Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

The Politics of Group Sounds Revisited

Posted in J-Pop,Music by bourdaghs on the April 11th, 2012

In my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Pre-History of J-Pop, I trace the hints of coming revolution that seemed to reverberate within guitar noise in Japan circa 1968–and the ultimate absorption of that political edge into the new commercialism of 1970s rock. My primary focus in that section of the book is on “Group Sounds,” the Japanese version of 1960s rock–teen-idol bands like the Tigers, the Spiders, and the Tempters.

As culture industry commodities, mainstream Group Sounds bands remained resolutely apolitical. So it’s a pleasant surprise to encounter the latest recordings by Sawada “Julie” Kenji, former lead singer of the Tigers and a very successful solo act since the early 1970s. After the breakup of the Tigers, Sawada enjoyed a string of solo hits–mostly pop ballads that traded on his flamboyant image (something akin to, say, Elton John)–but you didn’t turn to “Julie” expecting biting political commentary.

That’s all changed now. Check out, for example, the very catchy “F.A.P.P.” (the initials stand for Fukushima Atomic Power Plant), a resolutely anti-nuke song on Sawada’s new maxi-single, “Sangatsu yōka no kumo” (The clouds on March eighth):

And if you think it’s just a one-off deal, here is Sawada’s gospel-tinged defense of Article 9, the anti-war clause of the Japanese constitution: “Waga kyūjō” (the title revolves around a pun: 「我が窮状」 vs. 「我が九条」, ‘My pain’ vs. ‘My Article 9’):

沢田研二:我が窮状 by kingyochingyo

Good on you, “Julie.” GS, I love you.

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