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One of the more misinterpreted songs of all time, word was that "Turning Japanese" refers to the Oriental facial features people get at the moment of climax during masturbation. In a VH1 True Spin special, they asked The Vapors about this song, and they explained that it is a love song about someone who lost their girlfriend and was going slowly crazy. Lead singer Dave Fenton said: "Turning Japanese is all the clichés about angst and youth and turning into something you didn't expect to." It was inspired by Fenton's relationship problems.
That recognizable opening riff repeated a few places in the song is actually called "the oriental riff" (example here
). It is often used when a Western song wants to invoke the Far East; other popular examples are Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting
" and Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Hong Kong Garden
The Vapors were a British pub-rock group formed by David Fenton (vocals), Edward Bazalgette (guitar), Steve Smith (bass) and Howard Smith (drums). They were discovered and managed by Bruce Foxton of the Jam. Ironically The Vapors enjoyed a bigger hit in America with this song than The Jam would ever have. The Vapors' did not chart again in the US, however they had a couple of other minor hits in the UK. After releasing another album in 1981 they called it quits. After the band disbanded Fenton retired from creating music and went to work in the music industry as a lawyer. Bazalgette became a television producer at the BBC.
This song turns up in the weirdest places, like in an episode of Bill Nye: The Science Guy where it was Weird-Al'd into a song about electricity. A Dr. Pepper commercial uses the tune, as does a commercial for KFC restaurants where it's sung on karaoke. The song also featured in the films Romy And Michele's High School Reunion (1997) and Charlie's Angels (2000).
This song topped the Australian charts for two weeks. It was also a minor hit in Japan.
A commonly misheard lyric is at the end of the bridge, "Everyone avoids me like a psyched lone ranger." It is not "Everyone avoids me like a psycho-ranger."