1978: OH, WHAT A YEAR IT WAS!
As 2003 comes to a close, along with the 25th anniversary of what I've come to call Pink Lady's "Miracle Year", I thought I'd discuss in depth the importance of 1978 to both Mie and Kei, and myself.
When 1978 rolled around, Mie and Kei were already insanely popular. With a year and a half under their belts since their debut (ironically enough, I joined the Navy in 1976), the girls were only just getting started. When I stop to think about it all, I wonder if even they knew what this special year would hold for them. There would be four more songs ("Southpaw", "Monster", Tomei Ningen" and "Chameleon Army") that would hit the top of the charts, with "Southpaw" (said to be an ode to Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh) being PL's all-time giant, selling nearly two million records, and earning the girls the Japanese equivilent of the Grammy. Their concerts continued selling out all over the country with wildly enthusiastic fans, topped off by July's Jumping Summer Carnival which drew close to 100,000 people at Korakuen Stadium. Mie and Kei were pitchwomen for countless numbers of products, they were staples in magazines and on TV, they starred in their own movie, and even found time to cross the Pacific and wow audiences in their first ever trip to America.
And during that magical time, I was there, stationed on a ship in Yokosuka during what would be a 20 year tenure in the Navy, and I saw it all unfold before my very eyes. A month after having arrived in Japan in August of 1977, I became enamored with Pink Lady after seeing a poster of them in a downtown Yokosuka record store. It was literally love at first sight. From there, I tried to follow the exploits of the girls as best I could, seeing them on TV, buying tapes of their music, books, magazines, pictures, anything I could get my hands on. Everything Mie and Kei touched turned to gold, and I saw it all. You literally couldn't turn around anywhere without seeing the girls on billboards, on TV, practically everywhere. And the response to Mie and Kei by their legions of fans was off the charts. The closest thing I could equate to Pink Lady fandom was Beatlemania back in the 60's, it THAT frenzied! Two decades later after I set up the website, I would joke that Mie and Kei were so incredibly popular in that particular year, they could have run for political office in Japan----and won!
Watching from the sidelines, I was so proud of the girls. I remember watching a clip on TV of Mie and Kei accepting their award for "Southpaw" and bursting into tears on the stage, showing just how moved they were by the fame they achieved. That moved me too. Mie and Kei weren't just stars, weren't just superstars, they were MEGAstars! I don't think I can be accused of exaggeration when I say that in terms of popularity among entertainers of the day, there was Pink Lady----followed by everyone else. Mie and Kei were quite literally the 800 pound gorilla, or to put it in more appropriate terms, the Godzilla of the Japanese entertainment industry. Hell, Pink Lady WAS an industry, what with all the music, toys, clothes, books, posters, memorabilia, you name it, the girls' faces were plastered on it! And that was before plans started formulating for a full-blown invasion of the U.S. to make Pink Lady a household name here in America! It seemed like Mie and Kei were virtually invincible, that there was nothing that could stop them. Ahh, but, sadly, we all know that wouldn't be the case.
I left Japan in mid-December and wouldn't learn until almost twenty years later about what I would come to call "The Kohaku Debacle". I'm sure everyone here knows the sordid story of how Mie and Kei passed on an appearance on Kohaku Uta Gassen (To this day, I suspect the girls were ordered to by their handlers), Japan's most watched TV show which is broadcast on New Year's Eve in favor of their own special competing against it. To make a long story short, PL's show was soundly thrashed like a grade school hoopster playing H-O-R-S-E with Kobe Bryant, and, on top of that, there was a scandal to boot as kids from a school for the blind were bused in to be in the audience, leading the press to criticize Mie and Kei for shamelessly using them as publicity props. While I'll go to my grave believing the girls never intended for that to happen, the damage had already been done. In my mind, it was no coincidence that Pink Lady never had another number one hit song after the Kohaku incident, and that it began what would be their downfall and eventual break-up two years later.
If Mie and Kei's boneheaded handlers hadn't been so damned arrogant and let the girls perform on Kohaku, who knows what would've happened. More chart topping songs? More unrivaled success at home, AND in America? With MTV, tailor made for a highly visual song and dance act like Pink Lady about to launch in 1979, had the girls made it big in the States, they could well have become a worldwide sensation instead of an embarrassing afterthought in the minds of most, thanks to the painfully short-lived 1980 NBC TV variety show they did with Jeff Altman. But, for one glorious year in Japan, the universe revolved solely around Mie and Kei. In 1978, a year I'll always remember with deep fondness, Pink Lady were goddesses, shining stars the likes of which the Japanese people had never seen before, and most likely would never see again. And I'm so very proud to say that I was there and saw it all.