Masaaki Hirao

Nippon Rock 'n' Roll: The Birth of Japanese Rokabirii

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He was called the Japanese Elvis and, unlike some who bore such a title, Masaaki Hirao actually recorded somewhat close to the peak of Presley. While Hirao recorded between 1958 and 1960, perhaps giving birth to a Japanese rock & roll scene that remained enraptured with rockabilly well into the new millennium, he actually made a valiant effort to make moody rock & roll that could possibly hold its own with its American forefather. Ace's 2013 collection Nippon Rock 'n' Roll pairs studio work with live cuts, and it's a fascinating listen as the music certainly gets within the ballpark of American rock & roll -- the band jives and wails, while Hirao croons and caterwauls, taking pains to mimic his idols but never quite sounding as if he was outright stealing. Perhaps the language barrier made a difference: apart from "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," he took the pains to translate lyrics, so his versions of classic rockers "Jailhouse Rock," "Lucille," "Sittin' in the Balcony," and "Jenny Jenny" are suitably different enough where he can stamp them with his own personality. That's important, but it's also notable that his backing band didn't sound too concerned with making their marks; they were happy to swing and rock, so this has air and groove, something that is particularly evident on the live material, which also benefits from a worshipful audience. Some of the original songs dip into a cinematic melodrama that fits Hirao's American pastiche, but the whole thing is a surprise: it's not a novelty, but a credible refraction of early rock & roll through an Eastern lens.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:10
2 3:26
3 3:15
4 2:32
5 1:47
6 1:51
7 2:22
8 2:01
9 2:37
10 2:53
11 2:19
12 2:54
13 3:05
14 2:44
15 3:27
16 3:06
17 3:21
18 3:27
19 3:18
20 4:02
21 3:05
22 3:11
23 2:46
blue highlight denotes track pick