Jan 09

ANEKA – “Japanese Boy”

FT + Popular102 comments • 8,232 views

#484, 29th August 1981

Inscrutable indeed is the train of thought that led Mary Sandeman to get up in a kimono and transform into the mysterious and bewitching Aneka. It was to prove an unrepeatable flash of inspiration – the dress-up box wouldn’t stretch to a second hit. And to be fair, nothing much about “Japanese Boy” suggests ‘career artist’ – the public’s appetite for syndrums and chinoiserie was briefly immense but always likely to be finite.

I quite like “Japanese Boy”. In an early draft of the Freaky Trigger Top 100 Songs Of All Time it occupied the #2 slot by general, hearty and drunken acclaim. Sadly we lost that particular list: justifying its position would have been intriguing. But it’s one of those records which has lost its lustre through doing the Popular project. As a memory from the dawn of my pop life it had an allure – helped by the fact that it’s very catchy and Aneka has a piercingly pretty voice – but coming at it chronologically, having worked through the late 70s and early 80s, it’s uncomfortably clear that “Japanese Boy” is subject to grievous diminishing returns. The syndrums are especially grating – telegraphing the singalong chorus like an unpleasant nudge in the ribs, and draining away any feeling or empathy that might have carried over from the more heartfelt (“a word of explanation – that’s all!”) verses. Plus the orientalist arrangements don’t really mesh with the galumphing rhythm: the overall impression is of a record on the nasty end of cheap, slapdashery defeating an otherwise jolly bit of bubblegum.



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  1. 91
    DV on 26 Jan 2009 #

    One thing I love about this song is the disco popping noise. De doo doo!

    As an early rockist and cheapskate, I bought Aneka’s album a bit after the fact when I saw it going cheap. It does not really know what to do, and so is not full of cod-oriental tunes but just random bits and bobs.

  2. 92
    Erithian on 28 Jan 2009 #

    Wanted to respond to Doctor C’s comment about “minstrelsy” on Saturday but haven’t been able to post since then and the debate has moved on – still, I’ll have my two-penn’orth now…

    There was quite a vogue for all things Japanese in 1981, due in part to “The Great Japan Exhibition”, a fantastic exhibition of Japanese history and culture at the Royal Academy. However, when I mentioned to my landlady Mavis that I was thinking of getting a Japanese-themed present for my sister, her reaction was “Oh, I really hope you don’t”. Mavis wasn’t ancient but had a few miles on the clock – she’d been given cheek at school by a younger lad called David Attenborough – and her husband had fought in Burma, so to her, understandably, Japan still meant PoW camps and the enemy. 36 years on from Hiroshima, these events were at the same remove as The Sweet’s “Blockbuster” is from us today – i.e. you don’t have to be that old to remember it well.

    So what’s better – a song deriving from a genuine fascination with Japan that probably harks back to “The Mikado”, or a mindset that associates the country with the era that ended in 1945?

  3. 93
    Doctor Casino on 29 Jan 2009 #

    Damned if I know. What “Japanese” would have meant in the 80s in America would be, you know, they’re taking away our jobs with their robots and their gung-ho and all that stuff – although surely plenty of people in similar circumstances to your landlady too… I was too young to be exposed to any of that and only picked up on the economic fear stuff after-the-fact. As always, appreciate the contextual stuff.

  4. 94
    Erithian on 29 Jan 2009 #

    You’re very welcome Doc – reading back that last paragraph it might come across as a little brusque towards you and I assure you that wasn’t intended.

    “The contextual stuff”, come to think of it, is maybe what many Brits were missing with the Black and White Minstrel Show. It ran for 20 years on BBC TV, and few of those who gave it enormous viewing figures can have been conscious of the historical/racial overtones – for them the appeal was popular songs well performed in a style that had been around since Victorian times. Eventually the penny dropped that it caused genuine offence, and the show was cancelled in 1978 (although I’ve just found on Wikipedia that the last Butlins stage show wasn’t until 1987!)

  5. 95
    peter goodlaws on 29 Jan 2009 #

    The concept of “blackfaced” entertainers was indeed a Victorian staple both here and in the States. It was a show which died a natural death in a more civilised world. But there were certainly fervent fans.

    I, for instance, found out much later in life that my Uncle Roland thought that “The Black and White Minstrel Show” was cosmic and used to tune into it every week. This revelation was worrying on many fronts, the main thing being that he was not a particularly old guy. He was born towards the end of the war and would thus have been a teenager at the 50s/60s crossover and in his mid twenties during the “summer of love”, a perfect age for fun and frolics, one would think. But no. My mum (his sister) told me that he spent most of his time at home making model aircraft out of kits, doing jigsaws of historical battles and watching something called “The Good Old Days”. The Minstrels, however, were his passionate fav and Roland was never happier than when he was joining in to a rousing chorus of “Leaning on a Lampost”, although he fell short of getting the cheery blossom out himself, thank Christ.

    Uncle Roland never married.

  6. 96
    lonepilgrim on 29 Jan 2009 #

    for a typically erudite and passionate perspective on the Black and White Minstrels (from a former poster to this site) go to: http://nobilliards.blogspot.com/2009/01/george-mitchell-minstrels-black-and.html

  7. 97
    kronos71 on 1 Feb 2009 #

    A much earlier example of eastern exoticism in pop is Simon Dupree’s Kites (1967) which, for me, has a lightness and charm that persists. It’s essentially psychedelic pop where the ‘Orientalisms’ provides the necessary air of mystery and vague seductiveness, although – spoken outro apart – I can just about imagine Kites as something the 1967 Moody Blues might have produced from a (supposedly) more credible perspective.

  8. 98
    love is called my old piano on 9 Sep 2013 #

    ^ there’s a really good Associates version of ‘Kites’ out there, but it’s more neurotic than exotic.

    ‘the orientalist arrangements don’t really mesh with the galumphing rhythm’
    See YMO’s first two albums for examples of this that work…now that I think about it, Aneka’s producers probably did, which would account for the galumphing. YMO’s orientalisms were laced with irony, e.g. covering Martin Denny’s ‘Firecracker’ – they played with (and technofied!) those stereotypes. To put it kindly, it’s harder to pull off an approach like that if you’re a Scottish woman in a kimono. That said, it’s quite endearing in a they’d-never-try-this-today-with-good-reason way; the culturally naive icing on a sugary cake.

    This is probably not a good place to bring up the Chanels/Rats and Star, but I will anyway. Japanese bands (I think one span off from the other) from the eighties, performing slick but apparently sincere and heartfelt throwback doo-wop and soul. In blackface. I swear I have seen a clip of them doing a cover of ‘What’s Going On’ for the Japanese broadcast of Live Aid. In blackface. Which I guess reflects well on them, in a way, because no-one who had the faintest idea that making themselves up to look like their soul idols could come off so very, very offensively would do that…would they?

    I’m not sure what point I’m trying to make here – probably none, other than disappointment that, upon further investigation, my YMO-induced vision that 80s Jpop might all be amazing is false. Some of it’s pretty great, though (I don’t necessarily mean the following clip, but it’s cute and it’s what I came here to post):



    I wonder what it means that the boy is now Chinese? And is there a Chinese version? I need to know.


    I have an old copy of The Face somewhere that has a featurette on the person who made the wig.

    Aneka was on an episode of Weir’s Way! In a folky Scottish context. She sang, but not this. Can’t remember any more, since I saw it at 2 in the morning.

    That Lori and the Chameleons track (#79) is really sweet.

  9. 99
    love is called my old piano on 9 Sep 2013 #

    and there’s a French one! :D


    Monsieur Kung-Fu – so presumably he’s Chinese again…

    EDIT: except I missed the Tokyo in the first verse, and (somehow) the Sayonara in the chorus. The dude just practises that famous Japanese kung fu you’ve all heard about. :/

  10. 100
    love is called my old piano on 9 Sep 2013 #

    ok so there IS a chinese one, it’s newer than the others, it’s…left me with more questions than answers:

    (last one for now, I promise. Have become slightly obsessed.)

  11. 101
    Gareth Parker on 23 May 2021 #

    Can’t go any higher than a 3/10 here and I think that’s being charitable!

  12. 102

    Re 87: Yes, I’m 100% aware this comment is 12 years old. Unfortunately, with some England fans booing the knee before the friendly match at Middlesbrough (and probably tomorrow and their home matches at the Euros) it feels like nothing has changed in those 12 years and maybe even got worse. The neoliberal disaster capitalist faux optimism in post-Taylor Report football was one of the many, many lies of the 90s and so-called “Cool Britannia.”

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