I was first introduced to the Blue Hearts in a Japanese tv drama (Sekai no chuusin de, ai wo sakebu, or otherwise known as Crying out love, In the Center of the World). While overwrought with melodrama at times, the show had amazing cinematography and a fantastic soundtrack that elevate the show above mere teen idol melodrama. The Blue Hearts’ Linda Linda was used in a scene, where Haruka Ayase’s character gave up her last chance at participating in a running competition to help her friend pursue a love interest, who was leaving town. It ended on a sad note, as most every other episode did, but ever since then, the song was pretty much etched in my mind.
However, it wasn’t until 2005’s Linda Linda Linda that I understood the coolness that was the Blue Hearts. The movie itself was fantastically laid back and aloof, and was essentially about a couple of friends practicing the Blue Hearts’ back catalogue to perform at a school festival. There was a strangely realistic dream sequence in the middle of the movie, but the band devoting time and energy to practice the Blue Hearts was pretty much the crux of the movie. It may be weird to have such a threadbare theme, but this straightforward and no-bullshit approach very much epitomizes the attitudes and relevance of the Blue Hearts.
One problem about the rock or indie scene in Asia is that aside from the occasional wiki entry (for the lucky ones), indie and rock bands in general are often poorly documented. Take the Blue Hearts, for example. A seminal punk rock band from the 80s, often described as Japan’s answer to the Clash. Yet even avowed indie fans will be hard-pressed to know who they are. Coverage of regional music is lackluster at best, but that is an issue for another day.
The Blue Hearts were Hiroto Komoto (vocals), Masatoshi Mashima (guitarist), Junnosuke Kawaguchi (bassist) and Tetsuya Kajiwara (drummer). While they formed in 1985, it was not until the release of 1987’s Linda Linda that the Blue Hearts were propelled to widespread popularity in Japan. Linda Linda was the single that had an immediate appeal, while epitomising the charms of the Blue Hearts. Komoto’s gruff desperate vocals were a compelling juxtapose against the perfect pop of a song that is essentially about self-loathing. And seriously, who didn’t love the “Linda Linda” refrain? Both MxPX and Andrew WK cover the song, but truthfully, neither versions were able to touch the original.
Many of the band’s early albums feature immediate catchy tunes (Owaranai Uta, Train-Train, Boku no Migite) that speak to the disenfranchised youth. Listening to those early tunes would remind any true blue indie music fan why they love in the first place, because these songs cut through the bullshit and speak to their hearts. Any socially awkward youth born in the 70s/80s would likely relate to the protagonist of Owaranai Uta, who love and fear life’s challenges at the same time. As the band grew older, their songs became more poetic and music arrangements more adventurous. By the time High Kicks was released in 1991, a song like Too Much Pain was no longer an anomaly for the Blue Hearts. Featuring a heartrending harmonica intro, the piano-driven ballad was likely to be influenced by Born to Run – era Springsteen.
The Blue Hearts had about a decade of success before they broke up in 1995. With eight studio albums under their belt and a handful of tribute albums, and covered by artists as wide ranging as Puffy, Andrew WK and MxPX, The Blue Hearts is probably the most beloved band you have never heard of.