15th January, 2000

For a gringo (like me, not long ago) who thinks all Mexican regional music sounds the same, it would be tempting to assume that this is the first flowering of banda, which will, if not dominate, at least punctuate the Hot Latin #1s in the coming decade. But Pemo González' saxophone is, while unusual in a norteño conjunto (at least outside of Chihuahua), not definitive: the real giveaway that this isn't banda is that the bass is electric, not a tuba. "Te Quiero Mucho" is instead one of the periodic appearances of norteño, and Los Rieleros are only slightly less venerable than Los Tigres in 2000. Formed in Chihuahua in the 80s by men who used to work on railroads (thus the name), they've primarily operated out of Texas since hitting the big time in the 90s.

González' saxophone and Daniel Esquivel's accordion are as unified in the melodic thrust of the song as Thin Lizzy's dual guitars, and the pulsing bass and skittish drums set up a granite-steady beat against which Esquivel's rather fruity voice, alternately simpering and soaring, can deliver a simple declaration: the title means "I love you very much," and with that as a starting place, there are no surprises to be found in the lyrics. But while sobbing passion is a standard device in classic Mexican regional music (think of Juan Gabriel's florid rancheras), norteño singers tend to play their emotions closer to the vest, as befits a desert music.

But why did this song hit #1, two decades into their career, smack in the midst of all these younger, internationally-oriented, pop-native singers? No idea. One of the happy accidents of a heterogenous pop market -- and a pop statistical model that allows for subtle shifts in taste and disparate listening bases to make their presences felt. There's a decade and more of that to come, before the end of all things.

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