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, January 16, 2018

Junko Sakurada -- Santa Monica no Kaze(サンタモニカの風)

My experience with California has just involved three cities: downtown Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento, and they all have their own distinct personalities. My personal favourite (and I hope Larry is reading this) is the City by the Bay because of those hills, some great food, mild climate and Fisherman's Wharf. Plus it doesn't hurt that Starfleet Headquarters is (or perhaps will be?) situated there (sorry, that was rather geeky of me).

But Santa Monica is a place in the Golden State that I've never visited. My only images of the city include swinging palm trees and blue sky, but wouldn't that be true for a lot of places along the western coast of California?

For Junko Sakurada(桜田淳子), apparently it's a place for her to beckon her beau to come and visit. According to Yu Aku's(阿久悠)lyrics in her 26th single "Santa Monica no Kaze" (The Winds of Santa Monica) from February 1979, she's waiting at that resort hotel in the beachfront city for her boyfriend to show up. He just has to phone her and she'll be copacetic. Mitsuo Hagita(萩田光雄)came up with the pleasing music of the times...I've heard this arrangement with some aidoru music in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It sounds innocent, tropical and now nostalgic at the same time. The good ol' days, you might say.

To be honest, I don't think Sakurada had the most stable of vocals when she was singing live so you can listen to a part of the recorded version at iTunes. "Santa Monica no Kaze" got as high as No. 24 on the charts and placed 99th in the yearly Oricon rankings for 1979.

Mayumi Itsuwa -- Jungle Gym(ジャングルジム)

Certain things have different names depending on geography. Apparently, when it comes to that long piece of furniture in your living room, Americans might call it a couch while Canadians would prefer the term sofa (that is the case in my household) or chesterfield. Perhaps that may also be true when it comes to one of the perennial favourites in any playground: monkey bars or jungle gym. Not sure if these are geographical variants.

It was rather odd to me then that the lovely singer-songwriter Mayumi Itsuwa(五輪真弓)would come up with a tune titled "Jungle Gym". Considering her rich and ardent songs of love gained or lost, the title struck me as being rather kiddie. However, then I realized that compared to my country or the United States, the jungle gym perhaps has a deeper sentimentality in Japan. I've often seen scenes set in jungle gyms at night, such as the one above for "Tokyo Love Story", where one of the main characters heads to contemplate a troubling decision made or to be made.

Depending on your emotional state, the intro to Itsuwa's 10th single from April 1976 can have you tearing up. It sounds just like a mother's lullaby. And the singer's lyrics talk of the jungle gym as a metaphor for happier days of the past or a former lover or even Mom...all things that brought comfort when things were down. After hearing this ballad, I can now understand why jungle gyms have been the go-to objects for folks feeling down on their luck in J-Dramas.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Miyuki Nakajima -- Mugi no Uta(麦の唄)

Supposedly, today is Blue Monday. Somehow, sociologists or other folks in other sciences determined that the third Monday in January is saiaku due to the long night, wintry weather and the credit card bills rolling in due to all that Holiday cavorting the previous month. Well, my bills will most likely be arriving in the next few days and the other two conditions have been met. But I'm not feeling particularly down at all...I'm furiously knocking on the wood on my desk right now.

Before I get onto this article's song, allow me to give you some background. Between September 2014 and March 2015, there was the usual NHK 15-minute morning serial drama, and it was called "Massan"(マッサン), about a young man Masaharu plowing through all sorts of obstacles (a common trope in the NHK asadora) to set up the Nikka Whisky Distilling Company a century ago while his wife from Scotland, Ellie, gets accustomed to life in Japan. "Massan" had the distinction of being the first NHK morning serial to feature a non-Japanese thespian as a co-star, and during my 2014 trip to Japan, I kept seeing the lovely visage of Charlotte Kate Fox on the screen in the dining hall of my hotel while I was having breakfast. The above video is from the variety show that immediately follows the serial drama, "Asaichi"(あさイチ), and the program featured here was just after the final "Massan" episode, and apparently there wasn't a dry eye in the studio...even Fox's interpreter needed a ton of Kleenex.

As I said, today is Blue Monday. Well, I think on a day like today (especially over here when we're expecting another good dousing of snow tonight), something to bring the spirits up is in order (a bit of a pun here).

NHK approached singer-songwriter Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき)early in 2014 to come up with an encouraging tune for not only Masaharu & Ellie but also for all those Japanese people who keep fighting the good fight. I think judging from her success with "Chijo to Hoshi"(地上の星), the theme song for another NHK program and itself an anthem to all those hardworking entrepreneurs out there, the network was hoping for yet another inspirational paean from Nakajima.

Nakajima, who I will always envision now as a Japanese version of Britannia with her shield and trident since she has been coming up with these songs of pride and defiance, did indeed come up sevens once more with "Mugi no Uta" (Wheat Song). Recruiting a Japanese bagpiper to get that Scottish aspect, the singer created a less defiant but still very proud country-style song of cheer which had me feeling like I needed to salute that bottle of Canadian Club in the family wine cabinet. Joking aside, it is a pretty heartwarming song.

Her 44th single, officially released in October 2014, hit No. 5 on the Oricon charts and became the 49th-ranked song for 2015. "Mugi no Uta" is also available in her 40th album from November 2014 "Mondaishuu"(問題集)which can be translated as "Collection of Problems" or "Workbook". That release peaked at No. 4. The song even made its way onto the Kohaku Utagassen with Nakajima making that rare appearance.

The Square/Marlene -- Magic(マジック)

T-Cat's article on Marlene's(マリーン)cover of "Beware Boyfriend" had me thinking about devoting a Marlene article to another cover she did for "Magic", which was originally recorded by great Japanese fusion band The Square (known as T-Square today).

Listening to the original version by The Square which was a single from October 1981, I thought it was somewhat subdued for what I've become accustomed to by the band just according to their BEST album that I have of them (as pictured above), "T-Square Plays The Square". I mean it's got the bounce in there but I think even the vocals were a bit quieter than they should have been. "Magic" was also the title track from their 5th album which came out a month after the single.

Actually, the first time I had heard "Magic" was through Marlene's cover on one of my Wah Yueh-bought compilation tapes. In fact, it was the first time that I had even heard of Marlene herself. Her take came out as a single in September 1983 and it had a whole lot more of a kick through a fine horn section and Marlene's more forward vocals. Plus there were those virtuoso strings. Her version really stood out from the rest of the tracks on that tape since it first struck me as being so disco. It was almost to the point that I wondered why it was included on this particular tape.

In fact, all these years, I had assumed that Marlene's "Magic" was the original so when I heard T-Square performing it on the above mentioned "T-Square Plays The Square", I was slightly taken aback at hearing this instrumental version so I did some checking out and found out the actual story.

Of course, you gotta have both The Square and Marlene get together to make some "Magic". Incidentally, Linda Hennrick provided the lyrics while The Square's leader, Masahiro Ando(安藤正容), took care of the melody.

Mari Wilson, Marlene Lim, Mamiko Takai, Etsuko Yamakawa -- Beware Boyfriend / Umbrella Angel (アンブレラ・エンジェル)

In a post on Etsuko Yamakawa by J-C, I commented on how she had worked her magic for a particular Onyanko Club song.  Curious as to how it had all gone down, I went  back in time in order to come forward into the past ...

Mari Wilson was a British pop singer in the early 80's who eventually moved into jazz (and still performs).  While a teenager she spent some years in New York and fell under the spell of Motown and Philly soul, styling her music and look as  60's retro.  Her 1982 song "Beware Boyfriend" was composed by Teddy Johns and arranged by Tony Mansfield, reached #51 on the UK charts, and released in 1983 as an EP in Japan.

Japan ?  Mari had been discovered in the UK by Tot Taylor, whose band Advertising had flopped there but was "big in Japan".  He also headed a highly-regarded indie label - The Compact Organization - and Tot was referred to as the "British Eiichi Otaki" ( イギリスの大瀧詠一 ).  During the early 80's his jazz and techno-inspired offerings were popular in the Aoyama import record shop Pied Piper  (   パイド・パイパー  ); where fans included members of the Moonriders, Sandii and the Sunsetz, Yukihiro Takahashi (YMO), and the Pizzicato 5 (Tot's influence can be heard in what was to become Shibuya-kei). He released "Beware Boyfriend" into the Japanese market on his label.

Personally I find this song to be ponderous, flat, and the vocals rather ominous - beware indeed, boyfriend.  There are some interesting instrumental flourishes but on the whole, not quite my cup of Earl Grey.  However ...

In 1983 Marlene Pena Lim ( マリーン・ペーニャ・リム ) covered "Beware Boyfriend" ( ボーイフレンド ) as an EP and on her album Deja vu ( CBS Sony ).  J-C has already dipped into Marlene's career and though much of her work is still up on YouTube, the mp3 for this song was pulled (not before I grabbed it).  The lyrics stay the same and are entirely in English, but the arrangement is now credited to Masanori Sasaji ( 笹路正徳 ) who styled it for Marlene's more jazzy delivery.  The entire song is brighter and more upbeat with a very clean production, the vocals swing, and while we're not yet in aidoru-land we're on our way.  Some of the distinctive instrumental riffs have been kept and the EP cover screams sultry tsundere.  Still beware, boyfriend.

(J-Canuck here: actually found an excerpt of Marlene's cover via the Sony Music Shop above.)

Her version was used in a CM for Hakushika (White Deer) Sake, making a third go-round for "Beware Boyfriend".  But like a cat it had multiple lives ...

Spring of 1986 found Onyanko Club preparing for their first longitudinal tour (and graduation for Nakaji (#5) and Sonoko Kawaii (#12) ).  March 1986 saw the release of the second album "Yume Catalogue" ( 夢カタログ ) and on side B was: "Umbrella Angel"  ( アンブレラ・エンジェル )

( Note: the video has nothing to do with the song; the poster used a section of the 4-DVD set "Onyanko Club - Backstage Pass" that documents the spring tour from behind the scenes).

Yes, it's almost "Beware Boyfriend".  New lyrics by Yasushi Akimoto; vocals by Mamiko Takai (#16) with backing from Mako Shiraishi (#22), Susan Yamamoto (#32), and Minayo Watanabe (#29); and arrangement / keyboards by Etsuko Yamakawa.
Etsuko was responsible for arranging 4 of the 10 songs on Yume Catalogue (and 15 total for the 5 canonical Onyanko Club albums).  The new lyrics are from a male point of view - the young man is caught in a sudden downpour when a strange girl suddenly appears to give him shelter under her umbrella - his Umbrella Angel (and all the romance a shared umbrella implies).  She gets on her bus and rides away, but as he watches wistfully a rainbow appears to connect them.  Beware, no more.
The music is full of trademark Yamakawa-isms: the song bounces, muted crisp drum rolls kick it along like running through the rain.  Soft voices are layered to build up to a snazzy jazz break that rides on cymbals and flugelhorn, then rolls seamlessly back to the vocals.  The upward-chiming instrumental rideout is pure Yamakawa-Onyanko.  (Interesting that the original vinyl album insert uses English for production, writing, arranging, and instrumentation credits - everything else is in Japanese).

And while Mamiko had a brief solo career before becoming Mrs. Aki-P, when she graduated on Yuuyake Nyan Nyan in April 1987:
Fu fu fu .................

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Nami Hirai -- Tayumanai Yoru ni(たゆまない夜に)

A good evening to you. In addition to those late 80s solo aidoru songs that I have been perusing recently, I've kept up searching for some more songs in the urban contemporary genre by singers that I've yet to learn about.

So I've found one intriguing song performed by such a singer. Nami Hirai(平井菜水)is a singer-songwriter from Nagasaki who won the grand prize at the Fukuoka Music Festival Big Contest in 1983 and later attended the Masaaki Hirao Music School. She made her debut in 1990 with the single "Mezame"(めざめ...Waking)that became the ending theme for the long-running TV variety show "Shitteiru Tsumori?!"(知ってるつもり?!...Do You Really Know About It ?!)on NTV. In fact, her next two singles also fulfilled the same role for the next couple of years.

However, the subject of this article is actually the final track for her 1993 2nd album "Te no Hira no Tanpenshuu"(てのひらの短編集...A Collection of Short Stories in the Palm of Your Hand), quite the atmospheric title. "Tayumanai Yoru ni" (On This Unending Night) caught my notice since it seems to straddle a few genres at once through its arrangement. It can be considered to be a pop ballad but there is something of the city-at-night feeling to it which could also place it in a latter-day City Pop setting. At the same time, I can envision even some enka singers such as Sayuri Ishikawa(石川さゆり)and Aya Shimazu(島津亜矢)tackling this one as well so perhaps it may even be a Mood Kayo tune in a way. Furthermore, that languid evening arrangement and Hirai's soft-and-slightly smoky delivery had me thinking about Ruiko Kurahashi's(倉橋ルイ子)numbers from the 1980s.

Etsuko Kisugi(来生えつ子)and her brother Takao Kisugi(来生たかお)were responsible for the creation of "Tayumanai Yoru ni", and the sibling team knows a thing or two about bringing together a nice lush ballad. As for Hirai, she released a total of 5 singles between 1990 and 1994, and 3 original albums. A Golden Best compilation came out in 2011. In 2002, she joined her alma mater of the Masaaki Hirao Music School as an instructor at the Fukuoka branch.

Sonoko Kawai -- Aishuu no Carnaval(哀愁のカルナバル)

Good heavens! It's been a good long while since 80s aidoru Sonoko Kawai(河合その子)has made her appearance on "Kayo Kyoku Plus"...a little over 4 years when I contributed the fleet-footed "Aoi Station"(青いスタスィオン).

Well, time to rectify the situation. Plus, I'm still on that kick about searching for some of those "lost" aidoru tunes from the late 1980s. I managed to find one through Mamiko Takai's(高井麻巳子)"Yakusoku"(約束). And going through Onyanko Club's(おニャン子クラブ)other members' solo efforts, I was able to find Kawai's "Aishuu no Carnaval" (Carnival of Sorrow).

This was Kawai's 6th single from February 1987. Written and composed by the same duo behind "Aoi Station", Yasushi Akimoto and Tsugutoshi Goto(秋元康・後藤次利), "Aishuu no Carnaval" starts off sounding like a typical slow-paced ballad when it then takes off with a burst of speed and a distinct synthesizer sound that doesn't take its foot off the pedal. Rather like "Aoi Station", Kawai takes us listeners on a whirlwind tour somewhere exotic...perhaps not in France this time, mind you, but somewhere else in Europe perhaps.

The opening bars sparked off some memories so in all likelihood it was placed on some borrowed compilation tape or maybe it even got onto "Sounds of Japan" years ago. In any case, "Aishuu no Carnaval" peaked at No. 3 and was placed as a track on her 4th album "Rouge et Bleu" in July 1987.

My expedition continues...