Song of the Day #858: ‘When the Circus Comes to Town’ – Los Lobos

I just realized I’ve done five straight theme weeks, so I’m going to take a break from the structure and go random this week.

First up is a Los Lobos song from their great 1992 album Kiko. This is the only Los Lobos album I own and it’s so good I don’t know why I haven’t bothered seeking out any others.

My only other exposure to Los Lobos was through their performance of Ritchie Valens’ ‘La Bamba,’ which they performed for the soundtrack of the movie of the same name, and guest spots on albums by Paul Simon (Graceland) and Bob Dylan (Together Through Life).

I first heard Kiko in a Blockbuster music store. Blockbuster bought out Sound Warehouse that same year and ran music stores until 1998 before selling them off. Now they’re getting out of the movie business, killed off by NetFlix and Video on Demand.

But in 1992, you had to rent movies from a physical store, and you had to listen to new music that way, too. I saw Kiko at one of those four-headphone music stands and gave it a try because, well, why not… I had more free time back then.

I was grabbed immediately by the wonderful sounds of this album… the acoustic guitars, accordion, thick drums and rich vocals. And every song I sampled was a winner, melodically and rhythmically.

I decided after four or five tracks to hang up the headphones and buy the album right then and there — one of the only times in my life I remember doing that. I’ve bought a lot of albums unheard based on reputation, and I’ve bought a lot of albums on the strength of a song or two I’d heard elsewhere, but for some reason that in-store listening experience sticks out to me as rare.

The rest of the album didn’t disappoint. On the contrary, if I’d been ranking albums back in 1992 I’m confident this one would have been at or very near the top of the list. I haven’t listened to it religiously since, but every time I pull it out I’m rewarded.

Could have had a chance
To get out of this wreck
The time that you came
And the day that you left
Could have had a chance
Could have had a chance

Never thought I could make it this far
With a dent in my soul
And a hole in my heart
Never thought I could
Never thought I could

But when the lights are turning ’round
And wheels are rolling on the ground
That day I’ll burn this whole place down
When the circus comes to town

You left your name carved on a tree
You scratched mine out
Right in front of me
Didn’t mean that much
Didn’t mean that much

But when the lights are turning ’round
And wheels are rolling on the ground
That day I’ll burn this whole place down
When the circus comes to town

I’ll scratch your name out on that tree
I’ll chase your heart right out of me
Doesn’t mean that much
Doesn’t mean that much

But when the lights are turning ’round
And wheels are rolling on the ground
That day I’ll burn this whole place down
When the circus comes to town

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #858: ‘When the Circus Comes to Town’ – Los Lobos

  1. Dana says:

    So when you first put on those headphones, you hadn’t read or heard about the critical praise being heaped on this album? Although such reviews are rarely on my radar screen, it was hard to escape hearing the raves about this album when it was released. And it’s one of those records that, based on the strong favorable response, I kept meaning to buy, but never did.

    But lookey here! A glance at my ITunes library shows that I somehow have it. Wonder how that happened.:) Guess I’ll have to take a listen! (Actually, I’ve already heard a few songs pop up randomly on the IPod and have found each one compelling).

  2. Clay says:

    I don’t recall reading any reviews of this album prior to hearing it at the store. In fact, I wonder in those pre- and early-internet days where I would have picked up on the buzz about new albums. Good old-fashioned print publications, I guess?

  3. Dana says:

    I think so. I may have been subscribing to Rolling Stone back then, but I also was generally aware of how well received the album was.

  4. Phil says:

    Great job on this website. I dig it. A lot of good stuff here.
    Do yourself a favor and pickup Will the Wolf Survive and By the Light of the Moon.
    Phil

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