Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"Casino Royale" / Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

This song has had its way with me lately, ever since a Best of Saturday Night Live special reminded me of that hilarious sketch with Will Forte and Peyton Manning, where Forte goes into an absolutely inspired goofball dance to this 1967 instrumental hit. But it took me a while to track down the exact name of the song; even though I recognized it instantly, it was one of those numbers playing in the background, working its way insidiously into my consciousness -- part of the soundtrack of my adolescence.

I knew it was Herb Alpert, though -- who else could have produced that snappy, percussive trumpet sound, backed by that not-quite mariachi ensemble, heavy on the marimbas? I just didn't know whether it was "Tijuana Taxi" or "Spanish Flea" or "Whipped Cream" or "Bittersweet Samba" or whatever. One Herb Alpert song I knew it wasn't: "This Guy's In Love With You," a mellow Burt Bacharach number where Alpert actually sings (and not so badly, either). In 1968, when "This Boy's In Love With You" was topping the charts, my then-boyfriend took me to see the Tijuana Brass at the Coliseum in Indianapolis. An excellent show, as I recall.

"Casino Royale" was the theme song for the first James Bond movie of that name, a baffling comedy that couldn't hold a candle to the excellent recent remake with Daniel Craig. It's yet another Burt Bacharach composition (did this guy write every pop song of the early 60s?), performed as a jaunty instrumental with loads of pizzazz. Now that I think about it, I have no idea why it's done with a Mexican accent -- wasn't Casino Royale supposed to be in Monaco? I must have heard it seventy-umpteen times in my life, but I guess I never truly paid it any attention.

And yet every nuance of it is totally familiar to me -- every suspenseful shift in volume, every slippery horn flourish, every zigzag of the backing strings, every time-tapping drum bit. The rhythm is so infectious, it REQUIRES head-bopping, knee-bouncing, and shoulder-wiggling. Fact is, everybody secretly wants to respond with the same kind of stupid dance moves Forte pulls out in that sketch, if only we were uninhibited enough to let it all hang out.

Yes, it's true, the Latin-Lite sound of the Tijuana Brass is kinda cheesy. The whole thing reeks of Sixties-style bachelor-pad suaveness; I can almost smell the after-shave. (Let's not forget the provocative cover of Whipped Cream and Other Delights, with its luscious brunette babe wearing nothing but a ton of Reddi-Whip.) This thing is very much of its time -- and maybe that's the main reason I dig it. It's upbeat, uptempo, and sunny as a south-of-the-border holiday. Go ahead and dance; you know you want to.

Casino Royale sample

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