I've often marveled at how the Japanese tune "Ue wo Muite Arukou"（上を向いて歩こう）became such a hit overseas and over time in its guise as the "Sukiyaki" song. But not too long ago, there was a reverse phenomenon of sorts involving a song that had been originally created all the way back in 1876.
"My Grandfather's Clock" was made by Henry Clay Work and later became the go-to song for British brass bands and bluegrass musicians (according to Wikipedia). And then singers ranging from The Everly Brothers to Johnny Cash covered it. I even had my experience with it during my band class in junior high school as one of the clarinet players. It was a pretty chipper song but otherwise didn't think much more of it once I left the music field in high school. Little did I know that it would become a huge hit in Japan a little over 20 years after putting down my licorice stick for the final time.
Soulful singer-songwriter Ken Hirai （平井堅）covered it under its Japanese title of "Ookina Furu Dokei" (The Big Old Clock) as his 16th single in August 2002. Initially, Hirai sang the song as part of his concerts and with its growing popularity, the decision was made to put it to CD. Good decision. His slow and tearjerking delivery hit the right nerve amongst the Japanese listening public and the song went Triple Platinum. "My Grandfather's Clock" was also a favourite in the country for generations but Hirai's approach perhaps brought out more of the heart about this clock which lived and died with the original owner. The late lyricist Kogo Hotomi (保富康午...who had a hand in creating the iconic programs of NHK's Kohaku Utagassen and Fuji-TV's "Music Fair") had written the Japanese words to "Ookina Furu Dokei" when the song was used in 1962 for the NHK children's music program "Minna no Uta"（みんなのうた...Songs For All）, and it was those words that Hirai sang in his moving version.
When I first heard Hirai sing this on TV, I just thought (considering my own experience with the song) it was a one-off gimmicky thing for him to show how he could transform a song into a Hirai-style ballad. However, "Ookina Furu Dokei" started to become a much-in-demand tune for the singer and I wonder if perhaps he is gonna end up being most recognized for his cover of an old music class song. As much as "Sukiyaki" had charmed people like the Americans and the British ages ago, "My Grandfather's Clock" did the same thing for the Japanese.
At the Japan Golden Disc Awards, it won Song of the Year. On Oricon, it stayed at No. 1 for 4 weeks straight and became the 7th-ranked song for 2002, and just skirted under a million in sales. Not surprisingly, Hirai was invited onto the Kohaku Utagassen for the 2nd time on the strength of "Ookina Furu Dokei".
It's amazing how a song that I squeaked and tooted my way through in band class in the early 80s became a megahit in the first few years of the 21st century.
As a comparison, here is the English version.