Amoeblog


Perennial Melodies: Sukiyaki for the Sentimental

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, March 28, 2010 02:39pm | Post a Comment
A few weeks ago the vocalist Eduard Khil and his heart-swelling vocal flexes were nothing to me, but now I cannot think of a day gone by without my acknowledging the impression his song has left on my heart. For those who've yet to encounter Khil, his claim to international stardom comes of the internet meme known as "Trololololololololololo," a video clip circa 1976 that features a dapper dandy (Khil) vocalizing a song called "I Am Glad To Be Finally Returning Home" with plenty of laughing ha-hahs and hearty bellowing tro-lo-los as he gestures with casual fluidity, occasionally directing viewers to consider the paltriness of the set pieces that flank him. It is an aural and visual happy-pill dressed in sunny yellow, an upper to be taken when the spirit lags and, for about the last two weeks, it's been the very first thing I enjoy in the morning. 


As if the simple joy and outdated charm of that performance alone wasn't enough to make me fall head over feet for Eduard Khil, he has since been featured in another recent post, a Russian press interview, showing Khil sitting down to view his viral video along with several parodies of it added into the mix (including one starring recent Academy Award recipient Christoph Waltz as seen on Jimmy Kimmel Live!). Khil's delightful reactions to these parodies and subsequent video statement in which he addresses the people of the world to invent lyrics to the much beloved song (which, according to Khil, originally flaunted rather raunchy lyrics --- so naughty in fact that they were never published, but decidedly ditched the for trololo vocalization in hopes that the song stood a chance at being appreciated but for its melody). He then suggests that everyone choose a time to gather and synchronize (via the internet ) to sing their version of the song all together, in their own tongue, in the style of "We Are The World." Okay, so he doesn't mention "We Are The World," but of course he doesn't have to, the sentiment is there, especially as, according to Khil, the song is about returning home and, in his mind, the newfound popularity of his tune represents an eternal homecoming of sorts, and a happy one at that. Bravo Eduard Khil and Спасибо.
sakamoto kyu kyuu ue wo muite arukou single sukiyaki 45rpm cover art
Digesting Khil's suggestion that the world set out to celebrate our affection for a singular melody, his melody, by independently crafting original lyrics to accompany a borrowed tune recalled to mind a sweet, bewitching song that I first heard many years ago in an elementary level Japanese class: Sakamoto Kyu's (坂本 九) sentimental hit "Ue wo Muite Arukou" or "I Walk With My Head Held High." Though introduced as a classroom exercise, I became one of many folks in that class who couldn't shake the lovely melancholy of such a tune, even if we couldn't understand everything Sakamoto-san crooned. Like the Russian "homecoming" song, the sentiment of acute longing and heartache expressed in Sakamoto's song, regardless of the presence of meaningful lyrics (and the potential inability to make sense of them), is clearly understood simply because of its perfectly crafted, jaunty-yet-melancholy melody. In fact, this song topped the U.S. Billboard charts for three weeks in 1963 under the title "Sukiyaki" (renamed because the execs at Capitol and HMV thought the original title too difficult to pronounce and/or remember). To date, Sakamoto Kyu's hit single has been the only song sung entirely in Japanese to ever top the charts in the states and it is the only Japanese song to ever enter the U.K. Billboard charts. Indeed, it must be all about that [sigh] sentimental melody. 
a taste of honey sukiyaki sakamoto kyu japanese song cover single hit sentimental song
And it's that melody that has been, for better or worse, shanghaied halfway 'round the world, the old fashioned way (that is, without knowledge of its being taken until it "arrives"), as a borrowed tune dressed in several languages, most notably as the sentimental slow jam "Sukiyaki" performed in 1981 by A Taste of Honey, the disco ensemble famous for crafting the hit dance single "Boogie Oogie Oogie." All I have to say is thank heavens they resisted suggestions to turn Sakamoto's tune into a disco jam, instead opting for turning it out as a soft-focused ballad which probably has everything to do with the song becoming Honey's final number one single of their career. Unlike Eduard Khil, however, Kyu Sakamoto cared not for the Misses Honey's take on his wistful walk-a-long hit and reportedly sued Capital Records for copyright infringement, a litigious action that pantsed those who had thought the song fruit of the public domain tree, ripe for the taking, and so plucked the tune and inanely kept the altered name "Sukiyaki."
sukiyaki hot pot japanese dish sakamoto kyu a taste of honey love song
By the way, sukiyaki (a Japanese steam-pot dish) has next to nothing to do with the original lyrics of Sakamoto's song or the romantic interpretation laid down by Honey's Janice Marie Johnson, who found that English translations of "Ue wo Muite Arukou" could be viewed three ways: as a man on his way to his execution, as someone trying to be optimistic despite life's trials, or as the story of an ended love affair (of course she opted to paint the English lyrics in the waning light of a love gone bad). My favorite quote related to the ridiculousness of naming a song for a word that is short, catchy, recognizably Japanese and familiar to English speakers comes from a Newsweek columnist who reportedly likened naming Sakamoto's song "Sukiyaki" to issuing a popular tune like "Moon River" in Japan under the title "Beef Stew," a total wah-waah.
4pm sukiyaki a taste of honey sakamoto kyu
Of course there have been other takes on the popular tune, mostly covers of A Taste of Honey's "Sukiyaki" rather than further takes on Kyu Sakamoto's crooning hit, but there's certainly nothing like the real thing. Featured below are several videos, the first being a 1963 video of Sakamoto himself walking and singing "Ue wo Muite Arukou" with his head held high ("so the tears down fall from my eyes" according to the original Japanese lyrics) followed by a live performance of "Sukiyaki" by A Taste of Honey complete with the aforementioned Johnson and bandmate Hazel Payne clad in kimonos, koto accompanyment on the song, finished with a whispered "sayonara" at the end. Then we have a 1995 version of "Sukiyaki" delivered by American R&B ensemble 4 P.M. (p.s. did they gank that set from that Heavy D & the Boys video for "Now That We Found Love" or what) and then a live version of "Sukiyaki" en Español as performed by Selena on the Johnny Canales Show.









sentimental lady bob welch single fleetwood mac french kiss

As if that wasn't enough sentimental gumbo or stew or whatever Westerners are reducing culturally enriched stock to these days, I have to address here the ultimate slice of flimsy-whimsy courtesy of the what-were-they-thinking school of sentimental panty-plaint, under-the-influence love jams: Bob Welch's "Sentimental Lady." Though the song cannot claim any worldliness or global catchiness the likes of which "Sukiyaki" can boast of, the unfathomable sappiness of the composition as a whole gives me cause to lump it in with this exploration of catchy, sentimental melodies, even if it plays the vapid fool of the group. I mean, what the heck does he mean by "fourteen joys and a will to be merry" in terms of the "sentimental, gentle wind" he sings of "blowing through" his life again? The fact that this song was originally recorded for Fleetwood Mac's 1972 album Bare Trees and then re-recorded for Welch's 1977 solo album French Kiss boggles my mind entirely, but don't get me wrong --- I love this song, if not but for its sheer docile naïvité. However, this subject might be better saved for delving in an entirely different post altogether. Enjoy!

Relevant Tags

4 P.m. (1), Fleetwood Mac (27), Bob Welch (3), A Taste Of Honey (2), Tro-lo-lo (1), Eduard Khil (1), Melody (1), Sakamoto Kyu (1), Sukiyaki (1)