INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Tracking Lost Singles from Hawaii

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By GUY AOKI

Those of us who grew up in Hawaii not only heard many of the “mainland” hits that were popular all over the country but records put out by local musicians which inevitably had an Island flavor and style.  Most of those became popular only in the 50th state.

For a long time, there was no source that chronicled those records released in Hawaii. So I was excited when I recently learned that in 2009, Tom Tourville of Iowa of all places (he spent some time in the Islands) researched pop, rock, jazz, dance, and exotica singles issued in the state from the ’50s through the ’80s (thankfully, he left out the Hawaiian language records, which I’ve never cared for).  It’s a self-published paperback called “Hawaii A Go-Go:  The ’50s-’80s Rock, Pop, & Contemporary Hawaiian Singles/45 Record Discography.”

The author alphabetically lists artists who were either based in Hawaii or who recorded there (e.g. the band America did their last Warner Brothers album on Kauai, so two singles from 1977’s “Harbor” are listed). Another section lists records by mainland acts who performed in Hawaii, but the singles Tourville chooses to represent them usually make no sense. For example, he tells us that the Association played Waikiki in 1973, yet he lists three of their singles from the ’60s.

The volume is also filled with shots of singles (though a bit too small to make out some of the credits, which might’ve been interesting), picture sleeves, singles from foreign countries, posters, ads for concerts, and a few extended artist bios.

If you grew up on the mainland and are wondering how many of these songs you may actually know, these are the few artists who actually crossed over and made the Billboard charts: Liz Damon’s Orient Express (“1900 Yesterday,” which peaked at #33 in 1970, was the last Top 40 hit by a Hawaii-based act until 1986 when Glenn Medeiros finally ended the curse with “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You”); Don Ho and the Aliis (only “Tiny Bubbles” charted, at #57) and two of his protégés, Sam Kapu and Robin Wilson, made the Easy Listening chart (with, respectively, the beautiful, haunting “Chotto Matte Kudasai” and “Where Are They Now”); Herb Ohta — under the stage name Ohta-San — also hit the easy listening chart (1974’s ukulele instrumental “Song for Anna”); John Rowles (#64 on the pop chart in 1971 with “Cheryl Moana Marie”); hard-rock band Sweet Marie (crawled up to #123 in 1973 with “Stella’s Candy Store” though the classic locals remember more is “Remember Mary”); and jazz band Seawind (made the album chart four times between 1977 and 1980).

Liz Damon on the cover of her group’s first album.

And yep, confirming previous reports, Don Ho did record the first version of “Galveston” — before Glen Campbell turned it into a #4 hit in 1968. It was issued on Reprise 800.

Note that Tourville doesn’t offer chart positions for any of these records (the statistics I provided come from Joel Whitburn’s books, which compile the various Billboard charts), nor some of the trivia I’m including in this column, though he sometimes offers short bios. It would’ve been nice if he was able to at least find charts kept by popular radio stations or record stores to give us some sense of how popular these discs were in Hawaii. I understand the year a record was released wasn’t often printed on the label until the early ’70s, so that information is often missing here, but the least he could’ve done was keep the record label numbers in order!

The most popular Hawaiian bands of the ’70s — Cecilio and Kapono (“About You,” “Gotta Get Away”) and Kalapana (“Moon and Stars,” “Naturally”) — never charted on Billboard, despite C&K releasing three albums on industry giant Columbia Records, which were handled by hot producers like Michael Stewart (Billy Joel), Bruce Botnick (The Doors, Kenny Loggins), and David Kershenbaum (Joe Jackson, Tracey Chapman).

Even records recorded on the mainland by some of the top producers in the business failed to chart. At the top of the list is “If That’s the Way You Want It” by Diamond Head, written and produced by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who did everything from “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got” by the Four Tops to “Rock ’n’ Roll Heaven” by the Righteous Brothers to “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell.

Another classic is 1973’s “Three Cheers for Love” by Dick Jensen, written and produced on their Philadelphia International label by Gamble and Huff, who were turning out hits left and right at the time for the O’Jays (“Love Train”), Billy Paul (“Me and Mrs. Jones”), and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (“If You Don’t Know Me by Now”). No luck for poor ol’ Dick.

The cover of “Kalapana II.”

One of the best singles — and best performances — a Hawaii act ever released was 1974’s “99.8” by the Society of Seven. It’s a sin no one heard it outside of the islands.

While on vacation in Hawaii, Richard Carpenter heard and fell in love with “Honolulu City Lights” by the Beamer Brothers and recorded it with his sister Karen in the Carpenters, but neither version made Billboard. Other popular artists include Melveen Leed, Fabulous Krush, Audy Kimura, and Country Comfort. Of course, Bette Midler and Yvonne Elliman were successful, but they made it after leaving the islands, so only a few of their singles (arbitrarily chosen) are listed.

One limitation of the book is that many of these artists recorded for small local labels that couldn’t afford to issue more than one or two singles per album (they wanted to force you to buy the album). Therefore, many popular songs we heard on the radio were never singles. Tourville is supposedly in the process of compiling a book on Hawaii albums, but unless he lists the songs on each of them, it won’t help us recall those songs either.

Strangely, the foreword is written by a member of a band called Greenwood, which released one single in 1985 that I’ve never heard of. And some of the misspellings are embarrassing. Consider that there’s a picture sleeve of a Nohelani Cypriano single, yet both her corresponding entry and the caption call her Nohelane Cypriano. Well-known entertainer Kapono Beamer is listed as Kapano Beamer even though the correct spelling of his name is clear in a corresponding shot of one of his singles to the right of his entry. And just because a song is listed first doesn’t mean it was the A-side. For instance, Don Ho’s HEL Records #146 single is presented as “Woman of the World”/“Who Is the Lolo That Stole My Pakalolo?” The hit was the second song.

“Hawaii A Go-Go” is by no means a perfect compilation, but it’s the only book of its kind, so if you spent some time in Hawaii and always remembered some great songs but didn’t know their titles, this might be a place to start. It’s available on Amazon and other sources for $17.

You’re Kidding Me?! Department: As I’ve noted in this column the past ten years or so, the mainstream media have shown less and less interest in covering media issues involving Asian Americans. Most of the time, the press releases I write for MANAA get ignored except in The Rafu and with Asian American bloggers. It didn’t help that I finished writing the press release for “Cloud Atlas” at 4:30 in the morning last Thursday. So it was a pleasant surprise to wake up, go to HollywoodReporter.com as I usually do, and find that a story on it was the sixth most viewed article on the site!

It eventually rose to #5 and was also in fifth place the following day. Not bad. Of course, THR didn’t air all of our points, and other news sites like Huffington Post took even smaller portions of what THR ran, so many readers didn’t get to consider the complexity of this issue involving bad yellowface and the lack of Asian actors. As usual, we got predictable responses like, “You’re missing the point of the movie,” “Haven’t you got better things to do?” and “How dare you call this racist!” But hey, limited press is better than no press.

The movie, which cost $100 million to make, was forecast to bring in between $12 and $15 million last weekend. Instead, it only managed $9.4 million. Can you say “flop,” boys and girls?

Then Why Bother? Department: This week, Marvel released a trailer for next year’s “Iron Man 3,” where the superhero’s arch villain — the Mandarin — finally makes his appearance. In the 1960s, he looked like Fu Manchu with the long, thin mustache, beard, and long fingernails. In the ’80s, artists made the Mandarin hipper with long hair and a more serene look (as opposed to the screaming maniac who wants to take over the world because… well, because he has to!). A lot of people raised their eyebrows when they learned Ben Kingsley (who’s half Asian Indian) would be playing the character in the film. How would this work? He doesn’t look remotely Chinese.

Although the trailer keeps him in shadows, it looks like the filmmakers are trying to avoid a “typically Chinese” look by combining Japanese samurai-like hair, Middle-eastern like beard, and armor. And instead of counting on the 10 super-powered rings on his finger to combat his enemies (as in the comics), the Mandarin’s supposedly gonna rely more on a trusty AK-47.

The fact that Marvel is co-producing this with a company in China probably accounts for the de-Chinesification (is that a word?!) of the villain, just like the producers of the upcoming “Red Dawn” remake digitally changed the Chinese invaders of America to Korean in post-production because they didn’t want to offend the Chinese government, which could prevent their film from being shown in China.

But Kingsley sounds stupid in his voice-over — like someone trying so hard to hide his accent that he’s curling his R’s too much.

Told You So Department: As I predicted last time, NBC’s “Animal Practice” got put on ice the day after its Oct. 17 episode aired and the ratings continued to fall. Unlike some unlucky shows, however, the network continued to air two more episodes, the last one scheduled for this Wednesday.

Till next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

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Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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1 Comment

  1. fyi — SOS was, indeed, being heard on the mainland — namely, in my cousin Reiko’s room in La Palma, CA. I was a pre-teen and listened to it, captive in her room, over and over and over again!

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