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.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Shizuka Kudo -- Trinity

For all these years, I've had a few of Shizuka Kudo's(工藤静香)CD singles but only one album by the 1980s aidoru superstar. And that was her 7th studio album, "Trinity" from March 1992, which after one or two listenings post-purchase, I placed it back on the shelves for years. I simply wasn't that much of a fan of hers for the album to merit multiple plays on the the time.

First off, though, I do feel that I have to go off on a tangent here since one of the things that I had long been wondering about was Ms. Kudo's vaunted English ability...well, that and her apparently mutant-like ability to stretch out the skin on her cheeks to Mr. Fantastic levels...but I will leave that one alone. Anyways, I did hear that she spoke English quite fluently and with an English accent, to boot.

Well, I took a look at the footage from the NHK variety program "Eigo de Shabera Night"(英語でしゃべらナイト...Can You Speak English?)that had its run during the 2000s. I used to watch it from time to time since there was a curiosity factor within me about which geinojin had that fluency in English....after all, I was teaching the language for a quarter of a century. In any case, Kudo made her appearance and I have to say that she was quite proficient (aside from the usual prepositional errors). If I were to place her in a level under NOVA, which was my old school in Tokyo, she would be around Level 4 or even Level 3 which is for an advanced student. As for any English accent...err, I don't really think so. However, I think she and Mr. Kimura could make a nice life of it here in Canada.

Back to our regularly scheduled article. As I said, "Trinity" came out in March 1992, and finally putting it back into the CD tray after so long, I realized that Kudo was pushing a variety of musical genres to the extent that I really started to wonder if she could really be categorized as an aidoru anymore although that's what J-Wiki is still pegging her as for this album. Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利), who was the composer for a number of her earlier hits, took care of the composition work and arrangement for all of the tracks.

The first track is "Mechakucha ni Naiteshimaitai"(めちゃくちゃに泣いてしまいたい...I Really Want To Break Down And Cry), her 15th single from January in the same year. This was the trigger for me to give another chance to "Trinity" since remnants of the song still remained in my memories over the years. Listening to it on the stereo and then seeing performances of it on YouTube, I discovered...finally...that it is quite the interesting mix of old-time soul and gospel with contemporary pop. I even get a hint of the old 1950s when I hear it as well. Longtime Anzen Chitai(安全地帯)associate Goro Matsui(松井五郎)provided the lyrics of heartbreak.

"Mechakucha ni Naiteshimaitai" did very well by peaking at No. 4 and ending up as the 73rd-ranked single of 1992. The song also got Kudo her 5th of 8 appearances on the Kohaku Utagassen that year. At a Hong Kong concert in 1993, the entire audience joined her to sing it which had her acting out the title.

Unfortunately, I think the first track is all I could find to represent "Trinity" on YouTube or the other video sites. However, there is the relatively generous Apple site.

Track 2 is "Moonlight no Sei ja nai"(MOONLIGHTのせいじゃない...Don't Blame It On The Moonlight), and I realized that this was the one other track from which I had some memory. Now, after some years of a jazz phase back in Japan, I appreciate this a whole lot more. Actually, it's more of a neo-swing jazz sort of fun. Matsui was also responsible for the lyrics of this song which brings images of an old-fashioned night on the town. Kudo also has a nice delivery here, reminiscent of a jazz chanteuse behind one of those ancient and huge stand microphones at NBC Studios in Manhattan.

"my eyes", Track 3, has Kudo plumbing closer to her old sultry style along with a 70s soul-rock feel. This was the Kudo that I was accustomed to hearing and seeing on the music shows back in the 1980s, and frankly the Kudo that I was afraid of crossing in a dark alley. Veteran Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)provided the lyrics here.

That's all I will do with "Trinity" right now since I am still in the process of re-acquainting myself with the album. Yup, once again, it's one of those albums that I have to come to appreciate with new ears, so it's not going back onto the shelf quite yet. Perhaps, then, I may be brave enough to try out Rie Miyazawa's(宮沢りえ)"Mu" again soon. In any case, "Trinity" reached as high as No. 3 on Oricon, and once I get more of a handle on the songs, I can do a follow-up or cover some of the tracks individually.

The above is a karaoke cover of "Mechakucha ni Naiteshimaitai" with its original arrangement.

Hitomi Tohyama -- Sexy Robot

About a couple of months ago when we were on that cruise in the Western Caribbean, I didn't find much different with the layout of the Harmony of the Seas (which is currently the largest cruise ship on the planet until the Symphony of the Seas gets its launch early next year) when compared to the Oasis of the Seas that we had shipped on a few years ago. Deck 5, which I guess would be called the Promenade Deck, had most of the shops that we remembered on the Oasis in the same positions on the Harmony. But there were two differences.

One was that the cupcake shop was no longer there (darn!). The other was that there was The Bionic Bar. Two robots, Bio and Nic, and a rotation of handlers took care of their share of the cocktails in one corner of Deck 5. It was one of the few instances that I had ever witnessed where the bartenders garnered more attention than the drinks themselves. And on the fourth day of the cruise, I finally relented, went into the bar and made my order via a Samsung tablet for a simple Rum and Coke.

Not quite sure who took care of my order, Bio or Nic. But one of them dutifully pressed out the requisite cola and double shot of rum, and poured the mixture into my plastic glass. I have to say that it was a good Rum and Coke....probably too good, though. I was fairly floating for the rest of the evening. And if I had stayed at the Bionic Bar, I probably would have found the (TORTURED SEGUE ALERT) robots sexier than the comely young handler/systems operator who handed me the tablet.

OK, first off...I have no idea how Japanese R&B singer, Hitomi "Penny" Tohyama(当山ひとみ)nor the creators of this song, lyricist Chinfa Kan(康珍化)and composer Yoshihiro Yonekura(米倉良弘), came up with the idea for this song "Sexy Robot", the title track from her 1983 5th album. Perhaps they had some potent Rum and Cokes, too...or they were inspired by some of the robotic forms of breakdancing that were hot at the time in America and elsewhere.

In any case, it's an intriguing funky tune about someone who has apparently fallen for the Cybermen or the Replicants from "Blade Runner". And I can't doubt Tohyama's vocals which go all in for the song. Another notable observation is that she sounds quite a bit like another City Pop singer, Miki Matsubara(松原みき), with this particular song.

I'm sure with the pop cultural references of robots in Japan, there are most likely a lot of Japanese music fans who will listen to "Sexy Robot" and see the title, and figure that it's a most appropriate tune. For my part, I would just like to ask Tohyama and Kan about how the title and lyrics came about. There are many more R&B tunes from both sides of the Pacific that I would place higher than this one, but it's a pleasant enough ditty that does its part to add to the goofy and mystical side of Japanese pop.

My question is whether Bio or Nic was
able to pick up and drop the lemon wedge
into my Rum and Coke.

Hachiro Kasuga -- Yama no Tsurihashi (山の吊橋)

Hore yuuuraa yuuraaaaaaaa

Just last month, I was thrilled to able to live out one of my favourites by Hachiro Kasuga, "Yama no Tsurihashi", by standing and walking on a suspension bridge that happened to be in the mountains. The bridge I was on wasn't in the mountains of Japan, rather it was near Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, Canada - close enough. While it was a little intimidating at first, considering how high the Capilano Suspension Bridge is from the ravine and the fact that it sways (just as Hachi sang), it turned out to be a quite an exhilarating experience - thank goodness I don't have vertigo. I likened it to walking on a boat. 

Not a fantastic picture, but you can kinda see the Capilano bridge.
Also, that was the biggest Canadian flag I've ever seen.

Anyway, coming back to the song itself, "Yama no Tsurihashi" is a rather jolly tune in terms of both its music and words. Kenji Yoshidaya (吉田矢健治), known for creating Kasuga-bushis, composed a lighthearted melody that moves along a steady rhythm which I equate to someone, perhaps a local villager or a tourist, taking a leisurely stroll, and the sharp blare of the trumpets and flute gives the impression that said person is in high spirits. Responsible for the lyrics was Hiroshi Yokoi (横井弘), and it could be about our main character observing those who cross the swaying suspension bridge. There's a hunter with his dogs going bear hunting, a girl who seems to be waiting for her lover to return from the city, and a charcoal maker who enjoys his sake. On a whole, "Yama no Tsurihashi" could be fit for a "Minna no Uta", with the scenes being played out in a colour pencil-drawn MV.

"Yama no Tsurihashi" was released in September 1959 and was one of Hachi's hits. I came across "Yama no Tsurihashi" along with Michiya Mihashi's (三橋美智也) equally jaunty, "Iwate no Osho-san" (岩手の和尚さん) via Kouhei Fukuda (福田こうへい) in that same episode of "Shin Nippon no Uta". You can check out Fukuda's version below. He did a pretty good job, though it sounded like he just managed to hit the lowest note.

Hmm, ASKAMae-KiyoTachi, then Ha-... ... OH, NO. Nah, just kidding. You thought Hacchan was my next muse? Pssh, t-that's... crazy!😰

Oh geez, it's high time a line be drawn.

Monday, July 24, 2017

(K)NoW_NAME -- Morning Glory

Going into the Summer 2017 season of anime, perhaps a lot of us fans may be going through "Little Witch Academia" withdrawal after that wrapped up its 2-season run. It certainly helped me since it bridged from the goofy and happy Winter stuff that we were seeing into the relatively more serious fare that we caught during the Spring.

But I've still ended up missing some of the Spring 2017 fare as well including "Little Witch Academia" although the new stuff right now such as "Made In Abyss" and "Action Heroine: Cheer Fruits" have been very promising. Plus, we have another anime that's been bridging the gap once more with a 2-season run, "Sakura Quest"(サクラクエスト).

As I mentioned in the article on the ending theme for Season 1, I compared the show to an anime version of a typical Fuji-TV live-action comedy-drama regarding the character of Yoshino who reluctantly ends up as the Queen of Manoyama, a rural town that has seen better days and needs a heavy dose of tourism and optimism to get back to health. At the time of writing that, I had just watched the first couple of episodes and since then, Yoshino and her newfound friends have had to come up with all sorts of crazy schemes despite the hard-bitten resistance from some of Manoyama's de facto leaders.

However, going into Season 2, it looks like the gang has slowly seen some upside to their efforts, and yesterday, my friend and I were able to see some of the past generation's youthful years to find out how they became how they are now.

The opening theme, "Morning Glory" has slowly grown upon me due to its hint of early 1970s pop/R&B (I'm reminded of the Jackson 5). As with the ending theme of "Freesia", it is performed by (K)NoW_NAME with the vocalist here being NIIKIE with members eNu and Makoto Miyazaki(宮崎誠)responsible for its creation. Listening to it, it does sound like the beginning of a brand new day in Manoyama...a nice jolt of orange juice or ocha to get folks up and at 'em.

I'll see how the opening and ending themes for Season 2 go.

Mariko Takahashi -- dear (Follow-Up)

Hope all of you had a fine weekend. Had my usual anime-and-food routine with my friend yesterday. I may have overindulged a bit with the noshing, though. A lot of protein in that round.

Anyways, one of the nicest things that I have discovered recently is that the folks at Apple iTunes have been uploading a lot of Japanese albums past and present online. Nope, it's not like the online music163/NetEase where you can hear the entire song. It's more along the lines of song excerpts but the length of time for each song is a fair bit longer than what I could get at, for example. Furthermore, especially when there are certain singers for whom only a few select songs get onto YouTube, the Apple iTunes site has been quite useful since there is more variety.

That is the one reason that I'm going over "dear" by Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子)again. Another reason is that "dear" is the first album (Takahashi's 6th from April 1982) that I ever covered on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" all the way back in 2012, and, no pun intended, it is truly a dear album to me.

Along with the first article on the album, I have also covered certain other tracks from "dear" individually: "Stop My Love", "Farewell" and "Samba Magic" so you can all take a look at them, too. Basically, I'm just wrapping things up here.

The first song I will be covering is Track 3 as shown on the iTunes site, "See You Again...Kaze ni Kuchitsukete"(SEE YOU AGAIN ・・・風にくちづけて...Kiss The Wind). At first, I had been planning just to cover this one individually but realizing that Apple generosity, I decided to take on the remainder of the album. However, the reason I wanted to write about "See You Again" is that it is the very first Mariko Takahashi song that I ever heard, thanks to "Sounds of Japan" one night. That song, along with a few others by folks such as Iruka(イルカ)and Junko Yagami(八神純子)convinced me that there was interesting music beyond aidoru, YMO and enka.

Now, as I said above, Apple only provides snippets, as generous as those are. But since that snippet for "See You Again" is available enough, I can at least let you know and let you hear that discovery that was wondrous pop for me. I mean, it is a Western-sounding pop tune but I don't know I would have ever heard something like that in Canada or the United States. Written by Akira Ohtsu(大津あきら)and composed by Kisaburo Suzuki(鈴木キサブロ), it is a melodic paean to the saying "Parting is such sweet sorrow". But it has quite the warm and lush arrangement with the Joe Group strings and the other musicians which frankly did bring the city of Tokyo into my head. And although unfortunately the instrumental bridge isn't included in the excerpt, the guitar solo is soaring. To my delight, I found out that the solo was by Fujimal Yoshino(吉野藤丸)who is already represented on the blog, and partially thanks to him and the beautiful voice of the singer herself, I determined that the works of Takahashi were meant to be further explored.

Yup, this is probably one of the longest opinions about a single song that I've ever written in an album article but "See You Again" was one of the linchpins for me where kayo kyoku was concerned.

Track 6 is "Chiisana Metamorphoze"(小さなメタモルフォーゼ...A Little Metamorphosis)is the perfect dusk/dawn song. I would probably go with dawn (although the lyrics have the setting of night) since Takahashi's delivery and the arrangement by Nobuo Kurata(倉田信雄), who also handles the keyboards here, hint at something wonderful coming over the horizon. Jake H. Concepcion provides another wonderful solo on soprano saxophone. Kingo Hamada(浜田金吾)came up with the slightly coy music while Yoriko Kido(城戸依子)provided lyrics.

Track 8 is "Tear", definitely a night time tune of sophisticated pop for broken hearts. Takahashi seems to love a number of ballads with strings.

The final track is "Hyoryusha e"(漂流者へ...To The Castaways)which always sounded like a lullaby to me. But it's one of those tear-inducing ballads about women being the ones who love while men being the ones who drift away for various reasons. I think the killer part is at the end when Takahashi and the music box both slowly turn down for the night...or forever. Ouch! Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美)provided words and lyrics here.

Yup, as I said, they are just excerpts but hopefully they are long enough so that the album might be worth purchasing if you are a purveyor of the lusher and urbane side of Japanese New Music. A few of the tracks got me started on my path for appreciating Japanese pop music at last.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Naoko Ken/Kuniko Fukushima -- Bossa Nova (ボサノバ)

I took a look at that listing I wrote up on the Red and White teams for the 32nd edition of NHK's Kohaku Utagassen on New Year's Eve 1981, and I've written individual articles on some of the songs that were performed that night such as Seiko Matsuda's(松田聖子)"Natsu no Tobira"(夏の扉)and Hitomi Ishikawa's(石川ひとみ)"Machibuse"(まちぶせ). But the fact is that I haven't covered all of them due to failing memory.

One such song is "Bossa Nova" as performed by singer-actress-tarento Naoko Ken(研ナオコ). Listening to it again after so long, I remember that rock guitar starting things off. And as I heard the song, I realized that although there was some Latin, it didn't sound anything like a bossa nova tune at all.

In fact, I would say that it was straight-ahead City Pop. And looking at the lyrics (and music) by singer-songwriter Kuniko Fukushima(福島邦子), the bossa nova was actually a plot point and not the description of the melody. To explain, the story involved a woman remembering with a dollop of bittersweetness about the end of a relationship through a final dance to a bossa nova tune. In short, she would dearly love to get rid of the bossa nova from her memory. I think Ken's demeanor as she sang it above in the video pretty much said it all. I love the melody and her smoky vocals.

"Bossa Nova" was Ken's 28th single released on December 21st 1981. I mentioned the exact date since she did get onto the Kohaku a mere 11 days later so I'm kinda wondering how she was able to get onto the NHK stage in such a short time especially when the single got no higher than No. 69. Not that I'm complaining too much since my re-acquaintance with the song has me enjoying its City Poppiness.

The single was also on Ken's 9th album "Renairon"(恋愛論...Theory of Love), a collection of cover singles released in November 1981.

And that brings me to my next point in that Ken's single was indeed a cover of the original single by Fukushima herself. In fact, "Bossa Nova" was her 4th single from 1979. Judging from her performance on Fuji-TV's "Yoru no Hit Studio"(夜のヒットスタジオ), the original version by the Okayama-born singer-songwriter had that same Latin-tinged City Pop feeling but was lacking that oomph of the electric guitar in the intro and perhaps those smoky vocals of Ken. Still, her style is reminiscent of Junko Yagami(八神純子)and early Miharu Koshi(越美晴). The song was also on her 2nd album "To" from May 1980.

I'm glad that I was finally able to get this article about a Kuniko Fukushima song on board since I had come across another song by her in the past several months but have yet to put it onto the blog. Now I've gotten that kick to put more of her material into play. Born in 1954, she debuted in 1978 and released 15 singles and 11 albums. Along with Naoko Ken, Fukushima has also provided songs for other acts such as Anri(杏里), Checkers(チェッカーズ)and Akina Nakamori(中森明菜).

According to her J-Wiki profile, she is a writer but going to her official website, apparently she is still giving concerts even in the United States and teaches piano and voice.

Agnes Chan -- Hoshi ni Negai wo (星に願いを)

In tribute to Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃)who passed away in the last 24 hours, I've already written about one of his songs as a singer in the 1950s. However, I also want to pay my last respects through one of the many songs that he had written for others.

Therefore, who better to select than Agnes Chan(アグネス・チャン)since Hirao was the one who brought her over from Hong Kong, where the singer had already become famous, to Japan. Hirao also helped create four of her tunes, including her hit "Sougen no Kagayaki" (草原の輝き).

Another song that can be included in that quartet is "Hoshi no Negai wo" (Wish Upon A Star) which was her 5th single from February 1974. Another typically bubbly and bouncy number for Chan, the lyricist was Kazumi Yasui(安井かずみ)who had also written the lyrics for "Sougen no Kagayaki". I realize that Hirao whipped up songs for so many singers but it was hard for me to imagine that a rockabilly singer such as this fellow was able to create such 70s aidoru-tastic tunes like this one.

"Hoshi no Negai wo" went as high as No. 4 on Oricon and finished the year as the 26th-ranked single. I'm positive that the next "Uta Kon"(うたコン)will be providing some news and tributes to Hirao on Tuesday night so perhaps I won't be surprised if Chan or enka singer Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし)appeared on the program.