In the early years of Tango lyrics were generally comic and often bawdy. They were usually written in the first person, and described some excellent quality that the character possessed. In the original lyric of the tango Don Juan, for example, written around 1900, the character describes himself a such a great dancer that when he does a clever step in the south of Buenos Aires everyone talks about it all the way to the north of the city. He also points out how incredibly good-looking he is, and that the bravest man cowers in front of him.
This sort of lyric was not acceptable in the houses of the middle classes. As the popularity of Tango grew in Paris and across the world, there started to be a market for Tango music and Tango recordings amongst the middle and upper classes in Argentina. This put pressure on both the music and the lyrics to change.
From about 1917 onwards a new sort of Tango lyric began to be written. Many of finest poets that Argentina and Uruguay have ever produced have written Tango lyrics. Quickly the form became one of the richest in Twentieth Century popular culture. And as the lyrics improved in quality, this was also the period when great singers began to emerge, and then to dominate the Tango scene, particularly with the advent of radio, and later sound film.
As the music adapted to accommodate the needs of the star singers, it began to be less attractive to dancers, and between the mid 1920s and the mid 1930s in Buenos Aires the dance became less popular. There were still great orchestras, notably the orchestra of
Julio de Caro
, who brought classical training and sensibilities to the Tango. But it was not until the explosion onto the Tango scene of the ruthlessly populist orchestra of
that the dance was swept back up from the doldrums and returned to the height of popularity.
The Return of Tango Dance
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