Kyu Sakamoto: Sukiyaki (1963)

 |   |  1 min read

Kyu Sakamoto: Sukiyaki (1963)
Kyu Sakamoto: Sukiyaki (1963)

It wasn't really the name of the song that Sakamoto recorded, but that hardly mattered. When this catchy piece of MOR pop from Japan made it to the West it enjoyed enormous success. Sakamoto, who was 22, was the first and last Japanese artist to top the Billboard charts. It was also his first and last international success.

Back home of course he wasn't a one-hit wonder, he was a national hero and behaved accordingly. He lived a modest life but later was among the 520 killed when Japan Airlines' Flight 123 crashed in 1985.

But his song lives on.

A couple of years ago a Japanese friend had her parents over to New Zealand and they couldn't speak a word of English. We went out to dinner one night and her mother and I sang Sukiyaki to the great delight of the table. Music was the only language we had, and potent, cheap pop at that.

Sukiyaki was never the original title but one that Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen dropped on it when they covered it in '62. Sukiyaki is a Japanese steamboat meal (Kenny thought people would remember that name better) but the lyrics are about a man who has lost his lover and walks looking upwards, whistling, so the tears won't fall. But when the Sakamoto version was released in the West the record company kept the substitute title.

The appeal of the song is simple: it boasts a terrific and memorable melody, has wood blocks and a great string arrangement, and in Sakamoto's version there is that mysterious quality because you don't know what the lyrics are, so you can just sing them phoenetically. Sort of like singing a Keith Richards/Stones song where the lyrics are obscure so you make up your own.

And of course it has a whistling part.

Simple, clean, easy to sing and not a little charming. It has had a few cover versions (one by Selena) but there is only one Sukiyaki and it is by Kyu Sakamoto.

And interestingly enough the song it knocked off the top of the US charts was . . . It's My Party by Lesley Gore. Also a star From the Vaults.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   From the Vaults articles index

Eddie Vedder, Neil and Liam Finn: Not Given Lightly (2009)

Eddie Vedder, Neil and Liam Finn: Not Given Lightly (2009)

After Chris Knox suffered his massive stroke in June 2009, there was an understandable outpouring of support from friends and fellow travellers who knew him, although it's fair to say not many... > Read more

Rod Stewart/Long John Baldry: Up Above My Head (1964)

Rod Stewart/Long John Baldry: Up Above My Head (1964)

Serious rock writers -- or more correctly, those who want to be considered serious --  will always prefer tortured artists over those who sailed along and were seen to be be enjoying... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

GUEST WRITER OWEN WOOD looks at when genius gets the blues

GUEST WRITER OWEN WOOD looks at when genius gets the blues

The flawed and ultimately doomed genius Truman Capote once wrote, "When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended solely for self-flagellation". When we... > Read more

Howlin' Wolf: The Howlin' Wolf Album (Set on Down)

Howlin' Wolf: The Howlin' Wolf Album (Set on Down)

One of the assertions on the cover of this album – released in 69, reissued after a long absence – isn't true. Bluesman Howlin' Wolf had been an “early adopter” of... > Read more