Vapors – Turning Japanese —Powerpop Friday

I thought this song charted higher than it did in America…because I heard it constantly back in the 80s. The song peaked at #36 in the Billboard 100 in 1980. It did peak at #3 in the UK, #6 in Canada, #9 in New Zealand and #1 in Australia.

When asked about this song the Vapors explained that it is a love song about someone who lost their girlfriend and was going slowly crazy. Lead singer Dave Fenton said: “Turning Japanese is all the clichés about angst and youth and turning into something you didn’t expect to.” 

The Vapors would be a true one-hit-wonder…this was their only song in the Billboard 100.

From Songfacts

One of the more misinterpreted songs of all time, one rumor was that “Turning Japanese” refers to the Asian facial features people get at the moment of climax during masturbation. 

That recognizable opening riff repeated a few places in the song is actually called “the oriental riff” (example here). It is often used when a Western song wants to invoke the Far East; other popular examples are Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Hong Kong Garden.”

The Vapors were a British pub-rock group formed by David Fenton (vocals), Edward Bazalgette (guitar), Steve Smith (bass) and Howard Smith (drums). They were discovered and managed by Bruce Foxton of the Jam. Ironically The Vapors enjoyed a bigger hit in America with this song than The Jam would ever have. The Vapors’ did not chart again in the US, however they had a couple of other minor hits in the UK. After releasing another album in 1981 they called it quits. After the band disbanded Fenton retired from creating music and went to work in the music industry as a lawyer. Bazalgette became a television producer at the BBC.

This song turns up in the weirdest places, like in an episode of Bill Nye: The Science Guy where it was Weird-Al’d into a song about electricity. A Dr. Pepper commercial uses the tune, as does a commercial for KFC restaurants where it’s sung on karaoke. The song also featured in the films Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion (1997) and Charlie’s Angels (2000).

This song topped the Australian charts for two weeks. It was also a minor hit in Japan.

A commonly misheard lyric is at the end of the bridge, “Everyone avoids me like a psyched lone ranger.” It is not “Everyone avoids me like a psycho ranger.”

Kirsten Dunst recorded this song for a video that was shown at a 2009 exhibition in London called Pop Life: Art In A Material World. The video was directed by McG (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator Salvation) and shot in Tokyo, where Dunst performs as a Japanese schoolgirl.

Turning Japanese

I’ve got your picture
Of me and you
You wrote “I love you”
I wrote “me too”
I sit there staring and there’s nothing else to do

Oh it’s in color
Your hair is brown
Your eyes are hazel
And soft as clouds
I often kiss you when there’s no one else around

I’ve got your picture, I’ve got your picture
I’d like a million of you all ’round my cell
I want the doctor to take your picture
So I can look at you from inside as well
You’ve got me turning up and turning down, I’m turning in, I’m turning ’round

I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so

I’ve got your picture, I’ve got your picture
I’d like a million of them all ’round my cell
I want a doctor to take your picture
So I can look at you from inside as well
You’ve got me turning up and turning down, I’m turning in, I’m turning ’round

I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so

No sex, no drugs, no wine, no women
No fun, no sin, no you, no wonder it’s dark
Everyone around me is a total stranger
Everyone avoids me like a cyclone ranger
Everyone

That’s why I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
(Think so think, so think so, think so)
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so

Author: badfinger20

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

15 thoughts on “Vapors – Turning Japanese —Powerpop Friday”

      1. I feel like an idiot… I should have said blue hair and all lol. I just rewatched it. It grows on you and it isn’t some slick Hollywood production…the music has rawness to it.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Yeah it was widely known at the time what the song is about – despite attempts to rewrite history and pc it up. The racist ref was common uk slang at the time for err enjoying ones own company. The lyrics make no sense except for only that – its a frustrated bloke in a cell looking at his girlfriends picture and suddenly he is turning japanese. It was absolutely only about one thing! 🙂 great track though and prob better folk dont realise or it wouldnt get played on the radio:)

    Liked by 1 person

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