The Songs of Summer #95: ‘More (Theme from Mondo Cane)’ by Kai Winding & Kenny Burrell
I’ve got a playlist in iTunes that I call ‘Surf Lounge,’ and the whole thing is based around this song, ‘More (theme from Mondo Cane)‘, and the same-titled album it comes from. ‘More (Theme from Mondo Cane)‘ was a fairly big instrumental hit in 1963, which if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you’ll know was the height of the surf music craze. Back then, instrumental hits were much more common on the radio than they are today.
Danish-born composer and musician Kai Winding teamed up with famed jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell to record their version of some well-known pop and surf tunes, with their own special twist. The result isn’t truly twangy surf rock, it’s not jazz, and it’s not exactly easy listening. It’s a little bit of all of the above. I call it easy-listening surf, or just simply surf lounge. Surf music for grown-ups, in other words. Easy listening, instrumental albums were huge back in this time period, from artists like Bert Kaempfert, Henry Mancini, Paul Mauriat, Ray Conniff, 101 Strings…the list goes on and on. Most of these records consisted mostly of instrumental versions of the hit songs of the day that the kids were listening to, toned down so as not to disturb a grown-up cocktail party. It’s stuff that today is commonly referred to as ‘muzak’ or ‘elevator music.’ Much of it is watered-down and neutered, but sometimes an album comes along that’s different. Like ‘More.’
The album, and more specifically the single ‘More (theme from Mondo Cane)‘ takes the surf genre and tones it down a bit, making it perfect (to me) for a swell summer evening. It rocks…but ever so gently. ‘More’ is Kai Winding’s most well-known recording, the theme from an Italian movie called ‘Mondo Cane.’ The breezy, swinging song features the first appearance on an American recording of a new French electronic instrument, the ondioline. This distinctive, proto-synthesizer sound is one that I’ve fallen in love with over the years, and it doesn’t sound better anywhere else than in this song.
The liner notes to the album ‘More’ make it very clear what the artists had in mind (liner notes, typically a long-winded essay highlighting the album, are a lost art form. One of the things I love the most about old albums are the sometimes hilarious, always informative essays on their back covers.)
Read this excerpt from ‘More’s’ back cover and tell me you aren’t just the least bit interested in hearing what it sounds like (this experiment works best if you pretend you’re perusing a record store in 1963):
‘Surfin’ is the big new thing. ‘More’ is the latest wrinkle on the big new thing, and one that moves like a rolling breaker, swings like a fine 1939 heaerse, and has plenty, plenty soul…For home surfin’, all you need is a place to dance, this finger-popping album, and somebody for a partner. Surfin’ is west coast fun catching on all over the country through music…The bat is there, rock solid, and also the feeling of surf and sky and wild movement…’
If songs like ‘More (theme from Mondo Cane)‘ are old-fashioned and out-of-style, then I definitely don’t ever want to be current. Welcome to the Surf Lounge, circa 1963….the surf’s up, and the drinks are stiff.