Many of us studied Spanish back in the day, and learned to point to Madrid as the capital of the nation and how to ask for the check at a restaurant or directions to the train station.
But we never heard a word about the fascist government that ruled the nation with the proverbial iron fist, with an estimated 40,000 people being killed by forces loyal to "His Excellency" Generalísimo Francisco Franco, who suppressed all dissent, sending his opposition to death in concentration camps.
Gee whiz! We didn't hear anything about this, and I'll bet most Americans didn't know who was in charge over there until Franco died in 1975 and Chevy Chase announced the news on SNL's "Weekend Update" and then continued the gag by announcing, week after week, that "Generalísimo Francisco Franco is still dead!"
Richard Nixon, who had just vacated the US presidency 15 months earlier, apparently didn't know much about the old Generalísimo, because he went on record with this statement: "General Franco was a loyal friend and ally of the United States. He earned worldwide respect for Spain through firmness and fairness."
Except for those 40,000 dead people, but whatevs. You would think that Nixon, a naval officer himself during World War II, would have remembered Franco making Spanish ports available to German and Italian naval vessels.
Until his death, Franco employed four censors at the Directorate of Popular Culture in Madrid. They had to listen to all the records that came along (and watch all the movies, and read all the books) to make sure that no Spaniard saw anything with sexual, blasphemous or politically subversive content. They wound up banning, or at least partially censoring, 4,343 songs.
One of which is one of my favorite Beatle songs! The Ballad of John and Yoko irritated His Excellency for reasons we'll get into a minute, but let me get all Casey Kasem on you for a minute.
The record label of "The Ballad of John and Yoko" credited it to The Beatles, but only John Lennon and Paul McCartney were involved in cutting the song on April 14, 1969. George was off doing his Maharishi thing, and I believe Ringo was making a Peter Sellers movie, so when Lennon wrote the song about his and Yoko's troubles getting married and demonstrating for peace, he called Paul and they recorded it themselves, with John on guitars and Paul on bass, piano, maracas and drums!
Two lines from the lyrics have always held my interest: "Caught the early plane back to London, fifty acorns tied in a sack" refers to John and Yoko distributing acorns to as many people as they could find, hoping to have them plant trees for the cause of peace. One wonders if any of those trees survived, or if any of the hopes of peace did.
and "Peter Brown called to say, you can make it O.K, you can get married in Gibraltar near Spain..." Peter Brown was one of the men on the Beatles' business team, and he arranged for the wedding to take place in Gibraltar, which was, at the time, a British protectorate, which Franco bitterly contested.
So he made the record company remove the offensive words "Gibraltar near Spain" from the record.
And now you know the rest of the story. Franco is still dead as a doornail. But one last tidbit: at the end of "Ballad of John and Yoko," John threw in a little fancy Spanish flamenco guitar hook, a nod to his playing on the Beatles' version of "Lonesome Tears in My Eyes," an old Johnny Burnette song from early Beatle days.