Monday, April 2, 2012


Hi Kent,  
Does anyone remember the song "Sukiyaki"?  It was sung in Japanese, and very popular when I was in grade school.  I remember playing it over and over again, and I got to the point where I could mimic the song perfectly, but .... I never knew what the song was actually about.  Does anyone know?

A couple of weeks ago we promised you a rerun of our "Sukiyaki" piece ...  so here's a quick '60's FLASHBACK to that piece ... and some of your comments it inspired ... 

Our original piece profiled two foreign language #1 Hits from 1963 ... one with one of the most beautiful melodies EVER  ("Sukiyaki" by Kyu Sakamoto ... I don't think anybody really cared WHAT he was singing about ... after all, the song was named after a Japanese Restaurant Menu Item ... but this was just a flat out pretty song!) ... and one that I simply can't STAND!!!  ("Dominique" by The Singing Nun ... proof positive that America NEEDED the arrival of The Beatles to make music interesting and exciting again!!!) 

I mean, it was "Dominique" that prevented the GREAT rock and roll, garage band classic "Louie Louie" from hitting the #1 Spot here in The States!!!  And that's just plain WRONG!!!!!  Ironically, after both of these artists hit #1 in 1963, they both died in 1985!  

Kyu Sakamoto is the name of the Japanese artist who took "Sukiyaki" to the top of the American charts ... the ONLY song sung entirely in Japanese to EVER earn that honor and distinction.  

Hard as it may be to believe, the song title "Sukiyaki", was taken off the menu of a Japanese Restaurant Menu.  Producers felt that, although it had absolutely NOTHING at all to do with the song, it was a word that MOST Americans would be familiar with and, as such, would in SOME fashion be better able to relate to the song!  

Kyu may have only been 22 years old when "Sukiyaki" hit the top of the American Charts ... but by then he had already scored 15 hits back home and appeared in ten movies!  He also had eight best-selling albums in Japan and appeared regularly on seven different weekly television programs and two radio shows!!!  (Jeez, and we thought Ryan Seacrest was the busiest guy in show business!!!) 

He owes the success of his worldwide hit to a man named Louis Benjamin, who just happened to hear Kyu's recording while visiting Japan on business.  (Benjamin also just happened to be the head of England's Pye Records!)  He immediately fell in love with the beautiful melody and brought it home for Kenny Ball ("Midnight In Moscow") to record as an instrumental, figuring that NOBODY was going to be interested in a title or lyrics like "Ue O Muite Aruko" ... literal translation: "I Look Up When I Walk."  In fact, it was Benjamin who renamed the tune "Sukiyaki" after one of his favorite Japanese taste treats!!!  (Pretty clever actually ... an obviously Oriental melody and a name familiar to most Americans would make for some subliminal name recognition!)


Although Ball's version DID make The Top Ten in Great Britain, it never even charted here in The States.  Enter Richard Osborne, a KORD /  Paso, Washington, disc jockey, who found and started playing the ORIGINAL Kyu Sakamoto version on his program.  The response was overwhelming ... and soon Capitol Records had to release it here in The States as a single ... which PROMPTLY shot up the charts to #1!

"Sukiyaki" has been described as a real "tear-jerker" ... a tale of "misery and desolation" ... some of the lyrics when translated read "Sadness hides in the shadow of the stars.  Sadness lurks in the shadow of the moon.  I look up when I walk so the tears won't fall."  But it certainly struck a nerve with the American record-buying public.  In fact, after the Japanese version hit #1, Clyde Beavers cut a COUNTRY version of the song which ultimately hit #21 on Billboard's Country Chart!  

And, eighteen years later, the female, disco / soul duo A Taste Of Honey took their unlikely remake (with another new set of lyrics) all the way to #3 on the pop charts ... and #1 on both the R&B and Adult Contemporary Charts!  Lightning struck a THIRD time when 4 P.M. cut the song again in 1994 and reached #8 on Billboard's Pop Chart, making "Sukiyaki" a TIMELESS classic with THREE Top Ten Showings in three different decades! (It truly IS a beautiful song!!!)

Kyu Sakamoto, the Japanese artist who took "Sukiyaki" to the top of the American charts ... the ONLY song sung entirely in Japanese to EVER earn that honor and distinction ... died in 1985 at the hands of a fatal airline crash near Tokyo where 519 other lives were also claimed that day.

There's a great video of Kyu Sakamoto singing (lip-synching) "Sukyaki" that can be found on YouTube.  This video from 1963 is an amazing little piece of work, something that long foreshadows the "conceptual videos" that came to dominate MTV back when MTV still played music videos.  I swear, the first time I watched this clip I thought it was just something that someone had filmed on Super 8 and transposed to video then slapped the sound recording over top of it all.  For the first minute or so of the song, there is only a ground level shot of some dank back alley through which someone eventually meanders as a bicyclist rolls through the scene.  Then, there's a cut to Kyu Sakamoto strolling and singing in some desolate Tokyo factory setting.   Wow.  Take that, Orson Welles!  Take that, Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini!   Kinda cool in an unusually prescient way.
Kill Ugly Radio,

There actually was a video for Sukiyaki, too! Kyu shows up about a minute into it.  

Click here: Sukiyaki - Ue o muite aruko - by Kyu Sakamoto - YouTube    

You'll find clips for the 4 PM and A TASTE OF HONEY versions there, too!  (kk)
And, for good measure, how about a version by Selena ... singing the Japanese song in SPANISH!!!  (kk)
Click here: Selena Sukiyaki - YouTube     

Thank you very much for sending "Sukiyaki".  When I was 7 years old, my mother gave me her Kyu Sakamoto album which featured "Sukiyaki" and a song called "Hello Joe" (I think).  I played those songs over and over.  I did, however, lose that album somewhere in 2nd Grade.  Thank you again for this and take care,  
-- Rob  
Actually, it was "Goodbye, Joe" ... but you were close!!!  Kyu's "Sukiyaki" album went to #14 on Billboard's LP Chart back in 1963.  (kk)

"Sukiyaki" is one of the few vocal songs in which the title does not appear in the lyrics. The reason for the non sequitur name, I'm told, is that Capitol Records did not think that American disk jockeys would not be able to pronounce the correct Japanese title, so they labeled it "Sukiyaki" which they figured the d.j.s would have no trouble pronouncing.--dB
I think "Sukiyaki' was a "familiar" enough Japanese word that MOST people could say it, identify with it and remember it ... it was "comfortable" to title it this way ... and it worked!!!  (At the time, a  Newsweek columnist reportedly equated this move by Capitol Records akin to releasing the classic hit "Moon River" in Japan under the title "Beef Stew"!!!)  kk   

Hi Kent.  
An interesting story behind Sukiyaki is how the song came to America. Marsha Cunningham's dad was a pilot for Japan Airlines (JAL) and when she was a schoolgirl in Japan, she heard the song in a movie, brought it to the States, and played it for her friend whose dad was a DJ in Washington state. If anyone knows the identity of this DJ, I'd love to find out, and I'm sure Marsha would as well. Check out the story and a photo of Marsha and her dad at these links:


I'm guessing that deejay was Richard Osborne of KORD, identified in our article above.  Another Forgotten Hits mystery solved!  (kk) 

Re: Foreign language songs.  
It was San Francisco's Bill Gavin who insisted "variety" be key to programming.  Dozens of non rock hits were a result of his keen ear recommending them to top forty programmers.   
Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup - Nat King Cole  in 1955  
Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu - Domenico Modugno  in 1958  
Sukiyaki - Kyu Sakamoto  in 1963  
Dominique - Singing Nun  in 1963

The French Song - Lucille Starr in 1964
Gavin also was the key to breaking giant hits like "Stranger on the Shore" by Acker Bilk in 1962, "Love is Blue" by Paul Mauriat in 1968; "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennett in 1962 and many other non rock hits.
The success of Top 40 was due to variety in programming.  The Ed Sullivan TV show on Sunday nights was top rated for many years ... largely due to "variety"
Sadly missing in today's programming.
John Rook
I couldn't agree with you more ... radio seems fixated on sticking with the "Tried and True", same old, same old ... back in the OLD days, it was a lot of that risk-taking that helped to  break a WHOLE lot of new careers!!!  (kk)  

Fascinating story about "Sukiyaki".  
Back in 1983, I interviewed former Capitol Records A&R exec Dave Dexter.  Dave was actually VP of A&R and was in charge of picking up foreign hits from EMI territories around the world.  Dexter's claim to infamy is the fact that he's the guy that kept TURNING DOWN The Beatles in America.  Anyway, Dave told me basically the same story as you have EXCEPT, he said that HE was one who picked the song out of a pile of Japanese EMI 45's, changed the title to "Sukiyaki" and released it in America.  Now, since EMI did NOT own Pye in England, maybe he didn't know about the Kenny Ball release, but I find it too coincidental about the title, so sadly, I've come to the conclusion that Dave was re-writing history to make himself look better.  
Doug Thompson  
Well he had to do SOMETHING to redeem himself in light of all those bad Beatles decisions, right?!?!  (lol)  kk  

KYU SAKAMOTO wasn't just killed in a plane crash, the disaster may have been the most tortured final moments of all crashes. As I recall, the plane lost it's hydraulics, and engine power and glided for nearly 30 minutes, all the while everyone on board knew there was no chance of surviving, due to the mountainous terrain. The terror experienced by those on board doesn't bear imagining.  


Ohayō gozaimasu (oh-hah-YOH go-zigh-moss) <<<<good morning Sukiyaki, mysticism intrigues one's music senses. It's a beautiful song ... I never knew the words, until I viewed one of the links, you sent along in the FH showing both the original Japanese lyrics along with an English translation ... Now, when I hum, what were unknown words to me before, and whistle along with Kyu Sakamoto, to the enchanting melody, of Sukiyaki. I will now enjoy it, even more!

My Uncle was stationed in Japan, during his tour in the Navy, and he loved the beauty of the Japanese people, and their culture. Upon his return home, he brought many beautiful things for us, from Japan. Ahhh, what a treasure a Sukiyaki 45, would've been ... So this is where I will extend a humble thank you, (Dōmo arigatō) to Marsha Cunningham for bringing, her 45 to the United States and her help, in making this beautiful Japanese song, a part of our American Music History. 
~ RIP ~ Kyu Sakamoto ~
Dōmo arigatō (doh-moh ah-ree-GAH-toh)   
Thank you, Kent I always look forward to opening my FH's mail from you, because I know it will always contain 'great things'! A true labor of love for FH!
Thank you for the VERY kind words and greetings ... please know that Forgotten Hits is always an education for ME, too!!!  (kk)  

Kent ...  
Thank you, thank you, thank you for the absolutely wonderful job on my request featuring "SUKIYAKI" and "DOMINIQUE"!!!!!!!  
I remember, as a new teenager, laying on my blanket, at the lake, listening to my transistor radio, and hearing these two songs ... over and over again.  The radio didn't come in quite loud enough up there, so I put my ear against it.  Many times I'd fall asleep like that.  :-)  Music has always been my escape, and still is.  It's the best escape there is.  :-)  
Glad to do it ... it was kind of like good, old-fashioned Forgotten Hits putting this piece together!  And a VERY positive response, too ... ESPECIALLY for "Sukiyaki", one of the PRETTIEST melodies ever!  

The eerie fate of Kyu Sakamoto has always stayed with me.  That JAL 747 did lose all its hydraulics, but the flight crew managed to steer it a bit by pumping fuel from tanks on one side of the plane to another to dip the wings one way or another.  But they couldn't steer sufficiently to get around the biggest mountain in Japan, which just happened to be in their way -- Mt. Fuji. Incredible.  Sukiyaki was always one of my favorite melodies and Sakamoto's delivery is so effortless, it always brings a smile. Glad to hear it again after all this time.  
Rick Barr  
New Colony Six  

>>>"Sukiyaki" is one of the few vocal songs in which the title does not appear in the lyrics.  (db)  
I do not agree with that.  Bob Dylan had many including Positively Fourth Street, Rainy Day Women, and Subterranean Homesick Blues. Others off the top of my head are:  
Creeque Alley

Peace Frog
Bad Boy
Tomorrow Never Knows
A Day In The Life
Ballad of John and Yoko
Ode To Billy Joe
Dwight Rounds
"The Bathroom Is Clear" (Hyacinth House, Doors)
As we learned, "Sukiyaki" has absolutely NOTHING to do with the song for which it was named ... it was simply an "Americanized" name that the record company felt we'd be "comfortable" and / or familiar with ... especially since this was a new and foreign (pun intended) type of music that we were all hearing for the first time.  Nearly 50 years later, this still seems to be the case ... despite the TREMENDOUS impact rock and roll music has made on the Japanese charts, NO other artist FROM Japan has ever hit the #1 Spot here in America.  (kk)