The Five Greatest Obscure Japanese Rock Albums of All Time, by Julian Cope

Julian Cope gets up early. At the very unrock’n’roll hour of 7am, in fact. classic rock catches him sweeping his floor.

“Whenever I write, he says, the best way to become an author is to feel like one. When I was doing Megalithic Europe [Julian’s book on historic sites in Ireland and mainland Europe], I got up at a quarter to five every morning. I’ve spent the last ten years watching so many of my so-called punk contemporaries become more and more loose. It pushes me the other way and makes me want to do more.

Cope’s 2008 album Black sheep found the singer on familiar ground: the outsider in modern Western culture. It was his most melodic work in some time, an acoustic party rocked by orchestral percussion, harmonies and bloody Salvation Army drumming.

“I thought it would give it all a wonderful sense of ritual. There is nothing more pagan than Salvation Army Christianity. They have ‘Blood and Fire’ on the drum. It’s metal!

The record was informed by Cope’s second outing in rock literature, the fabulously illuminating japrocksampler. Or, as the byline says, “How the post-war Japanese blew themselves away with rock ‘n’ roll.”

A companion of sorts to its previous Krautrock Sampler – Masterful 1995 overview of German rock innovators of the 60s and 70s – the musicians of japrocksampler cover territory similar to Cope’s artistic and stylistic oeuvre: thrill seekers, cosmic shamans, barbarians, hard-working scholars and seekers. This makes him the perfect person to guide us through unreleased Japrock classics – and it has also affected his approach to making records.

“It’s like when you come back from overseas and you’re so used to having to reduce what you say to the sum of its most effective parts,” says Cope. “I started to find the most incisive way to do something. And if you start writing with an intellectual overview, you should pepper it with simple melodies and rhythms. You want people to get it.

Take a journey to the outer limits of sound with Julian Cope as your guide.


Far Eastern Family Group – Parallel World (Columbia/Mu Land, 1976)

“If you’re a completely gen’d-up Krautrocker, you’re probably best off starting with Parallel world. It is produced by Klaus Schultze, ex-Tangerine Dream/Ash Ra Tempel, and represents an hour of space rock in the style of Cosmic Jokers. It also does not suffer from questionable gong-isms. It’s tough, it’s sleek, it’s motorized and it really does the trick.”

Flower Travellin’ Band – Satori (Atlantic, 1971)

“Satori is number one on my list in the book. If you look at all modern doom bands, they all grew up listening to Satori. Flower Travellin’ Band’s Made in Japan (1972) is also very good for people in the last period of love, when Arthur Lee got heavy and started investigating being black instead of denying it.

“Since I wrote the book, I recently heard from one of the guys from the Flower Travellin’ Band, who was amazed by it. I can’t even say if his response was particularly positive, because he was just amazed there was even a need for a book like japrocksampler.”

Les Rallizes Denudés – Heavier Than a Death in the Family (Ain’t Group Sounds, 1995)

“If your pleasure center is forged by the punk side of the Velvets, then definitely Heavier than a death in the family (recorded in 1973 and 1977) is that one. In some circles of Japanese rock, there is a mystical quality. Certainly with Speed, Glue & Shinki or Les Rallizes Denudés.

“I think (songwriter/guitarist) Takeshi Mizutani was literally working on his own demons standing in the eye of the storm. And stuff like 2003 A blind baby has his mother’s eyes is outrageous. It’s one of the heaviest music I’ve ever heard. It’s like Blue Cheer, but we’re talking about a strenuous 19 minute walk.

“So he’s doing what Blue Cheer was doing back in the days of Inside Outside, but that’s really punishing the fucking metaphor. Lots of distortion, almost to the point of late period Kraut where people like Die Krupps were getting so heavy that the drums and bass disappeared. You are literally on your knees.”

Itsutsu No Akai Fusen – Vol 1 & 2 (URC, 1970-71)

“The only folk albums that obsessed me were Flight 1 & 2. I love them. They’re very cosmic, probably the equivalent of some Straight label stuff from Zappa, or Pilz records from (Cosmic Jokers frontman) Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser. It is very beautiful, very exquisite. But it’s almost like taking the Velvets’ third album and making it a meditative thing.

“There are female voices and it’s really beautiful. It’s like Mo Tucker meeting Steve Martin in Shakingwhere he sings this duet with Bernadette Peters entitled Tonight you belong to me. It’s slightly ghostly and dark.”

Speed, Glue & Shinki – Eve (Atlantic, 1971)

“These European heavy bands were all trying to show they were as good as Cream, but Speed, Glue & Shinki were literally fucking out of their minds. I think there’s gonna be a new generation here that once that they’ll be done with Speed, Glue & Shinki, will create some of the most fantastic non-blues blues you’ll ever hear.

“It’s similar to the first album Blue Cheer. The problem with experimental music is that the people who make it don’t want to fail. When we made it Boner drained, Brain Donor’s last album, in many ways it failed because it was so experimental. That’s what was so powerful about this band: their wantonness, their greed for shock, and the novelty of what they were doing.

“To me, the best rock ‘n’ roll always has the right combination of novelty and tradition. Because Joey Smith was both singer and drummer, he controlled the beat and literally made his point with the snare drum. and the bass. drums. He would turn it down until you thought, ‘What the fuck?!'”

This feature originally appeared in Classic Rock 138, October 2009.