Ryoko Moriyama spins her stories on 8-disc set marking 55th debut anniversary

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ryoko Moriyama speaks during an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Singer Ryoko Moriyama has released an eight-CD album titled “My Story” to commemorate the 55th anniversary of her debut. The album showcases her clear voice and musical stylings, and contains thoughts of her loved ones, the skills of the talented people with whom she has interacted as well as local and international pop music history.

The album comprises 159 songs, including her 62 singles, many of which are considered valuable sound sources. Two songs from an unreleased album composed entirely by French film music master Francis Lai and recorded in Paris in 1983, with Japanese lyrics written by Yu Aku and another, are released for the first time.

Apparently, the reason for the album not being released after it was recorded was because of a mistake by Moriyama’s staff. Moriyama liked Michel Legrand, another famous French composer, but her staff misunderstood and asked Lai to do it, which led her to have no choice but to do the record. However, “I couldn’t lie about my feelings for Legrand, so I couldn’t release it,” she said.

Her wish to work with Legrand eventually came to fruition, and in 1996, Moriyama performed with him. The live recording in the United States is also included on the new album.

In 1967, Moriyama made her debut with her composition “Kono Hiroi Nohara Ippai” (Spreading over this vast field). And although she is well known for her folk-like songs and popular song style that is featured on such tracks as “Kinjirareta Koi” (Forbidden love, 1969) and “Satokibibatake” (Sugarcane field, 1969, rerecorded in 1997), a song about Okinawa, she originally wanted to sing jazz and Western music.

“I wanted to be on stage every day like my father, a trumpet player,” she said.

The director in charge at the time allowed her to sing a wide range of songs, which included musicals, hymns and lullabies. She also smoothly handled English lyrics from the outset.

In the 1970s, she received songs from a number of artists, including Takuro Yoshida and Yumi Matsutoya. The album “Hizukenonai Calendar” (A calendar without dates, 1976), for which Takashi Matsumoto wrote all the lyrics, holds a strong place in her heart.

“I felt comfortable sharing a sense of the times with Matsumoto,” she said.

At the time of production, she was pregnant with her first son Naotaro, who is also a singer, and the jacket was illustrated by Nobuhiko Yabuki. Later, Naotaro also asked Yabuki to illustrate the jackets for his own works.

Moriyama fondly remembers those whom she says she owes a lot. About lyricist Keisuke Yamakawa, she said, “He understood my slightly offbeat personality and helped me come out of my shell.” And when she asked arranger Norio Maeda for a playful song, he provided her with a scat arrangement of “When the Saints Go Marching in.” There was also Gordon Jenkins, an American arranger who she said warmly encouraged her and brought out the best in her. “I am so grateful to have had the chance to meet them and to still be able to sing today,” she said.

Moriyama also sings in the unit LA DIVA with Ayaka Hirahara and others, and appears in commercials and dramas.

“There was a long period of time when my songs were not needed and I had a difficult time,” she said. “But if you keep at it, the times will come around again. That gives me courage.”