23rd January, 1988
Fifteen songs in, this song is only our third to feature a female vocalist. I don't know what your understanding of pop is, but mine is more or less predicated the female voice. Which is among the reasons that taking this travelogue has been both educational and challenging for me: I've had to patiently work out the differences between hearty male singers that I would otherwise instinctively dismiss as "all the same." But Ana Gabriel cannot possibly be mistaken for Daniela Romo or Rocío Dúrcal, and it's not only the timbre of her voice that sets her apart.
The immediate comparison I want to make with this song is to "Total Eclipse Of The Heart." There are obvious points of reference: the big, crashing production, the rock-operatic melody, and Gabriel's own raspy but perfectly controlled voice; but where Jim Steinman and Bonnie Tyler stretched out, luxuriating in an operatic running time (nearly seven minutes!) and setting several themes against each other, Gabriel remains a pop traditionalist, singing a spare three-minute-plus song as simplified and direct as the title (which translates to "oh love").
She wrote it herself; she sang it in the 1987 OTI Festival (the Latin Pop version of the Eurovision contest, which ran from 1972-2000) and won the chance to represent Mexico in the finals — it didn't win, but the song was a major hit in both Mexico and the U.S., tying with Daniela Romo's "De Mí Enamórate" for the longest time spent at the top of the Hot Latin chart yet (fourteen weeks) and not incidentally launching her as a major pop star in the Latin American market. (She remains the Mexican cantadora [female singer] with the highest ever international sales.)
And it's the sort of song which inspires that kind of response: not only does it sound big — we've had that before, from Romo and Julio Iglesias — it sounds unmistakably modern. The much-bemoaned-by-me thinness and plasticness of 80s Latin Pop is nowhere to be found here; this isn't just a ballad, it's a power ballad, and Gabriel sings it like a rock star. It made her one; and as Wikipedia puts it, she became a success in three separate fields: Rock En Español, Latin Pop, and Ranchera. She will appear in at least two of these guises again (and again) throughout this tale; but rarely sounding better (I'm going to guess) than she does here.
That scratchy, impassioned vocal style, in 1988 falling decidedly out of favor in Anglophone pop circles (Bonnie Tyler, Kim Carnes, and the 80s Tina Turner were about its last exponents in female pop, unless you count Marianne Faithfull's cult) would have a sizable impact on Latin Pop over the next decade; rock was not yet uncontroversial in many traditional communities, and while the most flamboyant inheritor of Ana Gabriel's technique will not be a part of our history (as of early 2010, anyway; you never know), this is an early loosening of the metaphorical tie.
The lyrics are more or less standard stuff; Gabriel was not yet one of the great poets of Latin Pop. (Will she ever be? Stay tuned.) The dramatic heft of the production isn't quite matched by a chorus that runs "Oh, love/I don't know what it is about your look/That day after day conquers me more and more." (Though it, uh, sounds better in Spanish.) But I do admire one line in the second verse: "Y busco entre mil cosas una que me hable de tí" ("and I search through a thousand things for one that speaks to me of you"), which is such a perfect encapsulation of a universal but very specific emotion that I have high hopes for Ana Gabriel's many return engagements on this stage.