Les Baxter – Ports of Pleasure – Retro Exotica LP Love – Review

Ever imagined being a pirate in the South China Seas? Or performing the dance of the seven veils on top of an elephant in the dusk? Well Les Baxter has, because he created Ports of Pleasure just for you to practise to! Here is our review of the vinyl record LP – because we love Exotica.

Ports of Pleasure is an August 1958 Capitol Records release by Les Baxter and his Orchestra (ST 868). There have been less than ten reissues, and the featured image version shown in this blog is an Australian Press that is not on Discogs.

Musically, the album tracks are easy listening soundtrack pops of Big Band, Jazz, Space and Classical. On the reverse cover, Ports of Pleasure is introduced with lashings of double entendres:

“Here, in an album of compositions by Mr. Baxter, he calls forth fascinating impressions of the mysterious East – those small dots on the globe where one’s index finger lingers longest”.

Les Baxter is the Man.

King of the MOOD, Baxter and his Orchestra weave a seamless, immersive sound experience of the South East Asian Fantasy from the late 50s (think I Dream of Jeannie, Auntie Mame, Around the World in 80 Days: folks at that time were living the dream in post-industrial US of A and didn’t want re-al-ity interrupting their get-away time).


The tracklist forms the narrative of this blog because in each track, the listener is taken to a different ‘Port of Pleasure’. Not ignoring the obvious political and warfare situations that were going on in South East China at this period in time, I prefer to focus on the escapist exotica visions of the musician and his band.

  1. Tahiti: A Summer Night At Sea
  2. Hong Kong Cable Car
  3. The Gates Of Annam
  4. Shanghai Rickshaw
  5. Tramp Steamer To Singapore
  6. Spice Islands Sea Birds
  7. City Of Veils
  8. Monkey Dance Of Bali
  9. Harem Silks From Bombay
  10. Sidewalk Cafes Of Saigon
  11. The Pearls Of Ceylon
  12. Bangkok Cockfight

Tahiti: A Summer Night At Sea

A star-studded sky casts gentle light on a yacht lying at anchor near the shore. In a secluded spot on deck, two lovers catch the heady fragrance of exotic flowers, borne by warm breeze: from the island.

Hong Kong Cable Car

The quaint vehicle struggles valiantly to reach the top of the hill and slows down wearily as it reaches the crest. Then, the car speeds happily all the way down.

Lamma Island Hong Kong cable car
Lamma Island Hong Kong cable car

The Gates Of Annam

Barely visible through the evening haze, a mysterious procession passes through the great gates. Is it a file of sacred elephants, bearing the retinue of some ancient emperor – or, like an opium dream, only a bizarre flight of fancy?

The royal cortege leaves the Citadel for the Nam Giao Esplanade, BAVH 1, 1936
The royal cortege leaves the Citadel for the Nam Giao Esplanade, BAVH 1, 1936

Annam is the mountain range that extends approximately 1,100 km (680 mi) through Laos, Vietnam, and a small area in northeast Cambodia.

An Annamite Woman
An Annamite Woman

Shanghai Rickshaw

Grinning and racing only against himself, an agile rickshaw boy trots through the bustling streets of Shanghai. His precious burden is a fair-skinned English lady in search of jewelled treasures – at bargain prices.

Old Shanghai resident posing comfortably in rickshaw!

Tramp Steamer To Singapore

Out of the mist looms the black hulk of a freighter en route to Singapore, the gateway to the east, where strange gardens lie steaming in the tropic sun.

Painting of a tramp steamer by Stuart Roy

Spice Islands Sea Birds

Splashes of winged colour … outlandish sea birds fluttering, and screaming their brief erratic complaints to the winds.

Spice islands

City of Veils

Within the city’s crumbling walls, the visitor from the West is enticed by the sensuous movements of veiled dancers, unaware of the intrigue that pulses inside the city, veiled from him by whispering voices, by shuttered windows and silent footsteps.

Monkey Dance Of Bali

Sacred monkeys scamper through the temples, their human imitators performing the ritual monkey dance with exhilarating tempo and the bright tinkle of gamelans.

Harem Silks From Bombay

Freighters from Bombay carry rich silks and another, more beautiful cargo – slave girls for wealthy princes of the East.

Sidewalk Cafes Of Saigon

At a sidewalk cafe, a girl sips liqueur as she dreamily watches the hectic vivacity of the “Paris of the Orient.” She may be French, perhaps Oriental, probably both.

The Pearls Of Ceylon

Fishermen and divers, and the great Sea of India around them, bringing to the islanders life and death and an occasional pearl.

Tamil woman in tea plantation

Bangkok Cockfight

The national sport of the Indonesians. The bellicose birds strut to an almost jazzy beat as the crown presses in closer in tense expectation.

We Love Exotica

Here at My Vinyl Revolution, we LOVE Exotica. If you want some more insight into the musical genre, check out Jim Spencers’ bio on Les Baxter. Images used were all generated from a reuse image search via Google, using the exact terms of each track title to see how Les Baxter has influenced the internet algorithm: make no bones about it, the man is a GENIUS and rules words, images and sounds of Ports of Pleasure!

If you are after Les Baxter we have Jungle Jazz available at the time of this posting – grab it quick!

Erica from My Vinyl Revolution

My Vinyl Revolution is an online Music Distributor selling New Re-issue Vinyl from around the world as well as Second Hand Vintage Records in Australia and globally. If you’re after any new music on vinyl that we don’t have listed please don’t hesitate to ask as we may have it in stock waiting to be placed online or on its way!

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