Mexican rock music from the 1960s and 70s fascinates me. While a couple of amazing groups are relatively well-known internationally – Los Dug Dugs and La Revolución de Emiliano Zapata come to mind – many others have sadly remained in obscurity, even among those of us who are on the look out.
When I lived in Mexico, I found that many people didn’t know a lot about the history of Mexican rock music before the 1980s and 90s. And, despite my own best efforts to learn more about the scene ‘at the source’, tracking down the music, and especially original vinyl, from Mexican bands of the era seemed to be a nearly insurmountable task. So imagine my surprise when I hit up the record store this week in Toronto and unearthed one of those underappreciated nuggets!
El Tarro de Mostaza, five young men between the ages of 15 and 20 from the town of Poza Rica, Veracruz, were signed to Capitol Records Mexico in the late 1960s. Originally called El Sonido (The Sound), the band changed its name to El Tarro de Mostaza (The Mustard Jar) – a play on Mexican slang for joints and marijuana – before releasing their eponymous album in 1970. Although they found some success in Mexico and internationally – at one time occupying the number 1 spot on Billboard en Español in the USA – they never recorded another album and fell into obscurity by the early 1970s.
Like many Mexican bands of the era, El Tarro de Mostaza were heavily influenced by prog, psych, garage, and American and British bands of the time. But unlike some of their contemporaries, such as La Revolución, El Tarro de Mostaza sang exclusively in Spanish. The most obvious influence is immediately apparent in the first track on the album, Obertura-Brillo de Luz (Overture-Shining Light), a 20-minute organ-driven progressive psych epic reminiscent of Iron Butterfly. Unsurprisingly, the following track, Final-Avances (Final-Progress) clocks in at about a minute to finish off the side (but what a minute it is)!
Side B of the record is a bit more straightforward, with shorter songs and a couple of ballads featuring simplistic, and at times ridiculous, lyrics. (To be fair, when isn’t teenaged love ridiculous?) Stand out tracks on this side include El Ruido del Silencio (The Noise of Silence), the band’s biggest hit (and possibly recognizable to fans of psych compilations from around the world), and the ballads La Fuente del Jardín (The Garden Fountain) and No Debes Verme Llorar (You Shouldn’t See Me Cry). I also have to admit that Amor Por Teléfono (Love By Telephone) – one of those songs with silly lyrics – seems to have earwormed its way into my head, so watch out for that one! Another fun feature of the B side are short unnamed musical interludes ‘between’ songs.
Apparently the original vinyl of El Tarro de Mostaza is a pricy find, but luckily for us record collectors with more modest budgets, there are a couple of represses of the album available – including a limited, numbered (though unofficial) reissue of the album from La Onda Records, a Capitol Records Mexico repress on marbled vinyl from 2006, as well as at least one other repress from recent years. All versions seem to be relatively economically accessible through Discogs.
Note: The La Onda reissue doesn’t have the original album art (instead featuring a strange dot-matrix style image of the band pasted onto a blank album cover), but if you dig the album and happen across it, don’t let that quality distract you – it sounds amazing!
Check out the full album on YouTube below: