#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.

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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!

“Dance trance all in a globe”: A Celebration of a Timeless Trio

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One of the first Japanese pop groups I ever discovered was globe. A trio that included a legendary producer, a virtual unknown, and a up-and-coming rapper and VJ. This year marks their twentieth anniversary since their debut single. Since their debut, globe has changed the Japanese pop music scene in their own way.

After TM Network performed their final live concert TMN 4001 DAYS GROOVE in the spring of 1994, keyboardist Komuro Tetsuya decided to form a three-piece band with MTV VJ and DJ Marc Panther. Komuro was one of the hottest producers in the Japanese music scene by that time. Along with being a member of the mega-popular band TM Network, he was also producing hits after hits with artists like Mizuki Arisa, TRF, Watanabe Misato, and others. His most famous single, “Itoshisa to Setsunasa to Kokoro Tsuyosa to”, a collaboration with ex-Tokyo Performance Doll member Shinohara Ryoko, was released in the summer of 1994 and sold over two million copies. With all this prestige, Komuro was looking to create another super group.

But, what should it be? With whom?

The first member, which was mentioned above, was Marc Panther. He was going to be the rapper of the group while Komuro was going to be the producer, keyboardist, composer, and backing vocals. Komuro choose the band’s genre as eurodance. Which made Marc’s role easier to understand because a lot of dance music from the West incorporated rapping into their high-energy music. Nevertheless, all they needed was a lead vocalist, which Komuro would find in one his many talent auditions. He picked a then-unknown young adult from southern Japan named Yamada Keiko.

The group made their debut on August 9th, 1995 with the song “Feel Like dance”. At first, keiko’s face was obscured during TV and public appearances as the company thought it would be a neat idea to have a “ZARD-like”, mysterious member. The first single’s music video was actually all done in CGI. (Which would have another version later on with the member’s faces.) It wasn’t until the second single, “Joy to the love”, when we first saw the members.[1]

1996 proved to be a monumental year for the group. They released the wintry break-up song, “DEPARTURES”, in January with huge success. The single was the band’s first number single to chart on the Oricon charts and it sold over two million copies. Their self-debut album was more impressive as it sold over four million copies.

By the end of the decade, globe proven to be one of the top artists in Japan with all their singles charting in the top 10, many reaching the number one position. However, the group changed during the new millennium as they steered away from eurodance and got their hands dirty by experimenting with house and trance. One the best examples to describe globe’s trance sound is the 2002 album “Lights2”, especially with the instrumental piece “TRANSCONTINENTAL WAY”.

keiko and Komuro got married following the release of “Lights2”. Also, the group’s activities slow down tremendously by 2005 as keiko started her solo career, Marc was sort of continuing his, and Komuro was heavily involved with the restart of his old band TM Network.

However, the group has also been facing setbacks since mid-2000s. One of these setbacks happened in 2008 when Komuro was arrested and sentenced for fraud. The group was supposed to released their thirty-first single, a cover of TM Network’s signature song “GET WILD”, on November 26. However, it was shelved and later placed on a best album due Komuro’s arrest.

Another setback happened in 2011 when keiko was rushed to hospital after collapsing at home. It was later discovered that she suffered from subarachnoid haemorrhage and went to rehabilitation, which she is still primarily focusing on at the moment. Two years after the tragic incident,  Marc and Komuro decided to continue the group without keiko by releasing a series of remix albums; “globe EDM Sessions” (2013), “GDM” (2014), and “Remode 1” (2015). These new albums had past favorites updated as EDM-styled songs, which I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet. Although, I have seen Marc and Komuro recently doing nightclub tours to promote “Remode 1” and their 20th anniversary. It looks like the lives were a great success judging by the pictures and messages.

i first got into globe when I was a junior high school student. Back in the early 2000s, avex trax had three main music video channels that were streamed over the net for free. I would always spend my free time watching these channels as I was just beginning to get into Jpop. The first globe song that I listened to was their 2002 trance-flavored “OVER THE RAINBOW”. What made me like the song was the mystical but yet mysterious synthesizers and keiko’s pure vocals.  However, I would become more in love with its b-side, “INSPIRED FROM RED & BLUE”, as it so emotional and powerful.

I think the emotional side of globe’s songs made me like them when I was younger. Even though I didn’t know a lot of Japanese back then, I would understand the emotional side of each song due to how keiko used her vocals. I could feel such emotions like sadness in “DEPARTURES”, frustration in “Wanna be a dreammaker”, and longing in “Wanderin’ Destiny” thanks to keiko’s efforts. And due to that, these songs helped me during the most difficult times of my life.

keiko’s techniques would also inspire me when I started voice lessons. keiko will always be one my biggest inspirations for singing because I really admire her ability to hit high notes, her marvellous tone, and the ability to put a lot of emotions in her singing. So, in honor of globe’s twentieth anniversary, I sang globe’s debut song. Now, I am no keiko, as you can recognize while listening. But, I had lots of fun singing and also rapping.

Please listen to my cover here: 

Here is the original:

“Feel like dance” isn’t my favorite globe song. I don’t think it’s even in my top five list….

…However, here is my top five list for globe songs:

5. SWEET PAIN (1995)

4. FREEDOM (1996) / Love again (1998)

3. Music Takes Me Higher (from the album “globe”; 1996)

2. INSPIRED BY RED & BLUE (2002)

1. Wanderin’ Destiny (1997; which was the theme song for the drama “Aoi Tori”, starring one of my favorite actors Toyokawa Etsushi.)


References

[1] “Globe.” Globe – Wikipedia. 24 June 2004. Web. 16 Aug. 2015.  (https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globe)

A Blast From the Past: The Year of Anime Music [Part 1]

Whether you’re a huge anime fan or not,  1995 was one of the best years for anime songs (or anison, as they are referred in the anime community). During this year, many wonderful anime series came out and captivated audiences everywhere, even memorable in today’s world. I want to share and revisit some goodies from that year. Now, I won’t do a top 5 list because it would be unfair to the other songs if I place “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” as number one. Personally, it isn’t my favorite anime song from 1995, but everyone’s favorite and it is still on everyone’s mind when they attend a karaoke booth here.

I originally wanted to write this as one blog post. But, I realized that I wanted to discuss
about waaay too many anime songs, so the draft for the original post got bigger and bigger. So, I decided to do a monthly series so each anime song from 1995 could get a fair chance of being featured here.

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Cui-ling – “Koi wo Suru Tabi ni Tsuzutukiyasuku” (from the series “Nurse Angel SOS”)

“Koi nurseangelsoswo Surutabini Tsuzutukiyasuku” was the dance craze in the anime word back in the day. Composed by Tetsuya Komuro with lyrics penned by Yasushi Akimoto (hey, we mention this guys a lot this month!(, “Koi wo Surutabini Tsuzutukiyasuku” was performed by a relatively unknown Chinese singer named Cui-ling (This is how it was written on the singles, I am sorry if I misspelled it).

The song opens up with a cool synthesized riff that leads to the main chorus. I think the guitar riff during the middle interlude is pretty awesome too as Komoro combines the guitar’s sound with some special effects. Besides that, I personally think that this song is a plain dance song. I don’t know why it was so special in the day, maybe the harmonies? I really like to sing harmony on this song whenever I sing at karaoke.


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Erina Nakajima – “Wedding Wars ~Ai no Honoo~” (from the series “Ai Tenshi Wedding Peach”)

I don’t know much of Erina Nakajima except she sang this song as the second opening for the above mentioned anime. I remember first watching the opening animation back in the days when internet was still on dial-up. weddingpeachI got introduced to this magical girl anime by a t-shirt that my dad bought when he was stationed in Korea. I can’t fit in that t-shirt anymore but I still have it in storage, looking at it from time to time because Wedding Peach is a really great anime series (and an even better manga series).

“Wedding Wars ~Ai no Honoo~” is a marvelous song due to many factors. The most important factor is the song is brimmed with emotions from wishful thinking to sadness and beyond. You can experience these emotions the best during the chorus when the singer uses shorter rhythmic patterns, a dual between the chorus, the lyrics, and the phrasing. Speaking of the lyrics, they are amazingly expressive as they actually portray Wedding Peach’s plot. You should check the song lyrics out if you never seen Wedding Peach,

The song climaxes beautifully before at the end with the “Negai wo Komete” part, just beautiful. The momentary pause of instrumentation is crucial to this part as we can listen carefully to the singer but also anticipated for what is to come. The wedding bells at the ending are a lovely touch to the song.

I think this ending part and the song in general makes it a better opening then FURIL’s “Yumemiru Tenshi Angel”. I love “Yumemiru Tenshi Angel”, I really do, but it’s too cute, too girlish, and lacks the emotions, that portray the series so well. If memory serves me correct, the manga of Wedding Peach is much more darker than the anime version which was trying to bank off the success of Sailor Moon and the saturated commercial market for girl toys. If Wedding Peach was remade as a modern anime, I feel like “Wedding Wars ~Ai no Honoo~” could represent it well due to the lyrics, musical structure, and emotions. I suggest to listen to the song if you haven’t.

Don’t Wanna to Get Happiness with TRUE KISS DESTINATION?

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It’s been another day where I am sitting at Starbucks and writing as I wait for my internet to be installed at my new apartment. My new apartment? What? The reason why I haven;t been writing a lot on this blog recently is because I recently moved from countryside Yamanashi to big city Nagoya. Because of this, I lack internet at my place and it’s takes time to get be hooked here in Japan. Don’t worry, I be up and running, writing more, once I get my place online.

But, since I am on a writing spree, I would like to share a song I been listening all day today. The song is performed by the Japanese duo named TRUE KISS DESTINATION. This band was another in a series of groups, artists, and projects that was founded and produced by the music mastermind of the 90s dance scene, Tetsuya Komuro, TRUE KISS DESTINATION was formed in late 1998 when it was announced that Komuro was going to work with former dos member Asami on a dance music project. The duo released their first indies self-titled album on February 1999. Released on the group’s very own label, “TRUE KiSS DESTiNATiON” was hailed as a sensation at various dance clubs as it added an American hip-hop/R&B flavor by being recorded in the heart of New York City with various American artists like De La Soul and Lisa Wilson featuring on certain tracks.

TRUE KISS DESTINATION moved on with a major debut in the spring of 1999 by releasing the single “AFRiCA”, a cover of the classic TOTO song. The group had about average success as their singles and albums charted in the top 50 on the Oricon charts. When they planned to release their fifth single in late 1999, TRUE KISS DESTINATION decided to shorten their name to “Kiss Destination”.

Asami and Tetsuya Komuro kept on releasing music well into the new millennium, often on indies labels, while the pair became closer romantically. The two decided to get married in 2001 and had a kid together. However, the wedding bliss ended a year later when the couple decided to divorce. Thus, ending TRUE KISS DESTINATION.

“VICTIM” is a song that was featured on the duo’s debut indies album. The song features minimal background instruments like the typical drum kit found in any dance songs, the synthesized sounds, and boom bass. I think what makes up for the lack of instrumentation is the vocals, especially in the chorus. Asami doesn’t really have bad vocals as her singing and stamina is really strong during the verses. But, it is during the chorus where the song and even her vocals really shine when her vocals are combined with the hushed R&B background vocals.

What also stands out is the erratic rhythms throughout the song. The use of staccatos in the chorus intensifies it as makes the melodic arches more dramatic. The staccatos are also found throughout the song: the background vocals introducing the song, the musical interludes, and other places.

Despite it’s simplicity, “VICTIM” is a hidden treasure with the great use of the vocals, the R&B sound, and the fact that it’s produced by Tetsuya Komuro and Marc Panther, a match made in heaven.

Come Back to Asia in the 1980s

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Ahh, the weekend! The time when I can listen to all the music I want because at work, I am not allowed to listen to anything, including my iPod with earphones. I am in heaven! It is during the weekend that I get addicted to a song or more, listening to it over and over till whenever I get tired of the song or I go to bed. Today’s new obsession is a song from the Jpop-rock band TM Network.

TM Network is a well-known band in Japan that has been around for about 30 years. The band 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”. The band 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 etc. Most recently, the band has been riding the electriopop 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).

“Come Back to Asia” doesn’t offer the eccentric sounds of rock or technopop, just the normal pop one. Actually, there is a lot of Asian influences within the song. It starts off with the keyboards producing a melody that resembles an Asian motif with the rhythm and/or melodic structure. I think the Asian motif is best represented in the synthesized keyboards, as the instrument emulates a sound like the sitar or guzheng in the chorus and during the ending of each melodic phrases in the verses. Speaking of the chorus, this the strongest section of the piece as Utsunomiya’s vocals are gripped with emotions and power, the sitar/guzheng sound, and the staccato’ed rhythm. All these factors clash and mesh harmonically together.

The song might not be as catchy like other songs like “Get Wild” or “COME ON EVERYBODY”. But, “”Come Back to Asia”” is a memorable song with a powerful heart.

You can listen to the full version here (for free) on NicoNico Douga.
(Click on the link to be directed to the video.)