The Carnabeats (ザ・カーナビーツ) are one of the better known "group sounds" bands, known to foreigners largely for their Japanese language versions of Zombies hits. While they will perhaps forever be known as the "Japanese Zombies", the group had a string of hits beyond their covers, and the members cite The Who and The Lovin' Spoonful as other influences.
The nucleus of the band, drummer Ai Takano, then just sixteen years old, and his slightly older guitarist friend Jiro Kitamura, first started playing together in early 1967. Takano was the son of a jazz sax player, and while still in his mid-teens, had already been playing in local clubs in Yokohama for a couple of years. He was approached about joining a professional group, but when it didn't work out he decided to form his own group with Kitamura, who had been playing in a band called Swing West. Kitamura in turn called in his pals guitarist Hiroshi Koshikawa and singer Keichi Usui from Nagoya. Tadao Oka on bass rounded out the group, which initially called themselves Robin Hood. The group adopted the Carnabeats name, inspired by London's famed Carnaby Street. The band's repertoire at this point was mostly covers.
They began recording just a week after forming, including what became their first single, a Japanese language version of the Zombies hit "I Love You", which they re-named "Sukisa, Sukisa, Sukisa (I Love You)". The single was released in June 1967 and became a massive hit, which proved to be the biggest of their career. The Zombies' track was not originally released as a single, but a version was rushed out to cash in on the song's new popularity. The Carnabeats second single "Koioshiyoyo Jenny", which appears on foreign compilations as "Jenny", was also a hit . It featured as a B-side a cover of "Give Me Lovin'" from the obscure Canadian band Great Scots.
The group later released the single "Suteki Ni Sandy", which has appeared on foreign compilations as "I Love You Sandy". The song was written by Takano, and features female backup singers made up of fans, who they dubbed Carnabeaty. However much of the group's material remained covers. They revisited the Zombies catalog and did versions of "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season". The Carnabeats original song "Chu! Chu! Chu! (Kiss, Kiss, Kiss)" was a somewhat gimmicky song, but was a big hit for them.
While hard to imagine now, the group sounds bands caused quite a stir at the time. Some schools forbade kids from attending live performances. TV also became very strict as to what they would and wouldn't allow. Media debated the effects of group sounds on young people. Further adding to the tensions, the group sounds boom had management/production companies scrambling to quickly find trends, make publicity, exploit their interests and generally stay ahead of the pack.
The Carnabeats management was amongst those that had the policy that band members were not allowed to speak with members of rival bands, although members of The Carnabeats later confessed that they had secretly become friends with members of The Jaguars. Like a number of other group sounds bands, the Carnabeats managed to hook up with foreign artists; in their case England's Walker Brothers. Gary Walker wrote the lyrics for the song "Cutie Morning Moon", released as a single in February 1968 and featuring the B-side "Hello Gary". When Gary Walker & the Rain toured Japan, the Carnabeats opened. Amongst those traveling with Walker was future Badfinger member Joey Molland, who the band befriended over their mutual admiration for the Beatles.
The Carnabeats broke up in the fall of 1969, after releasing just one album, as fickle music fans grew tired of the group sounds style and favored newer, heavier rock groups. Soon after the breakup Takano joined up with the Eddie Ban Group, a band fronted by the former lead guitarist of The Golden Cups. When The Golden Cups reformed in January 1970, Takano became part of the new formation, and was playing with The Golden Cups when they had their equipment burnt at a club fire in Okinawa, and subsequently broke up. The Carnabeats existed just over two years, and though they may sound a bit kitschy today, they are still fondly remembered.
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