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New York, Los Angeles, & City Pop

 - 24 Apr 2019

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A brief history of the collaboration between Japanese & US Cultural exchange & collaboration through music

Believe it or not a lot of City Pop artist have a strong history with both New York & Los Angeles in particular, there’s multiple aspects to why this is. For starters you had the newly emerging Yacht Rock Scene in the 70s/80s which introduced people to artists such as Steely Dan, The Doobie Bros., Kenny Loggins, Airplay, and Gino Vanelli. There’s also the super jazzy Chicago soul movement of the 60s & 70s, which no doubt had an influence on Japan’s own Jazz movement with artists like Terumasa Hino & Ryo Fukui. And Let’s not forget the magical California Sound, mastered by Phil Specter and perfected by the Beach Boys that would go on to influence Eiichi Ohtaki & Tatsuro Yamashita. As much as City Pop artist love to take from western music, as fate would have it, these artists would eventually travel to America to experience their musical role models 1st hand, as well as collaborate with them . Here's a quick (and at the same time not so quick) rundown of some of the artists & albums that have their musical roots in LA & New York.

Happy End: The story behind Happy End's final album is both an fascinating & sad one. They signed with King Records and recorded in 1972 at the Sound Factory in Hollywood Los Angeles (My college was actually on the same block ) with Van Dyke Parks producing, as they hoped he would help them achieve the "California Sound" . Unfortunately working in LA, they became disenchanted with their vision of America they had anticipated.
The Language barrier on top of opposition between the Los Angeles studio personnel and the band made working frustrating. To make matters worse, Eiichi Ohtaki recalled a time that things got so uncomfortable between them, that Parks was drunk during production and tried to lecture them about Pearl Harbor and World War II. Talk about awkward! It was clear that they were not liked or wanted...
Their broken vision of America was eventually conveyed in the closing track "Sayonara America, Sayonara Nippon" (さよならアメリカ さよならニッポン, "Goodbye America, Goodbye Japan"). As band lyricist; Takashi Matsumoto explained: "We had already given up on Japan, and with [that song], we were saying bye-bye to America too—we weren't going to belong to any place."

Eiichi Ohtaki: GO! GO! NIAGARA! (1976) was a concept album that was made inspired by Ohtaki's actual experience as a Radio Host, all the music was made to emulate US 1950s Oldies. Ohtaki's Radio segment that was a part of the Radio Kanto program,where he would share & talk about old American Oldies. I lasted from 1975-1978. He would go on to join Tatsuro Yamashita in his own program, "TATSURO'S SUNDAY SONGBOOK", as a co-host and do basically the exact same thing.

Tatsuro Yamashita: Jeez, where do I begin... To start off, before he was an established musician, Tatsuro & his college friends got together and self published an album called ADD SOME MUSIC TO YOUR DAY, which is a compilation of covers they did of Brian Wilson songs. After the break up of Sugar Babe (Tatsuro Yamasihta’s original band), Tatsuro would then travel to the US to produce his 1st solo album called CIRCUS TOWN. The 1st half was produced in New York, and the 2nd half was produced in LA.

But that’s not all, Tatsuro himself used to frequently travel to LA during the 80s for both business & leisure, in which at one point he was listening to some gospel music on KJLH (a local radio station) and became inspired to write 蒼 氓 (Sobo) , which became the theme song to Yakuza 6.

On top of THAT, during the early nineties, the musical climate started to change in the States, more even for West Coast artists and L.A. session musicians. Many of them found place of refuge in the Japanese market, which eventually led to a series of Tatsuro tribute albums where American artists did covers of HIS songs. There's at least FOUR ALBUMS (THAT I KNOW OF), 2 in a series called Tatsuro Songs from L.A., another called Tatsuro Covers From Coast" by Jason Scheff (Chicago), and another called "J O D Y L.A".

There's also a cover of Sparkle done by Hawaiian band Greenwood. Phew

Mariya Takeuchi: Mariya actually went to High-school in Illinois for her Junior year, which might be where she learned English, which would definitely come in handy later for her 4th studio album MISS M (1980) , the 1st half of it, once again, being recorded in LA, Hollywood in particular, with the help of members of TOTO and Airplay members, Jay Graydon & David Foster. One of her songs from the album, "Heart to Heart" (co-written by Roger Nichols), was given English lyrics and a new title, "Now." It was recorded by The Carpenters, released in 1983, and was the last recording by the late Karen Carpenter.

Minako Yoshida: Minako Yoshida’s 6th album “LET’S DO IT” was recorded in Hollywood, and was her first time recording outside of Japan working with foreign musicians. It was produced by Gene & Billy Page of Motown fame, with the backup of Motown musicians like David T. Walker, Wah Wah Watson, and Greg Phillinganes. Yoshida later said in an interview that she didn’t want a “Hollywood sound”, so she gathered Ryuichi Sakamoto and her musicians at a studio in Tokyo to create demo tracks with solid arrangements before she went into production in Hollywood. ""Let’s Do It"" is a great mix of Minako’s Japanese song writing sensibility fused with a urban soul/ fusion sound. All Songs are written by Yoshida, except for 3 songs co-written with Tatsuro Yamashita, who later re-recorded “Cloud” and “Time” for his own albums.

Toshiki Kadomatsu: The recording of WEEKEND FLY TO THE SUN took place in Los Angeles with the help of producer Thomas Washington (aka Tom Tom 84), as well as members of Earth, Wind, & Fire, including the The Phenix Horns.

Ami Ozaki: Both of her albums "HOT BABY" and "AIR KISS", were recorded at Sound Labs, Hollywood , CA. "Hot Baby" in particular was a passion project between Ami Ozaki and David Foster,with the former handling all of the songwriting while the latter took care of the arrangement. Plus, a few members from the band TOTO such as Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro helped out, as well as Foster's partner from Airplay, Jay Graydon.

Kimiko Kasai: Kimiko Kasai recorded several albums in LA in the early '80s as well as collaborated with some of the most renowned musicians in the jazz field, most notably Herbie Hancock on the album BUTTERFLY (1979). Kimiko currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband Richard Rudolph (widower of Minnie Riperton).
Haruko Kuwana: Haruko Kuwana's "MILLION STARS" was interesting as Side A of the original LP was apparently recorded in Hawaii while Side B was in Los Angeles, the album was arranged by both Bill Payne (Little Feet), Mackey Feary.

EPO: Side A of EPO’s 1980 album GOODIES was recorded in both Los Angeles & New York, with the help of Luther Vandross, Brenda White and Yvonne Lewis, as background vocalists.

Yellow Magic Orchestra: While I didn’t find any recording history yet, it’s still notable that YMO was the 1st (and ONLY) Japanese Pop group to perform on Soul Train in Hollywood California, where they performed TIGHTEN UP as well as FIRECRACKER. YMO was very aware of how Americans viewed Japanese, and they liked screwing around with the stereotypes, to the point where they dressed up their manager, Youichi Ito, as a stereotypical Japanese tourist, complete with big glasses, a salaryman suit, and a camera around his neck, planted him in the audience, and every time they sang ‘Japanese Gentleman, Stand Up Please, Ito would jump around and wave a ‘WOW!’ sign.


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