Chako & Applies: Anata Ga Ichiban (Minoruphone, 1969)
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For the month of March I instituted a self-imposed ban on buying non-essential items. Although I fell off the wagon just once (DJ Shakey’s 45s record fair… I couldn’t resist!), I did find that depriving myself of regular vinyl purchases meant spending more time with the records I already own. There’s a tendency as a record collector to feel that you never have enough—if I could only locate the Crystals’ “I Got A Man” 45 and any of Margaret Mandolph’s Planetary singles (seriously, I REALLY need these records!) then I promise I’ll be satisfied! But I’ve said that about pretty much every record I own, and having the 45 in my possession did nothing to relieve the hunger. So a record-shopping ban was perhaps the only way to force myself to appreciate what I have. It also prompted a new project—to go through each and every A-side and B-side in my collection, in hopes that I may have missed a winner or three. I’ve started with my ’60s Japanese girl-pop 45s, so many of them with sleeves far more impressive than their corresponding records. It’s quite painful having to endure hours of repetitive, overwrought pop ballads that no amount of listens can salvage, so the discovery of this Chako & Applies record provided some welcome relief. This isn’t one of those obvious killer Japanese girl-pop records like the J Girls “Kiroi No Sekai” or Jun Mayuzumi’s “Black Room.” It’s not up-tempo enough for the dance floor, and it starts off as so many Japanese pop records do—a simple swing beat, trebly, twanging guitar, and standard orchestral arrangement. The three sisters—Chako, Richi, and Hiko—take turns soloing and singing together in their enka-tinged, teenage voices, and get super shouty on the chorus singing, “Suki! Suki! Ska to Shiteru!” But it’s the following line, their delivery of the title lyric—”Anata Ga Ichiban” (“You’re #1”) that pricked up my ears. In a flash, the shouty teen girls move from their throats to their gut, creating a most unexpected and strangely melodic growl. It’s almost comical. Traditional Japanese music—also known as enka—has long employed this guttural grunt, but I much prefer it paired with pop (although it’s not a common combination). Perhaps this clever vocal twist is what earned Chako & Applies their first place position in the Minoruphone Records’ talent contest, where they won a record deal that resulted in three singles for the label, beginning with this one in 1969.