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.

Friday, April 28, 2017

NMB48 -- Kitagawa Kenji (北川謙二)

Osaka hasn't been a city that I have visited in some decades but way back when, my uncle's family used to live in the downtown neighbourhood of Namba. My recollection of the area was that it was a massive criss-cross of covered commercial streets...a colony of shopping arcades. My uncle ran a stationery shop and the family's apartment was upstairs. I stayed there twice during my childhood and remembering about it now, I just marvel at how several people could live in such a small place. Mind you, my own pad in Ichikawa wasn't exactly a Beverly Hills mansion either.

A few nights ago on the weekly broadcast of NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン), the theme was all about travel across the country which meant that train-based songs were in the majority. However, the last 10 minutes or so were dedicated to other songs. One of the guests was the alphabet girl group NMB48 (now you know why I used the introduction of my time in Namba) and they sang something perky called "Kitagawa Kenji"(Kenji Kitagawa).

It was quite the unusual title for an aidoru tune although my first impression what NMB48 must have been quite enamored with the fellow according to how cheerful the ladies were. Marcos V. put up the first NMB48 number, the technopop "Kamonegix"(カモネギックス)but "Kitagawa Kenji", which was their 6th single from November 2012 released about a year before "Kamonegix", was more along the usual lines of an uptempo aidoru number in the alphabet group era.

Still the question remained. Who or what was Kitagawa Kenji? Well, looking at the J-Wiki account of the song, "Kitagawa Kenji" took its title from the name of an assistant producer in charge of video for NMB48's sister group in Tokyo, AKB48. Supposedly Yasushi Akimoto's(秋元康)lyrics spoke on some school guys' feelings of jealousy against a student with that name. Apparently, he was attracting the girls better than a magnet on iron filings. Shunsuke Tanaka(田中俊亮)took care of the happy-happy music.

I wonder how the real Mr. Kitagawa must have felt at realizing his titular song became another No. 1 for the group, and it even became the 17th-ranked single for 2012...after being released in November of that year! My hope is that he has a wife or girlfriend who kept him very grounded. That sort of recognition could swell a head.

The single was also a track on NMB48's first original album "Teppen Tottande!"(てっぺんとったんで!...Because We Got The Top!)from February 2013. It hit No. 1 and ended up as the No. 5 album of that year.

Chiemi Hori -- Come On! Love Machine ~ Kanashimi no Parade (哀しみのパレード)

Years ago when a bunch of us young folks decided to spend a Friday night carousing at the CN Tower, there was some sort of fortune telling machine which spit out pieces of paper. Basically, it was a very willing fortune cookie. What provided the big laugh of the night was when my slip came out and it said "You are a LOVE MACHINE!!" If irony was truly iron, then my slip would have affected the local gravity.

Well, after years knowing about the most famous "Love Machine"(LOVEマシーン)by Morning Musume(モーニング娘。), I recently found out that there had been another aidoru tune with those two words included. This was "Come On! Love Machine ~ Kanashimi no Parade" (Sad Parade) by 80s aidoru Chiemi Hori(堀ちえみ). It was a track on Hori's 9th album "Yume no Tsuzuki"(夢の続き...The Dream Continues)released in December 1985.

Written by veteran lyricist Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)and made by veteran composer Kisaburo Suzuki(鈴木キサブロー), it's not quite the disco anthem that Morning Musume's "Love Machine" is, but perhaps a slight cut-above-the-average aidoru tune with a pleasant rolling beat somewhat reminiscent of a middle-of-the-road American pop song from that same decade. Plus, perhaps it's my imagination but Hori seems to be channeling even bigger aidoru Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子).

I wouldn't say that it's a timeless number but considering that I never got to know Hori all that well during her aidoru days, "Come On! Love Machine" has given me a kick in the shins to let me know that she did have her nice songs in her discography. Certainly nothing so ironic as my fortune slip at the CN Tower.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Lisa Ono -- Ano Hi ni Kaeritai (あの日に帰りたい)

Must be a good night for soothing music...this considering I've got another rousing NHL playoff game going on behind me on the TV.

As it has been intimated in previous articles and beyond, legendary singer-songwriter Yuming(ユーミン)has been much talked about, especially on the topic of when her best days were. I've pointed out that the 1970s and 1980s and a tad into the 1990s had her best stuff, although others have remarked that her best time was in a much shorter time frame...basically those years when she was known as Yumi Arai(荒井由実)in the early 1970s, before she got married and took on the name Matsutoya(松任谷由実). Then there are others who believe that the 80s were the time for her. Everyone has got an opinion.

Still, there is no doubt that Yuming created some wonderful classics during her early years when she first became known as the Queen of New Music. "Ano Hi ni Kaeritai"(あの日にかえりたい...I Wanna Return to Those Days)is one of those songs for me and so not surprisingly it was one of the first Yuming songs I covered in the blog. There was that nice touch of sunset bossa nova in there with Junko Yamamoto(山本潤子)from Hi-Fi Set(ハイ・ファイ・セット)providing those lovely background vocals.

Well, many years later, someone came up with the bright idea of producing a tribute album to Yuming called "Queen's Fellows - Yuming 30th anniversary Cover Album" which was released in December 2002. Some of the popular artists from the past and present at the time joined in to give their own covers within the Great Yuming Songbook. Lisa Ono(小野リサ)did her bit and gave her lusciously mellow spin on "Ano Hi ni Kaeritai". Of course, she would be the one to cover it. Get the sherry out! The album itself managed to peak at No. 7 on Oricon.

Ruiko Kurahashi -- Itsuka Dokoka de (いつかどこかで)/ HOME

Last night, I got into a story about comparing theme songs from nightly news broadcasts from America and Japan to introduce a Bread & Butter(ブレッド&バター)ballad which was the soothing theme for the late-night news show "NNN Kyo no Dekigoto". Well, I was able to find another relaxing song which became the ending theme for the 1991 version of the show.

And it just happens to be by one of my favourite singers, Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子). She may have been most well known during the 1980s but her "Itsuka Dokoka de" (Sometime, Somewhere) was recorded in November 1991. With a slightly more zippy urban contemporary arrangement, the song is still perfectly relaxing Ruiko, and as I mentioned for that Bread & Butter song, this is the type of tune that I would want to hear after hearing several minutes of depressing headlines.

The saxophone and keyboards are particularly welcome with Kurahashi's lovely vocals. The singer herself wrote the lyrics while Gou Suzuki(鈴木豪)came up with the melody.

This single also had the coupling song of "HOME" which has got that nice American country music feeling. Kurahashi is one of those few Japanese singers who has had the tendency to tackle that genre of music during her career; another singer I often think about is Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子). Richard Leigh wrote and composed this ballad with Kurahashi writing the translated version. Listening to it, I have got this hankering for sourdough bread and barley soup.

Both songs also ended up her 1991 album "Aozora no Shita de"(青空の下で...Under The Blue Sky)which I was fortunate enough to get in the used CD department of Tsutaya right across from Shibuya Station. It's not easy to find a Kurahashi album these days so it took me all of a millisecond to make the decision.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


There are a couple of observations that I have for the vocal group Hi-Fi Set(ハイ・ファイ・セット). First off, for a group that had their heyday in the 1970s, Junko Yamamoto(山本潤子), Toshihiko Yamamoto(山本俊彦)and Shigeru Okawa(大川茂)have had a lot of representation on YouTube. It's great to see a lot of their videos there. Secondly, and perhaps this may not be totally accurate, my impression is that the group seems to enjoy singing about school-related stuff.

Case in point: their "TWO IN THE PARTY", a track from Hi-Fi Set's 8th album "Quarter Rest" from 1979. With lyrics by Mami Kikuchi(菊池まみ), the Yamamotos and Okawa croon about a young lady, perhaps in her twenties, looking forward to what seems like the swankiest school reunion in the city. More importantly, the lass is anticipating catching up with an old friend (wink, wink). There are even some party sound effects to add to the atmosphere.

The music by mellow composer Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)starts off with a funky riff that sounds a lot like it came from an R&B song I used to hear on radio here in Toronto back in the 1970s so I'm wondering if there had been some liberal borrowing. However, the music then heads back into familiar Hi-Fi Set territory with a mix of swingy jazz and downtown feeling. Of course, there are those wonderful harmonies by the trio. May want to pick up some of those old albums of theirs in the near future.

Bread & Butter -- Tonight Aishite (トゥナイト愛して)

This is gonna be one of my more rambling articles in terms of traipsing the pop cultural spectrum, so hopefully you will bear with me.

("Eyewitness News" starts at about 1:18)

First off, I will begin with the fact that being a born-and-bred Torontonian, I not only had access to the local Toronto TV but also to the three major American affiliates across Lake Ontario in Buffalo, New York...and that was even before the advent of rudimentary cable TV!

I think some of the older readers of this blog who also hail from my area will probably swoon with nostalgia as they go down this paragraph, but as a kid, I remember watching the legendary anchorman Irv Weinstein helming the news broadcast of ABC's Buffalo affiliate, WKBW. Of course, it starts off with weatherman Tom Jolls saying, "It's 11 o'clock. Do you know where your children are?" before "Eyewitness News" starts off. And boy, I thought the theme song for that show was just the coolest thing! A timpani blasts out a chorus of voices and an orchestra into a theme that would inspire the most timid cub reporters into hitting the beat and stuffing their mikes into the face of the most feared gangster and demanding "OK, WHERE ARE THE BODIES BURIED?"

Well, a couple of years ago, I re-acquainted myself with that old theme and started digging on YouTube and elsewhere about its origins. And I found out that it was originally created by the late American composer Al Ham and titled "Move Closer To Your World". With that title, I would have expected some uplifting religious song played on Sundays instead of a kickass theme to a news broadcast, but I digress. Apparently, "Move Closer To Your World" was not only used in Buffalo but elsewhere across the United States, with Philadelphia being one of the key cities via one of the affiliates there.

Now, why am I using this Japanese music blog to wax nostalgic about an ancient TV news theme in America? Well, 1) in my old age, I like to wax nostalgic, and 2) I also like to segue from American pop culture to Japanese pop culture from time to time.

Therefore, to jump across the Pacific, when I was living in Japan, I did watch my fair share of the nightly news. NHK was one of the major stations for me along with TBS at 6pm since both networks had a simultaneous English track. But also when it was time to retire for the night, I would do some channel surfing and catch one of the late night news broadcasts. There was "NNN Kyo no Dekigoto"(NNNきょうの出来事...NNN's News of the Day)at around 10:55 or 11:00, and the above intro was what I was accustomed to...a nice technopoppy news-sounding theme before the cameras started showing the anchorperson on a set which looked remarkably like someone's really nice house.

What I hadn't known that for much of the 1980s, "NNN Kyo no Dekigoto" had a soothing theme song starting and ending its broadcasts. "Tonight Aishite" (Love Tonight) was performed by the folk/City Pop duo Bread & Butter(ブレッド&バター), and as one commenter on YouTube put it, after hearing some pretty depressing news on the broadcast, listening to this song brought about some reassuring balance.

Written by Akira Ohtsu(大津あきら)and composed by Shigeaki Saegusa(三枝成章), "Tonight Aishite" must have made for a relaxing lullaby. The theme was used between April 1980 and March 1988 with Bread & Butter releasing it as their 21st single in 1981. An instrumental version of it was used at the beginning of the news; according to J-Wiki, it was the fusion band Casiopea(カシオペア)that was responsible for that. The end of the show had either another instrumental version or the actual song playing in the background. The video below is of a 1983 broadcast of "Kyo no Dekigoto" with the theme song.

Perhaps it was the Japanese thing to have a nice urban contemporary ballad act as a melodic balm after all of the intensity of a late-night news broadcast. I'm reminded of another ending theme for a late-night show, "Aitai"(会いたい)by Chikaco Sawada(沢田知可子).

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Kumi Showji -- city plot(シティ・プロット)

The above video is another one of those compilations of City Pop/J-AOR tunes that have been popping up like rabbits in recent months, and I'm glad that the first song on this particular collection is a really good one.

I'm definitely gonna have to delve more deeply into the works of singer-songwriter Kumi Showji(障子久美)since she's been providing some great soul music. Kinda knocking myself upside the head for not getting those used CDs of hers when I had the chance at those secondhand places in Tokyo. Case in point here is the song "city plot" from her 4th album "Because It's Love" from 1992. Some nice horns and some wonderful groove which means a fine car stereo song while driving down the highway.

Here's hoping that the video doesn't get taken down anytime soon since "city plot" only has its presence known here. But there are some other Showji songs on YouTube so not a bad situation.