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.

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.

Yutaka Ozaki -- Juu-go no Yoru (15の夜)

On NHK's "NewsWatch 9" this morning, there was a feature on the fact that today was the 25th anniversary of Yutaka Ozaki's(尾崎豊)passing. Apparently over the past few days, folks from all over the nation made a pilgrimage to a particular terrace at Shibuya Cross Tower in Tokyo where a plaque of the balladeer is placed.

During the feature, it was made pretty clear that Ozaki had no love for school, and there was one song which was played at certain points which punctuated that feeling, his debut single "Juu-go no Yoru". I translated it directly as "Night at 15" although the official English title is "The Night".

Released in December 1983, the song was based on an incident which had involved Ozaki and his buddy back in junior high school . His buddy was criticized for having hair that was too long for which the teacher decided to take a pair of clippers to shear off the offending lengths. The future singer-songwriter took extreme umbrage at this action with the result being that he and his friend decided to run away from home one night.

I'm not sure how long or how successful Ozaki's countermeasure was but the memories of it certainly crystallized within him. Although the incident had happened when the singer was 14 years old, he decided to change the initial title of "Juu-shi no Yoru"(14の夜)to "Juu-go no Yoru" since the former didn't quite roll off the tongue as well.

From hearing the music and the lyrics, the theme for "Juu-go no Yoru" seems to have been that first discovery of freedom. Why be hampered by useless information, arcane rules and authoritarian fuddy-duddies when you can take off and really learn about the world out there and not in a stuffy classroom? The piano, the guitar and the sax along with Ozaki's vocals exhort listeners to get on that motorcycle and just race anywhere from home to nowhere in long as you're free. Heck, even the cover of his first album, "Juu-nana-sai no Chizu"(十七歳の地図...Seventeen's Map)and that first single has Ozaki jumping over a huge prison wall.

Just my opinion but it's interesting that the ballad wasn't about fighting the power but getting away from it. Perhaps it wasn't about tearing down the status quo per se but enjoying it without the chains...not all that surprising considering the country was enjoying the benefits of the economic miracle at the time.

In any case, it's pure Ozaki...all of that naked emotion out there. "Juu-nana-sai no Chizu" which came out on the same day as his first single got as high as No. 2 on Oricon and became a million-seller. Not sure how the original single did on the weeklies but his posthumous 13th single "Juu-go no Yoru Live", which came out in April 1993 charted in at No. 15.

Akira Sudo(須藤晃), who produced the song, later wrote a book in 1998 titled "Ozaki Yutaka - Oboegaki"(尾崎豊 覚え書き....Yutaka Ozaki - Memorandum)as a tribute to the late singer. And in it, he spoke about those lyrics in "Juu-go no Yoru":

Those were teenage lyrics by a teenager for teenagers, something that no one else had ever written before.(誰も書いたことのないような、ティーンエイジャーのための、ティーンエイジャーによる、ティーンエイジャーの詞だった。)

The Launchers/Candies -- Mafuyu no Kaeri Michi (真冬の帰り道)

OK, for all you J-Pop fans, this isn't the "Mafuyu no Kaeri Michi" (Mid-Winter Road Home) by 90s songbird Kohmi Hirose(広瀬香美). You can check out my 2014 article on that song here.

Instead, I will be talking about the "Mafuyu no Kaeri Michi" by Group Sounds band The Launchers(ザ・ランチャーズ).

Now before I launch (ahem) into this song, I did want to give out a heads-up and say that Noelle is in the middle of preparing an article about a song involving Yuzo Kayama & The Launchers so that will probably come out within the next number of days.

To tell you a story that I was able to glean from The Launchers' bio on J-Wiki, when Yuzo Kayama(加山雄三)had just started his "Wakadaisho"(若大将)movie franchise as The Big Man on Campus in the early 1960s, producer Masumi Fujimoto(藤本真澄)told the young actor/singer to get a band together so that he and the band can be filmed in future entries of the series. Kayama managed to rustle together a bunch of young guys from among the Toho Studios' group of actors and so The Launchers were born as a 6-member unit in 1962.

However, according to what I read, the band members eventually found themselves wanted in other movie projects so that the first incarnation of The Launchers was stopped for the time being. But then a couple of years later, Kayama corralled another group of guys to form the second coming of The Launchers in 1964. The Launchers 2.0 consisted of the brothers Osamu & Ei Kitajima(喜多嶋修・喜多嶋瑛), who also happened to be Kayama's cousins, plus Shigeru Ohya(大矢茂)with Kayama as the leader. I think Noelle will be talking about Kayama and those Launchers in her article.

In 1967, The Launchers 3.0 came about with Kayama leaving and bassist Yuzo Watanabe(渡辺有三)joining the band. And their debut single was "Mafuyu no Kaeri Michi", a laid back GS ballad written by Tetsu Mizushima(水島哲)and composed by band member Osamu Kitajima. It's a very pleasant song which will induce some good nostalgia within the senior citizens. This time, it's the guy who is getting his heart stuck in his throat as he tries to blurt out his feelings toward a young lady he's gotten sweet on. I guess it's just as well that he wants to confess his love in the heart of winter; he probably would have died of heatstroke in the summer.

"Mafuyu no Kaeri Michi" was a big hit for The Launchers as it peaked at No. 23 on Oricon. Along with that debut, the band released 5 more singles and 2 albums before they broke up in 1971.

The song has been covered by a number of artists over the decades. One such group was Candies(キャンディーズ)whose own version was recorded onto Disc 10 of the massive 2008 "Candies Time Capsule" CD-BOX collection. Disc 10 happens to be an enlarged version of the original 2nd live concert album from December 1976, "Kuramae Kokugikan Ichiman-nin Carnival Vol. 2 - Candies Live"(蔵前国技館10,000人カーニバルVol.2 キャンディーズ・ライブ...Kuramae Kokugikan Sumo Arena Ten-Thousand-Man Carnival Vol. 2 - Candies Live).

Monday, April 24, 2017

Top 10 Singles in Oricon History

1.  Masato Shimon                          Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun       4.6 million      1975
2.  Shiro Miya & Pinkara Trio        Onna no Michi               3.3 million      1972
3.  SMAP                                        Sekai ni Hitotsu dake     3.1 million      2003
                                                        no hana
4.  Southern All Stars                     Tsunami                          2.9 million      2000
5.  Dango Gasshodan                      Dango San Kyodai         2.9 million      1999
6.  Kome Kome Club                     Kimi ga Iru Dake de       2.9 million      1992
7.  Chage & Aska                           Say Yes                           2.8 million      1991
8.  Mr. Children                             Tomorrow Never Knows 2.7 million      1994
9.  Kazumasa Oda                          Love Story wa Totsuzen 2.6 million       1991
10. Dreams Come True                  Love Love Love             2.5 million       1995

I will have to address the absence of Southern All Stars "Tsunami" soon enough. And you can take a gander at the "Top 10 Albums in Oricon History".

Sunday, April 23, 2017

StylipS -- Spica.

Several months ago in October, I wrote about the opening theme song for the anime "Mangaka-san to Assistant-san to"(マンガ家さんとアシスタントさんと...The Manga Artist and His Assistants), "Junsui na Fujunbutsu"(純粋なフジュンブツ)as performed by the seiyuu music group, StylipS.

Oh my's like watching Inspector Clouseau and Kato fight it out while filtering it through the movie "Porky's". I almost feel sorry for Aito-kun...almost.

As I said, I have already written about the typically upbeat opening theme but when I was going through the various episodes, I noticed that there was never an ending credits sequence or theme. It was just the often hilarious final scene before an end title card appeared giving the usual "See you next time!" Rather unusual, I thought.

Well, apparently, because each episode was only around 10 minutes long, the producers had to make sacrifices so in lieu of getting "Junsui na Fujunbutsu" in there, the ending theme song "Spica." by StylipS once again simply wasn't allowed in during the original TV run of 12 episodes. To add insult to injury, the song made a brief appearance in the finale while everyone was talking and the final song was Aito-kun singing about panties. However, I believe that for all those folks who got the DVD of the series, a proper ending credits sequence was placed at the end of each episode (for those who did get the DVD, you can confirm this with me).

Of course, for those who also bought "Junsui na Fujunbutsu" the single, they also got "Spica." as the coupling song. I found "Spica." somewhat adorable and a bit atypical considering the raunchy goings-on at Aito-kun's apartment since the first part of the song that is heard during the ending credits has that atmosphere of a solemn-but-proud graduation song at a girls' academy. Even Aito-kun would probably be weeping and...maybe...keeping his hands to himself during the song.

The rest of the song then goes into some light rap and R&B that kinda caught me off-guard when I first heard it. However, since then it has settled in nicely in my brain. I guess you couldn't keep the entire song all holy. Junko Tsuji(辻純更)took care of the lyrics while Motoi Okuda(奥田もとい)provided the melody.

aiko -- Ashita (あした)/ Kyoko Fukada -- Saigo no Kajitsu (最後の果実)

Happy Sunday to you all! I don't know what it's like in your neck of the woods but it's gorgeous out there today in Toronto. I think we've hit 20 degrees Celsius which is absolutely the trigger for folks to hit the lake on their sailboards or invade the bars which are probably now on al fresco mode.

Oof! I guess it's been close to 3 years since I put up an article on singer-songwriter aiko's music. "Boyfriend" is her most recognizable single to me, and frankly whenever I've heard her various songs over the years, I just waved them off as being rather similar in nature. Well, since I started the blog, I've gained some feelings that I ought to give various singers, especially in the 1990s, a second chance as it were.

So again I was surprised to hear her debut single from July 1998, "Ashita" (Tomorrow) since it was a song that I have heard in the past but not by her. Actually I think I most likely heard the tune on episodes of that Saturday night karaoke variety show "Yoru mo Hippare"(夜もヒッパレ)but never made the connection that it was an aiko song.

"Ashita" is quite distinctive in that it doesn't sound like the usual aiko song. One reason is that according to J-Wiki, it is the only single in her discography that hadn't been composed by aiko. Instead, the melody was made by Minoru Komorita(小森田実)although aiko did write the lyrics. Speaking of that melody, it sounds like a 1990s Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)concoction as if the pixie-ish singer-songwriter started her career under the TK umbrella along with Namie Amuro(安室奈美恵)and Tomomi Kahala(華原朋美). There's quite a bit of heavy synthesizer in there. Furthermore, there's also something about aiko's voice that was more kittenish in "Ashita" instead of my usual impression of tomboyishness with her later songs.

The song also has the distinction that out of all of her 36 singles released as of this writing, it is one of only three singles that didn't break into the Top 10. It actually only got as high as No. 89 on Oricon in its first release. However it was given a re-release later in March 2007 and zipped up to No. 16. Its first album appearance was on her major debut album "Chiisana Marui Koujitsu"(小さな丸い好日...A Small Round Pleasant Day)which was released in April 1999. It went Gold and peaked at No. 24.

An interesting progression in the plot here is that a little less than a year after aiko's debut, actress Kyoko Fukada(深田恭子)had her own debut as a singer with "Saigo no Kajitsu" (The Final Fruit) in May 1999. It was basically a remake of "Ashita" with a few tweaks here and there by Komorita and new lyrics provided by Chihiro Kurosu(黒須チヒロ). It's also interesting to note that aiko helped out here with backup vocals.

There was even more of a technopop feel to it, delving closer to trance by the sounds of it. Perhaps it did approach closer to Komuro territory but I couldn't help but feel from the arrangement that this could have been a song performed by another 1990s highlight band, Every Little Thing, thanks to Fukada's high-pitched voice. "Saigo no Kajitsu" peaked at No. 48 and was also placed on her 2nd album "moon" from March 2000.

Mieko Nishijima -- So yo, SMILE AGAIN (そうよSMILE AGAIN)

Yes, still up at 1:05 am. Like I said in my last article, I did have that birthday party but what I didn't mention was that I had two cups of some rich and delicious coffee there. Therefore, it would seem that sleep may become more of an option than an obligation.

And just like in that Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎)piece, I've come across another melancholy song about romance that is a bit of a throwback when considering the time of release and the type of music involved.

Mieko Nishijima(西島三重子)has been one of those underrated singers that wouldn't pop up immediately for even Japanese music lovers searching for some wonderful music. However I was lucky enough to have discovered her through "Sounds of Japan" back in the early 1980s when I heard her lovely "Hoshi Meguri"(星めぐり). From that 1977 song that has become a template of sorts for me, I came to see Nishijima as a singer of warm and fuzzy ballads arranged in a New Music style.

So, it was with some surprise once more that I found out that her "So yo, SMILE AGAIN" (Yes, Smile Again) was a track on her album "Shadow". I checked three sources to find out that the LP (!) was released in 1994 instead of the late 1970s or early 1980s that I had assumed was the time of release. I mean, 1994 was the time of the Komuro boom and Dreams Come True. But this particular final track by Nishijima with lyrics by Tadashi Hirano(平野肇)sounds so much like a tune from yesteryear. It doesn't sound like the traditional kayo but it has an atmosphere that could take listeners to an unknown past time occupied by lots of music halls.

I think it's those strings that do it and then the jazzy clarinet at the end. Plus, there's Nishijima's voicing of a woman begging for the love of her life to return to give that smile one more time, although the feeling is that it will be a wish unlikely to be fulfilled ever again. In a certain frame of mind, those tear ducts might get a work out. Still, it's nice to hear another one of her ballads again.