06. From Covers to Originals: “Rockabilly” in 1956-1963



1. Fragmentary shots of a Nichigeki Western Carnival and a jazz kissa in 1958

From: Nichigeki Western Carnival. Documentary program, NHK-TV, December 18, 2010.

Masa’aki Hirao, Mickey Curtis and Keijirō Yamashita are featured as vocalists and guitarists.

Many impressive glimpses of the Western Carnival and a jazz kissa in 1958 are given.

2. 小坂一也, “Heartbreak Hotel”

2. Kazuya Kosaka, “Heartbreak Hotel”

 From: Kazuya Kosaka, “Heartbreak Hotel” / Teruo Hata, “Sōsakusha-no Uta” (The theme song from The Searchers). Nippon Columbia JL-177, 1956, 78 rpm.

Kazuya Kosaka: vocals; Wagon Masters: backing band.


This first cover of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” in Japan (1956), arranged by Raymond Hattori, became a big hit in Japan, and prompted country & western bands to convert to rockabilly bands. Kosaka sang it in the seventh Kōhaku Uta-gassen (The Red and White Song Contest) on the 1957 New Year’s Eve.

3. 平尾昌晃, “星は何んでも知っている”

3. Masa’aki Hirao, “Hoshi-wa Nandemo Shitte’iru” (Stars Know Everything)

From: “Hoshi-wa Nandemo Shitte’iru” / “Rock Yūyake Koyake”. King Records, C-1617 (K944), 1958, 78 rpm (45 rpm).

Masa’aki Hirao: vocals; All Stars Wagon: backing band.


Being one of the earliest original songs sung by a Japanese “rockabilly” artist (lyrics byTetsu Mizushima; music by Hiroshi Tsutsumi), this single was very successful.

4. 水原弘, “黒い花びら”

4. Hiroshi Mizuhara, “Kuroi Hanabira” (Black Petals)

From: “Kuroi Hanabira” (Black Petals) / “Seishun-o Kakero” (Stake Your Youth). Toshiba JP-1070, 1959, 45 rpm.

Hiroshi Mizuhara: lead vocals; Hidehiko Matsumoto: tenor saxophone; Toshiba studio orchestra: backing orchestra; vocal-music students at the Tokyo College of the Arts: harmony vocals.


This first single by Hiroshi Mizuhara released in July 1959 won the first Japan Record Award in 1959.

5. 坂本 九九, “上を向いて歩こう”

5. Kyū Sakamoto, “Ue-o Muite Arukō” (I Look Up When I Walk)

From: “Ue-o Muite Arukō” (I Look Up When I Walk) / “Anoko-no Namae-wa Nanten-kana” (What Is Her Name, I Wonder). Toshiba JP-5083, 1961, 45 rpm.

Kyū Sakamoto: lead vocals; Toshiba studio orchestra: backing orchestra.



This song topped the Billboard charts in 1963. A lot of international cover versions appeared, including those by Taste of Honey (1981) and 4PM (1995).