Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sayonara to Kyu Sakamoto

One of the 509 passengers who boarded ill-fated JAL Flight 123 in Tokyo on August 12, 1985 was Kyu Sakamoto.

Twenty two summers earlier Sakamoto, at age 21, was a curious sensation in America after his song "Sukiyaki" became the first No. 1 hit by a Japanese artist.  Here was the Billboard Top 5 on this day in 1963:

1. Sukiyaki, Kyu Sakamoto
2. It's My Party, Leslie Gore
3. You Can't Sit Down, Dovells
4. Da Doo Ron Ron, Crystals
5. I Love You Because, Al Martino

Wildly popular in his native country, Sakamoto had a string of hits in Japan by the time "Sukiyaki" hit the top of the U.S. charts. (The real title of the song was "Ue O Muite Aruko," but that wasn't going to sell many records in the U.S.)

That was all we would hear from Sakamoto until 1985 when the Boeing 747 crashed into a wooded mountainside 60 miles northwest of Tokyo.  Miraculously there were four survivors, but Sakamoto was not one of them. He was 43.

We remember hearing "Sukiyaki" blaring from the radio in a 1959 Pontiac Catalina.  It was the summer of '63, the dial was tuned to KDWB in the Twin Cities and life as we knew it then was very, very good.

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