A Taste of Honey had two huge hits that were very dissimilar from each other -- "Boogie Oogie Oogie" and a cover of Kyu Sakamoto's 1963 gold hit "Sukiyaki." The former was foot-stomping disco and the latter was languid and lush.
Around 1971, singer/bassist/guitarist Janice Marie Johnson and keyboardist Perry Kimble decided to start a band after meeting at an audition for vacation cruise gigs for Princess Cruises. Taking their group name from one of their favorite songs, the band added several friends to the lineup and began playing Southern California bars and military bases in the U.S. and abroad. Their lead singer, Greg Walker, quit to join Santana and guitarist Hazel Payne was added. After meeting with producer Fonce Mizell and his brother Larry, the group were signed to Capitol Records.
The group's first single, "Boogie Oogie Oogie," was inspired by an unresponsive audience during a date at a military base; Johnson believed the crowd was chauvinistic toward the group's two female guitar players. The notorious bass solo intro came about when Johnson was warming up before the recording session, unaware that she was being recorded. The single sold more than two million copies and topped Billboard's charts for three weeks in fall 1978. The follow-up single, the slinky and funky "Do It Good," went to number 13 R&B and number 79 pop, and A Taste of Honey went platinum.
After hearing Linda Ronstadt's version of Smokey Robinson's "Ooh Baby Baby," Johnson decided that the group (now Johnson and Payne) should remake a classic song. In their pre-Capitol days, Johnson used to sing the lyrics to Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki" when the group toured Japan and performed at the Yamaha Song Festival. She contacted her Japanese sub-publisher, who in turn contacted the original writers, Ei Rokusuke and Hashida Nakamura Rokusuke, to get permission to redo the song with English lyrics. Two translators were employed, and one of them came up with lyrics that were close to the maudlin theme of the original song, translated into English as "I Look up When I Walk." Johnson decided to add her own original lyrics to the song. At first she thought her lyrics were too simple, but producer George Duke encouraged her to write from her heart. A publishing-rights dispute almost stopped the song from being released. After it was recorded, Johnson found out that one of the original writers had signed his rights away years before. His publisher had Johnson give up all songwriting and publishing rights to her new version before Capitol was able to release it. The bassist relented, knowing that this song would be the one to take A Taste of Honey out of the disco category. But Capitol wasn't too keen on "Sukiyaki," promising to release it as a single but then releasing "Rescue Me" (number 16 R&B, summer 1980) and "I'm Talkin 'Bout You" (number 64 R&B, late 1980). Others discouraged Johnson for donning Japanese attire and doing a fan dance while performing the song. Forced by album track radio play, the label finally released "Sukiyaki" as a single, which went to number one R&B and number three pop in spring 1981. The Twice as Sweet LP went to number 36 pop in spring 1981. After "Sukiyaki" was a hit, the duo went to Japan and toured with Kyu Sakamoto. A Taste of Honey also covered Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "I'll Try Something New." Johnson released a solo Capitol LP, One Taste of Honey, which yielded a charting single, the softly "Sukiyaki"-ish "Love Me Tonite," (number 67 R&B), in summer 1984. The Burger King national fast food chain began using "Boogie Oogie Oogie" in a national TV ad campaign in summer 1999, introducing another generation to the late-'70s smash. The track has also been sampled by hip-hop and rap artists MC Lyte, Mack 10, and others. Around the same time, Johnson announced plans for an EP, Hiatus of the Heart, for her own Tastebuds label to be released in 2000. She also said she had projects with Ice Cube and Con Funk Shun founder Felton C. Pilate II. Payne tours Japan with her own Top 40 band. Perry Kimble died in 1999. A Taste of Honey's greatest hits can be found on Anthology (One Way, 1995) and "Sukiyaki" is listed on Smooth Grooves: A Sensual Collection, Vol. 7 (Rhino, 1996). ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi