Tiki Music: Lounge

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Lounge music. The term evokes a range of images, from a cheesy singer playing piano in a hotel bar, to a glitzy big band vocalist belting out standards in Vegas. In any case, the singer is the star of the show, be it a lowly lounge lizard, a sultry siren, or one of the Rat Pack crooners fronting a big band.

The lounge music I’ve enjoyed over the years parallels the rise, fall, and rebirth of Tiki. Lounge really hit its stride in the Mid-Century era of the 1950s-60s, and enjoyed a revival in the 1990s, just like Tiki. This versatile musical genre is still going strong today, though it is evocative of a time long gone.

Here, then, are the lounge albums I’ve listened to since the 1980s. My enjoyment of most of this music predates my love of Tiki, so perhaps it was a precursor for me. Or, yet again, worlds colliding.

Sinatra

Frank Sinatra: Capital Collectors Series (1989). The Voice. Arguably the greatest vocalist ever, Frank Sinatra began his singing career in the 1930s with big bands during the Swing era. I believe he peaked during his Capitol Records years, 1953-60, which coincided with his rise as a movie actor. Sinatra set the table for all Lounge singers who followed him.

connickHarry Connick, Jr.: We Are In Love (1990). One of the young bucks who followed in Sinatra’s footsteps, Harry Connick, Jr. was a child prodigy from New Orleans who began performing at the age of 5. Like Sinatra, he parlayed his early success as a Lounge/Big Band vocalist in the 1990s into an acting career, both in movies and television.

louis-primaLouis Prima: Capital Collectors Series (1991). Louis Prima was a versatile musician of great longevity. He began his career with a New Orleans Jazz band in the 1920s, led a Swing combo in the 1930s, a Big Band in the 1940s, and a Vegas Lounge act in the 1950s. Prima perfected the Jump Blues Lounge style during his Capitol Records years, 1956-62. Anybody whose original music sounds just as good as future covers by Brian Setzer and David Lee Roth was ahead of his time. Louis Prima brought high energy to Lounge!

DeanMartin

Dean Martin: Seasons Greetings (1992). Who doesn’t love Christmas music? Lounge artists have made their fair share of holiday albums, and then some. Of all of the Rat Pack’s efforts, Dean Martin’s are my favorite. His smooth, comfortable voice was the perfect vehicle for conveying the warmth of Christmas music. Dino’s version of Baby It’s Cold Outside is one of my favorite holiday tunes ever.

FBennettLadiesTony Bennett: Here’s to the Ladies (1995). Speaking of smooth, here’s another cat that’s been singing forever. Tony Bennett started singing jazz songs in the 1950s, peaked in the 1960s, faded in the 1970s and 1980s, came back strong in the 1990s and is as popular as ever today (Is this pattern getting old yet?). Although he doesn’t have the greatest voice, Bennett’s style is so natural that it seems he was born to sing Lounge music.

zootsCherry Poppin’ Daddies: Zoot Suit Riot (1997). The Swing music revival of the late 1990s didn’t last very long, but its impact on Lounge music is undeniable. Cherry Poppin’ Daddies introduced a new generation of music lovers (like me) to the Jump Blues style made famous by Louis Prima 40 years earlier. Their music was full of energy and had a sense of humor more biting than Prima’s, which seems corny by comparison.

bigbadBig Bad Voodoo Daddy: Americana Deluxe (1998). This band did Cherry Poppin’ Daddies one better with their unforgettable soundtrack to the movie Swingers. Who hasn’t danced to their hit song Go Daddy-O? I know I start dancing whenever I hear it! Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has managed to maintain their popularity while the rest of the Swing revival hasn’t, as they continue to tour to this day.

ElvisCostelloBurtBacharachElvis Costello and Burt Bacharach: Painted from Memory (1998). This was a most unlikely collaboration. Burt Bacharach was the composer of many Easy Listening hits in the 1960s. Elvis Costello led the New Wave of Rock&Roll music in the early 1980s. Together, they created a collection of heartfelt, spellbinding music, the likes of which hadn’t been heard in years. A perfect Lounge album.

the-look-of-love-52afa6f68c454Diana Krall: The Look of Love (2001). Not to be outdone by her husband Elvis Costello, Diana Krall has made a name for herself as a Lounge singer. Her sexy voice (think Kathleen Turner), stunning good looks, and piano-playing ability add up to the total Lounge package – une chanteuse par excellence. I could listen to Diana Krall, or better yet watch her perform, all day long. 😉

Lost in Paradise
Martini Kings: Lost in Paradise (2010). Like Elvis Costello, Tony Marsico cut his chops in Rock&Roll bands, playing bass with many big stars (Bob Dylan, Roger Daltrey) and as the regular bass player for Matthew Sweet for 10 years. With his current band, Martini Kings, Marsico has carved out a cool niche playing upright bass in a classic Lounge combo. They are in great demand in the Modern Jazz circles of Southern California and beyond. My favorite Martini Kings tunes include female vocalist Kate Campbell, who gives the band a smooth, sexy sound with a retro feel. I hope to see them perform in-person some day.

The music in these albums could be the soundtrack to many a painting by SHAG. It’s no wonder I fell in love with his artwork, and apropos that I stumbled upon it while searching for cover art for my first mix CD, Panda’s Swinging Cocktail Hour, which included a heavy dose of this music. I guess it really is a case of worlds colliding for me that Lounge and Tiki are so intimately connected.

Guitars, Cadillacs, Bachelor Pad Music

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With all apologies to Dwight Yoakam. Oops, now to Nirvana as well. Sorry, just some musical humor. Speaking of music, I’m really enjoying the infusion of electric guitar into genres that don’t usually feature it. Big band. Exotica. Lounge. I guess you can call it worlds colliding. At least that’s what I call it, since I’m from the Seinfeld generation. Kids today call it mash-up. Whatever you call it, I’m really into it, when two or more seemingly unrelated things come together. It happens to me a lot, as I’ve rambled about previously in my musings about karma. Anyway, here are three examples of electric guitar boldly going where few had gone before.

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Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Brian Setzer. You may remember him from such bands as The Stray Cats. They were pretty big back in the day, when MTV was king. Then, just when you thought he had fallen off of the face of the earth, Brian Setzer reinvented himself. With a big band. As the front man. Leading with his guitar in hand! It was 1990, and I was really starting to get into the swing and jump blues stylings of Harry Connick Jr. and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Then along comes BSO with something completely different: a guitar-driven big band. I was blown away! Not only did they do an amazing cover of Louis Prima’s Jump, Jive and Wail, but Brian Setzer also dared to do a big-band version of The Clash’s Brand New Cadillac. Only in their version, the bridge is a rocking version of Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn Theme with a kick-ass Brian Setzer guitar solo to bring it home. Brilliant! Keep on rocking the swing world, Stray Cat!

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Elliot Easton’s Tiki Gods.
Hey, wait a minute – wasn’t Elliot Easton the lead guitarist for that 80s band, The Cars? He was, and still is, as The Cars released a nice comeback album in 2011. But he also has a little side project, Tiki Gods, and put out an album last year called Easton Island. I first heard about this album from Sven Kirsten, the godfather of all things Tiki. Easton Island is a collection of Tiki-inspired songs with an electric guitar flair, something not typically found in Tiki music. Elliot Easton doesn’t just cover songs; he wrote original music, ranging from lounge, exotica, surf and other genres from the Mid-Century Modern era. My favorite tune is Ballad of Cowboyardee, a clever homage to the melodramatic music of Spaghetti Westerns. Well played, Elliot Easton!

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Five-Eaux.
Five-Eaux is the brainchild of my new Facebook friend John Bartley, a/k/a Jon Tiki. Based in St. Louis MO, this band has cranked out a half dozen tunes so far, and what an eclectic mix! The Pink Panther Theme. Taboo. Apache. Quiet Village. Telstar. And of course, a cool version of Hawaii Five-O. What sets John’s work apart for me is his reliance on the electric guitar to re-energize these old chestnuts. You expect that in the surf tunes, but not in the Pink Panther Theme, where John’s tremolo guitar replaces brass and sax as the driving instrument. And in Taboo, he channels Carlos Santana in a haunting, guitar-driven version of this classic Arthur Lyman exotica tune. Thank you, Jon Tiki, we look forward to hearing more of your music!

Now you can listen to this playlist here: