Kyū Sakamoto - Sukiyaki (1961)
With our first MP3 posting, we head straight to the classics...
Better known by its title in America, "Sukiyaki", Kyū Sakamoto's 1961 hit "Ue O Muite Arukō" took two years to hit the West after its debut in Japan. It was covered in the U.K. by Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen under the altered title and was so-named when the original version was released by Captiol Records in the States.
Sakamoto was an influential singer and songwriter in the late 50s and 60s, and served as a young voice for a generation of Japanese pop musicians. He was only 43 when he died in a plane crash in Gunma Prefecture on August 12th, 1985.
"Sukiyaki" remains the first and only Japanese-language song to ever hit #1 on the U.S. Billboard Top 100, as it did so June 15th, 1963. Since then, the song has become a standard in and outside of Japan and has been covered by hundreds of artists, most notably in America by A Taste Of Honey (1981) and 4 P.M. (1995), whose versions both made it to the Billboard Top 10.
Though its cheerful marimba work and upbeat whistling solo may deceive the English-speaking listener, "Ue O Muite Arukō", which literally translates to "look up while walking", is a ballad of heartbreak and loss. The lyrics describe a lonely protagonist who looks to the sky so that tears will not fall from his eyes.
Kyū Sakamoto - Ue O Muite Arukō (a.k.a. "Sukiyaki")
坂本九 - 上を向いて歩こう
And here's an early music video of "Ue O Muite Arukō" found on YouTube: