Are you still enjoying that gloriously indulgent and decadent City Pop wave? As the revival of late 70s through mid-80s J-Pop continues through the new decade, now fully having come back to Japan, we still find ourselves revisiting its shimmering vibes and infectious hooks on a regular basis. While Mariya Takeuchi’s retroactively seminal ‘Plastic Love‘ is revival’s anthem, Tatsuro Yamashita sits upon the throne as the king of the genre and one of the greatest to ever do it in the Japanese music industry. However, you might be surprised to know that, to Japanese who grew up with Yamashita, his biggest song isn’t ‘Sparkle’ or ‘Ride on Time‘; Arguably, it’s ‘Christmas Eve’.
Apologies to all the purists out there, but the only time the City Pop God ever reached number one on the Japanese singles charts was with ‘Christmas Eve‘; thankfully, albums are a different story. Obviously, the song named after the holiday is a yuletide jam. Yamashita first included the cut on his 1983 record Melodies, but the track didn’t receive particular acclaim until it was used in advertisements a few years later. Capitalism, folks. From then, it was re-released and shot up to the top despite already being a three-year-old track. It’s since been reissued and rerecorded more than once, and has sold almost two million copies. Played on radios and covered even today, you could say it holds a similar position to Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime.’
Unlike Paul McCartney’s tune, with its tinny synths and busted melodies, Tatsuro Yamashita’s ‘Christmas Eve‘ is an absolute delight that most people don’t mind hearing about 200 times over a concreted span of the last few weeks of the year. You have some winter bell sounds and choral accompaniments in the mix for that authentic yuletide sound, but part of why the songs succeeded is that it still sounds like a Yamashita cut. Sure, it’s not as funky nor playful as anything off ‘Pocket Music’ but there’s a steady guitar grove that props up Yamashita’s one-of-a-kind singing that results in the most delectable peppermint twinged ear-candy. The man belts it out as hard as he ever had on anything else, not treating the track like some Holiday novelty.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, as pop stars on both sides of the Pacific are known to do, Tatsuro Yamashita eventually released his own Christmas album Season’s Greetings in 1993. Unfortunately, the beloved rocker doesn’t City Poppify the entire Christmas cannon of music, but it’s still novel enough to hear his unmistakable soaring vocals all over the holiday classics. Interestingly, he does include ‘Christmas Eve‘ on the album, but a recording done entirely in English! With the rest of album sung in English, the move makes sense. Now, do we think the inclusion of his Christmas classic means he believes his song is up there with ‘Blue Christmas’? Probably not, as it was most likely a studio mandate. However, since the song has sold millions and can still be heard all over Japan during December almost 40 years later, he wouldn’t be wrong to think so.