The 50 Best Boleros of 1959
by Judy Cantor-Navas | August 20, 2014
Few songs are as intimate as "Sabor a Mi," the bongo-accented ballad first popularized by Eydie Gorme and Los Panchos (which went on to become a staple of supper club repertoire). It was written in 1959 by Mexican songwriter Álvaro Carrillo, a fact that, all on its own, would make that year an outstanding one for the perfect, piquant Latin romantic ballad style known as “bolero.”And yet this was also the year that Chilean singer Lucho Gatica had his first international hit, the suggestive "Voy a Apagar la Luz.” Likewise, Omara Portuondo debuted with "Magia Negra," her Cuban-tinged version of "That Old Black Magic.” And Spain's Sara Montiel sang the sexiest version of "Besame Mucho" ever. Add songs by Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Beny More, Daniel Santos and other greats of the era, and it's clear that the bolero was at its peak in 1959.
Songs on this list became instant classics throughout the Spanish-speaking world, and by extension in the United States (where mambo orchestras included slow-dancing songs in every set). The fruitful exchange between jazz and Latin music was in full swing. Nat King Cole recorded his second Spanish album in 1959. Tracks by Abbey Lincoln and Ray Charles are included in our sampling of 50 of the year's best songs. It was also the year of the Cuban Revolution, which brought both a mandate for more socially committed songs and a U.S. embargo that would dampen the fruitful U.S.-Cuban musical relations so fantastically displayed in many tracks here. But the year also foreshadowed new sounds, such as Cuba's own filin movement (which would take jazz vocals to a deeper place), as well as the first results, in Latin America and Spain, of rock 'n' roll's global invasion.