“Top Secrets” (1989) is Willie Colón’s final album for Fania Records after a brief return to the label in 1987 to produce two albums with his own band which backed up Celia Cruz (on the Grammy-nominated The Winners) and Hector Lavoe (Strikes Back). While for the aforementioned two albums, Willie reunites with some of his favorite trombonists (past band members Leopoldo Pineda, Papo Vazquez, Lewis Kahn, Barry Rogers, and Steve Turre) to recreate his late 1970’s/early 1980’s sound, here he resumes his workout with Legal Aliens, an experimental band he assembled circa 1986 with a brand new cast of characters. At the birth of Legal Aliens, only Lewis Kahn and recent additions Sergio George (now a famed producer) and virtuoso Marc Quiñones (currently with rock gurus The Allman Brothers), remained on board from the former band. The rest of the founding members of this new ensemble included some of today’s most sought after musicians, including freelancing drummer Tony Cintrón Jr. (formerly with Jorge Dalto’s Interamerican Band), keyboards master Arturo Ortiz (currently musical director for Ricky Martin, of all people), bassist Oscar Cartaya (later musical director for Jennifer López after several years with Spyro Gyra) and Nuyorican sax great Bobby Franceschini.
A total departure from Willie’s classic trombone sound, Legal Aliens relied heavily on synthesizers and the jazzier, broader spectrum of possibilities coming from the two-piece trombone/sax frontline, while now openly flirting with R&B and funk influences. The fact that some Willie’s new recruits didn’t necessarily come from the Salsa school (or a Latin music background, for that matter), as was the norm in the 1970’s, gave this band its distinct groove and identity.
Recorded at a time where the erotic salsa fad was ruling the airwaves mercilessly, Willie unavoidably jumps on the bandwagon here with charts like “Primera Noche De Amor” (which was meant to be this album’s lead single), “Junto A Ti” and the impressive arrangement of “Cuando Fuiste Mujer”. But undoubtedly what made this album a top seller (and to this date still one of Fania catalog’s most requested items) is the presence of the mighty track “El Gran Varón”. Still a must-play request at Colón’s concerts, this tale about a macho-raised guy who becomes a transvestite and later dies of AIDS took the radio waves by storm back in 1989, making one of Fania’s very last gold-selling albums on the label’s history, and proving them wrong in the process. While they felt that tracks like “Primera Noche de Amor” were the sure bet for airplay, the stirring controversy this Omar Alfanno composition brought, with positive and negative reactions by gay activists and even fellow singers like Glenn Monroig, made this single—and the whole album—an instant classic.
This album starts with “Asi Es La Vida” where Willie resumes his storywriter role as he delivers a mixed bag of a day in El Barrio chronicles (any barrio, actually), backed up by a powerful arrangement including solos by trombonist Jaime Ramos (taking over Kahn’s seat here), Franceschini on tenor, and guest Bob Quaranta (of Mongo Santamaría’s band) on piano. Also resuming his role as leader in the salsa business, Willie brings a loud, bold statement on his own “Nunca Se Acaba”: “Those who being Latino deny their own race deny even their own mother. Let there be rock, ballads, breakdancing or whatever: as long as we’re here, our salsa will never die.” Fittingly, this album ends with a storming one-two blow with the killer tracks “Asia”, penned and arranged by Willie himself, and the ever-challenging Franceschini arrangement of “Marta”.
Once again, Willie Colón has reinvented himself (as he has done constantly in his career) instead of going down the safer path of milking past fame and glory. And, again, with “Top Secrets”, he does the unthinkable and makes an instant classic out of an overly unconventional, un-commercial album.
Bobby Allende - Congas
Jimmy Delgado - Bongo
Bob Franceschini – Soprano Sax, Tenor Sax
Willie Colón – Trombone (“Asia”)
Gary Graham – Keyboards
Eugene Pérez – Bass
Marcus Persiani - Piano
Marc Quiñones -Timbales, Percussion
Lead Singer – Willie Colón
Chorus - Willie Colón, Tito Allen, Domingo Quiñones, Joe King, Milton Cardona
Jay Dittamo - Drums, Drums Programming
Sammy García - Percussion
Jonathan Hanser – Keyboard, Keyboard Programming
Arturo Ortiz - Keyboard, Keyboard Programming
Bob Quaranta - Piano
Jaime Ramos - Trombone