Some things never change

The decade immediately following the end of WW2 was, I hear, the peak for jazz in Japan. It was never bigger before, and it never got as big again. I think part of that has to be because that was when you had the place flooded with American GIs, paid relatively well and looking to hear some music that reminded them of home.

Naturally, there were a bunch of Japanese bands playing the music and releasing their own versions of the US hits, but there was also a sub-genre of music aimed at English-speaking audiences within Japan. This stuff fascinates me. My favourite example of the genre is "My Ichiban Tomodachi", a song written by Tom Oliver and Stan Sagat and performed by vocalist Nancy UMEKI*, the Victor All Stars, and an American harmony group called Deuces Wild.

Tomodachi (友達) means "friend", and ichiban (一番) means literally "number one" or in this context "best". These are common, useful words that you would expect a person stationed in Japan to pick up -- yet they aren't all that well-known to those outside the loop, which means that a song using them creates a strong sense of community. (The other song recorded at the session was another Oliver/Saget composition called "Sayonara".)

Anyway, "Tomodachi" is one of the only uptempo numbers Umeki performed in her early career, and is also notable because she trades lines and even whole verses with Deuces Wild, so the idea is that we get both sides of the story (although both were, ultimately, written by one old American dude). And it's cute:

I've got a guy, but he's not mine,
He always seems to resist me,
Cause when the lights are low and the moon's aglow--
He's just my ichiban tomodachi.
It's the same old theme whenever he's near,
He acts like a brother to me...

She goes on for a bit, then the guys step forward, opening with some vintage spoken-word-over-doomp-a-doomp-piano:

"Well, Nan, you sure do have a problem."
"Yeah, and one that we can really appreciate!"

I had a chick, she was so fine,
I always flipped when she kissed me,
I thought our love was cool, but now I'm the fool,
She's just my ichiban tomodachi. ...
NANCY: Does she make your love platonic?
DEUCES: Yes, our caresses are rebuffed**
NANCY: Well, the whole darn thing's ironic
ALL: Cause I never seem to get enough!

Cute, and kind of fascinating, because I have conversations just like this all the time, in both languages.

* This was the stage name used at the time by Miyoshi UMEKI, who would go on to be fairly successful in the US, even starring in the movie version of Flower Drum Song (as a Chinese woman, natch). Her two US albums are now only available in Japan, possibly because the cover of Miyoshi sings for Arthur Godfrey is so creepy.

** OK, a little creepy there, but I think we're supposed to assume that they're aiming to caress different ladies, at different times.

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I'll attest to that. But I hope you mean you have conversations with similar subject matter and not, you know, speech pattern.


Oh, know, I totally harmonise with my friends about the rebuffing our caresses receive. It gets us some weird looks in Denny's, I can tell you. I also regularly use the word "flip" in that way.

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