Berny Brownstein was already one of Philly's most renowned ad men by the time I arrived at Baker Sound in 1987. A loyal Baker client, he was among the first to give me a chance to prove myself, and provided many opportunities to hone my skills and further my career.
The assignments I handled for The Brownstein Group were always challenging. An early jingle for Nathan Muchnik was set to the tune of Saint-Saëns' "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from Samson & Delilah. One for Oskar Huber Furniture featured a Jamaican steel drummer singing in Danish over a reggae groove; another made the retailers' delivery truck the subject of a Johnny Cash-inspired ode. These projects cut through the clutter, and often garnered awards for the agency and our studio.
My personal favorite was a jingle for the Kahunaville restaurant chain. Berny always had a creative direction in mind before contacting me, but in this case he admitted to being stumped. The problem, he said, was that you had to see Kahunaville to appreciate it. The Hawaiian-themed restaurant was an explosion of color and sound, immersing patrons in a island atmosphere complete with tropical birds and singing tiki statues. And there was something for everyone: an enormous arcade for kids, a expansive bar with exotic drinks for adults, and a restaurant featuring oversized portions. How do we convey all of this in a radio ad?
I was thrilled that Berny wanted my creative input, and began by spending a day at Kahunaville with my family. During lunch I scribbled lyric ideas on napkins and thought about how to express the experience musically. I was impressed by how guests were immediately immersed in an environment upon entering the restaurant, and it occurred to me that the jingle could have a similar effect. When I got back to the studio I began experimenting with drum sounds and grooves until I hit on something that had a "tribal pop" vibe. I wanted to incorporate some tribal chanting, and here I took inspiration from the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disney World. There was no time to learn Hawaiian, so I made up some "words" that had the right flavor.
Ha-ki wa-ka ma-ka
The rest of the jingle came fairly easily. I constructed a lyric from the notes I had scrawled at the restaurant and then began fleshing out the arrangement. Jeff Kay came in to lay down guitars, including the fun surf licks that occur throughout the track. I recorded myself singing the tribal chant, and will never forget the quizzical look Chet Brown gave when I asked him to double me. Chet then recorded the rap in the middle of the piece (which was inspired by Geoffrey Holder's iconic 7 Up commercials from the 70s and 80s). Next came the backing vocals; here Chet was joined by local rocker Bugsy, as well as Denise NeJame and Patty Balbo. I had the group record a variety of scoops and shouts, many of which made the final mix. Bugsy then stepped forward to handle the lead vocal, and delivered a wonderfully energetic performance in just a few takes. The last step was to add jungle sounds, including the distinctive kookaburra call that introduces the verse.
All that remained was to play the track for Berny. I hadn't shared anything with the agency in advance because I didn't think they would understand what I was going for without hearing the complete production. Fortunately Berny was immediately impressed, and became even more enthusiastic on subsequent listenings. He later told me that while he appreciated all of the layers and nuances, he had been sold the moment he heard the line "where the food and the fun are as big as the sun." That line, he said, captures everything Kahunaville is about. I can't tell you how much that compliment meant to me.
Though the restaurant chain is long gone, "I Love Kahuanaville" has stood the test of time as one of my two favorite jingles (the other will be revealed next week). This is partly because it helped me earn Berny's respect, and partly because it answered the musical challenge he posed. But mostly I enjoy the jingle's sunny, exuberant spirit. There's a lot of "me" in this one, and I suppose that's why it still resonates with me after all these years.
Chuck Butler is celebrating his 30th anniversary as Baker Sound's in-house composer. For more information about Baker's music division, visit our dedicated MONSTER TRACKS website.