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.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Candies -- Sono Ki ni Sasenaide (その気にさせないで)

J-Canuck's post on Saori Minami's warm and summery "Soushun no Minato" inspired me to revisit some of the classic kayo tunes from the 70's, which of course included Candies (キャンディーズ), one of my favorite aidoru acts from that era. For all their harmless looks and choreography, I always thought the group's music had a certain edge to it, thanks to songwriting contributions of Yusuke Hoguchi (穂口雄右), former member of the Group Sounds band Out Cast (アウト・キャスト). "Sono Ki ni Sasenaide" (その気にさせないで...Don't Come Onto Me), their 7th single from September 1975, appeals to me for its upbeat disco groove and earworm melody. It's got the familiar orchestra band backing which was characteristic of Japan's 70's pop sound, which is perked up by the the driving force of guitars and bass. The girls' vocal delivery is self-assured and commanding: quite a contrast to their carefree smiles in the video above where they prance gleefully around the streets of Tokyo.

"Sono Ki ni Sasenaide" was composed and arranged by Hoguchi and written by Kazuya Senke (千家和也). The single peaked at No.17 on Oricon weeklies, charting for 14 weeks in the Top 100, and sold about 190,000 copies by the time Candies broke up. It was moderate hit for the girls compared to their classics "Haru Ichiban" and "Toshishita Otoko no Ko", but it'll always be a winner in my book. It was also included in their fifth studio album of the same title.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

orange pekoe -- Taiyo no Kakera (太陽のかけら)

A few weeks back, I wrote on paris match's "Saturday" which was this sunny and groovy driving tune from the early 2000s. As I stated there, one of my students had suggested the band to me as a cool unit with that mix of bossa and jazz.

Well, another band with an aversion to capital letters from the same time and in the same genre that I've heard is orange pekoe. Unlike paris match, though, I never got an album or single by them, but my recent purchase of "Light Mellow -- Dancing" has a track by them which is incidentally their 1st single from August 2001. "Taiyo no Kakera" (Pieces of a Sun) launches right off the bat with vocalist and lyricist Tomoko Nakajima's(ナガシマトモコ)scatting before this happy jazz riff takes things into the stratosphere. I do love that frenetic bass! Nakajima's guitar-playing partner, Kazuma Fujimoto(藤本一馬)took care of the music and some of the instruments although that old-fashioned bass was handled by Tatsu Kase加瀬達...hope that's the right reading). Time to run gleefully along the shore.

Before hearing about this duo, orange pekoe to me was the type of tea that I used to have every morning for breakfast as a kid. Not that my family was a bunch of Anglophiles, mind you, but it was what we all drank for many years and still do from time to time (coffee's usually the thing for us now). The duo orange pekoe was formed when Nakajima and Fujimoto met as grad students at Kwansei Gakuin University in Osaka, and then started doing the rounds at cafes and live houses, before coming out with "Taiyo no Kakera". The single itself managed to peak at No. 95 on the Oricon weeklies but it was also on their debut album, "Organic Plastic Music" which was released in May 2002. It soared up to No. 5 on the album charts and ended the year as the 75th-ranked album.

Harumi Miyako & Chiaki Oka -- Naniwa Koi Shigure (浪花恋しぐれ)

Okay, although I usually (always) used dear Harumi Miyako (都はるみ) with her shrill voice that makes the hair at the back of my neck stand on end as the prime example of why I prefer male enka singers to female enka singers, I have to admit that if she doesn't hit the really high notes or sing songs from the genre she's classified in, she actually sounds... pretty good. Well, but you know, only if she does those two things. Otherwise her voice is still difficult for me to listen to. So I never thought I'd be writing an article on one of her best known enka songs, "Naniwa Koi Shigure", a duet sung with composer Chiaki Oka (岡千秋). Despite being a little reluctant to check the song out after commenter Ranawaka Aruna recommended it - I don't think I would've looked it up otherwise - I was indeed rather keen to hear it for myself and probably see why it was pretty successful.

After listening to it, I'm glad to say that I enjoyed it on a whole. And I actually did not mind Miyako's enka voice! I thought I would, but I didn't. I must be getting used to it. Instead, I was more disappointed in Oka's vocal delivery, which was way too husky and made him sound like he had to constantly clear his throat. But at least he makes up for it with the cheerful yet elegant score he had composed for "Naniwa Koi Shigure" that made me stay and listen to the whole song rather than clicking the "Back" button after the first few seconds of it.

Takashi Taka's (たかたかし) lyrics are quite odd at first, but it slowly became heartwarming. I managed to find the Mandarin translation to it in the video above, but since my command for the language has greatly deteriorated after a couple of years of disuse (not like it was any good to begin with), I had Mom, who's effectively bilingual, help me out with the more important bits I missed. Basically it's about our main man here striving to be Japan's number one in the world of theater, unfortunately without much success. He'd also spend his time drinking away and horsing around, much to his wife's ire, but being the patient and hopeful woman she is, our leading lady tolerates his behaviour and allows him to do as he pleases, confident that he'll get to the top... eventually. So despite all the obstacles they face, they still stick by each other for love and support and to overcome their difficulties together.

"Naniwa Koi Shigure" was released on 21st May 1983, and like I've mentioned above, it did well on the charts, peaking at 3rd place on the Oricon weeklies and stayed within the top 20 at 18th place by the end of the year. On the same year, Miyako received the Special Prize at the 25th Japan Record Awards and on her 19th appearance on the Kohaku, she had sung this song with Oka. "Naniwa Koi Shigure" continued to stay within the top 50 in 1984 at 39th place.

Here's Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし) taking Oka's place by Miyako's side. I do prefer hearing Itsuki's pleasant, smooth voice, and it's much more fun to watch him and Miyako singing duets too since they've got really good chemistry. Yup, so far, she's the only female singer I've seen this usually composed gentleman hug... like a real, proper, bear hug... many times...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Shozo Ise -- Futari no Shuuki (二人の周期)

Well, as I mentioned in another this week, I got my package of CDs which included another in the series of "Light Mellow" compilations of J-AOR/City Pop. The 2nd CD in the delivery was another "Light Mellow" (every time I read or hear that title, I always get reminded of Coffee Mate) album, but this time, it was one of the spotlight releases focusing on a certain singer of the genre. I decided to get the urban contemporary works of singer-songwriter Shozo Ise(伊勢正三).

Ise is quite the interesting acquisition. He and Kosetsu Minami(南こうせつ)came up with some of the most famous J-Folk songs from the early 1970s such as "Nagori Yuki"(なごり雪)when they were together in Kaguyahime(かぐや姫), and a year ago, I discovered this achingly lovely ballad that Ise wrote and composed, "Kimi to Aruita Seishun"(君と歩いた青春)when he was with another band, Kaze (1975-1979), a duo that was also folk but had elements of New Music and City Pop as well.

The transition further continued as Ise went solo in the late 1970s and embraced the totality of City Pop. I fell in love with the slick "Moonlight" when I first heard it on "Sounds of Japan" decades ago, although at the time, I did not make the connection between it and "Nagori Yuki". But years later, I finally figured it out and always wondered about more of his urban contemporary stuff from the early 80s which leads to this week when I finally got "Light Mellow -- Shozo Ise".

"Moonlight", his 2nd single as a soloist, is in there, but there are also a lot of other cool and urban delights. One of the tracks is "Futari no Shuuki" which translates as "A Period For Two". That struck me as being a bit too vague a title so I think "A Time For Two" may be an improvement. Of course, Ise took care of music and lyrics for this tune that's a bit airier than "Moonlight" but very much in the City Pop realm. 

Not totally sure on the meaning of the lyrics, but I think Ise was trying to weave a story about a fellow who's still really aching for a lady although it looks like the brief and torrid affair is quite over. The featured instrument, according to the liner notes in "Light Mellow -- Shozo Ise", is Ise's operation of the guitar synthesizer but I think the even more intriguing thing is the instrument that are his vocal cords. His creamy and dreamy delivery especially of the first few lines had me thinking of Akira Terao(寺尾聰)and Yoshitaka Minami(南佳孝)...rather balladeer-like. Also, unlike "Moonlight", the feeling of the song is not like being in that hotel-top bar but just walking about somewhere in the concrete jungle that's Tokyo...perhaps aimlessly considering the poor fellow in the lyrics. He probably would need to pace around Shibuya, Harajuku and Shinjuku for a few hours to get all that angst out of his system.

Originally, "Futari no Shuuki" came out as his 3rd single in September 1981 and was a track on his 3rd solo album, "Smoke Glass Goshi no Keshiki"(スモークドガラス越しの景色...The Scenery Beyond The Smoked Glass).  I'm more than happy to delver further into this song as well as some of the other tracks during his City Pop period.

Miu Sakamoto -- Tetsudoin (鉄道員)/Child of Snow

Ah yes, this is the daughter of Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本龍一) and Akiko Yano (矢野顕子), and she’s been recording music since 1997. As one might expect from children of iconic figures, she doesn’t quite fit the shoes of her parents, but I decided to evaluate Miu Sakamoto (坂本美雨) on her own merits and concluded that she’s wonderful artist. Classy, eclectic, and talented singer. (And a massive feline enthusiast.) I’ve been following her releases since discovering her in 2008.

Tetsudoin” (鉄道員…Railroad Man) was her first solo single from May 1999, although she had already released a mini-album and a collaborative single with her father prior to that. I first heard it as its other incarnation, “Child of Snow” (see below), but later encountered it as a theme song of a drama film by Yasuo Furuhata (降旗康男), Poppoya (鉄道員). It’s a quiet poignant piece about an elderly stationmaster Otomatsu Sato (佐藤乙松), played by Ken Takakura (高倉健), who works at a rail station in a dying village in Hokkaido and is haunted by memories of his dead wife and daughter. These memories become stronger as he persistently holds on to his position despite the forthcoming closure of the station, and he imagines his daughter an the different stages of her potential life visiting and talking to him. An earnest tearjerker from what I remember. So when Miu’s song comes over the credits with scenes of a lonely locomotive passing through snow-covered forests of Hokkaido, one is left completely spellbound by the sad beauty witnessed. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s gorgeous melody and Miu’s heavenly vocals compliment one another as pure bliss. Tamio Okuda (奥田民生) of Unicorn fame provided the lyrics.

In September 1999, Miu re-released “Tetsudoin” with English lyrics under the title “Child of Snow”, which became part of her first studio albumDawn Pink”. The individual behind the lyrics here has decided to hide under the cryptic pseudonym jcts. The words are just as poetic as the music and I can definitely relate them to “Poppoya”, but I also keep wondering if they contain some spiritual undertones. It also personally reminds me of the Russian tale “The Snow Maiden”, which was recently adapted into a novel by Eowyn Ivey called “The Snow Child”. This was the first version of the song that I’ve heard and was impressed with Miu’s English pronunciation (not perfect, but good), and it turns out that she has spent a part of her life in New York City and attended high school there.

The single peaked at No.49 on Oricon weeklies despite the success of the film, while "Dawn Pink" fared a bit better at No.28 position.

Just a little note about the reading of the title. 鉄道員 can be read as both “poppoya” and “tetsudoin”. The producers of the film went with the former pronunciation, while those of the song chose the latter, according to the single cover here.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hibari Misora -- Jinsei Ichiro (人生一路)

When it comes to the grand world of kayo kyoku from 20, 30, 40 years back, my remembrances can be divided into two parts. Pretty much all of the straight pop is stuff that I can remember entirely or almost entirely because of all of those video rentals, "Sounds of Japan" and of course the albums that I've bought over the decades. However with enka, it's a bit more complicated. I like enka but I just don't buy a lot of it. However, I've been hearing the genre ever since I was a baby, so although there are some of the classic chestnuts like "Yokohama Tasogare"(よこはま・たそがれ)and "Yukiguni"(雪国)that I could play in my head with ease, a lot of the other songs I can only retain wisps of melodies since they were echoes from long ago emanating from those RCA Victor speakers. I've been awaiting performances of enka on "Kayo Concert" to have those wisps pull out the whole song again.

I got that opportunity once more a couple of nights ago on the latest edition of "Kayo Concert". One of the guests came on and sang "Jinsei Ichiro" (Straight Road of Life) which was one of Hibari Misora's(美空ひばり)singles. It was a really jaunty song but when the song reached a certain point (in the above video, it would be at the 00:40~00:42 second mark), the way the melody turned sparked the neurons and had me going "Ah, it was THAT song, eh?"

A little over quarter of a century since Misora's passing, the song that everyone probably remembers of her is the anthemic "Kawa no Nagare no You ni"(川の流れのように)...her epic look back on (her) life. "Jinsei Ichiro", released in January 1970 is also another tribute to life but with much more upbeat brio and less contented pride as if this were more for the folks in their 20s and 30s...a lot of road ahead for these guys. Through the lyrics of Miyuki Ishimoto(石本美由起), there is that exhortation of just making that decision to hit that road of life and not deviating from it one iota. Misora is the coach pushing the listeners ahead as she seems to be telling them to go for the gusto!

Tetsuya Kato's(かとう哲也)melody has that mix of enka (thank you, shakuhachi) and what sounds like some of the brassier pop that was coming out during those days. This isn't really the enka of the countryside or the sea but that of the metropolis...the hustle and the bustle of making it big at the company. You might have to work 15-hour days, but, dang, you're really sussed about it. I'd probably assume from how bouncy "Jinsei Ichiro" is, the metropolis was probably envisaged to be more Osaka than Tokyo.

Interesting thing, though, is that the song was actually the B-side to "Hana to Honoo"(花と炎...Flower and Fire). However, it's been more of an A-side in its popularity over the years according to the number of YouTube videos of Misora's performances of the song. And according to J-Wiki, the Grande Dame of Kayo Kyoku sang it at the 1979 Kohaku Utagassen as part of a special medley, her very last appearance on the NHK special.

Miki Imai -- smells like you

No...she most certainly does not!

Sorry...very bad joke there. However, I have to say that when I first saw the title for this Miki Imai(今井美樹)song, "smells like you", I just went "ick" and "eww". Let's say that I was never much of an optimist when it came to the topic of body odor. Yep, I realize that there are such things as perfume and cologne, but again that's not the first thing I think of when I see that title on an album, even for someone as lovely-looking as Imai.

However, the soft bossa nova by Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰)is pleasant enough and when I took a look at Imai's lyrics, I realized that the sylph-like singer was just quietly cooing about how much she missed her lover and how much the summer air reminded her of his scent when they were holding each other close. Yep, that's romance for you! Methinks she would be the type to take a deep whiff of his favourite sweater in the closet if he's off on some business trip.

It's been a very long time since I heard "smells like you", and so I had thought that the song came out on Imai's 1992 album, "flow into space", her very atmospheric release and her first time collaborating with Hotei. However, I was quite wrong on that point since it actually was a track on a later CD, "Love of my Life" from 1995 (peaked at No. 2). Imai does quite a nice job with bossa nova-flavoured tunes so it's a bit of a wonder that she hasn't devoted an entire album (at least not that I know of) to the Brazilian genre. Perhaps it's time to revisit some of the mid-90s Imai releases again.