Poor Lawrence Welk. His TV show, still a staple of public television 17 years after his death, is perhaps the epitome of the squarest segments of Midwestern culture. Armed with an accordion and a flagrant disregard of cool, Welk and his preternaturally wholesome Musical Family waltzed through the old standards and novelty tunes that comprised his trademark “champagne music.” So it only fits that his #1 hit, despite sharing its title with the name of a city in India, is as whitebread as can be.
So Welk is an easy target. Still, there’s an endearing naffness to “Calcutta” that distinguishes it from similar chart toppers like “Theme From A Summer Place” and “Wonderland by Night.” Is it the maracas, the accordion, the harpsichord, the perky multigender voices babbling “la la la”? Maybe it’s the cloyingly catchy melody or the total absence of Eastern authenticity. I vote for all of the above, including the miscellaneous corny touches like the “cha cha cha!” rhythm that caps off the song. It’s more enjoyable than I’d expect anything attached to Welk’s name to be, but at the same time, it’s enjoyable in exactly the way you’d expect. Whether that enjoyableness is sincere or ironic is in the ear of the listener. 5
- The discrepancy between the title “Calcutta” and the total non-Indianness of the music is allegedly because the song derives from a European melody whose title sounds similar to “Calcutta.”
Hit #1 on February 13, 1961; total of 2 weeks at #1
45 of 967 #1’s reviewed; 4.65% through the Hot 100