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TOP 500 Salsa Songs of All-Time

Por. Nelson Rodríguez

Julio del 2014


During the last four decades of my life, I have had a chance to see almost every artist of this 'Top 500' list perform their best hits live, hear them on the original recordings and / or 'Best of / Greatest Hits' compilations, and, of course, on radio. We all learned over the years which songs best identify the artist. They are the songs we all sing to, and the tracks that remind us of the good old days, that amazing concert, or dancing at a club or festival. I remember running home with a new record and putting it on the table and instantly knowing this was going to be a huge hit - at least in my house. As a DJ, I knew that particular song would be spinning on my turntable at my next gig.

They were the hits that defined an era, and for many of us the Fania era played a major role in almost any list that I have seen in the past four decades, with the exception of maybe the past five years, when internet and lists have appeared and are mostly comprised of a younger generation of bloggers and websites that were not exposed to the 60's through the 80's.

Early AM radio (especially commercial radio) in the 70’s and 80’s had a huge influence on me and this list. Non-commercial radio became an even bigger factor to me from the late 70's through today, because they not only reinforced what the biggest all-time hits were, but in most cases had no biases - just a love for the music as it should be.

These non-commercial warriors confirmed what the commercial and non-commercial radio shows played a decade earlier. My pioneers were Symphony Sid, Dick 'Ricardo ’Sugar, Joe Gaines, Roger Dawson, and Felipe Luciano in New York.

When I first saw 'best of the year' lists in magazines, I believed what I read was the best, but over time realized that these lists - any 'Top 10', 'Top 100', 'all-time best', 'best of the decade' - are subject to the particular likes of the author of the list or column, and what were THEIR favorites.

While the list I have comprised has well over 90% of the songs that have made hundreds of playlists, they have been played on radio for many decades and are considered the true all-time Salsa classics. Keep in mind it is my list - my favorites, as you surely have yours.

All of 500 have been hits, and include songs that defined various eras and represent the best in ‘Salsa Dura’ and ‘Salsa Romántica.’ They influenced my childhood, my DJ days, and my playlists at radio to this day. The arrangements and lyrical messages had much to do with them being my all-time favorites.

This, of course, is a list of my favorites, and your favorites may be here but in a different order. But this list is also a great way to introduce a newer generation to the awesome Salsa arrangements of all-time. Believe it or not, 500 songs were not easy to select when you have so many to pick from. I chose these 500 hits from a list of over 3000 Hall Of Fame tracks that also include Boleros, Merengues and Latin Jazz. I do have another article on Merengue with my favorites, the best Latin Jazz recordings, as well as a Bolero listing for future articles. At the close of this article, I am half way on an article on Salsa Romántica, its impact, and my favorites for you to enjoy and mull over.

For now, I hope you enjoy this list and let us know what your favorites are!


TOP 500 Salsa Songs of All-Time

1. Eddie Palmieri - Vámonos Pal Monte (just the opening conga and organ riffs set me off)

2. Willie Colon / Héctor Lavoe - Che Che Cole (my happy song when I was 14 years old)

3. Ray Barretto - Indestructible (from my first favorite Barretto album)

4. Eddie Palmieri - Puerto Rico (the realization of my PR roots)

5. Fajardo y sus Estrellas - Tócala (my favorite descarga)

6. Tito Puente - Para Los Rumberos (my love for Puente came when I heard this song)

7. Machito y sus Afro Cubans - Tanga (horns that introduced me to the "arrangement")

8. Fania All Stars - Juan Pachanga (All - Stars at their height with the great Rubén Blades)

9. Orchestra Broadway - Isla Del Encanto (my # 1 for many years)

10. Orchestra Harlow - Señor Sereno (my introduction to the many great Jewish musicians)

11. Conjunto Libre - Lamento Borincano (a classic with the New York flavor)

12. Tito Rodríguez - El Que Se Fué (my favorite tune from my favorite vocalist)

13. Cortijo y su Combo - Quítate De La Vía, Perico (another fun song at a 60’s house party)

14. Típica 73 - La Candela (one of my Top 10 bands of all - time)

15. Willie Colon / Héctor Lavoe - Abuelita (always reminds me of my visits to grandma in PR)

16.Tito Puente - Ran Kan Kan (loved all the versions)

17. Oscar D’Leon - Me Voy Pa’Cali (the best club hit with virtually no commercial airplay)

18. Ismael Miranda - Borinquén Tiene Montuno (homage to PR)

19. Eddie Palmieri - Adoración (Ismael Quintana was my favorite during this time)

20. El Gran Combo - Un Verano En Nueva York (best homage to my NY)

21. Tito Rodríguez - Cara De Payaso (Big Band at its best)

22. Ray Barretto - Vale Más Un Guaguancó

23. Sublime - Coqueta

24. Willie Colon / Rubén Blades - Pedro Navaja

25. Eddie Palmieri - Un Día Bonito

26. La Solución - La Rueda (my introduction to a good friend Frankie Ruiz)

27. Richie Ray y Bobby Cruz - Aguzate

28. Willie Colon / Héctor Lavoe - Barrunto

29. Tito Puente - Complicación

30. El Gran Combo - Brujería

31. Orchestra Harlow - Arsenio (best tribute to El Ciego Maravilloso)

32.Sonora Ponceña - Rumba En El Patio (when I first fell in love with the Ponceña sound)

33. Bobby Valentín - Júrame

34. Eddie Palmieri / Cheo Feliciano - Anacaona

35. Ray Barretto - Ban Ban Quere

36. Angel Canales - Ana Isaoco

37. Héctor Lavoe - Mi Gente (as well as the Fania All - Star live version)

38th Fania All - Stars / Rubén Blades - Sin Tu Cariño (one of Rubén’s best)

39. Tito Nieves - Fabricando Fantasias (the best from this last decade)

40. Celia Cruz / Johnny Pacheco-Quimbara

41. Tito Rodríguez - Mama Guela

42. Grupo Niche - Cali Pachanguero (another club dance gem)

43rd Puerto Rico All Stars - Reunión En La Cima (challenge to FAS)

44. Charanga Casino - Soñador (took charanga and the SAR label to a new height)

45. Luis ‘Perico’ Ortiz / Rafael de Jesús - De Patitas

46. ​​Oscar D’Leon - Mi Bajo Y Yo (the big hit just before I met him at TH Records)

47. Típica 73 - Yo Bailo De Todo (from my favorite T - 73 álbum)

48. Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound - El Que Se Fue (my favorite cover version)

49. Isidro Infante - La Mitad De La Isla / Te Conozco Mascarita (the best of the 90’s)

50. Joe Cuba Sextet - A Las Seis (the premiere sextet sound)

51.Bobby Valentín - El Jibaro y La Naturaleza (my intro to another friend Marvin Santiago)

52. Héctor Lavoe - Periódico De Ayer

53. Celia Cruz / Willie Colon-Usted Abuso

54. Tito Rodríguez - Vuela La Paloma (a favorite of my parents)

55. Orquesta Guayacán - Señora Mia

56. Sonora Ponceña - Canto Al Amor

57. Willie Colon / Rubén Blades-Pablo Pueblo

58. Frank Bello - Carta A Una Madre (the best mother’s day song for me)

59. Jerry Rivera - Fresco

60. Joe Arroyo - En Barranquilla Me Quedo (the best from Colombia's giant of the 80’s)

61. Ray Barretto - Que Viva La Música (a national anthem for many)

62. El Gran Combo - Telephone

63. Héctor Lavoe - El Cantante (the song and seeing him showed realism in his life)

64th Dimension Latina / Oscar D’Leon - Lloraras

65. Eddie Palmieri - El Día Que Me Quieras (the best LP with only 5 songs on it)

66. Orquesta Guayacán - Ay Amor, Cuando Hablan Los Hombres

67. Fania All Stars / Cheo Feliciano - Canta

68. Luis Enrique - Lo Que Paso Entre Tú y Yo

69. LeBron Brothers - Salsa Y Control

70. Charlie Palmieri - La Hija De Lola

71. Tommy Olivencia - Lo Dudo (when I first heard Frankie Ruiz ’voice and first hit at TH)

72. Joe Cuba Sextet - Mambo of The Time (first English / Spanish intro for me)

73. Willie Rosario - Si No Estás Conmigo (from the Salsa Legend LP with many great vocals as Primi Cruz, Bernie Perez, and Josué Rosado)

74. Don Gonzalo Fernández - Canción A Un Individuo

75. Son De Cali - Te Amo

76. El Gran Combo - Vagabundo

77. Lalo Rodríguez - Ven Devórame Otra Vez

78. Frankie Ruiz - El Camionero

79. Sonora Ponceña - Bomba Carambomba

80. Johnny Pacheco - Agua De Clavelito

81. Beny More - Francisco Guayabal

82. Tito Puente - Babarabatiri (also enjoyed Machito and Willie Rosario’s versions)

83. Willie Rosario - Lluvia (yes, better than the Cuban version)

84.Don Gonzalo Fernández - Repicao (a true unsung hero)

85. Tito Rodríguez - Chévere

86. Típica 73 - La Botija De Abuelito

87. Sociedad 76 - La Solucion de la Salsa

88. Irakere - Dile A Catalina

89. Willie Rosario - Chango Ta ’Beni

90. Ismael Quintana - Mi Debilidad (also good with the FAS)

91. Fania All - Stars - Ponte Duro (the best Roberto Roena improvisation)

92. Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound - Traición

93. Grupo Folklórico y Experimental Nuevayorquino - Anabacoa

94. José Mangual Jr. - Campanero (genius of a cowbell solo)

95. Eddie Palmieri - Justicia (true talk about the music industry)

96. Pedro Conga - Si Supiera

97. Héctor Lavoe - El Todopoderoso (my first exposure to a religious message)

98. José Mangual Jr. - Cuero Na’Ma

99. Marc Anthony - Hasta Que Te Conocí

100. Ray Barretto - Cocinando

101. Willie Colon / Héctor Lavoe - Calle Luna, Calle Sol

102. Tito Puente - Niña y Señora

103. Justo Betancourt - Pa’ Bravo Yo

104. Frankie Ruiz - La Cura

105. Fajardo y sus Estrellas - Ahí Ma ’Ma

106. Joe Arroyo - Pal Bailador

107. Pete ‘El Conde’ Rodríguez - Catalina La O

108. Richie Ray y Bobby Cruz - Sonido Bestial

109. Mongo Santamaría - Sofrito (while mostly instrumental, it did well at radio and clubs)

110. Pacheco y su Charanga - Acuyuye

111. Sonora Ponceña - Sonora Pal Bailador

112. Marc Anthony / India - Vivir Lo Nuestro

113. Louie Ramírez-Paula C.

114. Willie Rosario - Botaron La Pelota

115. Tito Puente - El Cayuco

116. Eddie Palmieri - Muñeca

117. Johnny & Ray - Bandolera

118. Ray Barretto - Canto Abacua

119. Willie Colon / Héctor Lavoe - La Murga (de Panama)

120. Fania All - Stars / Ismael Quintana - Piano Man

121. Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound - Que Se Sepa

122. Ismael Rivera y sus Cachimbos - El Nazareno

123rd DLG - Triste y Solo

124. Joe Cuba Sextet - El Pito (I'll Never Go Back To Georgia)

125. Los Van Van - Sandunguera

126. Sonora Ponceña - Wed Lindo Yambú

127. Pedro Conga y su Orquesta Internacional - Ven Conmigo Corazón

128. Tito Rojas - Nadie Es Eterno

129. Ray Barretto - Guarare

130. Charanga America - Ayudame San Antonio

131. Orquesta Guayacan - Torero

132. Noche Caliente - Estar Enamorado

133. Willie Colon / Héctor Lavoe - Todo Tiene Su Final

134. Celia Cruz / Johnny Pacheco-Cucala

135. Conjunto Clásico - Pau Pau

136. Willie Rosario - Busca El Ritmo

137. Eddie Palmieri - Oye Lo Que Te Conviene (2 great versions, the other one with Lalo Rodríguez)

138. Pete El Conde Rodríguez - Pueblo Latino (also a great ‘live’ version with FAS)

139. Machito y sus Afro - Cubans - Zambia (or Zambia)

140. Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound - Mi Desengaño

141. Willie Colon / Héctor Lavoe - Panama

142. Sonora Ponceña - Boranda

143. Oscar D’Leon - Bravo De Verdad

144. Ray Barretto - El Hijo De Obatalá

145. Típica 73 - Pa’Gozar

146. Charanga 76-Soy

147. Luis Enrique - No Le Amas Le Temes

148. Johnny Pacheco - Esa Prieta

149. Eddie Palmieri - Revolt / La Libertad Lógico

150. Tito Rodríguez - Cuando, Cuando, Cuando

151. Sonora Ponceña - Yambeque

152. Tommy Olivencia - Trucutu

153. Conjunto Chaney - Esto Es Amor

154. Celia Cruz / Johnny Pacheco-Toro Mata

155. Eddie Palmieri - Nada De Ti

156. El Gran Combo - Timbalero

157. Luis Enrique - Desesperado

158. Tommy Olivencia - Mujeres Como Tu

159. Celia Cruz / Ray Barretto - Nadie Se Salva de la Rumba

160. Alegre All Stars - Manteca

161. Batacumbele - Se Le Ve

162. Gilberto Santa Rosa - La Agarro Bailando

163. Orquesta Aragon - Cachita

164. Tito Rodríguez - Yambu

165. Willie Colon / Héctor Lavoe - La Banda

166. Eddie Palmieri - Pa’Huele

167. Sonora Ponceña - Timbalero

168. Harlow Orchestra - Señor Botánico

169. Pete ‘El Conde Rodríguez - Soy La Ley

170. Willie Rosario - El Timbal De Carlitos

171. Gene Hernández y Novedades - Siempre

172. Willie Colon / Ismael Miranda - No Me Digan Que Es Muy Tarde

173. Willie Colon / Rubén Blades - La Maleta