"Honolulu Magazine's The 50 Greatest Hawai'i Albums,"
Ronna Bolante and Michael Keany
(Watermark Publishing, $29.95)
Honolulu magazine reaped tremendous publicity last June with a provocative cover story on the "50 greatest Hawaii albums of all time" as selected by a panel of 12 island residents. Eleven had indisputable credentials as recording artists, record producers, record label executives, disk jockeys or in retail sales. Honolulu magazine Editor John Heckathorn took the 12th spot after Krash Kealoha had to bow out for health reasons.
The criteria eliminated singles and anything released before the introduction of the 33 1/3 rpm vinyl "album" in the 1950s, even though albums had been around been around for years before vinyl. (The original "album" was a set of several 78-rpm records sold together in a booklike package.)
Heckathorn had expected public comment. He encountered some unanticipated issues as well.
Observers noted that only one of the panelists was under 50, and suggested a predetermined slant toward older and more traditional genres of "Hawaii music." Others asked how Jake Shimabukuro, 27, could be expected to possess the encyclopedic knowledge necessary to objectively assess 50 years of recordings. It was also noted that two of the panelists had direct affiliations with the Mountain Apple Co., one of Hawaii's two largest record labels, but that no one on the panel had similar ties to Hula Records, the other local dynasty.
Aside from issues of etiquette and respect, the last issue didn't appear to pan out as a major problem. The final list contained at least nine albums recorded by Mountain Apple and its affiliated artists, but also at least seven for Hula. It also contained at least one album by every panel member with a recording credit except Byron Yasui. There were 17 albums that had been released in 1981 or later, but none dating after 1997.
Possible copyright infringement issues involving some of the artwork were more problematic. The Mountain Apple Co. faced the same issue two months later when it used the magazine cover as the cover of its spinoff anthology album, "The 50 Greatest Hawai'i Albums of All Time."
A reviewer also pointed out that half the artists shown on the cover weren't on the album. Mountain Apple promptly did the right thing and reissued the album with revised cover art.
This colorful picture book is the latest spinoff. Readers with a moderate amount of knowledge about modern Hawaiian music will find that the authors, Honolulu magazine staffers Ronna Bolante and Michael Keany, have succeeded in collecting most of the well-known tales about these artists and their recordings. The photos and images of vintage album covers are the best part.
Anyone may express opinions about which artist they feel is more significant than another. Bolante and Keany do that freely and sometimes inconsistently. Factual errors are another matter, however, and not enough time was spent on fact-checking. For instance, Nona Beamer is Mahi Beamer's cousin, not his sister. Cecilio and Kapono broke up after recording four albums, not eight. Queen Lili'uokalani did not teach music notation to Helen Desha Beamer. "Facing Future" was Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's second solo album, not his first. Don Ho played at Duke's in 1962 but didn't become an "international icon" there until after he teamed up with the Aliis in 1964 ... and the list goes on.
It is correct to include albums released by mainland-based record labels in this list of "Hawaii albums," but that makes IZ's "Facing Future" the second Hawaii album to be certified "gold" by the Record Industry Association of America -- not the first. ("Don Ho's Greatest Hits," released by Reprise, was the first. The first Hawaii artist to have a gold record was Glenn Medeiros, who earned a "gold" single for "She's Not Worth It" in 1990.)
Other passages suggest that Bolante and Keany either didn't listen closely enough to some of the things they were told or didn't know what questions to ask. It's hard to believe that Kamakawiwo'ole quit the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau a few days before they were scheduled to headline their annual Makaha Bash in 1993 because Louis "Moon" Kauakahi wouldn't allow him to play Jawaiian music on the group's albums. IZ had already recorded and released a Hoku Award-winning solo album, "Ka'ano'i," that included Jawaiian music and anything else IZ felt like playing -- with Kauakahi's blessing in 1990.
Other errors suggest sloppy proofreading, insufficient research and lack of respect. Songs listed for "The Don Ho Show!" album include those on Ho's second "live" album as well as this one. Also, the Aliis were such an integral part of the success of the act billed as Don Ho & the Aliis at Duke's that it's shameful the group members' names -- Al Akana, Rudi Aquino, Benny Chong, Manny Lagodlagod and Joe Mundo -- aren't mentioned.
Similarly, Arthur Lyman made the list for an album he recorded long after leaving Martin Denny. Why run a picture showing him as Denny's sideman?
This is a pretty picture book, but the errors of fact and problematic misinformation it contains will mislead anyone who relies on it as a reference work.