Back around 1980, The Vapors scored their only big hit, “Turning Japanese,” which two strange places in my memory. First, around the time it came out, it was parodied on SCTV’s “Gerry Todd Show,” being performed by the unctuous, corduroy-clad lounge lizard Tom Monroe (as played by Rick Moranis), a vision I could never quite erase from my mind’s eye. Three summers later, I went to Washington D.C. with my social studies teacher, Helen Mineta, and another student, Teri Uyeda. We stayed at Helen’s brother’s house – then-congressman Norm Mineta, where his then-wife May and son Stewart also lived. Note that the only non-Japanese American in the group was me. Stewart was a couple of years younger than I was, and took great glee in taunting me by singing the aforementioned song. I was a good houseguest and neglected to inform him the song was actually about, ahem, self-gratification.
The ubiquity of that single disguised just how good the Vapors were. New Clear Days was a darned good album, with some spiky songwriting from Dave Fenton and crisp production from Vic Coppersmith-Heaven that recalled the Jam. Gosh, I wonder why that might have been – because Vic produced the Jam, or because the band’s managers were Bruce Foxton and Paul Weller’s dad.
I contend that the magic ingredient that kicked the Vapors into gear – much like Foxton in the Jam – was bassist Steve Smith. “Sixty Second Interval” shows this off, but Smith’s bass lurks around all over the album, providing the right kick when Fenton and Ed Bazalgette’s guitars give him room – which they do often, thanks to the jagged arrangements. Content-wise, much of the album dealt with the spectre of nuclear war, with such subtlely-titled tunes as “Cold War” and “Bunkers” sprinkled in. The song that should have been the big hit was not the novelty tune but “Waiting for the Weekend,” a great little pop tune. Please don’t confuse it with the Loverboy song of a similar title – this one’s about 100 IQ points better.
Why is life unfair: The Vapors made one more album and broke up. Fenton was a lawyer before the band, and he’s now a slightly more famous lawyer.