What I learned Today #3: Cielito Lindo

Despite having plenty of access to Latino culture as a resident of a major metropolis, I still have not for the life of me been able to learn much Mexican folk music. You know, the songs that define the culture for an entire nation, yet here in America they’re rudely appropriated from their original context to sell stuff or in an attempt to be funny. You know: “I dance! I dance! I dance! Upon a Mexican hat!”

Recognition usually comes to me out of the blue. Today I’m listening to ancient records on WFMU’s “Antique Phonograph Music Program” for Jan 13. The announcer intros a song from 1924 he calls “Beautiful Heaven.” It’s a Latin tinged orchestra instrumental, which suddenly leads into the familiar chorus of “Ay, Yi, Yi, Yi!” Hey! I know this tune. Some searching around the title finally informs me that yes, it is a Mexican folk tune, originally titled “Cielito Lindo.”

As the Wikipedia article I linked to will inform you younger kids, this tune is better known to us Anglos of a certain age as the “Frito Bandito” song. Hope I can remember at least its proper title when I hear it again.

Frito Bandito

Yes, as a kid I had a sticker with this artwork on my dresser drawer.

What I Learned Today #2: Herbie Flowers

This comes from the fine radio show “Mint,” which, regrettably, is being pulled from the BBC 6 schedule:

Herbie Flowers is someone you’ve heard, if you’ve heard classic rock at all. He’s a session bass player who started out playing tuba on cruise ship bands in the early 60’s, and began to pick up the jazz bass. During a stopover in New York he discovers the new trend of electric jazz, and starts out with the electric bass, which leads to a career as a session musician. Result: He created the two coolest bass lines of all 70’s rock: David Essex’ “Rock On” and Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” He’s also on David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” though I suspect most people don’t associate that song as much with its bass line. And on Jeff Wayne’s double prog LP “War of the Worlds.”

Just as extra filler for this space, we was in the classical pops group Sky, with guitarist John Williams.

Your nugget of stuff you never knew was connected for today.

What I Learned Today #1: Loulie Jean Norman

I want to try and start a little feature that I may be able to update more often than I am now (my Super Bowl rant is still coming, trust me). In the course of wandering the internet, I pick up lots of halfway interesting facts. Some are answers to questions that have been in the back of my mind for years. I call this

What I Learned Today


Back in 1959, the inestimable Spike Jones produced an album called Spike Jones in Stereo–of course there was a mono version titled “Spike Jones in Hi-Fi.” Subtitled “A Spooktacular in Screaming Sound!”, it was a cute riff on monster movies that had become popular on TV at the time. Of course voice artist Paul Frees is there, reprising his rendition of “My Old Flame,” and employing his stock voice cast of monster characters and mad scientists. He’s joined by others in Spike repertoire company, plus Thurl Ravenscroft and a female character referred to only as “Vampira.” Long had I wondered, after first hearing the album back in 1980; could this have been the legendary Vampira, one of the first TV monster movie hosts back in 1955, and later a star of the cult classic “Plan 9 from Outer Space?”

I was finally moved to look it up. The album’s listing on allmusic.com shows the only female vocals are by one Loulie Jean Norman. As I suspected: “Vampira” was just an easy and generic name for a monster-based comedy bit.

But who was Loulie Jean Norman? Of course, she had a Wikipedia entry, where we find she was a coloratura soprano who had dubbed the singing voice of Diahann Carroll in the movie version of “Porgy and Bess,” including the song “Summertime.”

But, and here’s the payoff: she also sang the vocalese in the opening theme for the original series of “Star Trek” back in 1966. Yes, there are lyrics that Gene Roddenberry wrote to get in on the music publishing royalties, but for most of the world, the only words to that theme are Loulie’s “Aaah-AAAAAH-ah-ah-ah-ah-ahh!”

Now you know. Go read a book.