Akina Nakamori’s former producer talks about a possible comeback
The wait is getting longer, but ......?
A woman of many mysteries. Few artists have lived such a mysterious and tumultuous life as Akina Nakamori, 57. Despite the scandalous gossip, her innocent and charming personality and expressive singing ability are well known to those who know her. It was music producer Shinji Kawahara, 72, who was quick to recognize her talent and broke new ground with his cover album “Utahime. Kawahara, who has worked on Seiko Matsuda’s “Ruri-iro Chikyu” and Yosui Inoue’s “Shonen Jidai,” has “witnessed” the “real face” of Akina.
Are you going to compete with me?
I have seen staff members who worked with Ms. Nakamori at Warner (Music Japan) in the past say that they had a hard time coaxing her into working with them, but I don’t think that is quite right.
I feel that at that time, foreign record companies such as Warner were mainly concerned with how to sell sound recordings arriving from overseas, and had little expertise in managing the artists themselves. Artists have to face artists with the understanding that they alone are responsible for honing and expressing their talents, and that they must be cocky.
Based on this premise, it is our job as producers to communicate with the artists and convince them that “I see. Naturally, we need to have the knowledge to exchange musical opinions on an equal footing, and when we disagree with an artist’s opinion, we always have an alternative proposal ready. This was the case with Mr. Nakamori, and it was also the case with Eiichi Otaki, but we both decided not to disagree without an alternative.
The first time I worked with Ms. Nakamori was right after she attempted suicide (*). The president of the office she was working for at the time was an old friend of mine, and he asked me to help her because he thought Kawahara and Akina had similar ideas about music and would get along well. I guess he thought that we were both logical and that we also shared a love of Western music.
When I actually met Mr. Nakamori, I found out that he really listened to a lot of American and European rock and pop music. One time I was humming Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven” while playing the guitar, and she said, “Mr. Kawahara, are you going to compete with me? She said. She was probably joking, of course, but I immediately sensed that she was not a singer of half-baked knowledge or ability.
*Simmediately after her suicide attempt…… Akina attempted suicide on July 11, 1989 by cutting her left arm in the bathroom of the home of her then boyfriend, Masahiko Kondo.
Haruki Kadokawa raved about it.
At the time, I was also frequently working with lyricist Takashi Matsumoto, who let me listen to a song he was going to write lyrics for. It was a song composed by former C-C-B member Sekiguchi (Makoto), and upon hearing it, I felt it was suited for Mr. Nakamori. When I told Mr. Matsumoto that, he probably felt the same way. The result was “Futari Shijin – from “The Legend of Tenkawa Murder Case”.
However, it was decided from the beginning that this song would be the theme song for a Kadokawa movie, so she could not sing it on her own. So I consulted with Haruki Kadokawa, who readily agreed, saying, ” I like Akina as much as Hibari Misora. I would love to have her sing the song. Mr. Sekiguchi’s song was played in the movie, and Ms. Nakamori’s version was used in commercials and other promotions.
Nakamori himself took an immediate liking to the song, and the recording went smoothly, but there was one thing that surprised me. When I asked him to sing the song, he said, “I’m going to sing it three different ways now, so please choose the best one.
The first was a very whispery, whispery type. Next, she sang strongly, and finally, she sang with a vibrato in the manner of Akina Nakamori. That was the first time I recorded with her, and I thought, “She’s good.
There are many good singers in the world, but they can only sing well when they have a “template,” in other words, a song that someone else has sung. There are very few people who can hand you a musical score and sing it beautifully. Moreover, Mr. Nakamori prepared three different approaches. All of them were at a high level.
It is not something you can do without considerable ability. She is from the audition program “Star Birth! the people assume that she is an idol singer, but she is an artist without a doubt.
The birth of “Utahime
As was the case with “Futari Shizuka: The Tengawa Legend Murder Case,” she was a person who cared not whether a song was going to be a hit or not, but whether it would become a masterpiece that would be handed down to posterity as a work of art.
She herself said, “I became a singer to sing great songs. She never took any interest in being told that a song was going to sell well or that such and such a song was a hit, so let’s go this route. On the contrary, I will not be satisfied if I am treated at such a half-hearted level. It is fair to say that they are looking for a work of art, not a product.
After Mr. Nakamori moved from Warner to MCA Victor (*), I felt this tendency became even stronger. But a masterpiece is not something that is easy to make, is it? So when we decided to make an album for her, I suggested that we cover famous songs, and she immediately agreed. But I didn’t want it to be just a collection of big hits, like going to a karaoke box with famous singers. That’s the same for her and me.
So she and I decided to collect good songs together, even though they were not well received at the time of their release due to their low profile. For example, her mother loves to sing and said she had to be able to sing this kind of song: Hiromi Iwasaki’s “Shijuji. Carmen Maki & OZ’s “I am the Wind” is another song she definitely wanted to sing. This was originally her sister’s favorite song, but she was also able to sing rock-style songs beautifully.
At the time, the industry’s perception was that covers were done by second-rate singers, but that is not the case in the West. Rather, it is common for a classic song from the past to be sung by a singer who represents the era and offers new value. Rod Stewart’s “The Great American Songbook” is a prime example, (Frank) Sinatra is a cover, and (Elvis) Presley and the Beatles did a lot of covers in their early days.
The standard worldwide is that covers and originals are equally valuable. At the time of “Utahime,” I created the catchphrase “I only want to sing songs I like…” I think it is fair to say that “Utahime” was the first cover album in Japan created with the concept of high-quality songs sung by the best artists.
*After moving to MCA Victor…… Akina worked at MCA Victor (now Universal Music) from 1993 to 1997, and in 1993 released her first album “UNBALANCE+BALANCE”, the first album after the move. The following year, she released her first cover album, “Utahime,” breaking new ground as a singer.
Was Seiko Matsuda a “rival”?
When we were selecting songs for “Utahime,” we discussed the possibility of including Seiko Matsuda’s “Etude in the Wild Roses. I was very interested in this song because it is one of my favorite songs that she often sings at karaoke. In the end, the lyrics of the song were set at the age of 20, and I remember that we decided not to include it because we thought it was not appropriate to sing now.
People often wanted to make the two of them rivals, but I’m sure they didn’t feel that way. Rather, Mr. Nakamori was a big fan of Seiko. That is why he sang “Ruri-iro no Chikyuu” on the second album of “Utahime. I should mention that some people said that I pushed her because I composed that song, but I would never do such a disgraceful thing as a producer (laughs).
(laughs) In general, Mr. Nakamori is not the type of person who decides what songs to sing for such reasons. I didn’t dare to be there for the recording, but I was surprised at how different Seiko-san and Nakamori-san are.
As I mentioned this with Ms. Matsumoto, who wrote the lyrics, when Seiko sings, the concept of the song is “a song about a goddess who wants to protect the irreplaceable earth in the magnificent universe with my love. On the other hand, in the case of Ms. Nakamori, it became a document that is relevant to the present day, as if to say, “The love we share is almost gone, but we still keep on giving. This sense of realism is one of the charms of Ms. Nakamori, and it is also her character itself.
When we were recording “Utahime,” we often had meetings and meals with her in Azabu Juban, which at the time was considered a “land-locked island,” but she was vulnerable and would quickly become friendly with anyone. Some of them tried to dupe or take advantage of her, and she was even later published in an exposé book. When I protested, the recriminations escalated, and rumors were even spread that she was on drugs. I was in the middle of recording when she called me crying.
I could tell that she was mentally very depressed, so I put her in my car and took her straight to the studio. I thought that if I let her record, she would calm down a little. She is a singer at heart, and artists are like that. The next day she managed to calm down and brought a homemade pizza to the studio for us all to eat.
She is not a good communicator, but deep down she wants to be liked by everyone and always hopes to meet the expectations of those around her. But at the same time, it was a lot of pressure on her. She was constantly fighting against it.
I wouldn’t dare say it, but she liked to drink, and drink a lot, and she liked extremely spicy food, and she would put Tabasco on everything she ate to the point that we were worried about her. Those things inevitably made her seem like she was picking on herself, but I guess she wanted to get away from the pressure.
What will happen to “Comeback”?
In the entertainment industry at that time, there was a belief that idols had to be quiet and obedient. Expressing one’s opinion, as she did, was a target of bashing. But with her appearance, that world gradually changed. Now she is appreciated for her assertiveness, and that’s why there is a long-awaited comeback.
But if she now appears on the stage of the entertainment world, there will always be people who will criticize her. In a certain women’s weekly magazine, an anonymous person who reminds me of myself seems to have said something like, “There is a possibility that Akina will make a comeback in Kohaku,” but I myself will not accept an anonymous interview. I will say this.
Fans who want her to make a comeback may wish for her reappearance because she still holds a special place in their hearts, but because she is an artist with cherished memories, I want her to be looked after with care. Incidentally, I have never been asked about a comeback by her side, and even if I were, I am not confident that I would be able to compete with her on an equal footing in the studio at my current age (laughs).
I think it would be interesting if a younger person, such as Daiki Tsuneda of King Gnu or Kaze Fujii, were to produce the album. I myself would love to hear it if it were possible. But when I say this, I’m sure people will say that they are involved after all. ……
Interview and composition： Satoru Hirahara