Jan 09

ANEKA – “Japanese Boy”

FT + Popular102 comments • 7,855 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.



  1. 1
    Tom on 21 Jan 2009 #


    i. I will hold up my hand and admit that, age 8, I thought Aneka was actually Japanese, and remember being quite shocked on learning the truth.

    ii. What a ghastly sleeve!

  2. 2
    Geoff on 21 Jan 2009 #

    6 year old me also thought she was Japanese, and it was a long time before I was disappointed. I have very similar feelings to you on this all round – it’s one of my earliest very clear TOTP memories, probably because I liked it so much.

    Listening to it again now and it indeed sound very cheesy, and not in a great way.

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 21 Jan 2009 #

    Strange is the impotance of cheap music.

    I did like this when I was eight – the combination of an easily grasped narrative, striking image, playground chorus and exotic signifiers of orientalism making a fizzy pop package.

    This enthusiasm has, alas, not survived into adulthood.

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 21 Jan 2009 #

    I observe that there was a follow-up hit of sorts, number 50 smash ‘Little Lady’. I wonder if there was any chance of image to go with it?

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 21 Jan 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Aneka performed ‘Japanese Boy’ on Top of the Pops on two occasions.

    13 August 1981. Also in the studio that week were; Duran Duran, Soft Cell and Shakin’ Stevens, plus Legs & Co’s interpretation of ‘Startrax Club Disco’. Simon Bates was the host.

    27 August 1981. Also in the studio that week were; Startrax, Soft Cell, The Nolans, Ultravox and Genesis, plus Legs & Co’s interpretation of ‘Hold On Tight’. Richard Skinner was the host.

  6. 6
    Tom on 21 Jan 2009 #

    #4 according to Wikipedia, yes! Aneka dressed up as a Victorian lady.

  7. 7
    Erithian on 21 Jan 2009 #

    From time to time the western public are suckers for a bit of eastern exoticism – that hook in the chorus made it a winner the way a Japanese flavour had taken Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” to number one in the States in 1963, and “Tokyo Melody”, the BBC theme for the 1964 Olympics, was also a big hit. It didn’t exactly grab me but you could see why it was a hit.

    You didn’t mention it, Tom, but Mary Sandeman was indeed a “career artist” in the sense that she was a successful mezzo-soprano with the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra and a folk singer as well, so she was obviously slumming it a bit with this.

  8. 8
    Billy Smart on 21 Jan 2009 #

    ‘Tokyo Melody’ is the business! Anthemic, expansive and utopian: That’s how to do an Olympian theme.

  9. 9
    Tom on 21 Jan 2009 #

    #7 something that occurred to me writing this, though, is that despite the occasional success of orientalist western pop, yer actual Japanese, Cantonese etc. pop has NEVER (as far as I know) crossed over into the UK charts. Unless I’m missing someone blindingly obvious?

  10. 10
    Billy Smart on 21 Jan 2009 #

    Yellow Magic Orchestra went top 20 with ‘Computer Games’

  11. 11
    LondonLee on 21 Jan 2009 #

    Christ, this one had been completely wiped from the old memory bank. Watching the video just now the first thing that came to mind was an oriental Black and White Minstrel Show, especially her comedy Japanese accent.

    Still, it had a good beat. I can imagine enjoying it without that voice over the top.

  12. 12
    Glue Factory on 21 Jan 2009 #

    Does anyone know if this was part of the phenomenon of the summer holiday hit (such as Ryan Paris’ Dolce Vita or Spagna’s Call Me, where a hi-nrg/Eurodisco/Italo record that wouldn’t normally bother the UK charts, gets bought by punters returning from holiday having heard it every night in Valentino’s in Benidorm) ? It’s always struck me as fairly hi-nrg sounding and I just noticed it’s August release date.

  13. 13
    Tom on 21 Jan 2009 #

    Even the hardened regulars are mostly staying away from this one I see :)

  14. 14
    AndyPandy on 21 Jan 2009 #

    Ryuichi Sakamoto had a minor hit or 2 with David Sylvian.
    Tomita had some charting albums in the 70s.

  15. 15
    SteveM on 21 Jan 2009 #

    This is undeniably naff but just about tolerable with production values and quality akin to ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’. What about the origin of the song? Inspired by ‘China Girl’ (I mean Iggy’s version of course)?

  16. 16
    lonepilgrim on 21 Jan 2009 #

    I remember her prancing about on TOTP with a wig that looked as if it had been cut using a wok rather than a pudding bowl. It seemed embarrassing that this was number 1.
    I think I spent that summer working a night shift at a 24 hour petrol station listening to Capital Radio. I got hooked on Rickie Lee Jones’ ‘Woody and Dutch on the Slow train to Peking’ which got played a lot and bought the ‘Pirates’ album on the strength of a glowing article by Ian Penman in the NME.

  17. 17
    and everybody elses Mark G on 21 Jan 2009 #

    #13, I’ve been trying to post but they’ve all been sunk into the ether!

    Now I’ve logged in, maybe things will start to work more!

  18. 18
    and everybody elses Mark G on 21 Jan 2009 #

    #9: The NME was trying to launch JapPop on us all, around this time.

    The Plastics got a free gold flexidisc covermount. Susan’s “24000 kiss” on a NME compilation tape.

    Of course, “Japanese Boy” killed off the whole scene.

  19. 19
    Lex on 21 Jan 2009 #

    So I had never heard of this…thing before, but Tom’s commentary piqued my interest, and um wtf is this awful racist song? Was it seen as racist at the time? It has sort of blown my mind.

  20. 20
    Pete on 21 Jan 2009 #

    I actually remember Little Lady, and rather like it. It all makes a lot more sense if you think of Aneka as a cut price Toyah (which then leads to cut price Kate Bush and Hazel O’Connor allegations being thrown around which I would not be able to adjudicate). There is part of Japanese Boy which makes sense from a kiddie brought up on Radiophonic effects, its effeXor are very Swap Shop.

    But no, its low down on Japanesed themed hits of the era for me even.

  21. 21
    AndyPandy on 21 Jan 2009 #

    Also Satoshi Tomiie’s (and Frankie Knuckles) ‘Tears’ pretty massive on the pirates, the newly legalised Kiss, in the clubs etc but I don’t know if it was a big pop hit too.

  22. 22
    Tommy Mack on 21 Jan 2009 #

    Racist performance surely, not racist song? Nice, keening hook, but a bit naff even for me and, yes, Jap-ing up somewhat racially queasy

  23. 23
    AndyPandy on 21 Jan 2009 #

    I’m not sure it’s racist at all – quite affectionate really unlike the Vapors’ ‘Turning Japanese’…

  24. 24
    LondonLee on 21 Jan 2009 #

    Lordy, lordy “Tears” was an incredible record. Don’t think it was a hit outside the clubs or radio though, unless you count in my living room.

  25. 25
    Tom on 21 Jan 2009 #

    The performance is doubly weird because the song is surely sung from the perspective of someone who ISN’T Japanese – why would a Japanese girl sing “he’s my Japanese boy”?? I don’t think there’s any particular “Japface” going on in the singing – she’s pitching the voice to work with the off-the-shelf orientialisms, so it’s more like Sting’s slightly faux-JA accent when the Police were doing reggae.

    The performance tho is somewhere between Mikado and Minstrels.

  26. 26
    SteveM on 21 Jan 2009 #

    the wonderful ‘Tears’ actually made #50 in ’89, so v nearly a hit

  27. 27
    calumerio on 21 Jan 2009 #

    A testament to pop subjectivism: all of the reasons that Tom dislikes this song – the galumphing, the syndrums, the disjointedness – are the reasons while I love this ramshackle juggernaut. That said, Sandeman’s voice is probably also a big part of it, as her crystal vowel sounds are identifiably part of the Scottish Folk/Gaelic singing tradition and completely incongruous (to these ears) within the context of the song.

  28. 28
    Conrad on 21 Jan 2009 #

    #22 and #23 – I don’t think it’s a rascist lyric (it’s certainly a nonsense lyric), but as for Tony Blackburn “…well that certainly puts a different slant on things” the week this entered the Top 40…

  29. 29
    The Lurker on 21 Jan 2009 #

    I had thought that this one of the last handful of number ones of the 80s that I didn’t know at all. Having youtubed it, it does stir very dim memories (I was six when this came out)… However, I wonder if I’m just picking up a slight resemblance of the chorus to “Live It Up”, by Mental As Anything (it was on the Crocodile Dundee soundtrack). Is it just me?

    As to the song itself, it does sound cheap to me, and I’m not sure I can agree on her voice being “piercingly pretty”.

  30. 30
    Tom on 21 Jan 2009 #

    Cover version watch: Shanadoo – a Japanese Eurodance group from Germany, it sez here (Spotify link).

  31. 31
    wichita lineman on 21 Jan 2009 #

    I’m not being funny but… the only thing racist about this is the ‘Charlie Chan’ motif that appears once – I’m sure the Chinese love to get confused with the Japanese (“inscrutable” must be off limits!). Oh, and I think ‘Oriental’ is frowned upon to describe anything other than foodstuffs, same as ‘Scotch’. Shouldn’t it be ‘Asian’? I may well be corrected.

    Well, I still like this. Super-catchy, and a hell of a lot more fun than Kelly Marie’s Marathon Man-like “piercingly pretty” vocal. First time I heard this I thought, ooh, Toyah’s recorded something I actually like. Probably because the mannered vocal is clearly the work of an actress; obviously I can’t hear any similarity today. It fitted with the Tight Fit end of New Pop for me. Proper Electropop, even if it was clearly stitched together by non-teens.

    Re 29: Definite melodic similarity to Mental As Anything, yes.

    Re 30: Anyone know how long you usually have to wait to get ‘accepted’ for Spotify? I feel locked out of the love-in.

  32. 32
    johnny on 21 Jan 2009 #

    as an american who was less than a year old at this time, it is a real pleasure to discover these songs for the first time and have immediate access to all your opinions and memories regarding them. i like this song quite a bit. sure, it’s basically a cheap trinket with a “made in hong kong” sticker affixed to its bottom. from an american point of view, this is pretty indicative of that early ’80s british pop sound (another soon to be chart-topper is the epitome of it, but we’ll get there soon enough).

    one stray observation. the riff from “I Wanna be Adored” bears more than a passing resemblance to the repeating hook from this song. am i the only one who hears it?

  33. 33
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 Jan 2009 #

    spotify = the green door!

  34. 34
    Tom on 21 Jan 2009 #

    #31 I have opened the green door for you Wichita – check your email!

    “Oriental” may be off limits – “orientalist” isn’t tho, it’s the right word for Western imitations of Eastern culture (or at least I thought it was!).

  35. 35
    pete on 21 Jan 2009 #

    Oriental is a tricky one for me, what with where I work. People do still describe themselves as orientalists though they tend to be the old school. The word is seen to be vaguely acceptable in academia as a historical term but I’d be surprised if you saw many people use it outside of that cintext. Post Edward Said’s “Orientalism” no-one wants to be seen to be going there.

    On the accusation of racism at this song I refer m’lud to the Typically Tropical thread and then come back. And being near Turning Japanese, Hong Kong Garden and even Bowie’s China Girl (musical motifs as cultural appropriation?) it looks pretty tame. Its merely Aneka’s dressing up box which offends really – and we’ll see a lot more of that in the 80’s.

  36. 36
    Tom on 21 Jan 2009 #

    The impression I get is that the word became *more* generally popular post-Said – but with a more perjorative tone to it, understood to include an element of the ersatz and condescending.

  37. 37
    Mark M on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Re 31: when that vicar doing Around The World In 80 Faiths got to the one about Buddhism/Taoism etc, he kept referring to them as being “inscrutable”! Extraordinary – on the BBC of all places.

  38. 38
    wichita lineman on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Re 34: There you go, Tom. You open the green door for me and I slam it shut, trap yr fingers, and shout “Racist!”. Ungrateful bastard.

    Cut-price, yes, I can’t disagree, but plenty of ’81 productions were, with a sense of lightness (pre-Fairlight? definitely before the gated snare became obligatory) that had disappeared by early ’83.

    Opening track on Ronco’s Super Hits, followed by Tenpole Tudor’s Wunderbar and Toyah’s sub-fourth-form, proto-Dubya I Want To Be Free (pfft… a lot less fun than Japanese Boy, no?). It shocked me that Toyah and Hazel O’Connor were taken even remotely seriously at the time, which definitely aided my liking for the entirely unpretentious, distinctly non-rock Aneka (plus she always looked touchingly embarrassed about her success/outfits).

  39. 39
    Tom on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Were they really taken seriously? I think both of them made good records as well as poor ones – “It’s A Mystery” and “Eighth Day”, though I guess a liking for the latter is helped by a baseline enjoyment of preposterous sci-fi records.

    Come to think of it, I’m fond of “I Want To Be Free” too! Though only for the gleefully anticlimactic “BEING VERY LOUD!!” bit – it always reminds me of a certain 1998 #1 by a future Dr Who companion.

  40. 40
    wichita lineman on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Should have emphasised “remotely”, but I don’t recall Breaking Glass being laughed out of the room.

    I’m usually the last person to take the authenticity ticket, but Toyah and Hazel O seemed such out-and-out chancers to me at the time: theatre school stuff with suspicious pre-punk moves in spite of their new wave trappings. What the Daily Mail would call “punky”.

    If I’d been a few years younger I’d probably have found the sci-fi whirs and bleeps on Eighth Day neato, but I was 16, and ’81 was such an extraordinary year. Every Top 40 placing these two hogged meant one less for Josef K’s Chance Meeting or Modern Eon’s Childs Play or The B-52’s’ Give Me Back My Man.

    And “on the eighth day machines just got upset”. Christ-all-bleedin-mighty! Worthy of the Cranberries innit.

  41. 41
    Alan on 22 Jan 2009 #

    it’s “machine just got upset”. singular. it was THE machine. man. :-) skynet style

  42. 42
    rosie on 22 Jan 2009 #

    calumerio @ 27 pins down for me the old question of why this doesn’t work. It sounds like, say, Moira Anderson trying to be cool.

    As for the chinoiserie and the matter of “cultural appropriation”, well that’s no problem for me. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery I see no problem with working with the modes of another culture’s music and there’s a long tradition for it. It goes back to The Mikado at least. Not, oddly enough, to Madama Butterfly although Puccini laid it on thick later on in Turandot. As has been noted, it’s not the first time it’s been used in a Popular entry (let’s not forget, too, Kung Foo Fighting). Nobody seems too bothered by the Beatles incorporating Indian musical modes.

    As for the matter at hand – pleasant and instantly forgettable; no more and no less. A 4 is about right for me.

  43. 43
    Conrad on 22 Jan 2009 #

    “Will You” was a marvellous record I thought.

    Toyah seemed to appeal more to the younger brothers, although in retrospect I can tolerate her singles more than I could at the time. “Thunder In The Mountain” is pleasingly overwrought.

    There were a lot of great singles appearing at the tail end of the Summer of 81. In fact, the next 9 months or so is my absolute favourite period in pop.

    This was also the height of the short-lived Britfunk/new romantic crossover. Funkapolitan, Spandau/Beggar & Co, Blue Rondo A La Turk. Most of it hasn’t aged too well. It’s also slightly odd, looking back, at how much the NME idolised Kid Creole. His coming over to London to produce Funkapolitan’s album gave them instant credibility, apparently.

  44. 44
    Alan on 22 Jan 2009 #

    i had the tape album of the Breaking Glass soundtrack (pretty rub except for the well known stuff already mentioned here) and i LOVED thunder in teh mountains (I was [] close to playing it at at a poptimism). i still have the 4 from toyah ep knocking around somewhere. i think i liked the post-apocalyptic thing she did — nicked off of numan’s album stuff, little did i know at the time. i reckon toyah was rly only popular with a-level art-y gurls though.

  45. 45
    Erithian on 22 Jan 2009 #

    “… Machine just got upset” is OK, but the real clunker is the next line, “a problem man had not foreseen as yet”!!

    I was surprised when Paul Burnett on Radio 1 played “I Want To Be Free” and then said something like “Good luck, Toyah love, but someone’s got to work in a cosmetics factory for next to nothing so you can look like that. We can’t all be alternative personalities.” Not the usual Paul Burnett style!

    Welcome aboard, Johnny at #32.

  46. 46
    Mark M on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Re 31: when that vicar doing Around The World In 80 Days got to the one about Buddhism & Taoism etc, he kept describing them as “inscrutable”!

  47. 47
    AndyPandy on 22 Jan 2009 #

    I’m getting a bit obsessive about this now in my disbelief that so little Japanese pop got in the charts.

    I’ve also got vague memories of another record from 1989 called ‘I Want to House in Japanese’ by someone called Samarai Sam (!)those were all the words plus a Japanese girl saying “speak” or something. It was obviously a bit of a novelty but you might also hear occasionally (not at peak times)at the (acid) parties/clubs. But the novelty aspect makes me think was it could have been a pop hit too and i could imagine it being made by an Japanese person being ironic.Anyone remember know about this?

    Conrad at 42: yes I remember that brief flirtation of New Romanticism with Britfunk quite well as I was a follower of the New Romantic scene myself gradually getting into the soul/jazz-funk scene. I remember that Spandau Ballet/Blue Rondo etc whilst not exactly embraced in the “real” jazz, funk and soul world weren’t exactly disliked possibly because in some members’ cases they actually had gone to the ‘right’ soul clubs before they started hanging out at Blitz etc.

    Funkapolitan however never got invited behind the green door – I think they were looked on by the ‘soul-boys’/’jazz-funkateers’ as earnest student-types trying to do some kind of funk-by-numbers because they’d heard it was trendy and failing miserably.

    it was weird how there was almost a sixth sense re what was accepted in the soul/funk world as I remember being at a Caister weekender when Matt Bianco did a PA and they went down surprisingly well but it was known that Marc Riley (ex Blue Rondo)their main man had roots in the soul world going back years so that probably helped…

  48. 48
    wichita lineman on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Re 47: You’re right. Hard to believe that the golden age of the Shibuya sound in the mid 90s didn’t quite make it, beyond Pizzicato 5 getting used as background music on the telly.

    Sheila B, Japanese girl-pop expert who runs the chachacharming.com site, has been promising a Nippon Girl cd on Ace for years now. There’s some mindblowing stuff, and it’s all impossible to buy online unless you’re fluent in Japanese : ( Even then, sellers are loathe to ship abroad.

  49. 49
    SteveM on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Kylie has dressed up similarly to Aneka a few times over the years, for Towa Tei’s ‘GBI’ but more recently the “Naughty Manga Girl” section of her X tour. The only real difference between this and that is that Kylie does it all much better.

  50. 50
    LondonLee on 22 Jan 2009 #

    I know Spandau had gone to the “right” Soul Boy clubs being good Essex lads and all but I always thought of Blue Rondo as poseur products of the Wag Club/Le Beat Route/St. Martin’s Art College scene much loved by The Face (cf: Sade and Animal Nightlife).

    Yes, I did own a pair of pleated Zoot-suit style trousers with a long key chain. Bought them at The Great Gear Market on the King’s Road.

  51. 51
    Tom on 22 Jan 2009 #

    #48 we have a couple of experts (well, experts relative to me!) on modern day J-Pop reading and posting to FT, who might have some tips on obtaining it.

    #49 and Gwen Stefani’s Harijuka girl image too! Maybe Aneka started this fertile feedback loop. Momus to thread :)

    Good discussions all round – the second day of Popular comments is always the best ;)

  52. 52
    cis on 22 Jan 2009 #

    It’s not exactly yr fancy shibuya-kei business but Eurogroove had some top 40 hits in 1995: “it’s on you” got as high as number 25, everyhit says! But I don’t know that people thought of them as Japanese: they’d come out of the avex/trf tokyo dance scene, and were on an avex sub-label, but none of the singers/dancers were Japanese, the lyrics were in english, and the music was basically just eurobeat.

    more western orientalist hits of the nineteen-eighties: ‘oriental boy’ by The Flirts, from 1984, which is basically Bobby O producing a more casio-tastic, slightly less innocent, version of this.

  53. 53
    cis on 22 Jan 2009 #

    and yes even if you speak the japanese it is very hard to convince individual japanese sellers to sell overseas unless at a crazy premium; I have no idea why.

  54. 54
    Conrad on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Lee, The Face writers really did push their mates didn’t they?! (Why shouldn’t they) They almost willed Blue Rondo into the charts, despite complete indifference from the record-buying public.

    And yes The Beat Route (as featured in the “Chant No 1” lyric/video) was the club were Latin/Cuban sounds started to mesh with funk/electronic.

    It’s a scene I’ve read a lot about – with some envy – given I was too young and too far from london to have participated in it.

    Andy, interesting to hear the contemporay view on these soul boys indulging themselves with a bit of exotic, Latin-sounding percussion.

    Of course, Modern Romance came along at the same time as “Japanese Boy” and instantly made the Latin scene as uncool as Aneka did the nascent NME-driven Japanese pop scene by the sounds of it.

  55. 55
    AndyPandy on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Lee at 50 but maybe Blue Rondo’s Chris Sullivan and Marc Riley got away with it (actually maybe Blue Rondo didn’t but just did compared to Funkapolitan)because they were both veterans of the Northern Soul scene. Completely different world of course but as defiantly un-rock as the ‘soul mafia’ world of the south east.

    And with Chris Sullivan coming from South Wales which as with the south west had many people who’d travel north for their northern soul whilst the jazz-funk/soul scene being region specific (ie London and south-east only)he probably had an ‘excuse’ not to have been with Chris Hill at the Goldmine or the Purley alldayers.

  56. 56
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 22 Jan 2009 #

    marK riley i think — marc riley is him from the fall, surely a different person?

  57. 57
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 22 Jan 2009 #

    or reilly?

  58. 58
    wichita lineman on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Or Reilly Ace Of Spies?

    Re 54: Did any record have a more tortuous and drawn out climb up the chart than Modern Romance’s Best Days Of Our Lives? One place a week, it seemed, until it mercifully peaked at 4. Went on for-evs and, yes, MR’s successes (kind of an early 80s equivalent of Paul Nicholas’s run of grin-along hits) probably explained NME falling out of love with the NYC/Latin/Afro-Cuban stylings of Ze and Kid Creole.

    (I’m being disingenuous, as I know T Rex’s Ride A White Swan climbed the chart even more slowly, more like a white snail… I’m sure Marcello would have had the stats to back this up).

  59. 59
    LondonLee on 22 Jan 2009 #

    I went to Le Beat Route a couple of times but I think it was post-‘Chant No.1’ and it’s cachet had faded somewhat. The Wag Club was a lot smarter.

  60. 60
    vinylscot on 22 Jan 2009 #

    But Modern Romance did give us the very finest in white-boy rap lyrics

    “Don’t kid yourself, you waste of space
    You’re super slow with an ugly face”

    Mr Lineman –

    Best Days – 68, 32, 21, 18, 11, 9, 8, 8, 4
    White Swan – 47, 37, 31, 30, 15, 7, 7, 6, 12, 12, 10, 4, 2

    There were others that took longer, e.g. Jennifer Rush “Power” + Dead or Alive “Spin”, which I’ve alluded to in an other post today!

  61. 61
    Conrad on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Yes, #60 – Queen of the Rapping Scene! For that alone I can forgive Modern Romance (that and Geoff Deane’s pencil moustache).

  62. 62
    SteveM on 22 Jan 2009 #

    other classic/awfully drawn-out chart climbs of our times: 53-42-52-30-28-22-20-9-8-5-6-4-2-2-2 and then finally 1 so i can’t say which 90s chart-topper this was.

    more recently, Nickelback’s ‘Rockstar’: 64-58-45-34-20-21-19-22-25-25-15-8-4-6-3-3-2. even in these times this was quite distinct (see FT post on chart entries+D Lynskey Guardian article foofarah).

  63. 63
    Matthew on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Is this a thematic sequel to Shaddap You Face? I had a listen. Rubbish.

  64. 64
    AndyPandy on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Yes I meant Mark Reilly! That takes some doing getting both of someone’s names wrong!

    Further to Modern Romance I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘Walking In the Rain’ maybe partly because it seemed to be around forever (without being a massive hit) in 1983 and is synonymous for me with probably the best time in my life…

    I really wanted to go to Le Beat Route around the time of Chant No 1 too but was a bit too young and by the time I
    was old enough I thought the world revolved around the Goldmine, Flicks, Belvederes, Windsor Safari Club etc

  65. 65
    Crimson Cheeked King on 22 Jan 2009 #

    One funny thing was that Toyah kept her punk fanbase for ages. Especially in the Midlands where she’d hosted a noo wave music show called Look Hear in 1979. When I Want To Be Free was a hit I remember a post-youth club rant at an apologetic leather-jacketed mate who’d been to see her that week. She! Is! Not! Punk! was the gist.

  66. 66
    wichita lineman on 22 Jan 2009 #

    But she! is! punky! said your mate

    Cyndi Lauper. Punky. 99 R** B******s. Punky.

    I’m intrigued and frustrated that I can’t work out the 90s no.1 that took forever to get there…

  67. 67
    Matthew H on 23 Jan 2009 #

    I think I know the 90s No.1 that staggered up the chart. Female?

    ‘Japanese Boy’ sounded like our China Garden music box, oddly enough. Remember liking it, but I only ever cared whether a song was catchy or not. I’m possibly still the same.

  68. 68
    SteveM on 23 Jan 2009 #

    Yes, female…you wouldn’t have to consider this more than once…

  69. 69
    Doctor Casino on 24 Jan 2009 #

    Really baffled by the reception of this – bringing up the “Typically Tropical” thread only rubs it in more! How on earth is this different?

  70. 70
    Doctor Casino on 24 Jan 2009 #

    (Noting, btw, that I basically liked “Barbados” and was surprised at the vitriol of the reaction – so here I kinda dislike the song and am surprised at the detached discussion of it as a song/pop phenomenon rather than minstrelsy.)

  71. 71
    peter goodlaws on 24 Jan 2009 #

    I figured straight away that this woman was not Japanese but to answer earlier questions about whether people back then considered this act and song racist, the answer clearly is no and the reason is that in 1981, people were not charmless PC pillocks. Look, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this other than it’s daft, cheesy and as someone else has already said, instantly forgetable. Had this only hit 2 or 3, I doubt very much that many people would have remembered it at all. Harmless nonsense.

  72. 72
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 24 Jan 2009 #

    peter, waldo is really not a very alert or sensible guide on this particular topic: the battle against racism — which is to say the battle over what exactly constituted racism — was in actual historical fact extremely intense in the early 80s, when the organisation rock against racism was at its peak of influence; as it happens plenty of people then argued that this kind of thing was racist; that things which people were saying were “harmless” were exactly the things that’s WEREN’T harmless (not only was this kind of argument common in the early 80s, i dare say it was actually pretty typical of the form cultural and political debate then took!)

    declaring that this period of history was FREE from this argument compared to the present is particularly daft coming from someone claiming to be aged six (or however old you think you were): the debate — which is still unresolved, since racism obviously still exists and still infests politics and culture, albeit arguably in different forms these days, was very raw and very fraught in the early 80s, when the threat of actively racist politics still seemed very present (enoch powell not only alive but acclaimed by the party in power, and etc)

    the fact is that this kind of statement — “japanese boy, despite being obvious silly nonsense, is racist; such racism must be challenged” — was pretty common in the early 80s, given the very real tensions and fears of the times… you can argue if you like that such a statement was wrong, and even pernicious, but this is a very different kind of argument: and in fact, as an argument, it depends PRECISELY on the manoeuvre you’re smearing the “charmless PC pillocks” with; that of projecting current values thoughtless back into the past — every time that kind of phrase pops into your head, you are EXACTLY projecting current values and debates back into the past

  73. 73
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 24 Jan 2009 #

    “when the threat of actively racist politics still seemed very present” = “when the threat of actively racist MAINSTREAM politics still seemed very present”

  74. 74
    Tom on 24 Jan 2009 #

    #69 – I think one difference is that the content of “Barbados” is kind of insidious – it’s a song about a black immigrant longing to go home where he can lounge on a beach, presented as just a bit of fun at precisely the time when a lot of right-wing forces in British politics were behind repatriation as a policy. “Japanese Boy” doesn’t take its stereotype beyond the dress-up box: even Aneka’s accent doesn’t register as “Japanese” much (well, it doesn’t to me).

  75. 75
    Tom on 24 Jan 2009 #

    Not that I think Typically Tropical were actually HARMFUL or anything! But that’s why they leave a nastier taste in the ears than Aneka does. (Also, I like the tune more)

  76. 76
    Mark M on 24 Jan 2009 #

    Re 74: Indeed, it’s not as if Japanese Boy was about those crafty foreigners stealing our jobs and swamping us with cheap but irresistible electronic gizmos…

  77. 77
    peter goodlaws on 25 Jan 2009 #

    # 72 – I can see sense in a lot of what you say, especially with regard to the counter-racism activities of the period, about which I am clearly ignorant. The problem I have with all of this is that the word, indeed accusation of, “racism” was and always has been levelled exclusively at white people, and not, incidentally, by those who are the perceived targets of such attacks, whether they be verbal or physical, but by a core of white, middle class, and generally well-educated liberals who have their own political agenga. Squealing “racism!” at the drop of a hat (and being offended by this record is a good example) actually imho demeans the fight against the poison which acually IS rascism rather than advancing it. This stance plus other contributory factors have only served to alienate many white working class communities, which are now festering grounds for the BNP. These are not my words. They are the words of the current Labour Home Secretary.

    I should also like to say this. This country is far from perfect. But in race relations it is in pretty good shape (even Diane Abbot has said this), despite your comment “racism obviously still exists and still infests politics and culture”, a sentiment with which I profoundly disagree (well, certainly about the politics and culture). This is particularly apparent when you consider what goes on on the Continent. If we were to use football supporters as a barometer, I suggest you must look further east for your racists, as the behaviour in these countries towards visiting black players (English included) has often been despicable. “Monkey taunts” in England, meanwhile, are now happily non-existent. Alas, the generally rosy picture of life in the UK (where someone recently has suggested that it is the best country in the world to live if you’re not white) is often disavowed by the aforementioned white, middle class liberals, who, sadly, garner no currency in admitting that this country is generally very tolerant to everyone, which explains why so many people desire to settle here.

    As for Waldo not being “an alert or sensible guide on this particular topic”, I take this to be a rather clumsy euphemism for him having negative attitudes towards race. This suggestion is as ridiculous as it is, I’m afraid, unsurprising.

  78. 78
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 25 Jan 2009 #

    no, what i meant about waldo was that, amiable fellow as he generally seems, has a rather silly bee in his bonnet about present-day “PC-ness”, as the Worst of All Possible Modern Crimes Ever, always to be instantly and slightly self-importantly identified and denounced, which meant he didn’t talk generally much sense on this particular topic when discussing the 70s and 80s, because he always saw them first through the lens of his present aggravations — it’s also possible to be squealing “PC!” a bit quickly and unthinkingly, and retroactively misdescribing the past as a result

    i’m not going to fight about where racism is worst in current culture and politics — i didn’t mean and don’t think it only exists in britain, or indeed that it’s obviously worst in britain, i just meant it hasn’t gone away in the world; i don’t think it’s gone away in britain, but yes, it’s true there are much worse places to be… i agree that britain is routinely a pretty tolerant place, in its silly, always class-ridden and etiquette-obsessed way (PC, far from being a modern problem, is really a resurgence of Britain’s endlessly serpentine historical obsession with etiquette, modes of speech that avoid confrontation) — i’ve lived since the 80s in a part of the east end which where turks and vietnamese and west indians and more recently poles and russians all live as londoners side by side with the variegated east enders of earlier influx, and i dare say some families which could trace their roots back to the london of a thousand years ago, if they chose; and i love how well everyone gets on, on the whole — london is one of the oldest multicultural cities on earth that’s still a major world hub, of trade and transit, and i don’t think it gets enough credit for the richness of this particular aspect of its heritage, welcoming, mingling, crackling with nervous excitement; sometimes there are fights but mostly there’s neighbourliness…

  79. 79
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 25 Jan 2009 #

    a record this compares pretty badly with — and may have been inspired by — is lori and the chameleons 1979 “touch”: which has a lovely light synthbeat framework, much more delicate than this, begins as a fairytale of erotic, exotic escape and yearning (“once upon a time in the far far east”); it’s similarly shaped (tho much more groundedly) by the naive touristy allure of the other, but is full of concrete detail (lori’s manchester accent; the sense this is a real time and a real place)

    there’s actually a pretty long tradition — back to the age of cylinders — of records that people like because they hint at other ways to sing; non-western tuning or harmony being faked up by some near-at-hand light entertainer– it’s often pretty clumsy minstrelsy and mimicry (early jazz and rock and rock fall a little into this category) but sometimes heartfelt than mocking, and intended as generous even when (with more travelled ears) you can hear how clumsy and inaccurate the (as here) “fake japanoiserie” is… so the attraction is like kids trying to be grown-ups and not knowing how (with the queasy bit any sense that what’s being mimicked is itself some from innocent or unspoiled or “childlike” culture)

    in the early/mid-80s, i was listening to a ton of non-western music — reviewing it professionally as well – and having to think a LOT (in some senses probably too much) about my responsibilities as a half-educated filter for 80s african pop in particular, when i loved loved LOVED the sound and knew a fair bit about it for an ordinary punky record-buyer) but obviously also knew that there was tons more i didn’t know than i knew; i didn’t and don’t speak any african languages, or example, and was almost certainly making millions of mistakes factual and in terms of judgment of quality

    haha and in the 00s i’ve been working at a mag which covers the history of arts&crafts, and has a whole other traditional of orientalist fascination and distortion that has to be tiptoed round

  80. 80
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 25 Jan 2009 #

    “the naive touristy allure of the other” — yuk i meant the cap-O “Other” rather than the other record; a less wanky way of putting it is “the naive touristy allure of this other culture”; phrases like “the Other” are the kind of sneery bullshit psychology i actually really came to dislike when ploughing through critiques of why western listeners liked eg African pop, so i should NOT use them myself

  81. 81
    Doctor Casino on 25 Jan 2009 #

    “it’s a song about a black immigrant longing to go home where he can lounge on a beach, presented as just a bit of fun at precisely the time when a lot of right-wing forces in British politics were behind repatriation as a policy.”


    That honestly never clicked with me in the “Barbados” thread but it certainly makes a lot of sense when you put it that way. Thanks.

    I once was working on a demo for my silly little musical hobbies; this song had a sort of “pirate” vibe” and so my placeholder lyrics had to do with boats hence “get on the boat and go back home,” etc – a friend was startled by it and pointed out the worrisome resemblance to contemporary US racism (re: Mexico but in the case of “boats” mainly Asia and Africa). I ended up coming up with something much better though not a pirate story.

  82. 82
    Doctor Casino on 25 Jan 2009 #

    (“put ’em on a boat and send ’em back home” of course not being the kind of thing one can say out loud in contemp. American political discourse, but it’s certainly something you’ll hear from grouchy oldsters at family reunions or hotel bars)

  83. 83
    Mark M on 25 Jan 2009 #

    Re 77: As Lord S says, absolutely nobody is accusing Waldo of racism. What he does make is an entirely unsubstantiated claim that what he would describe as “middle-class liberal” involvement in the racism debate has made things worse, not better. I’m not convinced by this at all: it can be clumsy in places (and yes, in one or two cases possibly counteractive), but active anti-racism was pretty necessary considering the behaviour on football terraces, police stations etc 30 years ago.
    This goes along with a pure fantasy that most MCLs live in comfortable, safe all-white enclaves (it used to be Hampstead) and therefore are considering these questions from an aloof distance. To which I say: want to meet my neighbours?
    I agree with you that this is a basically tolerant country, which is one of the reasons I think that Enoch Powell* was not just morally wrong but completely misread the situation. But equally, that is why we shouldn’t put too much stress on what are actually absolutely tiny electoral inroads by the BNP.

    *It’s easy to forget that Powell was absolutely bonkers in ways that had nothing to do with his politics – “I should like to have been killed in the war”.

  84. 84
    lonepilgrim on 25 Jan 2009 #

    my musical knowledge is minimal, but IIRC tunes played on the black notes of the piano end up sounding either scottish or oriental so may be, given the singers background, this may be part of the genesis of the song.
    I find this no more racist than those Japanese lads who used to (and who possibly still do) dress up as some hyperreal version of American rockers. As I suggested earlier it’s just embarrassingly mediocre.

  85. 85
    Malice Cooper on 26 Jan 2009 #

    I don’t recall this ever being referred to as racist, but then I didn’t hang out with people who find racism in “chalk boards”.I guess nobody wanted to date Japanese boys after this, such a shocking story !

    Just say you were a puppeteer in 1977 and suddenly you lose bookings because Mr Punch was on Top of the Pops trying to hit Joy Sarney with a stick ! No way could he attack our Joy and expect to get away with it.

    All said this is actually a very good pop song, sung by a very capable vocalist who clearly had a much stronger vocal range than this required. I remember Aneka turning up on the David Essex showcase in 1982 with “Ooh shooby doo do lang” in which she claimed “Paul McCartney calls me all the time”

  86. 86
    peter goodlaws on 26 Jan 2009 #

    #78 and #83 – I am grateful for these reasoned responses. Just one final point. I wonder how many of my fellow commentators who feel that “Japanese Boy” is racist would also make similar claims against “Kung-Fu Fighting”? Somehow I doubt that these are thick on the ground.

    Waldo’s Aussie tennis bet is seriously knackered, btw, both tips in his “win double” getting stuffed. Hur! Hur!

  87. 87
    Les Tennant on 26 Jan 2009 #

    People disagree with this?
    – “racism obviously still exists and still infests politics and culture”, a sentiment with which I profoundly disagree (well, certainly about the politics and culture)

    Wow…it just seems really obvious to me that it’s true.

    Not that it’s really relevant to this song but: Peter, monkey chants may have pretty much disappeared but this is more down to the minority of culprits knowing they will be punished for doing so rather than genuine socio-cultural enlightenment and progression. The point is, equivalent jibes still go on in many pubs on match-days. I know from conversations with a friend that several of the people he has associated with for England matches home and abroad still harbour troubling views re the stereotypes often attributed to black men (but it’s much more complicated and damaging than inane name-calling).

  88. 88
    peter goodlaws on 26 Jan 2009 #

    There’s something in what you say, Les, but I don’t agree with you entirely. I’ve personally not had, in the last few years, any of the experiences watching footy in pubs that you seem to have had and suffer even now, you say. It surely would appear to even the most empty-headed individual that racially abusing a guy on the opposing side but cheering on the inevitable black guys on your own team to be something of a double standard as well as being completely fucking moronic.

  89. 89
    Les Tennant on 26 Jan 2009 #

    I believe some people solve that by abusing the black players on their own team too. A friend of mine witnessed this exact scene only a few years ago. But I was thinking of less blatant attitudes and how they manifest really.

  90. 90
    Malice Cooper on 26 Jan 2009 #

    Football fan mentally is primitive so nothing surprises me there. Opposing players get abused for anything in a playground bullying way so if one is black or has ginger hair, they will get the odd moronic comment.

    I’ve always felt TV comedies such as “Goodness gracious me” that fulfill all the racial stereotypes, do much more damage within everyday life than a pop song ever could.
    I guess Billy Ocean is lucky that “Caribbean Queen” isn’t being discussed on here as any black and/or gay person would be absolutely disgusted by it.

  91. 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.

  92. 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?

  93. 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.

  94. 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!)

  95. 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.

  96. 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

  97. 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.

  98. 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.

  99. 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. :/

  100. 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.)

  101. 101
    Gareth Parker on 23 May 2021 #

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

  102. 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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