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A This Side of Japan playlist: Imported Oricon Weekly Hits 1968-1974
Compiling all of the non-Japanese singles that made it on the Oricon Weekly top 20 during 1968-1974
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I made a Spotify playlist of non-Japanese singles that charted on the top 20 of Oricon Weekly from 1968 to 1974. You can check it out here or below via the embed:
I’ve been curious about what non-Japanese singles have become hits in Japan for a variety of reasons. Part of it comes from the “big in Japan” comment that springs forth time to time when discussing Western acts and their lack in commercial success with their domestic audience. The implication is that if acts prove unpopular with the people at home, they can still tap into the music market of Japan, here sometimes a stand-in for another international market. There are some proofs in this strategy with some records actually performing better in countries other than the act’s native one. But it gets thrown around casually as if it’s so easy to capture the minds of the Japanese without really accounting for their tastes.
That’s something I want to know: What kind of imported music exactly did the Japanese audience gravitate to? During the span of 1968 to 1974, the Oricon Weekly observed six records not originally from Japan chart at number one: Bee Gees’s “Massachusetts,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” Mary Hopkins’s “Those Were the Days,” Jerry Wallace’s “Lovers of the World,” Mashmakhan’s “As the Year Goes By” and The New Seekers’s “I’d Like to Teach the World How to Sing (In Perfect Harmony).” Without even diving into the lower rung of the weekly charts, the answer is pretty clear: the Japanese enjoyed records that sounded like the pop music of their own.
“C-C-C” by The Tigers, no. 1 during the weeks of July 22 - Aug. 12 and Aug. 26 - Sept. 2, 1968, succeeded by Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.”
A good half of that list doesn’t surprise looking at the other records from Japan that charted in 1968. Bee Gees and Simon and Garfunkel’s singles bookended April and September on the Oricon, and in between those months saw group-sounds acts The Tigers and The Tempters trade the top spots. Group-sounds and folk filled the charts during the early ‘70s, too, alongside solo singer records that you could describe as kayokyoku, stately orchestral pop ballads that find kinship with Mary Hopkins and her own Oricon number-one. The secondhand blues and doo-wop that inspired GS could be found in the entries ushered by late British invasion records. It made sense to hear rock ‘n’ roll bubblegum as Finger 5 began climbing the Oricon.
Much of this playlist is made up of acts from the U.S. and the U.K, but some French and Italian records show up, unsurprisingly, as well as a few from Bulgaria (Sylvie Valtran) and Puerto Rico (Jose Feliciano). Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “The Circle Game” made it in. Shocking Blue scored a few hits. ABBA has already popped up in the Oricon before the band was even formed through Bjorn & Benny’s “She’s My Kind of Girl.” There are more than a few entries from around the world, and yet almost no single here sound out of step with the domestic acts charting in tandem.
Yes, the group-sounds acts echo the pop music that’s happening in the U.S. and the U.K. Through a certain perspective, it seems not that the Japanese like imported records that sound like their own, but their own popular hits sound like those very imports. I’m not here to disagree that some of the hits sound like, even take influence from the Western acts that charted during this period. But another reason I wanted to dig in to the charts, make this playlist and discuss my findings here is see how the Japanese hits were in conversation with the rest of the world’s pop music. Japanese musicians were inspired by what else was happening outside of their country, and their resulting works feel contemporaneous with global pop.
Musicians weren’t the only ones consuming pop music from across the globe as the charts tell, and Japan’s music-consumers also weren’t just importing music from outside of the country. Making this playlist revealed how cinema impacted the pop charts with it featuring the soundtracks for 13 jours en France, Le passager de la pluie, Lo spietato, and The Godfather. And if you think the latter movie’s themes sound like a kayokyoku arrangement, Japan’s pop producers already went ahead and had Kiyohiko Ozaki remake the film’s “Love Theme” into his own song.
“Godfather~Ai No Theme” by Kiyohiko Ozaki, highest position at no. 9 during the week of Aug. 28, 1972
Considering the dabbling of imported pop music and films by Japanese audiences around this time, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” feels somewhat emblematic of this seven-year period. The folk boom helped usher the duo’s popularity, and Paul Simon continued to benefit as his solo songs charted after the dissolve of his group. But the popularity of The Graduate also pushed the record ultimately to number-one.
I’m going to keep building more playlists of this concept with me going through the charts from 1975 to 1979 next. Though, I’m curious how many songs I’ll manage to gather. The last two years represented in this playlist, 1973 and 1974, only brought a total of three tracks, two of which were by The Carpenters, who already made it in before. So I’m wondering if any more imported records show up in the latter half of the ‘70s. But we shall see what the process brings.
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