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Citypop: A Curious Fool's Primer

Citypop: A Curious Fool's Primer

By Danny Archila

When Takako Mamiya’s 1982 "Love Trip" was reviewed on the Beyond Yacht Rock Podcast minisode, Yacht Or Nyacht #6 - it got a 64.75 on the Yachtski Scale, making it “certified yacht.” The Beyond Yacht Rock hosts can't decide whether to call it Tokiyacht, Yachtpan or just go with the its given name: Citypop, and are also slightly dubious as to how to fit smooth Japanese music on the boat without many of the clear Yacht Rock markers. But I noticed many Yacht parallels in Takako’s work. Takako herself worked with many personnel who would work on each other’s stuff, just like the Yacht Rockers of SoCal.

So I became inspired to embark on a journey, to plunge down my own personal whirlpool to uncover some of the Japanese pop artists from the 1980s, who very well may be the Asian Yacht Rock counterparts we were searching for!

Disclaimer: It is not yet certain that any of these songs are certified yacht. They just sound potential.

Mariya Takeuchi - "Plastic Love"

With a driving beat of bass guitars and trumpets, Mariya Takeuchi first signed with RCA Records in 1978, at the age of 23. From the release of her freshman album, Beginning (featuring star power like Mike Porcaro on the bass and Gary Coleman on the drums) to her 1980 compilation of “funk and soul” Sweetest Music (with arrangements by Greg Mathieson, David Foster and the Jay Graydon) to her work in present day, the biggest Mariya’s got going for her are those resounding chords. A large volume of her Moon Records work is thanks to a fellow city popper, Producer Tatsuro Yamashita.

For me, Miss M's single, Plastic Love (1984) is her smoothest take I've heard so far. (Which is subject to change due to the large quantity of albums Mariyah’s released.)

Miki Matsubura - "Stay With Me"

A singer you would take a cruise for, Miki Matsubura has a vocal range that invites you to swim in her synthetic symphonies. Hypnotic and always eluding to a wide potential, Miki certainly was a renaissance woman, from her humble beginnings playing keyboard for a folk band to providing the themes for anime like Dirty Pair: Project Eden and Mobile Suit Gundam 0083. Her 1979 single, "Stay With Me" ponders an imminent break-up that Miki is too foolish to accept, punctuated by the rambunctious percussion and relentless high-hat. What’s more; you have the cream of the Japanese crop from lyricist Yoshiko Miura to producer Tetsuji Hayashi.

Give a listen to Miki's 1982 album, Myself, featuring the killer keyboards of Kevin Bassinson, who's worked with Victor Feldman and Barry Manilow.

Tomoko Aran - "I’m In Love"

Tomoko Aran’s been working under Warner Brothers, arguably the Yacht Rock label, with her first release, 1981's 神経衰弱 or Nervous Breakdown. Tomoko would go on to release a new album or LP every year until 1987, rounding off her Warner's contract with Mind Games, a collective of essential eighties qualities (Mind Games) that could be the soundtrack for Miami Vice.

Arguably, Tomoko is able to switch her style like a knife fighter switches blades. In the blink of an eye. That said, her song "Midnight Pretenders" is the kind of smooth music you wouldn’t mind being stabbed to, so long as the blade‘s in slow-motion.

Cindy - "Believing In Us"

Mayumi Yamamoto a.k.a. “Cindy” had a different flavour of pop. For starters, she only released three albums but each reflecting a unique bouncy style of R&B mixed that could easily double as montage muzak from The Jetsons movie. She was also the mastermind behind Miho Nakayama’s biggest hits like "Party Down" and "Naked Cruising." Her skill and tact with various Japanese Fusion artists proved herself worthy enough for the one and only Stevie Wonder to produce her first album, Love Life.

Tatsuro Yamashita - "Daydream"

With a cheerful disposition and a finger in virtually every pie of the Japanese Pop scene, Tatsuro Yamashita sure lays down the smoothest, most solid melodies. Starting out as a vocalist and songwriter for his future wife, Yumi Arai, Tatsuro quickly rose through the ranks to bellow his belt off alongside Minako Yoshida, write and produce Sugar Babe and be the lighthouse to guide incoming pop star Mariya Takeuchi. His second track, "Daydream," off the 2002 album Ride On Time has a kickass groove that will have you tappin’ your feet like molotov in the heat.

Anri - "Last Summer Whispers"

Commonly referred to as "Anri," Eiko Kawashima has released music with For Life Records almost every year of her music career since her debut album Apricot Jam in 1978. Anri’s song "Last Summer Whispers" off of 1982’s Heaven Beach features unusual elements—i.e: the harmonica solo, but it shows us a sentimentality of comfort to be had in giving the splish-splash of summer romance one last go. (Fun fact: Korean Rap Group Jazzyfact sampled this song in their release "All Day Long.")

For a more comprehensive look at her catalog, take a listen to her 1983 follow-up album, Timely!! "Windy Summer" is a favourite of mine off that album. It was produced by Toshiki Kadomatsu; a powerful force in Japanese city pop-disco-slash-maybe Yacht Rock.

Toshiki Kadomatsu - "Melody For You"

Jay Graydon played guitar on Toshiki Kadomatsu’s 1989 album, Reasons For Thousand Lovers, an eclectic display of piano and percussion alike. But Toshiki was a superstar at the mic long before his encounter with "Poopin’" Graydon. He has had a wide discography. The song that stands out to me is Toshiki’s "Melody For You," from his Gold Digger album. The smoothness of the song really breathes some sensuality over your shoulder like a close-up of a hand wiping the tears your heart weeps. But as you lean in for a peck on the cheek, the hand walks away. Now, where else in Japan can you find smoother unforgettable melodies?

Hiroshi Sato - "I Can’t Wait"

Hiroshi Sato's duet with Canadian singer Wendy Matthews, "I Can’t Wait" is from the 1985 record This Boy. He has collaborated with Wendy Matthews multiple times in the past, including his 1982 album Awakening. I would reccomend this record for anybody who’s in need of inspiration on the road of a long, long journey. Of course, Tatsuro Yamashita’s on the electric guitar, Akitsugu Doi assisted engineering (he has lent his talents to popular Japanese groups such as Casiopea and Yellow Magic Orchestra.) Now if you want to go off on a tangent and discover something in the distance like "Jo Do" — an instrumental designed to pique the interests of even the most cautious of explorers.

Junko Ohashi - "I Love You So"

Running her own style of bouncy trumpet fanfare and whirling strings around a cool bass line, Junko Ohashi has had an admirable style since she released her first album, Feeling Now, in 1974. It features the engineering know-how of Toshio Kobayashi who's also worked with American rock group, The Runaways. But Junko’s real pièce de résistance would have to be her compilation LP, Magical. Released in 1983, the album features many ballads to swoon you unconscious but also has two notable songs that are reminiscent of Yacht Rock. "I Love You So" and "Lost Love."

Junko is still an active artist today, releasing more modern content on her latest album Terra 2.

The Verdict?

We here in North America know the heavy hitters of smooth, funky and blissfully despondent… The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Toto, Kenny Loggins… They all embody the reflective sailing melody we hold dear to our hearts as Yacht Rock. But now there is solid evidence revealed that Japan’s own Tatsuro Yamashita, Tomoko Aran and Takako Mamiya have their place on the boat, to cruise through the airwaves to the top of the charts from the bottom of their hearts.

As for the name of this subgenre and how it connects to the Yacht Rock Universe, Tokyacht has been discussed but the Vaporwave community (whom heavily relies smooth classic music and K-Mart tapes alike) prefers to refer to this music as “City Pop.” Which although generic, fits well with this fusion of jazz, rock and disco. But as the Japanese say…

虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず。 (This translates to “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”)

And my, oh my, did these artists gain…

NINE 80’s JAPANESE POPPERS
Written By Danny Archila

Set Sail for the other side of the Pacific

[Tokyacht: Potential name, or moniker of shame?]

As you may recall, Takako Mamiya’s 1982 Love Trip was reviewed on Yacht Or Nyacht #6 as a 64.75 on the Yachtski Scale, dubbing it as “certified yacht.” Although the boys were slightly dubious how to fit smooth Japanese music on the boat without many of the signs that identify Yacht Rock well, upon further research I found many parallels in Takako’s work. The lyrics translate to “If only a bit, even in love, I will leave it to you. Only you tonight. According to the pace” which in this day and age, sounds foolish enough, leaving yourself at the disposal of a man. On top of that, Takako herself worked with many personnel who would work on each other’s stuff in return (kind of like that SoCal hospitality) and, if nothing else, that Doobie Bounce had made it overseas! 

So, I, inspired by the very suggestion on Yacht or Nyacht longtime listener @Oda_CM made on Twitter, plunged down my own whirlpool at sea and in turn, I came across dozens of Japanese pop artists from the 1980s, who very well may be the counterparts we were searching for… But from Asia! The very section of zeitgeist some big, dumb, pumpkin is declaring war upon! If we can just how similar we are to our friends from across the lake, then maybe a peace treaty is in order to set smooth sailing straight between both continents. Here are several examples of what Japan may play if you were to ask.

Disclaimer: It is not yet certain that any of these songs are certified yacht. They just sound potential.

Mariya Takeuchi - Plastic Love (https://youtu.be/3bNITQR4Uso)

With a driving beat of bass guitars and trumpets, Mariya Takeuchi first signed with RCA Records in 1978, at the age of 23. From the release of her freshman album, Beginning (featuring star power like Mike Porcaro on the bass and Gary Coleman on the drums) to her 1980 compilation of “funk and soul” Sweetest Music (with arrangements by Greg Mathieson, David Foster and the Jay Graydon) to her work in present day, the biggest Mariya’s got going for her are those resounding chords. A large volume of her Moon Records work is thanks to a fellow city popper, Producer Tatsuro Yamashita. Anybody on this list should be honoured to work with such a voice-box that fits perfectly for any disco ball or Doobie Bounce especially with the e-piano’s helpful duet. Hear Miss M. I personally find her single, Plastic Love (1984) to be the smoothest take so far. (Which is subject to change due to the large quantity of albums Mariyah’s released.) At first she keeps her lyrics about keeping the heart from loving her boy-crazy party vibes in between the consistency of the drums but then let’s it fly over the climaxing refrain of horns in an wistfully optimistic melody produced by Tatsuro Yamashita.

Miki Matsubura - Stay With Me (https://youtu.be/k-KAY_Glmn4)

The type of singer you would take a cruise for, Miki Matsubura has a vocal range that invites you to swim in her synthetic symphonies. Hypnotic and always eluding to a wide potential, Miki certainly was a renaissance woman, from her humble beginnings playing keyboard for a folk band to providing the main themes for beloved anime such as Dirty Pair: Project Eden and Mobile Suit Gundam 0083. The Internet is a strange thing in that it gives me good and bad news alike. Miki has type O blood but passed away in 2004 due to uterine cervical cancer. Her 1979 single, Stay With Me illustrates an imminent break-up Miki’s too foolish to accept as is illustrated by the rambunctious percussion and relentless high-hat. What’s more; you have the cream of the Japanese crop such as Yoshiko Miura’s lyrics (she wrote for fellow artist Anri) and the producing prowess of Tetsuji Hayashi (worked hard with Junko Ōhashi.) As for a wholly fun album of work, listen to her 1982 album, Myself featuring the killer keyboards of Kevin Bassinson (has co-operated with Victor Feldman and Barry Manilow) under the See • Saw Label.

Tomoko Aran - I’m In Love (https://youtu.be/pE2D3LWADFg)

Tomoko Aran’s been working under the Warner Brothers label for as long as she’s been in music, which was heavily evident from her first release in 1981, 神経衰弱 or Nervous Breakdown. (The only thing nervous about this album is her finesse as the tracks vary from Jazz to World and everything in between.) Tomoko would go on to release a new album or LP for every year of the 1980s until 1987, rounding off her Warner contract with a collective of essential eighties qualities (Mind Games) that deserve to be the soundtrack for a cutting-edge cop show like Miami Vice. Look out for track six; sounds a lot like Men At Work’s Down Under. Personnel who worked under Tomoko include Masanori Sasaji and Yuichi Togashiki (who also drummed for the Eastern Jay Graydon, Tatsuro Yamashita. Tomoko’s song Midnight Pretenders is her type of smooth music you wouldn’t mind being stabbed to (so long as the blade‘s in slow-motion.) Arguably, she’s able to switch her style like a fighter switches blades. in the blink of an eye.

Cindy - Believing In Us (https://youtu.be/2ak_dM2EHKE)

Mayumi Yamamoto a.k.a. “Cindy” had a different flavour of pop compared to most artists on this list. For starters, she only released three albums but each reflecting a unique bouncy style of R&B mixed that could easily double as montage muzak from The Jetsons movie. She was also the mastermind behind Miho Nakayama’s biggest hits like Party Down and Naked Cruising. Her skill and tact with various Japanese Fusion artists proved herself worthy enough for the one and only Stevie Wonder to produce her first album, Love Life. Sadly, she passed away in 2001 due to a cancerous complication. But before doing so, she released a single from her 1990 album of the same name, Angel Touch. The her jazzy texture really displays a versatility that will always sound like she’s come back to life, just to sing that song for you.

Tatsuro Yamashita - Daydream (https://youtu.be/lNyYcR57SYE)

With a cheerful disposition and a finger in virtually every pie of the Japanese Pop revolution, Tatsuro Yamashita sure lays down the smoothest, most solid melodies for his own work. Starting out as a vocalist and songwriter for his future wife, Yumi Arai, Tatsuro quickly rose his way through the ranks to bellow his belt off alongside Minako Yoshida, write and produce Sugar Babe and of course be the lighthouse to guide incoming pop star Mariya Takeuchi. His second track, Daydream, off the 2002 album Ride On Time has a kickass groove that will have you tappin’ your feet like molotov in the heat. 

Anri - Last Summer Whispers (https://youtu.be/oV5mrGiCnik)

Commonly referred to as "Anri," Eiko Kawashima has quite literally released her music under For Life Records almost every year of her music career since her debut album in 1978 Apricot Jam. It wasn’t until ten years after 1997 that she switched to other choices such as Universal Japan and Warner Brothers to deliver her heartfelt songs to the masses. Anri’s song Last Summer Whispers off of 1982’s Heaven Beach may feature unusual elements—i.e: the harmonica solo? (Fun fact: Korean Rap Group Jazzyfact sampled this song in their release of All Day Long.) But surely, it shows us a sentimentality of comfort to be had in giving the splish-splash of summer romance one last go. And for a more comprehensive look at her catalog, take a listen to her 1983 follow-up album, Timely!! Not to give away favourites here, but Windy Summer is a favourite of mine off that album. It was produced by Toshiki Kadomatsu; a powerful force in Japanese city pop-slash-disco-slash-maybe Yacht Rock…(?)

Toshiki Kadomatsu - Melody For You (https://youtu.be/PgqFXTbFelI)

Jay Graydon played guitar on Toshiki Kadomatsu’s 1989 album, Reasons For Thousand Lovers, an eclectic display of piano and percussion alike. But Toshiki was a superstar at the mic long before his encounter with the Poopin’ Graydon. He has had a wide discography. The song that stands out to me is Toshiki’s Melody For You. Though it was released on the hotel ballroom pop album Gold Digger the same year as the more disco-dancish single Hatsu Koi (1985), the smoothness of the song really breathes some sensuality over your shoulder like a close-up of a hand wiping the tears your heart weeps. But as you lean in for a peck on the cheek, the hand walks away. Now, where else in Japan can you find smoother, unforgettable melodies?

Hiroshi Sato - I Can’t Wait (https://youtu.be/9dABvBfa6I8)

Here, with Hiroshi Sato! That’s where! His duet with Canadian singer Wendy Matthews of I Can’t Wait from the 1985 record This Boy. It offers the listener peace of mind in knowing that there stands your love… Maybe. It’s foolish in theory because it’s over promising and under delivering. What if that was her sister? Or a tree? He has collaborated with Wendy Matthews multiple times in the past, including his 1982 album Awakening. I would reccomend this record for anybody who’s in need of feeling inspired on the road of a long, long journey. Of course, Tatsuro Yamashita’s on the electric guitar, Akitsugu Doi assisted engineering (he has lent his talents to popular Japanese groups such as Casiopea and Yellow Magic Orchestra.) His body of work can be described as blue and moody. Now if you want to go off on a tangent and discover something in the distance like Jo Do — an instrumental designed to pique the interests of even the most cautious of explorers.

Junko Ohashi - I Love You So (https://youtu.be/Q2QUngVGxmE)

Running her own style of bouncy trumpet fanfare and whirling strings around a cool bass line, Junko Ohashi has an admirable style with her music since she released her first album in 1974, Feeling Now. It features the engineering know-how of Toshio Kobayashi who worked with female rock group, The Runaways, in years following. But Junko’s real pièce de résistance would have to be her compilation LP, Magical. Released in 1983, the album features many ballads to swoon you unconscious but also has two notable songs that could reminisce upon Yacht Rock. I Love You So and Lost Love. (Your ear can peep at double the Doobie right here.) Both, having to do with love-letter lyrics, surely, being that there is no known source of what the lyrics translate into in English. I can tell you, however, that she is still an active artist today, releasing more modern content on her latest album Terra 2. It swaps the sound of the 1980s for more acoustic takes that would have you sitting there thinking “did Jack Johnson play her guitar and Ben Folds her piano?” But rest assured she hasn’t forgotten her roots as she covers an oldie (Ride On Time by Tatsuro Yamashita) which admittedly may have more roots in disco. 

The Verdict?

We here in North America know the heavy hitters of smooth, funky and blissfully despondent… The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Toto, Kenny Loggins… They all embody the reflective sailing melody we hold dear to our hearts as Yacht Rock. But now there is solid evidence revealed that Japan’s own Tatsuro Yamashita, Tomoko Aran and Takako Mamiya have their place on the boat, to cruise through the airwaves to the top of the charts from the bottom of their hearts.

As for the name of this subgenre and how it connects to the Yacht Rock Universe, Tokyacht has been discussed but the Vaporwave community (whom heavily relies smooth classic music and K-Mart tapes alike) prefers to refer to this music as “City Pop.” Which although generic, fits well with this fusion of jazz, rock and disco. But as the Japanese say…

虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず。
(This translates to “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”)

And my, oh my, did these artists gain…

JapRock Captain's Blog Article Subm Danny Archila.txt

Displaying JapRock Captain's Blog Article Subm Danny Archila.txt.

Gaucho: The near implosion of Steely Dan’s Yacht Rock masterpiece

Gaucho: The near implosion of Steely Dan’s Yacht Rock masterpiece