Alphaville – Big In Japan – 1984

Big in Japan” is the debut single of the German synth-pop band Alphaville. It was taken from their 1984 album Forever Young.

The single was a success in many countries, including Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. It was also the group’s only UK Top 75 hit, reaching #8 on the UK Singles chart. The song also reached #1 on the Hot Dance Club Play in December 1984.

The melody was developed by all three members of the band, working in their provincial home studio.

Marian Gold developed most of the lyrics while going to a dentist. The theme was based on two friends who were involved in the sordid drug scene of Berlin’s Zoo station. The song tells of such lovers who fantasize about being drug-free. The refrain “big in Japan” symbolises this idea of being successful in another world. Said Gold, “that line has a certain meaning. It means that if you’re a complete loser, you’re telling other people, ‘I’m not a loser because in Japan I’m really big.’ It’s the lie of the loser and it fitted perfectly into the story of these junkies, which the song is about, in a very tragic way.” Gold later explained “we originally weren’t sure whether we should put it on the album, because it’s a bit autobiographical in that it reflects my time in West Berlin in the late 70s, with the drug scene around the train station and the zoo, and all the underground things. It has nothing to do with Japan.”

The phrase was inspired by the name of the real band, Big in Japan, whose album Gold had recently bought. He said “As you know, there’s a considerable musical market in Japan. If you wanted to become famous, what you should do was to form a hard rock group and then release an album over there; it would definitely sell well… so the story went …”

As the song reached the top of the German charts, the #1 song which it displaced was “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood whose lead singer, Holly Johnson, had formerly been in Big in Japan – a remarkable coincidence, according to Gold. Gold later said that “we never got to speak with him but he must have wondered ‘who is this German group with a song named after my band?’!”

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