10. “Yes Master!” — How serious should we take this one? That’s your call. A sense of humor is surely required, as “Yes Master!” is without doubt Eden Ahbez at his most salacious. It could easily have been the soundtrack to some pagan burlesque scene from a tropical B-movie of the late 1950s, what with that male lead barking orders to his female sex slave, who retorts “Yes master” at every command. Ahbez wrote other songs for Bertram International Records between 1958-64—“Jungle Bungalow,” “Surfer John,” and “John John,” plus a few unreleased recordings titled “Umgowah,” “Gunny Sack” and “Love Ye”—but “Yes Master!” remains the crowning achievement.
9. “The Clam Man” — The recorded version of “Clam Man” that a small contingent of the public has heard was cut near the end of Ahbez’s life in the 1990s. He was, at that time, working with a young collaborator named Joe Romersa who posted this fantastic song to his Shadowbox Studio site in the early 2000s, but was forced to remove it for legal reasons. Those of us who nabbed the MP3 count ourselves amongst the fortunate, for it remains one of Ahbez’s most mysterious tracks in his entire oeuvre. I recently found out, however, that Ahbez had recorded an earlier version of “The Clam Man,” during the 1970s, with Dave De La Vega as engineer. (Dave released several Ahbez singles on his Elefunt Records). As to the song itself, Romersa told me it was written for Ahbez’s Baja area friend, Cruz, whom everyone called “The Clam Man.” (See Cruz’s story here.) Musically, the tone poem evokes the mysteriousness of these two vagabonds who encountered one another along the mystic fringes of life’s byways. Whipping wind sounds halfway through remind of the 1960 track “Tobago”—a Del-Fi single by the solo Ahbez. [NOTE: we have since found out that the 1971 song titled “The Clam Man” is completely different than the ’90s one recommended here; the two merely share a title and nothing more.]
8. “Palm Springs” — Dance orchestra leader Ray Anthony nabbed this Ahbez cut from a pool of published tracks making the rounds after “Nature Boy” hit big. When I interviewed Anthony about it he said: “Eden had lots of songs and that’s the one I liked.” Sure have a way with words there, Ray! Musically speaking, “Palm Springs” is one of Ahbez’s moodiest ever instrumentals. In fact, the composer and his old nature boy pals of the 1940s used to camp out in the hills and caves around Palm Springs. By the time of this recording, however, the region had become a getaway for Hollywood celebrities and studio types, replete with jet-age Modern houses, hotels, and casinos. The mood Ahbez casts in this ode to his old stomping grounds is an ominous one, almost like a Christopher Isherwood novel from his Hollywood years, wherein middle class leisure is synonymous with withering away in the sun. It’s easy to overlook “Palm Springs,” but that would be a mistake. It works especially well butted up against other Ahbez tunes from the period.
7. “Fire of the Soul” — This early ’60s Ahbez composition was never recorded, much less released; though it was recently heard by a lucky few attendees of the 2014 Tiki Oasis event in San Diego. There the Millionaire—of nineties lounge-band Combustible Edison—played it for a live audience. Mill got a hold of it from a lead-sheet that I’d recently dug out of the Library of Congress’s Copyright Room in Washington D.C. Hopefully this and other lost Ahbez tunes will one day see official release. Until then, let me describe it. Essentially a modal ballad, “Fire” admonishes listeners to “throw the pleasure of the mind into the fire of the soul,” concluding that the soul outlasts any temporal matters in a vocal refrain of the word “forever” that becomes something of a secular mantra.
6. “Nature Girl” — Released posthumously on the Echoes from Nature Boy CD (1996), and more recently on the vinyl-only Exotic World of Eden Ahbez (2014), “Nature Girl” was actually written way back in 1948. The Long Beach Independent ran a ¼ page ad in ’48, announcing it as Ahbez’s follow-up to “Nature Boy,” while Nat Cole was still talking about recording it in interviews as late as 1954. Unfortunately he never did. Ahbez himself, however, made several versions. A 1962 copyrighted lead-sheet to “Nature Girl” has actual lyrics, while the version finally released on Echoes is instrumental and features Ahbez’s hand-carved bamboo flute to carry the melody. The composer wrote many odes to his wife Anna—aka Nature Girl—but this one seems to capture her essence in the most ethereal way.
5. “The Song of Mating” — This is an evocatively-titled ode to love-making, culled from Ahbez’s four-part “Nature Boy Suite.” The entire thing was recorded only once: by jazz singer Herb Jeffries for his Singing Prophet album of 1955. It opens with this monologue: “And then he whispered softly/Love is the law of life/And love must grow/Personal love into universal love/And from universal love into eternal love/And this is the song of life/The song of mating.” Syrupy soul-mate lyrics then float freely over a lilting melody that lasts for just one verse. But what a verse it is! Part Valentine’s doggerel, part humanist manifesto, “The Song of Mating” clarifies our enchanted boy’s romantic yearning as nowhere else in the Ahbez canon.
4. “End of Desire” — In one of the best early ballads penned by Eden Ahbez, “End of Desire” boasts this apocalyptically erotic line: “Dusk, and the sea is on fire/It’s the end of desire/Being here with you.” Three known versions hit 78RPM shellac around 1950. One by April Stevens (Specialty Records) strikes a subtle chord, while an ultra-rare version by Jack Powers—on the indie label Lotus Records—drips with male desire. My personal favorite, though, is the one released by Ahbez’s own Nature Boy Orchestra (Mercury Records), which features future rockabilly singer Bobby Please on vocals. He sounds out of breath warbling over a proto-beatnik instrumental that Billboard magazine, in 1950, called “a pretentious piece of exotica.”
3. “Sahara” — Around 1956, Ahbez placed three tunes with Beat Generation flautist Bob Romeo. He recorded them with his Jungle Sextet on the killer (and super-rare) Aphrodesia LP and then again later under the banner Bianchi and his Jungle Sex-tet (re-titled Music to Play in the Dark). The album features West Coast jazz luminaries like Laurindo Almeida (guitar) and Eddie Cano (piano). Bob Romeo himself recorded two songs with actor James Dean earlier in ’55 and was a regular at beatnik coffeehouses around Hollywood. Of the three Ahbez tunes on Aphrodesia, “Sahara” is the most far-out. Employing a Middle Eastern motif, it quickly goes raga, riding a tumbling caravan rhythm into abstract melodic territory, making the arid desert motif something of a trance-like state of mind. Go on… get yourself lost in Ahbez’s most proto-psychedelic cut of the 1950s. You won’t regret it.
2. “Nature Boy” — By now a million words have been spilled on “Nature Boy.” What’s left to say? It is one of popular music’s great standards. Nat “King” Cole’s 1948 hit version may be the definitive recording; though there are plenty of others to recommend, as it’s been covered in just about every conceivable genre, from jazz to rock to psychedelic, even reggae and ’80s new-wave. (I’d love to find a moog synth version though!!) Alas, my personal favorite has to be this 1960 recording (below) from Gardena Records by Don Reed and Lorelei. The latter moniker was employed by American International Pictures for the teenage mermaid character of 1965’s Beach Blanket Bingo, which compliments the Ahbez disc well. Lorelei’s siren vocals on “Nature Boy” surely represent the deepest plunge into Neptune’s Kingdom. Alas, “Nature Boy” will likely remain Ahbez’s most beloved song.
1. “Full Moon” — For me the handle of “best song,” or “most beloved” Ahbez song, is not “Nature Boy,” but “Full Moon.” From the composer’s definitive 1960 solo album, Eden’s Island, it was recently used for the closing sequence of FX’s new hit show Fargo. Alas, “Full Moon” is Ahbez at his most colloquial and strange. Over an ominous exotica backing track the nature boy recites his ode to wildness, culminating in the goodbye couplet, “I am everyone, anyone, no one.” Finally, “Full Moon” seems the penultimate example of the postwar generation’s aspiration for free-love and leisure, a conceit later dubbed “hippie.” In the pre-psychedelic world, however, it was called “beachcomber,” with Eden Ahbez as the culture’s most authentic embodiment.