Down in Mexico

Album: The Ultimate Coasters (1956)
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • Many Americans cross the border to Mexico in search of the kind of adventure described in this song. The singer finds a sweaty little cantina with a crazy owner who plays a mean honky-tonk piano. After a while, an exotic woman with fishnets and castanets comes by and does a dance that blows him away.
  • "Down in Mexico" was written by the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Together with "Smokey Joe's Cafe," it represents a huge turning point for the songwriting team. Before, with "Smokey Joe's Cafe," they had Spark Records, The Robins, and an old hit called "Hound Dog" by Big Mama Thornton. After, with "Down in Mexico," they'd quit Spark and signed with Atlantic, Carl Gardner had quit The Robins and formed The Coasters, Elvis had covered "Hound Dog" and made them world-famous, and both of the songwriters experienced life-altering events. It was like a bookmark between chapters.

    Those two life-altering events? Jerry Leiber first had a run-in with James Dean only weeks before his death, then got into his own car accident with a couple of women involved. Mike Stoller lost his mother, then decided to go on a cruise with his new wife, Meryl. The cruise ship they picked just happened to be the Andrea Doria, which sank and left them with a harrowing survival experience. Returned to port by the rescue ship, Mike Stoller just stepped off the boat when Jerry Leiber runs up to tell him they have a smash hit. By "some white kid named Elvis." Cue act 2!
  • This is the song that plays on the jukebox during the lap dance scene in Quentin Tarantino's 2007 movie Death Proof, one half of the Tarantino/Rodriguez collaborative film set Grindhouse. However, it is not the same version. The version in the film is a re-recording done in 1970, still with Carl Gardner singing lead.
  • By this time, The Coasters had even more dramatic flair that The Robins, and Leiber and Stoller were describing themselves more as directors than producers.
  • When hearing the infectious bongo drums kicking in on the bridge (beginning with the line "All of a sudden in walks a chick..."), one is reminded of the anecdote about the producer who went into a musician's store to ask for the "Leiber and Stoller drum kit." When the clerk asked to clarify, the producer said he wanted to buy the same drum kit used in Leiber and Stoller's productions. The clerk informed him that would cover every drum they sold in the store, and several more varieties that they didn't even stock!

Comments: 1

  • Nick from London, United KingdomLeiber and Stoller were certain they had a hit on their hands with Riot in cell block #9 and its failure came as something of a blow to them. They quickly realised that Spark was too small an outfit to get them where they wanted to be, so when an offer came to move to New York and work freelance for Atlantic Records, the two writer/producers jumped at the chance. This caused a problem in the ranks of the Robins because half the group including Terrell Leonard wanted to stay where they were. Leonard had the name Robins registered as a trademark, so when Bobby Nunn and Carl Gardner moved out east, the rest of the band stayed put keeping the name. Before the split, they recorded one last song together, Smokey Joe's Café and sticking with the Mexico theme, Leiber and Stoller came up with Down In Mexico for the first single by the new band, the Coasters, so-named in order to retain their connection with the West Coast. It was a top ten R&B hit but the next release Searchin'/Young Blood was a double-sided smash, which crashed into the pop charts at #3 and cemented their place in music history. Billboard February 1956: "Here's a new and definitely swinging crew and they delivera couple of highly commendable sides. Down In Mexico is a fetching ditty which is very close to Smokey Joe's Café."
    Nick Duckett
    http://www.rhythmandbluesrecords.co.uk/
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Graduation Songs

Graduation SongsFact or Fiction

Have you got the smarts to know which of these graduation song stories are real?

Rosanne Cash

Rosanne CashSongwriter Interviews

Rosanne talks about the journey that inspired her songs on her album The River & the Thread, including a stop at the Tallahatchie Bridge.

Andy McClusky of OMD

Andy McClusky of OMDSongwriter Interviews

Known in America for the hit "If You Leave," OMD is a huge influence on modern electronic music.

Bands Named After Real People (Who Aren't In The Band)

Bands Named After Real People (Who Aren't In The Band)Song Writing

How a gym teacher, a janitor, and a junkie became part of some very famous band names.

Chris Squire of Yes

Chris Squire of YesSongwriter Interviews

One of the most dynamic bass player/songwriters of his time, Chris is the only member of Yes who has been with the band since they formed in 1968.

Amy Lee of Evanescence

Amy Lee of EvanescenceSongwriter Interviews

The Evanescence frontwoman on the songs that have shifted meaning and her foray into kids' music.