If I were a betting man, I would have bet the answer to the question:
…would have been Vangelis’ “Chariots Of Fire” or Harold Faltermyer’s “Axel F.”
This is why I’m not a betting man.
As someone who has attended a bar mitzvah or eight, watched “Happy Days” on TV regularly, and is aware of Pee Wee Herman existing, I’ve heard the song “Tequila” more than a few times in my life. It’s one of those songs that sounded like it simply always existed.
It’s also a song that I never really paid much mind to. It seemed to be quite functional: it made people dance.
If I’m being honest, it never made me dance, but since we’re being honest here, that’s probably a net-benefit to the universe, all things considered (cue the Elaine Benes clip).
But just because it didn’t make me dance doesn’t mean it’s not a good dance jam.
In fact, it certainly is!
But – sigh – there’s one tiny little wrinkle: the version I know so well from parties is actually a slightly different track. Turns out: I am far more familiar with a track called “Tequila Party,” which is a higher-energy re-recording of the OG “Tequila.”
Folks, this is dicey stuff.
Do I give you a score for the actual song that won the thumbs’ up contest… or do I freelance it and give you scores for the version I know far better — even though it’s actually not the track that was requested?
Y’know, people keep on saying how back in the 1950’s everything was sooooo simple. Well, news flash: even a fun, easy-going jam like “Tequila” can get complicated if you dare to look at it for more than five seconds. Cripes.
New – and arguably improved “Tequila Party”
The Full Friday Flash Review®
Now, the hard part. I’m making the call here that I’m going to review the OG “Tequila” even if it’s the version I’m far less familiar with, not to mention the version I feel is inferior. Perhaps under some deeper inspection, I will be proven wrong. Let’s find out!
Gotta say, given that we’re hearing a 1957 recording, this production is really something else.
We kick off with a light-hearted driving two-chord guitar riff adorned by clear, crisp, echoed hand claps providing a syncopated groove.
A syncopated groove actually seems kind of rare for a pop hit. Would love to hear in the comments other songs that rest on syncopated rhythms for their groove.
So that’s cool, but almost more impressive to me is the clarity of the drumkit.
Back in the 50’s, producers didn’t normally mic each drum individually, but on “Tequila” it certainly sounds like they are.
That snare pops pretty impressively for a recording done in 1957. Not to mention the ride cymbal, which could arguably could be considered a bit too rich in the mix.
But once everything else enters the song, the cymbal actually helps keep a sense of laid-back motion.
But wait: there’s more:
That sax is mic’d fantastically. And the decision to go with strategic sax growls at very precise times in the verses, the chorus, and in the solo shows a level of expertise in performance and production that simply should not go underappreciated.
Here’s a fun bit of trivia: in pop music and in marketing, simple is usually more effective.
And that is clearly on display here. “Tequila” rides a straightforward two-chord structure for all of the verses, but takes us to town with the melody that rides atop the simplicity. The lead melody during the verses is fun, bouncy; and downright addictive.
Then we enter the chorus, where we get an incredibly complimentary melodic riff that rolls a bit more than the verse melody, before leading us up to the imminent break in the action: a brief pause of nothingness, and then… the one and only lyric. It’s pop instrumental perfection, and I’m pretty sure that without the clever break the song would have made the impact it had. Simple, yet frankly… kind of brilliant. Points!
Then we have this freewheeling sax solo, which I think totally counts as songwriting even if it was never written down in a score. What a fun solo! Points!
Underneath it all is a bass line and performance that’s grooving away during the verses but literally dancing up and down the scales during the choruses, sounding like it’s having a blast. You go, bass line. Points!
I’m literally laughing out loud as I type this score into my Google Doc, but honestly: getting to 5/10 wasn’t easy.
So, look, of course a proper instrumental wouldn’t have vocals (or lyrics for that matter) at all. But guess who decided I should review an instrumental song that had vocals (and, for that matter, lyrics)? You all did. So that’s problem number one.
But guess what? I’m not even going to dock this song for this problem. Nobody promised us an instrumental; it’s just how we’ve decided to categorize it after it was made. That’s on all of us. No points deducted!
The real problem is that there are two nearly-identical versions of this song. And I (and probably most?) know the updated version a whole lot better. And that updated version simply has a far superior vocal track, as vocal tracks for “Tequila” go, at least. And I simply cannot ignore this reality.
The result? The vocals for the OG “Tequila” track really do feel lacking (and drunk?) on this specific track.
Look, I’m still convinced that these vocals are crucial to the success of this song, but I’m also convinced that there’s a reason why they went with exuberant crowd-as-vocals on the redo. It’s way better. Points deducted!
I bet you’re curious AF how we got to a 10/10 for a single word song, aren’t cha?
How the heck do we get a 10/10 lyric score when the song isn’t even supposed to have lyrics?
So, actually this is kind of easy in my mind: if you’re going to have a single lyric, there may be no better single word to use as your single lyric.
For starters, (courtesy Google Bard) the word tequila comes from the Nahuatl words tequitl (work, duty, job or task) and tlan (place). It can mean “the place of harvesting plants,” “the place of wild herbs,” “place where they cut,” “the place of work” or even “the place of tricks.” So, that’s cool. But is also has fantastic aural aesthetics: 3 different vowel songs, with a strong “e.” A downright sexy “l” pivot that makes your tongue dance when pronounced with the native latin accent between the “teh-key” and the final “ah” at the end.
And in case that brought us only to a 9/10, there was nothing more entertaining than going to the lyrics online to see the lyrics typed out completely honestly and with no smirk attacked:
It’s simply marvelous. I’m absolutely convinced it’s better than having no words at all. And for me to say that about an instrumental is really off-brand. I’m usually quite parochial about such things.
Ear Worminess: 10/10
This entire song is an earworm pile-up:
The verse melody is the main earworm (which is rare and awesome), and off course the lyric-to-end-all-lyrics is its own earworm.
But even the chorus melody, which is less of a direct earworm does the perfect earworm layup right before we hit “tequila!” There’s a reason why this song is in almost every single dance party that involves multiple generations on the same dance floor. Epic.
OVERALL “BLUE AGAVE WORTHY” SCORE: 8.4
…barely rounds its way down to...
TL;DR ℠ :
An absolute classic dance jam that has stood the test of time of course gets a really high rating.
It’s really only a smidge shy of reaching up to a 9/10, which I would have also been quite happy to see.
But, look, the elephant in the room is impossible to ignore: there’s a better version of this song, and it’s performed by the exact same people who realized that this song would be even better if it were recorded in a far more lively way, with a vocal track that matched the mood.
So, yeah, while “Tequila Party” may very well had gone all the way up to a 10/10, “Tequila” itself has fared pretty well I think considering its own built-in competition.
Also, some fun facts before we depart (courtesy Songfacts and Wikipedia):
- “Tequila” was actually recorded before The Champs even existed as a group.
“Tequila” was an afterthought after the band recorded “Train to Nowhere” (the A-side of the record they were recording). Some of the musicians had already left the studio when it was brought up that nothing had been recorded for the B-side. The remaining musicians were rounded up and the song was written on the spot.
- The “Tequila” part of the song was simply a silly attempt to cover up the holes in the song. After all, it was just the B-side.
Daniel Flores, AKA Chuck Rio, who wrote “Tequila,” was inspired to write it when a fan saw him drinking tequila between sets, and said:
“Hey, you should write a long about what you’re drinking.”
The Champs followed-up their colossal hit with “Too Much Tequila” and “Tequila Twist.”
History has recorded how successful those sequels were.
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