1970 should have been the climax of the protest movement against the continuation of Security Pact with the US and the Vietnam War. But it proved to be an anti-climax and the depoliticization of young people and whole society started. While the student movement lost its supporters, residual small radical groups lost their ties with the real life. 1970 was the year of the World Expo in Osaka, and despite the oil shock in 1973 and the following economic difficulties, Japanese people came to enjoy the unprecedented wealth.
Keiko Fuji (1951 -2013) symbolized the atmosphere shared by the young people who participated in the lost movement. She was an extremely beautiful girl and made her debut wearing a black pantaloon suits and holding a white guitar in her hands. Her million-seller hit song "Dreams bloom at night" sounded as if she through the song related her painful past. It was said that she changed "enka" from "songs for performance" into "songs of bitterness".
A year before Keiko Fuji's debut Carmen Maki sang a sorrowful song "Occasionally as a child without mother", whose text was written by Shuji Terayama, the founder of the underground theater movement.
However, in retrospective I cannot but say that their songs represented the last cry from the impoverished and downtrodden time. After the 1970s people in Japan started to enjoy the result of economic growth and the traditional minor pentatonic music was gradually losing its social background.
The most outstanding phenomenon in the 1970s popular song world was the boom of idol singers. Certainly "idol singers" existed since the 1960s. However, in the 1970s the TV era started and good-looking boys and girls became the mainstream among popular song singers. Idols were systematically produced by the music industry.
Among those idols Momoe Yamaguchi belongs to the legend. She was different from the idols before her as well as from her contemporaries. Idol girls usually sold pure and innocent image, and in particular in the 1970s their sweet existence radiated hope, dream and longing, though they were only fictive images. However, the appeal of Momoe Yamaguchi was the immature sexuality of a young girl, expressed in her inherent melancholy. This was a sensation. Momoe Yamaguchi changed her image soon after her failed debut from an innocent naïve girl to be protected to a mature woman who is able to insist herself and has cool looking and mysterious allure. Please check the example video here "Play back part2" from 1978. Momoe Yamaguchi stopped her activities in 1980 and retreated into private life. She married with a popular actor and never came back to the entertainment world.
The representative idol in the 1980s was Seiko Matsuda. She made her debut in 1980 as an innocent idol. "Kaze tachinu" from 1981 shows well the typical style of the 1970s idols. But people soon noticed that she was not a simple modest girl. Gradually she succeeded in selling her image as an independent woman, who wanted everything including fame, boyfriend and wealth. This ego-centric image appealed to contemporary listeners very strongly and she became an idol and a role model for women more than for men. Many girls imitated Seiko's hair style, dress and way of living.
Back in the 1970s, we should not forget the beginning of a new singing style, namely singing with sensual and energetic body movements. Linda Yamamoto started the new trend with her "Dounimo Tomaranai" in 1972. She sang with provocative costume and sexial body movement and caused a scandal at the time. She could not keep her popularity continuously. But she could make many come-backs and she still sings in this 21st century with frantic energy as she used to sing more than 30 years ago.
In the late 1970s Pink Lady, a group of two girls, created a sensation. I associate them to Linda Yamamoto because of their excessive gestures, but the style of Pink Lady was healthier and they became idols of small children. This couple of two girls was perfectly produced by the music industry, starting from contents for their songs, body movements to costume, and the target of the sales strategy was children. "Toumei ningen" (An invisible man) from 1978 is related to an earlier film with the title "An invisible man appears”.
I want to add Naomi Chiaki to this corner (add. Jan. 2015), because she is missed by so many fans and professional musicians even long after the end of her music activities.
Naomi began her career in her early teens and established her popularity with "Yottsu-no-Onegai (Four wishes))" and "X+Y=LOVE" as a sexy idol singer in 1970. However, her outstanding singing talent did not allow her to remain just as an ordinary idol singer. Her representative hit song "Kassai (Applause)" in 1972 describes the life of a female star singer, who start singing on stage in spot light, though she has just got a post informing her the funeral of her boyfriend she left in her hometown. Her talent unfolded; she sang various types of songs such as enka, new music, Western songs including Portuguese fado, and expanded her activities as TV personality and film actress.
However, when her beloved husband died in 1992, she disappeared from show business without any notice in the midst of her popularity. Many fans are still waiting for her comeback.
Another important genre was folk song. Starting from college folks in the 1960s, around 1970 politically motivated underground folks became enthusiastically supported by students. After the end of political fever, folk songs turned to be more lyrical and such harmless songs became commercialized.
We can find in such a song as "Kasa ga nai" (I cannot find my umbrella) from 1972 by Yosui Inoue the reflection of the sense of frustration among the young people at the time. The song was a commercial success, and uncovered the tendency of the time to leave political issues and indulge in private life. Yosui continues to write lyrics reflecting the minds of people in the real society. Though their lyrics are often very critical, their melodies are so romantic and deceive the contents wrapped by them. Yosui Inoue writes also many songs for other singers and keeps his popularity till now.
A folk song group Kaguya-hime led by Kousetsu Minami describes in his "Kanda-gawa" made in 1973
Songs describing private environment in lyrical and realistic manner became the mainstream in the mid-1970s. But more and more people became dissatisfied with such poor and pitiable contents. At the time, a new city quarter with numerous skyscrapers emerged in Shinjuku and more than 80% of the Japanese people thought that they belonged to the middle class. Against such a background people wanted a new style. "New-music" was developed from lyrical folk song and mirrored sophisticated and rich urban atmosphere. It discarded a simple folk song style to sing with an acoustic guitar in hands and started to use more gorgeous sounds using rock band musicians for accompaniment.
In the New-music female singer-songwriters were very active. Yumi Arai, after marriage Yumi Matsutoya, was a best seller musician for many years. She also wrote many songs for other singers. "Chuo Freeway" is from 1975 and one of her earlier works. It describes a new lifestyle, a drive on a newly made expressway."Chuo Freeway" by Yumi Matsutoya
Miyuki Nakajima is another charisma musician. She made her debut in 1975 and since then continues to write hit songs for her and other singers until present time. "Jidai" (Time) was her first great hit from her debut year. She started as a love story teller, in particular unfulfilled love or deserted woman. I think that this sentiment is similar to that of enka. However, she makes her songs in much more elegant way and with real sense of modern and independent woman. Later, as her age advances, she tends to sing more general human stories. She wrote "Chijou no hoshi" (Stars on the ground) in 2002 as a theme song for the NHK documentary series "Project X" to encourage people working hard to overcome difficult situations and acclaimed nationwide fame. I wrote about Miyuki Nakajima also in my previous essay.
Around 1980 a group of female folk singers sang negative aspects of life such as their sorrowful experiences and unfulfilled desire. Miyuki Nakajima was the only one among them who could become commercially successful in the pop-music scene. But I cannot forget other singers such as Hako Yamasaki and Doji Morita who gave expression to our feelings which could not be taken care of by ordinary commercial songs. I dedicate a special page on this site to Doji Morita.
Exchanges between different music styles developed in the meantime.
Southern All Stars is still very active and issues new hits continuously. The majority of their music is rhythmic and with some comical flavor, but I would like to introduce here as an example "Itoshi no Ellie" (Ellie my love) from 1978, as this is a favorite ballad of my buddy Tora in Karaoke and Ray Charles once sang it in English.
Rock musicians occasionally wrote music and lyrics for enka singers and new-music singer-songwriters wrote music for kayou-kyoku singers. New-music singers employed with preference rock bands for their accompaniment. With the rock bands, their eight-beat rhythm came to be absorbed more and more into new music. New-music was gradually gaining its popularity and influencing the kayou-kyoku music. Within new-music rock elements expanded their influence and traditionally Japanese elements gradually went lost. This was the situation of Japanese popular music on the eve of the birth of "J-pop”.
While different styles of kayou-kyoku became more and more integrated into New-music and later J-pop, enka alone went a different way. Enka established its style during the 1960s and
In addition to the veteran singers from the earlier period, many new singers entered the enka world. Hiroshi Itsuki made his debut with "Yokohama Tasogare" (Yokohama in twilight) in 1971, Sayuri Ishikawa sang her first hit song "Tsugaru kaikyou fuyu geshiki" (Tsugaru Channel in winter landscape) in 1977 and Aki Yashiro sang one of the best enka songs "Funauta" (Boatman's song) in 1979.
The video on the right side of this page shows Sayuri Ishikawa on her debut to the "Kohaku Utagassen" in 1977. Now, she wears kimono in most occasions, while Aki Yashiro is mostly seen in Western style cloths.
I now find it necessary to add here Teresa Teng (Jan. 2015). Though she is a Taiwanese singer and a great icon for all Chinese people both in Taiwan and the Continent, she also greatly contributed to the popular music scene of Japan in the 1970s and in particular in the 1980s.
It is not unusual that foreign singers come to Japan and sing Japanese popular songs in Japanese text. They were and are mostly from Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and some of them have even settled down in Japan such as Judy Ongg (from Taiwan) and Agnes Chan (from Hong Kong). However, no other singers is highly acknowledged in entire East-Asia and widely appreciated in Japan than Teresa Teng. Coming from Taiwan, Teresa sang in Japan mostly the songs made by Japanese composers and lyricists and some of them became greatest hits in the history of Japanese popular songs. Her hit songs in Japan such as "Airport" and "I only care about you" have some enka touch. But, her music activities, of course, extend to much wider scope.
I also remember clearly, though not in the context of Japanese pop songs, that she appeared without make-up in a concert in Hong Kong on 27 May 1989 to support democratization in China and sung "My Home Is on the Other Side of the Mountain" (see the picture left).