CLOSE

The Tone-Deaf Man Who Invented Karaoke

Given how many horrendous karaoke performances we've been subjected to, we weren't at all surprised to learn that the guy who invented the karaoke machine can't sing, can't read music, and plays the keyboards about as well as your average third-grader.

Songs in the Off-key of Life

We were, however, surprised to learn that poor Daisuke Inoue has made almost no money from his invention, and that he didn't even give it a try himself until 1999, on his 59th birthday. Inoue's happy-go-lucky ineptitude has been pretty much the driving force of his entire life. In high school he picked up the drums, which he chose as an instrument because, hey, all you had to do was hit them. Eventually, he took his limited talent and started playing with a Hawaiian band that frequented old dance halls from the days of the American World War II occupation. Inoue, shall we say, marched to the beat of a different drummer. Noticing this, the other band members quickly, and somewhat mercifully, realized that he'd be of better use on the business side, and he started acting as the band's manager. But he still served as occasional drummer, particularly on amateur nights playing backup for rich Japanese businessmen.

Because Inoue couldn't read musical notation, he had to rely on watching the singer's lips in order to strike the right beat. One of his clients apparently found his drum technique flattering and asked Inoue to accompany him to a hot springs resort as his personal drummer. But Inoue couldn't go. Time Asia tells what happened next: "[Inoue] obliged by providing him with a tape of his accompaniment. The boss delivered an emotional rendition of Frank Nagai's "˜Leaving Haneda Airport on a 7:50 Flight,' Inoue collected his money in absentia and karaoke (a term long used in the industry for house musicians "“ it literally means "˜empty orchestra') was born."

Inoue quickly realized he was on to something. With some help from his buddies, he built 11 prototype machines, kitted them out with amplifiers and background music, and then leased them to bars in Kobe. They were an immediate hit.

But Inoue made one crucial mistake: He didn't patent his invention.

Big companies quickly realized they could make a mint on machines and tapes and made their own. Inoue only went so far as to patent two things: a type of plastic-covered songbook for wannabe Frank Sinatras, and a concoction he claimed could ward off rats and cockroaches in more downscale karaoke joints. But hey, give the poor guy credit: He certainly did things His Way.

This piece was excerpted from the mental_floss book In the Beginning: The Origins of Everything. You can pick up a copy in our store. Karaoke image credit: Gwen Bell's excellent guide, 'How to Rock a Karaoke Bar.'

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
arrow
History
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
quiz
Animal Trivia of Escalating Difficulty
iStock
iStock

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios