The first line of Big in Japan sums things up pretty well – ‘I got the style, but not the grace’. I am a huge fan of this song and I wish I had come across it much sooner in my musical expedition. It seems to me an unheralded gem in Tom’s collection since such scant information exists about it. Like many of Tom’s songs you get a broader appreciation of it after repeated listens. But there is no taking away the immediate and compounding impact of the instrumentals/percussion in this which sends this song into the stratosphere of great art, not to mention the barrage of gritty, yet tongue in cheek lyrics. He’s grandstanding and beguiling himself all at the same time. That’s Tom!
Big in Japan is the first song on his 1999 album Mule Variations which received a grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album selling more than 500,000 copies worldwide ranking number 416 of Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 greatest albums of all time. Interestingly Bob Dylan remains the one artist with the most albums in this list – 11.
I have a sweet family connection to this song. As I was just starting to get into it, I played it while my kids were over at the house one morning. Later that afternoon when I was returning home with them from Aussie football practice in Bogota, my 4 year old daughter who was upon my shoulders suddenly belted out ‘I’m Big in Japan, I’m big in Japan’, and sounding just like Tom. She had only heard that song the one time that day and in her second language as well. I shan’t ever forget that moment. My kids like Tom’s music and particularly this song. I also find this song from Tom’s collection the one I want to dance to most often.
I got the house but not the deed
I got the horn but not the reed
I got the cards but not the luck
I got the wheel but not the truck
But hey I’m big in Japan
I’m big in Japan, but hey, I’m big in Japan
I’m big in Japan