Archive for the ‘Jun Togawa’ Category

Cross Continental Divas

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Happy new year!

Let’s all work together to make this year less shitty than 2016. I know it’s going to be an uphill battle. But don’t worry, I have Japanese covers of classic TV theme songs to help us get through it.

Jun Togawa
Femme Fatale


Ahem. Sorry. I’m a little excited.

I was taken completely by surprise by the fact that Jun Togawa released a new CD over the holidays, the amazing Watashi Ga Na Kou Hototogisu. It’s a covers album of sorts, featuring the legendary singer performing new versions of some of her best-known tracks. Usually, that’s the kind of thing that bores me to tears, but this record is special. Because the new arrangements were in part composed and performed by the Japanese post-rock/metal band Vampillia, and they really take the tracks to some crazy new places. “Suki Suki Daisuki” in particular is completely reworked, transformed into a heavy and dark nightmare that treat the song’s morbid humor with dire sincerity. It’s amazing.

But I’m not sharing that, because you can buy it on iTunes in America! So you should do that!

So instead, I’m sharing these two fairly rare covers that are on the singer’s three-disc greatest hits and rarities set. Yes, the second one is a cover of the TV theme song.

It’s great.

Eartha Kitt
I Love Men (Dance Remix)
I Love Men (Dance Remix Instrumental)
So I’m listening to this and I immediately think, “well, this must’ve been a hit in the gay clubs back in the day.” And while there’s no “gay club top 10” Billboard chart, there is the Billboard Dance Chart, which is pretty much the same thing. This track made it to number seven on that chart, which pretty much confirmed my suspicions.

I suspect this track was made specifically with gay clubs in mind. The fact that it was produced and co-written by Village People producer Jacques Morali and so-gay-he’s-made-of-rainbows writer/comedian Bruce Vilanch, I think my suspicions are entirely spot-on.

Everything about this track is great, from the by then retro disco production to the “vampire cat lady” vocal styling of the legendary Kitt. A hell of a dance classic that is ripe for rediscovery. It’s songs like this that make me almost want to seriously become a club DJ. Because if I’m not going to drop these banging tracks into the club, then who the hell will?

Adventures From The YMO Family

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

I’m tired, I’m working six days in a row this week and I have to be up to go to work in about seven hours. So of course I decided to randomly write 800 plus words on releases by various Yellow Magic Orchestra associates.

Kenji Omura
Seiko Is Always On Time
The Defector
Kenji Omura was a longstanding associate of YMO, whose work with members from the group actually pre-dates the band itself; he’s credited as a performer on Yukihiro Takahashi’s solo debut Saravah!, which came out in 1978. Throughout the 70s and 80s he continually popped up on various YMO associate releases, including albums by Akiko Yano, Susan, Logic System (more on him in a second) and Sandii. During YMO’s biggest years he also served as the band’s touring guitarist, performing on their seminal Live At Budokan release.

He was primarily a jazz guitarist (a lot of YMO people have jazz backgrounds) and it shows a lot in his solo work, more than his work as a contributing artist. His 1983 album Gaijin Heaven even goes as far as to have a Steely Dan cover on it, showing that while he was working in the synth-pop field, he was just as interested in rock and jazz fusion as anything else. But, me being me and my interests lying where they are, I’m going to focus on his more synth-pop focused work, specifically these three tracks from his fantastic 1981 album, Spring Is Nearly Here.

While that album is listed as Kenji Omura record, it’s more or less an unofficial YMO release. Not only does it feature all three members of YMO performing their respective instruments, they also contribute as songwriters alongside Chris Mosdell, who served as the group’s English language songwriter for some of their biggest hits, including “Behind The Mask.” The album also features contributions from YMO accomplishes Akiko Yano, Hideki Matsutake and Kazuhiko Kato.

The whole album doesn’t sound like a YMO record (that jazz influence is pretty strong throughout) but the tracks that do sound like YMO really sound like YMO. “The Defector” could have easily been on Naughty Boys, its a pop masterpiece, the kind of track that sounds like it was purposely constructed to be a Top 40 hit and is all the better for it. Unsurprisingly, it was written by Takahashi and his English songwriter, Peter Barakan, two fantastic pop craftsmen.

“Seiko Is Always On Time” is a purely electronic jam, co-written by Sakamoto and obviously channeling “The End Of Asia” with its Eastern influences morphed together with a synthesizer-heavy sound. It’s semi-ambient totally beautiful.

But YMO fans should really take note of “Maps.” If that track sounds familiar, that’s because it’s actually a YMO tune, appearing on both the Budokan and World Tour albums. Those records were recorded in 1980, a full year before this record was released, but close enough for it to be difficult to say if the song was as YMO song first that was later handed off to Omura, or if it was intended for Omura all along. Either way, it’s a great track, and stands up equally with any other classic tune by the group.

Hideki Matsutake & K.I. Capsule
The James Bond Theme
Hideki Matsutake served as YMO’s programmer, and also worked with electronic music pioneer Isao Tomita in the mid-70s. In the early-80s he went solo under the moniker Logic System, releasing a pair of beautiful albums in the early 80s as well as several…less good albums throughout the remainder of the century (one has a rap track, it’s bad).

For me though, his crowning achievement away from YMO is Digital Moon, a 1979 album composed entirely of James Bond theme covers. I’m not going to say that it’s the greatest album of all time, but it might be the greatest album of all time. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard “Goldfinger” sung through a vocoder. The only way it could’ve been better is if they had gotten Shirley Bassey herself to do it. This is dope shit. If you like dope shit you’ll like this.

Jun Togawa
Suki Suki Daisuki
Late Blooming Girls
An artist so unique that she’s nearly impossible to describe. I think the best I could come up with was “a cross between Madonna, Patti Smith and Klaus Nomi,” thanks to her pop presence combined with her predisposition for violent screaming fits and the occasional foray into operatic bellowing.

Between her solo discography, collaborative efforts and side-projects, she’s released countless records, which makes diving into her discography rather daunting, not to mention incredibly expensive. Any greatest hits compilation is a good jumping off point though, as it will probably feature one of, if not both of these, tremendous songs.

Both of these songs are highlights even if you can’t understand the vocals, thanks to Jun’s amazing vocal range. But if you do know what she’s singing about, they’re even stronger. Thankfully, for “Suki Suki Daisuki” you can find the translated lyrics on this fan-subbed video. As for “Late Blooming Girls,” I don’t have an exact translation with me, but the song is about a woman who’s scared to lose her virginity because she heard it might hurt, only to find the experience quite pleasurable once it happens. You can probably point out the point in the song where that unfolds solely based on how she changes her singing voice.

Jun Togawa is still recording today, and recently released a collaborative noise rock album that includes a new version of “Suki Suki Daisuki.” It’s something else.

Yen Memorial Album

Thursday, July 24th, 2014


I’ve written about Yen Records before, but in case you’re just joining us for the first time – Yen Records was a sub-label of Alfa Records, launched in the early-80s by Japanese electronic superstars Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO).

The label pretty much became a clearinghouse for YMO to release music by their friends and colleagues. YMO members Yukihiro Takahashi and Haruomi Hosono often performed on many Yen releases, as did Ryuichi Sakamoto, albiet to a lesser extent.

In 1984, Yen Records founder Kunihiko Murai passed away, and this record is a tribute to him – featuring many exclusive tracks and remixes by a wide variety of Yen artists. It’s a great record, and an excellent summary of the Yen label. I hope you like it.

Yen Artists
God Be With Us Till We Meet Again
Platonic Stochastic
I don’t know who the “Yen Artists” are, but if the rest of this album’s tracklisting is any indication, I suspect that these tracks include all three members of YMO, Tachibana, Koji Ueno and Jun Togawa, among others. The first track is, I think, an adaptation of an old hymn, and it was written by Yukihiro Takahashi and Haruomi Hosono. The second is a very unusual, almost musique conrete, composition that was written by Ueno.

Yellow Magic Orchestra
Rydeen (Remix Version)
I own 27 different versions of “Rydeen,” so I’m fairly confident in saying that this remixed version is exclusive to this album. It’s not all that different than the original cut, it actually comes off more like a single edit with some really random sound effects thrown in, but goddamn if it isn’t a great piece of synthpop.

Hajime Tachibana
Rock (New Recording)
Previous Tachibana I unearthed featured him sounding like Art Of Noise. This has him sounding like Art of Noise meets 80s-electro era Herbie Hancock. Robot vocals! Sweet keyboard riffs! Sequencers! Loving every minute of this.

I bet Daft Punk have this track on vinyl.

Sandii & The Sunsetz
Sticky Music (Remix French Version)
I posted some Sandii stuff a few months back. I’ll probably be deleting those links in a day or so. So if you’re interested in them, check that post out.

Sandii is fucking great though and I love her. So expect more Sandii on Lost Turntable in the near future.

Maronie Dokuhon (Remix Version)
Guernica is Kenji Ueno and Jun Togawa. Seperately they released classical piano music, synthpop, prog rock and damn near everyting in between. Combined they sound like some bizarre fusion of opera, cabaret and YMO backing tracks. Like Klaus Nomi? You’ll probably like this.

Miharu Koshi
Petit Paradis (English Version)
One of the many idol-type singers who Haruomi collaborated with during the Yen years. I don’t know how popular she was during her peak, but she’s continued to be incredibly prolific, sometimes going through periods of releasing albums on a near annual basis. This is a cute song, very typical of the kind of stuff that Hosono was releasing with other artists at the time.

Inoyama Land
Pokala (Remix Version)
Inoyama Land were a duo comprised of Makoto Inoue and Yasushi Yamashita. In 1983 they put out their first album, Danzindan-Pojidon, on Yen Records. It’s a pretty great collection of ambient electronica, and if you dig Tangerine Dream, Diskjokke or The Orb, I think you might like it. It’s never been released on CD outside of the super-pricey Yen Box though, so it’s probably a bit hard to find. I’ll probably put it up here someday.

The group also has two other releases, both coming out years later in the late 90s. I think at least one is a compilation of unreleased material. Outside of Inoyama Land both Yamashita and Inoue were members of a group called Hikashu, one of the only Japanese synth-pop acts from the era who don’t seem to have any YMO connections.

Keiichi Ohta
Seean No Kodomoichiba (Remix Version)
This man only released one album, the utterly strange collaborative effort with no English title that is based on an obscure Japanese novel. This track is a remix of a song from that album, and features operatic vocals by Makito Hayashi, who never released anything on her own. The track was written by Keiichi, but was produced by Hosono and Takahashi, and features keys by Koji Ueno, practically making this a YMO track.

Koji Ueno
Adagietto (Remix Version)
Ueno is on so many tracks on this record that it’s nearly an Ueno LP. All this Ueno has left me wanting to know more about him, so I went digging on Discogs. Apparently this man is (or at least was) a goto studio player in Japan, and has appeared on dozens of albums, including many from YMO members and associates. From what I can gather, he’s an accomplished pianist, violinist and bass player – but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s an accomplished marimba, saxophone and flutist as well. Dude seems like the type.

This is a very mellow piece, unlike just about anything else on the album – classical almost. Very relaxing.

Yukihiro Takahashi
It’s Gonna Work Out (Remix Version)
This is a remixed version of a track that appears in its original version on Takahashi’s 1982 album What, Me Worry? Like pretty much all things Takahashi-related from the 80s, it’s pure gold. The more of Takahashi’s solo stuff I hear, the more I think he was the most talented pop musician in YMO. Sure Hosono and Sakamoto may be more technically gifted and diverse than Takahashi, but I’ve never heard pop music by either that’s as good as some of the stuff on Takahashi’s solo records. The man is incredible.

Super Eccentric Theater
Beat The Rap (Remix Version)
Super Eccentric Theater (Or S.E.T.) was a comedy troupe that was on Yen Records. I think I can hear Yukihiro on this track in the chorus.

This is their send-up of rap music.

It’s not funny.

Modern Living (Remix Version)
Testpattern released one album, 1982’s Apres-Midi, which I snagged a while back. I love it, even if they do sound a bit like YMO also-rans with a more mellow, easy-listening sound. This is a remixed version of a track from that album, and it’s better than the album version thanks to some nice added synths.

Jun Togawa
Do Not Renai (New Recording)
The singer of Guernica strikes again, this time with a nice synthpop ballad. This sounds like early Kate Bush. So those with a low tolerance for squeaky vocals may want to proceed with caution.

Hawks (Remix Version)
Interior put out a couple of records in the early 80s. I have one, and to be honest it’s nothing to write home about. Their instrumental tracks were okay, but whenever they tried to add vocals to the mix they just sounded bland and boring. This is an okay song, but nothing really memorable either.

Tamao Koeike
Kagami No Naka No Jugatsu (Remix Version)
The name may read Tamao Koeike in the LINER notes, but this is a YMO track. They wrote it, and they perform all the instrumentation on it. Koeike is just the singer. And she apparently didn’t really impress anyone at Yen Records, as the single for this track was the only thing she ever released. A shame, as it’s not a bad tune and she has a nice voice.

Haruomi Hosono
Yunemiru Yakusoko (Original Version)
Typical Hosono stuff from the 80s – meaning that it’s really damn good.