Since, I’m apparently all about Beatles covers this month, here’s a Spanish language version of the band’s final number one single “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” It’s by Los Rockin Devil’s,1 a major early Mexican rocanrol2 group. In addition to its original songs, the group also gained notoriety for its covers of English-speaking rock songs.
What’s particularly notable about the covers the group recorded is the approach they took to adapting the lyrics. Generally, if an artist decides to alter the lyrics of a song they’re covering, they’re doing something minor like transposing the gender of pronouns or omitting offensive words. That’s not the case here. Nor is it a case of a covering artist doing their best to translate accurately a song’s lyrics into another language, verse by verse. As anyone who took Spanish 101 in school can attest, the words Los Rockin Devil’s are singing are not a translation of Lennon’s original lyrics. Instead, it seems that the band wrote an entirely new lyric sheet, which is a very bold move. Alas, my Spanish is only good enough to tell you that much, and I’ve been unable to find any transcriptions of this version’s lyrics. I really can’t tell if the song remains a ballad about John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s honeymoon or not. So, we’ll have to leave it at that.
To draw your attention away from the ever-decaying state of my Spanish fluency, I’d like to direct you toward how similar musically this song is to the original. In terms of arrangement, Los Rockin Devil’s only made a few tweaks to the song to turn it into a recognizable Latin rock track. The lilting and lolling lead guitar of the original is all but unchanged in their version, because even though I’d never noticed it before, that guitar part totally sounds like it came from a Latin-influenced rock song. They also take the (literally) one note piano part from the end of the original chorus and stretch it out to serve as the rhythmic backbone of the entire song.3 The other elements (the bass line, rhythm guitar, and percussion) are also basically unaltered from the original. What’s really amazing about this track is that those slight changes make the song sound perfectly at home on a rocanrol record. It something I never noticed about the original until I heard Los Rockin Devil’s version.
To download this track, go here to the WFMU blog post where I first heard it.
1. Yes, that’s how they punctuate it. I was an English major and I’m just as enraged as you are. THE NERVE! THE UNMITIGATED GALL! (Stick around for the final paragraph to see me be completely unable to figure out how to make it possessive!)
2. Say it out loud.
3. The way they use the piano in this song really reminds me of the single-note piano riff John Cale played on The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” which was released a month after “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” They’re not similar enough to make such a connection clear-cut, but there might be something there.