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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Visions of Desi

June 15, 2011: I've often tried to gauge how successful a recording artist Desi Arnaz (a.k.a. Ricky Ricardo) was in his heyday. Given the wealth of material he presented on "I Love Lucy" alone, I have to guess and hope he was a tremendous musical force throughout the first half of the 1950s.

To begin with, no one could question the magic of "Babaloo," which was presented in several versions and, of course, recurred as Ricky's theme song. (In the last season, the Tropicana even became "Club Babaloo" after all.) But what are some of the other, lesser-known-but-no-less-magical songs Arnaz brought to life, as least in the guise of Ricardo?

My first favorite would have to be "The Lady in Red," which actually appeared in three separate episodes, including the famous second season show in which Lucy finally gives birth. (I think it's that one ... It may be the one where she tells Ricky she's "enciente," (whatever that means) but now I'm getting confused ... I should check, but we both know I won't!) My favorite version ends with Ricky's playful, "You'd better write her number down, you fool," but each version has its unique offerings (including the one with that sexy dancer). (Also note, the "We're Having a Baby" number is splendid, made all the more joyous by Lucille Ball's authentic hormonal tears throughout the scene.)

Another favorite of mine -- what Ricky himself calls "De mos' beautiful In'ian number ever wri'en," is "The Waters of the Minnetonga," (or something close to that). It's the one where the beautiful Indian girl -- (she may be a Native American girl, but I can't be sure one way or another, although I actually think she's just non-ethnic altogether) -- stands in front of the moon, and it's got that great flute line -- the song I mean, not the moon. That one's pretty hard to beat. Interestingly, it's got a similar timbre and flow to Ricky famous "Sie Mi Low," which we all love, but with much more heart, more emotion.

Others worth noting include "Acapulco," which offers that jaunty tropical happiness you might find with the Andrew Sisters singing tropical songs in a 1940's Abbott & Costello movie -- unforgettably awesome, comfortingly kitsch and innocent ... And of course I have to mention the saucy "Breakin' My Back Putting Up a Front for You," which is a delight ... And how could I ever leave out "Cuban Pete," which may be the consummate Lucy/Desi number, and served as the test balloon for the whole show.

I could expound for many sentences about the band as well (or "orchestra," as they liked to be known, led by the invisible Wilbur Hatch when Desi was out in the spotlight). Two great instrumentals we're treated to on the show are the fabulous "Stompin' at the Savoy" and, of course, "Twelfth Street Rag." Doubling as extras, the members were also always fine in their performances, excepting of course Marco, the piano player, who never stopped grinning and blew the one line he had in the entire run of the show, delivering to Ricky like a fool as they part ways, "Okay Dez." But how can you hold it against that grinning monkey?! He was, after all, "Marco."

Of course, there are some weak numbers in Ricky's repertoire, including a muddled version of "Guadelahara," and an annoying "Big Straw Hat," which is mostly annoying because of that old cleaning woman who does the dancing with him. But you forgive a bountiful songmaker such things, the way we forgive Ringo for "Octopus's Garden."

As is my curse, I'm sure I'm omitting much worth mentioning, but my back is killing me and I can only type lying on the floor for so long, as I do. At the end of the day, it's all perhaps best summarized in the lyrics to the theme itself -- "I love Lucy and she loves me ..." And we, of course, love Desi, despite his philandering and sometimes domineering means as an executive. And long will we love the lovable music of Ricky Ricardo.

1 comment:

  1. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading this; I feel as though I've had a Desi masterclass, as though I now have a degree in Desiology. I want to sit and watch all of these. Plus, my oh my: the Andrew Sisters! Doesn't the very thought of them make you smile? Muchísimas gracias, Senor Liotta. The world needs more bongo playing, don't you think?