Cool, Daddy - real cool!

And I don't mean "cool" like kids use that word today, but '50s cool - James Dean/Marilyn Monroe/ducktail-and-sideburns/poodle skirts cool.OK, you had to be there, and I'm showing my age. But this new six-disc (so far) series, made up of a variety of '50s and '60s tunes culled from a wide range of Capitol artists, is hipper than hip. Especially Vols. 4-6.

True, some cuts are better than others. For example, on Vol. 6, "Ebb Tide," by Al Anthony - who billed himself as the "Wizard of the Organ" - may make you wonder if you've wandered into a skating rink. But I was surprised how much I enjoyed (and found myself replaying) some of these.

Instrumentals and vocals are intermingled (18 cuts per album), and each features a booklet that offers a genuine feeling for the period, explaining the songs and showing off the distinctly mid-20th-century art work (think '50s male fantasies) that graced the original album covers. Fortunately, a "Nick-at-Nite" sense of humor is employed, which puts it all in perspective - that is, it seems just as silly as it really was.

It's impossible to list all the goodies contained on these six discs, but a highlight for me was the presence of Julie London. Listen to her breathy "Black Coffee" on Vol. 4 and you'll understand why, but she's equally sizzling on Vol. 5 with "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and "Go Slow" on Vol. 6.

"Mondo Exotica" could just as easily be called "Pseudo Exotica," since Les Baxter, Martin Denny and Chuck Floyd aren't exactly natives of the exotic climes - mostly Hawaiian, Polynesian and Middle Eastern - evoked by these pieces. But the music (largely instrumental, with sound effects) is undeniably enchanting, and though you may not readily recognize such titles as "Caravan," "Hypnotique," "The Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish" and "Quiet Village," you'll be surprised at how many you recall.

"Mambo Fever" is just that - and if you don't like mambo/samba/cha-cha music, ranging from a bizarre version of "Hooray for Hollywood" to the delightful "Mambo Jambo" by Dave Bar-bour, forget it. But if you do, these selections by Yma Sumac, Don Swan, Jackie Davis and Billy May will definitely fill the bill.

Perhaps the craziest of all is "Space Capades," described on the cover as "wacked-out, vintage masterpieces from planet Earth." These zany, hey-aren't-we-hip? pieces employ xylophones (Bobby Hammack's terrific cover of "Power House"), horns, springs, telephones and clearing throats (no, it's not Spike Jones - it's Dean Elliott, doing Cole Porter's "You're the Top") and even that early, spooky electronic instrument the Theremin (Samuel Hoffman, with Billy May on "This Room Is My Castle of Quiet") to evoke a futuristic feeling (remember, this was during the era of the Cold War and early moon shots).

"Bachelor Pad Royale" begins with Nelson Riddle's theme for the TV series "Route 66" and features "Caravan" by the John Buzon Trio, Cy Coleman's "Playboy's Theme" and a goofy strip-joint interpretation of "Shangri-La" by Spike Jones.

The all-vocal "Wild, Cool and Swingin' " fairly defines the "saloon singer" genre, once you forgive the absence of Frank Sinatra. Dean Martin's "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" starts things off, and Bobby Darin, Wayne Newton, Louis Prima, Vic Damone and Sammy Davis Jr. are all here, with Peggy Lee (doing "Fever," of course), Keely Smith and Julie London representing the "girl singers."

"Rhapsodesia" reaches great heights with April Stevens' "Do It Again" and the aforementioned Julie London tune "Go Slow," as well as Howard Roberts' "Girl Talk." Many of the others are more in the novelty vein, such as Les Baxter's "Ruby" (with emphasis on the harmonica) and the Mallet Men's cha-cha version of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.