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Space Age Pop Songs

The Hawaiian Number


"Hawaiian War Chant"

Music by Johnny Noble and Leileohako from traditional Hawaiian chant, "Tahu Wahu Wahi"
English lyrics by Ralph Freed

"Hawaiian War Chant" came to popular attention in 1939, when Tommy Dorsey's big band covered it as a fast swing number featuring a driving beat played mostly on the tom-toms. It was a big hit, at a time when Gene Krupa had just formed his own band and had a big hit with "Drum Boogie," and drummers were getting the spotlight in big bands for the first time. It was Dorsey's version, arranged by Deane Kincaide, that Spike Jones latered parodied in his comic rendition.

The song had actually been published in the U.S. over ten years before, when Johnny Noble included it in one of his collections of adaptations of traditional Hawaiian songs. Noble was a key figure in the introduction of Hawaiian music to U.S. audiences. He published a number of collections of traditional Hawaiian songs that he adapted to the Western scale and for which he provided loose translations or original lyrics. Over a period of 20 years from 1920 to 1940, he published hundreds of Hawaiian songs in sheet music form, providing much of the raw material for the many imitation Hawaiian bands and combos that were popular in hotels and night clubs, and even for some of the more authentic ones like Lani McIntyre's at the Astor Hotel in New York.

In 1936, lyricist Ralph Freed added English lyrics and the song was published separately in sheet form. Since Dorsey's recording, "Hawaiian War Chant" has been interpreted in more different ways by more different artists than just about any other exotica number, ranging from Andre Kostelanetz' lush string-laden syrup to numerous percussion-only showcases to harpsichord filigrees to Moog bubble pops. It's one of those instant tip-offs that you're looking at a piece of exotica/space-age pop.

Recordings of "Hawaiian War Chant"

Hawaiian Wedding Song, 1926

Words Al Hoffman, Dick Manning
Music, Hawaiian words Charles E. King ("KaKali Nei Au")

For its first 25 years, this song was known as "Here Ends the Rainbow." It was recorded occasionally, most successfully by Bing Crosby in 1951. In 1958, Cadence label chief Archie Bleyer capitalized on the growing popularity of Hawaiian music (spurred by the hoopla surrounding Hawaii's impending statehood) and hired Al Hoffman and Dick Manning to write new lyrics for his leading singer, Andy Williams. Perhaps Bleyer felt Hoffman would have a special feel for giving a Hawaiian feel to his new lyrics based on Hoffman's prolific production of songs with such foreign titles as "Bibbidi-Bobbodi-Boo," "Hot Ziggity Diggity Dog," "Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba," "Mairzy Doats," and "Gilly Gilly Ossenfefferoffman." Williams' recording was a huge hit--by far the most successful of the huge outpouring of Hawaiian recordings during 1958 and 1959. Not surprisingly, it was heavily covered--probably by more artists than any other Hawaiian number.


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