A Cover from another Mother (tongue) Part 5

Songs translated from Spanish to English

After listening to a 1960 version of this song by The Coasters, The Beatles performed this at their Decca Records audition, as we know they were turned down. No kisses for Decca.

“Bésame mucho” was written by Consuelo Velázquez Torres. Being Mexican, she had learned classical piano pieces from Spain. Part of the melody was taken from the first line of the Aria “Quejas o la maja y el ruiseñor” by the renowned Catalonian composer Enric Granados, first recorded in 1911. Just as an aside (not that anyone cares, but hey it’s my blog), if you have been to Barcelona you may have walked on the street named after him, Carrer de Enric Granados. Walking that street myself is when I first learned of him. My family and I just happened to be there as my eldest daughter and her husband actually lived at the corner of Enric Granados and Carrer de Provença, and a walk down that street will take you to the east side of the famed La Sagrada Família. This is the Church designed by Antoni Gaudí. Ok, now back to our regularly scheduled program.

There are currently 710 versions of “Bésame mucho” making it the 50th most recorded song and #1 for the Spanish language. It was first performed on radio by Emilio Tuero in 1940, and the first record was by Los Cadetes del Swing later that same year.

There is some mythology and romanticism around the origin story of this song, which itself is indeed very romantic. I feel I have narrowed down a reasonable accounting. Consuelo was a child prodigy and classically educated concert pianist, first performing at age 11. As a teen she had secretly been providing music for a Mexico City radio station which was in conflict with her strict upbringing and classical training, not to mention social norms at that time. It was there she started gaining knowledge of popular music and began composing in that style.

She wrote many songs that are well known in Mexico and elsewhere. She would eventually record “Bésame mucho” herself as an instrumental. It was written sometime between 1938 and 1940 making her aged 22 to 24. She has said that at the time she had never been kissed (which adds to the romanticism if nothing else), it was inspired by seeing a young couple kissing in public. I did read accounts of how she wrote the song at age 16 and sang it on the radio as she was missing her husband who had gone off to fight in WWII. Her soon to be husband actually worked at the Radio Station and, as you can see by the dates that story does not hold. There is more to it of course but let’s get to the English version that led to The Beatles recording. They re-recorded the song at Abbey Road Studio but it was not released until Anthology 1.

The English lyrics were written by Sunny Skylar and it was first recorded by Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra with vocals by Bob Eberly and Kitty Kallen and released in 1944. It would be covered by Joséphine Baker, Connie Francis, Julie London, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Dean Martin and dozens more well know artists. You will find a Youtube post with Consuelo credited as the singer but she was not a vocalist and to the best of my knowledge never recorded it as a singer.

While researching songs that originated in Spanish and were translated to English I was surprised to find so few that have been covered to any great extent. I can tell you I scoured the top 500 and more most covered songs list from Secondhandsongs.com in addition to many internet searches. Now, this is not to say songs in Spanish are not popular, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Latino singers are among the most popular, from the great Gloria Estefan all the way to stars like Latin Trap artist Bad Bunny who sings exclusively in Spanish. He is relatively new so his songs are not yet covered that much. Many Latino singers have also switched or at least they record many songs in English to gain that market exposure.

“La paloma” was written by Sebastián Yadier around 1860. The English translation is “The Dove”. It is a love song that speaks of being apart from the one you love and wanting to be able to send a message. A dove landing on the window sill represents that message. There are 523 versions of the song making the second most recorded song of Spanish origin. It has been recorded in dozens of languages as well as over 100 instrumentals. The first performance was by Yadier himself in Havana, possibly in 1855 which is where he received the inspiration for the song. The first recording was by Ferruccio Giannini in 1896. The song quickly spread throughout Europe and elsewhere. This popular melody is one many will recognize.

Nana Mouskouri with a rare English version of the song

I found it surprising that there are so few literal translations of the song in English. There are a couple recordings in Spanish by well known artists Frankie Laine and Marty Robbins listed by SecondHandSongs.com. However it seems the melody and love song theme appears under several song titles, all with different lyrics; “The Look”, “My Love”, “Your Love”, “Our Song”, “La paloma Goodbye” and a Freddy Fender song titled “Take Her a Message! I’m Lonely”. The most popular use of the melody was for the song “No More” written by Hal Blair and Don Robertson for Elvis Presley. The is from the movie Blue Hawaii (1961). Elvis is accompanied by The Jordanaires and “No More” has been covered just over a dozen times.

Following the example of the above song, I was a bit shocked at the lack of songs from Spain that have made their way into the English market in the same way that “Bésame mucho” has done. Afterall this is the land of the Flamenco and the modern day guitar was invented in Spain. However, I think I now have a bit of an understanding as to why that may be. Upon discussing this first with my son-in-law who is of Spanish heritage, and then with a friend of mine I was reminded of the political dynamics of Spanish rule for many years. Living under a dictatorship, there was severe repression that had an effect on the freedom of everything, including the music industry. So the production of native music and, consequently the export of songs was severely hampered for many, many years. General Franco ruled over Spain from 1939 to 1975, these are the prime years when so many songs from other countries and languages made their way to the English speaking world. By the time the yoke was lifted in Spain the Latino music industry was so strong there was little room for music from Spain, (no matter the quality) to get much international recognition. Not to mention that the native market missed out on everything from Big Band to Jazz and Rock & Roll and then came very late to Punk and Heavy Metal. The Spanish industry grew from influences brought in from other countries after 1975.

Nevertheless, the spread of music from Spain was not to be denied. For example the Gipsy Kings, who were born and formed in France, all had parents that fled Spain during the Civil War, before Franco eventually came to power. They were all raised with the Spanish language, and for example with Catalonian and Valencian Community culture. While not heavily covered they had one of the longest running Spanish language albums ever on Billboard. The Gipsy Kings (1987) charted for 40 weeks in 1989. I recall also enjoying “Djobi, Djoba” and later “Baila Me“. I barely understand a word but these are great songs and after finding these clips I had a hard time pulling myself away from listening to them again and again.

“Quién será” will bring us back to a popular song from Mexico that was written (words and music) by Pablo Beltrán Ruiz with some of the music by Luis Demetrio. It was first released by Nelson Pinedo con La Sonora Matancera in 1953. A name we have seen before in other translations, Norman Gimbel wrote the English lyrics and “Sway” by Dean Martin with Orchestra conducted by Dick Stabile was released in 1954. There are currently 293 versions.

‘Somos novios” was written by Armando Manzanero and he released it in 1968. There are 189 versions of this song.

English lyrics were written by Sid Wayne and “It’s Impossible” was released by Perry Como in 1970.

First performed in 1913, “El cóndor pasa” was a beautiful instrumental song written by Daniel Alomía Robles. It has roots in a Traditional 18th Century Peruvian folk song titled “Soy la paloma que el nido perdió”. While not translated, the music was used for the song of the same name written by Paul Simon. So it was transposed one could say and the result was a classic from Simon and Garfunkel from the 1970 album Bridge over Troubled Water.

Ok, I am including this last song, which has not been translated nor transposed, but it’s too good not to mention. The great Tito Puente, who was of Puerto Rican heritage wrote “Oye como va” which he released in 1962. After only one other version it was done by Carlos Santana in 1970 and would become one of his signature songs. There are 68 recordings of this song.

References: 1,2,3,4,5

14 thoughts on “A Cover from another Mother (tongue) Part 5

  1. Good post! I’ve often wondered why S&G called that song ‘El Condor Pasa’, now we know! The one Spanish song that was a hit that popped right into my mind was ‘La Bamba’ but of course that probably only has been covered one time of note, by Los Lobos.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Randy. This is what made the Beatles different from the Stones and other bands…their willingness to go outside the lines.
    I’ve always liked Oye Como Va…and others on this list.

    Liked by 1 person

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