Roberto Selles

El choclo - "El choclo" and its curious adaptation into English

t is not known exactly when Ángel Villoldo composed his internationally renowned tango “El choclo”.

The piece was premiered in 1903 – the date appears on a program of the venue - at the elegant restaurant “El Americano” on 966 Cangallo Street (today Teniente General Perón) by the orchestra led by José Luis Roncallo, who had to disguise it by titling the number as “danza criolla”, because the owner of the local did not like tango music. Despite it, there is a belief that it was composed in 1898.

Undoubtedly, next to “La cumparsita” it is the tango tune most widely spread.

Why “El choclo”? Irene Villoldo, sister of the composer, once explained it to the singer Juan Carlos Marambio Catán. These are her words: «“El choclo” was in fact a tough guy who as well was a pimp that was based in the surroundings of Junín and Lavalle. He was called by that name because of the color of his hair.» The reference is interesting because it denies that phrase about the origin of the title that Francisco García Jiménez fancifully attributed to the composer: «Pa’ mi el choclo es lo más rico del puchero.» (The ear of corn is the tastier thing of a stew for me)

When Villoldo wrote the first lyric of that tango he was careful not to allude to the pimp in it:

Hay choclos que tienen
las espigas de oro,
que son las que adoro
con tierna pasión.

Years later, he added new lines to it under the title “Cariño puro”. However, none of his two lyrics appeared on the sheet-music that was published in 1905. This led to most historians to think this was the date of the piece.

In the 30s the above mentioned Marambio Catán wrote one more lyric which was sung by Ángel Vargas:

Y me llamaban El Choclo, compañeros,
tallé en los entreveros
seguro y fajador.

But it was in 1947 when Enrique Santos Discépolo wrote its definitive stanzas: «Con este tango que es burlón y compadrito/ se ató dos alas la ambición de mi suburbio» that Libertad Lamarque premiered in the Mexican movie “Gran casino”, directed by Luis Buñuel. However Tita Merello was who performed a remarkable rendition of it.

Kiss of Fire

With the title “Kiss of fire” is known an American tango that Lester Alien and Robert Hill signed as authors of lyrics and music in 1952, but anyone who had heard it cannot have doubts that its melody exactly follows the notes of “El choclo" which Ángel Villoldo composed in 1903.

It was, of course, an intentional trick but as the number was very popular, the “new” authors were forced to recognize that “Kiss of Fire” was adapted from Ángel Gregorio Villoldo’s and so is explained on the original sheet music. Anyhow, the term “adaptation” is nearer to the truth because Allen y Hill changed the last two bars of the first section and on the second they added two short melodic phrases as ending with a typical flamenco flavor. The third part, surely because longer pieces were no longer commercial, was simply omitted.

Louis Armstrong made popular the new version when he recorded it on March 19, 1955 for Decca (28.177). When the record was released in our country (Decca 333.317) the names of Villoldo and the lyricists Discépolo and Marambio Catán were added on the label to the names of the American “authors”.

The same year of Armstrong’s recording of “Kiss of Fire” a movie with the same name starring Jack Palance and Barbara Rush was released. In it, in the viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico and south of the United States) among conquerors and Comanche Indians, you can hear, with a Flamenco flavor, the notes that our Villoldo composed about two centuries after the time in which the fiction takes place.

We have translated the lyrics of "Kiss of Fire" into Spanish; some of its lines say:

Beso tus labios y, al besarlos, centellean,
y una vez más a tus caricias hoy me entrego.
Ante el peligro de tu llama que me invade
he de rendirme a tu fatal beso de fuego ( ... )
Dame tus labios y tu amor por esta noche
y que mañana sea lo que el diablo quiera.
Y aunque después me condenara y consumieran
quiero ese fuego de tu besar.

However, in spite of what was said above, "El choclo" continued to be "El choclo" and "Kiss of Fire" only a charming curiosity beautifully performed by Armstrong.