Wednesday, 9 February 2011

64: Alphaville, “Big in Japan” (no.8, 1984)

Thanks to the eclectic sampling of the hip-hop generation, this may now only be this German act’s second-most familiar track (after “Forever Young”), but “Big in Japan”’s expression of grave professional jealousy remains the group’s sole UK chart hit. With lyrics such as “Should I stay here at the zoo/Or should I try and change my point-of-view?” (go to the leisure centre instead, maybe?), exactly what it’s about remains open to question: I don’t entirely buy Wikipedia’s suggestion it was written after the group heard influential late 70s Liverpool group Big in Japan (founder members: Bill Drummond, future Lightning Seed Ian Broudie and Frankie Goes to Hollywood frontman Holly Johnson), and one helpful contributor on YouTube comments that while he/she loves the song, “it’s not (always) true that things are easy when you’re big in Japan; for example, clothes shopping isn’t always easy when you’re big in Japan.” Maybe it loses something in translation, although a German-language version of the song - moody chanteuse Sandra’s “Japan ist weit” - sold only 125 copies. Amazingly, Alphaville (whose singer, according to the above video clip, appears to have lent all his facial expressions to The League of Gentleman’s infamous Herr Lipp) are still going strong today: they’re big in the Rhineland, I gather.


  1. Jesus, I know that it's hopeless to react on a random internet page, but as an avid AV fan I must say this.

    Should I stay here at the zoo is a play on the Zoo in Berlin which is a subway-station famous for the heroine addicts that hang around.

    "Big in Japan" was an expression in the 80's for rock bands that were no longer popular in the West but somehow became very big in japan. In the song it symbolizes escapism.

  2. Ah, thanks for the info - I defaulted to facetiousness in the original posting, so it's good to get a rather more informed line up on here... May you stay forever young, sir!