Dave Fenton, the singer/guitarist/songwriter of the Guildford, England-based band The Vapors, authored one of the best-known songs of the New Wave era, 1980’s “Turning Japanese.” The sharp, spiky power pop of the song and a visually arresting video for the single made The Vapors early stars of the burgeoning platform of music video. The Vapors recorded two albums—1980’s New Clear Days and 1981’s Magnets—before splitting up. Fenton went on to become a lawyer and for many years was the in-house lawyer for the UK’s Musicians Union, based in London.
Fenton reconvened The Vapors in 2016. Original members Steve Smith (bass) and Ed Bazalgette (guitar) joined Fenton in the reunion along with new drummer Michael Bowes. After many headline and festival appearances in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, The Vapors returned to North America for the first time in 37 years in October of this year for a three-night stand at New York City’s Mercury Lounge. At the NYC shows, Fenton’s son, Dan, stood in for Bazalgette, who was unavailable.
—Compiled by John Curley
Television, Marquee Moon
Always sounds crisp and fresh and pure and powerful, and still gives me shivers. In the punk era the guitars usually thrashed chords supported by a growling bass. So, I was fascinated to hear the melodic guitar and bass parts cleverly intertwining and working both together and independently and even leaving room for empty spaces. Still one of my all-time favorite albums. Tom Verlaine—genius.
Talking Heads, 1977
David Byrne is another genius and right now I’m looking forward to seeing him on his untethered tour. Talking Heads are still a great band, but this album gave me headaches when I first heard it, it seemed that different and complicated, but I found it made more sense the more I listened. Well worth the investment of time as it has some great songs. “Psycho Killer” just has to be one of the best songs ever.
Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Safe As Milk
John Peel and the good Captain started my interest in what was going on on the U.S. West Coast in the late sixties and early seventies (Love, the Doors, Country Joe, etc.). Me and my mates used to play football in Redhill Rec every Sunday afternoon with radios in the goal mouths and when Uncle John played the Captain, or something equally interesting from the U.S., football would be suspended for a few minutes while we listened/danced in the goal mouth. I was lucky enough to see the Captain and his Magic Band live in about 1971 at Nottingham Uni. Just loved those crazy rhythms and still do, but you can’t beat them played live.
Canned Heat, Refried Boogie
Canned Heat are probably best remembered for “Going Up The Country,” which is a great track and is still being used in TV adverts today. I saw them live in Croydon in the late sixties. But this live album in my opinion has the best intro of any live album I’ve ever heard and still gets me on my feet. It hits something inside that nothing else does, if you know what I mean!
Love, Forever Changes
Another album that I grew up with that has gone down in history, and is still being discovered today. I just wish Arthur was still here. But then I could say the same about Bowie, Lennon, Cohen, Van Vliet, Wilson, Hite and others referred to here.
Devo, Q: Are We Not Men; A: We Are Devo
I first heard “Jocko Homo” at the Marquee in Wardour Street. I was there to see a support band called the Screeens, and the DJ played it in the interval. To an impressionable young person the wiggley riffs and incomprehensible rhythm was a big surprise and I had to buy the single and then the album to try and understand it all. The album also re-shuffles the Stones’ “Satisfaction” into a rhythm it seems only Devo and I can dance to. My daughter would call it “Dad dancing.”
Blondie, Parallel Lines
I couldn’t leave out Blondie, still playing after all these years. This album has some of the best punk songs ever, and shows the strength of Debbie’s voice. It was produced by Mike Chapman and engineered by Dave Tickle, who coincidentally went on to produce The Vapors’ second album Magnets. (He’s the one singing out of tune on the “boys, boys, boys” outro to the title track!)
Leonard Cohen, The Songs of Leonard Cohen
My introduction to Leonard Cohen came at a party in the late sixties. Everyone was dancing vertically until someone put this on and suddenly everyone was dancing horizontally and snogging. Best disco ever! I first saw Mr. Cohen in concert in March 1972 at Leeds University, just him and a guitar, and more recently at the O2 in 2013 with a nine-piece band. A classic album and classic timeless songs that The Vapors pay tribute to in our live set with our own song “King L.”
The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles were the first band I ever saw live (Bournemouth Gaumont August 1963) and With The Beatles was the first album I ever bought. (Well, my younger brother Pete contributed some of his hard-earned pocket money, too). Again, I could have chosen other Beatles albums. Abbey Road or The White Album are up there, too. But I used to play “A Day In The Life” on acoustic guitar at folk clubs before I could afford an electric guitar to start a “real” band, so for that reason and others I’ve chosen Sgt. Pepper.
David Bowie, Hunky Dory
I could have chosen 10 Bowie albums for this top ten, but this was the first one I bought and I never played anything else for at least two months. I then started collecting Bowie albums both retrospectively and as he released them. I was at the Hammersmith Odeon gig on 3/7/73 when Bowie retired Ziggy Stardust with the words “Not only is this the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show we’ll ever do” before launching into “Rock And Roll Suicide,” leaving me stunned thinking Bowie had retired, not just Ziggy. I should have known better.