Japan and the story of Adolescent Sex

Japan 1977 (twitter.com)

Japan 1977 (fltr: Richard Barbieri, Mick Karn, David Sylvian, Steve Jansen, Rob Dean)

I regret the first album, ‘Adolescent Sex’, in the sense that we were too young, too naive to make it. The people around us should have realized that and not had it released. The second album is okay as a first album.

David Sylvian, 1982


On April 7, 1978, Japan debuts with Adolescent Sex, which doesn’t resemble the music the band would become known for, at all. Even though the album is dismissed as a mistake by the band members themselves, it’s really not a bad album. The story of Japan’s debut.


Early 1970s: brothers David Alan Batt and Stephen Ian Batt go to the same school as Andonis Michaelides. Pop music is their world, they go to shows (David Bowie, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, T-Rex and more), listen to music (a lot of Motown) and ultimately start a band in 1974. Mick (as Andonis likes to be called) is the singer, David plays guitar and Steve has recently switched from guitar to drums and percussion. On June 1, 1974, the boys play their very first gig at Mick’s brother’s marriage party.

Japan 1974 (twitter.com)

Japan 1974

No band name had been picked yet, so they quickly settle on Japan, deciding on it without any preconceptions. The group frequently practices and spends hours and hours on their instruments. In 1975 another show is played and the band is expanded, both Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean make their entrance into Japan. At first, Dean is the most accomplished musician of all the band members, but he would soon be overshadowed. The rhythm section in particular developed itself in a dazzling speed. By this time Mick had been replaced as singer by David.

In 1976 the band got a real manager: Simon Napier-Bell, who was known for his previous dealings with the Yardbirds and Marc Bolan, amongst others. The band plays a lot of shows and gets tighter and tighter. Yet, Japan fails to connect to the then current trends (punk and the rise of new wave) and is often booked in the wrong venues and/or coupled to the wrong headlining acts.

On May 13, 1977, the band is able to audition with record company Ariola-Hansa (at the time a European disco label). The winner of the day will get a deal. Japan didn’t win (that ‘honor’ fell to The Cure), but were offered a deal anyway. Around this time brothers David and Steve changed their last names to Sylvian and Jansen respectively (inspired by New York Dolls members Sylvain Sylvain and David Johansen). Mick becomes Mick Karn.

In March 1978 Japan’s debut single is released, a cover of Don’t Rain On My Parade, which was popular in 1964 when it was performed by Barbra Streisand in the musical Funny Girl.

Japan - Adolescent Sex (spotify.com)

Japan – Adolescent Sex

Adolescent Sex

Recordings for the debut album went very smoothly. The band knew the songs in and out and the album was recorded and mixed within two to three weeks. On April 7, 1978, the album Adolescent Sex was presented to the world.

And then, nothing happened… The album was reviewed a couple of times. Contrary to the album’s image and the hatred bestowed on Japan as a band, particularly by the English music press, the album’s reviews were relatively positive.

But, it wasn’t the success the band, their management and their record label had dreamt of. Luckily, the confidence was still there. The song Adolescent Sex was re-recorded and sounded heavier and more professional than the version placed on their debut album.

Because the debut was old news very fast, the band was hurled into the studio for album number two: Obscure Alternatives. But the story of their debut doesn’t exactly end there.

There were two countries where Japan did make an impact: The Netherlands and Japan. Dutch television music program Toppop showed a clip of Japan play backing the song on January 25, 1979. I was 12 at the time and I loved it. The look, the sound, the song: my first encounter with Japan was very pleasing indeed. And, I wasn’t the only one. Adolescent Sex turned into a modest hit in The Netherlands. In the country of Japan the band Japan was huge news. Early 1979, the band went there for the first and sold out the famous Budokan stadium, which had a 12,000 person capacity, in Tokyo 3 times in a row!

Japan - Adolescent Sex (Australia/New Zealand) (discogs.com)

Japan – Adolescent Sex (Australia/New Zealand)


The album cover was not the one the band had agreed on. The image on the backside was supposed to go on the front and vice-versa. By the time the error was discovered, Ariola-Hansa refused to correct the error. Due to the use of the word “sex” in the album’s title the album had a different cover in Australia and New Zealand, changing the album title to Japan.

Japan - Adolescent Sex - Toppop (last.fm)

Japan – Adolescent Sex – Toppop


The first time I ever heard of Japan the debut album had already been pushed into the background by their second album Obscure Alternatives, which was also released in 1978. As stated before I saw the band for the first time on January 25, 1979. I was 12 and wasn’t fully aware of what was what in the world op (pop)music. I thought the song and the image were great.

As a boy I was impressed. Three/four years later I heard the entire album for the first time. By that time Japan had already evolved, through Gentlemen Take Polaroids, into Tin Drum. The band had absolutely nothing in common with the glamrock/funk of their debut. Sylvian and the other band members even wanted to forget about Adolescent Sex and regarded Obscure Alternatives as the band’s proper debut.

Just how justified was that? Not, but it was understandable. Adolescent Sex wasn’t the album the band wanted production wise, the marketing wasn’t the way the band wanted to be portrayed and the ‘glam’ image wasn’t what music was about in 1978, even though the band introduced their image themselves.

But, as far as debuts go, this album is pretty good. Even then, the rhythm section stood out, both Steve Jansen and Mick Karn seem to be extensions of their instruments, who feed off each other’s contributions. The album is funky, up-tempo and eclectic. I don’t listen to the album that much, but when I do it always puts a smile on my face. That’s not something many debuts manage to do…

Japan - Adolescent Sex - Back cover (discogs.com)

Japan – Adolescent Sex – Back cover


All songs written by David Sylvian, unless stated otherwise.

  • Transmission
  • The Unconventional
  • Wish You Were Black
  • Performance
  • Lovers On Main Street
  • Don’t Rain On My Parade (Jule Styne, Bob Merrill)
  • Suburban Love
  • Adolescent Sex
  • Communist China
  • Television


  • David Sylvian – vocals, guitar
  • Rob Dean – guitar, background vocals
  • Richard Barbieri – keyboards, background vocals
  • Mick Karn – bass, background vocals
  • Steve Jansen – drums, percussion, background vocals
Japan - Ad campaign (unknown/apoplife.nl)

Japan – Ad campaign

After Adolescent Sex

The band was unhappy with the debut, the record company was unhappy with the debut and the general public was unhappy with the debut (as it sold badly). A new album had to be made, and fast, and it arrived that very same year: Obscure Alternatives. That album made way for the music Japan was destined for.

In closing

What do you think of Japan and their debut? Let me know!

This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Japan and the story of Adolescent Sex. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

1 comment

  1. Oftentimes, April 8, 1978, is presented as the official release date for Adolescent Sex. The press release below explicitly states April 7, 1978, a Friday.

    Hansa Press Release – 1978

    What can you say about JAPAN?

    In the face of punk, New Wave, and now Power pop, JAPAN do not fit in. With mop top and spiky haircuts all the rage, JAPAN have all theirs dyed in shoulder-length shaggy manes. They wear make-up, eye-shadow, rouge and lipstick on and off stage, they walk about the streets of London wearing outrageous, bright flamboyant clothes. To say the least, JAPAN stand out like a laser lightshow. They find that because of their appearance it can be unsafe to walk about the streets of London, but then again they are staunchly independent and non-conformist. There is always a small price to pay in defense of your ideals. JAPAN have been together in an embryo form for a few years now. Their history or roots go back to their school days when Mick Karn, Steve Jansen and David Sylvian all knew one another and were already living their lifestyle of bright clothes, long hair and make-up. Obviously the threesome were mercilessly ridiculed for their dress but it didn’t matter, they only laughed. Let everyone else be boring and staid look-alikes, theirs was the JAPAN look.

    And the name, JAPAN, it must have significance, but it doesn’t. It was one of the many suggested, and it had just the right ring, it was descriptive, it was far out, and it was Far East. It was ideal and it suited them.

    Steve bought his first drumkit for £30 two weeks before their first gig. This gig was a momentous occasion for the boys because it was the first time they used electric equipment and it was also the same day that a live album by Eno and friends was released – 1st June 1974.

    Half an hour before they were due to go on they were still practicing their set. It was all their own material written by David and he says about his songs “they are very real, I don’t deal with fantasies. Everything I write is an emotion.” They survived that first gig, but felt that the line-up needed expanding and one day they met up with ex-school mate Richard Barbieri. He was enthralled with the idea of becoming part of JAPAN so he bought himself an organ, practiced intensely for 5 months, came back and was accepted.

    He didn’t hesitate for a moment to give up his mundane job in a bank. At first he took a few lessons but he positively feels “after a while you have to learn to play in your own style”. In the last 3 years he has made great strides in his musical development, presently experimenting in electronic music.

    JAPAN still felt they needed another guitarist as their music was becoming more mature and complex. An ad was placed in Melody Maker and Rob Dean responded. Rob had had some past experience playing in various small groups and just before JAPAN he nearly joined a reggae band. That was in January 1976. His lead guitar work, heavily influenced by Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and jazz guitarists, not to mention Iggy and David Bowie, has added a new dimension to Japan’s music.

    JAPAN were getting more and more gigs to the extent where they were asked to support Jim Capaldi on his last tour. Formal record company recognition came when they were signed to Hansa Productions, and subsequently Ariola/Hansa re: the German record company who recognised they were above the then current New Wave craze.

    They have now completed their first album “Adolescent Sex”, produced by Ray Singer, which is to be released on April 7th. As the title suggests and David opines “the main point of it is sex, but I don’t find sex exceptionally great, I find it boring. It’s only great when it is experimental”.

    All of the tracks on the album are written by David except for one, “Don’t Rain On My Parade”, the famous Barbra Streisand song from “Funny Girl” which has been chosen as Japan’s first single.

    Like JAPAN the country, the future for JAPAN the band looks very bright and rosy. With a unique and powerful first album under their belt and a support slot lined up with the hugely successful Blue Oyster Cult, JAPAN is all set to conquer England.

    Source: nightporter.co.uk

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