Tag Archives: Yumi Matsutoya

Book update: 70s pop

The latest book update sees me still stuck in the 70s, but this time looking into the pop music of the era rather than rock. I’ve written about this in The Japan Times, and the stuff in my book basically goes over the same ground, but it’s a good period and deserves writing about. It’s not directly relevant to any discussion about the contemporary alternative music scene, but it’s relevant to discussion about idol music, which is relevant, as well as to new wave given the way they started to converge in the 80s and eventually completely subsumed each other to create J-pop.Yumi Arai: Rouge no Dengen

It was also relevant to talk about “new music”, which means a bunch of artists I have no particular interest in. I’m a great admirer of Yumi Arai/Matsutoya and Miyuki Nakajima has a place in my heart thanks to the use of her crazy, melodramatic power ballads as the theme songs to series 1 and 2 of the downright psychotic 90s TV drama Ienakiko. Amii Ozaki did some good stuff but Yosui Inoue always bored me and Southern Allstars are simply dire, so I have mixed feelings about the whole thing really. I put it down to its roots in Japanese “hikikatari” folk balladeering, which is a kind of music I’ve always found on the cusp between boring and annoying. As I said though, there’s good stuff in new music, but it ain’t really my scene.

I’m very biased towards female singers in this period, which is probably primarily down to me being a guy, although honestly, male Japanese pop singers do tend to be a bunch of smug, punchbag-faced twats who take themselves way too seriously considering how shallow and inconsequential their music is. Let’s face it though, Hiromi Go was a funky, funky dude in his day.Hiromi Go: Hana to Mitsubachi

But yeah, I’m standing by my position that the girls got all the best songs. I’m a massive fan of Saori Minami and she’s interesting because of her position as a prototype of the contemporary idol singer, although she never liked being presented as such. Her songwriters were on her side and they came up with some ace tunes.Saori Minami: Junketsu

Momoe Yamaguchi was probably the greatest pop star of her day, and while these days I think the longevity and sheer ambition and drive of Seiko Matsuda has guaranteed her the position of greatest ever, her music itself was mostly nothing much to write home about. Yamaguchi had way better tunes and like Saori Minami seems to have had her own opinions about music to have worked quite closely with her songwriters to make them happen. From her early days as a fourteen year-old being manipulated into singing songs begging men to take her virginity, by the late 70s she was rocking it for herself.Momoe Yamaguchi: Zettai Zetsumei

The Candies I’m long on record as being a massive fan of, and they and Pink Lady are pretty much the definitive girl groups of the day. This was a long time before the days of mass idol collectives, and two or three was a perfectly satisfactory number of members for a pop group back then. Sigh. I also mention a bit about some of the 60s singers who crossed over into the 70s era although their roots were strictly speaking in a rather earlier music industry environment. Linda Yamamoto was a wild girl but Chiyo Okumura had a sultry charm of her own and probably has a stronger catalogue.Chiyo Okumura: Koi Dorobou

I’m onto punk and new wave now, which is where the book comes back to my key points about how the music scene works and how it’s structured at grassroots level. Again, I’m not sure if I’m going to carry on doing this in order, and the music history segments aren’t really what the book’s about as a whole (I don’t want them to take up more than about 15-20% of the total page count), but it feels right having the background there since I’m going to be referring to a lot of this at various points. Anyway, more sooner or later, and enjoy the pop.

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Strange Boutique (July 2013)

Eiichi Ohtaki: Kimi Wa Ten-Nen-Shoku

A bit late posting this due to one thing and another, but here’s my most recent column for The Japan Times. The theme was Japanese summer albums, and it was primarily an excuse to rave about Eiichi Ohtaki’s 1981 masterpiece A Long Vacation, which remains probably my favourite Japanese mainstream pop album. Ohtaki was a member of Happy End in the 60s and 70s, and his old bandmates helped out in various fashions on this album, but there’s a purity of craftsmanship and vision on this record that even his old band’s most celebrated work doesn’t quite have. In a way, comparing A Long Vacation to something like Kazemachi Roman is a bit like comparing stuff by The Beatles to Brian Wilson’s work with The Beach Boys, in that the former is at heart a band’s album while the latter is fundamentally a producer’s album. Either way, there are obvious similarities and I’m not really interested in ranking stuff this good.Eiichi Ohtaki: Koi Suru Karen

By all means investigate the other stuff I mention in the article, but really A Long Vacation is all I want to talk about here. I love the way Koi Suru Karen just leaps into the chorus with so much power and gusto but does so by dropping in a bunch of new layers of sound, not by rocking out in the typical band style. I love the way the squelchy synth bass in Pap-Pi-Doo-Bi-Doo-Ba Monogatari sounds completely at odds with the light, fluffy, 60s-style melody and yet totally at one with the piece, and I love how FUNx4 just even exists, as one of the most ludicrously, unashamedly pop! pop! pop! tunes ever written. I even love the fake clapping at the end.Eiichi Ohtaki: FUNx4

In the end, it’s just one of the most marvellous summer albums ever and one of my favourite pop albums ever, regardless of where it was made. It was one of the first Japanese pop albums I ever heard, when as a first year university student, my Japanese dorm-mate lent me his copy, so perhaps I’m sentimentally biased — I still harbour warm feelings for Mr. Children’s 1997 megahit album Bolero and Globe’s Faces Places, although neither commands such power over my affections. Fundamentally though, it’s a magnificent collection of songs by a songwriter and producer at the peak of his powers, and that just rules so I make no apologies for this cascade of thoroughly un-journalistic, fanboyish pop-love.Eiichi Ohtaki: Saraba Siberia Tetsudou

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Top 10 J-Pop Christmas songs

My latest MTV 81 piece is up, and it’s a sort of contrast to my last, grinchlike post about Christmas songs. I spent some time last week going through dozens of Christmas songs by J-Pop artists and whittling them down to ten songs that I felt had something I liked about them. I mention in the introduction that there have been some popular songs by other artists, and nothing in particular against Mika Nakashima or B’z, but they’re shite so I didn’t include them. Anyway, what I’m saying is that it was a personal list so take that for what you will.

One thing I learned when putting it together was that I have a weakness for a certain type of bombastic 80s soft rock, and so while I know that by all rights I should absolutely hate Shogo Hamada, I can’t quite let myself.

The other thing I learned was that almost without exception, all Japanese Christmas songs are songs about being depressed and lonely, which is always a sign that a country is doing a festival wrong. As I said in my last post, Christmas in overwhelmingly atheist Japan is basically a shit Valentine’s Day with fewer chocolates and more Kentucky Fried Chicken (guess which bit the MTV smile police cut out of my article! — Yeah, how d’ya like that, The Man?) Anyway, the truth is that a lot of Japanese Christmas songs make for pretty grim, melodramatic listening, and I by and large tried to avoid the more suicidally melancholy numbers. Still, some of those songs really are quite good.

Generally, where possible I went for the more upbeat tracks, although even those are still mostly boy-obsessed and brimming with rampaging hormones. The Princess Princess song Ding Dong is an interesting one in that she dumped the boy for being an alcoholic and she’s basically saying good riddance, which puts an interesting twist on the whole “Lonely This Christmas” theme. It also has that great thing where the guitarist and bassist back up on either side of the singer and they all rock out together. Yeah, you go, sisters!

If I was basing it on sheer, overwhelming, mass saturation festive dominance, Tatsuya Yoshida would have won by a mile, and it really is a good song, but I went with Yumi Matsutoya because she’s just fucking awesome. It’s interesting that both of them had greatest hits albums in the top ten best selling albums of the year in Japan this year, so they obviously have a lot of lasting appeal. The only clips I could find of Yuming’s song were one cheesy photo montage and this kind of brilliant scene from the 1987 movie and all-round bubble-era time capsule Watashi wo Ski ni Tsuretette.

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