Pink Floyd’s swipe against Japan

I once worked with a woman who sang vocals on a number one hit single by the legendary British rock band, Pink Floyd.

When I met her, she was a hard-working radio producer at the BBC.

But when she was a schoolgirl in 1979, she was picked to be in the video of the song Another Brick In the Wall and gleefully expressed her anger at an oppressive regime.

“We don’t need no education, We don’t need no mind control,” she sang, as part of a choir of children from Islington Green School, in London.

“Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone!”

Hit and miss

Another Brick In the Wall remains Pink Floyd’s most recognisable song. It has catchy lyrics set to a disco beat, with searing electric guitar. It’s sold millions of copies worldwide.

But four years later in 1983, Pink Floyd put out another single called Not Now John which was a commercial failure.

The track contained a lot swearing, although there was a censored version for the radio. The other problem was the complexity of the song’s subject. It deals with the resentment felt by blue collar factory workers against foreign rivals in the manufacturing sector.

When Rachel Mann reviewed it for the website Quietus she concluded that Not Now John was written in the voice of an arrogant man and although she thinks it’s a fun song, in her view it is “musically crass and obvious.”

The wily Japanese

The song’s narrator complains that he must compete with “the wily Japanese.” This has led to complaints that Pink Floyd were derogatory to Japan.

Collins Dictionary says that “if you describe someone, or their behaviour, as wily, you mean that they are clever at achieving what they want, especially by tricking people.”

In the video for the song, backing vocals are provided by a trio of geisha girls, played by Caucasian women. The film features an Oriental boy wearing a T-shirt with Japan’s Rising Sun flag, who falls to his death.

I believe that Not Now John reflects the political mood of its time. In the early 1980s, Japan was far from popular in the UK and Europe, partly because of its rising economic power.

Rivalry and protectionism

In his 1983 book The Japanese Mind: The Goliath Explained, Robert C Christopher mentions how European governments tried to exclude Japanese products from their markets and he complained about “the cultural and ethnic arrogance” that Europeans displayed towards Japan.

“Broadly speaking,” wrote Mr Christopher “Western Europeans did not like the Japanese, had no desire to understand them and would devoutly wish they would just go away.”

Partner not rival

I am pleased to say that things have improved.

These days the Japanese are held in respect by many people in Europe, although they do still tend to be stereotyped.

On the whole, Japan is regarded as an economic partner, rather than a rival.

Rock on

My colleague says she enjoyed singing “We don’t need no education” for Pink Floyd.

However, I know that in reality she appreciated her time at school and when she left, she devoted her career to explaining international affairs.

I still like listening to Pink Floyd and am jealous that she sang with them yet I know that a rock song is not the best way to delve deep into economic theory.

Even the great Pink Floyd struggled to have a hit with a reflection upon the political implications of an imbalance of trade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *