Hispanic Heritage Month: The 50 Greatest Latin Songs of All Time

9/15/2017 by Billboard Staff

Our journey to choose the 50 greatest Latin songs of all time took us across space and time, from Argentina to Spain and from the 1920s to 2018. We wanted to represent the full spectrum of Latin music (including music from Spain), from Mexican ballads to Cuban son to Colombian salsa to today’s bachata. Our standard of selection wasn’t merely hits, but instead, songs that made a difference, that marked a moment, that influenced many and that were simply great compositions. Most importantly, even though 50 is not nearly a big enough number to encompass the huge universe of the Latin songbook, every one of these songs continues to be relevant today. We invite you to listen and celebrate with us as we count down from No. 50 to our No. 1 best Latin song of all time.

50. “Macarena” – Los del Rio, Bayside Boys
Writers: Rafael Ruiz Perdigones and Antonio Romero Monge (Los del Rio)

Did anyone not dance the Macarena? The novelty track by Spanish duo Los del Río became a massive hit in 1995 and in 1996 it ranked No. 7 on Billboard‘s All Time Top 100 songs after spending 14 weeks at the top of the chart.

49. “Guantanamera” – Celia CruzPete Seeger & more
Writer: Jose Fernandez Diaz based on poetry by José Martí

The simple early 20th century song based on poetry by Cuban patriot Jose Marti is considered the unofficial Cuban national anthem. It was American folk singer Pete Seeger who took the humble acoustic tune to new heights, when he adapted it and recorded it live at Carnegie Hall in 1963. The Sandpipers’ 1966 version reached the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Artists from Celia Cruz to Wyclef Jean have since claimed the song as their own.

48. “Matador” – Los Fabulosos Cadillacs
Writer: Gabriel Julio Fernandez Capello (aka Vicentico)

Argentine ska band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs created an instant party classic with “Matador,” from the 1994 album Vasos Vacios. The song went to the top of the charts in Latin America, and gained widespread popularity as a soccer anthem, as part of the Grosse Pointe Blank movie soundtrack, and as a theme song for tennis player Rafael Nadal.

47. “Eres tu” – Mocedades
Writer: Juan Carlos Calderon

In the 1970s, everything Spanish male/female group Mocedades sang, turned to gold. But it started with “Eres tu,” a track penned by master songwriter Juan Carlos Calderon that was a runner up in the 1973 Eurovision Song contest. “Eres tu” was a great pop song. But its complex harmonies and gospel tinges were frankly revolutionary. The song was eventually translated to English (as “Touch the Wind”), and recorded by many acts, including The Shirelles and Johnny Mathis. But the Spanish original reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, the only song in Spanish to ever make it to the top 10 of the chart.

46. “La Maza” – Silvio Rodríguez, Luis Eduardo Aute, Mercedes SosaShakira
Writer: Silvio Rodriguez

Rodriguez was the leader of Cuba’s new trova (nueva trova) movement, and wrote his songs within the confines of communist Cuba. They were so good that they not only transcended the island but politics as well, connecting with Latin youth up and down the continent drawn to his poetic, symbolic lyrics. “La Maza,” a powerful reflection on humanity, is even more eloquent in its arrangement, set simply to acoustic guitar and percussion.

45. “No me doy por vencido” – Luis Fonsi
Writers: Luis Fonsi and Claudia Brant

Fonsi got together with friend and longtime collaborator Claudia Brant to pen a track that could have become a drinking song, but instead became an anthem of perseverance. With its lilting 6/8 beat, “No me doy por vencido” spent 30 weeks on the top of Latin Pop Airplay in 2009 and propelled Fonsi to superstardom.

44. “La Bamba” – Ritchie Valens
Writer: Folk song adapted by Ritchie Valens

Valens’ rock ‘n’ roll take on a beloved Mexican folk song was an instant top 40 hit in 1958. Covered countless times, most notably by Los Lobos for Valens’ biopic of the same name, it’s still that universal ditty that anyone can sing, even without speaking a lick of Spanish.

43. “El Manisero” – Multiple artists
Writer: Moisés Simons

Cuban Moisés Simons wrote his take on a Havana street seller’s cry and saw it go down in history as the first major Latin hit in the United States. “El Manisero” was first recorded by Rita Montaner for Columbia Records but exploded in the version by Don Azpiazú and his Havana Casino Orchestra. After Stan Kenton recorded his version as “The Peanut Vendor,” the song became a standard of the American big band repertoire.

42. “Danza Kuduro” – Don Omar feat. Lucenzo
Writers: Don Omar, Lucenzo, Faouze Barkati, Fabrice Toigo

There was reggaetón, and there was “Danza Kuduro.” A mix of reggaeton and African beats, it spent 15 weeks on top of Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart and was the top-selling Latin track of 2011 and 2012 in the U.S. While the original version was Lucenzo’s, it was Don Omar’s remix (feat. Lucenzo) that became a global hit, including a featuring in the film Fast Five.

41. “Amor Prohibido” – Selena
Writers: AB Quintanilla and Pete Astudillo

At first listen, this light, airy, Texan cumbia about love between different social classes sounds like a fairy tale. But it struck a universal chord. Penned by Selena’s brother, AB Quintanilla, and Pete Astudillo, it topped Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart for nine weeks, and was one of the first major Tejano music crossovers. It has since been covered by Thalia and Moderatto, among others.

40. “Manteca” – Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo
Writers: Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo, Gil Fuller

Dizzy Gillespie and Afro-Cuban conga player Chano Pozo came together in 1947. The result was spontaneous combustion in the form of their collaboration “Manteca,” a cornerstone of Latin jazz.

39. “Mujeres” – Ricardo Arjona
Writer: Ricardo Arjona

Who would have thought that the definitive pop feminist anthem of the ‘90s would be written by a man? And not just any man, but the ever-poetic Ricardo Arjona, who exalts women in every single verse. “What would have Neruda written or Picasso painted, if muses like you didn’t exist?” He’s got a point. From Arjona’s 1992 Animal Nocturno, “Mujeres’ was the Guatemalan singer/songwriter’s first major hit.

38. “Historia de un Amor” – Various Artists
Writer: Carlos Eleta Almarán

One of Latin music’s most timeless boleros was penned by a Panamanian composer, initially popularized by a Cuban singer Leo Marini and then taken even further by Argentine Libertad Lamarque, who also starred in the Mexican film of the same name. Truly a pan-regional hit, it was originally written in 1955 as an homage to Almarán’s brother’s dead wife. “Historia” has since been covered by dozens of artists.

37. “Si no te hubieras ido” – Marco Antonio Solís
Writer: Marco Antonio Solis

After exiting Los Bukis, Mexico’s top-selling romantic group, Marco Antonio Solís’ solo career took off with the same impetus. But “Si no te hubieras ido” solidified him as a crooner of epic international proportions. From his 1999 album Trozos de mi alma (certified platinum in the U.S. for shipments of 1 million), “Si no te hubieras ido” is a poignant anthem of lost love. The song was used in the three-way scene of Y tu mama tambien, assuring its place in pop culture.

36. “La Gota Fria” – Carlos Vives
Writer: Emiliano Zuleta

This 1938 vallenato classic by Emiliano Zuleta became an international hit in 1993 in Vives’ voice and distinct arrangement. A track from Clasicos de la Provincia, “La Gota Fría” opened the door to tropi-pop, the tropical pop fusion that defined Vives’ music and an entire generation of Colombian music.

35. “A puro dolor” – Son by Four
Writer: Omar Alfanno

The purest of pain — that’s what this beautiful break-up anthem from Puerto Rican salsa romántica quartet Son by Four evokes. Released in 2000, the song was such a hit, it spawned an English version and a ballad version, and ended up topping Billboard‘s decade-end Hot Latin Songs of the 2000s chart. Penned by Omar Alfanno, “A puro dolor” spent a record 20 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, a record it would hold until Shakira’s “La Tortura” topped it in 2005.

34. “La Rebelion” – Joe Arroyo
Writer: Joe Arroyo

Call it the salsa king’s magnum opus. Painting a vivid picture of 17th-century slavery in Colombia, Arroyo gave a dignified voice to black culture in Latin America. It’s a testament to Arroyo’s genius that he could make music with a message without sacrificing rhythm. Released in 1986, at the apex of Colombia’s emergence as a salsa super power, it was revolutionary for the time, and continues to be so today.

33. “Corazon Partió” – Alejandro Sanz
Writer: Alejandro Sanz

Flamenco-infused pop had always been around, but Alejandro Sanz took it to a new level in 1997 with “Corazon Partío,” a gently swaying, bittersweet tale of a broken heart. Sung with Sanz’s poetic lisp, it proved the Spanish singer/songwriter’s flamenco-infused sound had pop appeal.

32. “Mediterráneo” – Joan Manuel Serrat
Writer: Joan Manuel Serrat

Serrat’s organic, laid back yet vibrant look at his “Mediterraneo” still takes listeners back to their own childhood, regardless of where it took place. The 1971 track of the album by the same name has been voted the best pop song in Spain in two different polls.

31. “Ahora Quien” – Marc Anthony
Writers: Estéfano, Julio Reyes

“Ahora quien,” from Anthony’s 2004 Valió la pena, is one of the most exquisitely painful breakup songs (“Who now, if not me? I look at myself in the mirror and I feel stupid. Illogical.”) Penned by Estefano, it spent two weeks at No. 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart. A contemporary classic.

30. “Piel Canela” – Various artists
Writer: Bobby Capó

Written and recorded by Puerto Rican singer/songwriter Bobby Capó, this lilting cha-cha-cha was recorded by a plethora of artists, including Eydie GormeLinda Ronstandt, Andres Cepeda and Josephine Baker (who recorded it in French). Here is Nat King Cole‘s rendition, in Spanish!

29. “La nave del olvido” – José José
Writer: Dino Ramos

With an extraordinary voice that could go from croon to power ballad in a single phrase, Mexican singer José José inspired generations of balladeers who sought to emulate his emotional, yet technically pristine vocals. 1970’s “La nave del olvido,” penned by Dino Ramos, was his first international hit.

28. “Conga” – Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine
Writer: Enrique “Kike” Garcia

An English-language take on carnival music, “Conga,”written by Sound Machine drummer Enrique Garcia, was the Cuban revolution that American radio needed in the ‘80s, and the spark that ignited the Latin explosion at the turn of the century. What’s more, it was proof that the original Latin crossover queen and Miami Sound Machine didn’t have to change who they were to go mainstream.

27. “Cali Pachanguero” – Grupo Niche
Writer: Jairo Varela

With its hard-hitting sound and fast tempos suited for Cali’s brazen dancers, Grupo Niche redefined the sound of salsa, lending it a distinctly Colombian imprint. No song better exemplified this than 1984’s in-your-face anthem to Cali — the “capital of salsa” — penned by Niche’s leader and songwriter, Jairo Varela. This love song to the hometown became an international anthem. The movement was so homegrown at the time, Niche never filmed an official music video. But this live performance offers a glimpse of Varela, now dead, playing the guiro with his band.

26. “Mariposa Traicionera” – Maná
Writers: Fher Olvera

Although Maná had many hits before 2003, “Mariposa Traicionera,” from Revolución de amor, became the first to hit No. 1 on Hot Latin songs. With its mix of acoustic guitars and Caribbean lilt, it ushered a new era of hits for Latin music’s biggest rock band with pop appeal.

25. “Ciega, sordomuda” – Shakira
Writers: Shakira, Estéfano

Shakira’s 1998 Donde están los ladrones took the Colombian singer/songwriter to a broader international audience and solidified her place as a young act an entire Latin generation could identify with. “Ciega, sordomuda,” catchy, poppy and witty continues to be one of those songs women and girls will sing for generations to come.

24. “El Buen Perdedor” – Franco De Vita
Writer: Franco de Vita

Latin music in the 1970s and 1980s was dominated by heartthrob balladeers who sang the songs of great composers. Then along came Franco de Vita, a Venezuelan with Italian roots who wrote and sang love songs, yes, but intensely personal ones told in a colloquial language that connected with a new generation. “El buen perdedor” (The good loser), from his 1984 solo debut, opened a new generation’s eyes to romance.

23. “El gran varón” – Willie Colón
Writer: Omar Alfanno

El gran varón” wasn’t even meant to be a single for Colón. But he insisted. Included in 1989’s Top Secrets, his last album for Fania, “El Gran Varón” tells the story of Simon, who is destined to be a “big man,” but instead, goes to the U.S., discovers he is gay and dies of AIDS. The song went where no song in Spanish had gone before or since, and, with Colon’s cutting-edge arrangement also became a continental hit.

22. “El Cantante” – Héctor Lavoe
Writer: Rubén Blades

Ruben Blades was one of the secret weapons in Fania’s arsenal, so when he wrote this 1978 song for Hector Lavoe, singer of singers, you knew it would end up a classic. Set to a simple, salsa piano line and adorned with lush orchestral strings and horns, it tells the story of an entertainer with an existential crisis and a sense of responsibility to uplift others, while battling the fragile nature of his ego. “If you don’t love me when I’m alive, don’t cry for me when I’m gone,” sings Lavoe. The song is even more poignant considering the salsa legend’s eventual downfall.

21. “Y Cómo es el” – José Luis Perales
Writer: José Luis Perales

Spanish singer/songwriter José Luis Perales penned many of the ballads that defined the glory days of Latin romantic music of the 1970s and 1980s. But 1982’s “Y como es el” (How is he?), where a man pleads with an ex lover to tell him about her new love, is especially poignant. Originally written for Julio Iglesias, Perales decided to record it, and delivered one of his biggest hits. Marc Anthony famously reprised it in his album Iconos.

20. “Querida”- Juan Gabriel
Writer: Juan Gabriel

With “Querida,” Mexican singer/songwriter Juan Gabriel was able to fuse his love for all things histrionic with his love of all things melodic and finally, his love for improvisation. Originally recorded in 1984, “Querida” was a phenomenal hit reprised by many singers, including Juan Gabriel, who this year recorded it as a duet with Juanes.

19. “Secreto de amor” – Joan Sebastían
Writer: Joan Sebastian

“I’ll change your name, but I won’t change the story,” sang Joan Sebastian in this 2004 tale of forbidden romance that he wrote about one of his many paramours. With its slow intro and soaring chorus, it’s the perfect marriage of popular and poignant.

18. “Burbujas de amor” – Juan Luis Guerra
Writer: Juan Luis Guerra

Bachata was a rather niche and local Dominican genre until singer/songwriter Juan Luis Guerra gave a sophisticated touch and intriguing lyrics, without in any way diminishing its invitation to the dance floor. Sexy and romantic, Guerra’s 1990 hit about being hopelessly in love (“Poor heart, he undresses impatiently at the sound of your voice”), introduced the world to contemporary bachata.

17. “Oye Como Va” – Tito PuenteCarlos Santana, others
Writer: Tito Puente

One measure of a song’s greatness is how it endures through time in different versions. “Oye Como Va,” penned by master timbalero Tito Puente, was all about the beat when he recorded it in 1963 (“Oye como va, mi ritmo, bueno pa’ bailar, mulata” — Listen to my rhythm, great to dance to, mulatta). It was a pulsating cha-cha-cha that got new life in Santana’s epic 1970 cover, which reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, and continues to be a Latin standard today.

16. “El Rey” – José Alfredo JiménezVicente Fernández
Writer: José Alfredo Jiménrez

Penned by Jiménez, one of the great mariachi singers of all time, the track came to epitomize the symbol of the macho mariachi singer: King, lover, hero, man of the hour. Later recorded by Pedro Vargas and Vicente Fernández (plus Luis Miguel and others), it may be the most emblematic ranchera track written.

15. “A Dios le Pido” – Juanes
Writer: Juanes

In 2002, inspired by the guasca sounds of his native Medellin, the Colombian rocker with a heart of gold infused folk into Spanish pop/rock, and instantly gave us a new, feel-good sound to groove to. “A Dios le Pido” (To God I Pray) never hit No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs, but it established Juanes as Colombia’s favorite rocker.

14. “Música Ligera” Soda Stereo
Writer: Gustavo Ceratti

The now-legendary Argentine rock trio, fronted by the late Gustavo Cerati, created many songs that are now classics throughout Latin America. “Música Ligera,” instantly recognizable from the first notes, is Soda’s most enduring anthem, a stadium song that immediately pulls people to their feet.

13. “El Perdon” – Nicky Jam and Enrique Iglesias
Writer: Nicky Jam

NIcky Jam’s career was sidelined for over a decade until he released this wistful break-up anthem with Enrique Iglesias that also marked a turning point for reggaeton: Who knew reggaeton acts could be so sensitive? “El Perdon,” in both English and Spanglish versions, struck a collective nerve and showed reggaeton was more than music to party to. 

12. “Amigo” – Roberto Carlos
Writer: Roberto Carlos

Roberto Carlos penned a string of romantic hits that, translated into Spanish, became anthems. Ironically, “Amigo,” the song he penned for his friend and longtime writing collaborator, Erasmo Carlos, may be the most enduring, embraced by men and women alike.

11. Obsesion (Aventura) – Romeo Santos
Writer: Romeo Santos

Bachata would never be the same after this 2002 classic, penned by Romeo Santos. In one smooth move, the Dominican American boys from the Bronx took their parents’ traditional, guitar-laced (and they would argue, corny) music and made it cool for a generation caught between two cultures and languages.

10. “Gasolina” – Daddy Yankee
Writers: Various

With its unforgettable hook and, revolutionary (for the time) beat, “Gasolina” is the track that internationalized reggaeton, taking it from a localized trend to a global phenomenon that’s still going strong, 15 years later. With the catchiest of hooks, Yankee had everyone dancing to the dembow beat.

9. “Somos Novios” – Armando Manzanero
Writer: Armando Manzanero

A Manzanero-penned ballad is like that bespoke tux you can take out of the closet and wear ten, 15, 20 years from now and it will still look timeless and elegant. This 1968 classic raised the bar on chivalry and was famously revived in 1991 when Luis Miguel covered it, schooling a new generation of lovers on Manzanero’s greatness. It is also the best-known Manzanero track for the mainstream, thanks to its top 10 Perry Como version, “It’s Impossible.”

8. “Pedro Navaja” – Rubén Blades
Writer: Rubén Blades

Rubén Blades’ salsa version of Kurt Weill’s “Mack the Knife,” produced and arranged by Willie Colon, transcended even the popularity of Blades and Colon’s best-selling Siembra album for which it was first recorded. While the earlier, English version of “Mack the Knife” became an American standard recorded by Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra, Blades’ Spanish-language “Navaja” introduced a generation of non Spanish-speakers to what at the time was New York’s new Latin beat.

7. “Bailando” – Enrique Iglesias featuring Gente de Zona and Descemer Bueno
Writers: Enrique Iglesias, Descemer Bueno, Gente de Zona

This 2014 meeting between Spain, Cuba and Miami, and between flamenco and Latin urban rhythms was an intoxicating mix. How could you not dance and get lost in “una noche loca,” when Enrique and friends are compelling you to do so ever so sweetly? No wonder it became the first Spanish song to surpass one billion views on YouTube. 

6. “El dia que me quieras” – Various artists
Writer: Carlos Gardel, Alfredo Le Pera

One of the many songwriting collaborations between the immortal tango king Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera, it was originally featured in the 1935 film of the same name, performed by Gardel. The haunting song of impossible love would become first a tango standard, then a romantic standard, done and redone by dozens of artists, perhaps most memorably by Mexico’s Luis Miguel. The song was inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001. Gloria Estefan recorded the only English translation in 2013.

5. “Despacito” – Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber

Writers: Luis Fonsi, Erica Ender, Daddy Yankee

The blend of pop and reggaeton, mixed in with folk touches like the introductory Puerto Rican cuatro, and of course, that irresistible chorus –“Des-pa-ci-to”– made this the biggest song of 2017. More than 3 BILLION video views later, it is, without a doubt, one of the biggest hits in Latin music history, period. 

4. “Livin la Vida Loca” – Ricky Martin
Writers: Robi Rosa, Desmond Child

The big horns, the seductive bass, the debauchery in the lyrics, and Ricky Martin shaking his bon-bon: how could anyone resist this late ‘90s anthem penned by Robi Draco Rosa and Desmond Child? They didn’t, and that’s why when millennials look up “Latin pop explosion,” instead of relying on Wikipedia, they should just dance to the song that started it all.

3. “Besame Mucho” – Various Artists
Writer: Consuelo Velazquez

Velazquez was a teen in Mexico when she wrote “Bésame Mucho” (Kiss me a lot) in 1940. With its easy to say entreaty, it became, by some accounts, the most recorded and covered Spanish language song of all time. Even The Beatles covered it, part of a long list of artists who recorded the song in many languages, including Luis Miguel, Diana KrallAndrea BocelliHarry Connick Jr.Michale Bublé, Korean pop singer Ailee and, most recently, Il Divo on their 2015 album.

2. “Mambo No. 5” – Dámaso Perez Prado and others
Writer: Dámaso Pérez Prado

No single figure was more representative of the mambo fever that flooded the United States in the 1950s than Dámaso Pérez Prado. The original mambo king’s signature song is still the most recognized mambo of them all; in 1999 it became a hit with new generations when it was recorded by Lou Bega.

1. “Esta tarde vi llover” – Various Artists
Writer: Armando Manzanero

There are many superb songs by the Mexican singer/songwriter that beg to be included in this list. “Esta tarde vi llover” is breathtaking in its simplicity and effectiveness. There are countless covers of the track — virtually every big name in Latin music has recorded the song — plus an English-language version titled “Yesterday I heard the rain” and recorded by Tony Bennett with Alejandro Sanz for his Duets II album. Manzanero, still very active as a touring artist, composer and producer, has recorded multiple versions of the song alongside a plethora of acts. But his solo version is still the original. Here is Manzanero’s more contemporary take on his classic from the 1960s.

Hispanic Heritage Month

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