First off, for all those folks like Noelle and myself who watch NHK's "Kayo Concert"（歌謡コンサート）regularly, I have to announce as of April (which is the time when a lot of things do a reset in Japan), the title of the show will be changing to "Uta Kon"（うたコン）. Nope, this isn't an early April Fool's joke (by me, at least); it is listed at its website. I'm assuming that it refers to "Uta Concert" (Song Concert) although the trendy abbreviation of the title scares me a bit. And I hope that it is only the title that is changing.
OK, getting back to the main point of this article, last night's edition of "Kayo Concert" had the bipolar theme of traditional Japanese music and Western music with Japanese lyrics. The gimmick worked for the most part although sometimes the sudden swing in tone between West and East was sometimes jarring. One of the songs on the Western side of things was an old chestnut titled "Aux Champs-Élysées" that I had heard a number of times sung here and there over the years whether it was on shows like "Kayo Concert" or even on TV ads. With the Japanese lyrics and the Japanese ability to adapt overseas melodies as one of their own, I had naturally assumed for years and years that this French-sounding ditty was an original clever kayo.
Well, my world view when it comes to "Aux Champs-Élysées" has been shattered. Not only was it not originally Japanese, it wasn't even French to begin with. In fact, it came over from the other side of the English Channel. There were neither croissants nor café au lait involved here...more like bubble and squeak. The original melody by Michael Wilshaw (whose name was shown on the screen last night when ex-Takarazuka Troupe member Risa Junna（純名里沙）sang her version on "Kayo Concert") was for the song "Waterloo Road" by British rock band Jason Crest in 1968. Michael Antony Deighan provided the lyrics for a song that sounded like good ol' Beatles tune for heaven's sake.
However in the next year, French singer Joe Dassin was able to give his own version of the song under "Les Champs-Élysées", thanks to lyricist Pierre Delanoe adapting the words to reflect one of the most famous streets on the planet. I'm not sure how "Waterloo Road" did on the UK charts but "Les Champs-Élysées" went to No. 1 for 2 weeks in France.
And then in 1971, the song didn't just hop a channel but an entire continent when it arrived in Japan. Moroccan-born Danièle Vidal had been scouted by the legendary Charles Aznavour and groomed to become a singer debuting at the age of 17 with "Aime ceux qui t'aiment" which also found popularity in Japan under the title of "Tenshi no Rakugaki"（天使のらくがき...An Angel's Grafitti）in 1969. It wasn't soon long after that Vidal started making long stays over there. In July 1971, her French-language cover of "Les Champs-Élysées" was released which got as high as No. 78 on Oricon with her own Japanese-language version under the slightly modified title of "Aux Champs-Élysées" coming out a couple of months later. My image of the song was always that it has been one sung by a woman, and perhaps it was indeed the Vidal version that I kept hearing. Her connection in Japan deepened when she married a member of a Group Sounds band, Isao Shibata（柴田功）of Chaco & Hell's Angel（チャコ&ヘルスエンジェル）in 1980 and gave birth to a son. However, the couple divorced and currently Vidal is living in France as a co-owner of a restaurant.
"Aux Champs-Élysées" now seems to be the Japanese theme song for any vacation in the City of Lights. Of course, perpetuating that image has been the number of covers of the song. The late chanson singer Fubuki Koshiji（越路吹雪）gave a great version with a New Orleans jazzy twist. I'm actually torn between this one and the version by Vidal. The lyrics were written by Tokiko Iwatani（岩谷時子）.
The Peanuts got in on the act as well with their take on "Aux Champs-Élysées" which also sounds a bit Beatle-y with that fuzzy guitar in there but starts out like some sort of kayo march.
All this background on this adopted kayo reminds me of another tune originally from points beyond Japan.