How I wrote ‘Dance The Night Away’ by The Mavericks’ Raul Malo
The Florida country band’s frontman tells us about the “happy accident” that led to the creation of their biggest hit
Blending rock ’n’ roll, country and Cuban rhythms, The Mavericks have created a style of music that seems a perfect fit for their Miami origins. Having formed in 1989, their nine studio albums to date reflect these influences, as well as the band’s ability to write catchy pop songs – none more so than the track in question.
It’s now almost impossible to think of the band without hearing the familiar blast of horns of Dance The Night Away, or picturing the happily swaying supermarket visitors of the accompanying video. Taken from their fifth album, 1998’s Trampoline, it remains their most popular song, and a staple of many parties. Here, The Maverick’s leader Raul Malo tells us all about this “happy accident”…
“The first thing I remember is picking up the guitar and just strumming in that very sort of straight way, with the E and the B and the B7. I remember immediately thinking, ‘Oh wow, this sounds like a song,’ and it just kind of wrote itself as I messed with it. I started adding parts, like the now famous horn part, which is really just the notes of the E chord. To the frustration of many a horn player who’s tried to make it all difficult and be all cool and jazzy, it’s just ridiculous in its simplicity! It’s almost a nursery rhyme, so it’s really fun to have horn players suffer a little bit at the hands of a non-horn player.
“I was in my house in my work room, my little studio room, and it was written in an afternoon. But it sounded like something, and it was really an eye-opener as to how simple a song can be. I made a demo of it and, funnily enough, it already had all the parts in it, so when I played it for the band we basically just did the demo. It gave me the confidence to really learn how to arrange songs, in that the arrangement is as important as anything else in the song. It can really make or break a song, and I learned that just by working on that little number.
“When I presented it to the band everybody was like, ‘Oh yeah, we can do this,’ and it was a no-brainer – it was that simple. I really wish there was a deeper story to it, but it was just one of those little things that happen, almost like a happy accident.
“Lyrically, it just sounded like an escape: it sounded like you just needed to get away from whatever you were doing, and that was really the inspiration, a bit of escapism, that’s where it stemmed from.
“The record company loved it, but as per usual they didn’t know what they were going to do with it, and we thought, ‘Well, we don’t know what we’re going to do with it either… but we know the UK label love it.’ And so they put it out and started working it and it just became a smash all over Europe, and we were proven right.
“If I knew why, or if you knew why, we’d be doing it every day! But the truth is we don’t know why – we might think we know why, we might have an idea, but so many things need to happen in order for a record like that to become a hit and there’s no rhyme or reason to it. I feel like I have a million songs that are 10 times better than that one, just as a song – that one was almost a kind of a throwaway. But some songs just connect for some reason, and they linger, and then before you know it they’re played at every Irish wedding ever held!
“I don’t resent it: certainly there are going to be people who only know us for Dance The Night Away, which is a sad bi-product of that success and sometimes it keeps some people from digging a little deeper. But part of me feels like if you don’t want to dig any deeper than that then you’re missing out, because I think there’s a lot of groovy music that we make. That’s a small price to pay because most of our fans love that song but they love a lot of others things, too.
“It’s give and take, and that’s okay: there are certainly worse problems to have and the fact that we had success with that one is a beautiful thing and I would obviously welcome it again. But that’s not something that you shoot for – it’s just something that happens.”
EXPERT OPINION by James Linderman
“In every genre there’s already a set of artists that define that genre, so a good strategy might be to try and be the best ‘rock ’n’ roll/country/Cuban’ band in the world, and then define that cross-genre for yourself. It fills an empty seat.”