City Pop is a sub-genre of J-Pop (Japanese Pop), but it’s more specific with a soulful element and influences from West Coast pop and soft rock, starting in the mid-’70s with the first groups formed by Tatsuro Yamashita and Haruomi Hosono. City Pop is really AOR and soft rock but with some funk and boogie too. Because when you hear funkier City Pop tunes, you hear not only the influence, but in some parts they steal from groups like Skyy, BB&Q Band, and those kinda American boogie and funk groups.
The first thing I got into was Tatsuro Yamashita that I got from Carlinhos’s store in São Paulo, Disco 7. I was expecting a Japanese jazz album. I was heavily collecting Japanese jazz at this time in the early 2000s. I liked it a lot—the songwriting. I started to buy these kind of albums from some of the dealers from whom I used buy Japanese jazz and things. Hajimi Yamada and Kenichi Ozaki, these two guys, they’re my City Pop teachers, and these books: Japanese City Pop, Disc Collection: Japanese City Pop, Light Mellow Special, and one with a title in Japanese just focusing on female musicians of City Pop.
Songs selection and sequencing by Ed Motta
Mixed by Allen Thayer & Morgan Hynson
Song notes by Ed Motta:
1. Char – かげろう (1976)
Japan’s guitar hero, and his first album with a strong soul influence.
2. Buzz – “Garasu-Mado” (1974)
A lovely reggae feel here and kinda Donovan-style vibrato.
3. Chu Kosaka – “Ryusei Toshi” (1975)
Great songwriter, and this is his album with Haruomi Hosono, who later joined Yellow Magic Orchestra.
4. Haruko Kuwana – “Akogareno Sundown” (1978)
Produced by the Hawaiian artist Mackey Feary with his typical bass synth sound.
5. Yoshino Fujimal – “Who Are You?” (1982)
One of the best City Pop albums—very much influenced by the genre’s king Tatsuro Yamashita.
6. Hitomi “Penny” Tohyama – “Love Is the Competition” (1983)
Reminds me Leon Sylvers III productions for Solar label, like Whispers, Dynasty, or Lakeside.
7. Yasuhiro Abe – “Irene” (1984)
My favorite song on this mix, a classic AOR shuffle in a Donald Fagen/Ivan Lins vein.
8. Hi-Fi Set – “Two in the Party” (1979)
Great synth and clavinet sounds and the track’s treatment is so sweet.
9. Junko Ohashi – “Telephone Number” (1984)
An example of the City Pop sound excellence, always very well recorded and arranged: strings, horns, rhythm track, everything is very tight.
10. Spectrum – “Paradise” (1981)
This band reminds me of the funkier tracks from Toto or the Brazilian band Roupa Nova’s early albums.
11. Michihiro Kobayashi – “Giniro No Ame” (1980)
Sounds pretty much like a Jay Graydon–produced tune to me, very polished and compressed.
12. Yukari Ito – “Mariko” (1982)
This mid-tempo funky/AOR tune is very traditional inside City Pop, like EW&F, Al Jarreau etc. In Japan, they also call it “Mellow Groove.”
13. Toshiki Kadomatsu – “If You…” (1984)
Classic ’80s funk/boogie—a must-have in any City Pop collection.
14. Bread & Butter – “Paradoxical Love” (1980)
The most famous AOR/City Pop group in Japan; they have many albums.
15. Tetsuji Hayashi – “Silly Girl” (1980)
That AOR sound, West Coast vibe, almost seems like Jeff Porcaro playing. It’s not just imitation, to me; there’s a strong Japanese identity here.
16. Ken Tamura – “A Little Bit Easier” (1982)
That clean sound that I love, not too much bass frequency, not too much high frequency. Things sounds more flat, that’s heaven to me.
17. Time Five – “Megurikuru Kisetsu” (1979)
Famous vocal group in Japan, this is from one of their funkier albums.
18. Hiroyuki Nanba – “The Door into Summer” (1979)
Again a strong Tatsuro Yamashita influence here. I am always impressed how well recorded these songs are.
19. Gingi Ito – こぬか雨 (1977)
One of the City Pop holy grails arranged by Ryuichi Sakamoto that’s been a genius since the beginning.
20. Kazuhito Murata – “So Long, Mrs.” (1983)
After I completed this mix, Kazuhito unfortunately passed away. This is another City Pop holy grail for the collectors.