So I’ve decided to start tackling the old H!P and slowing reaching up the year (a grand task at hand!). What’s a better way than to start from the humble beginnings of H!P?…or at that time the 6 together were just called Hello! Well, two years because 1997 had only two releases and that would’ve been too short of a blogpost. Also some pictures are going to be from more recent stuff (because apparently promo shots back then were near to not existing at the time).
Also, as it is a Year Recap, it’ll be done like the ones I tend to usually do at the end of every year :D…so this won’t be any different (except currently, there’s no Eggs/Kenshuusei XD)…so shall we dive right in!
At the late months of 1997, Sharam Q lead singer Tsunku was looking for a female vocalist to join the band and held an audition to find said singer! Really of course, it seems that Tsunku had found his winner between 6 girls (Nakazawa, Iida, Abe, Fukuda, Ishiguro, and Heike) though in the final round, it turned out that Heike was the winner, but it didn’t end there!
The remaining 5 were given a task: Sell 50,000 copies of their demo (or indies single as they’re called today), Ai no Tane and they will be given a major label debut. It took 5 days, but they managed to complete this mission and was able to debut properly the next year in January (which was only a little above two months after) with their single Morning Coffee. With about as much excitement there was though, Tsunku decided to hold auditions soon after for a 2nd Generation which ended up with Sayaka Ichii, Mari Yaguchi, and Kei Yasuda passing and becoming the 2nd Generation of Momusu and led to their next single, Summer Night Town, and their debut album, First Time. Before rounding out the year with Daite HOLD ON ME! which was the ending theme to the group’s first movie.
- Morning Coffee – I mean there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be up here to be honest. It’s a song that kicked off a really, long and exciting set of years. Hearing that initially Kaori was supposed to lead the song but switched last minute for Natsumi is quite risky (as the latter had some pitch issues, but Kaori had some problems herself…but this was their 2nd song so what can I say?). I really like the harmonies that these 5 have and the double lines are just so pretty to listen to. Plus I have to say that Asuka and Kaori really stick out the most and I quite love it!
- Summer Night Town – Well, it’s enough to say that their 2nd major single was just as strong! Though I wasn’t expecting a change of genres after “Ai no Tane” and “Morning Coffee’s” more lighthearted and breezy tones. Though I could say it was cashing in on the current trends in music and such. This was also the 2nd Generation’s debut, but they were more or less non-existent here being back-up vocals. Though one gripe was the vocals weren’t as tight as they were previously, but I’m sure it’s to share the rough sound we had. Still, it’s a great follow-up!
- Yume no Naka – Going into album tracks with Yume no Naka, I love the kind of throwback sound it got especially with the horns and overall groove. There’s just something dreamlike about this and Kaori, Yuko, and Mari really sound good together especially with the lighter atmosphere! Still my favorite track from the album sans the A-sides.
- Usotsuki Anta – The only other album track that stuck out to me is Usotsuki Anta and that’s because of its upbeat sound and we get a LOT of Yuko in this track and I’m definitely excited since its mostly been an Asuka/Kaori/Natsumi fest. Even Aya gets a couple lines. Vocally it’s one of the best songs off the album that’s for sure!
- Ai no Tane – Yeah, their first song, their indies, is kind of just middle of the road for me, even though this was new and foreign to me when I first heard of it. I think maybe its just that “Morning Coffee” did the upbeat, breezy sound better for me and the vocals here are a bit more shrill as well except for the verses ironically. Still, for a debut, this song is actually not that bad and screams nostalgic to current H!P fans! Even the keyboard solo was so weird xD
- Good Morning – Moving into the intro for their album, Good Morning definitely has that sunrise kind of feeling and the group harmonizing is quite nice to listen to (especially with 8 members in tow). Though it does struggle to leave an impression outside of its chorus.
- Wagamama – All I feel for the album is that it has this certain Western kind of sound and not so much J-pop at time (minus “Summer Night Town”). The pop/rock feel I get from this suits Kei, Aya, and Sayaka who are the leads of the song. Still the whole song sounds like it was meant for something else and not-so-much for Momusu, but the trio held it quite fine!
- Daite HOLD ON ME! – As the group’s 3rd single, I felt like they tried to tackle a lot more than they should here. I mean on top of the fact that it does remind me of “Summer Night Town”, the girls sound a lot more rough and hitting notes were ending up squeaky and off-kilter. Though the rapping section was something the group hasn’t done yet…and it was interesting to say the least. I do love the verses as they came off so sexy and mature too.
- A MEMORY OF SUMMER ’98 – Being the first B-side for the group that wouldn’t make the album’s cut (“Morning Coffee’s” was “Ai no Tane” and was on the album too), A MEMORY OF SUMMER ’98 is a little strange nowadays due to the year at the end (but at the time it was something special for them). That said, despite this being 2nd Generation’s debut, they were actually absent for this song. Beyond that, the song was quite uneventful for me, even though the arrangement is light and pleasant (and with strings). It just kind of was there for me, nothing bad, but nothing remotely memorable.
- Dou ni ka Shite Doyoubi – If there was anything I could pull from this song is that the song made me think of like 70’s disco but cheaply made? At least the intro of the song was trying to build into something cool, but then it turned into a hokey mess. It just wasn’t working out.
- Samishii Hi – Then there was the ending to the album. I don’t mind the gospel-like arrangement and I could even give props to the solo lines within this song, but once another girl joins up, the harmonies just get too wobbly and uncertain for a lot of the groupings so everything feels all over the place. A little too loose vocally (maybe too raw?).
- Tatoeba – Then we have the B-side from “Daite HOLD ON ME!” and I could only think of “Wagamama” because it shares that Western vibe, but this one actually includes slide guitar to make it more fitting. Though what makes me forget this is once again the vocals that seem to clash moreso than gel. Also it does tend to drag way too long for me to care for.
- Mirai no Tobira – There was seriously one song that made me want to cry as I listen to the songs from their first year. This album track is the only urban track (that wasn’t an A-side) and it’s just bizarre and doesn’t fit anywhere. I’m not a big fan of the speak-rapping going on here and then the sudden switch of BPM to fit in the slower verses to just speed it back up for the chorus, which was in itself weaker than normal.
Overall: As the group began, I felt like they were going to be run-of-the-mill goody-girls. Though with “Summer Night Town” and the 3 new members, I feel like Tsunku was starting to take some risks and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Though I won’t lie and say the stuff they get in these early albums are easy to get into sadly…
If you’ve read above, then you already know that Michiyo Heike won the ASAYAN auditions to become the new singer for Sharam Q right? WELL…it seems Tsunku had other plans and instead gave her a solo career (where guitarist from Sharam Q, Hatake, would work with her for a couple of singles. She debut a couple days after Momusu with the single GET (which was the audition song that let Michiyo win). It did initially have great sales (around 70,000) but then her follow-up singles Sotsugyou ~TOP OF THE WORLD~, Daikirai, and Dakedo Aishisugite ended up flopping hard in comparison! Though after her 2nd single, she released her first album, Teenage Dream as well.
- GET – Despite that everyone heard GET in the auditions (and to be fair there were better turnouts than Michiyo in the final round), she definitely made the song her own and I was kind of happy that GET ended up being her debut. Unlike the poppy sound that Momusu got with “Ai no Tane”, GET had a full-on J-rock sound (thanks to Hatake) and Michiyo’s mature voice suited the aggressive nature of the track which is awesome!
- Sasaete Kurenakucha – If there was one song that I thought deemed better than “GET” though, it’s this edgy B-side from “Sotsugyou”. Hatake sounds a bit more aggressive here and Michiyo sounds a bit more fitting for the sound as well. She was even getting some cool screams in there too so it gave the song a lot more personality throughout! Awesome B-side!
- Onna no Evolution – I never thought an album song would manage to stick out to me, but Onna no Evolution keeps things simple yet really catchy, add on that Michiyo was pretty upbeat and sounded strong (even more than she did on “Skip” and “Start!”. It’s just a great song and one of the true standouts from “Teenage Dream”.
- Akai Tsuki – At least there was one other album song that really caught my attention and that’s Akai Tsuki which felt like it had the most effort on it and it heavily sounded 90s especially with the synth beats and speed. Actually it has a certain avex feel, sort of Euro, but at the same time not…it was unique and a total surprise on her album.
- Daikirai – I feel like after her 2nd single, it seems like she wanted to go back to the more gritty rock sound she debuted with and Daikirai was definitely in the realm of that plus that title was also kind of given. It might not be quite as rockin’ as “GET”, but there’s something edgy here and the lyrics were just as much. I just ended up loving it!
- Dakedo Aishisugite (Mix for Single) – Yes, there’s a reason why its a single version here. Either way, Dakedo Aishisugite is probably my favorite A-side Michiyo released in 1998. It just perfects her pop/rock style to suit her voice and the overall strong and aggressive nature of the song. There’s some synths that play around, but it’s still mostly guitars and drums here. Just a cool song and one of the best ones to represent Hello!’s cast of ladies especially being the first solo member.
- Sotsugyou ~TOP OF THE WORLD~ – I was surprised that Michiyo’s first release in 1998 was going to be a cover of an old Carpenters track. Considering that it’s a popular song that’s covered in Japan, Michiyo’s is a bit better than I was expecting and her mix of pop/rock is interesting. Not a bad cover and Makoto did pretty well here.
- Start! – The opening of Michiyo’s album kicks things off quite strongly with this track. Now most of the song is a lot like “GET” with a more aggressive sound, but I will at opening was a bit overkill for me. Disregarding that, I do think she did a great song here!
- Skip – After the opening track, we got Skip and it’s upbeat and cute to listen to which is a nice contrast! While I feel like Michiyo did get some help vocally, I didn’t mind this as it’s breezy and funky at the same time! Fun little track overall!
- Hitorigurashi – Another album song, I felt like Hitorigurashi was more safe than anything. I do love the harmonica and the whole Western light it had (which once again a couple of Momusu songs had as well). Like there’s nothing wrong with it and it could make for a nice, easy listen, but that’s what it really comes down to for me.
- Fall the rain – As the B-side from “Daikirai”, it was a nice contrast from the more edgy A-side. Though I do feel like it’s a leftover from her album and the kind of rock-ballad wasn’t the most exciting thing, but it’s a little interesting as a B-side.
- Prepare – As Michiyo’s first B-side, it felt like it joined alongside the cute and upbeat songs Momusu were releasing and funny enough they gelled together. The big difference is that Michiyo didn’t have the harmonies (and multiple members to fill things out). The tune ended up being a little bit one-note IMO.
- Furimukinaide – One of the other few Tsunku-produced songs, Furimukinaide was a strange album song because of the kind of pseudo-reggae, slightly rock tinged groove that throws me off. Add on Tsunku doing backup vocals and things are just a little more stranger than normal. Oh add on the random organ lines and it’s just a black sheep on the album.
- Hey! Hey! Girls Soul – Ending her album, Hey! Hey! Girls Soul tried to mix up some 50’s diner-esque songs with some stranger things. I couldn’t get behind some of the arrangement choices and Michiyo is kind of yelling some of her lines which is not exactly something I was expecting for a style like this. Maybe a little too random for me.
- Shinkokyuu Shiyou!! – If “Dakedo Aishisugite” was going to be that catchy rock song, I wasn’t sure what the B-side was going to be and it’s a little too sway-back and forth for me and seemed to be a total opposite to its A-side. I will say the acoustic sound is nice and the harmonica part was interesting enough (though “Futarigurashi” already tackled that…but this song doesn’t seem to suit the single.
- Teenage Dream – The only thing I could really say it’s so icky is that its an interlude that really has no place on the album. All it really is is just a lone piano melody for a whole minute. I will say that it does feel like it’s leading to a more darker song…though it actually doesn’t.
Overall: She started so strong, but for some reason her sales just dropped to the wayside whereas Momusu continued to sell (could be because Tsunku focused so much more of his time on the group sadly).
After Morning Musume released their first album, it was announced shortly after that Yuko would be given a solo career as an Enka artist (traditional Japanese folk music). Though we would learn later that she wasn’t too big of a fan of this because it made her feel old on top of it being a little more of a niche genre. She debuted a little under a month after “First Time” with the single, Karasu no Nyoubou and then released a second single (a duet with Enka artist, Gen Takayama), Odaiba Moonlight Serenade and then a week later, released her first album, Nakazawa Yuko Dai Issho.
- Karasu no Nyoubou – While I’m not the biggest fan of Enka (in the same reason, that Yuko wasn’t initially), I have to admit that this song is kind of cute and catchy. I was also impressed that Yuko could handle Enka on her own merits despite being in an idol group simultaneously. As a debut, it really came out of nowhere and the genre of choice while absurd, kind of made Yuko a totally different kind of soloist when compared to Michiyo.
- Sutenaide yo – As the first album track, Sutenaide yo definitely hints a little of a cross between Yuko’s idol side and her new Enka side in a nice blend of both genres. I definitely love Yuko’s voice here as it’s bright and full of l more relaxed and calm arrangement. It’s a great tune to get to on the album that’s for sure!
- Ame no Midousuji – So Yuko’s album actually is filled mostly with covers of old Enka songs, but strangely enough, I felt Ame no Midousuji didn’t fit the mold of the atypical Enka song. I mean the horns, recorder, and strings do scream it, but Yuko’s straightforward singing made me it more like an idol song a bit (it could also be from the vocal layering as well). Either way, it’s a pretty good song overall!
- Otonashibashi – I think if it wasn’t the recorder that wasn’t used, it would’ve been a simple ballad to listen to, but with the solos going on, the song really felt classic and soft for Yuko. Unlike it’s A-side, “Karasu no Nyoubou”, Otonashibashi is more relaxed and focused more on Yuko’s light vocals which really were pleasant and almost heavenly to listen to. Nice B-side overall!
- Odaiba Moonlight Serenade – For Yuko’s 2nd offering, she teamed up with fellow UF singer, Gen Takayama for two songs! The leading track, Odaiba Moonlight Serenade is not as quiet as her first single which is great and the arrangement is pleasant and upbeat, but sometimes I felt like Gen and Yuko didn’t match vocally, but it could just be the man/woman difference here. It’s cute though and Yuko sounded really nice!
- Tsugunai – If there was a safe Enka song in Yuko’s album, I feel like Tsugunai might just be that song because it does have the easy things that would be normally seen in Enka songs and while that can be bad, I do like Yuko’s performance enough that it just breezes by nicely.
- Cosmos Biyori – Our next track makes this spot because of its sheer simplicity. Like “Tsugunai”, the song has one defining feature and that’s the accordion in certain parts of the song…otherwise the same things I said about the above song can be brought to this track.
- Etto Tsubame – I have to say, the intro to this song was something that woke up after a few of the other ballads that came before it, but outside of the arrangement, the song was a little plain, but Yuko once again had a really sweet voice so it didn’t bother me too much. Not bad, but there’s clearly better.
- Koibitotachi no Ballad – The B-side of her 2nd single also included Gen and it felt more of the same that I got from the leading track, though I did enjoy the strings a little more, but still the vocals are a bit wobbly and I think there was more Gen here which is ehhh.
- Osaka Rhapsody – There are a lot of covers on Yuko’s album and maybe she should’ve just stuck to doing original tracks because Osaka Rhapsody felt so boring and forgetful to me. It’s just kind of blah for me and to know that Yuko’s stuff is better sounding and all just doesn’t give this song favors.
- Koi – It feels like we’ve had this song already in “Otonashibashi” with the lowbrow quiet ballad here which is OK, since there isn’t too many on her album, but this song is a bit too sleepy for me. The harmonica (I think) is a nice touch and all, but otherwise, just a bit too light for me.
- Eki – Oh boy, this song just left no mark on me. I mean the majority of the song just kind of goes on by with not a lot of changes and yet the most memorable song was at the end where Yuko starts ad-libbing the chorus melody. I mean for a cover song it’s ok, but not really memorable.
Overall: Of all the members of Hello!, I feel like Yuko had the busiest year as she had her share of solo work and her role in Momusu so she definitely had her work cut out. Of her solo stuff specifically, it’s a mixed bag because Enka is still not a genre I delve into very much so meh lol!
In October of 1998, it was announced that a sub-group of Morning Musume was to be created to have a little maturity in their music vs. their normal place of being an idol (which was moving to a more R&B style). Chosen members were Kaori Iida, Aya Ishiguro, and Mari Yaguchi. Just a month later, known as Tanpopo would release their debut single, Last Kiss and that was their 1998!
- Last Kiss – Of all the debuts so far, I think Last Kiss was the best of them for sure! There’s something chilling and dark about Last Kiss that really caught my attention and then hearing Kaori, Aya, and Mari sing in such a wispy way impressed me a whole lot more than they were doing in Momusu! Add on that a lot of spotlight was placed on Aya and Mari (who while they were given some spotlight on the Momusu album) had a LOT more lines in this one song. I just love this song!
- Jikan yo Tomare – They weren’t lying when Tsunku said he wanted Tanpopo to go in a different direction and the B-side ended up being a bossa nova track! I do love hearing a lot of Mari, but the other two are there as the lower vocals which is pleasant enough for me. It felt like a song that suits a later generation for me
Overall: Even though they had debuted at the end of the year, I felt like getting these 3 into a unit was a smart idea and the whole mature sound they have is definitely impressive just by going with their 2 songs! I hope it continues throughout next year!
Other Hello! Releases
The only release that did fit anywhere else is actually a soundtrack for Momusu & Michiyo’s movie, Morning Cop ~Daite HOLD ON ME!~ the first time since the ASAYAN auditions that all 6 Hello! members were singing together on top of the new 2nd Generation of Momusu!
- Dakedo Aishisugite (Mix for Screen) – To be honest, I really couldn’t tell the difference between the OST version and the A-side cut besides the arrangement being more clear in the OST one? Actually, I think another big difference is the guitar solo in the bridge…definitely different. Still it’s Dakedo Aishisugite at the end of the day and still one of the more impressive Michiyo songs!
- Daite HOLD ON ME! ~Sexy Long version~ – I was surprised Momusu’s 3rd A-side would be given a new take, but I actually really like this version a smidge more than the original! I especially love the new opening that really gives this sultry and sexy vibe and it continues through the verses (even though they weren’t resung). Actually most of the song is changed by arrangement but that’s actually so cool!
- Onegai Nail – As the only song on the OST to include all 9 Hello! members, Onegai Nail was pretty interesting and features more of the recent happenings with Momusu by being a little more urban overall and yet has a lighter vibe to it. I do like the harmonizations here a lot and since just about everyone had a line in it so that’s always good. It’s a pretty happy-go-lucky song though and it does stick out in this OST.
- Yoroshiku! – Disregarding that opening with the lifeless excitement, the song comes off as a surfer pop track and it presents us with something different. I do like the silliness and upbeat vibe from the tune and it would’ve made a good album song to go after “Good Morning”
- Koi no ABC – The other Momusu song from the movie, Koi no ABC tried to take the same path that “Onegai Nail” did, but the urbanized sound is a lot more cheap sounding and the chorus is rather slower than majority of the song (and it’s short too).
- Tsuyoku Naranakucha…ne – The OST actually also came with a new Michiyo song as well, but sadly this was kind of more of the same I’ve came to expect from her releases so it just kind of falls under. Though I do like Michiyo’s lighter vocals that aren’t too scratchy as they’ve been. It just sounded like “Sotsugyou ~TOP OF THE WORLD~”.
- Michiyo Heike
- Yuko Nakazawa
- Kaori Iida
- Natsumi Abe
- Aya Ishiguro
- Asuka Fukuda
- Sayaka Ichii
- Kei Yasuda
- Mari Yaguchi
My H!P Member Ranking for 97/98
- 9. Kei Yasuda
- 8. Kaori Iida
- 7. Natsumi Abe
- 6. Sayaka Ichii
Since it is pretty early in the girls’ careers I still had to rank them for the time being and kicking things off is Kei-chan because she wasn’t a star player back then and she only had a seldom of times where she had lines to herself. Not saying she’s the worst member, but she hadn’t had the time to shine quite yet. Kaorin also finds herself here, but she had a couple noticeable places where she stood out (like Tanpopo). Though she’s ranked low because her voice isn’t quite strong and she shows a lot of dead-face emotion in the PVs sadly. Being the lead vocalist can be rough, especially in the case of Nacchi who led the singles in Momusu. She’s got potential, though right now she sounds very pitchy to me…shame considering she’s not even the best singer in Morning Musume! Same with Icchan as she’s slightly better, but she hasn’t had the push yet of being a front singer yet.
- 5. Mari Yaguchi
- 4. Aya Ishiguro
- 3. Asuka Fukuda
- 2. Michiyo Heike
- 1. Yuko Nakazawa
At first, Marippe was going to sit in the latter half of the 9, but it wasn’t until her addition of her into Tanpopo where she finally rised up to the occasion and she has a pretty, yet higher pitched set of vocals. She’s still kind of an enigma in Morning Musume, but she did manage to carve out a small bit of personality here which is also the same for Ayappe. Though she’s had a little more time to get settled and like Mari, it wasn’t until Tanpopo happened where she finally had a chance to show her skills and she’s got a lovely set of deeper vocals. In Morning Musume proper, I feel like my favorite vocalist is Asuka but she’s also the youngest as well which is just more impressive! Michiyo for me is 2nd because she does have a lot of power in her voice and being the winner of the ASAYAN auditions is something (and she didn’t have to go through an indies period). However I feel like Yuko gets the top spot for doing the most of the year and delving into a genre that’s not entirely familiar to fans of the idol world! Plus her vocals are so pleasant when singing ballads and Enka songs yet she gets very little in Momusu…
NEXT TIME, 1999 and finally Hello! Project is created!!!