One of us will probably devote an article on the new NHK kayo/J-Pop show "Utakon"（うたコン）sometime in the near future. I've just seen the second episode of the show which replaced the long-running "Kayo Concert"（歌謡コンサート）this month, and the new kid on the block has definitely been shifting things to include some more of the J-Pop. I've got no problems with the new format per se although a couple of slip-ups did pop up in last night's sophomore outing such as Hiroshi Miyama（三山ひろし）missing out on one line in his first song and Toko Furuuchi（古内東子）giving a surprisingly subpar performance of her arguably most famous song "Dare Yori Suki Nanoni"（誰より好きなのに）. I continued to be surprised about who showed up and Toko, who I had never seen appear on a TV show, was one of the biggies but then was given another (unfortunate) surprise when she sounded off-tune during her performance. Generally speaking, I think "Utakon" is still going through some growing pains but I'm hopeful that things will become a well-oiled machine bringing the generations together every Tuesday.
One of the highlights from last night's show was "Hoshikage no Komichi" which translates into the romantic Starlight Lane. I remember it primarily for the words of "I love you, I love you..." which I had originally thought was just part of an elaborate commercial jingle for one of those Kirin drinks. But when I heard Risa Junna（純名里沙）perform it on the NHK stage, those famous words juggled those old memory engrams and it was then that I found out about how long ago "Hoshikage no Komichi" had been created.
Written by Ryo Yano（矢野亮）and composed by Ichiro Tone（利根一郎）for release in April 1950, the original version has that "Wah, wah, wah" ballad sound which I've associated with the sweet music sung by crooners back in the early half of the 20th century. In fact, according to the J-Wiki article on the song, composer Tone molded "Hoshikage no Komichi" to have Minoru Obata's（小畑実）distinct voice reflect more of a Bing Crosby delivery, although Der Bingle had that deeper baritone. And what I also found out was that during an age when the usage of English lyrics was rare in a kayo kyoku, Obata's crooning of "I love you" became quite the talk of the town after the single's release. The talk of the town translated into sales of 200,000 copies...a huge hit no matter the decade.
Over 40 years later in December 1992, Naomi Chiaki（ちあきなおみ）very briefly came out of her retirement from the music industry to record her version of "Hoshikage no Komichi". And speaking of Minoru Obata, Chiaki is another balladeer with a unique set of vocal cords. Those dulcet tones of hers approaching the more smooth jazz/Latin arrangement make for a nice little urban lullaby. However, Yano's lyrics deal about that cool nighttime stroll down a lane for a couple very much in love.
"Hoshikage no Komichi" has become a kayo standard considering the number of other singers who have covered it such as UA (below) and Frank Nagai（フランク永井）. The above is Midori Karashima's（辛島美登里）version which was recorded onto her 2001 album "Eternal-One". At the same time, the song has become a favourite in advertisements. Not only has it been used for those Kirin products, but it was once used in 1985 to hawk instant coffee and in 1992 for Audi.