The Vapors

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This article is about the band. For the archaic illness, see Vapours (disease). For other uses, see Vapors.
The Vapors
The Vapors.jpg
The Vapors, 1980. Left to right: Edward Bazalgette, David Fenton, Steve Smith, Howard Smith
Background information
Origin Guildford, Surrey, England
Genres New wave,[1] power pop[2]
Years active 1979–1982, 2016–present
Labels United Artists, Liberty
Members David Fenton
Howard Smith
Edward Bazalgette
Steve Smith

The Vapors are an English new wave and power pop band that initially existed between 1979 and 1982. They had a hit with the song "Turning Japanese" in 1980, which reached No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart,[3] and No. 36 in the US Billboard Hot 100.


Based in Guildford, Surrey, their members were David Fenton (songwriter, guitarist and vocalist), Howard Smith (drummer), Edward Bazalgette (lead guitarist) and Steve Smith (bass guitarist and vocals). (The band's two Smiths were unrelated.) The group's name was originally spelled "Vapours", but they removed the u to seem like an American band.

They were discovered and managed by John Weller (father of Paul Weller) and by The Jam's bassist Bruce Foxton.[1] The song for which they are mainly remembered, "Turning Japanese", was produced by The Jam's producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven and reached the top three in the UK at the same time that "Going Underground" was at number one. It was also a top ten hit in Canada, New Zealand and Australia, and (just barely) a top 40 in the US, something The Jam never managed.

The song "Turning Japanese" was believed to euphemistically refer to masturbation,[4] although Fenton (the song's author) 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.

The band released two albums: New Clear Days (the pun on "nuclear" being intentional) and Magnets. The first was more clearly in the "traditional" new wave style of music, while touching on social issues such as the nuclear threat as well as love themes. The second album was more lyrically varied, with themes including alienation and many dark lyrics about apparently psychotic characters, including the opening track, "Jimmie Jones", about cult leader Jim Jones. Sales of the second album were poor and the band broke up soon after its release in 1982.[1] Fenton alleged in a later interview with Record Collector magazine that lack of record label support was the chief reason; apparently their intended seventh single "Red Flag" was cancelled without explanation. Follow-up singles "News at Ten" and "Jimmie Jones" both reached number 44 in the UK Singles Chart.[3] Record producer Harry Cowell was for a while the band's drum tech.

After 34 years of inactivity, on 30 April 2016, Dave Fenton, Ed Bazelgette and Steve Smith took to the stage at the Half Moon in Putney. 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 on 10 June a short four-date tour in October and November was announced on the band's new Facebook page.

The band[edit]

A solicitor who specialises in music law, frontman Fenton had retired from his days as a music creator and performer to concentrate on legal aspects of the music industry.[5]

Edward Bazalgette is a television director, credits including a 2005 BBC documentary about Genghis Khan and two episodes of Doctor Who in 2015.[6]

Howard Smith runs an independent record shop, People Records in Guildford, the band's home town.[7][8]


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" New Clear Days
1980 "Turning Japanese" 3 7 9 36 34 1
"News at Ten" 44
1981 "Waiting for the Weekend"
"Jimmie Jones" 44 39 Magnets
1982 "Spiders"
"Isolated Case"
"Civic Hall"
"—" 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. 
  3. ^ a b c Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 582. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  4. ^ Stewart Mason. "Turning Japanese – The Vapors | Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  5. ^ Jake, McDade. "MUSIC LAWYER DAVID FENTON". Retrieved 22 March 2015. 
  6. ^ "Edward Bazalgette". Retrieved 2015-09-13. 
  7. ^ "Venue". Record Store Day. Retrieved 2015-09-29. 
  8. ^ "Howard Smith". Retrieved 2015-09-29. 
  9. ^ "Chart Stats – The Vapors". Chart Stats. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  10. ^ "Results – RPM – Library and Archives Canada – Top Albums/CDs". RPM. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  11. ^ "New Zealand charts portal". Hung Medien. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  12. ^ "The Vapors | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  13. ^ "Results – RPM – Library and Archives Canada – Top Singles". RPM. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  14. ^ "New Zealand charts portal". Hung Medien. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  15. ^ "The Vapors Album & Song Chart History – Hot 100". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  16. ^ a b "The Vapors | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  17. ^ "BPI Searchable Database". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 

External links[edit]