I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

J-Canuck's Favourite 10 City Pop/J-AOR Singles

Probably out of all of the genres in Japanese popular music that I have all enjoyed for the past 35 years, the two genres that have gotten the most scrutiny out of me have been City Pop and J-AOR. And it's not as if I was even aware that these two even existed way back in 1981. Yet, over the decades, I've come to show an affinity for Japanese Urban Contemporary through individual songs, and when I bought the bible "Japanese City Pop" back around 2010, it all just clicked. Then, things got quite ravenous on my part as far as City Pop and J-AOR were concerned.

But why did I get so much into these two genres? Well, for whatever reason, I just got hooked on a big fat bass and a Fender Rhodes piano in my music, thanks to a lot of the songs I was hearing on AM radio back in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. There was Michael Jackson, Al Jarreau, Steely Dan and the like so I was quite happy to discover that the world of kayo kyoku was extremely welcoming of this American funk and mellowness.

Still, like anything that Japan has borrowed from the West, the R&B and AOR rhythms that came over received that Japanese twist...that certain Nihon je ne sais crois (mixing my languages here). At first, I had thought that Japanese City Pop was a direct translation of American AOR but such was not the case in my estimation now. It seems to be that melange of elements from disco, AOR, R&B and other things that I can't quite put my finger on. Plus, for some reason, some but not all of the Japanese variety are songs that I couldn't quite imagine being sung even on the West Coast of the USA, and it's not just because of the Japanese lyrics. Maybe it's for this reason that a number of the songs from the genre have gotten a second life as part of this Future Funk that has become a thing on YouTube at least (I'm no longer sure if Vaporwave is the term to use anymore).

So it's time to put up my list of my favourites that I have agonized over for some time since, and I'm being very biased here, there is a plethora of fun City Pop/J-AOR tunes to choose from. The final trigger, though, was when I put up that list by Tsutomu Mori for his City Pop list and found a lot of his choices puzzling. If it weren't for the fact that his list was on Page 58 of "Japanese City Pop", I would have assumed that he was doing some trolling.

In any case, without babbling on too much longer, here is my list of City Pop/J-AOR. The songs aren't in any particular order and they all have their own articles so I won't say too much about them here. I just want to let you know that these are the ones I've enjoyed over the years.

1. Akira Terao -- Ruby no Yubiwa (1981)

I was surprised that I hadn't actually put down some of my own feelings about this one in the original article, but then again, the article was on the whole album of "Reflections" so perhaps there was some self-induced pressure to keep things a bit short. However, I can say now that "Ruby no Yubiwa"(ルビーの指輪)was one of my touchstone songs when it came to my 1981 trip to Japan, but for some mysterious reason, I didn't add it to one of my more recent Author's Picks list. But it is here on this list now, and it should be since it is the most successful Oricon City Pop song. Whenever I reminisce about 90-yen skinny cans of Coke, game centres with tabletop Space Invaders and corn potage soup at McDonalds, I will also remember their theme song as this cool bass riff accompanied by the velvety-smooth vocals of Akira Terao(寺尾聡). I always feel like getting a cocktail whenever "Ruby no Yubiwa" comes on and I don't really drink that much!

2. EPO -- Downtown (1980)

I was talking about theme songs for "Ruby no Yubiwa" a paragraph ago. Well, EPO's "Downtown" would be my theme for the hotel district of West Shinjuku. I hear the bouncy melody and the bright vocals of Eiko Sato, and those huge hotels tower up in my mind. It truly is the fun and futuristic downtown. And as I pointed out in the original article for "Downtown", it is because of her debut single that I've dubbed EPO as one of the Princesses of City Pop.

3. Takako Mamiya -- Love Trip (1982)

Takako Mamiya(間宮貴子)is one of the first discoveries that I made in "Japanese City Pop" soon after my purchase of it at Tower Records, and I was delighted that I could find evidence of this rare album on the Net. With that bass and those lovely keyboards in there, I remember acts such as Gino Vanelli and The Manhattan Transfer with the title track from the only album Mamiya released. Rooftop bar at sunset, anyone?

4. Yasuhiro Abe -- Irene (1984)

Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)must have been in a choir group when he was a child with those high-falutin' vocal cords. He was another happy discovery via "Japanese City Pop" and it was all because of the wonderful "Irene" (アイリーン) that I went not just for his BEST compilation at Tacto but also his original album "Slit" that has this song. I can just imagine the lad strutting down Chuo Dori to this tune.

5. Miki Matsubara -- Mayonaka no Door (1979)

The late Miki Matsubara's(松原みき)trademark song which has that alternate title of "Stay With Me" may have been released a couple of years before my trip to Japan, but along with Akira Terao's magnum opus, it is also a theme song of sorts for my adventures in Tokyo. "Mayonaka no Door"(真夜中のドア)may have truly been the door for the Golden Age of City Pop.

6. Makoto Matsushita -- One Hot Love (1981)

Dang that intro still sounds good. Yup, Makoto Matsushita(松下誠), the veteran musician and arranger, was another "Japanese City Pop" discovery, and "One Hot Love" was my introduction to him. Man, I can hang an entire wardrobe on that guitar hook. My only regret is that I hadn't heard about him earlier but whenever I come across these decades-old songs, I just say "Better late than never".

7. Minako Yoshida -- TOWN (1982)

Curse the powers-that-be who took down every evidence of this funky song from YouTube. "TOWN" is already up on another couple of lists but when it comes to City Pop, I just had to include one of Minako Yoshida's(吉田美奈子)greatest songs. With all of those sounds of the city included, that mighty horn section and Yoshida herself, I'm still holding out against hope that this may be included in the Opening Ceremonies of the 2020 Olympics.

8. Tatsuro Yamashita -- Amaku Kiken na Kaori (1982)

Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)has put out a lot of mellow and funk as one of the big guys in City Pop but for me, this is my favourite. I guess that "Amaku Kiken na Kaori"(あまく危険な香り)would kinda belong in the sub-genre of Resort Pop since I can envisage the folks from the city heading out to the oceanside resorts just southwest of Tokyo while I'm listening to this.

9. Mariya Takeuchi -- Plastic Love (1984)

Well, if I can get the husband in here, then I have to invite his wife as well. Mrs. Yamashita, aka Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや), came up with a really groovy City Pop-friendly tune in "Plastic Love". Again, I'm a sucker for the horns and drums, and the overall arrangement that just seems to present the perfect reason for taking a night drive all over The Big Sushi.

10. Sing Like Talking -- Mitsumeru Ai de (1995)

My only 90s entry on this list, Sing Like Talking, like Tatsuro Yamashita, has a ton of songs that would easily fit into the City Pop category but "Mitsumeru Ai de"(みつめる愛で)has that feeling of being on the cusp of driving into downtown to have a grand old time with good friends. Mind you, the conveyance most likely wouldn't be a Toyota Corolla...think more of a Cressida or a sports car. In a number of ways, I think this song especially kinda sums up City Pop as a mix of's got that SLT funk but also some good ol' jazz riffs in there, too.

And that is my list. I've left a lot of other good artists and songs out unfortunately such as Junko Yagami(八神純子)and even Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)but the above 10 are my favourite picks from the genre.


  1. Hello, it's me (this is also the title of a Todd Rundgren song).
    Here's my comments on your picks.

    #1. Good choice. I have to say the whole "Reflections" album is great.
    #2. I prefer Yamashita's original version of "Downtown", but Epo is a brilliant singer and she deserves to be on this list.
    #3. This is kind of a rarity and I don't know if it is representative enough to be on a City Pop top 10. Anyway, this is a personal list so I don't have much to argue.
    Do you have this album on cd? I can find only mp3s from vinyl (I always buy the albums I like, but I listen to them on good quality mp3s before spending my money).
    #4. Wonderful song, nothing else to say! I love "We Got It" too.
    #5. I'm surprised by the huge number of views her songs have on Youtube. "Stay With Me" in particular, it's a City Pop anthem.
    #6. I'm not a fan at the moment, but I'm still listening to his first album, so I'll probably become one in the future.
    #7. I already knew her, but not this song. I'm stunned, what a funk masterpiece!
    #8. Not among my favourites in the Yamashita songbook I have to say, but still a nice song.
    #9. I never really paid my attention to Takeuchi. I think I should, since her albums are produced by her husband. This song is great!
    #10. Great band, I just discovered them.
    Thank you!

    1. Thanks! I was also quite surprised by how much Miki Matsubara has been represented up on YouTube and especially through "Mayonaka no Door".

      Glad that you enjoyed "TOWN" by Yoshida. I was also stunned when I first heard it, thanks to one of the contributors, nikala. I knew that the Japanese could funk it up but not on that level.

      As far as Takeuchi is concerned, "Plastic Love" is about as City Pop she could get. If you have a chance, you should try to listen to her album "Miss M" which has a few City Poppy tracks.

      Sing Like Talking is a great band which can go from the gamut from rock to funk. By all means, get one of their BEST compilations.

  2. nice list, the most surprising absent is Eiichi Ohtaki

  3. Unfortunately, artists and their works from the early to mid 70s such as Eiichi Ohtaki, early Minako Yoshida, pre-YMO Haruomi Hosono and others have been consigned to the New Music ghetto by latter generations.

    It's a shame really, because I came to know about City Pop not thru it's late 70s, 80s and beyond incarnations but that earlier time during the beginning to late 70s.

    I loved Eiichi Ohtaki's first solo album because it was truly the last Happy End album we were ever going to get.

    Yeah, I know he went off into the early 50s, early-to-mid 60s sound (think Phil Specter and Brian Wilson) during his Niagara Triangle and ultimately up to Long Vacation and most folks wouldn't consider it City Pop today.

    The influence is there if you listen to the King Of City pop Yamashita Tatsuro. He was influenced heavily by Eiichi Ohtaki. Which makes sense when you realized Eiichi Ohtaki did produce a group called Sugar Babe which featured the aforementioned Yamashita, Ginjo Ito and Taeko Ohnuki.

    All of the above names listed above would heavily influence the City Pop genre for decades to come.

    1. Hi, Chasing Showa.

      Yeah, it's a pity that a lot of these earlier works have gotten buried over the years but luckily, there are people like us to unearth them again. :) Even on YouTube, it's been amazing who and what I've been able to discover.

      As for Ohtaki, yeah, I would still go more with the New Music moniker than with the City Pop label when it comes to his album "A Long Vacation". Perhaps his earlier stuff would be more in the 70s City Pop vein?

    2. The thing about music genre's is that they evolve and change over time. As the past recedes in the rear view mirror of this ride we call life, we get hindsight and start assigning categories and definitions that did not exist in a previous time.

      Hell, when I returned from Japan over 10 years ago, most of Eiichi Ohtaki's work (including A Long Vacation) was considered City Pop. Now, not so much.

      I think the discussion we had about sophisti-pop says it all. The genre didn't have a name until recently. Back in the day it would be called "new wave" because it was new and evolving and had yet to reach it's final form. Now we have names for a lot of the music back then that did not exist before.

    3. I think as the years pass by, the hindsight and further addition of knowledge and comparison will start crystallizing our categories on various songs. I only discovered that there had been another kayo category created called New Adult Music to describe the material by singers such as Nyc Nyusa, Marcia and Teresa Teng...supposedly a fusion of enka and rock/folk. Not sure when the name was first formulated...back in those days or after many years.

      Should be interesting in the future when folks talk about dance music/techno of these days. There seems to be a whole spectrum of names to describe the different sub-genres now.


Feel free to provide any comments (pro or con). Just be civil about it.