PINK LADY DOES AMERICA
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Pink Lady’s first ever performance in the U.S. when they did their show in Las Vegas, I thought it’d be a good idea to discuss all of Mie and Kei’s adventures in America, from their taking the stage at the Tropicana in April of 1978 through the train wreck that was Pink Lady & Jeff a scant two years later. If I were to give PL’s exploits in the States a grade, it would be a solid “C”. It wasn’t a ringing success, but it wasn’t a disaster either, it was right down the middle. No matter how famous a foreign act is in their home country, they’re basically nothing until they achieve notoriety in America, and that was the ultimate goal of Mie and Kei’s handlers at Trust & Confidence. In retrospect, the Ladies could’ve been a household word if things had gone right, or, at the very least, better, but they did gain their fifteen minutes in the U.S., albeit in a less than complimentary way, but that’s what counts.
ACT 1: LAS VEGAS & LEIF GARRETT
Mie and Kei’s concert (actually, concerts as the Ladies did two shows, but it was the first show that became the “America! America! America!” album) at the Tropicana marked the first time a Japanese act of any renown had ever performed live in the States, and the people in the auditorium on that night got to see firsthand just what a Pink Lady show was all about: the action, the energy, the amazing dance routines, the wonderful harmonies and the dazzling charisma Mie and Kei displayed before an American audience. I imagine no one knew what to expect from Pink Lady who were as unknown as unknown could get, and yet, I’m of the opinion that Mie and Kei won the day, or rather, the night. A shade over a year later in the spring of 1979, the Ladies made their very first appearance on American television when they guest-starred on the Leif Garrett Special as they sang (or rather, lip-synched) “Kiss in the Dark”. Being on the show with Garrett, one of the most popular teen idols of the late 1970’s was quite a coup for the Ladies, getting them a goodly amount of exposure in the U.S. market, giving American viewers a taste of what the girls were like in terms of their looks, talent and charm.
ACT 2: KISS IN THE DARK & TEEN MAGAZINES
A couple of months later, Pink Lady made history when KITD cracked Billboard’s Top 40 list, the first time a non-English speaking foreign act managed that since “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto hit number one in 1963. As I’ve stated many times before, the release of the Disco themed KITD was hamfisted as it came out in early June 1979 when the genre was on its last legs, despite that, it still reached #37, while the song itself was hardly revolutionary; it was the novelty of two cute Japanese singers warbling Disco that attracted fans. I’ve said this before, and I’ll go to my grave believing that if KITD came out a year or even six months sooner than it had, Pink Lady might well have topped the charts. Speaking of fans who hopped on the short-lived Pink Lady bandwagon, much to my surprise, they were teenagers who went absolutely ape over Mie and Kei. Thumbing through teen magazines of the time, kids fell in love with the Ladies after reading articles about them, and seeing them on the Leif Garrett Special, hell, kids even clamored to write directly to Mie and Kei. Again, if things had worked out better, Pink Lady would’ve been right behind ABBA as a top foreign act that struck gold in the States.
ACT 3: PINK LADY & JEFF
A year after their failed attempt to strike it rich on the Billboard charts, Mie and Kei returned for a third and final try at success in America, that of course being the NBC TV show they co-starred with Jeff Altman. There’s no need to rehash what a train wreck PL & J was as the concept of a comedy/variety show featuring two Japanese singers who barely spoke passable English (it pains me to admit this, but poor Kei sounded almost unintelligible at times) and a mostly unknown comic was bizarre at best, how the show actually made it onto TV was a miracle in itself. If Sid and Marty Krofft tried pitching it to network executives today, they would’ve been laughed out of Hollywood. It’s been said that PL & J effectively killed the comedy/variety show genre, and, a few years ago, TV Guide voted it the 35th worst TV show of all time, that’s just how bad it was. And yet, it was still a tremendous thrill for me to have seen Mie and Kei on American television, and, on top of that, judging from the messages I’ve received from fans since I launched the website, the Ladies developed a following of fans as a direct result of having seen the show, proof positive that something good can come from something bad.
ACT 4: RUMORS & MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
During 1979 when Pink Lady was all the rage in teen magazines, plus features done on them in Life, Newsweek and Rolling Stone, there had been rumors in the teen mags about Mie and Kei doing the concert circuit in the States in 1980, rumors that, sadly, proved to be wrong. It would’ve been very interesting to have seen the Ladies performing for U.S. audiences. Then, in early 1980, I found an item from an issue of Jet (the long running magazine devoted to Black culture) that the Ladies were to return to the studio to cut a new all-English album, and that Motown’s legendary songwriting team of Eddie & Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier would pen the songs. How cool would it have been to hear Mie and Kei doing R & B? Again, a false rumor, though rather enticing. When 1981 rolled around, a brand new phenomenon launched in America: MTV. The cable channel which, back then, was devoted solely to playing music videos would’ve been tailor made for a highly visual act like Pink Lady with their exciting dance routines while the themes of their hit songs like “SOS”, “Wanted”, “UFO”, “Southpaw”, “Monster” and “Chameleon Army” would’ve made for some imaginative videos.
I’ve always said that Pink Lady’s timing for their attempts at achieving fame and recognition in America was hideously awful, the perfect examples of that being how the girls were too late for Disco and too early for MTV. Even if Mie and Kei hadn’t called it quits in early 1981, would the girls have wanted to take a fourth crack at making it big in the States, given how their previous efforts ended in failure? At the end of the day, were Mie and Kei content with remaining a big fish in a small pond (Japan) rather than be a small fish in a big pond (America)? Who can say, but I’m convinced that the seeds of success were there, due mainly to the inherent novelty factor since foreign, non-English speaking acts rarely if ever succeed here, but the plant that grew from that died. As I mentioned in the beginning, ultimately, Mie and Kei did get their fifteen minutes, however, that was a direct result of the semi-catastrophe that was PL & J. To me, I consider that a crying shame as Pink Lady deserved much better than that for all their hard work at what the girls themselves called their American adventure.