Feb 09

JULIO IGLESIAS – “Begin The Beguine”

FT + Popular31 comments • 4,722 views

#490, 5th December 1981

It seems to me there’s no such thing as a bad motive for buying music. The exact same impulse – to brighten up a drizzly British autumn with the sounds you met on your summer holidays – has been responsible for both the most fearsome novelty hits and the most transformative movement in British youth culture this side of the 60s. Julio Iglesias’ reading of “Begin The Beguine” sits somewhere between these two outcomes.

Julio himself puts in the sort of performance you might expect: corny to my ears, catnip to the intended audience. The song is a notoriously wandering one and he approaches it as a philosopher of love, letting the dance take him where it will but without ever losing his sureness of touch. Just as Aznavour found a British audience because he sounded so utterly French, so Iglesias fits a latin lover archetype: tenderness concealing strength, nobility masking a brooding passion.

“Good for what it is”, in other words. But the arrangement is something else – supper-club disco lit up by that falling-star riff and enriched by a thick gauziness redolent of slow Mediterranian nights. It makes “Beguine” sound like a proto-Balearic record – one aural squint away from the Avalanches!

Well, maybe. I’d prefer to think it’s the taste-expanding Balearic spirit – rather than my advancing years and softening mind – that’s turned my least favourite #1 of the time into something I now find gloopily enjoyable.



  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 5 Feb 2009 #

    It is a good song, I think. I was listening to the Artie Shaw version only this morning.

    I don’t think that the Iglesias version could have attracted any younger listeners to the excellence of the source, unlike, say, the Art Garfunkel ‘Only Have Eyes’. I can’t remember which entry I coined the term ‘parents’ music’ for, but this seems to be an exemplary text of the genre. Certainly, it completely passed we nine year-olds of 1981 by, even though we were aware of it.

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 5 Feb 2009 #

    it’s syrupy plus he’s got that demis roussos tremble in his voice – a few years earlier and you can imagine it playing at Beverley’s house in Abigail’s Party

  3. 3
    Tom on 5 Feb 2009 #

    The tremble is way less mannered on Julio than Demis though (as you’d expect, since D Roussos is a prog mentalist and J Ig is a disco dad).

  4. 4
    Erithian on 5 Feb 2009 #

    Yep, parents’ music is one term for it, although the further on into Popular you get the more risky its use becomes – a good few pop fans’ mums and dads will have been old rockers or even Mods by this time, and we’re not too far from Dadrock!

    But let’s just say my mum enjoyed this more than I did at the time. Nothing whatsoever wrong with it, it just wasn’t pitched at 19-year-old students. Looking back now, it’s perfectly pleasant, well written, produced and sung, and of course it’s the first half of the archetypal pop quiz question, to be completed a generation later.

    And as singing ex-goalkeepers go, I’ll take Julio over that numpty from Westlife any day.

  5. 5
    Conrad on 5 Feb 2009 #

    My thoughts on this pretty much echo your review Tom, although I always remembered this as a ballad, and was surprised to discover how, er, groovy it was.

    At the time as a pop-obsessed 14 year old, it’s presence in another unassailable Top 10 really irked me.

    Today, not only can I quite happily wallow in the soft-focus production, it also appeals to that part of me that enjoys putting together a compilation of artists who appeared on The Two Ronnies. My taste in music has broadened considerably since 1981…

  6. 6
    peter goodlaws on 5 Feb 2009 #

    As a foreign language version of an old standard, it is necessary to look to the arrangement for succour, and for those of a disco persuasion it is a palpable hit, a wonderfully kitch performance from musicians and backing singers alike. At the risk of antagonising the sensitivities of His Lordship, the fact that this production is pure, uncut, creamy, illegal in 48 states curds and whey cannot be gainsaid. Further, there is not the slightest hint of onion, Spanish or otherwise to save the dish. And then there is Julio, the sort of bloke both your mum and sister would fancy, even if they couldn’t understand a word the tosser was saying.

    A fucking wonderful record.

  7. 7
    Billy Smart on 5 Feb 2009 #

    Light entertainment watch: Julio clearly great showbiz mates with Des O’Connor;

    ASPEL & COMPANY: with John Cleese, Norman Tebbit, Julio Iglesias (1988)

    BOB HOPE’S BIRTHDAY PARTY: with Ray Alan, Rowan Atkinson, Marti Caine, Chevy Chase, Phyllis Diller, Duran Duran, Charlton Heston, Julio Iglesias, Ben Kingsley, Spike Milligan (1985)

    DES O’CONNOR TONIGHT: with Julio Iglesias, Les Dennis, Five Star (1988)

    DES O’CONNOR TONIGHT: with Julio Iglesias, Derek Jameson, Roly Polys, Mariah Carey (1990)

    DES O’CONNOR TONIGHT: with Britt Ekland, Hulk Hogan, Bradley Walsh, Sonia, Julio Iglesias (1991)

    DES O’CONNOR TONIGHT: with Sylvester Stallone, Jack Dee, Julio Iglesias (1994)

    MICHAEL BALL: with Julio Iglesias, Marcella Detroit, Mike Smith (1994)

    I think that the 1991 show may be the least appealing line-up for a variety programme that I’ve yet come across

  8. 8
    Conrad on 5 Feb 2009 #

    Number 4 watch (indulge me): Haircut 100 “Favourite Shirts” (Boy Meets Girl). Arriving at the same time – ABC’s debut “Tears Are Not Enough”.

  9. 9
    Mark M on 5 Feb 2009 #

    Some years ago, I was in my mother’s home town and saw posters saying that Julio, back in the old country on tour, was playing at the bull ring. Cue an afternoon’s debate about whether it was worth paying however many pesetas for a laugh/bit of sociological curiousity. In the end, we wussed out and had a drink at the cafe across the road, with the muffled sound of Julio drifting through the late summer night. We should, of course, gone: it’s something I regret much more than sulkily passing up on the chance to see Nirvana play (for free).
    Julio, it should be said, remains a huge figure in Spain popular culture despite having lived in Miami all these years.

  10. 10
    wichita lineman on 5 Feb 2009 #

    Was this actually recorded in 1981? It seemed like a cute curio, even to adults at the time. I remember seeing Julio on Nationwide (I think) saying how happy he was to be “in the Saxon market”, meaning top of the pops. No wonder he only sang the first line in English.

    His voice is wonderful, “nobility masking a brooding passion” is spot on: the ease with which he guides the melody over the frenetic OTT backing is so seductive. A 7 for me for the vocal and song, but I could reeeeally do without the syndrums!

    Isn’t there a Bigas Luna film in which the brooding, passionate male lead is obsessed with Julio? Thought it was Golden Balls but imdb doesn’t confirm it.

  11. 11
    Erithian on 5 Feb 2009 #

    Billy #7 – Duran Duran showed up at Bob Hope’s birthday party? And they got in?

  12. 12
    lonepilgrim on 5 Feb 2009 #

    re 10 and Nationwide: there’s a programme on BBC4 tonight looking back at the shows history. There’s an utterly bizarre photo in the latest Time Out of the presenters dressed as characters from the Wizard of Oz with Sue Lawley and Dennis Healey (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) as the Wizard.

  13. 13
    rosie on 6 Feb 2009 #

    Well, here’s one parent who had been an old rocker and was becoming very much a Cole Porter fan and quite liked this. Not all that much, however, because Iglesias was always a bit Latin Lounge Lizard for me although I knew quite a few people at the time who liked that sort of thing a lot. (They were the kind of people who regularly took off on package holidays – something I have never done and with any luck never shall)

    As for drizzly autumn, I think that’s a bit wide of the mark for this song. It was, I think, during it’s reign that I worked late in an office in Bar Hill, near Cambridge, and found when I was done that I couldn’t get out of that hell hole whose only access to the outside world was a slip road to the A604, because snow had fallen snow on snow during the course of the evening. So – and not for the first time – I found myself bunking down on a sofa in the office for the night. (It should be noted by the way that by 9 am the following day the ploughs had been out and all major roads were clear so that all my colleagues could get in. Not that I’m trying to make any points about the current situation. Oh no!) The snow stayed, however, and it was bloody cold for about two months. I have a photograph somewhere of me standing in the middle of the frozen Cam adjacent to Midsummer Common, thus proving conclusively that I really can walk on water. It was odd how so many Cambridge students were found to be in possession of skates though.

  14. 14
    mike on 6 Feb 2009 #

    For me, this is the first #1 since Deniece Willams’ “Free” that has prompted a major upward evaluation. Great tune, sparkling arrangement (if dated by 1981 standards, but hooray for the trusty old syn-drum!), delightful delivery, what’s not to love? As such, it compares very well with the Artie Shaw version and some of the other older covers (Andrews Sisters, Charlie Parker, Billy Fury) that I dug up on Spotify.

    Of course, I hated it at the time, for the usual snobby 19-year old reasons. With the era of New Pop now upon us, it felt more and more as if “my lot” were taking over – same generation, same outlook, same values – and I totally bought into their “we’re subverting pop from within” line (as yet unaware that “my lot” were as capable of selling out as any other lot). Fired up by this shiny-faced optimism (plus a certain degree of residual punk-derived absolutism), I felt there was no place for the likes of Julio in my Brave New Tomorrow.

    (And by April or May 1982, when the New Pop Tribe had more or less taken over the entire Top 40, it seemed as if my wish had been granted…)

  15. 15
    will on 6 Feb 2009 #

    Re 13: Well remembered Rosie. It was actually on December 8th that year when unseasonably early snow came to much of Southern England. A day much like today really – all the schools shut, stranded motorists, TV reports about Britain grinding to a halt….

  16. 16
    rosie on 6 Feb 2009 #

    will @ 15: A day much like today, for me, would be bright, sunny, crisp and cold with snow on the higher fells and on distant Ingleborough but nothing at all on the ground locally, wondering where the hell all this chaos is that the media keep telling me is bringing my life to a standstill!

  17. 17
    LondonLee on 6 Feb 2009 #

    Predictably my mother loved it (and fancied him) too, but she’d had a taste for the Latin side of pop going back to Jose Feliciano and Sergio Mendez. I always thought of that genre as a musical package holiday, back before most people could afford a fortnight in Spain they could taste a little international sophistication via pop music and a cheap bottle of plonk.

  18. 18
    jeff w on 6 Feb 2009 #

    I used to be able to play a mean version of this on the Yamaha organ my parents bought me, aged 15 or so. I never really liked the Iglesias version – as Conrad notes, Haircut 100 was where it was at when this topped the chart – but perhaps it is time for a re-evaluation.

  19. 19
    AndyPandy on 6 Feb 2009 #

    Mike at 14: although back then I obviously knew people like Adam Ant/John Foxx/Steve Strange etc had pasts I’d have still have been horrified in 1981/82 to think any of the synthpop etc I was into was viewed by punks as having anything to do with them.
    I think me and my friends looked on punk in a similar way as the punks did prog rock…ie tired old rock. To us I suppose prog and punk rock (gigs/inky music press/earnestness etc)had far more in common with each other than with us New Romantics/Futurists or whatever we were calling ourselves that week (clubs/12 inch singles/going out and getting caned etc).

    Will no15: I was just going to type that I didnt remember any snow in the winter of 1981/82 in the South East and was racking my brains and for the first time since well I suppose 1981/82 remembered me and a friend getting pissed on Woodpecker cider (well we about 15 or 16) on the way home from town in the snow one Saturday dinnertime after the buses stopped running – actually now I remember how unpleasant it was trying to drink cheap cider in a blizzard with numb lips – needless to say in all the subsequent years it remains unrepeated)

  20. 20
    tim davidge on 6 Feb 2009 #

    #19: I remember the letters pages of the said “inky music press” used to fulminate with indignation and opprobrium at this man’s presence at the top of the charts. After all, he had usurped a position which should, by rights, have been the preserve of the youthful and fashionable. How dare he!

    I didn’t like this enough to buy it at the time and it’s a while since I heard it, but Iglesias’ lightness of touch was pleasant, as was the arrangement. He was very well known on the Continent – I’d bought other Iglesias records during a stint in France a couple of years previously, but gave this one a miss. Five or maybe six is about right – it’s an agreeable record, but that’s all.

  21. 21
    Malice Cooper on 8 Feb 2009 #

    This actually isn’t that bad. His english was better than Maria and Mayte. At least his eyes weren’t full of vegetation.
    Did anyone under 30 buy it ? Probably not. This was the Number One Barry Manilow never had.

  22. 22
    Kat but logged out innit on 8 Feb 2009 #

    I prefer Enrique, tbh. Haha, NOWHERE on Enrique’s wikipedia page does it mention his father by name…

  23. 23
    wichita lineman on 8 Feb 2009 #

    Re 21: Manilow Magic was all over the place in ’81, wasn’t it. A Barry Manilow Gift Box even made it in the album chart – anyone remember what the heck that was? BTB is definitely the Manilow demographic. Odd, then, how ‘Barry Pincus’ didn’t even make the top 10, let alone no.1, with any of his best known songs – only Top 10 was I Wanna Do It With You (nice chat up line, must remember to try it out) in ’82.

    Not wanting to stray into Noel Edmonds’ misheard lyric territory, but as a mono-lingual teen I did think the second line of this was “kemo-sabe” .

  24. 24
    rosie on 9 Feb 2009 #

    Of course it won’t be long before Joe Jackson puts out his Night & Day album, and it’s more than just the title (and the sleeve design) which is a nod in the direction of Cole Porter. Let’s not forget that Cole Porter was one of the giants of twentieth century pop music, and a radical innovator. Begin the Beguine is no off-the-peg 32-bar Tin Pan Alley tune.

  25. 25
    peter goodlaws on 9 Feb 2009 #

    Gary Shearsden’s “I get a kick out of You” is a fine take on a Porter song, especially the violin middle bit. Not as good as the one by the work gang at the start of “Blazing Saddles”, though, obviously.

  26. 26
    mike on 9 Feb 2009 #

    Not found on Spotify: Salif Keita’s 1990 cover of “Begin The Beguine”, which formed part of the Red Hot & Blue project of Cole Porter covers by contemporary artists, in aid of AIDS research.

  27. 27
    Malice Cooper on 9 Feb 2009 #

    I remember at the time thinking that Julio looked like Terry Wogan.

  28. 28
    punctum on 10 Dec 2009 #

    The Westway! Entering into the great city, gliding over the serene arch on a bright late autumn early morning, the future spread out benignly before you as you slide effortlessly into London’s rhythm! The autumn of 1981 was when I’d begun to approach London like this on a regular basis, and the initial wonder remains intact. With the memory I always associate two pieces of music: Gil Evans’ “General Assembly,” the 1969 version thereof which appears on the Blues In Orbit album, reissued by Enja that year (and reissued again on CD last week), and Julio Iglesias reinterpreting “Begin The Beguine.” All that busy, bright activity.

    With Iglesias I recognised even then that there was something slightly naff and outdated about the whole enterprise – the record’s popularity was again ascribable to Terry Wogan on Radio 2, who very heftily pushed it as a G**lty Pl**s*r*. Much questionable comment was made about my liking for the record by certain of my student colleagues, and given its proximity on my singles shelves to things like “Release The Bats” and “Sorry For Laughing,” no secret was kept of their overall raised eyebrow towards me.

    However, I can qualify my love of the record in three main ways. Firstly, November 1981 was a generally dank and gloomy month; I was not yet quite settled in my new home, was still very uncertain about a lot of important things. Two of my big albums from that first term were OMD’s Architecture And Morality and New Order’s Movement, both of which bore the undiluted tears of mourning for Ian Curtis (which in its own indie way was far more prolonged than the mourning for Lennon). So “Begin The Beguine” was much-required light relief (as in its unequalled way was Dare); it made me feel good, reassured and happy with its determined brightness.

    Secondly, “Begin The Beguine” is one of those rare songs which I believe impossible to interpret badly. Whether it is Artie Shaw’s courtly original, or Joe Loss’ note-for-note remake, which remains my favourite because of the teasing and sensual lead vocal of the great Chick Henderson, or Sammy Davis Jr deconstructing it in the early sixties to a drumbeat alone, Cole Porter’s innate genius shines through resplendent. And so it is with Julio’s reading. If the record, with its chunky guitar comping, excitable trumpet section (some crossover with Westbrook’s Metropolis here) and keen syndrums, did sound a little passe initially, that is because it was actually recorded in 1978. But for me Ramon Arcusa’s arrangement remains sublime and a million asteroids away from tack.

    Thirdly, it is a genuine reinterpretation of, and reflection on, the Porter song. Nearly all of the lyric is in Spanish and was written by Iglesias himself, and despite the record’s cheerful demeanour, the lyric, from what I can decipher with my imperfect Spanish, is all about the end of an affair; Julio looking back with regret on his lost love, recalling how it all began, wanting so badly to rekindle that original spirited light (“volver a empezar” means literally “to go back to the beginning”). Thus its sentiments combine perfectly with the music, which seems to ask Iglesias not to give up hope, or life. I doubt whether the millions of ladies who immediately swooned at his immaculately besuited and booted feet noticed any of this, but it doesn’t really matter; the aura is glorious, the sunrise a foregone conclusion, the pop shining and wonderful.

  29. 29
    Mark M on 11 Dec 2009 #

    Re 28: Spanish lyrics – yup: “I played with your love ’til the end/Sure you still cared… What I wouldn’t give to go back and start again”

  30. 30
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 11 Dec 2009 #

    the village voice — back in its glory days — ran a piece on julio by one of his fans, not a rock or pop writer but a woman in her early 50s who worked (possibly ran) then then-legendary personals section: it was basically the tale of a gang of um well cougars* we’d perhaps say today, discussing what they’d do with JI when they got hold of him

    the only section i remember most vividly was the loving description of the extended cradling of his balls

    it was very entirely awesome and i still have it somewhere to dig out if you need to know more

    *he was then in his mid-40s

  31. 31
    Gareth Parker on 2 Jun 2021 #

    Really enjoyed Tom’s write up, especially when describing the ‘proto-Balearic’ nature of this track. I would go as high as a 7/10 here.

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