15th November, 1986

One thing that tends to throw a lot of people off about Latin Pop is that we Anglophones don’t necessarily always get the flow of the stuff’s history. We usually know the US/UK history by heart (jazz to swing to rock & roll to soul to rock to disco to hip-hop to electronic to now) but the generational signifiers of Spanish-language pop, not to mention the immense variety of source musics (which tend to be blurred together by modern pop production) can be opaque to us.

All of this to say, that while in this José José may seem indistinguishable, production-wise, from Juan Gabriel or Emmanuel, his presence here is a bit like Tony Bennett showing up in the pop charts alongside Madonna and New Kids On The Block. A classically-trained vocalist, José Sosa (he added the other José in tribute to his father, a failed opera singer) began in the 1960s as a jazz and bossa nova singer who dreamed of following in the footsteps of Sinatra and Mathis, and you can hear a bit of that precise, carefully-controlled technique deployed here over the Casio presets and drum pads and cooing backup choir.

It’s a slight song, nevertheless, and would be in any arrangement: a standard lament about a woman making eyes at another guy. The catchy if irritatingly repetitive chorus translates as “And who can it be, it sure isn’t me/The one who has erased me from her heart?/And who can it be, it sure isn’t me/The one who could have given her more love?” It was written by a flamenco guitarist from Spain, Paco Cepero, and I’d like to hear a traditional flamenco arrangement of it; but Cepero apparently produced this record and threw the same tinny 80s production on it that we’ve had on everything else so far, without even Juan Gabriel’s sense of dramatic flair to enliven the proceedings.

José José was forty when this was released, which is one of the things that fascinates me about the Latin chart, especially this early on, that veterans of the 50s and 60s, like he and Rocío Dúrcal, were sitting there cheek by jowl with flashy superstars like Gabriel and pretty boys like Franco and Emmanuel. To anyone whose primary experience of pop has been driven by the American charts over the past twenty years, it’s a far more egalitarian, multigenerational affair — though the standard American pop chart was too, Dionne Warwick and Steve Winwood rubbing shoulders with Madonna and Janet Jackson in 1986. The extreme youthification of all pop is still in the future, and the Latin charts will be no exception. Let’s enjoy José José while we’ve still got him, is what I’m saying.

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