Listen to "009 :: SUNSHOWER" on Spreaker.


"Kusuri o Takusan" (くすりをたくさん) by Taeko Onuki (大貫 妙子), from Sunshower, released by PANAM in 1977. Listen


The wonderful thing about pop music is that, when it works, it just works. You don't have to think about it. It just makes you feel good. Like a warm summer breeze, or soft ocean waves, you just let the sound wash over you and take that feeling in.

I can't say what it is about this song. All I know is that every time I hear it I feel an immediate pleasure, as if the song has cast a spell and worked some soothing magic over me. Everything about it is just so carefree: the buoyancy of the singer's vocals, the ease with which the melody floats over the harmonic landscape, the punchy electric piano and funky jazz guitar, and oh, those flutes.

And sure, there's a commercial slickness here. Sure, this song sort of sounds like it was written for a department store sound system. But there's also all these little uncanny touches, like the cowbell here rattling off in the background. Nothing's ever quite what you'd expect. And that's what's so refreshing about it.

If this is easy listening, then I say, let me ease into it and let everything else fall away.

Music so often moves us by making us feel an emotion vicariously: the love or anger or heartbreak expressed by the singer. But this music moves us by making us feel an emotion directly: not reminding us of joy, but filling us up with it. It almost feels like that's the point of this song: just to be pleasant, and to make us feel pleasure. And while this may not seem particularly deep, it does make me wonder, what more do I really ever want out of music?

At this point, unless you speak Japanese, you might be wondering what this singer could possibly be singing about. From how it sounds, you might expect to find lyrics about sunshine, or happiness, or hope. But as it turns out, this is actually a song about prescription drugs, and not subtly so: Its refrain is "Kusuri o takusan" (薬をたくさん), or "lots of medicine", and its lyrics are an ode to the piles of pills that doctors push and patients pop, in our societal obsession with medicating all our anxieties away.

And so, uncannily enough, this song is lyrically about the very thing it sonically represents: our attraction, and even addiction, to easy euphoric feelings. And maybe that should make us think twice about its breezy groove, but for my part, I just want to keep taking it in. The singer says it best: "Tonikaku kusuri ga ichiban yo" (とにかく薬が一番よ) / "Anyway, medicine is the best".

Liner Notes

I never would've discovered this song if it weren't for Light in the Attic's excellent Pacific Breeze compilation, which is a wonderful introduction to the wonders of Japanese city pop.

Another wonderful introduction to Japanese city pop: this essay by Jon Blistein for Rolling Stone.

A week after I published this episode, Switched on Pop released their episode all about Japanese city pop. (Coincidence?? Yes, and what a lovely one.)

And if, after listening to our two episodes, you want to learn even more about Japanese city pop, you gotta check out Cat Zhang's excellent article for Pitchfork.