Smooth Jazz Sunday: Tokyo

Back in the 1970s, it was nothing for R&B bands to include instrumentals on their albums. Parliament, Funkadelic, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Bar-Kays, Kool & The Gang and many others thought nothing of having songs with little or no vocals. The Brothers Johnson were no different. Each of their albums featured at least one instrumental piece. In fact, their debut album contained the original instrumental version of “Tomorrow.” Years later, Quincy Jones would include the song, with lyrics written by Siedah Garrett, on his Back On The Block album. The song, with vocals by a then-twelve year old Tevin Campbell, would hit #1 on the R&B chart.

The Brothers Johnson owed their first taste of fame to Jones. George & Louis were featured on Jones’ 1975 album Mellow Madness, contributing songwriting, vocal and instrumental contributions on four of the album’s ten songs. By the next year, the brothers were R&B chart toppers in their own right. Produced by Jones, their debut album Look Out For #1 was an instant smash, propelled by the #1 hit “I’ll Be Good To You.”

After their first four albums were produced by Jones, the brothers decided to produce themselves.  Jones used the time to release his album The Dude, as well as work on Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Without Jones, the group found the going a little tougher on their subsequent releases. By the time 1984 rolled around, their fortunes had faded a bit chart-wise, yet there was still quality music being produced. For their Out Of Control album, Leon Sylvers III was brought in to produce a couple songs, with the rest primarily done by the brothers. Sylvers was able to get them a top 20 R&B hit with “You Keep Me Coming Back,” but that was the only single released. Buried in the second half of the album was the instrumental, “Tokyo,” which is today’s Smooth Jazz Sunday song.

Written by Louis Johnson, you can hear his bass popping throughout the track. To me, it sounds similar to what the smooth jazz group Hiroshima was doing with their music around the same time, and even beyond. Sadly, this song may be one of the last examples of a band or group of musicians allowing for instrumental songs on their albums, particularly as bands began to shrink to allow for the electronic music that began to come into vogue in the 80s.

I hope you enjoy the Brothers Johnson’s trip to “Tokyo,” and as always, thanks for reading and listening.

33 Replies to “Smooth Jazz Sunday: Tokyo”

    1. Yes, it was released in 1984. I’m glad to hear you liked it. I’m going to guess you had never heard it before.

      Out of the instrumental songs that the Brothers Johnson did, this ranks high among my favorites. I’ll always like their version of “Strawberry Letter 23” as probably my favorite song by them, with “Stomp!” a close second, but today’s song is in the top 5 for me.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. You’re welcome! Those songs I mentioned aren’t instrumentals. I could give you some of their other instrumental songs if you wanted to check those out too.


      2. Also, I’ve mentioned it elsewhere on the blog but not in this post: Louis Johnson (the bass player) also played on Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall and Thriller albums. I think he’s the bassist on “Billie Jean” for sure, as well as “Get On The Floor” from Off The Wall.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Let’s see: “Streetwave,” “Smilin’ On Ya,””Q,” (written about Quincy Jones), “Tomorrow,” (described in the post) to name a few. There are some others as well, but I’d start with those.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. They probably do, they should know “Strawberry Letter 23” I would think. It was a pretty big hit in the 70s.

        Quincy Jones helped them get started. He’s been influential in a lot of careers, and has been a music maker of all different kinds for over 60 years. Not so much now as he’s up there in years (he’s 83), but from the early-mid 50’s through the early 2000s, he’s worked with a lot of people.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I could totally hear that being played as the background music for the Local Forecast segments of The Weather Channel back in the 80’s! And that’s not a dis, TWC had some great instrumentals playing over the local forecast back then… a lot of them from the smooth jazz genre. It’s a shame instrumentals fell out of pop chart fame three decades ago…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I would bet that it did play behind one or more of those segments! Yes, it really is sad how instrumentals fell out of favor. Every now and then the local station here will play Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good” on the classic lunch, and I’ll think, “there’s no way a song like that would ever become a hit today like that one did.”


      1. Well, I will join in your grief and shame, because I love it too. I love a ton of instrumentals from that time; my cousin brought with him a bunch of records from what were called “jazz-fusion” artists whose albums were primarily instrumentals. That surely translated to my fondness for smooth jazz today, even if a lot of today’s smooth jazz isn’t quite as adventurous as the music was years ago.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this. I can hear the first bars of “Strawberry Letter 23” and I am immediately transported to a different time and space. The song lures me in with that hypnotic beat. I was not as familiar with “Tokyo” but really like it. And please know I am passing down the love of the jazz/funk instrumental to my oldest son. He’s 20 and a music major (classical guitar) and has been able to modify some of his favorites on his guitar. It’s a very cool sound.

    Back on the Block, is one of my favorite albums of ALL TIME. Such an amazing multi-generational collaboration. And Secret Garden was my go-to jam. I can hear Barry White’s voice now…whew! Thank God for Quincy Jones. Just think of all the music we would have missed without his genius.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Lex. I’m glad that I’ve added a new song for you! I’m also glad to hear that you are passing the love of the jazz/funk instrumental down. It wasn’t all that long ago that instrumentals were heard on pop/r&b radio just like the hits; now they’ve been restricted to the smooth jazz section. I grew up loving those instrumentals and I still love them.

      Back On The Block is an awesome album for many reasons, including the one you describe. Only Quincy Jones could get all of that disparate talent together and make a cohesive musical statement that wows from song to song. Yes, thank God for him; he’s worked with so many from so many different styles of music. His influence is immense.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Your post made me homesick for that album (I lost my CD a while back) and I just downloaded that a couple of others based on posts you’ve written. You are my new musical mentor!
        THANK YOU!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Now you know……
    I ain’t even gotta say nuffin!
    But I will…
    You and I are the only people that I know that happen to be so strongly committed to “Get on the Floor” by MJ with the genius of Thunder Thumbs!
    That song takes me EVER-Y-WHERE! LOL!
    Most people just don’t get it! But you do and that’s why you’re my twin!
    Thanks for this post.
    I always gotsta get my Sunday fix!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re welcome, Twin! I didn’t mention half of the songs that Louis has been featured on that I love. There are so many that I could have named! Like “I Keep Forgettin'” by Michael McDonald for one…which of course became “Regulate” by Nate Dogg & Warren G. 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Hey y’all…I didn’t know that was Louis on there! And I love “I Keep Forgettin”
        Do you remember the episode of “What’s Happening” when Rerun tried to record the Doobie Brothers concert? I don’t know why, but when I hear Michael McDonald, I see Rerun in my head! LOL

        Liked by 2 people

      2. In my household, my brother was Raj…and I was Dee. Told mama EVERYTHING! Unfortunately, we didn’t have a Shirley in our lives. She was my favorite!

        Liked by 1 person

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