“I wish I was in Tijuana, eating BBQ’d iguana”: Remembering Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio”

By on April 29, 2019

We’re taking another look at this vintage April 12, 1983 episode of “Radio 1990” — from our Radio 1990 row on Night Flight Plus — where we found an excerpt of Wall of Voodoo’s classic “Mexican Radio” music video, which landed them in heavy rotation on MTV that same year, but it also proved to be singer Stan Ridgway’s last with the band.

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Ridgway, guitarist Marc Moreland, Marc’s brother bassist/synth player Bruce Moreland, synth player/vocalist Chas T. Gray and inventive percussionist Joe Nanini formed the first version of Wall of Voodoo in Los Angeles in 1977.

Ridgway’s friend, Joe Berardi of the Fibonaccis — riffing off Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” — coined their name after listening to some of their early drum machine and Farfisa recordings, saying they sounded like a “wall of voodoo.”

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In this previous Night Flight blog post, we mentioned how Ridgway’s and Marc Moreland’s Acme Soundtracks offices were located in a Hollywood Blvd. building across from the Masque, where Wall of Voodoo played their first show in 1978, opening for the Cramps.

The video’s director, Francis “Frank” Delia, had a commercial photography studio in the same building, where much of this video was shot (that’s Delia posing as a Mexican barbecuing an iguana).

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Bruce Moreland was in and out of the band — due to heroin addiction issues — and that’s why bassist/producer Bill Nolan was in the lineup when they recorded “Mexican Radio” for their second I.R.S. album, Call of the West, released in September 1982.

Marc Moreland wrote the song’s music and chorus, while Ridgway came up with the clichéd stereotypes in the verses and the mariachi-style “harmonica” melody (played on a keyboard).

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When Ridgway sings “I wish I was in Tijuana, eating barbecued iguana,” he uses an incorrect, obsolete pronunciation of Tijuana dating back to the 19th Century (our Midwestern relatives still pronounce it that way).

In 2010, Ridgway told Songfacts:

“…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’…”

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The video was also partly shot n Tijuana, Mexico, which back then was still a bustling city filled with turistas clogging up Avenida Revolución souvenir shops and bars, instead of being the last stop where hundreds of thousands of Central American migrants arrive to seek asylum in the Estados Unidos (and if you ask us, Trump wanting Mexico pay for his fucking border wall is just more ’80s-style “wall of voodoo economics”).

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Ann Marie Bates plays the morbidly obese woman with a large bowl of baked beans — cooked by Devo‘s Bob Casale!! — from which Ridgway’s face emerges.

Speaking of Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh once said: Jerry [Casale] and I both tried to sing like Stan from Wall Of Voodoo 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.”

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Read more about Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio” below.

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“Mexican Radio” — much like ZZ Top‘s “Heard It On The X” — was a tribute to high-wattage, unregulated “border blaster” radio stations which were pretty much unavoidable if you were listening to AM radio back then.

These stations didn’t have to adhere to the power limits of U.S. stations, which allowed them to broadcast their high-wattage AM radio signals thousands of miles into America, all the way to Canada.

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These border radio stations included Tijuana’s XELO, Juarez’s XROC, and Tampico’s XEFW, which broadcast from just south of Brownsville, Texas.

The big daddy of them was XERF, located just over the Rio Grande River in Ciudad Acuña.

In the mid-60s, the legendary Wolfman Jack’s syndicated radio show was broadcast from the 250,000-watt XERF (1570 on the AM dial), as well from its sister station, Rosarita Beach’s 150,000-watt XERB.

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Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio” wasn’t released as a single until early ’83, peaking at #58 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Curiously, it failed to chart in Mexico, but did make it to #18 on Canada’s RPM Top Singles chart.

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In 1983, after three albums, a disheartened Stan Ridgway left Wall of Voodoo after their appearance at that year’s hugely successful US Festival (it was also the last show the Clash played with Mick Jones).

He embarked on a solo career which included collaborations with the Police‘s Stewart Copeland (including the Rumble Fish soundtrack).

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Joe Nanini left soon thereafter (replaced by drummer Ned Leukhardt) and later joined the alt-country band Lonesome Strangers. He died in December 2000 from a brain hemorrhage.

The remaining members brought singer Andy Preiboy aboard, and resurfaced in 1985 with their Seven Days in Sammystown album, which gave them a huge hit (“Far Side of Crazy”) in Australia.

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They recorded two additional albums, Happy Planet in 1987, and a live album, The Ugly Americans in Australia (featuring a few tracks actually recorded in Bullhead City, Arizona), was their last as a band.

Marc Moreland died in Paris, France, in March of 2002.

Watch this vintage “Radio 1990” episode from April 12, 1983 — which also features videos by Culture Club, Gary Numan, Debbie Harry & Blondie and an epic Beat Club performance of “Honky Tonk Woman” by Ike & Tina Turner — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.