A LITTLE RANT ABOUT “MY” MUSIC AND LIFE
I’ve loved music since I was 5 years old. I wasn’t born with the talent to play it, but I’m a devoted fan. I used to spend hours listening to my uncle’s Soviet- made short wave radio while sitting at my home porch, back in Cuba, my country of origin. During the day, I tried to tune in any radio station from the States where I could catch any current hit (all of this very cautiously and with the volume low enough since any extremist neighbor could ruin one’s life just for listening to American music only.) So, in the evenings, 99% of all Havana would tune in to the only official radio show that was allowed to mix all types of music, including American bands and singers with the rest of the music from all over the world. The show’s name: Nocturno. We would turn on our little radios, listen, and dream about life abroad, beyond the horizon, where life was better without restraints or political agendas.
In 1978, the government published a “Cancionero” or book of contemporary international songs with a few artists pictures we’ve never seen before. This “miracle” was thanks to a World Youth Festival being celebrated soon on the island where many young visitors would be coming in. I liked this little book so much that I began learning English by translating (or trying to) the lyrics of “Hotel California” and “Staying Alive” with a brick-like Larousse dictionary that was heavy as a rock. My first translation was a mumbo jumbo mixture of non sense expressions that left me puzzled but intrigued. I was 10 years old. Three years later, I would be able to translate a whole Beatles commemorative book with much better results. You see, if you translate rigidly, mechanically, like some computers do, and even using dictionary-provided words without paying attention to context or regular use, you will be lost and lose whoever reads your concocted creation.
Just like movies, music has proven to be an effective tool to improve, influence and soothe one’s life. As an adult I read a book titled The Tao of Music-Sound Psychology (Using Music to Change Your Life) by Psychologist and Multi-Instrumentalist Dr. John Ortiz. As a music player and lover in his counseling career experience, Dr. Ortiz has encountered many different circumstances where applying music therapy has been crucial to help people in distress. In this book, that I use frequently, he provides playlists suggestions, information about different meditation techniques and examples of situations where music can make the difference. One of his suggestions imply to listen to music of various genres, rhythms and languages.
With that in mind, I began to wonder how many people out there share the same experiences with music while growing up; how many of you were enthralled by its magic; how many are now tired of listening to the same tunes over and over again. Do you feel yearning to listen to something “new” and good, to real music with real musicians and real musical instruments and not canned noise?
For me, good music has no expiration date. Period. Some people brand music as “old” or “new”, “in” or “out”. I ask, who makes those rules that say what you must listen to? Society? The music executives? The media? In today’s world we don’t depend anymore on radio stations and television shows where they feed us their own chosen music diet regimes. Now we can have access to all the music in the world, all the time, from all the decades past, and today’s. In a tiny device we can store and carry with us everywhere, thousands of songs. It’s up to us now to leave our “musical villages” and explore the universe beyond our horizons.
I’m proposing a musical journey. Let’s travel and explore the songs you have never heard, even if they are not in your mother tongue. I’ll be your guide if that’s o.k. with you. You can also travel on your own. Although I’ll be focusing on music that has been my treasure since young, if I find any current music worth listening to…I’ll give it a try…promise. Let’s open our minds and ears to music from Spain, Italy, Japan, Brazil, and many other countries. But before we embark, let me apologize profusely for not providing links to YouTube videos. I will provide you, however, with the best information about the songs and artists you will look up in Google or YouTube if they intrigue you and interest you enough. Just as I have, you will enjoy and create your own playlists of songs not found anywhere else.
So, put on your imaginary seat belt, get comfortable, and let’s fly away to our first destination:
The Beatles were influential all over the world, but thanks to England’s proximity to Spain and the group’s brief visit in 1965, the Spaniards adopted their enthusiasm, musical trends, evolution, and improvements to modern sounds and began to create great music in the process that would spread all over Latin America and some even echoed in non- Spanish speaking countries as well.
For instance, the 1960’s produced a lot of great bands and singers in Spain, but in 1973 a Gypsy-Rock musical duo hit the spotlight in a way still unmatched by any following act in this style: Las Grecas. Sisters Carmela and Edelina Munoz sang their hearts out with their first successful song: “Te Estoy Amando Locamente” (I’m Crazily Loving You) which reportedly sold 500,000 copies. Their voices, the rhythm, the fusion of gypsy-flamenco-rock, but mostly the band players, were strikingly good. The lead guitarist (unknown) and the drum player (also unknown) are ones of the best. Pay attention to both instruments solos in this song and the rhythmic variations in the following songs: “Orgullo”(Pride), and “Asi, Asi” (This Way, This Way). Remember “Eleanor” by The Turtles? Listen to Las Grecas‘ cover: “Soy La Que Sufre Por Tu Amor” (I’m The One Who Suffers For Your Love).
From the high-pitched voices of Las Grecas, now let’s listen to Mocedades. Also a hit-maker group in 1973, they won the Eurovision song contest with a song you might have heard in some easy-listening Anglo radio stations: “Eres Tu” ( You Are) a Let it Be sounding- like- bluesy -ballad that highlighted lead singer Amaya Uranga’s sweet and versatile voice, one of the best I’ve heard in my life. Check out these songs: “Los Amantes” (The Lovers), “El Vendedor” (The Salesman), “El Color de Tu Mirada” (The Color of Your Look) where The Beatles’ harmonic influences are undeniable.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, singers with powerful voices were highly esteemed in Spain, Italy, and Latin America. In Spain, Nino Bravo left a mark still standing today. He died tragically in a car accident just when people were getting to know a few of the great songs he had recorded. With his unfaltering potent voice, Nino could have given singing lessons to Andrea Bocelli. Here is what I mean: “America”, “Puerta Del Amor” (Door of Love), “Elizabeth”, “Te Acuerdas Maria” (Remember, Maria), “Cartas Amarillas” (Yellow Letters) and many others I leave for you to discover.
Then, there’s Raphael. Another powerful voice. His ballads are almost impossible to cover, just like Nino‘s. “Yo Soy Aquel” (I Am That One), “Cuando Tu No Estas” (When You’re Not Here), “Que Sabe Nadie” (Nobody Knows), “Desde Aquel Dia” (Since That Day), “Hablemos Del Amor” (Let’s Talk About Love).
The same applies to singers Dyango with his songs: “Eramos” (We Were) and “Ausencia” (Absence) and Camilo Sesto with “Algo de Mi” (Something of Me) and “Vivir Asi” (To Live This Way).
Two more notable mentions in this category of powerful voices: Juan Camacho‘s one hit wonder: “A Ti, Mujer” (To You, Woman) and Miguel Gallardo’s “Hoy Tengo Ganas De Ti” (Today I Have Desires Of You). Notice the resemblance of the guitar solo to Hotel California‘s.
Let’s take a break and before diving into the pop-rock groups, let’s listen to several emblematic beautiful female voices:
One of the most beloved entertainers in Spain was Lola Flores. Her daughters, Lolita (the ita or ito termination in Spanish is the diminutive for something or someone small or as a way to show affection. Example: Mi abuelita (my dear grandma), or mi carrito (my little car)) and Rosario Flores have delighted many with their unique voices and gypsy like melodies. Lolita’s “No Renunciare”(I Won’t Renounce) and Rosario’s “El Meneito” (The Little Move) are good samples to begin to know these talented singers.
Rocio Durcal‘s “Amor Eterno” (Eternal Love), a song authored by Mexico’s Juan Gabriel is about the love we have for our mothers when they are no longer with us. Cecilia‘s “Desde Que Tu Te Has Ido” (Since You Have Left), another beautiful voice similar to Karen Carpenter‘s and who like her, also left us too soon. Rocio Jurado, the lady with a powerful voice who was called “The Lady Of Song” by the media, and had many terrific ballads with great orchestral arrangements and witty compositions by songwriter Manuel Alejandro, one of Spain’s finest. Some of them: “Mi Amante Amigo” (My Lover Friend) “Como Una Ola” (Like A Wave), “Senora” (Lady), “Se Nos Rompio El Amor” (Our Love Got Broken). Isabel Pantoja, a courageous singer who grieved her husband tragic death (he was a “bullfighter”) with some of the best songs ever tailored by any author to go through this difficult mourning period (the songs were mainly authored by Jose Luis Perales). Listen to “Marinero de Luces” (Sailor of Lights) and “Pensando en Ti” (Thinking Of You).
SPAIN’S BEST POP/ROCK GROUPS
Just like in America and the U.K., after The Beatles shocked the music world with their energy and high up-tempo tunes, many groups appeared in Spain trying to emulate or reproduce the same formula for success. We know now that imitation is not enough, but then almost everyone jumped on the wagon trying to cash in. Some did good, others not so much. Here are the ones that did great, but you may never have heard of them:
*Los Brincos. The main force behind this group were Juan Pardo and Antonio ‘Junior’ Morales, the lead singers. While their sounds imitated The Beatles‘ (listen to “Tu Me Dijiste Adios” (You Said Goodbye to Me), their compositions were successfully original. So much so, that they went solo as the hit-makers duet Juan y Junior and conquered their country and Latin America with songs: “Tus Ojos” (Your Eyes), “Andurina”, “Lo Que El Viento Se Llevo” (What the Wind Blew Away) among others. Juan Pardo, after going solo himself, recorded one of my favorite countryish sounding songs ever: “Mi Guitarra” (My Guitar).
*Formula V (spelled Formula Quinta=Fifth). I can’t deny this is my favorite band. They have a vast repertoire of up-tempo pop melodies, great ballads, and a distinctive lead singer: Paco Pastor. Samples: “Corazon Solitario” (Lonely Heart), “Dime Amor” (Tell Me, Love) notice the South American fusion by adding a charango (a ukulele like guitar) just like The Beatles introduced the Indian sitar into their music. Also, “Carolina”, “Cuentame” (Tell Me), “Feria” (Fair), “Solo Sin Ti” (Alone Without You), “La Carta” (The Letter), among many others.
*Los Mustang. Supposedly, the only group The Beatles authorized to sing their songs in Spanish. Some were very close covers to the originals, others not so much. Usually there was plenty lost in translation, but good was enough. Here are the ones I like: “Conocerte Mejor” (I Should Have Known Better), “Sargento Pepper” (no translation needed!), “El Ritmo Del Silencio” (The Sounds of Silence) this one from Simon and Garfunkel‘s catalog. Although they were “specialists” in translations to Spanish, two of their last hits were not translations: “Copacabana” and “Vivir en Bahia” (To Live in Bahia) which I enjoy very much.
*Los Bravos. You probably have heard their hit “Black is Black”, but they had other few you’ve never had the chance to listen to: “La Moto” (The Motorcycle), “El Loco Soy Yo” (The Mad Man I Am), “Te Quiero Asi” (I Love You So) and “People Are Talking”.
*Barrabbas. This band recorded in English with Santana as a major influence. Two hit wonders: “Wild Safari” and “Hi Jack”.
Before we change our route in this journey, some notable mentions: Los Puntos and their Arabic influenced song: “Llorando Por Granada” (Crying For Granada), Los Mitos‘ “Mirame” (Look At Me) Los Angeles‘ “Abre Tu Ventana” (Open Your Window), “Momentos” (Moments), Los Payos‘ “La Paz, El Cielo y Las Estrellas“(The Peace, The Sky, and The Stars), and Los Pop Tops who recorded their one hit wonder in English and Spanish: “Mamy Blue” (Phil Trim, what a vocalist, what a waste of follow-up songs).
And now to conclude our journey through the music from Spain, let’s look at its:
*Julio Iglesias. Worldwide known famous father of Enrique, you probably have heard his version in the 1980’s of Albert Hammond‘s “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before” with Willie Nelson. However, Julio began his career in the late 1960’s because of a car accident that left him almost paralyzed, unable to continue as a gate keeper in Real Madrid, his soccer team. He re-invented himself after an arduous recovery and hit it big with “La Vida Sigue Igual” (Life Goes On) which later became a movie about his life, catapulting him into fame and fortune. He became one of the most known Spaniard singers ever with huge stadium concerts, several language versions of his most beloved songs, etc. Here are some of the best: “Me Olvide de Vivir” (I Forgot To Live), “Manuela”, “Tropeze de Nuevo Con La Misma Piedra” (I Stumbled Again Over The Same Stone), “33 Anos” (33 Years), and “Spanish Girl”.
*Joan Manuel Serrat. This Catalan balladeer could be easyly called the Spaniard Bob Dylan. Although at first, his style resembled and was confused with Julio Iglesias‘, soon the differences were obvious. Serrat’s deeper voice and subjects in his lyrics were poetry difficult to compete with. In “Que Va A Ser De Ti” (What’ll Become of You) he adressed the same subject as The Beatles in” She’s Leaving Home”, praised his birth region in “Mediterraneo” (Mediterranean), recalled a lost love in “Lucia“, ventured in waltz in “Tio Alberto” (Uncle Alberto), and inspired in “Poema de Amor” (Love Poem), and “Aquellas Pequeñas Cosas” (Those Little Things). His melodies were simple and mainly played with basic musicians: guitars, piano, some clarinets and strings, almost no percussion.
*Jose Luis Perales. Prolific songwriter and singer, Jose Luis deep emotional creations have given us a lovely selection of tunes excellent to relax and drink our best wine next to our loved one or while enjoying our favorite book. His songs deal with growing up, growing apart, recalling old friends and lovers, watching your kids leave home, wondering about if what he sang reached people’s hearts. Here are my favorites: “Un Velero Llamado Libertad” ( A Sailboat Named Freedom), “Podre Olvidar” (I Might Forget), “Un Dia Mas” (One More Day), “Tu Como Yo” (You, Like Me), “Cancion de Otono” (Autumn Song).
Notable mention: Luis Gardey‘s “El Amor Es Libre” (Love Is Free) and “Somos Tu y Yo” (We Are You And I), two of the most beautiful and meaningful songs ever written.
I hope you have enjoyed as much as I, this imaginary trip. Thanks for coming along. May you find the benefits of exploring and listening to music you usually don’t listen to. May these melodies bring you joy or help you through hard times. May this music heal you and enrich your life. Let’s say farewell to Spain and its wonderful music with Paco de Lucia‘s “Entre Dos Aguas” (Between Two Waters).