Thursday, March 5, 2015
Just a couple of weeks after beginning "Kayo Kyoku Plus" in 2012, I actually had written up an article on this song "Get Free" by Momoe Yamaguchi（山口百恵）with the corresponding YouTube video. But when the video got taken down, I was actually quite depressed since I didn't have the knowledge or the experience I have now, so I decided to eliminate the whole article and later just covered the whole album it came from, "L.A. Blue" (1979),
I've already mentioned about the song on that article already since a karaoke version of "Get Free" exists. But since I wanted to make some amends for that early inexperience and also provide a bit of a counterpoint to the other article I just wrote for Momoe-chan's raunchy "Rock n' Roll Widow", I'm bringing back this particular song.
Do I have any new insights about it after a few years? Well, it's amazing how different a singer can sound by changing the songwriters. So instead of the rock n' roll husband-and-wife team of Ryudo Uzaki and Yoko Aki（宇崎竜童・阿木燿子）, "Get Free" was taken care of by the sibling songwriting duo of Takao and Etsuko Kisugi（来生たかお・えつこ）. Another surprising thing is how American AOR the tune sounds. The Kisugis are known for some pretty mellow songs but I always pegged them as kayo kyoku songsmiths so "Get Free" is a pretty fascinating stretch. And as I mentioned in the article for "L.A. Blue", it feels like a theme song of driving across America to the West Coast. Getting free, indeed. In a way, perhaps Momoe was a proto-Anri（杏里）.
And here I thought that Momoe Yamaguchi（山口百恵）kicked up her heels when she performed "Imitation Gold" and "Playback Part 2". In the latter half of her career in the latter half of the 1970s, she took on that persona of that jaded and tough seen-it-all heard-it-all woman, thanks partially to the songwriting by the husband-and-wife team of Ryudo Uzaki and Yoko Aki（宇崎竜童・阿木燿子）. Well, just a couple of singles away from retiring the mike, Yamaguchi, Uzaki and Aki decided to REALLY knock it up a notch.
"Rock n' Roll Widow" was on my compilation CD of her BEST songs (as it probably has been on any of her BEST discs), and unlike those two other Uzaki-and-Aki productions, there was much more of a feeling of fun and abandon despite the "widow" part of the title. Perhaps the widow was dancing on top of her hubby's grave but that is about as dark as I will get in my speculation. In any case, the song was Yamaguchi's 30th single released in May 1980 (I realize that she was not far from retirement, but it's hard to imagine her as anyone other than that representative 70s songstress), and on hearing the song, it seems like her two collaborators just told her to go nuts. And she truly thrust in the growls and the yells. I'm sure her fans launched their eyebrows when they first heard the song. My favourite part of the song is when she belts out the "Kakko, kakko, kakko..." with the harmony gradually phasing in.
Then I saw her performance of the song on shows such as "Yoru no Hit Studio"（夜のヒットスタジオ）. She sported that big hair, the face paint and the fashion, and put on some rather interesting dance moves such as a furyo stance at the very beginning. In the J-Wiki article for "Rock n' Roll Widow", the writer also mentioned about her sashaying up and down her guitarist's back during the instrumental. For a lady who I usually imagined as being pretty static in her performances, Momoe-chan just went Disco Queen...or Rock Queen, perhaps. In a way, it was like watching Olivia Newton-John's Sandy character undergoing that transformation at the end of "Grease" from Sandra Dee to leather-wearing she-devil.
The song hit No. 3 on Oricon and ended the year as the 40th-ranked song. It was also a track on Momoe's 20th studio album, "Moebius Game"（メビウス・ゲーム）which was released at the same time as "Rock n' Roll Widow". The album peaked at No. 6.
The lady still had a couple of more singles before entering domestic bliss but with this song, it was Momoe's way of saying "I have just LEFT the building!"
|Do not cross her!|
When I first heard trf's 15th single, "Brave Story", my impression was "Well, this is rather different." The TK Rave Factory was a singing and dancing unit that I had always associated with fast, uptempo and cheerful stuff. The guys who put some oomph into a Coke commercial in the early 90s and all that jazz.
"Brave Story", on the other hand, sounded like trf and Tetsuya Komuro（小室哲哉）wanted to contribute a song to a James Bond movie right down to the title. Released in July 1996, it starts off with main vocalist YU-KI and her backup singers performing a bit of gospel before the music just blasts off with a melody of a suspense-thriller. Those first several notes have always had me imagining unmarked copters taking off on a black ops mission. I could hear the lead chopper pilot intoning something like "THIS IS GRUMPY TO PRINCE CHARMING...GETTING READY TO WAKE UP SNOW WHITE...PREPARING POISON APPLE..."
Komuro, as always, took care of the suddenly dramatic music and lyrics. And even the latter (co-written by Takahiro Maeda/前田たかひろ) read like something out of a melodramatic spy novel...about some fellow going off on a mission of sorts although the words aren't all that direct. The entire song made for a pretty fun listening experience but in a new way when it came to trf. And sure enough, I made a purchase. The song managed to peak at No. 4. It was also available on the group's first BEST compilation, "WORKS - The Best of TRF" which came out on New Year's Day 1998.
Cue ahead several years later. Speaking of compilations, it looks like there was a couple of tribute albums to trf this decade, including the 2-disc "TRF Tribute Album Best" which came out in March 2013. And on there, another 90s music unit, Every Little Thing, gave their own version of "Brave Story". However, instead of the full-on down-and-dirty theme for a Jason Bourne adventure that the original was, ELT's cover is a jaunty Latin-flavoured romp in the sun that has Kaoru Mochida's （持田香織）familiar and lispy vocals along with an arrangement that has echoes of 80s band PSY-S. It's also appealing in yet another way. For me, cover versions don't always work but I'm happy to write that this is the exception here.
I don't know, there's just something about Teruo Ikeda (池田輝郎) that I like. I think it's his pleasant Min'yo voice, or probably his dignified, gentle appearance. Or it could simply be because he sang "Neon bune" (ネオン舟), a song which I have somehow not gotten over despite listening to it ad nauseam over the months since I've discovered it. But either way, I've come to appreciate Ike-Teru more than I had expected and have been digging through his short discography for more.
A product that came from this little excavation was his recent single from 24th July 2013, "Otoko no Iji". The MV - half of it - was one of the first few suggestions after keying in the fellow's name into the YouTube search bar, so I went ahead to check it out. Having Ikeda standing in the middle of a little alley with bars lining it on both sides and glaring into the camera kinda reminded me of the "Neon bune" MV, just with a broader street and a different place. And Ike-Teru had dyed his hair brown then, very odd-looking. Both were written by Toshiya Niitani (仁井谷俊也) and composed by Hideo Mizumori (水森 英夫), which I'm guessing is why the two songs sound really similar in their music style and arrangement, with "Otoko no Iji" sounding more dramatic and intense. Could be due to it being about a man's pride, so some manliness had to be injected into it. By the way, Mizumori has been the one doing the composing duties for all of the singer's official singles.
"Otoko no Iji" peaked at 36th place on the regular charts, and besides his debut single "Yu no shigure" (湯の里しぐれ), the rest (7 in counting) have all cracked the Top 50... for exactly how long, I have no idea, but that's pretty respectable. Can't wait to hear his newest single, "Minato shigure" (港町しぐれ), that's gonna be released next week.
enkado.netCome to think of it, whenever I see Ike-Teru, I see an Enka/Min'yo, more uncle-like version of Mae-Kiyo that doesn't goof around. Must be the droopy eyes and the suits. Oh, that answers my first question in the beginning of this article, huh?
Over the past few years, I've covered two-thirds of the Spark Sannin Musume, the three female singers who were the darlings of Japanese variety TV in the 1960s. There were Yukari Ito（伊東ゆかり）and Mie Nakao（中尾ミエ）, and then there was Mari Sono（園まり）. Of the three Musume, Sono is the one that I've known the least about, but to give a brief summary, she was born in Yokohama in 1944 as Mariko Sonobe（薗部毬子）and had her first taste of public performing through participation in children chorus groups in the 1950s before winning a championship on TV in 1960 and then making her professional debut in 1962. It wasn't too long after that she got teamed up with Ito and Nakao to become the Spark Sannin Musume.
In January 1966, her 19th single was released under the title of "Aitakute Aitakute" (I Really Want To See You). A ballad of longing, I could probably see a lot of hardworking salarymen puffing on their cigarettes and sighing wistfully at their local watering holes while listening to this one. As Sono sang about desiring to meet her man at last (with a lot of those guys more than happy to answer her summons), that trumpet was the cherry on top of the sundae. It would also be the same for Sono since it would be a huge hit and one of her trademark songs. In fact, by June of that year, she would find herself playing a singer in a movie with the same title as the hit song. Then later, she would make her 2nd appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen.
The interesting thing is that "Aitakute, Aitakute" also had a previous incarnation as a ballad by The Peanuts back in 1962. Known back then as "Teami no Kutsushita" (Hand Knit Socks), this was the twins' 7th single from December of that year. Hiroshi Miyagawa（宮川泰）was behind the basic melody and his frequent songwriting partner, Tokiko Iwatani（岩谷時子）took care of the lyrics for this ballad and the totally different words for "Aitakute, Aitakute". The original Peanuts version sounded more whimsical than the more tenderhearted take by Sono. Still, both versions are chock-filled with that sepia-coloured nostalgia.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
I wrote an article several months ago about Chikuzen Sato's（佐藤竹善）cover of the AOR classic "What You Won't Do For Love" originally by Bobby Caldwell and the fact that it came from Sato's first album of covers, "Cornerstones" from 1995. Having become a fan of his work with Sing Like Talking, I just had to see what the smooth-singing Sato could do on his own.
Well, here is the opening track from "Cornerstones", "No One There". And it looks like Sato was rarin' to get crackin'. Starting with what sounds like a bit of steel drum calypso, he just gets into some of that wonderful AOR groove with that great voice of his. From this song, there isn't much different (at least, at that time) between his solo stuff and his work with SLT, but that's not a bad thing at all. He knows a great hook when he hears it, and I do love that electric guitar during the bridge.
As I said, "Cornerstones" is a cover album, and "No One There" is a cover of a song by singer-songwriter Eric Tagg. Released also as the first track on Tagg's 1982 album, "Dreamwalkin'", I only heard this for the first time tonight, and I'm rather kicking myself up the keester just some months before I enter my second half-century because I had never heard of this guy before. As regular readers of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" may have already surmised, I often gravitate to City Pop in Japan and its equivalent of radio-friendly AOR/adult contemporary music from the 70s and 80s. And listening to the original "No One There", there is much for me to enjoy in the arrangements. Visions of Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan and James Ingram are dancing around my head as I write this. There is no blistering guitar here but the keyboards and the soft horns are swoon-worthy for me.
There is an article about Tagg at a website dedicated to Canadian songwriter David Foster who has helped musicians in both Japan and North America, and in the article, the author mentions that Tagg should have been up there with folks like Daryl Hall and Luther Vandross. Instead, he is just one of those best-kept secrets. Of course, music and musicians are a very personal and subjective choice, so for me at least, I would agree that Tagg should have deserved a bit more profile. However, along with those leading lights already mentioned, I have to say that at least according to his vocals in "No One There", he sounds quite a bit like Kenny Loggins before he entered the "Danger Zone".
According to that same article, Tagg had some mighty fine help backing him up. Foster himself was on the keyboards, Nathan East on bass, Lee Ritenour on guitar and Jerry Hey and company on horns. All of them have been seen in the liner notes of a lot of Japanese singers' albums as well.
P.S. I just discovered that I did hear Eric Tagg all the way back in my salad days. It was on "Is It You?" (1981), an AM radio regular and I even have a copy of the song on one of my AOR compilations but the track was always listed under Lee Ritenour's name.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Just finished watching the latest "Kayo Concert" tonight, and considering it is March 3rd, the show's theme was "Adeyaka Hina Matsuri"（艶やかひな祭り...Bewitching Doll Festival）. Yup, it is (or was, depending on where you live) Girls' Day in Japan, and so that multi-tiered display of Hina dolls went up to absorb all those bad spirits. Not surprisingly, the guests were all women including a couple of surprising first-timers on the show, former 80s aidoru Shizuka Kudo（工藤静香）and the Queen of Anison, Nana Mizuki（水樹奈々）...my label for her anyways.
I heard a few old-time songs of note, including this one by Naomi Chiaki（ちあきなおみ）titled "Yotsu no Onegai" (Four Requests). The song that I've always known Chiaki for has been the proud and elegiac "Kassai"（喝采）that she would introduce a couple of years later, so to hear her sing this cheerful tune as she skipped along in some of her performances was a bit of a revelation. This was her 4th single in April 1970 and the impression I got from the J-Wiki article on the song was that it was Chiaki's breakthrough hit.
Written by Cho'ei Shiratori（白鳥朝詠...I hope that's right）and composed by Jun Suzuki（鈴木淳）, the song has Chiaki playfully giving her man four requests if they are going to remain a happy couple. For the record, according to the first verse, those requests are: 1. Love me tenderly, 2. Let me make a selfish request, 3. Don't make me sad and 4. Keep it a secret from everyone else. As for that last one, I'm not sure whether the couple in question is actually a pair having an affair.
"Yotsu no Onegai" has that comfortable style of melody that I remember from the 70s: strings and horns which is bouncy and strolling at the same time. I could probably envision Mari Amachi（天地真理）singing this one as well, and as it turns out, a lot of people have covered this one not just in Japan but also in Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. As for the Japanese artists, they include The Peanuts, Yukari Ito（伊東ゆかり）and Aki Yashiro（八代亜紀）. One of the surprising points about the song is that it was classified as an aidoru tune and that was how Chiaki was categorized as well at the time. In fact, she was labeled as following that "sexy aidoru route" although she was already around 23 years old at the time. But then again, I started my love for kayo kyoku with 80s aidoru so that particular image was imprinted upon me.
As I said, the song was a huge hit for Chiaki. It peaked at No. 4 on Oricon and finished the year as the 22nd-ranked song overall, selling a little under 400,000 records. It also won the singer the Broadcast Music Prize on the very first edition of the Japanese Music Awards (not to be confused with the Japanese Record Awards that I've often referred to), and it got her an invitation to her first appearance on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen. Strangely enough, Chiaki wasn't too keen on the song, thinking that it was going to be the end of her career since she thought she was no good on these cheerful tunes. Little did she know.