The Regional Mexican charts of 1996 held four separate genres. One of them was the deathless norteño of Los Tigres and Los Huracanes; the other three were in various stages of decline.
The technobanda of Bandas Machos and Maguey still thrived, but in a few years would be eclipsed by acoustic banda. Helena Simonett’s book Banda lays out the commercial leapfrogging these two styles played with one another throughout the ’90s.
Tejano fans were still mourning Selena — see #7 below — but they were also welcoming newcomers like Jennifer Peña y Los Jetz (see the Pick to Click, below) and Bobby Pulido (see the terrible song right below her). There were, however, rumblings on the horizon. San Antonio and Dallas were suffering from too many Tejano bookers flooding the market, one promoter told Billboard‘s Ramiro Burr. Some bands complained that clubs were replacing live bands with DJs. Burr would spend the next several years chronicling the decline of the Tejano genre as a commercial force, though it still exists for a small but fervent fanbase.
The third synth-based style, grupo music, also still exists, but its commercial mojo would peter out more abruptly. Marco Antonio Solís had just left Los Bukis and was scoring a bunch of solo Hot Latin #1 hits that sounded way more pop than the rest of his cohort. (See #2 below.) Bronco would retire in 1997, leaving Los Temerarios and Los Mismos to care for the genre. I think. NorteñoBlog’s disinterest in grupo music remains strong and resolute.
[EDIT: I just checked and Los Temerarios were still scoring big hits in 2004, and possibly later, so maybe the petering was more gradual.]
These were the Top 15 Regional Mexican songs, as published by Billboard on November 9, 1996:
1. Grupo Límite – “El Príncipe” (#2 Hot Latin)
A decent midtempo cumbia, with Alicia Villarreal’s scratchy high notes its best aspect.
2. Marco Antonio Solís – “Recuerdos, Tristeza y Soledad” (#1 Hot Latin)
The redoubtable Bilbo’s Laptop says, “Even through its cheap-sounding synthesizers there’s a deliberate anxiousness.” Also, “it’s hard for me to find Marco Antonio Solís anything but boring.”
3. Los Temerarios – “Cuando Fuiste Mia” (#7 Hot Latin)
It sounds a little like Galaxie 500 or someone — very smooth synths sliding over a backbeat, with a twee singer.
4. Bronco – “Adios, Adios Amor” (#8 Hot Latin)
A jaunty opening banda riff stands aside for synth heartache and some dodgy electro-drum fills. Still, the momentum is undeniable and your ABBA comparison would be apt.
5. Los Tigres del Norte – “Cuestion Olvidada” (#9 Hot Latin)
A classic (read: interchangeable to the uninitiated) wind-up toy out of the Los Tigres romantic sax polka repertoire — see also 1989’s “La Puerta Negra” for the family resemblance. Hernan Hernandez sings both chipper tales of lost love, engaging in some wildly unsafe driving behavior in the “Cuestion” video, which looks like a green screen puked all over the place. The band hones its beat to a diamondlike point. This song comes from the same album as Los Tigres’ classic political fable and #1 Hot Latin hit, “El Circo.”
6. Los Mismos – “Me Esta Doliendo Dejarte” (#4 Hot Latin)
More grupo sap with Korgs crying their Korgish tears.
7. Selena – “Siempre Hace Frio” (#6 Hot Latin)
More than a year after her death, and six months after the bereft “Siempre Hace Frio” won Song of the Year at the Tejano Music Awards, Selena was still charting with the song. A slow ranchera number that showcases her masterful singing, it’s a little dull — but it’s also easy to imagine fans investing it with their grief.
8. Banda Machos – “Chiquita Bonita” (#12 Hot Latin)
Are the horns real or fake? Does it matter? Does anything?
9. Conjunto Primavera – “Es Muy Tu Vida” (#14 Hot Latin)
Conjunto Primavera was nearly 20 years into their career by now, and they’d been led by the inimitable voice of Tony Melendez for seven of those. But Me Nacio Del Alma was the sax romantics’ first album for Fonovisa, which bumped them to a new level of popularity. Melendez is always worth hearing, but negligible material like this might challenge your faith.
10. Banda Maguey – “Tu Eterno Enamorado” (#18 Hot Latin)
EEEE those horns are out of tune — but, coupled with a chunky beat and some very ’90s synth stabs, it almost sounds intentional. The production has a brutality that slips free of the song.
11. Los Huracanes del Norte – “911” (#19 Hot Latin)
The Garcia brothers’s narrator has devised an ingenious scheme to carry out his infidelities: he waits until his beloved’s husband gets good and drunk, then she calls 911, the cops take hubby away, and they get to enjoy one another’s company until 3 or 4 in the morning, when our narrator sneaks back to his sleeping wife. Los Huracanes milk as many laughs as possible from their stiff caricature of a waltz beat.
12. Jennifer y Los Jetz – “Pura Dulzura” (#23 Hot Latin)
Jennifer Peña was the great teenaged Tejano hope following Selena’s death. Selena’s dad, Abraham Quintanilla, signed Peña to his label after seeing her sing on a videotape, and then invited her to sing Selena songs at his late daughter’s tribute concert. Her performance of Ruben Garza’s “Pura Dulzura” suggests a tropical Debbie Gibson; the Jetz’ synths didn’t outlive their decade, but they also sound like unbridled joy. NorteñoBlog still works out to Debbie Gibson vinyl, so Pick to Click:
13. Los Palominos – “Duele El Amor” (#26 Hot Latin)
14. Bobby Pulido – “Ensename” (#27 Hot Latin)
A Tejano nube makes probably the worst song on this list.
15. Eddie Gonzalez – “El Disgusto” (#24 Hot Latin)
A Tejano remake of Cornelio Reyna‘s norteño standard.