Exotica! Just the name invokes thoughts of mystical tropical islands with lush rain forests! This musical genre was popular during the late 1950s to mid-1960s typically with the middle-aged suburban set who came of age during World War II.
Exotica offered its listeners a safe and acceptable release from the rigid mores of the time. Recording artists such as Martin Denny, Les Baxter, and Yma Sumac, just to name a few, created rich aural imagery of jungle paradises populated with colorful birds, tranquil lagoons, and happy natives. Beautiful women like “The Exotica Girl” (Sandy Warner) would languorously bekon from lush album covers for the listening public to experience the call of the wild.
For me, the most visible icon of this period is Martin Denny with his dreamy Hawaiian rhythms complete with exotic birdcalls. The new technology of stereo recording gave the music, and the oriental ethnic instruments in it, an almost surreal effect. After forming his band in 1955, Denny produced his first album Exotica featuring himself on the piano, Arthur Lyman on vibes, Augie Colon on percussion and birdcalls, and John Kramer on string bass. In 1957, Denny and composer Lex Baxter produced Quiet Village which soon topped the charts and defined what Polynesian music was all about. After a string of successful albums, Denny’s commercial appeal faded, and by the mid 60’s Rock and Roll supplanted Exotica in the American musical mainstream. Interestingly enough, Exotica and its parent genre Lounge, have resurfaced and have gained in popularity in recent years.
Popular Selections in Hi-Fi
Sit back and relax to the melodic strains of hip music from far away in time and place! The best music from Martin Denny, Esquivel, Les Baxter, Yma Sumac, Arthur Lyman, Tak Shindo, and more!
My personal experience with the world of exotica came at a very tender age. The Polynesian craze which was popular in the late 50’s and early 60’s touched even my small city. The Tiki Club at the Tradewinds Motel provided adults with an escape from the pressures of everyday suburban life. The Tiki Club was part of the motel restaurant and had a very foreboding and dark entrance. As a young child, I wondered exactly what kind of mysterious and wonderful club the adults had devised “in there”. I knew it had to be really cool because they were given little plastic animals to put on the sides of their drinks. Well, I just had to have a plastic monkey or giraffe so I decided to venture into this forbidden zone. Much like a spelunker, I marched into the dark cavernous entranceway into the Tiki Club. After just a few feet inside I came face to face with a huge carved tiki god with ruby eyes that reflected the dim light. Needless to say, I froze in terror! This club wasn’t in any danger of being invaded by kids on this day! After a brief staredown with this wooden sentinel, I decided to beat a hasty retreat back into the restaurant only to hear the roar of laughter by the adults seated there. The tiki totem had done its duty, the gods were appeased and life went on.