19th November, 1988

Although you can't tell just by looking (or listening), this is the first Hot Latin #1 by a pop star who usually sings in another language. (Los Lobos don't count because they were never pop stars, just a rock & roll band with a lucky hit.) Roberto Carlos is Brazilian, and his long, hit-filled career has mostly been in Portuguese, with occasional side trips to the Spanish-language market, as though just to prove he could. He's the kind of silky-voiced ballad singer that is much more successful in Romance languages than in English, with this song in particular sounding as much like French chanson as Latin romántica.

("Romántica," I should point out, is the catch-all marketing term for much of the music we've been seeing and will continue to see on this journey: modern Latin ballads, generally with only a hint of any originating local or national tradition. For example, mariachi singers can also sing romántica, but they don't sound very mariachi when doing it.)

"Si El Amor Se Va" translates as "When Love Goes Away," and the lyric is more or less a high romantic list of all the terrible consequences of love’s disappearance — "faltan los detalles/Y en las mismas calles/Nada es igual" (the details fade, and in the same streets, nothing is the same). And then the key changes, and he sings "Pero cuando está" ("but when it's here"), followed another list of the happy changes when love returns. "Vuelve la confianza/Nace la esperanza/Todo es especial" (trust returns, hope is born, everything is special). It's very much the sort of thing that could have been sung a hundred years ago in the streets of Madrid, or Lisbon, or Paris, or Rio de Janeiro at that, and the production takes the hint and sounds very like what hymns recorded in the 80s sounded like.

Or country songs — there's something very period George Jones about the way the stark opening, just Carlos' voice over cheap synth chords, builds and builds as new elements are introduced, ending with a lighters-up singalong choir. Which may be a reminder that neither country nor Latin pop are as far from hymnody as many Anglophone pop fans would like.

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