Pete Rodriguez: Micaela
From I Like It Like That (Alegre, 1967)
Pedrito Ramirez y su Combo: Micaela
From 7″ (Popo, 196?)
Los Cinco De Oro: Micaela
From 7″ (Philips, 196?)
Tone Done’s Hollywood Quintent: Micaela
From 7″ (Vance, 196?)
In general, I’ve found that Latin soul/boogaloo songs are not always given to covers very well. I’m still not sure why this is – whether it’s a failing on the groups covering or something inherent to the genre but, for example, covers of Joe Cuba’s “Bang Bang” never sound as good as the original (in contrast, “El Pito” seems to go over better). However, it dawned on me recently that there’s another boogaloo classic that might disprove my casual theory: Pete Rodriguez’s “Micaela.” Not only is the song well-covered – possibly the most of his several hits – but many of the other versions are done competently, often on par with the original. I think that says something important about said original: that it’s one of those magical songs that lends itself to multiple permutations, all of which excel simply be referencing back to the original (for another example, see variations on Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va” – a song that can be covered any which way and still sound great).
I genuinely love this song and how it sounds and have made it a pet project to track down other versions of “Micaela” in hopes of finding yet another charmer. I have to admit though, until very recently, I barely understood it since my Spanish lexicon is limited to, um, counting 1-10 and ordering from taco trucks. That great if I ever need to order “dos tacos, carne asada,” not so good for deciphering even basic songwriting en espaÃƒÂ±ol.
Luckily, I had some friends help me out and what they came up with is a translation that suggests that Rodriguez was singing about how Micaela blew him away on the dancefloor, which seems apropos for a boogaloo song. If someone has a more elaborate translation, feel free to share in the comments.
In any case, I start with Rodriguez’s original, featured on his best-selling I Like It Like That LP for Alegre. The “ooh aah” intro is just a touch too forced but it’s all about that piano montuno. Hands-down, one of the best riffs of its kind in Latin. (I’m curious if it has an antecedent…songwriters borrowed from each other all the time in this era). And then there’s the hook, “ay ay ay, Micaela se boto” – so catchy.
The Pedrito Ramirez y su Combo version is out of the Bay Area of all places, making it one of the rare West Coast Latin boogaloo cuts I know of (see below). I really like this version – it’s livelier and brighter, especially with the addition of the piccolo and greater use of coro-pregÃƒÂ³n (call-and-response). You can also hear the obvious Joe Cuba influence with the “ah ha, beep beep” chorus that opens. A great party cut and one that I play out at Boogaloo[L.A.] with much pleasure. If you like it, the one dealer I know who has copies is selling one now.
The Los Cinco De Oro version comes from Peru and is notable for at least two reasons: one, it feels much faster than the original. Had I not known better, I would have thought it was a 33 record that I accidentally put in 45 but nope, it’s supposed to be that fast. Second, it’s a very stripped down version: all piano and hand-claps and that’s practically it (save for a lil flute)! I made the mistake of playing this out at the club only to remember: oh yeah, there’s no low end to this at all. Can’t say this is my favorite but even sped-up, stripped down, with no bass…the song is still catchy.
Lastly, we come to what may be my favorite version and – damn – wouldn’t you know, it’s also the rarest of the batch? Let’s give credit where it’s due: I first read/heard this at Office Naps, which included it as part of their West Coast boogaloo series. It’s an L.A. record in fact, but one that is uber-obscure and thus, this sound file is likely the closest I’m going to come to it.
What I like about it is how it’s also stripped down but not as sparsely as the Los Cinco version – instead, Done’s Quintet keeps it to piano and some percussion and really, the song doesn’t need any more than that essence. The Ramirez is more lively but Done’s just nails what I think is the essence of the song.