Salsa recordings that should be in your collection
Occasionally, I’d like to review classic salsa recordings that I think should be in everyone’s collection. Luckily, many of these are now on CD or are downloadable from all the usual places. So if you aren’t into vinyl, no problem.
Dance Mania (Vol. 1)
Tito Puente left us more than 100 recordings, and everyone has his or her favorite. Without a doubt, mine is Dance Mania. This is Tito Puente at his best. Strong arrangements, the uncanny vocal stylings of Santitos Colón, and the musicianship of people like Ray Barretto, Julio Collazo, Bobby Rodríguez and many, many others make this a legendary recording. It is jam-packed with tunes that have stood the test of time. “El cayuco,” “Complicación,” “Mambo gozón,” “Mi chiquita quiere bembé,” “Saca tu mujer”—well, quite frankly, every track—still inspires dancers. If you’ve not heard this recording, get it. Of course, I still treasure my vinyl copy.
(West Side Latino, 1973)
I spent many years looking for this record and once had the opportunity to buy it for $80. I was sorely tempted, but my pocketbook was weak. Imagine my delight when it was finally released on CD! The song I longed to own was “Tocoloro,” a son montuno and composition by Arsenio Rodríguez that I dreamed of playing over and over again. The song haunted me for years. However, there are other great tracks including “Feo como el oso.” You may recall that Ramírez had a hit in 1987 with a song titled “Feo pero sabroso.” Well, that was a follow-up to the original 1973 tune.
So in love with Cuban music is pianist Larry Harlow that he calls himself a “Jew-ban.” As a result, this key member of the original Fania All-Stars, expressed his respect to the legendary Cuban composer and tresero, Arsensio Rodríguez, with one of his most classic recordings, Salsa. And it has stood the test of time. Surely, you’ve danced to “La cartera”—if not to his version, then to one of countless covers. But so many of the tunes are haunting and explain why Rodríguez’s music laid the foundation for today’s salsa sound. While not all of the tunes are by Rodríguez, you still get the idea of his sound.
Punto y Aparte
(UA Latino, 1971)
There’s something about the voice and delivery of Ismael Quintana that tickles an itch in me. I think he’s been much overlooked in the pantheon of great soneros. This album is one of my favorites because it captures everything that attracts me to Quintana. It was recorded shortly after he left Eddie Palmieri’s band, La Perfecta. He would also tour with the Fania All-Stars. The tracks that give me goose bumps are the son montunos “Kum kum kum,” with its 70s reverb, which you can hear on YouTube, and especially “Camina Maria que me fascina.” This last one will take you places with its killer arrangement and piano solos by Javier Vásquez. Give it a listen too on YouTube.
This album was a big hit when it came out because it was sophisticated, hot and approachable all at the same time. And it delivered some tunes that became dance hits. It opened with “El hijo de Obatalá” that set the stage for the seven tracks that followed. “El diablo” won you over with its diabolical vocals, “El llanto de cocodrilo” with its clever lyrics, “Ay, no” with its coyness, and “Indestructible” for its tour d’ force delivery that pretty much defined Barretto’s strength. But then, how could he go wrong with sidemen like Tito Allen on vocals, Artie Webb on flute, Edy Marteinez on piano, etc., etc., etc.
Johnny Pacheco and Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez
This was a great time for salsa; so much great music was coming out of New York. Of course, the Fania label had a virtual monopoly on the New York City-style salsa that was all the rage. Johnny Pacheco, the Dominican bandleader and flutist, was one of the label’s top recording artists and at his best when he teamed up with the great sonero Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez. Right out of the gate, you are hit with the top track “Dulce con dulce” that immediately takes you back to the 70s. But the whole album delivers with other tunes like “Moreno” y “Soy lo mejor.” This is but one of Johnny Pacheco’s recordings you should have.