Osaka Show ’70 – Japanese And Spanish Pop Culture Collide

The retro-futurism of Expo 70 and the wholesome pop music of General Franco’s Spain come together.

In 1970, Spain was still very much under the dual dictatorship of General Franco and the Catholic church – while the country was opening itself up to international tourism, the people who actually lived in the country still had to deal with the moral iron fist of the church and the fascists, which meant that the new moral freedoms that many other western European countries were dabbling with – including wearing jeans – were still a risky proposition. Nevertheless, Spain had its pop culture with mostly – though not entirely – wholesome pop acts who would rarely have any impact outside the country, but who now feel like classic Europop of the era.

In 1970, Spanish national TV broadcaster TVE sent four of the country’s biggest pop singers to Expo ’70, which was taking place in Osaka, Japan. It’s hard to imagine a bigger culture clash than Franco’s Spain and pop-culture fixated Japan, but here it is, with Massiel, Karina, Julio Iglesias and Miguel Ríos performing their hits surrounded by baffled Japanese tourists in what was the best ready-made set in the world, interspersed with documentary footage and narration telling us about the Expo’s varied attractions, including the Bolshoi ballet, Andy Williams, Sammy Davis Jr and Sergio Mendes – none of whom actually appear on screen but are doubtless there in spirit.

Notably, Julio Iglesias and Miguel Ríos sing a number of turgid MOR ballads. Iglesias would, of course, become Spain’s biggest pop export in the post-Franco years, a middle-aged Latin lover heartthrob for bored housewives, but his music was the very worst sort of easy listening. Ríos had some brief international success in 1970 with Himno de la alegría (a vocal rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that you can enjoy at the climax of this special), and would later move into the progressive rock world after serving a jail sentence for possession of hash – but there’s frankly little in his performance here to suggest a rock ‘n’ roll rebel. In contrast, Massiel (winner of the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest) and Karina (who would come second in the 1971 contest) are both fantastic, their songs being groovy slices of pure Europop. The contrast is remarkable.

Like all Expo footage, this 1970 special seems both futuristic and retro – nothing dates more and yet seems so unique as yesterday’s visions of tomorrow. Among the delights that you’ll catch glimpses of here are Kenzo’s Tower of the Sun – the centrepiece of the Expo – and the Fuji Symphoni Toron, a robotic organ that bafflingly failed to catch on.

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