Our look at the bestselling enka songs continues. Previous posts:
Today, we look at 40-31:
40. 帰ってこいよ (Kaette koi yo, Come home), 松村和子 (Matsumura Kazuko), 1980
Quick Take: This is a take on a hometown song. Someone is being called back to their hometown, having forgotten the 誓った恋 (chikatta koi, love that she promised) before leaving for life in Tokyo. This is also a super short song, clocking in at under two minutes in some versions. Matsumura debuted with this song and drew attention for her long hair and playing the shamisen.
Difficulty: 10. Soaring vocals and kobushi make this song tough for all but the best singers. Plus you need to rock the shamisen for maximum authenticity.
39. 恋唄綴り (Ko-uta tsuzuri, Orthography [?] of a Love Song), 堀内孝雄 (Horiuchi Takao), 1990
Quick Take: This is a nice little song about love songs and all the feels associated with them. Strong use of あんた (anta, you) here by Horiuchi, and again a reminder that 逢 > 会 when it comes to karaoke. I believe this is also our first encounter with 時雨 (shigure, drizzle), which feels like a classic karaoke/poetry word. And as always, there’s never enough booze to drown your sorrows: 飲めば飲むほど淋しいくせに (nomeba nomu hodo sabishii kuse ni, I’m lonely no matter how much I drink).
Difficulty: 4. This one doesn’t seem so bad. There are a couple of rhythmically tricky spots, but otherwise
38. 命くれない (Inochi kurenai, Crimson Karma), 瀬川瑛子 (Segawa Eiko), 1986
Quick Take: This is a pretty intense old school, star-crossed lovers enka song. The pace is slow, and the intensity of the feelings are intense enough to warrant the English translation of this song rendered by Wikipedia: “My flaming Emotions.” This doesn’t appear to be the official translation, as best I can tell. I think the title puns on 紅 (kurenai, crimson/red) and the other meaning for kurenai (won’t you give me? [?]). There’s lots of “I only need you to live” type lyrics and claims that the narrator and partner are 結ばれていた (musubarete ita, linked). Not my favorite song, but I can respect it for what it is—a call back to some of the original enka music.
Difficulty: 10. There’s nothing to hide behind with this one. You’ve got to hold and kobushi every note, basically.
37. 逢わずに愛して (Awazu ni ai shite, Love without meeting), 内山田洋とクールファイブ (Uchiyamada Hiroshi and the Cool Five), 1969
Quick Take: I’m so glad these guys are on the list. The first time I went to Japan, some of the Rotary Club members taught me a few of their songs and I came home with a Cool Five CD, which I subsequently listened to enough times that I can sing most of it. But not this song! I recognize the song, but I’ve never sung it. The lyrics are pretty generic love song stuff, this time with a focus on the title and the idea that absence/distance makes the heart grow fonder. You see the word 枯れる (kareru, wither) early on, which is in a lot of enka songs: 涙枯れても夢よ枯れるな (namida karete mo yume yo kareru na, Even if my tears dry up, my dreams will never fade). You can hear some of the 50s doo-wop roots in these songs (notably in the backup singers) and see it in their outfits on album covers. Some other recommendations: 長崎は今日も雨だった (Nagasaki wa kyō mo ame datta, Nagasaki Was Rainy Again Today), 東京砂漠 (Tokyo sabaku, Tokyo Desert), 西海ブルース (Saikai burūsu, Saikai Blues).
It’s interesting to note that Wikipedia labels the band a 歌謡グループ (kayō grūpu, popular song group). They debuted in 1969, right around the point when enka became a term for a genre and incorporated kayōka songs.
Difficulty: 5. The lead vocalist Maekawa Kiyoshi has a pretty deep voice, which makes this more accessible to most of us, but he also has pretty pinpoint tone and kobushi, making it a little more difficult. Still, not all that hard.
36. 浪花恋しぐれ (Naniwa koi shigure, Naniwa Love Shower), 都はるみ・岡千秋 (Miyako Harumi, Oka Chiaki), 1983
Quick Take: Our first duet! And of course it’s not very politically correct. Based on what I gather from the lyrics (and please correct me if I’m wrong), the male character is a rakugo artist who drinks too much and makes his wife cry, and the wife supports him and tries not to cry. Here’s the telling line from a little rap that she does after a singing verse: うちはどんな苦労にも耐えてみせます (Uchi wa donna kurō ni mo taete misemasu, I’ll show you that I can handle any adversity). Obviously it’s meant to be a sweet love song, and even he confesses his love throughout, but it’s not a surprise that this song is from the 80s. Apparently the story is based on the life of rakugo performer Katsura Harudanshi and his wife. If you want to read the lyrics, check out this version which cannot be embed.
Difficulty: 10. Not only do you need to find a partner for this song, you both have to be pretty damn skilled in the arts of kobushi to pull this one off, and you need to be able to spit some wicked Kansai-ben.
35. よせばいいのに (Yoseba ii no ni, But it would be nice if you came near), 敏いとうとハッピー＆ブルー (Toshi Itō and Happy and Blue), 1979
Quick Take: There’s a lot of self-blame going on in this enka song, as you can tell from the サビ (sabi, hook) in this song: いつまでたってもダメなわたしね (Itsu made tattemo dame na watashi, I’m terrible no matter how much time passes). To my ear, these guys seem like Cool Five knock offs who have swapped their slick doo-wop suits for letterman jackets, but there’s a possibility that I’m biased. I’m also confused whether this song is sung from the male or female perspective, maybe both. At any rate, it amounts to the same thing. Can’t find the love they want, and feels bad for it. Be sure to check out this old school version to get a sense of what they were like.
Difficulty: 8. High pitched and speedy, tough to perform, I’d imagine.
34. 津軽海峡冬景色 (Tsugaru kaikyō fuyu keshiki, A winter scene on Tsugaru Strait), 石川さゆり (Ishikawa Sayuri), 1977
Quick Take: This is a nice song with a stronger narrative than many we’ve seen so far: the narrator is leaving Tokyo to return to Hokkaido. She takes the train from Ueno to Aomori and then hops on a boat where she is overwhelmed by the winter scene of the Tsugaru Strait. There are some classic karaoke tropes: 夜行列車 (yakkō ressha, night trains), crying 鷗 (kamome, gulls), かすみ (kasumi, mist) covering the water. And much like a good poem, all of these things stand in for the singer’s feelings before we understand that she’s leaving あなた to go home. There’s a surprisingly extensive English Wikipedia page for the song, which notes that it launched Ishikawa to fame and into the Kohaku Uta Gassen for the first time.
Difficulty: 8. Tough to say with this one. Seems like it might not be too bad, but Ishikawa has some pretty flexible vocals. Could be tricky.
33. 長崎は今日も雨だった (Nagasaki wa kyō mo ame datta, Nagasaki was rainy today, too), 内山田洋とクールファイブ (Uchiyamada Hiroshi and the Cool Five), 1969
Quick Take: This is the first enka song I ever learned, and it’s a classic. As mentioned above, I can blame the Rotary Club guys (shout out to Ohiwa-san) for my taste in bad (read: great) karaoke songs. The simple nature of the title makes it a great dad joke if you ever need a cheap laugh and it happens to be rainy in Nagasaki that day. The song itself takes you around Nagasaki city and points out some of its features like 石畳 (ishidatami, flagstones), which also made an appearance above in 逢わずに愛して. 冷たい風が身にしみる (tsumetai kaze ga mi ni shimiru, the cold wind cuts into my body) feels like a pretty classic line, parts of which appear in other songs. 愛し (itoshi) is another enka word, one that I wrote about in Final Fantasy VI. The karaoke videos for this song (at least in Japan) never fail to have excellent shots taken throughout Nagasaki, which you should definitely visit if you haven’t. Beautiful place. And here’s an old version.
Difficulty: 3. If I can sing this one, you can too. Maybe a couple of rhythm sections that are tricky, but not too bad.
32. 女のブルース (Onna no burūsu, Woman Blues), 藤圭子 (Fuji Keiko), 1970
Quick Take: I love this song. It’s especially helpful for learning the grammar pattern ですもの (desu mono, because) and for the usage of に (ni) to mark the subject of verbs. The first part of the song is the ways in which being a woman affects how she acts. 女ですもの (onna desu mono, because I’m a woman), she loves, she gets drunk on dreams, she’s alone, nevertheless she persists and survives. The song then (brilliantly!) switches to あなた (anata, you), spelling out what she wants of the guy: あなたにすがりたい (Anata ni sugaritai, I want to be pursued by you) and other things, such as being spoiled and raised up. And in the second half of the song, it switches to describe Tokyo and then life in general: 何処で生きても (doko de ikite mo, wherever you live). The implication being that life is tough, yo.
Interestingly enough, Fuji is the mother of Utada Hikaru!
Difficulty: 4. This seems pretty accessible, possibly because Fuji has a relatively deep voice compared to some female singers.
31. 心凍らせて (Kokoro kōrasete, Freeze your heart), 高山厳 (Takayama Gen), 1992
We also see the frequently encountered 抱かれる (dakareru, be held by) and 流す (nagasu, wash away) in the passive form in the phrase 愛に流されて (ai ni nagasarete, washed away by love).
Difficulty: 8. Gen has such a delicate voice. I think this one would be difficult to do well.