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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Storm

The first time I heard this Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)tune recently, I was quite blown away. Well, it is titled "Storm" after all.

Of course, "Storm" impressed me with its urban coolness factor, but that's what I've come to often expect from a Yamashita creation from the 1970s and 1980s. But what surprised me was how soft his vocals were for most of this track from his 4th studio album "MOONGLOW" from October 1979. I mean, it was almost as if he wanted to emulate the calm before the storm rather than the storm itself while those ominous winds were blowing in the background.

There are several seconds of quiet before the melody begins to seep in like a light shower, and then it's another several seconds...into the second minute...before Tats starts and keeps on going in sotto voce aside from a few punchy lightning-strike moments. The funk and soul also slide in very gently as the volume gradually builds before a combination of strings and sax and guitar bring on some drama. You don't just listen to "Storm", you savor it. I can only imagine what the song must have sounded like at his concerts.

As for "MOONGLOW", it peaked at No. 20 on Oricon. Strangely enough, I wonder if "Storm" can be considered to be a Japanese example of Quiet Storm music. According to the J-Wiki article on the album, "Storm" was influenced by some of that Chicago soul music by bands such as The Lost Generation.

Mioko Yamaguchi -- Anju/Koi Suru Butterfly(恋するバタフライ)

Back in early March, I proudly crowed that I was covering the second album of Mioko Yamaguchi's(山口美央子)trio of releases, "Nirvana" when she was actively singing in the 1980s. That is still true but in the past few days, I did receive from the LOGIC STORE one more creation from the singer-songwriter.

"ANJU" was Yamaguchi's BEST album from November 1985 with all of her selections from the previous three albums plus two new songs. Now, since the original albums have come out as remastered CDs in one big bang along with this particular release, the feeling was that there probably wasn't any need to release the totality of that 1985 BEST compilation so the new "ANJU" has come out as a "single" of sorts with just the two new songs. I was fortunate to get from Toshi of the LOGIC STORE not only the CD but also a commemorative 45" with those two songs (many thanks, Toshi). Getting a donut-ban like that would make it the first time in over 30 years that I actually received a fresh vinyl record.

The first song is "Koi Suru Butterfly" (Butterfly In Love) and the second is "ANJU". Both are pretty sparkly technopop numbers written and composed by Yamaguchi.

"Koi Suru Butterfly" has a protagonist who is just as fluttery as that titular butterfly because she has butterflies in her stomach about falling in love with a friend. The melody is also as fluttery with a nice touch of techno steel drums. Yamaguchi did note on the cover that she had wanted to create something with a calypso beat.

Meanwhile "ANJU" is just a tad darker although the boppy technopop is still in there to such an extent that both songs could almost be considered to be siblings. Yamaguchi's lyrics for "ANJU" perhaps relate the aftermath of a fight between a couple with one dealing with the inevitable regrets. The percolating melody reminds me of something slightly New Wave and I could imagine an aidoru of that time singing this one on a show like "The Best 10".

The other notable thing about the two songs is that they were also produced and arranged by none other than Joe Hisaishi(久石譲)who would become famous for all of his creations for those Studio Ghibli movies.

By the way, I gotta say that I love the type face for the title! Sophisticated and 80s at the same time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Yasuhiro Abe -- Kanojo ni Dry na Martini wo(彼女にドライなマティーニを)

Good golly! I barely drink and yet I'm masterfully mesmerized by these videos I've found on the channel Bar-Times. These Japanese bartenders love to put a bit of style into their mixology. I'm not sure if Mr. Mori put in vermouth into his Mori Martini but it looks like it was barely an angstrom.

Anyways, the above was a nice little aperitif for my last song on this rather prolific evening, "Kanojo ni Dry na Martini wo" which could be translated as either "A Dry Martini for Her" or "A Dry Martini for My Girlfriend". However, let's be optimistic and go with the latter.

A track from Yasuhiro Abe's(安部恭弘)7th album "Tune box the summer 1986" from July of that titular year, it's a pretty good drive song along the shore, although for safety reasons, I hope it's just the passenger enjoying the martinis at the bar. Abe took care of music with Chinfa Kan(康珍化)behind the lyrics, and there is that twangy guitar which seems to be a frequent ingredient of an uptempo Abe number. It sounds like a fairly celebratory song as the singer yells out the title and the melody bespeaks of some good times ahead for the couple.

In any case, have another cocktail on me.

THE BOOM/Akiko Yano & Kazumasa Oda -- Chuo Sen(中央線)

In terms of commuting within the Greater Tokyo Area, I got to know Japan Railways as much as I did the Tokyo subways. Often, I took the looping green Yamanote Line and since I had to regularly hightail it out all the way to Chiba City at one point in my teaching career, I got to take (and sleep on) the yellow Sobu Line. However, due to priorities in commuting, I never took the orange Chuo Line all that much although it had a truly long range between Tokyo Station and the wilds of Mt. Takao which is officially within the Tokyo city limits.

Man, it has been a long time since I wrote about the band THE BOOM. I did write about their most famous hit "Kaze ni Naritai"(風になりたい)back in late 2012, so it's been around 5.5 years.

But this song here is another whose melody is quite familiar to me. "Chuo Sen" was THE BOOM's 19th single from June 1996 although it had actually been the coupling song to the band's 5th single, "Sakadachi sureba Kotae ga Wakaru"(逆立ちすれば答えがわかる...You'll Know The Answer Once You Stand On Your Head)which came out in July 1990. Written and composed by vocalist Kazufumi Miyazawa(宮沢和史), it strikes me as being a pretty cool and languid ballad about someone reminiscing of a past love while waxing romantic about the titular JR line. Mind you, considering how crowded the Chuo Line could get, Miyazawa must have had some imagination. The single peaked at No. 84 on Oricon. "Chuo Sen" was also a track on THE BOOM's 3rd album "JAPANESKA" from September 1990 which broke the Top 10 by landing at No. 4.

Also, one would be forgiven if he/she thought that "Chuo Sen" would be a shoo-in as a campaign song for the actual line. But then again, why would JR need to create a commercial for a commuter line that is guaranteed tons of passengers every day? In any case, the song was used instead for the contracting firm, Shimizu Corporation, and the Matsumoto Yamaga Football Club in the J-League as a cheer song by its fans.

A decade later in 2006, Akiko Yano & Kazumasa Oda(矢野顕子・小田和正)provided a wonderful duet for their cover of "Chuo Sen" in Yano's 26th album "Hajimete no Yano Akiko"(はじめてのやのあきこ...The First Akiko Yano). This version really brings relaxation, and it doesn't so much evoke images of train riding than it does bring images of sitting beside a placid pond. The album reached as high as No. 42.

Now I've found out that Yano had made an earlier cover of the ballad in her 13th album "Super Folk Song" from June 1992 which peaked at No. 10. The arrangement seems to be the same for both Yano takes.

To finish off, Miyazawa and Yano also performed a duet that nikala can tell you about.

Hamako Watanabe -- San Francisco Chinatown(桑港のチャイナ街)

Tonight's "Uta Kon"(うたコン), which only finished here a mere 10 minutes ago, took the geographical kayo way outside of Japan to countries like Turkey and even my nation of Canada.

America was also included in the musical whirlwind tour and it was represented by Hamako Watanabe's(渡辺はま子)"San Francisco Chinatown". There were a lot of songs that got my memories going but I never knew the title and the original singer for this number that also sparked my engrams. And what specifically sparked them was the cheerful singing by Watanabe that was almost a yodel.

Released in November 1950, "San Francisco Chinatown" was written by Takao Saeki(佐伯孝夫)and composed by Shunichi Sasaki(佐々木俊一). And it was a song that was performed by Watanabe on the very first Kohaku Utagassen on January 3rd 1951 when it was only broadcast on NHK Radio. The singer would perform it three more times on the televised versions of the New Year's Eve special in 1956, 1964 and 1973.

I only got to visit San Francisco once in 1990 so far, and although I missed out on getting that wonderful view of the Golden Gate Bridge because of...and it's no surprise...fog, my group and I were able to enjoy a fine dinner in Chinatown. I would proudly put up Toronto's Chinese cuisine against any of the equivalent fare around the world, including that in Hong Kong, but I have to say that dinner in San Francisco that one night was one of my finest culinary experiences ever. I would say more but I don't want to have Larry blush too much.😋

Four Leaves -- Olivia no Shirabe(オリビアの調べ)

When I was a kid, I used to hear the name Olivia Hussey bandied about from time to time, not really knowing who she was. Well, I found out that she was this actress who got her big break in the 1960s from her role as Juliet in "Romeo & Juliet" (some sort of doomed romance, I think). However, the Japanese especially fell for her hard and it didn't hurt that she was married to singer Akira Fuse(布施明)for a time.

Last week on NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン), some of the male performers gave a rendition of a song by Four Leaves(フォーリーブス). The name sounded familiar but for the life of me, that was really the only thing I could fathom about this group.

As it turns out, Four Leaves was one of the earliest Johnny's Entertainment groups, so you can say that it is one of the grand ancestors for SMAP and Arashi(嵐). The group consisted of Koji Kita(北公次), Takashi Aoyama(青山孝史), Toshio Egi(江木俊夫)and Masao Orimo(おりも政夫)with their debut single, "Olivia no Shirabe" (Olivia's Melody) coming out in September 1968.

Man, it's quite the groovy trip with some of those nostalgic horns, rumbling drums and jangly guitar. And yep, the song is a lovelorn tribute to the aforementioned Olivia Hussey. She was indeed popular. Kita himself wrote the lyrics while Kunihiko Suzuki(鈴木邦彦)took care of the dynamic music. Nice touch with the harp, by the way. Just the whole arrangement has me thinking Group Sounds but probably none of the members ever touched instruments when performing anyways.

"Olivia no Shirabe" peaked at No. 15 on Oricon and it was also a track on their album "Hit! Hit! Hit! Four Leaves Golden Show ~ Four Leaves 1965-1975". Four Leaves lasted until 1978 after 38 singles and 7 consecutive appearances on the Kohaku Utagassen. In 2002, the four decided to get the old band together and even put out a new single "it's more Ai"(it's more 愛...It's More Love)in that year before finally calling it quits in 2009.

You might want to check out another kayo in tribute to another Olivia.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Toronto -- April 23 2018

I was writing my last article when I was called into dinner at around 5pm tonight and that's when I found out about the horrible attack earlier this afternoon in North York which is a huge area in the Greater Toronto Area. At the time of the attack (around 1:30 EDT), I was actually working on my usual translation assignment, and during that time, I didn't have any media on (which is usually the case when I'm working).

At this point, we don't have any idea what motivated the attacker to mow down pedestrians with a van. Various media folks have been yelling terrorism but it's way too early to know for certain now. What is certain is that at this writing, 9 people are dead,16 people are injured and many many more who were in the area are traumatized.

The area I'm talking about is the segment of Yonge St., the main north-south street of Toronto, between Finch Avenue and Sheppard Avenue in the northern part of the city. When I was writing the first paragraph above, I heard one of the folks on CBC saying that she often visited that area and that the carnage could have happened to anyone. I can certainly agree...I could have been there. I often visit that particular segment since a cluster of ramen restaurants has popped up in that district in recent years and one of the major movie theatres I frequent is located there. In fact, "Kayo Kyoku Plus" collaborator Larry and I went to the ramen restaurant Konjiki right there just two weeks ago for lunch.

Police have told all of the owners of those various businesses on Yonge St to close up shop and go home and so, that usual bustling section there is now a very quiet but massive crime scene. It'll probably stay that way for the next few days.

My relatives including my brother have called to make sure that we are OK and one of my former students and good friend checked up on me via Facebook. The rest of my family are also fine but there are several families out there who are enduring the ultimate horror and that is where my sympathies lie right now.