February 22, 2018 | by James Greene, Jr.
Charo — TV’s perennial guest star, now going on a staggering six decades. Beginning with an appearance on her native Spain’s variety program Sábado 64 in 1965, this vivacious bundle of energy has delivered her “cuchi-cuchi” across a galaxy of broadcasting institutions. Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett, Laugh-In, The Love Boat, Johnny Carson, David Letterman, The Daily Show, Dancing With the Stars, Oprah, Rupaul, and Jane the Virgin have all played host to Charo. Her small screen résumé is like a crash course in television’s rich history. Danny Kaye had his own show? Joey Bishop had his own show? What the hell are the Las Vegas Entertainment Awards? There was a celebrity roast of Gabe Kaplan?
Yes, Virginia, the celebrities roasted Gabe Kaplan. Milton Berle, and Charlie Callas were there, alongside Nipsey Russell, Howard Cosell, and Billy Crystal. If you think that’s wild, wait until you see Charo playing air hockey with Redd Fox on the 1979 special Celebrity Challenge of the Sexes 4. Three years later, she popped up on Perry Como’s Easter in Guadalajara. And yes, of course, Charo exists in the Sharknadoverse. Who else could play the Queen of England in 2017’s Sharknado 5: Global Swarming?
In the late ‘70s, Charo — born María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínex Molina Baeza in either 1941 or ’51, depending on which sources you choose to believe — found time to leap into disco (bucking her musical roots in flamenco guitar). The beloved strawberry blonde partnered with genre monolith Salsoul Records and utilized their in-house band the Salsoul Orchestra to create a convivial 1977 debut, Cuchi-Cuchi. Under the direction of esteemed composer Vincent Montana, Jr., the Salsoul Orchestra pioneered a potpourri of Latin-influenced funk and soul that became the foundation for an entire universe of music. They score once again on Cuchi-Cuchi, the perfect storm rolling underneath Charo’s breathy, suggestive cooing. “You and me, it’s heavenly!” she insists during dreamy opener “Dance a Little Closer”; it’s a very convincing argument. Later, on the percussive title track, Charo and her backup singers tell it like it is: “every men and every woman (wants the same thing)… every grandpa and every grandma (wants the same thing) — cuchi-cuchi.”
Scholars may be no closer to unraveling the mystery of exactly what “cuchi-cuchi” is or what it encapsulates, but Charo’s continuing ubiquity is all the evidence you need that she is correct.
Rock ‘n’ roll fans will surely be interested in Cuchi-Cuchi’s rendition of “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” which transforms the Rolling Stones’ bluesy plea for intimacy into a seductive lounge lullaby. Midway through, the string section falls silent and this delicate bedroom shuffle gives way to a bongo-heavy breakdown; “Por favor!” Charo exclaims. Keith Richards who? Another 1960s hit Charo tackles on her debut is David Dante’s “Speedy Gonzales.” Again the Salsoul Orchestra flushes out any trace of rock origin, letting this tale of the cartoon mouse’s apparent offscreen carousing and womanizing flourish in flowing waves of dance floor pop.
Indeed, Charo & The Salsoul Orchestra’s Cuchi-Cuchi is a delightful and appetizing confection, one that offers an array of subtle yet distinct disco flavors. Charo tops her dessert with a bit of cheesecake via the album’s cover — she wears nothing more than a strategically damp t-shirt and a come hither smile above a backdrop of chlorinated waters. It’s astounding this LP isn’t more celebrated in our country both for its genuine kitsch value. Alas, we are the same nation that rejected Charo and the Sergeant, the 1976 TV movie that paired Charo with “Petticoat Junction” staple Tom Lester. Imagine Charo marrying a U.S. Marine — oh, what hijinks! Instead, we all hitched our wagon to The Boy in the Plastic Bubble and The New Daughters of Joshua Cabe.
Jack Elam was a fine actor, but did he really know shit about cuchi-cuchi?
Watch Charo's "Dance a Little Bit Closer"