October 27, 2005
I thought I was going insane. For my first two weeks in Japan, “Top of the World” by the Carpenters was stuck in my head, and it was all thanks to karaoke.
Never have I felt so inept about American music than when I am sitting in a Japanese karaoke bar. During my brief stay in Japan, I have been to karaoke three times, and I will probably go at least three more. It seems my host families like showing off their knowledge of American music – usually in the form of sappy love songs – even if they don’t know a bit of English otherwise.
It has been difficult for me to find a tune to sing – a song that I know I will be comfortable performing every time I go. This has been especially problematic because 1. All of the songs at karaoke here have been re-keyed at a higher pitch, and 2. It doesn’t really matter which song it is, I don’t particularly like being on stage anyway.
I have tried everything from Madonna to Sheryl Crow and the Beatles to James Brown, and nothing seems to work.
My first night of karaoke in Japan, I went out with my host family and their friends. One of their buddies, Kanoh san, said he goes out to karaoke bars all the time, and it showed. Every time it was his turn to sing, he would pick an American tune, and say to me “You know this one! You know this one! Let’s sing!”
I would stumble through some obscure Diana Ross/Stevie Wonder match-up, not really knowing the tune and not really knowing the lyrics. But he would sing it brilliantly. Then, Kanoh san requested a song that I was certain I had heard before, but I only kind of knew the chorus: “Top of the World,” by the Carpenters. I looked vacantly at the screen while all the men in the bar joined in, singing to Karen Carpenter’s lame, sappy lyrics.
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So for more than two weeks the song rattled around in my brain. My thoughts were set to the tune of the chorus. Without even giving it a second thought, I would whistle or hum it on the bus. I think drove my teammates crazy, especially since I only knew the chorus:
“I’m on the top of the world, looking down on creation, and the only explanation I can find, is the love that I’ve found, ever since you have been around. Your love puts me on the top of the world.”
I couldn’t stand the cheesiness. So sappy. But, somehow, really catchy and kind of lovely.
So one night earlier this week, trying to put an end to this Karen Carpenter hell – or at least expand my vocabulary within the song – my team mate Tracy Rudnicki and I decided to look up the words to “Top of the World” on the Internet.
Reading the words on my computer screen in my hotel room, we sang along, laughing hysterically when we were done.
Other songs have since replaced “Top of the World” in my brain, but I am certain that I have found my song for the next time I go to karaoke.