Japan: Bento 3XCD-R 
2. Adolescent Sex [ver. 2]
3. Life In Tokyo
4. Life In Tokyo [part 2]
5. Deviation [live in Japan]
6. Quiet Life [JPN 7 edit]
7. Life In Tokyo [long ver.]
8. I Second That Emotion
9. Life In Tokyo [best of synth 12” remix]
10. Obscure Alternatives [live in Japan]
11. European Son
12. Life In Tokyo [1982 special remix 7]
13. Quiet Life [UK 7 edit]
14. A Foreign Place
15. Life In Tokyo [theme]
16. I Second That Emotion [1982 remix 7]
17. Virgin Video Jingle
1. In Vogue [live in Japan]
2. European Son [ext. 12]
3. All Tomorrow’s Parties [ver. 2]
4. Life In Tokyo [souvenir from japan mix]
5. European Son [1982 remix 7]
6. Sometimes I Feel So Low [live in Japan]
7. I Second That Emotion [1982 remix 12]
8. European Son [1982 remix 12]
9. Life In Tokyo [1982 special remix 12]
10. Gentlemen Take Polaroids [UK 7 edit]
11. The Experience Of Swiming
12. The Width Of A Room
13. Burning Bridges [ver. 2]
14. European Son [ext in vogue ver.]
1. The Art Of Parties [UK 12]
2. Life Without Buildings
3. Taking Islands In Africa [1981 steve nye remix]
4. Ghosts [UK 7 edit]
5. The Art Of Parties [version]
6. Nightporter [1982 remix 7]
7. Ain’t That Peculiar [ver. 2]
8. Oil On Canvas
9. Nightporter [1982 remix 12]
10. All Tomorrow’s Parties [1983 UK 7 remix]
11. Voices Raised In Welcome, Hands Raised In Prayer
12. Temple Of Dawn
13. All Tomorrow’s Parties [1983 UK 12 remix]
14. Ghosts [2000 vocal ver.]
15. Some Kind Of Fool
15. The Art Of Parties [UK 7]
Japan began their life as a relatively unimpressive quartet of tarty New York Dolls wanabees a few years past glam rock’s sell-by date in 1978 and ended their career six years later on a King Crimson-like plateau of polished and disciplined musicianship in the service of material which ran the gamut from expert Lou Reed and Roxy Music pastiche to the creative quantum leap represented by their swan song album, “Tin Drum,” which sounded like no one but themselves.
When the group signed to West Germany’s Hansa International in 1977, they found themselves in service to a label who had developed a methodical and inflexible approach to commercial music. This extended to the point where the label’s research and analysis had determined exactly how to construct commercial music, right down to the click of a stopwatch. Needless to say, the band’s snotty rock pose really didn’t fit in with the bulk of their prefab disco labelmates.
Hansa had apparently made the mistake of signing them on their image. Their debut album, 1978’s “Adolescent Sex” sounds like nothing more than mid-70s sub-Stones raunch. The most startling number, in retrospect is the Broadway staple, “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” which is given a dose of glam rock synth stylings under singer David Sylvian’s slurred delivery. It sticks out on the album like a sore thumb. The first rarity in this set appeared on the B-side of that single, which was cherry-picked as their debut single since a cover version is always the safest way to break a new act. “Stateline” sounds more typical of the album it accompanied than the Tin Pan Alley pedigree of the A-side. For anyone only familiar with the “mature” Japan sound yet to come, the sound of the hardly effete Sylvian sneering “don’t take no s–t from anyone” will be more than a little startling.
The next track on offer was the B-side to “The Unconventional,” the second single from “Adolescent Sex.” It featured an alternate take of the raunchy title cut recast with a more sophisticated intro hinting of things to come. Amazingly, this B-side version would come to predominate in years to come to the point that it will be the version of the song that most people are familiar with through many appearances on compilations.
Next comes the UK 7″ of their seminal non-LP single, “Life In Tokyo.” This was recorded with Giorgio Moroder in 1979 following the release of their second album, “Obscure Alternatives.” The band sought out Moroder after his seminal “I Feel Love” arrested ears around the globe. The original UK 7″ mix came with “Life In Tokyo (part 2)” on the flip side; an instrumental remix. Since there are nine versions of “Life In Tokyo” to be had in this package, the sequencing of Bento proved to be challenging. In the interests of listening flow, tracks that came out of sequence have been used to buffer cuts with multiple versions.
One of these later records appears next. The “Live In Japan” EP appeared in 1980 with four live tracks from the second album tour, recorded in Japan. “Deviation (live in Jpan)” is the first of these. This has been followed by a single that came prior to the live EP, one of Japan’s most durable singles, “Quiet Life.” This third album represented a quantum leap to the sophisticated, Roxy Music influenced version of the band that made an impression on many more people than the adolescent (if not pupal) version of the band.
After switching labels from Hansa to the infinitely more appropriate Virgin Records, Mick Karn was foremost in the new sound by his adoption of fretless bass in addition to his saxophone playing, which now had a place in the group. Karn’s playing on fretless bass, while indebted to Jaco Pastorius, gave the sound a whole new environment to run rampant in, away from the jazz world. Subsequently, his playing in Japan from their third album onward, was highly influential on UK bassists, who made fretless the sound of the eighties.
The band wisely secured the production services of Roxy/Ferry producer John Punter, and finally, vocalist David Sylvian ceased emulating Jagger and Johansen and began to sing in the style of Bryan Ferry, albeit without Ferry’s distinctive vibrato. The “Quiet Life” album was for all intents and purposes, the debut of an entirely different band. First up from it is the unique Japanese 7″ edit of this cut sourced from the famous chrome sleeved pic-label EP “The Singles.” This cut built on the experimentation the band made with Mororder earlier on the “Life In Tokyo” single, but the result was a far smoother track that practically glistened with a fluent Europulse as the tightly sequenced keyboards of Barbieri bested Giorgio at his own game. This is followed by the original 1980 12″ version of “Life In Tokyo (long version).”
After their first two albums went nowhere, their manager, Simon Napier-Bell coerced the group into tackling another cover version to scare up some interest. “I Second That Emotion” was a Smoky Robinson Motown number given a run through the middle-period Japan filter. Fretless bass. Rhythm box. Late night ambience and a now-suave Sylvian. This time it managed to get the group onto the lower rungs of the UK chart, fulfilling the objective with a nice take of the song redolent of the band’s new, mature sound. Since it was recorded around the time of the “Quiet Life” album, albeit not included on that record, it features Mick Karn’s now distinctive fretless bass.
This is followed in the program by another extended mix of “Life In Tokyo” that appeared on the UK Cassette and Japanese 1st LP pressing of the compilation “Assemblage.” For your listening pleasure, this particular mix was sourced digitally from its only foray into CD territory on the Old Gold label’s “Best Of Synth 12” CD of 1990.
It’s hard to believe it now, but the amazing track “European Son” (not the Velvet Underground song of the same name) was originally released as a B-side to “I Second That Emotion” on a Japanese single in 1980! This track more than any other is my favorite Japan song as it culminates their adoption of the classic Moroder Eurodisco style into a thing of sleek beauty.
But wait, more remixes of “Life In Tokyo” await the listener! The Special Remix 7″ version dates from 1982 as the band were aiding Hansa in the exploitation of their back catalogue to a now receptive audience weaned on their first successful recordings for Virgin Records. Karn has taken the time here to overdub his distinctive fretless bass evocations on the track to substantially rework the track as the song fit the environment of ’81-’82 far better than it had that of two years earlier.
Another early track got a reissue when Hansa compiled the desirable “Assemblage” album and released it to a waiting world in 1981. This compilation collected almost all of the early Japan their new fans would recognize as the band they fell in love with of late. “Quiet Life” was given a new UK 7″ edit and dusted off for a new single release and given a unique non-LP B-side, “A Foreign Place,” that appeared nowhere else for good measure.
Disc one of Bento concludes with a couple of songs; first the perverse “Life In Tokyo (theme)” that appeared on the final (3rd) issue of “Life In Tokyo” released in 1982! Third time’s a charm as this forward thinking song finally got in the charts, but the B-side sounds like a slow, varispeed mix of the track. Word has it that if the 7″ is played on a turntable capable of 78 r.p.m., the pitch will sound correct.
Next up is the 7″ remix of “I Second That Emotion” as remixed by the band’s then-current producer, Steve Nye. Much like the “Tin Drum” album he produced, the sound of this mix retreats from the smoother John Punter sound to something more funky and percussive. The last cut on offer here is one of Japan’s most obscure recordings as it never appeared on any record. The “Virgin Video Jingle” shows what happens when a video company attached to a record label can call upon its best and brightest to create music for an animated corporate logo on a home video! This version was used as the Virgin Video identity for the first half of the eighties and digitized off of a Japanese OMD laserdisc!
Disc two begins with another live track recorded in Japan. “In Vogue” is the only live EP track from the yet-to-be-released-at-that-time third album. The extended 12″ of “European Son” is my favorite mix of my favorite Japan song. It’s modestly extended from the 7″‘ version but the lustrous instrumental break at then end just takes it all over the top into the godhead of what I call “autobahn musik.” My heart stops whenever I hear it. This surfaced as the B-side to the 2nd 12″ issue of “Life In Tokyo” in 1981. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” will be familiar to anyone who has heard the “Quiet Life” album, but when Hansa issued the “Assemblage” compilation, they salted it with all manner of goodies. In this case, an alternate recording of the tune as produced by their manager Simon Napier-Bell.
Next in the program is another unique variation that only got released on a compilation, years later. In this case, BMG’s German CD “Souvenir From Japan” offers a unique mix of “Life In Tokyo.” It’s not extended but it’s remixed with some unique percussion added to the mix. Tracks 5, 7 and 8 are all late period remixes of earlier material by Steve Nye, who produced the final Japan studio album in 1981. His mixes of “European Son” sound more percussive and “clattery” than the original’s airbrushed splendor. I favor the original John Punter mixes but the Nye takes are certainly different enough. His extension of “I Second That Emotion” manages to sound more in line with the original production’s intent. Track 6 is another live EP cut. Track 9 is the extended version of the “Life In Tokyo” special remix by Steve Nye.
One of my favorite Japan songs gets into this collection by way of its 7″ edit. It’s always best to experience the sublime glow of “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” in its unexpurgated form, but I’m still happy to have it here in the short form. That single came in a double 7″ version with three other unique B-sides and versions to hear. “The Experience of Swimming” and “The Width of A Room” are Satie-esque instrumentals that are the handiwork of Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean, respectively. They should have been the B-sides for “Nightporter,” but that track wasn’t released as a single until 1983!
The real prize here is version 2 of “Burning Bridges.” I had the two instrumental B-sides for ages on the Canadian “The Art Of Parties” 12″ so back in the day when I could see the double 7″ of “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” sitting in import bins, I gave it the pass. After all, I had the two B-Sides on superior sounding 12″ and “Burning Bridges” was on the “Polaroids” album. What I didn’t know, for almost 30 years, was that the “Burning Bridges” version on the 7″ D-side was apparently a demo version produced by David Sylvian, instead of John Punter! It’s fascinating to hear a new version of a song that you may have been familiar with for half a lifetime, so the novelty factor on this alternative version cannot be dismissed! Thankfully, the excellent Nightporter website has it all sorted out and when I went there to research this project, I was set straight with this revelation. I relied on it so heavily, I donated for his hosting!
The final mix of “European Son” is something of a mastering error in that it’s the extended remix of the cut by Steve Nye that was previously heard as track 8 on disc two. But the compilers of the “In Vogue” Japan compilation managed to make it highly unique by mistakenly mastering the comp in mono instead of stereo. As a result, one channel (the left one) is dropped off for the entire compilation album. “European Son” is singled out for inclusion here because of the balance of the mix was such that entire instruments have dropped out in the mix, making the version on “In Vogue” sound drastically different. Some of the lead synth is missing and it gives the song a whole new complexion not to have it.
Finally, the last cut on disc 2 is the 7″ version of the leadoff single from their last album, “Tin Drum.” What makes this single version more interesting, is that it was produced by John Punter, and the “Tin Drum” album was produced by Steve Nye, so the production on this single is completely different to that of the album. The arrangement itself if different, so if you are familiar with the album cut and wondered why any live version you may have heard of this track is arranged differently, this is the reason why.
The extended, 12″ version of “The Art Of Parties” kicks of disc 3 of this set, and the full length treatment has extensive female backing vocals at the back end of the cut for a different sound. The slurred ethno-funk of “Life Without Buildings” is the original B-side to “Parties.” Amazingly, the 6 and a half minute cut is intact on the 7″ release as well! Steve Nye managed to remix yet another track, this time from the band’s period on Virgin Records. “Taking Islands In Africa” Steve Nye remix appeared as the B-side only on the 7″ single of “Visions of China.” This was the only time that Nye remixed back catalogue that was not from the band’s time on Hansa Records.
Next we have Japan’s biggest hit single; the excruciatingly introverted “Ghosts,” which was edited for 7.” Amazingly, this slow, introspective and minimal number managed to get into the top 5 of the UK chart and by this time, Japan had arrived. They were a full fledged phenomenon and many of the ex-post-facto mixes that make up this set were about to be unleashed on a now-prepared British public. The flip side of “Ghosts” had “The Art Of Parties (version)” as a B-side, but it’s not a version in the dub sense. It’s a live version. Quite different to the take of the song that would eventually be released a while later on “Oil On Canvas.”
The followup single was a completely new recording of “Nightporter” from the previous album, “Gentlemen Take Polaroids.” It says produced by John Punter and remixed by Steve Nye, but it sounds like an alternate take to me. It was edited for 7″ single release as heard on track six on disc three. The B-side of this release was a track that had first surfaced in 1980 on “Cash Cows,” a Virgin Records compilation of high quality. It was the point where I had first heard JAPAN and I really loved their avant funk version of Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar,” which sounded not one iota like the original!
The challenging meter and time signature of their version sounded like the mutant offspring of Roxy Music and King Crimson! But this version, which I had heard first, was a completely different take than the one that was released on their “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” album as if the varispeed intro wasn’t a dead giveaway. Revel in Karn’s expressive, sinuous basslines that deftly interlock with Steve Jansen’s drumming, which is as jazzy and expressive as anything Bill Bruford has ever committed to tape. Surely, upon hearing this track one is struck with the thought that Karn/Jansen were the best rhythm section of all time. Richard Barbieri’s synth lines here offer enthralling if subtle countermelodies that are completely absent in the album version until the song’s bridge.
When Japan released their swan song double live album, “Oil On Canvas” in 1983 it was peppered with brief instrumental cuts that expounded on the band’s ambient side. They are included on disc three as cuts 8, 11 and 12 for the sake of thoroughness because we’re just that kind of Monk. The full length remix of “Nightporter” appears as track 9 and is followed by the last early Hansa cut given the wax and polish by Steve Nye. The last Japan single in 1983 was his remix of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” appearing here in 7″ and 12″ extended versions.
The last cuts here date from 1980-1981 but were not released until twenty years later. When David Sylvian was compiling a retrospective of his work as the final culmination of his contract with Virgin records in 2001, he saw fit to cut a new vocal for the hit “Ghosts.” The song was edited further in length in the bargain. Of high interest to Japan cognoscenti was the much-belated appearance of the track “Some Kind Of Fool” which appears on the misprinted sleeves of some editions of 1980’s “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” LP indicating that it was at one point, mooted for inclusion on that album. Those actually play the track “Burning Bridges” in place of this track. Here, the cut was finally mixed and given a new vocal performance by Sylvian at the time of release. The actual sound of the track, in particularly the rhythm section and strings, earmarks it as dating from the earlier “Quiet Life” sessions.”
I’ll admit it. It was actual work to research, resource and master this BSOG. There have been so many different releases and mixes to get straight that the track order has cnahged a few times in the making of this project. Having completed it, we can finally look upon a dazzling body of work that forms an evocative snapshot in time as this band went from nothing special to the crucial sort of band that anyone with an ear for adventurous music should have been a follower of. If you were there back in the day, this project forms a discrete reference one can return to to reacquaint oneself with the splendor of Japan’s blossoming into accomplished players and artists of the highest rank.
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