Acoustic Sounds

Tatsuro Yamashita

For You



City Pop Classic

Label: Ariola/Sony Music

Produced By: Tatsuro Yamashita

Engineered By: Tamotsu Yoshida, Toshiro Itoh

Mastered By: Isao Kikuchi

Lacquers Cut By: Katsutoshi Kitamura

Tatsuro Yamashita's For You, Back on Vinyl For the First Time in 40 Years

this "City Pop" classic "sparkles"

One of the most fanatical groups of record collectors to emerge in the past decade are the (primarily western) devotees of a genre of Japanese popular music from the late 1970s and 80s, dubbed retroactively as ‘City Pop.’ City Pop, or in Japanese Shiti poppu (no I am not making that up), comprises a musical collective of soft rock, soul, R&B, funk, and disco artists whose rise in popularity and output mirrors the economic boom of the late 70s that transformed Japanese society and it’s place on the world stage. The ‘City’ part of the term comes from the associated “urban” feel of the music, which also reflected the shift in social norms in Japanese society at the time. This was an era where the middle class was economically ascendent, and also women were entering the professional workforce and exploring previously denied social freedoms.

City pop declined in the late 80s, before being almost completely wiped out by the economic recession of the early 90s. It wasn’t until the mid 2010s that the dormant genre began to reach a new audience of listeners on the internet. Young people, both in Japan and worldwide, began to discover and listen to this unique combination of jazz-inspired composition with lighthearted pop sensibilities. YouTube uploads of certain City Pop tracks and albums received millions of views, paired with visuals and footage that evoked a nostalgic emotion for a place and time far removed from the listener (most of whom are millennial or gen z). The song that became a runaway hit of this resurgence was a 1984 single by Mariya Takeuchi called “Plastic Love.” In its single-year life on YouTube, before removal for copyright, “Pleastic Love” garnered over 24 million views (while the original single only sold 10,000 copies). That song, the unofficial anthem for the City Pop renaissance, was actually written by Takeuchi’s husband, Tatsuro Yamashita; an accomplished recording artist in his own right.

Yamashita might have played a major role in the revival of City Pop, but he also played a major role in its creation. One of the first groups to explore this sound in the mid 70s was a band called Sugar Babe, whose sole album, 1975’s Songs, became one of the blueprints for the genre. This group, led by none other than Tatsuro Yamashita himself, never achieved popularity in a musical landscape still dominated by the folk-rock and hard rock of the early 1970s, breaking up one year later in 1976. Sugar Babe’s jazzy, Steely Dan-inspired, melodic soft-rock seemed to be just a hair too ahead of domestic tastes. However, RCA records apparently saw something in the young Yamashita, signing him to a multi-album deal as a solo artist.

tatsuro yamashita, guitar, live

Yamashita would go on to record six studio albums for RCA, with his 5th album Ride on Time becoming the runaway smash hit of 1980, topping the charts and saving a musical career he reportedly almost abandoned. Because of this success, Tatsuro had almost complete freedom of time and budget when stepping into the studio to record the follow-up (and subject of this review), 1982’s For You.

For You is a statement piece of Yamashita’s diverse tastes and talents, featuring upbeat funk and disco alongside melodic ballads, Brian Wilson-esq vocal harmonies, new wave inspired electronics, and even gospel on tracks like “Futari”. For this album, Tatsuro assembled an incredible array of talented musicians, including a full consort of brass and saxophone players, strings, numerous backing vocalists including soul artist Minako Yoshida, and contributions by popular keyboardist Hiroshi Sato. This leads to arrangements that are incredibly lush and textured. Part of what further makes For You and iconic release is the memorable album art by famed pop-art illustrator Eizin Suzuki, featuring an highly saturated image of a beachside tv/radio shop, set against colorful whisps of wind and fantastically tall palms.

There really isn’t a bad song on this album, the track list is tight and well-curated with no real filler. For You is bookended by two songs most reflective of the push and pull of the album. The Side A opener “Sparkle” has become a genre classic, with an infectious and jangly opening guitar riff that leads the way for a funk and soul battalion of brass and slapped electric bass. Yamashita’s vocals are wet, with just enough reverb to make you think of those hot summer evenings, while his pre-chorus vocal lines are mirrored by the full choir in gospel-like fashion. By contrast, “Your Eyes” is a sweet piano-laden ballad sung in English, co-written with the help of acclaimed American songwriter Alan O’Day. This song might have a somewhat dated 80s drum sound, but the arrangements are spectacular, with big sweeping choir accompaniments and a highly sentimental sax solo.

For You was successful when it came out, but in the City Pop revival it has become known as a landmark album, with full-album uploads of this getting millions of views before their inevitable copyright takedown. This has led prices of all original Tatsuro Yamashita albums, but in particular this album, to soar on the secondary market. The original 1982 pressing of For You regularly sells for $100-200 in clean condition. With all this hype and revitalization of Yamashita’s popularity, you would think he and the record label would have reissued his work much sooner, as well as make these albums available digitality. Much to the bane of listeners globally, Yamashita despises streaming music services and has stated that he will never allow his work to be available on those platforms, meaning its LP, CD, or bust.

This year’s long-awaited reissue campaign of Yamashita’s RCA catalogue has generated huge internet buzz, with many preorder websites selling out very quickly. The series began with For You on May 3rd, followed by Ride on Time expected on June 7th, Moonglow and Go Ahead! on July 5th, Spacy and Circus Town on August 2nd, and It’s a Poppin’ Time and Greatest Hits! on September 6th. The reissues are housed in an extra-thick Japanese cardboard jacket, and included a new obi strip and souvenir postcard. These records are being pressed on 180g vinyl at Sony’s new Japanese pressing plant. Remastering was done (at least for For You) at Warner Japan by Isao Kikuchi.

Tatsuro Yamashita

So how does this new reissue sound? Based on my listening, it is surprisingly close to the sound of the original RCA/Air pressing. I played both albums back-to-back and detected a very similar tonal balance between the two records. Differences include a slightly warmer, rounder overall presentation on the reissue, while the original has more air, vocal clarity, and percussive slam. This album’s sonic baseline is already pretty good. Sure it’s mixed loud in true 80s disco fashion, but there is a lot of instrumental clarity and separation in the mix. Just don’t expect an Aja level sonic experience. This album was originally mixed with portable audio in mind, the producers wanted to make this the album of the summer of ’82, so Walkmans, car stereos and boom-boxes were major considerations. The reissue does help flesh out the lower octaves, as it's clear the 1982 pressing’s bass is mostly a pumped up “mid-bass”. However the original really makes Tatsuro’s vocals shine with a throaty clarity, and unfortunately the reissue just rolls that quality off ever so slightly.

These are minor quibbles, as overall this is undoubtedly an example of a digital remastering (I know of no engineers or studios in Japan doing AAA cutting at the moment) done correctly. And while these new reissues are not cheap on this side of the ocean (expect to pay about $60 before shipping), for highly collectable titles like For You and Spacy, they are vastly more attainable to the average record buyer than are the originals. Hats off to the team at Sony Japan for another high quality reissue of an essential domestic title. These records need to be kept in-print, especially if they are to be barred from digital music services. If you are looking for an introduction to either genre of City Pop, or to Yamashita’s music in general, this excellent reissue of For You is my recommended starting place.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: BVJL 90

Pressing Plant: Sony Japan


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2023-05-14 09:47:42 PM

    Malachi Lui wrote:

    excellent review! surprised you didn't mention taeko ohnuki, the other main member of sugar babe who went on to an excellent solo career as well. other than that, i appreciate the extensive detail even if i'm personally not a fan of tatsuro yamashita.

    surprised that even in 2023, he refuses to have his work on streaming. even robert fripp succumbed after YEARS of avoiding streaming like the plague.

    by the way, i think the japanese pressing plant toyokasei can still do AAA cutting in-house, or at least was able to a few years ago. there was a series of bellwood reissues back in 2018 cut from tape at 45rpm, i have the reissue of happy end's third album from that series and it sounds good albeit not great due to the murky recording (it's this one:はっぴいえんど-Happy-End). there's also a 45rpm AAA 'hosono house' that i haven't heard, though i've preordered the 50th anniversary one of unspecified provenance and will review it here.

    • 2023-05-14 10:36:34 PM

      Michael Johnson wrote:

      Taeko made it into the draft, but I didn't want to pile too many references onto the reader. I actually have one of those 45rpm reissues you're talking about, Hachimitsu Pie's debut album from Bellwood. It does sound insanely good, but I completely forgot that it was AAA. I should try to hunt down more of those cuts.

      • 2023-05-14 10:45:01 PM

        Malachi Lui wrote:

        i don't have a vinyl copy of that hachimitsu pie record but it's a good album so i should probably get it sometime!

  • 2023-05-15 08:08:56 AM

    Jonti wrote:

    15 years ago, pre-City Pop boom, I bought a copy of this for 2,000 yen in Sapporo. No one cared about it back then.

    Anyway, kudos to Yamashita for his stated aim of helping fans who want to hear these albums on vinyl not have to pay the market-inflated prices of 2022 (the run of reissues actually seems to have had a knock-on effect on local prices for used original copies in 2023; there's an OG "For You" in my local going for a very reasonable 6,000 yen).

  • 2023-05-16 11:32:55 AM

    Nigel Tufnel wrote:

    Michael - thanks for this review. How cool these days to read about a genre I knew nothing about. Lots to explore!