Tatsuro Yamashita king of city pop

February is officially behind us and incomes March, knocking ever so joyfully. You might wonder why I’m in such a good mood at the start of this article, and you will find out shortly. February marked some significant moments in culture this year, yet one escaped the eyes of many, due to people’s general fixation on artists such as Billy Elish, and her current 007 single. There is a great chance you haven’t heard of the legendary Tatsuro Yamashita, aka the King of City Pop

This Japanese musician turned 67 last month, but it’s this year that is most significant for him. His career is celebrating the 45th anniversary in 2020, which is no small feat. So to honor this astonishing musician, I would like to talk a little about him. What made him so famous in his native country, and so beloved to smaller fan groups around the world. Maybe even convince you to try and hear some of his stuff, and fall in love with it, as much as I did. We do not encourage headphones, we recommend them for this music. So crank it up.

Everyone Has A Beginning

Like many out there, I never fully recognized the artist on my own. It was from a friend who was obsessed with anime music, who stumbled upon it one day accidentally. He forwarded a few songs to me, and I was hooked instantly. It turns out, our boy Tatsuru is a megastar in Japan, starting his career in 1973. However, it wasn’t until 1975 that he, alongside a small band he formed, Sugar Babe, gained some sort of notoriety. The band released a few singles that year but soon disbanded. Yamashita, on the other hand, didn’t stop there, signing a deal with a label company, RVC, and went solo. 

yamashita image

And what a start it was. His first record, Circus Town, was received average but managed to get people talking about the rising star. It was Spacy, his second record, that made him known in the country and peaked on the music chart. By the end of the 70s, he released two more albums, Go Ahead and Moonglow. While both wondrous records, the decade just wasn’t his. Rock and Roll was the current trend, and nobody was that invested in the City Pop genre. Until the ’80s. Disco was on the rise, and while his music blended a bit of this element with the trend, it was high time for Tatsuro to make a move. One that would propel him to the stars.

Ride on Time

In 1982, Ride on Time was released, and it was not just a good album, it was a masterpiece. It held the first place on the Japanese music chart for a significant period, and well deserved if I’m being honest. This is the album I was introduced to, and it blew my mind off, now celebrating 40 years since its release. Combining styles such as R&B, Soul, and his own flavor of City Pop, Tatsuro crafted a legendary image from that point onward. Songs such as Silent Screamer, and the titular Ride on Time, once gave him the nickname Asian Freddie Mercury. This was due to his ability to pick high tones flawlessly while singing. Silent Screamer is the prime example of this feat, and one of the most beloved songs in my library. 

Then there are songs such as Daydream and My Suger Babe, which blend jazz with the already established mix. And also give a much-needed calm to his other catchy tunes. It was also around this time that he met Takeuchi Mariya, his future wife and also a well-respected musician in her own field. They would collaborate a few years later on the worldwide hit, Plastic Love. Following up on the success was On the Street Corner, which, if we’re being honest, was never gonna top his previous work. But it was a solid addition.

Top 1 Non-Stop

However, this superstar didn’t stop at this. His next three albums were also mega hits in Japan, all reaching the top 3 on the chart. For You was a more romantic take on his genre, dedicating his album to his significant other. Sparkle and Love Talkin’ (Honey It’s You) standing out in particular with this theme. With the success of the album, Tatsuro went to a new publishing company and began work, ultimately ditching the City Pop genre in the process. Interesting that just as he went for more a Soul and R&B flavor, he was crowned the king of City Pop.

Melodies was his followup and revamped his style much more. First off, he would cover a well-known track by Glen Campbell, “Guess I’m Dumb.” He would work with the original writers, along with his new producers at Alfa/Moon, giving his own take on the song. The album would also feature the song Christmas Eve, which was a major hit that year, with it being played at multiple ceremonies and ads. His next addition was Big Waves, a record made alongside the titular movie. Yamashita provided the soundtrack, with Magic Ways, once again reaching the top spot on the chart, just like Ride on Time.

What Comes After The Top?

The second half didn’t really see a breakthrough in terms of music. Besides some excellent collaborative pieces with his wife, Tatsuro went with more song covers rather than original material. His records were good, but again, he would never be able to beat the height of his career. He was an established star, but outside of Japan, many albums of the next decade would remain unknown. The ’90 saw a small ray of greatness with Artisan, but again it was more of a collaborative project. After the 90s craze, he would record even less.

His 2005 album Sonorite, tried to recapture the magic of his early work, going back to the roots of City Pop. He would make a comeback, but with a large gap since his last work, many would miss the release of the album. Thought it was recognized enough in the west. In 2011 he released one final album, Ray of Hope, and was a hit once again in Japan, but outside didn’t see massive success. Thought no new material has been released, Tatsuro is still active, going on tours with his wife and acting as a producer for her. 

A Few Final Words

I honestly love him. While his recent work isn’t as astonishing as his 80s albums, it’s nevertheless worth a listen. However, his music from Ride on Time up to Big Waves is a must-listen. There is so much funk to it, and charm that you can barely contain yourself either from dancing or singing. Just hearing his voice grace those high tons is enough to give you shivers, and for that, he is a legend. You may not know much about him, but trust me, once you hear it, you will be hooked on a feeling. I’ll leave you in the company of one of my favorite songs, and you give it a listen, you won’t regret it.