Afternoon Snack: “Sukiyaki,” Kyu Sakamoto

All the Japanese pop some forced this song into my head, and, to quote Lucinda Williams, I Can’t Let Go.

Not that I wish I could.

Kyu Sakamoto was sort of the Masanori Marukami of pop: Sakamoto the only Asian to log a #1 hit in Billboard history, and well, this is it. And, though he was a one-hit wonder here, though “Mashi” (the Giants nickname for Marukami, the first Japanese born in the Major Leagues) was kind of like that too, they at least both paved the way.

I guess it is pleasant enough, and when the song came out in 1963 it was indeed a huge hit (sold 13 million units overall). But, this song is certainly not pop as I think of it, and it is as far removed from rock and roll as Percy Faith and Mitch Miller and even Pat Boone’s obnoxious cover of Tutti Fruiti.

Not sure why it was such a big hit, though? Sort of muzak with words none of us knows, and as I thought about it, I thought about compiling a Steveslist of the six songs not sung in English to hit #1 on the Billboard chart.

But, as I looked at them, they were all really so awful–and I get they may evoke fond memories in some–that I just couldn’t do it.

However, they are:

  1. Nel Blu Dipinto di Bleu: Domenico Modguno, 1958 (My mother loved this song: Bobby Rydell did the American thing with Volare.)
  2. Sukiyai: Kyu Sakamoto, 1963
  3. Dominique: The Singing Nun, 1963 (See how badly we needed the Beatles? Two of these dogs in one year.)
  4. Rock me Amadeus: Falco, 1896 (Proud that I have no conscious clue what this song is.)
  5. La Bamba: Los Lobos (I love the Lobos, and this song, in fact this is the best tune on the list, but why not Richie Valens?)
  6. Macarena: Los Dell Rio, 1996 (Never understood and I guess the only reason I know this song is they played it at the ball park.)

I just don’t get any of these songs, save La Bamba, which is really a treatment of a Mexican folk song, being hits at all. Not that I am trying to be xenophobic, but in general the music is cheesy and most really cannot understand the words. Meaning if we were on Bandstand, and doing “Rate a Record,” we couldn’t say, “I give it a 73, Dick. It had a nice beat and I liked the lyrics.”

OTOH, I don’t get I’ve Never Been to Me or Abba songs (maybe tuneful, but so what?) or even Snoopy Versus the Red Baron (which I hated at the time as much as I hated Incense and Peppermints and In the Year 2525.)

BTW, this video of Sukiyaki is the official publicity one Sakamoto released. And, sadly, in another shot at fame, Sakamoto was killed as one of the fatalities resulting from the JAL air crash August 12, 1985 the worst air disaster in history.

So, on that sobering note, enjoy if you can. If you dare.


One thought on “Afternoon Snack: “Sukiyaki,” Kyu Sakamoto

  1. Nice post. Richie Valens original of La Bamba peaked at 22.

    I read up a bit on Sukiyaki, which I’d heard before but had no consciousness of what it was. It was written as a condemnation of a Japanese treaty with the US, but couched as a sorrowful love song. The words are about a man holding his nose up in the air so his tears won’t roll down his face.

    The song has nothing to do with the Japanese hot pot dish, Sukiyaki. The name was chosen because it was vaguely familiar to Americans.

    Somebody said that this was analogous to a Japanese record company releasing a version of Moon River in Japan and calling it “Beef Stew.”

    A Taste of Honey wrote new English words to the melody and had a Top 10 hit with it in 1980.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.