I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hitoshi Ueki -- Suudara Bushi (スーダラ節)

One year during the 90s, there was an old entertainer who just seemed to take over the stage and screen again, years after his heyday in the 50s and 60s. Hitoshi Ueki(植木等)of The Crazy Cats was back on top with his old chestnut, "Suudara Bushi"(The Suudara Song). It didn't spark a mass revival of 60s Japanese comic jazz bands on the same level as lounge and jive did back in North America at around the same time, but the Japanese seemed to embrace Ueki like a beloved long-lost uncle.

The Crazy Cats were originally known as The Cuban Cats when they first formed in 1955. Doing the army base circuit, supposedly one soldier, after seeing one of the members smash another bandmate's head with a sink, apparently said, "You, crazy!". And the change in name was made. The most famous members of the band were the leader and drummer Hajime Hana(ハナ肇), trombonist Kei Tani(谷啓) and guitarist/vocal Hitoshi Ueki....all of whom left this mortal coil in the last 20 years.

Fellow comedian and one-time Tokyo Governor Yukio Aoshima(青島幸男)wrote the lyrics while Hiroaki Hagiwara(萩原哲晶)took care of the melody. "Suudara Bushi"has the underlying element of raucous old-time enka/kayo kyoku while bits of dissonance come in as the comedy. Hagiwara composed the song in the aims of matching Ueki's amiable but feckless character on stage, and even lifted, with Ueki's approval, the singer's favourite nonsensical phrase of "Sui, sui, suuuuuidararatta..."to incorporate into the main chorus of the song.

Aoshima's lyrics were ironic, to say the least. In a country of steady hard-working tortoises in the early 1960s, Ueki portrayed himself musically as the irresponsible procrastinating hare. With the face of a sly fox, he was the lazy salaryman who loved his mug of beer and betting on the horses far more than work. For him, vice over virtue was his mantra. One repeated line was the gleeful "Yeah, I know, I know....but I just can't help myself!"

Even more ironic was that Ueki the man was an extremely serious fellow outside of work. As his father had predicted, "Suudara Bushi"was a huge hit, selling 800,000 records in the pre-Oricon days. Even so, on hearing about the massive success of the song, Ueki forlornly remarked, "For this song to become a hit is pretty sad." He was also quoted as saying, "This as a hit makes me wonder if the Japan I know and the real Japan are two different things." Not a happy camper, was he? In any case, he was the consummate professional on stage and screen. Despite his misgivings about the Frankenstein he had wrought, he and the rest of the Crazy Cats made a series of movies based on the song's character in what has been called the "Irresponsible"series. And every time he came out to perform the song, that leering grin of the feckless man always beamed...

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