1972 Was The Most Badass Year In Latin Music: 11 Essential Albums From Willie Colón, Celia Cruz, Juan Gabriel & Others
Tito Puente and Celia CRUZ perform in the mid-1970s.

Photo: Richard E. Aaron/Redferns


1972 Was The Most Badass Year In Latin Music: 11 Essential Albums From Willie Colón, Celia Cruz, Juan Gabriel & Others

From salsa to psychedelia, Latin musicians around the world were experimenting in 1972. These 11 albums show the breadth of the year's musical creativity — and why, 50 years on, the sounds of '72 remain classic.

GRAMMYs/Jul 7, 2022 - 02:35 pm

A pivotal year in Latin music, 1972 signified a coming-of-age. Latin music, at large, was expressing a desire to grow into something more meaningful and transcendent.

As always, Latin American countries fell under the spell of everything musical that was happening in England and the U.S. at the time: the eye-opening ambition of progressive rock, the healing fever of funk, the earnest instrumental virtuosity of jazz fusion. Perhaps reflecting a culture where individuality was so cherished, many Latin musicians absorbed the foreign sounds and ran with them into surprising, unexpected directions.

In New York and Puerto Rico, salsa became pluralistic and progressive. In Brazil, the military government’s invasive censorship only managed to sharpen artistic creativity instead of stifling it. From Argentina to Colombia and Mexico, rock delved into a singular strain of poetic symbolism, psychedelia and the adoption of a desired childlike innocence as a reaction to the stalemate of industrialized society.

Fifty years later, here are 11 essential Latin albums to treasure:

Milton Nascimento & Lô Borges - Clube da Esquina

A visionary singer/songwriter, Milton Nascimento emerged from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais armed with an instinctive understanding of Afro idioms and a wide-eyed reverence to the Beatles.

Clube da Esquina signaled a before-and-after for Brazilian culture. Conceptualized by an artistic collective that also included songwriter Lô Borges and a prodigious team of musicians and lyricists, the double-LP veers effortlessly from the sweet psychedelia of “Um Girassol Da Cor Do Seu Cabelo” to the country-pop nostalgia of “Paisagem da Janela” and the hymn-like fervor of “San Vicente.” The club reconvened for a second (and equally inspired)  installment in 1978. 

Tito Puente & Celia Cruz - Algo Especial Para Recordar

Until the end of her life, Cuban diva Celia Cruz never understood why the series of sessions she recorded with Nuyorican bandleader Tito Puente between the late ‘60s and early ‘70s received little to no promotion. The duo made an attempt to update its sound to compete for the attention of young, rock-obsessed listeners — to no avail.

Their last collaboration during that specific time, Algo Especial Para Recordar boasts a punchy, adrenaline-fueled sound, as Puente selects trusted nuggets from Celia’s catalog (“Tatalibabá,” “Cao Cao Maní Picao”) and demonstrates what a fantastic arranger he was. Even the bolero “Extraño Amor” is electrifying. Not surprisingly, this evergreen classic is still cherished by collectors. 

Sui Generis - Vida

Ah, the innocence. South America fell head over heels in love with the Beatles and the Stones, folk-rock and the blues, and an entire generation of long-haired idealists decided to pick up guitars and record their own protest anthems — en español.

South American rock was stretching and expanding in 1972, and Sui Generis — led by Argentina’s resident genius Charly García — was one of its first supergroups (its career would end abruptly three years later with two massive shows at Buenos Aires’ Luna Park and a double live album.) This luminous debut is a historical artifact, and while the singalong naiveté of “Necesito” sounds a bit peculiar 50 years later, a track like opening gem “Canción para mi muerte” is melancholy and haunting. 

Willie Colón & Héctor Lavoe - El Juicio

An intriguing paradox defines the salsa albums that Nuyorican trombonist, producer and songwriter Willie Colón recorded during the first half of the ‘70s with boricua singer Héctor Lavoe. On the one hand, tropical jams like “Piraña” and “Aguanile” brim with the kind of trombone-fueled intensity that makes them ideal for the dancefloor.

At the same time, these timeless classics are imbued in darkly-hued humor and a cosmovision that’s almost disturbing in its fatalism. The songs are fantastic and Lavoe’s dense, soulful, tragic vocalizing  is unforgettable. Lavoe died in 1993, at 46.  

Novos Baianos - Acabou Chorare

The soundscapes of bossa nova are gorgeous, but the movement’s obsession with its own sadness can get a bit tiring at times. With that in mind, the young group Novos Baianos used their second album (which translates to “Enough Crying) as an excuse to celebrate the more joyful aspects of Brazilian folk.

The result is an exhilarating collection that delves into samba-rock with panache and electric guitars, anchored on the gorgeous vocal interplay of Moraes Moreira, Paulinho Boca de Cantor and the lovely Baby Consuelo (whose post-Novos Baianos solo work is worth seeking out). Opening track “Brasil Pandeiro” sums up everything that is wondrous about Brazilian music — the effortless bonhomie, the percolating syncopation. No wonder it was named the country’s greatest album of all time in a 2007 poll conducted by the local edition of Rolling Stone magazine.  

Fania All Stars: Live at the Cheetah, Vol. 1

No album has managed to capture the New York salsa explosion in all its glorious combustion — but this is as close as it gets.

Recorded live at the Cheetah Lounge in New York with a spectacular orchestra at the top of its game — every single artist, a star in their own right — Live at the Cheetah is the first installment of a two-volume epic. The album includes an explosive version of Cheo Feliciano’s “Anacaona” with Larry Harlow on piano and a simmering “Descarga Fania” with Ray Barretto vocalist Adalberto Santiago. Cheo and Adalberto are joined by Héctor Lavoe, Pete ‘El Conde’ Rodríguez, Ismael Miranda and veteran singer Santos Colón on the 16 minute-long “Quítate Tú,” trading vocal lines in mock competitive spirit.  

Juan Gabriel - Juan Gabriel (aka El Alma Joven II)

The Mexican balada movement was on fire during the early ‘70s, as young stars like José José and Juan Gabriel turned three-minute love songs into mini-pop symphonies marked by sophisticated orchestrations. Juan Gabriel’s second album was an artistic and commercial winner from its inception: a batch of his buoyant pop hooks and lavish arrangements by Eduardo Magallanes and Chucho Ferrer. The opening brass line and supple drum beat of “No Puedo Olvidar” set up the stage for the sonic delights that follow.

Erasmo Carlos - Sonhos E Memórias – 1941/1972

Most people know Roberto Carlos as the Julio Iglesias of Brazil — the best-selling artist in Brazilian pop. Only studious fans are aware of the fact that Roberto wrote most of his hits in partnership with singer/songwriter Erasmo Carlos (the artists are not related).

Even better: while breaking records with Roberto, Erasmo also recorded a series of stunning solo LPs exploring art-rock and psychedelia, folk-pop and jazz-soul. This elusive, introspective autobiographical trip is Erasmo’s masterpiece — criminally underrated when released but reevaluated in subsequent decades. “Meu Mar” is probably the dreamiest Brazilian track you will ever encounter. 

La Sonora Ponceña - Desde Puerto Rico a Nueva York

Inspired by Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson, Puerto Rican pianist Papo Lucca inherited his father’s orchestra in Ponce and brought his idols’ exquisite harmonies to a rugged salsa orchestra. The combination created an edgy balance, a pungent contrast, and La Ponceña would quickly become one of the most aristocratic outfits in tropical music.

This 1972 session finds the band in a particularly aggressive mood, anchored on a tight rhythm section and the imposing vocals of stars Tito Gómez and Luigi Texidor. Opening cut “Prende El Fogón” is worth the price of admission.

Malo - Malo

The hazy mystique of early ‘70s Chicano rock — the fusion of laid-back Afro-Cuban grooves with jazzy chords and velvety vocals — has resisted the passing of time particularly well, as the elegant debut by this 12-piece San Francisco combo can attest. A down-to-earth version of the more celestial Santana, Malo featured the guitar of Carlos’ brother, Jorge Santana, as well as the percussion chops of Coke Escovedo (Sheila E’s uncle) and the expressive singing of Arcelio García, Jr. Sweet and funky, “Suavecito” is a California classic.

Gato Barbieri - Last Tango in Paris (Original Soundtrack)

In 1972, Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci pushed the envelope with his new film: a radical psycho-sexual narrative with Marlon Brando as a suicidal middle-aged man. Argentine saxophonist Gato Barbieri, already known for his ambitious Latin jazz epics, happened to be touring Italy.

He played a few original tunes for Bertolucci, and the director selected the now legendary theme on the spot. Recording the soundtrack involved getting a piano to a fifth floor apartment in Rome, but it was well worth it. Seeped in an almost delirious ocean of sadness, “Last Tango in Paris” is arguably Barbieri’s most gorgeous composition. 

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Marc Anthony Salutes Celia Cruz

GRAMMY winner says the legacy of the Queen of Salsa will continue to impact generations to come

GRAMMYs/Oct 7, 2016 - 09:05 pm

("GRAMMY Salute To Music Legends" — a special all-star concert honoring The Recording Academy's 2016 Special Merit Awards recipients — will air Oct. 14 from 9–11:30 p.m. on PBS. Celia Cruz, who received a 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy, will be among the artists saluted.)

I remember listening to Celia Cruz's music blasting out of the windows in my neighborhood in East Harlem, New York, long before I started doing music professionally. By that time she was one of the greatest living legends of our time.  

My first interaction with Celia as a salsa singer was when I recorded my first album, Otra Nota. We were part of the same record label. From the moment we met, she welcomed me with open arms and became my professional godmother, always supportive and so protective of me.

I'll never forget the first time I was able to share the stage with her. I was so nervous! At that time I did not have a lot of experience performing on the big stages of the world, and yet there I was next to her and in the company of all of these great musicians. That night she embraced me in a very special way — the way only those who had the good fortune of being close to her presence could experience.

Her mastery of voice and song and her powerful transformation onstage was one of her many qualities. She possessed a voice like no other and an undeniable way of conducting herself in front of her audience and her fellow musicians. A lady in a male-dominated world who handled her career with consistency, discipline and admirable class.  

She was so into details. Not even her intense work schedule and touring demands around the world would let her forget her friends and family's birthdays, and her Christmas cards with her personal touch were a yearly event. We all wondered how in the world this woman, with so many responsibilities as a worldwide performer and wife, found the time to pause and devote personal attention to so many of us. And indeed she did. She also had a great sense of humor.  

Celia took her responsibility on the stage very seriously. It was amazing to see her sitting backstage quietly and serenely before it was her time to go on. From the instant that orchestra played the first chord she became this gigantic presence. She never, ever disappointed her audience.

Her legacy is so vast there is not enough space on this page, but the fact remains that her contribution to music will continue to have an impact worldwide for generations to come.

(A two-time GRAMMY winner and five-time Latin GRAMMY winner, Marc Anthony will be honored as the 2016 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year on Nov. 16. In 2003 Anthony co-hosted “¡Celia Cruz: Azúcar!,” an all-star tribute to Cruz featuring performances by Anthony, Gloria Estefan, José Feliciano, Paulina Rubio, and Arturo Sandoval, among others.)

Watch Celia Cruz Win Best Salsa Performance At The First-Ever Latin GRAMMYs | GRAMMY Rewind


Watch Celia Cruz Win Best Salsa Performance At The First-Ever Latin GRAMMYs | GRAMMY Rewind

"You guys are going to give me a heart attack!" the Queen Of Salsa exclaimed as she accepted her golden gramophone in the year 2000

GRAMMYs/Oct 4, 2019 - 10:08 pm

In the year 2000, at the first-ever Latin GRAMMY Awards, Cuban salsa icon Celia Cruz accepted a golden gramophone for Best Salsa Performance for her famed live album A Night Of Salsa.

Dancing up to the stage to accept her award, the blue-haired performer exclaimed in Spanish, "This is really a surprise! You guys are going to give me a heart attack!"

"I would like to thank God because he has given me the opportunity to be here with you," she continued. "I want to thank the Academy. I want to thank my husband Pedro Knight, who is here tonight. And for this award, I want to dedicate it to and thank La India, who worked with me on this album. To the Maestro, Johnny Pacheco, my divine God. To my brother, wo has left us but tonight, Tito Puente."

Watch Cruz's acceptance speech above in our latest edition of GRAMMY Rewind

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Ricky Martin To Thalía: 5 Latin Autobiographies You Should Read


Photo: Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images


Ricky Martin To Thalía: 5 Latin Autobiographies You Should Read

From successful entrepreneurs to salsa queens and Latin crossover kings, here are five must-read autobiographies by Latin musicians

GRAMMYs/Sep 29, 2017 - 09:23 pm

Reading autobiographies serves as a great way to intimately learn something new about the background and career arc of your favorite celebrity. During our continued celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we've rounded up five autobiographies by Latin musicians worth looking into, spanning salsa legends, powerful entrepreneurs and Latin crossover stars.

Celia Cruz, Celia: My Life

A three-time GRAMMY and four-time Latin GRAMMY winner, Cruz's career was one for the history books. While we know the late Queen of Salsa intimately through her music, she kept the majority of her personal life story under wraps. In her 2004 memoir, Cruz finally let people in, sharing details on her childhood in Cuba, her years in exile in Mexico, and her career and life in America. The book is based on more than 500 hours of taped interviews shortly before her death in 2003 and provides a rare, intimate look into the life of one of Latin music's greatest treasures.

Emilio Estefan, The Rhythm Of Success: How An Immigrant Produced His Own American Dream

Having earned seven Latin GRAMMY Awards to date, producer Estefan knows a thing or two about success, which makes the title of his 2010 book, The Rhythm Of Success, particularly apt. Not only does the mastermind behind the Miami Sound Machine detail coming to America as a refugee from Cuba and becoming a successful entrepreneur, but he offers readers his hallmarks for creating a rich life and successful career — intuition, strong values and self-confidence. 

Ricky Martin, Me

Martin started his career at age 12 in the boy band Menudo before he would go on to become one of Latin music's hottest stars, winning three Latin GRAMMYs. Despite his meteoric rise to fame circa 1999 during the Latin explosion with "Livin' La Vida Loca," Martin's personal journey offered its own challenges. Starting with his childhood in Puerto Rico through coming to terms with his identity, including his sexual orientation, and finally finding love and starting a family, 2010's Me offers fans an intimate glimpse into the pop singer's life straight from the man himself.

Rita Moreno, Rita Moreno: A Memoir

One of only a handful of artists, and the only Latin artist, to have earned the holy grail of awards achievements — earning an Emmy, GRAMMY, Oscar, and Tony — Moreno certainly knows a thing or two about excellence. In her 2014 New York Times best-selling memoir, Moreno takes us behind the curtain to her childhood in Puerto Rico. The book then follows her journey through discovering singing and dancing in the Bronx, N.Y., and her struggle to break down racial and gender barriers in the industry. It all makes for  an epic tale populated by characters such as Gene Kelly, Gary Cooper, Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, and Howard Hughes. 

Thalía, Growing Stronger

Mexican singer/songwriter actress Thalía may be known as the Queen of Latin Pop, but that doesn't mean she rose to her throne without hardship and hard work. Appropriately titled Growing Stronger, Thalía's 2011 memoir doesn't shy away from the most difficult experiences in her life, including the loss of her father as a child, the kidnapping of her sister and a life-altering disease. The six-time Latin GRAMMY nominee also imparts her wisdom on gratitude, joy and finding balance for a truly inspirational peek inside the life of an international superstar.

The Latinas Of 'Women Who Rock'

Celia Cruz

Photo: M. Caulfield/WireImage


The Latinas Of 'Women Who Rock'

Sometimes Latinas are forgotten about when it comes to popular music; we look at the Latina artists who are featured in 'Women Who Rock,' a new book that celebrates female artists making contributions to popular culture

GRAMMYs/Oct 10, 2018 - 05:21 am

Wearing a long blue lace gown with ruffled flounce sleeves, the late salsa music queen Celia Cruz was a powerhouse onstage during the 2002 Latin GRAMMY Awards. With her trademark smile and a towering white and blue wig that was so grand it resembled a headdress, she energetically belted "La Negra Tiene Tumbao," her 2001 hit song that was nominated for three Latin GRAMMYs that evening, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Music Video of the Year.

This moment is highlighted in Women Who Rock, a new book that pays tribute to women who have defined, continue to define and have made contributions to popular music. The illustrated book is  densely rich and written by multiple authors, all of whom are female. It features playlists picked to sonically introduce readers to the artists they read about.

It's not an easy feat to rundown the history of women in music, however pop music critic and editor Evelyn McDonnell was determined to do just that alongside a roster of diverse women.

"I didn't want it to just be my taste. Or my opinion," shared McDonnell. "I wanted to have this pool of experts…and I really sought diversity of expertise among those writers."

One of those writers, Michelle Threadgould knew "there would be this mad dash [to feature mostly] white rock and roll female musicians." So she pitched and ultimately penned pieces spotlighting Cruz, Selena Quintanilla, Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux, Los Angeles punk rocker Alice Bag and other Latina artists featured in the book.

"I pitched…artists that I really wanted in the book and that I did not think the majority would pitch," she shared. "I have an essay in there that's about Alice Bag. Alice Bag has definitely not had pages dedicated to her in a book like this," Threadgould said.

Representation of Latin Women in Music

"I feel like [Latinas tend] to get left out of a lot of discourses," McDonnell said. "Beginning with Celia Cruz, who's someone I think is so amazing and sometimes not acknowledged enough outside the Latino community."

"There's so many interesting things about Celia," Threadgould said. "I think the hardest thing is things that you leave out."

Threadgould begins Cruz's chapter with her 2002 Latin GRAMMY performance and goes into the Afro-Latina's musical style describing "her call-and-response improvisations." She also explores on her exile from Cuba, which played a crucial role in her professional and personal life.

The book also tells the story of Selena Quintanilla, the popular cumbia and Tex-Mex singer who was tragically killed in 1995 at the age of 23. In the past two decades the singer, who made history when she won Best Mexican-American Album at the 1994 36th GRAMMY Awards, has transcended the Latino community, garnering nods from the likes of rapper Drake and pop group Haim.

Although a film adaptation of Selena's life was released in 1997, starring a then relatively unknown Jennifer Lopez, was met with critical acclaim, Threadgould digs deeper into her life before and after her death. "I was also really tired of her being portrayed as this good daughter that [re-affirmed] patriarchal machismo values that were bullsh, because that really wasn't her life," she said. "That absolutely was not. I guess it was sort of like a reframing of Selena that was important to me."

Why This Narrative Is Important To All Women

It was Selena's ability to defy her obstacles as a woman, and the resilience of all the other artists in the book that overcame their own boundaries that at the end of the day, both McDonnell and Threadgoud, hope women can draw from the book and use as encouragement in their own lives.

"It's a really tough time right now, because I think that everything that's in the news is triggering for so many women, right. It's hard. It's really hard," McDonnell said. "I'm going through that emotionally, myself. I hope that this book can be a point of inspiration."

Threadgould added: "What I think is really important is this whole idea of owning your rage, owning your ugliness, owning these aspects of yourself that aren't accepted by the patriarchy and claiming them and researching them, and not being afraid of them," she said. "Every single person that I dig was like a rebel in her own way. That's what I really hope women are inspired to be is like to be their own rebel."

Women Who Rock is available now.