I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube, Oricon charts are courtesy of and my research is translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Fuyumi Sakamoto -- Otoko no Hi Matsuri (男の火祭り)

What I've come to like about Fuyumi Sakamoto (坂本冬美) is that she can be elegant and genteel, and at the same time able to pull off aggressive and macho songs with that voice of hers that can turn from mellow crooning to forceful growling at the drop of a hat, like when she sang Muchi's "Osho" (王将) during last year's "Osaka Melody". Not going to lie, I was expecting a manly man to sing it, but Sakamoto's rendition left me thoroughly impressed. That reminds me, I wonder if NHK will air another round of the "Osaka Melody" this year. If they are, I hope someone sings "Juso no Yoru" (十三の夜)!

Anyway, Sakamoto has got a couple of songs in her own repertoire that show off her tough side, for instance, "Otoko no Hi Matsuri" (Man's Fire Festival), which is also one of those festival-based enka I enjoy listening to. The thumping of the taiko, the electric guitar revving away, it's actually not far something that Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし) would belt out, all that's missing is the shamisen. But there is still a feminine touch to this masculine tune, probably from the strings and the acoustic guitar. This was composed by singer-songwriter Masato Sugimoto (杉本真人).

As seen in the title, "Otoko no Hi Matsuri" centers around the Fire Festival, but as to which one of the many variations , I'm not too sure. Takashi Taka's (たかたかし) lyrics don't seem to give me a clear idea about the exact Fire Festival being sung about, so I wonder if he's just writing about the festivals that involve fire in general. A number of prefectures hold their own Fire Festivals at different times of the year, and prefectures can have more than one of these festivals. From what I've been seeing, they each have their own reasons for it, though something is bound to be set on fire, that's for sure, be it massive torches, wooden shrines with people on it - don't worry, I think those poor fellas get off the structure first before the others actually viciously burn it to the ground - or just trees.

All this talk about fire and things being set on fire brings back hilarious memories from my mildly dysfunctional Chinese language class from secondary 3/grade 9 where a classmate of mine's signature answer for every scenario imaginable was "It/he/she explodes/exploded." It got to the point where my teacher (who had remarkable patience and humour) banned him from saying the word explode, and so the classmate switched from "explode" to "catch fire". From then on everything was "on fire" or "caught fire". My teacher gave up. Ah, it was moments like these that made me forget about how much I hated learning the language. In fact, it actually made me do pretty well by the end of that year... and then I got dropped into the supposedly better Chinese class on the next year. Think of this situation like putting a minnow into pool filled with barracudas being ruled by a tiger shark. I was the unfortunate minnow. Quite terrible, I can tell you that.

Okay, coming back to the main topic, "Otoko no Hi Matsuri" was released as Sakamoto's 42nd single on 2nd October 2013, and apparently, it was her first single in 5 years that's an enka song. It did well on the regular Oricon charts, peaking at 31st position, and she sang it twice on her recent appearances on the Kohaku (2013 and 2014). I remember watching that performance on the Kohaku last year (it feels good to finally be able to say that!), and if my memory serves, she wore a pair of black high-heeled boots with a stylish red kimono. The first person that came to mind was Akina Nakamori (中森明菜) since she wore a similar-looking outfit when she sang "DESIRE" back in the 80's.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Koji Tamaki -- Suna no Machi (砂の街)

After listening to Koji Tamaki's(玉置浩二)"Roman"(ロマン)on his 1993 album, "Akogare"(あこがれ), it was just about enough to grab a few tissues from the box and dab the eyes. So I was rather glad that the following track from the album was a good bit lighter and more wistful. This was "Suna no Machi" (The Streets of Sand) which was written by Akira Sudo(:須藤晃)and composed by Tamaki himself..

If Tamaki had been born a few decades earlier, he probably would have become a fine balladeer of standards in some nighttime joint in the metropolis. He was able to craft "Suna no Machi" to sound like some Parisian tune that Charles Aznavour could have tackled with the whistling, all those wonderful shimmery strings and that lonesome trombone near the end. Akira Sudo took care of the lyrics about searching for that lost significant other in the big, big city. I kinda wonder if Tamaki took a walk down the Champs-Elysees at night to get that inspiration.

The above video is a cover version done by rejector1000 who does a pretty good job at Tamaki's distinctive vocals. Plus I like the imagery.

Off-Course -- Shio no Kaori (潮の香り)

Man, the gems you re-discover after so many years. During my time in Gunma, I bought a quartet of Off-Course(オフコース)CDs, each a compilation that has some connection with a season. I pulled out the one representing summer and put it into the player. I was pleasantly surprised at some of the really lovely tunes that had never been released as singles by Kazumasa Oda's(小田和正)old band. And there was quite some variety in the tunes as well as they ranged from Folk to J-AOR to Rock.

But I wanted to feature this one particular number that was not only on the summer compilation but was also originally on Off-Course's 5th album from September 1977, "Junktion". The track is called "Shio no Kaori" (Fragrance of the Sea), and it's this wonderfully comfortably breezy number sung, written and composed by band guitarist Yasuhiro Suzuki(鈴木康博). This is the sort of song that I would like to hear while driving down the highway from Tokyo to Shonan sometime in the late summer. While listening to the entire compilation today, I noticed that Off-Course over the years took in a number of influences from what sounded like Santana, The Doobie Brothers and perhaps even Yes. With "Shio no Kaori", I thought there was a bit of Santana and perhaps even some late 70s Billy Joel.

I'm hoping the video stays up for a while at least. The uploader said that it's an excerpt from a live performance of Off Course in 1977. The first song performed is "Shio no Kaori" but it sounds like Oda is singing here rather than Suzuki. As for "Junktion", it peaked at No. 21 on the Oricon album charts, and it also has one of my very favourite Off-Course ballads, "Aki no Kehai"(秋の気配).

The coast by Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Miki Imai -- Caribbean Blue no Yoake (カリビアン・ブルーの夜明け)

I hadn't realized it's been quite a while since I put up my most recent Miki Imai(今井美樹)article. Of course, I've been covering a lot of her big hits over the years but there have been some non-hit non-official singles that have also stayed in my mind as well.

Case in point: "Caribbean Blue no Yoake" (Caribbean Blue Sunrise) from her 1988 album, "Bewith". I first came across this song on one of her concert videos that I have on VHS, and as Imai scampered all over the stage, I kept hearing one of Masami Tozawa's(戸沢暢美)lyrics which went "I'm a hurricane". It was rather ironic since I could never imagine the sylph-like figure of Imai approaching anywhere near even a Cat.1. Still, the lyric embedded itself into my long-term memory all these years. Plus, despite the somewhat now-cheesy-sounding synths, the music by Hideya Nakazaki(中崎英也)still has its Latin charms and has been a nice reminder about how the Imai tunes sounded way back when.

This may have been the excerpt from the video but I can't be certain since it's been such a long time since I popped this one in the ol' top loader. But I gotta admit that Imai looks rather quaint in that sparkly form of Spanx. As for "Bewith", her 3rd album reached No. 1 and it also has one of my favourites, "Natsu wo Kasanete"(夏をかさねて).

Hideko Takamine/Hibari Misora/Yosui Inoue -- Ginza Kankan Musume (銀座カンカン娘)

Less than an hour ago, I was watching the latest episode of NHK's "Nodo Jiman"(のど自慢)singing contest show which had guests in the form of SMAP and Fuyumi Sakamoto(坂本冬美). One of the participants was a 75-year-old lady who wanted to sing a song in tribute to her recently departed husband who had sung the song to her.

The song was "Ginza Kankan Musume" from 1949 as originally sung by the late actress Hideko Takamine(高峰秀子). When I listened to the lady's rendition and then the original, the old-fashioned boogie beat was front and centre, and I kinda realized where eclectic 90s band Jitterin Jinn got its inspiration. The song was created by Takao Saeki and Ryoichi Hattori(佐伯孝夫・服部良一)as the theme for the movie of the same name which starred Takamine. According to J-Wiki, by 1952, Takamine's single had sold about 420,000 records.

At first, I thought the meaning of the title was referring to can-can dancers performing in some Ginza nightclub, but according to the explanation in the J-Wiki article for the song, the kankan was actually a word derived by a movie director Kajiro Yamamoto(山本嘉次郎), although he wasn't the one behind this particular movie (Koji Shima「島耕二」was the actual director). It was a play on words for panpan musume which referred to "unlicensed prostitutes". The kankan musume meant "short-tempered ladies" who had to somehow survive the immediate postwar years.

As for Takamine, she was born in 1924 in Hakodate, Hokkaido and entered show business as a child actor who gained so much fame that she was seen as the Japanese Shirley Temple. As she grew up, she started getting roles as tough-minded and hard-working women, Although she retired from acting in the late 1970s, she continued working as an essayist.

Being a kayo classic, "Ginza Kankan Musume" was covered by a number of singers including Hibari Misora(美空ひばり). I'm uncertain when Misora's smooth and nimble version was originally recorded but it is on an album titled "Misora Hibari Cover Song Collection" from 2007 by Columbia Music Entertainment.

In 2001, Yosui Inoue(井上陽水)provided his own cover with a rock beat in his album, "United Cover". Leave it to Mr. O-genkides'ka to give a fresh perspective to an old chestnut.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Candies -- Anata ni Muchu (あなたに夢中)

The last time I wrote about the famed aidoru trio of Candies(キャンディーズ), it was about their spiritually final single in 1978, "Hohoemigaeshi"(微笑がえし)which pretty much threw in every reminder regarding Miki, Su and Ran.

But this time, I'm going all the way back to the beginning. To 1973, to be specific. Candies debuted with "Anata ni Muchu" (Crazy for You) in September of that year, and like "Hohoemigaeshi", it was a song that I had heard before but hadn't known the title or its place in Candies' history. As with all debuts of legendary singers/bands, it's interesting to see and hear these ladies in the beginning. "Anata ni Muchu", which was written by Michio Yamagami(山上路夫)and composed by Koichi Morita(森田公一), had them singing with a slightly bigger emphasis on different harmonies, and Su was in the centre position as she would be for the early singles up to their first big hit, "Toshi Shita no Otoko no Ko"(年下の男の子)in 1975, when Ran would be switched in as the permanent centre.

Candies' debut single peaked at No. 36. It was also a track on the unit's debut album, "Anata ni Muchu - Uchiki na Candies" (あなたに夢中〜内気なキャンディーズ〜...Crazy for You - Bashful Candies) that came out in December 1973. A modest beginning but the best was yet to come.

Naoko Gushima -- Candy

I remember picking up this album "miss G" by Naoko Gushima(具島直子)a couple of decades ago, probably because I heard some of the tracks being played on the store speakers...most likely Tower Records. And in all likelihood, one of those tracks was "Candy". As was the case with all of the other tracks, Gushima provided the words and music for this softly bouncy song which the blogger for Japanese-language "Music Avenue" described as being an example of Urban Mellow.

Not sure if Urban Mellow is an actual genre name (a love child of J-AOR and City Pop?), but I guess "Candy" would fit the title. In any case, it is a cafe-friendly tune with Gushima's velvety vocals reminding me a bit of another singer who was in the same ballpark, genre-wise, Toko Furuuchi(古内東子). "miss G", by the way, was Gushima's debut album from 1996.

There's not a whole lot of information on Gushima unless you go straight to her website...not even a J-Wiki entry. She was born in 1969 in Tokyo, started learning piano at the age of 4, and then at 21, took those first steps into a music career as a backup singer and singer for commercials before releasing "miss G" some years later. According to her website, Gushima has released 5 albums up to now including her latest, which is also her BEST compilation, "magic wave" from 2009.