I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube, Oricon charts are courtesy of and my research is translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wink -- Baby Me

When I started listening to aidoru duo Wink, “Baby Me”, which is actually a Shoko Aida (相田翔子) solo, was one of the first songs that caught my attention. It was a slicky and straightforward eurobeat/pop number that stood out in the “Especially For You ~Yasashisa ni Tsutsumarete~” (優しさにつつまれて) album.

Released in April 1989, “Especially For you ~Yasashisa ni Tsutsumarete~” was the duo’s second full lenght album (I’m not counting the “At Heel Diamonds” mini-album here), but the first one to be released after the success of singles like “Ai ga Tomaranai ~Turn It Into Love~” (愛が止まらない) and “Namida wo Misenaide ~Boys Don’t Cry~” (涙をみせないで). In typical Wink’s style, the album was mainly a collection of Western pop hits turned into Japanese synthpop/eurobeat songs. Based on that, “Baby Me” wasn’t an exception. In fact, it was a cover of Chaka Khan’s R&B/funk song that was released one year before, in 1988, as part of her seventh studio album, “CK”.

If you ask me which version I like better, I will answer you that I love both of them. Although we’re essentially talking about the same song, they are absurdly different. While Chaka’s original recording offers a raw/strong bass line and a mid-tempo swing that seduces the listener, Wink’s eurobeat approach was more urgent and close to the Stock Aitken Waterman’s brand of manufactured electronic pop music that was turning UK criticts crazy (in a negative way) and making huge waves of success in the Japanese market.

The “Especially For You ~Yasashisa ni Tsutsumarete~” reached #1 on the Oricon charts, selling 501,520 copies. It also reached #19 on the yearly Oricon chart. As for “Baby Me”, Japanese lyrics were written by Neko Oikawa (及川眠子), while music was composed by Holly Knight and Billy Steinberg. Finally, the eurobeat arrangement was done by Takao Sugiyama (杉山卓夫).

To finish, here’s my “Especially For You ~Yasashi ni Tsutsumarete~” album. I bought this very well conserved copy of it a couple of months ago on eBay.

Kiyoshi Maekawa -- Oishi mizu (おいしい水)

Seeing the name of Kiyoshi Maekawa's (前川 清) 29th solo single that was released on the 26th of May 2004 made me do a double take. The thought of Mae-Kiyo singing about water was rather amusing and intriguing. To me, with the name of the song being 'Oishi mizu' and all, it made it seem as though it was one of those commercial jingles advertising spring/mineral water... actually I wouldn't be surprised if it was used for just that.

Anyway, long story short I eventually got myself to listen to it with the reason being: It's Maekawa, you can't really go wrong with his songs. Why I say that is because about half of his songs (somewhat recent ones to be exact) sound more like regular old pop songs than Mood Kayo or Enka, I know that from experience. So they are generally quite easy on the ears - he's a good choice if you want to start listening to Mood Kayo or Enka. Another such fellow would be Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし).

Okay returning back to the song. It was indeed one of those Mae-Kiyo songs that leaned to the genre of 'Pop'. The moment I heard the music, I literally had that Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie moment from the movie 'Django unchained' where he went, "Gentlemen, you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention."

I would say that like its name, 'Oishi mizu' sounded refreshing. Cooling. Makes you envision relaxing on a quite green hill with the gentle wind whisking by, all while enjoying the view of a crystalline river flowing from the snow-capped mountains. Ah, actually kinda reminds me of the Montserrat mountains of Catalonia too. This was composed by Takashi Tsushimi (都志見隆), the guy responsible for composing many other Mae-Kiyo songs like one of my favorites 'Otoko to onna no kakera' (男と女の破片) from 1991.

As for the lyrics, they were done by the late Yu Aku (阿久悠). In terms of the song's meaning, I came up with 2 possible interpretations. First one being that it was talking about water itself being essential for people, technical stuff like that. But I highly doubt the legendary lyricist would write about something so literal. So that brought me to the more likely second outcome, which was that the water mentioned was supposed to symbolize something that all humans need and want... they thirst for it - internal desires and what they want to hear. Or well, you know, something on that line. Hmm, for someone who hates literature (the subject) with an intense passion, that's by far the most literary interpretation I came up with.

Just as a side note, I was still filled with that elation of watching Mae-Kiyo on TV just a couple of hours ago as I wrote this article... although my pops was talking on the phone with a friend with that loud voice of his while it was Maekawa's turn to sing and he only hung up when the song ended... *tsk* well, so much for that.

Eh, at least I got to see my... ... Favorite singer on the tube again. What? You thought I was going to say something else other than 'Favorite singer'? Pfft, whaaat? No way... ...

Monday, September 29, 2014

Keiko Maruyama -- Hitori Ne no Lullaby (ひとり寝のララバイ)

Earlier this year, I wrote about Keiko Maruyama's(丸山圭子)arguably most famous album, "Tasogare Memory"(黄昏めもりい), and how it was different from my expectations. I'd assumed that it would be in the light bossa vein since Maruyama's most famous song, "Douzo Kono Mama"(どうぞこのまま)was in there, but I should have smacked myself in the back of my head with a CD case for making such a guess. Instead, there was a bit more of the cordial country swing and some City Pop imbued into the album which actually made things more interesting and ultimately more satisfying for me.

"Hitori Ne no Lullaby"(Lullaby for One) is one such example. When I wrote up the article for "Tasogare Memory" back in February 2014, there wasn't any YouTube video for it but a few months later, a kind soul uploaded one. As I mentioned briefly in that other article, "Hitori Ne no Lullaby" which Maruyama wrote and composed has some of that country music twang and some old-style music from early in the 20th century.

Whenever I walked through the Tower Records branch beside Shinjuku Station, I always noticed that there was a section which held a not-insignificant amount of CDs which covered a lot of that American traveling honky-tonk music. I think there is some of that flavour in "Hitori Ne no Lullaby" which seems to describes a garrulous and increasingly sleepy-headed woman going through the drinks at that dilapidated bar somewhere in the US Midwest. It could even describe a typical scene of a Japanese OL doing pretty much the same thing at a nomiya near midnight....something that I've seen my fair share of in many a TV drama. There is also a mention of Janis Joplin in the lyrics and that had my brain sparking about similarly arranged music that I used to hear on the old car AM radio back in the 1970s.

As nikala commented, "Tasogare Memory" is indeed a keeper and "Hitori Ne no Lullaby" is one of the reasons. I think it was truly a fascinating time for inspiration during those days of New Music.

Mariko Nagai/Midori Karashima -- Hitomi - Genki (瞳・元気)

My impression of both good buddies Mariko Nagai(永井真理子)and Midori Karashima(辛島美登里)is that they are, for the lack of a better word, in squeaky clean. Karashima has that elegant look which befits her nickname of Karashima-sensei; if she had gone into the acting world, she could have easily been typecast as the pretty old-school marm. Meanwhile, my image of Nagai has always been of that slightly rambunctious but basically decent tomboy-next-door; she might get herself muddy from playing out in the fields but her mother guaranteed that she would always be out the next day in the brightest and cleanest of T-shirts.

Before Nagai hit it really big at the end of the 80s with songs like "Miracle Girl", there was her 2nd single from November 1987, "Hitomi - Genki" which was composed by Karashima and written by Natsumi Tadano(只野菜摘). At the time that I first heard it, I didn't know it was one of her very early contributions to her discography. It's more of a slightly slower ballad but even so, the song has a hard time to keep down the irrepressible Nagai cheer completely. As for the translation of the title, I wasn't sure if the "hitomi" was referring to a girl with that name or her eyes themselves, and the lyrics don't really make that crystal clear although they describe a very happy young lady going through her life. For the sake of argument, though, I'll just go with the former choice and translate it as "Cheerful Hitomi".

For some reason, the arrangement and Nagai's slight echo in her vocals has often gotten me into a very nostalgic zone. Her vocals, by the way, come off as being very crystal-clear...and clean.

Strangely enough, the first time I had ever heard of "Hitomi - Genki" was through the old Fuji-TV Monday night comedy-variety program "Shimura Ken no Daijoubuda" (志村けんのだいじょうぶだぁ...way before "HEY! HEY! HEY! Music Champ"). Comedian Ken Shimura (formerly of The Drifters) had a number of warped characters that he played, and one of them was the elderly and innocently deranged Hitomi(ひとみさん). In a bit of a tribute montage to the character, the show used Nagai's single as a theme of sorts.

Since at the time, I hadn't known the exact title of the song, I wasn't sure if I would ever hear it again. But some years later, I ended up buying a Mariko Nagai album, "yasashikunaritai"(やさしくなりたい...I Want to Be Nice), a BEST album of her ballads up to 1992, and luckily enough, the single was included in there. I'm not sure if the original single ever got into the Oricon rankings but "yasashikunaritai" did get No. 1 status on the album charts. The original was also on her 2nd studio album, "Genki Yohou"(元気予報...Happy Forecast)from January 1988; it peaked at No. 35.

Well, how about that? I was able to get a fan-made montage for the Shimura character and the Nagai song!

Karashima did a cover of "Hitomi - Genki" a few years later as a single released in December 1992, Although her version has a bit more of an urgent beat to it, Sensei's pure and crystalline vocal quality still come through...almost as if it were an even more refined version of Nagai's voice.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mayo Shouno -- Monte Carlo de Kanpai (モンテカルロで乾杯)

I was looking around if I could find another example of that interesting hybrid within kayo kyoku that I like to call European enka. There is that shibui aspect that infuses the usual enka tune but the melody takes on that hue of a travelogue in terra exotica. I've always pegged the heyday of that subgenre around the late 70s so I often think about Teresa Teng, Saki Kubota and Judy Ongg due to their particular hits at that time.

And then there is also Mayo Shouno(庄野真代)who had come up with "Tonde Istanbul"(飛んでイスタンブール), her 5th single in April 1978. Listening to that old chestnut, I think of travel on old-fashioned trains or bumpy cars through exotic lands (not sure if the melody can be truly called Turkish, though). Well, Shouno followed up on her biggest hit immediately a few months later in July with a second improbable hit, "Monte Carlo de Kanpai" (Here's to Monte Carlo). I say improbable because there is quite the similarity to mine ears of her 6th single to her previous one. The creators of the song, Tetsuya Chiaki and Kyohei Tsutsumi(ちあき哲也・筒美京平), are the same, and I feel like I just transferred to another train and moved several hundred more kilometres to the east into Monaco. Mind you, there is that famous image of Monte Carlo with all of those high rollers and palatial mansions and a seemingly mandatory dress code of tuxedos and gowns. However, Shouno's song is definitely more on the business traveler/tourist level of things with camera and fanny pack firmly on call.

"Monte Carlo de Kanpai" didn't do quite as well as its sister song, "Tonde Istanbul" but it still did fine, getting as high as No. 5 on Oricon and finishing the year as the 43rd-ranked song of 1978.

Courtesy of
Digitaler Lumpensammler
from Flickr

Haruo Oka -- Akogare no Hawaii koro (憧れのハワイ航路)

Just two days ago I managed to come across this rarity: A pack of 4 CD's filled with Enka and Kayokyoku from back in the day at 'That CD Shop'! As you can see I used rarity. That's because you can almost never find CD's of those genres being sold here in Singapore and also, being a pack of 4 would usually mean that it would cost a bomb, right? Nope, that thing only costed less than 20 bucks (SGD)! I guess no one wanted to buy it until I came along.

Anyway, those CD's had many classics from the 50's and 60's by singers like Hideo Murata (村田英雄) - its got 'Jinsei gekijo' (人生劇場)! - and for the Mood Kayo side we've got Frank Nagai (フランク 永井) and Wada Hiroshi & Mahina Stars (和田弘とマヒナスターズ). But what was really interesting was that there were even songs from the 40's! And that was where I found the song that had been popping up in my mind occasionally since I had discovered it a couple of years ago while watching Chage & Aska discussing about old songs on a talk show.

That song was 'Akogare no Hawaii koro' by Haruo Oka (岡晴夫). Its now the oldest song I'm quite fond of, being released in 1948! I'm sure that makes it one of those cheerful and uplifting post-war tunes talking about longing for the beautiful sunsets and coconut tree-lined paths of the exotic islands of Hawaii.

I had actually found it quite silly back then how Oka sang this song: Eyes open as wide as his mouth and seemingly staring into space while standing quite still in front of the microphone. Especially so as he began the distinguishable start with his equally as distinguishable nasally voice.

Same performance as the clip shown on the talk show C&A were on.

HAAAAAre ta sora soyogu kaze
Minato defune no dora no metanoshi

And that would get stuck in my head from time to time to the point that it'd be annoying since I only clearly remembered those 2 lines above. It was written by Miyuki Ishimoto (石本美由起) and the jaunty, quintessentially 40's music was composed by Yoshi Eguchi (江口夜詩). From what I gather, it was quite popular since it was used in a movie by the same name in 1950 starring Oka himself and a 13 year old Hibari Misora (美空ひばり) and its sung quite often nowadays too by other singers, most probably when there is a post-war song special or something on that line.

Oka, born as Tatsuo Sasaki, debuted as a Kayokyoku/Ryukoka (流行歌) singer in 1939. Ryukoka was basically any kind of pop music and Enka branched out from that genre, but now it just refers to pop music from the 20's to the early 60's. He had never participated in the Kohaku since he insisted on live performances, which was quite a shame. Unfortunately he passed away in 1970 at only 54 years old.

That's Oka and Misora, by the way.

Hideki Saijo -- Gyarandu (ギャランドゥ)

One of the mysteries that had been blowing through the windmills of my mind (along with the regular air flow) for decades was finally solved (I think) tonight. At the 1983 Kohaku Utagassen, tall and lanky Hideki Saijo(西城秀樹)made another appearance at the top of the order and his weapon of choice that year was the skippy "Gyarandu", his 44th single from February 1983.

Now, usually I would have already written the translation for the title in brackets immediately following it. However, the title was the mystery. What in the world was gyarandu? And why was he twisting to it on the NHK stage on December 31st along with the other members of the White team? As one US commercial catchphrase put it so long ago, "Enquiring minds want to know".

As I've said a number of times through other articles on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", I was never much of a lyrics man so I hadn't investigated too deeply into the words (and music) by Yoshinori Monta(もんたよしのり), the man who hit paydirt a few years previously with "Dancing All Night" via Monta & Brothers. But I did finally look into them tonight thanks to the good folks at Utamap, and it was about Hideki spouting off his desperate desire to meet that tantalizing woman even if for just one night. He declares "gyarandu" regularly throughout the song but I wasn't really any closer to deducing the meaning.

Mind you, in the last several years, I'd heard that "gyarandu" referred to that descending tuft of hair starting from a guy's belly button all the way down to his Well, I guess I could imagine Mr. YMCA singing about something a bit more lascivious as he went further into his career as a musical sex symbol. Still, I was wondering about the derivation of the word. It was in katakana so I assumed it was an example of gairaigo....a foreign loan word, but from which language?

I delved a bit deeper and perhaps finally found an answer. According to Monta himself, the title "Gyarandu" was just a combination of three English words (gal and do) slammed together nonsensically. Therefore, it was all about the girl in the first place. Apparently, all that stuff about the body hair may have come all the way from The Queen of New Music, Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由美), during a radio show in which she couldn't come to describe Saijo's own bushy tuft, so she ad-libbed it "gyarandu". Yuming's new definition had just as apparently made it onto one of the Internet dictionaries I use for my work. Now whether the story of Matsutoya's moniker is true or not may still be up in the air but I will accept Monta's side of the story. 

But getting back to the song itself, the original 1983 version has that typically 80s urban contemporary sound with the electric guitar and what I think is the ubiquitous EVE as the backup team. "Gyarandu" didn't break into the Top 10, only getting as high as No. 14 (and scoring No. 94 for the annual rankings), but it did earn Saijo a Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards and of course, there was the invitation to the Kohaku (could only imagine how the audience thought about the veteran singer and his tuft while he was singing, if the Yuming gag did get around Japan). The song also got onto his 16th album, "It's You" which came out in July 1983.

The above video is an updated version but not sure when and where it came out. But I think that particular mystery can be solved a whole lot faster than the whole mythos about "gyarandu"

Courtesy of
from Flickr