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.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Drifters -- Dorifu no Zundoko Bushi (ドリフのズンドコ節)

According to the write-ups on both J-Wiki and Wikipedia for the Japanese comic group, The Drifters, Chosuke Ikariya(いかりや長介) and his group of cut-ups are famous for having a 40-second warmup act opening for none other than The Beatles when The Fab Four came to Tokyo in 1966 (and yes, I am aware that it's 50 years today that the lads from Liverpool cut their first album). Why only 40 seconds? I've got no idea....but, according to a former student who had actually played hooky to attend the historic concert, it was just as well since at least from her section of the stadium, the boys were being roundly booed. I guess even back then it was tough preceding an act like that.

However a few years later, The Drifters would get their musical 15 minutes of fame (along with almost 15 years of fame with their long-running variety show) with "Dorifu no Zundoko Bushi"(The Drifters' Zundoko Tune). As sung by Ikariya, Cha Kato, Chu Arai, Boo Takagi and Koji Nakamoto, the song came off as this slightly jazzy choral group song....a little too quick to be considered enka and perhaps too upbeat to be included in Mood Kayo, although it seems to have elements of both. With lyrics by Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼), each verse was sung by each of The Drifters, each singing about a particular instance of the hopes and pitfalls of being girl-crazy in high school and in the company. Released in November 1969, "Zundoko Bushi"quickly soared up the charts to debut at No. 3 on the young Oricon. and then peak at No. 2. At the end of 1970, it would become the 2nd-ranking song for the year, just behind the monster novelty hit, "Kuroneko no Tango"by little Osamu Minegawa. Selling over 800,000 copies, their 3rd single would become their biggest hit.

And for those folks who have enjoyed the police comedy-drama series "Odoru Dai Sosasen"(踊る大捜査線...Bayside Shakedown), which starred the late Chosuke Ikariya as Inspector Waku, you can get to see what the Morgan Freeman of Japan looked like in his younger days. Strangely enough, a few years after this original footage, I got to see the real Freeman as a kid when he starred as Easy Reader on "The Electric Company".

You may have noticed that aside from Rei Nakanishi's contribution to the writing, I haven't mentioned the composer. Well, the fact is that he/she is anonymous. And to add onto the intrigue, "Zundoko Bushi"is a cover of a song that was originally known as "Kaigun Kouta"(海軍小唄...Navy Ditty). Although Nakanishi was the lyricist for The Drifters' version; the original writer is also unknown. What seems to be the truth is that the song was created over time during World War II by soldiers heading off to war using rhythms sung in coal mines and fishing wharves. It's also been presumed that a student in Kita-Kyushu City had brought everything together. In any case, it became a popular song in 1945.

Since its origins as "Kaigun Kouta", the song has become a chameleon of kayo kyoku. Retaining the basic rhythmic pattern with some variation, it changed its title to "Zundoko Bushi". And depending on who is singing it and who is shaping it, words have been added to the title to differentiate it along with new lyrics. So, there is "Tokyo Zundoko Bushi"and "O-zashiki Zundoko", for example. And there is also "Akira no Zundoko Bushi", a song made famous by kayo kyoku singer/actor Akira Kobayashi(小林旭) (and formerly Hibari Misora's husband) in 1960 which was made into the theme song for one of his movies. Soh Nishizawa(西沢爽) was responsible for the lyrics here and Minoru Endo(遠藤実) did some tweaking of the music.

According to J-Wiki, there are as many as 75 different sets of lyrics created for "Zundoko Bushi". One of the more recent versions is by the young wizard of enka, Kiyoshi Hikawa(氷川きよし). But I will save his song for a different time.


  1. Thank you very much for this article ! (And for all your tremendous work.)


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