Over the course of a three decade career, Akina Nakamori has released countless albums, singles, and covers. As someone with such illustrious accolades and reputation, knowing where to begin listening can be...difficult. Akina is most famous for her 80's music, but she also had a steady career in the 90s and other songs just as good after the turn of the millennium.
I've been a huge fan of Akina's for well over a few years now - she was essentially my gateway drug into J-pop before 1990, and if you've been keeping up with my other hubs, you know I have quite the dedication to the era. While I can't mind-read what you may be looking for in an artist's music, I like to think I've got a nice array of music for you to sample below. So plug in your headphones and get ready to try the best of the best of Akina Nakamori.
#1 - Nanpasen (難破船)
The one song I have to say "defines" Akina is a big hit, but not the one most people point to. (Although those do show up below.) "Nanpasen", or, "Shipwreck", is a slow, sad ballad full of pain and emotional torture. It came out a couple years before Akina's tragic suicide attempt and shows the beginning reflections of her failing relationship at the time. There isn't a performance of this song that isn't backed by a heavy heart that has felt the plummet of desperation. With some of the heaviest lyrics to ever make their way into J-pop, "Nanpasen" is a song that sticks with you. But it wouldn't be quite as powerful if it weren't for Akina's deep, mournful vocals and mature air. I believe this is one of those songs that could never be sung as well as the "original" does it.
#2 - Kazari Jyanai no yo Namida wa (飾りじゃないのよ涙は)
Our next song is also the oldest on this list. "Kazari Jyanai" is an upbeat tune that shows off some of Akina's mad training and general "skills". Originally she wasn't keen on singing this song, let alone as a single, because of the speed and difficulty of the chorus, But as you can tell from the lives of this song, Akina's nailed it. And as one of the catchiest songs in her discography, it isn't any wonder how it became a big hit in the mid 80s. I like to dare people to listen to this song and then NOT get it stuck in their heads, let alone not attempt singing it themselves. (I myself have become pretty pro at singing the first line of the chorus - the title - but the rest still eludes me.)
#3 - Aibu (愛撫)
Sometimes the biggest hits aren't always the ones that were ever singles. That's the case of "Aibu", Akina's first collaboration with then-risiing production superstar Tetsuya Komuro. Although never a single, "Aibu" was a radio and performance hit nonetheless, and considered one of Akina's definitive songs of the 90s. Its powerful melody and arrangement are hard to contend with even within Akina's discography. Dare you to listen to it and then not belt out in your shower, "TOUCH ME, TOUCH ME, TOUCH ME THROUGH THE NIGHT!" Or, maybe that's just me.
#4 - Kisei ~Never Forget~ (帰省～never forget～)
Whether it's singing the sultry ballads or belting out a high-tempo vocal fest, Akina doubtless has some of the best vocals in the history of...ever. (This is brand new information!) But I swear there is almost no song better for an example of these fantastic vocals than in "Kisei", a heartfelt mid-tempo ballad with enough passion to fuel a small family home for a day. If the verses aren't hypnotic enough, then the emergence of the heart-pounding chorus should reel you right in. Compiled with the dark and outstanding video, and "Kisei" gives me legit chills every time I listen to it.
#5 - TANGO NOIR
(Apparently, lots of good stuff came out in '87, and not just me~). "TANGO NOIR" takes everything great about classic Akina - deep vocals and dark dance - and fuses it perfectly together to create an entrancing experience. Something about "TANGO NOIR" is just beyond romantic and seductive. Also, pretty sure this song makes me want to actually learn the tango. Never gonna happen, but Akina is allowed to make me dream once in a while.
#6 - TATTOO
Due to being the very first Akina song I ever heard (by her, anyway), "TATTOO" is one of my top favorites. It's' sexy, it's dancey, and it makes other songs of that year quiver in fear from the power of "Akina". Let's put it this way: if this sizzling song could make me sit up and go "Wow!" and not only take a chance on Akina, but all of classic J-pop, then it's something incredibly special, indeed. I suggest clearing the space around you before listening to this song, because odds are you'll want to jump in and start shaking various body parts. (And on another note, I love Akina's whole look for this promotional period. The guys in black with saxes can run along, though. But those giant ball earrings!)
#7 - DIVA
For those who said Akina was "finished" at the turn of the millennium, I ask them to listen to her 2009 album, "DIVA", which is a foray into sexy electro-inspired beats and some of her best RnB yet. In the titular song (and re-cut single), Akina reasserts her power in the music world and declares that she's the "return of DIVA". Yes, Akina, between the hot guitar sample/hook and your raspy vocals, we know you're the one and true "diva". The only travesty was that there was no video filmed for this song.
#8 - DESIRE ~Jyounetsu~ (DESIRE-情熱-)
If you ask around what was Akina's "biggest hit" of her career, this song and one other (appearing later) turn up in most lists. "Desire" was sort of a big deal back in '86, to the point it even won the prestigious Grand Prix award. As it stands, it's also become one of Akina's most covered songs. Even my 20-something Japanese friends who almost know nothing about J-pop before 1995 know this song, most specifically the iconic line "GET UP! GET UP! GET UP! BURNING LOVE!" Again, this song is propelled by Akina's vocals. Which means that while it's been extensively covered in recent years, Akina is still the one who does it the best.
#9 - I MISSED "THE SHOCK"
(Apparently, 1988 was also a good year.) Unlike the other late 80s songs on this list, "I MISSED "THE SHOCK"" is relatively mellow, not quite upbeat, not really a ballad. Instead it's just another juicy dark song that makes this list based purely on my own bias. I feel like this song almost gets not love - or at least, not enough love. Probably because it was one of the last singles before Akina disappeared after her incident, so people tend to skip right from "Nanpasen" to "LIAR", the song that closed out the 80s. So, do me a favor and listen to this song and give it some love!
#10 - Mi Amore (ミ・アモーレ)
Our last song is also probably the only song that could possibly rival "DESIRE" as Akina's biggest hit song. When it came out, it hit the charts hard, and soon everyone was singing this song. The Latin flavor of the song hadn't been heard quite like this before, and coupled with sultry lyrics and the usual vocals, Japan was in love. It also won Akina's first big-big award at the Grand Prix. As for my feelings on it, I like it, it's damn catchy, but it's not at the top of my favorite Akina songs. So why is it here? Because nostalgia is one of the most powerful things of all.
Robert E Smith from Rochester, New York on May 19, 2015:
Americans tend to be snobs. I hate to say this because I am an American. I see this all the time. There is no tolerance for any music type that clearly is outside of this country in origin. I have made many friends around the world and they have made me aware that music, lyrics, singing are not limited by national, cultural or language borders. I have been introduced to many different musicians and singers from everywhere on the globe. I would say my favorite Japanese singing star is Gloria Yip. So very beautiful singing. I have no idea what she is saying but it makes no difference. It makes me feel something good inside like no artist in America does. And there are more artists that are in that category. My attitude has changed in the last 6 years regarding humanity and artistry. There is no difference between humans anywhere on this earth. It is just a matter of finding the similarities and learning to "love your neighbor more than yourself." Thank you for sharing the article. The videos did not work but I still voted up. Bob Smith.
On on May 29, 2014:
Thanks for this great article. I agree with most of your choices. I will add that her covered songs are pretty amazing, too. I was so thrilled when I watched the DVD for the "Parco Theatre Live 1994" and the most recent Yokohama live 2009. Her performance on 私は風 and I love you were simply out of this world
bode1967 on July 07, 2012:
Oh, Akina's EAST LIVE concert is incredible. Althought it was a difficult period of her life, Akina's voice was, in my opinion, at her best. Unfortunately, I've never seen all of her released concerts, because most of them are now out of print. I just have EAST LIVE and felicidad.
About I MISSED "THE SHOCK", I've seen some discussions in a brazilian forum as well. A long time fan said that, at the time of its release, he couldn't understand why BILITIS wasn't the A-side. Althought BILITIS is a great track, I MISSED "THE SHOCK" has, in my opinion, more A-side qualities. Talking about BILITIS, I don't know why but I prefer the studio recording than the live performances in Yoru no Hit Studio and Music Station. Indeed, that's very rare in Akina's case, haha.
hildred (author) from Oregon, USA on July 07, 2012:
Yes, I saw a discussion on last.fm recently about people randomly talking about I MISSED "THE SHOCK" and it seemed pretty split - people going "what?" and others saying "oh I remember that song!" And I agree that those other songs you listed are great, it's just I have a bias for the late 80's music, heh. I have Akina's EAST LIVE CD, but I've never seen the concert itself. I should probably track that down sometime. And thanks for your continued support!
bode1967 on July 07, 2012:
Great list, as usual. I can tell that i feel the same of you about I MISSED "THE SHOCK". Even on Akina's concerts (that were released as home videos), she rarely sings it (i can only remember "EAST LIVE INDEX" and "It's a brand new day 2oth anniversary"). I love Aibu, Kisei ~Never Forget~ and Kazari Jyanai no yo Namida wa (probably the one i like the most). Other songs from her that i like a lot is SOUTHERN WIND (that don't get enough love either), Shoujo A, and JYUKKAI (1984). I have to stop now, because i could stay writing about my love for Akina until... forever. After reading your list, i must watch Akina's EAST LIVE concert. Thanks for the fun, and i'll keep reading your hubs, because they're great.