#28 The Ventures / Brian Setzer – Hawaii Five-0
“Don’t screw up the theme song.”
That was the one thing people told Executive Producer Peter Lenkov when word got out that there would be a re-boot of the classic Hawaii Five-0 Television series that debuted in 1968. Morton Stevens wrote it and the Ventures did what they do best, creating a knock-off that propelled their album of the same name to the top 20 and the single to number 4 in 1969.
You can’t listen to the tune without watching the stunning visuals from the show (And, yup, I have a full video of the open and close at the end of this piece). Back then, you got more than thirty seconds at the front and the back to set the mood. The machine gun film clips of architecture, beautiful beaches, breathtaking sunsets and the stop action hips of a Polynesian hula dancer were perfectly cut to the drum cues. Even the ending, where a group of men furiously paddle an authentic Hawaiian canoe holds your attention with the pounding beat of the theme song setting the pace.
Well, when the re-boot finally launched, Lenkov DID screw it up. The Ventures offered to re-cut the theme, but a truncated synthesizer based rendering was what we heard when the updated offering hit the airwaves. Such was the fury that Brian Tyler, the composer who hit it out of the park with movie themes for Transformers, The Avengers, Iron Man and Fast and Furious was called in to fix it. He sought out as many of the musicians who played on the original session as he could find and kept his arrangement as close to the Stevens composition as possible. The fan base was mollified and the series rode the wave for ten seasons.
Return with us know to the 1990s. Brian Setzer was enjoying a post Stray Cats career resurgence, backing his rock-a-billy guitar with a full big band, dubbed The Brian Setzer Orchestra. When he needed an opener with just enough vamp to get him on stage and past the first ovation, Hawaii Five-0 was his meat. The Setzer version has the same energy as the original and brought Mort Stevens a whole new generation of fans, even as the boomers who still dug big band arrangements of Rock This Town and Jump, Jive and Wail cheered an old favorite.
Seeing Setzer do this live is another example of how sight and sound can mesh to make magic. The curtains open as the drummer fires the explosive opening riff. The crowd instantly recognizes the song, cheering the selection as they rise to their feet, captivated by the percussive power. A spotlight captures Brian’s stage entrance and the place goes wild. He waits just long enough so things can calm down to a point where his Gretsch Model 6138 can be heard above the din. He points a left hand at the drummer to swing into the intro. And we’re off.
Today as was the case when I first heard Hawaii Five-0 on the radio in 1969, heads still bop to the beat. Hands move to the volume knob to turn it up loud. And even if you’ve reached your destination, you hang in the parking spot for just a few more seconds to let the last 5 sixteenth notes fire at you, caffeinating your mood, without annoying side effects.