The Time Chaz Jankel’s Post-Disco Jam “Ai No Corrida” Turned up at Fingerprints

Chas Jankel vinyl 1981 with "Ai No Corrida" Photo by Liz Ohanesian
Chaz Jankel’s debut solo album featuring “Ai No Corrida.” (Pic: Liz O.)

I walked towards the front of Fingerprints feeling fairly accomplished. A dig through the holiday record bin may have turned up no copies of “El Burrito de Belén” (or “El Burrito Sabanero”), but, I did find a vinyl copy of Let It Be Blue, the !!! album that was one of my favorites of 2022, on sale for a very 2002 price. I was happy to leave the store with that and nothing else, but Carlos called me over to a bargain bin. “Look,” he said with excitement on his face. He held up  the Chaz Jankel record where the musician’s first name was spelled Chas. It’s the album with the original version of “Ai No Corrida.” 

Sometimes, I think that my husband summons vinyl. A song or an artist will pop in and out of our conversations for weeks, maybe a couple months, and then, one day, Carlos will just pull it out of a bargain bin at a record store. It’s always in the bargain section, whether that’s 3 for $10, $5 and under or 99 cents.

Fingerprints record store in Long Beach. Photo by Liz Ohanesian
Fingerprints in Long Beach on the night Chaz Jankel’s first record turned up during our dig. (Pic: Liz O.)

At some point during the summer, the song “Ai No Corrida” came up in conversation, which happens every so often, and I dropped a knowledge bomb acquired via either a Wikipedia or YouTube vortex. Did you know that “Ai No Corrida,” which we know as the Grammy-winning, early ‘80s tune from Quincy Jones is actually a cover? Did you know that it was actually written and first recorded by a British guy named Chaz Jankel? And did you know that Chaz Jankel actually played in Ian Dury and the Blockheads, co-writing songs we love like “Spasticus Autisticus,” “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick,”Reasons to Be Cheerful Pt. 3” and the ‘80s KROQ classic “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”

In fact, Jankel wrote “Ai No Corrida” in the midst of a tour with Ian Dury and the Blockheads. “The melody for Ai No Corrida just popped into my head, and I just went over to my guitar, just to check what key this melody was in. I got so excited that I called [bassist] Norman Watt-Roy and said: come and hear this,” he told The Guardian last year. 

The title, which came from co-writer Kenny Young, is the original title of the controversial 1970s Japanese film In the Realm of the Senses. In a 2008 Resident Advisor interview, Jankel admits to being uncomfortable with the subject matter. “To distance myself from it my version has a hum at the beginning of the track, which is the sound I used to hear when I was a kid drifting off to sleep in the suburbs of London—the buzz of the motorway,” he said in the interview. “The idea is that I’m dreaming about the story, not identifying with it.”

The song appeared on Jankel’s debut album, the first of four he would release with A&M in the 1980s. While “Ai No Corrida” was a bigger hit for Quincy Jones, Jankel himself scored a dance smash with “Glad to Know You,” from his second album

In September, we caught Moniquea DJing at Melody Lounge, where she dropped Kitty Grant’s killer version of “Glad to Know You,” which Jankel co-wrote with Ian Dury, and Carlos and I fell down another record nerd rabbit hole. A month later, at the Grand Star for Shibuya Starlight, my ears perked up when I heard Leonardo Flores, a vinyl DJ with impeccable taste, play “Ai No Corrida.” That version, I learned, was a cover by a Japanese group called Big Bang. I took video to show Carlos the next day. Behold, a third version of “Ai No Corrida!”

As we learned from either Schoolhouse Rock or De La Soul, three is a magic number. And so, about one month after the third Chaz Jankel reference, Carlos found “Ai No Corrida” in the cheap stacks of a Long Beach record store.

Jankel has had an interesting career. In addition to his longtime work as one of the Blockheads and his solo albums, he spent some time making music for films. Amongst his movie credits is Earth Girls Are Easy. His most recent solo album, Flow, was released in 2023. Check out the track “Believing,” which has a vibe that’s very similar to his debut album. 

As for that first Chaz Jankel solo album, it’s cross-genre gold. “Ai No Corrida,” which I’ve played recently at Disco Matinee and in a guest DJ set on Moniquea’s Dublab show “Jammin’ Croquettes,” is a post-disco epic that clocks in at eight minutes and 42 seconds. Further along on the A side is “Just a Thought,” a reggae-influenced slice of a soft rock with a space jazz interlude. The B side opens with “Fuse,” a 35 second nugget of proto-techno that reappears in the break of the high energy new wave/funk jam that follows, “Am I Honest With Myself Really?”

I’m eager to keep digging into Jankel’s catalog now. If you’re curious, check out the  2007 “best of” compilation My Occupation: The Music of Chaz Jankel, which is streaming, before you head over to Discogs or start combing your local record stores. 

Liz O. is an L.A.-based writer and DJ. Read her recently published work and check out her upcoming gigs.