Matsubara Miki’s “Mayonaka no Door”: The story of the song with 100 million views on YouTube

bold composition request

Imagine the scene: It’s 1979 and new composer Hayashi Tetsuji receives a new order from Kaneko Haruhiko, director of Pony Canyon, one of Japan’s biggest record labels. “He wanted a song for this new singer, recalls Hayashi. But the music had to be completely Western-style. At the time, even when the composer got a commission for a ‘Western-style’ song, the rule was to include elements of pop music. Japanese. kayokyoku Just to make sure it will sell well in the Japanese market. But for this piece, Kaneko told me I could completely forget it, and I remember thinking to myself it was a very bold decision. »

Thus, on November 5 of the same year, Matsubara Miki’s first single was released, Mayonaka No Door / Stay With Me. He called Kaneko Hayashi because he was known for composing powerful songs and arrangements even before writing the lyrics. However, the composer recalls that it was the first time he had to compose a melody for English words:

“We didn’t have lyrics prepared in advance, and I didn’t meet Mickey either. I heard she had experience with jazz singing, but at this point I don’t think I’ve even seen a picture of her. I was finding tunes after at least looking at a picture of the artist and hearing him sing. But for this project , my biggest memory is that I was never instructed other than to “do something in a Western style.” I think Kaneko’s idea was to give me as little information as possible up front in order to give me absolute freedom to come up with something interesting.”

Mayonaka no door It is one of three pieces of music composed by Hayashi featured on pocket garden, Matsubara’s debut album released in 1980. The song was selected among many others to become the main single on the album. “According to the instructions, I composed a melody that was adapted to the English lyrics and presented the score to Kaneko with a demo recorded on the cassette. At that time, I let the drum machine play and sing to it while I accompanied myself on the guitar. I recorded everything on cassette radio. I played semi-acoustic guitar without the use of an amplifier, and the natural resonance of the guitar body gave a dry, light tone that complemented the overall look of the song very well.”

Upon its release, the song was a huge hit, selling over 100,000 copies according to Oricon Figures, which compiles sales statistics for the Japanese music industry. But did Hayashi realize at the time that he had written something really special? “I feel that Mayonaka no door He answers: He was born from the convergence of chance and necessity. I always used to write my songs with a Western sensibility, but when I had to write the scores to bring them back, I often found myself making tweaks: adjusting the melody line to fit the voice of a ‘Japanese singer’, or perhaps leaving some elements as they are if they give a unique feel. but with MayonakaI didn’t modify anything, because the melody was designed to be sung in English. I thought it was a good song, but I don’t remember feeling more confident than usual. »

In pursuit of the ultimate groove

By Japanese standards in terms of musical composition, the song is relatively simple: two introductory stanzas followed by a chorus, a musical interlude, and a repetition of the chorus. Avoid the fourth verse or the final repetition of the chorus, which are the characteristic structures of many titles kayokyoku, heightens the western pop feel. Moreover, the combination of a more universal structure with a melody appropriate to the English lyrics is what allowed the song to enjoy worldwide fame today. The model was quickly approved without modifications by Kaneko. For Hayashi, the next task was to arrange and record a backing track for the song, while still without lyrics. For this task, a talented group of young musicians joined the composer, who would later go on to play many pop songs in the city. As Hayashi explains, this team, including drummer Hayashi Tatsu, bassist Goto Tsugutoshi, and guitarist Matsubara Masaki, played a crucial role in the song’s final score:

“Unlike classical music, we don’t write everything about pop music. He can simply give instructions regarding chord names or ‘interlude’ (musical interval). How you interpret these indications depends on each musician and their way of playing. You usually know the particular musicians you want to work with. With them on a song I wrote, and this time too, it was just about the guys I worked with a lot. As usual, I gave them the notes and they went through two or three times, trying different sounds. After a few more suggestions from me, we were ready to record. It took two or three tries. Just to get the perfect picture, and then it’s over. »

“However,” he continues, “in those days, musicians were relied on to craft an accurate and detailed tone palette and the necessary wording of the song themselves. Today you can sit alone in front of the computer and tune every aspect of the music, but at the time every track was a mixture of C’est moi qui ai eu l’idée d’un solo de sax pour l’interlude et d’un solo de guitare pour l’outro, et parce que les fade-out (baisse progressive du volume à la fin) étaient rares in the kayokyokuI think that was another element that gave the track a western feel. It’s funny now how all modern covers so accurately reproduce Masaki’s guitar phrasing and Miki’s vocals at the end, because the two improvised those parts during recording, so they could have been altered. This is something that really surprised me. »

Another possible reason why Mayonaka no door Resonated a lot with listeners abroad is the track’s rhythm: about 108 beats per minute, it’s similar to many successful American pop songs of the same period. But Hayashi insists that factor wasn’t taken into account when recording: “More than rhythm, I was focused on creating a good 16-beat groove. I wanted to see if we were able to capture the cool vibes of American soul and AOR (adult-oriented rock) style.” This desire to create something distinct from kayokyoku It also resonated with the young musicians I was working with at the time. A few months ago, I had inflicted September For Takeuchi Mariya, artists like Yûmin and Anri were already well known in the Japanese music scene. In this context I was born Mayonaka no door. »

After achieving two successive successes with September (which also sold over 100,000 copies) and Mayonaka no doorHayashi soon found himself in the spotlight as one of the most exciting songwriters.

The sound is the catalyst of success

Interestingly enough, Hayashi was unable to attend Matsubara Miki’s recording in person. What was he thinking the first time he heard the final piece? At the time, Mickey was still only 19, so I was surprised by the maturity of her voice. Everything seemed to go well, although I had the impression that she had a little problem with the last ‘to youuuuuu’ in front. But no matter how his English sounds a bit Japanese, the intro chorus is only part of the overall sound and arrangement.”

As Hayashi explains, September by Takeuchi Mariya and Mayonaka no door They were composed using different approaches, but for both tracks, the songs served as the catalyst for their massive successes. There is a comparison I do often September : the melody was so kyoo pop I hesitated to introduce it. But thanks to Maria’s voice, the song took on the character of American pop. in contrast, Mayonaka It was composed from the beginning with a Western-style melody in mind. But Mickey’s lively voices give her a cool, sophisticated feel and give her character. kyoo pop for the song. However, whether or not a track is successful depends not only on the strength of the song itself. It takes contributions from a lot of people to succeed, and each path has its own destiny. »

What does Hayashi think of the recent global success of Mayonaka no Door? “I really don’t know what to make of all this,” he admits. The fact that it reached 100 million streams is probably because we live in a time when the song is spreading fast, anyone can easily listen to it on the internet. I’m glad people like it that way, but of course that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll decide to buy it. This difference is very important. In that sense, I’m trying to stay calm about this rebirth. »

Memories of Matsubara Miki

Matsubara Miki died in 2004 of cervical cancer at the age of 44. Mayonaka no door It still represents his biggest success and the best example of his vocal talents.

However, Hayashi still regrets even today about everything they can accomplish together. “We continued to strive for success by working on many songs together. I think Mayonaka It will probably be our most successful cooperation. But if you ask me what my favorite song is, there are a number of others that I really like. I love creating touching melodies for the last verse and chorus, which worked well with Mickey’s sweet voice. But of course, as a composer, you don’t get to choose which of your songs will eventually become a standard. »

“At that time, I think I wrote songs that could have revealed his talent more. But she was anxious and took on her so much during the recordings, that I saw her cry several times. I wish I could let go of all this stress and have a good time together.”

(See also our article: And the world rediscovered the Japanese pop city)

(Title photo: 7-inch vinyl record wrap by Mayonaka No Door / Stay With Me, 1979 song sung by Matsubara Miki. © Bonnie Canyon. Photos of Hayashi Tetsuji © Takayama Hirokazu, Courtesy of Nippon.com)

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