Steppin’ Heavy Mix Series #4: City Pop – The Mellow Wave

All Vinyl Mix. Original Pressings only. Compiled by Induce.

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Induce’s track by track breakdown:

1. Amii Ozaki – I’ve Been Mellow (Canyon/F-Label) 1983

What better way to start this mellow themed mix than the perfectly coincidental, aptly titled first track on her album. For De La Soul fans, the song’s intro is instantly recognizable, but redone in such a gratifying way, with the synth bass giving it that bouncy, modern feel. For those unawares, Mellow Groove is a sub-genre of Japanese City Pop and while there are a number of great City Pop mixes featuring some Mellow Groove style joints, I wanted to focus specifically on this sound for this mix. 

2. Toshiki Kadomatsu – Crescent Adventure (RCA) 1982

There’s something very hypnotic about this song that keeps me listening again and again. Maybe it’s the rapid fire flow in the hook with the little pitch bend at the end of the phrase, maybe it’s the English bit, maybe it’s just the overall feel. 

3. Yasuko Love Bird – La La Means I Love You (Invitation) 1978

Pretty much a pop star in Japan, Yasuko is known for her versatile voice and ability to sing any style of music as well as singing many of her songs in English. On this fully new and interesting take on the Delfonics classic, Yasuko’s sultry voice takes center stage as usual, but the production is more than stellar and the addition of the Vocoder in the hook really makes it special for me. I love vocoders. 

4. Hitomitoi – Snow Storm Loneliness (Billboard/Jet Set) 2014

This is actually a pretty recent release I was hipped to from the great staff at Jet Set Records in Kyoto, and every time I play something from this album, I get so so happy all over again they showed me this amazing record. Hitomitoi has put out something like 12 albums and while I haven’t heard many of the others, this particular album is full of bangers all the way through and is easily a full-listen type of album, ranging from Disco/Boogie to House to Slow Jamz like this one. I really love her voice and wish I could work with her one day, maybe write her some songs in English, but I’m sure at this point she doesn’t need my help!

5. Yumi Matsutoya – Spaceship Earth / Aoi Fune De (Express) 1983

Aside from sharing the same name as one of my favorite rides at Disney’s Epcot in Orlando, it also shares the longing feeling of wonder one might get while on the ride. I love the mystery in the guitar melody at the start of the track. It really sets the stage for the nostalgic feeling in the song in a nice way. 

6. Minako Yoshida – Tornado (Alfa) 1983

Another powerhouse of a voice, Minako is beloved for her boundary pushing albums that define the City Pop sound: a mix of Jazz, Funk, Soul, Soft Rock and smooth vibes. As the song title suggests, her voice twists and turns in a cyclone in ways I have rarely heard. The background vocals are magic in my mind, swirling and undulating to dizzying effect.  

7.  Seri Ishikawa – Sayonara No Kisetsu (Phillips) 1977

On my last trip to Japan, searching for all these records, I would just buy things that looked cool or were produced around a particular era, usually between 1977 and 1984, leaving to chance whether it was good or not. This was one of those records I found like that and I’m always happy and excited to hear what awaits me on these treasures. 

8. Junko Yagami – 窓辺 (Discomate) 1978

I have a number of her albums, and while more on the poppy side, they are still really satisfying listens. This track ventures into loungy Bossa Nova territory before left-turning into a soft rock jam for the chorus. Perfect for a mellow day, sipping on a lemonade next to the ocean. 

9. Kay Ishiguro – 潮騒 (Victor) 1979

Speaking of the ocean, something about this one makes me think of drifting on a sailboat on a calm morning, passing by a buoy, taking in the sea mist. I really have to ask a friend to translate the lyrics for me because I’d love to know what the song is about. Production wise, the synth lead during the breaks is nothing short of perfect and her voice transports me to another world, one where beauty reigns and nothing is wrong.  

10. Masayoshi Takanaka – Just Chuckle (Kitty) 1981

Anyone who knows me knows I love vocoders and talkboxes, so there was no question I had to have this one on the mix. Plus, it fits in with the mellow vibes, so here we are!

11. Tomoko Aran – Blue Note (Warner Bros.) 1982

One of the records I picked up from Osaka’s Record Shop Rare Groove owner Norio Sato on his last trip to LA, this one kind of takes us into the home stretch of the mix, somewhat shifting from the ultra mellow vibes into things a bit more funky and groovy. Packing a stellar groove and great synth sounds, the track definitely needs to be sampled if it hasn’t already. 

12. Masaki Ueda – I Miss You All (CBS/Sony) 1982

An interesting blend of Soft Rock and downtempo mellow funky vibes, this one has tons of that oft-heard Japanese longing feeling, something I also love. It’s basically a sad song with a funk beat, which is what makes it so good!

13. Yumi Matsutoya – Tawa Saido Memori / Tower Side Memory (Express) 1981

So I have to be honest – while making this mix, it wasn’t until I was typing the track list that I noticed I put 3 songs by Yumi Matsutoya aka Yuming. Each different album had her name written differently! Ultimately, I don’t mind and neither should you, because the music is good. I particularly love male and female voice interactions on songs and the interplay between the two on here is top notch. 

14. Tinna – Newport Bay (Express) 1979

With a downtempo Brazilian samba style blended into fusion-esque rhythmic complexities, with the vocals coming in at strange measures, this song has deep, rich textures that lend to multiple listens. Also helps that it’s a little bit like a Dr. Buzzard’s vibe. 

15. Junko Ohashi & Minoya Central Station – Journey To The Mind ~ バミールの夜明け (Philips) 1978

Extra funky but never too upbeat to take it into dance club territory, you might think it doesn’t get much better than this, but then you hear the last two songs on the mix. Also, just DYING to be sampled. 

16. Marlene with Seawind – Let Yourself Go (CBS/Sony) 1982

Together with Seawind of CTI fame, Marlene makes an English language jam that sits perfectly with any early 80’s jazzy R&B mid tempo jam a la Shalamar “This Is For The Lover In You” or countless Roy Ayers joints. 

17. Yuming – ようこそ輝く時間へ / Come See The Amusement Park Illumination (Express) 1982

The final of 3 tracks on the mix by Yumi Matsutoya, I’m simply hypnotized by the rhythmic feel here. At the start of song, where the band stretches out in more ways than one, you can feel the beat expanding when the hand claps hit and immediately following, the open high hat acting like a rubber band, snapping everything back into place. It’s just masterful production.  

18. Mariya Takeuchi – Plastic Love (Moon) 1984

Whenever I make a mix, I try to end it on a note that will leave the listener feeling something. Whether it’s wanting to listen all over again, or simply sadness, which helps cement memories and feelings in the brain, it MUST end with something unforgettable. These last two songs are exactly that. I actually couldn’t decide which to put last because I love them both so much. 

Interestingly enough, I had NO idea until after I finished this mix that the Youtube algorithm has been putting this at the top of certain playlists for a while and it has subsequently become pretty popular. Along with the last Yuming record, I was recommended this record at Face Records in Tokyo on my last trip, where they sold me their personal copy of this LP, for which I’m infinitely thankful. I tend to live in my own world when it comes to digging and don’t really pay attention to trends or other mixes. I like to find stuff on my own terms. With that said, whether you heard this amazing and wonderful song on this mix, Youtube, or even another City Pop mix, if it becomes as special to you as it has become for me, I’d be filled with happiness. 

19. Fujimaru Yoshino – Free Way 5 To South (Moon) 1982

Another gem I picked up from Norio Sato (Record Shop Rare Groove), Free Way 5 To South is the ultimate feel good windows down summer driving jam. While Ed Motta featured the more uptempo jam from the same album on his own exquisite City Pop mix with WaxPo, when I listened to the album, this song caught me in a way. The building harmonies in the hook, the slapping bass, the Bobby Caldwell-esque guitar lead work, just everything works until it fades out into oblivion. Aside from vocoders, harmonies are my #1 and this song has some of the most mind blowing harmony work I have ever heard. Hands down, along with Plastic Love, these two songs are desert island stranded, never need to hear anything else ever again level great. 

 

Stay tuned for the next mix, and find more from Induce here:

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