Exotica Mailing List FAQ

18 January 1999 - [v3.2]


What is "Exotica"?
What is the Exotica Mailing List, and how does it work?
Is it correct to call this music "Lounge"?
What is the correct term?
What are some "core" Exotica LPs?
Do Exotica fans really enjoy this music?
Are there some good books & magazines about Exotica?
Are there any good websites covering Exotica and Lounge?
Is the trendy "lounge scene" a good thing?
Are the Capitol Ultra Lounge CDs any good?
What record labels sell Exotica (or neo-Exotica) CDs?
Which is better, thrift stores or record dealers?
What is the best way to clean old records?
Is it wrong to buy bootlegs?
Who wrote this trash, anyway?

Q: What is "Exotica"?

A: A musical genre, named for the 1957 Martin Denny album of the same title. Most narrowly defined, it refers to lounge jazz augmented with polynesian, asian and latin instruments and "tropical" themes. The Exotica style was pioneered by composer Les Baxter, and popularized by such artists as Denny, Arthur Lyman, Gene Rains, and several others.

In the context of this mailing list, it is used as a term of convenience to cover many genres of 50s, 60s, and early 70s music--most would fall under the general umbrella of "space age pop instrumentals." These include percussion, Cha-cha, soundtracks, "Now Sound," Bossa Nova, Moog, and a thousand other subcategories according to the tastes of each individual. (I use the word Exotica in the remainder of this FAQ to cover all these possibilities.) [Back to Contents]

Q: What is the Exotica Mailing List, and how does it work?

A: The Exotica Mailing List is an Internet forum of people around the world interested in discussing Exotica music, and its connections to art, films, life-style and philosophy in general. It was founded by Lazlo Nibble, who maintains a list homepage at:


For more information about the list, send an email to majordomo@lists.xmission.com with the words info exotica as the body of the message.

The list currently has a few hundred members. Membership is open to anyone with an e-mail account, simply by sending the message subscribe exotica to majordomo@lists.xmission.com. You will then get about 10 to 30 messages on a daily basis from other list members on different subjects. You can then reply to these posts or bring up your own subjects.

Many people prefer to receive the list in "digest" form, which compiles the latest posts into a single message of about 40K, sent out every 1-3 days. (To subscribe in digest format, send the command subscribe exotica-digest instead.) [Back to Contents]

Q: Is it correct to call this music "lounge"?

A: As a description of the music (as opposed to a "scene") there are several objections to the term--but you might as well get used to it: It's the word most used by the outside world to refer to Exotica (e.g. in labelling bins in the music store).

However "lounge music" might be interpreted as including some legitimate jazz, torch singers, etc.--all of which area little more mainstream than the interests of list members. Also, the connotation of subdued, low-energy music clearly doesn't apply to the more dynamic sounds of Esquivel, Percussion LPs, etc. [Back to Contents]

Q: Well, what is the correct term?

A: There is no right answer to this, although people have variously suggested Space Age Bachelor-Pad; Easy; Cocktail; Hi-Fi; Space Age Pop; Cheesy Listening; Dynamica; etc. [Back to Contents]

Q: If someone were just beginning to hunt for Exotica records, what would be a few good things to look out for?

A: Though such a list is bound to be incomplete and disputable, here are some suggestions:

Caveat Emptor: In each of these categories there will be many copy-cat records from budget labels. Their quality is usually dubious (though in a few cases they can be delightfully bizarre). [Back to Contents]

Q: Many people still regard music in those styles as "obviously awful." Do Exotica fans REALLY enjoy this music or is it all some ironic put-on?

A: Fans of Exotica are well aware that these genres were reviled as "easy listening" or "plastic" by the rock'n'roll generation; for some collectors, the perverse kitsch appeal was the starting point. However most would say that the more time you spend with this music, the more your appreciation grows for its energy, inventiveness, and musicianship, and for the creativity of the arrangements--despite the somewhat misguided concepts that may have been explored.

Also, the original intent to create "commercial" music for a particular market can no longer be regarded as something sinister--by now it must be seen as a fascinating anthropological window into the spirit of an earlier time. [Back to Contents]

Q: Are there some good books & magazines on the subject of Exotica?

A: The books mentioned most often on the Exotica list are volumes 1 & 2 of Incredibly Strange Music, by V. Vale and Andrea Juno (RE/search), and Elevator Music, by Joseph Lanza (Picador).

The "Vik's Lounge" website--though now dormant--posted an excellent Exotica reading list, with cover photos and capsule summaries, at:


General works about music with some Exotica content:

LP Cover collections:

On electronic music:

Music "scenes" and generational identity:

On retro style:

Cocktail Culture:

Exotica-related zines (some may no longer be active):

[Back to Contents]

Q: Are there any good websites covering Exotica and Lounge?

A: Yes!

Hands down, the best one-stop information site about Exotica performers and composers is Brad Bigelow's "Space Age Pop Standards":


A master jumping-off point for dozens of other lounge-related sites can be found via Johan Dada Vis' "Linquarium" at:


Also see King Kini's "Club Velvet," Lounge Links at:


and the Vik's Lounge links page, at:


[Back to Contents]

Q: Is it bad or good when your previously-obscure little hobby becomes a genuine, media-approved "scene"?

A: Well, you may be annoyed when a bunch of shallow people start crashing your party, knowing next to nothing about the music and just wanting to be part of a fad. But their numbers do tend to get the attention of record company executives--with the happy result that some impossible-to-find material (like Esquivel LPs) was re-released on CD.

As of 1998 we experienced the flip side of this trend, as the media stampede headed off towards "swing" (another media label which blurs together several genres). While there are points of overlap between Exotica and swing, this has generally been interpreted as the waning of "Lounge." The downside has been an abrupt dropoff in Exotica re-releases. But there's some speculation that finding vintage Exotica on vinyl may be getting (infinitesimally) easier, as some collectors move on to other genres. [Back to Contents]

Q: Are the Capitol "Ultra Lounge" CDs any good?

A: The series is entertainingly packaged and aggressively promoted, and generally helped improve the visibility of "Lounge." However the repertoire came entirely from the vaults of Capitol (and its affiliates), so some of the real titans of Exotica were left out (e.g. Esquivel, Enoch Light); and much of what got included was fairly generic. Nonetheless, a few of the CDs (e.g. "Bachelor Pad Royale") are considered essential.

Some have objected to the way the UL series became the 800-Pound Gorilla of Lounge, sucking up all the consumer dollars which might otherwise have supported re-releases of individual classic Exotica albums. [Back to Contents]

Q: Who are some other record labels who have reissued classic Exotica music on CD? Are there any labels releasing new music which might be of interest to Exotica fans?

A: This is hardly a definitive list, but here is a sampling of some labels active in Exotica music--or in new genres that might be considered Exotica-related:

[Back to Contents]

Q: Is it possible to find good records in thrift stores, or are those LPs all just destroyed Barbara Streisand albums? (Corollary: Is it worth paying "dealer prices" for LPs I want, or am I getting ripped off?)

A: Two different Exotica fans, both behaving with complete economic rationality, can arrive at very different answers to this one.

Thrifting makes sense for people with free time, moderate incomes, who might go thrifting anyway for other reasons, and who live in areas with good thrifting demographics. This might mean rural or shrinking industrial areas where young hipsters tend to move away, but where a stable, older middle class still lives.

Busy professionals who live in trendier urban areas will probably find thrifting a waste of time. For them, the service provided by dealers in locating and culling LPs is generally worth the premium charged.

One misconception is that the condition of thrift store records is uniformly bad; in fact the condition is extremely variable, ranging from unplayable to near mint. And at prices of $1 per LP or lower, it becomes possible to take chances on unknown albums or to accept disks in poorer condition, just to learn more about different artists. [Back to Contents]

Q: What is the best way to clean really dirty old records?

A: The purist, or someone with many records to deal with, should investigate the various wet/vacuum record cleaners from Nitty Gritty, VPI, or The Audio Advisor. Although the cost of these machines is high, users are uniformly positive about them.

A description of "archivally correct" storage and cleaning of sound recordings can be found at:


However, people on a budget or with more casual needs usually do fine washing records in the kitchen sink with dish soap and a clean sponge. Tap water in many areas can leave behind a "crunchy" mineral residue when it evaporates, so give a final rinse in distilled water--or at least be vigilant in shaking and blotting away any water droplets clinging to the disk. [Back to Contents]

Q: Is it wrong to buy (or make) bootlegs?

A: Virtually all agree they would prefer to see a legitimate release, where the original artists receive credit and royalties if possible. In some cases the existence of bootlegs can undermine the market for such legitimate releases. However some feel there is a gray area, where rights-holders have thrown up impossible obstacles to a legitimate release, or where the intent is mainly to make hard-to-find music available, rather than as a mercenary venture.

Whatever your ethical views are, the rapid spread of digital reproduction technology is certain to make the issue even more confused in coming years. [Back to Contents]

Please send any additions, corrections, comments, suggested changes in language, etc. to Ross "Mambo Frenzy" Orr at rotohut@ic.net.

Thanks to all the Exotica list-members for inspiration and ideas, and a particular thanks to everyone who hosts the FAQ:

Hugh Petfield answered the call first, posting the FAQ to his "Hugh's Lounge" website with blinding speed.

Peter Ledebur has put it up as part of the Music for Better Living site, wrangling some fine HTML that inspired several improvements in my version.

Moritz R naturally gave the FAQ its most artistic interpretation, as part of the Moritz R Museum site.

And finally Lazlo Nibble, who makes the mailing list possible, hosts the FAQ at the new, improved Exotica List homepage.