MAI TAI HI-FI: TIKI MUSIC

: : The right music can add to the ambience of an already exotic locale like your favourite tiki restaurant or bar. Unfortunately, many of the great places the Tiki Society visits are lacking a little in the music department. Sure a few of our favourite haunts pipe in Hawaiian muzak but often it is at a level that is barely audible (The Jardin Tiki in Montreal does, however, blare a selection of Hawaiian and Oriental tunes in its washrooms). : :

: : Just because local restaurants aren’t doing it exactly right doesn’t mean you can’t take it upon yourself to spin a few pu-pu platters in your basement bar or at your backyard luau. We are taking it for granted that you are probably already familiar with some of the bigger names in exotica music, such as Martin Denny, Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman, and others who have been resurrected on CD thanks to the lounge music fad of a few years back. We hope you’ve also discovered old favourites like Don Ho and dug up a few rarer gems like Robert Drasnin. : :


CROSSOVER HAWAIIAN

: : Okay, so you’ve picked up a copy of Ultra Lounge’s Mondo Exotica CD… you even went out and bought a couple of Les Baxter and Martin Denny compilations... or maybe you’re more of a traditionalist and you got your hands on some Hawaiian folk music or an Alfred Apaka record. Where do you turn to next? Well it all depends on your particular tiki needs. Some of the worst stuff you’ll find out there are muzak-style Hawaiian tunes on CDs generally selling for under ten bucks and usually titled something like Music of Hawaii or some close variation thereof. There are also a lot of CDs offering old Hawaiian recordings from the 1920’s and 30’s, some highlighting groups like The Moes, others focusing on steel guitar players such as Harry Kalapana. While these are authentic and interesting, they are not typically the type of music you would imagine people listening to in a tiki bar during the 1950’s and 60’s when the Hawaiiana/Polynesian Pop craze was at its peak. Although the mainland US welcomed Hawaii into the union with open arms back in 1959, one of the ways it incorporated Hawaiian culture into American culture as a whole was to make Hawaiiana more palatable to mainland tastes. This was also true of Hawaiian music. Once Americans discovered traditional Hawaiian music, it only took a short while to adapt it as the perfect background sound for the neighbourhood tiki bar in Anytown, USA. And it didn’t take long for Hawaiian artists to jump on the bandwagon and start Americanizing their music themselves. : :

THE MAUNA LOA ISLANDERS: MUSIC OF THE ISLANDS (RCA)

: : My favourite record from that era (it came out in 1959), is not available on CD… so it may take a little digging to find a copy. Music of the Islands by the Mauna Loa Islanders has been sitting in my dad’s record collection for as far back as I can remember. Released on the RCA label, the familiar Living Stereo logo on this record features a slight variation from its usual look: in the right hand corner, rather than simply providing a space for the LP’s catalogue number, the logo includes the phrase “A Hula Party.” That is the key to the genius of this album: the producers (Johnnie Camacho and Herman Diaz Jr. of Esquivel fame) took a selection of Hawaiian tunes including Sweet Leilani, My Little Grass Shack, and The Hawaiian Wedding Song, and reinterpreted them for use in the bachelor pad (or at a bachelor’s backyard hula party). The songs are Americanized but still feature a lot, and I do mean a lot, of twangy guitar, played by a relatively small swingin’ combo. : :

LEO ADDEO AND HIS ORCHESTRA: HAWAII IN STEREO (Camden)

: : Taking the concept one step further is Hawaii in Stereo by Leo Addeo and his Orchestra (also produced by Herman Diaz Jr.). This one is on RCA’s budget label, Camden, and is also unavailable on CD. Some of the band members on this album, such as Al Caiola and Billy Mure, are sure to be familiar to lounge music fans. Hawaii in Stereo features a few of the same songs found on Music of the Islands but here the arrangements are even more American, transforming some the songs into big band numbers and others into easy-listening tunes... but, of course, with the ever-present twangy guitars featured on every track, the songs remain Hawaiian, and therefore exotic, to mainlanders’ ears. : :

BASIL HENRIQUES AND THE WAIKIKI ISLANDERS: SHADES OF HAWAII and HAWAIIAN NIGHTS (Studio 2 Stereo)

: : A strangely intriguing CD set I recently found is a “2 original albums on a double CD” deal on the Studio 2 Stereo label. Shades of Hawaii and Hawaiian Nights by Basil Henriques and The Waikiki Islanders were released in 1967 and 1968 respectively, on the EMI label in England. This set is truly a bizarre find… two Hawaiian albums with no Hawaiian songs on them! The concept here was not to Americanize Hawaiian music but to take standards and pop songs and give them the Hawaiian treatment! So we get Strangers in the Night, Moon River, Edelweiss, Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, Up Up and Away, and more, all played by The Waikiki Islanders, featuring Birmingham-born Basil himself on steel guitar. For the song Stranger on the Shore, Basil uses his guitar to imitate the sound of a seagull, “an evocative and atmospheric touch which evokes dreams (or maybe memories) of balmier foreign climes,” according to the record’s liner notes. : :

: : I hope these few reviews/suggestions at least give you a place to start in your search for tiki music. Despite the many muzak-y CDs out there, it’s not as impossible as it seems to find the good stuff but you have to be willing to look for old LPs. Recent trips to second-hand stores yielded more than I expected to find... good luck on your search... : :

John Trivisonno © 1999


NEO-TIKI MUSIC

: : Picture yourself relaxing in a South Seas bar with a Tiki mug full of exotic drink. Sound good? You just feel your worries slipping away when you glance over in the corner toward the band. Expecting to see a variety of island drums and vibes, you start to get uptight when instead there sit four large guitar amps and a battle-scarred organ. But don't flip your top, dad – these unkempt youngsters are just here to lay down some Tiki Rock, the bastard offspring of Polynesian lounge pop. This is mostly a recent phenomenon as some of today's modern surf bands have gone searching through their record collections to come up with a hybrid surf/exotica sound. Here are some essential albums for when you can't get your kicks with Les or Martin. : :

THE BOMBORAS: SAVAGE ISLAND (Dionysus Records)

: : The Bomboras hit it big last year when they were assigned to an affiliate label of Geffen, but Savage Island is an earlier album which successfully takes off on Les Baxter's first recording, Ritual of the Savage. The Bomboras influences are many, including stripper music, and teen garage bands, which they combine with Martin Denny style exotica with fantastic results. I don't know any other band that can cover a Link Wray guitar instrumental, and make it sound like the forbidden rhythm of the jungle. A must for those who are transported by mysterious drums and eerie noises. : :

THE TIKI TONES: SUBURBAN SAVAGE (Dionysus Records)

: : The real star of The Tiki Tones is guitarist Shag, an artist whose Tikis, mad scientists and zombies grace the covers of most surf records being released today. The Tiki Tones use Farfisa organs to create a light, yet upbeat sound that is suitable for relaxing. But don't get too comfortable, because then you won't be able to get up and dance! The band likes to include off-beat covers, and you can find not only the Shadows' classic Kon Tiki, but also One Mint Julep and even a soundtrack cover from the 1960's erotic vampire film Vampyros Lesbos. The Tiki Tones are real devotees of the Tiki scene. They are sponsored by Captain Morgan's Rum, and offer drink recipes in their liner notes. You can even order specially made Tiki necklaces through their mail order. The Tiki Tones plan a new record to be released this year, so dust off your paper parasols. : :

THE HUNTINGTON CADS: GO EXOTIC! (Mai Tai Records)

: : OK, OK, I can hear you Polynesian purists saying “How can I relax at my favourite Tiki bar when there's rock and roll blaring at me?” Easy – you just pull out your Huntington Cads album. The Cads tend to favour tasteful British-style guitar songs over upbeat rock. On The Huntington Cads Go Exotic! they combine their love of laid back instrumentals with a gentle, exotic sound. And the result is fantastic songs like Enchantment, Forbidden Shores and Lunar Luau. : :

VARIOUS ARTISTS: JUNGLE EXOTICA VOL. 2 (Strip Records)

: : Just in case you thought the combination of exotica and rock n' roll was strictly a new phenomenon, the Jungle Exotica series will hip you to the score. Some bands like the Ventures and the Shadows tinkered with exotic elements in their work, but Jungle Exotica Vol. 2 is a full blown compilation which combines proven rockers like Davey Cortez with jungle novelty songs by unknowns such as Kookie Joe and Mohammed & His Robed Rockers. I found Volume 1 somewhat disappointing, but Volume 2 more than makes up for it with 27 great slabs of primitive rock and roll mixed with bird calls, whip snaps and bongos a plenty. This album also features the somewhat popular Camel Walk by The Saxons. Both albums are German imports, and may run you upwards of $30, but this series is an essential addition to your Tiki Rock collection. : :

: : There are a lot of other bands that like to combine rock and exotica; Deadbolt, Los Straitjackets, and even Southern Culture On The Skids usually put one exotica song on each of their albums. Elliot Easton's Tiki Gods and The Blue Hawaiians are also popular favourites. So when the gentle rhythms of Arthur Lyman just aren't soothing your wound up luau guests, drop one of these sides on your hi-fi for guaranteed action! : :

Paul Corupe © 1999


THE STAR & KEY OF THE INDIAN OCEAN – PLAY THEIR ROCK N' ROLL FIASCO (Green Cookie)

: : Okay, their name might be a mouthful, but this French surf band has been steadily gaining popularity in Europe. On this album, the band’s second, influences are drawn from a wide variety of sources, including 60s garage, spy soundtracks and straightforward surf rock. The accent may be on the rich reverb guitar sound, however there are a couple standout exotica-tinged tracks. ‘Thessaloniki’ combines an Island flavour with primal drumming that rises to spectacular finish. ‘French Kiss, Tahiti Love’, the album’s most notable track, starts as a slow instrumental creeper with a laid back Polynesian feel that will leave the gentle scent of salt water in your nose. Although I found the cover of The Novas seminal garage/wrestling anthem ‘The Crusher’ that caps the album a little uninspired, The Star & Key Of The Indian Ocean are an easy recommendation for surf or exotica aficionados. : :

Paul Corupe © 2004


EVEN MORE EXOTICA

VARIOUS ARTISTS: JUNGLE JIVE (Del-Fi Records)

: : When I first heard about Jungle Jive, I was a little excited. Most of the 18 tracks have never been on CD before, and there was even the promise of the never-before released Preston Epps song ‘Bongo Twist’. Preston Epps had a modest exotica-rock hit in 1959 with ‘Bongo Rock’, a great instrumental with some crazed bongo solos. Despite an exhaustive 50’s and 60’s rock catalogue, Del-Fi is notorious for lame cash-in style compilations (such as Pulp Surfin’), and I thought that this could be that compilation that turns things around. It’s not. Instead we’re treated to a disc full of limp exotica by deservedly unknown artists like the Bob Keene Orchestra, Voices of Africa, and The Executives. Even the Preston Epps song is ruined by the girl chorus who constantly remind us that we are indeed ‘Bongo Twistin’. The sole interesting track on this compilation is by British guitar instrumentalists The Shadows, who spice up their ‘Jungle Fever’ with Martin Denny-like bird calls. I wish I could say I liked Del-Fi more than I do, but I can’t when they keep releasing unappealing albums like this one. : :

ROBERT DRASNIN: VOODOO (Dionysus Records)

: : Originally released on the supermarket bargain-bin label Tops Records, this lost classic was reissued a few years back by Dionysus’ Lost Episode project. Robert Drasnin primarily composed music for TV shows in the late 50’s, but with Quiet Village climbing up the charts, was asked by Tops to make an exotica album on the cheap. What may come as a surprise to the unprepared listener is Drasnin’s skill as a composer. The 12 songs on the album are all originals, and while they aren’t quite as enjoyable as Baxter or Denny, they are definitely on par with anything else heard on any exotica compilation. The songs, with names like ‘Tambuku’ and ‘Chant of the Moon’ are sparse, percussion-heavy pieces with shimmering harps and even a little Les Baxter style female “ahhh”-ing. This album is highly recommended if you are looking for a way to expand your exotica CD collection beyond the standards. : :

Paul Corupe © 2000


WEBLEY EDWARDS: HAWAII CALLS: GREATEST HITS (Capitol)

: : From 1935 until 1975, Webley Edwards produced and hosted Hawaii Calls, a radio show broadcast throughout the US and Canada directly from the Beach at Waikiki. Featuring “authentic” Hawaiian music, the show introduced a huge catalogue of songs and numerous Hawaiian performers to North American audiences. Eventually, Capitol began to put out records of this material, as ‘presented’ by Edwards. This CD is apparently a “best of” collection of these discs. The familiar songs (Beyond the Reef, Lovely Hula Hands, Hawaiian War Chant, Sweet Leilani, etc.) are all sung in a 1950s-sounding, choral style by Hawaiian performers. : :

: : For some reason, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about this record when I first heard it, although it did grow on me. Maybe the songs are given a little too much of a Muzak-y treatment. The Space Age Pop website says that “Edwards was criticized for bastardizing Hawaiian music to appeal to the continental audience”. The CD liner notes say “An unusual Hawaiian chorus, singing unusual new arrangements of authentic Hawaiian song favorites.” Decide for yourself. : :

John Trivisonno © 2002


DON HO: THE DON HO SHOW / DON HO – AGAIN! (DBK Works/Runt)

: : Comprising two complete shows recorded live at Duke Kahanamoku's in Honolulu in the mid-1960s, this reissue brings together Don Ho's first two albums for Reprise on one disc for your listening pleasure. Not being much of a Don Ho fan, I have to say I wasn’t expecting much from this release. Covers of "Hang on Sloopy" and "La Bamba" listed in the liner notes seemed to confirm my fears but when I actually listened to the CD, I was amazed. This is great stuff! Forget about “Tiny Bubbles,” I now view Ho in a brand new light. Back when Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman were fading in popularity, it was Don Ho who stepped in with his raucous Las Vegas-style stage show to rope in a new generation of tourists. Prodding the audience to "suck up" their drinks one moment, and sing along in the next, it’s easy to see the appeal of his show. These are not warm instrumental soundscapes punctuated by birdcalls; these are songs meant to equate the Islands with a mischievous good time. That's certainly the case with Ho’s early hit "E Lei Ka Lei Lei," a memorable, catchy song that easily exceeds his most famous work. Covers like "A Taste of Honey" are given unmistakable Island flairs, making this disc a perfect snapshot of what it must have been like to be in Ho's audience on one of those warm Honolulu nights. And that "Hang On Sloopy" cover? Okay, it's still kind of lame but the rest of the disc easily makes up for it. The album also features informative new liner notes by Tiki News kingpin Otto von Stroheim, making it an essential purchase. : :

Paul Corupe © 2004


ITALO-AMERICAN EXOTICA

VIC DAMONE: THE LIVELY ONES/STRANGE ENCHANTMENT (EMI-Capitol)

: : Here’s something different... not your standard exotica record. Here’s Brooklyn’s own Vito Rocco Farinoli – better known as romantic crooner Vic Damone (one of Mr. Sinatra’s faves) – doing wonderful tunes like Shangri-La, Beyond the Reef, The Moon of Manakoora, and others (!)... backed by Billy May’s orchestra (!!)... featuring exotic percussive rhythms and rich string arrangements (!!!). : :

: : I’d always been familiar with Damone (always a pleasure to see him on the Jerry Lewis Telethon) but the first time I really sat down and listened to one of his records from start to finish was this past New Year’s Eve at my buddy Fred’s Cold War New Year’s Eve Bash. I really liked what I heard and decided to pick up some of Damone’s music to add to my own record collection. I headed out to Sam the Record Man early in the new year... : :

: : Jumping out at me from among all Damone’s so-called “greatest hits” packages on the store’s racks was a “2 albums on 1 CD” deal called “The Lively Ones/Strange Enchantment” (EMI-Capitol, UK release). What struck me was the sight of palm trees rather than Vic’s smiling mug on the album cover. I decided to forego a hits CD and get “Strange Enchantment” instead... Exotica by an Italian-American romantic balladeer... how could I resist? : :

: : I won’t discuss “The Lively Ones”, the first album featured on the CD, since it doesn’t really apply here (although it is a decent record). The liner notes for “Strange Enchantment” promise “haunting moods of faraway places... beautiful songs that conjure up lands of tropical enchantment.” If the record fails to conjure up distant lands as promised, it at least does a damn good job of conjuring up the feeling of lounging by the pool of the Hawaiian Village circa 1962 or sitting down for a Mai Tai and a Pu-Pu Platter at the Kon Tiki... and that’s good enough (if not better) for me! : :

: : The record actually brings to mind a couple more words: “lush” (from the cover photo of the sun beaming through the clouds and reflecting off the water as silhouetted palm trees loom in the foreground to Billy May’s wonderful orchestration) and, of course, “romance” (Damone’s warm voice does justice to the tunes; in fact, this is a great record to put on the hi-fi on those evenings when you want to slip into your best Aloha shirt and entertain your special someone at home). : :

: : Favourite tracks: they’re all good, but I especially liked the Les Baxter-ish title track, Shangri-La, Poinciana, You’re Lovable (co-written by Vic himself), and Ebb Tide. : :

John Trivisonno © 2000

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