Celebrate the Holidays with “Leprechaun Christmas”

tmn-humansystem

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!

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Come Back to Asia in the 1980s

tmnetwork-resistance-lp

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.)

The Best of 2014 in Terms of Music

About six years ago, I wrote one of the best things I have ever written; a top five musical events of 2008 in Japan. I wanted to try to replicate that concept for 2014 in this blog post. But, I realized that I really can’t. I can’t do that today because I felt that it wouldn’t truly represent what was the “best of the best”.  Of course, I am free to express what I thought was the “best of 2014” here. However, there was a lot of good things in 2014 that you can’t really put in a list and say which one was number one.

Instead of presenting a concrete. numerical “the best of 2014” list, I decided to write about which songs and/or artists, in my own opinion, were very popular in Japan in 2014.

Let It Go

“Frozen” is one of those Disney movies that aspires every little girl to wear a blue dress and to wish that she has good, and not for the sake of evil, magical ice powers.  The movie also has numerous catchy songs that even I have memorized and hummed at the supermarket.  Hey, it is really cute to sing “Do You Want Build a Snowman?” or “In The Summer” with your friends at the karaoke bar.

But wait! Wasn’t this movie released in 2013? Why is “Let It Go” on THIS list? Even though “Frozen” was released in North America in 2013, it didn’t appear in Japanese movie theaters until March 2014. It was then that the movie got eminently popular with people going to see the Japanese, English, or the Sing-Along versions numerous times,  memorizing the lines and re-acting the movie, and covering anything with Frozen merchandise. Over the last year, there was so much merchandise for this movie; like aromatic bath soaps, mini-hand towels, and even cute Olaf plushies.

I personally don’t know why “Let It Go” is so beloved among people here. I don’t really like it, I am sick and tired of the song already. But, maybe the song is popular due to; the lyrics that expresses the topics of freedom, empowerment, and being yourself, the song’s climax of a soft beginning to a boisterous ending, or that the song gives a chance for girls of any age to think that they are some wicked cool ice queen with magical powers by doing the motions from the movie. If you stop to ask people on the streets here why they like Frozen, many will give you different reasons why. However, they all will agree that the song is addictive. Many of my younger students have proven this point by singing and dancing to the song whenever it plays on the radio during free time.

Though I am finished with “Let It Go” and privately wish that it would stay in 2014, the song will hold steady in the hearts of many for years to come.

Youkai Watch

“Youkai Watch” is a Japanese video game turned animation (or anime) show that began in April 2014. I seen a little bit of the show to know that there is a special watch that can detect “ghosts” and some characters named “Jibanyan” and “Whisper” (voiced by the ever-charming Tomokazu Seki), The anime has even surpassed the long-time favorite Pokemon to be the top grossing and most beloved anime of 2014.

Besides the eccentricity of the show, “Youkai Watch”‘s catchy theme songs have proven to be a sensation all over Japan. Both “Geragerapō no Uta” and “Yōkai Taisō Dai-Ichi” are well-liked with their bizarre lyrics, fetching melodies, and simple dance moves that everyone knows. My students can genuinely dance to “Geragerapō no Uta” and  I always see many kids trying to dance to “Yōkai Taisō Dai-Ichi” at a special booth promoting the song’s artists Dream5 in the local department store.  It just surprises me something like “”Yōkai Taisō Dai-Ichi” is really popular here. Maybe it’s because of the lyrics’ content. Unlike America which doesn’t like to talk about people’s bathroom business, Japan loves to talk about it freely and openly with kids laughing about the subject. Only in Japan will a song include something so trivial like the topic of poop in a kids song   It’s so bizarre. But, that’s just me.

“Geragerapō no Uta” and “Yōkai Taisō Dai-Ichi” also shows how powerful commercialism is in Japan or any country. I was talking with a friend while watching the prestigious end of the year singing competition, Kouhaku Utagassen. Both songs’ artists, King of Cream Soda and Dream5, were invited and performed a special medley of “Youkai Watch” songs with the show’s characters. And my friend said that it was a mystery in why “Yōkai Taisō Dai-Ichi” was performed as it’s not a great song. True, it’s not a good song. “Geragerapō no Uta” is just as bad due to the obnoxious singing style of ZZROCK. However, because how popular the show and the songs got, they were able to perform on the show. Besides, Kouhaku Utagassen these days isn’t about who or which groups or songs are the best musically in that specific year. It’s actually about what was popular in terms of sales, people’s interests, and etc.

I don’t think “Yokai Watch” is going anywhere but up anytime soon as it was renewed for a second season. Both “Geragerapō no Uta” and “Yōkai Taisō Dai-Ichi” will be as memorable as Neon Genesis Evangelion’s “Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis” as both songs have grabbed everyone’s attention and won’t let go.

By the way, the lyrics to “Geragerapō no Uta”  were written by motsu. Before becoming a member of King of Cream Soda, he was in a band called m.o.v.e for about fifteen years. And I loved them (and motsu too)! I remember when m.o.v.e came to America about ten years ago to attend an anime convention. He actually gave me a hug when I requested one when I was getting a CD autographed. I was so happy because not many artists freely accept hugs from their fans (unless you are Sting’s song but that is another story for another time).

EXILE TRIBE

Ok, enough with the cartoons! Let’s get down with the real stuff like EXILE. EXILE is a dance and vocal group that is mostly composed of males. They formed in 2001 but didn’t get really popular until two or three years later with the single “Choo Choo Train”. Since then, the group has been growing in popularity and members as they formed new groups like Sandaime J-Soul Brothers, E-girls, and etc or took over existing groups like DREAM. Much like Akimoto’s “48 Family” or Tsunku/Up-Front Agency’s “Hello! Project”, all the groups relating to EXILE are placed under the umbrella name “EXILE TRIBE”. EXILE and their brother/sister groups have won many awards, including Sandaime J-Soul Brothers winning the top prize at the Japan Record Awards in 2014.

Although EXILE has been around for such a long time, I feel like 2014 was truly EXILE’s year. Maybe because EXILE put out some of their greatest hits in their discography this year. My personal favorite is EXILE TRIBE’S “24WORLD” due to the high-level energy and fast pace of this “EDM meet 80’s”-styled song. If you don’t get my 80s reference, just listen to the bridge.

One of my favorite parts of “24WORLD” is in the pre-chorus with the “Woah Woah” and how the backing vocals are placed. My other favorite part is in the catchy chorus that has been stuck in my head forever. They also have some great costumes in the music video and awesome multi-colored ones at the recent live for MUSIC STATION.

Another great song was the award-winning “R.Y.U.S.E.I”. I don’t really like the song but I let you, the readers, decide how award-worthy the song is.

And that is the best of 2014! There are many things (bands, artists, songs, and etc) that made 2014, in its own right, to be a memorable year. But, that is up to you, the readers, to decide. Maybe 2015 will be different? Who knows. Let’s just wait and see.

P.S.: I was super excited that 2014 was the year of TM Network!  Well, kind of. They celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2014 with new albums, a single, and a big concert tour. Hopefully, I get to see them perform live before someone decides to retire (erhm, Komuro Tetsuya, don’t even try).

Enjoy the blast from the past with one of their first songs: