Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

Day Tripper to Japan

Posted in J-Pop,Music by bourdaghs on the June 21st, 2010

The Beatles’ live shows at Tokyo Budokan in the summer of 1966 were a turning point in the history of Japanese rock–and in the history of the integration of Japanese youth into the global music market. Some of the four shows they played were filmed for television, providing us with a good document of the fairly ragged nature of the Fab Four’s live act at this stage in their career. The audience for the concerts included a veritable who’s-who of 1960s Japanese culture: novelists Mishima Yukio and Kita Morio, film director Oshima Nagisa, future Jacks’ lead singer Hayakawa Yoshio, both of The Peanuts, etc., etc.

One of the songs featured in the Tokyo live shows was “Day Tripper,” originally released as a single around the world the previous December. As he introduces the number, John isn’t quite certain if it was released in Japan as a single, and he gives a very awkward impression of spoken Japanese, but no one in the audience seems to mind.

Also in the audience for the Tokyo concerts were members of The Spiders, one of the top Group Sounds bands. In fact, they had famously turned down an invitation to appear as an opening act for The Beatles in those Tokyo concerts. The Spiders were one of the first Japanese groups really to “get” The Beatles, after their chief songwriter Kamayatsu Hiroshi discovered a copy of the Meet the Beatles LP at the American Pharmacy in Tokyo in early 1964. They were famous for inserting new Beatles’ singles into their live act even before the original records had had the chance to climb the charts.

The Spiders recorded many covers of Beatles’ songs on their own albums. One of the best is, in fact, their version of “Day Tripper,” included on The Spiders Album No. 5 (1968). The Spiders were so hip that their cover version is based less on the original Beatles’ recording than on Otis Redding’s marvelous soulified take on the number: the famous guitar hook fades away, replaced by a very funky organ riff and The Spiders topped this off with some nifty Group Sounds choreography. Here’s video from a wonderful 1981 reunion gig:

The Spiders weren’t the last Japanese rock band to record the number, either. In 1979, Yellow Magic Orchestra released an industrial-grunge, postmodern take on the song, one that is as inventive as any of the other recorded versions (including The Beatles’). Moreover, YMO’s version is clearly rooted in The Spiders’ take on the song. Drummer Takahashi Yukihiro’s vocals are run through a filter that makes him sound like an android, the tune decays at key points into metal machine music, and what we are left with is an ironic undermining of the whole teenage pop concept. Very cool. Here are YMO performing it live in NYC in 1979.

YMO will be playing a reunion gig in Tokyo this summer when I’m there, and I’m debating myself over whether I should go. Do you think they’ll play “Day Tripper”?

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