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Celebrating the great Japanese vocalist, songwriter, arranger with a retrospective on her works across city pop, disco, latin jazz, and dub.
With city pop mania at an all time high, we figured we’d shine a light on one of our favorite vocalists. Minako Yoshida was born on April 7 in Omiya City, Saitama. In high school she became friends with Haruomi Hosono, who encouraged her to make music. By 1972, Yoshida had begun her career working on blues and rock projects with members of Happy End, who had just released their folk rock masterpiece, Kazemachi Roman.
Yoshida’s solo debut, Tobira no Fuyu, came out in 1973. It highlighted her brilliant songwriting skills and was produced by Hosono. Yoshida’s career took off, and she soon became a frequent collaborator of Hosono, Tatsuro Yamashita, Taeko Ohnuki, Shigeru Suzuki and Hiroshi Sato, contributing backing vocals, lyrics and arrangements. She appears on classics such as Hosono’s Tropical Dandy, Chu Kosaka’s Horo, Yumi Arai’s Cobalt Hour, Tatsuro Yamashita’s For You and many many others.
Today is Yoshida’s 69th birthday. To celebrate, we’ve compiled a list of favorites from her vast discography, including solo classics, storied collaborations and pivotal supporting contributions.
Minako Yoshida – Tornado (1980)
From Yoshida’s most popular album Monochrome, “Tornado” is a laid-back funk masterpiece about loving at high speeds like a tornado… The lyrics translate to “High speed I can’t stop. Tornado! Without leaving a single trace. Tornado! I’ll take you all in.” Yoshida’s signature vocal harmonies are absolute perfection here. Also recommended “Rainy Day,” “Black Moon,” “Mirage,” and “Midnight Driver” from this album.
Tatsuro Yamashita – Solid Slider (1977)
A favorite at the In Sheep’s Clothing hi-fi bar, Spacy features Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto shortly before they formed Yellow Magic Orchestra. Yoshida contributes lyrics and backing vocals on this mellow funk song about murder. “Solid Slider, within a breath, he can kill that guy.”
Naoya Matsuoka – Fiesta Fiesta (1979)
A highly underrated Latin jazz fusion album from pianist Naoya Matsuoka and his group Wesing. Yoshida delivers a sublimely breezy vocal on the title track. “Spanish island paradise / every day is summer skies / Soft breeze in the air / Can’t you feel the sand is in your hair / Take me back to paradise.”
Pecker – Kylyn (1980)
Our favorite backing vocal performance from Yoshida appears on this dub masterpiece from percussionist Pecker. Yoshida’s vocal arrangement is devastatingly good here, spelling out chords that float over the heavy, dub groove provided by Sly & Robbie. “Angelic” is a term that’s thrown around quite a bit with vocals, but it truly applies here.
Naoya Matsuoka & Minako Yoshida – Lovin’ Mighty Fire (1979)
Featured on an incredibly rare 12” on Atlantic, “Lovin’ Mighty Fire” is a NY-style disco bomb with Yoshida on lead vocals backed by Naoya Matsuoka’s band Wesing. The track would later be featured on a 2017 compilation titled Lovin’ Mighty Fire (Nippon Funk • Soul • Disco 1973-1983).
Minako Yoshida – Town (1981)
On the cover of Monsters in Town, Yoshida switches up her look to sport Patrice Rushen-esque braids as she paints over the New York skyline. The opening track “Town” is one of her most cinematic productions with huge horn and string sections and field recordings of police and ambulance sirens. A dancefloor bomb!
Minako Yoshida – Reflection (1982)
Yoshida’s 9th studio album and the penultimate release from her excellent run on Alfa, Light’n Up was partially recorded in New York with the Brecker Brothers and David Sanborn. Hiroshi Sato and Tatsuro Yamashita are featured on the album as well. Classic, effective city pop.
Ryojiro Furusawa – Moonlight Slumber (1983)
Included on a lesser-known dub fusion album from drummer Ryojiro Furusawa, “Moonlight Slumber” features Yoshida’s lyrics, vocal and chorus arrangement. Her vocal delivery is a little rougher here, perfectly matching the gritty, bluesy dub groove. This one was later added as a bonus track to the 2018 Columbia reissue of Pecker’s Instant Rasta.