The Waikikis
Hawaii Tattoo






Hawaii Tattoo is the somewhat famous Space-Age debut by the German-Belgian quintet (or quasi-septet) The Waikikis, released in 1962 on various labels such as the curious Telefunken and not much later on the better known Kapp Records. The band is also known by linguists for its aggrieving use of the apostrophe: many of the original and subsequent pressings present the band as The Waikiki's. Oh my! If you have never heard of the collective before despite me praising its fame, do not feel bewildered, the error is probably on my side: throughout the 60’s, the band is much more famous in Germany and Belgium, although their album did cross the Pacific ocean eventually and can be considered an imported classic, with various front covers and reissues appearing during the decades. 12 unique cuts – some of them with purposeful nods to Hapa Haole standards – made it to the LP, but best of all, there are three particular standout features that make Hawaii Tattoo very unique. 


Firstly, this is not – I repeat: not – your typical Hawaiiana artifact. Steel and acoustic guitars are indeed on board, and each of the various front covers suggests such a categorization too, but the enormous wealth of variously texturized organs as well as the dense percussion layers in tandem with the cutting-edge sound quality ennoble the compositions and never let them feel antediluvian or moss-covered. Secondly, this is first and foremost a Space-Age album, as I have already briefly mentioned. Sure, all front artworks depict dreamy or forested scenes, the track titles evoke paradisal paradigms, but it is the neck-break tempo, the occasional inclusion of a cheerful mixed choir and the vesiculating, enormously jumpy organ tidbits that make all the difference in the universe. And finally, there is another twist which astutely describes the lure – or alternatively, fear – this album emanates: Space-Age meets Hapa Haole meets the pre-8bit-decade! Video games were not even invented in 1962, and yet do the arrangements resemble a bustling hectic, a frantic pressure which almost feels technocratically Japanized. Very intriguing!


The band is the invention of Frank Pleyer and Heinz von Alten, the supervising equivalents to Don Tiki’s Kit Ebersbach and Lloyd Kandell, if you will. The principal band members comprise of steel guitarist Jo van Wetter, percussionists Jo De Muynck and Freddy Rottier, clarinettist William "Willy" Albimoor as well as bassist Jean Hunstadt. The names of the flutist and organist remain a mystery; some of the gentlemen probably change the instruments on the fly, I presume. And flying is the correct word at the right time: let’s fly away with The Waikikis. And leave that terrible apostrophe at home.


Say what you will, but name one Hawaiian album besides Hawaii Tattoo that interweaves the ultimate trumpet hymn of war, Nini Rosso's Il Silenzio, into its table of contents. Its inclusion is even more prominent and alienating, for this fanfare is the very first contact with The Waikikis. The eponymous title track, written by Michael Thomas, is anything but quirky and almost mimics the frenzy found in Japanese video chip tunes, although this is the year of 1962! After the delivery of Il Silenzio on a dark guitar that resembles a classical trumpet, the track goes wild, with dozens of textures hitting the listener, among them hi-toms, accordions, pointillistic Hammond organs blebs – the signature element of the album – as well as the most typical Hapa Haole ingredient of them all, the good old steel guitar. Farting trombone accentuations round off the uptempo critter. The stereo effects are astonishing to this day, entirely non-gimmicky and essential for creating a balance between the many surfaces. The title track and opener has not aged well, but Jo van Wetter and his band mates foresaw the future of the 80’s, and this tune is just the beginning.


Whereas the German march-inspired Aloha Parade by Hans Blum is actually an audacious take on Aloha Oe which bursts at the seams due to its archetypically edgy rhythm, the warped and gleeful galaxia of the steel guitars and the lilac iridescence of organ stabs, I’ll Remember Sweet Hawaii by supervisor Heinz von Alten and Petro Gonez augments the heftily bubbling organ coils of this Boogie Woogie with genuinely crisp steel guitar chords plus dreamy reverberation phases, and last but not least an enthusiastic mixed choir who is more than up for the scenery. "Ba ba oua oua" and "ooh ooh" gibberish wobbles between dreaminess and tomfoolery, but the tune is indeed catchy. The clash between languorous panoramas and jocular stupidity continues with Jean Rolle’s and Jo van Wetter’s Tiki Tiki Puka which surprises with a magnificent bongo- and bamboo rod-underpinned beat structure, tongue-in-cheek savage chants and a warm-hearted sing song of the title. The steel guitar is sun-soaked, but it is the percussion thicket with its coppice of maracas that carries the whole arrangement and makes it a delightfully bright ditty. J


ean Rolle’s next tune, Carnival Of Venice, is supercharged with a shrapnel of peculiar organ flecks, cabaret-evoking la la la chants that occur as suddenly as they disappear, and steel guitar chords that encapsulate that German Folk/Schlager feeling. This strange high-speed shanty is rounded off by a distinguished bongo placenta, with the final tune of side A, Jean Rolle’s and Willy Albimoor’s Hilo Kiss, reaching Space-Age climes via its Moog-like polyphony, strangely texturized organ presets and sizzling Hammond organ crystal shards which glow glaringly in this already brightly lit panorama.


Side B silkens the weirdly mercurial eclecticism of The Waikikis and smoothens things out without becoming lackluster or bland, be it in the form of van Wetter’s Tahiti Tamoure where hillbilly strumming on the acoustic guitar and steel guitar meets spectral moonstone pads on the organ, or Joe Dante’s follow-up Mauna Loa which is an eminently glitzy sunburst with echoey guitar textures of three kinds, spiraling Hammond organ cascades and a mélange of short twangs that feel like little polka dots. Here, the actual song is in the limelight, as all textures are compatible with each other. Honolulu Rose by Frank Pleyer and Heinz von Alten opens the instrumental pool by injecting tittles on a paradisiac alto flute. The soft legato washes of the organ work well with van Wetter’s steel guitar. This would be an almost perfect take on the Hapa Haole formula, were it not for the car horn-like organ vesicles that appear in a segue right in the middle of the track. Space-Age fights back… in one of the mellowest original cuts.


The aura of the following two tunes by Jo van Wetter is pretty much guessable by a short glimpse at the track titles: March Of The Beachcombers is just that, with percussionists Freddy Rottier and Jo De Muynck at the helm adding a strange alkaline aggression to the dialog between the steel guitar and an extremely warbled organ; Pacific Punch then spirals downwards to a pandemonium-like state via its organ galore and the positively disastrous clash between warm euphony and wonky galactosamines on the organs. The elasticized glissando of the steel guitars in tandem with the strange organs provides Space-Age par excellence. A burlesque madness and one of the very strongest tracks by The Waikikis, with the finale Honolulu Rag featuring mixed choirs in-between faintly recognizable Hukilau Song and Aloha Oe lyrics. The incessant amount of "do whop" and "ba ba doo" jabbering, the effervescent scat rhythm as well as the short Gothic allusions on the organ round off this Hapa Haole tune for the 31st century. Yep, it’s that far out! A great outro.


For the love of all tiki gods, check out Hawaii Tattoo even if you hate the stereotypical Hapa Haole culture and ever-sunny ukulele formula. This album is anything like Hawaii. While there are steel guitars aplenty, the actual achievement of The Waikikis is the superb gyration between Hawaiiana and Space-Age, a balancing act that annihilates each genre's clichés and builds something semi-new. The album pushes itself mercilessly forward, rarely is there a momentary emphasis on sunny beaches or hammock-friendly tempos. The album is ebullient, bubbles, flickers, gleams. All 12 tracks are unique, and once a well-known riff is played, this is done on purpose in order for the connoisseur to nod his or her head to the familiar inclusion. And besides, the two interwoven instances of Aloha Oe are known by a billion living souls or so. The Waikikis were a crazy band, but their sound is not made for everyone.


The focus on the cavalcade of organ textures and their staccato scheme is both the signature element and the Achilles heel of the album, depending on one’s viewpoint. The uplifting tempo, the prominently exotic percussion as well as the three instances where a kooky choir joins the instrumentalists are altogether explosive and energetic devices that let this album flounder towards Space-Age universes. It is as if the Hawaiian islands lift off and float in space! The album is melodious, the gallimaufry of textures both bewildering and enlightening. I am not sure why the band was so particularly famous in Germany and Belgium. Sure, all people involved in this production share these two nationalities, but their distinctive and innovative sound should have made it much more easily across the pond… after all, Hawaii Tattoo aurally drifts through space and makes this procedure feel like a piece of cake. If there is one Hawaiian album that offers a maximum of surprises in that it does only partially resemble the Hapa Haole traditions, it is the debut of The Waikikis. Since it is a bestseller in hindsight, it is available in various formats. A corker for a certain clientele. Its 8-bit-oid structures may seem too comical and unnerving to many a bystander, so pre-listen to it even if you consider yourself an open-minded Exotica traveler, for the sharp edges are really not overly mild-mannered. 


Exotica Review 241: The Waikikis – Hawaii Tattoo (1962). Originally published on Jul. 20, 2013 at