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Posts Tagged ‘Ue O Muite Aruk?’

A couple months back, my wife and I visited my folks and dad, in a fit of nostalgia, went and got our old kiddy record player.  It was one of the those with a rough, white plastic coating and a lid and handle so it could fold into a carrying case.  Please tell me you guys had one, too, so you’ll know what I’m talking about.  It played records at 33 and 45 rpms…as kids, sometimes we’d play the 33’s at 45 and laugh at the helium-laced singers we heard (I’m sure you did that, too).

Anyways, dad got it out and plugged it in.  We sat in anxious anticipation as he clicked the power/volume knob on…and it didn’t work.  We were kind of disappointed.  But of course, with records, you don’t really need electricity.  You can just spin the thing by hand.  We tried that, but we couldn’t really keep a consistent speed, so the records didn’t sound quite right.  This has a happy ending…

After a few minutes of hand-spinning, the motor finally caught on and started working.  Then he played some of the old records we had as kids…the ones that had a book you read at the same time.  There was Owl at Home, with the chapter about going upstairs and downstairs repeatedly, and my favorite story…Tear Water Tea, where Owl has to think of sad things to cry so he can make tea with his tears (“Mashed potatoes left on a plate, because nobody wanted to eat them!!”).

There was an Irish tale about a man who was afraid of a giant until his wife made some cakes with a rock in it…I can’t remember that one very well.  Another record gave us scary stories and riddles.  But Owl at Home was pretty much the main attraction, and it was pretty hilarious to dig those out.

So you’re wondering what any of this has to do with history.  I’m getting to it…

Among the book/record sets we also had a few actual music records…old 45’s and such.  We didn’t listen to them along with Tear Water Tea, but as kids, we played them all the time.  The only two I remember were Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and a record called Sukiyaki by some Japanese guy named Kyu Sakamoto.

Here comes the history lesson…sorta…

Kyu Sakamoto was a pretty popular Japanese singer in the early 1960’s, and apparently he had a famous song called “Ue O Muite Aruk?.”  Well, a music executive heard the song and thought it would be a hit with English-speaking folks, but the title was kind of hard to say.  So he did what any executive with an eye for money would do…he changed the title to something that was easy for English-speakers to say…Sukiyaki.

Now I have absolutely no idea what the song is about, because I know only a handful of Japanese words (like sayonara, judo, karate, and banzai), but I’m pretty sure Ue O Muite Aruk? has nothing to do with Sukiyaki.  But when you don’t understand the lyrics, who cares?  The executive also gave it a smooth-jazz feel (with some great whistling), and released it on the citizens of Great Britain.  Some DJ in America picked it up and started playing it, it became a hit, and Capital Records released it in America.

And at some point, my parents must have purchased it…well, a lot of people did because on June 15, 1963, Kyu Sakamoto’s song that had nothing to do with Sukiyaki became the #1 song in America.

History around the record player…

Recommended Listening:  Sukiyaki…and it has a video, too!

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