In addition to containing some truly great Latin music, Fania gold label 45s have a brilliant look that never fails to catch the eye. Fania used the glowing gold design on their first thirty or so LPs, and on their first fifty or so 45s, before switching over (in 1968) to the familiar multicolor cloud label design that was used on hundreds of releases throughout the 1970s along with the palm tree label, which came into use sometime in the later half of the 70s. In the late 1960s, Fania also updated their logo design, changing from the simple Caslon Open Face font logo to one that better matched the new and more modern-looking multicolor labels. In the end, though, it is really about the music, so here is a brief rundown of my top ten gold label 45s:
1) Joe Bataan "Gypsy Woman / So Fine" (447; From Gypsy Woman)
To me, Joe Bataan’s music represents the pinnacle of Latin soul and boogaloo. While some artists dabbled in boogaloo in the late 60s before moving on to salsa, Bataan fully committed to the sound and made it his own, and then kept developing it more in order to create something truly unique. Very few artists could even come close to reproducing his sound, and fewer still could match his consistency. Between 1967 and 1973, Bataan put out eight brilliant albums, starting with the LP Gypsy Woman, which opens with the title track—a bouncy boogaloo tune dominated by two roaring trombones and Joe Bataan’s unmistakable voice. “So Fine,” another great Bataan boogaloo, is built on a piano riff that is a subtle variation of the one on “Gypsy Woman,” which gives the tracks a very similar feel.
2) Ray Barretto "Mercy, Mercy Baby / Soul Drummers" (454; From Acid) When it comes to boogaloo albums, Ray Barretto’s Acid is at the top of most people’s favorites list, and with good reason: it is unmatched in Latin music. What one notices right away when listening closely to the album, is how central the bass is to the amazing sound that the group achieves, especially on songs like “Soul Drummers,” where everything seems to be floating along on the deep, simple bass line.
3) Orchestra Harlow "El Exigente / Las Luzes" (459; From El Exigente)
Orchestra Harlow’s El Exigente LP is a musical freight train comparable in size and sound to Ray Terrace’s masterpiece Oye El Cuchy Frito Man. The album’s first song, “El Exigente,” quite appropriately starts with audio of a train barreling down the tracks with its whistle blaring—a sound that the group does their best to imitate on the album’s first side, succeeding wildly on the two huge guaracha tracks “Las Luzes” and “El Mejor.”
4) Joe Bataan "Subway Joe / Nuevo Jala Jala" (455; From Subway Joe)
On the Subway Joe LP, Joe Bataan returns with an updated boogaloo sound that features the bass much more prominently in the mix, which helps give the music a bigger feel. This is heard clearly on the title track, “Subway Joe,” which starts out with a booming bass line that continues throughout the song.
5) Bobby Valentin "Use It Before You Lose It / Funky Big Feet" (458; From Let's Turn On/Arrebatarnos)
This brilliant boogaloo double-sider is heavily sought-after in Northern Soul circles, and is one of the rarest and most valuable Fania 45s. I have only seen it for sale once in the last five years and it went for a lot of money. Although not quite as groundbreaking as Acid or Gypsy Woman, Let’s Turn On is right up there with the other great albums of the boogaloo era.
6) Joe Bataan "Ordinary Guy / Too Much Lovin" (451; 7”-only/From Gypsy Woman)
This is the amazingly soulful alternate version of "Ordinary Guy” with Richard Tee on the keys laying down some beautiful piano lines that really change the feel of the song and make it more upbeat and hopeful. The LP version sounds more melancholy, which I think fits better with the song’s theme and lyrics and with the rest of the album, but, still, it is hard to deny the overall musical strength of this 7-inch only version.
7) Monguito Santamaria "Juicy / Soiron Cano" (452; From On Top)
The two best tracks from his first album together on one 7-inch. “Juicy” is a boogaloo that features vocalist Ronnie Marks, who would appear again to sing the English vocals on Santamaria’s next two Fania albums, Hey Sister and Blackout. “Soiron Cano” is a killer guaguanco track with excellent vocals.
8) The Latinaires "Camel Walk / Ya Llegaron" (462; From Camel Walk)
Camel Walk is easily one of the most unique sounding albums Fania Records ever put out. The liner notes from the LP specifically state that the main source of the band’s distinctive sound is the combination of the tenor sax, alto sax, and flute into one unit. The unique harmonies that this particular arrangement of instruments creates are heard throughout the album, especially on the instrumental boogaloo title track “Camel Walk,” and on the blistering descarga “Ya Llegaron.”
9) Willie Colon "Willie Baby / Jazzy" (444; From El Malo)
Willie Colon only made a few boogaloo tracks, with “Willie Baby” probably being his best. The real gem here, though, is the B-side descarga, “Jazzy,” which is led by two screaming trombones that give the track a massive sound.
10) Ray Barretto "A Deeper Shade of Soul / Teacher of Love" (466; From Acid)
“Teacher of Love" is honestly a little languid, but "A Deeper Shade of Soul” more than makes up for its shortcomings. Put “Soul Drummers” on the flip and this is easily the best Fania 45.
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