Monday, June 24, 2013

Trans-Pacific Musical Mish-MASH

Hawaiian shirts in Uijeongbu, Korea, as seen in the first episode of M*A*S*H.
I just started reading Widening the Horizon: Exoticism in Post-War Popular Music, edited by Philip Hayward, and while the writing style is often as dry as packing peanuts, it includes a lot of excellent food for thought regarding all the kinds of music we associate with tiki: Exotica, hapa haole, faux-Asian, etc. All of these styles of music blend familiar sounds with sounds of far-off lands. Martin Denny's music, for instance, mixes popular music styles of the 1950s with bird calls, Asian instrumentation, and percussion that hinted at mysterious jungles.

About the same time I started the book, I happened to catch a M*A*S*H marathon (both the movie and the TV show), it dawned on me that the music played over the 4077th's P.A. system would fit perfectly into the "tiki mix." Most of these songs were sung in Japanese (i.e. the "exotic" element), but many were popular songs from the U.S. A few were recent hits of the early 1950s, like "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo." But most were well-worn tunes by the start of the Korean War: "My Blue Heaven," "Happy Days Are Here Again," "Chattanooga Choo-Choo,"  "The Darktown Strutters' Ball," etc. The camp's familiar pole-mounted speaker also played "G.I. Songs" from occupied Japan, like "Tokyo Shoe Shine Boy," by Teruko Akatsuki.
"Attention all personnel. Due to circumstances beyond our control, lunch will be served today."
The idea in M*A*S*H seemed to be either that 1) G.I.s were bringing these records back to camp after being on leave in Tokyo, or 2) Radios in Korea could pick up stations from Japan.

Sadly, I can't seem to find these recordings anywhere. I suspect they may exist only in the Fox Studios, or perhaps in thift shop LP bins somewhere in Japan. The closest I've come across is Tokie Tamaki’s version of "Sayonara (Japanese Farewell Song)" on Amazon. (As I continued reading Widening The Horizon, I found that contributor Shuhei Hosokawa even mentions this song's appearance in the series, albeit peformed by another artist.)

If anyone knows where I can get copies of these background tracks, I'd certainly appreciate it. It may be unorthodox, but a few of these songs sprinkled into a mix of more traditional choices could really liven up the luau. In the cultural hodgepodge of Polynesian Pop, what blends in better than American songs, sung in Japanese, from a TV show set in Korea, which was really an extended metaphor for Vietnam?
Hawkeye, wearing a lei, auctions off a trip to Tokyo with Lt. Dish.


  1. I've been looking for these songs as well, particularly "Happy Days Are Here Again." Hope you find them!

  2. Any luck finding my blue heaven sung in Japanese?