has nothing to worry about.

Still, going out with a buddy or a few friends and getting some tea and stuff at a local watering hole was one of my favourite pastimes when I was in The Big Sushi. It's easy to get into since there are so many coffee shops and tea rooms in the megalopolis.

Apparently, the sister act of Charan-Po-Rantan(チャラン・ポ・ランタン)thinks similarly since they've come up with their own tribute to a girls' day out on the town with "Ocha Shiyo" (Let's Get Some Tea). The song is so new that the album that it has been recorded on, "Mirage Collage"(ミラージュ・コラージュ), isn't due out until November 1st (two weeks from now).

Up to now, it's been difficult for me to categorize the Matsunaga sisters' sound. Officially, J-Wiki has them pegged as an alternative/chanson/ska duo. I have yet to hear anything on my own from them that would be heard as chanson but I can pick up on the ska. And yet I can also sense some gypsy jazz and perhaps even some old-fashioned chindonya. However, one commenter on YouTube under one of their other videos was perhaps right on the mark when he remarked that it was the first time he had ever heard of Asian polka.

Certainly, there is that genki polka feeling in "Ocha Shiyo" along with Momo (vocal) and Koharu (accordion) bantering frenetically at warp speed (or should I now say spore speed considering "Star Trek Discovery"?) while doing their Harajuku tea thing. Of course, I've been out of practice with my comprehension of youth talk in Shibuya (not that I was all that fluent in the first place) but I think the Matsunagas are using a goodly amount of the current teen patter (although both are now in their twenties). I wouldn't dare butt into such a conversation.

Anyways, I'm looking forward to seeing some old friends and doing our old kaffeeklatsch when I hit Tokyo again someday.