Friday, April 07, 2006
SIDETRACK OFF THE BEATEN PATH -- INTO THE STRANGE WORLD OF INCREDIBLY STRANGE MUSIC! Now, this music doesn't quite fit in with the "Great American Songbook" tradition but it was a HUGELY popular genre in the pre-rock & roll era. Known variously as Lounge Music, Space Age Bachelor Pad or Exotica, this wonderfully wacky music was all the rage in the 50's and 60's shortly after Don the Beachcomber opened his famous bar. (Here's a facsimile of the actual menu below). Equally at home in a Tiki Lounge, an orbiting rocket or a Polynesian island, this stuff is a lot of fun. The big "lounge revival" of the mid-90's brought a lot of this stuff onto cd for the very first time. Here's some of the big contenders in the lounge field and my personal pick for favourite tracks. Les Baxter was probably the maestro; not only did he write the song "Quiet Village" (which Martin Denny has a monster hit with) but he also produced albums raging from tiki exotica to space-age cocktail music to scores for horror films such as House of Usher and The Dunwich Horror. I have a soft spot for the exotica stuff, so the Les Baxter track I'd pick would have to be "Harem Silks From Bombay". Speaking of Martin Denny, he was probably the king of the exotica sound. While his version of "Quiet Village" is indeed a classic, I'd have to pick his eponymous song "Exotica" as my fave. Juan Garcia Esquivel (over there on the left. . . .I assume he's standing in front of an Aztec temple) stuck to the more spacey, swinging bachelor pad music. He's famous for his chorus of singers who would croon "Zoo Zoo Zoo Zoo Zoo Zoo"! I'm hard-pressed to pick one particular track of his but I'd have to say "Mini Skirt" is suitably wacky. Yma Sumac is supposedly an actual princess from the Andes and has been blessed by the gods with a multi-octave voice which ranges from a volcanic growl to a martini glass-shattering screech. I don't know if I can pick one particular song by this fabled "voice of the xtabay", but I guess I'll pick "Malambo #1". eden ahbez (he doesn't believe people are worthy of capital letters) was the original "Nature Boy". In fact, he wrote the Nat King Cole hit of the same name. This guy actual took off for a desert island and stayed there for a good part of his life. The unequaled masterpiece of this musical Robinson Crusoe is definitely "Full Moon". If this song doesn't transport you to a Polynesian beach then nothing will (it comes complete with jungle birds and the sound of waves). In an effort to prove just how odd I am, I will admit to driving around one night years ago listening to this song over and over and OVER (for a good few hours) during a particularly stressful night. The strange power of cheesy tiki lounge music knows no limits, ladies and gentlemen! Speaking of transporting yourself to a beach, Arthur Lyman specialized in the Hawaiian sound. His masterpiece is the song entitled "Sea Breeze" which will make you crave a tropical drink within 5 seconds listening. Another Hawaiian specialist was Webley Edwards (his classic "Fire Goddess" LP cover below). I'm partial to his song "Alika". Alika it a lot. Ouch! Last but certainly not least on this list is Korla Pandit; he had a long career playing Far Eastern tunes on the organ, hosting his own TV show and eventually even having a cameo in Tim Burton's film "Ed Wood" (that's Korla playing in the turban playing the organ to Johnny Depp's veil dance). Korla's LP "Korla Pandit Plays the Music of the Exotic East" is a classic and his version of "Misirlou" is a keeper. Well, I'm gonna fix myself a tropical drink (maybe an Alien Urine Sample. . . . .yes, that IS an actual drink. . . .click here and see the recipe) and take the next boat to Eden's Island. I'm meeting a Tiki Idol on the beach and I don't wanna keep him waiting. You know what happened to Greg Brady. . .