selena

One week in November of 1994, Billboard changed its method of charting the biggest Latin hits in the U.S. They’d been using “National Latin Radio Airplay Reports,” completed and submitted by radio programmers and presumably subject to unwelcome human error. For their November 12 issue, Billboard switched to a computerized service called Broadcast Data Systems, or BDS, which used supercool SUBMARINE TRACKING TECHNOLOGY to determine which songs got the most radio play:

The BDS system looks for an audio fingerprint — a characteristic that differentiates a song from all of the other ones that it tracks — using the same technology that was once used to track submarines.

BDS then weighs the songs differently, depending on how many people they reach:

Thus, a song that plays at 4:00 a.m. does not count as much as one played at 4:00 p.m., and a station with a large audience will influence the chart more than either a station in a smaller market or one with a specialized format that attracts less audience.

Just as when SoundScan began electronically tracking album sales, this new system of tracking led to eye-opening changes in what was hitting the charts. In Billboard‘s November 5 issue, only four songs on the Hot Latin top 10 would have been considered “regional Mexican” — on the list below, they’re the songs from Selena, Ana Gabriel, Industria Del Amor, and Banda Z. On November 12, the new improved Hot Latin chart contained 7 regional Mexican songs, and it would maintain this proportion for weeks to come. Of the regional bands propelled by BDS into the Top 10, four were nowhere to be found in the previous week’s issue: Tejano acts Los Rehenes, Sparx, and La Mafia, and norteño act Banda Machos. For whatever reason — a different balance of stations reporting, or maybe just human error — regional Mexican music had gone under-reported before BDS. The primary beneficiaries of the new submarine tracking technology were Tejano bands, but that may just be because Tejano music, led by Selena, had recently entered its boom period as the popular face of regional Mexican music.

In addition, Billboard starting running three breakout charts, based on the airplay of radio stations devoted to one particular style of Latin music: Pop, Tropical/Salsa, and Regional Mexican. Below is the (first?) Regional Mexican Top 10, from the November 12 issue of Billboard. I’ll be liberally quoting Jonathan Bogart, whose blog Bilbo’s Laptop tracks every Hot Latin #1 and explains several of these songs better than I’ve managed here.

Also, if anyone can tell me what a puchoncito is, I’d appreciate it.

1. Los Rehenes – “Ni El Primero Ni El Ultimo” (#3 Hot Latin)
Slow, loping technocumbia whose synth pan flutes would show up a decade later in duranguense, and then a decade after THAT — i.e., now — in r’n’b. They’re like cicadas. Through sheer vigor, the lead Rehene escapes his band’s craft fair trappings on the high notes. (Bogart says that, among Hot Latin chart toppers, “This is in fact the closest we have come yet to the Mexican version of what country music has traditionally been in the United States: the place where showmanship meets heartbreak, where lower-class solidarity meets pop tunefulness, and wry grins and cowboy hats go hand in hand.”)

2. Banda Machos – “El Puchoncito” (#5 Hot Latin)
Madcap cumbia whose vocal fx ricochet off the beats. Also there is woofing. I get the sense this song would be really funny if I could follow the storyline.

3. Sparx – “Te Amo, Te Amo, Te Amo” (#6 Hot Latin)
Carefully choreographed leather-pantsed girl group offers three “te amo”s where one would not suffice. The breezy music belongs in a supper club. They dare not deviate from the script.

4. Selena – “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” (#1 Hot Latin)
Driven by organ and brass and simple “Hang On Sloopy” changes, Selena’s charisma bursts off the charts in comparison to most of these other performers. She giggles and growls, deriving pleasure from tearing at her own larynx, yet overall she creates the impression of a warm older sister leading you by the hand into the party. (Bogart says, “The secret theme of Nineties Music, cross-genre mélange, is given superb form here: Selena combines cumbia tejano, coastal reggae, beach funk, florid r&b vocalizing, and a crisply, bluesy guitar solo into a perfectly-balanced solution that contemporary “eclectic” magpies like Beck or that dude from Soul Coughing might envy.”)

5. La Mafia – “Me Duele Estar Solo” (#8 Hot Latin)
More midtempo balladry, this time with the bass and kick drum hitting squarely four-on-the-floor, but heralded by the most obnoxious synth trumpet blares La Mafia could find. (Bogart says, “Tejano, the specifically Texan homebrew of cumbia, norteño, and American r&b and pop, was the new sound of Latin radio, and the way La Mafia presses hard on cumbia’s Caribbean beat, skanking hard at reggae tempos, may be the funkiest sound we’ve had to date. As well as one of the tackiest…”)

6. Banda Z – “La Niña Fresa” (#9 Hot Latin)
A silly stomping story of a dancing girlfriend who seems hard to please. The brass riff echoes the melody of Gloria Estefan’s tropical soundtrack crossover “Go Away,” and the voice of cooler-than-cool niña fresa herself shows up several times to make her waiter’s life difficult.

7. Fandango USA – “Te Amare Un Millón De Veces” (#14 Hot Latin)
More deliberate synth cumbia, cut through by a husky-voiced romantic.

8. Grupo Mojado – “Para Que” (#12 Hot Latin)
“Mojado” is right — “Para Que” goobs along like someone took Fandango USA’s song and doused it with buckets of water. The music is basically the same, right down to the key, hook, and the singer going up an octave for the chorus, but Grupo Mojado jettisons any interesting rhythms.

9. Ana Gabriel – “Tu Lo Decidiste” (#7 Hot Latin)
Mariachi, finally! Gabriel rasps and flutters, feints and charges, like she’s boxing with her emotions.

10. Industria Del Amor – “A Capa Y Espada” (#13 Hot Latin)
last and least

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