367 – On 6 City Pop Tunes

I can’t exactly give a textbook definition of city pop, but I can describe how it sounds like. For me and other listeners though, city pop sounds like an evening stroll in a neon-sign filled district in the Japanese capital Tokyo.

Textbook definitions describe the genre straight out of the Land of the Rising Sun as having heavy Western influences. City pop gained popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, but later fell out of fashion. Based on further reading, I found that city pop’s zenith coincided with the Japanese economy’s prosperous period – that suddenly hit its nadir in the 1990s.

It was only in the early 2010s that the genre saw the limelight once more, this time to a more receptive international audience. Some city pop songs, however, essentially encapsulated the genre’s peak in the ’70s and ’80s – an epoch of better days. Let me share six city pop tunes that may (or may not) sound familiar to you.

Miki Matsubara – Stay With Me (Mayonaka No Door)

This quintessential tune by Matsubara (1959-2004) was first released in 1979 and landed at No. 28 in the Oricon charts, the Japanese equivalent to the U.S. Billboard charts. Stay With Me experienced a resurgence in 2020 after going viral on the video-sharing app TikTok. However, Matsubara would not be able to enjoy her debut single’s recent popularity as she passed away from cancer.

Mariya Takeuchi – Plastic Love

Mention city pop, and Takeuchi’s Plastic Love is another tune that comes to mind. First released in 1984, it experienced a resurgence in 2017 after a version uploaded on YouTube went viral; I even heard this on a Philippine radio station as late as 2022. Since 2018, Takeuchi has also taken over management duties of her family’s Ryokan Takenoya – a traditional Japanese lodging house – until, in her own words, “the next generation can take over.”

Junko Ohashi – Telephone Number

I first discovered this song from Ohashi’s 1984 album Magical through an acquaintance. This tune is a mainstay on Spotify‘s city pop list, given that several other tracks have not been approved for release by Japanese record labels. Nevertheless, this has put Ohashi – who has been churning out albums since 1974 – in the must-listen category of city pop artists.

Mai Yamane – Tasogare

Yamane, known for her work with Yoko Kanno on the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack, first released this song in 1980. Twenty-nine years later in 2019, this song from her debut album in the 1980s (also named Tasogare) was sampled by rapper Playboi Carti for his tune Pissy Pamper – with the “they tryna be cray” hook. However, YouTube and other platforms repeatedly axed the song whenever it was uploaded, as the producers were reportedly not cleared to sample Yamane’s song.

ANRI – Cat’s Eye

Fans of classic anime will recognize this tune by Anri (born Eiko Kawashima) as the first opening song for the 1983 anime Cat’s Eye. She later redid the song with a slight disco flair, but nothing beats the original version. Anri has even collaborated with jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour and remains active in the music scene (with her latest self-titled album being released in 2018).

Piper – Summer Breeze

This bonus track is from the funk-synth band’s 1983 album Summer Breeze, their penultimate release before taking a 33-year hiatus from 1985 to 2018. Game music composer Koji Kondo sampled the song’s guitar intro for the Super Star Theme in the 1985 game Super Mario Bros. by Nintendo. For those unaware, the Super Star Theme plays whenever Mario or Luigi touches a star power-up to move faster and become invincible for a short duration.

How about you? Do any of these songs sound familiar? Any other city pop tunes come to your mind? Share them below!

Until the next post!

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: The featured image for this post is from Aleksandr Pasaric on the free stock image site Pexels.)


19 thoughts on “367 – On 6 City Pop Tunes

    • Thank you! It contributes to the urban feel that these songs evoke. City pop projects a Japan that’s more modern and forward-looking, much like the other side of a coin that shows traditional culture.

  1. Nice list there. Here’s mine:

    1. Flyday Chinatown – Yasuha’s big hit and a certified city pop classic.
    2. Kimamani Reflection – One of Anri’s other hits. She recorded two versions of this and the one on Spotify is from her 1984 album COOOL
    3. Anything created by Yellow Magic Orchestra
    4. Miki Matsubara’s theme songs for Dirty Pair

  2. I haven’t heard any of these before, and I like them all.
    I love being exposed to “new” music I haven’t heard before, thank you.
    I haven’t heard the term “city pop” as a musical genre. But these songs sound similar to USA, 1980s dance pop, which was sometimes still referred to as “disco” back then.

    • Thank you, Maryanne! The 1980s really was an amazing time for music — with several genres emerging. Aside from disco and city pop, there’s also New Wave, sophisti-pop and 2 Tone.

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