はっぴいえんど 風街ろまん (Happy End “Kazemachi Roman”)

Kazemachi Roman

From 1971 Japan comes this gleaming gem of classic rock, encompassing a myriad of American styles from rural rock and country to raw garage, blues, experimental, and blazing west coast rock – but contrary to prevailing trends of the time, the lyrics are not sung in English. If this poses a problem for your ears it is a great shame, for Kazemachi Roman (Wind City Romance) is a must-listen record, and #1 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Japanese Rock Albums.

Kazemachi Roman owes its sound to many influences, but the band maintains an unmistakable originality while flawlessly running the gamut of American popular music. “Haikara Hakuchi” drives with the ferocity of a Moby Grape track, “Haru Ranman” combines byrdsian folk with a roaming west coast feel, while “Sorairo no Crayon” dabbles with country & western, replete with pedal steel and a yodeled outro.  “Natsu Nandesu” and “Kaze wo Atsumete” have a soulful, bucolic charm, the latter finally getting its due via 2003’s Lost In Translation soundtrack. “Dakishimetai” sounds like a classic 70s rock anthem and “Hanaichimonme” grooves like a freight train, prodded along by rolling guitar licks and driving piano. “Ashita Tenki ni Naare” gets to funky rhythm and blues featuring a fantastic Beegees multi-falsetto vocal part. And then there’s “Taifuu” (typhoon), the clear alpha dog of the set. On this authorative rocker the singer lets it all out with gnarly, gutteral yelps and grunts.

Even the slightest investment in this record should prove the attraction goes way beyond novelty.  The sound is instantly recognizable feel-good rock and easily transcends the language barrier. Had these gentlemen hailed from California and sang in English, Happy End would have been a household name.

The lead man, Haroumi Hosono, would later form the sensational Yellow Magic Orchestra (titans of the pre-midi synth age) and continues to make music with his electronica duo, Sketch_Show.

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“花いちもんめ (Hanaichimonme)”

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