Hark Back to the Vibrant Fantasy World of the 80s with “Loved By the Sun”

Do you have a soundtrack or two that you have fallen in love with? Perhaps so much that you have replayed it over and over over a long period? That is the case with Tangerine Dream’s “Legend” soundtrack, my new beloved earworm.

I have seen the 80s’ fantasy movie “Legend” only once or twice. The version I have seen was the Director’s Cut, which features Jerry Goldsmith’s orchestral works. The movie had two soundtracks: the European release had Goldsmith’s orchestral score, and the American release contained an electronic, pop-sounding score composed by German band Tangerine Dream. The reason for the change was that test audiences didn’t enjoy Jerry Goldsmith’s score.

One track from Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack, “Unicorn Dream”, was transformed into a love ballad for the US version’s ending. “Loved by the Sun” resulted from this transformation with the song being performed by rock band Yes’s frontman Jon Anderson. He also wrote the lyrics.

“Loved by the Sun” starts off with a quiet duet between an electric guitar and a synthesizer with two functions: starry sounds and synthesized deep bass. The duet continues on while Anderson begins the first verse softly. He continues to sing as the instruments build up the song’s emotion with an increase in volume. Some drums, a choir, and the trumpet function from the synthesizer are added in. This build up spills out in full energy at the final chorus with every instrument and voice’s volume raised to heighten the passionate message in the lyrics: “that legends teach us to love for goodness’ sake.”

My favorite part comes at the end, around the 4:15 mark, when the key changes from major to minor. The change begins when Anderson’s sings his note; a note that doesn’t resolve the phrase into a final cadence but instead slipping into the relative minor key. The song stays in the minor key till the end, as it fades into the instrumental piece “Blue Room”, which is another minor tune.

“Loved by the Sun” is a quiet piece. It doesn’t feature many instruments; only the synthesizer and electric guitar serve as the primary players. But, as Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Or, in layman terms, simplicity is beautiful. The song serves its purpose well: a gorgeous yet simple love song to support the movie’s romantic happy ending.

Here is the US version’s ending with the song playing along:

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Reporting Live: Yufu Terushima Brings a Nonchalant Vibe to Nagoya with “Watashi ga Chiru”

Whenever I hear the name “BiS”, I think of these words and phrases: punk, rock, rebellious, and in-your-face. So when I stumbled across an announcement about an in-store event with former BiS member Yufu Terashima, I wondered if it would be a thirty-minute concert of punk rock music. But the realization was the exact opposite when the singer sang the opening lines to her first song.

Terashima — who prefers fans to call her “Yuffy” due to the complexity of her first name — always dreamed of being an idol. The singer yearned after Morning Musume. when growing up, and she was a “live idol” — an idol who performs at primarily live events —when she went to Waseda University. Yet, she wanted more: she wanted to be a full-time idol.

Yuffy’s dream came true when she joined the pop-rock idol group BiS in 2011. But, it was short-lived as the group disbanded two years later. This lead the way for the idol to start a solo career. She made her indies debut in 2014 with the single “#Yuufuraito”, then making her major debut with EMI Records a year later.

Japanese idols in today’s world seem to have either a concept or a color scheme going on; Morning Musume has a rainbow scheme, AKB48 has the whole “Idols You Can Meet” idea, and Yuffy has “Yurudol” — a blend of “Yuruchara” and “Idol”. Mascot characters from various cities, prefectures, and companies meet idols. Now, that is an interesting idea. Too bad I didn’t notice it when she came to Nagoya last week.

Instead, what I saw was a concept of a beautiful fairy-like princess decorated in pure white and baby blue, flowers adorning all over her. I felt guilty when I glanced at her while she was heading towards the stage. I was an older woman with stubborn acne sprinkled across my bare “no make-up” face, looking like I traveled to hell and back, wearing nothing too fancy while Yuffy was flawless. I felt guilty being underdressed and looking like a banshee. Oh well.

Yuffy started at 2 pm sharp, performing a set of songs featured on her latest album Kimi ga Chiru ”You Will Fall”. Her first song had technical difficulties as the sound technician kept playing the wrong song three times in a row. They fixed it soon after, letting her settle into the ambiance mood of the atmosphere and perform her mini-concert without further hitches.

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Listening to the songs featured on Kimi ga Chiru makes me feel ambivalent and nostalgic. The songs are something akin to late Showa/early Heisei idol music — which would be from 1985 to 1993 for those who are not familiar with the Japanese calendar. The chorus and the melody that introduces the song inflicts a nostalgic feeling. Also, Yuffy’s bright vocals and the nonchalant instrumentation brings a peaceful spirit to each track. It is refreshing in today’s musical scene to hear something like Kimi ga Chiru as EDM suffocates today’s music scene: heavy synthesized music that seems too generic.

Although my pre-live expectations of Yuffy being a punk rock idol were shot down while listening to her live, I did become a fan afterward. The songs on her latest album are serene, amusing, and likable. Not to mention that she is cute, a trait that I sometimes yearn for. I can’t wait for her next release to see what kind of music she will perform next. Will she keep that cute style? Or go another way? Only time will time.

You can listen to the title track from her newest album below:

Alexander Rybak Teaches How to Be a Songwriter in This Upbeat Piece [Eurovision 2018]

Eurovision 2018 has a handful of excellent tunes. I have said before that Netta’s “Toy” and Mikolas Josef’s “Lie to Me” are a few of my favorites. Let me introduce my third favorite from this year’s batch: Alexander Rybak’s That’s How You Write a Song from Norway.

Rybak is no stranger to the Eurovision competition circuit. He participated in the contest in 2009 with the song “Fairytale“: a sad yet uptempo folk-pop tune written by Rybak himself. He found inspiration from a past relationship and the Scandinavian folklore of Huldra. The song won the top prize at the 2009 Eurovision Contest. He released his successful debut album afterward. Rybak continued to have a fruitful career by releasing new material and taking part in many TV shows.

Many have speculated on why an earlier Eurovision winner would enter the contest one more time. What are his reasons? Does he want to prove something? Whether we know the singer’s actual intention of competing once more or not, you have to admit that “That’s How You Write a Song” is very catchy. It opens with a memorable funky bass line and a bouncy drum beat, then comes to a cool violin riff that serves as the primary melody. That violin makes the song bouncy and feeling good. And the instrument shines around 2:26 mark when it performs a passionate solo.

Speaking of “feeling good”, the lyrics radiate a positive vibe too. The song’s message could be interpreted as a simple discussion on how to write a tune. But if one looks deeper into the lyrics, one can see that the messages of “believing in yourself”, “being creative is easier than one thinks”, and “don’t fear in being creative, embrace and enjoy it” are present – these are valuable to anyone.

It is unknown if this year’s Eurovision will give Alexander Rybak his second win; especially that the current fan favorite is Netta. Things could change from now to the live performances. But the important thing is “That’s How You Write a Song” is an enjoyable, upbeat song that sends positive vibes with its lyrics and melody. Plus, don’t you think the music video is too cute? Check it out below and tell me what you think.

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.

#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: