Revisiting an Oldie From a New Generation

Many have categorized oldies as songs that have a certain flair to them and have something memorable. Spice Girl’s “Wannabe”, Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”, and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” are a few songs that qualify as oldies.

Japan has a plenitude of oldies too. Each decade presents a distinct set of tunes and genres that capture the attention of many. But sometimes, an oldie might be considered “too old” by the newer generations as the musical arrangement or even the vocals are outdated. That leaves one question: How can people today enjoy a very popular oldie from an older decade like the 1970s? The answer is simple, just reinvent it with today’s sounds and fresh faces.

That isImage and video hosting by TinyPic what exactly Pink Babies is all about. Called the sister group of the legendary idol duo Pink Lady from the 1970s, Pink Babies cover a lot of lovable tunes from the duo and the 70s. Pink Babies formed in 2013 with several girls. The lineup has changed over the years, as one of the members pointed out to me on Sunday during the handshake event, as the current roster has ten girls. These girls cover popular tunes as well as unknown stuff from albums and b-sides.

Pink Babies released their first cover single, “Nagisa no Sinbad”, in the summer of 2015, first at Jan Expo and then at Tokyo Idol Festival. I actually picked up a copy that was signed by Aina at TIF. The group continues to release singles at least once a year while performing at small festivals and venues within Tokyo.

The group went around to various cities in Japan to perform and hold events at various malls to celebrate the release of their second single. One of the spots they visited was the Parco Shopping Mall in the heart of Nagoya’s shopping district. The event had three parts: a mini-live, handshakes, and then photo ops. In order to participate in the later two events, you had to buy their new single beforehand or on the day.

As it was mall event, the stage area was pretty small. The crowd was pretty small too as around 30 people showed up for the mini-live. A small percentage of the crowd were people who were passing by. These lives are a bit up-close and personal as the distance between the stage and the crowd are a few meters. Heck, I had a great view from my spot despite the speakers being in the way as I was a couple of meters away.

The mini-live started on time with the girls performing these songs:Image and video hosting by TinyPic

  1. SOS
  2. MC
  3. Dou ni mo Tomaranai (Rio O., Chinatsu, Aina, Sara)
  4. Kuruwasetai no (Mayu, Rio S., Kotono, Saho, Yui)
  5. Hoshi Kara Kita Futari (Mayu, Aina, Yui, Sara, Chinatsu)
  6. Catch Lip (Kotono, Saho, Rio O., Rio S., Yukari)
  7. MC
  8. Southpaw
  9. MC
  10. UFO

Pink Babies are pretty good in terms of being an idol group. They have mediocre vocals but have an array of girls that have their own appeal. However, my only concern about the group is “how” they perform each song. Even though Pink Lady had unforgettable performances, the group did have outfits and dance movements that were considered maybe too risque. They frequently showcased their legs (and body) as they wore tight spandex outfits with very short skirts or no bottoms. Pink Lady also had dance movements that center around their legs.

I don’t know iImage and video hosting by TinyPicf it was a positive or a negative for the duo as they were 18 years old when Mie and Kei started to perform. However, I wasn’t really satisfied when I first saw Pink Babies performing such songs at the Tokyo Idol Festival two years ago. I felt like the stuff they were performing was a bit too much or risqué for these girls. The group was then composed of girls between 12-16 years old, singing and dancing almost like their big sisters some forty years ago. I just felt weirded out seeing such young girls publically performing dances that were more suitable for late high school to college girls. But, that is the nature of the Japanese idol industry and the argument about “what dances, outfits, and songs are too much for idols” could be saved for another day. I am just relieved after seeing the mini-live on Sunday that the group has mellowed out and matured a bit where singing and performing Pink Lady songs wouldn’t be bothersome.

The handshake was after the mini-live. You could shake hands and have a 30-second conversation with each member if you bought a CD. I felt like I had more time with each girl compared to past events with other idol groups as I could talk about many things with the members. When the handshake event finished, then it was time for a photo-op. Depending on how many CDs you bought, you could get a picture with a member. Or, you would play a game where someone would pull out a slip of paper that contained one of various photo-op Image and video hosting by TinyPicoptions. The options were: a two-short or three-shot miniature Polaroid, a 30-second minute video with your favorite member, a group shot with all the members, and etc. I took my chances and picked from the box. I got a chance to take a miniature Polaroid with two of the members. So, I picked Nagoya native Rio O (or Ohrio) and Chinatsu (because she told me her favorite princess is Belle, just like mine).

Like I said before, Pink Babies isn’t a bad group.  They are worth checking out if you like to listen to covers of oldies, if you a fan of Pink Lady or old Jpop tunes, and/or like idol groups. I love them and have learned much more about Pink Lady’s songs, especially my new favorite song “Catch Lip”, from this cute group.

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[Reporting Live] Sato Mieko at Nagoya Parco (January 7, 2017)

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Happy Sunday everyone! I just want to let you guys know that I saw Sato Meiko at a mini-live last week. I wrote a semi-detailed report on it on the Japanese pop site Arama! Japan.

Here is an except:

These are the wishes made by Sato Mieko, a singer-songwriter who recently promoted her newly released Triple A-side “Mou Chotto / Kimi wa Mahoutsukai / Kaze ni Natta Anata e” at a free mini-live in front of Nagoya’s Parco on January 7th.

Sato is no stranger to the Nagoya music scene. She originally started her music career as a singer-songwriter under the pen name “Fuuka Koyoi”, releasing only one single in 2007. She then went on to join the mega-idol group SKE48 in 2008 as a member of Team S. There, she regularly performed with her fellow members on the local SKE48 stage or on stages in front of thousands around the country.

She left SKE48 in 2015 to continue her dream of being a singer-songwriter. The musician went on to release a single in 2015 named “YOUR COLOR” and an album named “Yakusoku” in 2016 under an indies label. She recently released another single, her first triple-A single, on December 21, 2016. However, because of the holiday season, she couldn’t promote until January 7 when she appeared at Parco in Nagoya’s Sakae shopping district.

You can read more at: http://aramajapan.com/news/saito-mieko-promotes-her-triple-a-side-single-with-abundant-zeal/69145/

😀

 

 

Celebrate the Holidays with “Leprechaun Christmas”

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A Late Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!

It’s already the end of the year. The last time I wrote something here was in September. I had to take a break from writing as I was super busy with the Christmas play at work and studying really hard for a Japanese language test. I also had cataract surgery recently and have been recovering from that. Now that my eyes are feeling better and everything is winding down, I am hoping to pick up writing on this blog again.

I have written about the 80s’ band TM Network before. They are one of my favorite Japanese bands as they were able to do any genre successfully (and had really great songs too). And also, my favorite producer of all time, Tetsuya Komuro, was in it.

Here is what I wrote about TM Network about a year ago:

TM Network is a well-known band in Japan that has been around for about 30 years. It was formed in 1983 when the band that Tetsuya Komuro, Naoto Kine, and Takashi Utsunomiya were in, Speedway, split up. The guys came together and entered their new band, TM NETWORK, in a YAMAHA contest, performing the song “1974”. TM Network received perfect scores from the judges and won the grand prize, which caught the attention of Epic Records who offered the band a contract right away. TM Network made their debut in the spring of 1984 with the single “Kinyoubi no Lion (Take it to the Lucky)” and album “RAINBOW RAINBOW”.

Over the years, TM Network has made a lot of genre changes. On various information sites like Wikipedia and etc, the band is listed as a pop-rock band with the pop side being more relevantly in their music. The band’s first couple of singles featured a sound that was akin to the Yellow Magic Orchestra’s technopop bliss, prominently “”Kinyoubi no Lion (Take it to the Lucky)” and “1974”. Over the years, they got their toes wet by dipping into new genres like R&B, funk, trance, techno, latin, hard rock (thanks to B’z guitarist Tak Matsumoto), ballad rock, eurobeat, dance, and others. Most recently, the band has been riding the electropop wave, especially since Komuro is a lover of current dance trends (he has been on this “dance music” craze since 90s though, see all the stuff he has composed during that time).

Their Christmas love song “Leprechaun Christmas” from the 1987 album humansystem is a sample of TM Network’s electronic folk rock sound. By the time of the song’s release, Kine started to play more acoustic guitar on many of the group’s song, leading to an unplugged, simplified sound found in many songs like this one and “SEVEN DAYS WAR”. Even Komuro scaled back on the synthesizers as he only used a light dance bass and basic synthesizers.

My favorite part is just before the chorus with the electronic guitar part done by Warren Cuccurullo, who is known for his works with Frank Zappa, Missing Persons, Duran Duran, and others. When you first listen to the electronic guitar part, you might find it a bit out of place and might even bewilder you. However, you will start to realize that the guitar part is a great addition as it brings that certain hard rock edge to “Leprechaun Christmas”. That refreshing twist saves the song from turning into a boring, redundant album track.

By the way, the drums are done by Steve Ferrone, who was a session musician at the time and later on joined Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers in the 90s. (A side note: thanks to the success of “Get Wild” a year before humansystem’s release, the band was able to start to collaborate with well-known musicians and started to record their music in the US.)

This Christmas song is a simple song as it describes one’s view of what they perceive the Christmas season to be while thinking of love. The instrumentation is also basic but lovely as TM Network composes and arranges the song brilliantly with a folk rock vibe.

Give the song a listen below. Don’t forget to listen for the “surprise” before the chorus!

After Thought: The Beginning of a New Adventure (aka My Thoughts on ℃-ute Disbanding)

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It comes as no shock as the Japanese pop girl group ℃-ute announced that they are disbanding on June 2017. The reason? The girls realized that they have completed their idol dreams and have developed new ones. Many are sad that some of the girls are going into “disappointing” careers. Some are just sad as they are kicking the can. But, nothing ever really last forever. Even SMAP, who has been in the Jpop idol business long before these girls made their début in 2006, is announcing that they are disbanding by the end of this year (Thank god!).

I should be sad. I should feel sorrow for these lovely girls who are about to leave their singing careers. I should be saying something along the lines of “Like come on, Airi, you should be a solo singer”.

But, I am not.

I am really not.

It has been predicted for a long time that these girls would eventually graduate Hello! Project someday. Let’s face it. We knew that the other H!P Kid members were going to be grouped into another kids unit after Berryz Koubou was sticking with a permanent line-up by mid-2004. We also knew that ℃-ute would eventually break-up when Berryz Koubou disbanded last year. It’s just a simple cause and effect.

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t a big ℃-ute fan for a long time. Sure, I love a couple songs here and had a favorite member or two (Hey, Erika Umeda!) there. Yet, I was more into Berryz Koubou starting from my high school days to recently as they had talented members, catchier songs, and a stable lineup.

I actually lost interest in ℃-ute around 2009 or 2010 when Umeda graduated. She was my favorite even though she barely got any lines and was more of a background performer. Nevertheless, she was an interesting girl and was a good performer. At least she was able to carry a tune and dance pretty well unlike some girls…

The group’s musical quality has been diminishing over the recent years. It is true that the girls have grown-up and thus their musical and style tastes have changed. However, it didn’t get better, it got worse. I blame someone who calls them ℃-ute’s vocal couch as I feel like he or she didn’t coach them well. Airi can’t sing high notes really well anymore, Mai’s vocals got worse over time, and Chisato had to get surgery because of nodes. You hear this limiting and painful vocal style of not properly singing through your nose in other groups sadly. I experienced it first hand with a trial lesson at a well-known vocal studio.

One more thing, ℃-ute’s songs are always a hit or a miss. Other groups within Hello! Project (like Berryz Koubou) had more memorable songs than ℃-ute ever really did. I mean some songs like “Dance de Bakoon!”, “Bye Bye Bye”, “Massara Blue Jeans”, “THE FUTURE”, and others are impressive.  Hell, “Dance de Bakoon!” is a superb signature song for  ℃-ute as it’s funky and makes you want to dance. Still, there is a handful of the group’s songs are lackluster or have not a lot of meat on the bone. I still think one their latest songs named “Naze Hito wa Arasoun Darou?” is too mundane. Maybe that is because a) UFA is giving this group the short end of the stick or b) UFA is just having a bad year in producing decent good music (which isn’t really the case because Morning Musume. had a great single this year…)

Nonetheless, I am happy that the girls are going into something they love to do. Furthermore, they seemed to be pleased with their eleven-year career.

Maybe we should start making predictions for their last concert? I am secretly wishing that Erika Umeda would come back…

By the way, enjoy my favorite ℃-ute song, the 80’s flavored “Bye Bye Bye” (I think it would be something that Duran Duran would do):

P.S: I was watching a lot of C-ute’s music videos today. Oh my word, the music video for “Kanzen na Otona” is awful. The shot is 0:13 is so horrible that I want to call it something like “Dinosaurs Ready for Dinner” because it looks like it:

A Critical Point in Miho Nakayama’s Music Career

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I am slowly processing all the CDs I got from an auction lot about two months ago. There are a lot of good and surprising finds, including an album from one of my favorite Japanese female singers Miho Nakayama!! 😀

For those who aren’t familiar with  Ms. Nakayama, let me fill you in. Nakayama didn’t initially start her entertainment career in music. In fact, she was a model for magazines and print ads during her junior high school years. It wasn’t until she switched agencies in 1984 or 1985 that she became an idol singer.

She released her first single, entitled “C”, during the summer of 1985. The single did really well, reaching #12 on the weekly Oricon charts and sold over 170,000 copies. Nakayama nabbed the Rookie of the Year Award at the Japan Record Awards due to the successful start. However, her first #1 didn’t come until two years later with the release of the upbeat dance tune “CATCH ME” (which I looooooooooooove because Toshiki Kadomatsu, whom I adore a lot, wrote it).

Nakayama continued her music career throughout the late 80s and 90s. She worked with significant musicians in the industry like Mariya Takeuchi, Tetsuya Komuro, Toshiki Kadomatsu, and ANRI. She also went overseas to record material in places like Los Angeles and France.

Nakayama took a break from singing at the turn of the new century. She then went on to marry Tsuji Hitonari in 2002 (whom she would later divorce twelve years later) and put her entertainment career on hold to move to Paris with her husband. As of August 2016, she is still living in Paris and helping her ex-husband to raise her only son.

Miho Nakayama has always found new ways to reinvent her music career. Starting off with the innocent idol kayokyoku of the 80s, Nakayama bounced in and out of various musical genres like dance, latin, electronica, blues, and AOR. She constantly modified her sound every two years as the market and her fan’s tastes were continually shifting. Wondering what her fans wanted next, she decided in 1992 to go to Los Angeles and recorded the album Wagamama na Actress.

“Gakeppuchi” (崖っぷち; critical point) is a bold number that opens the album. The song attracts listeners with its boisterous and upbeat feeling. It opens with a bluesy organ solo followed by a dynamic horns section. The piece includes a wicked 90s’ style guitar solo during the break. This style reminds me of Amy Grant’s 1991 album Heart in Motion, something like “Every Heartbeat” and “Hats”. It also sounds like Peter Cetera’s 1988 album One More Story. Maybe I am just crazy. Do you hear the similarities too?

The only issue I have with this tune is that the instrumentation is a bit overpowering. Miho Nakayama has always been a good singer. However, she always had a soft voice that fits perfectly with her songs “Mermaid”, “Rose Color”, “Tada Nakitaku Naru no”, and “You’re My Only Shinin’ Star”. Those songs are pretty quiet with the instruments kept to a minimal.

I also noticed that Miho Nakayama struggles vocally with bluesy music quite often. SThe singer struggles a bit on “Gakeppuchi”. She also has problems on the poorly arranged “Sea Paradise -OL no Hanran-“. Albeit, it isn’t my favorite Miho Nakayama tune as the arrangement is so messy. It does point out that Nakayama has a weakness at very fast and loud songs. Maybe the producers should have scaled back a bit on both songs.

Overall, “Gakeppuchi” isn’t a terrible song if you ignore its flaws. I love it because the song has an upbeat tempo with an awesome 90s vibe to it.  I also loooooooove early 90’s AOR songs like this one.

If you are a fan of early 90’s Chicago, Amy Grant’s Heart in Motion era, or and Peter Cetera’s One More Story era, then this song is for you!

You can listen to the song here on Ket nool.

 

 

 

The Mid-Year Review (2016 Version)

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It has been half a year! Time has mostly definitely flown by! I am sorry that this blog wasn’t as active like last year. Work has been extremely busy since the beginning of the school year (aka April) where I would just come home, cook dinner, take a shower, and go to bed extra early.  I also worked six days a week. I felt like I was working too much and not getting the necessary sleep I needed.

But! Everything has changed as I now work 5 days a week. I also have ample time to sleep and relax on a new bed. That’s right, a new bed! I was sleeping Japanese style for the past year with a bunch of futons and mattress piled on a hard wooden floor. But now I have an actual bed, I am able to sleep more peacefully now.

Enough of talking about the love of my life, I mean, my bed and my life. Let’s talk about music! Here are the top 5 most popular blog entries from January to July 2016!


5. Reporting Live: Sakura Cinderella near Nagoya Station (August 8,2015)  (Written on January 12, 2016)

Sakura Cinderella is another “local idol” group here in Nagoya. Unlike Idol Kyoshitsu who performs in another company’s sushi restaurant,  these girls perform in their own cafe near Nagoya Station. Formed in 2014, this AKB48 copycat group performs in their cafe every day and does street lives all over the city. Named after one of the main streets “Sakura Street”, Sakura Cinderella’s catchphrase is “Tidy and pretty true idols”.

Read more here.

4. Get ready for the Olympics with Kobushi Factory (Written on July 17, 2016)

It is less than three weeks to the 2016 Summer Olympics that will be held in Rio de Janeiro. But, everyone is preparing for the major event of the year by releasing merchandise, airing the pre-game qualifiers on TV, talking about it on every morning show, and incorporating themes of the games and Rio de Janeiro in film and music.  This is no exception to Hello! Project, who has started a trend of providing Olympic-themed songs in the last five years.

Read more here.

3. My Thoughts on Eurovision (Written on May 15, 2016)

Eurovision 2016 has already come and go. There were really exceptional acts, good acts, and worst ones. As there were 26 performers for the four hours final, it will take me a while to get through all the acts. So, if I can remind myself to do it, there will be a part two next week to cover the other performances.

Read More Here.

2. Boogie Woogie Into Saturday Night with Morning Musume (Written on May 22, 2016)

One of my all-time favorite Japanese pop girl group just released their 61st single! Yes, you read it right, 61st! Although, I did talk about their 60thabout six months ago. Nevertheless. Morning Musume always impresses their fans with the ability to successfully reinvent themselves for the past 18 years.

Now, the 61st is a Triple A single, with the songs being ‘Tokyo to Iu Katsumi”, “The Vision”, and “Utakata Saturday Night”. I won’t be talking about all three songs as that could be a huge essay that could bore you and that I wasn’t really digging two of the songs from the single.

Read more here.

1. Celebrating Canada Day with Don’t Wanna Fall in Love by Jane Child (Written on July 5, 2015)

Over the past twenty or so years. many Canadian artists have been featured and became immensely popular all over the world. Barenaked Ladies, musical goddess Celine Dion, rock-pop princess Avril Lavigne, “boy wonder” Justin Bieber (which you should check out his new single with Skrillex), and others. But, none were more eccentric or skillful at playing the keyboards than today’s featured artist.

Read more here.

Get ready for the Olympics with Kobushi Factory

FESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSTA!!

Deixa a festa começar!

It is less than three weeks to the 2016 Summer Olympics that will be held in Rio de Janeiro. But, everyone is preparing for the major event of the year by releasing merchandise, airing the pre-game qualifiers on TV, talking about it on every morning show, and incorporating themes of the games and Rio de Janeiro in film and music.  This is no exception to Hello! Project, who has started a trend of providing Olympic-themed songs in the last five years.

When you first listen to “Samba! Kobushi Janeiro”, you probably think it’s the long-lost relative to ANGERME’s 2012 song “Dot Bikini”. I swear the tempos of each song are about the same and both use the same instruments like a whistle, surdo, and others. The other similarity is when I hear the “cha cha cha” part at the end of “Samba! Kobushi Janeiro”‘s chorus. It reminds me of the “Chuumoku Chuumoku Chumoku” during “Dot Bikini” with a surdo being heard prominently in the background.

Hmm...

However, I give Kobushi Factory some credit as the group did a great job at capturing the spirit of Rio de Janeiro’s samba through music and film. “Samba! Kobushi Janeiro” uses instruments that are prominent in these Brazilian tunes like a surdo, trumpet, and saxophone. Also, the “ya ya ya” parts during the breaks are something you typically find in a  samba song. Whoever hasiejaneiro is, he did a great job trying to capture the spirit of a fun Rio de Janeiro samba festival with his arrangement. (My friend mentioned to me that hasiejaneiro might be Shin Hashimoto, who also arranged old Hello! Project songs like reggae-flavored “Summer Reggae Rainbow”)

The costumes also help bring tradition, originality, and flare. The girls wear a traditional Brazilian carnival costume with various colors scattered all over each piece. I don’t really like how the stylist executed the use green and yellow as the prominent themes. It just makes the costume seem tacky, cheap, and disorganized. I do really like the background dancers’ costumes as they are focused on one color per dancer and the style and blends seem more coherent. I do understand that the stylist wanted to incorporate the Brazilian flag’s colors into the group’s costumes. But at the same time, it should have been executed better. Maybe in a way like the dancers’.

What the music video lacks a lot of is a carnival. To my understanding, carnivals are usually in streets and with lots of people. Not in a secluded mansion with a pool. Like someone said on the H!P forum MM-BBS, this music video should of have been shot on a street with the members interacting with the dancers (which the girls don’t do much of in the original MV) and onlookers. I know it is really expensive to close a busy street in Tokyo and hire a few handfuls of people to be extras. But, it would make the music video look even more fun and encapture the spirits of samba and a carnival. (Maybe should of also the confetti?)

Enough about the costumes and music video, let’s get back to the important subject; the music. Vocally, the group never disappoints me as each member have strong vocal skills and they blend really well together. But musically, I feel the song is a bit weak and boring. Maybe because it’s a bit generic as a samba and H!P song. I also feel like “Samba! Kobushi Janeiro” is bland. I feel that the singers nor the instruments capture  the true excitement. Instead, the listener is treated to almost four minutes of subdued, non-climatic happiness.

Maybe I am also still reeling over the awesomeness of Kobushi Factory’s last single, “Sakura Night Fever”. I am in looooooooooooove this feel-good song as it features two legendary musicians on the track (DANCEMAN and KAN), a subdued key change, bringing out the bass and the guitar, the excitement, Rei Inoue’s awesome line, and more. The list can go on but maybe I being a little too bias?

What do you think of “Samba! Kobushi Janeiro”? Do you enjoy it’s festive style or do you think it’s subdued and bland?

My real question is: What will be the theme song for Japanese broadcast of the Summer Olympics?