2017/07/09

Akina Nakamori Singles Box 1982-1991 [PART 1]


Welcome to something a little bit different. This time around I will be talking about a singer near and dear to my heart: Akina Nakamori. If you're a regular reader of my site you might be wondering why in the world I am leading you down this this path. I mean, are you really that surprised? I write about music, I listen to a lot of music, and I listen to Nakamori daily. I tweet about her stuff on occasion, but I kinda wish I just have a ton of thoughts rattling in my brain that I'd like to share.

I should probably summarize briefly. Akina Nakamori is widely considered to have one of the best voices in JPOP. She is one of the few artists to absolutely dominate JPOP in the 1980s. Of the twenty eight singles I'll be talking about in this two-parter, twenty two of them reached #1. Twenty seven out of the twenty eight peaked within the top five. I find a lot of her songs refreshing as they are largely devoid of the upbeat and chippy/corny side of love. Some of her songs are outright grim. That said, her style was far from just mopey ballads. There are those, but really there is something for everyone in this set in particular.


This boxed set is a 28-Disc celebration of her work while signed to Warner-Pioneer Music Group (now Warner Music Japan) between her 1982 debut until her 1991 departure for an acting career. The CDs are in special cardboard sleeves that are housed in recreations of the original 45 (7") artwork. There are some odd exceptions. Japan abruptly abandoned Vinyl by 1990, so the final three singles in this set actually never had a 45. Neither did 1986's Nonfiction Ecstacy, which was a cassette-only single. 1985's Akai tori nigeta/Babylon was originally released as a 12" single and this set actually includes two different sleeves for it. A booklet is also included as well as two sheets of magnets. The entire package is impressive and heavy enough to crush a frozen turkey. If you were lucky enough to get this back in 2014 it would have set you back ¥24,000.

Sleeve, Tray, and CD.

The CDs are structured largely the same. 1. A-Side 2. B-Side 3. A-Side (Live Version) 4. A-Side (Karaoke Version) 5. B-Side (Karaoke Version). Going forward with this post, I will only point out the exceptions to this format. I don't have a whole lot to say about the Live versions other than they were sourced from other commercially available recordings from her Warner days. This is the definitive set if you love Karaoke versions of songs, however. Prior to this set, the only place to find Karaoke versions of these songs was on a very rare Karaoke-version of her YOUR SELECTION compilation from 1993. While that CD was great to have, it only had seventeen tracks. It was nice to replace that with something nearly complete.

With out that out of the way, I think the only thing left is for me to share my thoughts and for you to enjoy some photos of this beautifully put together Box Set.


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01. Slow Motion c/w Joken Hansha
WPCL-11871
1982.05.01

We all have to start somewhere, eh? Whenever I discover a new artist the first thing I usually like to go back and check out their debut single. This isn't really something I've had the luxury of doing with Nakamori as, well, her music has been in my life for a very long time. If I were to do this with Slow Motion I probably would have picked up two things. 1. It's a solid and incredibly well-done song. 2. While her voice was very different on her early work, it didn't take long for her to shake whatever nerves were holding her back.

Slow Motion is such a solid song. I imagine it can be both a curse and a blessing to debut with a song that would be a mainstay of your career. This song is 35 years old...and I can't imagine there was a single concert where this song didn't make an appearance. A lot of the early 80s JPOP seemed to originate from Los Angeles. This is no exception. I really don't think this song would have had the same complexity had it been recorded in Japan. There is a certain dreaminess too the instrumentals that kinda bring me to the beach every time I hear it.


Joken Hansha is the coupled song on this single. It's pretty standard, but another great song. Maybe it isn't the greatest match for Slow Motion, but I can't think of another song from her debut album, Prologue, that would fit the bill better. Yeah, this isn't really that much of a B-Side since both songs originated from the album.

All this, and the single only peaked at #30.

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02. Shojo A c/w Yume Handan
WPCL-11872
1982.07.28

While Slow Motion could be considered the soft debut of Nakamori, Shojo A is the song that catapulted her to stardom. Considering how little time passed between Slow Motion and Shojo A, it's kind of bizarre how different it is. Nakamori's voice is much, much deeper. This is basically what she would sound like from here on out (well, you also have to factor in time+smoking). To be perfectly honest, though, I'm not in love with this song. It's certainly a very good song...but it's just a little too gimmicky for me. This single peaked at #5, but I think the controversial lyrics helped give this song a bit of a bump (as this type of thing tends to do). Listening to this song is a lot like riding in a boat through waves. Does that make sense? There are peaks and valleys everywhere and the lyrics are shot out in long strings.

Yume Handan is pretty good, but largely forgettable. It complements Shojo A nicely, but is just kinda there. It is kind of funny that the lyrics are so jerky in this song versus the slick flow of Shojo A. These two songs make for a very good single.

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03. Second Love c/w Kagamino nakano J
WPCL-11873
1982.11.10

Just like that, Akina Nakamori has her first in what will be a long line of #1 singles. Second Love is a slow ballad...and a very good one at that. I'm normally not a fan of ballads, but this one kinda captives me. Make a song a ballad and usually it turns a four minute song into ten for me. I don't get that here. It's a very quick song and very well produced. The vocals seem to peak-out at times, but otherwise this is fantastic.

Kagamino nakano J... I love the hell out of this song. In a perfect world this would have no only been it's own single, but also a Japanese dub theme song of a 007 film. I hate to say it, but I really prefer this song over the title track of this single. It's just so off the wall. "Ohhhh J Boy". Hahaha. Really...try to give this one a listen.

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04. 1/2 no shinwa c/w Nukumori
WPCL-11874
1983.02.23

1/2 no shinwa really feels like the direct sequel to Shojo A. This song takes zero time to get into the meat of it and really never lets go. I love the frantic energy, but this song could have used a little bit more polishing. That said...it's a great song. Who doesn't love high-energy tracks like this?


Nukumori almost feels like it should be from the 90s. It's a strange jazz-orchestral hybrid that was way ahead of it's time...but almost perfectly of it's time at the same time. It might be the polar opposite of 1/2 no shinwa, but it serves as a nice let down to round out the track.

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05. Twilight -Yuuguri Dayori- c/w Drive
WPCL-11875
1983.06.01

Twilight. This song...eh. The chorus just drones a little bit too much for me. The rest of the song sounds great, but the chorus is just a little bit too much. The music doesn't leave a whole lot of room for emotion...which kinda leaves the vocals hanging with a tinge of disinterest.

Drive is easily the better song of the single for me. It's a perfect slow jam. It makes great use of the fading orchestral opulence in JPOP by 1983.

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06. Kinku c/w Ame no Requiem
WPCL-11876
1983.09.07

Kinku is such a weird song. The instrumentals sound a little bare relying mostly on the synthesizer with some guitar and string licks. The vocals greatly outweigh the music, but in a strange way...it all kinda works. I don't think I cared too much for this song in the past but I've definitely come around on it in the past few years.

Ame no Requiem is another soft ballad. The thing I like about this one was done with a lot more emotion than what was found on a lot of the earlier ballads.

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07. Kita Wing c/w Namidano Katachino Earring c/w Refrain
WPCL-11877
1984.01.01

A three-piece set!

Kita Wing is the titular track to this single. Of her early singles, Kita Wing has to the be one of the ear-wormiest of them all. "Love is a mystery". I really enjoy this one even if it's a little basic.

Namidano Katachino Earring sounds like a lot of other songs. Specifically... September by Mariya Takeuchi (a song that is pure sugar to me). I'm very capable of looking past the similarity and give this song a thumbs up. I mean...even if it wasn't intentional, when it sounds similar to an already great song...how could it be bad?


Refrain is the alternate B-Side. Actually, the title isn't so much Refrain as it is written Ri-Fu-Ra-I-Ne. Let's just call it Refrain, though. As far as I can work out, the whole idea behind there being a second release of the Kita Wing single with Refrain as the B-Side was that they were trying to best 600,000 units sold. Warner managed to do so, but...the entire thing is a little shady. Refrain itself is another slow ballad. It isn't too much different from Ame no Requiem.


The only difference between the two versions of this single.

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08. Southern Wind c/w Yume Haruka
WPCL-11878
1984.04.11

While I certainly love all of her previous singles, this is where I think Nakamori comes alive. Southern Wind is an excellent, excellent song. The thing that really strikes me about this one is balance. The music is hard and heavy, but not overbearing. The vocals fit perfectly. Southern Wind is a wonderful example of finally getting it all right.

Yume Haruka is the B-Side, and one that sounds super familiar. Once past the familiar lick from the Dynaman theme song, this is actually a pretty rad song. The synths are a little bitey on this one.

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09. Jikkai (1984) c/w Korekara Naturally
WPCL-11879
1984.07.25

Again, another flippin' great song. Jikkai (1984) is just as surgically tight as Southern Wind. In fact, everything I said about Southern Wind applies here. This is pop song perfection.

Korekara Naturally feels almost like a leftover song, but I don't know...I really like this a lot. The guitars at the beginning are a little misleading from what the rest of the song is like...but after processing the entire song it's great.

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10. Kazari janai no yo namida wa c/w Moonlight Letter
WPCL-11880
1984.11.11

Continuing her streak of just amazing singles, Kazari janai no yo namida wa is the final single of 1984. It's hard to describe this one. The single version here is like a dance/jazz hybrid, but the tweaked version from the album BITTER & SWEET sounds like late disco. The key ingredient of this song (and most of Nakamori's songs) is bass. Bass and some increasingly speedy lyrics.


Moonlight Letter. It's a great little ballad, but incredibly mismatched here on this single. Maybe that isn't fair. It's a big leap down tempo from Kazari janai no yo namida wa, but power-clashing is a thing...

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11. Meu Amor é... c/w Lonely Journey
WPCL-11881
1985.03.08

Alright...so the bases are loaded. Three fan-bleeding-tastic singles in a row. This is the Grand Slam.

Meu Amor è... is arguably Nakamori's career-topping song. Granted, based on single sales this comes second only to (ironically) Second Love.  Goddamn this is a good song. Seriously, I really can't put into words how perfect Meu Amor è... is. This song could be the one that broke CCLemon99. Seriously, though. The song is described as a Japan-Samba fusion by some and I totally agree with that assessment. This is kinda my go-to song if I give someone a taste of Nakamori's work. It's just so good...and oddly enough it almost didn't happen... More on that later.

Lonely Journey is the B-Side and a great song on it's own. It has the unfair task of following up a goddamn masterpiece, but I think it does a fine job on it's own. The rare usage of reverb on the vocals makes this one a bit of an oddity.

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12. Akai tori nigeta c/w Babylon [12" Remix]
WPCL-11882
1985.05.01

OK, so do you remember how I said Meu Amor è... almost wasn't? Let me introduce you to the demo version.

Sleeve Back

What's different? Well, for this special 12" Double-A side, the lead track is called Akai tori nigeta. It is basically the extended version of the Meu Amor è... music with the original vocal track laid on top. The lyrics are completely different. Really, I don't blame them for doing what had to have been an emergency re-write of the lyrics. I mean, sure, they kinda work...but they don't fit the flow nearly as squarely as the finished lyrics did. Akai tori nigeta is a nice peek into an alternate reality of what could have been.

Alternate Sleeve Front

Alternate Sleeve Back

The other A-side is Babylon [12" Remix]. One word, three letters. Wow....... This track is utter madness. The original version of Babylon from the album BITTER & SWEET is probably my favorite song from the album. This remix takes it a step further. It's just...more. The bizarre male vocals are completely new. For that matter, Nakamori re-recorded all her vocals for this remix...which technically makes it a cover(?). The fade at the end is just...excellence. Seriously. This track is the complete transformation from orchestras and bands to futuristic music that spilled out of a computer.

Welcome to Babylon...

It should be noted...the live version of Akai tori nigeta is here, but there are no Karaoke versions of these songs. DAMMIT!


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13. SAND BEIGE -Sabaku e- c/w Tsubakihime Guiliana
WPCL-11883
1985.06.06

SAND BEIGE is a good song with certain wispiness that the title suggests. The strings are excellent and really this is a solid song, but it has the unfair disadvantage of following up a long line of just other-worldly good singles. When really good songs like this can be perceived as being on the weak side, you really must be doing something right.

Tsubakihime Guiliana is a bit on the generic side, but suits it's A-Side perfectly. It's a good song that doesn't pose a threat to being better than it's disc mate.

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14. SOLITUDE c/w AGAIN
WPCL-11884
1985.10.09

I've mentioned before that the orchestral sound of JPOP was on the way out, but what would replace it? Slow songs like SOLITUDE kinda fit the bill. Whenever I hear this song, I almost imagine what this would sound like with an orchestra. It would totally work. The music is a slick jazz beat with some nice sax work peppered in. I like this one quite a bit. It's a harbinger for what a lot of her music from that latter half of the decade would sound like. That New York sound is slowly easing it's way in.

The title of the B-Side is AGAIN. You got that right. This one is very similar to SOLITUDE, just slower. Not bad at all. Though I kinda prefer slower A-Sides to have more upbeat B-Sides. I'm sure this single would have sold just as well if the tracks were swapped.

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Recommended Pick: It's kind of silly to recommend something from a Boxed Set, but since these were all once released as singles I suppose it's fair. This is insanely difficult, to be honest. I'm going to have to say that Meu Amor è.../Lonely Journey is the top recommendation of the singles I've reviewed from this set. I probably like Slow Motion/Joken Hansha the best, but it isn't the best representation of her voice and work, in my opinion. Meu Amor è... is just unreal in how great it is.

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Next time on CCLemon99.com, I finish off this Boxed Set. Things start to get a little more interesting as Nakamori begins to have more control over her music and, well, things get dicey in her personal life. Also, I talk about my absolute favorite single of hers. Be sure to check that out very soon.

Thanks for visiting the site!

-CC

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