I’m only a little over two weeks into my One Random Single a Day challenge, and I can say one thing for sure: I’ve had it up to here with music by men, and especially music by white men. It’s probably a telling signifier of the music industries around the world that my experiences with the Rate Your Music randomizer has overwhelmed me with music by white guys. I’ve done twenty-six of these singles reviews so far, and only four have featured female musicians: “Not Giving Up on Love” (Sophie Ellis-Bextor as guest vocalist), “16 no beat” (Sensei on vocals/keyboards), “Frozen” (Sharon den Adel on lead vocals), and “Frog” (Fontaine Toups on guitar/vocals). I’m not sure if this is primarily an issue with the music industry’s historical bias against women or with the music community (RYM’s developers, users of the site, etc.), but it’s more likely a little of both. In any case, to counteract that, I cheated a bit this time around with the randomizer and just kept refreshing until I stumbled across a single by a woman. It took quite a while, but I finally came across this cool little song.
Hiromi Iwasaki is a relatively well-established performer in her home country of Japan. She made her start in the mid-70s at the tender age of seventeen with a string of hit singles. “Shishuuki” is her eleventh single, which seems like a lot, but she had only been in the industry for two years at that point, so maybe it is just common practice for Japanese artists to release a ton of singles in a short amount of time. This particular single one her awards at both the Japan Record Awards and the Japan Music Awards, which I imagine is their equivalent of the Grammys split up into two different award shows for some reason.
From the melancholy string introduction, I was immediately reminded of similar Western recordings, like Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days” and Nancy Sinatra’s rendition of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down”. Though I had a hard time finding an effective translation of the tune, once I did I realized my hunch wasn’t really all that far off. The English translation of the title is “Autumn Nostalgia” and it essentially recounts the years of love and loss the speaker has experienced and is now leaving behind her. Through its soaring, melodramatic melody, the speaker recounts her first kiss with a man with whom she no longer keeps in touch, while also musing on the fragility of memories and the swiftness with which youth passes by. It’s quite a beautiful song, actually, and it’s yet another that makes me wish I were fluent in Japanese so I could more accurately comprehend all the nuances of the lyrics.
Iwasaki herself sings it all so beautifully. It’s hard to believe that she’s only eighteen or nineteen here, as she carries just the right amount of emotional heaviness that one would usually expect from a more seasoned, older performer. Even before I knew of the song’s themes and content, I was immediately touched by the sense of loss and bittersweet sentiments she so effectively squeezes out of every line. If anything, I’d say that she deserves a bit of a better backing band, as this one is a bit too polished and generic-sounding making the overall track sound a bit kitschy, especially after the first key change. Still, it’s an awesomely melodramatic torch song that I could imagine only sounds better with age, though Iwata does stand her own ground pretty effectively in spite of her youth.
I first came across this song in a performance where she was 50, giving the song the additional impetus that age brings. Her era is generally reckoned to be a golden age in Japanese music, but IMHO 1977 was a particularly fertile year. Try Cosmos by Momoe Yamaguchi and Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyugeshiki by Sayuri Ishikawa, with the latter being written by the same songwriters that produced Shishuuki. For a considerably better known song featuring Hiromi Iwasaki, check out Yume Yaburete (better known by its English name).