Happy Aloha~♥ Friday!!
(Please note: Tonight’s way back Unzipped♥ post will be covering Speed only up till their earlier years before their most recent re-grouping in August of 2008, for those newer releases please search this site under the tag: speed in the search box atop; right.)
First, to say that this post holds a special personal meaning to me would be an gross understatement. Being able to experience in real time the rapid ascent of Speed to the very pinnacle of the J~pop world was both memorable and unprecedented in its time.
SPEED are Shimabukuro Hiroko, Imai Eriko, Uehara
Takako, and Arakaki Hitoe…
…all of whom are from Okinawa and what they came to represent is one of the most successful female groups to ever exist in the history of Japan. The numbers don’t lie and SPEED up till the ascent of AKB48 had remained as Japan’s best selling female group of all time a mark which at the time seemed not likely to be topped anytime soon. Another monstrous figure to consider is that in the history of Japan no other artist or group was yet to match SPEED’s incredible stat of having every single they released prior to their initial breakup top the 580,000 sales mark. And to add to that every one of their albums have topped the half million mark in sales as well. And with just an average age of 14 in the group SPEED would eventually go on to selling out domes in Japan on a regular basis…a really truly staggering statistic no matter how one looks at it. So we are not speaking of your average J-Pop group by any means as you will hear in this post…now two days in the writing. Is SPEED firmly cemented as being one of the most popular female groups in Japan’s history?…the answer lies ahead.
~Speed “Kimi to mata aeru hi wo” mp3~
If you click play above what you are now listening to is the culmination of a groups’ evolution…and also one of my favorite SPEED songs ever (reminds me of Michael McDonald and perhaps you can detect why 🙂 )…hopefully “Kimi to mata aeru hiwo” will entertain until you reach the next track in this post. If you’re willing to read & listen through this entire post I assure you that it will be well worth your time, for to cover a group as successful as SPEED one must be thorough in their history and development into becoming a very notable landmark in J-Pop history. SPEED is one of a few J-Pop groups which I’ve had the immeasurable pleasure of watching grown since their very debut and up until their eventual break up. SPEED first caught my eye in a new release bulletin catalog from Toy’s Factory and it became of of my most rewarding “blind” purchases…you may have heard of the other notable “blind” purchase Morning Musume. 🙂 With just a brief article and order sheet I decided to order SPEED’s debut single “Body & Soul” and little did I know but at that very instant I was inviting into my J-Pop world what would become a group of such immense success and popularity that to this day it boggles the mine in the truest sense. The debut of SPEED took place in August of 1996 and their rise to stardom and immense popularity was nothing short of meteoric. But perhaps what’s most astonishing about SPEED is that they were only “originally” together for a total of 1335 days.
~My Speed single collection complete (the original years)~
(note: all Speed releases released after August 2008 marking their latter reunions aren’t included here….for those newer releases search this site under tag: speed.)
SPEED would release a total of 14 singles, 11 of which were released in the groups’ original time together while the last three singles were released over a following span of about 2 years after the group originally parted ways in late ’99.
SPEED was the product of writer/producer Ijichi Hiromasa who was with the group from their debut and throughout their entire career and he would also return after SPEED’s break up in ’99 when they formed together twice to release multiple albums and singles. And like several other groups at the time, SPEED was built around the formula of having two main vocalists while the other two members acted as back singers & dancers and it was this formula that saw the distinct difference in Hiroko and Eriko’s vocal styles blending together to form one of J-Pop’s most potent duos of the time. Hiroko’s incredibly high range was complimented well by Eriko’s deeper and grounding vocals creating also quite a daring karaoke catalog for anyone willing to try. An appropriate way of describing SPEED’s vocals would be to call them “aggressive” and as you will hear in the following tracks and pvs it’s a sound that became synonymous with them in an almost trademark fashion. All four are accomplished dancers in their own right as styles of hip hop, pop, and r&b were the backbones for most of their dance choreography. But truly what SPEED benefited from was great songwriting which stayed with them through the groups’ duration. And with all of the pieces fitting in place…
…Ijichi Hiromasa’s creation would soar to new heights for an all female group of the genre as SPEED would regularly perform at the largest arenas and venues all around Japan selling them out. (LOL it took me forever to put together that SPEED puzzle!…I truly suck at puzzles!! :P) Album and single sales were record setting as well and in a time before the internet had yet to dampen music sales worldwide SPEED flexed their musical muscles with an assault on the Oricon charts as well as the overall numbers. SPEED’s debut album “Starting Over would sell in excess of 2 million copies and debut at number 1 on the Oricon charts. Groups of this form weren’t usually suited to what would then be known as SPEED’s “Dome Tour” but their ever growing immense fan base supported such an approach and thinking as SPEED would sell out large venue after large venue setting a new level of standard for J-Pop female groups of this nature. The late 80’s into the mid 90’s would see a boom in female idol groups and to make certain, SPEED wasn’t created with this genre in mind but rather a “performance” machine of sorts that would appeal to both genders and what became evident especially when viewing their live performances was that their fan base was consisting of a rather equality between both the male and female fan. Note in the photo above that there are two copies of SPEED’s first and second albums…two of which are the original Japanese first press releases which came with special packaging and booklets while the other two versions are Taiwanese special releases which when both purchased gives the fan the complete set of pieces needed to complete the SPEED puzzle (also pictured above in the two shots). SPEED released 10 albums…
…including three compilations, a soundtrack, and two live albums over their career and with three gatherings of the group over the years a distinct change and growth of style and sound can be heard when hearing their catalog, most of it occurring towards the latter part of their releases.
SPEED’s fourth album, “Moment”, was the first of their collection releases and with it came a bonus Christmas version of their mega hit “White Love” and special packaging which includes a “flower petal” open design as well as sturdy printed slip case (centered above).
SPEED’s first hiatus from the music industry would occur after the release of their fifth album titled “Carry on my way” (pictured above) on December 22nd 1999 and by this point the group had already seen solo works being released by first…
..Uehara Takako (pictured above) in March of ’99 and later…
..Shimabukuro Hiroko (pictured above), (solo works under: “Hiro”) in August of the same year.
Imai Eriko’s first solo release would occur in June of 2001 just six months before the first re-grouping of SPEED. Happily I had just found her pv collection DVD on eBay from a seller in Japan….most of their releases are quite difficult to come by and I’ve been missing this release of Eriko’s for years and kind of had given up on ever acquiring it. ^-^
SPEED’s visual collection includes four concert DVDs including their Tokyo Dome and Dome Tour appearances (I’m missing their “Save the children live 2003 DVD concert) and two pv collections. Their two pv VHS collections were eventually re-released on DVD in separate editions but happily later they were merged together into a single DVD release (pictured bottom right). So SPEED represents yet another J-Pop collection of mine which includes multiple copies of the same release as some of these just weren’t manufactured on DVD at the time of their original release but later were given the honors of an upgrade in format.
T.V. dramas would also play a part in the careers of the members of SPEED and in December of 1998 a grandly produced box set for their feature film “Andromedia” was released. Well known director Takashi Miike helmed the project and these sets were serial numbered in a limited production and sold for a whopping 15,800 yen!
The set includes an oversized all color booklet, the feature film on one VHS with extras included on a second VHS for a total of approximately 130 minutes of running time. “Andromedia” was also later released domestically in Japan and overseas in the U.S. on DVD (U.S. domestic DVD release two photos above, right). The film starred all four members of SPEED.
SPEED also released a few shashinshuu and here I have just two of them photographed above along with commemorative leather band, photo, and two “dance” booklets. Those two mini rectangularly shaped booklets (top, left) were promos given to customers who purchased their best of album “Moment” and feature “moving” dancing images of SPEED when the pages are fanned through from front to back (both booklets were featured in a previous Idols Unzipped♥ posting here). Everyone’s probably at one time or another doodled in a notebook with stick figures in a “frame by frame” way creating “moving” images when the pages are flipped through…hmmm probably back during your school days? as these promo booklets are designed just like that. 🙂
~Speed “Body & Soul” (music video)~
SPEED’s debut single was released on August 6th, 1996 and featured the title track “Body & Soul” as well as the coupling with song “I Remember.” “Body & Soul” would go on to sell over 638,000 copies and spent over a year on the Oricon charts (just imagine that happening today…:O) making it the group’s longest charting single in their history. But the sales would only skyrocket from there.
~Speed “I Remember” mp3~
Over the years the image of the group would transition through numerous changes and here with their debut SPEED seemed to emulate that of an “idol” group in a sense but that image would soon be shattered by the pv’s appearance as well as their r&b funked up sound. I’ve chosen to upload either an mp3 or music video for the songs that I’m featuring here and astonishingly the bulk of SPEED’s discography is now out of print with just a few scattered releases still being available.
SPEED’s third single release “Go! Go! Heaven” was released on March 26th, 1997 and here a more rock oriented pop sound was incorporated into their style.
~Speed “Go! Go! Heaven” (music video)~
SPEED’s 4th single “Wake Me Up!” was released on August 6th,1997 and here a bit of Caribbean inspired funk can be heard in its arrangement. This song was released with an alternate version one of which included the “Good Morning!” line heard after the middle break while the other version is absent of it….I do prefer the inclusion of that cute “Good Morning!” ^-^ “Wake Me UP!” was entirely shot in the Philippines and an event there sold an initial 671,000 copies.
~Speed “Wake Me Up!” (music video)~
SPEED’s fifth single release remains as one of their most popular as “White Love” enjoyed an incredible spike in sales reaching 1.85 million in sales! SPEED’s landmark single was released on October 15th, 1997.”White Love” would see a newly recorded “acoustic” version in late 2001 when the group first reunited as it served as the b-side to their single “One More Dream.”
~Speed “White Love” (music video)~
One of my favorite SPEED singles!…”My Graduation” was released on February 18th, 1998. Like “White Love”, “My Graduation” is formulated with more of a straight forward J-Pop feel and it has one of the most infectious melodies you’ll ever find. What starts off as sounding like a ballad soon grows into a energetically driven tune with all the melodic hooks necessary. From first hand experience I’ve seen SPEED’s “My Graduation” become the song of choice for graduates here in Hawaii as well and with its timely release it was set up to be so perfect for the occasion. “My Graduation” went on to sell 1.47 million copies.
~Speed “my graduation” (music video)~
The release of SPEED’s 7th single “ALIVE” would coincide with the release of their feature film “Andromedia” for which it served as the theme song. “ALIVE” was released on July 1st, 1998 and a month later on August 5th, 1998 the soundtrack for “Andromedia” was released and it features various “ALIVE” instrumental themes, original version, music box version, as well as guest artist The Pump. “ALIVE” went on to sell 967,000 copies.
~Speed “ALIVE” (music video)~
“ALIVE” is a beautifully composed mid tempo pop song and its one of the groups’ more emotionally charged releases with its heartfelt lyrics and moving melody which builds and climaxes richly during its chorus portions. And like all of SPEED’s singles released since their inception, “ALIVE” garnered great success on the charts and with amazing sales totals soaring even higher with its movie theme tie in.
~Speed “ALL MY TRUE LOVE” (music video)~
The early signs of the split up of SPEED that was forthcoming could possibly be traced back to the release of their 8th single “ALL MY TRUE LOVE” and with groups formed with the nature of having “lead” vocalist’s along with those in a “backup” capacity as history tells us eventually the want or need for equality within the group can push a group to disband. And while this was never publicized with the eventual break up of SPEED one can speculate its possible role here. “ALL MY TRUE LOVE” featured two tracks which acted as solo vehicles for Hiroko with “Mitsumete itai” and Eriko with the track “Tsumetakushinaide.” The accompanying pv for “ALL MY TRUE LOVE” was shot on location in Arizona’s Grand Canyon and the single went on to sell 1.22 million copies topping the Oricon charts once again.
With the group in full bloom SPEED then did something quite unexpected…they each walked away from a unison which had become one of J-Pop’s all time most successful girl groups and it occurred with the group at the top of their game with high success coming with each following release.
SPEED’S final single “Long Way Home” would be released on November 3rd, 1999 and it marked just their 11th single release in a history which had seen record sales figures and sold out stadiums across Japan but as history tells us, even in sports, the great ones can find it difficult to stay away for long. SPEED’s then “final” album was released just a month later on December 22nd…fittingly titled “Carry on my way.” “Long Way Home” would interestingly for all you fellow Johnny’s fans out there be held out of the top position on the Oricon charts by none other than the debut of Arashi! Talk about a small J-Pop world!! “Long Way Home” would still sell an impressive 613,000 copies. Their then final album would go on to reach sales of 880,000 copies.
On March 29th, 2000 SPEED would release two memorial best compilations titled “Dear Friends” and for SPEED fans who collected both releases the award of 5 new tracks were included as incentive and as a “thank you” to fans everywhere who supported them over their historic run. I’m still yet to get the virtual images of the members of SPEED to appear on my pc screen though as it’s a noted CD extra on these releases. 😛
~SPEED “April-Theme of “Dear Friends”-” (music video)~
The new track “April-theme of “Dear Friends”-” served as the theme song for SPEED’s farewell and with it a beautifully shot pv was created. The message in the lyrics as well as on screen was one of gratitude, covering the time the group had spent together shot in nostalgia, and one of good-byes. Not too often does a group have a song this specifically aimed at this momentous and emotional point of their final history and here the emotionally charged with poignant lyrics “April-Theme of “Dear Friends”-” remains as a nicely written representative of all that SPEED entailed over the years.
~Speed “One More Dream~negai~” mp3~
However just a little under two years later SPEED would resurface with their 12th single release which saw its proceeds donated to Unicef for earthquake disaster relief. I’ll never forget the day that I walked into a local Japanese bookseller here and saw their single “One More Dream” sitting on an end cap shelf! I thought I was misreading the group’s name or having a daydream for that instant…SPEED was back?!!
“One More Dream” would boast a more band oriented arrangement and the sound of the title track which was recorded with two versions with subtle differences in them has a sort of session feel to it as the cover art suggests (the “negai” version is uploaded above). “White Love” would also enjoy an all new recording which has a wonderfully different acoustic arrangement and feel to it. “One More Dream” was released on December 12th, 2001. An additional album titled “Memorial Live One More Dream + Remix” was subsequently released and up until just a few years ago it was a title that has eluded me…but just like Eriko’s pv DVD collection I also found a copy of this album still sealed on eBay auctions.
~Speed “Be My Love” mp3~
But SPEED would once again disappear as quickly as their return but just a little over a year and a half later SPEED would release their second to their last single titled “Be My Love” which is a gospel inspired track. August 27th, 2003 marked yet another final reunion (and since then Speed has regrouped once again with numerous releases including lives, singles and albums which are posted here separately) and with it two more single releases, a new original studio album, and a “Save the children live 2003” release which saw both album and DVDs releases put out in an effort for this special cause by Unicef. “Be My Love” brought the members of SPEED back to the same church location used for their “Go! Go! Heaven” pv shoot in New York many years prior.
~Speed “Stars to shine again” mp3~
And what had become to appear (however isn’t) as SPEED’s actual final single sported a double a-side with the songs “Walking in the rain” and “Stars to shine again” which was released on November 27th, 2003 and its release date would fittingly coincide with their final album titled “Bridge.” Here is “Stars to shine again” which was co-written by Tommy February6’s Kawase Tomoko. “Walking in the rain” was produced by The Gospellers.
“Bridge” would serve as a well conceived swan song for one of J-Pop’s most notable groups and with it a farewell from Hiroko, Eriko,…
…Takako, and Hitoe. Although time would prove once again that Speed is meant to be together (Latter releases outside of this post can be located by searching “Speed” in site search box atop right on blog.)
SPEED’s then ‘final’ album bridge represents something quite unique and special in all of J-pop as special guest songwriters fill this albums’ track listing including such notables as Tommy February6, Hello! Project’s very own Tsunku!, Chara, The Gospellers and numerous others! Like a gathering of special artists paying tribute to SPEED as a final send off and all proceeds from the sale so this album went directly to “Save the Children” campaign. 🙂
As aforementioned all four members of SPEED would go onto solo careers with their solo work often coinciding with SPEED releases while the group was still active at various points throughout these ventures. Uehara Takako went on to be produced by ex Luna Sea lead singer (then, as Luna Sea has since regrouped also) and songwriter Kawamura Ryuichi with his brand of pop while Hiro and Eriko also went on to have successful solo careers. Hitoe would releases a solo album of her own but hers as well as Eriko’s have been on hold in recent years although Eriko would eventually begin to release new music again till this day. Takako’s debut single went on to sell 530,000 copies reaching #1 on the Oricon chart and to my great delight its pv was shot in Hawaii! Delving into their solo works surely should be explored but I feel that those should be saved for another day in the future…
To close this SPEED post I’d like to include just a peek into their live performances from the original times of Speed from yesteryear as I’ve chosen six to include here starting with a great rendition of their mega hit “White Love.” SPEED like so many groups of the decade always traveled with a live band for their concert tours and live appearances. If only more groups would employ the same effort and dedication into their shows today. (note: Speed has released recent live performances since these performances and as aforementioned Speed did regroup again since with many of those releases being featured here in other posts which can be located by searching “speed” in the site’s search box atop; right, in addition solo works also continue with both Hiro and Eriko continuing to release new music to this day.)
~SPEED “White Love” live at Tokyo Dome~
~Speed “Body & Soul” (First Live at Odaiba)~
~Speed “Starting Over” (First Live at Odaiba)~
~SPEED “ALIVE” live at Tokyo Dome~
~SPEED “ALL MY TRUE LOVE” live at Tokyo Dome~
And lastly a beautiful performance of SPEED’s debut single’s b-side “I REMEMBER”…
~SPEED “I REMEMBER” live at Odaiba~
…this from their first live event at Odaiba. And through the groups numerous disbandments and encores which fill their history even till just recently, if there’s one thing that I’m certain of…it is that if a day in the future arrives in which SPEED decides to grace the J-Pop landscape once again with their unique brand of pop…surely they’ll be capable and the sea of fans will still be awaiting their revival as we always have.
And now a last look at the groups incredible sales history from yesteryear:
“Body & Soul”
August 5th, 1996/ sales: 638,000
November 18th, 1996/ sales: 1,279,000
March 26th, 1997/ sales: 665,000
“Wake Me Up!”
August 6th, 1997/ sales: 671,000
October 15th, 1997/ sales: 1,845,000
February 18th, 1998/ sales: 1,475,000
July 1st, 1998/ sales: 965,000
“ALL MY TRUE LOVE”
October 28th, 1998/ sales: 1,221,000
February 17th, 1999/ sales: 623,000
“Breakin’ out to The Morning”
May 19th, 1999/ sales: 582,000
“Long Way Home”
November 3rd, 1999/ sales: 613,000
“ONE MORE DREAM”
December 12th, 2001/ sales: 136,000
“Be My Love”
August 27th, 2003/ sales: 126,000
“Walking in the rain”
November 27th, 2003/ sales: 29,000
May 21st, 1997/ sales: 1,926,000
April 29th, 1998/ sales: 2,048,000
December 16th, 1998/ sales: 2,319,000
Carry On my way
December 22nd, 1999/ sales: 880,000
Dear Friends 1 (Compilation)
March 29th, 2000/ sales: 506,000
Dear Friends 2 (Compilation)
March 29th, 2000/ sales: 522,000
One More Dream + Remix!!! (Concert Live Recording Album)
December 19th, 2001/ sales: 84,000
November 27th, 2003/ sales: 98,000
Best Hits Live ~ Save the Children SPEED LIVE 2003 (Concert Live Recording Album)
February 25th, 2004/ sales: 19,000
While most of SPEED’s discography is now out of print here’s a link to what is still available at CdJapan although many titles under this search bring up various other releases not related to the group.
(Please note: this article has covered Speed only up till their earlier years which are being highlighted here before their most recent re-grouping in August of 2008, therefore SPEED’s most recent releases aren’t included in this post….for those newer releases please search this site under the tag: speed in the search box atop; right.)