The title of this definitive compilation of Héctor Lavoe highlights is somewhat misleading. The 14 tracks on this disc are, indeed, Héctor's biggest hits. But they are also his most successful tracks from a purely artistic point of view. Lavoe's "Greatest Hits" album qualifies as a "Best Of" retrospective as well - which cannot be said for most singers of his caliber. ...MORE >
The title of this definitive compilation of Héctor Lavoe highlights is somewhat misleading. The 14 tracks on this disc are, indeed, Héctor's biggest hits. But they are also his most successful tracks from a purely artistic point of view. Lavoe's "Greatest Hits" album qualifies as a "Best Of" retrospective as well - which cannot be said for most singers of his caliber.
In effect, Héctor Lavoe combined art and commerce with the sophistication of the underrated musical genius that he was. Together with his partner in crime – trombonist, producer and songwriter Willie Colón – he enriched the landscape of Afro-Caribbean music with his unique vision and the gritty power of his vocals.
Our tour of Lavoe's discography moves in reverse chronological order. We begin with the mature masterpieces from his solo years and then move into his early '70s collaborations with Colón.
If you happen to be unfamiliar with this material, prepare yourself for a life-changing experience. With a combined length of 17 minutes, the first two tracks are probably the apex of the entire salsa movement. Tropical music does not get any better than "Periódico de Ayer" and "El Cantante," with their sumptuous combination of swinging tropical beats and a majestic string section.
"Those were very different times," a melancholy sounding Colón told me during an interview conducted a few years ago. "I wanted to reconcile all the sounds of the barrio. There were no prejudices in our quest. I would start a number with a merengue beat, turn it into an aguinaldo and finish it as a guaguancó. The idea was to keep adding new sounds and music into the mix – including influences ranging from The Beatles to Herb Alpert.”
"Periódico de Ayer" was written by illustrious boricua composer Tite Curet Alonso and featured on the 1976 Lavoe record De Ti Depende.
Even more epic in scope, "El Cantante," a song about the bittersweet life of a salsa singer, was a Rubén Blades original. Since Lavoe was going through a creative and emotional slump at the time, Colón convinced Blades to give the song to Héctor as a comeback vehicle. It was the opening track of the 1978 masterpiece Comedia.
"For 'El Cantante,' I asked Fania if I could throw in some strings," recalls Colón. "Some people blame the Fania guys for exploiting all of their musicians, but it's also true that they allowed for an experimentation that is no longer possible today. In the end, I agreed to reimburse the string section's fee if the record wasn't a hit. And boy was it hard to make those musicians swing!"
The second half of this compilation is all about the effortless danceability of the duo's early output. There's "El Malo," the title track from the 1967 Colón/Lavoe debut, as well as "Calle Luna, Calle Sol" - a hilarious song about a dangerous street in Puerto Rico - and the classic "Che Che Colé," a funky adaptation of a children's song from Ghana.
There is joy and youthful exuberance to spare in these recordings - a stark contrast to the tragedy that followed. After a lifetime plagued with drug addiction and personal problems, Héctor Lavoe succumbed to AIDS in 1993. He was 46.
"This music has its share of tragic characters, and Héctor is one of them," adds Colón. There was always a feeling of esto va a terminar mal – that his story would have a bad ending. And yet, there hasn't been a singer worth shining Héctor's shoes. Living without him is unbearable, and only listening to his recorded legacy makes it a little better."