Savouring the Beautiful Spring Weather with The Rippingtons’ “Sahara”

The weather here in Japan is still on a roller coaster. The days are either sweltering hot, cold with rain, windy, or sunny. Recently, the weather has been delightful. This fantastic weather means I can enjoy the pleasant spring air while listening to exhilarating pieces like today’s selection.

Sahara has two meanings in the dictionary: (a) a desert in North Africa that extends from the Atlantic to the Nile valley and (b) any arid waste. The Rippingtons’ “Sahara” doesn’t feel like a tune that fits the description of parched, barren land. Instead, it’s the exact opposite as “Sahara” is a refreshing piece that lets you indulge in the delightful weather of April.

The song starts off mellowly with Russ Freeman strumming an acoustic guitar riff that takes the lead. The bass supplies the supporting notes here and there. Meanwhile, Tony Morales and Steve Reid perform drums (mostly hi-hat) and percussion (primarily maracas and maybe a wooden block). The real action comes at the chorus. It starts off with a trombone prelude. Then, the piece suddenly changes moods as it’s loud and lively compared to the mellow verses. The chorus is exhilarating as the saxophone, performed by Jeff Kashiwa, quenches the need for an explosive climax. It also entices the listener with its sultry melody. The finale comes after a few more exchanges between verses and chorus. Instruments continue as they fade into silence. This way of ending the song makes the listener wonder what would happen if the piece carried on.

I can’t find much information on how and why this song was written in the way it was. I would call this piece more of an oasis in the desert. It relaxes, allures, and quenches the listener’s musical soul. A true exhilarating tune for spring.

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#Throwback Thursday: Misato Watanabe Grasps on the Last Memories of a Past Love With “Moonlight Dance”

I wanted to write a weekly Throwback Thursday last week. But, April has been such a busy month for me as it is the start of the new school year. I will try to write two Throwbacks this week to compensate.

Misato Watanabe is a female vocalist hailing from Kyoto Prefecture. She made her debut in 1984 after winning the Best Vocalist Award at the 3rd Annual Miss Seventeen Contest. Watanabe didn’t make her appearance in the music industry at first. Instead, she began as a model for the magazine Seventeen. The Kyoto native went on to become a singer by releasing her debut single, entitled “I’m free”, a year later. It was with her fourth single, “My Revolution”, when she capitulated into stardom. Tetsuya Komuro composed the song, who has been a pivotal hitmaker for big-name artists like Namie Amuro, globe, TM Network, and others. Watanabe went on to enjoy releasing numerous hit singles and albums after her ground-breaking single.

Released in the late spring period of 1989, “Moonlight Dance” is the 13th single by Watanabe. It was also featured on the album Flower bed. This was the album that first introduced me to “Moonlight Dance”. But, it’s not the first time I have listened to her music. You see, I have been listening to Watanabe’s songs for about eleven years. The first album that I heard was ribbon. I downloaded it at first as I was curious about Misato Watanabe. I would, later on, buy a physical copy of the album along with other works as I wanted to listen to more by this vigorous vocalist.

However, the way how I collect and listen music has changed recently. A year ago, I subscribed to a plan of unlimited streaming on Spotify. There is a significant collection of music from all different genres, artists, label status (Indies or Major), and countries within Spotify’s library. I also enjoy the “My Daily Mix” playlists that mix songs I like with similar-sounding ones that I haven’t heard before. And, from one of those playlists is how I met “Moonlight Dance”.

The song is a dark, minor tune that details one woman sadly reminiscing the memories of a past love. She wonders where those good old days that were filled with the warm summer light, the fun activities, and the times where the two lovers spent together. This pain of reminiscence is carried evenly with each instrument part, with the guitar part being the most prominent representation. A prime example is where the guitarist, Nobuyuki Shimizu, plays a high-pitched distorted sub-melody during the pre-chorus (1:21). This screeching distortion would be critical in later Tetsuya Komuro tunes, especially nine years later with globe’s “wanna be a dreammaker”. The reason why this sound is prominent in these two songs is the fact that it may be the “being heartbroken” sound as the distorted guitar’s tone carries similar feelings; regret, sadness, anger, and brokenness.

Besides the guitar part, everything else is subdued, excluding Misato’s rich vocals. Even Tetsuya Komuro’s important synthesized notes aren’t heard much throughout the song, just little flutters of notes here and there. The primary focus is on the vocals and guitar. Though, the mood of “Moonlight Dance” reminds me of T.M Network’s “SEVEN DAYS WARS”, “Self Control”, and “Fighting (Kimi wa Fighting)”, except that “Moonlight Dance” is placed in a moodier minor key.

“Moonlight Dance” wasn’t a number one hit for Misato Watanabe. Nevertheless, it’s a decent song with Misato’s powerful vocals. It has grown into being one my favorites by the Kyoto native as I love minor pieces like this one as they convey raw, sorrowful, and powerful emotions. Also, the “old fashion love song for you” part is my favorite part of the song. I love it as it appears out of the blue.

Check out a live performance taped in 1989 below and tell me what you think.

Remembering AVICCI

A lot has happened over the course of this past week. I know every week has their ups and downs. But, it feels like last week had more surprising downs than others. Especially yesterday.

To be honest, I don’t know much about AVICII’s songs. I am not much into EDM or today’s house songs, so his music would rarely appear on my Spotify recommended playlists. But, I have heard of him. I remember coming across his 2013 song ‘Wake Me Up” when I was watching a late night weekly countdown program in the summer of 2014. I liked the song’s style, a cross between country and EDM. It was a perfect blend as it wasn’t too country yet there wasn’t an excess of EDM-influenced keyboards.

It is unfortunate when young musicians like AVICII pass away too soon. He was a talented musician that knew how to make refreshing and innovated electronica tunes. But, he wasn’t just EDM or house. He was a musician that infused different genres together. House, funk, country, soul. You name the genre; he could create brilliant tunes with it.

His career may have been cut short suddenly, but his masterpieces and musicianship will be remembered for a long time.

 

 

ATSUSHI from EXILE Covers a Recent Classic With Sincere Effort

This spring has brought out a handful of new releases as well as different takes on older hits. One such example is ATSUSHI (from EXILE)’s take on Bruno Mars’ debut song “The Way You Are”.

ATSUSHI is one of the current leading vocalists in the megahit boy group EXILE here in Japan. He got his start in 2001 when Hiro, a veteran performer who rose to fame in the early 1990s as a member of ZOO, asked him to join the newly formed group named J Soul Brothers. HIRO’s invitation came after seeing ATSUSHI’s audition on the legendary audition show ASAYAN. J Soul Brothers would later be renamed as EXILE with ATSUSHI penning lyrics for a lot of their hit tunes. Heard of “EXILE PRIDE (Konna Sekai wo Ai Suru Tame)”? “Rising Sun”? How about “Yasashii Hikari”? Yeah, those are a few of the many songs he wrote lyrics for.

The vocalist later went on to release his debut single in 2011, entitled “Itsuka Kitto…”. Being a vocalist AND a songwriter wasn’t enough for ATSUSHI. He also created groups like Deep, first as a member then as the producer. He later formed Red Diamond Dogs, which serves as his backing band whenever he goes on tour. In 2017, he announced that his activities in EXILE would  so he could focus more on international activities

That is where we come full circle with his latest release. Of course, he isn’t the only one in the EXILE tribe to be releasing covers of famous Western hits. GENERATIONS (from Exile Tribe) released a Best-Of album early this year that contained best hits (in two languages: Japanese and English) and covers, which one was the Jackson Sisters’ “I Believe in Miracles”

The covers that were performed by GENERATIONS and ATSUSHI have a similar issue: the lack of energy. I dislike the GENERATIONS’ cover of “I Believe in Miracles” and the reason why is that it sounds so boring. It’s like the main singer didn’t put enough soul. And instead, sounding like he was asleep when recording the song. That is the same for ATSUSHI’s cover of “The Way You Are”. Don’t get me wrong, ATSUSHI is a talented vocalist as well as a musician. But, this cover sounds so lackluster and boring. Like, there is no energy in the vocals, no feelings nor soul.

I appreciate ATSUSHI’s sincere efforts in trying to cover a Bruno Mars’ song. Furthermore, even to go as far to penning the Japanese lyrics himself. There are no snags with his translation of the songs. And, his approach of trying to convey the original message in his native language is pretty sincere. There is also no problem with his musicality or his skills. But, if he had to record this song over again, I would suggest that ATSUSHI put more soul/heart and feelings into the vocals (and more of what makes him, vocals and musicianship). Bring some “oomph” and life to the song while making it your own.

Here is the music video for the original version by Bruno Mars:

Mikolas Josef Gets the Audience Pumped Up for Eurovision with “Lie to Me”

lietome-single

We have a month left until the “Superbowl” of the European music scene happens: Eurovision. There has been a plenitude of great entries this year, including from the Czech Republic.

Mikolas Josef is an up-and-coming artist from the Czech Republic’s capital, Prague, who made his musical debut in 2015. He first performed as a street performer in various European cities like Oslo, Hamburg, and Vienna. He released his debut single, “Hands Bloody”, in the same year by himself. Although it didn’t chart on local charts, his second single, entitled ” Free”, did. It reached #15 on the Czech music charts. He hasn’t released any albums yet as he is primary releasing singles at the moment (His Eurovision single is the fourth in his discography).

“Lie to Me”, in my own opinion, is a luxurious piece that can catch anyone’s attention at the very second it starts. The song begins with a sassy, fiery trumpet solo. Then, after the introduction, Josef crones the opening verse with a smooth tone. However, Josef showcases a variety of sounds during the song. My favorite part is at the 00:33 mark when he sings in a low, seductive tone.

This tune reminds me a tiny bit of Austin Mahone’s “Dirty Work”. Maybe because the vocal tones between the two singers are very similar. Nothing else though, as “Dirty Work” is more EDM while “Lie to Me” is less electronica.

I have admitted before that I have a soft spot for Czech entries as my mom’s side of the family came from the Eastern European country. However, this is not the case. I repeat: this is the not the case. “Lie to Me” is an excellent song that is sooooooo catchy as well as scorching hot.

 

Blast From the Past: Misfits of Sciences

misfits

Happy April, Readers! Hope that the weather is getting warmer where you are at! Indeed, it has been beautiful here in central Japan. I been passing the time by enjoying the spring weather, watching cherry blossoms spring to life beside my apartment’s window, writing, and also watching obscure 80s’ American TV shows like The Charmings, Starman, Out of This World, and others.  (All thanks to Wikipedia and Youtube!)

I have never really heard of Misfits of Science before I stumble on a Youtube video that showcased theme songs from “bizarre” 80s’ shows. Since I was born three years after the show’s premiere., all I know about the show is that: Courtney Cox starred in it, who would later star in the 90s’ staple TV show Friends, a charming Dean Paul Martin, and it sort-of piggybacks on the success of Ghostbusters as both share a mutual theme of “weird science” You could also say that “Misfits” is the distant cousin of Fantastic Four or even X-Men when you think about “beings” having strange superpowers.

For those who don’t remember this lost 80s’ show, “Misfit” premiered in the fall of 1985 on NBC. It only ran for sixteen episodes as it was canceled due to low ratings. It wasn’t the show’s fault though; it was competing against the mega-successful, ratings dominant Dallas during the same time slot.

Why am I writing about a TV show on a music blog? Am I forgetting my bearings? Let me talk about the theme song because sometimes the songs themselves are worthy to talk about.

The theme song for Misfits of Science was composed by Basil Poledouris, a Greek-American composer who created music for various TV shows and movies like Conan the Barbarian, RoboCop, and Free Willy. He also wrote music for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Meanwhile, the theme’s performer is a singer-songwriter named Karen Lawrence. Since the 70s, Lawrence has been featured as the lead singer for L.A. Jets, 1994, Karen Lawrence and the Pinz, and Blue by Nature while singing back vocals for Aerosmith and Jeff Beck. She released her only album, entitled Rip and Tear, in 1986 under the label Revolver.

The theme song is entirely an HI-NRG rock tune. There are some spots where the song slows down, especially at the pre-chorus where the BPM clocks in the lower 200s, compared to the verses’ BPM of around 225. But, it isn’t solely about the BPM that defines its sound. You can hear it in the instrumentation. The composer used a combination of electric guitars, electronic keyboards, bell-like tones, a drum kit, and a synthesizer. I feel like this song could be in the minor key to give it an edgy sound, but I could be mistaken.

I think the aspect I love about this song is the upbeat tempo, the edginess, and the “weirdness” factor that goes between the pre-chorus and chorus. You can hear it between 3:24 – 3:28 where a dissonant chord resolves into a consonant one, maybe into a half-cadence. The “weird” key, rock structure works perfectly for the show as the theme is “weird science”. But, the chorus adds a nice touch to the song as it changes directions and tries to resolve the song’s rock, edgy tension with a positive and relaxed melody.

Lastly, I think Karen Lawrence’s vocals are a perfect fit for this as her tone has that edgy, hard-rock tone to it that brings a balance to the song.

It is a shame that Misfits of Science only lasted half a season as the theme song is splendid. I might be biased as others have labeled this show as “awful,” but I love this theme song.  It reflects a perfect combination of vocals and instrumentation in the vein of the edgy, HI-NRG hard rock that was found prominent in the mid-80s. You can listen below and tell me what you think! 😀