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, October 17, 2017

EPO -- Middle Twenties

Man, I'm going to have to look into making another purchase of an EPO album. "Go Go Epo" was her 9th release from April 1987, and it has that lovely duet between her and soulful Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之)called "Downtown Rhapsody"(Down Townラプソディー).

Now I've found another track from the album titled "Middle Twenties" and it's another humdinger. But what else to expect from EPO? It's a happy-sounding pop song with plenty of fuel that would be right up the alley of folks like Senri Oe(大江千里)and Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里). And yet EPO's lyrics actually have a bit more vinegar as the woman of the story envies a colleague who has just thrown off the shackles of her job and she herself decides to kiss off her boyfriend. I don't think my middle twenties were nearly as dramatic.

However, her thematic loss is my musical gain. "Middle Twenties" has the typical EPO spark and I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been used as the theme song for a trendy drama of the late 1980s. In fact, though, it was used as the campaign song for a commercial involving the Nissan Langley.

Etsuko Sai -- Golden Best(ゴールデン☆ベスト)

Reading about singer-songwriter Etsuko Sai(彩恵津子)in "Japanese City Pop" and then actually listening to one of her trademark tunes, "Reach Out" a few years ago, I finally decided to invest my yen into one of her albums. But still not having a full idea about her discography, I then chose to purchase her BEST compilation as a primer. I found this one titled "Etsuko Sai: Golden Best" which, according to Amazon Japan, was released in 2012.

I got the album some months ago, and perhaps my expectations were too high at the time. I had been hoping that I would get a good earful of smooth bass-heavy City Pop much along the lines of the mysterious Takako Mamiya(間宮貴子). However, that wasn't quite the case; the tracks gave me the impression of a mix of genres flittering among City Pop and regular pop, so I was a bit disappointed. Perhaps that wasn't a fair tally but I couldn't deny my emotions.

But with some passage of time, I listened to it a second time, and this time, my impressions were much more favourable. Simply some adjustment was needed. That has been the case with a few albums I've bought over the decades.

In any case, here is the lineup:

1. Whisper Not(ウイスパーノット)
2. All I Need
3. Don't Say It
4. Eien no Morning Moon(永遠のモーニング・ムーン)
5. Rear Window no Palm Tree(リアウインドゥのパームツリー)
6. Everlasting Dream(エヴァーラスティング・ドリーム)
7. Second Virgin(エヴァーラスティング・ドリーム)
8. Kuchibiru no Junan(くちびるの受難)
9. Side Seat no Natsu(サイドシートの夏)
10. Yuki no Valentine(雪のバレンタイン)
11. Ame ni Egaita Regret(雨に描いたリグレット)
12. Pygmalion(ピグマリオン)
13. Reversible de Koi Shiteiru(リバーシブルで恋してる)
14. Reach Out (Japanese version)
15. Reach Out (English version)
16. Miotsukushi(澪つくし)

Sai's first single was "Whisper Not" from 1984. Listening to this song as the first track, I got that first notice that it wasn't all about City Pop when it came to the Tokyo native. Listening to it again, I received that new feeling of a happy-go-lucky tune with a Jackson 5 flavour. Written by Tetsuya Chiaki(ちあき哲也)and composed by Tetsuya Furumoto(古本鉄也), "Whisper Not" definitely had that more mature pop sense and seemed to be about a feckless young lady who was taunting a soon-to-be ex-lover.

"All I Need" was her 2nd single and the title track from her 2nd album which was released in 1985. The J-Wiki article for Sai listed the album as having been recorded in Los Angeles, and just from listening to this particular song, I felt that it had that taste of 1980s AOR. It was written and composed by Soo Jeffers. Slapped myself upside the head since I wondered why I didn't fall for "All I Need" the first time because I always did love that particular keyboard used in there.

From her 3rd album "Delication" (1986) comes "Reversible de Koishiteiru" (Falling In Love Inside Out). It isn't quite an earworm but I like the horns and I finally get my bass. This is where I get my bright lights and big city from listening to this one. Furumoto from "Whisper Not" also composed this uptempo song with Sai providing the lyrics.

Seeing that title of Sai's 4th single for the first time, "Rear Window no Palm Tree" (Palm Tree Through The Rear Window) from January 1986, I couldn't help but think of a certain Alfred Hitchcock movie. Having said that, the actual song is far less urgent although the lyrics by Sai speak of the bittersweet end of a relationship while taking in the seashore sights. Furumoto once again provided the music although it's a much more languid melody.

In a way, this may be another movie shoutout. "Pygmalion" was the source for the famous Rex Harrison/Audrey Hepburn hit "My Fair Lady", and it's also a track from Sai's 4th original album "Passio" from October 1986 as well as her 7th single from November of that year. Although the setting seems to be Tokyo, the arrangement has that pan-Asian atmosphere as a woman who has helped mold her beau into something of a ladykiller on the dance floor. Chinfa Kan(康珍化), under his pen name of Shirusu Morita(森田記), wrote the lyrics this time, while Tetsuya Tsujihata(辻畑鉄也)composed "Pygmalion".

I could only find "Miotsukushi" (Marks In A Water Channel) through the Apple site as an excerpt but I wanted to include this one not only because it is the last track on Sai's "Golden Best" but it is also a melodic outlier compared to the other tracks. It was actually the theme song for an NHK morning serial drama of the same title from 1985 about life in Choshi City, Chiba Prefecture between the 1920s to the postwar era. With lyrics by James Miki(ジェームス三木)and music by Shinichiro Ikebe(池辺晋一郎), "Miotsukushi" has that old-fashioned beauty and Sai's voice matches the feeling of how I thought ballads were sung back in the early 20th century.

Happily, my reaction to Sai's "Golden Best" has been improving and it has me interested in more of her original albums (hopefully they aren't too difficult to track down) if only to find some more gems that perhaps should also have been included on her BEST compilation.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Takeo Fujishima -- Hajimete Kita Minato (初めて来た港)

On the first Takeo Fujishima(藤島桓夫)article I wrote for the blog, I mentioned that the late enka singer performed a series of songs based on ports early in his career. Well, I've come across the first in that series titled appropriately enough "Hajimete Kita Minato" (First-Time Port), released in 1954.

Ports are an oft-used trope in enka and Mood Kayo. It's not that surprising either because the harbours are the launch points for adventures beyond and the destinations for wide-eyed newcomers. Plus, they can make for ideal spots to say goodbye to a loved one or simply a love relationship. Fujishima and songwriter Kazuo Toyoda(豊田一雄)started their series of port-based songs with this one to describe the protagonist's experiences at his first port that left a lifetime of impression despite a short stay of just 4 or 5 days. As they say, you always remember your first.

Y'know, I actually enjoy this live performance of "Hajimete Kita Minato" by Fujishima even more than the original recording although the latter expressed the cheerful hustle and bustle of a postwar port. I guess it's because Fujishima's voice gained some more timbre in the years since he first recorded the song so that there is a bit more grandeur involved.

But I gotta say that Ichiro Toba's(鳥羽一郎)cover of the 1954 original is simply great. He's got the fine gravelly voice and the arrangement is gentle and happily work-a-day. It's as if that same port from decades back lost the frenetic peak of bustle in the immediate postwar period only to gain a certain comfortable groove of activity as the years passed by. According to the notes on YouTube, Toba's version was on his 1989 release, "Kokoro ni Shimiru Omoide no Uta"(心に沁みる思い出の歌...Beloved Songs To Warm The Heart). The title says it all.

Ramjet Pulley/Momoiro Clover Z/The Launchers -- Hello...good bye

Happy Monday! Back in early 2013, I wrote about Ramjet Pulley and their dreamy "Overjoyed" that I purchased on a whim after seeing their music video on one of the music channels one Sunday. It was quite the different song.

I had been wondering for a while about finding another Ramjet Pulley tune since until now it was the only such tune represented on the blog, and I was interested in hearing any other stuff from them. Well, this morning I encountered their debut single from November 2000, "Hello...good bye".

Written by RP bassist Satomi Makashi(麻越さとみ)and composed by guitarist Kazunobu Majima(間島和伸), vocalist Akiko Matsuda(松田明子)sings with a bit more of an understated smokier funk when it comes to "Hello...good bye". I couldn't quite understand the lyrics but they are a mix of English and Japanese, delivered in a way that made me wonder whether Matsuda wanted to reveal a new sort of pidgin language. Furthermore, the other remarkable thing was that the song in general reminded me of another band that was coming to the fore at about the same time, Love Psychedelico.

"Hello...good bye" was also on Ramjet Pulley's debut album "a cup of day" which was released in September 2001. It peaked at No. 100.

(from about 8:23)

In 2013, the group Momoiro Clover Z(ももいろクローバーZ)performed a cover version of "Hello...good bye" with a bit more aidoru oomph and completely different lyrics by Makoshi. It was recorded onto MomoClo's collection of their indies best, "Iriguchi no nai Deguchi"(入口のない出口...An Exit Without An Entrance)which hit No. 2 after its release in June of that year.

Another interesting thing I found out about "Hello...good bye" was that it had also been covered back in the same year as the original Ramjet Pulley release by The Launchers. This group is not to be mistaken with the Group Sounds band of the 1960s. Instead, these Launchers were born from a late afternoon BS Asahi variety program called "Harajuku Launchers" (Harajukuロンチャーズ I've dubbed the band in the Labels) which had its run between December 2000 and September 2003.

One of the things about Japanese TV broadcasting that I learned was that the near-dinner and dinner hours during the weekdays had some of the more local channels delve more into niche programming geared toward kids or housewives instead of the usual anime or news shows. "Harajuku Launchers" wove between 5 and 7 pm on the weeknights from Monday to Friday and touted itself as a girls' program made by girls and made for girls.

From what I saw on the J-Wiki article for "Harajuku Launchers" was that during its relatively brief time on the airwaves, there was a battalion of young women who represented the new up-and-coming members of the Stardust Promotion talent agency and some of them who appeared on the show included actress Erika Sawajiri(沢尻エリカ)and seiyuu-singer Megumi Nakajima(中島愛).

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Wink -- Joanna

I had breakfast with the parents at a nearby Eggsmart this morning, a local diner chain which has a pretty sumptuous Classic of eggs, sausages, potatoes and toast with bottomless cups of coffee (of course). My doctor doesn't like me having the stuff but I like it. And didn't I say last week that my bad cholesterol went out a tad? I'll take any points I can get.

My intro here is to talk about the old Kool & The Gang song, "Joanna" from 1983. It was about as warm and sweet as the maple syrup that my Dad used to pour on his buttermilk pancakes, and the official music video took place in an old-fashioned diner where the titular Joanna, beloved owner, was serving the band and her favourite customers. "Joanna" also got lots of love from listeners (hit No. 1 with a bullet on the US Billboard R&B charts) and it was so very nice to hear that mellow trombone near the end again. I remember the video being shown over and over again on the local channels.

Well, hello Wink! It's been a while. I was surprised many years later when I bought my copy of their "Twin Memories" album and found out that the duo did a cover of "Joanna". Although Kool & The Gang will always corner the market with their hit, I think Wink...specifically Sachiko Suzuki(鈴木早智子)who handled the main vocal part...did a pretty nice job with the song. And I gotta give some respect to Neko Oikawa(及川眠子)who provided the Japanese lyrics. Suzuki sounded quite smooth singing them.

"Twin Memories" came out in December 1989. If I'm not mistaken, it was the first Wink album that I ever purchased while I was in my little town of Tsukiyono. It peaked at No. 2 on Oricon.

Jake H. Concepcion -- Pure Imagination

Well, as they say, I'll be darnder than shoo-fly pie!

After decades seeing his name on lots of liner notes and hearing his wonderful saxophone on lots of Japanese pop songs, I actually discovered that Jake H. Concepcion(ジェイク・コンセプション)sang! And may I say, he does pretty nicely, especially on one of my adored songs, "Pure Imagination" which was sung by the late Gene Wilder on the original "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory" back in 1971.

Concepcion's sung version made its presence known on his 1983 album "J", and of course, his saxophone also has a nice part in "Pure Imagination". The arrangement has that soaring laidback AOR feeling but the magic of the original is still in there which goes to show how great songwriters Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley were.

It's been a little over a year since Wilder passed away. And even though he was hilarious in those Mel Brooks' capers "Young Frankenstein" and "Blazing Saddles" and through his work with Richard Pryor, I think I will always cherish him as Willy Wonka especially in the scene above.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Hideki Saijo -- Gypsy(ジプシー)

December 20th 1981!

That was the release date of Hideki Saijo's(西城秀樹)40th single "Gypsy". Now as readers of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" may have figured out, I don't usually put down the full release dates (no particular reason, I just don't) of singles and albums. However, I made an exception for this one since I distinctly remember seeing Mr. Young Man on the 32nd edition of NHK's Kohaku Utagassen which was televised on December 31st 1981.

Can you see the notable thing about the above dates?

Usually the selection process for the singers and songs to get onto the New Year's Eve special is completed some weeks before it happens. So how did Saijo manage to appear on the Kohaku when "Gypsy" was officially released a mere 11 days before showtime? Well, therein lies a tale apparently. According to the J-Wiki article for the song, a few months previously in October 1981, there was an accident in which he and aidoru Naoko Kawai(河合奈保子)were involved in a fall at NHK during a rehearsal of the music program "Let's Go Young"(レッツゴーヤング).

Now, when I first read the statement on the accident in the article, I had thought I read that NHK allowed Saijo on as a form of apology to him for the incident. But the sentence actually read " an apology to NHK..." which struck me as totally weird. So does that mean NHK blamed Saijo for "screwing up" the taping because he accidentally fell? That would indicate his "punishment" was getting onto the Kohaku. I think there is some mistake in writing there.

In any case, what may have been the fastest invitation to get onto the Kohaku from a single did occur and Saijo was in. Perhaps there may have been other male acts that were more deserving to get invited but as it is, "Gypsy" is a pretty dynamic tune that sounds like something that should have gotten onto the soundtrack for a 1970s American detective show like "Starsky & Hutch" or "Baretta". And as a number to get the masses all hot and bothered at the beginning of the special, it did the trick. He was always quite the showman, that Hideki.

"Gypsy" peaked at No. 15 and ended up as the 55th-ranked song for 1982. It was written by Yukinojo Mori(森雪之丞)and composed by Kisaburo Suzuki(鈴木キサブロー), and was also a track on Saijo's 10th anniversary BEST album "Seishun 3650/Saijo Hideki"(青春3650/西城秀樹...Youth 3650/Hideki Saijo)from November 1982.