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.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Pen Friend Club -- Doyoubi no Koibito (土曜日の恋人)

It was back during my JET days that I discovered the term pen friend which was the Japanese term for pen pal. Seems rather quaint now for such an expression to exist considering that we are now in the world of e-mail and texting. And even back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I only communicated with my old friends back in Toronto by snail mail so my round-trip correspondence would usually take two weeks! Yes, I'm sure some of you young'uns reading this article are envisioning words such as prehistoric and Cretaceous.

But hey, this is the place for some of the old stuff, the old kayo, to come through. To emphasize my point that the Japanese of today still love their standards of yesteryear, I introduce the band The Pen Friend Club(ザ・ペンフレンドクラブ). According to their J-Wiki entry, this is a rock band that started up in 2012 focusing on 1960s music, specifically covering the material of The Beach Boys, Phil Spector and other artists who were into West Coast Rock. And on the Japan side of things, the band is also a big fan of Eiichi Ohtaki(大滝詠一)and Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎).

Ol' Tats still gets a lot of love from the fellows around him. Perhaps a number of anison fans may have discovered the wonders of Mr. Yamashita via Junk Fujiyama's(ジャンクフジヤマ)"Hoshikuzu no Pipeline"(星屑のパイプライン). Well, The Pen Friend Club, which has had a lot of members pass through its doors, has also given its tribute to the legendary singer-songwriter with its cover of "Doyoubi no Koibito" (Saturday is for Lovers), one of the finest and sunniest numbers that he has created.

I don't know which of the female members is providing the vocals for "Doyoubi no Koibito", but she does give it a lot of justice. Sweet and light...just the type of tone for a summer song.

The Pen Friend Club has released 4 albums since its debut and its cover of "Doyoubi no Koibito" was placed onto its third album "Season of the Pen Friend Club" in 2016. I also noticed that although it's said that they focus on the 1960s, the band has also covered songs by Elton John and The Captain and Tennille.

Teruhiko Aoi -- Futari no Sekai (二人の世界)

I was browsing through YouTube to track down that Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎)ballad "Futari no Sekai", and discovered that there was at least one other song with the same title. So, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and take care of this one by Teruhiko Aoi(あおい輝彦).

My knowledge of Johnny's groups and singers had extended as far back as the early 1980s with the Tanokin Trio. However, since starting up "Kayo Kyoku Plus", I have discovered that Johnny Kitagawa and his empire went back even further as far back as the 1960s with the band Johnnys. One of the members of the group was indeed Teruhiko Aoi.

Not long after Johnnys broke up in 1967, Aoi went ahead with a solo singing and acting career. He released his debut single, "Boku no Himitsu"(僕の秘密...My Secret)in 1968 but it would be a few years before his second single would come out. That was his "Futari no Sekai" (Our World) which was released in February 1971.

Used as the theme song for a Fuji-TV drama also titled "Futari no Sekai" which came out in December 1970, Aoi also had a supporting role in the show which depicted a young couple created from a chance meeting at a concert and then getting married a mere 3 months later. The theme song has Aoi singing from the guy's point of view as he pours out his love and devotion to the lady of his life.

I couldn't help but compare Ishihara's "Futari no Sekai" with Aoi's version. Whereas the former has that setting of a Ginza nightclub with two seasoned lovers with yen to burn, the latter has more innocent and naive partners making their new middle-class life.

As someone who used to watch a lot of "Tora-san" movies and other similar comedy-drama flicks with their soundtracks at the Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre here in Toronto as a kid, and then hear some of the kayo on the stereo, I like the melody led by the strings and the other instruments that was created by Chuji Kinoshita(木下忠司). That's the nostalgia coming out once again.As for the heartfelt lyrics, they were written by Taichi Yamada(山田太一)who also came up with the screenplay for the drama itself. Finally, I gotta say that Aoi has got quite the nice voice.

On the Oricon charts, this was Aoi's first Top 10 hit as a solo singer as "Futari no Sekai" peaked at No. 3. Although it didn't make the Top 10 for 1971, it came close as it positioned at No. 13.

Yujiro Ishihara -- Futari no Sekai (二人の世界)

I think I deserve to slap myself with a Mood Kayo CD. It's been 30 years since Yujiro Ishihara's(石原裕次郎)passing and I forgot to mention something back on July 17th which was the date that he died at the age of 52 (which is what I will be in a few months). To be honest, for some reason, I had thought that he left this mortal coil on the 21st.

Well, allow me to make amends. Here is The Tough Guy's 2nd-most successful single of his career, "Futari no Sekai" from 1965. A very classic Mood Kayo with that hint of Latin, I would translate it as "Our World" instead of the literal "A World for Two" since the lyrics by Mitsuo Ikeda(池田充男)definitely have Ishihara crooning in the first person as he lovingly praises his lover in that expensive nightclub. Masayoshi Tsuruoka(鶴岡雅義)took care of the music. The interesting thing is that although it is the familiar Yujiro voice, it has yet to take on that baritone rumble from the 1970s. In fact, he even has a bit of a falsetto at the end of each verse.

The song also begat a movie of the same title the following year starring Ishihara and Ruriko Asaoka(浅丘ルリ子). It is described as a "Mood Action" flick which I think might be the same as a hard-boiled thriller. He certainly rocks those sunglasses in the karaoke video above. As I said, "Futari no Sekai" is the No. 2 song in his long discography as it sold about 2.8 million records. His No. 1 record, which sold well over 3 million records can be found here.

I'm sure in a number of bars, izakaya, nomiya and even karaoke boxes in Japan, this week has probably seen quite a few tributes to the The Tough Guy. Although I'm no whisky drinker, I will hold up a tumbler in his honour.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hiromi Ohta -- City Lights

Hiromi Ohta(太田裕美)may have been classified as an aidoru of the 1970s but I think as the 1980s drew upon all of us, she dabbled more and more into the urban side of music.

Case in point: "City Lights", an uptempo song that has that City Pop beat but still has those Ohta vocals to keep things a tad lighter. Written by Keisuke Yamakawa(山川啓介)and composed by Kingo Hamada(浜田金吾), the latter who has quite the experience with the urban genre, the notable thing about "City Lights" is how Ohta tackles things a bit more forcefully here so I don't hear as much of that creamy lower register in her voice. Nope, it probably wasn't on the level of a single A-side but it's another pleasant example of the singer reflecting a genre that was hitting its stride at the time.

"City Lights" was a track on Ohta's 13th album "Juu-ni Gatsu no Tabibito"(十二月の旅人...December Traveler)that came out, logically enough, in December 1980. Apparently, it had initially originally been meant to be titled "Umi ni Furu Yuki"(海に降る雪...Snow Falling on the Sea)but someone decided on the change. No, it's not an important point but since J-Wiki did mention it, I thought I might as well provide some trivial trivia. In any case, Yamakawa and Hamada were responsible for almost half of the songs on the album.

Kenji Kondo -- Shirokuma Cafe Music Playlist Follow-Up (しろくまカフェミュージックプレイリスト)

Hump Day....actually, it was supposed to have been something else today. Unfortunately, my old friend informed me that he wouldn't be able to meet up due to sudden work obligations. And to compound things, it's rather too late to inform my powers-that-be that I'm available for work due to time sensitivity. However, I was able to make some lemonade out of lemons since I decided to cook for dinner on my own tonight. I'll be making my own Peperoncino Pasta for the first time since my Japan days so I picked up the ingredients an hour ago.

Now, one of my wishes when I get to Tokyo next time is to visit the actual Shirokuma Cafe in Takadanobaba. It's been open for a few years now and looking at YouTube, it looks like it's gotten its fair share of overseas customers since the anime has garnered a lot of non-Japanese fans, including yours truly. Let us hope that it continues to do so before I get there, so I'm appealing to anyone working at the cafe who may read this article: make a welcome for J-Canuck!

Well, I've decided to do a follow-up of sorts to the lovely anime soundtrack of "Shirokuma Cafe" that I first wrote about a little over a year ago. The one trigger for the follow-up was actually a statement at the end of the first article about my wish to find some hint of the glorious and hilarious music surrounding Penguin's supposedly successful attempts to court Penko-san.

I couldn't find a video with the actual track but I was able to find Episode 9 of the show which featured excerpts of "Romance Kumikyoku"(ロマンス組曲...The Romance Suite)from around 13:30 in the video above. The track truly is a sweet suite as composer Kenji Kondo(近藤研二)goes melodically through the highs and lows of love...the full track is indeed marvelous. The old-style jazz violin swoops and soars like a virtuoso Stephane Grappelli around the love struck yet ineffectual Penguin. In a way, it reflects the character's creation of a mountain out of a molehill in terms of a simple confession of love to Penko-san (buyer's remorse though much later); mind you, having been in a similar situation when I was a lad, I don't think I have any right to make fun of the bird.

Going through the comments for Hiroshi Kamiya's(神谷浩史)portrayal of Penguin, I still come across a lot of amazement about how the seiyuu for a kickass character in "Code Geass" could master what comes across as the Barney Fife (Google or YouTube him) of "Shirokuma Cafe".

I'm kinda surprised that I hadn't included this track in the original article but I guess since I had already included a couple of wistful tracks there, it was just as well. Anyways, this is "Onaji Hoshi wo Miteita"(同じ星を見ていた...We Were Watching The Same Star)which popped up in a number of the more introspective scenes of the show.

The other one is another funny tongue-in-cheek musical jab. Just like Kondo decided to take a poke at Arashi(嵐)and other male aidoru groups through "Yama Arashi Tonight!"(ヤマアラシ☆トゥナイト!), he also took on the tokusatsu theme genre with "Nankyoku Sentai Penguingers"(南極戦隊ペンギンジャー...South Pole Squad Penguin Rangers). There was a running gag during the later episodes of the show in which some of the minor penguin characters decided that they had to make a name for themselves in show business so why not become the first Antarctica-based superheroes? Cue the heroic synth-horns!

Allow me once more to end things with another post-credits routine by the main characters.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Milky Way -- Natsu no Hi no Koi (夏の日の恋)

Anyone who has reached my age must have heard the above song "Theme From A Summer Place" at least a few times through television or movies (including the titular 1959 film itself). Not only was the Percy Faith version from 1960 a smash hit on Billboard (stayed at No. 1 for 9 straight weeks), it has been used in a number of other movies and TV shows in the decades since, including one key scene from "National Lampoon's Animal House".

Little did I know that "Theme From A Summer Place" would even be adapted into a mellow Japanese AOR piece. But that's what happened when the band The Milky Way spearheaded by Makoto Matsushita(松下誠)and Kazuo Nobuta(信田一男)concocted their album "Summertime Love Song" in 1979. I have already written about the album in general several months ago and knew that most of the songs were breezy covers of AOR tunes, but hadn't known about this first track since it was titled in Japanese as "Natsu no Hi no Koi" (Summer Day Love); by the way, it's the first track.

I was accustomed to hearing Japanese covers of American standards from the 1950s and 1960s being released in those same two decades, but I guess this might be the first time hearing something like this made at the tail end of the 1970s. The somewhat dated kitschiness of the original (due to it being used in everything from the aforementioned "Animal House" to the 1989 "Batman" to the 2001 "Ocean's Eleven") has been replaced by a rather smooth sheen here, although admittedly for those who don't like AOR/Smooth Jazz/Yacht Rock, perhaps the arrangement might also be considered a bit kitschy. Hey, I'm fine with it.

Kinki Kids -- Flower (フラワー)

On last week's "Uta Kon"(うたコン), I was surprised to hear that one-half of the Kinki Kids, dark-haired Tsuyoshi Domoto(堂本剛), has been indisposed for almost a month due to a sudden bout of deafness in one ear. So it was only his partner, Koichi Domoto(堂本光一), present on the show. I hope Tsuyoshi-san is well on the mend.

I think until Arashi(嵐)was able to get on top of the Johnny's Entertainment heap, the Kinki Kids were the Johnny's group that I could reliably depend on for comic zingers as well as music. It explains how they were able to front a late Saturday night music variety show for several years way back when.

And around that time, the Kinki Kids came up with another hit from their 7th single "Flower". Released in May 1999, this is a very happy song with a slight reggae beat which was written and composed by the music group HΛL, and its memory came back to me when "Uta Kon" devoted a couple of minutes to a quick retrospective of the Kids' music.

(supposedly a cover version, but this guy sounds like the real McCoy!)

What I also found out is that City Pop guitarist Makoto Matsushita(松下誠)arranged the chorus sections. And even more importantly is that this was yet another Kinki Kids hit that reached the No. 1 spot. What I hadn't done in the previous Kinki Kids articles was mention that the Domotos have the Guinness record of scoring the longest consecutive run of No. 1 singles since their debut in history! Yup, they have released 38 singles including one that came out less than a week ago, "The Red Light", and all of them hit the top spot on Oricon. Not B'z, not Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実)and not Hikaru Utada(宇多田ヒカル)can claim that record.

In its first week alone, "Flower" managed to sell close to 370,000 copies and overall sold a little over a million copies, their 4th million-seller. It would also become the 10th-ranked single of 1999. Plus, it was the song for ANA's Okinawa campaign.

"Flower" was also a track on Kinki Kids' 3rd album "C Album" which came out in August 1999. That album also hit No. 1 and went Triple Platinum, becoming the 28th-ranked album of the year.