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.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Noelle's Top 12 Hachiro Kasuga Songs

... The 2nd from the left is my favourite...
Oh boy, if the me from 3 years ago could see who my muse is now. I'd probably come after me with a large mallet... but then again, maybe not...? Nah, who am I kidding?

I remember myself saying that Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎) was my favourite out of the Yonin Shu a few years ago, back when I was more respecting their presence rather than going wild about them. That was, indeed, the case at that point, but the most ordinary fellow in my eyes sort of fell behind when catchy hits and amusing idiosyncrasies from Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也), Hideo Murata (村田英雄) and Haruo Minami (三波春夫) were brought to my attention. It didn't really help that many of Hachi's hits that were very readily available at the time were the hard to swallow, melancholic enka. Or, at least, it was just my luck that I picked said stuff.

However, my interest in Hachi was revived when I came across this YouTube channel that uploads his lesser known works, of which a good number of them were more my cup of tea. From those, I was able to appreciate his range and versatile ryukoka/pop style of singing that could go from intense and guttural to delicate and light. This contrast, which I grew to love, sounded more obvious in his later days (mid-60's and beyond) when his vocals shifted from a tenor to a baritone. At the same time, I found his songs and vocals good for listening to at any time of the day - not too quiet like Michi's, not too forceful or chirpy like Muchi's or Minami's. That in itself brought Hachi back to the no.1 spot among the venerable four, but, of course, what served as the icing on the cake and ultimately made him muse no.4 was... Well, I believe the bromides above are self-explanatory - I'll be talking about those photos soon, by the way, if you're wondering where they came from... and why I have so many of them.

Anyway, since I had been immersing myself in almost everything Hachi for a good half a year, I decided to feature the First Enka Singer on my annual favourite artiste Top 10 (plus or minus). After being exposed to a good number of songs from his 39-year career, it was challenging to pick 10 of them as my favourite and even more so when arranging them in order; I had to choose between recent fads and those I have a history with. As such, there were a couple of ties between a few of my choices, which turned my Top 10 into a Top 12.

That's it for the intro. Without further ado, here's number 10.

10. Akai Lamp no Shuressha (1952)
Among all the songs on this list, I actually listen to "Akai Lamp no Shuressha" (赤いランプの終列車) the least. I even listen to "Wakare no Ippon Sugi" (別れの一本杉) more often than this. However, his melancholic debut was what got the Hachi train moving for me 3 years ago, and so, it deserves a spot here.

9. Otoko no Butai (1955)
"Otoko no Butai" (男の舞台) was one of the more obscure works from Hachi and I got the chance to hear it via his Super Best Album. I soon got hooked by its manly kabuki-inspired score and the cool premises of a play mirroring real life.

A bit of an anecdote here: On my recent trip back to Sugamo (came back just a couple of days ago), I attempted "Otoko no Butai" at the Mukashi no Uta no Mise karaoke joint as my first song (because why not?). The two oldies present for my second swing at karaoke weren't familiar with "Otoko no Butai" at all. They did, however, think that this was my Juhachi-ban (best song in one's karaoke repertoire... and no, I don't think it is) and were perturbed that a young character could like an ancient figure in Japanese music.

8. Nigate Nandayo (1957)/Ashita no Tameni (1969)
The first tie is between two of my three Hacchan o-enka, "Nigate Nandayo" (苦手なんだよ) and "Ashita no Tameni" (明日のために... link to the song's video is here). The former about a struggling nagashi being consoled by his audience was a definite contender for this list as, similar to "Akai Lamp no Shuressha", I have a history with it, and it's even in my "Enka-ragement Song" list. The latter, on the other hand, had me sitting on the fence until the very last minute. The pop-oriented "Ashita no Tameni" was one of my relatively recent finds, but I couldn't ignore the hopeful lyrics that struck a chord with me, so I had to include it in this list, hence the tie.

7. Uramachi Yakyoku (1954)
In my opinion, "Uramachi Yakyoku" (裏町夜曲) has one of the best opening lines in Kasuga's songs. It's like Takashi Hosokawa's (細川たかし) "Kokoro Nokori" (心のこり) where the characters call themselves fools, and it's just as amusing. Well, but that aside, I found the rest of the words pretty sweet as the imperfect protagonists find comfort in each other's company. I'm also fond of the jolly melody and Hachi's smoothly fluctuating vocals.

6. Ore wa Nora Inu (1957)
Coming in at no.6 is somewhat of an underdog, if you will. I first discovered the old-fashioned, almost waltz-like tune that is "Ore wa Nora Inu" (俺は野良犬) when watching a clip from one of Hibari Misora's (美空ひばり) films where Hachi played a side character of some sort singing this very song. Initially, I thought of the B-side to his decently popular "Gomen yo Kanben na" (ごめんヨかんべんナ) as simply OK and was more keen on seeing a young Hacchan performing. That view soon changed as it burrowed deep into my brain and got stuck on constant replay very often (like now). Because of that, "Ore wa Nora Inu" was another of my karaoke choices and I felt that I tackled it better than "Otoko no Butai".

Song comes in at the 2:35 mark

5. An' Tokya Doshaburi (1957)
From songs and films, there always seems to be something about the pouring rain that makes love more passionate, but on the flip side, it also makes breakups more sour. "An' Tokya Doshaburi" (あん時ゃどしゃ降り) is an example of that, where our lead reminiscences about his first love in the rain. It actually reminds me of "Hajimari wa Itsumo Ame" (はじまりはいつも雨), except it's kayo-fied and, just like almost all enka, bittersweet. It's still pretty romantic (I'm a sucker for stuff like that) and the dramatic melody that mimics sounds of a thunderstorm with those blaring horns is a nice touch... Just saying, but I'm all for Mrs Watabe's song request in the video above.

Iya sa Otomi, HiSAshiburi DAnaaa...

4. Otomi-san (1954)/Hyotan Boogie (1955)
The second song that further deepened my interest in this enka veteran, "Otomi-san" (お富さん), did make it into my list, as well as its similarly jaunty albeit Western-flavoured cousin I got to know in Sugamo last year, "Hyotan Boogie" (瓢箪ブギ... link to song's video is here). I can't help it, these couple of songs about a kabuki play character and a sake-producing waterfall respectively are just too catchy to pass up. They also happen to be my "Laundry Songs"; I tend to be humming/singing both ditties to pass the time when doing the necessary chore, more so "Otomi-san" for its simpler, less tongue-twisting stanzas and slightly slower, more rhythmic tempo.

Gotta love that grin and those dimples.

3. Ano Hoshi to Katarou (1965)
If Muchi came up with something incorporating Group Sounds in the mid-60's, I guess it shouldn't come as that much of a surprise that the pop-oriented Hachi would also have done the same. "Ano Hoshi to Katarou" (あの星と語ろう), a very deeply buried gem in his discography, was the enka veteran's take at this contrasting genre. It was the combination of the bright melody with its nice beat and screaming trumpets, and his nearly operatic delivery that made me fall in love with what is essentially a bokyo tune in a flashy skin. I wish I could see Kasuga performing this song. He was generally quite stiff on stage save for some occasions where he'd be pointing at something or bouncing up and down on his toes, so it'd be a treat to see him groove to "Ano Hoshi to Katarou" - guy couldn't have stood completely still to a song like this, right...?

Song comes in at the 3:45 mark.

2. Hatoba de Machi na (1966)
There was a bit of consideration involved when selecting which song were to sit at 3rd place and which in 2nd as delivery and music-wise, I like them both a great deal. However, as you can see, the optimistic and mambo-themed "Hatoba de Machi na" (波止場で待ちな) ended up taking the silver medal while "Ano Hoshi to Katarou" settled with bronze. The deciding factor? Just as with song no.5, it's the romantic premises, although this one is a lot sweeter than bitter. The couple are understandably torn up over the fact that the fellow has to leave, especially after he learns of her feelings towards him, but the silver lining comes as he utters the golden "Wait for me (at the harbor)." Ah, dang it, it's too cute.

He's bouncing!

1. Yama no Tsurihashi (1959)
With all the competition it had to face from the other contenders in the list, I still deem "Yama no Tsurihashi" (山の吊橋) as my favourite Kasuga-bushi of all time. Overall, it's a jolly little tune that never fails to lift my spirits - hearing it feels like taking a nice stroll in the great outdoors. That being said though, I don't think I did it much justice at Sugamo. The key was alright, but I'm just quite terrible at tackling very low notes; I don't think I could be heard all that well at the middle bits of the stanzas... Sorry, Hachi. Well, at least one of the old folks found me enough of an odd rarity to want to have a photo taken with me. I felt honored.

Well, it's been a long article. I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time to stick through (or simply read a bit of it) - now you know why I'm such a fan of one of the singers who built the genre of enka.

He had large hands. My hands are tiny, though.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Yasuhiro Abe -- Hakujo na Kamisama ni Merry Christmas(薄情な神様にMerry Christmas)

Glad to see and hear that City Pop Prince Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)has still been active in music. As of 2015, he was still releasing albums with his most recent being "Time Is".

And from that album, here is "Hakujo na Kamisama ni Merry Christmas" (Merry Christmas to a Cruel God). Since I couldn't find any lyrics online for the song and my listening to a song for the first time never provides full benefits, I can only speculate that Abe is singing cheerfully about another love gone wrong around the Holidays. This seems to be a perennial theme for some of the J-Xmas tunes.

Still, the music is pretty happy. I don't think it's quite in the Neo-City Pop vein but there's some nice tropical soul going on in the arrangement there. The lad might be mourning about another lost romance on Christmas Eve but the melody seems to be pushing him into a better frame of mind. Abe took care of both words and music with Ren Takayanagi(高柳恋)co-writing the lyrics.

Mitsuko Nakamura -- Kawachi Otoko Bushi(河内おとこ節)

Another TV sign in Japan that the year is coming to an end along with NHK's Kohaku Utagassen and Fuji-TV's FNS Music Festival is NHK's "Wagakokoro no Osaka Melody"(わが心の大阪メロディー...Osaka Melodies of My Heart). A relative baby sister when compared to the first two specials, the national broadcaster's tribute to all music Osakan started only from 2001 but it's been quite popular and certainly my family has made it a custom to see it whenever it broadcasts in December.

The beginning of this year's special which was broadcast here in North America during the same time slot for "Uta Kon"(うたコン)on Tuesday night had bubbly (I'm using Noelle's apt adjective here) Mitsuko Nakamura(中村美律子)and the stalwart Takashi Hosokawa(細川たかし)go into a friendly sing-off. Hosokawa performed the classic "Naniwa Bushi da yo, Jinsei wa"(浪花節だよ人生は)while Nakamura sang a song that I hadn't heard before, "Kawachi Otoko Bushi" (Melody of a Kawachi Man).

Written by Miyuki Ishimoto(石本美由起)and composed by Chiaki Oka(岡千秋), "Kawachi Otoko Bushi" has that same festival jauntiness as "Naniwa Bushi da yo, Jinsei wa". According to the J-Wiki article on the song, the rhythm is based on Kawachi ondo(河内音頭), the brand of Japanese traditional folk song that originated in what is now part of Osaka Prefecture. It was released back in June 1989 as the Osaka native's 3rd single, and the timing was great since festival season usually starts up from mid-summer.

And it has apparently been used for the bon odori performances that take place in the Kansai area. On the Oricon chart, "Kawachi Otoko Bushi" only made it up to No. 69 but it's more than compensated since Nakamura has sung it a total of 8 times in her 15 times on the Kohaku Utagassen which makes it the No. 3 song in terms of the most repeated performances of a particular song on that special. Only Sayuri Ishikawa's(石川さゆり)"Amagi Goe"(天城越え)and "Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyu Geshiki"(津軽海峡・冬景色)have had more appearances at 10 and 9 times respectively.

"Kawachi Otoko Bushi" was a hit right from the start in the Kansai area but it took 3 more years before it got its national attention. That late-coming fame was punctuated by Nakamura's debut appearance on the Kohaku in 1992, singing this very song.

Nakamura hasn't appeared on the Kohaku since 2010 after singing her trademark song three straight times up to that year, so I gather that perhaps she and her listeners probably wanted to take a break. However, it would be pretty nice for her to get onto the NHK stage again and bring back this crowdpleaser.

Top 10 Singles of 2016

1.  AKB48                                Tsubasa wa Iranai
2.  AKB48                                Kimi wa Melody
3.  AKB48                                LOVE TRIP/Shiawase wo Wakenasai
4.  AKB48                                High Tension
5.  Nogizaka 46                        Sayonara no Imi
6.  Nogizaka 46                        Hadashi de Summer
7.  Arashi                                  I Seek/Daylight
8.  Nogizaka 46                        Harujion ga Sakukoro
9.  Arashi                                  Fukkatsu LOVE
10. Arashi                                 Power of the Paradise

Friday, December 15, 2017

Toshiki Kadomatsu -- City Nights

Looking at the Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)file, I've noticed that the most recent entries have almost all involved one of his best clients, Anri(杏里), during the early 1980s.

Well, of course, the songwriter was also a singer and musician at the time, and he really has gotten my attention with his "City Nights" from his debut album "Sea Breeze" from June 1981. Not only is the album well titled considering the image I've often had of him but "City Nights" starts off with such an American AOR vibe that I had to wonder whether Ambrosia or the Doobie Brothers snuck in and helped with the production at one point. I think the arrangement is as much Los Angeles urban contemporary as it is Tokyo City Pop.

I've now got mullets on the brain thanks to this song.😆 Must have been quite the time in downtown Tokyo at the time. But then again, I don't have to wonder too much since I was there.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Tomita Lab -- Etoile feat. Kirinji (Etoile feat.キリンジ)

Wow! It's a bit like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup experience here. On the one hand, there is the wonderfully mellow Tomita Lab(冨田ラボ)and on the other hand, there is also the cool Kirinji(キリンジ), the brotherly duo who I got very interested in after hearing their lovely "Aliens". I never imagined them doing a collaboration although on second thought, I think it was probably due since I think the two acts are nicely compatible.

So, when I discovered "Etoile feat. Kirinji" on YouTube, most of my senses pricked up immediately, especially on seeing the video eyecatch of Tomita Lab standing in front of what looked like West Shinjuku. This was actually Tomita Lab's 5th single from April 2009.

Well, I listened to the song and my first impression wasn't quite as impressive especially when I think about "Aliens" and Tomita Lab's classic "Nemuri no Mori"(眠りの森). "Etoile feat. Kirinji" launches with an arrangement that I thought sounded like some sort of opening theme for a 1970s American cop show by Quinn/Martin Productions. The music by Tomita Lab was fairly chaotic to me although the refrain struck me as being another splendid romantic sweep that I have always come to expect from him. The lyrics by Takaki Horigome(堀込高樹), one-half of Kirinji, center on some sort of eternally dancing ballerina.

My second listen to it came off somewhat better as my ears and brain gradually started to get accustomed to the frenetic activity involved, so I'm pretty confident that this will settle down nicely. I can analogize it to eating a spicy curry on a wintry night...things may get super fiery at first but when digestion kicks in, I can relax well enough in my armchair. Plus I recall that my first exposures to the marvelous band Sing Like Talking went in a similar way.

"Etoile feat. Kirinji" did only modestly on Oricon, only getting as high as No. 88 but even an initially uncertain effort by Tomita Lab will still beat a lot of J-Pop out there in my eyes and ears. The song was also included in his 3rd album "Shipahead" which came out in February 2010; it peaked at No. 46.

Toko Furuuchi -- Lighter

Initially, I thought the title of this article was going to be one of the most ironic of this year for "Kayo Kyoku Plus" since I'm currently in the Holidays which therefore means a lot more eating. As far as I'm concerned, the engorging began last Tuesday when I met up with some fellow translators at an old restaurant, Marche, close to Union Station. There was the chicken schnitzel on top of rosti potatoes with sour cream as my main course before I had the apple crumble pie for dessert.

Lighter is something that I will not be at the end of the year.

However, I misconstrued the meaning of the title for the lovely...and very svelte...Toko Furuuchi's(古内東子)track on her 3rd album "Hug" from September 1994. The singer-songwriter actually meant the cigarette lighter for this mid-tempo song. worries here. It's a nice urban contemporary number that I've always expected from Furuuchi. Came across it earlier this afternoon while I was listening to some of the stuff on NetEase.

"Lighter" is something that I would love to hear in an intimate nightclub like the one above here. Actually, this is the Toko Furuuchi cover band, feve, as uploaded by OKAP1965, taking care of the song. Once again, I do love the saxes.

Meanwhile, I will continue my time at the trough.