ALL THAT 33 1/3 JAZZ:
While Pink Lady scored nine consecutive number one singles and amassed nearly 100 million dollars in record sales during their storied heyday, their history of their album releases was, to me anyway, extremely peculiar, and that’s being kind. In hindsight, I guess this could be accredited to how the Japanese pop music industry worked back in the 70’s, but the way Pink Lady went about selling their music on the big platters was quite unusual to say the least.
Between 1976 and 1981, Pink Lady cranked out eighteen albums, but only five were true studio albums of original material while the rest were either live albums from concerts or best hit compilations. Studying Pink Lady’s overall history for the last several years, I found that to be very perplexing. Here in the States, a recording act releases an album with a single or two making it on the Billboard charts. If the act becomes popular, another album with more singles bound for the charts soon follows. After that, if the act becomes really popular, then comes the concerts, and if a live performance is particularly memorable, it’s released as an album. Two examples of live albums that have stood the test of time are Peter Frampton’s “Frampton Comes Alive” and Cheap Trick’s “Live At Budokan”. Even with the most famous acts, live albums are a rarity as maybe only one or two make the cut during a career and, in turn wind up in record stores. But with Pink Lady, it was considerably different.
When “Pepper Keibu” came out in August of 1976, it was on Pink Lady’s very first album of the same name which included “SOS”, Mie and Kei’s first chart topper and “Toast For Ladies”, the popular B-side of “Pepper Keibu”. So far, pretty standard as far as how recording acts release their music, huh? Well, standard went out the window after that. PL’s next two albums were concert recordings, “Challenge Concert” and the double-sized “Summer Fire ‘77” which introduced fans to “Carmen ‘77” and “Nagisa No Sindbad”. This was followed, amazingly enough by their first best hits album, only a year into their career as a recording act. I have that album, and all it had was the first four singles (“Pepper Keibu”, “SOS”, “Carmen ‘77”, “Nagisa No Sindbad”) and some B-sides. Nothing at all spectacular in my mind anyway. Here in the States, most recording acts go three, four, even five years before releasing a greatest hits compilation. But again, Pink Lady’s handlers went a totally different route.
(Aside: Lady-X explained to me that it's not unusual for performers to release best hits so early in their careers. Just goes to show what I know.)
That different route continued apace with the next three albums: “Bye-Bye Carnival”, “America America America” (the Las Vegas show) and “’78 Jumping Summer Carnival”, which were all live recordings featuring four more hits: “Wanted”, “UFO”, “Southpaw” and “Monster”. Going over the musical history of Pink Lady, I arrived at the half-baked conclusion that Trust & Confidence, Mie and Kei’s handlers must’ve raked in more money on live albums than on studio recordings. Given I’m no expert on how the music industry works, either here in America or over in Japan, but I’ve always found it to be, well, strange that a recording act made their bread and butter almost entirely on live albums since listeners don’t get much of a chance to hear the full range of a performer’s talent because of the cacaphony of crowd noise, different instrumental arrangements and whatnot than what you’d hear in a studio. Bottom line, what you hear on a live album is wholly different from a studio album.
Nearly two years after PL’s first studio album came their second, “Two From The Star”. It had some interesting tracks like “Two From The Star” a cute song Mie and Kei sometimes opened their concerts with, “Super Monkey”, a popular B-side (and the title of a cute kiddie TV show the girls starred in around mid-1978) and an amazing, nine minute plus medley of all the tunes they did from their commercials. I found that most unique, and rather enjoyable to listen to as I never heard any of PL’s commercial jingles. After a second best hits album came the soundtrack to PL’s 1978 motion picture. It took until 2004 for me to get my hands on the album via an online auction and I was excited to listen to it, and it was both different, and disappointing as the album interspersed spoken word segments from the movie itself by the girls with several of their chart toppers. The reason I found that disappointing was because I thought the soundtrack would feature all new songs instead of the old standbys.
After PL’s sixth concert album in just over two years (“Live In Budokan”) and a third best hits platter came 1979 and three studio albums. “Magical Music Tour” (A takeoff on the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour”?) was a delightful, worldwide musical expedition as Mie and Kei sang songs that reflected the American Southwest, France, India, Spain, the Far East along with their fun filled tribute to ‘60’s beach music, “Nami Nori Pirates” (with backing vocals by the Beach Boys). I found that album to have been a wonderfully underrated treat with a marvelous, exotic flavor. Next up was Pink Lady’s self-titled U.S. debut, the Disco themed all-English album, featuring the top 40 hit, “Kiss in the Dark” and a cover of Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee”. Lastly was “We Are Sexy”, even though this was a studio album, it consisted of Disco covers like “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”, “I Was Made For Dancin’” (both in Japanese), “MacArthur Park” and a Japanese version of “Kiss in the Dark”.
When 1980 rolled around, things were in flux with Mie and Kei. Their golden touch as a recording act had turned to brass as their single releases (“Agiri Giri”, “World Hero History”, “Utakata” and “Fame”) all failed miserably on the charts. On top of that, for the first couple of months, the girls were shuttling between Tokyo and Los Angeles to tape Pink Lady & Jeff while maintaining their concert schedule back home. As a result, only two albums were released that year, “Turning Point” which was yet another best hits album and a self-titled, three album set which was an oddity since it included all of PL’s chart toppers, some b-sides and twelve brand new songs. It was those songs, including solos by the girls which surprised and interested me the most as they were fresh, vibrant and very enjoyable. Those new songs alone could’ve made for a damn good studio album instead of being lost in the crowd with the standards. Why that never happened, given the quality of those songs, was confusing.
In March of 1981, Mie and Kei brought the curtain down on their partnership as Pink Lady with the emotional farewell concert which became their last album from what wound up being the first stage of their legendary careers. As fate would have it, their lives as recording stars hadn’t ended as, in 1984, three years after the historic break-up, Mie and Kei reunited to release what I believe was their best studio album ever, “Suspense”. The ten songs on that album, as far removed from their ‘70’s bubblegum pop tunes as Philadelphia is from Tokyo were slick, stylish and utterly dynamic, a real treat as it combined bold, uptempo songs with sweet ballads to perfection. In my opinion, there wasn’t a bad track on that album. As I mentioned when I reviewed this album on the Pink Music page, if Mie and Kei recorded “Suspense” in English, that might well have given Pink Lady their breakthrough success in America and brought them more recognition as singers than the 1979 album had.
PL’s album work after “Suspense” was spotty , and it all involved the standards. 1987 saw the release of “Blood New” which consisted of PL’s ten top hits, remixed with totally new musical arrangements, including an English language version of “Wanted”. This theme was repeated three years later with “Remixes” which remixed five standards (“Southpaw”, another English version of “Wanted”, “UFO”, “Nagisa No Sindbad” and “Kiss in the Dark”), but this was different as the instrumentals had a jazzier flair to them. “UFO” had a definitely urban, hip-hop flavor, “Southpaw” was heavy on power rock with scorching guitar riffs while “Kiss in the Dark” was transformed from its Disco roots into a delightfully funky dance club romp. Between the two, I’d say that “Remixes” was the best. But in terms of actual albums, that was it for the girls until “Best Selection” (another best hits compilation) in 1996 which featured “Pink Eyed Soul”, Mie and Kei's first new song in twelve years.
Speaking of dance club music, PL’s ten top hits resurfaced in late 2000 on “Euro Tracks”, this CD took a radically different track with the standards as they were redone into fast paced, percussion heavy, Euro styled dance tracks. But the real oddity here is that Mie and Kei didn’t sing a note on this album as the vocals were handled by a group or duo or individual (I never knew which) called Trasperanza. While I was disappointed to hear PL songs sung by someone other than Mie and Kei, this was still an enjoyable album. In closing, I found it a shame that Mie and Kei hadn’t recorded more albums since 1981, What a treat it would’ve been for the girls to have produced new and exciting music like they did on “Suspense”. Remember, Mie and Kei wrote “Pink Eyed Soul”, one of the very best PL songs ever, so they had the chops to craft their own music. It just seemed unforunate that we never got to hear more of Mie and Kei's magic on studio albums, but what little we did hear was wonderful.
Author's note: A tip of the hat to Lady-X who proofread this piece and corrected a few grammatical errors I had made.