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Posts Tagged ‘sukiyaki’

Old Things, Corny Things, Good Things, Part 4: Sukiyaki, a few ways

Posted by crowbiz on July 20, 2009

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I have no musical abilities.  I have never received any training whatsoever and cannot read music nor play an instrument, but I can pick out a simple tune by figuring out the notes.  Sheer persistence will not spirit me to Carnegie Hall any time soon.  My biggest claim to fame is that I figured out the famous segments from Deep Purple’s “Smoke On the Water” and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” – for my son’s sake – and an assortment of other clunky note-after-note arrangements of songs no one would want to hear anyway.  For a short time in my adult life I had a flea market accordian, and as far as a lot of people are concerned, the less said about it the better.  My two songs were “Beer Barrel Polka,” naturally, and a hard-to-detect version of “Wipe Out.”  I’ve been threatening a midlife  drum lesson crisis; the family is rightfully worried yet ambivalent; they know drumming would serve as a general stress/rage outlet which they’d be forced to endure, but it would also mean I’d be less likely to take out my frustrations directly on them.  Life is all about trade-offs.

Singing, however, seems like something I could tackle.  Everyone can sing.  Not well, but everyone technically can do it.  And so I do.  Since the boys were babies, I’ve been singing out loud without embarrassment, as infants and toddlers are very receptive to Nat King Cole standards and other gems.  Now that they’re old enough to be embarrassed by and for me, I’ve upped the mortifaction potential by trying a few songs in foreign languages.  My version of “Sur Les Quais du Vieux Paris” is decent, what with my passing toddler-level French and a lot of gusto.

Next is one I’ve been wishing to master for years:  “Sukiyaki.”  The most famous version was done by Kyu Sakamoto, who saw it become a hit in 1963.  It’s a charmingly mournful song with its xylophone melody (? I told you I have no musical knowledge) and whistling interlude.  Here’s some sort of pre-video version of it that is equal parts dreary, cute, and puzzling.  Though I hardly have to point it out, notice the requisite Godzilla-like lip-asynching.  For a love song, it’s also creepy how Sakamoto dreamily runs his hands along a bunch of filthy 55-gallon industrial drums and walks through what may be chemical run-off puddles.

Unfortunately, this song has been covered many times, and every cover I’ve uncovered is dreck.  Worst are the versions that use the “Sukiyaki” melody with invented English lyrics.  The disco group A Taste Of Honey did a 70s version.  Yep, there’s a rap version.  Most pitiful was a country version I unearthed by a Hank Billy Wayne Bobby Pickens, Jr. or some such.  Why bother?  Aren’t there more important things to do – find a cure for cancer, mow a lawn somewhere?

Even sadder than the misguided covers is Kyu Sakamoto’s untimely death in the deadliest single airplane disaster in history in 1985, in which over 500 people perished.  Adding to this sadness is that as a 21-year-old college swingle, I knew about Sakamoto, “Sukiyaki,” and the crash at the time.  I knew the death count and that there had been a few survivors, including a couple of children.  This blog category isn’t called “corny” for nothing.

So far, I’ve covered a bit of the good, the bad and the ugly.  Now get ready for some awesome.  In my search for lyrics, I found one cover of “Sukiyaki” that, if you have human blood in your veins, should knock your socks off.  Forget the honky-tonk burlesque instrumentation.  Overlook his Nordic-patterned sweater and shocking resemblance to Buddy Hackett.  If this guy isn’t one of the most honest and spirited things you’ve seen online in a long while, then you’re a fool and you should just go back to watching farting dogs, snap dancing and William Hung for your unexamined kicks.  When he stops “la la la”-ing and sits quietly looking dead at you, then adjusts his glasses, you’ll know.

As for my own never-to-be-recorded “Sukiyaki,” progress is going nicely.  Phonetically, I find it very easy to handle and it’s mostly a matter of memory, but in a couple days I ought to have it nailed.  Karaoke night is waiting.

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