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One of the nation's leading bands, Japanese pop/rockers Spitz sold more than 20 million records (albums and singles combined) over the course of their career and scored no less than 14 number one hits on the Oricon charts, and are still showing no signs of letting up. But this is not to say that the band is only career-driven -- indeed, in their humble beginnings Spitz didn't think of commercial success, and didn't have any. The group dates back to 1986, when Tokyo art students Masamune Kusano and Akihiro Tamura started playing punk rock under the name Cheetahs. This early incarnation of Spitz was a straightforward copy of the Blue Hearts -- Japan's answer to the Clash and the Ramones. Realizing the world hardly needed cloned punk, Spitz decided to disband. However, their musical instincts soon got the better of them, and around 1987 they restarted the group, picking Tetsuya Miwa and Tatsuo Sakiyama, and with Kusano changing his playing style and placing emphasis on acoustic guitar.
Spitz played local clubs and in 1990 released their debut record, the single "Hibari no Kokoro," with their eponymous first LP following the next year. However, the confusion in the musical world during the early '90s, paired with the band's lack of ambition, left Spitz in relative obscurity. The band recorded the LPs Namae wo Tsuketeyaru and Hoshi no Kakera, and released an orchestrated mini-album Aurora ni Narenakatta Hito no Tame Ni, but the Top 100 still evaded them until 1994, when the single off their fourth album, Crispy!, charted for the first time. This helped Kusano regain his wavering confidence, and the fifth album, Sora no Tobikata, scored a solid number 14 on the Oricon charts. However, the real payoff for five albums' worth of hard work came with the single "Robinson," which sold 1.6 million copies. That was the breakthrough: sixth album Hachimitsu (1995) became a million seller, as did the singles "Cherry" and "Sora mo Toberu Hazu," the latter of which was used in a TV drama Hakusen Nagashi and has since become a standard hymn for high-school graduation ceremonies. Around that time, Spitz also began giving extensive tours, playing 40 venues in 1995 and 70 in 1996 -- a good way to reward the fans from a band that refused to play Budokan in fear of losing contact with its audience.
Spitz continued their stable career in the late '90s and 2000s, even though they tried something different -- LPs Hayabusa and Mikazuki Rock, done with a recording engineer from Los Angeles, were touted as a return to their hard rock roots, although they are hardly heavier than Bon Jovi. The band took a break in 2003 and 2004, but their songs continued to appear in TV ads and dramas, and as the group's 20th anniversary was drawing closer, Spitz got back to work, releasing not only a compilation disc but two more albums (in 2006 and 2007), and providing a number of songs for the anime/film franchise Honey & Clover. ~ Alexey Eremenko
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