Xavier Cugat – Cugi’s Cocktails [Mercury, 1963]

Xavier Cugat - Cugis cocktailsXavier Cugat, the original Rumba King, had panache. The man was at home enough in his own skin that he didn’t think twice about appearing on talk shows and photo shoots cradling a teacup Chihuahua. Decades before Paris Hilton was a twinkle in her parents check book, Xavier Cugat was cooing and pawing at those cute little varmints for all the world to see. You’ve got to respect that, don’t you? No? Then how about the fact that Xavier Cugat was 66 when he married the lovely and talented Charo Baeza, his junior by over 40 years?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with her, Charo is a bubbly, buxom bombshell who hit the big time after joining Cugat’s band playing the Spanish guitar like some lusty Latino angel. Throughout the 60’s and the 70’s she hammed-up the notion of being a sex symbol while still managing to make horny husbands and lonely guys across the world drool in abject lust. Yes sir, I’m sure many is the man who has daydreamed about killing Xavier Cugat and carrying Charo away with him, into his underground Jungian lair, where he stripped her naked and made her writhe around the floor and play Flamenco music …anyway… Charo has always embraced life with talent, humor, creativity and passion, and so did Xavier Cugat. That feeling of enjoyment in life and living it to the fullest exudes through every note of Cugi’s Cocktails. It is unashamedly optimistic, catchy, feel-good Latin dance music. It overflows with joy and happiness and you can’t help dancing around like some goofy shmuck as soon as you hear it. In fact, these songs make you want to learn how to dance properly so you’ll no longer feel like a goofy shmuck whenever you find yourself subconsciously dancing to it.

The songs on Cugi’s Cocktails are dedicated to partying, with titles like Grasshopper and Cocktails For Two, and even though there’s no singing it has more passion than any number of those warbling ninnies the kids like so much these days. You know, back in his hay-day, Xavier Cugat was disparaged by some critics for playing commercial music, and he responded by saying that he made people smile, dance and feel good, so why should he feel sorry for playing it? The man relished and exalted passion and fun, and he promoted them as a lifestyle choice through his music, and that’s what’s missing from commercial music today: there’s all of this fake, strained, forced emotion and that’s the element that’s exalted. I find it particularly nauseating when one of these vapid pop tarts sustains a note towards the finale of their self-inflicted oral assault on their own dignity and self respect with that hideous lip-quivering, mock sincerity . .. as the crowd goes wild! What the fuck? Those aren’t feelings, that’s acting! Passion is raw and spontaneous, it’s an emotional response to life, and you can’t practice that. When passion has been practiced it’s no longer passion, it instantly becomes packaged, pseudo-emotion with an idiot beat. It smells so bad you can taste it. Like a lentil fart.

That’s why it’s so good to go back in time with a guy like Xavier Cugat and his band. There’s no phony angst or over-the-top emoting with them, it’s simply foot-tapping, happy-go-lucky, good-time, dance- like-a -crazy fool music! And we can never get enough of that now can we kids? Think about it: chicks, Chihuahuas, cocktails and the cha-cha, how can you go wrong with that combination?

Cugi’s Cocktails was originally released in 1963, buy it now and never watch American Idol again. Ever! Not even for the sad but amusing William Hung contingent at the start of each season.

Joe Pickell

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