Elton John “Wraps Her Up” with George Michael

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Happy New Years everyone! We finally made it to 2017! 2016 seemed like a long year as we had a series of unfortunate events: Trump being elected as President, the end of SMAP, Brexit, and many celebrities passing on. One of these beloved stars that we lost in 2016 was George Michael.

Many remember Micheal for his catchy tunes during his days in Wham! or his ironic, musical statements during the late 80s and early 90s as a solo artist. But today, I want to talk about the amazing work he did behind the scenes, being a backup singer for many of our favorite artists during the 80s and beyond.

One amazing piece that featured George Michael was Elton John’s 1985 song “Wrap Her Up”. This song was sort of popular in the US. But, more so over in the UK, reaching #20 on the UK Charts. It has since fallen out of obscurity over the years. I actually found out about this song two days before Michael’s death when I  was recovering from eye surgery. I couldn’t do anything but listen to Sirius XM 80’s on 8 and their weekly Top 40 Countdown, which featured “Wrap Her Up”.

According to Wikipedia and Sirius XM 80s on 8’s Top 40 Countdown that aired last week, George Michael was quoted in a magazine that the song made him sound like he “had my [his] willy in a garotte”.[1] Now I don’t know if Michael was really impressed with the vocals he provided for the song or not. But, in my opinion, they aren’t THAT bad. The call and response between Michael and Elton John are really well executed as the two singers’ diverse approaches really compliments the song.

Now I know this is a pop-rock song. However, I swear the bass is playing a funk-like rhythm. I also swear that you could hear the same bass melody in a Go West song. Anyways, the song is pretty basic if you take away the bass and the vocals. The only other instrumentation is the strong horns section, which has a really great solo section before the lackluster guitar break.

“Wrap Her Up” isn’t a memorable song like “Last Christmas” or any other songs in Elton John’s or George Michael’s discographies. However, it does have some good points and it’s worth a listen.

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!

Achieving the Dream Within the Olympics

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Another round of the Summer Olympics has come and go. Legions of countries sent their finest athletes to Rio de Janerio to see who would come on top. Athletes trained for years and years to try to perfect that one moment of their lives. Capturing Gold.

Many around the world have watched various portions of the Games, cheering on their national treasures to excel and take the prized metal. Viewership peaked sharply when the opening and closing ceremonies. Dance, art, and music interpret the host city’s purpose and histories during these ceremonies. At the same time, each athlete enters the stadium and greeted by a thunderous applause from the millions attending.

Many of the world’s brightest music and movie stars perform in front of the world audience during these events. Some even come out of retire to sing one more time, like The Spice Girls. with their most anticipated reunion at the 2012 London Olympics.

However, there is one important piece of the Olympic puzzle that sometimes go unnoticed during the hype. That would be the soundtrack. This collection infuses the spirit of the Games with music through its rhythms, beats, notes, and words. One of the best representation is the soundtrack for 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

By the time of the album’s release, Christopher Cross was no stranger to the world’s attention. The singer-songwriter became an instant success when he released his self-titled album in 1979. Scoring several top 20 singles, Cross also walked away with five Grammys the following year. His follow-up album, “Another Page”, was yet another success that included various hits.

Cross’ career was never the same after the Summer Olympics as the musician couldn’t successfully gain a strong fan base with the new MTV generation. Cross continued to release albums with small success throughout the years. The latest album he released was “Secret Ladder” in 2014.

Christopher Cross was such an influential musician during the late 70s and early 80s that most Americans have listened to at least one of his songs during their lifetime. Even though he wasn’t very prominent in my generation, I grew up listening to his songs like “Ride Like a Wind” and “Sailing” as my parents loved listening to music from their youth.

Cross is a well-crafted musician as he has a smooth singing style, catchy tunes, and writes lyrics that is relatable to anyone. Because of his talents, Cross was able to successfully create “A Chance of Heaven” as a catchy and pleasing tune that could inspire anyone, athletic or not. The evidence is in the song as it starts off with a worried mood. This could be a motif for an athlete who has fully concerned everything on winning. However, with help from the lyrics, the mood lightens and becomes fully positive during the chorus as Cross reassures that there is always one more chance at everything.

The musician never falters as he amazingly arranged this song with electronic instruments like a blazing electronic guitar, synthesizer, and drum kits. Cross doesn’t use these instruments heavy most of the time. He uses them instead in a light way to create a dreamlike, calming atmosphere. His voice also portrays this light tone very well throughout the verses.

“A Chance of Heaven” is a magnificent piece for the Summer Olympics. Cross used the music and the lyrics triumphantly to paint a delightful musical picture of one’s ambition at getting gold during the Games. It’s not over the top and heavy but instead light and laid back as it’s mood tries to present the theme vigorously.

 

Please check out the 1984 Summer Olympics soundtrack too. It has wonderful pieces from John Williams, Quincy Jones, Toto, Loverboy, Bob James, and others.

 

 

 

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.

Surviving With Adventure in Modern Living

Combonation

WordPress had reminded me that it has been 22 days since I last posted  Sorry for the long hiatus. I been super busy with work observations, ups and downs, and etc. I also have been catching up on sorting the massive stockpile of music that I inherited from other blogs and auction sites. I still got a lot to get through but I don’t mind taking a break to blog about a song I recently found buried deep in this pile.

Usually every morning, I play iTunes on shuffle mode while I get ready for work. And on a normal weekday morning, I discovered Combonation. Yes, it’s not spelled wrong (although that is what Google and every other site thinks as they try to search for Randy Crawford’s “Combination” album instead). Not much is know about this 80’s band, except that it had around five members; drummer Billy Thomas, percussionist Randy Foote, vocalist and keyboardist Mark Hart, bass guitarist Randy Moors. and guitarist Steve Dudas, The band released their only album, a self-titled record, in 1984. It was produced by Ted Templeman who oversaw Van Halen’s releases.

The members went off to do their own stuff after the album’s release. Mark Hart went on to release two albums in the new millennium while performing in bands like Supertramp and Crowded House. Steve Dudas played guitar alongside Ringo Starr on tours and albums. It is unknown what Thomas, Foote, and Moors did after Combonation as there isn’t a lot of information on the internet about them.

“Adventure in Modern Living” is the second track off the album. It’s upbeat while a bit strange. You can tell that this was influenced by art rock artists like Kate Bush by the various techniques used in the song. You can hear that the bass is really prominent throughout, even more important than the guitar, when it switches back and forth from supporting the lead singer to having it’s own solo moments like during the bridge. Another art rock-like theme going on throughout the song is the use of a mandolin sound on the keyboard. It reminds me of how Kate Bush used the same instrument in the song “Babooshka”.

The lyrics may be a bit strange to some. The opening lines goes something like this: “A bird calls, a bear stalls, and gorillas grumbles. A city wakes, a mountain shakes, and an island crumbles.” However, I feel like it was the style of time; to display the simplicity of life through the music and lyrics.

If you enjoy any of the art rock acts of the 1980s, I am sure that you would like “Adventure in Modern Living”. I looooooooooove the art-rock aspect of the tune. I also like the vocal slides that the singer uses during the pre-chorus of “We are the audience”. It’s so awesome.

An Endearing Tune About a Mom’s Thankfulness

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A Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all the precious and hardworking moms out there! This post is dedicated to all the moms, especially my own mom.

Today’s post is brought to you by Cheryl Pepsii Riley. A New York native, Riley was a nurse while pursuing a side job of singing. She would sing at nightclubs, do community theater, and also be part of of a group called Stargaze during her free time. During this time, Full Force member Bowlegged Lou approached Riley with an offer to produce her singing career with a song called “I Wonder If I Take You Home” in 1984. But, Riley refused the song and Lou eventually gave the song to Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam, which was a huge hit for the group.

Regretting the decision of rejecting the succesful “I Wonder If I Take You Home”, Riley reached out to Lou again in order for him to write another song for her. Eventually, she hit success with one of her first singles, “Thank You For My Child”, in 1988 when it reached #1 on the R&B charts in the US. The song, written by Bowlegged Lou, was a mid-tempo ballad about Lou’s experience with his wife’s complications during her first pregnancy.[1]

Although Riley enjoyed the success of having her song top the charts, she continued her career as a nurse while releasing songs and other material. She released three albums, which the first one reached #18 on the charts, with semi-successful singles. However, she took a break from the musical industry after the release of her third album in 1993.

Riley reemerged in the late 90s and early 00s as an actress in a bunch of Tyler Perry’s plays. She also appeared in various film adaptations of Perry’s productions such as 2011’s “Madea’s Big Happy Family”.

“Thank You For My Child” starts off with a lento tempo. Only a series of triads and skeleton chords are played to support Riley during the first verse. The instrumentation rarely ever expands on those chords with the help of an 808 bass, Roland synthesizer, and electric piano. The instrumentation doesn’t gain memento until the last third of the song when the instruments plays a little bit more of recognizable melody. Although, one of my favorite parts of the song is when the electric piano plays an a sweet chordal progression when the song briefly switches to a minor key during the first verse.

Riley’s vocals is one of the pinnacle points of “Thank You For My Child”. Her voice is smooth yet just the right of powerful needed for this song. It’s a perfect fit for this inspirational ballad as it isn’t overpowering the backing instrumentation. It’s tone is pretty warm in order to help support and convey the song’s meaning in a motherly way. An example of this is found at the ending when Riley sings strong yet tender vocal runs.

The lyrics are another important point. It’s beautifully written as it told from a perspective of a single mother who cherishes and thanks the man above for her precious child. It is such an inspiration to mothers and non-mothers alike as anyone can relate this warm and caring thank you letter. If you have a chance, you should check them out on Genius.com to see how inspiring these lyrics are.

Moms, thank you for all what you do and loving your family unconditionally. You’re the true superheroes.


Credits

[1]  “Cheryl Pepsii Riley – Thanks For My Child.” Genius. Web. 15 May 2016. (http://genius.com/Cheryl-pepsii-riley-thanks-for-my-child-lyrics)

A Hip Take on a Timeless R&B Classic: “Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'”

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As I travel deeper and deeper into the heart of my fanfiction for NaNoWriMo, it’s time to take a breather. During the endless marathons of typing away at plot changes and character developments, I have been listening to a ton of music on my music player, on video sites like Youtube, and from a couple of blogs. This post is inspired by one of my favorite blogs on WordPress, Mixed Tape Masterpiece. It’s a really neat site that features songs and radio snippets that were recorded on cassette about twenty years ago before the age of high-speed internet and iTunes. Please check it out if you have a chance!

At the beginning of the 1990s, it seemed like music was changing constantly.  New genres were added to Billboard’s Top 40 charts as previous established ones expanded their definitions. One group that dared to challenge musical genres in 1989 and helped throw “Detroit House” and “Detroit Techno” into the public’s eye was Inner City.

Inner City formed around the Detroit area in 1987 by accident. Kevin Saunderson, credited as a co-founder of techno and a member of the group Bellevue Three, was composing music with James Pennington one day at Pennington’s studio. One of the successes from this jam session was the creation of Inner City’s iconic “Big Fun“, which Saunderson described it as a song with “a chord, sampled, one note, spread through the keyboards and replayed, mixed down with a pad and a few other sounds”.[1] The duo continued to work on the song over the weeks, adding percussion done by Terry ‘Housemaster’ Baldwin and a keyboard solo by Art Forest. However, the song was missing something momentous.

James Pennington suggested Chicago-native Paris Grey to be the tune’s lead singer. Saunderson sent the track to Paris, who had the task to write the vocal melody and lyrics for song. She completed the job in one month and sang the finishing product to the producers, who fell in love with her voice and the song even more. That was when Inner City was born.

Over the span of the band’s initial run, they added two more members (including Saunderson’s wife Anne), released five albums, and a handful of singles. Their debut album, “Paradise” (renamed “Big Fun” in the United States), was a hit in UK where it reached number three on the charts. As Inner City rode on their moderate success, singer Paris Grey wanted to take a step back to raise her daughter around the mid-90s. The group took a pause after the release of “Do Me Right” in 1996, enabling Paris to take a break and Saunderson to go on to do more projects.

However, the group never really broke up as they gotten back together many times since their hiatus. They released two singles in 1999 and 2000. And another two in 2011 and 2014 with an updated techno sound.

As I continue to type countless words for my novel, I cannot stop listening to the Kevin McCord Club Mix of Inner City’s 1989 single ‘Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'”. A cover of the 1979 Stephanie Mills’ song, Inner City updated it by adding jazz, a hint of R&B, and 80s’ house. The song captures anyone’s attention at the beginning when Paris starts off by singing the title with a blaring saxophone bit following it. I absolutely love how this horn instrument is used throughout the song, especially at the 6:08 mark. This particular instrument helps to paint a jazzy scenario with the disco-styled piano solos thanks to the Roland TR-909 (listen for an imperfect authentic cadence at around the 4:50 mark), the bluesy percussion beats, and the tone of the background vocals. But, listeners are reminded that this is still a (then) modern-day house and R&B song thanks to the funky bass synthesizer that serves as the backbone of the song.

Speaking of vocals, can we take a minute to talk about how amazing Paris Grey vocals are. Saunderson was right in a recent interview about how Grey’s vocals are “their own instrument”.  Her voice is warm, deep, and rich as she brings out each low note with a slight hold. She ends each line with style that embodies the texture of velvet, rich and silky, that leaves the listeners wanting more.  It doesn’t end at the chorus as she continues to sing in a soulful tone.

The Kevin McCord Club Mix of  “Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'” is a tasteful mix of past and current musical genres. The tune is a spectacular blend of disco, R&B, soul, blues, jazz, and others. Anyone who is a fan of any type of musical genre will enjoy this musical gem.

If you enjoy to take things slow, you should listen to the original version. I find it too slow for my taste but still amazing.


References

[1] Saunderson, Kevin. “Kevin Saunderson, Inner City and the inside Story of ‘Big Fun’.” FACT Magazine Music News New Music. FACT Magazine, 2 Sept. 2014. Web. 7 Nov. 2015. (http://www.factmag.com/2014/09/02/kevin-saunderson-inner-city-and-the-inside-story-of-big-fun/)