Credits

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.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Top 10 Albums in Oricon History

1.  Hikaru Utada                       First Love                      7.7 million     1999
2.  B'z                                       B'z The Best "Pleasure" 5.1 million     1998
3.  GLAY                                 Review-Best of GLAY   4.8 million     1997
4.  Hikaru Utada                      Distance                          4.5 million     2001
5.  B'z                                       B'z The Best "Treasure" 4.4 million     1998
6.  Ayumi Hamasaki                A BEST                           4.3 million     2001
7.  globe                                   globe                               4.1 million     1996
8.  Hikaru Utada                      Deep River                      3.6 million     2002
9.  Mai Kuraki                         Delicious Way                 3.5 million     2000
10. Southern All Stars             Umi no Yeah!!                 3.5 million     1998



Yuko Asano -- Hanbun Aishite (半分愛して)



I've seen Yuko Asano(浅野ゆう子)mostly as an actress and as a regular presence on commercials so it was pretty surprising to hear her singing something like this. I mean, I've already written on a couple of songs from her early aidoru period that I had already been aware about through all sorts of retrospectives on TV.

But little did I know that she even tackled the smooth sounds of City Pop/J-AOR which her 17th single "Hanbun Aishite" (Love Me By Half) falls solidly into. Released in 1980, Asano channels Junko Yagami(八神純子)very well through this song penned by lyricist Chinfa Kan(康珍化)and composer Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)who are veterans at the genre. Had no idea that she could croon a tune like this. It makes for a nice evening down by Tokyo Bay. I can only wonder what other City Pop delights she came up with at the time.


Keizo Nakanishi -- Eien no Namae (永遠の名前)


I haven't heard much from songsmith Keizo Nakanishi(中西圭三)although I have heard that he's still out there performing. However, I think his best days were in the 1990s and so I'm happy that I've got what I think is his best work with his 4th album "Starting Over" from March 1994 which I had a chance to write about back in 2013.


One of the tracks from "Starting Over" that I didn't get to talk about at that time was "Eien no Namae" (Eternal Name). It's not particularly a ballad nor is it a really uptempo tune; it's just a simple mid-tempo love song. But although it probably won't go down as one of the most notable examples of Nakanishi's discography, his vocals and the calming arrangement by Shingo Kobayashi(小林信吾)still make it a very pleasant song to listen to.

Kanata Asamizu(朝水彼方)provided the lyrics while Nakanishi came up with the music which has that feeling of springtime...something that a lot of us here are still waiting for although the season has officially been here for almost a week.

Momoe Yamaguchi -- Shinayaka ni Utatte (しなやかに歌って)


"Shinayaka ni Utatte" (Sing Delicately) was Momoe Yamaguchi's(山口百恵)27th single released in September 1979, and for those who know about the singer's discography throughout the 1970s, the latter half of the decade had her singing some more muscular songs as a jaded take-no-prisoners woman who plays men like a Stradivarius a la "Imitation Gold". "Shinayaka ni Utatte" was indeed created by the husband-and-wife team of Ryudo Uzaki and Yoko Aki(宇崎竜童・阿木燿子)who had been behind those very songs.


And yet, "Shinayaka ni Utatte" was quite a different animal. It didn't have any of those urgent strings or wailing electric guitar, the song came across to me as being quite Hawaiian in feeling; more relaxing and rhythmical like a hula dance for a Don Ho ballad rather than speeding and screaming like a Ferrari being driven by a scorned woman. However, Aki's lyrics still related the story of lost love and the woman trying to get over the end of the romance. Perhaps it's rather indicative of the times that one of the lyrics describes the lass putting on a pair of roller skates and scooting down the road...maybe she'll hit a disco later that night to boogie.


I've gotta make a slight detour over here and talk about that adverb in the title shinayaka ni. I looked it up at jisho.org and I got definitions such as flexibly and elastically. But I wasn't sure whether either of those words would be appropriate as the translation. At the same time, though, there was the word delicately, which I still don't think is ultimately the best word but perhaps it is the best I can do for now.

Still, the Uzaki-Aki-Yamaguchi collaboration was another relative success although "Shinayaka ni Utatte" didn't hit the big heights like its tougher cousins. It peaked at No. 8 on Oricon and won a Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards before finishing the year as the 55th-ranked single as it was also placed as a track on Momoe's 19th album "Harutsugedori"(春告鳥...Bush Warbler)which peaked at No. 5. The song also got Yamaguchi an invitation for her final of 6 straight appearances on the Kohaku Utagassen.

Not sure whether the song was meant to come out just before this particular earth-shattering announcement by Yamaguchi, but just several weeks after "Shinayaka ni Utatte" had been released, the singer announced her relationship with actor Tomokazu Miura(三浦友和)which probably broke a lot of hearts out there in the fandom. I could imagine that many of them took those lyrics and swallowed them repeatedly. Of course, the following year, Yamaguchi and Miura would marry and the former would retire for good.


Here is Okinawan singer Rimi Natsukawa(夏川りみ)with her cover of "Shinayaka ni Utatte".

Thursday, March 23, 2017

w-inds -- Forever Memories


Last month, Marcos V. wrote the blog's first entry for w-inds, "LOVE IS THE GREATEST THING", and I just went "Well, that's a name I haven't heard in a long time!"

Like Marcos, I was never a fan of the aidoru group but I do remember their debut single back when it was released in March 2001, "Forever Memories". Well, actually, I didn't remember the title but there was the original music video which had lead vocalist Keita Tachibana(橘慶太)sing in that really cute high voice. I had to wonder how old the lad was, and frankly speaking, for the first couple of times that I had the seen the video, I was rather stuck on whether I was watching a boy or a tomboy.

It didn't help that the song which was written and composed by Hiroaki Hayama(葉山拓亮)sounded just as cute (and I have to admit that I didn't recollect hearing a soprano sax in a turn-of-the-century aidoru tune then or since) . "Forever Memories" sounded as if it had been made for the elementary school set although Tachibana and his two bandmates Ryohei Chiba(千葉涼平)and Ryuichi Ogata(緒方龍一)could bust a move like the folks at SMAP and Arashi(嵐). But w-inds was never a Johnny's group; it belonged to Rising Production.


"Forever Memories" made it all the way up to No. 12 on Oricon and ended up as the 91st-ranked song for 2001. It was also a track on w-inds' debut album "w-inds.〜1st message〜" which had been released in December of that year and hit the top spot on the charts.


Yumi Seino -- Katamuku (傾く)


I've seen this singer Yumi Seino(清野由美)on YouTube for the past number of months but did not notice her within the pages of "Japanese City Pop". And although she's not profiled on J-Wiki, she has received some acknowledgement on a Japanese-language music blog that I've referred to in the past, "Music Avenue". Even the writer there has stated that considering her low profile, it would be surprising if any of her presumably 3 albums ever got converted to CD. Well, that article was written over 10 years ago, and apparently someone in the recording industry had a heart and did have at least two of the albums turned into CDs according to what I saw at CD Japan.


For that "Music Avenue" blog entry, the writer kaz-shin mentioned that the first album "U-TA-GE" which came out in 1981 had a sound reminiscent of Akira Terao's(寺尾聡)City Pop classic "Reflections". However, with today's article, I'm going with a track from Seino's 3rd album "Continental" titled "Katamuku" (Leaning In) which was written by Masami Sugiyama(杉山政美)and composed by Seino herself.

Released in January 1983, I found out on another page which gave a short review of the album that her sound had changed. And listening to "Katamuku", I did get the impression that although that City Pop feeling was there, there was also some of that blippity-bloppity technopop sound so my overall impression of the song was something closer to Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)poppier tunes from around the same time. Maybe there is even a certain amount of EPO tossed in as well.

Also listening to "Katamuku", I wasn't quite sure whether the YouTube video had gotten a good recording especially with the saxophone solo which sounded kinda wobbly. It almost sounded like something from a weird dreamy burlesque show directed by David Bowie. Basically, I could compare the version I've heard here to pineapple on pizza....I can take it just fine (I fully realize that others won't go near the stuff) but there's something a tad odd about a fruit so tangy sweet on an Italian classic. For the record, my favourite slice is pepperoni, although at Pizza Hut, I always like to grab a Meat Lovers'.

I would be interested in getting "Continental" someday in the near future just to listen to it as originally recorded. As for that matter, I want to get that debut album by Seino as well since that reportedly hewed toward the full City Pop. And frankly, if it has been compared to "Reflections", then it has gotten my attention.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

RAMU -- Rainy Night Lady


My friend and collaborator JTM wrote an article a few years ago on the band RAMU (ラ・ムー) and their song "Shonen wa Tenshi wo Korosu"(少年は天使を殺す). He did a great job in talking about the overall amorphous nature of a group that had a mid-80s aidoru in the form of Momoko Kikuchi(菊池桃子)providing vocals with Yoshikazu Matsuura(松浦義和)and Nozomu Nakanishi(中西望)from the fusion group Prism (プリズム) coming in as keyboardist and drummer respectively along with another guitarist and two backup singers. Was RAMU going for a rock sound or was it trying for something R&B? Perhaps it was going for a taste of both via fusion or maybe even late-decade City Pop.


The first time I saw RAMU was on an episode of "The Best 10" when they appeared to perform the aforementioned "Shonen wa Tenshi wo Korosu" presumably (my memory is a bit fuzzy but since JTM had remarked that the song was their only bona fide hit, I'm making that assumption). Although I certainly didn't have the insights back then that JTM had when he wrote about the song in the blog, I do remember that I was pretty intrigued seeing Miss "Say Yes!" Kikuchi in some pretty slinky clothing singing something that was definitively non-aidoru. I couldn't quite categorize what I was hearing though. So, by the end of the performance, I was going "Uhhh..."

Listening to "Rainy Night Lady" which was the first track on RAMU's only album from September 1988, "Thanks Giving", I can say that I've got a better handle on the music now than when I was still a pretty callow guy of the 1980s. Still, even though the band has been categorized on J-Wiki as a rock group, "Rainy Night Lady" isn't a rock song by my definition. It's perhaps closer to the mellow urban material that Omega Tribe (オメガトライブ) was singing at the time, and that's not too surprising since it was composed by Tsunehiro Izumi(和泉常寛), who helped out in making two hits for that band, "Kimi wa 1000%"(君は1000%)and "Aquamarine no Mama de ite"(アクアマリンのままでいて)with Shun Taguchi(田口俊)providing lyrics.


I guess the best way to describe it is imagining Momoko taking the place of Anri(杏里)in one of her 80s songs. Having an aidoru like her with those high-tone vocals fronting RAMU might seem a bit odd but from working on this blog over the past 5 years, I have realized to my surprise that the singer had been performing City Pop-like tunes for her albums when she was an aidoru in contrast with those aidoru singles that she sang on the music shows. Perhaps recruiting her into RAMU may not have been completely out of left field.

I don't know how "Thanks Giving" did on the charts although I can imagine that it did get somewhere on the charts due to Momoko's fame. Still, RAMU had a short shelf life and perhaps acquiring that lone album would be quite interesting for an 80s Japanese music guy like myself just to hear what they were trying to accomplish musically.