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
Rock of the 80's, Vol. 3 [Cema] 1992
Various Artists
EMI-Capitol Special Markets 3:44
Living in Oblivion: The 80's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 1993
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution / Capitol 3:40
Richard Blade's Flashback Favorites, Vol. 4 1994
Various Artists
Oglio Records 3:44
Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the 80's, Vol. 2 1994
Various Artists
Rhino 3:44
Party On!: Dance Hits of the 80's 1994
Various Artists
Crimson Productions
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 Records
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 Caroline Distribution / EMI Music Distribution 3:46
Once in a Lifetime 1997
Various Artists
Telstar
Romy & Michele's High School Reunion 1997
Original Soundtrack
Hollywood 3:44
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
Essential Eighties [EMI Disc One] 1997
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:47
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
Awesome '80s, Vol. 1 1999
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 3:44
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
Non Stop 80's Party 1999
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:41
New Wave 80's [Platinum #2] 2000
Various Artists
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
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
Like, Omigod! The '80s Pop Culture Box (Totally) 2002
Various Artists
Rhino 3:44
Eighties Complete, Vol. 1 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:47
Eighties Complete, Vol. 1-3 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:47
Essential Eighties [EMI Box] 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:47
No Spitting [CD1] 2002
Various Artists
Disky 3:44
Punk: The Jubilee 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:44
60 Classic Punk Tracks 2003
Various Artists
Disky 3:44
No Image 2003
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:45
The Best of the Vapors 2003 EMI Music Distribution 3:45
Punk Generation: Total Anarchy 2004
Various Artists
Simply The Best (Netherlands) 3:45
VH1: I Love the '80s 2004
Various Artists
Rhino 3:44
I Want My New Wave 2005
Various Artists
Razor & Tie 3:43
Teenage Kicks [Sanctuary] 2005
Various Artists
Sanctuary 3:44
Number One Hits of the 80's 2005
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:46
New Wave 80's [Madacy] 2005
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 3:42
Power Pop Anthems 2005
Various Artists
Virgin / EMI 3:42
101 80's Hits [EMI] 2007
Various Artists
Virgin / EMI 3:43
Gold: New Wave 2007
Various Artists
Hip-O 3:44
Pure: 80s [EMI] 2007
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:44
Where Were You: 1980 2008
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:45
101 Driving Songs 2008
Various Artists
Virgin 3:43
Pure Woman [Emd] [3 Discs] 2008
Various Artists
EMD Int'l 3:44
Sounds of the 80's Generation 2008
Various Artists
Destra 3:45
Original Hits: Eighties 2009
Various Artists
EMI / EMI Music Distribution 3:44
Top of the Pops: One Hit Wonders 2009
Various Artists
EMI / EMI Gold 3:44
101 Punk & New Wave Anthems 2010
Various Artists
EMI 3:43
101 Running Songs, Lap 2 2010
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:43
Classic Driving Songs
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 3:44
Guilty Pleasures [Capitol]
Various Artists
Capitol / EMI 4:29
Massive Hits! Punk Rock
Various Artists
EMI 3:44
Top of the Pops 1980 [EMI]
Various Artists
EMI 3:44