Song: “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto
Reached #1: June 15, 1963 (his first, 3 weeks)
The song isn’t really called “Sukiyaki”, the artist’s name isn’t really Kyu Sakamoto, the song is still the only Japanese-language USA hit, and this is still probably the most unexpected #1 song in the history of the Billboard Hot 100.
It’s a catchy tune, of course… but it’s not a happy song, despite how it sounds. In Japanese, Sakamoto (real name Hisashi Oshima) is singing about how he’s walking while whistling and looking skyward so he doesn’t cry over losing his love. Thus, “I Look Up When I Walk”, the Japanese title.
The song was named “Sukiyaki” by typically-ignorant American record executives because they wanted it to be “accessible” for American audiences, and thought that “Ue o Muite Aruko” wasn’t going to make it work. At the time, Newsweek magazine wasn’t impressed with the title change – saying it was like releasing “Moon River” in Japan as “Beef Stew”.
The music has been used for several English-language releases, including Jewel Akens’ “My First Lonely Night” and A Taste of Honey’s “Sukiyaki” – neither of which used translated lyrics, but instead wrote a different song to match the music.
Sakamato was one of 520 people killed in the deadliest single-plane air accident ever, the crash of Japan Air Lines 123 into a mountain outside Tokyo in 1985.
Tomorrow, a song I’m doing mostly because one of my radio colleagues loves the song… a classic mid-‘50s ballad.
Other songs that reached #1 on June 15:
1974 – “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” by Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods (their first, 2 weeks)
1991 – “Rush Rush” by Paula Abdul (her fifth, 5 weeks)