CD-3 Files: Japan – Ghosts

Virgin | UK | CD-3 | 1988 | CDT 11

Japan: Ghosts UK CD-3 [1988]

  1. Ghosts [single edit]
  2. The Art Of Parties [version]
  3. Visions Of China

This was another of the initial launch of catalog titles that Virgin Records used to launch the CD-3 format in the UK with. With this single they picked one of their best sellers and the breakthrough that took Japan from cult artistes to screaming teen fodder. Not coincidently, the latter effect probably helped to ensure the disintegration of the band soon afterward. Having been formed in 1974 and slogged for many years through the sub-strata of New York Dolls inflected post-glam rock, the band rebooted in 1980 as Roxy Music influenced sophisticates. That year they released two albums which stand as a pair of the best albums that Roxy Music never released.

1981 saw the group making their next [and final] move as they moved beyond emulating their heroes to making heroic moves on their own. Their last studio album, “Tin Drum,” bears heavy actual Japanese music influence [think Sakamoto and YMO plus maybe The Sadistic Mika Band] and fuses this with their high-end musicianship to sound like nothing else out there at the time. It was the difference between Alistair Riddell emulating Bowie [uncannily] in New Zealand, and Bowie himself constructing his late 70s albums out of the building blocks of Krautrock, plus Brian Eno, to which he added his own artistic DNA.

Maybe it was the previous year’s pump-priming popularity of Duran Duran, whose members [Nick Rhodes in particular] fashioned themselves after Japan to various degrees, but by 1982, when the “Ghosts” single was the third single released from “Tin Drum,” the abstract, introspective ballad with no beat to speak of, shot into the UK top 5. No one familiar with the band would have believed it. Virgin released a 7″ and 12″ during that time. The records contents were identical; only the cover photo [and audio fidelity] of the discs differed in any way.

“Ghosts” was a droning, abstract ballad of gloom with atonal jabs of synth sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb. The single mix was edited down about 45 seconds to make it more “radio friendly!” The bigger pull was the B-side. What they called “The Art Of Parties [version]” was not a version mix, in the dub sense of the word. It was actually a live version recorded at the band’s 1981 concert at the Hammersmith Odeon. The point of interest here is that lead guitar is by David Rhodes of Random Hold/Peter Gabriel fame who was touring with the band after they sacked original lead guitarist Rob Dean following their 1980 tour. Dean, after all, had curly hair.

Finally, as a sop to the 20 minute CD-3 running time, Virgin also included the “Tin Drum” A-side “Visions of China” as a bonus track. That had been the unsuccessful second single from the album, so purchasers of this disc, conveniently got three of the four “Tin Drum” singles on a single platter.

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10 Responses to CD-3 Files: Japan – Ghosts

  1. Echorich says:

    I loved this series of releases on cd3. Tower records in NYC would always have them, and on my first few trips to London in the mid to late 80’s I hunted and gathered as many as I could find. This one is certainly a stand out.
    One of my oldest friends, Patty and I were likely two of the maybe 5 fans that Japan had in America prior to Gentlemen Take Polaroids. We both tried to see them at Harrah’s in 1978 and it just didn’t happen.
    With the release of the second album, you could sense a change was coming. Suburban Berlin and Rhodesia were far from the alt guitar glam of Adolescent Sex. The Bowie influence was still all over the place and David’s voice still hadn’t “dropped,” but The Tenant was pure Eno (in essence).
    I’ll stop here because I can wax on for hours on Japan/Sylvian/The Other Three (not meant as a knock in the least to any of them).

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Kind of ironic that Japan only toured in America when almost no one wanted to hear them! I first heard them with “Polaroids” and got the impression that the first two albums were so radically different with their late grab at the glam rock sound, that I avoided them for decades. I just had a copy of “A Souvenir From Japan” [the moral equivalent of “Assemblage”] as a representative of that era. It was only after I got heavily into Suede [very late in the game – that’s an ingesting story there] that I mused that if I enjoyed third-gen glam so much, I might as well finally obtain the first two Japan albums. so what if they were completely unlike what I knew as Japan.

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  2. zoo says:

    Lots of cool nuggets in this post. I didn’t know Rhodes played w/ Japan. Pretty cool…I’m definitely a fan of his textural style that I could see fitting (now, obviously) w/ Japan.

    I just listened to this album the other day. It is a stunner, and “Ghosts” is a particularly inventive, amazing cut.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – Maybe I wasn’t being clear. I do hammer these posts out in about 45 minutes during my lunch hour, and they are technically first drafts. My point was that Duran Duran simply wanted to be Japan. The debut album bears the heavy influence of Japan circa “Quiet Life” and everyone can spot that Nick Rhodes based his visual appearance on David Sylvian!

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  3. Tim says:

    Echorich – what/who do you mean when you say “The Other Three”?

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    • Echorich says:

      Jansen Barbieri and Karn… Love all their output…ok, I could do with the retro Prog of Barbieri in Porcupine Tree certainly. The JBK output after Rain Tree Crow was great. Jansen & Barbieri as The Dolphin Brothers, made a really wonderful companion album to Sylvian’s Secrets of the Beehive in Catch The Fall in 1987. As for Karn, his post modern avant-jazz and pop was gorgeous. Dreams of Reason Produce Monsters, also released in 1987, and including two contributions from Sylvian, was a hint of what Japan could have been 5 yrs after they had parted ways.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Echorich – “Dreams of Reason Produce Monsters” is last stunner. I was particularly moved considering that after hearing “Sensitive” I never, ever bought “Titles.” I was appalled by “Sensitive,” to put it mildly. I considered it Mick Karn’s “If I Was!”

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        • Echorich says:

          I have to agree Sensitive is not really listenable. Karn was probably the most unprepared to go out solo from Japan. Dalis Car with Peter Murphy is a much better focus of Karn’s beautiful approach to music. And not sure how you feel about this one but I am a fan of After a Fashion by Karn/Ure…correct me on the placement of names, but it will alway be Karn first for me…

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          • postpunkmonk says:

            Echorich – “After A Fashion” was still solidly in the “Midge Ure Can Do No Wrong” period for me. I was shocked at how “Sensitive” was just a wimpy ballad. It was not at all what I was expecting from my favorite member of JAPAN.

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  4. Tim says:

    That’s who I thought you meant but just wanted to be certain that I was reading it right, thanks.

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