Think â€œukuleleâ€ and youâ€™ll invariably get a quaintly exotic image in your head (and the wrong pronunciation â€“ itâ€™s â€œoo-koo-leh-leh,â€ not â€œyou-koo-leh-lehâ€): warm sun, swaying grass skirts, coconut bras, colorful cocktails with umbrellas, and palm trees and a beach in the background.
Itâ€™s true, the ukulele is a stringed instrument that was born in Hawaiâ€™i (albeit it has its actual origins in a Portuguese instrument that was brought to the islands by 19th century sailors) and given its name, which means â€œjumping fleaâ€ in Hawaiâ€™ian. And itâ€™s also true that the ukulele, which basically looks and acts like a miniaturized, four-string guitar, has helped spread Hawaiâ€™ian music and culture for a century, since Hawaiian music first caught the fancy of mainlanders during a 1915 exposition in San Francisco.
But the cute little uke isnâ€™t just a tool for strumming up tourism to Honolulu.
I grew up â€“ like all baby boomers â€“ during an era of radio when the Top 40 format was perfected during the first two decade of rock and roll, and genres didnâ€™t divide up into separate formats. An entire generation of pop music fans pretty much grew up listening to a wild mix of rock, soul, country â€“ white and black â€“ with a lot of novelty songs thrown in for good measure. This was true through the 1960s, certainly and also up through the mid-â€˜70s. But two things happened to radio between, say 1969 and 1974. First, the FM progressive or freeform format that had emerged in 1967 began attracting the older rock music fans, and for the first time, after 1969, there was a defined generation gap. If you were in college and protesting the Vietnam war, chances were the Archiesâ€™ â€œSugar Sugarâ€ wasnâ€™t as relevant to you as, say, Ten Years Afterâ€™s â€œIâ€™d Love to Change the World.â€ For me, being just 11 during the summer of 1969, bubblegum rock was a sweet and welcome part of my musical diet. There was a lot of crossover between FM and AM, especially during the early â€˜70s. For instance songs like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Youngâ€™s â€œOhioâ€ was a hit on AM as well as FM stations.