As I was telling Hope, my dear and super-talented friend, earlier today, when I try to figure out what song I’ll write about from day to day, some days it’s a no-brainer, and other days, I have no fucking idea. That’s the way it was for me just a few hours ago. And then, in a roundabout way, I figured it out. Bear with me.
When a “song of the day” doesn’t come to me right away, I will often browse my digital copies of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 for every week of the 1980s (told you I was a singles chart nerd), and choose a song from the Hot 100 whose date during the decade corresponds with a current date. That’s where I started my search tonight.
On this date in 1980, “Turning Japanese” by the Guildford, England New Wave band, The Vapors, debuted on the Hot 100. But The Vapors were one of the nearly 500 (real) one-hit wonders here in America during the 80s, as “Turning Japanese” was the only hit they had here (and most everywhere). And I didn’t want to do the one-hit wonder post tonight (plus, I wanted to wait to feature “Turning Japanese” at a later date).
So, I then perused the Interweb, and came across a scene from one of my favorite films, the 2000 John Cusack film, HIGH FIDELITY (based on the 1995 Nick Hornby book, and whose title comes from a 1980 Elvis Costello song). It’s a scene in the record store where it’s the turn of John Cusack’s character Rob (the store owner and main character of the film) to pick out a Top 5 song subject list. He goes with “Top 5 Side 1’s, Track 1’s,” and the first song he mentions is “Janie Jones” by The Clash (from the band’s 1977 self-titled debut album).
Well, long story longer, “Janie Jones” prompted me to think of a kick-ass song by The Vapors that most folks won’t remember. It’s from their excellent and sadly overlooked second (and final) album, 1981’s MAGNETS – and (conveniently) also a Side 1, Track 1 – “Jimmie Jones.”
Despite its cool New Wave sound and smart lyrics, MAGNETS was actually full of dark subject matter. The title track was about the assassinations of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, two songs were about mental illness, and “Jimmie Jones” was about Jim Jones, the founder of The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ religious movement, who, on November 18, 1978, led the cult to a mass murder-suicide of over 900 of its members in Jonestown, Guyana, as well as the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan of California. Almost 300 children were murdered at Jonestown, nearly all by cyanide poisoning. Jim Jones died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
There were positive reviews for MAGNETS and “Jimmie Jones,” the second single released from the album (a No. 44 U.K. hit and a Top 40 hit on BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart), but the band’s record company, United Artists, was sold to EMI Records around that time, and EMI revived the old Liberty Records moniker (and was primarily used as a Country music label). The band was among those acts who were not treated very well after the label change, and broke up in 1982, shortly after the album was released.
It’s criminal that a band like The Vapors is remembered just for the one big, great hit, but it’s my hope that folks will eventually discover their two albums, 1980’s NEW CLEAR DAYS (which features “Turning Japanese”) and 1981’s MAGNETS. I discovered both albums through a 1998 CD called VAPORIZED, featuring the albums on one CD. One of my best friends, Michael, has had both albums for as long as I’ve known him. You can still find VAPORIZED on outlets like Amazon, or you might find both albums on streaming services like Spotify. Either way, I highly recommend you check them out. I’ve always loved “Turning Japanese,” but The Vapors, before they did eventually vaporize from the music scene, were really much more than the one-hit wonder name they became known for…