During the Ivy heyday in the US, and as VAN Jac was budding in Japan, Kyu Sakamoto‘s “Ue o muite arukō” became one of the best pop songs to come out of the ’60s. It topped the Billboard charts in 1963, the only Japanese song ever to do so. Since the song’s title didn’t lend itself to easy export, the song was marketed worldwide under the name “Sukiyaki,” a dish in Japanese cuisine. That’s kind of like marketing an American song — say, Lou Christie’s “Two Faces Have I,” to pick one from the same year — in foreign markets under the name “Macaroni and Cheese.” I had the pleasure of signing “Sukiyaki” at a karaoke bar during a summer spent in Japan when I was 20. A fond memory for sure, especially as it’s such a great tune.
Sakamoto’s version of “China Nights,” also from ’63, is another gem and a minor follow-up hit for the singer. The song dates to World War II and was used as propaganda for Imperial Japan’s ambitions in China, encouraging young men to enlist with the promise of meeting a lovely Chinese girl. Sakamoto’s version includes updated lyrics, partly in English:
While on YouTube, I came across this surprising find: Two Indonesian brothers from Holland known as The Blue Diamonds, doing “Sukiyaki” in German. The approach is wonderfully laid-back and the guys look great:
Photos of Sakamoto show him to be more Main Street than Ivy (the photo at top, one could argue, is somewhere in between). In 1985 he joined Buddy Holly and the many other pop stars to die tragically in a plane crash.
Before the plane went down, he managed to write a farewell note to his wife. — CC