Exotica Was A Thing

I occasionally rise early enough on Sunday mornings to hear “The Retro Cocktail Hour” bounce off the ionosphere from Radio New Zealand – 7AM ET – 11:00 UTC – on 7245 kHz. Your AM radio dial only goes up to 1600 kHz so you have to receive shortwave to hear it.

This morning the host was featuring an assortment of “Exotica” tunes. Exotica, as your friendly Wikipedia will tell you, “. . . is a musical genre, named after the 1957 Martin Denny album of the same name that was popular during the 1950s to mid-1960s with Americans who came of age during World War II.”

Exotica was not the musical cup of tea for my Boomer generation, and the main reason I am familiar with it is that, as a young adult, I worked at radio stations that played standards or “Middle-Of-The-Road” music.

I remember comedian/musician Steve Allen on TV making fun of the genre. He would let loose from behind the keyboard with a loud “smock-smock” to imitate the cheesy exotic bird calls heard on the Denny recordings. He even released a silly take-off called “Mah-Mah Limbo.”

I feel certain that some of the interest in exotica sprang from the introduction of stereo sound reproduction. Record labels were looking for music that showcased the gimmick of wide stereo separation, and what better than a jungle full of wild animals bouncing from the left and right speakers? Home hi-fi enthusiasts were quick to snatch up records more for their sound effects than their musical content.

The blooming of exotica coincided with the popularity of the “Tiki” culture. Think Tiki torches, faux Tiki god icons, coconuts, leis, and sweet “south sea” cocktail concoctions. Nearly every town had a Tiki lounge/restaurant incarnation. If you saw one, you had seen them all, exactly like the “Luau Room” at Louisville’s Standiford Field (now Muhammed Ali International.)

Luau Room – Photo University of Louisville Archives

Sometimes music takes a quirky, weird turn. Novelties, it seems, have always existed; from screwball vaudeville to the CB radio craze. Goofy stuff creeps into our music and becomes a thing.

Thought In Memory Of Thomas Brown

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common — this is my symphony.

William Henry Channing