There's no doubt it: if you're looking for the gold standard in CD and record collecting, nothing comes close to owning the original Japanese edition of your favorite album. There's a good reason why Japanese editions of readily available albums have been demanding premium prices on auctions for decades. Try to sell a Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet 1986 CD edition issued in Europe or the U.S., and you'll have a hard time getting $5 for it. Find the original 1986 Japanese edition (complete with OBI) and even ten times the rate of the U.S. The edition would be deemed a bargain by many.
Let's take a look at just a few of the many hard rock and heavy metal classics that have been released over the years in Japan with completely different cover art.
Stryper – To Hell with the Devil (1986, CBS-Sony records Japan, 32DP-579)
Depending on whom you ask, Stryper's apex came in 1986, with the release of To Hell With The Devil. Production values that were years ahead of most bands at the time, combined with arguably their heaviest, most metallic riffs contrasted the glam image they featured during this period. The Japanese edition featured the original "angel cover," and for many years commanded prices in the region of $300-500 for one complete with OBI. These days, one with obi still normally sells in the $200-400 range in Japan, while one without the obi strip can be picked up in Japan for as little as $30-50.
BON JOVI – Slippery When Wet (1986, Nippon Phonogram, 32PD-148)
The original Japanese edition of Bon Jovi's legendary masterpiece, was issued in Japan with the cover originally intended by the band but in the generally hostile climate towards hard rock and heavy metal bands (remember Tipper?) in the mid-1980s, the band had to opt to opt for a more generic cover outside of Japan. To this day, the original Japanese first edition, complete with OBI, generally moves in the $100-range. Without OBI, it's not difficult to pick up one for around $20-25 or so. It is worth noting, the Japanese 1986 edition kept the intro to Let It Rock as a separate track, leaving the incorrect impression of one extra track being included on the Japanese first edition. Additionally, there was a variation of this album issued in Japan on CD format with a "band" cover, in 1986, as shown below.
CRYSTAL BALL – In the beginning (1999, Toshiba EMI Japan, TOCP-65291)
One of the finer hard rock debuts that many who incorrectly assume the hard rock/glam scene of the 80s withered in the early 90s, was without doubt, Crystal Ball's massive 1999 outing, "In the beginning." Featuring massive gang backing harmony vocals on tracks like "Magic" and "Shake Me" the release sold exceptionally well in Japan. The Japanese edition featured cover art unique to the Japanese pressing.
DIRTY RHYTHM – Hard as a rock
(1991, Alfa Brunette Japan, ALCB-666)
If you're reading this, there's little chance you're not familiar with Skid Row's 1989 debut CD that spawned timeless anthems like Youth Gone Wild, 18's Life, and I Remember You. However, there is a chance you're not familiar with one of the best Skid Row clones out of Canada: Dirty Rhythm. The lead vocalist's style was almost eerily similar to Sebastian Bach, as was the band's in your face, attitude-driven brand of street hair metal. Not a single weak track blessed this (sadly) one and only release by the band. The Japanese edition today is almost impossible to find and on rare occasion one is found in Japan, it's not uncommon for it to be sold domestically in the 20,000-30,000 yen range ($150-250) before even being showcased on any site outside Japan.
FIREHOUSE – s/t (1991, Epic Sony Japan, ESCA-5178)
Firehouse set the gold standard for hard rock debuts with this monster release. Loaded with (at the time) radio-friendly arena anthems like All She Written, Don't Treat Me Bad, and Love Of A Lifetime, the Japanese issue of the CD featured a cool shot of the band, more fitting to the band's name. Relatively easy to pick up from Japan via Kupiku, often for as little as $5 or so, complete with OBI.
EDWIN DARE – The Unthinkable Deed
(1991/1994, Teichiku Japan, TECX-25746)
Released in the U.S. As an indie, and issued properly in Japan on CD a few years later (1994) with fantastic cover art (and layout of the entire release), Edwin Dare's debut stands as one of the top tier heavy metal releases of the early 90s. The band delivered a brand of melodic hard rock/metal fusion reserved only for giants like Leatherwolf, Early Pretty Maids, and Marshall Law. If you consider Savatage's finest hour to be a toss up between the Power of the Night, or the Hall of the Mountain King, and equally enjoy early Marshall Law, Metal Church, Radakka, Early Leatherwolf, and Pretty Maids, this highly sought after masterpiece's place in the scene can't be overstated. An original Japanese issue with THE OBI, generally sells in the $150-200 range outside of Japan, but can occasionally be picked up in Japan for as little as $30-50 via Kupiku.
GUNS N' ROSES – Appetite for Destruction
(1987/1990, Warner Pioneer Japan, WPCP-3690)
Contrary to popular belief, it was not the first edition from Japan that featured the controversial original cover, but actually the 1990 Japanese reissue. A complete CD, with OBI today generally sells in the $250-350 range outside of Japan, but can usually be purchased from Japanese sites directly via Kupiku in the $100-150 range depending on condition.
JADED HEART – Mystery Eyes (1997, Teichiku Japan, TECW-25622)
One of the most underrated genuine hard rock outfits to be born out of the ashes of the 80s L.A. glam scene, were Jaded Heart. Formed in Germany, and fronted by vocalist extraordinaire, Michael Borman, Jaded Heart's fantastic Mystery Eyes CD was released in Japan with the following artwork exclusive to Japan.
CLIF MAGNESS – Solo (1995, Toshiba EMI Japan, TOCP-8538)
To be honest, neither the European, or the Japanese pressing of this AOR gem had cover art that would excite any AOR fanatic. However, the music contained is pure melodic hard rock heaven. Produced to perfection, fans of Planet 3, Stan Meissner (Undertow), Mark Free (solo work), and Michael Morales would (and do) find this CD an instant hit. The Japanese edition with different cover art is a hit and miss on Japanese shopping sites. However, with due dilligence, a Japanese copy with obi can sometimes be picked up for as little as $10-15 via Kupiku.com.
SKAGARACK – Hungry for a game
(1989, Victor Japan, VDP-1500)
Skagarack is a name as synonymous with the quality of the European AOR in the 1980s, as Kodak was to photography in the same decade. The coveted Japanese issue of their second album came with an exclusive cover design for the Japanese issue. Today, they can find on Kupiku.com for as little as $20-30 (without obi). Copies with obi are exponentially harder to find. A general price range for this original issue with obi will clock in, at the 10,000-20,000 yen range ($80-160), and possibly more.
TOUR DE FORCE – World on Fire (1995, FEMS Japan, APCY-8283)
The mid 1990's were arguably, the darkest period for melodic hard rock/AOR. And yet, one of the most authentic platters of summertime feel-good hard rock to come out of the once thriving U.S. scene, didn't see the face of light, until 1995. While the band had made an issue of a debut CD two years earlier, it was on this sophomore effort that they began firing on all cylinders. Luscious keyboards, massive backing vocals, and superb guitar riffs from start to finish renderthis one of the finer albums in AOR collections around the world. The Japanese issue featured one studio bonus track, and far cooler artwork, both in the front and back of the CD. Considering it's a massive success in sales in Japan, the CD can easily be picked up from most Japanese vendors via Kupiku.com for as little as $3-5.
VAN HALEN – Balance (1993, Warner Japan, WPCR-110)
Only a minor variation renders this Van Halen classic appealing to collectors. The Japanese edition featured only one of the twins on the cover, as opposed to two, as shown on editions outside of Japan. A complete copy, with OBI strip can usually be found for just a few dollars on Japanese websites, and picked up via Kupiku.
CHINA – s/t (1988, Phonogram Japan, 32PD-459)
Classic outing from the criminally overlooked, China. Very tough to score on CD today, the original Japanese edition can still be picked up via Kupiku on occasion for around $50 or so.
DA VINCI – Back in Business (1989, xRCN-1049)
Top class Swedish hard rock, along the lines of Treat (Dreamhunter), Talk to the town (s/t), Skagarack, Bad Habit (Afterhours) and similarly polished Scandi AOR classics. The Japanese edition featured a much cooler cover than the Norwegian pressing. Worth noting is that their debut from 1987 also had different cover art (it can be found here).
GLORY – Balance (1989, Polystar Japan, P30-10003)
No introduction need for this top tier Swedish debut. A cornerstone of every self-respecting collector's Swedish AOR/hard rock collection.
EASY ACTION – That Makes One (1987/1994, Warner Japan, WMC5-679)
Classic outing by Sweden's Easy Action, recorded in '86/'87, just before Kee Marcello joined Europe. The Japanese edition featured different cover art and one bonus track.
JANSTATE – Shot to Pieces (1993, xRCN-1058)
Nowhere near as well known as most other contenders on this list, Janstate's debut nevertheless continues to attract the attention of hard rock rock collectors around the world. The Japanese issue on the now legendary zero label featured this, arguably much cooler, artwork than the import (non Japanese) indie edition.
JOKER – Joker (1991, Teichiku Japan, TECP-25726)
An absolute monster of a release. One of the finest hard rock outings to receive… Virtually no recognition beyond the few elite/hard rock collectors today who own this. These guys were on par with the finest and yet, even in the heyday of this music, remained virtually unknown. Fans of Lillian Axe, Hurricane, Dirty Rhythm, and American Angel will not be disappointed.
ROXXI – Drive it to ya hard! (1992, Alfa Japan, ALCB-491)
Street hair-metal at it's finest. If bad ass hard rock is your ticket to audio bliss (think Skid Row at their finest, Lillian Axe, and Joker… Chances are you've either had this CD on your radar for years, or… It's not a one.'
WILD BOY – Unleashed! (1992, Alfa Japan, ALCB-621)
Nearly impossible to find today, the Japanese edition of Wild Boyz s/t CD featured cover art as cool as their debut album itself. You'll be lucky to score an original these days in the $100-200 range. But if you add this one to your Kupiku "Snipe List" (Coming Soon) and name your price… you might just snipe the next copy listed anywhere in Japan for the price you deem right.
TWILIGHTNING – Plague-house puppet show (2004, Universal Japan, UICO-1068)
It's a little surprise these guys were signed to one of the biggest record labels in Japan at the time. Twilightning delivered one of the more outstanding melodic metal releases at the time, appealing to fans of top tier outfits like Serenity, At Vance, and even Circus Maximus. Their Delirium Veil CD also had different cover art in the Japanese edition.
SLAUGHTER – Fear no evil (1995, Victor Japan, VICP-5538)
Far too often overlooked, Slaugther's third studio outing featured different cover art than the European and U.S. Editions. Of note, is their Revolution CD which also featured different cover art in Japan.
BRON' – Taken by Storm (1989, Teichiku Japan, 18DN-61 )
Almost criminally overlooked (in the writing of this article). An AOR masterpiece. Without doubt one of the most coveted Japanese CD issues over the last 15-20 years or so. While it has dropped significantly in value (today used ones can be picked up via Kupiku in the $100 range), it wasn't unheard of for this bad boy to fetch prices in the $1000 range on eBay not long ago.
Did we miss any releases? We're sure we did. Help us out in the comment section, and let us know which albums we missed. We'll be happy to add them to our list.
Special thank you to Josh Dowdle (U.S.A.) for helping out with this article.