Julian Cope presents JAPROCKSAMPLER.COM
Hiromitu Suzuki - vocals
Masaru Hoshi - lead guitar, vocals
Tarou Miyuki - guitar
Kaoru Murakami - bass
Mikiharu Suzuki - drums
One of the best of all the Group Sounds acts, Tokyo’s The Mops actually came close to the Animals/Then-inspired garage sound of The Shadows Of Knight and The Blues Magoos, even injecting something weird and special of their own through vocalist Hiromitu Suzuki’s truly pained delivery and occasionally deranged lyrics. Indeed, even Western bands rarely managed lyrics as raw as ‘Please kill me’ as Suzuki beseeched on their fuzz epic 6/8 ‘Blind Bird’. It’s clear from their get up and instrumental styling that The Mops wanted to reach The Misunderstood’s braying stratospheric delivery and the mushied-3 a.m.-in-a-city-under-smog production that The Gonn achieved on ‘The Blackout Of Gretely’, but the record company and their own inexperience denied them those options. Inconsistent throughout their career, The Mops nevertheless hit real major peaks, even towards the end when they found their way into so-called New Rock via Grand Funk’s epic proto-metal version of ‘Outside Looking In’ by The Animals, one full year after The Mops covered the same song.
The Mops began as yet another Ventures-styled instrumental group in the early spring of 1966. With most of the musicians still being of high school age, they rehearsed far more than they gigged, and drummer Mikiharu Suzuki resented his older brother Hiromitu’s constant admonishments that he was not doing enough schoolwork. However, when Mikiharu invited his older sibling to a Mops rehearsal to show that he was not just wasting time, Hiromitu was so inspired by their collective racket that he joined the group as lead vocalist. Although the musicians themselves were mainly influenced by The Yardbirds and The Stones, the new singer’s obsessions with Eric Burdon and Steve Winwood soon re-shaped their sound, as The Mops played more and more shows at jazz kissas around Saitama and the Tokyo area. Moreover, when they played Tokyo’s Go-Go-Kissa club in early 1967, The Mops were approached by a management team who agreed to look after their interests, but only on condition that they become a psychedelic band. Influenced by Steve Winwood’s recent move to the psychedelically-styled Traffic, the quintet agreed; signed to Victor Records and debuted in November 1967, billed as ‘First Psychedelic Band In Japan!’ However, by the time their first single ‘Asamade Matenai’ had charted at the lower end of the Japanese Top 40, other bands had caught up with their psychedelic stylings, pushing The Mops to all kinds of ruses in order to substantiate their claim as Japan’s premier psychedelicians – and in drug free Japan, this was not an easy task. Huge lighting rigs began to appear at Mops shows, and flangeing, wah-wah pedals and fuzz boxes saturated their live sounds, while the band themselves grew their hair even longer, adopted granny glasses, and played blind-folded in order to disorientate themselves and stimulate natural psychedelic effects.
On their 1968 debut LP PSYCHEDELIC SOUND IN JAPAN, The Mops covered Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Somebody To Love’ and ‘White Rabbit’ with a righteous abandon, injecting a 13th Floor Elevators Texan yawp into the former and using the quasi-Eastern nature of the latter to their advantage with wonderful Chinese strings and another fabulous vocal from Hiromitu Suzuki. However, The Mops’ version of The Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’ was just funny and had none of the junked out Philippino Catholicism that D’Swooners cleverly smeared all over their own Jose Feliciano version. To say the instrumental passage was enthusiastic is probably better than saying everyone just hammers along dutifully until the interesting vocal bit rescues them. The Mops’ obsession with The Animals peaked on their pointless version of ‘San Francisco Nights’, during which the band bored everyone for the duration of the 45 seconds explaining why they’d chosen to record the song (big deal, get over it), but the band did do ‘Outside Looking In’ justice. Their own songs were hot when they were being weird, but crap when they wrote ‘real’ songs. The ‘help-me-I’m-going-under-for-the-last-time’ nature of ‘Atsukunarenai (I Can’t Get Hot)’ is truly psychedelic and works better as the B-side of their single ‘Omae No Subeteo’ rather than buried at the end of side one’s seven song avalanche on PSYCHEDELIC SOUND IN JAPAN.
When bassist Kaori Murakami quit for a place in university in Spring ’69, rhythm guitarist Tarou Miyuki swapped to bass, the lack of two guitars considerably opening up the sound and making for a spaciousness, allowing Masaru Hoshi’s excellent leads to cut right through. But the Group Sounds era was already coming to a close and, after three singles and the aforementioned LP, the band was dropped from the Victor Records roster. A as the prevailing trend for Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath began to kick in with a vengeance, many Group Sounds split during this time, but The Mops weathered the storm well. After hearing Grand Funk Railroad’s masterful ‘heavy’ adaptation of ‘Outside Looking In’ by their beloved Animals, The Mops re-styled themselves ‘New Rock’. If they’d gone all the way, it would have been fantastic, however, as was the way of most bands of this period, The Mops still remained true to their GS roots by accommodating too great a range of styles on LPs, sandwiching dutiful ‘contemporary’ sounds (ballads, comedy, you name it) between the slabs of moronic genius. From beginning to end, Hiromitu Suzuki remained fixated with The Animals’ Eric Burdon and Steve Winwood in all his Spencer Davis/Traffic/Blind Faith incarnations. Indeed, even as late as 1970, Suzuki continued to hop from Little Stevie vocal stylings to those of Eric Burdon often within the space of the same verse. However, the band thereafter actually gained a new artistic momentum from the new sounds they encountered and, signing to the Toshiba/Liberty label, continued until 1974, recording and releasing five more patchy covering-all-bases LPs and thirteen singles.
Live on the roof of Mitsukoshi department store August 4, 1972
Posted by scarlet, Sep 14, 2011