490. ‘Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar)’, by Julio Iglesias

For their next trick, the charts will be throwing up a spot of Spanish crooner-disco. And the first question that springs to mind is: why…?

Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar), by Julio Iglesias (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, 29th November – 6th December 1981

Why, at the tail-end of 1981, at the fag-end of the disco age, did renowned Spanish smoothie Julio Iglesias manage a British number one single? It’s a record that pulls out all the classic disco stops: strings, horns, tacky guitar sound effects… All things I’m a sucker for and so, if you were expecting a scathing write up for this cheese-fest then I’m sorry. Look elsewhere…

When they begin, The beguine… It starts off in English, but that opening line is it. The rest in en Español, making this the most foreign-language #1 since ‘Je T’Aime…’ What is it about? ‘Volver’ means to return, while ‘Emepezar’ means… Well, my Duolingo Spanish lets me down. (It means, roughly: ‘Go back and start’, so I’m guessing that, when they begin the beguine, Julio begins to reminisce…) Also, what is a ‘beguine’? It sounds to my ears like a vegetable; but it is a dance, a sort of Caribbean foxtrot.

I’m enjoying this way more than I should. It’s utter cheese, slicker than a seal’s arse, and Julio croons the absolute life out of it. The fact that it’s in a foreign language, incomprehensible to the majority of the British public, probably makes it more appealing. Adds an air of mystery, or something. Just like if ‘Je T’Aime…’ had been sung in a Yorkshire accent, those lines about ‘coming and going between your kidneys’ would have sounded a lot less sexy…

As it is, you start to understand why Julio Iglesias can claim to have bedded more than three thousand women. He is Tom Jones, Engelbert and Barry Manilow all in one. That sexual statistic was the one thing I actually knew about him before listening to this song (that and the fact he has an equally smooth and sexy singing son.) But he is one of the most successful recording artists in history. The best-seller ever in Spain, as well as the biggest foreign seller in Brazil, Italy and France. China awarded him in 2013 for being the ‘most popular international artist’. On top of all that, he only went and started off his career as a goalkeeper for Real Madrid.

Back to the ‘why’, though? Why now? ‘Begin the Beguine’ was originally an English language song, written by Cole Porter in 1935 and recorded by all the big bands of the time. So it would have been well-known to the over-fifties. Plus, in the late-seventies Iglesias had started to record in languages other than Spanish. Maybe it was just a combination of rising profile and a tune people knew? Either way, I don’t begrudge this silly little disco interlude. It’s fun, and I’m enjoying ‘Begin the Beguine’ more than I’ve ever enjoyed his son Enrique’s overwrought #1 from twenty years later.

I admit: I assumed Julio was dead, as I assumed he’d have to have been around fifty-five when he recorded this. But no. He was only thirty-eight when this made #1. Younger than Cliff, and the same age The Police’s Andy Summers, which surprised me. Sadly, this hit didn’t kick off much of a singles-chart career in Britain, but Julio did return on a few occasion in the 1980s, duetting with legends like Willie Nelson and Stevie Wonder. It is both Hola and Adios, then, to a Latin legend.

7 thoughts on “490. ‘Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar)’, by Julio Iglesias

  1. He’s also the father of Enrique Iglesias which is another way Julio’s influence has been felt in the world. Julio wouldn’t get his big break in the American mainstream for another three years when he got his only Top 10 hit thanks to the heavily gloopy Willie Nelson ballad collab “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before.” He hasn’t had much more hits on the Hot 100 but like many Latin artists has stayed big with his home audience still netting high charting songs on the Latin charts. All that said, I’m just as puzzled by this song as you are considering this feels about two years late in cashing in on the disco craze. “Begin the Beguine” sounds a lot like what many people like to complain about disco at its peak when artists of all kind were putting out disco songs when they should have known better. I mean, it’s better than the rest but it feels like a weird time capsule than a timeless piece of music. I guess in the UK, the disco backlash wasn’t as severe as it was in the States so they were still more accepting of these types of songs crossing over.

    • What I forgot to mention in my post is that this was recorded in 1978, which makes much more sense in the context of its sound. How it would up topping the charts nearly four years later I don’t know. I’m sure there was a Radio 2 DJ championing it, or something.

  2. It was nostalgia. Beguin the beguine is a great song and julios version was fairly middle of the road appealing to an older mudic fan. Being in spanish helped it sound more exotic than it was and in the uk charts are all about record sales, unlike the usa radio is irrelevant for chart positions, so this was able to top the chart without getting radio 1 airplay for example. I never got sick of it cos i fidnt hear it that much, but neither did i rate it much either! I will take enrique’s fab back catalogue and pin up appeal anyday over julio. 🙂

  3. How the hell did this hit in the 80s? No I can’t dig this one. I’m happy for him but it boggles my mind on how this was #1.

  4. Pingback: Recap: #481 – #510 | The UK Number Ones Blog

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