Translating The Beatles for Venezuela

Let’s take the release of a “new” song to look at the impact the band had in the music culture of this country: nothing less than trailblazing rock and English among an audience so far focused on traditional genres in Spanish

Venezuela—a Caribbean and Andean nation of boleros, baladas, merengue, joropo, salsa, gaitas, hip-hop and reggaeton—also got a piece of the British invasion back in the 1960s, with the Beatles at the forefront. The fact that The Beatles never played live in Latin America in their short-lived world touring experience (that came to an end in 1966) didn’t spare this part of the world from Beatlemania. 

The Beatles were probably among the first musical acts with songs in English that Venezuelans really liked. But still, in the mid to late 1960s, you could listen to Los Darts, Los Impala, Los Memphis, Los Claners and Los Supersónicos singing Spanish covers of the Fab Four—or the Fab Three depending on your opinion. Those Venezuelan groups were highly popular in the country in what for a long time was called “música moderna,” modern music. In a very conservative society, it was music for the young. 

Back then, you had Los Impala with “La ví parada allí(I Saw Her Standing There)the first Venezuelan rock group according to the prevailing opinion, originally from Maracaibo. Los Darts had “Tú la vas a perder(You´re Going to Lose That Girl), and “Aquí, allá y dónde sea(Here, There and Everywhere). Los 007 had “En mi vida (In My Life); Los Supersónicos had “La noche de un agitado día(A Hard Day’s Night); Los Claners had “Ticket de viaje(Ticket to Ride); and Los Memphis withTrataré que seas feliz(With a Little Help From My Friends). They were all Lennon-McCartney songs with lyrics sung in Spanish, during a time when George Harrison’s compositions had not reached the charts yet. Venezuelans today gravitate toward the original songs in English, but keep a soft spot for those Spanish language versions made by the local bands.

Rest assured that nowadays almost every Venezuelan knows one or more Beatles songs without even realizing it. Gregorio Montiel Cupello, Alfredo Escalante, Cappy Donzella, Iván Loscher, Plácido Garrido, Julio César III Venegas, César Miguel Rondón, Félix Allueva, Polo Troconis, and Marian Rieber & Andres Seger are the names of the Venezuelan radio hosts and music promoters that first come to mind when we think about the people who have helped us to better understand their unparalleled accomplishments. The latter two are the host and producer of an excellent  radio show that has been running for over 25 years called Beatlemania.

Beatlemania slowed down all over the world following their breakup in 1970 and the Liverpool supergroup became sort of like a cult following for many music lovers. In those years, the great Venezuelan composer and orchestra director Aldemaro Romero made noteworthy Onda Nueva versions of “Hey Jude” and “The Fool on the Hill.” And for the Venezuelan kids growing up in that decade, you could watch The Beatles’ old cartoons and the reruns of their classic films A Hard Day’s Night and Help! on Venezolana de Televisión.

At the beginning of the 1980s, before the assassination of John Lennon, the Venezuelan band Esperanto released their version of Ticket to Ride. Venezuelans who were keen on rock and pop music in this period eagerly watched “La Música que Sacudió al Mundo” every week on state television channel Televisora Nacional Canal 5 and some of them first found out about the band by watching this program. During these years, you could listen to local artists playing Beatles’ iconic songs in bars in Caracas such as Lennon Pub, Liverpool, Clitché and Lobster Bar. One of these musicians was Jorge Spiteri, the long-time leader and one of the singers of Los Buitres and Clan Spiteri, among other bands. Spiteri was the quintessential beatlemaniac in heart and soul, and he never stopped playing their music in the following decades. The 1980s hit song “Amor (Is to Love You)” written by Spiteri and Steve Alpert of the band Mañana was recorded at Tittenhurst Park where John Lennon made his memorable Imagine album. 

In the 1990s and afterwards, if you liked to listen to the Fab Four old songs you could always go to Greenwich Pub, La Mosca and Teatro Bar in Caracas. Many live shows celebrating their music have been made these last few years at Villa Planchart, Centro Cultural BOD and Centro Cultural Chacao with some of the most important tribute bands in Venezuela like Beat3, Beatunes and Pepperland. Once in a while some other Venezuelan artist records a Beatles song, such as the brilliant instrumental band C4 Trío with their interpretation of “Norwegian Wood,” and the virtuoso guitar player Aquiles Báez with “Eleanor Rigby.” And just seven months ago, the British Embassy held a concert with the Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho Symphony Orchestra and Beat3 at the very caraqueña Concha Acústica de Bello Monte before a packed crowd of Beatles fans to celebrate the King’s coronation.

The Union Jack in Greenwich Pub in Altamira in 2023.

Paul McCartney has performed at massive concerts in South America a bunch of times over the years and has never played in Venezuela—wonder why that is… But listen to this: There was a rumor running around a long time ago according to which one of McCartney’s uncles married a lady from Venezuela and the couple lived in this country with their daughter. So we have our own piece of Venezuelan style Beatles mythology (if you know anything about this rumor please share it with us).

So what does this English group mean to Venezuelans, past and present: Their incredible timeless music smashes age and cultural gaps. Children, young and old folks follow their music in both languages. Some people have even learned English by listening to their songs. Remember that they were the first artists to put printed lyrics on their vinyl records. A true gift to feel connected to millions of music fans around the world. Just listen to “Here, There and Everywhere,” a tune from the Revolver album, superb:

With the release of The Beatles’ official version of “Now and Then,” just a month and a half ago with the use of state of the art technology, after their first attempt in 1995, from a track recorded by John Lennon in 1977, we’ll just have to wait and see if this song will turn into a new Beatles hit worthy of its own Venezuelan rendition.