FAN FICTION! “Hanako Oku and the English Sessions”
I was ecstatically happy to find out that my favorite Japanese singer-songwriter Hanako Oku is going to release a CD single with cover songs sung in ENGLISH. The mini-album is oddly titled “Rum Raisin”.
I am a huge –Oku-fan, but I do not always have English translations of her original songs sung in Japanese. I feel a little left out sometimes because I am not a Japanese-speaker. I love her songs, but find myself wishing that I could better understand the meaning. … and no one can communicate the intense emotions of unrequited love like Hanako Oku.
This must have been a tremendous amount of work for her. She employed language experts, dialect coaches and a couple of hipster English majors from a famous American university. I was able to link up some images from these sessions. A few slides are presented here.
I think that she has made excellent choices for her first mini-album of English covers here. Each song is similar in many ways to her emotional ballads, yet this selection also allows her to explore some different – but just as intense – emotions. The songs are all from the genre that would be classified as “classic rock” and may be unknown to her younger fans.
I can’t wait until this is released. I listened to the preview, but these songs are not yet available on YourTube. (The “Record-Industry-Weasels” as per usual).
Until then, I will share with you the original versions by the original artists until such time as the Oku covers are sold. Just imagine The Little Great One breathing life into them. The songs are: 1) “A Dream Goes On Forever” originally written performed by Todd Rundgren, 2) “The Blue, Red and Grey” written and sung by Peter Townshend (The Who), and 3) “The Town Cryer” originally by Elvis Costello. I am also including links for the original lyrics.
“A Dream Goes on Forever”
Todd Rundgren’s song pulls on the heartstrings just the way an Oku-ballad does. A lost love. Hanging on to a dream that can never happen. Otherworldly and interdimensional hopes that it will. Oku-san shows the “cosmic” side of herself here. There are no cheap synthesizer tricks to space you out. The lady’s raw emotional disappointment and longing are enough to take you to the dream world.
(The reference to “old soldiers fade away” is odd, however. A Japanese singer making a Douglas MacArthur reference?) However, I fell like a heap on the floor as she sang “I guess I believe that I’ll see you someday” and “how much I loved you you’ll never know til you join me within my dream”. Lyrics are linked here.
“Blue, Red and Grey”
The next one is a little lighter, and a little bouncier, but just as poignant. The song is from a 1975 album by The Who, but it is all Pete Townsend. There is a ukulele sound on Oku’s version, but her happy-bouncy piano is the main instrument, and Oku also plays part of the interlude on her melodica. It sounds quite whimsical, especially at the end.
I am in Oku-heaven when she says “I dig every second” – instead of “like” or “love”. The 1960s expression is given new life by Oku. Oh, you are so very groovy Hanako. I wonder if she knows what “buzz” means in the song however. I have to think that in her mind, happy Zen-bees are buzzing about.
She perhaps takes a jab at the music industry with that line “I even shun the south of France”. Oku is not your typical rock-star celebrity. Other artists are much more “popular” and have greater sales right now, but the lady is a very down to Earth and lovable (see her website). She is not among the stuck-up celebrity elite. Lyrics are linked here.
“The Town Cryer”
All of that was great, but then there is the big finale. I was unprepared and shocked at how great it was.
She must have spent countless hours rehearsing not only the English words, but the vocal inflection needed to convey the emotions of the song. I was not prepared to hear an angry Hanako Oku.
Kudos to her English voice coach. Somehow — she nails it.
The song she has produced is like the world’s greatest waterfall. There is great, towering piano and orchestration. That little bit of anger that is in her voice … may be her attempts to convey Costello’s trademark snarl. It does live fans wondering what will be coming next. Anger – even heartfelt anger – has not been part of the usual Oku repertoire to this point. Is she stepping out of herself to show this emotion? What is she angry about, and why does she choose to express this subtle rage in English? Is English Oku’s “minstrel” language? The one that she uses when she needs to step out of her calm Japanese “Hanako Oku” demeanor … in order to say the things she would not otherwise say? Lyrics are linked here.
She does flip the “boys” to “girls” to be the protagonist of the song. The accusatory tone in her voice against the man actually works BETTER when sung by a woman. I think that this flip of the male/female roles improves on Costello’s original. Who knew – until Oku! Her voice starts gentle and affraid, yet hits the crescendo in bitterness.
That part about “teddy bear tender” may be lost on her Japanese fans without the Elvis Presley reference. You can really feel that she is letting loose on a man she is disappointed with. Go get him Hanachan, the weak bastard deserves it. Listeners may not know that the phrase “tragically hip” was coined by Elvis Costello in this song. It is interesting to hear it in Oku’s Japanese accent, with the additional sarcastic inflection. Amazing, amazing, amazing.
The song is heavy on strings at the end, which is also unusual for a Hanako Oku song. The use of “movie soundtrack” type strings at the end are like a trail … leading us to perhaps a new musical direction for The Little Great One?
Like the ice cream flavor, this “Rum Raisin” is a surprising, unique taste of intensity.