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.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hiroshi Itsuki/Keiko Fuji -- Nagasaki kara Fune ni Notte (長崎から船に乗って)

It's been quite the while since I put up an article having to do with either Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし)or the late Keiko Fuji(藤圭子), and I was feeling somewhat enka-ish on this Sunday. Mind you, although Itsuki's single "Nagasaki kara Fune ni Notte" (Getting on the Ship from Nagasaki) is listed as an enka tune on J-Wiki, I think that "modern" drumwork, that city beat in the rhythm, and the "daba daba" chorus make it closer to a Mood Kayo or even a pop kayo.

Released in August 1971, this was Itsuki's follow-up single after his breakthrough blockbuster of "Yokohama Tasogare" (よこはま・たそがれ) which had been released almost half a year earlier. The same duo for that hit, Masaaki Hirao and Yoko Yamaguchi(平尾昌晃・山口洋子), was also responsible in the creation of "Nagasaki kara Fune ni Notte". It might be due to how legendary and how often "Yokohama Tasogare" has been sung by the suave singer, but "Nagasaki kara Fune ni Notte" has more of a workman-like and down-at-home musical feeling to it in comparison. Yamaguchi's lyrics talk about a love-'em-&-leave-'em cad who dumps the women as smoothly as he woos them as he makes his way from port to port. Even Yokohama gets another reference in the song. In any case, the ballad seems to have the jerk treating his romances like any old set of business trips over the year.

I've only heard the song a few times but the way that Itsuki delivers it makes it sound like he's a barfly storyteller or even the Don Juan himself several years later, now filled with regret. "Nagasaki" may not be as well remembered as "Yokohama" but after its release, it did peak at No. 4 on Oricon.

Keiko Fuji did a cover of "Nagasaki" in her own inimical style although I don't know when her version was first released. The arrangement of the song is very similar even down to the chorus but with her singing it, I sensed that she could be taking on the role of one of the cad's victims, angrily but resignedly telling her side of the story.

TUBE -- Natsu wo Dakishimete (夏を抱きしめて)

I figured I should do an article on a summer song since we are dead in the middle of the sizzling season. And I'm going with a song by none other than TUBE, the band whose name immediately brings summer to mind. 

I'd say that I'm only briefly acquainted with TUBE. I see some of their works that scream sun, sand and surf, often on 80's and 90's hit medleys but while I'm fine with the songs, none really caught my attention like "Natsu wo Dakishimete" did.

Rather than on one of the aforementioned medleys, I first came across "Natsu wo Dakishimete" while on a plane ride home not too long ago - from Taiwan, I think - as I browsed the 90's J-pop compilation album. Expecting something on the line of "Ah~ Natsu Yasumi" (あ~夏休み), which is what I know TUBE most for, I was surprised to hear something that was more to my taste and I ended up playing it on repeat throughout the rest of the journey. By the way, it's not to say that the former isn't a nice song; it is, but thus far I'm just not a big fan of it.

That's as summer as you can get: TUBE singing this in Hawaii.

Anyway, I'd compare "Natsu wo Dakishimete" the cool sea breeze blowing across a sunny beach. It's gentle at the beginning - just enough to make one's hair billow slightly - as heard by just the acoustic guitar, the tinkling synths, and Nobuteru Maeda's (前田亘輝) subdued delivery. But then the moment the music kicks it up a notch after the first chorus, it's as if the wind has picked up, making even the coconut trees sway vigorously. That's from the electric guitar roaring, and Maeda's voice returns to its bullhorn-like volume. I very much enjoy having it blasting away at a high volume. Somehow I find that comfortable. Perhaps it reminds me of the good times I had when I went cycling by the beach on my day off... The wind was usually blowing against me which made me pedal harder, but at least I've got that to cool me down.

"Natsu wo Dakishimete" was written by Maeda himself and composed by Michiya Haruhata (春畑道哉), one of TUBE's guitarists. Released on 11th May 1994, the song did well, peaking at 1st place on the Oricon weeklies and settling at 21st by the end of the year. Eventually it also became a million-seller, having over 1.05 million copies sold. "Natsu wo Dakishimete" was also used as a commercial song for the Toyota COROLLA CERES. I bet the CM had the car cruising by the sea/beach as the song played.

Top 10 Albums of 2006

1.  Ken Hirai            Ken Hirai 10th Anniversary Complete Single Collection '95-'05
2.  Kumi Koda                         BEST~Second Session~
3.  Kobukuro                           All Singles Best
4.  Def Tech                             Catch The Wave
5.  B'z                                      B'z The Best "Pleasure II"
6.  Mika Nakashima                BEST
7.  Hikaru Utada                     Ultra Blue
8.  Ayumi Hamasaki               (miss)understood
9.  Kobukuro                           Nameless World
10. Ai Otsuka                          Love Cook

Leon Jessel -- The Parade of the Tin Soldiers (おもちゃの兵隊のマーチ)

Ah, look at that okonomiyaki frying away there. I took that photo at Chibo, a restaurant way up the Ebisu Garden Place, back in late 2014. That was my second dinner during my trip back to Tokyo. The okonomiyaki had all the typical toppings: wavy bonito flakes with a collective mind of their own, tangy sauce, and nori powder. And before I forget, there were the streaks of whole-egg mayonnaise. In all likelihood, that mayonnaise was by the famed Kewpie Corporation, the one with the logo of the cute baby wanting a hug.

About 6 weeks ago, I did an article focusing on the theme song of a venerable cooking show on NHK called "Kyo no Ryori"(今日の料理)by the late Isao Tomita(冨田勲). That was and still is quite the long-running theme tune, but there has also been another theme song for yet another decades-old cooking program on Japanese TV, "Kewpie San-pun Cooking" (the segue is now complete), on NTV. That staccato organ riff in the intro probably has reached partial earworm status as well.

However, unlike the Tomita theme for "Kyo no Ryori", the theme for "Kewpie San-pun Cooking"(キユーピー3分クッキング...Kewpie 3-Minute Cooking)had a distinctly foreign origin.

It was actually a marching tune that was created all the way back in 1897 (our third-oldest year listed on "Kayo Kyoku Plus") by German composer Leon Jessel titled "The Parade of the Tin Soldiers" or as it was translated in Japanese, "Omocha no Heitai no March". I kinda figured that the song had a Xmas toy sort of feeling to it, but instead in Japan, it has become the tune representing all things culinary instead of military.

One of the questions that I had about the show was that although the title refers to 3-minute cooking, the actual program is 10 minutes or more than 3 times the original length that the title boasts. It rather reminds me of the fact that the American sitcom "MASH" lasted 3 times longer than the actual Korean War where the show was set. Well, according to the J-Wiki article on the show, "San-pun Cooking" had originally been scheduled for a 5-minute slot in which the actual cooking took place within 3 of those minutes. I could only imagine that the incidence for nervous breakdowns was probably higher for all involved during those early days. The NTV show, by the way, premiered in January 1963.

And gosh darn it, the powers-that-be just had to do something cute one day by having aidoru group Momoiro Clover Z(ももいろクローバーZ)do a guest cameo in the opening and ending credits for one show.

Finally to add further risk of diabetes, here is Miku Hatsune's(初音ミク)version of the theme.

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki at Ks

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Anzen Chitai -- (VIII) Taiyo (太陽)

Good ol' stark black & white for dramatic effect! That was my initial reaction to the cover of Anzen Chitai's(安全地帯)8th album, "Taiyo" (Sun) when I first bought it back in 1991. Since it was released at the end of the year in December, it was through "Eye-Ai" here in Toronto instead of purchasing it from the local CD shop in Japan. Considering the money and trouble to pay for an overseas album to come over to my home, there was perhaps a risk in making the purchase since I hadn't been too impressed with the band's previous album "Yume no Miyako"(夢の都...The Capital of Dreams). My thought after getting that album was that Anzen Chitai had passed its best-by date. Yeah, I know...Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)has got those amazing vocals but at the time, album VII simply didn't have it for me.

(cover version)

Hopes were definitely raised, though, when I placed VIII into the CD player. That first track "1991-nen kara no Keikoku"(1991年からの警告...A Warning From 1991)had a lot of that old Anzen Chitai sound that I was missing since their huge album "IV" from 1985. Ah, the boys were back. And it was great that they put the sound to work on a pretty moody and dramatic song about being alone against all of the horrors of the news. Plus, Tamaki put another spectacular show with that voice of his. Still, the song has taken some deeper meaning to me when I think about this summer's terrible incidents in the United States and Europe.

Tamaki and longtime songwriting partner Goro Matsui(松井五郎)were responsible for all of the songs on "Taiyo" including the title track. Thinking back on the overall sound of the album, I guess I could say that album No. 8 had an updated version of that sound from the early releases by Anzen Chitai up to "IV". The song "Taiyo" had that sound with an extra layer of Spanish guitars to create something that had me imagining traveling over a savannah. In addition, Tamaki's yell at the beginning could have him instantly cast as one of the cast in "The Lion King".

The band's 21st single "Itsumo Kimi no Soba ni"(いつも君のそばに...Always By Your Side)which came out a month before the album is also here as the crown jewel. And speaking about Anzen Chitai getting back to basics, this love ballad is definitely reminiscent of another previous hit from the aforementioned "IV", "Kanashimi ni Sayonara"(悲しみにさよなら....Goodbye to Sorrow).

The single was also used as the campaign song for a Toyota commercial back then. There's nothing like a soaring Tamaki delivery to lift everyone and everything up. I'n not sure how "Itsumo Kimi no Soba ni" did on Oricon, though.

My final track here is "John ga Kureta Guitar"(ジョンがくれたGUITAR...A Guitar From John), a good ol' jam session-friendly song that dispels all of the urban atmospherics that Anzen Chitai was famous for. It just sounds like Koji and the guys getting together around the campfire to have a fun time talking about a beloved guitar which is now in the display window of some shop while the former owner reminisces happily about it. That video above has the band going full throttle on the song, especially Koji who must have had a double cappuccino before hitting the stage. But no complaints here...a happy Koji is a happy audience.

"Taiyo" managed to break into the Top 10 by peaking at No. 7. Nope, perhaps it wasn't like the old days back in the 1980s but I was happy to get the album as an old Anzen Chitai fan. However, No. 8 is the final album of the band that I've gotten to date. At my sister-in-law's request, I bought their 10th album and brought it over to Canada as a Xmas present several years ago, but her reaction to it was an unqualified meh. I guess for me, the band will always remind me of their heyday during my university years.

(excerpts only)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bread & Butter/Tatsuro Yamashita/Hiroko Mita -- Pink Shadow (ピンクシャドウ)

Some of my radio memories as a kid during the 1970s involved some of that mellow pop sung by artists such as Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon. I believe the music was a concoction of some Latin and some funk mixed in with that AOR. Of course at that time, I had no idea that it seemed as if a number of singers over in Japan were also interested in that sound. And I think it was that sound that fit into the genre of New Music...original Western melodies paired with Japanese lyrics created by Japanese singer-songwriters during that same decade.

It was those singers from my childhood that came to mind when I encountered the 9th single of the band Bread & Butter (ブレッド&バター), "Pink Shadow". Released in September 1974, the Brothers Iwasawa, Satsuya and Fuyumi(岩沢幸矢・岩沢二弓), created this lightly funky pop song about a couple waltzing over a pink-chalk outline that the girl had drawn on the ground of her devoted beau. Ah...young lovers...they will do just about anything, won't they?

At this point, I've known most of their stuff thus far from their more City Pop material of the late 1970s, but even listening to this song from Bread & Butter, I could imagine where the Iwasawas were heading...and that place had plenty of Perrier and beach umbrellas. Plus, at the same time, I can even hear a bit of Billy Joel in there as well.

Four years later, one of the other kings of New Music and then City Pop, Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)covered "Pink Shadow" in his first live album "It's A Poppin' Time". The version I hear in the video above has got a faster tempo and energy to it, but according to some of the comments on YouTube, the album version is different.

Here is a performance of "Pink Shadow" by Bread & Butter.

To wrap up, I was surprised to find out that aidoru Hiroko Mita(三田寛子)provided her own even funkier version for her 2nd album "Melancholy Colour" (メランコリー・カラー) from November 1982. Though her vocals still strike me as being cutely aidoru, the arrangement of the song (including dancing sax, though I could have done without the "pink, pink, pink" by the backup singers) makes me wonder whether Mita was actually not marketed as an aidoru right from the beginning. Her J-Wiki profile has her listed as just singer so maybe I've had her pegged wrong.

Kumi Showji with Chikuzen Sato -- Neverfading Love

Kumi Showji(障子久美)is a singer-songwriter from Shiga Prefecture whose name and visage I've seen in the pages of "Nihon no Josei Singer-Songwriter"(日本の女性シンガー・ソングライター...Japan's Female Singer-Songwriters)a few times but I never bothered to find out any of her material. But then, I came across this soulful little ballad with her and Sing Like Talking's Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善)called "Neverfading Love".

A track on her 5th album, "Scope of Soul" from 1993, I realized that I will always be a sucker for that urban contemporary/jazz arrangement, and when you have such nice vocals by Showji and Sato...well, perhaps it's time to give some of her YouTube videos more of a look-see. From what I've seen of her J-Wiki profile, Showji, who also wrote and composed "Neverfading Love", was mostly active in the 1990s, releasing 8 original albums and 7 singles.