A lost, or at least under-recognized, pop music movement will be getting its due this spring.
The Numero Group’s Technicolor Paradise: Rhum Rhapsodies & Other Exotic Delights — coming out May 25, with the Potted Palm’s long-unavailable “My House Of Grass” below — celebrates the exotica music of the late ’50s and early ’60s, which bridged the time between the initial rock n’ roll explosion and the British Invasion. Its three discs group the material — 54 songs on CD and 48 on vinyl — into stylistic categories such as Daiquiri Dirges, Rhum Rhapsodies and Mai Tai Mambas, and while someone like Jimmy McGriff, whose “Jungle Cat” appears on the latter, may be familiar, the set focuses more on unknowns than exotica “stars” such as Esquivel, Les Baxter, Martin Denny and Yma Sumac.
“It’s another micro genre that’s just fascinating,” the Numero Group’s Ken Shipley, who produced Technicolor Paradise, tells Billboard. “I think what people have thought of as exotic and lounge music before was through the lens of all the major labels — those Capitol Ultra-Lounge series (releases) and stuff like that. I wanted to make something that’s the indie version of all that, and it’s just as interesting.”
Shipley’s interest in an exotica compilation was stoked after a friend turned him onto the web site The Exotica Project, which showed him how wide and deep the music ran. “I thought it was really fascinating because it was looking at exotica through the lens not only of Esquivel and Les Baxter but more these really smaller one-offs that happened in the wake of the movement,” Shipley recalls. “Not everything on there is good, but it manages to capture a moment and show there’s a moment underneath the movement. We do this kind of thing all the time already; When we’re working on a soul record, we understand (the artists) knew Motown existed and they were trying to go after a piece of that pie.”
Over the course of two and a half years Shipley considered nearly 700 songs for Technicolor Paradise, ultimately whittling down to the final track list based on both taste and licensing availabilities. “I was just trying to put together a record that I thought would be a very interesting listen — how could I capture these very different sound and put them underneath one umbrella,” he says.
“My House Of Grass” is featured on the Rhum Rhapsodies disc and is the work of Eaton Magoon Jr., a stage musical composer whose Heathen! has the distinction of being one of the shortest-lived Broadway productions of the ’70s and dubbed “nothing short of a complete disaster” by one critic. “My House Of Grass” was part of that show as well, while the Potted Palm was a collective Magoon put together from hotel lounge performers in New York. “It’s a great example of a failed thing that produced some interesting culture,” Shipley notes.
The producer acknowledges there’s enough material for a full-scale second volume of Technicolor Paradise, and he has in fact put together another disc of material called Jungle Juice that he aims to release during 2019. “It’s this kind of more R&B/salsa-exotica that came out of the movement,” he says. “They were doing their take on the exotic theme but put their own sort of R&B spin on it. It wasn’t true to the exotica sound; It’s a different thing, kind of a cousin, but we’ve got tons of tracks like that that are really interesting, too.”