Blue Hearts are Japan's most successful punk band, although admittedly they mixed Ramones, Clash, and social commentary with country and early rock & roll influences. The group, which ranked number 19 on the HMV list of top Japanese bands in the 2000s, was established in 1985 in Tokyo by vocalist Komoto Hiroto, guitarist Mashima Masatoshi, bassist Kawaguchi Junnosuke, and drummer Kajiwara Tetsuya, and soon garnered a reputation as a solid live act. They waited for two years before releasing anything, but in 1987 provided a slew of recorded material, all out on Meldac: the debut single "Hito Ni Yasashiku"; their self-titled debut full-length; another single, "Linda Linda," which had become their most famous song; and their second album, Young and Pretty. Already underground darlings, Blue Hearts became a nationwide sensation with their third offering, Train Train (1988), thanks to the media buzz generated by attempted label censorship. The album was to feature the anti-nuclear power song "Chernobyl," which didn't go down well with Mitsubishi, a sponsor of their label, Meldac. Mitsubishi was involved with the nuclear industry and therefore demanded that Blue Hearts either drop the song or get dropped from Meldac. The band opted for the latter, but, for once, label pressure worked in favor of the artist: after the scandal hit the news, they were picked by East West Japan, and Train Train went on to sell over a million units, which became a standard for the band's subsequent albums. In 1990-1991 Blue Hearts tried to make their way to the American scene, touring the U.S. twice and releasing two CDs there, but sales remained small despite good reviews, college radio airplay, and USA Today coverage. Meanwhile, in Japan, where they released the albums Bust Waist Hip (1990) and High Kicks (1991), their fame was growing ever bigger, not hindered even by a yearlong TV ban imposed on Blue Hearts by the stations because of the bandmembers' provocative behavior. The 1993 releases Stick Out and Dug Out both topped the charts and outdid their respective predecessors in sales, but in 1994 the band broke up -- or, rather, transformed into High-Lows, another punk rock unit that this time sported mildly surrealistic lyrics and had Komoto and Mashima on board (in 2005, they formed their third punk act, Cro-Magnons). The label released one more post-breakup album, Pan, in 1995, and the popularity of Blue Hearts endured in the 2000s, when their songs were used in a number of video games and the dramas Socrates in Love and Gachi Baka (both 2004), and "Linda Linda" lent its title to the movie Linda Linda Linda (2005), about a high-school girl rock band playing Blue Hearts covers. ~ Alexey Eremenko

February 1985
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