Scatman’s Japan

November 23, 2009

Whenever I have a rummage through the CD sections of Tokyo’s recycle shops, it’s always there, without fail: “Scatman’s World” by Scatman John. There are usually multiple copies, always priced at 100yen, coated in dust and flecked with mould (much like the Scatman himself, as I recall).

With his CDs dumped in charity shops as often as paperback copies of “The DaVinci Code”, Scatman John must have unwittingly generated more money for for the poor and needy than Bono could ever hope to.

That is, of course, if anybody actually buys these old albums. I’m doubtful. Alas, the Japanese are a fickle bunch, and that is why Scatman John, who sadly died a decade ago this month, has been consigned the bargain bin of history, along with MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, and those Scandinavian line dancers who sang “Cotton Eye Joe”.

But why were there so many copies of his CD floating around in the first place? While one song was enough for the rest of the world, it would seem Scatman John’s LP made a huge splash in Japan when it was first released in the mid nineties. “Scatman’s World” (1995) is the 9th best selling album of all time in Japan by an international artist. Of all time! More than anything by The Rolling Stones, Elvis, or The Beach Boys.
Ask a Japanese person to name some classic albums and they’ll say: “Sergeant Pepper”, “Thriller”, “Dark Side of the Moon”, “Scatman’s World”.

How the hell did this happen?

Well, if television is any indicator, the Japanese certainly have an inexplicable fondness for men in their fifties. And the fact that Scatman John both overcame an impediment (stuttering) and mastered a craft (scat) would have won him respect here.

Either that or fans of Japanese poo-porn were confused by the term “Scat” and mistakenly bought the CD thinking he’d be singing odes to coprophilia. (His vocal technique does sound a bit like someone with a bad case of case of the curry splatters uncontrollably farting in a toilet bowl, so the fecal-fans wouldn’t have been entirely disappointed.)

“Scatman’s World” is, in part, a trippy concept album, all about a mythical utopian society called “Scatland”. It can’t have hurt Japanese sales that the language barrier spared people from the pain of hearing Scatman’s terrible lyrics in songs such as “Song of Scatland”, surely one of the strangest records ever recorded.

The album sales skyrocketed as Scatman’s ubiquitous television appearances in annoying pudding commercials brought him to an even wider audience. It is these ads for which Scatman is best known in Japan. Kids, grannies, and tattooed goths could all identify Scatman John as “oh, that pudding guy.”

And singing in Japanese occasionally, as he did with the god-awful “Super Kirei”and “Ichi, Ni, San… Go!”, must have only added to his popularity, however nonsensical it all sounded.

Now, I know the Japanese have a very high threshold for repetitive and inane pop songs, but surely the music of Scatman John is so infuriatingly bad that it would try even their patience.
Evidently not. Even Ultraman was grooving to the Scatman.

Of course, fame is a fickle mistress, and a decade after his death, Scatman John CDs aren’t exactly flying off the shelves (unless there’s a poltergeist in Book Off). But while Scatman John’s CDs lay unwanted in the fleamarkets and recycle shops of Japan, his spirit lives on in the form of the Scatman imitators who operate to this day, such as this motor-mouthed fella (who does well until he pretends to rap the English words at 0:25 and isn’t fooling anyone.)

And so, Scatman John, rest in peace in your fabled Scatland, and take comfort in the knowledge that the beloved New Orleans jazz tradition that you spent decades mastering is still remembered. Albeit in the form of Euro-pop pudding commercial jingles sung by Japanese men in false moustaches who are taking the piss out of you.

To Japan With Love

November 19, 2009

I wrote a couple of pages for this nice new travel guide to Japan (my bit’s about drinking and bars, naturally.)
Be sure to snap it up if you’re thinking of travelling in Japan.
It’s very tasteful and sophisticated by my standards!

Read more here: To Japan with Love

More Booze News

November 11, 2009

Here are some recent alcohol-related news stories from the land of the rising sun.

First off, Hokkaido’s wacky Abashiri brewery has made blue beer using water from melted icebergs drifting over from Russia, so you can drink away the blues with blue beer.
Okhotsk Blue is the latest addition to a line-up which already includes red beer (made with fruit extracts) and green beer (made with seaweed. Eww!)
Knock back a few pints of Abashiri’s brews, and you’ll be spewing all the colours of the rainbow into the sink the next morning.

But don’t run into trouble with the law while glugging too much Abashiri beer, or you might end up in Abashiri Prison. Yikes!

Meanwhile, Kirin have launched Cola Shock Zero, a sugar-free version of their hit alcoholic cola, Cola Shock. Zero is pretty good (therein lies the “shock”), and it’s certainly a vast improvement for anyone who doesn’t feel like drifting into a diabetic coma as they drink.

News for wine fans- a Japanese version “Sideways”, the 2004 comedy set in the Californian wine country, has been released in Japan.
A rare case of Japan remaking a Hollywood film, rather than the other way round, it’s set in the Napa valley, and stars Rinko Kikuchi of “Babel”.

Metropolis Magazine think it’s “actually a pretty good film”, but Paul Giametti, the star of the original, is none-too-impressed. He turned down a cameo in the film, saying “my career hasn’t hit that low yet. I thought, ‘What am I gonna play – the sushi chef or something?'” He also said of Fumiyo Kohinata, the actor playing his role, “They got a strange, little troll to play me.” Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
I hate 99% of remakes, though (including the Hollywood ones), so I’m inclined to agree that it is likely to be rubbish.

Finally, Suntory Whisky have teamed up with Tower Records for a campaign called No Music, No Whisky.

Presumably this means that “whisky is worthless without the accompaniment of music”. Which is a much better advertisment for Tower Records than it is for Suntory whiskey, if you think about it. Unless they mean “you cannot enjoy music unless you’re drinking whisky,” which sounds less like an advertising campaign and more like something a homeless Scottish alcoholic might bark at passers by.

The TV commericals star well-known Japanese musicians, such as Ryuichi Sakamoto. Here’s one of the more recent ads, featuring a pair of ska musicians.

The phrase “No music, no whisky” is, of course, a spin on Tower’s “No music, no life” slogan (which is a tad insensitive to deaf people, don’t you think?!)

FC Drunkard

November 10, 2009

I’ve just discovered a soccer team with a great name.

FC Drunkard are based in Yokohama, and evidently play under the influence of a lot of alcohol. Well, it never stopped George Best!

Coke and Pepsi Continue to Battle for Weirdness Crown in Japan

November 10, 2009

Another season, another pair of bizarre beverages in Japan, courtesy of the world’s premier competing cola companies.

This Autumn, Pepsi’s odd offering is Azuki Pepsi. Azuki is a sweet red bean, often found in Japanese desserts, and it makes for an inoffensive ingredient in fizzy pop. Azuki Pepsi is too sickly for my tastes, but at least it’s original.

Meanwhile, Coke, in a rather lackluster effort, have come out with “Coca Cola Plus Fiber”.
It tastes exactly the same as usual Diet Coke, but apparently “keeps you regular.” I’d be worried if you’re turning to Coca Cola for your nutritional needs- some vegetables or fruit would be better. But at least old folk can save money on Metamucil.