The Vapors

Turning Japanese

Composed by David Fenton

Song Review by

A senior member of the All Music Guide family once appeared on a VH1 talking-heads show discussing the "true story" behind the Vapors' sole U.S. hit single, which a generation of junior-high students knew in their hearts to be about masturbation. (See, the guy's been at it so much that his O-face is becoming a permanent expression....) The final consensus was "maybe, maybe not," mostly because Vapors singer/songwriter David Fenton keeps changing his story on what his lyrical intentions were. Regardless, the reason "Turning Japanese" has remained a perennial classic of the new wave era decades after its release isn't so much about the lyrics as it is the giddy power pop rush of the song itself. From the cheesy faux-Oriental guitar riff at the opening to Edward Bazalgette's ripping high-register guitar solo at the song's, um, climax, the wildly energetic "Turning Japanese" is the truly classic pop single that the Knack never quite managed to record, a song as rocking as it is slightly seedy. Although "Turning Japanese" was only a minor chart hit in the U.S., peaking at number 36 in November 1980, it's one of the most beloved singles of the new wave era, partially due to the memorable video, which features the band playing in front of Japanese shoji screens and Fenton showing off some surprisingly nimble samurai sword skills.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
New Clear Days 1980 Cleopatra 3:44
25 Years of Rock 'N' Roll 1980 1988
Various Artists
3:44
The Sound of the Suburbs [#2] 1991
Various Artists
Columbia / Concept 3:42
Rock of the 80's, Vol. 3 [Cema] 1992
Various Artists
EMI-Capitol Special Markets 3:44
Young at Heart, Vol. 1 [Sounds Direct Discs 1-2] 1993
Various Artists
Sounds Direct
Richard Blade's Flashback Favorites, Vol. 4 1994
Various Artists
Oglio Records 3:44
Party On!: Dance Hits of the 80's 1994
Various Artists
Crimson Productions
Eurobeat [Capitol] 1995
Various Artists
Capitol 3:44
Anthology 1995 One Way Records 3:42
New Wave Hits [Cema] 1995
Various Artists
EMI-Capitol Special Markets 3:45
No Image 1995
Various Artists
Priority
Teenage Kicks: 46 Classic Punk & New Wave Tracks 1995
Various Artists
PolyGram 3:43
Rock of the 80's, Vol. 2 [CEMA] 1996
Various Artists
EMI-Capitol Special Markets 3:44
Smash Alternatives 1996
Various Artists
Hip-O
Turning Japanese: The Best of the Vapors 1996 EMI / Parlophone 3:45
Once in a Lifetime 1997
Various Artists
Telstar
Romy & Michele's High School Reunion 1997
Original Soundtrack
Hollywood 3:44
No Image 1997
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution
1980: 20 Original Chart Hits 1997
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:44
Double Feature: Romy & Michele's/More Romy & Michele's 1997
Original Soundtrack
Hollywood 3:44
Sounds of the Eighties: 1980-1983 1997
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:46
Vaporized 1998 Collectables 3:40
Sexy '80s 1998
Various Artists
Delta Distribution 3:44
Sound of the Suburbs [#1] 1998
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 3:43
New Wave '80s, Vol. 3 1999
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 3:44
Radio Days: '80s New Wave 1999
Various Artists
EMI-Capitol Special Markets / CEMA Special Markets 3:44
Totally Number One Hits 1999
Various Artists
Axis Records
Non Stop 80's Party 1999
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:41
New Wave 80's [Platinum #2] 2000
Various Artists
Platinum Disc Corp. / Platinum Disc 3:44
One Hit Classics of the 70's & 80's 2000
Various Artists
BMG International 3:44
The Eighties Collection 2000
Various Artists
Delta Distribution 4:45
Charlie's Angels 2000
Original Soundtrack
Columbia 3:42
Totally Punk [EMI] 2000
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:44
New Wave Generation: Sign of the Times 2001
Various Artists
Disky 3:45
One Hit Wonders: Hard Two Get Hits [Box Set] 2001
Various Artists
One Hit 3:44
Punk: The Worst of Total Anarchy, Vol. 2 2001
Various Artists
Disky
No Image 2001
Various Artists
Medalist Entertainment 3:43
Absolutely the Best of New Wave 2002
Various Artists
Varèse Sarabande / Fuel 2000 3:44
1980: Where Were You? 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution
Punk Generation [DVD] 2002
Various Artists
Disky
Like, Omigod! The '80s Pop Culture Box (Totally) 2002
Various Artists
Rhino 3:44
Eighties Complete, Vol. 1-3 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:47
No Spitting 2002
Various Artists
Disky
Essential Eighties [EMI Box] 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:47
Totally New Wave 2002
Various Artists
EMI 3:45
Punk: The Jubilee 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:44
60 Classic Punk Tracks 2003
Various Artists
Disky 3:44
The Best of the Vapors 2003 Parlophone 3:45
Punk & Rock Classics 2003
Various Artists
Disky
Punk Generation: Total Anarchy 2004
Various Artists
Simply The Best (Netherlands) 3:45
Gone but Not Forgotten [2004 Import} 2004
Various Artists
Rajon Entertainment Pty Ltd. 3:45
New Wave Hits: Best Of New Wave 2004
Various Artists
EMI
VH1: I Love the '80s 2004
Various Artists
Rhino 3:44
World's Best Ever Beer Songs 2005 2004
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:47
Top of the Pop Hits the 80's, Disc 6 2004
Various Artists
Collectables 3:44
I Want My New Wave 2005
Various Artists
Razor & Tie 3:43
New Wave Hits [Fuel 2000] 2005
Various Artists
Fuel 2000 3:44
Pop Goes the 80's 2005
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 3:44
Teenage Kicks [Sanctuary] 2005
Various Artists
Sanctuary 3:44
Reunited 2005
Various Artists
Disky Communications 3:44
Number One Hits of the 80's 2005
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:46
I Love Music 1980-1984: It's Electric 2005
Various Artists
Disky 3:44
New Wave 80's [Madacy] 2005
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 3:42
Power Pop Anthems 2005
Various Artists
Virgin/EMI 3:42
Complete Eighties 2006
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution
Popular Party Mix 2006
Various Artists
Legacy
Pretty Vacant [EMI] 2006
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution
Excellent 80s 2006
Various Artists
Somerset Entertainment 3:45
101 80's Hits 2007
Various Artists
EMI/Virgin 3:43
Gold: New Wave 2007
Various Artists
Hip-O 3:44
Pure: 80s [EMI] 2007
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:44
Top of the Pops 1980 2008
Various Artists
EMI 3:44
Where Were You: 1980 2008
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:45
101 Driving Songs 2008
Various Artists
Virgin 3:43
Top of the Pops Collection [43 CD] 2008
Various Artists
EMI
This Is 1980 2008
Various Artists
Mixed Repertoire 3:45
Pure Woman [Emd] [3 Discs] 2008
Various Artists
EMD Int'l 3:44
Ultimate 80s Collection [Collectables] 2008
Various Artists
Collectables 3:44
Sounds of the 80's Generation 2008
Various Artists
Destra 3:45
Original Hits: Eighties 2009
Various Artists
EMI
Top of the Pops: Punk & New Wave 2009
Various Artists
Mixed Repertoire 3:44
The Ultimate Punk & New Wave Hits 2010
Various Artists
EMI 3:43
101 Punk & New Wave Anthems 2010
Various Artists
EMI 3:43
101 Running Songs, Lap 2 2010
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:43
Going Underground 2011
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 3:42
100 Hits: Punk & New Wave 2011
Various Artists
100 Hits / Bertus (H'art) / Demon Music Group 3:44
Greatest Ever! Punk & New Wave: The Definitive Collection 2013
Various Artists
Greatest Ever / Union Square Music 3:43
Massive Hits: Punk and New Wave 2014
Various Artists
Rhino 3:44
Greatest Ever! Driving Songs [Union Square Music] 2015
Various Artists
Greatest Ever
No Image
Various Artists
Capitol 3:45
Lust for Life: The Music That Changed a Generation
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 10:38
Massive Hits! Punk Rock
Various Artists
EMI 3:44
No More Heroes: 60 Punk & New Wave Anthems
Various Artists
USM Media 3:44
Original Hits: Drivetime
Various Artists
EMI / EMI Gold 3:43
Roller Rink Rewind
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution / Universal Music / Warner Music 3:41
Teenage Kicks 1977-1981
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 3:43
blue highlight denotes editor's pick