The story of today’s Anatomy Of A Song starts with its composer, Mexican legend Consuelo Velázquez (Torres), who was often called Consuelito. She was 88 when she died in 2005, and had spun out a long and successful career as a pianist, singer, and composer. Many of the songs she wrote are still loved and remembered, but without a doubt her most famous composition — considered the most popular Mexican song ever performed or recorded — is “Bésame Mucho”.
Backed by a classical music education and many years of honing her craft (she started at age 4) Consuelito began her career as a concert pianist, and broke out in 1938 at Mexico City’s prestigious Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts). It wasn’t long before she was also entertaining on radio, often using a man’s name because it was considered scandalous for proper young ladies to appear on the airwaves. Some of her compositions began getting attention, and “Bésame Mucho” — a romantic ballad mostly about kissing — quickly struck a chord with listeners. She later said that at the time she wrote it she’d not yet been kissed herself, and her sheltered upbringing caused her to think of it as a sin.
The song soon began to find success outside Mexico, and was probably helped along by something that was going on across the border. ASCAP was agitating with American radio companies for higher royalties and rival BMI was looking for ways to bypass the logjam. One way to do so was to use imported music, and “Bésame Mucho” was the perfect candidate. Lyricist Sunny Skylar was engaged to rewrite it in English, and it wasn’t long before it was showing up everywhere. The song began to really hit its stride in 1943 and 1944, with three memorable performances. (All three artists have been featured on the GMC, so if you want to hear each of them doing the song, just click on the link.)
Andy Russell was born in East LA as Andrés Rabago Pérez, so it seems appropriate that he had his first hit with the song, and it was also the first time it charted in the U.S.
Not long after, Jimmy Dorsey’s band hit the top of the charts with the song, and his version featured vocals by Bob Eberly and Kitty Kallen.
The Hollywood film Follow The Boys (the 1944 one, not the newer Connie Francis effort) included Charlie Spivak‘s orchestra performing the song, complete with some dialogue that occurred during its playing.
In the decades following, “Bésame Mucho” was recorded by just about everybody, in some cases as an instrumental but mostly as a vocal. One of the most unusual might have occurred January 1st, 1962, when the Beatles auditioned for Decca Records. This was before Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best, and the band was relatively unknown outside Europe. One of the fifteen songs they performed was “Bésame Mucho”, and apparently Decca wasn’t too impressed because they passed. The Beatles have since sold 600 million albums worldwide. . .but not for Decca.
“Bésame Mucho” has been recorded in a variety of styles and by a gazillion different artists, and everyone has their favorites. If you’re not already MUCHO tired of the song, I’ve included a couple I like below. First is a vocal by the incomparable Dino, followed by a solid instrumental version from — of all things — a Frenchman.