Is Happy End’s Kazemachi Roman (風街ロマン Wind City Romance), released in November 1971, the greatest Japanese album of all time?
Rolling Stone Japan thinks so, and placed it at the very top of their “The 100 Greatest Japanese Rock Albums of All Time” list.
Rival publication Snoozer, however, while proclaiming that they have “grown tired of seeing charts that start with Kazemachi Roman” published their alternative “150 Greatest Albums of Japanese Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which ranked the album at the 32nd place.
Whether this is the pinnacle of Japanese popular music is up to anyone’s guess. What is not debatable is that it is an important album that played a seminal role in the development of Japanese pop music as we know it today.
In his liner notes, music critic Kenta Hagiwara wrote:
This is an important work that should be remembered as one of the roots of Japanese pop music. Unlike their previous album Happy End, which was recorded on four tracks, this album was recorded on an eight-track multi-tape recorder, which was the most advanced in Japan at the time. Such improvement in sound quality is combined with the spiritual and technical growth of the four band members: Haruomi Hosono, Takashi Matsumoto, Eiichi Otaki and Shigeru Suzuki.
The product of that combination is fresh sound image that is clearly one step ahead of the conventional Japanese pop music crowd.
The fusion of sound inspired by cutting-edge contemporary British and American bands such as Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape, James Taylor, The Band, Tony Joe White and others, and the Japanese lyrics filled with unique expression has achieved even better results than its predecessors.
Chin resting on hand, you stare at the burning asphalt through a single glass window from an air-conditioned room. This is the scenery of Happy End’s song “Kazemachi” on this album.
This refracted, ironic calmness vividly anticipates the mood of the time. It was a time when the rock fantasies that had risen overseas in the latter half of the 1960s began to collapse. Even in Japan, as student struggles in various parts of the country ended in defeat, the situation surrounding rock and folk, which had inspired enthusiasm while blindly chanting “anti-establishment,” suddenly stalled.
Unlike the communal illusion that that seemed to disintegrate at the legendary 3rd Nakatsugawa Folk Jamboree, a more personal and introspective dream began to attract people’s hearts. Kazemachi Roman was the first album that sharply anticipated the transformation of such dreams.
Along with that, this was the first album that created Japanese pop music that is full of pop imagery and color that could not be measured in the rock and folk frameworks existing at that time.
Here is Mari Nanbu’s mini-review for Snoozer:
I’m dazed and confused about what kind of commentary is needed for this album that always comes up when discussing Japanese rock.
Listening to and comparing this album’s several remasters is an ever-changing feeling akin to being prompted to make new discoveries while watching a new print in the darkness of a revival house, or being invited to a different kind of excitement when rereading a book that you have read once.
|1.||“Dakishimetai” (抱きしめたい, “I Want to Hold You”)||Takashi Matsumoto||Eiichi Ohtaki||Eiichi Ohtaki||3:32|
|2.||“Sorairo no Crayon” (空色のくれよん, “Sky Blue Crayon”)||Takashi Matsumoto||Eiichi Ohtaki||Eiichi Ohtaki||4:05|
|3.||“Kaze wo Atsumete” (風をあつめて, “Gather the Wind”)||Takashi Matsumoto||Haruomi Hosono||Haruomi Hosono||4:06|
|4.||“Kurayamizaka Musasabi Henge” (暗闇坂むささび変化, “Ghosts of Flying Squirrels at Kurayamizaka”)||Takashi Matsumoto||Haruomi Hosono||Haruomi Hosono||1:51|
|5.||“Haikara Hakuchi” (はいからはくち, “Westernized Idiot”)||Takashi Matsumoto||Eiichi Ohtaki||Eiichi Ohtaki||3:37|
|6.||“Haikara Beautiful” (はいからびゅーちふる, “Westernized, Beautiful”)||Bannai Tarao||Bannai Tarao||Bannai Tarao||0:33|
|7.||“Natsu Nandesu” (夏なんです, “'Tis the Summer”)||Takashi Matsumoto||Haruomi Hosono||Haruomi Hosono||3:16|
|8.||“Hana Ichi Monme” (花いちもんめ, “Hana Ichi Monme”)||Takashi Matsumoto||Shigeru Suzuki||Shigeru Suzuki, Tatsuo Hayashi||3:59|
|9.||“Ashita Tenki ni Naare” (あしたてんきになあれ, “We hope that tomorrow is clear”)||Takashi Matsumoto||Haruomi Hosono||Haruomi Hosono, Shigeru Suzuki||2:13|
|10.||“Taifuu” (颱風, “Typhoon”)||Eiichi Ohtaki||Eiichi Ohtaki||Bannai Tarao||6:30|
|11.||“Haru Ranman” (春らんまん, “Spring, in full bloom”)||Takashi Matsumoto||Eiichi Ohtaki||Eiichi Ohtaki||2:49|
|12.||“Aiueo” (愛餓を, “Love-Hunger” or “ABC”)||Takashi Matsumoto||Eiichi Ohtaki||Bannai Tarao||0:37|
- Haruomi Hosono - bass on tracks 1-5, 7-11, piano on tracks 1, 2, 8, 9, organ on tracks 1, 3, 7, 8, vocals on tracks 3, 4, 7, 9, acoustic guitar on tracks 3, 4, 7, 11, claves on track 5, cowbell on track 6, chorus on tracks 5, 7, 11, flat mandolin on track 4 as “Shujin Uno” (宇野主人)
- Eiichi Ohtaki - acoustic guitar on tracks 1, 2, 11, 12, vocals on tracks 1, 2, 5, 10-12, electric guitar on track 5, slide guitar on track 6, güiro on track 5, chimes on track 5, chorus on tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 11
- Shigeru Suzuki - electric guitar on tracks 1, 5, 7-11, acoustic guitar on track 11, vocals on track 8, cowbell on track 5, chorus on tracks 1 & 5, slide guitar on track 6 as “Kozo Hoshiimo” (ほしいも小僧)
- Takashi Matsumoto - drums on all tracks except 6 & 12, taiko on track 6, congas on track 5, cowbell on track 5, chorus on track 1
- Shiba - mouth harp on tracks 10, 11
- Komazawa - steel guitar on track 2