A decade of Selena 10 albums showcase the music behind the legend
In the male-dominated world of Tejano music, Selena's rise to prominence made her the genre's undisputed queen, and she embraced the role proudly. But even a cursory glance at her recorded legacy proved she was so much more than a Tejano singer.
Selena Quintanilla Perez spent the better part of 12 years recording and performing music rooted in the Tejano style passed down to her by her father, former musician Abraham Quintanilla Jr. She had a wealth of influences brewing inside her Latina frame.
Musically, the Texas native was clearly the product of a bicultural existence. Pop, disco and R&B - sounds of the day in the late '70s - merged nicely with her Mexican heritage, particularly through spirited cumbias and dramatic rancheras. By 1995, Selena had matured into a splendid song stylist. Her tragic death on March 31, 1995 - she was shot to death by her former fan club president Yolanda Saldivar - cut short a blossoming artist reaching her prime.
On the eve of the fifth anniversary of Selena's death, her recorded catalog stands as a testament to her versatile talent. Early albums, released during the mid-'80s on independent labels, are no longer available.
But her longtime imprint EMI Latin, under the able guidance of Papa Quintanilla, has mined the Selena vaults, providing insatiable '90s fans with a comprehensive overview of her artistic growth. Six posthumous albums have been released, including the 1997 soundtrack to the Selena biopic and 1998's three-disc set, Selena Anthology.
Those efforts join three successful studio projects and 1993's Grammy-winning Selena Live. Ten albums in a decade. A songbook to be reckoned with. Here's an analysis of Selena's recorded catalog, all available on EMI Latin:
Ven Conmigo (1990) - The album that put Selena and her band, Los Dinos, on the map. It's a telltale record, really, especially when you consider that even back then Selena was experimenting. "Enamorada De Ti" is a dance-pop-R&B corker, "La Tracalera" is a classic polka number and "Baila Esta Cumbia" became the blueprint for her trademark pop-fused cumbias. The CD's production is a bit thin and Selena had yet to develop the husky undertone that made her voice so captivating. But released four years before the ground-breaking Amor Prohibido, Ven Conmigo was definitely a sign of things to come.
Entre A Mi Mundo (1992) - Mundo proved pivotal in two ways. The album yielded "Como La Flor," Selena's signature cumbia, and "Que Creias," a heart-wrenching ranchera that boasted an emotional delivery. Both songs showcased a powerful singer embracing her Mexican background. An infectious dance-floor staple, "La Carcacha," and a convincing English-language ballad, "Missing My Baby," were added for good measure. Entre A Mi Mundo did feature Los Dinos as the backing band, but the album was undoubtedly a solo star-making turn for Selena. The stage was hers and hers alone.
Selena Live (1993) - Recorded in concert at a gig in Corpus Christi, Selena Live captured the budding Tejano superstar's engaging personality and vocal prowess. She had spice to spare, particularly during her interaction with the audience on cuts such as "Ven Conmigo" and "Besitos." Live earned Selena a Grammy, yet another indication that she was quickly breaking out of the regional mold that encases most Tejano acts. Plus, this album served as a great marketing tool to prepare the Latin music industry for the next record.
Amor Prohibido (1994) - The monster. By 1994, all the artistic elements were super-charged and raring to go. From a radio standpoint, this record was brimming with hits - the socially conscious title cut, the reggae-tinged cumbia "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom," the piercing ballad, "No Me Queda Mas." But Prohibido was more than a collection of airwave smashes. Selena was already a multiformat star in the Latin music world. She penetrated Latin pop radio, getting extensive spins in nonTejano cities such as Miami and Chicago. Her Spanish-language cover of the Pretenders' "Back on the Chain Gang," here titled "Fotos y Recuerdos," was no coincidence. Selena was poised to make the big pop crossover. Before her death, Amor Prohibido had already sold 500,000 copies, great general market numbers. She signed a contract with New York's EMI Records. Top pop songwriters were pitching their tunes.
Dreaming of You (1995) - The first posthumous album, released four months after Selena's death. Dreaming of You consisted of four English-language tracks intended for her pop crossover album and a batch of remixed and remastered hits. The album was an instant best-seller, spurred on by the emotional outpouring surrounding her death. Pop producers such as Keith Thomas and Guy Roche tried too hard to conceal her Latina sass to make her more palatable for middle America. But Selena prevailed. The title cut includes a breathy, spoken Spanish aside that elevates the song from schmaltzy to sexy.
Siempre Selena (1996) - The inaugural album in Abraham Quintanilla's relentless quest to keep the music of his daughter alive. Siempre Selena featured a hodge-podge of songs recorded at various points in Selena's career. Mr. Quintanilla lifted her voice from old, sometimes pre-EMI Latin cuts and put them on newly recorded rhythm tracks. For diehards only, but it is satisfying to hear Selena tackle a ranchera, a pop ballad and then a cumbia in succession. Such diversity.
Selena Soundtrack (1997) - Selena as disco diva? Yes, and it worked. The predominantly English-language soundtrack to Gregory Nava's love-letter biopic, Selena, played up the vocalist's penchant for '70s and '80s dance music. Two medleys that included chestnuts such as "I Will Survive," "Last Dance" and "On the Radio" - both recorded live - joined the new dance tune "Is It the Beat?" and a cumbia medley. The album had little to do with the movie, but it sure played out well in the clubs.
Selena Anthology (1998) - For diehards with about $35 to spend. The exhaustive, three-CD set expands on the idea behind Siempre Selena. This time, Mr. Quintanilla organized and annotated each song and its accompanying disc. Cuts are grouped by musical category - there's a pop/English, a mariachi and a cumbia disc - with a brief explanation of their history. Folks wanting to hear Selena at age 14 ("Rama Caida"), singing her first charting single (a cover of "La Bamba") or tackling salsa ("CariÃ± Mio") will be in heaven. Otherwise, it's a long-winded excursion.
All My Hits - Todos Mis Exitos (1999) - Absolutely nothing new here, just a gathering of hits including the English-language ballads "Dreaming of You" and "I Could Fall in Love." Strictly for those who don't have any other Selena collection.
All My Hits - Todos Mis Exitos Vol. 2 (2000) - Since the first Todos Mis Exitos struck sales gold, why not a second installment? The "hits" get a bit more obscure ("Yo Fui Aquella," "MuÃ±to de Trapo"), but for completists this album does offer a few rarities. The best of the bunch is a hip-hop-ish live version of "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" that finds Selena in strong voice, vamping and belting out a blues wail as her pipes turn more soulful with each note.