Tokyo Melody: The German Tune That Brought the 1964 Tokyo Olympics Home to Brits

tokyo-melody

It was one of the most popular songs in the United Kingdom. It hit number 9 on the UK Singles Chart in November, 1964.

And if you watched the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in the UK, then you heard the theme song for BBC’s coverage of the summer Games, Tokyo Melody.

Composed by German jazz violinist, Helmut Zacharias, Tokyo Melody, according to The Guardian, was “an ethereal, vaguely futuristic piece (which) must have made the hairs on the neck stand up back in 1964, the first year Olympic action was beamed back by satellite from the other side of the world.”

helmu-zachariasWhile it opens with a late 50’s/early 60s vibe, it then breaks into a wordless voice melody that has a tinge of Asian-ness. There are a set of notes that to a Western ear sound “oriental”. David Bowie’s China Girl starts off explicitly with that sound. Tokyo Melody is more subtle, and yet it’s there.

I am not a student of music, so I had to look this up. Apparently, the short hand for the Asian sound is the five-note octave, or the pentatonic scale. As you can see in this video, you can play an Asian-sounding set of notes if you use the first, second, third, fifth and sixth keys , or more simply, the five black keys, – any of them, in any order. 

“Tokyo Melody” was the A side of the single, and it was backed by another pentatonic tune by Zacharias, “Teatime in Tokyo”. Together, this single went on to sell well over 10 million records.