The Music Fix J-Pop Mix (Vol. 2)
おかえり. Welcome back to The J-Pop Mix, in which we continue to bring you a diverse assortment of Japanese hits old and new, whilst providing a little history to boot. Apologies for the delay in Volume 2, so let’s get to it!
Originally formed in 1970 under the name of The Four Singers, Tulip made its official debut in 1972 with the album Yellow Magic Shoes. Heavily inspired by the works of The Beatles, Tulip’s sound became instantly reminiscent as the band flirted between the pop, rock and folk genres, with charming melodies and distinctive vocal harmonies.
Their third single ‘Kokoro no Tabi’ [Journey of the Heart] would propel them to fame, and soon enough they’d be attracting the kinds of screaming crowds that their heroes were already well accustomed to. A string of hits continued with the likes of ‘Saboten no Hana’ [Cactus Flower] and ‘Niji to Sneaker no Koro’ [A Time of Rainbows and Sneakers], turning them into one of the most highly respected artists of the seventies.
Their fame extended into the eighties, where they sought to experiment outside of their comfort zone as electronica started to make bigger waves but by its end they decided to call it a day. 1997, however, sparked a reunion which lasted until 2008, whereby they enjoyed extensive touring despite having a much leaner release schedule.
‘Saboten no Hana’ is my choice for this month’s playlist. Not only has the song been revitalized through numerous covers, Tulip themselves re-recorded it several times throughout the decades as the line up changed. This is the final version, which accompanied the hit 1993 TV series Hitotsu Yane no Shita [Under the Same Roof].
By contrast, N’ Shukugawa Boys is a relatively young outfit, having got together in 2007 and placing much of its focus squarely on the local gig scene. An offshoot from King Brothers, of which its members Ma-Ya and Shinnosuke belong to, N’ Shukugawa Boys differentiates itself with its classic power pop inspired sensibilities and raw indie edge, while lead singer Linda certainly has a bewitching presence.
Last year saw the release of their first mini album Planet Magic, of which the title track has made it into this month’s feature.
Roller skating back to the eighties, we’ve Hikaru Genji, a seven-piece outfit formed under the wing of Johnny & Associates, Inc. who were - and still are - specializing in promoting male idol groups (conversely the likes of Hello! Project caters for female idols).
At the height of their fame though, Hikaru Genji seemed unstoppable; they were youthful and energetic, putting on elaborate dance routines, dressing up in sparkly suits and in turn capturing the hearts of many adoring young ladies. Naturally they had their share of hits until they officially disbanded in 1995, and of those ‘Paradise Ginga’ is arguably their most fondly remembered.
Like a frying pan to the face this leads us into the noisy garage hijinks of ‘Surprise Sun’ from indie-rockers Thee 50’s High Teens. Since the end of the nineties they’ve been gigging around Japan, instilling their love of Carolina beach music and ’70s punk. With a couple of line up changes over the years, the band has gone through various stylistic changes, from vampire themes to doo-wop, all the while keeping their rebellious nature intact. A fun live act for certain, these gals deserve anyone’s attention.
Of all the artists featured in this month’s special, POLYSICS perhaps need the least introduction. Over the space of fifteen years they’ve cemented themselves as one of the world’s most exciting New Wave artists, gaining huge followings across Asia, Europe and the U.S.
Heavily inspired by Devo, POLYSICS often imbues its music with a manner of unusual techniques; a culmination of rock guitar fare and synth recordings makes way for some gratifyingly bombastic and at times surreal tunes. An extremely lively band, evidenced in their amazing videos and live performances, POLYSICS is about as good as synthpop gets. ‘Electric Surfin’ Go Go’ is taken from their seventh studio album Karate House.
Coming from a classically trained background, through which she specialized in ballet and piano at a young age, Sheena Ringo (otherwise known as Yumiko Shiina) made her debut in 1998 after being picked up by Toshiba EMI. The female idol pop scene was expanding in even bigger ways, yet this wasn’t a path that Sheena would be interested in taking. Adopting a more personal style her music felt all the more intimate, not to mention erratic (think PJ Harvey crossed with a bit of Björk and Jun Togawa and you might be somewhere on the right track). Eschewing the kind of mainstream pop sound that was dominating the charts thanks to new blood with the likes of Morning Musume and Ayumi Hamasaki, she was nonetheless extremely successful, securing best-selling positions and a reputation as being one of the most exceptional song writers and performers of the decade.
But she had a plan, and that was to retire as a solo artist after her third studio album. Despite pressure to go international, Sheena stuck to her guns and in 2003 with the release of Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana she moved on and set her sights elsewhere. Since then she’s had ongoing success as a composer and collaborator with some of Japan’s biggest artists. In 2009 she made a welcome solo return with her fourth album Sanmon Gossip.
‘Ichijiku no Hana’ is an interesting little number, and was in fact my first introduction to her work back in 2003. While it received airplay in Japan it was included as a bonus track only on the vinyl release of Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana. In 2008, however, it was given wider availability when it was released on a B-side compilation entitled Watashi to Houden [Me and Electric Discharge] to celebrate Sheena’s tenth year in the industry.
Released in 2005, ‘Smily’ is the eighth single from pop sensation Ai Otsuka, and in typical fashion earned her more acclaim on account of it being used in a television commercial. From there she’s been no stranger to having her work appear on various TV dramas and advertisements.
She made her Avex debut in 2003 and would go on to release five self-penned studio albums, each of which characteristically bore the word Love in their title. Additionally she would branch out into acting and tour extensively (outside from her annual birthday celebration bash ‘Love is Born’) but recently she’s been enjoying a break from the industry. She is married to Rip Slyme rapper Su.
Luv & Soul, the R&B foursome of Atsushi, Ryota, Takayuki and Kenta, entered the scene in 1998, releasing just a handful of albums (including a ‘Best Of’ and mini album) until parting ways in 2004; surprising coming off the back of 2003’s rather good blue. In 2011 their name was resurrected but with the exception of Kenta the line up was completely restructured. ‘Whistle’ is taken from the aforementioned blue and for me remains one of their most memorable tunes.
HONDALADY, the techno-rock duo of Maru and Die has been very active on the scene for the past fifteen years, managing to divide their time between studio work, deejaying at events, penning tracks for other artists, and featuring on high profile video games.
Last year they came to the UK and turned out to be one of the most exciting bands I’d seen that year. Full of non-stop energy, positive vibes and catchy hooks, HONDALADY’s music effortlessly hits the spot. Taken from their 2010 album Sneaker Mon Amour, ‘Freestyler’ is a perfect summer tune that’s hard to shake off. Hell, the harmonica solo is worth it alone.
Which finally brings us to the much beloved Godiego. While the name itself might not instantly resonate for many readers, there’s a very good chance that their music has already struck a chord.
Formed in 1976, Godiego actually caught their big break when their music featured in Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 debut feature House (most of the soundtrack was arranged by founding member and keyboardist Mickie Yoshino), which led to them releasing a string of hits, in turn influencing a new generation of pop music. Their name soon travelled to Europe when the BBC acquired the rights to Nippon Television’s The Water Margin and Monkey!; while both series were re-dubbed to accommodate western viewers - Monkey! had an extensively overhauled translation - the music was left intact, with the band having recorded Japanese and English versions of all songs featured. And that’s part of Godiego’s lasting appeal, in that most of their output has followed suit for the past 35 years. So if you’re new to the J-Pop scene and want to be eased in gently, then why not start with one of Japan’s most charming bands?
‘Where’ll We Go from Now’ [Haruka na Tabi e] was Godiego’s tenth single release and features on the 1979 album Our Decade.
またね. See you next time.