As a recovering rockist and certified Old, I enjoy listening to the radio station The Current, 89.3 FM, whenever I’m driving through the Twin Cities. Recently The Current held a listener poll to determine the 893 essential songs since the year 2000. This list is a hit of sweet, unfiltered white elephant art. “Seven Nation Army” is #1 — and to be fair, it’s got one of the first riffs learned by today’s budding guitarists. Arcade Fire is everywhere, and Duluth folk-rockers Trampled By Turtles are more ranked than they’ve ever been ranked before.
In response, last week the Minneapolis City Pages, led by the excellent Keith Harris, published a list of 40 non-essential songs since the year 2000. This was the termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss riposte to all that Art. As you might guess, the non-essential list is way more fun, since it contains songs about dog sex and smashing things with hammers. But still, there was something missing, and I don’t mean Trampled By Turtles.
Both these lists gave NorteñoBlog an excuse to indulge in its two favorite pastimes: bitching that nobody pays attention to regional Mexican music, and shamelessly stealing the ideas of its betters.
So, in the pioneering spirit of 7-Minute Abs: ¡NorteñoBlog’s 41 Esencial Songs Since 2000!
What does “esencial” mean in this case? I only got into Mexican music in 2005, so my list will look different than the list of someone immersed in this music for years, let alone decades. If you’ve followed the Blog at all, you know my taste leans toward novelty: cumbias, tubas, brass sections turned into backbeats, and squalid consortiums of instrumentalists all trying to outplay one another. I have Complicated Feelings about violent narco songs celebrating real criminals, but I don’t dismiss them outright, and I think they often make bands sound more exciting than they would otherwise.
In short — and this is one of the points I read in the City Pages’ subtext, and in Richard Meltzer’s The Aesthetics of Rock and Chuck Eddy’s books — the non-esencial is esencial to the whole enterprise. That’s why this list sometimes looks like a mutant termite-elephant hybrid.
Before we get started, here’s something else you won’t find on either of those other lists: an artist who’s currently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury! Romantic balladeer Julión Álvarez, despite being basically Iran, has the distinction of being the continent’s best singer, and he recorded the most esencial melody here, but you can’t find it on the Spotify playlist at the bottom. So enjoy “Ojos Verdes” as you peruse.
And now, get a whiff of the Blog’s essence.
40. Edwin Luna y La Trakalosa de Monterrey – “Mi Padrino el Diablo” 2014
Whether flaring his nostrils or trying to jumpstart his perpetually nascent acting career, Luna over-enunciates more dramatically than anyone in banda music. Here’s a jaunty waltz where he gets down with the devil.
39. Los Angeles Azules – “El Listón de Tu Pelo” 2000
This co-ed band scored a million vaguely sinister radio bumpers with their low brass attack. Here, an impatient mujer talks a nervous hombre into getting it on.
38. Banda Lamento Show – “La Noche Que Murio Chicago” 2005
A duranguense combo covers Banda Toro covering ‘70s rockers Paper Lace, who were covering, in a not-exactly-journalistic sense, a fabled Al Capone shootout. (“The east side of Chicago” is a lake, longhairs.) Chicago’s Lamento Show brings the song back home with canned cheers and gunfire. True fact: In 2005 I called the band’s label about promo photos, and the person on the other end had no idea they existed.
37. Rogelio Martinez – “Y Sigues Siendo Tú” 2001
You thought Shania Twain was loud and garish? Imagine if “You’re Still the One” had surprise interjections from a 12-piece brass section.
36. Colmillo Norteño – “La Plebona” 2014
If there’s one thing the Blog likes, it’s when a singer sounds like he’s charging by the syllable.
35. Banda Rancho Viejo – “Cumbia Con Opera” 2014
If there’s a second thing the Blog likes, it’s big dumb cumbias. The most consistently fun modern banda covers a 20-year-old novelty, which sounds like “Bohemian Rhapsody” without the emo parts. No more ridiculous than real opera, if you think about it. (Narrator: Don’t think about it.)
34. Alicia Villarreal – “Soy Tu Mujer” 2004
In this majestic cumbia, Villarreal isn’t so much pledging devotion as ordering love into existence at the dawn of creation.
33. Banda MS – “Niña Peligrosa” 2008
La niña is dangerous, you see, ‘cause she’s honest. Jajaja, just kidding, she’s really hot.
32. Los Tigres del Norte – “Mira, Mira, Mira” 2002
The Springsteens of norteño make abject depression sound pretty funny.
31. Los Horóscopos de Durango – “Obsesión” 2005
Racing around like stalky roadrunners, these duranguensers sound even more Fatal Attraction than the bachata bros they’re covering.
30. Los Amos de Nuevo Leon – “Desmadre en el Baño” 2007
One of those songs about everyone in line in the bathroom, trying to get a line in the bathroom. A vision of hyphy decadence spattered with globs of accordion gunk.
29. Banda El Recodo – “Y Llegaste Tú” 2001
Los Twiins, the century’s premier producers, turn a decades-old big band into a vehicle for modern pop music, paving the way for everyone else to do the same.
28. T3R Elemento ft. Gerardo Ortiz – “Aerolínea Carrillo” 2019
What’s cooler than impersonating a drug dealer? Especially if your band plays songs almost exclusively about weed? Impersonating a drug dealer ON A MOTHERFUCKING PLANE.
27. Marco Flores y La Jerez – “Zapateado Endemoniado” 2018
Clearly possessed by the devil, who’s a helluva dancer, Flores cannot stop his feet from moving involuntarily. This sickness spreads to his band and to the ladies and horses who fill his videos. It’ll spread to you, too.
26. 3Ball MTY ft. El Bebeto y América Sierra – “Inténtalo” 2011
Sleek technocumbia update still sounds like the future, paving the way for Raymix’s boomier (and more boring) hits of last year.
25. Alacranes Musical – “Por Tu Amor” 2007
Maybe the only duranguense (read: sped-up technobanda) outfit whose keyboard choices didn’t sound like cheap-ass Casio knockoffs. Their fake violins and harps go for the emotional jugular, while their percussion section clatters merrily away.
24. Regulo Caro – “Soltero Disponible” 2014
In a show of Randy Newman-level caddishness, wealthy asshole Caro ditches the woman whose ass he financed, opting to get drunk with old ladies. His broken heart must be lurking somewhere under all those horns, right? (Narrator: It wasn’t.)
23. Grupo Climax – “El Za Za Za (Mesa Que Más Aplauda)” 2004
It’s meaningless and all, that’s true, but Grupo Climax did for table dancing what Sting did for Nabokov.
22. Conjunto Primavera – “Moño Negro” 2005
Overwrought throaty climaxes are their specialty, and they don’t get any overwroughter than this one. Sax and accordion wheedle around, offering futile support.
21. Diana Reyes – “Ámame Bésame” 2010
The queen of duranguense always sounded like she was trying to sneak in tunes from Miami freestyle, so her big technicolor technocumbia move made sense. And it’s not selling out if you don’t sell!
20. La Arrolladora Banda el Limón – “Cabecita Dura” 2012
A double dare: Can songwriter Espinoza Paz write a bittersweet breakup ballad made entirely of rapid-fire syllables? Can singer Jorge Medina get through it without passing out?
19. Ariel Camacho y Sus Plebes del Rancho – “El Karma” 2014
A sierreño trio — two guitars and a tuba — heralds the inevitable arrival of the Grim Reaper. Camacho’s way-too-young death heralded the inevitable arrival of sierreño music on the radio. See also:
18. Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho – “DEL Negociante” 2016
A label head replaces a dead young singer with an even younger singer, then makes the band sing a song about his business acumen. Imagine if, after Karen Carpenter died, A&M founder Herb Alpert replaced her with Suzanne Vega or somebody. Imagine if her band, now named Karen’s Carpenters, scored a hit called “A&M TCB.” This is in the same deliciously crass ballpark.
17. Movimiento Alterado – “Sanguinarios del M1” 2010
Los Twiins, the century’s premier producers, convince a who’s who of young singers to endorse bazookas and decapitations, trolling every norteño fan over 30 and raking in cash from everyone younger.
16. Calibre 50 ft. El Komander – “Qué Tiene de Malo” 2014
The artists are indignant. Both Calibre 50, a quartet named for a big-ass gun, and El Komander, who’s designed his “K” to look like a big-ass gun, have recently been fined and banned by certain state and local governments in Mexico. The reason? Their narcocorrido music “promotes violence.” Well, yeah. Wasn’t that the point of all the big-ass guns? In the spirit of Anthrax (not to be confused with Los Ántrax), they record a lurching meta-corrido demanding freedom. Many more songs about big-ass guns have followed.
15. Laura Denisse – “Sigo Enamorada” 2015
People who are this much in love belt like Linda Ronstadt, it’s just a fact.
14. El Komander – “Soy de Rancho” 2014
It opens with the decade’s most politically astute mouthpiece fart, aimed at a border patrol impersonation worthy of Richard Pryor. The rest is a ramshackle statement of new-money immigrant pride, played by a band that elevates shagginess to godliness.
13. Jenni Rivera – “De Contrabando” 2005
Joan Sebastian writes a song about illicit love, Jenni Rivera covers it, the tubist goes fucking berzerk, and the whole enterprise struts into history.
12. Lenín Ramirez ft. Ulices Chaidez – “Como los Vaqueros” 2018
This sweet cowboy-cosplay pick-up ballad launched a thousand thinkpieces, all of them in my mind, but here’s the bottom line: it’s got the most galvanizing “Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo”s since Flava Flav.
11. Banda los Recoditos – “Ando Bien Pedo” 2010
Crass miscreants, the Spencer’s of the banda pop mall. The title translates “I Am Very Drunk” and it was their breakthrough hit, introducing radio audiences to the extremely large-sounding throat of lead singer Luis Ángel Franco.
10. Noel Torres – “La Estructura” 2013
One of the hottest accordionists in the game reels off the details of his well-structured cartel operation. Come for the management tips, stay for Jesse “El Pulpo” using all eight arms to bash his drum kit to a pulp.
9. Valentín Elizalde – “Volvere a Amar” 2004
Strutting backbeat heartache banda, with the late Elizalde sounding both aggrieved and sleepy. “You’ll cry for me,” he promises, knowing she won’t.
8. Intocable – “Estamos En Algo” 2009
This song closed Intocable’s album-length tribute to ‘60s norteño duo Los Relampagos El Norte, who were apparently going through a ska phase at the time. Breaking: Bill DiBlasio is INTO IT.
7. Alfredo Olivas – “El Paciente” 2017
A deathbed meditation with the horn charts set to “ripple,” and the prettiest song to shout out a revolutionary who healed his wounds with his own saliva.
6. Vicente Fernandez – “Estos Celos” 2007
Joan Sebastian writes and produces a song about hapless jealousy, the band sparkles and twinkles, and the old man of mariachi works out his masculinity issues in front of everyone.
5. La Nueva Rebelión – “Me Hicieron Más Fuerte” 2014
As I listened to this kickass song in the car, I watched a hawk aloft on currents of ever-shifting air, unpredictable in its movements yet swooping and gliding with unmistakable grace and control. Reader, I shot that hawk.
4. Ángela Aguilar ft. Pepe Aguilar – “Tu Sangre en Mi Cuerpo” 2017
So gorgeous, it’ll make you think “Something Stupid” was a good idea.
3. Roberto Tapia – “Mirando al Cielo” 2012
More strutting backbeat heartache banda. Even my despicable children, who complain loudly when I play Spanish radio stations, bounce around the car helplessly when this comes on.
2. Yolanda Perez – “Esto es Amor” 2005
The clarinets squiggle like the Philip Glass ensemble showed up; everything else is a groundbreaking blend of banda and reggaeton that, sadly, didn’t go much further than this.
1. Gerardo Ortiz – “Dámaso” 2012
The biggest shot in the game makes his bid for stardom by impersonating… a cartel lawyer! And it works! Years after this breakthrough hit, Ortiz keeps singing about the culture that almost got him killed; he jumps on every fad; he finds himself embroiled in perpetual controversy; and, not coincidentally, he keeps making thrilling music.
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