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.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Kobukuro -- YELL (エール)

I remember when I first saw the duo Kobukuro (コブクロ) on TV. It was when they came out with their huge hit, "Tsubomi"(蕾)in the latter half of the last decade. I just saw these two fellows with a huge height differential and remarked "That guy is no singer...he's a basketball player!".

That tall fellow is Shunsuke Kuroda(黒田俊介)at 193cm or 6'4" according to Wikipedia. Nope, compared to some of the guys in the NBA or the NHL, he would be seen as just one of the guys but on Japanese telly, he might as well be Gulliver on the island of Lilliput. But digressing, his partner is Kentaro Kobuchi(小渕健太郎)and the two of them formed Kobukuro at the end of the century when they met up as street buskers in Osaka.

Kobukuro paid their dues on the indie scene for their first few years but then hit pay dirt with their first single as a major act. That was "YELL" from March 2001 and listening to it for the first time recently, the song further confirmed my impression of the duo as mellow but passionate musicians who never quite left the street despite their current fame. Thousands may be in their comfy stadium seats surrounding Kuroda and Kobuchi but I still get that feeling of a few passers-by suddenly stopping in front of the pair and giving them a good listen.

According to the J-Wiki article on "YELL", their debut single was a big hit as it peaked at No. 4 on Oricon and went Platinum in sales. Kobuchi wrote and composed the song which was used as a theme for a couple of variety programs and as a commercial tune for an insurance company. Ultimately, it became the 77th-ranked song for 2001 and it was also placed on Kobukuro's debut album "Roadmade" which was released in August that year. It hit as high as No. 6 on the album charts.

Akira Kobayashi -- Mukashi no Namae de Deteimasu (昔の名前で出ています)

It had been about 2 weeks since I caught "Uta Kon" (うたコン) since the week before I was watching a movie and getting a nice if slightly pricey yakitori dinner with a couple of old friends. But I was back in front of the screen on Tuesday night and I was quite fortunate since the partial theme for that "Uta Kon" happened to be about Yokohama. And a lot of songs about that port city are old kayo.

One song under that theme was one that I had never heard before. Titled "Mukashi no Namae de Deteimasu" (Under My Old Name), I found out that this a single by former 50s young turk Akira Kobayashi(小林旭). Now, my image of him has always been of him during his appearances on shows like "Uta Kon" as a middle-aged guy built like a proverbial wall (I'm thinking a J-Robert Mitchum) instead of his early heartthrobbing movie-star turns, and musically speaking, the song that I always associate with Kobayashi is his "Atsuki Kokoro ni"(熱き心に)from 1985.

As I mentioned in that article, "Atsuki Kokoro ni" was quite unusual in that it was neither fully enka nor fully pop. Singer-songwriter Eiichi Ohtaki(大瀧詠一)crafted this song to sound somewhat like a heroic cowboy theme for the big guy Kobayashi and it turned out to be another melodic feather in his ten-gallon cap. However, "Mukashi no Namae de Deteimasu" which was released a decade earlier in January 1975 has turned out to be his most successful song.

Written by Tetsuro Hoshino(星野哲郎)and composed by Gendai Kano(叶弦大), "Mukashi no Namae de Deteimasu" is a more traditional enka or Mood Kayo song compared to "Atsuki Kokoro ni". Again, it's one of those tunes that I couldn't really peg down to a single genre. Kobayashi sings it from the point of view of a woman...a club hostess, to be exact...pining away for a long-gone flame after years working in Yokohama, Kobe and Kyoto under different aliases. And perhaps she is saying this just to herself but she is letting her love know that she is back under the name that he had known her as.

The pining away for a lost love is a typical enka trope but it is enveloped in this Mood Kayo arrangement including the sorrowful chorus of Singers Three (I automatically thought of Yujiro Ishihara). And kayo singers crooning from the view of the opposite sex is nothing new but I'm sure a few pairs of eyes were raised when the burly Kobayashi took on this singing role.

"Mukashi no Namae de Deteimasu" was a slow burner after its release in 1975 but Kobayashi performed it in a lot of the country's various cabarets and other establishments, whether they were in the big cities or in the smaller regional towns. As a result, its fame gradually grew to the point where the song finally broke the Top 10, reaching No. 6 at its highest. In fact, it became the 5th-ranked song for 1977, 3 years after its release, and hung for another year, becoming the 60th-ranked song for 1978. It even broke the 2-million-record barrier in sales and got Kobayashi his first appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen.

To be honest, I'm starting to actually like this song even more than "Atsuki Kokoro ni" just because I'm a Mood Kayo softie at heart. As for the final video above, I just had to let viewers see Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)perform a nice version of "Mukashi no Namae" in front of the master himself. Imagine the premier aidoru of the early 80s performing a shibui Mood Kayo. Will wonders never cease?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Yoko Kuzuya -- True Lies

I picked up this compilation CD titled "Smooth Vintage" back in 2003 just from looking at the lineup. There were indeed some smooth and groovilicious tracks including Toko Furuuchi's(古内東子)"Distance" and Masayuki Suzuki's(鈴木雅之)"Misty Mauve". It's been a long, long time since I listened to this one and a few days ago, I was happening to return one other disc back to its rightful place when I saw "Smooth Vintage" again and pulled it out. There were quite a few songs and singers that I had to re-acquaint myself with.

And that included the first song, "True Lies" by Yoko Kuzuya(葛谷葉子). Listening to it again, I mentally smacked myself upside the head, wondering why I would ever forget something this sultry and slow funky. This was Kuzuya's debut single from August 1999, a song that she composed and wrote and a song that I should be equating with some of the soul-good material from divas such as Misia, bird and Momoe Shimano(嶋野百恵).

Right from the introduction percussion and Kuzuya giving that soft howl (also love the bass, by the way), "True Lies" had me strutting my shoulders for a nice little workout in front of my computer. Her lyrics talk about a woman who's caught between a jerk boyfriend and a hard place...she hears about these terrible things about him that are most likely true but she is really hoping that they are not. It's a pretty cool way to listen to romantic distress. The song was also in her debut album "MUSIC GREETINGS VOLUME ONE" which came out in September 1999.

Maiko Ito -- Yasashii Kizuna (優しい絆)

When I was in the midst of writing up the article for that City Pop album, Makoto Matsushita's(松下誠)"The Pressures and the Pleasures" the other day, I came across this YouTube video of 1980s aidoru Maiko Ito(いとうまい子). She was performing her 6th single, "Yasashii Kizuna" (Gentle Bond) from June 1984 (almost exactly 32 years ago...those gray hairs are just growing in as I write), a song that was arranged by Matsushita. When he was not strumming away and making these urban contemporary wonder songs, he was also helping out aidoru with their tunes.

And "Yasashii Kizuna" had quite the songwriting pedigree behind it. Not only was Matsushita in there, but veteran lyricist Masao Urino(売野雅勇)was providing words and Anzen Chitai(安全地帯)vocalist Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)made the music. Especially with Tamaki and Matsushita involved, I guess it was no surprise that the song had that certain downtown feeling along the lines of anything by Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司). In fact, there was one part of the song that sounded a bit like an old tune by Donna Summer. Nope, Ito wasn't exactly the greatest interpreter of the song but, hey, she was an aidoru and sounding a bit off-key was almost essential to be identified as that perennial Japanese teenybopper. Still, comparing her vocals to the ones she gave the only song that I had identified her with, "Aki no Hohozue"(秋のほほづえ), she did drop her voice and gave it a bit more velvet. Not bad at all.

I didn't see any Oricon rankings for the song so it probably didn't make much headway, and Ito never threatened anyone's position on the top of the aidoru leaderboard such as Seiko and Akina. However, I am glad to make the acquaintance with this particular tune and add the 2nd Ito entry to the blog.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Yosui Inoue -- Jenny My Love (ジェニーMy Love)

There was one song that I hadn't included on my article for Yosui Inoue & Anzen Chitai's (井上陽水・安全地帯)collaborative concert album "Stardust Rendezvous" and that was because I felt (and still do) that it deserved its own entry. I just thought it was that good. Having Inoue and good buddy Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)throw out a cool blues tune sealed the deal for me.

The song is "Jenny My Love" and it wasn't an official single but a track on Inoue's 7th album, "Sneaker Dancer"(スニーカーダンサー)from September 1979. Inoue wrote and composed "Jenny My Love" seemingly as if he were truly in thrall with a lass named Jenny. The song does this slow simmer throughout its time punctuated with a few roiling boils when the line "Just walking in the rain" gets delivered and then that guitar solo sends everyone into the night sky. This would probably be a challenge for any Inoue fan/karaoke singer but the payoff would be excellent. As for "Sneaker Dancer", it went as high as No. 3 on Oricon.

I'm kinda surprised that no YouTuber has placed this song onto a video collage of Jennifer Lawrence yet. :)

Kokichi Takada/Miyuki Kagajo -- Meigetsu Sataro Gasa (名月佐太郎笠)

It may have been about 10 degrees cooler today than yesterday but I was still sweltering in my tiny room so I activated the old electric fan as I tackled my usual translations. After lunch, I decided to pull out one of the ancient 33 1/3 records and put it on the turntable. It was a set of 4 songs by Harumi Miyako(都はるみ)after which I learned that they were covers by other singers.

The last song on Side B was "Meigetsu Sataro Gasa" (Sataro in the Bamboo Hat Under the Harvest Moon...a bit long-winded, I know). There was a surprising dearth of information but what I could find out was that the above title first belonged to a historical novel written by Tatsuro Jinde(陣出達朗)in 1955 and apparently the novel was so well received that the story was adapted into a movie which came out later that same year in November. The theme song also took on the same title and was written by Naomi Matsuzaka(松坂直美)and composed by the famous Masao Koga(古賀政男).

As I said, even the J-Wiki article on "Meigetsu Sataro Gasa" which had information on the cast and technical staff had pretty much bupkiss on the actual story. But from what I could glean from Matsuzaka's lyrics, it was the ballad of that lone wolf warrior of the Tokugawa Era, Sataro, walking through the countryside and his adventures.

The star of the movie was the late actor/singer Kokichi Takada(高田浩吉)from Amagasaki City, Hyogo Prefecture. Starting his film career in 1930 at the age of 19, he was called "The First Singing Movie Star" and so, not surprisingly, he recorded the title song for his 1955 movie. From what I could gather from the gentle melody was that he may have had a few run-ins with ruffians but otherwise, Sataro's life wasn't exactly the most traumatic of experiences.

Although his list of movies is a fair bit longer, Takada did release several songs as official singles between 1935 and 1957, and he even appeared as a performer on the Kohaku Utagassen in successive years in 1957 and 1958. He passed away in 1998 at the age of 86.

There probably have been a number of covers of the song "Meigetsu Sataro Gasa" such as by the aforementioned Miyako (which I unfortunately couldn't find on YouTube). However, I did find a cover of the ballad by enka singer Miyuki Kagajo(加賀城みゆき)who originally hailed from Ishikawa Prefecture. I don't know when her version was released although her career began in 1966 under Japan Columbia. Her version does remind me a bit of the cover that Miyako provided on that 33 1/3 record today.

Heck, even Miku Hatsune(初音ミク)has given her two yen about the song.

Tatsuhiko Yamamoto -- Summer Holiday

It may have been "Martini Hour" on the cover but boy, the guy looks like he missed out on it by about a minute. All dressed up and now nowhere to go is how Tatsu looks.

But I digress. City Popster Tatsuhiko Yamamoto(山本達彦), who I first introduced in the annals of this blog last month with his debut single "Last Good-Bye", is really pulling on his inner Junichi Inagaki(稲垣潤一)with this peppy tune from his 2nd album "Martini Hour" from 1983 (which peaked at No. 3). In fact, I hope I'm not offending him, if in the unlikely event that he ever comes across "Kayo Kyoku Plus", but he sounds like he's doing his own version of Inagaki with "Summer Holiday".

With a melody by Yamamoto in there that seems to have popped in from "Hey Nineteen", Masami Sugiyama's(杉山政美)lyrics talk about a couple spending that wonderful and romantic time at some seaside bar with those martinis in hand. The only thing missing from this City Pop tune is the iconic plane jetting off into the sky. Considering how hot today was here in Toronto, I think "Summer Holiday" is the ideal song in the blog to commemorate the first day of the season, but the high temperature is dropping about ten degrees tomorrow. Predictably unpredictable, Toronto weather is.