After the death of Mexican songwriter/singer Juan Gabriel, just like others did, I binged watched/listened to many of his performances and songs online. I also found some articles with lists of his best songs. However, since every person has their taste, and since many English-speaking people aren't familiar with the 1,800+ songs that he wrote, I thought it would be in vain to proclaim a universal list of his best songs. For example, one of his most popular songs is "Querida", which I don't like very much, maybe because it played continuously in Mexico throughout the radio waves in the 80s while I was growing up.
So to help my fellow English-speaking friends, here's my list. I won't say these are his "best" songs, but these are some of my favorites and they represent to me some of his best-quality work and on top of that most of them have something unique in Juan Gabriel's almost 45-year-long career history. Only you will tell if they will be part of your favorites list!
14. La muerte del palomo
According to this article, this is the first song Juan Gabriel composed. Not bad! It is said that he conceived it when he was just 13 years old, that his brother didn't believe it was his when he listened to it, and that the topic of the lyrics is based on the life and death of his father (he died when Juan Gabriel was still a small child).
As you will be able to tell quickly, in many cases I prefer to listen to Rocío Dúrcal's interpretations of Juan Gabriel's songs, but here you can listen to the first recording of this song performed by Juan Gabriel, recorded the very same year I was born. In that same recording, which was the first one to feature only a mariachi band as the bulk of the music, there are other great songs like "Se me olvidó otra vez" (see also this version performed by Mexican rock/pop band Maná) and "Ases y tercia de reyes".
But of course, Juan Gabriel's first hit was really "No tengo dinero", recorded in 1971.
13. María José
This song, in addition to transporting me to my childhood since I hadn't listened to since then probably, represents the style of several of his songs. They include phrases that are sang in quick succession as if they were tongue twisters. And they get stuck in your head. Just pay attention to the chorus:
Eres siempre el ángel de mi vidaOther songs with catchy tunes and phrases like this one are "Denme un ride" and "He venido a pedirte perdón". In fact, Juan Gabriel himself must have liked a lot the chorus of María José, since he reused it in another song; "Tus ojos mexicanos lindos". Even though I like the original version of María José (as featured in the video above), this is a modified (live) version--with a more festive mood.
siempre el ángel de mis sueños
sueños ajá y he y he...
12. Así fué
This is a beautiful song recorded originally by Spanish singer Isabel Pantoja in 1988. She's featured in this video as a guest singer during one Juan Gabriel's performance on a much more recent date. Juan Gabriel sang this song often during his recitals. Here is the original video with her, and this is live performance by Juan Gabriel. The trumpet/sax solo at the end of the song played continuously for hours without end in my head after listening to this song recently.
11. Solo se que fue en marzo
This is a song that I liked even when I was a kid. I had to listen to it because my parents would play his songs regularly along with Emmanuel, Raphael, and the Bee Gees. Maybe I like this song because I'm from March (Marzo = March)! Other great songs like this one are "Ya lo sé que tu te vas", "Con tu amor", "Si quieres", "Busca un amor", and "Yo no se qué me pasó".
If you want to watch Juan Gabriel sing Yo no se que me pasó, in a private party without a microphone for one of his birthdays, see it here. Also, I couldn't write about these romantic songs without mentioning the incredibly sad and melancholic song "Yo no nací para amar" (live version here) which would translate as "I was not born to love" and at some parts says "nobody was born for me".
10. Te pareces tanto a mí
During this performance of this great ranchera (with a mariachi band), we see the awesome show-man that Juan Gabriel was and how he was able to win the audience easily. Other great mariachi songs of him are "La diferencia", "Caray", "Todo", "El palo", and I could not omit "Así son los hombres", otherwise my wife would not forgive me!
9. Lo pasado, pasado
The first to record this song was the Mexican ballad-songs singer José José, and was very famous in Mexico and many parts of Latin America. In this video he is performing along singer Cristian Castro, who is an admirer of both José José and Juan Gabriel. You can listen to the orignal recording, Juan Gabriel's interpretación, and even a version performed by rock band La Maldita Vecindad.
This song, just like "De mi enamórate", and many others (some included in this list) demonstrate how Juan Gabriel was an admirable success as a composer as well as a singer, creating hits not only for him but for other artists. Some were already well-know, others, he single-handedly created singing careers for them with his music.
8. Mi fracaso
This is a superb song with wind instruments making delightful melodies. I haven't found a live version that tops the original recording (in this video), with perhaps the exception of his concert at Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, but on that occasion this song was only part of an instrumental medley that served as the overture.
Muchas gracias,A peculiar detail that I just noticed recently while listening to this great song is his pronunciation of the word "mucho" as "musho". This is a typical juarense (from Ciudad Juarez) pronunciation that you can still hear today among some juarenses. Both Juan Gabriel and I grew up in that border city. "Arriba Juárez!"
los momentos de felicidad
Luna is a song with beautiful lyrics that feature a conversation with the Moon (Luna) about a loved one. It became popular in the voice of Mexican singer Ana Gabriel (no relation). Juan Gabriel also sang this song in many of his performances.
6. Porqué me haces llorar
This is a more recent song (2010) compared to most of the others, and I just love the melody that come from the violins at the beginning of the song. This is another video where Juan Gabriel simply brings the house down. You couldn't expect anything less since this was during a tribute to his singing/composer career.
Another relatively recent and great song that was the soundtrack of a popular soap opera in Mexico is "Abrázame muy fuerte".
5. El destino
"El destino" is one of my favorites of the many that he sings along with Rocío Dúrcal. It appears in "Juntos otra vez" where they sing together I think for the last time (in a record). Another very popular song of them together is "Déjame vivir". Juan Gabriel sang in many other duets, specially during the last few years of his life with the records "Los Dúo" and "Los Dúo 2". I particularly like the very upbeat version of "La Frontera" with Julión Álvarez, and "Ya no vivo por vivir" with Natalia Lafourcade.
4. Te lo pido por favor
Every Mexican knows the following verse by memory:
Tu me sabes bien cuidarYou can also listen to this song live here, and this is a version by rock band Jaguares. Another song with a very interesting impromptu duet, was this version of "Querida" with pop singer Aleks Syntek.
tu me sabes bien guiar
todo lo haces muy bien tú
ser muy buena es tu virtud
como te puedo pagar
todo lo que haces por mí
todo lo feliz que soy
todo este grande amor
solamente con mi vida
ten mi vida: te la doy
pero no me dejes nunca, nunca, nunca
te lo pido por favor
3. Amor eterno
This is not a song. It's a poem, a hymn. It's sang during many mother's' day celebrations, and in many funerals. Juan Gabriel composed this masterpiece in memory of his mother who passed away in 1974. In the video you can see Rocío Dúrcal unable to prevent some tears while she sings. Here you can see Juan Gabriel performing this gem at the Palacio de Bellas Artes where he dedicated it to all the mothers in the audience.
2. Hasta que te conocí
This is one of the most powerful songs that have ever existed. The change in rhythms and the tone of the lyrics full of disappointment and at the same time yearning, show powerful emotions and deep passion that only a few like Juan Gabriel have been able to achieve in a song. I think it is because of songs like this one that I heard recently a reporter mention that both women and mature men--even if they claim to be big machos--were seen crying during his concerts.
The combination of the mariachi band and orchestra, like in many of his songs, is excellent. The rock/pop band Maná also sings this one and sounds very good too!
My favorite. Even if I like the original version the most, which is performed by Rocío Dúrcal, I chose the video above because of the great musical arrangement and also because at the beginning he talks about the day when he is not on this planet anymore ("el día en que ya no esté en este planeta"), to which the audience shouts "No!" and then he says "Well, one day I have to leave" ("Bueno algún día me tengo ir...").
And indeed, he did leave. Way too early. But it is precisely his legacy and genius to create popular music what makes him immortal, and songs like these demonstrate... the power of a song.