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, May 25, 2018

Pizzicato Five -- Banji Kaicho ~ tout va bien(万事快調)

Indeed a Friday night, so why not finish off with something fun and Shibuya-kei tonight?

The very first time that I had ever even heard or seen the legendary Pizzicato Five was on an episode of "The New Music", a local hip program on various kinds of music produced here in Toronto at City-TV way back when. One of the episodes was devoted to weird and wonderful Japanese music, and one of the acts that was showcased involved a sylph-like woman in a massive purple afro and 70s fashion just shimmying away. That was indeed the first time I ever met the divine Maki Nomiya(野宮真貴)and I really couldn't figure out what she and P5 were all about initially.

Perhaps the above video for "Banji Kaicho" was indeed where I had seen Nomiya for the first time. And I ought to use the French title "tout va bien" (Everything Is Fine) in future references since "Banji Kaicho" sounds just a little too stiff and formal, and Pizzicato Five is anything but. Grooving on the dance floor is P5's shtick. And according to the music video, everything is indeed fine as Ms. Nomiya has some of her buddies enjoying themselves with her including her partner in crime, Yasuharu Konishi (小西康陽...who also wrote and composed the song) and Keigo "Cornelius" Oyamada(小山田圭吾)from Flipper's Guitar. They danced pretty much the same way that I danced back in my university days, which means that there had been hope for me, after all.

If I'm not mistaken, that "beep-beep-beep-beep-YEAH!" is a phrase that I've heard many times somewhere, so perhaps "tout va bien" has reached the annals of memedom as well. The song headlines P5's 6th album "Sweet Pizzicato Five" from September 1992. Good choice there to start off some happy swing-worthy Friday-night-loving listening and shimmying. The only thing missing is that famous announcer going "A NEW STEREOPHONIC SOUND SPECTACULAR".

Masayoshi Takanaka -- An Insatiable High

"You...actually jogged?"

That's the response that I've usually received from friends whenever I tell them a bit about my past. Yup, considering how I look now, I can understand why they may look like they want to do a spit take, but indeed, when I was in junior high school, I actually did run a few kilometres most mornings in the area of my school. Crazily enough, I actually was thin once upon a time but that had just as much to do with those sudden growth spurts of adolescence as it did with my running. Even crazier was I also entered a half-marathon at the Toronto Zoo...and actually finished without spurting out my internal organs like a defensive sea cucumber.

All that preamble just to introduce one scintillating song by guitarist/songwriter Masayoshi Takanaka(高中正義). Seeing that cover for his 3rd solo album, "An Insatiable High" (1977), I wonder whether he caught onto jogging a few years before the activity got as huge as it did. That title also makes me ponder whether he had also been aware of that phenomenon known as "a runner's high". Yes, I also did experience that when I was running at the zoo...wondering through my huffing and puffing whether I would last much longer when I suddenly hit the perfect stride and things looked and felt a whole lot better.

That's what I thought when I heard the title track from the album. "An Insatiable High" actually goes for over 10 minutes, and its trip sounds and feels like Takanaka is relating a condensed melodic version of a marathon on a sunny day through some great countryside. And perhaps like the perfect run, he has buddies on his journey...some pretty famous ones. According to the article for the album on "Music Avenue", guitarist Lee Ritenour is jamming in there with Takanaka as Steve Forman, Paulinho Da Costa and Motoya Hamaguchi(浜口茂外也)are helping out on percussion with Jun Fukamachi(深町純)providing that nostalgic synthesizer sound. The one surprise is that pianist Patrice Rushen is handling a solo in "An Insatiable High"; I still remember her for "Forget Me Nots".

Considering the easy but fun run that Takanaka and friends take us, perhaps the song already has us in that zone or runner's high. Interestingly at about the 7-minute mark of this 10-minute odyssey, all of the heart-racing activity suddenly slows down into something far more mellow. Maybe it's here that Takanaka has crossed the finish line and we are experiencing the happy relieved collapse and the cool down. To be honest, the first time I heard this, I was a bit disappointed that the jamming suddenly came to an end with three minutes left to go but I think I will actually start appreciating the relaxation coda in time.

As for Takanaka himself, the Tokyo native debuted in 1971 and has straddled the rock and fusion worlds with this guitar. He apparently first participated in the band Strawberry Pass(ストロベリー・パス)with Hiro Tsunoda(つのだ☆ひろ)before getting together with others to form Fried Egg(フライド・エッグ), and isn't that the perfect name for a rock band of the early 1970s? He also took part in the Sadistic Mika Band(サディスティック・ミカ・バンド)before going solo with his first album "Seychelles" coming out in 1976. His most recent release was his 30th original album "Yonjuu Nenme no Niji"(40年目の虹...40th-Year Rainbow)in 2011.

Masako Mori -- Kanashimi Honsen Nihon Kai(哀しみ本線日本海)

It's Friday night....let's start off with a bit more shibui, shall we?

I'm sure that there must be at least some folks residing in the northern prefectures of Japan who sometimes wring their hands in frustration about why their homeland has perennially gotten chosen as the place where romance dies. I mean, as expressed through kayo, it's a beautiful death, but still, it just seems as whenever a poor fellow or lady has broken off a relationship (short or long), he/she may have that penchant to head for Aomori or Hokkaido or Iwate. Perhaps it's the snowy environment...autumn has usually been the season for relationships to go south; maybe winter is the time for the post-mortem.

Anyways, enough theorizing. As I said, let's go with something shibui and lovely at the same time. I've got Masako Mori's(森昌子)37th single from July 1981, "Kanashimi Honsen Nihon Kai" (Sorrowful Main Line Along The Sea of Japan). Listening to this atmospheric kayo, I think it's as shibui an enka as Akira Terao's(寺尾聡)hit "Ruby no Yubiwa"(ルビーの指輪)was as shibui a City Pop tune, and both came out in the same year.

Written by Toyohisa Araki(荒木とよひさ)and composed by Keisuke Hama(浜圭介), it's designated as an enka but the arrangement by Koji Ryuzaki(竜崎孝路), who also dabbles in R&B and general pop, suggests something beyond the Japanese shores, especially with the instrumental bridge. Mori sings about a final message to her paramour and wondering if he will cry for her once all is said and done. I think there is something about a lonely ride on a train heading north along the Sea of Japan that brings out the melancholy in listeners. My anime buddy is really wanting to take a trip along that long shore soon with his camera but in his case, it's not too sad at all.

"Kanashimi Honsen Nihon Kai" peaked at No. 36 on Oricon and won a Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards. It also got Mori an invitation to the 1981 Kohaku Utagassen. That particular show has been a touchstone in terms of my love for Japanese music but I can't quite remember her performance then, but I can imagine a lot of dry ice fog being pumped onto the stage when she sang it.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

H Jungle with t -- WOW WAR TONIGHT: Toki ni wa Okose yo Movement(時には起こせよムーヴメント)

Have you ever had the feeling of being the outside guy looking in? To elaborate a little bit more, what if you simply didn't understand or like something that seemingly has become a huge favourite phenomenon with everyone else?

That is the feeling that I have had for over 20 years when it comes to this song "WOW WAR TONIGHT: Toki ni wa Okose yo Movement" (Movement to Raise Hell Occasionally) by H Jungle with t, comprised of musician-producer-songwriter Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)and comedian Masatoshi Hamada(浜田雅功)from the Osakan duo Downtown. This mid-90s collaboration began with a simple guest appearance by Komuro on the long-running show "HEY! HEY! HEY! Music Champ" when co-host Hamada asked the fellow to write a hit song for him someday.

The debut single was indeed "WOW WAR TONIGHT", released in March 1995 with Hamada on the mike while Komuro was wailing away on his guitar. I remember the commercials selling the single and remarked that "Wow! Hamada really is singing out there". As the ball got rolling on the song, I started hearing about the genre of music known as jungle that apparently applied to "WOW WAR TONIGHT" (the duo's name was a big hint), but since electronic music outside of YMO and Pet Shop Boys at that time was largely unknown to me, I could only identify Komuro's music as a light reggae beat.

By the time 1995 was coming to a close, I recall that the song had become a massive hit, and in fact, was the song to sing at the many bonenkai (year-end parties) and karaoke outings to get everyone in a party mood. According to the J-Wiki article on "WOW WAR TONIGHT", Komuro said that he ended up creating the song when he thought about how extremely busy his partner Hamada had been at that time as one of the most popular entertainers around, and that it expanded to become a cheer song for all those fellows in their 30s working hard in their companies after seeing a bunch of salarymen in the Tokyo quarter of Hamamatsucho.

Reading the "WOW WAR TONIGHT" article, I have kept seeing a ton of praise being heaped on Komuro by folks such as Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一). And as such, it not only hit No. 1 on the singles charts but it stayed there for 7 straight weeks from March to May 1995, and it ended up as the 2nd-ranked single of the year. It also earned the JASRAC Gold Prize in 1996 and a current place as the 17th-ranked single in Oricon history, hitting the 2 million mark. Of course, the Kohaku Utagassen came calling.

And yet, I really hated the song when it came out. I thought Hamada was belting away like Japan's most famous amateur karaoke singer after a few stiff drinks, and when it came to the finish, the song struck me as being almost unlistenable. But I think that was the point with "WOW WAR TONIGHT"; it's about a straight-talking everyman exhorting everyone to unshackle those daily chains and let loose once in a while. It struck a chord with a lot of folks, then. In particular, karaoke wasn't the venue to show one's amazing prowess behind a mike; it was the place to de-stress and what better way to do so than singing one's favourite tunes while drinking down stuff with good buddies?

Listening to it in its entirety again after so many years, my feelings toward it haven't improved all that much, despite all the accolades (even from The Professor) and its status as the song to support the average man. Mind you, the softer parts of Hamada during the song and just remembering the times surrounding it with the Komuro Boom and my time as a NOVA teacher have softened my hardness toward it as a form of nostalgia. I felt that I had to put it up onto the blog...finally...since there are folks out there who really liked it and it has perhaps become one of the representative tunes for that decade. Plus, since I had been wrestling about whether to put up "WOW WAR TONIGHT" for literally years, I'm glad that I finally got it out of my system.

Yuko Matsutani/misono -- Lum no Love Song(ラムのラブソング)

Back in 2015, I wrote about the theme song for "Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer"(うる星やつら2: ビューティフル・ドリーマー), "Ai wa Boomerang"(愛はブーメラン), which had come out in 1984. I confessed that I was never a fan of the original series but that the character of Lum(ラム)was pretty well iconic to the point that even I knew about her.

Years ago, when I was living and working in the Tokyo area, a friend and I dropped into the famous Mandarake(まんだらけ)shop in Shibuya since my friend wanted to find a few things such as some manga. Apparently, it may have been one of the rules that at least some of the staffers there had to perform some sort of cosplay. Well, as I was walking through one of the narrow aisles, I encountered a young lithe lady who was decked out as the Lum. Yep, shrinking tiger-patterned outfit and all...just like the lady in the video above at Moa Channel, although the staffer at Mandarake was far more nonchalant. I quickly moved back the other way.

Last week, I wrote about singer-songwriter Izumi "Mimi" Kobayashi(小林泉美)who had been in the urban contemporary side of Japanese pop music from the 1970s. I found out that she had a lot to do with a number of the theme songs for "Urusei Yatsura", although "Ai wa Boomerang" wasn't one of them. However, she was partially responsible for the very first opening theme for the TV anime, "Lum no Love Song" (Lum's Love Song) which came out as a single in October 1981.

Sung by Yuko Matsutani(松谷祐子), who would also sing "Ai wa Boomerang", Kobayashi took care of music and arrangement while Akira Ito(伊藤アキラ)provided the lyrics. I only heard it for the first time a few nights ago, and it seems to come across just as saucy and coquettish as Lum herself. Nice touch with the Latin in there. The original version topped off at No. 50 on Oricon.

misono came out with her more hard-rocking version of "Lum no Love Song" as her 14th single in September 2009 which came out on the same day as her first album of cover songs "Cover Album"(カバALBUM). The single did even better than the original on Oricon by peaking at No. 18 while the album went as high as No. 28.

According to J-Wiki, when asked for the reason behind covering "Lum no Love Song", misono replied that since her older sister, Kumi Koda(倖田來未), had gotten her big break with her cover of the theme song for "Cutie Honey"(キューティーハニー), another anime from yesteryear, she naturally thought that she could do the same with her own cover of an anison.

Ami Ozaki -- Wanderer In Love

Finally! According to the local weather broadcaster, it had been 8 months since my city actually got a 30-degree Celsius temperature. Yes, it's been a long and hard winter but things seem to be finally looking up.

What added to the good vibes today was listening to this song by songsmith Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美), "Wanderer In Love". And all I can say is that it further answers the question "What would you get if you brought together TOTO and Japanese pop?" Well, that has already been answered by folks like Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)and Naoko Kawai(河合奈保子)from that time, and "Wanderer In Love" is another fine response.

As with Takeuchi and Kawai, Ozaki got to work with David Foster and Tom Keane in crafting tracks for her an album. In her case, it was "Hot Baby" from May 1981. For those who love the AOR on both sides of the Pacific, this is the one for you. You've got Ozaki's familiar velvety vocals paired with music that was performed by a combination of TOTO (Steve Lukather & Jeff Porcaro) and Airplay (Foster & Jay Graydon) and a great sax by Tom Scott. My inner 80s was crying for joy at the accomplishment.

"Hot Baby" has been mentioned in "Japanese City Pop" and "Music Avenue", and both book and website have specifically identified "Wanderer In Love" as one of the highlights. Gotta try and get this album.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

orange pekoe -- Gokurakucho ~ Bird of Paradise(極楽鳥)

The songs by orange pekoe that I've posted in the past have been categorized as both jazz and Shibuya-kei, and that's only two of the genres that identify this band from Hyogo Prefecture. Kazuma Fujimoto and Tomoko Nakajima(藤本一馬・ナガシマトモコ)have also brought Latin, Indie Pop and the general J-Pop to the fore, but this particular single is absolutely pure joyous jazz.

Being an old swing fan, I really like orange pekoe's 6th single "Gokurakucho" from May 2003. It's the type of song that would get me thinking of those days back in Japan when I really got into the swing (pun intended) of things when it came to jazz. I've always appreciated modern takes on the old stuff (yes, I'm fully aware that the single came out 15 years ago). And "Gokurakucho" is one of those numbers that probably could get the folks back in the day to snap their fingers and hit the dance floor.

If the usual pattern holds true, then Fujimoto composed the song while Nakajima wrote the lyrics and provided her snazzy vocals. "Gokurakucho" reached No. 25 on Oricon and was also included on orange pekoe's 2nd album "Modern Lights" from July 2003. That peaked at No. 6.