2nd October, 1999


I've been saying for some time that "Bailamos" and "Livin' La Vida Loca" were the entirety of the "Latin Invasion" that was more hyped than actual in the summer of 1999. I had forgotten about "I Need to Know," the first of Marc Anthony's two major English-language hits around the turn of the millennium. (And, of course, Jennifer Lopez was also having her first hits, and though neither "If You Had My Love" nor "Waiting for Tonight" featured any particularly Latin sounds or Spanish lyrics she would have been lumped in as well.) I can only offer by way of excuse that I was not particularly paying attention in 1999, and that "I Need to Know" has not stuck around with the tenacity of either Ricky's or Enrique's hits.

What interests me more is that "Dímelo" is the second appearance in a row of a phenomenon that, until now, has in this travelogue been confined entirely to Gloria Estefan and Jon Secada: the simultaneous release of a song in both English- and Spanish-language versions. From the vantage point of nearly two decades later, this can be understood as a mark of the music industry's turn-of-the-millennium strength or, if you like, hubris. Why not maximize profits by selling the same product to two distinct markets, and build a new generation of doubly profitable stars at the same time?

But while English-language audiences are often happy to jump on an uptempo bandwagon, they're less willing to stick around for the history lesson that earnestly respectful stars like Marc Anthony want to provide. Probably a lot of people who danced to "I Need to Know" in the second half of 1999 thought they were dancing to salsa, but the opening violin figure is very clear: it's actually a tango. (Well, really, once the cowbell gets going it's a slick, sweaty 4/4 dance song, but tango rhythms are more persistent than the mambo rhythms that define salsa.) When Marc Anthony got back to singing real salsa, it was not so well-attended.

But we'll be able to trace what happens to his dual-language career as this travelogue continues. For now, the song's the thing, and it's a great song in either English or Spanish, one of the magical pop songs of 1999, the immediately premillennial party year that seemed to respond to Prince's 1982 invocation of it by trying to create a soundtrack to utopia (or doom) worthy of the simile. Tango is, of course, a great soundtrack to romantic paranoia and obsession, the most noir of the classic Latin musics, and Anthony's performance is all needy, reckless assertiveness, demanding to know whether it's true that his beloved loves him, with such over-the-top intensity (he's dying for her love, his desire won't let him live) that any reasonable lover would be scared away. But in the heightened, cowbell-frenzied world of the song that intensity is just an emotional match for the rhythmic thrust and whirl of the music.

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