Catalina Maria Johnson

International radio broadcaster, bilingual cultural journalist, music curator

Feature photo by Mark J. Sebastian

It takes an amazing song to have been crooned by Nat King Cole, cha-cha-boomed by the Beatles and swung by Elvis, and it was written by a fifteen year old Mexican girl.

That quintessential torch song, one of the most popular boleros ever, (boleros are highly romantic ballads, born in Cuba in the 19th century, which later became popular in every single Latin American country throughout the 40’s and 50’s) is none other than Besame Mucho, recorded by hundreds of artists in at least twenty languages.

And it was written by Consuelo Velázquez while a teenager. Veláquez, a concert pianist, songwriter and recording artist born in Jalisco, died in 2005 at the age of 88

As evidence of the song’s enduring worldwide popularity and incredible adaptability, here’s a few versions of the tune for your Valentine’s Day listening pleasure.

Happy Valentine’s Day! ¡Feliz Día del Amor y de la Amistad!

The original, by the composer herself

The classic version, by the timeless trio of Los Panchos

The suavest, smoothest version of them all, by the incomparable Nat King Cole

A la bossa nova, by two greats from Brazil, Caetano Veloso and João Gilberto

You can almost hear that pelvis gyrate in the cha-cha-cha version by The King of Rock and Roll

An instrumental flamenco version with a touch of gypsy, by maestro guitarist Tomatito

Cesaria Evora’s version in the mournful morna style of her Cabo Verde homeland extracts tinges of lament in the song

The amazing Israeli jazz bassist and composer Avishai Cohen takes the tune to surprising heights

Yes, even the Liverpool four succumbed to the enchantment of the 15 year old’s torrid tune.

We’re not convinced the cha-cha-boom! they add to the tune is entirely necessary, but musicologists say the Beatles did take a lot of cues from Mexican boleros for their most romantic songs.

Catalina explores nuestra cultura via the music on Beat Latino every week. Visit Facebook,  subscribe via Itunes or download the podcast on the archives.

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