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.