Tokyo Tapes includes songs from all Scorpions' albums released before 1978, which were recorded at Nakano Sun Plaza (Tokyo's Nakano Ward, Japan) on April 24 and 27, during the band's Japanese tour in 1978. These shows were guitarist Uli Jon Roth's last performances with the band, who had announced his departure after the release of the studio album Taken by Force.
The songs "Hell-Cat", "Catch Your Train" and the Japanese national anthem ("Kimi ga yo") were also performed during these shows but were not included in the official album. On the 2001 EMI re-mastered CD, "Polar Nights" was omitted so as to fit a single CD, although it was included on the re-mastered version of Taken by Force. The earlier two-CD release, however, is the original album in its entirety. The original release was in August 1978 in Japan only with cover artwork of an embossed platinum Scorpion on a rose as opposed to a live shot of the band when it was eventually released in Europe in late 1978. It was released in January 1979 in the U.S.A..
Roth commented about the recording of the album:
"Tokyo Tapes was a peak time, we have played together for all these years and it all came together at that time. Particularly on the first show, which unfortunately wasn't recorded. There were three shows in Tokyo, the first one was by far the best, but the second one was good too. Those are the ones on the album, the second and the third that were used. The first one I thought was a lot better and I was disappointed that it wasn't recorded."
In 2015, as part of Scorpions' 50th Anniversary, Tokyo Tapes was remastered and re-released, with all omitted songs restored ("Polar Nights" and the three songs excluded) and alternate version of several songs originally found on the album. Due to time constraints, "Robot Man", the last track of the original release, was shifted to the beginning of Disc 2 which otherwise contains bonus tracks).