About Me: I give lessons in locations in Muswell Hill N10. I also venture further to Highgate (N6), Finsbury Park (N4) and Crouch End (N8).
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By Any Other Name
Music history was made in 15 June 1963 when a Japanese pop song topped the American charts. Sung by Kyu Sakamoto, an extremely popular singer in the 50s and 60s, the song was first a domestic hit for him before it reached American shores. The lyrics of the song - "Ue O Muite Aruko" - translate in English as "I Look Up When I Walk", but neither the original Japanese title nor its English translation formed any part of the title with which it entered the charts. Sakamoto's song reached the number one spot as "Sukiyaki".
Music executive Louis Benjamin had heard the original Japanese song and made an instrumental cover of it with English group Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen. But he plucked the title Sukiyaki out of nowhere, on the grounds that it was at least remotely Japanese-sounding, and the original title would be too hard for audiences to grasp. It would also seem weird for the English group to record a song with a Japanese title. As Ball's Sukiyaki gained popularity in the United States, so did the original by Sakamoto - albeit with the name Benjamin had invented. "Next on Wyoming FM ... Kyu Sakamoto with Sukiyaki!"
To some, this reflected some form of cultural bias - Newsweek magazine likened the renaming of Sakamoto's original hit as akin to releasing "Moon River" in Japan under the title "Beef Stew". (After all, "sukiyaki" refers to a cooked Japanese dish of thinly sliced meat, onions, and other vegetables cooked quickly.) And it was not as if this was the first instance of a foreign hit reaching the top of the charts - there had been others in the past, such as Domenico Modugno's 1958 "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu" (although modern day audiences are more apt to know it as "Volare"), which entered the charts using its original name. Bert Kaempfert's Wunderland Bei Nacht, also a number one hit in 1961, was translated faithfully to Wonderland By Night.
"Ue O Muite Aruko" was actually written as a Japanese protest song, but the lyrics were generic and softened so they could be interepreted to refer to lost love, or as a look back to bygone times. Like all great pop songs, it was been immensely covered by later artistes and also sampled in remixes. It has sold over 13 million copies worldwide and is one of the best-selling singles of all time. Unfortunately for Sakamoto, the longevity of the song outweighed his own - he was a passenger on the ill-fated Japan Airlines Flight 123 of August 12, 1985, which remains the aviation industry's deadliest single-aircraft accident.
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