Becoming “number one” can be as simple as a spelling bee in a 6th grade class with ten students or as tough as being Serena Williams or Peyton Manning who devote their entire lives to becoming and maintaining being Number One. Winning or achieving top status is not only considered a worthy goal, but it feels good and successful.
Having a number one song for musicians or musical groups is the ultimate victory and probably was only achieved after many years of honing one’s musical skills of songwriting and performing. That song might become number one on the Country, Rock, R&B, Hip-Hop, Classical, Jazz, Electronica, Latin and too many more to mention.
After finally getting a “hit” song to Number One, the top artists want to do it again and again. And they usually do.
Sometimes the tastes and sensibilities of the listening audience will latch onto something different, weird, wild or crazy and buy enough of the downloads, disks, vinyls, whatever– to make that Number One.
The off-beat number one song is rare in today’s music because payola, even though it’s still happening, isn’t as predominant as it used to be when there were hundreds of record labels promoting their songs with money to the radio stations.
Now only a few companies own all the music released and a few companies own all the radio stations. Big Music has taken its place alongside Big Pharma, Big Ag, Big Oil, Big Whatever.
In the ‘60s, it wasn’t rare for some weird song to suddenly pop up on the radio. Teens would be subjected to the sounds penetrating their ears all over America in every city’s radio stations.
Nothing was stranger and more evident of “payola” than the Number One song on the charts on this day in 1963.
A very popular singer in Japan in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s was a fellow named Kyu Sakamoto. Obviously Japan had its own Number One songs on radio. Mr. Sakamoto had a Number One hit in 1961 called “Ue O Muite Aruk.” Yeah, I know you can’t wait to sing that in the shower.
A British music producer heard this song while he was traveling in Japan and thought the melody of the tune was catchy and brought it to England for his jazz group, Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen. The jazz group in England renamed the instrumental version to “Sukiyaki.” I love to eat Sukiyaki, the Japanese version of beef stew, and a cute name for a jazz song.
The jazzy version caught on in England and a few records were sent to the USA to see what they would do. They did little to nothing.
However an inquisitive disk jockey investigated the original Japanese version of the song. …remember “Ue O Muite Aruk”…he started playing it and before long Capitol Records thought they should release the original version with the Japanese lyrics.
Capitol Records thought the beef stew name, Sukiyaki, should stay and released the song in 1963.
So, Kyu Sakamoto had his one and only Number One song in America…Sukiyaki.
Twenty years later a group called “Taste of Honey” re-recorded it an English language version and had a semi-hit. Four years later, 1985, hip-hop was happening and Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick used the Sukiyaki English version on their mix hit called “La Di Da Di.”
So…for your weekend listening I give you the original Number One from 1963. Enjoy your Sukiyaki. And be sure and sing along, perfect for the shower.