Cuchi-cuchi! Charo, or María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza, burst onto the cultural radar with her goofy, slightly suggestive catchphrase during the late-sixties run of the television phenomenon Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Once a frequent passenger on The Love Boat, the comedienne-bombshell still is a familiar face today on television (Dancing with the Stars, RuPaul’s Drag University) and onstage – on land and on sea, even on the good ship Disney Magic. In 1977, Charo teamed with Vince Montana Jr., the arranger-conductor of Salsoul Records’ house band The Salsoul Orchestra, for a fun disco romp entitled (what else?) Cuchi-Cuchi. It’s one of two Salsoul classics recently given the deluxe treatment by Cherry Red’s Big Break Records label, along with Loleatta Holloway’s 1978 Queen of the Night.
Cuchi-Cuchi, jointly credited to Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra, definitely proved that camp and stellar musicianship could co-exist. “Dance a little bit closer…move it in like this…a little bit closer/You and me can dance so free/Oh, come/A little bit closer/Slide your feet like this/A little bit closer…” Charo coos on the opening song, one of the three compositions that sold Salsoul’s Cayre Brothers on Montana’s concept for a Philly soul-meets-Latin-fusion orchestra. The lyrics of “Dance a Little Bit Closer” don’t get any deeper than that, but the seductively insinuating groove and immaculate arrangement – with lush strings, commanding horns and of course a vibes solo from Vince – were pure, sophisticated Philly disco. “Dance,” breathily sung in the heavily accented English that made Charo famous (or infamous?) on Laugh-In, makes room for asides in Spanish (“Loco, loco, loco!”) as the singer’s playful personality compensates for her lack of a powerhouse voice. She was rewarded with a Top 20 dance hit for the infectious track.
That effervescent personality is also used to good effect on a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Its once-controversial lyrics have always lent themselves to interpretation by sexy female artists – think Claudine Longet’s steamy rendition. Charo’s salsa-fied rendition of the Jagger/Richards melody comes with a healthy dollop of humor, as does “You’re Just the Right Size.” This remake of Montana’s 1976 Salsoul Orchestra song (basically an instrumental with choice vocal interjections) is one of the album’s most carnal cuts, but it’s also a fine showcase for the Orchestra’s trademark Latin percussion and Montana’s swirling and oddly elegant strings. “Cookie Jar,” co-written by the bandleader, is driving yet catchy funk, highlighted by Charo’s lighthearted double entendres.
More boisterous is Pedro Calaf’s singalong-style “Borriquito,” sung in Spanish as a disco-fied flamenco track. Charo warbles modestly in both English and Spanish on Mexican singer-songwriter Roberto Cantoral’s “The Clock” (reportedly recorded over 1,000 times by various artists worldwide). It’s performed in a straight ballad version with another delectable string chart from Montana. The oddest, campiest track on Cuchi-Cuchi, however, is far less authentically Mexican. It’s the disco revival of Pat Boone’s “Speedy Gonzales,” sans Mel Blanc’s animated interjections that enlivened the original recording. A more successful tongue-in-cheek moment comes courtesy of Montana and Ronnie Walker’s made-to-order title track “Cuchi-Cuchi,” a centerpiece disco workout for the album.
Charo is backed by the ubiquitous background vocalists known as the Sweethearts of Sigma on the quintessential Philly soul of “More of You,” on which she sings “straight” over the irresistible and slickly funky track. Her hushed vocal is also commendable on the sensual ballad “Only You,” co-written by Montana, Ronnie James and Janet Gugliuzza. The melody is tailored to Charo’s strengths, and boasts some lovely Spanish-style guitar, too. Though Charo herself is a flamenco guitarist, she’s not among the credited musicians on the LP, but that’s hardly a liability considering those who did play on Cuchi-Cuchi. Among this list of Philadelphia all-stars: Earl Young and Charles Collins on drums, Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman on bass, T.J. Tindall and Bobby Eli on guitar, Ron Kersey on keyboards, Larry Washington on percussion and Don Renaldo leading the string section.
What extras will you find on BBR’s reissue? Hit the jump! Plus: the scoop on Loleatta Holloway’s Queen of the Night!
BBR’s reissue of Cuchi-Cuchi adds 12-inch mixes of “Dance a Little Bit Closer” and “Cuchi-Cuchi” plus “Mamacita ¿Donde Esta Santa Claus?,” the latter arranged and conducted by John Davis of the Monster Orchestra and produced and mixed by Tom Moulton. Twelve-year old Augie Rios scored a hit with the novelty song in 1959, and Charo gave it a disco makeover that would likely spice up any holiday gathering. None of the seven-inch single edits are present. Stephen “SPAZ” Schnee tells the story of Cuchi-Cuchi in his liner notes; producer Wayne A. Dickson has handled the remastering duties.
Few would dispute Salsoul Records’ crowning of Loleatta Holloway as Queen of the Night on her second long-player for the label which arrived in 1978 following the previous year’s Loleatta (already reissued by BBR). Queen was her second effort for Salsoul and Norman Harris’ Gold Mind imprint, and benefitted from the Philly soul great’s typically classy production.
Though Harris produced three songs of the album’s eight, he alas, only arranged one– but what a song. Somehow the opening cut “Catch Me on the Rebound” (penned by Harris and Ron Tyson of The Ethics and Love Committee) wasn’t the first single off the album, despite an expectedly impassioned vocal from Holloway plus Harris’ array of liquid guitar licks, swelling strings, funky bass, nonstop percussion and punchy horns. The frenetic “Good, Good Feeling” was another product of the Harris/Tyson team, produced by Harris and arranged by Leon “The Hit Man” Mitchell of Philadelphia. Love, of course, is what leads to Holloway’s titular feeling, and her piercing, siren-like vocals bring a rootsy quality to the Philly disco euphoria. On Frank Austin, Miki Farrow and Robert Strother’s “Mama Don’t, Papa Won’t,” produced by Harris and arranged by George Bussey, Holloway brings earthy indignation and pure fire to the socially-conscious lyric set to a pulsating disco rhythm. “I will pack up my bags and leave you,” Holloway powerfully implores to a ne’er-do-well man in her life. “You’ve got this responsibility!”
Jack Faith, the MFSB/Salsoul Orchestra flautist who came into his own as an arranger during the MFSB Mk. II period at Philadelphia International, contributed three charts here. (Faith was one of the talents who continued to work for both PIR and Salsoul following the departure of Harris, Vince Montana, Earl Young and others from the PIR stable.) His arrangement of the Bunny Sigler duet “Only You” – also written and produced by Sigler – was the leadoff single, and barely missed the R&B Top 10. It’s a smoldering ballad that taps into Sigler’s own smooth, sensual delivery and Holloway’s full-throated, gospel-honed power. (The single version of “Only You” appears on BBR’s recent reissue of Sigler’s Let Me Party with You.) Faith also arranged Sigler’s uptempo “I May Not Be There When You Want Me (But I’m Always on Time)” which injects levity into the LP. Holloway is at her sassiest on the funky rave-up that nearly hits the eight-minute mark. Ron Tyson also co-wrote and produced “Two Sides to Every Story,” which Faith arranged in a boisterous Philly disco style. Holloway also engages in a lengthy, playful spoken section (“There ain’t nothing you can make up but the bed you’ve been sleeping in!”) that makes clear just who’s boss in her relationship!
The most unexpected track on Queen of the Night is Joe Brooks’ deathless Oscar-winning film song “You Light Up My Life,” a far cry from the usual Salsoul repertoire. In Tom Moulton’s production of Thor Baldursson’s arrangement, Holloway returns to her pre-Salsoul style of southern soul-flecked balladry, and invests the song with as much passion as is possible. Her husband, Floyd Smith, produced the album’s closing track, a strong rendition of Bobby Womack’s slow-burning “I’m in Love.”
BBR has expanded Queen with three bonus tracks: the 12-inch Disco Mixes of “Catch Me on the Rebound” and “I May Not Be There When You Want me (But I’m Right on Time)” and Walter Gibbons’ Disco Madness Mix of “Catch Me on the Rebound.” (Gibbons also remixed the standard 12-inch Disco Mix.) The six-minute album version of “Catch Me” is extended by almost five minutes in the Disco Mix; the Madness version clocks in at just a couple of minutes longer. Stephen “SPAZ” Schnee offers a loving appreciation of the album’s merits in his liner notes, and Wayne Dickson has remastered.
Both Cuchi-Cuchi and Queen of the Night are available now, and can be ordered at the links below!
- Dance a Little Bit Closer
- Let’s Spend the Night Together
- More of You
- El Reloj (The Clock)
- Speedy Gonzales
- Cookie Jar
- You’re Just the Right Size
- Only You (Can Make My Empty Life Worthwhile)
- Dance a Little Bit Closer (12-Inch Version) (Salsoul 12-inch single 12D-2048, 1977)
- Cuchi-Cuchi (12-Inch Version) (also included on Octave Lab (Japan) CD OTCL-5024, 2012)
- Mamacita ¿Donde Esta Santa Claus? (Salsoul 12-inch single SG 201, 1978)
- Catch Me on the Rebound
- Only You
- Good, Good Feeling
- Mama Don’t, Papa Won’t
- I May Not Be There When You Want Me (But I’m Right on Time)
- You Light Up My Life
- Two Sides to Every Story
- I’m in Love
- Catch Me on the Rebound (12-Inch Disco Mix) (Gold Mind 12-inch single GG 402, 1978)
- I May Not Be There When You Want Me (But I’m Right on Time) (12-Inch Disco Mix) (Gold Mind 12-inch single GG 405, 1978)
- Catch Me on the Rebound (Disco Madness Mix) (Salsoul SA 8518, 1979)