In the meantime, back in the world of show business, 1961 was anything but a forward-thinking place to be. The plane crashes, car accidents, deaths, divorces, humiliations and public exposes that had beset rock'n'roll's first wave of pioneers of the late '50s had now all conspired to return popular culture to that same world of light entertainment that had so transfixed society in the early post-war years. For the true rocker, 1961 was a lonesome world where the all-rounder was king, and where the King was a puppet who sung 'Wooden Heart' to a bunch of wooden puppets. What hope was there for natural wetniks like the Everly Brothers and Cliff Richard but to follow their leader with their own dreadful equivalents of January '61's 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?'? Placing themselves firmly in the middle of the road just as the title of Elvis's current LP SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE instructed, Cliff and the Everlys dutifully filled up the charts with such stillborn fare as 'Walk Right Back', 'Theme From a Dream' and 'Gee Whizz, It's You', while new boy Adam Faith out-blanded them all with his shameless 'Easy Going Me'. That September, bad boys across the globe felt their world getting ever more claustrophobic when the last of the greats to fall, Chuck Berry himself, was sent down for three years for 'violating the Mann Act' when he unwittingly transported a fourteen-year-old girl across state lines. In Japan, that same month, the opportunist schmaltzmeister Fritz Friedel rubbed salt into rock'n'roll's open wound by topping Japan's chart with a German-language version of 'Wooden Heart'. Faced with such an MOR onslaught of songs about nothing at all, the only way to remain cool was to listen to music with absolutely no words at all. And as Fritz slid down the Japanese charts, so the Tokyo hep cats pushed Jimmie Tokita & His Mountain Playboys up the charts, as Tokita's version of the Shadows' 'Apache' ushered in the new Japanese musical obsession... eleki!
Ah, the Eleki Buumu, or 'Electric Guitar Boom'. Always up for a new craze with a new name, the Japanese-in-the-know had followed the exploits of foreign instrumental groups since the late '50s, via radio shows on the American military's Far East Network. In 1960, Johnny & the Hurricanes' 'Red River Rock' had been a worldwide killer that sax player Johnny Paris had re-arranged from an old traditional song 'Red River Valley'. Hoping to appeal to American GIs across the world, Paris had done a similar job with the far less successful follow-up 'Reveille Rock', but the braying jazzy alto sax was by now altogether too archaic and too monolithic a lead instrument to sustain interest, especially in comparison to the mysterious-looking solid-bodied electric guitars that America's Fender and Gibson companies were selling by the truckload. And if the Japanese were to embrace the West and its Future Dream, then that dream needed to be propelled not by pre-war acoustic horns, but by polished futuristic machines in whose gleaming modernity was a declaration that they were worthy of this new Space Age.
First, the musicians of the early '60s Japanese scene turned for inspiration to Britain's the Shadows. And, right here in October '61, it was Tokyo Country-&-Western star Jimmie Tokita who was reaping the rewards with his remake of Hank Marvin & Co's 'Apache', the original itself already over a year old. Or rather, Jimmie Tokita was reaping the benefits of having such a fine musician in his band. For it was the Mountain Playboys' guitarist Takeshi Terauchi to whom the plaudits should rightfully have been directed. In the year since 'Apache', the Shadows had scored more worldwide successes with 'FBI', 'Frightened City', 'Kon-Tiki' and 'Wonderful Land', further increasing the hip credentials of the guitar instrumental and raising its profile to the level of genuine phenomenon. Of course, Tyneside's Hank B. Marvin was not the first to have scattered spangly guitar solos across 7" plastic. That honour probably goes to back to 1957 with Duane Eddy's grungy debut 'Ramrod' and the following year's 'Rebel Rouser'. But Duane's music - achieved on a big old fat-bellied Gretsch semi-acoustic - belonged to an earlier time that had more in common with such post-big-band hits as the Champs' 'Tequila'. And, besides, the Eddy approach was not nearly fastidious or fetishistic enough for the Japanese. Where were the suits? Where was the automotive gleam of the Fender Stratocaster? Where was the synchronised kicking? Heck, the guys in Duane's band all stood about all casual like. And, on hits such as 'Shazam', Duane had even let some sax player smear outdated Benny Hill themes all across the groove. Nasty.
But if the Shadows had honed down Duane Eddy's miscreant muse to a clearly defined and tightly self-contained metaphor, then the Ventures from Tacoma, high up on the northwest coast of America, were a whole other world. For the Ventures, there could be no time for smiling at their audience, nor even at each other. No, where the Shadows still inhabited a good-natured Keltic half-world where fun for the group was important too, the Ventures were cold, scientific and focused, four radical Germanic technicians, studious alchemists for whom nothing could sway their singular goa1. And, unlike the vast majority of their contemporaries, the Ventures used their singles releases merely as an advert for the more expensive albums that they offloaded on to their fans with style and real panache. Indeed, three or more thoughtfully packaged LPs per year guaranteed that Japan's obsessive eleki fans would buy their entire oeuvre, their main sequence of early albums being WALK, DON'T RUN (December 1960), THE VENTURES (July 1961), ANOTHER SMASH (September 1961), THE COLORFUL VENTURES (October 1961), TWIST WITH THE VENTURES (January 1962), TWIST PARTY VOLUME 2 (May 1962), MASHED POTATOES & GRAVY (August 1962) and GOING TO THE VENTURES' DANCE PARTY (November 1963). What's more, these practitioners each played ice-white Mosrite guitars with black scratch plates, each axe bearing 'The Ventures' logo upon their heads tacks. Furthermore, each album by the Ventures was carefully themed, as every subsequent release distilled their metaphor ever more tightly. THE COLORFUL VENTURES, for example, included the songs entitled 'Yellow Jacket', 'Red Top' and 'Orange Fire', plus several of the more obvious 'blues'. This quasi-military precision combined with the financing of Semie Moseley's great guitar corporation said these Ventures were no punks; indeed these gentlemen had the authorities on their side. For the efficiency-worshipping Japanese, nothing could have reached their pleasure centres more easily or with greater accuracy. And when the Ventures played an all-too-brief support set on Bobby Vee's 1962 tour of Japan, it was not with Vee but with the Ventures that the Japanese began an everlasting love affair, truly an affection that has not died out even to this day. And so, in the absence of any likely future Ventures tour of Japan, a home-grown version known as the Adventures began to make eleki records for the huge Toshiba company, while musical members of the mysterious Buddhist sect Sokka Gakkai formed their own Tokyo Ventures, pumping out spirited morale-boosting eleki versions of traditional Japanese army songs.
In the free-far-all that followed, Japanese musicians from all walks of life hopped on to the eleki gravy train. A disparate bunch of dropouts from two late '50s Country &.Western bands - the Wagonmasters and the Chuck Wagon Boys - had been working together on and off since the 1959 album sessions for rockabilly singer Masaaki Hirao's LP MACHAN OINI UTAU. But now in the eleki boom of summer '62, the six musicians united loosely around the guitar virtuoso Hiroshi Tsutsumi. In rapid succession, this cynically shifting alliance metamorphosed briefly into a twist band, before turning inexorably eleki as Hiroshi Tsutsumi & All Stars Wagon. In 1962, they released three successful albums, first their twist cash-in LP LET'S TWIST, next their album of simpering love ballads done eleki style entitled FROM 'DIANA' TO 'YOU'RE EVERYTHING', concluding with the YOUR HIT PARADE LP, in which hits of the previous year were refashioned into the current eleki style. Obviously inspired by this radical turn of events from such seasoned session hacks, their erstwhile C&W compadres the Caravan suddenly became known as the Van-Dogs, thereafter issuing twangy instrumentals of their own on 7" sonosheets, the overly flexible soon-ta-become-obsolete Betamax format of their day. With the eleki craze now in full swing, the incredible international success of Britain's Joe Meek-produced 'Telstar' was such that even the Ventures themselves felt it necessary to cover the song. Moreover, its protagonists the Tornados remained at number one on the American Billboard chart for sixteen consecutive weeks, both reinforcing the power of the instrumental and - powered as 'Telstar' was by a stellar-sounding miniature eleki keyboard known as the Selmer Clavioline - inadvertently opening the way for other instruments to take a lead role once more. Opportunistic Japanese jazz trumpeter Terumasa Hino  charted immediately with his eleki cash-in LP TRUMPET IN BLUE JEANS, whilst Osaka's own Smiley O'Hara & His Skyliners revamped even the Champs' hoary 'Tequila' in November '63. The Daiei Film Company had accidental success with the Sounds Ace, an ensemble originally formed merely in order to give the company sufficient control of its own soundtracks, whilst the lauded LP ROMANTIC ELEKI MOOD by Tushio Kawamura & Eleki Sound was actually the cynical studio creation of a bored jazz guitarist and his mates. Other studio bands, such as RCA Records' outfit the King's Road, offered chaotic rhythmic assaults quite at odds with the Western notion of rhythm & blues, whilst Teichiku Records unleashed their jazz-flavoured two-volume LPs BITO GITA NO SUBETE (All About Beat Guitar), and BITA GITA SEKAI O IKU (Beat Guitar Goes out to the World) under the guise of another studio outfit by the wonderful name of Dynamic Echoes. The anonymous and unknown Sammy picked up on the Japanese love of car songs with his two instrumental singles 'Wild Datsun' and 'Ace of Toyota', inspiring four American servicemen who, as the Hondells, cashed in with their vocal single 'Little Honda'. But it was the total absence of vocals and words that inadvertently opened up the Japanese eleki market to all comers from around the world, as many otherwise failed combos scored big successes on the coat-tails of this purely Japanese obsession. And with their massive single 'Sombora', Australia's surf kings the Atlantics were geographically well suited to a Japanese career, as were Thailand's the Galaxies, whose LP ELEKI MOOD IN JAPAN featured cover versions of popular contemporary Japanese songs played in the style of Sweden's Tornados copyists the Spotnicks. The term 'Euro-surf' sounds like an oxymoron, but there were several such bands worthy of Japanese obsessions, not least Belgium's red-velvet-suited Jokers, who struck gold with unlikely singles such as 'Football Boogie' and 'Spanish Hully Gully' before topping the charts with their LP BEAT ON CHRISTMAS, which was also successful in South Africa! But, then again, the Japanese were entirely on their own in celebrating Finland's unlikely surf combos the Quiets and the quartet the Sounds, whose matching honey maple Fender guitars and royal-blue suits gave them a ghoulish glow somewhat akin to the Shadows lost in the Nordic underworld. A surfing version of Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Troika Chase' anyone? Japan's Philips label certainly felt that it was worth a shot! The Sounds' big Japanese h it 'Mandschurian Beat' would, three years later, be covered by their heroes the Ventures, who would ironically only get to hear it for the first time on their own Japanese tour in 1965. Also successful nowhere but in Japan were Denmark's soberly dressed and even more strangely named Cliffters, who scored big with their jazzy surf song 'Django'. Throughout all of this, the Ventures themselves maintained such a masterful grip on Japanese heartstrings that, between 1960 and '63, their hit singles included 'Walk, Don't Run', 'Perfidia', 'Ram-Bunk-Shush', 'Lullaby of the Leaves', 'Yellow Jacket', 'Instant Guitars', 'Lolita-Ya-Ya', 'The 2000 Pound Bee', 'The Ninth Wave' and 'The Savage'. Even the Hollywood movie-world now had to sit up and take notice of guitar instrumentals. Ironically, however, when MGM's producers stalled in their search for a sufficiently groovy opening theme for Doctor No, their forthcoming James Bond movie debut, it was not to the Ventures that they turned for help, but to the man who'd put his own version of the Ventures' 'Walk, Don't Run' into the UK charts... John Barry. And if Japan's eleki scene had been thriving throughout the early '60s, then the May '63 release of Doctor No sent the whole phenomenon stellar.
Despite Japan's love of rock'n'rall, early Japanese attempts at manufacturing solid-bodied guitars yielded such crude results that young musicians armed with these late '50s instruments had little chance of success. Instead, Japanese rock'n'rollers imported USA-built guitars at huge expense, or returned from trips abroad armed with the Fenders and Mosrites that their heroes played. However, when the Ventures toured Japan in 1965, Nokie Edwards & Co allowed Japanese craftsmen to study their Mosrites first-hand, after which Japan's guitar industry took off almost overnight. The new Japanese guitar companies all studiedly avoided Gibson's more traditional electrics, concentrating their efforts instead on building futuristic machines in the Fender and Mosrite mould. They also developed an obsession with the rocket-shaped EKO Rokes, built in Italy for the Rokes, Italy's answer to the Monkees. Several Japanese companies replicated the Rokes, the best efforts being manufactured by Kingston and Honey (pictured here and on the cover). Much to the chagrin of Mosrite boss Serhie Moseley, one Tokyo company even named themselves Mosrite. When Moseley challenged this, the boss stated calmly: 'But you are Mosrite of California... we are only Mosrite!'
After the James Bond theme, everything was spies and low-slung guitar twang. The Cold War may well have been happening since the 1950s, but it was right here right now in 1963 that the Cold War was suddenly a Happening' But if these early years of Japan's eleki scene were to be validated by the twang of spy-theme music and dominated by chancers, opportunists and foreigners, at least this strange turn of events was to enrich and nourish the culture, enabling it to sustain itself for several more years, and furthermore allowing Japanese musicians to develop their own very specific take on the music. And it should here be made absolutely clear that eleki was an entirely Japanese phenomenon, even if many of the original protagonists hailed from overseas. For, just as reggae had initially emerged from Kingston DJs' overuse of bass filters when playing American R&8, so it was the Japanese collective mindset that first located the particular thrill that those islanders came to call 'the eleki sound'. And as the Japanese guitarists' study of Western techniques increased, so new instrumental stars emerged from the ranks of backing bands who nightly accompanied famous singers on their national tours; instrumental stars discovering their own true timbre, a sound that was informed almost as much by jazz, big-band and traditional Japanese instruments as by the rock'n'roll of the day. As the hits kept coming, who knows whether the all-vocal Sharp Hawks were put out when their own backing band the Sharp Five emerged temporarily from the shadows to score their own big eleki hit with the single 'Golden Guitar'. Did English singers Chad & Jeremy care when, in the middle of a Japanese set, Hiroshi 'Monsieur' Kamayatsu, lead guitarist for their own Japanese backing band the Spiders, stepped into the spotlight to offer his own spectacular take on the Ventures' 'Wipe Out'? And pity poor Jimmie Tokita, the Country & Western singer who'd first shone the spotlight on his young guitarist Takeshi Terauchi in order to have a hit with 'Apache', only to find that he'd created a major star. Within twelve months of 'Apache''s success, the young guitarist had Anglicised his name to the catchier Terry, and started his own hugely successful eleki band the Bluejeans. Terry Terauchi's hits came thick and fast as he thundered out such dizzying and urgent tracks as 'West Side Guitar' and 'Terry's Theme' on a Ventures-style Mosrite guitar; performing in a stinging and overtly whammy bar-heavy manner his Orientalised takes on Western instrumentals. And although Terauchi's Bluejeans had a major album with 1964's KOREZO SURFING (This Is Surfing), the guitarist transcribed virtually all popular genres into eleki not just garage, frat rock and surf-guitar instrumentals, but sentimental ballads, popular classics such as 'The Blue Danube', 'Flight of the Bumblebee' and 'Swan Lake', and even Japanese folk song. This last idea was surely Terauchi's masterstroke, for the 1965 album SEICHO TERA UCHI BUSHI contained a version of the timeless Japanese song 'Kanjuncho/Genroku Hanami Odiri', which was so popular with young and old alike that the record became the biggest-selling eleki album of all time, picking up over 100,000 sales. Ever the hustler, Terauchi was even opportunistic enough to intercept the major moves of other opportunists. One spectacular example was Terauchi's gazumping of an idea by Sunset Strip hustler Mike Curb, whose own skiing vacations had just inspired an unlikely double-A-side hit 'Ski Jump' b/w 'Ski City USA' for his LA surf band the Buddies. Following Curb's lead, the percipient Terry & the Bluejeans unleashed a whole EP of such stuff entitled LET'S GO SKI SURF, containing the unlikely rock'n'roll titles 'Ski a Go Go', 'O My Darling Clementine', 'Ich Bin der Clucklickste Mensch aul der Welt' and 'Die Schlittschuhlauler'. This Japanese propensity for mix'n'matching Western metaphors to suit themselves probably hit its apogee in 1965, with the release of the LP CHRISTMAS WITH ELECTRIC GUITARS by the super-smooth Blue Comets, led by drummer Jackey Yoshikawa. Contained within its grooves were fiery guitar- and flute-led versions of 'Jingle Bells', 'Blue Christmas', 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus' and 'Here Comes Santa Claus', all of which owed a debt of inspiration to the earlier BEAT ON CHRISTMAS by Belgian surf band the Jokers. Perhaps it could here be suggested that - despite the Coca-Cola, rock'n'roll and baseball - what really defined the Westernisation of Japan was the Japanese acceptance of the jolly fat red guy into this essentially Buddhist country.
Contemporary themes of space, spies and the Cold War continued to dominate the later eleki scene, as Japanese outfits such as the Goldfingers, the Launchers and the Spacemen appeared on the scene,  the latter bunch thereafter leaving behind Yukuio Hashi, their famous leader, pop star and heartthrob, in order to score three big album hits 1965 with ELEKI GITA DE MINYO O and HAWAIIAN SURF GUITAR for Victor Records, and ELEKI GITA BANZAI for Toshiba. But this was an unusual move for the time, as 1965 saw the beginnings of a change in the Japanese pop scene, especially evidenced by the sudden appearance of the strangely named eleki band the Tokyo Beatles. Well-established eleki dudes the Spiders were possibly the first to recognise the implications of the distant rumblings coming from British beat groups, when drummer/manager Shochi Tanabe had, the previous year, employed the much younger Eurasian singer Jun Inoue alongside the Spiders' original flautist and occasional vocalist Masaaki Sakai. And now, eleki veterans the Blue Comets appeared on live TV backing the charming Akira Fuse on his new single 'Let's Go Swim', Blue Comets' leader/drummer Jackey Yoshikawa was an outgoing media-savvy businessman, somewhat akin to British drummer Dave Clark; and Yoshikawa had no intention of appearing behind the times. Unlike most Japanese, Yoshikawa had paid close attention to what was going down on the American rock'n'roll scene. Moreover, he'd observed that, from that moment in February 1964 when Beatle John and his cohorts had first stepped off the plane at New York's Kennedy Airport, the British beat-group assault on American and Americanised culture had built and built and did not appear to be letting up. Indeed, by April '64, the Beatles famously held all five places at the summit of the American Top 40, with the singles 'Can't Buy Me Love', 'Twist & Shout', 'She Loves You', 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' and 'Please Please Me', while a second wave of be-suited British groups had mopped up the US charts throughout '64 with such classics as the Animals' 'House of the Rising Sun' (number one in July), Manfred Mann's 'Doo Wah Diddy Diddy' (number one in August), the Kinks' two garage burn-up Top 10's 'All Day and All of the Night' and 'You Really Got Me' and the Dave Clark Five's four proto-Strangeloves Top-10 beltathons, including 'Glad All Over' and 'Bits & Pieces'. Weirdly, such was the intense competition for US chart positions that even the Rolling Stones (themselves billed on the 1964 cover of their first Stateside LP as ENGLAND'S NEWEST HITMAKERSI would be forced to wait until 1965 to score their first three US number ones. And Jackey Yoshikawa well knew that, as America fell to the English beat groups, so would all the other bastions of US culture themselves fall - Australia, New Zealand, West Germany and, inevitably... Japan, where strategic army, navy and air-force bases blasted American radio's Top 40 loud and long into the night, via their Far East Network.
All that, however, was still several months away. And as seven days in the life of a pop star can make or break a career, worrying about the British Invasion was temporarily deferred whilst everyone anticipated the long-awaited first headlining tour by their all-time heroes the Ventures. At last! The arrival of Messrs Bogie, Edwards, Wilson and Taylor provoked the fastidious Japanese media to fetishistic levels of behaviour - indeed every move the Ventures made was set down in writing and caught on video, 35mm and Super 8. On stage, the band's famous three-guitars-in-a-line was rendered starker than ever against the ultra-modern backgrounds of the culture halls in which they played. Behind each guitarist stood their futuristic Fender Twin Reverb amplifiers, and all would turn ninety degrees to the right to address drummer Mel Taylor's furious pounding tom-tom interludes, before each simultaneously resumed their characteristic stance facing out to the audience. It's been suggested that much of the nation's fascination for the Ventures' music was because of its relationship with the melancholic minor-key ballad form known as enka that has for so long transfixed Japanese culture. Perhaps, but unlikely, I feel. Enka has always belonged to the older more experienced generations, its defeated sound invoking emotions more akin to the Southern States' Country & Western music. For me, even in the cold light of this early twenty-first century, the Ventures' black-and-white-movie performances on that starkly lit 1965 tour still seem both futuristically Kafkaesque and somehow prehistorically ancient. No cosiness, no jokiness, nothing undermines the honed-down perfection of their performance; yet there is a spectacularly industrious warmth in the glowing face of each concentrating member of the band.
Supporting the Ventures throughout their '65 tour was the most unlikely eleki star of all, the dashingly handsome actor Yuzo Kayama and his guitar band the Launchers. Kayama had first become a star in 1961, when he played the title role in Wakadaisho (Young General) in the first of a series of highly successful teen movies. But the actor had become besotted with eleki music after that brief Ventures support slot back in '62, and had brushed up on his rudimentary guitar skills with quite spectacular success. Unlike other eleki outfits, however, the Launchers had been unable to remain entirely instrumental because of Kayama's presence. For it was a well-known fact that the actor/guitarist was also in possession of the kind of sweet baritone that would drive the teenagers wild. And so, interspersed between the wild surf burn-ups were slightly cringe-worthy love ballads that had the ladies biting their sodden hankies in grief and frustration. Throughout the tour, however, the Ventures took all this good-naturedly because Kayama the guitarist was just so damn good. Indeed, at the finale of the Tokyo show, they presented him with one of their signature ice-white Mosrites (and later recorded their own versions of his 'Black Sand Beach' and 'Yozora No Hoshi').
When the Ventures' tour was finally done, Kayama was expected to fulfil his contract and film the sequel to his first Young General movie. His producers had allowed the actor to postpone the movie shoot temporarily due to his sudden change of career direction. But now, inspired by the frankly ridiculous plots of current Elvis movies, the producers cleverly brought together these two radically disparate elements - rock'n'roll and historical hero - in a bizarre mixing of metaphors. Entitled Eleki no Wakadaisho (The Young General's Electric Guitar), the film featured a guitar duel between Kayama and his arch eleki rival Terry Terauchi. The movie was a frightening success, causing Kayama's star to shine even more brightly. He was asked to present his own early-evening chat show, which he duly did with his customary charm. However, when Kayama chose to invite Blue Comets leader Jackey Yoshikawa on to his show, the drummer - himself a well-known media personality - was less than happy with Kayama's line of questioning. For while the arrival of rock'n'roll had stormed Japanese culture in the late 1950s, the name of the genre with its difficult-to-pronounce combination of multiple 'r' and 'l' sounds had long been a thorn in Japanese pride. Furthermore, many Japanese movers and shakers had been searching around for a more easily pronounced equivalent. The term 'eleki' had been a highly useful substitute, but only for the instrumental genre that it so accurately described. And with the British Invasion imminent, Yuzo Kayama - right there on live TV - demanded of his guest how could any of them possibly become true to their chosen art form if they couldn't even manage to pronounce 'lock'n'lorr'! Placing great emphasis on this mispronunciation in order to get a rise out of the drummer, the media-savvy Yuzo Kayama was surprised when Yoshikawa admitted his difficulty. But instead of merely sweating and looking foolish, Jackey turned the tables on his debonair adversary and challenged his TV host to come up with something more appropriate. Raising his eyes heavenwards and blowing out several lungfuls of hot air, Kayama fell silent briefly before asking: 'Why don't we call the music "The Group Sounds"?'
By the end of the month, the Japanese media and rock fans alike had taken to this easily pronounced catchall and so it was... Group Sounds was born.