Watashi O Danzai Seyo
From 1969. Nobuyasu Okabayashi comes from the same stable as Happy End (Harumi Hosono, Eiichi Otaki, Shigeru Suzuki Takashi Matsumoto) and like them played a Japanese version of American folk (in Dylan, Little Feat vain) and is highly respected as a pioneering artist. Happy End were his backing group when, like Dylan, he later controversially went electric.
FLOWER TRAVELLIN' BAND
Originally released in 1971. Flower Travellin' Band took their cue from groups such as Black Sabbath and King Crimson, but were so much more than that. With singer Akira 'Joe' Yamanaka (sometimes compared to Judas Priest's Rob Halford) they were years ahead of their time playing an inventive brand of hard rock psyechedelia. Satori contains great guitar licks from Hideki Ishima, with the band sounding somewhat like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath with echoes of the east and north Africa. Five long songs, titled "Satori Part I-V" a sort of prototype jam band album.
Kaze Machi Roman (Paper Jacket Edition)
1971. Happy End are noted for being one of the first Japanese groups to perform original songs sang entirely in Japanese while influenced by western rock and folk. They are considered pioneers and their members included bassist/vocalist Haruomi Hosono (later of Yellow Magic Orchestra), guitarist/vocalist Eiichi Otaki, guitarist/ vocalist Shigeru Suzuki and drummer Takashi Matsumoto. The band lasted only four years from 1969 recorded three albums but have certainly left their legacy.Kaze Machi Roman is considered the best of those albums and includes the song Kaze Wo Atsumete, used in the soundtrack to the film Lost in Translation.
SADISTIC MIKA BAND
Sadistic Mika Band featured guitarist and vocalist Kazuhiko Kato, his wife Mika, and Yukihiro Takahashi later of YMO fame. They played hard rock with their own individual twist. They gained some attention in the UK and recorded Kurobune (their second album) with producer Chris Thomas ( Pink Floyd, Roxy Music) considered now a seminal work way ahead of its time for its progressive sound. They later toured in the UK although commercial success eluded them. They broke up in 1978 and have since sporadically reformed without Mika, but are still highly respected and loved by many for this classic.
From 1976 Japanese Girl was Akiko Yano's first album, produced by her first husband Makoto Yano.It was a big hit at the time but has stood the test of time as well. The LP came with an American side recorded with Lowell George and Little Feat in the US and a Japanese side, recorded in Japan featuring Haruomi Hosono. All songs were written by Akiko Yano. Akiko Yano has since gone onto a successful career playing her own unique music (sometimes compared to Kate Bush) somewhere in the jazz idiom and collaborating with many musicians from Japan and around the world, especially her home in New York.
Released in 1975. This is the only album ever recorded by Sugar Babe, but it has long been considered a classic. It features Tatsuro Yamashita (vocals, guitar, keyboards later to have a successful solo career) Taeko Onuki (vocals) co- produced by Eiichi Otaki of Happy End. The album features some great tunes, influenced by American pop and 60s soul. It helped to spawn the Japanese pop scene in the 70s with its funky tunes such as "Down Town". The band broke up in 1976, although Yamashita and Onuki have gone on to successful solo careers.
SOUTHERN ALL STARS
Since the mid 70s, Southern All Stars have been riding the charts in Japan just about without equal.The group owes its success largely to the songwriting talents of singer Keisuke Kuwata with his memorable catchy hooks in a light rock and pop format. Formed out of a university folk song club the group also features Hiroshi Matsuda (drums) Hideyuki Nozawa (percussion) and keyboardist Yuko Hara, who became Kuwatas wife. This early album from 1977
PANTA & HAL
Cult artist in Japan, Panta was a member of "Zunou Keisatsu" before forming "Panta and Hal." Panta (real name Haruo Nakamura) is known for his lyrics and superb melodies. The group were together from 1977 for five years and recorded three albums, including Maracca in 1979.
Another cult group, Friction's main members Reck (vocals, guitar, bass) and Chiko-Hige (drums, sax) became influenced by the burgeoning new wave scene in New York from the mid 70s. On forming Friction they soon attracted a following, drawing comparisons to the Birthday Party. This album, released in 1990 is considered their crowning glory.
YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA
Solid State Survivor
For many, quite simply, Japan's greatest ever group and their greatest album. Nearly 30 years on, YMO are still cited by seemingly any creative Japanese musician operating in rock, dance, club and other genres as a major influence and by many international artists too. Formed in 1978 by Ryuichi Sakamoto, ex Happy End bassist Haruomi Hosono and ex-Sadistic Mika Band drummer Yukihiro Takahashi, they pioneered techno pop. On their second album Solid State Survivor, YMO combined their synth/drum machine sound with some memorable tunes such as Technopilis and Behind the Mask (later covered by Eric Clapton). The group disbanded in 1984, all have pursued successful solo careers, reuniting recently as Audio Human Sponge. Their legacy as YMO is timeless.
RC Succession were influenced initially by groups such as Happy End and the rock of Sadistic Mika Band. They started off as an acoustic folk group before modeling themselves on the Rolling Stones. For over 25 years they have been one of the most durable and popular rock bands, fronted by singer Kiyoshiro Imawano. Rhapsody is their classic live album released in 1980. It was made when the guitarist Reiichi Nakaido joined the group and they had recreated themselves as an energetic live act.
A Long Vacation
Eiichi Ohtaki is a singer, musician and producer who has been involved in a number of seminal projects. Together with Takashi Mastsumoto, Haruomi Hosono and Shigeru Suzuki Shigeru he was a member of Happy End. He also produced the Sugar Babe album featured elsewhere on this list. This release commemorates the 20th anniversary of the original release from 1981 album of 'A Long Vacation' with a bonus track 'Sing a Long Vacation'. Long considered one of Japan's greatest rock albums packed with catchy melodies.
Roots rock legends throughout the 1980s, fronted by Shinya Ohe (vocals) and Hiroyuki Hanada (guitar). The play a punkish rock and roll based on 1960s British blues.Insane was released in 1981, its raw energy and great tunes still being cited today by young rock groups as an influence. Reformed recently as the RocknRoll Gypsies.
Moonriders were formed by Keiichi Suzuki in 1975 with members from his previous group Hachimitsu Pie and his younger brother Hirobumi Suzuki. Suzuki was another musician at the forefront of creating rock music expressed in the Japanese language. Their record company initially didn't want to release this album, as it was considered too experimental. It is influenced by avant garde modernists with techno-pop Roland sounds. Originally released in 1984.
ANKOKU TAIRIKU JAGATARA
This is Jagatara's first album released under the name of Ankoku Tairiku Jagatara. Jagatara were a kind of Afro-funk group mixing punk with funky afro reggae rock. The group featured the brilliant OTO as guitarist who would go on to produce and record a host of artists from around the world. This album includes a stomping horn section and is a masterpiece of the Japanese underground with classics such as "Baby" and "Tango".
Motoharu Sano is a singer songwriter dubbed the Japanese Bruce Springsteen. Upbeat rock n roll, anthemic catchy tunes. Sano mixed English phrases in with the Japanese lyrics, including the title track to this album, released in 1982.
THE BLUE HEARTS
The Blue Hearts
The Blue Hearts are a quartet led by Hiroto Koumoto (vocals) and Masatoshi Mashima (guitar and vocals). Their music is most often compared to the Clash but also The Ramones and The Jam, in its straight ahead, strong melody, fast paced punk sound. This is their self-titled debut album released in 1987, a high energy affair full of raw power and well crafted tunes.
Bo & Gumbo
Bo Gumbos were formed by the eccentric ex-Rosa Luxemburg member Dont (vocals and guitar) who tragically died in 2000. This is their debut album recorded in New Orleans, taking its cue from New Orleans funk and R&B with A list guests Bo Diddley and Cyril Neville.
Brilliant third album from one of Japan's most innovative groups for over 15 years. Brilliant songs penned by Kazufumi Miyazawa, many influenced by the Specials and ska music, while Okinawan music that Miyazawa would grow to embrace more in the future makes an impact.
MACHIZO MACHIDA + KITAZAWA-GUMI
Brilliannt punk group featuring Yusuke Nishimura. Machizo Machida + Kitazawagumi made their debut in 1982, while they didn't record their best album until 1992.
First Question Award
Keigo Oyamada (a.k.a. Cornelius) is almost as big a star overseas as in Japan. Was a member of Flipper's Guitar and leading protagonist of the Shibuya-kei scene. He founded the Trattoria label and produced Pizzicato Five, and Kahimi Karie. In 1993 Oyamada emerged as Cornelius with First Question Award in 1994. Currently unavailable.
BLANKEY JET CITY
Blankey Jet City were a punk rockabilly trio, led by Kansai singer and songwriter Kenichi Asai with bassist Toshiyuki Terui and drummer Tatsuya Nakamura.They disbanded in 2000 performing at the Fuji Rock festival. This was their third album produced by Masami Tsuchiya.
Captain Vapour Athletes
Sugar Yoshinaga, Yumiko Ohno and Moog Yamamoto are Buffalo Daughter playing pop techno progressive synthesizer rock. Captain Vapour Athletes was released in 1996 in the US. Currently unavailable.
THEE MICHELLE GUN ELEPHANT
Thee Michelle Gun Elephant played an energetic brand of speedy Ramones like punk. Vocalist Yusuke Chiba, and lead guitarist Futoshi Abe both brought a charisma to their live shows with their manic performances. Gear Blues was TMGE's breakthrough album from 1998, which also got a US release when the group toured there. The band split up in 2003.
It was obvious from the beginning that UA was something different in the J-Pop scene. She has a smoky voice and her albums are usually made with a host of cool musicians from the club, dub and dance scenes. She has certainly never conformed and usually her albums come as a surpsise and might be described as slow growers. Ametora was her second album following the more pop debut 11. She didn't keep to the same formula instead recorded an album with jazzy influences. UA continues to intrigue today in a variety of incarnations.
From Kyoto, Quruli are led by Shigeru Kishida (guitar and vocals) and Masashi Sato (bass). Their music is a quite original alternative experimental rock combining pop, punk and lo-fi, electronica. Haunting slow numbers are interspeced with loud distorted tunes, but somehow they manage to fit them together in an entirely organic way. They have played with a host of international artists such as Manic Street Preachers, Mercury Rev and Super Furry Animals. From 2001, Team Rock is their most accomplished album to date.
Since they were formed in 1995 Rovo has combined the talents of musicians who have had track records and success with a number of different outfits. Guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto (Boredoms) bassist Jin Hara (Bazooka Joe), keyboards Tatsuki Masuko (Dub Squad). In more recent years drummer/percussionist Yoichi Okabe (the Thrill, keyboards Hiroshi Nakanishi (Dub Squad), drummer Yasuhiro Yoshigaki (Otomo Yoshide) and violinist Yuji Katsui, who has become the band's producer and leader. Their music blends hypnotic rhythms, dub with psychedelia and the group have garnered a reputation for their live shows. Mon was released in 2004 afterwhich Nakanashi departed the band.