Day Seventy-Eight: "Taco Grande" from Off the Deep End
Under the “parodies” section of the Wikipedia page for Gerardo’’s “Rico Suave”, Al’s spoof is described, not inaccurately, as being “about a man who visits a Mexican restaurant.” Even for Al, that’s a pretty thin conceit to build a song around. Then again, as we have seen repeatedly over the course of this project, Al is uniquely gifted at making something out of nothing. He’s peerless in his ability to take a thin or overused joke premise and sell it through energy, affability and goofball charm.
That’s certainly the case with “Rico Suave.” The song fits snugly into one of Al’s earliest parody templates: taking a hot-blooded radio smash very overtly about romance and sex and making it about food. The song follows very closely in the footsteps of “Lasagna” in focussing not on a single type of food, or even a component of a type of food, like the Oreo’s-filling-themed “The White Stuff” but rather on an entire nation and culture’s cuisine.
Like “Lasagna”, “Taco Grande” finds Al once again in the International and Ethnic food aisle in the great big metaphorical supermarket that is his consumerism-and-consumption-obsessed career. Only instead of channeling his inner Super Mario to wax rhapsodic of his love for Italian cuisine, as he did on “Lasagna”, Al steps inside Gerardo’s red blazer (no undershirt, or any shirt required!) in order to act as the animated hype man not for a rapper or performer, but rather for the cuisine of our neighbors to the South.
I’m not saying that Al is convincing on the song when he enthuses about the mouth-watering options available at your typical Mexican restaurant, but rumor has it that Trump has been trying to get Al deported since he discovered that the Taco Bowl at the Trump Tower, which people tell me is the best Mexican food in the world, isn’t mentioned even once in the song, although it does dangerously encourage the speaking of non-English with its bilingual section. “Weird Al” Yankovic? More like “Traitorous Al” Yankovic, and that’s why I’m encouraging his deportation.
“Rico Suave” was already both a complete joke and a Telenova-outsized exercise in self-parody.when Gerardo, who would go on to become a successful record executive, recorded it and its even more over-the-top music video.
With a lascivious wink and a whole lot of unmistakably sexual bumping and grinding, Gerardo was playing a comically over-the-top burlesque of steamy Latino machismo. He was the ultimate Latin lover, a human cartoon who may have been in on the joke, but was a vaguely retro joke all the same.
Al simply changes the joke, from a campy Latin Lover gag to a more family-friendly tribute to the wonderfully sonorous names of Mexican food. Over the space of a little under four minutes, Al name-checks seemingly every Mexican dish in existence, rhyming merrily, “You see, I just gotta have a tostada/carne asada/That’s right, I want the whole enchilada/My only addiction has to do with a flour tortilla, I need a quesadilla!”
As with “Lasagna” and “Theme From Rocky VIII (The Rye or the Kaiser)”, “Taco Grande” illustrates that food words are just plain fun, particularly ethnic food words. In its own unassuming fashion, “Taco Grande” represents a milestone in Al’s music: like Gerardo’s original, it’s bilingual, alternating between English and Spanish and featuring a Spanish-language rap from Ghostbusters 2 bit player Richard “Cheech” Marin.
As I wrote earlier, Al sells “Taco Grande” through energy, affability and goofball charm, but what really makes the song is the crazily over-the-top enthusiasm he brings to it. Al’s tortilla-obsessed Mexican food fan sounds way more excited to be munching on a quesadilla than Gerardo is to be making sweet love to seemingly half the female population of the earth on “Rico Suave.”
Though “Taco Grande” is light on clear-cut jokes, its goofiness is disarming and ingratiating, its silliness infectious. And though “Rico Suave” certainly won’t make anyone’s top tier of songs Al has parodied quality-wise, it remains a guilty pleasure executed with a whole lot of campy, cheeseball charm. To this day, the phrase “Rico Suave” alone makes me smile. So does “Taco Grande.”
During his brief day in the sun, Gerardo was seemingly called “Rico Suave” as often as he was his actual name. I cannot imagine how annoying that must have gotten after a while. But for a moment there the Hispanic heartthrob with the tight jeans and aversion to shirts was a goofy, cartoonish pop star, complete with a big, goofy, cartoonish hit song “Weird Al” Yankovic recorded a big, goofy, cartoonish parody of that’s far better than it has any right to be, particularly since it cannot resist a “Don’t drink the water” joke at the end.
“Taco Grande” has proven one of the most tenacious earwigs of this whole project. Every time I go to a Mexican restaurant it ricochets through the old brain bone, and one of my favorite podcasts, The Long Shot, recently mentioned it. For a silly ditty that might not even make it onto a list of my favorite one hundred and fifty “Weird Al” Yankovic songs, "Taco Grande" taken up an awful lot of real estate inside my brain and the world at large, but that’s true of so much of what Al has done.
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