4th July, 1992
The beat drops, a beat coiled and springy like new jack swing, cool and dusty like trip-hop, and we have arrived. This is Modern Music (mk. 1992), as up-to-the-minute and of-its-time as music ever is, and we have entered a new phase in our journey, almost audibly leveling up (as they say in gaming) into a world where the rules of combat and cheat codes are slightly different even if the basic contour maps remain the same.
And another entry in my increasingly-specific list of firsts is born: this song marks the first time I knew and liked a song on this list at the time, and listened to the radio specifically for it, and knew the words and sometimes sang along if I was sure no one was around to hear. I lived in Guatemala, but it was the English-language version I knew best; though I knew "Otro Día Más" well enough to run the two side-by-side in my head and compare the translation. Secada's bilingual songs, by the way, were as precisely accurate in translation as I've ever seen; unlike Gloria Estefan, he stayed on-message regardless of language.
And here also is where I run up against one of the first barriers of memory and experience between myself and my possible? potential? anyone-out-there? readers. Because I know "Just Another Day (Without You)"/"Otro Día Más Sin Verte" as one of the big, all-encompassing, signature hits of the early 1990s; maybe not quite in the league of "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" or "Losing My Religion," but also not far behind. But I have no idea whether English-language listeners, whether they were there for the early 90s or not, have similar associations with the song. Was Secada confined to the Latin Pop ghetto, or did he cross over? Was he stuck in adult-contemporary purgatory, or did people dance when they heard him? There's only so much that Wikipedia can tell you.
I don't know. But in the context of this list, this travelogue as I've been calling it with rueful hyperbole, it's a sea change. Secada most definitely does not sound like Luis Miguel or Julio Iglesias or Juan Gabriel, the three biggest male stars we've had up to this point — he sounds not Spanish or Mexican, but American, which is to say black. (Well, he sounds Cuban, which is what his parents were; but if you know your ethnographic history, that's just another way of saying black.) The laid-back club beat, the soulful, extemporaneous voice which rides it comfortably, the way he sings in the back of his throat like an r&b singer instead of clear and from his chest like a ballad crooner — after the last sixty entries, it's like hearing Sam Cooke when all your life you've known nothing but Perry Como.
I don't want to oversell this; it's obviously still a very conventional adult-contemporary ballad, perhaps not all that different from what Michael Bolton and Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart were peddling around the same time, but the springy beat and the Cuban floridity of expression hold it in good stead. I can't possibly be objective about it, and I don't want to be; it's one of the signature songs of my youth, and even if I haven't heard it for fifteen years I still know its every detail with the intimacy of early love.