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Space Age Pop Songs

The Juan Tizol Song


"Caravan" 1937

Music by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington
Words by Irving Mills

Although Juan Tizol wrote a number of songs during his years with Duke Ellington and Harry James, only two have had any real popular success. But "Caravan" alone puts just about all the other exotica standards to shame. Everybody covered "Caravan." Billy Eckstine had a million-seller with his 1949 cover of the tune, as did Ralph Marterie with his 1952 instrumental version. There are enough recordings of "Caravan" around for KFJC, the legendary Los Altos Hills, California public radio station--home of the "Louie, Louie" marathon--to be considering playing different versions of "Caravan" for 24 hours straight.

What is it about "Caravan" that makes it so irresistable to perform? Beats me. It's almost like it's an entrance requirement of some sort. Frank Zappa even memorialized it as an adlib in his tribute to playing in bars, "America Drinks and Goes Home": "'Caravan' with a drum solo? You bet, sir!" But given the choice between "Caravan" and "Feelings," I'll take "Caravan" everytime.

Like "Miserlou," "Caravan" gets played one of two ways: slow and exotically or fast and swinging. Duke Ellington's own recordings are the most faithful to the original spirit of the song, with a loose marching kind of beat, like camels slogging dutifully through the sand. Perez Prado's is probably the most swinging, taking off like a rocket with trumpets on fire and Perez physically throwing the song into the next verse with his trademark grunt. To me, the weirdest version is that by the Castro Brothers in their "Live in Tahoe" album, in which they climax their show with a bravura medley of "Caravan" and "Exodus." I guess it's some kind of show-biz attempt to call for peace between the Arabs and the Israelis.

Recordings of "Caravan"

"Perdido"

Music by Juan Tizol
Words by Ervin Drake

"Perdido"'s short phrases were perfect for bebop, which quickly turned this tune into a classic jazz tune. Although it's performed as a vocal much more often than "Caravan," it's certainly on the strength of its lyrics:

Perdido.
I looked for my heart, it's perdido.
I lost it way down in Toredo,
While chancing a dance fiesta.

Bolero.
I glanced as we danced the bolero.
He said, taking off his sombrero,
"Let's meet for a sweet siesta."

They don't write 'em like that now. Good thing, too.


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