50 Greatest Songs of Hawaii
An esteemed panel of musicologists, producers and artists select the 50 greatest songs in Hawai‘i music history.
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33. Lei Pīkake
By Barry Flanagan, 1981
PHOTO: W.S. VLCEK/Courtesy of Hapa
Flanagan was a busboy on Maui when he wrote this English-language poem. “After reading the [Hawaiian translation from professor Kï‘ope Raymond], the melody hit me like a bolt of lightning—I wrote the song in five minutes,” says Flanagan, founder of music group Hapa. Then-member Keli‘i Kaneali‘i provided the song’s searing lead vocal, but Hawai‘i listeners wouldn’t hear it until a decade later, when the group released its self-titled debut. The album earned six Hökü Awards, including Song of the Year for “Lei Pīkake.”
34. Beyond the Reef
By Jack Pitman, 1948
“Before ‘I’ll Remember You’ and after ‘Sweet Leilani,’ this song was Hawai‘i’s hapa-haole song of the times—it was Alfred Apaka’s big hit,” notes singer Nina Keali‘iwahamana. Interestingly, the wistful lyrics and simple melody so closely associated with Hawai‘i was written in 1948 by a Canadian expatriate and makes no mention of the Islands in the song. “Throughout the ’50s, it was a huge standard … because this icon of Hawaiian music sang it,” says radio host Harry B. Soria Jr.
35. About You
By Cecilio Rodriguez, 1974
Cecilio Rodriguez (left) with Henry Kapono in a 1970s publicity shot.
PHOTO: COURTESY CECILIO & KAPONO
“About You” was inspired by Rodriguez’s real-life fling during a ski vacation in Colorado. When he invited his new love interest to the West Coast, she declined, saying “You don’t know anything about me,” he says. “I answered, ‘I know everything I have to know about you.’ And I thought—ooh, wait! That’s a song!” Rodriguez didn’t get the girl, but he did compose one of the most enduring hits on Cecilio & Kapono’s 1975 album, Elua.
36. Days of My Youth
By Kui Lee, 1966
Lee reportedly penned many of his songs in the last year of his life, before succumbing to cancer in 1966. “His brain was accelerating, because he knew his days were numbered,” entertainer Don Ho told the magazine in 2004. “His songs came quicker.” Ho helped popularize this dramatic composition with his own recording in 1966; the composer’s elegiac lyrics and haunting melody resonate with Islanders today.
37. Tiny Bubbles
By Leon Pober, 1966
PHOTO: OLIVIER KONING
No Hawai‘i entertainer in history is more intimately associated with the Islands than Don Ho, and no tune is more associated with Ho than this hapa-haole toast. Ho, who died in April, became a fixture in Waikïkï in the mid-’60s, drawing fans from around the globe to his thrice-daily show at Duke’s. “He was an entertainer, very charismatic,” says promoter and longtime friend Tom Moffatt. “Sometimes, I’d take people to his show, and they’d say, ‘What the hell is this? This guy is mumbling.’ But by the time he was done, they were in the palm of his hands.”