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, October 27, 2016

Yasuyuki Okamura/MEG -- Scanty Blues (スキャンティブルース)

Time for a bit of Japanese funk again...and so once I'm gonna rely on Yasuyuki Okamura(岡村靖幸)with his "Scanty Blues" which he composed. I first came across this musical trip through the city streets when I got my copy of the "Space Dandy" edition of his single "Viva Namida" (ビバナミダ) when it came out in January 2014 (the original single for "Viva Namida" released in October 2013 didn't include "Scanty Blues").

Compared to the funk-it-up dance atmosphere of "Viva Namida", his "Scanty Blues" has more of a subversive feeling although the familiar Okamura vocal whoops and grunts are in there. While everyone is having a grand old time in the disco inside, "Scanty Blues" sounds like it lured Okamura outside into the back alleys for something more dangerous. I'm not sure what the lyrics are all about although the impressions coming into my head are some sub-rosa dealings and negotiations among the night lifers.

And those lyrics were provided by MEG. I have never bought any of her albums or singles although I often saw them on the shelves at HMV and Tower Records back in my Tokyo days. But she is apparently quite the multitasker as not only a singer and songwriter but also as a fashion model and fashion designer who works in both Japan and France.

Okamura and MEG collaborated on her original "Scanty Blues" as her 1st official single from July 2002. The arrangement doesn't sound all that different from the Okamura self-cover but the grunts and whoops are all on Okamura's side. The MEG original probably left quite the impression on listeners that she would be going for the more sultry than sweet sound. In both versions, though, there is that techno element that kinda/sorta renders "Scanty Blues" as this film noir theme from outer space. So it was a good choice for inclusion in the "Space Dandy" edition of the single which peaked at No. 15 on Oricon.

Here is a remix of MEG's "Scanty Blues".

Seiko Matsuda -- Anata no Subete ni Naritai (あなたのすべてになりたい)

Well, I've always seen Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)as the eternal 1980s aidoru even when she went for a more US pop sound in the latter half of that decade. I know that she has kept on releasing singles even well into this year (her 82nd, I believe) but for me, it's hard for me to shake that image of her bopping about in that distinctive hairstyle and frilly dress.

And yet, I've been aware that she has also released some lovely ballads into the 1990s. One of them is a song that I've only finally gotten to listen to in its entirety tonight, and that is "Anata no Subete ni Naritai" (I Want To Be Your Everything). You couldn't get more romantic than that title; wouldn't you want your significant other to say that to you?

This was Seiko-chan's 33rd single from August 1992 with lyrics by Seiko herself and melody by Ryo Ogura(小倉良). And speaking about that melody, it sounds as mellow and Western as a David Foster love song. The only thing missing is a lodge out in the mountains at night with a couple snuggling in front of a fireplace. It might have been a summer release but there is something quite adult and Xmas-y about it.

And listening to this ballad, it did strike home that Matsuda's vocals had become quite polished by that point. No longer the aidoru, she was a full-fledged pop singer although J-Wiki for some reason has still categorized "Anata no Subete ni Naritai" as an aidoru kayo. She basically entered the same pop realm where folks like Akiko Kobayashi(小林明子)and Midori Karashima(辛島美登里)resided.

Although it seems as if Seiko's songs were no longer hitting the top of the charts all that regularly, this ballad didn't do too badly by peaking at No. 31. It was also a track on her 20th album "1992 Nouvelle Vague" which was released in March 1992 and hit No. 8 on the album charts. "Anata no Subete ni Naritai" was also played on the TBS drama "Otona no Sentaku"(おとなの選択...The Adult Choice)which starred the singer.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Maaya Uchida -- Mivv♡Dream (ミヴ♡ドリーム)

The above photo is of the 2nd soundtrack to "Active Raid" which has just completed its second season. My anime buddy and I got to see both seasons and they were pretty entertaining although of course, my friend understood the lingo much better than I could. It did remind me a lot of a past anime, "Patlabor" which also had its mix of mecha, drama, comedy, and political intrigue surrounding a put-upon military unit. I think the Japanese have an even greater love for the underdog than Canadians or Americans.

Now, the opening and ending themes for both seasons have yet to really grow on me. They were the usual guitar-and-synth numbers that my buddy enjoyed enough to get the actual singles along with the soundtracks but I don't think they have really clicked with me.

However, there was one song that was performed in one episode of Season 2 that got attention from the two of us. Episode 5 involved the sister of the leader of Unit 8 and a buddy attending a concert of a school chum who became an aidoru of a special type.

I figure that even now in the relatively new glammed-up Akihabara or Kabukicho, there is probably a live house that actually holds rather bizarre concerts for the otaku crowd. So, seeing Hinata and her friend watching young Mivv make her entrance over the backs of moaning topless otaku guys got a few chuckles from us. But hearing her spout out punk lyrics in the voice of Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)to a 1980s aidoru melody had us going "Ohhhhhhhhhhhkkkkkkkaaaaayyyyyyyyy..."

And what was hilarious was that it was seiyuu Maaya Uchida(内田真礼)playing Mivv. My friend has the full song "Mivv♡Dream" on the 2nd soundtrack. Now, what she sings won't exactly astound David Mamet fans; to wit, the only English profanity that is in the song is "Kiss my ass" and "Sonovabitch" which is now considered acceptable swearing in prime time shows here in North America. Still, this is Uchida that I'm talking about and in the past few years that I've gotten back to anime, I've known the seiyuu for playing the timid types such as Sharo in "Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka?"(ご注文はうさぎですか?)and out-there Rikka from "Chūnibyō demo Koi ga Shitai!"(中二病でも恋がしたい!). So, hearing her exhort her audience to tear out their innards in that sweet voice of hers was a fun thing to watch. The lyrics, by the way, were written by Naruhisa Arakawa(荒川稔久)while the happy melody was the responsibility of Sadahiro Nakano(中野定博). My respects to them for channeling the music of my youth.

If only there were an R-rated version...

Jun Mayuzumi/Mi-Ke/Yo Hitoto -- Tenshi no Yuwaku (天使の誘惑)

Caught the latest episode of "Uta Kon"(うたコン)last night. Apparently the show was giving tribute to the current NHK morning serial drama "Beppin-san"(べっぴんさん), and even the star, actress Kyoko Yoshine(芳根京子)was on hand with part of the hosting duties.

One of the songs that was performed was "Tenshi no Yuwaku" (Angel's Temptation) which had all the cheeriness of a picnic on a Sunday. The original song was sung by singer-actress Jun Mayuzumi(黛ジュン), just shy of her 20th birthday. With the Hawaiian Mood Kayo arrangement and the lyrics by Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼)weeping about the guy who got away, you would think that this should have been a depressing ballad, worthy of a glass of sake or two. However, this is probably the happiest major-chord Mood Kayo I've ever heard. Even Mayuzumi above was doing some go-go in the performance. I would be forgiven if I assumed that she actually got the boyfriend.

Mayuzumi was born Junko Watanabe(渡辺順子)in May 1948 in Tokyo's Chofu City. She had actually debuted as a teenager in 1964 under her real name but only 3 singles came out of the deal including the first single which was most likely the cover version of Wayne Newton's "Danke Schoen". However, following a move to another talent agency, she made another debut under her stage name of Jun Mayuzumi in 1967 with "Koi no Hallelujah"(恋のハレルヤ...Hallelujah of Love).

"Tenshi no Yuwaku" was her 4th single released in May 1968. Getting back onto that horse again worked this time since during the 2 years of 1967 and 1968, Mayuzumi managed to sell 5 million records with the singles that came out. "Tenshi no Yuwaku" was one of those hits which featured her image of being in a mini-skirt coming out with those lower and bright vocals. The song peaked at No. 3 on the then-new Oricon and won her a Japan Record Prize. The above video is from the televised ceremonies of that event. It eventually became the 18th-ranked song of the year.

Of course, the Kohaku Utagassen came calling. But her performance of "Tenshi no Yuwaku" was actually her 2nd appearance on the NHK New Year's Eve special. She had actually gone on the show the year before and would appear 2 more times in the next couple of years.

"Tenshi no Yuwaku" would be covered by a number of artists over the decades including the group Mi-Ke for their 2nd album "Natsukashi no Blue Light Yokohama Yokosuka"(懐かしのブルーライトヨコハマヨコスカ...Nostalgic Blue Light Yokohama Yokosuka)from December 1991 which got as high as No. 15 on the charts. As was usually the case with this trio, the arrangements for the original music by Kunihiko Suzuki(鈴木邦彦)mixed in the nostalgia with the contemporary synths. The new version may have had more energy but the delivery above by the ladies sounded more languid.

Then in 2012, Yo Hitoto(一青窈)gave her own interpretation of the song via her album of covers "Kayo Kyoku"(歌窈曲). This take is interesting as performed in the video above since it has an arrangement reminiscent of all those TUBE tunes by Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎).

Sanae Jounouchi -- Ajisaibashi (あじさい橋)

Yesterday, looking at Oricon’s 1986 Top 100 hits, I was surprised to see how many female aidoru tunes were in the list – I counted nothing less than 54 songs. In other words, half of the list was occupied by female aidoru tunes, leaving the other half to Enka singers, Rock bands, City Pop artists, male aidoru singers/groups, among other genres of Japanese popular music we could add here.

Apart from some usual Akina Nakamori (中森明菜), Kyoko Koizumi (小泉今日子) or Miho Nakayama’s (中山美穂) hits (to name a few big aidoru from the time), the huge majority of aidoru singers in 1986’s list were members of the big group Onyanko Club (おニャン子クラブ) going solo or being divided into subunits. For the critics, it was probably a very similar nightmare to what happens with AKB48, its subunits and sister groups nowadays, and we can thank – or blame – the same man, Yasushi Akimoto (秋元康), for both phenomenons.

Among the many singles released by Onyanko Club’s members in this particular year, I was able to discover an interesting and unusual one: “Ajisaibashi” by Sanae Jounouchi (城之内早苗).

Released in June 1986 as Sanae Jounouchi’s debut single, “Ajisaibashi” was meant to be an enka song. It somehow succeeds, but I find the vocals really light in this one, if compared to the usual vibrato-heavy and more traditional enka singing style. Maybe Sanae was still learning how to sing enka in a more mature way (I still have to listen to her more recent singles), but “Ajisaibashi” ends sounding more like an usual ballad with a warm melody and just some enka flourishes in the arrangement. In the end, it was probably due to this “light way of performing enka” that I liked the song so much.

Here’s Sanae singing “Ajisaibashi” in a more recent performance.

“Ajisaibashi” reached #1 on the Oricon chart, selling 155,000 copies. Lyrics were written by Yasushi Akimoto, while music and arrangement were done by Akira Mitake (見岳章).


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ami Ozaki -- Meisou (冥想)

When it comes to singer-songwriter Ami Ozaki's(尾崎亜美)vast discography, I will always be reminded of the light bossa of "My Pure Lady" and the oh-so-soft "I've Been Mellow". Her music in the early days were the aural equivalent of a comforting cup of tea or a mug of hot chocolate.

At the same time, there is also a lot to like about her very first single, "Meisou" (Contemplation) which was released all the way back in March 1976. I kinda wonder what the reaction was like when Ozaki trilled her debut...the sound was very much in the New Music category, reminiscent of some of the sunnier pop tunes that I had heard as a kid on the radio in Canada. Did the younger folks reflexively sigh in relaxation on hearing this new voice for the New Music cause?

Whatever the case, "Meisou" has got those clear Ozaki vocals that I've been familiar with but without that slight rasp of her later songs, and there is that mellow keyboard that I can always see her behind on TV. In contrast to what the title implies, there's isn't anything remotely quiet or still about "Meisou". In fact, the lyrics talk about a giddy girl's happy insistence that she is the one that the particular boy has been searching for. Perhaps the contemplation has been on the laddie's part.

I don't know how well "Meisou" did on the charts but it is included on Ozaki's debut album "Shady" from August 1976.

(from about 4:35)

Flipper's Guitar -- Groove Tube

Mike Myers brought back the 1960s again back in the 1990s with his "Austin Powers" franchise, and an entire generation got to know about what Burt Bacharach, groovy and psychedelic were all about. Mind you, I actually lived through all that although I don't remember much since I was less than 5 at the time. However there was one show that I still have memories of...and that was the American variety hour (yes, the USA did have variety shows back then) "Laugh-In", a prime time comedy tour-de-force starring Dan Rowan and Dick Martin as the hosts of barely contained lunacy mixed in with all that was late 1960s pop culture: go-go dancing, body painting...and groovy. Giggly Goldie Hawn in a bikini dancing it up...yup, she is seared in my memory.

But even before Mike Myers gave us a look-see into that crazy decade, the Japanese at least had already been getting some of those images and music from back then for some years via Shibuya-kei. Of course, there was Pizzicato Five who took care of the Swingin' 60s party-all-night aspect of the genre, but at around the same time, there was also the duo of Flipper's Guitar who carried over their mellower take with some influence from French pop.

However, I was surprised to discover that Keigo Oyamada and Kenji Ozawa(小山田圭吾・小沢健二)did indulge some of that P5 nighttime fun for their 5th single, "Groove Tube" from March 1991. The J-Wiki article for the single had a mass of text that I had to wade through but really couldn't find anything too insightful about "Groove Tube" itself aside from the quote from Oyamada that stated that the men had wanted to put out their most powerful single with this one with the booty-shaking rhythm of B'z and a hard-edged guitar sound reminiscent of Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰).

I'm not quite sure that "Groove Tube" actually gets to the level of some Hotei shredding but the song definitely has a good amount of drive. Written and composed by Flipper's Guitar under their moniker of Double KO Corporation, I think it actually has some influences from not only P5 but also Pet Shop Boys. with the lyrics talking about what seems to be a night out at a cool-as-sin and sexy 60s party. And the video kinda illustrates that...wouldn't be surprised to see Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe there sipping cocktails with a bored look.

"Groove Tube" got as high as No. 22 on Oricon and is also a track on "Doctor Head's World Tower", the duo's 3rd album released in July 1991.

To finish off, I would like to mix in this article's theme of psychedelia and Canadiana with a skit from my dearly beloved "SCTV" comedy show. Here is Dr. Braino as played by the late John Candy.