[6 November 2006]
There are some songs in this world that I will love no matter what. Call me crazy, call me sentimental, whatever you want—I’ve made peace with the fact that I keep certain songs within arm’s reach at all times and I don’t care what anybody thinks. It’s my collection and I’ll blast my playlist (filled with the likes of the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus”, Anita Baker’s “Rapture”, 2pac’s “I Get Around”, and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man”) if I want to.
Recently, on an episode of the TV sitcom My Name Is Earl, Earl (the obvious main character) informed the audience through the show’s usual flashback voiceover that Randy (the obvious sidekick) had trouble maintaining romantic relationships. Whenever a relationship fell apart, Randy was left with his tears and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”. It was funny, watching and listening as everyman Randy clutched his radio and sang along with Ms. Lauper’s every syllable, especially that line in the chorus we all love to belt out: “…if you fall I will catch you—I WILL BE WAITING—time after time…”). It was also a validation of sorts. I stared at the screen and whispered, “Wow. So I’m not the only one who does that.”
Legacy Recordings, the compilations and re-issues division of Sony BMG, continually validates my various music obsessions. Legacy’s “Essential” series is a beautiful thing. By collecting the hits, smashes, and bangers of music’s popular chart-throbs into single projects, Legacy has transformed the toil of hunting for “classics” into a music lover’s paradise. Pick a group, any group; you’re likely to find an “Essential” recording to satisfy your quest. There’s The Essential George Duke, The Essential George Benson, and The Essential Santana, to name a few. But it’s The Essential Gloria Estefan that currently captures my fancy.
On one level, The Essential Gloria Estefan demonstrates how thoroughly satisfying the “Essential” series can be for the hardcore music lover imbedded in my spirit. It quenches a secret thirst to collect. You see, just between you and me—because I know you won’t tell anybody—I’m a music addict. Take Gloria Estefan (and Miami Sound Machine) as an example. In the ‘80s, I bought Primitive Love on cassette because I loved “Bad Boy”, “Words Get in the Way”, “Falling in Love (Uh-Oh)”, and “Conga” (that last song got played to death on soap opera Young & the Restless, or, um, so I’ve heard). I also bought Let It Loose for “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You”, “Can’t Stay Away From You”, “Anything for You”, and “1-2-3”. Okay, so I lent my Primitive Love cassette to a friend and I never got it back—I’m still calculating the interest on that. I bought the album again. When I lost Let It Loose, I bought that one again too. After CDs became popular, I picked up both albums on disc. One disc got trapped in a broken CD changer; the other got lost. Between Primitive Love and Let It Loose, I’ve paid six times for the pleasure gained from two albums. Not that it wasn’t worth it. But now, thanks to Legacy, I can listen to my favorites on The Essential Gloria Estefan and save a little cash in the process.
On another level, The Essential Gloria Estefan, along with the rest of the “Essential” series, answers a question I’ve been hearing a lot lately: “What’s the point of reviewing someone’s greatest hits?” I can relate to that. After all, an album packed with an artist’s most popular hits should receive a perfect 10 rating, right? Perhaps. But the real question, I think, is whether you should buy the album. That’s part of what makes the review relevant. And when it comes to a prolific artist like Gloria Estefan, the “Essential” series—indeed, any collection of hits—gives us an opportunity to appreciate and reevaluate that artist’s work.
The press kit for The Essential Gloria Estefan makes much of the fact that the two-CD set is divided by tempo instead of chronology. The first disc contains the dance tracks while the second handles the ballads. For me, the organization of Estefan’s material in this way isn’t that big of a deal or even that unique. Pop and R&B artists whose songs could be grouped by tempo (if it hasn’t been done already) are numerous: Madonna, Luther Vandross, Michael and Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, George Michael, Prince, and Babyface. The list could go on. Rather, the big deal about Estefan’s collection is the fact of her discography in the first place. It’s extensive, as is her list of accomplishments. She’s sold more than 70 million albums worldwide, earned the American Music Award for Lifetime Achievement, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, has written her second children’s book called Noelle’s Treasure Tale: A New Magically Mysterious Adventure, and was nominated for an Academy Award for “Music of My Heart”, a duet with *NSYNC recorded for the Wes Craven’s film Music of the Heart. And that’s just a short list.
The Essential Gloria Estefan represents a portion of that discography, as it gives us 37 varied-but-consistently-good tracks. Estefan, along with her husband Emilio, has been cranking out albums since the ‘70s. The year 2007 will mark 30 years for Estefan in an industry known for extinguishing careers and producing one-hit wonders and no-hit wanderers. That’s an achievement. Signing with a major label as Miami Sound Machine in 1977, Estefan and crew recorded Spanish language albums until, in 1984, they released the English language LP Eyes of Innocence. In fact, Estefan’s music, depending upon the tracks chosen, could also be grouped by language. The Essential, however, leans heavily in favor of an English language audience, picking up with Miami Sound Machine’s 1984 output and working its way to the present. While it does contain Spanish language songs (“Sí Señor!”, “No Me Dejes De Querer”, and “Mi Tierra”), it also contains English versions of “Oye Mi Canto (Hear My Voice)” and the “Pablo Flores English Remix Radio Edit” of “Oye”. The plus side, though, is that the set is sprinkled with remixes, alternate edits, and bonus music.
Another achievement is how great Gloria Estefan’s voice sounds. On every song of the compilation, Estefan’s voice resonates with a timeless clarity and purity; her voice seems unfazed by her longevity. From 1984’s Eyes of Innocence to 2003’s Unwrapped, during which time Estefan suffered a life-altering tractor-trailer accident, her vocal performances sound wonderful.
In addition to longevity, there’s her versatility. Admittedly, her track record isn’t filled with examples of her leaping from country music to dropping verses of gangsta rap. I’m not even sure I can imagine Gloria Estefan “dropping a verse.” Nevertheless, her artistry has been varied, from Latin-flavored dance tracks (“Conga”, “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You”, “1-2-3”, and Estefan’s cover of Vicki Sue Robinson’s “Turn the Beat Around”) to straight-up pop (“Dr. Beat”, “Bad Boy”, and “Get on Your Feet”) and on to the ballads (“Anything for You”, “Can’t Stay Away from You”, and my all-time favorite “Words Get in the Way”).
You don’t have to be a Gloria Estefan addict looking for vindication (like me) to be fascinated by these “essentials.” There’s more than enough to enjoy. Perhaps the best part, especially for the hardcore fans among us, is that Estefan’s career is far from over and The Essential Gloria Estefan allows us to appreciate what she’s already given us.