Friday Fun Links: West Rocks East, or, Why Don't They Hate Us?


If YouTube doesn't get Napstered out of existence or supplanted by something better, does it have the capacity to make all other forms of media storage obsolete? I'm beginning to think so. Just a few weeks ago I put out an inquiry about what hits readers would include on a Rhino CD collection of rock 'n' roll Orientalism. Now I realize what bronze-age thinking that was. Just 15 minutes of searching on the world's favorite video dump produces almost enough material for a double-CD:

"Turning Japanese" by the Vapors; "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas; "China Girl" by David Bowie; "Hong Kong Garden" by Siouxsie and the Banshees; "Japanese Boy" by Aneka; "Visions of China" and "Canton" by Japan; "Hong Kong Phooey," theme from the cartoon series; "One Night In Bangkok" by Murray Head; "Chinese Eyes" by Fancy; "Reptiles and Samurai" by Oingo Boingo (very short and unsatisfactory clip from a 2005 Oingo Boingo tribute concert); "Tokyo A-Go-Go" by Magnetic Fields (actually just some fool lip-syncing it in his car); "Kyoto Song" by The Cure; "Tokyo Joe" by Bryan Ferry; "Big In Japan" by Alphaville; "Holiday In Cambodia" by the Dead Kennedys; "China" by the Red Rockers. (Strictly speaking, this last song shouldn't make the cut because it doesn't have the distinctive dinga-dinga-ding-ding ding ding ding riff, but the video kind of mandates that it be included.)


Some thoughts after this unsettling trudge through pop's yellow fever swamps: "Turning Japanese" is still an awesome song, which proves that you can't judge an era by its novelty hits. How could the eighties have sucked so hard after being ushered in by this masterpiece? And how did the nineties, entering under the cloud of "Ice, Ice, Baby," end up being a ten-year party? More disturbingly, what does this outbreak of Asian fetishism (weirdly confined to about a ten-year period) mean for the rock nation? Thomas Jefferson trembled for his country when he reflected that God is just. I tremble when I reflect that within living memory our hitmakers were doing yellowface routines that would drive Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi to commit seppuku. Don't ask why Arabs knocked down the World Trade Center, but why East Asians didn't.

NEXT: Friday Fun (or Frustration) Link

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. the tubes, sushi girl.
    deep purple, my woman from tokyo.
    let’s see, what was that dead song… china girl?

  2. I actually own a compilation LP that does what you are seeking, but for the garage-trash era of the mid 50s-mid 60s, called, IIRC, CHOP SUEY ROCK. When I’m back with my vinyl collection, I’ll give the track listing, but beware: it didn’t contain a single record I had every actually heard before, coming from an obsessed-with-obscurity reissue-boot label…

    1. I know some of those and some other ones. I love that and much other stuff that conjures visions of the “imagined exotic.”

  3. Godzilla by Soft White Underbelly AKA Blue Oyster Cult

  4. I just saw a reference to “War of the Superbikes” on another thread, so I feel it necessary to mention the classy Oriental bit at the end of “What’s this Shit Called Love?” Viva the Meatmen.

  5. David Blowie’s China Girl may have been satire on Sino-American relations.


    Did you forgot Rickie Nelson? Okay, so he wasn’t around in the decades in question but still he managaged to smear everyone including the requisite East Asians in Travelin’ Man.

    And my China doll down in old Hong Kong, waits for my return.

    I mean, China Doll? How condescendingly ethnocentric (and sexist).

    Tim, I’m assuming your having us on about the underlying racism inherent in these yellow faced lyrics.

  6. Johnny Thunder’s “Chinese Rocks” doesn’t really fit, does it?

  7. Can you make playlists with YouTube?

  8. “Made in Japan” by John Entwistle.

  9. Tim, it’s not weird that yellowface pop was confined to the 1980s–back then, everyone from Paul Kennedy to William Gibson was convinced a handful of zaibatsus would own everything and Japan would be the superpower of the 21st century. Yellowface pop then reads as a response to cultural insecurity, both mocking our rivals and fearing they really are better than us and we should mimic them.

    (How does that compare to the Japanese response after Perry’s black ships forced Japan to confront the modern world in the 1860s?)

    China got roped in as subject matter for yellowface pop for the same reason a handful of autoworkers in Detroit in the ’80s beat to death a Chinese-American man (i.e., they all look alike, just like Sikhs and Muslims do today).

    The yellowface-pop era died in ’90s when Japan suffered a decade-long depression and American cultural insecurity faded after the evaporation of the USSR, our victory in the ’91 Iraq war, etc.

  10. Can you make playlists with YouTube?

    You can create an account and save videos to your favorites.

  11. Hardly politically correct, but both of these songs fit:

    The Five Keys/The Charms – “Ling Ting Tong”

    I went to Chinatown
    ‘way back in old Hong Kong
    To get some Egg Foo Yung
    And then I heard a gong

    Ling ting tong tried to sing that song
    Called Tie-ess-a mo-cum boo-die-ay
    Tie-ess-a mo-cum boo
    Ling ting tong, he would never be wrong
    Go on and sing your song, a-ling ting tong

    And I looked around
    The lights were going down
    And this is what I found
    A back in Chinatown

    Randy Newman – “Yellow Man”

    Very far away in a foreign land
    Live the yellow woman and the yellow man
    He’s been around for many-a-year
    They say they were there before we were here
    Eatin’ rice all day
    While the children play
    You see he believes
    In the family
    Just like you and me
    Oh, yellow man, oh, yellow man
    We understand, you know we understand
    He keeps his money tight in his hand
    With his yellow woman he’s a yellow man
    Got to have a yellow woman
    When you’re a yellow man

  12. Holy Crap I just remembered.

    I don’t know if you can find any of it on YouTube, but I can’t believe you made no mention of, Styx: Kilroy Was Here

  13. Have to add, I’m grateful to have “Kung Fu Fighting” brought back to my attention—a truly glorious relic of a time when America was still on its feet, fighting….and when everything was “funky”, from Chinamen in Chinatown to revolutionary war era phantoms (hat tip to Nick Gillespie). One of those marvelously quirky records often mistakenly slammed as “worst record of all time” by the dull and imaginationless….

  14. 70s/80s Hard Rock/Heavy Metal:
    Tokyo Nights – Scorpions
    Tokyo Rose – Riot
    Midnight in Tokyo – Y&T
    Hiroshima Mon Amour – Alcatrazz

    Album Titles:
    Tokyo Tapes – Scorpions
    Unleashed in the East – Judas Priest
    Maiden Japan – Iron Maiden
    (and not Metal but still good) – Live at Budakon -Cheap Trick

  15. Pete Townshend’s album All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes was released in 1982. But there was no title track and thus no “dinga-dinga-ding-ding” riff.

  16. Er, the only reference to Japan in ‘Kyoto Song’ is the title. If you’re looking for more direct references by The Cure, they did, y’know, have a whole album titled ‘Japanese Whispers’. Which also doesn’t really seem to have anything to do with Japan, but there you go. And there’s a line in ‘The Figurehead’, ‘I lose myself in Chinese art and American girls’.

    But really, compared to ‘Kung Fu Fighting?’ I think including The Cure in your list is stretching pretty far.

  17. Buck Owens had a killer #1 hit on the country charts with “Maid In Japan” around ’73 or so. Not related to the John Entwhistle tune mentioned earlier in the comments thread, I don’t think. And speaking of country tunes, George Jones cut a grotesque absurdity called “The Poor Chinee” that is sure to make you wince.

  18. Then there was the band Japan. Anyone remember them?

  19. The server squirrels seem to object to this, having eaten my two previous attempts to post, but no discussion of American Asiapop is complete without a mention of Kyu Sakamoto’s Sukiyaki.

  20. “Don’t ask why Arabs knocked down the World Trade Center, but why East Asians didn’t.”

    Could it be that all East Asians don’t necessarily identify themselves as East Asian? In other words, is it all that surprising that someone from Korea wouldn’t take offense at slurs against Japan? Maybe, just maybe, the fact that Westerners think they all look alike isn’t all that strong an incentive for them to bond together as one? Just a thought.

    BTW, I don’t know from Alphaville, but Tom Waits has a great tune called “Big in Japan.”

  21. Jean-Michel Jarre’s The Concerts In China. With a full orchestra and all the dinga-dinga you could ever need.

    Eurythmics: “I’ve Got A Lover (Back In Japan)”.

    Sigue Sigue Sputnik had “Atari Baby” and the cover of Flaunt it, plus loads of other Akihabara-esque design riffs.

    I forget which Thompson Twins track had the dinga-dinga — “Love On Your Side” maybe?

    Kate Bush: “Pull Out The Pin”. (If Vietnam counts, anyway.)

    And the Yellow Magic Orchestra, of course.

  22. Johnny Thunder’s “Chinese Rocks” doesn’t really fit, does it?

    I prefer the Sid Vicious version.

  23. Woman from Tokyo – Deep Purple
    Chinatown – Thin Lizzy

  24. Sony – Big Audio Dynamite (kick-ass band featuring Mick Jones from The Clash)

  25. I prefer the Sid Vicious version.

    Oh, yeah? Well some other people prefer the Ramones’ version, but Johnny Thunders was the first to release it, so watcha gonna do it about it, punk?

    Woah, something came over me. I feel better now. Sorry, Chuck.

  26. Which track it is escapes me right now, but there is a song on Parliament’s The Clones of Dr Funkenstein that opens with a horn riff that sounds like the dinga-dinga-ding-ding ding ding ding riff. It might be “Gamin on Ya.” This is really reaching. The song has no other Asian themes.

  27. They didn’t knock it down because they already owned a large chunk of the neighborhood.

  28. What monstrous mind would describe the 90’s as a ten-year-party after dissing the 80’s?

    Asparagus piss in your face, Tim Cavanaugh.

  29. Don’t forget Kim Jong-Il’s song of lament, “I’m So Ronery,” from the Team America soundtrack.

  30. I mean, Team America soundtrack.

  31. karen,

    yeah, sukiyaki. that’s awesome, I’ve got about a dozen different 60s versions of that song (along with the original) including at least a few surf versions.

    the best of these might be the dickies – tricia toyota, which I assume was making fun of all those 80s songs and was about some japanese-american newscaster (i think). even had that stupid ding-a-ling-aling… riff.

  32. Ultravox: White China
    Scorpions: China White
    Michael Cretu: Die Chinesische Mauer (The Great Wall of China)
    Mark Isham: Many Chinas
    China Crisis
    Japan: Life in Tokyo
    Tangering Dream: Zen Garden (Ryoanji Temple Kyoto)

    Those are just from my iTunes collection. No “dinga dinga”, I don’t think (except the Tangerine Dream track). All from the 80’s though – interesting. Damn, I miss the 80’s.

  33. noone’s mentioned Neal Peart’s drum solo from All the World’s a Stage?

  34. I’m with fatmouth … the 80s sucked and the 90s were a ten-year party? What the hell? You’re opting for the decade of hip-hop, alternative, and boy bands over new wave, heavy metal, and an MTV that actually played music videos?

  35. Graphite/fatmouth,

    At first, I took that 80s/90s comment the same way as you did (wtf? boy bands and hip-hop over new wave?). After further review, however, I believe (nay, hope) that Tim was actually referring to the events (political, financial, etc.) of each decade rather than the music. Read that way, the comment makes more sense.

  36. I’m glad to see “Ling Ting Tong” made it, but what about “Fujiyama Mama” and “Back in Nagasaki where the fellows chew tobacky and the women wicky wacky woo”?

    And, not romantic, but still, Stan Freberg’s, “The oriental detective is accompanied by a gong and a melody played on a pentatonic scale.”

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.