Having been discovered by bandleader Xavier Cugat Maria del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza, or Charo as she became, went on to become one of the highest paid performers in America during the early seventies. Reputedly, actress, singer and guitarist Charo was paid as much as Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or Sammy Davis Jr. Charo made her debut on American television on The Today Show, before becoming a regular on shows like The Love Boat, The Mike Douglas Show and a variety of chat shows. It was during this time that Charo’s catchphrase cuchi cuchi was first heard. By 1976, Charo signed to Salsoul Records and would release her debut album Cuchi-Cuchi which was recently rereleased by BBR Records. 

Cuchi Cuchi was a collaboration with the legendary Salsoul Orchestra and the first of three albums Charo recorded for Salsoul. Ole Ole was then released in 1978 with Dancing With Charo following in 1981. However, the album that launched Charo’s career was Cuch-Cuchi by Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra, which features The Salsoul Orchestra at the peak of their powers.

By the time Charo signed to Salsoul, she’d established herself as a talented singer and flamenco guitarist. For her debut she couldn’t have picked a better label than Salsoul, as some of the most talented songwriters, arrangers, producers and musicians called Salsoul home. This included Vince Montana Jr., who’d write two of the tracks on Cuchi-Cuchi and cowrote three other tracks. The two tracks Vince Montana Jr, wrote would become synonymous with Charo, Dance A Little Bit Closer and You’re Just the Right Size. Vince cowrote More of You and Only You (Can Make My Life Worthwhile) with Ronnie James and the title-track Cuchi-Cuchi with Ronnie Walker. The other five tracks were cover versions, including a cover of the Rolling Stone’s Let’s Spend the Night Together and Speedy Gonzales, originally recorded by Pat Boone. Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra would transform these tracks at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios.

When Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra headed to Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios, it was with some of the Americas best musicians. This included drummer Earl Young of Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman and guitarists Bobby “Electronic” Eli and T.J. Tindall. Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and Cotton Kent played keyboards and Bill O’Brian played synths. Vibes supremo Vince Montana Jr, also played tympani, chimes, bells, vibraharp and marimba, while Larry Washington and Crusher Bennet played congas, timbales and bongos. Among the woodwind section was Jack Faith, playing flute and piccolo, while violist Don Renaldo was part of the string section. Adding backing vocals were the legendary Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Barbara Ingram and Evette Benton. Arranging, conducting and producing Cuchi-Cuchi was Vince Montana Jr. Given how multi-talented the personnel accompanying Charo on Cuchi-Cuchi, would the album be a commercial success?

On the release of Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra’s Cuchi-Cuchi, the album reached number 100 in the US Billboard 200. Dance A Little Bit Closer was released as a single, reaching number eighteen in the US Dance Charts and number forty-four in the UK and in the process, becoming something of a Salsoul classic. However, what are the rest of the songs on Cuchi-Cuchi like? That’s what I’ll now tell you, when I tell you about the music on Cuchi-Cuchi.

Cuchi-Cuchi opens with one of the songs that have become synonymous with Charo’s time on Salsoul. Drums pound, before keyboards, a pounding bass line, lush strings and growling horns signal the arrival of Charo’s breathy vocal. She’s accompanied by blazing horns, vibes and swathes of lush strings that glide elegantly into the arrangement. Earl Young’s drums provide the track’s heartbeat, while backing vocalists accompany Charo. Later, her vocal becomes much more flamboyant, as disco and Latin music are fused seamlessly. By the end of this irresistible track, you realize a little Charo will brighten up your life. 

On Let’s Spend the Night Together, Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra transform the old Rolling Stones track into something very different. There’s an easy listening feel to the arrangement, with congas, rasping horns and the rhythm section combining with Charo’s slow, sultry vocal. The Sweethearts of Sigma add tender backing vocals, as Latin percussion, jazz-tinged guitars and the lushest of strings combine. Earl Young’s drums add bursts of drama, as a myriad of Latin percussion is added to the arrangement. As easy listening and Latin music unite, and The Salsoul Orchestra are transformed into a lounge band, Charo’s delivers a breathless, sultry and needy vocal, that makes the track.

Borriquito see Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra combine flamenco and disco. As strings sweep and swirl, horns growl and the rhythm section provide the track’s Latin heartbeat, percussion and backing vocalists accompany Charo. She delivers an enthusiastic and rousing vocal in her native Spanish. This is uplifting and catchy, and something of a curveball after the previous two tracks.

More of You is one of two tracks Vince Montana Jr. and Ronnie James cowrote. It sees Cuchi-Cuchi head back to more familiar territory. The tempo is slower as strings cascade, while guitars, bongos, congas and a punchy rhythm section combine with rasping horns. Charo’s vocal is sassy and emotive, with The Sweethearts of Sigma adding tight, soulful harmonies. Meanwhile, a pounding rhythm section, swathes of quivering strings and braying horns provide the backdrop for Charo. This is a much better track than Borriquito, with Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra combining to create one of Cuchi-Cuchi’s highlights.

El Reloj (The Clock) sees Charo deliver a heartfelt, impassioned vocal, against a dramatic, string-drenched backdrop from The Salsoul Orchestra. Charo’s vocal is tinged with sadness and regret, at the thought of being parted from the man she loves. Providing the perfect backdrop, The Salsoul Orchestra combine percussion, piano and congas with the rhythm section, rasping horns and strings. This emotive arrangement works beautifully with Charo’s heartfelt, impassioned and emotive vocal on this moving, melancholy ballad.

Speedy Gonzales was previously recorded by Pat Boone, but not this way. Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra combine vibes and percussion with a punchy, pounding rhythm section. Together, they make the track swing, adding flourishes of dancing strings and soaring backing vocalists that are just the finishing touches to the Vince Montana Jr.‘s arrangement. Although this is just a throwaway slice of bubblegum pop, you can’t help but enjoy it, and anyway, it puts a smile on your face.

So good was Chora’s catchphrase, they named it twice and Vince Montana Jr. and Ronnie Walker wrote a song named after it, Cutchi-Cutchi. Earl Young’s pounding drums open the track, before strings sweep and swirl, horns growl and Spanish guitars combine. Chora’s dramatic, punchy vocal is joined by woodwind, percussion and tight, soaring harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma. By now The Salsoul Orchestra is in full flight, mixing disco, funk and Latin music. It’s an impressive sight and sound, with Charo’s vocal drifting in and out of the track, as horns blaze and strings cascade. Key to the track’s success is Vince Montana Jr,‘s arrangement and The Salsoul Orchestra’s performance.

Cookie Jar is another track that’s best described as throwaway bubblegum pop. The lyrics are probably the weakest track on Cuchi-Cuchi, but the track is saved by The Salsoul Orchestra’s performance. They provide a backdrop where strings dance, horns rasp and growl, while the pounding rhythm section and cooing harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma accompany Charo sultry, vampish vocal. 

You’re Just the Right Size was written, arranged and produced by Vince Montana Jr. and gets the album back on track. Charo is at her sultry, sensuous best, accompanied the pounding, dramatic rhythm section, growling horns and lush strings. Soon, The Salsoul Orchestra have klcked loose and are in full flight, showing why they were the best house-band of the seventies. The bass anchors the track, as swathes of the lushest strings, keyboards and blazing horns provide the backdrop to Charo’s sensual, sultry vamp. This results in one of Charo’s best ever Salsoul recordings.

Closing Cuchi-Cuchi is Only You (Can Make My Life Worthwhile), written by Vince Monatan Jr, and Ronnie Walker. Layers of sad strings sweep and swirl, while congas, bongos and percussion combine with the dramatic rhythm section and Charo’s emotive, heartfelt vocal. As strings quiver and shiver, bursts of blazing horns, Spanish guitars and the Sweethearts of Sigma accompany what is Charo’s most moving and emotive vocals. It’s the perfect way to end Cuchi-Cuchi, where drama, emotion and beauty combine.

Cuchi-Cuchi, with its combination of disco, easy listening and Latin music, is an album that’s one that’s guaranteed to brighten your life. The Salsoul Orchestra don’t disappoint, weren’t in the habit of recording bad albums. Hearing The Salsoul Orchestra in full flight, like you do on Cuchi-Cuchi is a joy to behold. With their combination of the tightest of rhythm sections, blazing horns, lush dancing strings, Vince Montana Jr.’s vibes and guitarists like Bobby “Electronic” Eli T.J. Tindall you get the chance to hear the greatest house-band of the disco era. Add to this the Sweethearts of Sigma accompanying Charo and it’s no wonder that Cuchi-Cuchi is such an enjoyable album. Having said that, Cuchi-Cuchi will never be seen as a Salsoul classic.

Cuchi-Cuchi is a good album, but not  a great album. Among the highlights of Cuchi-Cuchi are Dance A Little Closer, More of You, Cutchi-Cutchi, You’re Just the Right Size and the beautiful Only You (Can Make My Life Worthwhile) which closes Cuchi-Cuchi. After Cuchi-Cuchi Charo would release other albums, but Cuchi-Cuchi was the highlight of her career and features two songs that would become synonymous with Charo Dance A Little Closer and You’re Just the Right Size. For anyone who hasn’t heard Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra’s Cuchi-Cuchi, then it’s an album that’s quite different from much of the music Salsoul were releasing at this time, but is an album that contains some great music. Take my advice, Cuchi-Cuchi and a little Charo will brighten up your life. Standout Tracks: Dance A Little Closer, More of You, Cutchi-Cutchi and You’re Just the Right Size. 



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