Making sense of the lyrics
El choclo by Ángel Villoldo is one of the most famous tangos, and also one of the oldest, published in about 1905 and possibly written a decade or so before that. The standard version that musicians and singers use today is in fact a 1947 re-working by Enríque Santos Discépolo, with new lyrics and a rhythm that is recognizable today as ‘tango.’
But today we’re going to look at the original lyrics, written by Villoldo himself, and try to unravel their mysterious meaning. Villoldo said that El choclo was simply about a choclo, or corn cob, which was his favorite parte of a traditional stew called puchero.
Here’s a recording of Villoldo himself singing the lyrics in 1912:
Before we take the composer's explanation at face value we should note that Villoldo was from the first era of tango, the ‘old guard.’ Not only did tango start out as music played in bordellos, but a number of tangos were written and published with suggestive double-entendres in the titles and lyrical content (an interesting topic for a future post) and some have suggested that the original El choclo lyrics fall into the category of ‘whorehouse tangos.’ Do the lyrics describe a sex act? A part of the anatomy?
Whatever the case, these lyrics are cryptic, contain some outdated idioms, and in some places are just plain bizarre. And then there are words like ‘humilloso’ that seem so out of place that I wonder if someone transcribed Villoldo’s recording, misunderstood a word, and then wrote down their error for posterity.
So…please help! I have done my best to offer a translation below, but I would love to hear your ideas. Contact me or post a comment on Facebook.
Tango, ca. 1905
Lyrics and Music: Ángel Villoldo