“TURNING JAPANESE” BY THE VAPORS… THE HIT THAT ALMOST WASN’T!

June 12, 2009

med vapors

When I was talking to my friend Kent Kotal, at Forgotten Hits, I found out that the ‘80s hit “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors was one of his favorite records. Then I told him the story of how it almost wasn’t a hit in the US.

“Although my client Joe Klein is busy with Casablanca radio spot campaigns, he thinks it’s time to expand our horizons, and asks me to go out and gets some new clients. I zero in on EMI America, who is starting to have some hit records with Kim Wilde, The J. Geils Band, Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes. While visiting my friends at the label, Norma Kemper, who once worked for producer Richard Perry, and Ellen Feldman, who once worked for Mercury records, Ellen introduces me to the head of EMI Marketing, “Frenchy” Gauthier.

This is the guy who is responsible for having radio spots made for EMI. When he can’t find time to make an appointment to see me, I decide to camp out in the reception area until I can corner him and make my pitch.

When my friend Ellen gets back from lunch, she takes me inside and points out where Frenchy’s office is. His door is open, and he’s on the phone, but he waves me to come in.

When he finishes his call, he apologizes for not connecting with me before. I tell that I’ll be a big man, and forgive him if he gives me three minutes of his time to play him something that could make millions for EMI!

He smiles as he plays, Joe Klein’s demo reel, which includes the “Star Wars” spot, “Donna Summer’s, “Bad Girls”, The Village People’s, “YMCA”, and “Brick House” by the Commodores. His eyes light up and Frenchy says he’s heard all of the spots on the radio!

He’s a little taken aback, however, when I tell him that we charge three times more than he’s used to paying for a radio spot. I simply justify the cost, by saying that our spots are proven to sell records.

He thinks for a minute, and then he puts on one of the company’s new releases, which is a big hit in the UK, “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors. The record is highly commercial, has a great hook, but it stopped at #85 on the US charts. Then he asks me, “What can you do with this?”

I know if I can come up with an idea right now and help get this record off the ground; we’re going to get the account. I jump out of my seat, and run through a scenario off the top of my head.

“What if we start off the spot in a newsroom, with the sound of typewriters and teletypes in the background? An American newsman reads copy about a strange phenomenon, where people are turning Japanese, and then cut into the chorus, “Turning Japanese, I think I’m Turning Japanese, I really think so”

Cut back to the newsroom, where the announcer is starting to talk with a slight Japanese accent, then into another chorus, “Turning Japanese, I think I’m Turning Japanese, I really think so”

By the time the minute spot is done, the announcer has completely turned Japanese, and the catchy chorus is repeated two more times.”

Frenchy, looks at me like I’m crazy, and then says, “I Love it…but can your guy do it?” I laugh and say, “Come on Frenchy…would I have suggested it, if he couldn’t?”

I ask him when he needs the spot, he says, “What time is now?”

With alI of my fingers crossed, I drive over to Joe’s as quickly as I can and tell him what just happened. He looks at me like I’m crazy and says, “Are You Crazy?”  I say yes, but it can get us the account!

Even though Joe has never done an accent like this before, the spot turns out great! Not only does the Vapors album go Platinum, but the ad is nominated for a Clio (the equivalent of an Academy Award in advertising), for the best radio spot of the year.

It isn’t long before Joe is doing a spot for every major release on the EMI label including; David Bowie, Devo, Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes, and Sheena Easton.



Copyright 2009 by Artie Wayne https://artiewayne.wordpress.com/about-artie-wayne/

BACK TO ARTIE WAYNE ON THE WEB! https://artiewayne.wordpress.com

To reach Kent Kotal at Forgotten Hits http://forgottenhits.com

Joe Klein j.klein@newmediacreative.com>

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9 Responses to ““TURNING JAPANESE” BY THE VAPORS… THE HIT THAT ALMOST WASN’T!”

  1. Tom Diehl Says:

    I don’t really care for the song but this is a fantastic story! Thanks for sharing it with us, Artie!

  2. Country Paul Says:

    Unlike my friend Tom, I do like the song – and the story! And I do voice-overs! Could you please find me a nice on-going creative account like that?!?!?


  3. cool story…i used to love that song.


  4. So…..this is what happened to Kyu Sakomoto ?

  5. Chris Says:

    I’ve got out my ‘Warner Guide to UK and U.S. Hit Singles’ and apparently it entered at No. 6 on the month in March 1980 in the UK charts, with no mention of it in April of that year. There’s no mention of it on the U.S. side. What weekly chart number did it reach in the U.S.?

    Oh yes, it must have been a good song since it’s one of those that one mentions and the tune enters one’s head straight away.

    • Artie Wayne Says:

      In 1980, “Turning Japanese” made it to #36 on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts. The controversial radio spot played for over a year helping the Vapors album to go platinum.

      Artie

  6. health Says:

    I don’t really care for the song but this is a fantastic story! Thanks for sharing it with us, Artie!

  7. Nikaperucita Says:

    Hi Artie,

    I’m doing a little piece on the Takashi Murakami/McG video that includes The Vapors’ Turning Japanese and digging a bit into the song I ran into your blog. Great story! I was wondering if the spot can be listened to anywhere online, as I’m now very curious and would love to be able to!

    Thank you very much!

    V.


  8. Great story Artie. I appreciate mentioning my dad. I hear these songs all the time and it’s amazing to know that you guys had such an influence, even today.


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