Tracing the contours of the #1 Hot Latin songs throughout the year, I'm starting to see a pattern emerge: the summer and early fall contain upbeat songs, songs for dancing, for public display, and even when they're talking about lost love they do it with a smile. But as the nights grow longer and the air colder — even in Miami and Los Angeles, where a significant portion of the Hot Latin audience resides — the songs grow more reflective, more poetic, more in line with the long tradition of Spanish love poetry and song. And the singers grow older, more traditional too.
The Dominican-born Angela Carrasco's boom years were the 1970s, and here she assumes the confidence of a pop survivor, taking a witchy, gothic synth cathedral of an intro (it sounds a bit like a slightly cheaper take on the Siouxise of five years previous) and singing instead in a Diana Ross purr over a light synth tango rhythm.
That hint of tango — the Argentinean dance-music-turned-art-song that is global Latin culture's strongest riposte to American jazz — serves to locate this song in a specific tradition going back much further than anything we've come across yet. It comes on like a less-ironical "Love For Sale" from the opening line: "Vendo una boca rosa, ¿quién me la puede pagar?" (I sell a pink mouth; who can buy it?). We are in the eternal twilit, noir-shot underworld of tango song peopled by romantic pimps, sarcastic prostitutes and "hombres necios" (foolish men) who fall into the "trampas hechas de labios" (traps made of lips) among whom only Cole Porter and Kurt Weill, of all the major songwriters in the American tradition, would walk easily.
But of course it is still 1988, and it is still the top reaches of the Hot Latin chart, and so there is a nagging synth hook that owes more to mariachi horn lines than to tango bandoneones, and if a disco remix is more easily imaginable than a faithful tango reading, that may be due more to Carrasco's kittenish mock-sultry performance than to the structure of the written song. Except via self-conscious revivalism, tango can only be glimpsed through the distorting lens of modern pop, which (as with the way swing informed 80s R&B) is how it should be.