As some of you may already know, one of my duties over at Bay Area Kei is running our blog newsletter, Bibliotheca. In fact, I’ve recently been promoted from “Senior Unfunny Blurb Writer” to “Basically Head of the Whole Thing”. As such, I feel obligated to participate in our monthly themes, and December’s ended up being the very workable “Favorite Things”.
I say very workable, as I already planned to post about some of my favorite Japanese Christmas songs, which fits well enough. Before the pandemic, I used to play music on my weekly radio show, on an actual terrestrial radio station and everything. I started streaming on Twitch in part because I no longer was on the air…but due to the absolute mess that is modern-day copyright law, I couldn’t just do my radio show like I used to. So one of my goals for this blog was a spot for occasional posts that serve as a sad little replacement for my old show. RIP.
Does City Pop imply the existence of Rural Pop?
On to happier things! “City Pop” is real big among the kids these days, I hear. But something both myself and others in the Japanese music scene have observed, is that a lot of “City Pop playlists” tend to repeat the same songs by the same artists, over and over. Even those that don’t, tend to have a much narrower definition than what is commonly used in Japan – basically, English-language fans tend to focus on Funky Tracks Only. So while part of me thinks “Kelp, don’t people already know this stuff?”, I was also unsurprised to find that a lot of so-called “City Pop Christmas” playlists seemed to lack some well-known classics.
It’s the Ride on Time guy!
Let’s get this fella out of the way – if you know one City Pop Guy, it’s 山下達郎 Yamashita Tatsuro. His signature holiday track, originally released in 1983, was the only one on this list that I saw pop up during my cursory search of weeb playlists. This song was used in a series of Christmastime 1988~92 commercials for JR Central (a major railway company). The theme was consistent each year: “girl waiting for her boyfriend to show up for xmas”.
(Wait, her boyfriend? Yep – in Japan, Christmas is for lovers…sorta. As with any imported holiday, your mileage may vary.)
The commercials themselves serve as a great little Bubble Era fashion time capsule – our first heroine is straight up wearing a leather jacket, while the second is sporting a red “riders jacket” layered over a muted floral?? maxi dress and matching leopard print pillbox hat and purse. Another commercial starts with a girl dropping a chunky clip-on hoop earring. Chef’s kiss. I’m incorporating all these tracks where I can by linking to Youtube, which we all know is a guaranteed recipe for link rot – in fact, at time of writing, there is no good upload of the full version of this song! However, if you search 山下達郎 クリスマス・イブ, it should come up somewhere. Good luck.
Some other City Pop guys
So what else is there? For the sake of getting this post done sooner rather than later, I set a narrow parameter for myself: “Songs with male vocalists you might put on when your girlfriend’s over”. Second up on the list is another city pop giant, 小田和正 Oda Kazumasa.
Originally in extremely famous pop group Off Course, solo-wise he’s probably best known for mega-hit ラブ・ストーリーは突然に. You really can’t go wrong putting an album of his on before attempting to Seal the Deal. His 1989 Christmas track, 君にMerry X’mas, is a bit of a slow burn comparatively, but maybe that’s the energy you’re looking for? (But not on Youtube. Good luck finding this one as well.)
In no particular order, we move on to 稲垣潤一 Inagaki Jun’ichi, another hitmaker. This 1992 bop, クリスマスキャロルの頃には, is probably my favorite of the big hits, and not just because of his great exemplification of pre-nasalized が (if you know, you know). Not that he needs any bonus points, but a much more stylish fit than Mr. Oda on this single cover.
郷ひろみ Go Hiromi is weirdly perhaps best known by weebs as “that old guy that did that weird cover of Livin’ la Vida Loca“, if he’s known at all. But before that, he was a city pop crooner just like the rest of the gents on this list.
Anyways, I had trouble nailing down a release date for “Lost Xmas” – it seems to first make an appearance on a compilation album put out in 1995, but it feels earlier??
To round out the city pop hit list, 浜田省吾 Hamada Shougo provides the title of this post with this nice little rock number Sentimental Christmas. Perfect in the background of a diner scene where you and your gal are sipping on some malted milkshakes.
This week in Extremely Not Google Proof Band Names
But wait, there’s more! Most of Original Love’s discography definitely qualifies as “strong makeout song candidate” – heck, one of their biggest hits is literally just about making out. No, not that one. The one 中島美嘉 Nakashima Mika covered. (Fun fact: I like the Nakashima Mika cover better than the original, and I am a big Original Love fan.)
So why am I not including them in the above lists? Well, if you’re familiar with 田島貴男 Tajima Takao’s brief stint as the main vocalist of Pizzicato Five, you may know the answer. Sometimes…his songs get a little dark. The linked track, Sunday Impressions/日曜日の印象, ends with the self-narrating protagonist (for lack of a better term) locking himself in the bathroom after he finishes shaving, seemingly never to come out again…
Anyways, back to Original Love. “X’mas NO HI“, off their 1988 self-titled album, seems fairly normal on first listen, especially if you don’t understand Japanese. They got sleigh bells and everything! But once you listen closer…you realize it’s about a guy getting so pissed off he breaks into the house next door and burns it to the ground. Makes sense they wrote the title in alphabet – hi can be both “day” and “fire”, so naturally you assume “X’mas day” before realizing, no, it’s “X’mas fire”. So now you know why it gets its own section.
Please listen to JADOES
Last, but not least, JADOES! They finally seem to be gaining traction in English-language discussions of sweet-ass late 80’s/early 90’s Japanese hits, and it’s well-deserved. Anyone familiar with New Jack Swing will instantly recognize what’s going on here.
They actually have two seasonal songs that I know of, but I’m linking my favorite of the two, “Silent Night“. It appears on their 1986 album “It’s Friday”, and I very much recommend listening to the whole thing. Well, actually, no. I would skip “IKASUMAN”. Start from track 2.
Okay, now we’re done with my Brief Hastily-Written Post of makeout-approved city pop Christmas songs. I hope this helps anyone who is spending the holiday trying to romance some people you wanna get to know better instead of babysit some children you already know fairly well.