Mondo Exotica

Sounds, Visions, Obsessions of the Cocktail Generation

Mondo Exotica

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: Published: April 2008

Author: Francesco Adinolfi

Translator: Karen Pinkus

Cultural Studies, Media Studies > TV, Music > Popular Music

Tiki torches, cocktails, la dolce vita, and the music that popularized them—Mondo Exotica offers a behind-the-scenes look at the sounds and obsessions of the Space Age and Cold War period as well as the renewed interest in them evident in contemporary music and design. The music journalist and radio host Francesco Adinolfi provides extraordinary detail about artists, songs, albums, and soundtracks, while also presenting an incisive analysis of the ethnic and cultural stereotypes embodied in exotica and related genres. In this encyclopedic account of films, books, TV programs, mixed drinks, and above all music, he balances a respect for exotica’s artistic innovations with a critical assessment of what its popularity says about postwar society in the United States and Europe, and what its revival implies today.

Adinolfi interviewed a number of exotica greats, and Mondo Exotica incorporates material from his interviews with Martin Denny, Esquivel, the Italian film composers Piero Piccioni and Piero Umiliani, and others. It begins with an extended look at the postwar popularity of exotica in the United States. Adinolfi describes how American bachelors and suburbanites embraced the Polynesian god Tiki as a symbol of escape and sexual liberation; how Les Baxter’s album Ritual of the Savage (1951) ushered in the exotica music craze; and how Martin Denny’s Exotica built on that craze, hitting number one in 1957. Adinolfi chronicles the popularity of performers from Yma Sumac, “the Peruvian Nightingale,” to Esquivel, who was described by Variety as “the Mexican Duke Ellington,” to the chanteuses Eartha Kitt, Julie London, and Ann-Margret. He explores exotica’s many sub-genres, including mood music, crime jazz, and spy music. Turning to Italy, he reconstructs the postwar years of la dolce vita, explaining how budget spy films, spaghetti westerns, soft-core porn movies, and other genres demonstrated an attraction to the foreign. Mondo Exotica includes a discography of albums, compilations, and remixes.


“[T]he study proves how race, sex, gender, technology, and identity all can be communicated and challenged sonically. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers.” — M. J. Bartkowiak, Choice

Mondo Exotica is essential reading for those interested in twentieth-century American studies, popular musical culture, and twentieth-century visual culture. . . . Ultimately, this work is incredibly engaging and entertaining, equal parts mondo and exotic.” — Kim Cunningham, Visual Studies

“[I]nterviews with some of exotica’s prime movers and shakers, most notably [Martin] Denny, Piero Piccioni and Esquivel, provide additional insight and immediacy to this fascinating study.” — Ken Hollings, The Wire

“Adinolfi contextualizes the 1950s exotica trend by placing it within a long history of Western musical exoticism. He ably documents instances of cultural appropriation, from seventeenth-century motifs of the Indies to Mozart’s search for musical expressions evocative of ‘that elusive Turkish flavor’ (37).” — Khalil Anthony Johnson Jr., American Quarterly

“Crammed with facts about sounds, composers, their histories, reminiscences and a whole lot more, Adinolfi has more than done his research, which , in such a odd, diverse, and obscure field of music, has to be applauded. . . . [A] very worthy edition to any bachelor pad. . . .” — Jonny Trunk, Record Collector

"Part cult music and record colllectors' delight and part intriguing pop cultural study, Mondo Exotica is . . . a generally entertaining read that sheds some light on how larger cultural, social, and political trends are reflected in popular music." — Chris Heim, KMUW-FM

Mondo Exotica is a cornucopia of data documenting lounge music and culture and their mid-1990s revival. Francesco Adinolfi has written a book that is as fun to read as the lounge lifestyle is fun to live!” — Otto Von Stroheim, DJ, founder of Tiki News, and organizer of the annual Tiki Oasis weekend event

“You want alternative culture? Here’s the real thing. Francesco Adinolfi looks beyond the camp value and discovers the exotic urges that drove a generation that was supposed to be respectable. This terrific book reminds you that some of the most unique records ever made can still be found at your local garage sale—and that it’s never too late to discover how to live.” — Brett Milano, author of The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll


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Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Francesco Adinolfi is an Italian journalist and radio host. He oversees the production of “Ultrasuoni,” a weekly music supplement in Il Manifesto, one of Italy’s daily newspapers, and he hosts the radio show Popcorner, a mix of electro lounge, funk, and ultrabossa. Previously, he hosted Ultrasuoni Cocktail, a cult hit program on Rai Radio 2, Italy’s national station. The author of the book Suoni dal ghetto: La musica rap dalla strada alle hit-parade, he has written for magazines including Melody Maker, Sounds, and Record Mirror (Great Britain); Revoluciones Por Minuto (Spain), Music Express (Canada), Juke (Australia); and Crossbeat (Japan). Karen Pinkus is Professor of French, Italian, and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. She is the author of The Montesi Scandal: The Death of Wilma Montesi and the Birth of the Paparazzi in Fellini’s Rome and Bodily Regimes: Italian Advertising under Fascism. Jason Vivrette is a graduate student in comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface / Karen Pinkus vii

1. The Tiki Hour 1

2. Mondo Exotica 17

3. Exotic Fragments 34

4. The Laboratory of Dr. Les Baxter 45

5. Martin Denny: The Frog and the Prince 57

6. The Age of the Grand Expositions 67

7. Cocktails All Around 78

8. The Tribes of Exotica 96

9. A Venus in the Lounge 111

10. Destination: Space-Age Pop 121

11. The Moon in Stereo 145

12. Crime Jazz 168

13. Shaken and Stirred 180

14. Italian Style, from Spies to Exotica-Erotica 192

15. Italy's Exotic Adventures 211

16. Lounge Italia 226

17. La Dolce Vita 235

18. Hangovers? 262

Notes 267

Discography 307

Index 355
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4156-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4132-1
Publicity material