Is Ralph Tresvant Right? Can Money Really Not Buy You Love?

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This September has been filled with a bunch of rainy days. Rather than going out in a downpour, I kept to myself indoors with some activities like sleeping, studying, listening to music, and watching a ton of movies and TV shows. During this weekend, I was able to watch the new “Eight Days a Week”, “New Jacket City”, and “Mo’ Money”. These movies shared one common theme together. And, that was music.

I always wanted to watch “New Jacket City” and “Mo’ Money” as their soundtracks included a few of my favorite artists like Johnny Gill, Janet Jackson, Ralph Tresvant, Christopher Williams, and others. The songs appearing on these soundtracks were heavily influenced by a popular genre of the late 80’s and early 90s called New Jack Swing, which I really love as it perfectly blends together different musical elements.

Ralph Tresvant started his music career in the early 80s as a member of the “boys next door” R&B group New Edition. Labeled as the new Jackson 5,  Tresvant was only 13 years old when the group released their first album entitled Candy Girl. The album’s lead single reached #1 on various music charts. The group released more hits as the group grew up by changing their sound from sweet, innocent R&B to adult-oriented new jack swing. The group initially broke up in 1990 to let the members pursue their own solo careers. However, they continue to reunite from time to time for special occasions, TV shows, and concerts.

Billed as one of the leading vocalists for the group, Tresvant was all too ready to go solo when New Edition dissolved. There were rumors in the late 80s about the musician wanting to make his own music. However, the ambitions didn’t come into fruition until the success of Bobby Brown’s New Jack Swing-fused album Don’t Be Cruel in 1988 and the wildly popular New Edition album Heart Break. Knowing what to do, the musician released his self-titled album in 1990 with huge success. The album was #1 on the R&B charts and spawn a couple of hits. His follow-up album didn’t meet the same success as it reached #24 on the charts. 

“Money Can’t Buy You Love” was the fourth and last Top 10 single for the New Jack Swing singer. The song was in the 1992 Wayans Brother film Mo’ Money. The movie itself was critically panned by movie critics and actually bombed at the box office. On the contrary, the soundtrack fared better as it reached #6 on the Billboard 200 chart.

The soundtrack features a variety of splendid songs by Johnny Gill, Color Me Badd, Janet Jackson, Luther Vandross, and other well-known artists. Adam Greenberg  from AllMusic.com gave a spot-on analysis of the soundtrack as it “is a perfect blend for a fan of the early-’90s R&B sound. Yet, the praises do fall short to a weak point with Greenberg mentioning that the soundtrack “doesn’t really meet the same standard as music of later years”.[1]

Tresvant’s tune is a true embodiment of the new jack swing style as it features elements of rap, hip-hop, jazz, R&B, funk, electronica, and a bit of dance. The song starts with the singer’s smooth vocals singing “Can’t Buy You” while a slick rap is placed over. The song leads into the first chorus which is my favorite part. The chorus is the meat of the song’s sandwich as it is well-crafted with an SP-1200 providing the hip-hop styled MIDI sequences, the beautiful electronic piano bits here and there, and Tresvant’s smooth background vocals (which are heaven-sent and sooooooooooo smooth that it is so wonderful).

The lyrics are pretty satisfying as there is a strong message behind them. They were originally written with the idea of the movie’s theme of “money can’t buy can’t buy love” in mind Nevertheless, I feel like the message can apply to everyone and how they live their lives. Haven’t ever you thought about the issue deeply before? Is money REALLY THAT important in buying someone’s love and affection?

“Money Can’t Buy You Love”  is a wonderful example of what new jack swing was in the 90’s. It’s smooth, slick, meaningful, and catchy. The song might make you want to listen to it over and over. Or, just sing the lyrics out loud at random moments like walking to work. I know I have.

 


Sources

[1]  Greenberg, Adam. “Original Soundtrack Mo’ Money.” AllMusic.com. N.p., 2016. Web. (http://www.allmusic.com/album/mo-money-mw0000079784)

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.

 

 

 

Choosing the Right Key to My Heart with Choice

kazaam-soundtrack

Hey, hey, do you remember Kazaam?

That horrible movie that featured basketball legend Shaq?

You probably have at least seen it once if you a child of the 90s. I remember watching this bizarre film on videotape when my mom bought me every kid movie tape out there.

Nooooow, do you remember this movie?

What?  You want the painful memories to stop?

Don’t worry, we won’t be talking about the movie, which will turn twenty years old next month. Instead, we will briefly talk about a song from it’s soundtrack, which features a mixture of R&B, hip-hop, and pop. It had songs from well-known artists like Spinderella (from Salt ‘n’ Pepa), Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (from TLC), and Nathan Morris (from Boyz II Men). But, it also spotlighted up and coming artists like Backstreet Boys, Usher, and P!nk who were just scratching the surface of the music world at the time of Kazaam’s soundtrack release.

One of the groups featured on this album was the girl group Choice. The group was made up of three girls from the suburbs of Philadelphia; Stephanie Galligan, Alecia Moore, and Chrissy Conway. The R&B-flavored group recorded songs and sent them to various record companies in order to get a deal. One person who noticed the group’s music and talents was L.A. Reid, who signed Choice on his own record label LaFace Records. He flew the girls down to Atlanta to record their debut album. During this time, one of their recorded songs, “Key of My Heart”, appeared on the Kazaam soundtrack.

However, Choice’s debut album never saw a physical release as the group disbanded before anything could be released. One of the possible reasons behind the breakup was the LA Reid gave Alecia a hard choice, go home or go solo, as he thought she was too talented to be in Choice.[1] And so she did, changing her name to P!nk and releasing her two time platinum-hit debut record “Can’t Take Me Home” in 2000. The edgy, in your face singer has had a successful career since her debut as the artist has dabbled in various musical genres from R&B to rock and beyond.

While P!nk was doing her thing, Chrissy Conway went onto join a Christian pop girl group called ZOEgirl from 1999 to 2006 and COLMANblue from 2008 to 2010. Meanwhile, Stephanie Galligan left the music business after the breakup.[2]

You probably wouldn’t notice P!nk’s vocals when you first listen “Key to My Heart”. The song features vocals that is completely different then P!nk’s powerful, brazen vocals that you typically hear in such songs like “Just Like Fire” and “Get This Party Started”. Instead, it features a mellow tone from the then-young singer to fit in with the mid-tempo flow.

The song is pretty soothing with the light tones from the members’ tone, a great flow, and a laid-back mood. It’s a basic 90s’ mid-tempo R&B that is a bit generic as you could hear the synthesizer, those types of vocals run, and the prominent woodblock mixed with snaps backbeat that you could find in any smooth R&B jams during the same time (see SWV, Allure, and others). However, it’s a pretty decent tune that doesn’t really bore anyone. It’s a great listen while you are relaxing on this beautiful Sunday.


Sources:

[1] Behind the Music. Perf. P!nk. VH1, 1999.

[2] Ali, Rahsheeda. “Solo Artists Who Got Their Starts In Now-Forgotten Bands.”VH1. 2014. Web. 05 June 2016. <http://www.vh1.com/news/53694/solo-artists-forgotten-bands/&gt;

Playing Another Slow Jam with Gyrl

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Over the weekend I surpassed the “2,000 items in my physical collection” mark. Can you believe it, 2,000 already! But it did took me 10 years to build it up and I have more to collect. I usually purchase stuff that I can’t find on iTunes or other media sites. I also like stuff that weren’t very popular or just one-hit wonders. And, of course, I like extended 12″ singles, which the local second-hand usually has a lot of.

A 12″ single I recently picked up was “Play Another Slow Jam” by a short-lived R&B girl group named Gyrl. This group was orginally made up of three members: Jamila (who was a dancer in Prince’s “Diamonds and Pearls” video), her sister Miyoko, and Paulette. They started off as backup dancers, under the name Innosence, for the R&B group Immature. It wasn’t until 1995 when the group made their debut with the single “Play Another Slow Jam”. The single reached #74 on the Billboard Top 100 R&B singles.

The group experienced a loss soon after the single’s release as Paulette quit the group. Jamila and Miyoko kept dancing while looking for a replacement. The girls got their wishes answered a while after after when Jeanae’ Briley and Tai-Amber Hoo joined. The now quartet released their second single, “Get Your Groove On”, in 1997. The single, which was featured in the Halle Berry movie “B*A*P*S”, was a success as it reached #30 on the R&B charts. But, the group broke up soon after.

The members went onto focus on different careers. Jenae’ Briley did some songwriting and became a cosmetologist. Tai-Amber Hoo joined Nobody’s Angel in 2001 for a brief time. Miyoko became a stylist. Paulette Maxwell appeared as a dancer on a late 90s’ UPN show “One on One” and composed for another UPN/CW show called “All of Us”. She also became the CEO of her own company, Creation Soul Productions.

However, the most successful member was Jamila, who now goes by the name Mila J. She has appeared on various songs done by Omarion, Treyz Songz, and other artists. The latest song she appeared on was Timberland’s  “Don’t Get No Betta”, which its music video was released earlier this year. She made her debut in 2014 by releasing the EP “M.I.L.A”. She is expected to release a full LP by this summer. She recently released a song, entitled “#TBH“, from upcoming LP on Soundcloud.

 

“Play Another Slow Jam” is a mid-tempo jam that isn’t hard to follow alon. It doesn’t feature a lot of synthesized instruments, opting to a bare instrumentation in favor to feature more of the vocals. Speaking of the vocals, they are a hit or miss depending on which part you listen to. When the girls sing together, the vocals can be very strong and pleasing to listen to. The chorus features the typical 90s’ R&B girl group sound but it’s not overly annoying, it actually sounds pretty nice. However, whenever Paulette or Jamila sing their solo parts, their vocals come off as airy and weak with little or no breath support. Jamila does hav a voice that suits the song well and can control her breathing better than Paulette. Nevertheless, I am going to chalk up the weak vocals to the reason that these girls were pretty young when “Play Another Slow Jam” was released and it was their first song. The second single and the girls’ newer releases prove this as the girls learned from this song and improved their skills.

This Gyrl song isn’t anything too special; it has a basic melody, basic instrumentation, typical R&B sound, and sub-par to weak vocals. But, it’s pretty decent to listen to if you want to remember the 90’s or just want something to chill with.

Besides, doesn’t this song sound like Aaliyah’s “Old School“?

“Wild Women Do” A Natalie Cole Tribute

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It is really sad when a shining star in the music industry dies out, especially a legend like Natalie Cole. I can admit that I have barely listened to anything by her. Maybe because I am not a big fan of the classic jazz type of music that her, her dad, and many others were famous for. I am more of the modern smooth jazz from the 80’s and 90’s.

I discovered a song, called “Wild Women Do”, that she contributed to the blockbuster film Pretty Women while watching the film about a year ago. I recently was able to buy the soundtrack at a local discount store and one the first songs I listened to was Natalie Cole’s. It’s my favorite tune off the soundtrack due to how brash, in a good way, and tough the song’s character is. And, it’s all thanks to how Natalie’s soulful yet aggressive vocal style helps to paint this “tough girl” attitude, something alike to the personality of Julia Roberts’ character in the movie. My favorite line in the whole song is “Well, let me tell you something, little boy” because Cole sings in a cynical style, just like the mannerism of Roberts’ character.

“Wild Women Do” is a perfect blend of R&B, pop, a little soul, and rock with it’s aggressive “I don’t take jack” approach about women who live life on the wild side (or prostitutes). I think I might have to start 2016 off by listening to more of Cole’s works that are like this one. And maybe, someday, I will get to her more profound and earlier works. But right now, I am going to jam to “Wild Women Do” and you should too.

A Blast From the Past: The Year of Anime Music [Part 5]

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“Yuzurenai Negai” by Naomi Tamura (from the series Magic Knight Rayearth)

Don’t let the first few seconds minutes fool you, “Yuzurenai Negai” is a force to be reckon with it’s powerful vocals and rock setting. A revolutionary piece for it’s time as female rock vocalists like Tamura, Julia Mazda, Maki Ohguro, and Hiroko Moriguchi were bringing the “girl-power rock” genre into popularity.

The song solely starts off with Tamura taking her time with the pacing and using every ounce of her energy to make her vocals so innocent. But, after the intro, the guitars start to blare and Tamura’s sweet personality turn into a hard rocker by the chorus. It’s here that the singer adds a hard edge to the song by her vibrato. It’s so edgy yet beautiful.

I have yet to watch Magical Knight Rayearth (but I will since I now discovered that Hulu has the series) however, the theme songs by Naomi Tamura are exceptional as they are powerful and full of spirit. Especially “Yuzurenai Negai”.

 


 

“Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis” by Yoko Takahashi (from the series Neon Genesis Evangelion)

Ahhh, this song. The one song that everyone sings at the karaoke box, including myself, and probably don’t know why they are singing it. Maybe because the anime is one of the most popular series out there? Maybe how the song is composed? Maybe people get inspired from the lyrics?

I just don’t know!

Whatever may the case be, this theme song from Neon Genesis Evangelion is addicting. For me, I love how the lyrics build up anticipation. Like you are part of the storyline. For example, when you sing the opening line of “Young boy, like a cruel angel’s thesis, live up to be a legend…” [1], it feels like you are the one who is calling out this “young boy” due to the narration, the slow pace, and the intensity of the caller’s emotions. Those emotions build up over time through the singer and the instrumentation. Even at the end, you feel like you have to emotionally “give it all” or the ending won’t be so dramatic.

I personally don’t like Evangelion, as I find it a tad boring for my tastebuds. But, I love to always sing “Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis” as the emotions and lyrics of the song appeal to me.

 

 


 

Previous Installments:

Part I / Part II / Part III / Part IV


References

[1] “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis.” Evangelion. Web. 24 Dec. 2015. (http://evangelion.wikia.com/wiki/A_Cruel_Angel’s_Thesis)

 

Can You Celebrate the Success of the Queen of Hip-Pop Amuro Namie 20 Years Later?

namieamuro-bodyfeelsexit

Body feels exit

Body feels excite

Koko made donna michi wo aruite

Anata to yatto tadoritsuita ka wo

Nanika miezu ni dakedo nanika wo

Mitsuketakatta yo heya ni hitorikiri

Hiza wo kakaete ugokenakutatte body feels!

– “Body Feels Exit” (1995) by Namie Amuro [1]

If you ever came across a Japanese poImage and video hosting by TinyPicp song, more than likely it was by Namie Amuro. For the past twenty-three years, Namie Amuro has become a household name as she is everywhere in Japan: CDs, magazine covers, commercials, billboards, pamphlets, and even in stores. Whether it is because of her youthful, beautiful looks or her superb vocal skills, Namie Amuro is a pop icon that will be around for a long time.

You are probably asking, “Didn’t Amuro make her musical debut in 1992? Why are you writing an article about her and her 20th anniversary now?”

It is true that Amuro did make her musical debut in 1992 when she was apart of the teenage girl group Super Monkey’s. However, it was twenty years ago today, October 25, that Amuro peeled herself away from the idol group and made a name of herself by starting her solo career off with the single “Body Feels Exit”. I am not ignoring the fact that many, including at one point her official site, have said that the singles “Taiyou no Season” and “Stop the Music” is part of Amuro’s solo discography. However, if you look at the backs of “Taiyou no Season” and “Stop the Music”, the singles are credited under the name “Amuro Namie with Super Monkey’s” as she was still part of the group until the summer of 1995. I consider “Body Feels Exit” as her true solo debut single as it features none of the remaining Super Monkey’s members as dancers (at least in the music video) or backing vocals unlike the “Amuro Namie with Super Monkey’s” ones.

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On the mist of her solo debut, Amuro Namie was already a household name in 1995 as her last two singles with Super Monkey’s became top ten singles. She also appeared in various commercials, magazines, movies, and television shows, including the extremely cute kids show “Ponkikkids“. Whenever she wasn’t donning a pink rabbit suit, Amuro would be found on music programs, attracting various viewers with her sexy, fast-paced dance moves and good sense of style. In fact, it was that sense of style that helped to boost Amuro into the top spot of Japanese pop culture by the end of 1995. Even the fashion featured on her debut single spawn a cult following as the  term “Amura” described anyone who had the combination of dyed brown hair, tan skin, and white boots.

Over the years, Amuro adapted her sound and style to keep up with the ever-changing pop culture. Slowly, Amuro shed the eurodance-sound found in her earlier works and went for a more R&B/hip-hop one, starting in 1999 with “toi et toi”. As the Japanese music industry was shifting from dance pop to R&B, mainly thanks to Utada Hikaru, Amuro struggled with the shift as “toi et toi” was branded as a failure and other singles failed to crack the top ten. Actually, the 2002 single “Wishing on the Same Star” was supposed to be her last before a hiatus that would have her go to the US for artist development.[2] However, the single was a success and Amuro was allowed to continue her career.
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It wasn’t until 2004 with the release of “Queen of Hip-Pop” that Amuro fully cement her as a R&B/hip-hop artist. As much as I hate “Want Me, Want Me“, it is a perfect example of Amuro’s hip-hop sound as it presents a backbeat (sitar) and Amuro singing the verses in a style that is similar to rapping. Other perfect examples would be the R&B-flavored dance tune “Can’t Sleep, Can’t Eat, I’m Sick” (2006) and her triple A-side single “60s 70s 80s” (2008). ‘Can’t Sleep, Can’t Eat, I’m Sick” is one of favorite Amuro songs in the past ten years as it features a slick saxophone, a hip interlude, and a catchy chorus. Amuro’s vocals are perfect for this song as they are smooth yet sassy.

Recently, Amuro has gotten back into dance music with the release of “genic” this year. However, she hasn’t forgotten her R&B roots as she fuses that sound with EDM throughout the album. A good example of this fusion would be “Fashionista“. The sultry opening is mostly R&B-flavored with a baritone saxophone and an electric organ mixed in with programmed clapping. It isn’t until the chorus that the song transforms into a EDM tune.

Whether your like the idol pop AImage and video hosting by TinyPicmuro, dance-pop Amuro, or the sultry R&B Amuro, many would agree that over the years, Amuro has had a huge impact on the Japanese pop culture thanks to her music and style. Many artists today and in the past have influenced by Amuro’s style. Even some have tried to copy her, in the case of the 90s’ ASAYAN group FBI. Whatever the case may be, Amuro has overcome many transformations over the years. And because of that, she will always shine brightly as a Japanese pop culture legend.

(As you can or cannot tell, Amuro Namie is one of my favorite singers. I first got into her when avex trax has an online streaming channel for music videos back in the early 2000s. I remember the first video of hers that I watched, it was “You’re my sunshine” (1996). She later became my role model in junior high and high school as she was a great singer, always looked so beautiful, and had a great sense of style. I was lucky enough to see her live in 2012 with her Domes tour. I was also verrrrrrrrry lucky to see her up-close as I had second row tickets. That was a dream came true!)

Check out a live performance on some TV show of “Body Feel Exit”:

And the original music video:


References

[1] “Amuro Namie – Body Feels Exit.” Kiwii Musume 26 Oct. 2005. Web. 25 Oct. 2015. {http://www.kiwi-musume.com/lyrics/amunami/sweet19blues/bodyfeelsexit.htm}

[2] “Wikipedia: Wishing on the Same Star.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Apr. 2006. Web. 25 Oct. 2015. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wishing_on_the_Same_Star)