And the list continues! Here will be all the obvious ones: "El Rey," "Volver, Volver," all the songs that turn usually taciturn Mexican men into wusses deserving of being grilled on Leykis 101. Enjoy, and NOW you can start hating, fanboys!
Fernández has such a massive canon that he could've rested on his laurels since the 1980s and still put on a hell of a show--that's how Antonio Aguilar did it. But the genius of Chente is that he's never taken a break--as the previous list showed, thetapatío
has always experimented with lyrics, production, genres, and more. His most recent hit was this 2007 gem, a breathless tale of a man driven insane by jealousy that's nevertheless sweet-sounding with his tenor (deepened by age) buttressed by the dramatic pauses, by crisp guitar strums, weeping violins, and jumpy trumpets. "Estos Celos" created a storm upon its debut--no one in ranchera had done something this simultaneously poppy andfirme
, something this dramatic. And the greatest testament to its greatness? It's now a staple of mariachis. Kudos also to Chente for not dyeing his hair at this point of his life, and for not casting some blonde 20-something as his paramour--it's a 20-something brunette!
9. "Por Tu Maldito Amor"
Of the canonical Chente songs, this is one of the lesser ones--but that's like saying Chris Mullin was one of the lesser players on the 1992 Dream Team. It's one long crying session about a man decrying the "damned love" of a woman. Wait for the pause, the pause that serves as the cue for the crowd to yell "POR TU MALDIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITO AMOR!", which allows Chente to melt down like a schoolboy who skinned his knee--and cry he does. And, of course, the twist at the end: it's not damned love he cries for, but "your blessed love." WIMP!
8. "Me Voy a Quitar de En Medio"
Fernández wasn't in any sort of creative funk in 1998, when he recorded this song as the title track for the telenovalLa Mentira
and for the albumEntre El Amor y Yo
("Between Love and I," itself a fabulous song that would probably be #21 on this list). But the composition showed again Chente's willingness to experiment musically, even at a point in his career where he didn't need to. With Spanish, Cuban, and Mexican flairs swirling around a song of defeat, this song was the spiritual godfather to "Estos Celos."
7. "Aca Entre Nos"
Starting slow, with the echoed vocals, faux weeps, and growled whispers that characterized Chente's later efforts, 1988's "Here, Between Us" marked a transition in Chente's career from the bold shouts of machismo into overwrought vulnerability that takes Chente into campy levels but makes him even more beloved by fans. Though popular, it's one of his lesser-appreciated gems.
6. "¿De Que Manera te Olvido?"
Beautiful music--flutes, violins, guitars, bright horns--anchor a man's lament about not knowing how to forget a woman's love. Vocally fine, lyrically okay, but with a immortal melody that makes it another staple of all mariachis.
5. "El Rey"
This is Chente's most famous song, the second-most sung by his fans, and a legendary rendition, one that even eclipses the original existential "My Way" of Mexico written by José Alfredo Jiménez--so why the relatively low ranking? First off, have you listened to it? It's all about Chente yelling--he seriously shortsells his vocal abilities here. Compare that to the Jiménez original, where the man puts a bit more buanced emotion into it than merely making it the stark-raving mad rants of a wild-eyed, wounded macho. Besides, covering a standard doesn't compare in originality to...
4. "Mujeres Divinas"
Told from the perspective of a singer who has a conversation with an aging men who takes offense at men cursing women, "Mujeres Divinas" unwinds itself like a dirge as it makes an extraordinary admission: men should not bash women, as women are the light of life. It was a startling admission in the macho world of ranchera, which had always cast women as Madonnas or whores; here, they were both! The song's dark chords takes you to the cantina where Chente has this conversation with the nameless man--stunning, mournful, truthful, life. Not just a musical tour de force, but also a vocal and lyrical one--and in the world of ranchera, where, as beautiful as it is, too much is rote, "Mujeres Divinas" rises high.
3. "Volver, Volver"
THIS is the the other iconic song Chente's crowd will shout in unison, with a tone as warbling as the introductory organ. But what makes "Volver, Volver" superior to "El Rey" is its originality--that use of organ, which gives love a funereal tone, the combination of shouts, weeps, and desperation, and the refrain--even if you can't remember all the lyrics, even the dumbest gabacho can do the "volver, volverrrrrrrr, VOOOOOOOOOOLVERRRRRRR" part. A crowd-pleaser worthy of adulation.
2. "La Ley del Monte"
The dueling open strains of violins and trumpets crackling over the AM dial will be familiar to any child of Mexican immigrants who took long trips to visit relatives, but have you ever listened to the lyrics beyond "maguey" "unido al mío" and the title of the song (roughly, "The Law of the Wild")? It's one of the most unlikeliest, sweetest revenge songs you'll ever hear: when a woman denies that she took a jaunt up in the them thar hills with a guy, going so far as to tearing off the leaf of the maguey where the two scratched their name to destroy all evidence of said sexytimes, the spurned maguey's new leaf sprouted with the names of the two lovers still on them! It's a metaphor for the power of nature, of the rancho life, and of eternal love--and as gorgeously lush a track as Chente ever sung. Everything beautiful about ranchera summed up in about three minutes, with no vocal gymnastics, or overpowering braggadocio.
And now, número one...
1. "Los Mandados"
Not only is this the best Vicente Fernández song of all time, it's one of the funniest, angriest, scathing recordings to ever come out from Mexico, one giant guffaw against American immigration policy that would never be recorded in this era lest the multinational releasing this get fried on FOX News or from the halls of Congress (just look at what happened to that lame version a couple of years ago of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish). In less than three minutes, Chente turns a complex issue that riles Americans so into a hilarious, eternal chase alaSmokey and the Bandit
, with the protagonist freely admitting that
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has caught him "300 times, let's say." But Chente ain't sad: "The beatings that they gave me/I charged them to their countrymen," he roars with glee. Too bad he didn't sing this song when he performed at the 2000 Republican National Convention, as that would've been the greatest surprise musical performance since the Ramones played at Mr. Burns' birthday.
In no other song does Fernández sing with such passion, such wit, such pride in being mexicano--all his ultimate trademarks and contribution to ranchera music. Even better, the playful accordion is Chente's nod to la frontera, back in the days when genres stayed firmly segregated--again, his musical adventurousness. Chente's fans love this song, but always let others supplant it in their Top 10 lists--until now. It should be blasted at every amnesty march, every time you drive through Newport Beach, every time you argue with your Know Nothing colleague--THIS is how you blast hate: you laugh. Loudly. AND get a big ol' settlement. If you're against this being Chente's greatest song? Then I'm sure you're one big migra lover.