The Vapors

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The Vapors
The Vapors.jpg
The Vapors, 1980. Left to right: Edward Bazalgette, David Fenton, Steve Smith, Howard Smith
Background information
OriginGuildford, Surrey, England
GenresNew wave,[1] power pop,[2] punk rock[3]
Years active1978-1981, 2016–present
LabelsUnited Artists, Liberty, RT Industries, Elektra
MembersDavid Fenton
Edward Bazalgette
Steve Smith
Michael Bowes
Past membersHoward Smith
Michael Hedges
Michael Jordan
Robert Kemp
Bob Heard
Steve Hampton

The Vapors are an English new wave and power pop band that initially existed between 1978 and 1981. They had a top ten hit with the song "Turning Japanese" in 1980, which reached No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart,[4] and No. 36 in the US Billboard Hot 100.



Based in Guildford, Surrey, an early version of the band was playing the Three Lions pub in Farncombe when The Jam's bassist Bruce Foxton spotted them.[5] The band's lineup stabilized with David Fenton (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Howard Smith (drums), Edward Bazalgette (lead guitar) and Steve Smith (bass). Howard Smith and Steve Smith were not related. The band was originally named The Vapours, but had removed the "u" to appear as an American band; to help garner more attention in North America. Foxton then offered the band a few gigs and agreed to jointly manage them with John Weller (father of Paul Weller).[1] The Vapors were then offered a slot supporting The Jam on the Setting Sons tour in 1979.

The band signed to United Artists, releasing their first single, "Prisoners" at the end of 1979 but it failed to chart. Their second single is the song for which they are best remembered: "Turning Japanese". The track was produced by The Jam's producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven and reached number 3 in the UK[4] and number 1 in Australia. It was also a top ten hit in Canada and New Zealand, and reached the top 40 in the United States. "Turning Japanese" was believed to euphemistically refer to masturbation,[6] although Fenton (the song's writer) denied that claim in an interview on VH1. He did, however, say he wished to thank whoever first came up with that interpretation, as he felt that the salacious rumour about what the song "really" meant may have been what made it a hit.[7] The follow-up singles "News at Ten" and "Jimmie Jones" both peaked at number 44 in the UK Singles Chart.[4]

The band released two albums: New Clear Days (1980) and Magnets (1981). New Clear Days contained "Turning Japanese" and displayed a new wave sound with socially conscious lyrics.[8] That album reached the middle of the charts in the UK, Canada, and US. Magnets revealed a power pop sound and darker lyrics, with the song "Jimmie Jones" making reference to cult leader Jim Jones.[9] That album sold poorly and the band broke up in 1982.[1] Fenton alleged in a later interview with Record Collector magazine that lack of record label support was the chief reason for the band's split, while a planned single release was cancelled without explanation.[7]

After the Vapors broke up, David Fenton joined the legal profession in the early 1990s, concentrating on the legal aspects of the music industry, and from 1999 he worked as a London-based in-house solicitor for the Musicians’ Union.[10][11] Edward Bazalgette became a television director; his credits include a 2005 BBC documentary about Genghis Khan and two episodes of Doctor Who in 2015.[12][13] For many years Howard Smith ran an independent record shop, People Records in Guildford, the band's home town.[14][15] Steve Smith formed the band Shoot!Dispute, which appeared in John Peel sessions, and toured in support of Bruce Foxton; and later joined the rap/rock band 1ST.[citation needed]


After 34 years of inactivity, David Fenton, Ed Bazelgette, and Steve Smith appeared on stage at the Half Moon in Putney on 30 April 2016. With a guest drummer standing in for Howard Smith, they played "Turning Japanese" and then left the stage. Rumours of a reunion were rife, and the Vapors completed a four-date tour in October/November 2016 with Michael Bowes on drums.[5] The Vapors continued with 6 more concerts in 2017 and 10 in 2018[16]. That included 3 dates in New York City with David Fenton's son, Dan Fenton, standing in for Ed Bazelgette on lead guitar,[17] where they played several new tracks, including "Secret Noise", "Sundown River", "Letter to Hiro (No11)", "The Right Stuff", "One of My Dreams", and "King L". [18]

As of 2017, the band’s catalog masters are controlled by Razor & Tie Industries.[19] On 21 April 2018, they re-released "Turning Japanese" on red vinyl with bonus tracks for Record Store Day.[20]


Studio albums[edit]

Title Album details Peak chart positions
New Clear Days 44 41 25 62
Magnets 39 109
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Compilation albums[edit]

Title Album details
Turning Japanese:
The Best of the Vapors
  • Release date: 1996
  • Label: EMI Records
  • Formats: CD, cassette
  • Release date: 7 April 1998
  • Label: Collectables
  • Formats: CD, cassette
The Best of the Vapors
  • Release date: 5 August 2003
  • Label: EMI Records
  • Formats: CD


Year Single Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales threshold)
US Dance
US Main
1979 "Prisoners"
1980 "Turning Japanese" 3 7 9 36 34 1 New Clear Days
"News at Ten" 44
1981 "Waiting for the Weekend"
"Spiders" Magnets
"Jimmie Jones" 44 39
"—" denotes releases that did not chart


  1. ^ a b c Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "The Vapors | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  2. ^ Larkin, Colin, ed. (2006). "The Vapors". Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-531373-9. Archived from the original on 12 May 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  3. ^ "Punk rock". Empire State Report. 7 (1–32): 77.
  4. ^ a b c d Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 582. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  5. ^ a b Curley, John (13 September 2016). "The Vapors are reuniting for their first shows in 35 years". Goldmine. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  6. ^ Stewart Mason. "Turning Japanese – The Vapors | Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  7. ^ a b Kim, Kristen Yonsoo (6 September 2012). "One-Hit Wondering - The Vapors". Noisey. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  8. ^ "New Clear Days - The Vapors". AllMusic.
  9. ^ "Magnets - The Vapors". AllMusic.
  10. ^ Jake, McDade. "MUSIC LAWYER DAVID FENTON". Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  11. ^ Wyatt, Malcolm. "Waiting for The Vapors Return - The Dave Fenton Interview". writewyattuk. Malcolm Wyatt. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  12. ^ "Edward Bazalgette". Retrieved 13 September 2015.
  13. ^ Wyatt, Malcolm. "Back and Beyond with the Vapors - The Ed Bazelgette Interview". writewyattuk. Malcolm Wyatt. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  14. ^ "Venue". Record Store Day. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  15. ^ "Howard Smith". Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  16. ^ "The Vapors Concert Setlists". Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  17. ^ "The Vapors to play three shows at NYC's Mercury Lounge in October - Goldmine Magazine". Goldmine Magazine. 25 May 2018. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  18. ^ "The Vapors Setlist at the Mercury Lounge (10/19/2018)". Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  19. ^ "The Vapors". Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  20. ^ "Record Store Day: Turning Japanese". Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  21. ^ "The Official Charts Company – The Vapors". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  22. ^ "Results – RPM – Library and Archives Canada – Top Albums/CDs". RPM. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  23. ^ "New Zealand charts portal". Hung Medien. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  24. ^ a b c "The Vapors | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  25. ^ "Results – RPM – Library and Archives Canada – Top Singles". RPM. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  26. ^ "New Zealand charts portal". Hung Medien. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  27. ^ "The Vapors Album & Song Chart History – Hot 100". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  28. ^ "BPI Searchable Database". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 18 August 2011.

External links[edit]