Significant Songs (22)


The English group Japan were like few other artists, before or since. Part of the new wave of British music in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, their effete looks, and heavy make-up, belied the innovation and talent inside. The front man and lead vocalist, David Sylvian, had a charismatic presence, and the same androgynous persona found in the style of David Bowie, and some others at the time.

I was never much of a fan of the group, and it was not until the release of their final album ‘Tin Drum’ in 1981, that I heard tracks I really liked. A year later, they released the song ‘Ghosts’ as a single, and it enjoyed some success. This song is hard to define. It has little orchestration, and relies almost totally on the voice of David Sylvian to hold the listener. But hold you he does, and the feeling I had was of being almost spellbound by this haunting song. Not only did the lyrics have meaning (at least to me), it seemed to sum up both the feel of the age, and the demise of the group, as they split soon after. I was 30 years old that year, and examining many aspects of my own life at the time, and where I thought it was all leading. This song would not leave my head, and I played it constantly. I later bought the 12-inch long version, so I could immerse myself totally in the sound.

You may never have heard of this song, or the group. David Sylvian continues to record, and had a moderately successful career, collaborating with many other superb musicians. This was his heyday though, and one of the definitive sounds of the era. Here is the band performing the short version of the song on TV. Try it twice…


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