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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 2, 2010

These tunes reflect what Hawaii's all about

By Wayne Harada
Special to the Advertiser

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The theme to "Hawaii Five-0" is recognized all over the world. Could an updated version accompany the new TV pilot?

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” tapped a version used in a 1930s film.

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Sure, a picture is worth a thousand words. But a song — a tune about Hawai'i — sends waves of nostalgia and triggers memories of our Islands. A song speaks, through melody and lyric, of a time, a place, a key event.

So I got to thinking: What songs bring out the best of our 'aina? Since there are hundreds of lovely Hawaiian tunes that embrace the beauty, the spirit, the wonders of the 50th state, past and present, we've narrowed the parimeters to include only songs that embrace "Hawai'i" or "Hawaiian" in the title.

My Top 10 follows. Can you add to the list?

1. "Hawaii Five-0." The Morton Stevens original still airs on the vintage CBS-TV show, still in syndication and in DVD season compilations. Surely, interest will surge when the new TV pilot, and, hopefully, a CBS full-season reboot, starts airing. Wouldn't it be terrific if they went with an 'ukulele version played by one of our fabled strummers, like Jake Shimabukuro, Brittni Paiva, or Taimane Gardner?

2. "Blue Hawaii." Elvis Presley's popular 1961 movie tapped a Joseph J. Lilley composition from a 1937 film, "Waikiki Wedding," for the title song, proving a hapa-haole ditty still has great appeal. However, "Can't Help Falling in Love" from the score was the filmed-in-Hawai'i movie's biggest and enduring hit.

3. "My Hawaii." Recorded by The Rascals (aka The Young Rascals) in 1968, is a flashback oldie but still a goodie, representing Island nostalgia of an earlier era. The Krush, a local fave, later recorded the anthem and continues to perform the tune in concerts.

4."May Day Is Lei Day in Hawai'i." The 1927 Ruth and Leonard "Red" Hawk composition that defines an annual cultural tradition of donning a garland on May Day, May 1, provokes memories of small-kid-time maypole dances and pageantry. It was poet Don Blanding who came up with the lei-giving concept and columnist Grace Tower Warren who first suggested May Day as the fitting occasion. And this practice still is repeated in grade school hooplas annually. What kid doesn't know this one?

5. "Hawaiian Wedding Song," aka "Ke Kali Nei Au," is the signature anthem for brides and grooms. And likely will forever be linked to Island matrimonial hooplas, informal and formal.

6. "Hawai'i Pono'í," the state anthem. OK, it's a classic if you live here and sing it at official functions; with lyrics by King David Kalakaua, and music by Henri Berger, it must be one of the rare ones — written by a Hawaiian ali'i and a bandmaster (Royal Hawaiian Band) — and you can't get more Island than this.

7. "I Am Hawaii," from the 1966 film "Hawaii" (based on the James Michener novel), was written by Elmer Bernstein (music) and Mack David (lyrics). Not musically Hawaiian, but highly evocative for non-residents; and yes, periodically adopted as a hula number.

8. "Hawaiian War Chant," a hula classic variously used over the years as a football fighting song and lu'au staple, written in the 1860s by Prince Leleohoku and originally entitled "Kaua I Ka Huahua'i." The original intent of the tune was a ditty about two lovers, but commonly interpreted as a battle song. A version of the tune was featured in the 1942 film "Ship Ahoy," with Eleanor Powell, Red Skelton and the Tommy Dorsey Band, giving it Hollywood credentials. It prompted a 1946 comedic, hyped-up version by Spike Jones, and remains part of the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland and Walt Disney World — sung by tikis, birds and other exotics, of all things.

9."Hawaiian Lullaby," the Sunday Manoa hit adopted by just about every local entertainer, is a creation of an unlikely duo: Peter Moon (music), the founder of Sunday Manoa, and Hector Venegas (lyrics), a former record distributor and public relations guy. It's often mistitled as "Where I Live, There Are Rainbows." Both were Manoa residents when the song was composed, in 1973, and originally popularized by The Sunday Manoa and since nurtured by The Brothers Cazimero.

10. "There's No Place Like Hawaii," a somewhat forgotten tune (circa 1988) by Eddie Brandt (with Tony Todaro contributing), was TV personality Lucky Luck's theme song, embracing a casual devotion about the Islands. Often, it's a way to say lucky we live Hawai'i. Remember?

Honorable mention: "Mele Kalikimaka," the holiday ditty by R. Alex Anderson originally sung by Bing Crosby (with the Andrews Sisters). This was the flipside of his 1950 "White Christmas" hit, but it remains the unofficial Hawaiian choice — the thing to say and sing on a bright Hawaiian Christmas day — even if Hawai'i is not part of the title.

Any other suggestions?

Reach Wayne Harada at 266-0926 or wayneharada@gmail.com. Read his Show Biz column Sundays in Island Life and at http://showandtellhawaii.honadvblogs.com.