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.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Crystal King -- Ai wo Torimodose!! (愛をとりもどせ!!)


Ahhh...."Hokuto no Ken"(北斗の拳...Fist of the North Star). In complete honesty, I have to confess that I never saw a single episode of this popular 80s anime in its entirety but even I know its reputation of a post-apocalyptic Earth filled with tyranny and horrors only for a hero the size of a small truck inflict some major whup-ass to the bad guys as he travels the ravaged land. Of course, I remember Kenshiro's way of fighting with those Gatling guns he calls hands and the "ATATATATATATATATATATATATATA!!"

And then there is the famous opening theme song for the series, emphasized by those three words at the very top of the article. I don't know the rest of the lyrics but if anyone ever said "YOU WA SHOCK!" to me at an anime convention, I would probably counter with my incredible "ATATATATATATATATATATATATATA!!" (verbally, not physically) in knowing response.

But the crazy thing here is that I had no idea...not one iota...that it was the band Crystal King(クリスタルキング)which was responsible for one of the most famous anison in history. I should have realized it from Masayuki Tanaka's(田中昌之)scream of those 3 words but I never made the connection. My knowledge of Crystal King wholly stemmed just from their most famous hit, "Dai Tokai"(大都会)in 1979 in which Tanaka blew out that ear-piercing shout (and perhaps many a stereo speaker) at the very beginning of that song.

Perhaps the song can be just known or titled as "YOU WA SHOCK!" but its official title is the strangely soft "Ai wo Torimodose!!" (Take Back The Love!!). Coming out in October 1984, the muscular anison was written by Crystal King pianist Kimiharu Nakamura(中村公晴)and composed by band guitarist Michio Yamashita(山下三智夫). I mentioned above that I had no idea that Crystal King would ever perform an anison. Well, I guess that may have been the case with vocalist Tanaka as well. According to the J-Wiki write-up on Crystal King, Tanaka despised anime and when he was handed an issue of the original "Hokuto no Ken" manga, he refused to open a single page. And he just wondered why he deserved the ignominy of singing an anime theme song. I guess he wa shock.

Well, as it turned out, "Ai wo Torimodose!!" became a big hit as it went as high as No. 53 on Oricon, and it cracked the million barrier in sales. I guess after all those accolades, Tanaka mellowed out considerably on his least for this particular song anyways, and now admits that he is happy that he did get to co-sing it with lead vocal Monsieur Yoshizaki(ムッシュ吉崎). It may be anime history but it's history nonetheless, Tanaka my man!

Hiroshi Itsuki -- Deai Bashi (であい橋)

There's always a first to everything, so at the start of the month it was the first time I felt an absurd amount of glee in flipping a calendar. What you see up there is the Itsuki photo for February in his 2016 calendar. I like it more than January's; I prefer him in a suit than a kimono, all the more without any sort of tie; it makes him look suave. And it has a nice colour scheme too.

Well, coming back to the topic at hand. I have to admit that I hadn't been checking in on my Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし) playlist all that much and there are still quite a number of songs from his 2014 compilation album I have yet to sample. That was until I discovered "Deai Bashi" which was one of the later tracks. After doing my article on "Hakata A La Mode" (博多ア・ラ・モード) and checking out the 2 versions of that single, having already taken a liking to three-quarters of what they had to offer, I had the urge to listen to "Deai Bashi", the B-side of the first version of "Hakata A La Mode"

Anyway, I thought that "Deai Bashi" was quite a good follow up to it's A-side. Composed by Itsuki himself, though there's not much of a Latin flavour to it, it proceeds at a somewhat brisk but steady pace and leans more to the genre of pop, especially with the muscular notes from the electric guitar comes in. "Deai Bashi" is also set in Fukuoka, this time featuring the bridge was built over the Nakasu river, the Fuku-Haku Deai Bridge, so named because it was where the towns of Fukuoka and Hakata met way, way, way back in the day, according to this site called "TENJIN STYLE". In Ryusei Sameshima's (鮫島琉星) lyrics, I'm guessing that the bridge is used as a rendezvous spot for a couple. I can imagine that half of our pair here lives on one side of the river while the other on the other, and having not seen each other for a while due to other commitments - I don't know, maybe a week? A month, to make it more dramatic? - they greet each other with a passion-filled embrace in the middle of the titular bridge with the night scene glowing behind them... Sounds like music video material right there.

Just a little something to wrap up the article: while in Taiwan last year, besides some CDs, I managed to find 3 somewhat recent editions of this enka-yo book called "Shin-kyoku Kayo Hit Sokuho" (新曲歌謡ヒット速報). It's basically a compilation of the lyrics and score to 2 months worth of new enka/kayokyoku, and in volume 125 (for September and August 2013) I managed to find Itsuki's "Deai Bashi" under the "Request Corner".

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mieko Nishijima -- Jealousy

Completely forgot that I heard this old chestnut by Mieko Nishijima(西島三重子)on "Sounds of Japan" long ago. Nishijima has often done a number of lilting countryside folk ballads although one of her most famous songs was "Gin Lime"(ジンライム), a 70s City Pop/Mood Kayo standard with Mancini-level aspirations which definitely fits the atmosphere of a hotel top bar.

But then, she has also crafted these other types of ballads which take things closer to the city but have a much more old-fashioned bent to them thanks to some lush strings. "Jealousy" is one of those examples that I've often equated with Nishijima who composed it. Kenji Kadoya(門谷憲二)wrote the lyrics about an old flame or didn't-quite-reach-romantic-potential friend who comes to see the protagonist to tell him the good news that she's found a new guy. Meanwhile the sad hero is mightily biting his tongue at realizing that he may have lost the love of his life since he wants to keep her happy. I guess this would be the ultimate in bittersweet balladry.

"Jealousy" was a track on Nishijima's 7th album from 1982, "Image".

Kingo Hamada -- Mayonaka no Tennis Court (真夜中のテニスコート)

I think instead of a tennis court at midnight, as "Mayonaka no Tennis Court" means in English, this ballad is the musical equivalent of soaking in a nice hot tub at the end of a long day. And as someone who usually came home at the bewitching hour every night, I know the feeling quite intimately.

Kingo Hamada(濱田金吾)is a figure that I've across a fair bit in "Japanese City Pop" but is also someone that I also see quite often on YouTube so he's got his dedicated base of online fans which would include me. I did get his "Golden Best" compilation based on those two sources after all. Unfortunately, this particular ballad didn't get onto that BEST album, but it did wrap up his 4th album from October 1982, "midnight cruisin'". The cover of that album does look like a photo that I would take being such a neophyte with the camera.

"Mayonaka no Tennis Court" has got that extra something about it thanks to the introduction of a cello in there which provides a bit of old-fashioned timing to the otherwise urban pop. I couldn't find out for certain who took care of music and lyrics but I'm assuming that Hamada was at least taking care of the former.

In any case, I think I might try to get this album in a few months' time.

If Hamada can do wobbly, so can I!

Mika Nakashima -- WILL

As my family usually does on Friday night, we caught the latest episode of "VS. Arashi" with the friendly folks at Arashi(嵐). Well, perhaps I shouldn't say the latest episode since that particular episode was actually broadcast back in August of 2015. It was the usual hijinks between the guys and their special guests which were the Japanese men's volleyball team. At about 5 minutes into the show, I realized how out of touch I was with contemporary Japanese pop culture I have been when I found out that one of the strapping young lads on the team, Kunihiro Shimizu(清水邦広), had gotten married to singer Mika Nakashima(中島美嘉)back in December 2014. Good on them both. Considering some of the unhappy stories I've been hearing from the geinokai recently, it was nice to hear that news even though it was very belated.

And just by pure providence, I stumbled across what was supposedly the first meeting between Shimizu and Nakashima at a volleyball match back in 2011, I believe. Apparently, the singer had been a huge fan of the lug. It's not everyday that I get to see a popular singer who usually has to face squeeing fans become a squeer herself.

In any case, let's hit the music. Now, I wasn't totally sold on Nakashima until I heard her jazzy "Love Addict" from 2003 and then I ended up getting her BEST compilation some time afterwards. However I have to say that I should have listened a little more closely and often to her earlier single "WILL", her 5th release from August 2002.

It's a lovely ballad created by Yasushi Akimoto and Daisuke Kawaguchi(秋元康・川口大輔)given plenty of soul. And I should have figured it was arranged by Tomita Lab(冨田ラボ), the master at the soulfully mellow. It's just the song to listen to while viewing the city lights at night from the rooftop of some brownstone. "WILL" managed to get a bunch of accolades such as hitting No. 3 on the Oricon weeklies and becoming the 88th-ranked song for 2002 as it went Gold. The song was also the ticket for Nakashima to give her first performance on the Kohaku Utagassen. "WILL" also became the theme song for a Fuji-TV drama "Tentai Kansoku" (天体観測...Searchin' For My Polestar).

Friday, February 5, 2016

Chisato Moritaka -- Kibun Sokai (気分爽快)

Well, it was quite the day today. In a sequel report to that horrid day a few weeks ago when the hot water pipe burst and gushed into the ceiling and onto the kitchen floor, the painters finally came in to fix things and of course, there was a misunderstanding right off the bat between my family and them about how big the project was. So, the first half-hour was fairly tense but after that, it was evident that these guys were no fly-by-nighters and some hours later, we were all shaking hands in gratitude. It's Miller Time!

Actually, it was more like Swiss Chalet time (you folks in Eastern Canada would know the reference). As for Chisato Moritaka(森高千里), it's more of kibun sokai. And not surprisingly, she actually provided the lyrics for "Kibun Sokai" (Mood Refreshing), her 21st single from January 1994. As she illustrates in the video, it's all about knocking back a few brewskis and getting rid of any tension. She plays a regular company cog keeping the troops' morale up through the wonders of a metabolic tonic known as alcohol.

Moritaka has been providing whimsical takes on Japanese society so it was about time she took on the collaboration between her fellow Japanese and beer. As I may have already pointed out in a past article, Japan taught me to drink. I had my fair share of alcohol in the form of Screwdrivers, Brown Cows and Fuzzy Navels back in my days at U of T but beer was never (and it still isn't really) my beverage of choice. However, being assigned to Gunma Prefecture (the land of strong drinkers, man or woman) and having to go through the usual rounds of enkai (drinking parties), I had no choice but to down the suds fairly regularly.

Not surprisingly, "Kibun Sokai" was the campaign song for Asahi Beer. The ad above showed a very summery scene although the single came out in the winter. And I think beer has its uses during that time as well as the accompaniment to many a hot pot gathering.

Moritaka provided the lyrics while musician Kenichi Kurosawa(黒沢健一)provided the rollicking music that had that Beatlesque twang to it. Just imagine the Fab Four shilling for Guinness. "Kibun Sokai" hit as high as No. 3 on Oricon and became the 54th-ranked tune for the year. It also got onto her 9th studio album, "Step By Step" which came out in July 1994.

The lass wasn't done with her drinking songs. There was another Xmas-y tune that I've already written about.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Toshinobu Kubota -- Cry On Your Smile

Almost done with another work week here. It hasn't been too bad...the usual translations to be done and I just have to take care of a few more tomorrow before declaring the weekend....Super Bowl weekend!

So, I decided to go with some calming R&B via Toshinobu Kubota's(久保田利伸)"Cry On Your Smile". This was his 4th single from October 1987 and his first Top 10 hit, peaking at No. 8. Written by Masumi Kawamura(川村真澄)and composed by Kubota himself, this was a title that I've always remembered from that first BEST album, "The Baddest", which I'd purchased in Gunma all those years ago. I was inspired to pick it up after seeing some of the junior high school girls do a rather intriguing march to one of the tracks.

Nice and croony, I think "Cry On Your Smile" was that one tune which finally got Kubota on the fame map. Kawamura and Kubota also collaborated for a few more songs together such as "Oh! What A Night!" and "Time Shower ni Utarete"(TIMEシャワーに射たれて・・・). I guess there is nothing like an R&B ballad to show off those impressive pipes.

The other reason I put up Kubota tonight was in tribute to another R&B crooner from the other side of the Pacific who sadly has become the latest singer from my memories to pass into history. All the best to you, Maurice White.