J-Pop Before J-Pop
-Pop hasn’t always been as strange as it seems nowadays. In fact, through the 70s and 80s (and to a lesser extent, the 60s), Japan had quite a few acts that managed to crossover and sell albums in the US. Back then, many of the notable hits (both in the East and the West) were sung in impressively fluent English, and appealed to people around the globe. I can’t really say what changed (perhaps Japan’s music has evolved and mutated to the point that it’s not nearly as accessible to unprepared ears?), but aside from Utada Hikaru’s mostly failed attempt with Exodus, or the indie-scene love for the Boredoms and Cornelius, Japanese artists have been mostly isolated to the land of the rising sun for the past decade.
Of course, the entire point of this column is to spread the word on what’s going on in the J-Pop bubble. This time, however, we’ll focus on what went on, by reviewing a few artists of years past. Some forever relegated to cheapo Super Big Retro Hits! compilation discs, others recognizable mainstays of Japanese history. Much of this stuff is even harder to track down than recent releases, but—whether as curiosity-sating oddities or otherwise—they’re worth it.
Yumi and Emi Ito, the identical twin sisters who make up The Peanuts, may look familiar. If you’ve ever seen the original Mothra movie (of which they provided the theme song for), you’ll know them as the eerily cute fairies. Or whatever they were. Twin gimmick aside, the ladies really could sing—and managed to bang out dozens of singles between 1959 to the mid-70s. The songs have that unmistakable 60s lounge sound, filled with echoing xylophones and vibrato vocals. The previously mentioned “Mothra Song,” which sounds like the 20th Century Fox theme would if it was two minutes longer, and had been written by Bernard Herrmann, remains their most famous. The best track, however, would be the haunting, early James Bond-esque “Daughters of Infant Island.”
Before Morning Musume, there was Onyanko Club. Made up of a rotating cast (the band apparently went through around 52[!] members) of fresh-faced young girls, they were almost as widely adored as their modern day counterpart. The ladies produced a few toothache-inducing albums in the late 80s, and more or less disappeared. Where they are now, I can only guess. Happily, they left behind the classic “Sailor Fuku wo Nugasanaide.”
“Make-up Shadow,” released in 1993, is not only my favorite Inoue Yousui track—it’s also one of his most available. Unlike the other residents on this list, Inoue has had a long, if not earth-shatteringly fruitful, career. His effortless cool helps make a lot of his otherwise cheesy tracks somehow credible. Also check out the 1981 track, “Jealousy.”
Another delicious 80s-90s girl-group designed (and destined) to do nothing more than make hits until their appeal fades. These two (Shoko Aida and Sachiko Suzuki) lasted longer than most, however. They gave us the banging “Sabishii Nettaigyo,” which I can verify never gets old; not even after having it on repeat for hours on end. Said hit was even covered by another female duo, W, which consists of two former Morning Musume members. One of Wink’s lasses (Shoko) even went on to release a DVD with Kaori Iida (also a Musume fixture once-upon-a-time). Aside from the six-degrees-of-Morning-Musume phenomenon, Wink made a decent-sized impact on their own. Like a gentler, more passive Puffy AmiYumi—they’re a great place to start any journey into the wondrous, fun-filled, at times seizure inducing, but always memorable world of J-pop.
By: Teresa Nieman
Published on: 2006-06-08