Mrs. Mai Tai has been binge watching Cheers and I’ve tuned in to a few myself. I used to love that show when it first aired and finally after 35 years I now often enter a bar where at least some of the people know my name (or at least my Instagram handle).
Cheers, Season 3, Episode 1: The Rebound
In the cold open, Cliff Clavin returns from a vacation in Florida and wants to tell people about his experience. He finds Coach who is very focused on making a cocktail in a blender, but the noise from the blender interrupts Cliff’s story. Finally, Cliff takes matters into his own hands before Coach asks “Anyone want a Mai Tai?”
When you’re drinking a Mai Tai, the stuff in the glass is the most important part. But the place where you drink the Mai Tai is also key. Do you want to hear loud hair metal while drinking a Mai Tai? No, you want relaxing exotic music that helps transport you to a different place or at least to forget the cares of the world. We call this music Exotica.
The most prominent Exotica band currently performing and putting out new music is the Tikiyaki Orchestra. The group was formed by Jim Bacchi and to date they’ve issued several well regarded albums with tracks that are frequently played in tiki bars worldwide and also in places like Adventureland at Disneyland. Tikiyaki plays live as a seven-piece group at several tiki-related events each year. In the last couple years, a four-person combo has been producing surf-oriented recordings and playing live under the moniker Tikiyaki 5-0.
The first Tikiyaki Orchestra album featured a song called “Mai Tais on the Mood” and is representative of the group’s signature sound. It’s a mix of classic exotic percussion, vibraphone, slack key, and surf guitar. This was actually the first song Bacchi recorded as Tikiyaki Orchestra.
Wait, there’s more!
As I was preparing this post, we learned there is new Tikiyaki music being made available as of today! In fact, it has only been recently conceived and recorded.
Sketches with Guitar and Bongos is being issued under the moniker “Tikiyaki minus orchestra” because it’s a stripped-down arrangement featuring percussion and guitars. The songs are right in line with previous Tikiyaki recordings in that they’ll fit in just fine at the tiki bar. This is great stuff and maybe the first positive thing to come out of the COVID-19 social shutdown.
This is track number 6 (closing Side A) from Les Baxter’s 1963 album Soul of the Drums. This albums was one of Baxter’s last in the exotica genre and is pretty good overall.
Unfortunately, “Mai Tai” is maybe the least exotic song on the album, and was described by Ambient Exotica (reprinted in The Les Baxter Companion, 2018) as a “stupefying silkened string panorama.” Since this album was Baxter’s first on Reprise it also means that none of its tracks made it onto the otherwise excellent Capitol Records compilations from the 1990s.
We discovered a new exotica band from Spain called L’Exotighost who put out an EP last year called La Ola Oculta. There are a number of interesting songs here, including “Cha Cha Challoween” that includes the classic theme from the movie Halloween.
Here’s a list of the band members: Theremin & Güiro (Javier Díez Ena), Drums & congas (Ricardo Moreno), Marimba (María Arranz Fernández y Vera Garrido), Bass Ukulele (Juan Pérez Marina) Audio manipularion of birds and theremin sound (Jav Álvarez).
The La Ola Oculta EP is available in a number of services including the music streaming services and also iTunes.
The band put together an entertaining video for their single, “Mai Tai Break.” This song has the Theremin as the lead instrument, and it’s quite effective on this track. We’ll also note that they’re being served a traditional 1944 Mai Tai made with Appleton Rum, so somebody really knows what they’re doing.
Mai Tai in Pop Culture will be a recurring segment here on the Ultimate Mai Tai blog. For this edition we are focusing on the Season 1 episode of Here’s Lucy called “Lucy and the Ex-Con.”
In this episode, Lucy (Lucille Ball) meets a reformed ex-con named Rocky (Wally Cox) who is wrongly accused of stealing diamonds from a safe. Lucy and Rocky go undercover as old ladies to find a way into the office of a South Seas themed bar to find the safe and prove someone else stole the diamonds.
When Lucy realizes that patrons who have too much to drink are led into the bar’s office to sleep it off, she comes up with a plan to pretend to get drunk on Mai Tais. “Might I have a Mai Tai,” Lucy cleverly asks, and is then informed that the Mai Tai “packs a punch” and is made with seven kinds of rum.
Lucy needs to stay sober, so smartly pours her drinks into a bowl of popcorn. Meanwhile, Rocky is drinking Mai Tai after Mai Tai for real. In order to demonstrate that the Mai Tais are having the desired effect, Lucy hula dances to “Sweet Leilani” and the “Hawaiian War Chant.”
“Lucy and the Ex-Con” is actually pretty funny, with some good physical humor by both Ball and Cox. It is also an interesting time capsule of the cultural awareness of Mai Tais in the late 1960s.