Mexican Radio

Album: Call of the West (1982)
Charted: 64 58

Songfacts®:

  • Like ZZ Top's "Heard It On The X" and The Doors' "The WASP (Texas Radio and The Big Beat)," this song was inspired by the high-wattage, unregulated AM border-blaster Mexican radio stations with signals that traveled well into America, and the occasional interjections in Spanish in the song were recorded off a real Mexican radio station.

    In a 2010 Songfacts interview with Wall of Voodoo lead singer Stan Ridgway, he explained: "We used to go to rehearsals in my old '67 Mustang. And I used to get on the AM radio there on the console and try to find a Mexican radio station that was wafting in from the border over at Tijuana. This was like 1980, '81 or something. So when I would find one, I would say, 'Oh, hey look you guys, I'm on a Mexican radio.' And so, 'Okay, I'm on one. I'm on a Mexican radio.' And that was the germ of what started to develop, and then it just kind of developed, and a lot of planets were aligning at that point culturally. MTV was getting going and what they called the 'new music' was making some headway into people's ears. Radio still was not playing it, but when MTV became as popular as it did, radio had to play it. And it was right about that time where the door to American culture – or actually straight radio culture – kind of opened up just a little bit, and a few people got their feet in."
  • The quirky video got a lot of airplay on MTV, which launched in 1981 and didn't have many to choose from at the time. Regarding the video, Ridgway told us: "We went down to Tijuana and did it in about a day and a half on very little money. The record company did not want to spend money on the video or do anything about it at that point. It was kind of a success, it was kind of like a – you know what it was? It was an MTV accidental hit is what it was. And we had to push to get that thing out there ourselves. So in spite of the record company, whatever success it had was really the band's and mine. We were fighting quite a fight just in terms of what suddenly was expected of this electronic, avant-garde underground band. Because that's what we were."
  • Ridgway wrote this with Wall of Voodoo guitarist Marc Moreland. Ridgway wrote the verse lyrics and came up with the harmonica part.
  • Wall of Voodoo formed in Los Angeles in 1977 and released three albums before Ridgway left for a solo career in 1983. Stan Ridgway has a dedicated following, but for many Americans who grew up on early MTV, this is their only exposure to his work, which is an eclectic mix of narrative songs with a cinematic feel. Ridgway told us: "We all dug 'Mexican Radio' when we finished it. But we also knew that there were other things that we were doing, other things that were going to be more important, and that this was a good, fun song.

    To some, it's a one-hit wonder. To others, it's just part of the catalog of songs. To the great wide open American world public, 'Mexican Radio' is known in America; when I go to Europe, it was never anything there. The song over there is 'Camouflage.' I go to Switzerland or Germany and it's a song called 'Calling Out To Carol' which was on Mosquitoes. So I'm not trying to overly wave my flag here, but there's lots of songs, and every song is part of a symphony, it's the only way you can look at it. And philosophically speaking, as an artist, first impressions are hard to beat.

    It's funny. You can't diss it, because first impressions are hard to beat from people, and it's a complicated life, people get lost. You become just a memory for them, that song, actually, for one part of their lives, especially if it only lasted a certain amount of time, or they lost track of you. So a lot of music is like a floating buoy: it sits on the ocean, dips down beneath the water, every now and then something pops up, you go, 'There – what's that thing over there? Is that coming up again?' I've always just tried to keep making music and moving forward with it. So I play the song when I feel like playing it. And we've played it several different ways. Sometimes I'll play it the original way, sometimes I'll have fun with it and play it as a bossa nova or something."

Comments: 7

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 22nd 1983, the Wall of Voodoo performed "Mexican Radio" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    Two months later on March 13th it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #90; and eventually it peaked at #58...
    It did not make the charts in Mexico, but way far north in Canada is reached #18 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles chart.
  • Ross from Boise , IdThis song was used in the movie Thingfish staring Matt Damon and was filmed completely in black and white.
  • Amara from Victorille, CaThis was featured in the 1998 Seinfeld episode "The Reverse Peephole". Kramer sings it while assembling the reverse peephole on his door. A portion of the song can also be heard during the episode's end as well.
  • Louie from San Antonio, TxAccording to Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, "Jerry [Casale] and I both tried to sing like Stan from Wall Of Voodoo ("Mexican Radio") when we were doing the song [It's a Beautiful World]. I don't know why, but we could imagine Stan singing that song, so we were both trying to fake his accent and Jerry did a great job so he ended up singing on the record."
  • Jon from Enumclaw , WaI have this song on an 80's mix cd and really like it kinda cool.
  • Michael from San Diego, Ca"I wish I was in Tijuana, eating barbecued iguana!" Strange video, especaially the guy's face popping out of the bowl of beans but a catchy tune none the less!
  • Ed from Phoenix, AzI seem to recall hearing a story about the recording of this song and the mexican voice you hear in the background is a guy yelling at the band. Any translators out there?
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