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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Hikaru Utada -- Can't Wait 'Til Christmas

Another Christmas season is upon us and I'm sure certain neighbourhoods in Tokyo are simply overflowing with multi-coloured LEDs and other sorts of decorations to welcome in the Yuletide. Plus, the hotels and restaurants are probably enticing romantic couples for a wonderful night out. In fact, I heard recently that Xmas may be even more popular than Valentine's Day (another observed and very popular holiday in the nation) when it comes to affairs of the heart.

When I heard Hikaru Utada's(宇多田ヒカル)"Can't Wait 'Til Christmas" for the very first time a few days ago, my impression was that this was a typically Japanese Xmas song based on what I wrote down in the first paragraph. Supposedly Utada was rather nervous about creating this song since she had never written or composed a Xmas ballad before, perhaps since her idea of the Holidays might be more along the lines of mine: either the religious theme of Jesus Christ's birth or the secular theme of Santa Claus on his merry ride on December 24th.

But I would say that she didn't miss the target at all. It's a soft and warm piano-based tune to curl up around with that significant other in front of the fireplace...or the TV screen switched to the Fireplace Channel. The song was one of the tracks on Disc 2 of her second compilation album from November 2010 "Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 2" which hit No. 1 and went Double Platinum. It eventually became the 56th-ranked album of 2011.

"Can't Wait 'Til Christmas" also became the Xmas campaign song for Pepsi Nex that year since there's nothing like cola for the Holidays. Just ask Santa and Coca-Cola.

Utada has of course performed the song in concert but so has Ken Hirai(平井堅)as a cover.

And if you want to give the song a go with that warm crackling feeling of a down-home fireplace, give the above video a go.

Ruriko Asaoka -- Ai no Kaseki(愛の化石)

A few nights ago, I wrote about a couple of veteran singers' cover of the evergreen "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" which has become this paean to permanently lost love. Well, on a recent episode of "Uta Kon" (うたコン), I heard another love-drenched ballad from the same decade as performed by 76-year-old actress Ruriko Asaoka(浅丘ルリ子).

Her "Ai no Kaseki" (Fossil of Love) was actually her 3rd-last single in her side career as a singer which came out in August 1969. She'd been recording a lot of singles since 1957 but it seems as if this particular song was her only really big hit aside from "Yuuhi no Oka"(夕陽の丘...Hill of the Setting Sun), her 1963 duet with Yujiro Ishihara石原裕次郎...haven't written about this one yet). Although it hasn't officially been categorized as such, I would probably say that "Ai no Kaseki" almost rates as something French in terms of how Asaoka sings and talks her way through it. It certainly sounds mournful enough as the actress relates her fairly painful reminiscences of a past happy relationship that is very much in the past.

(karaoke version)

"Ai no Kaseki" was written by Rokuro Namiki(並木六郎)and composed by Takashi Miki(三木たかし). The song reached No. 2 on Oricon and was successful enough so that a movie starring Asaoka was produced in the following year based on it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

class -- Natsu no Hi no 1993 (夏の日の1993)

Ah, this was a song that rather slipped in between the cracks of my memory. And yet I do remember the certain lines in "Natsu no Hi no 1993" (Summer Days of 1993) where the duo known as class wavered their voices such as "Dramatic ni Say Love". Plus, as I recall, it was a popular tune for some of those tarento to try out during those televised karaoke specials.

Since I was between my Gunma and Tokyo gigs back in Toronto during the early 1990s, I rather missed out on the male pop-rock bands that proliferated during those years before the Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)dance music craze took full flight in J-Pop. class was one of those bands along with acts such as Mr. Children, Wands and ZYYG that in a way kinda extrapolated with the summer music that started with Southern All Stars and then TUBE in the 1980s. This duo consisted of Katsuyuki Tsukui(津久井克行)from Gunma Prefecture and Takanori Hiura(日浦孝則)who hails from Hiroshima Prefecture.

So I guess it's natural enough that class hit a home run right from its debut single, "Natsu no Hi no 1993" (the year is actually pronounced "nineteen-nine-three" in the song). Although Ken Sato's(佐藤健)melody has that proud anthem feeling, Ikki Matsumoto's(松本一起)lyrics are all about admiring the women in their summer finery during those hot days in that titular year. And yet although the song was actually released in April 1993, a few months before the season, it already had that nostalgic feeling baked right in there.

The song was also used as the theme for the TV Asahi drama "Kimi to Itsumade mo"(君といつまでも...Always With You)and as the commercial campaign song for the Saison credit card, so it got plenty of exposure which earned it a lot of requests on yuusen radio(有線ラジオ...cable radio). "Natsu no Hi no 1993" peaked at No. 3 on Oricon and sold close to 1.2 million copies according to that chart although J-Wiki also mentions that it may have even exceeded 1.7 million. For all that, it still didn't crack the year's Top 10, settling in at No. 15.

The above video has Tsukui performing class' most successful song for one of the last times in July 2009. A few short months later, he would pass away tragically from pancreatic cancer just a week short of his 50th birthday. The duo had its first run between 1993 and 1996 releasing 7 singles. class got together again from 2003 to 2009 although original member Hiura apparently didn't stay beyond 2004 possibly, replaced by Koso Okazaki(岡崎公聡). Their second run produced a couple of more singles, the first being an updated version of "Natsu no Hi no 1993". Also a total of 6 original albums were produced.

Kanako Wada -- Mou Hitotsu no Yesterday (もうひとつのイエスタデイ)

Man, am I beat! Since I have to be away from the apartment tomorrow, I offered my project manager to do some extra translations to compensate and he really compensated. Ended up getting the largest batch of regular files so far in my translation history. He was kind enough to give me a deadline of Thursday but since when I get onto a daily assignment, I usually want to get it done on that day, I plowed through it like a tank and got it all done in about 4 hours. It's actually nice then that I could get a nice dinner tonight and of course, I can write here. Plus, there are the fall finales for "The Flash" and "Agents of SHIELD" to look forward to later tonight.😌

It's been a while since I've written about Kanako Wada(和田加奈子)in a single article. And all this time that I was worrying that I was overdoing it on her contributions to "Kimagure Orange Road" (きまぐれオレンジ☆ロード), I found out that it's been over 2.5 years since I actually typed in any sort of article having to do with a Wada-KOR collaboration.

So, here is "Mou Hitotsu no Yesterday" (Another Yesterday) which was the ending theme for a KOR OVA (nice ancient media concept), and I was surprised to find out that the OVA had come out in 1991. And here I thought that KOR was strictly an 80s concoction. Still, the song has that genki 80s feeling to it and it just seems to have that good fit with Wada. Penned by Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子)and composed by Yuuichiro Oda(小田裕一郎), "Mou Hitotsu no Yesterday" has that sprightly spring in its step with the horns and the mellow feel-good vocals of the singer.

When I had first heard it on "Kanako Wada -- Golden Best" which seems to be the only Wada album that it has been recorded on, "Mou Hitotsu no Yesterday" didn't quite click with me but that kinda showed how much I liked the other songs by the singer for the anime. Now, it fits in quite nicely with my mood. Of course, the song is also on one of the myriad soundtracks for the show "Kimagure Orange Road -- Singing Heart".

Monday, December 5, 2016

Akiko Yano -- Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji (東京は夜の7時)

Imagine my surprise when I found out that "Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji" (7pm in Tokyo), a song that has arguably been the calling card for the Shibuya-kei band Pizzicato Five since the mid-1990s had a title that had already been adopted by another eclectic singer almost 2 decades prior.

That's right. "Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji" was also a different song created by songsmith Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)way back in 1979. In fact, her 2nd live album (and 5th overall) was also given that title. Moreover while the P5 anthem had the English subtitle of "The Night Is Still Young", Yano's creation had the more enigmatic "God's Loyal Love".

Continuing on with the comparison, the Pizzicato Five song had that theme of painting the city of Tokyo a fabulous red but Yano's "Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji" was all about what was going on at different points in the world when the Japanese megalopolis' clock struck 7pm. It was 7am in Rio, 12 midnight in Anchorage and 12 noon in Cairo. There was a glorious feeling of reaching out and touching someone abroad within the song that could have made it the ideal jingle for NTT or KDD.

However, I love the music by Yano even more. She may have made quite the added splash when she added the techno to her pop going into the 1980s but her New Music approach back in the 1970s is also very comfortable to me. She even has the members of Yellow Magic Orchestra as part of her band along with Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)and Minako Yoshida (吉田美奈子) as backing singers (!), but "Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji" has that homey feeling despite the flying theme and music heading to points overseas. And one reason is that piano of hers. There is a goodly amount of warmth and familiarity emanating from the keys when Yano hits them as if it were her best and more travel-experienced friend. The piano is probably saying "Don't're safe with me". Couldn't ask for a better companion on a journey.

Heartsdales -- So Tell Me

Nope, I'm not really a rap or hip-hop fan although there are a few songs here and there that I have enjoyed such as "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (and your comments concerning geriatrics). And frankly even with that classic, when I first heard the intro, I thought it was the beginning of a new Yellow Magic Orchestra tune that I had yet to hear. Basically, my love for R&B is geared more towards the old-time soul, disco and Quiet Storm (I love Anita Baker).

And so it goes with J-R&B. Folks like bird and Misia will be more along the lines of that soul, disco and Quiet Storm. However, there is m-flo which does go into the hip-hop/rap area (or maybe purists might say it's more hip-pop), and it was during the turn of the century when VERBAL and company were starting to take a fairly big role in the R&B that was sweeping through Japan.

One of those acts was a sister act called Heartsdales. That name was enough to peak my interest but there was also their catchy debut song "So Tell Me" which came out in December 2001. I still remember the music video (it got lots of airplay on the music channels when I was back there) which was apparently filmed on some sort of military vessel perhaps. And of course, there was no way that VERBAL was going to be left out from being in front of the camera and the recording booth although he also helped write the lyrics with the Heartsdales sisters themselves. The m-flo impresario also took care of the music along with R&B producer T. Kura and his wife, singer and music producer Michico.

"So Tell Me" simply stood out for me for that whirlwind mixture of English and Japanese, the delivery of the lyrics by Rum (Yumi Sugiyama...杉山ユミ) and Jewels (Emi Sugiyama...杉山エミ) especially the "Hearts-da-L-E-S" and "So tell me what you want...", and that shift between the rap and the musical refrain. However, I'm kinda wondering whether VERBAL's grunts on yet another song were starting to get a bit wearying for some listeners.

As I mentioned, the name Heartsdales rather intrigued me as a name for a hip-hop duo. Apparently, Rum and Jewels had spent their formative years in Yonkers, New York and decided to adopt the name from another small district in the state called Hartsdale. Another thing that I hadn't known was that the Sugiyamas had gotten their big break through the TV Tokyo Sunday night audition program "ASAYAN" which then I would cheekily state that they could be "cousins" of Morning Musume and Chemistry.

"So Tell Me" went all the way up to No. 8 on Oricon and became the 96th-ranked single for 2002. With sales of over 100,000 copies, it was their biggest hit. Heartsdales itself lasted from 2001 to 2006 with 14 singles and 4 albums. According to Wikipedia, the sisters are now living apart with Emi in Tokyo and Yumi in New York City taking care of her own studio and a little son.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Keiko Matsuyama -- O-Wakare Koshu Denwa (お別れ公衆電話)

Another song I picked up on during the most recent edition of "Uta Kon" (うたコン) back on Tuesday night was a mournful ballad titled "O-Wakare Koshu Denwa" (Parting in a Phone Booth), originally sung by the late Keiko Matsuyama(松山恵子).

Even at the intro, as soon as I saw the title, I just went "Wow! What a perfectly appropriate title for a Mood Kayo/enka tune". There's nothing so bittersweet than breaking up by phone at some rainy train station although I wonder if the method today is by LINE in Japan. What would be the emoji for breaking up, by the way? Still, although it's the most difficult way, I think parting in person is the right thing to do.

Anyways, "O-Wakare Koshu Denwa" was released in 1959 as one of Matsuyama's signature songs when she was around 22 years old. This is one of those songs that I couldn't really decide whether it was an enka tune or a Mood Kayo affair. The singer's lament on love lost would certainly indicate a Mood Kayo but despite the sad horn section, the tempo and the melody still remind me of an old-style enka. What also stands out was the use of that organ at the intro and outro along with the brief piano solo during the instrumental bridge.

The performance during "Uta Kon" and the performance by Matsuyama herself above bring a much less intimate and brassier feeling to "O-Wakare Koshu Denwa" so that it does really feel like a full Mood Kayo. Despite the song wrapping around the setting of a phone booth, perhaps the booth is now in the middle of Ginza. The song was written by Tetsuro Fujima(藤間哲郎)and composed by Munekata Hakamada袴田宗孝....not quite sure on the reading of the family name).

Keiko Matsuyama was born Tsuneko Okazaki(岡崎恒好)in 1937 in Fukuoka Prefecture although soon after the war, her family moved to the city of Uwajima in Ehime Prefecture. Debuting in 1955 with "Yoimachi Waltz"(宵町ワルツ), she would release many singles and even appear on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen for a total of 8 times including consecutive appearances between 1957 to 1963 although she wouldn't perform "O-Wakare Koshu Denwa" on any of those shows as well as on her final appearance in 1989. Matsuyama passed away at the age of 69 in May 2006. To commemorate that particular song, a special phone booth was constructed in JR Uwajima Station.