A Taste Of Honey - Sukiyaki
Recorded in 1980 for A Taste of Honey’s album, Twice as Sweet, it became their biggest hit surpassing the success of their Grammy-winning disco anthem, “Boogie Oogie Oogie” three years prior. It’s actually a cover of a 1961 hit by Japanese pop crooner Kyu Sakamoto. Written by Rokusuke Ei and Hachidai Nakamura, the track’s original title was “Ue o Muite Aruko” and was based on the failure of the Japanese protest movement against U.S. military involvement in the country and feeling dejected. However due to the somewhat cheery nature of Sakamoto’s vocals, it was often interpreted as a song to conjure up happy thoughts even while feeling despair. Picked up by the BBC in 1962, it was later issued on American radio under the title “Sukiyaki” because American deejays had a hard time pronouncing its original title. “Sukiyaki” was picked by a BBC deejay because of his love for the Japanese dish. It soon became a U.S. hit reaching #1 in 1963, making Sakamoto the first (and so far only) Japanese artist to hit number-one on the Hot 100. Three years later, its first American cover, titled “My First Lonely Night”, was recorded by R&B singer Jewel Akens.
In 1980, Janice Marie Johnson, lead singer and bassist of A Taste of Honey chose this song to cover and was told the song could be interpreted three ways: the mindset of a man facing execution, someone being optimistic during life’s trials or the story of the end of a love affair. Johnson chose the latter interpretation. Though she wrote the new lyrics, she agreed to give up royalties to the song, allowing the original writers full credit. Upon its release as a single in 1981, it became a huge hit reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the adult contemporary and R&B charts. This version has been covered by numerous artists including Selena and, most famously, by Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh on their classic hip-hop track, “La Di Da Di” (this version however features Rick singing it in the original song’s tempo).
Four years after this cover became a hit, the song’s original performer, Kyu Sakamoto, was one of the 505 passengers (one of 520 overall including the flight crew) who was tragically killed during a flight to Osaka, Japan after the passenger flight, Japan Airlines Flight 123 crashed into Osutaka Ridge, near Mount Osutaka in Ueno, Gunma Prefecture, Japan on August 12, 1985. He was 43 years old.