Monday, May 2, 2016

KKUA (Honolulu): Top 40, 1967 - 1986

Honolulu's Top 40 powerhouse KKUA ("double K-U-A"), residing at 690 AM, called itself "The Big 69" (and its DJs the "The Big 69 Men"). By the late seventies, the station had distinguished itself as a commercial airwave venue especially friendly to local talent. Ron Jacobs (d. March 8, 2016), who was the program director at Los Angeles station KHJ during its storied "Boss Radio" years and who also created the syndicated American Top 40 institution, joined KKUA as an on-air personality in 1976. With his "Whodaguy" nickname, he launched the station's series of annual Homegrown albums that featured nothing but regional up-and-comers. Sometime in the very early eighties, KKUA would simulcast with KQMQ (93.1 FM) before surrendering its call letters later in the decade (if I've sorted the timeframe correctly) to a public radio station. What follows is a list of eight selected singles of local interest that racked up tons of airplay on KKUA between 1970 and 1974 (thanks to the year-end lists at the Hawaii Radio and Television Guide).

"1900 Yesterday" (1970) - Liz Damon's Orient Express
Written by Johnny Cameron
Produced by George J.D. Chun
45: "1900 Yesterday"/"You're Falling in Love" (Makaha/White Whale)
LP: Liz Damon's Orient Express (Makaha/White Whale)
Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#33), easy listening (#4)

Written by soul songwriter and producer Johnny Cameron, "1900 Yesterday" first showed up as a B-side for Betty Everett's "Maybe" (not a cover of the Chantels classic) in 1969. This version by Liz Damon's Orient Express—a group featuring three female vocalists and six instrumentalists—first appeared on the Makaha label, after which White Whale picked it up once it caught fire. In a 1971 issue of Billboard, KKUA's Scott Edwards (who ran the "sunset sounds" shift from 6 to 9 p.m.) receives mention as the DJ who "broke" the record. It's a true nighttime song, with its "smoke from a cigarette" catchphrase, ambiguous time-traveling lyrics, and disembodied vocals. It also has capering bone-marimba lines that may remind you of some of Morton Stevens's instrumental music on Hawaii Five-O.  Liz Damon and her troupe had another massive Hawaii-only hit in 1973 with their version of Bacharach and David's "Me Japanese Boy (I Love You)," which Damon, evoking Karen Carpenter, sings with a chorus of children's voices a la the Carpenters' "Sing." Listen: "1900 Yesterday"

"Cheryl Moana Marie" (1970) - John Rowles
Written by Nat Kipner and John Rowles
Producer: Don Costa
45: "Cheryl Moana Marie"/"The Love I Had with You" (Kapp)
LP: Cheryl Moana Marie (Kapp)
Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#64)

The big voice of John Rowles, New Zealand's Engelbert Humperdinck, sailed with enough regularity on Hawaiian airwaves to give the impression of being local. "Cheryl Moana Marie" (a Don Costa production and arrangement) was Rowles' only single to reach the US charts, although "She's All I Got" and "Juanita Chiquita" were even bigger Rowles records in the islands. Listen: "Cheryl Moana Marie"

"Chatto Matte Kudasai (Never Say Goodbye)" (1970) - Sam Kapu
Written by Jeanne Nakashima
Produced by Ed Brown and John De Marco
45: "Chatto Matte Kudasai (Never Say Goodbye)"/"Huttin' in the Hall" (Hana Ho)
LP: Sam Kapu Again! (Hana Ho, 1969)
Billboard charts: Easy listening (#39)

Sam Kapu is perhaps best known as a Don Ho show biz cohort (who also appeared alongside him in a Brady Bunch segment). This single has a chorus reminiscent of Mac Davis's "I'll Paint You a Song." A big seller and airplay staple in Kapu's native Hawaii, it did make a brief showing on Billboard's easy listening chart. Listen: "Chatto Matte Kudasai (Never Say Goodbye)"

"Pipeline Sequence" (1972) - Honk
Written by Steve Wood, Richard Stekol, Craig Buhler, Tris Imbuden, and Will Brady
Produced by Honk and Terry Wright
45: "Pipeline Sequence"/"Made My Statement (Love You Baby)" (20th Century)
LP: The Original Soundtrack from Five Summer Stories (20th Century)
Billboard charts: —

Honk was an eclectic Orange County band (reminiscent of the seventies version of the Grateful Dead), whose soundtrack for the popular 1972 surfing film Five Summer Stories, by Greg McGillivray and Jim Freeman, sold especially big in Hawaii where the film's first segment takes place. The sudden "surf band" identity baggage might have contributed toward Honk's 1975 unraveling, although they play the occasional reunion show to this day. (Quite a few Beach Boys tracks also appeared in the film but not on the album soundtrack.) If "Pipeline Sequence" reminds you of any sounds from the Boston-Styx-Kansas FM rock era, keep in mind that it predated many of those. A country song on the album called "High in the Middle" became another memorable musical highlight in the film, which seems incongruous until you consider the steel guitar's honored place in Hawaiian music history. Listen: "Pipeline Sequence"

"Stella's Candy Store" (1973) - The Sweet Marie
Written by Donald Bennett
Produced by Darby James and the Sweet Marie
45: "Stella's Candy Store"/"Another Feelin'" (Yardbird)
LP: Stuck in Paradise (Yardbird)
Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#123)

A California head-rock trio with a Hawaiian following, the Sweet Marie recorded their 1972 Stuck in Paradise album (their second) in Honolulu. Its leadoff single was a back-alley rocker called "Stella's Candy Store," which caught enough fire nationally to bubble under on Billboard in early '73. Listen: "Stella's Candy Store"

"If That's the Way You Want It" (1973) - Diamond Head
Written and produced by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter
45: "If That's the Way You Want It"/"What Do I Do on Sunday" (Dunhill)
Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#106)

The Southern California quartet Diamond Head took its name from the famous volcanic ridge mark in Oahu, and although "If That's the Way You Want It" only reached #106 in Billboard, Hawaiian radio spun it like crazy. Info about this band is elusive, but a 1975 single of theirs on Capitol called "Proud to Be Your Slave," which was written by Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, has turned up on YouTube. The UK heavy metal band called Diamond Head has no relation to this piƱa colada crew. Listen: "If That's the Way You Want It"

"Song for Anna" (1973) - Ohta-San
Written by Andre Popp
Produced by Newell Bohnett
45: "Song for Anna (Chansons d'Anna)"/"Keeping You Company"
LP: Song for Anna
Label: A&M
Billboard charts: Easy listening (#26)

Herb Ohta is a Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso who is sometimes billed as "Ohta-San" (with "san" being a Japanese term of respect). The 45 of this song is subtitled according to its French title and billed to Ohta's Japanese name. The album cover, though, sticks with "Herb." Ohta charted only one more time in his long career, with the easy listening hit "One Day of Love" in 1975. Listen: "Song for Anna"

Society of Seven - "99.8"
Written by Ernie Freeman and Frances Kirk
Produced by Ernie Freeman
45: "99.8"/"Charming Beau"
LP: 99.8
Label: Silver Sword Audio
Billboard charts: —

A variety show band that's been doing its thing at Honolulu hotel lounges and beyond since the sixties, Society of Seven's 99.8 album featured the production and co-writing work of Ernie Freeman, best known for his late fifties hit version of Bill Justis's "Raunchy." Check out the boosted reverb on the lead vocal during the chorus. Listen: "99.8"

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