Flashback: The Official Lenn Tapes—Japan Survival Series (Summer 1985)

A “Larger than life itself…”
Ringo Starr – “Oh My My” (Apple)
Rod Stewart – “Dock of the Bay” (from Motown Returns to the Apollo)
Go West – “Call Me” (Chrysalis)
The Human League – “Fascination (extended remix)” (A&M)
The Style Council – “The Lodgers (or She Was Only a Shopkeeper’s Daughter)” (Polydor)
Phil Collins – “Don’t Lose My Number” (Atlantic)
Donna Summer – “I Feel Love” (Casablanca)
Elton John – “Your Starter For…” (MCA)
Stevie Wonder & George Michael – “Love’s in Need of Love Today” (from Motown Returns to the Apollo)
Kajagoogoo – “Too Shy (Midnight mix)” (EMI)
Apollonia 6 – “Sex Shooter” (the only performance in Purple Rain that isn’t interrupted by dialogue or cutaways) (Warner Bros.)

B “A 2 x 4’ll do it…”
The Style Council – “Shout to the Top!” (Polydor)
Paul Young – “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)” (CBS)
Band Aid – “Do They Know It’s Christmas? (12″ version)” (Columbia)
Thomas Dolby – “The Search for Truth” (the first 30 seconds or so of one of the “Dissidents” remixes played at 33-1/3 rpm instead of at 45) (EMI)
Go West – “Goodbye Girl” (Chrysalis)
The Jam – “Absolute Beginners” (Polydor)
Elton John – “Philadelphia Freedom” (from The Superior Sound of Elton John 1971-75) (DJM)
Spandau Ballet – “Lifeline” (Chrysalis)
Earth, Wind & Fire – “Touch” (Columbia)
John Lennon – “Ya Ya” (Apple)
The Style Council – “Council Meetin’” (Polydor)

“It’s a keeper…”

During the 1984–1985 school year, I started taking Japanese classes. My girlfriend (who I’d originally met in the summer of 1980) was Japanese, so I was becoming increasingly interested in going to Japan—and I didn’t want to be one of those “ugly Americans” who travelled to another country but couldn’t speak the language.

I had heard on a few occasions from friends that a trip to Japan would cost about $2,000–$3,000, which seemed an insurmountable obstacle to making such a trip. But when I found out that round-trip airfare would cost me less than $500, I decided I would go.

Since my girlfriend had moved in to my house when her previous housing situation wasn’t working out, she assured me that her parents would gladly put me up as a way of returning the favor. (My father hadn’t asked her to pay any rent, so she basically had no housing costs for nine months.)

I knew that I could stay up to 60 days on a tourist visa, so I figured out when I would need to be back for the next quarter of school, then worked my way back 60 days, and bought my ticket.

Of course, it hadn’t occurred to me at the time that I’d need money while I was actually there. But, since I was working for my dad anyway, and since the exchange rate was not bad (and certainly much better than it would be when I went back to Japan two years later), we made an arrangement where he would send me a bit of money every week or two.

Well, knowing that I was going to be away for a couple of months, I knew that I was going to need some music to take with me on this trip. Of the handful of tapes I made, this was probably the best. I used bits from Prince’s Purple Rain for what I called “the cracks”—i.e., the spaces between tracks—to hold everything together. Where that wouldn’t necessarily work, I used very short tracks—e.g., Elton John’s “Your Starter For…”, the bit of the Thomas Dolby 12-inch that I’d mistakenly started to play at 33-1/3 RPM (not realizing it was a 45 RPM disc), and the John Lennon recording of “Ya Ya” from Walls and Bridges.

Mimicking many of the ZTT releases I owned, each side had its own title. Side A was “Larger than life itself…”, while side B became “A 2 x 4’ll do it…”. As for the tape as a whole: “It’s a keeper…” [All quotation marks included.]

Most of the songs on this tape were current within the last couple of years, though there were a few exceptions. I’d included Ringo Starr’s “Oh My My” on a mixtape I’d made for a friend of mine, and gotten a pretty good response, so I decided to start of this particular tape with that song.

Among the oddities were the 12-inch version of Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” (from 1978), and Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom”. Band Aid was odd simply because people don’t normally listen to Christmas-themed songs in the middle of summer. As for “I Feel Love”, well, I don’t really know. I just decided to include it. “Philadelpha Freedom” actually made a bit of sense, since the version I used came from the 1983 CD of Elton John tunes remixed by his producer, Gus Dudgeon—the only Elton John music on CD at the time it was originally released. Plus I found that I liked it better than the original version.

Everything else was more or less in keeping with the time. The Style Council track was from their new album, as was the Go West track (plus we would be seeing both bands at one of the “Rock in Japan 85” concerts while I was there); the Motown Returns to the Apollo TV special had aired within the last year; and everything else was either relatively recent, or had become available on compact disc, which was still considered a brand-new format.

This tape was one I listened to frequently during my two months in Japan that summer. Not just in my Walkman, but also on occasion when riding in cars with my friends. The mix generally got a good reception, though I’m sure it must have seemed odd (as I mentioned already) to be listening to “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in July and August.

I would listen to it on occasion for quite some time after I returned from that vacation. Eventually, though, the tape actually broke—something I would have expected from an 8-track more than from a cassette—so all that’s left anymore is the j-card and my memories.

(June 16, 2012)

Postscript: It occurs to me that I should explain the “Lenn” thing. It was a nickname I picked up in high school, the result of an inexplicable typo in the yearbook…

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