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.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shigeru Suzuki/Mariya Takeuchi -- Hachibu Onpu no Uta (8分音符の詩)

I mentioned a couple of nights ago that on EPO's "Ame no Kennel Douri"(雨のケンネル通り) that I had been in the midst of tackling a rather thorny translation assignment. Well, I'm basically done with it now, more or less. Not particularly proud of the results but I did the best I could and will be very glad to see the back of it when I hand it in tomorrow morning.

So, on that note, I will invite you to listen along to a good ol' wind down song...something that I could really use. I found one in the form of Shigeru Suzuki's(鈴木茂)"Hachibu Onpu no Uta" (Song of Eighth Notes) which was originally on his 2nd solo album, "Lagoon" from 1976. The guitarist and vocalist from the legendary band Happy End carried on the tradition with his old bandmates Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣), Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and the late Eiichi Ohtaki(大瀧詠一)and stretched out his musical wings to become a session musician, an arranger and a solo artist. A number of his albums have popped up in "Japanese City Pop", so his name is one that I have seen quite often over the past several years, and was quite curious about his output outside what he has done as an arranger.

Suzuki composed the languid "Hachibu Onpu no Uta" while his buddy Matsumoto came up with the old-fashioned lyrics of giving that titular song to a lover while appreciating the hand-crafted musical instruments and perhaps the old-school music. With Suzuki's late-night arrangement, the atmosphere is one of that tiny, smoky and entirely comfy jazz bar as that whiskey-on-the-rocks is sliding down the oak.

Unfortunately, the video containing the Suzuki original at the top gets cut short so I've also thrown in the above cover version in its entirety.

Well, the reason that I even found out about the song at all was through another album listed in "Japanese City Pop". The album in question was from 1978 and it was a compilation titled "Loft Sessions Vol. 1" which featured a number of singers performing at a live house in Tokyo called Loft (not to be confused with the funky household goods store of the same name in Shibuya). One of those singers on the album happened to be a pre-debut Mariya Takeuchi (perhaps by a few months) doing a cover version of "Hachibu Onpu no Uta". I didn't know most of the singers on the album but as soon as I read about Takeuchi's participation, I knew that I just had to purchase this one. I was surprised to discover that I could get it fairly easily from the Net.

Still, I didn't expect that I would ever find something as rare as a pre-debut Mariya featured on YouTube, but I could find the page selling "Loft Sessions Vol. 1" as shown above. Just scroll down the page to reach the song samples. As is usually the case, the samples are only 45 seconds each but you can still get the gist of Mariya's sound back then. Also, she sang Track 5 "Hollywood Cafe", so give those two, and for that matter, the rest of the songs a whirl.

In any case, if it weren't for "Loft Sessions Vol. 1", I wouldn't have been led to the original version by Suzuki, and since from what I've read about his "Lagoon" being one of the seminal City Pop albums of the 70s, I'm now garnering to acquire that one as well in the not-too-distant future.

Tsuri Bit -- Odoroyo, Fish (踊ろよ、フィッシュ)

I’ve been aware of the existance of Tsuri Bit (つりビット) for a while, but, in my opinion, their songs didn’t offer nothing new. For me, their sound was just very close to the blandest AKB48 songs that we sometimes come across. Also, their fishing gimmick, although cute, is not capable of building a coherent and stable sound for them (according to generasia, their slogan says that they are all beginner fishermen and will use the experience of fishing to create the best idol performance). The scenary kind of changed with their latest single, though.

“Odoroyo, Fish” is kind of different from what I said earlier. In fact, it’s a 1987 song by Tatsuro Yamashita (山下達郎) which got converted into a summery aidoru tune by Tsuri Bit. Although the chorus is very catchy, and I thank Tatsuro Yamashita for that, what got me really hooked was Tsuri Bit’s arrangement. Not that their arrangement is an example of rich sounds, but the instrumental breakdown near the middle of the song is quite good and features some unashamed old synths that reminded something from early 90s video games during the little crescendo that culminated in the guitar solo with the bright analog strings sound (a very cheap way to add strings sound using synths) in the background. The same synth sound that did the little crescendo in the breakdown is used during the choruses and near the end of the song, also with positive results. As I’m a sucker for that retro electronic sounds, it really won me after the first listen. At the same time, I almost laughed with the boldness. I can tell that an American pop song would never use a similar dated sound in such a serious way.

To finish, here’s Tatsuro Yamashita’s original recording of “Odoroyo, Fish”.

Tsuri Bit’s “Odoroyo, Fish” was released as a single in July 2014 and reached #25 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics and music were written by Tatsuro Yamashita, while Tsuri Bit’s arrangement was done by Yasuaki Maejima (前嶋康明).

Shinji Tanimura & Yuzo Kayama -- Sarai (サライ)

Just last Saturday, I managed to catch Folk singer Masashi Sada's (さだ まさし) recent charity concert tour (shown on NHK) for the 2011 disasters, starting from his hometown of Nagasaki to Tohoku. Truth be told, I was a little bummed out since the showing of his concert took the place of 'BS Nippon no uta'. If 'Nippon no uta' were to go on as per normal, I would've been an episode closer to watching Kiyoshi Maekawa (前川 清)and Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし) performing together for the show's 'Special stage'... so you can see the somewhat mild displeasure. Adding to that, the next two Saturdays were to be occupied by Sumo wrestling competitions... *Sigh*

However, the silver lining in that was that Mr Wakadaisho was one of the handful of special guests at Sada's concert. In total, Yuzo Kayama (加山雄三) sang 4 songs, including the heartwarming 'Kimi to itsumademo' (君といつまでも), as well as 'Sarai', a duet between Kayama and Shinji Tanimura (谷村新司). Since there was no Tanimura, Sada was the replacement. I have to admit, his impression of the leader of Folk-Rock group Alice (アリス) was pretty silly.


I've heard of 'Sarai' before when I discovered Kayama, but I merely acknowledged its existance. Only until hearing it on the aforementioned concert did I go, "Huh, this song actually sounds really good!" As expected from a collaboration between Chinpei with his renowned lyric-writing skills and The Wakadaisho settling the composing duties under his pen name Kosaku Dan (弾 厚作). Besides the relaxing music, you've got the contrasting voices of both singers; Tanimura with his higher, gentler and silvery vocals and Kayama with his stronger, deep husky voice taking turns to sing their parts.


The song was released in 1992 on November 16, and was the theme song for the 15th episode of what seems to be a charity show called '24 hour TV Aiwa chikyu wo suku' (24時間テレビ 「愛は地球を救う」), which had been airing every August since 1978. And if I didn't read wrongly, 'Sarai' had been sung as the show's ending theme since it was created. I must say, this song does sound like a good, nice way to round off such a show!

Here's some trivia about this song: It's title, 'Sarai' is actually a Persian word meaning 'Home', which fits with the song's theme 'Kokoro no furusato' ( 心のふるさと), or 'The heart's home'. Initially, the song was supposed to be called 'Sabaku no naka no oasis' (砂漠の中のオアシス), which meant 'The desert's oasis'. So they were deciding which fit the theme better, and eventually they settled with the more exotic sounding 'Sarai', which seemed to encapsulate the theme better.

Anyway, the song did quite alright, peaking at 20th position on the Oricon charts. And since it is literally the charity show's song, a portion of the CD sales and karaoke copyright thing went to charity. How thoughtful.

Here's them singing it in 2014


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Kanako Wada -- Tori no You ni (鳥のように)

This was another Kanako Wada(和田加奈子)contribution to the "Kimagure Orange Road"(きまぐれオレンジ☆ロード)anime franchise from the 1980s, and considering how much she did give to the franchise, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to believe that the anime cannot be remembered without remembering the singer and vice versa.

"Tori no You ni" (Like a Bird) is this tropical breeze whose lyrics were provided by Wada while the melody was composed by Joe Hisaishi(久石譲), the same fellow who came up with the soundtrack music for all those Studio Ghibli movies. It's a bittersweet ballad about two people who seem to be perfect for each other but one of them has to keep on chasing that dream without staying with the other. Despite the lyrics though I'd enjoy listening to this while in a hammock along the coast.

The song wasn't an official single from the Wada discography but it can be found in a number of sources. It is a track on her 4th album, "KANA" (1987), as well as being included on her BEST album from 2006, and it is also included on one of the "KOR" soundtrack albums from 1989, "Loving Heart".  As for the KOR movie which featured it, it was the 1988 "Ano Hi ni Kaeritai"(あの日にかえりたい...I Want to Return to That Day).

Hiroshi Uchiyamada & The Cool Five/ Hiroshi Mizuhara/ Keiko Fuji -- Awazuni aishite (逢わずに愛して)

I had actually wanted to do this article earlier, but then I felt that I should save it for today. After all, it is a special day... ... No, it's not my birthday.

Anyway, let me introduce to you 'Awazuni Aishite' ('Love when we meet' ?), the Hiroshi Uchiyamada & Cool Five (内山田洋とクール・ファイブ) hit that seemed to - or always - constantly be overshadowed by its golden predecessor, 'Nagasaki wa kyomo ame datta' (長崎は今日も雨だった).

Released on the 5th of December 1969, the Mood Kayo group's 3rd single actually had some similarities to their debut song in terms of music, especially the first instance you hear that saxophone part in the beginning. And I'm quite sure it's because it was composed by the same guy who did the 'Nagasaki' song, Masao Saiki (彩木雅夫). As for the lyrics, they were done by the late Kouhan Kawauchi (川内康範).

But despite some similarities, it sounds a lot more cheerful than the 'Nagasaki' song which sounded really lonely (intended). However, I'm not sure if 'Awazuni aishite' is actually a cheerful song since with most Enka and Mood Kayo songs, happy/happier tune may not equal to happy meaning.

The song did well and was the only Cool Five single to place 1st on the Oricon charts and stayed there for 3 weeks (last 2 weeks of February and 1st week of March) in 1970 selling about 1.2 million copies. Yeah, so it had some time in the limelight. Unfortunately, out of The Cool Five's 11 appearances and Kiyoshi Maekawa's (前川 清) 18 appearances on the Kohaku, the song was never sung at the annual year-end competition. Now that I think of it, I rarely, if ever, see Mae-Kiyo sing this song solo either.

Mae-Kiyo's wife for a year Keiko Fuji (藤 圭子) and late Jazz and Kayokyoku singer Hiroshi Mizuhara (水原 弘) did their own renditions of this song as well. Video below is Omizu's version, which is slower in pace than the original. I've heard Fuji's version before on YouTube a few months back, but the video got deleted (this is starting to get really annoying), but I'm sure she pulled it off well with that low and husky voice of hers.

*Sigh*, according to Mom, my Grandpa used to listen to Mood Kayo-like songs (in Mandarin or Cantonese, that is), and that he liked the Chinese version of 'Awazuni Aishite' quite a bit. Liked. It has been 10 years. He would be 77 or 78 this year today, September 17. You know, would... ...

Hmm, Maekawa looks quite cute... ... What?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Maki Watase -- message d'amour

I didn't know anything of Maki Watase's(渡瀬マキ)initial foray into the geinokai as a late 80s aidoru, but once I arrived in Japan for my stint on the JET Programme back in 1989, I really got to know her as the spunky lead vocal for the rock band Lindberg. Then, returning for my longer stay in 1994, I didn't hear much from the band at all and naturally assumed that Lindberg had had its 15 minutes of fame and would now be immortalized through karaoke, TV retrospectives and the occasional nostalgia tour.

However, as I was browsing through one of the CD shops one day in the mid-90s, I came across the album that you see at the top. I hadn't been too clear at the time of the name of Spunky but I thought that the lady with the wistful expression on her face standing on the boardwalk looked awfully familiar. Then, I saw the sign promoting this album "message d'amour" and there was the name of Maki Watase of Lindberg fame written on it. Well, I was intrigued right then and there. That sure didn't look like the cover of a rock album.

I plunked down my yen and placed the disc into my old Onkyo. The first track of Watase's first solo album was the title track itself, and it was definitely different non-Lindbergian. Instead of the rockin' guitars and the screamin' vocals, I heard a saucy intro before the music slid smoothly into a soft bossa groove that would have befit Miki Imai(今井美樹). And instead of Watase bellowing, I got her fairly purring into the mike at a pretty darn high register.

Watase wrote the lyrics about sending a letter to an absent or former lover while she's traveling through an old favourite spot of theirs, and the music was by Hiroshi 'Monsieur' Kamayatsu(かまやつひろし), former member of Group Sounds band The Spiders. Considering his somewhat wild and cool ol' fogey appearance on TV, I've always been pleasantly surprised when he is able to whip up these comforting tunes like this one. He also had a hand in Miki Imai's "Tea For Two" on her "Lluvia" album back in 1991.

Maki Watase is just another example of singers going off on a musical tangent away from their bands or units. Shoko Aida(相田翔子)from aidoru duo Wink went into similar territory and Kazumasa Oda(小田和正)veered into more urban contemporary territory from his folk rock group, Off Course, although admittedly the band was tending toward that genre after 1980.

EPO -- Ame no Kennel Douri (雨のケンネル通り)

For the past couple of days, I've been struggling with a translation assignment which involves trying to read the chicken scrawls of a doctor. I mean, the vast majority of his report is untranslatable! I wasn't sure whether I was reading Japanese kanji, Egyptian hieroglyphics or Old High Klingon. Not sure how I'm going to handle this but that's what life is all about, isn't it? Overcoming challenges and all that, eh? Two ways I do that: one is cooking, so I took care of the family dinner by frying up some homemade burgers tonight. The second method is listening to some good ol' comfortable Japanese pop from an earlier age!

So I got my EPO....the singer, not the performance-enhancing drug. I do love my positive and cheerful City Pop, and Ms. Sato represents a lot of that sound. According to "Japanese City Pop", the reviewer for her 2nd album in 1980, "Goodies", absolutely gushed about this release which has the classic City Pop symbol of a plane taking off for exotic and exciting climes on its cover. I had a chance to get this album during my time in Japan when there was a sudden flood of remastered re-releases of the older Showa Era pop on CD but I simply missed my opportunity and once again, it seems to be back in the rare and pricey category on the various websites.

Fortunately, a couple of the tracks got onto EPO's BEST releases one of which was, "Ame no Kennel Douri" (Rainy Kennel Street).  Written and composed by the singer-songwriter, it's pure EPO (the singer AND/OR the performance-enhancing drug) for me. If there were an actual performance music video, it would have EPO herself and a battery of umbrella-holding dancers strutting merrily down a street in a downpour that would have Gene Kelly's spirit grinning in admiration. It checks off the tropes for an EPO tune: happy gala melody with that slight old disco flavour and the singer's cute vocal gymnastics. And speaking of videos, the one at the above link is a nice creation which made me want to return to Tokyo.

I'm just going by memory here but I recall the liner notes from her first BEST album "The Best Station JOEPO 1980-1984" in which she talked about "Ame no Kennel Douri". Apparently, she titled the song after a famous dog kennel located in the trendy and ritzy Aoyama neighbourhood near Omotesando Station that I often passed by whenever I met friends in the area. I never got myself a pooch there but did enjoy frequenting the Kentucky Fried Chicken down the street, and of course, there was the famous Kinokuniya Supermarket where I got the Halloween pumpkins. In any case, the song's got me back to a happy place that will last me through the night and into tomorrow....when I have to tackle the hieroglyphics again.

Another track from "Goodies" is the just-as-boppy "Park Ave. 1981".