20th December, 1986

This is an epochal moment in Hot Latin history: the first time that a song associated with a telenovela has topped the chart. The telenovela in question, El Camino Secreto, starred Daniela Romo in her breakout role as — well, the details hardly matter. I haven't seen it and neither have you (unless you have, in which case feel free to enlighten us all), but word on the Internet is that El Camino Secreto (lit. "the secret road") was extraordinarily popular as 1986 came to a close, and made Romo a star.

She had been a jobbing Mexican pop singer since the late 70s (her biggest influence was apparently Rocío Dúrcal, to bring our abbreviated version of 1986 full circle), and had had the occasional hit, but it was this song, this telenovela, and this album, "Mujer De Todos, Mujer De Nadie" ("everybody's woman, nobody's woman"), which, coming all together at once and reinforcing each other with a consistent vision of a woman in love aching for the object of her love to turn to her, created a potent pop symbolism around Romo, which she parlayed into long-term balladic success in the decade to come.

Her own biography reads a bit like the plot of a telenovela: the poor-but-beautiful daughter of unmarried parents, raised by her grandmother on the mean streets of Mexico City, idolizing a famous Spanish singer/actress, and slowly, agonizingly, achieving her dream of being a famous singer/actress herself. "De Mí Enamórate" ("fall in love with me") represents the happy finale of the story, in which the biggest pop star in the Latin universe, Juan Gabriel, presents her with a suitably dramatic song to sing over the credits of her very own telenovela.

Of the six songs which topped the Billboard Latin charts in 1986, half were written by Juan Gabriel; and this might be the best of them. Romo's ability to switch from the delicate sigh of the verses to the all-out foghorn of the chorus, then chirp the dancy post-chorus breakdown ties the frankly schizophrenic arrangement together. Structurally, it's not very different from "Yo No Sé Qué Me Pasó" — two verses, a superlong chorus, then repeat the second verse and the chorus, and fade, but Gabriel's instinct for flamboyant dramatics comes alive in the stunning three-octave climb which opens the chorus. In pop terms, it's a "defining moment," like the pause in Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" before she comes crashing in again with "AND IIIIIEEIIII, etc." Much as producers salivate over such moments, they're vanishingly rare in practice — so it's no surprise that Romo's performance set a standard for the Hot Latin charts which is still difficult to match; she was the first performer to spend fourteen weeks on top, and this song is still tied for sixth place in the length of its stay at number one.

Lyrically, it retains Gabriel's (and, let's be frank, Mexican pop's) tendency towards flamboyant all-or-nothing statements. The repeated verse translates: "Since I saw you/I've lost my identity/In my head lives/Only you and no one else/And it hurts me to think/That you will never be mine/Fall in love with me." The enormous shift of the chorus, though, functions as a counterweight: the lyrics move into the future tense, and she dreams of the epic perfection that mutual love will be. The majestic, soundtracky sweep of the chorus works for lines like "The day you love me I will be happy/And with pure love I will protect you/It will be an honor to dedicate myself to you/As God desires." The post-chorus breakdown, with its funky synth drops, only repeats the sentiment in an easy glide: "When you fall in love/With my love/I will at last/See the light for once."

It's that funky, cheery breakdown that sticks in the head, rather than the bombastic swell of the chorus. Perfect for a credits sequence easing us into the action. Y aquí viene Gabriela y su amor David; ¿cómo se harán este semana? . . .

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