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

Thursday, May 24, 2018

H Jungle with t -- WOW WAR TONIGHT: Toki ni wa Okose yo Movement(時には起こせよムーヴメント)

Have you ever had the feeling of being the outside guy looking in? To elaborate a little bit more, what if you simply didn't understand or like something that seemingly has become a huge favourite phenomenon with everyone else?

That is the feeling that I have had for over 20 years when it comes to this song "WOW WAR TONIGHT: Toki ni wa Okose yo Movement" (Movement to Raise Hell Occasionally) by H Jungle with t, comprised of musician-producer-songwriter Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)and comedian Masatoshi Hamada(浜田雅功)from the Osakan duo Downtown. This mid-90s collaboration began with a simple guest appearance by Komuro on the long-running show "HEY! HEY! HEY! Music Champ" when co-host Hamada asked the fellow to write a hit song for him someday.

The debut single was indeed "WOW WAR TONIGHT", released in March 1995 with Hamada on the mike while Komuro was wailing away on his guitar. I remember the commercials selling the single and remarked that "Wow! Hamada really is singing out there". As the ball got rolling on the song, I started hearing about the genre of music known as jungle that apparently applied to "WOW WAR TONIGHT" (the duo's name was a big hint), but since electronic music outside of YMO and Pet Shop Boys at that time was largely unknown to me, I could only identify Komuro's music as a light reggae beat.

By the time 1995 was coming to a close, I recall that the song had become a massive hit, and in fact, was the song to sing at the many bonenkai (year-end parties) and karaoke outings to get everyone in a party mood. According to the J-Wiki article on "WOW WAR TONIGHT", Komuro said that he ended up creating the song when he thought about how extremely busy his partner Hamada had been at that time as one of the most popular entertainers around, and that it expanded to become a cheer song for all those fellows in their 30s working hard in their companies after seeing a bunch of salarymen in the Tokyo quarter of Hamamatsucho.

Reading the "WOW WAR TONIGHT" article, I have kept seeing a ton of praise being heaped on Komuro by folks such as Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一). And as such, it not only hit No. 1 on the singles charts but it stayed there for 7 straight weeks from March to May 1995, and it ended up as the 2nd-ranked single of the year. It also earned the JASRAC Gold Prize in 1996 and a current place as the 17th-ranked single in Oricon history, hitting the 2 million mark. Of course, the Kohaku Utagassen came calling.

And yet, I really hated the song when it came out. I thought Hamada was belting away like Japan's most famous amateur karaoke singer after a few stiff drinks, and when it came to the finish, the song struck me as being almost unlistenable. But I think that was the point with "WOW WAR TONIGHT"; it's about a straight-talking everyman exhorting everyone to unshackle those daily chains and let loose once in a while. It struck a chord with a lot of folks, then. In particular, karaoke wasn't the venue to show one's amazing prowess behind a mike; it was the place to de-stress and what better way to do so than singing one's favourite tunes while drinking down stuff with good buddies?

Listening to it in its entirety again after so many years, my feelings toward it haven't improved all that much, despite all the accolades (even from The Professor) and its status as the song to support the average man. Mind you, the softer parts of Hamada during the song and just remembering the times surrounding it with the Komuro Boom and my time as a NOVA teacher have softened my hardness toward it as a form of nostalgia. I felt that I had to put it up onto the blog...finally...since there are folks out there who really liked it and it has perhaps become one of the representative tunes for that decade. Plus, since I had been wrestling about whether to put up "WOW WAR TONIGHT" for literally years, I'm glad that I finally got it out of my system.

Yuko Matsutani/misono -- Lum no Love Song(ラムのラブソング)

Back in 2015, I wrote about the theme song for "Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer"(うる星やつら2: ビューティフル・ドリーマー), "Ai wa Boomerang"(愛はブーメラン), which had come out in 1984. I confessed that I was never a fan of the original series but that the character of Lum(ラム)was pretty well iconic to the point that even I knew about her.

Years ago, when I was living and working in the Tokyo area, a friend and I dropped into the famous Mandarake(まんだらけ)shop in Shibuya since my friend wanted to find a few things such as some manga. Apparently, it may have been one of the rules that at least some of the staffers there had to perform some sort of cosplay. Well, as I was walking through one of the narrow aisles, I encountered a young lithe lady who was decked out as the Lum. Yep, shrinking tiger-patterned outfit and all...just like the lady in the video above at Moa Channel, although the staffer at Mandarake was far more nonchalant. I quickly moved back the other way.

Last week, I wrote about singer-songwriter Izumi "Mimi" Kobayashi(小林泉美)who had been in the urban contemporary side of Japanese pop music from the 1970s. I found out that she had a lot to do with a number of the theme songs for "Urusei Yatsura", although "Ai wa Boomerang" wasn't one of them. However, she was partially responsible for the very first opening theme for the TV anime, "Lum no Love Song" (Lum's Love Song) which came out as a single in October 1981.

Sung by Yuko Matsutani(松谷祐子), who would also sing "Ai wa Boomerang", Kobayashi took care of music and arrangement while Akira Ito(伊藤アキラ)provided the lyrics. I only heard it for the first time a few nights ago, and it seems to come across just as saucy and coquettish as Lum herself. Nice touch with the Latin in there. The original version topped off at No. 50 on Oricon.

misono came out with her more hard-rocking version of "Lum no Love Song" as her 14th single in September 2009 which came out on the same day as her first album of cover songs "Cover Album"(カバALBUM). The single did even better than the original on Oricon by peaking at No. 18 while the album went as high as No. 28.

According to J-Wiki, when asked for the reason behind covering "Lum no Love Song", misono replied that since her older sister, Kumi Koda(倖田來未), had gotten her big break with her cover of the theme song for "Cutie Honey"(キューティーハニー), another anime from yesteryear, she naturally thought that she could do the same with her own cover of an anison.

Ami Ozaki -- Wanderer In Love

Finally! According to the local weather broadcaster, it had been 8 months since my city actually got a 30-degree Celsius temperature. Yes, it's been a long and hard winter but things seem to be finally looking up.

What added to the good vibes today was listening to this song by songsmith Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美), "Wanderer In Love". And all I can say is that it further answers the question "What would you get if you brought together TOTO and Japanese pop?" Well, that has already been answered by folks like Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)and Naoko Kawai(河合奈保子)from that time, and "Wanderer In Love" is another fine response.

As with Takeuchi and Kawai, Ozaki got to work with David Foster and Tom Keane in crafting tracks for her an album. In her case, it was "Hot Baby" from May 1981. For those who love the AOR on both sides of the Pacific, this is the one for you. You've got Ozaki's familiar velvety vocals paired with music that was performed by a combination of TOTO (Steve Lukather & Jeff Porcaro) and Airplay (Foster & Jay Graydon) and a great sax by Tom Scott. My inner 80s was crying for joy at the accomplishment.

"Hot Baby" has been mentioned in "Japanese City Pop" and "Music Avenue", and both book and website have specifically identified "Wanderer In Love" as one of the highlights. Gotta try and get this album.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

orange pekoe -- Gokurakucho ~ Bird of Paradise(極楽鳥)

The songs by orange pekoe that I've posted in the past have been categorized as both jazz and Shibuya-kei, and that's only two of the genres that identify this band from Hyogo Prefecture. Kazuma Fujimoto and Tomoko Nakajima(藤本一馬・ナガシマトモコ)have also brought Latin, Indie Pop and the general J-Pop to the fore, but this particular single is absolutely pure joyous jazz.

Being an old swing fan, I really like orange pekoe's 6th single "Gokurakucho" from May 2003. It's the type of song that would get me thinking of those days back in Japan when I really got into the swing (pun intended) of things when it came to jazz. I've always appreciated modern takes on the old stuff (yes, I'm fully aware that the single came out 15 years ago). And "Gokurakucho" is one of those numbers that probably could get the folks back in the day to snap their fingers and hit the dance floor.

If the usual pattern holds true, then Fujimoto composed the song while Nakajima wrote the lyrics and provided her snazzy vocals. "Gokurakucho" reached No. 25 on Oricon and was also included on orange pekoe's 2nd album "Modern Lights" from July 2003. That peaked at No. 6.

My Pace -- Tokyo(東京)

Less than 15 minutes ago, I just finished watching this week's "Uta Kon"(うたコン), and the theme was on all sorts of kayo about Tokyo (along with tributes to the two singers that left this mortal coil over the past week, Hideki Saijo and Yukiji Asaoka). I realized that the odes to the Big Sushi have been represented through different genres such as the pop/rock of Kenji Sawada(沢田研二)and the classic Mood Kayo of Frank Nagai(フランク永井).

Folk has also given tribute to Tokyo, and I discovered a song that I hadn't heard before from a group that I hadn't heard before either. My Pace(マイ・ペース)was composed of a trio of junior high school classmates from a small town in Akita Prefecture before it got amalgamated with two other towns to form the current Katagami City.

Mitsugu Morita(森田貢), Susumu Ito(伊藤進)and Tsugio Kon(根次男)released their first of four singles, "Tokyo", in October 1974 for which Morita was both lyricist and composer. It's a gently jaunty tune describing a fellow's happy trips to the Japanese capital since his beloved was living there. Singer-songwriter chay was the one who performed it on tonight's "Uta Kon" and I liked it so much that I decided to track it down. Happily, the original also has plenty of enjoyment.

"Tokyo" became a hit for My Pace as it apparently stayed on the charts for a long while and peaked at No. 28. Along with the four singles, the band released two original albums in the 1970s and a BEST compilation in 2009. According to J-Wiki, "Tokyo" has been covered by a lot of artists including BEGIN and Toshi Ito to Happy & Blue(敏いとうとハッピー&ブルー).

As for the band name, "my pace" is a form of wasei eigo(和製英語)that I learned back in my Ichikawa days. Basically, if a person is referred to as a "my pace" kind of guy, then he goes to the beat of his own drum and no one else's. To be frank, I'm that sort of fellow to a certain extent which has irked and bemused people around me fairly often.

I have a small P.S. here, since the kanji for the names of the three members of My Pace have a number of readings, I'm not totally sure whether I have gotten them right. If someone can verify the above names for me or if somehow the band members themselves read this and let me know, I would be eternally grateful. Also, I do love the video above for the original recording but that last scene is most definitely from Yokohama. :)

Setsuo Ohashi & Honey Islanders/Yujiro Ishihara -- Shiawase wa Koko ni(倖せはここに)

Back to the regular work week here for everyone including myself. So, perhaps back in Japan, that could mean the usual visit to the beloved watering hole after work. Time for another Mood Kayo.

I found "Shiawase wa Koko ni" (Happiness is Right Here) by chance last night, and it's an interesting blend of Hawaiian (courtesy of that steel guitar), jazz and Mood Kayo, according to the above video although I don't know what the original performance was like. Would love to see the cocktail that would go with this song. It was sung by Setsuo Ohashi & Honey Islanders(大橋節夫とハニーアイランダース)in 1959.

According to Ohashi's bio on J-Wiki, he has been seen as one of the pioneers for bringing in that Hawaiian sound into the Mood Kayo part of Japanese music; in fact, he also played the steel guitar, one of its representative instruments. He started up the Honey Islanders in 1948 and has been credited for arranging Yuzo Kayama's(加山雄三) trademark tune "O-Yome ni Oide"(お嫁においで)later in 1966. The Tokyo-born Ohashi was presented with the Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1995 and then a Distinguished Service Award at the Japan Record Awards in 2000. He passed away in June 2006 from respiratory failure at the age of 81.

"Shiawase wa Koko ni", which was written and composed by Ohashi, may sound rather melancholy but according to the lyrics, it seems like the song is about being content with that special someone in that special place...most likely the favourite bar. It's probably been covered by a lot of enka/Mood Kayo singers over the decades, but the J-Wiki article mentions Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし)and Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎).

The Tough Guy's rendition of the song was released in June 1967, and he brought out some of that typical Ishihara richness in his delivery. Still, I'm rather torn about which version I prefer: the Ohashi original versus the Ishihara cover.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Kinki Kids -- Aisareru yori Aishitai(愛されるより 愛したい)

Watching TBS' "Countdown TV" in the wee hours of Sunday morning in Ichikawa, I was somewhat impressed at how much the producers were able to crunch in those rankings, sometimes all the way from No. 100 to No. 1 within 45 minutes (although I've read that "CDTV" has now been expanded to 70 minutes). The No. 50 to No. 100 songs were always given that one-second exposure at such a speed that if I hadn't had my lights on, I would have been afflicted with seizures.

The other night when I was watching "VS. Arashi"(VS嵐), some of the Arashi fellows were reminiscing about dramas that they had appeared in years and years ago with one of them being "Bokura no Yuuki ~ Miman Toshi"(ぼくらの勇気 未満都市...Our Courage: Not Quite A City)back in 1997. Basically, this was a couple of years before Arashi even debuted as a singing and dancing Johnny's group. The sci-fi drama was actually a showcase for their senpai, Kinki Kids.

As they were referring back to "Bokura no Yuuki", the theme song was playing quietly in the background, but I heard enough of it to plunk myself on the head and go "OMG! I remember this one." It basically blew through the windmills of my mind all these years. The theme was "Aisareru yori Aishitai" (I Want To Love Rather Than Be Loved) by Kinki Kids.

Now, I did mention "CDTV" at the top there. Well, it turns out that I kept hearing excerpts of the song during the ranking reports on the show, and although it did very well on the Oricon charts (for which I will give the stats later), I could only remember the brief excerpts. I don't recall ever hearing the whole song.

Until very recently. As it turns out, "Aisareru yori Aishitai" sounds pretty darn good. As was the case with their hit debut single, "Garasu no Shonen"(硝子の少年), created by the veteran hitmakers Tatsuro Yamashita and Takashi Matsumoto(山下達郎・松本隆), Kinki Kids' 2nd single was also handled by a couple of vets, lyricist Hiromi Mori(森浩美)and composer Koji Makaino(馬飼野康二), and "Aisareru yori Aishitai" also had that touch of past music infused into it...perhaps some 80s disco. I only ever heard the main refrain but on hearing the rest of the song with that decade's melodic essence in there, I could only go "Where have you been all my musical life?".

I mentioned in the "Garasu no Shonen" article that even songwriting masters Yamashita and Matsumoto felt a really large sunlamp on them since Johnny Kitagawa slapped down the conditions that the Kinki Kids' debut had to be a No. 1 from the get-go and a million copies sold. The song did deliver in huge spades but now according to the J-Wiki article for the 2nd song, Mori related that he had felt tremendous pressure in helping make this song due to the huge success of "Garasu no Shonen".

He and Makaino needn't have worried. Although "Aisareru yori Aishitai" debuted in November 1997, it not only did two 2-week stints at No. 1 on Oricon by the end of the year, it became the 59th-ranked single for that year and even ended up as the 8th-ranked single for 1998. In fact, it sold half a million copies in its first week alone and would become the second-best selling single in Kinki Kids' career, just below "Garasu no Shonen" with over 1.6 million copies sold. This may only be the second time that I've mentioned that a song actually went Quadruple Platinum.

Mori and Makaino must have really celebrated with a goodly amount of libation on getting the good news.