CBS/Sony Sound Image Series: The Two-Part Lifestyle of City Pop


Have you ever heard of the CBS/Sony Sound Image Series? This cool set of albums is celebrating CBS/Sony Records' 10th anniversary from the late 70s to the early 80s. Picture this: City Pop, Jazz-Funk, and lounge vibes all in one. Each record is like a mini music festival with 3 to 8 artists teaming up. The likes of the all-star lineup of Haruomi Hosono, Shigeru Suzuki, Tatsuro Yamashita, Masaki Matsubara, Kimio Mizutani, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Hiroshi Sato, Akira Inoue, Tsunehide Mitsuki, Kazumasa Akiyama, Kenji Omura, Ken Yajima, Kazuo Takeda, Takahiko Ishikawa, and Masataka Matsutoya all contributed in the CBS/Sony Sound Image. 

All the records were associated with a specific place where you can escape and relate the tunes with these places or imagine being there: the feeling of taking on a boat journey to the vast Pacific Ocean, chilling beside the Aegean Sea in Greece, and getting lost in the concrete jungle of Manhattan. This imagery aligns with City Pop's association with salarymen surfing on the weekends. One example is that Tatsuro Yamashita draws so heavily on early surf music for inspiration, which is one of the reasons that City Pop is so associated with tropical imagery. Dozens of city pop album covers feature the ocean, sand, palm trees, or tropical themes. Kadomatsu Toshiki once coined the term "two-part lifestyle," as many Japanese city dwellers in the 1980s saw the escape to tropical, exotic locations as integral to their dual lifestyle. This dual lifestyle allowed them to reap the benefits of both beach and city. You can find this imagery in almost all the CBS/Sony Sound Image collection album artworks. We will walk you through each record and what makes them very special.  

"Pacific" (1978) - Haruomi Hosono, Shigeru Suzuki, & Tatsuro Yamashita

This is the first album released in the CBS/SONY Sound Image Series. A three-way split album between City Pop maestros evokes the atmospheres of the South Pacific island and the kind of places Japanese people spend their vacations. Pacific is a treat to the ears; its theme of the southern Pacific Ocean and its warm cerulean waters relax its listeners with a fusion of City Pop, Soft Jazz, and that good old 1970s Funk while remaining surprisingly entirely instrumental throughout all contributions from artists Haruomi Hosono, Shigeru Suzuki, and Tatsuro Yamashita. It's a true cult LP and an inspiration for many so-called "vaporware" music. 

In the opener, "Last Paradise," the instrumentation and effects of exotic instruments are used almost ham-handedly. Yet, we have never been convinced that it is mediocre at all. "Coral Reef" is just glimmering with such sedated cheer, while "Nostalgia of Island" is entirely within its category. The former is simpler yet enjoyable, yet the latter is the absolute peak of City Pop, Exotica, and Sunshine Pop all in one. That one little Beach Boys cut towards the end is absolutely goosebump-inducing. The tracks like "Nostalgia of Island," which absolutely blows you away, make up for more straightforward, less brilliant pieces like "Coral Reef" to make the entire album a palatable, enjoyable experience if only to chase its highs and enjoy its lows. And is it any surprise that the two best tracks on the album, "Nostalgia of Island" and the later "Kiska," are the highest peaks of the album, both being Tatsuro Yamashita pieces? Certainly not. Of course, Hosono takes over for the "weirder" tracks like Last Paradise, Slack Key Rhumba, and the out-of-character Cosmic Surfin'. At the same time, the lesser-known Shigeru Suzuki fills in the gaps with lesser yet enjoyable filler, his notable standout being the track "Passion Flower." 

Overall, this album comprises instrumental, loungy tunes that employ steel drums, exotic percussion, breathy flutes, and the twangy guitar of surf rock, best suited as background music in a 1950s tiki bar. 

Must hear tracks: 

  1. "Nostalgia of Island"
  2. "Kiska"
  3. "Passion Flower"

"New York" (1979) - Shigeru Suzuki, Masaki Matsubara, Kimio Mizutani, Tsunehide Matsuki, Kazumasa Akiyama, Kenji Omura, Masaru Yajima & Kazuo Takeda 

"New York" is the second release in the CBS/Sony Sound Image series and one of the less popular from the series. This record tries to encapsulate the New York City atmosphere with tracks like "Kennedy Airport" by Shigeru Suzuki, "New York Subway" by Kimio Mizutani, and "Manhattan Sunrise" by Masaru Yajima. It's more Fusion than Exotica in terms of the genre. That being said, "Kennedy Airport" is a pretty good jam, "New York Subway" is surprisingly intriguing (though easily stuck in the 70s), and "Central Park" is easily the highlight of the album, striking more originality and intrigue in composition than anything else here. Anyway, "New York" is a hit-or-miss collection of songs attempting to interpret an American city these Japanese folks might have never been to. 

Must hear tracks: 

  1. "Central Park"
  2. "Kennedy Airport"
  3. "New York Subway"

The Aegean Sea (1979) - Haruomi Hosono, Takahiko Ishikawa, & Masataka Matsutoya

The third release from the series, The Aegean Sea, is a companion piece to the previous year's Pacific. A beautiful piece of Japanese smooth Fusion-Jazz with elements of traditional Greek music and Balearic grooves, it's one of Hosono's cleanest and most focused works to date. Long sought-after by collectors, this record is nearly impossible to find in original pressings outside of Japan—an essential Japanese jazz fusion. 


It isn't the greatest collaboration album from this series. However, Haruomi Hosono plays a significant role on this album with his tracks: "Reggae Aegean Woman'' and "Mykonos Bride," both of which are stellar and comparable to his tracks on Pacific; however, the remainder of it is anywhere between good exotica to terribly cheesy acoustic noodling. Another highlight of this album is Ishikawa's "Day Break," which is stellar and meets a middle ground between Matsutohya's instrumentation and Hosono's electronic bolero. Speaking of Matsutoya, his opening track, "Asian Fantasy," is his album highlight. 

Must hear tracks:

  1. "Day Break"
  2. "Reggae Aegean Woman" 
  3. "Mykonos Bride"

Island Music (1981) - Various Artist

It's the fourth release from the CBS/Sony Sound Image series, a collection of tracks from the previous releases of "Pacific" and "The Aegean Sea." But there are also new tracks from Ryuichi Sakamoto's - "Gonna Go to I Colony" and Hosono's - "Newronian Network." The Sakamoto track is pretty cool, a little dumb, but enjoyable. The Hosono track, "Newronian Network," is just brilliant, easily one of the most extraordinary things he's put into this series. Including Ishikawa's "Day Break" is a great way to end things, a beautiful track, as already stated on "The Aegean Sea." Effectively, this album functions as a best-of compilation of what's been in the series so far. There's no reason to hate this record; it's consistent, includes many amazing songs, and generally cleans up the track in order to make a more coherent experience—a tremendous compilation. 

Must hear tracks:

  1. "Nostalgia of Island" 
  2. "Day Break"
  3. "Newronian Network"


Off Shore: Sound Image Series, Vol. 2 (1983) - Various Artist

Of course, the fifth release from the series has a cool jumping para-surfing guy on the album artwork; this release is relatively similar to "Island Music," a compilation from the previous series. On top of that, there are two new tracks from Sakamoto, and of course, the former "Sweet Illusion" dominates the record in quality. The album starts with so much Hosono/Sakamoto that you'd think this is a straight-up electronic record, but it quickly shifts into the New York style of Fusion Rock. Transitioning from Sweet Illusion immediately into Suzuki's "Kennedy Airport '' highlights how mediocre the track and most of New York were, and "Hard Times” cements that it was an odd pick. "Central Park'' is on here, which is a great track. Still, this whole album seems conflicted on whether it should be weird for the sake of weird or completely inoffensive, leading to an inconsistent listen. 

Must hear tracks:

  1. "Sweet Illusion" 
  2. "Central Park"
  3. "Kiska" 

Seaside Lovers: Memories in Beach House (1983) - Akira Inoue, Masataka Matsutoya, & Hiroshi Sato 

The final release from the CBS/Sony Sound Image, this album was originally released in 1983 and has just been reissued on vinyl. With music by legends Akira Inoue, Hiroshi Sato, and Masataka Matsutoya (performing under the name Seaside Lovers), the album weaves a tapestry of island beats and rhythms that will transport you to another place and another time. From the lush production of Lovers Paradise to the emotionally stirring strings of Blue Memories, if you close your eyes and listen very closely, we're sure you're bound to hear a wave or two in the background. 

This whole album's brimming with flourishes and experimentation and seasoned with just the right amount of Exotica. "Lovers Paradise" is a vocal piece by Matsutoya that easily outshines anything he puts on "Aegean Sea," and the following "Melting Blue" by Inoue casts any doubt as to his inclusion to the wayside. This track is a brilliant piece with everything from wood xylophones to harsh drum synths. "Sun Bathing" and "Sunset Afternoon" by Sato and Inoue are both livelier tracks, the latter shining just a bit brighter than the former, attacking again with synths Inoue has established himself with. The album ends with "X's and O's," another Sato piece, which is alright but serves as a lukewarm end to side A - keep in mind, if this song was on something like New York, it'd likely be the best song on the project. Inoue again comes in with "Wind, Wave & Wineglass" for the opener to side B, an experimental, hollow piece of City Pop that brings out the genre's best. Matsutoya's remaining two compositions are both excellent and complement the album nicely; however, in entirely different ways - "Coconuts Island" is a jam worthy of praise, and "Blue Memories" starts as a George Winston-esque piano ballad and ends as a brilliant orchestral swell. Sato's "Evening Shadows" fills the gap between the two and serves as a decent enough bridge, enjoyable enough. What a masterpiece. 

Must hear tracks:

  1. "Melting Blue" 
  2. "Wind, Wave and Wineglass" 
  3. "Lovers Paradise" 

The CBS/Sony Sound Image Series tote bag is still available for you to purchase from our official shop.