Another week, another ’60s/’70s icon gone. Which, of course, is part of the deal; immortality may be bestowed upon our work, if we’re lucky — but as Jim Morrison once croaked, no one here gets out alive. (And then he went and croaked for real, so…)
The news of Raquel Welch’s passing immediately took me back to the first weekend of June 1976. I had recently turned ten, had just attended my first major league baseball game (Yankees vs. Tigers at Tiger Stadium), and was about to graduate from the fourth grade. An exciting summer awaited, with visits to Michigan’s Otsego Lake, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Los Angeles and San Diego already planned — but for now, there was still the pressing issue of which movie my dad would be taking my sister and me to see that Sunday.
“How about Mother, Jugs and Speed?” he suggested. “It has Bill Cosby for you, and Raquel Welch for me!”
I simply shrugged “Okay.” But inside my head I distinctly remember thinking, “Raquel Welch for me, too!”
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I have no memory of when I first became aware of the w-o-m-a-n born Jo Raquel Tejada — or, for that matter, when I first became aware of how particularly pleasing she was to my young eyes. But I’m gonna take a wild guess that it occurred sometime around February 16, 1975, when she and Cher performed the above duet on The Cher Show, a program my sister and I watched religiously. Even on our tiny black and white TV set (we wouldn’t “go color” until that fall), this number would surely have made quite an impression on me…
While I didn’t see much of her cinematic work beyond Mother…, The Three Musketeers and her iconic turns in One Million Years B.C. and Kansas City Bomber during the 1970s — my introduction to the great Bedazzled and the not-so-great Myra Breckinridge wouldn’t occur until college — Raquel was firmly established in my consciousness as the reigning sex symbol of the era by the time I reached adolescence. You could keep skinny blondes like Farrah Fawcett; voluptuous, vaguely exotic brunettes were way more my speed.
“What kind of girl do you like?” an artistically-inclined girl in my seventh grade math class asked me one day. “I’ll draw her for you.” “I guess someone who looks kind of like Racquel Welch,” I told her. She turned up her nose like I’d just shoved a bowl of rancid cottage cheese under it. “Ewww!” she said.
Jagged Time Lapse is a music-centric Substack, of course, so let’s talk about Raquel’s music. In retrospect, it’s kind of bizarre that Raquel didn’t have much of a recording career. Not that she was any kind of terrific vocalist, mind you, but she also wasn’t bad; and as the recently exhumed 1974 TV special Really Raquel demonstrates, she was clearly quite comfortable performing musical numbers. She even sang in her one of her first movie appearances, 1965’s A Swinging’ Summer, performing “I’m Ready to Groove” backed by legendary groove-meisters Gary Lewis and the Playboys — or GLP, as they’re lovingly known here at Chez Epstein…
And here’s Raquel essaying a nicely hip-shaking version of Sonny & Cher’s “Bang Bang” on a 1967 broadcast of The Hollywood Palace…
So you’d think that some savvy label exec would have tried to capitalize on Raquel’s popularity by signing her to a record deal; hell, even Joey Heatherton got to cut a whole album for MGM in 1972. But aside from some heavy breathing on “L’Animal,” Vladimir Cosma’s disco theme from the 1977 Welch-starring film of the same name, and the truly awful 1987 dance single “This Girl’s Back in Town,” the Raquel Welch discography is sadly even skimpier than Lillian Lust’s undergarments.
Though I doubt it’ll ever happen, I would dearly love it if someone decided to press up the soundtrack of Raquel!, her 1970 CBS TV variety special, on vinyl — you know, for Record Store Day or something. Produced by David Winters, who was responsible for similar TV specials featuring Ann-Margret, Sonny & Cher and The 5th Dimension, the extravagantly-budgeted program finds our heroine jetting around to Paris, London, Mexico City and Sun Valley to perform a variety of recent pop hits —including “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” “Games People Play” and “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In,” all conducted by legendary Wrecking Crew keyboardist Don Randi — while sporting a number of eye-popping Bob Mackie ensembles.
Tom Jones even shows up for a few numbers, as if to provide a suitably priapic counterweight to Raquel’s Olympus-level pulchritude. (I doubt these two sex symbols ever actually had sex with each other, because such an explosive act would have likely resulted in a Chicxulub-sized crater and possibly extinguished life on Earth as we know it.)
But for me, the unquestioned highlight of the whole affair is her version of “California Dreamin’”. The lavish production number begins with Raquel swanning gorgeously around a wintry Paris in a red cape, and before suddenly teleporting to Mexico City, where she dons a Barbarella-worthy getup and proceeds to cavort on and around the abstract sculptures of the Ruta de la Amistad with a couple of androgynous space beings.
Outstanding (and occasionally brain-melting) visuals aside, the whole musical track is pretty great in its own right. Randi’s orchestral arrangement strikes just the right balance of melancholic and majestic — and while I don’t know if Randi was also responsible for the insane Moog-and-percussion breakdown during the “space dance” sequence, it is undeniably futuristic and funky as all hell!
Farewell, Raquel. You were a true goddess of your era. Hopefully you’re doing that space boogie right now on the next plane of existence.
That’s my boy. I feared I’d have to read some bullshit about how it was her singing voice that attracted and sustained your interest. Like you rifled through my Playboys for the short stories. But Racquel was gorgeous, could sing and sexiest of all (at least to me) didn’t take herself seriously and had humor about herself. I’d call that the trifecta. Good Man!