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 17, 2018

Some Pages to Make You Happy by Commenters

In the last couple of days, I've heard from a couple of commenters about sites that have a good connection with what we always talk about here, so I've decided to let all of you in on the secret.

First off, from Daemonskald who has introduced a couple of reference sites (both of them are in Japanese, though):

This is by a fellow named nabeji who seems to have put up an entire collection of debut singles from the 1960s to the 1980s here. It is categorized by year and kana for the singers. However, if going by the singers, I should warn you that pressing the link will not take you to the debut single by that singer directly but just to the year of his/her debut, so you may need to do some scrolling once you arrive. Quite the labour of love...just like this blog. ☺

Over here, this page is more specific in that it centers on the B-class aidoru who debuted between 1979 and 1986. According to Daemonskald, the list is also useful in that it apparently also provides the various stage names that the singer had taken on, and it also has a full list of singles and albums. The person who created this site may have a very wide view of what makes an aidoru since I also caught sight of Miharu Koshi in the 1979 file, and I've always seen her as a City Pop-turned-technopop chanteuse instead.

Now, secondly, within the last hour or so, Chasing Showa was kind enough to inform me of a couple of playlist sites on Mixcloud where all of us can listen to some of the good stuff.

Tokai by Julie has a goodly dollop of City Pop. I listened to several minutes of it and I was able to hear Rajie, Hi-Fi Set and the like.

Then there is Megane-kun who has his Drink Cold #5 -- Oh! So Vintage which goes into the 1970s kayo represented by Momoe Yamaguchi (in fact, I just wrote about the first song on the playlist), Linda Yamamoto and Candies.

For both fellows, Chasing Showa informs me that their tastes in Japanese music run all over the map, but that's fine with me personally since naturally, I'm all over the map as well with this blog. :)

Anyways, enjoy the bounty and many thanks to Daemonskald and Chasing Showa.

Momoe Yamaguchi -- Tasogare Matsuri(たそがれ祭り)

Ahhh...blessed be the commenters! They have always come up with the hot tips. Chasing Showa sent me some information right now (which I will be sharing in its own article very shortly) about a Mixcloud page of the vintage kayo by someone named Megane-kun.

The first song on the playlist hit me with some Saturday night-friendly piano as part of an old-fashioned kayo/City Poppy number titled "Tasogare Matsuri" (Sunset Festival). And it is sung by none other than Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵)herself. There is always a certain level of joy celebrated by me whenever I initially think that I may soon becoming close to exhausting a veteran singer's worthier part of his/her discography only to discover a new unheard fun number.

"Tasogare Matsuri" is it. Written by Yoko Aki(阿木燿子)and composed by Koji Makaino(馬飼野康二), it is one of the few times that I've observed a song written by Aki that wasn't also composed by her husband Ryudo Uzaki(宇崎竜童). But no problems here since veteran Makaino has whipped up a rollicking beat in a Latin style that is reminiscent of Junko Yagami's(八神純子)"Mizuiro no Ame"(みずいろの雨), an old favourite of mine and one of the first songs that I had written about on the blog. Furthermore, I am also reminded of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" which I believe came out at around the same time.

It may have that Latin spice but instead of the bright lights of Rio, "Tasogare Matsuri" is such that I can only envision the streets of Tokyo as Momoe tackles this one with aplomb. Cherry blossom season is upon the metropolis right now so this would be a nice accompanying track to all of the drunken hilarity in Ueno Park.

One reason that I had never heard of this one before is that the song was never released as a single and except for one album, I don't have anything of a Momoe collection outside of her BEST collections. Instead it made its debut deep within one of Momoe's other BEST compilations (her 8th to be exact), which I don't have, called "The Best: Playback"(THE BEST プレイバック)which came out in June 1978. The original LP peaked at No. 8 on Oricon while the tape cassette did even better by placing at No. 3.

Miki Sato -- Egao kara Hajimemashou(笑顔から始めましょう)

Nice Saturday out there! Finished up two-thirds of a rare weekend translation assignment so now taking it easy in the afternoon.

Found another one of those singers from the bottom 9/10ths of my music iceberg that I've analogized about over the years. Pretty much zero in terms of information about Miki Sato(佐藤美樹)aside from the fact that, according to this site, she released only two albums in 1994.

Still, I like this pop song from her 2nd album "Private Colors" from November of that year. "Egao kara Hajimemashou" (Let's Start from a Smiling Face) has that bubbliness which would almost land the song in the aidoru area. Still, I hear a bit more sophistication in the arrangements so I'm reminded of some of the other chanteuses from around that time such as Eri Hiramatsu(平松愛理)and Miki Imai(今井美樹). Sato and Aki Mana(真名杏樹)wrote the lyrics while Hitoshi Haba(羽場仁志)took care of the melody.

Keep chipping away underwater. You never know what you'll find.

Ko Nakashima - drop

Hi, nikala here. I wouldn't say that I officially retired from blogging, but my life isn't the same as it once used to be to allow me such a luxury. The funny thing that in between all the outings, housework and a taking care of a baby I do listen to a lot of music, Japanese too, that livens up my apartment. It's just that I have no time to actually sit down quietly and write about it. On the plus side, I read articles Kayo Kyoku Plus a few times a week and am very impressed at how much this blog has grown thanks to new collaborators and the expansiveness of Japanese music itself. I'll try to blog here and there without neglecting my real life obligations.

I've noticed that within the past half-decade or so there has been a surge of musicians and singers reviving and modernizing the nostalgic sounds of City Pop: Especia, hitomitoi, Junk Fujiyama, just to name a few. One such artist that particularly impressed me is Ko Nakashima (中島孝), a young singer-songwriter from Saga Perfecture now based in Tokyo. I came across his name in mid-2016 when I read that he shares the same management company as Especia and Suiyobi no Campanella, Bermuda Entertainment Japan. I was led to his Soundcloud page where I listened to a bunch of his songs and became impressed. His approach to modern City Pop contains the right balance of acoustic and digital elements, though his later work has more of the later. The song I'm focusing on, drop, is from that earlier period. It was released in December 2015 as a Tower Records exclusive single and collaboration with an Indonesian City Pop band called ikkubaru (more on them here). A lovely song right here, with that really urban mood in the verses and the indie rock treatment in the refrain and especially the bridge. Not sure what the lyrics are about, but I welcome the introspective mood especially with Nakashima's soft and emotive voice.

From what I gather from his Facebook page and this Rooftop article, he got his start in 2010 under the pen-name Nakakoh and released several independent EPs before switching to his current name in 2015 and moving to Bermuda. You can pretty much listen to his entire discography on Soundcloud. As of late 2016, he also has been working as part of a synthpop group called INDEEA that includes members of another City Pop backup band Hi-Fi City.

Friday, March 16, 2018

KEDGE -- Complete Samples

Keiichi Tomita(冨田恵一), aka Tomita Lab(冨田ラボ), is a name that I've learned to keep an eye on whenever he's involved in any songs since discovering his 2003 release "Shipbuilding". I've grown to love the album because of the mellow groove that seems to course through a lot of the tracks like a long string, especially the cafe-worthy "Nemuri no Mori"(眠りの森)with Hanaregumi(ハナレグミ).

Now, "Shipbuilding" was actually his 2nd album although it was his first under the name of Tomita Lab, and "Nemuri no Mori" was his very first single. However, Tomita's very first album was released all the way back in March 1988 and it was titled "Complete Samples". Actually, I shouldn't say that it was merely composer Tomita behind the project since he was part of a duo named KEDGE with singer-lyricist Naoko Sugimoto(杉本直子).

Happily enough, I came upon three tracks from "Complete Samples" (so, no, not complete) on YouTube, and I'm quite impressed. The first track I heard was "Chime" which is indeed the first track of the album. And the sound is quite 80s technopop with a bit more stress on the pop aspect, but wow, Tomita Lab sure was different back then. "Chime" is catchy, and all of a sudden, I've got vibes of early 80s Akiko Yano(矢野顕子), Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)and Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一). For longtime readers of the blog, you know how much I love those three, and here is KEDGE giving a pretty good melodic shoutout to them. Plus, Sugimoto kinda reminds me of Mari Iijima(飯島真理).

Then comes "Narcisse" which continues the funky and quirky technopop. In fact, I think the arrangement here reminds me somewhat of the urban contemporary side of the Manhattan Transfer from the late 70s into the early 80s. Gleaming glass towers come to mind. I've only started to listen and appreciate KEDGE but there are similarities and differences that I'm starting to pick up on between it and another technopop band of that time period, PSY-S.

"Sostenuto"(ソステヌート)is another revelation in that Sugimoto takes on a delivery that reminds me of mid-80s Miharu Koshi(コシミハル)when she splashed into her own technopop phase. And then there's that music. Tomita's melody actually had the hairs on the back of my neck and arms standing up; it is that amazing, especially during the refrain. It is technopoppy, romantic, old-fashioned and bossa-friendly all at the same time.

The album is one of the rarest of the rare. "Complete Samples" can be found on Amazon but you may want to have a tissue handy since the price may induce a nosebleed! Someday, hopefully, it will get the remastering treatment.

Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi -- Junrenka(巡恋歌)

I was reading about veteran singer-songwriter Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi(長渕剛)who I first got to know through the songbook at Kuri, my old karaoke haunt back in my university days. There were quite a few tipsy and warbling customers who loved to croon "Kanpai"(乾杯)and "Tonbo"(とんぼ)in the lounge over a beer or a scotch. By the time I actually got to see him perform on TV in Japan, he gave me the impression of being one of the toughest-looking singing dudes with his crew cut and beefed-up physique. What furthered that image was his appearances in J-Dramas as gangsters or suffer-no-fools detectives.

So it was with some surprise on realizing that when he started his career from the early 1970s, he was this long-haired and skinny sort in a leisure suit. Furthermore, according to the Wikipedia write-up about him, he paid some pretty hard dues along the way when he was performing at some late-night venues and he got booed and had bottles thrown at him. So I think the toughening up part had already begun on the inside.

When I was reading up his biography at both Wikipedia and J-Wiki, I was a bit confused about his debut single since apparently, there were two of them. It took a look at the English side of things to figure out that at least to Nagabuchi, his official debut was in October 1978 with "Junrenka", a Take Two of sorts since he wanted to disown his original debut of "Ame no Arashiyama"(雨の嵐山...Arashiyama Rain)the year before because he so hated the arrangement that he felt was too close to enka. I will definitely have to cover that song then in the near future....not because I want to troll the fellow (I am not going to go up against a guy that solidly built) but because I am genuinely curious.

As for "Junrenka", the term doesn't seem to exist officially in the dictionaries but from reading Nagabuchi's lyrics, I gather that the translation can be "Roundabout Love Song". He seems to be singing from the woman's point of view; the woman is complaining that she just can't find Mr. Right because she always finds some sort of insincerity in terms of love within the men that she's dated.

Listening to Nagabuchi's music, it's definitely not enka but a pretty rousing folk with the guitar and harmonica. And when putting together the lyrical content and the music, I could imagine that "Junrenka" could also be a number that Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき)would have performed.

I also discovered through reading the J-Wiki article for "Junrenka" that he was obviously quite proud of his re-debut single since the footnote source was given in a 1981 book, "Orera no Tabi wa Highway"(俺らの旅はハイウェイ...Our Trip is the Highway)in a section called "Jishinsaku 'Junrenka'"(自信作「巡恋歌」...My Pride -- Junrenka). One of the pieces of information there revealed that the Yamaha Music Foundation which had gotten a demo tape of "Junrenka" contacted Nagabuchi to suggest that one of their up-and-coming aidoru could sing it as her debut single to which the singer replied, "I haven't even made my debut yet...I want to sing it!" Yamaha acquiesced and recommended Nagabuchi to enter the Yamaha Popular Song Contest once more (he had done so with "Ame no Arashiyama"). He ended up winning the Kyushu championship and was nominated within the final selection. After receiving some rave reviews, his Take Two took place with Toshiba EMI. Sounds like just the story for an NHK biography.

As it was, "Junrenka" only got as high as No. 173 on Oricon. However, the album that it was placed on, "Kaze wa Minami kara"(風は南から...The Wind is from the South)which came out in March 1979 ranked far higher at No. 15, and from looking at the recent video above, "Junrenka" seems to be a concert favourite.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Keizo Nakanishi -- Diamond Rain(ダイヤモンド・レイン)

As a lot of the readers for the blog have probably figured out, I have a pretty wide spectrum of singers and songs that I like. However, there are few artists whose general body of work have provided joy. I mean, every singer or band that has been covered on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" have given joyful songs but I can count on one hand the number of performers whose discography I usually equate with that happy emotion. Kohmi Hirose(広瀬香美), Sing Like Talking and PSY-S are on three of my fingers.

The one other finger has Keizo Nakanishi(中西圭三)on it. Of course, he has done melancholy ballads in his career but generally speaking, when I think of this singer-songwriter, his works provide a fine cheer-up. Case in point, this track from his 2nd album "Yell" (March 1992) titled "Diamond Rain".

It was never placed on the BEST compilation that I have for him, "Singles", and that's too bad. It simply comes across as one gloriously happy tune...which is ironic, since Masao Urino's(売野雅勇)lyrics have Nakanishi singing about the woman who not only got away but sent the poor fellow an invitation to her wedding. I don't think this is a consolation prize. Thank heavens I'm more of a melody guy to begin with. And believe me, I tend to believe in the joyful music with the happy soul and horns along with Keizo's great voice.  He and Takao Konishi(小西貴雄)were responsible for that.

"Yell" peaked at No. 4 on Oricon.