Authentic as, say, a Taco Bell Enchirito

I GIVE you three toe-tapping, era-evoking, culturally corrupt yet ultimately irresistible words: the Tijuana Brass.

This band -- well, this idea of a band -- was born in Southern California in 1962, the same year and place as that other beloved yet fraudulently Mexican empire, Taco Bell. Nobody in the Brass was Mexican -- not the founder and trumpet-player, Herb Alpert, not the guitar or bass players, not the marimba dude, not the guy who squeezed that clownish horn on “Tijuana Taxi.”

Alpert got the idea, he has said, from attending a Tijuana bullfight. Then he came home, corralled some studio guys and whipped up “The Lonely Bull.” When the song took off, he realized he had to put together an actual band and play live dates. Then came a decade or so of album upon album, TV specials and sales briefly rivaling the Beatles. And let’s not forget that crucial role providing interlude tunes on “The Dating Game.”

My father, otherwise largely impervious to music, loved these guys. (He also claimed to love the screechy vocals of Yma Sumac, but really, I think he just loved saying Yma Sumac.)


Anyway, if you grew up in Southern California in the 1960s, just a little too young for Hendrix and Joplin and company, these horns were the soundtrack to your innocence. Until you discovered that 1965 album cover for “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” -- then, if you were male and straight and my age, just like that you were launched into adolescence.

Now all the TJB’s stuff is available on CD, and yes, I own a bunch of it. I play these peppy instrumentals in the backyard while flipping burgers, in the living room while working a puzzle with my 4-year-old. Maybe one day I’ll play them in the car on the way to Taco Bell. But I wonder -- can there be too much fraudulent Mexican perfection in one life?

-- Christopher Reynolds