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Six Iconic Albums About Tokyo
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Six Iconic Albums About Tokyo

Picture of Jing Xuan Teng
Updated: 13 January 2017
Tokyo, Japan’s capital and major cultural center of the world, has been central to some of the greatest music produced in the last century. Tokyo’s world class recording facilities and performing venues have attracted international legends like Miles Davis and the Beatles, as well as Japanese artists. Here are six iconic albums, either inspired by or recorded in this great megacity.

Thomas Brinkmann, Tokyo + 1 (2004)

Tokyo + 1 is the result of experimental techno artist, Thomas Brinkmann’s, travels in the city, with tracks built around recordings of city noises and conversations with locals. Brinkmann cut his teeth in the art faculty of Düsseldorf Academy, modifying and hand carving records, before establishing three record labels and a reputation for imaginative sequencer use. In Tokyo + 1, tracks like “3 St. 2 Shinjuku” and “Lovesong” mimic and play on the industrial, machine noises of the big city.

Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick At Budokan (1978)

One of the best examples of the curious “big in Japan” phenomenon, Illinois rock band Cheap Trick never made much of a splash in the American music world until their growing Japanese fan base earned them the title of “American Beatles”. In 1978, they arrived in Tokyo for their Japan Tour, and were greeted by hordes of screaming fans. The record resulting from that tour, Cheap Trick At Budokan, went on to become a triple platinum hit in the US.

Scorpions, Tokyo Tapes (1978)

The long-lived German heavy metal band Scorpions recorded their first-ever live album at the Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo, during their 1978 Japan tour. The double vinyl set showcased a “best of” playlist from the band’s 60s heyday, including classics like “We’ll Burn the Sky” and “Fly to the Rainbow”. The Scorpions’ rendition of the Meiji period folksong “Kojo no Tsuki”, a nod to their Japanese audience, also makes it onto the album.

Happy End, Kazemachi Roman (1971)

Happy End were a late-60s avant garde folk rock band, who were among the first to mix foreign rock influences with Japanese lyrics. Kazemachi Roman, released in November 1971, tries to capture the spirit of pre-1964 Tokyo, before the demolitions and reconstructions made in preparation for the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Non-Japanese listeners are probably most familiar with the track, “Kaze wo Atsumete”, which was featured in the soundtrack of the 2003 Sofia Coppola film Lost in Translation.

Miles Davis, Miles in Tokyo (1969)

A 1969 release of jazz legend Miles Davis’s Tokyo concert five years prior, Miles in Tokyo features one of the first iterations of Davis’s Second Great Quintet, which included Sam Rivers on the tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on the piano, Ron Carter playing the bass, and Tony Williams as drummer. This is one of the rare opportunities to hear Davis and Rivers working together at the peak of their talents, as stylistic disagreements caused the two go separate ways soon after the 1964 concert.

Pizzicato Five, Romantique 96 (1995)

Pioneers of the 90s Shibuya-kei movement, the Tokyo-based group Pizzicato Five drew influence from movements like 1960s pop, acid jazz, and house music, creating a uniquely Japanese sound. Tracks like “Tokyo Mon Amour”, from their 1995 album Romantique 96, have an almost Serge Gainsbourg-esque nonchalance and ironic sweetness.