1. Periódico de Ayer – Hector Lavoe
The opening strains of “Periódico De Ayer” by Hector Lavoe speak to its era of release, specifically the mid-1970s. The smoky horns with the thumping guitar lead into the plaintive vocals of Lavoe’s successful attempt to sell himself to his listener. The percussive rhythms invite you to shuffle your heels across the dance floor to match the beat.
2. Fuego en el 23 – La Sonora Ponceña
“Fuego En El 23” opens with crisp, cracking percussion that is quickly followed by bright horns and opening vocals to draw you into the heart of the song. This mid-tempo number is uplifting and full of fun. The lyrics tell the story of a blind man who lives on 65th between Madison and Fifth Ave. in New York City. He threw parties on the regular until the neighbors got tired and set some carpets on fire. Hence, the sound of fire trucks in the song.
3. Pedro Navaja – Willie Colón and Rubén Blades
This toe-tapping number tells the story of Pedro Navaja, a mysterious man who hangs out with his hands always in his coat and a smile on his face. One day, he gets involved in a bad situation between a woman and a man and gets shot when he tries to intervene. This song about street justice is set to a sprightly tune that belies the dark story being told.
4. Vivir Mi Vida – Marc Anthony
Marc Anthony’s “Vivir Mi Vida” is all about living life the way you want to live it, not the way someone else thinks you should. The full-throated vocals of the chorus backing Anthony’s heartfelt exclamation of being yourself reach deep into your soul and make you feel the message that’s being delivered. It’s a slower tempo than most, but it won’t matter once you let the music flow through you.
5. Sin Salsa No Hay Paraíso – El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico
The title of the song translates to “without salsa, there is no paradise.” This song by El Gran Combo De Puerto Rico embodies everything that is awesome about salsa. It opens with bright horns that feel like they’re bringing the sunshine in and remain prominent throughout the rest of the song. The vocals are upbeat and happy, and the tempo is quick without being exhausting. You’ll be tapping your toes in time from the moment the song starts and ends.
6. Toro Mata – Celia Cruz And Johnny Pacheco
“Toro Mata” is an old song with its origins in the conquest of the Spaniards over Peru. It’s been performed for well over 100 years and originally skewered the waltzes performed by Europeans in colonial Peru. The title translates to “the bull kills,” but it refers to the rigid dance style of the Spaniards. The song had fallen out of favor over time, but this performance by Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco gave it new life.
7. Las Caras Lindas – Ismael Rivera
“Las Caras Lindas” translates to “The Beautiful Faces.” The song itself is a love story to Ismael Rivera’s native lands of Puerto Rico and speaks to the multicultural nature of the people who live there and their innate beauty. It’s an uptempo number that highlights all the traditional instruments used to play salsa music.
8. Conteo Regresivo – Gilberto Santa Rosa
“Conteo Regresivo” starts out with a deceptively bright horn section that’s betrayed by the singer immediately leaping into lyrics that talk about a relationship gone bad. The song title means “countdown,” and the list starts at ten to finish at zero. By the time the singer reaches zero, he’s done and out. The song itself has a somewhat sad and disappointing feeling, but there is no fixing this relationship even with the upbeat salsa rhythms.
9. Quítate Tú – Fania All-Stars
This particular song is an ode to Fania, the major producer of salsa music through the decades. “Quítate Tú,” or “Quit You,” was performed at the Cheetah in New York City in 1971. All the singers and musical artists represent the major stars that were signed by Fania at the time. It’s a slower number that highlights the singers’ vocals. The lyrics are slightly nonsensical, but when you realize the singers are trading comments with each other, it makes more sense.
10. El Preso – Fruko Y Sus Tesos
Fruko Y Sus Tesos is a salsa band that hails from Columbia, and the song “El Preso” is considered one of the best salsa songs ever written and performed. The song title translates to “the prisoner.” The songwriter, Álvaro Velásquez, was inspired to write the song when he read a letter about someone’s anguish at being sentenced to 30 years in prison. Indeed, the dark tone of the song reflects the feelings of dread a prisoner experiences while incarcerated.
11. Una Aventura – Grupo Niche
“Una Aventura” by Grupo Niche is the group’s signature song, and it’s easy to see why as you listen. The lyrics are full of sensuality, the vocals are silky smooth, and the instrumentals ripple and sway. The lyrics talk about wooing a potential partner while out on an adventure in a beautiful setting that could be anywhere in the world.
12. Tu Me Haces Falta – Eddie Santiago Lluvia
“Tu Me Haces Falta” by Eddie Santiago Lluvia is a soft, pattering salsa beat with plaintive vocals that sing of wooing a love interest away from someone else. The singer isn’t convinced that his love interest will be happy with someone else and that she should stay with him. The instrumentals feel like the heartbeat of a man who is hoping against hope that his love interest will stay.
13. La Murga – Diego Morán
The lyrics of “La Murga” celebrate a type of musical theater that’s performed during Carnival season in Latin-speaking countries around the globe. The singer, Diego Morán, is a relative unknown on the salsa scene, but his music is worth a listen, especially with his satiny baritone drawing you through the tight musical performance.
14. Juanito Alimaña – Saulo Sánchez
The song tells the story of “Juanito Alimaña,” a desperate man who lives life on the edge and kills with ease. He’s not a pleasant character, and he has no friends. Toward the end of the song, he decries his loneliness, but there is no rehabilitation for him. Instead, he’s cursed to live the rest of his life alone. The Saulo Sánchez version of the song is a reprise of the original by Hector Lavoe with the artist doing justice to the original.
15. La Gozadera – Gente de Zona Featuring Marc Anthony
Gente De Zona is a Cuban duo that combines reggae beats with traditional salsa instruments. The song “La Gozadera” celebrates Puerto Rican culture on top of instrumentals that are solid, tight, and hard to resist. The vocals are growly and aggressive, yet balanced out by Marc Anthony’s vocals.
16. Peligro (Remix) – Luis Vázquez X Lenier
Luis Vazquez is a relative newcomer to the salsa scene with his release of “Peligro (Remix)” in 2022. He calls out various salsa artists in his song as he worries about being friend-zoned by his love interest. The song also highlights the pride of being Latin American and modernizing a type of music that’s beloved by Latin-speaking countries around the world.
17. Yo También – Romeo Santos Featuring Marc Anthony
At a first listen, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the song is about the singer’s passion for a sultry, beautiful woman. In reality, it’s a love song for Puerto Rico, home to Romeo Santos and Marc Anthony. The song is a fusion of R&B and salsa that features traditional salsa notes and rhythms but combines soaring vocals that are a hallmark of R&B.
18. Bailemos – Michael Stuart Featuring Yomo
“Bailemos” combines traditional salsa sounds and vocals with rap for a fusion of sounds that simply works. Your feet will find the salsa beats while your head bobs in time to the lyrics that talk about a man being driven crazy by his desire for a local tomboy.
19. Corazòn de Acero – Yiyo Sarante
The song “Corazòn De Acero” talks about the suffering the singer has gone through at the hands of a woman with a heart of steel. She jilted him hard, and now, he’s telling her about how he feels through the song. Never fear, however, as our valiant singer recovers his composure and moves on. Yiyo Sarante’s smooth tenor only serves to draw you in further and help you empathize with him.
20. La Enfermera Llegó – Izis La Enfermera De La Salsa
Izis La Enfermera De La Salsa has arrived to cure all your ills and make you feel good again as you make your moves around the dance floor. She breaks the mold as a female singer in a style of music that’s dominated by men. However, she gives as good as she gets and has a voice that delivers the soul-soothing medicine you’re looking for.
21. Qué Hay De Malo – Jerry Rivera
“Qué Hay De Malo” combines pop music styling with familiar salsa rhythms and instruments in a song that talks about forbidden love à la Romeo and Juliet. Jerry Rivera’s love interest has a father that won’t let her see her beau under any circumstances. Eventually, the two manage to get together despite her father’s attempts and the couple lived happily ever after.
22. De Vuelta Pa’ La Vuelta – Daddy Yankee And Marc Anthony
Daddy Yankee and Marc Anthony combine reggaeton, rapid speak-singing, and the singing style of salsa in this popular and award-winning song. The lyrics talk about a man being wronged by a woman and the pleasure she took in grinding him under her heel. In return, he tells her she’s no longer welcome in his life, how he feels about her, and how she lost, not him.
23. Cuéntame – Latin Ride
Latin Ride is new to the salsa music scene as of recent, but both lead singers have backgrounds as singers of salsa music. Their take on the song “Cuéntame” features classic salsa styling with smooth vocals that talk about a man trying to woo his lover back from another man.
24. Pequeñas Cosas – Willie González
The song title translates to “Little Things,” but the lyrics suggest that the little things on the singer’s mind are anything but little. It talks about how he can’t get a love interest out of his mind, something that resonates with every man and woman looking for romance. Willie González’ smooth vocals combined with the soft instrumentals really help deliver his anguish to the listener.
25. Que Se Vaya – Georgie Valencia
“Que Se Vaya” by Georgie Valencia fuses salsa and reggaeton styles together in a way that makes you feel like you’re on a sunny island. The lyrics, however, are a little sad as the singer talks about a woman who has caught his eye but seems upset or distressed. He wonders if she’s got a man who’s abusing her, and if so, how he’d love to make her his and show her happiness.
26. Procura – Chichi Peralta
Procura brings together merengue with salsa and a bit of timeless pop into a song that’s timeless, seamless, and smooth. Chichi Peralta’s smooth tenor and ability to carry his notes make for enjoyable listening as he sings about the temptations of a woman who has her eye on him. The horns seem to sympathize at a certain point as he fails to resist her wiles.
27. Amor Y Control – Rubén Blades And Seis Del Solar
“Amor Y Control,” or “Love And Control,” is a sorrowful song that talks about watching a family argue over the use of drugs by a family member at a hospital. The grandfather in the story says it’s his duty to help his family member despite their use of drugs, and that love is stronger than control. Rubén Blades’ singing delivers the emotion behind the story, and the slower tempo helps deliver the message of love over everything else.
28. Te Encontre – El Vega
El Vega sings about the joy of finding the woman of his dreams only to have her disappear into the night. He wonders if it was all real and thinks of her as an angel that came to stay with him for a little while. The song itself is undeniably salsa, but some of the familiar stylings take a back seat to a faster tempo and the usual instruments aren’t as apparent in this song.
29. Tengo Ganas – Victor Manuelle
Victor Manuelle’s smoky voice seduces your ear as he sings about a lost love. It’s apparent that he’s never gotten past the woman he’s lost as his vocals soar and are punctuated with anger at himself for letting her go. The instrumentals themselves match Manuelle’s emotional state in terms of strength and fierceness.
30. Mi Media Mitad – Rey Ruiz
The song “Me Media Mitad,” or “My Half Half,” talks about the sudden loss of a beloved partner to an unknown fate. Rey Ruiz’ lyrics talk about how his partner was the other half of his soul and how he’s lost without her. The upbeat tempo and bright horns belie the sad story being told but celebrate the life of a beautiful soul just the same.
31. Te Amo, Te Extraño – Guayacán Orquesta
Guayacán Orquesta is an ensemble salsa band that takes a different approach to this song about a man finding happiness with a woman and wanting to keep her beside him for the rest of his life. The song opens up with a traditional salsa guitar riff before leading into the horns that drive the rhythm of the song. The lead singer’s voice ably delivers the feelings of love and happiness that are felt by the subject of the song.
32. Ese Hombre – Los 4 Featuring Los Barraza
All of the traditional salsa musical stylings are present in “Ese Hombre,” but they’re combined with the vocal styling of Los 4 and Los Barraza’s rapping talents. The storyline is different from a man who loves a woman or an emotional story in that it’s two guys talking about the relationship problems between a couple they both know.
33. Mi Mayor Venganza – La India
La India is a female salsa singer who brings Celine Dion-esque vocal styling to “Mi Mayor Venganza.” Her voice is full of soul and soaring notes that are backed by tight horns and rippling percussion as she sings about dumping a guy who is bad news.
34. Renuncio – Proyecto A
“Renuncio” delivers the familiar percussion and horns of salsa, but has a tight sound that’s deceptively simplistic. The song tells the story of the one who got away and what the main character of the story would do to get her back in his life. The lead singer of Proyecto A sells the tale with conviction and strength.
35. ¿Oh Qué Será? – Willie Colón
Willie Colón is known for his social commentary and existential thinking in his song lyrics. “¿Oh Qué Será?” is no exception as he explores the thoughts of existence and how life isn’t as it seems, so what will be, will be.
36. En Peligro de Extinción – Bembe Orquesta featuring Farik Grippa
The Bembe Orquestra and Farik Grippa are a group of young musicians whose voices and playing styles are on their way to matching those of the masters of salsa music. This song talks about how a young woman is throwing away her chances at love with the main character of the lyrics.
37. No Soy – Tito Nieves and Norbert Vélez
“No Soy” is performed by Tito Nieves and Norbert Vélez, two salsa legends who wrote a song about finding happiness in a marriage. They sing about the importance of not taking a spouse for granted and doing nice things for them to show appreciation. It’s an upbeat and positive message that is fully in keeping with salsa storytelling traditions.
38. Hasta El Sol De Hoy – Edgar Joel Y Su Orquesta
“Hasta El Sol De Hoy” feels as if Billy Joel created a salsa tune with his Latin alter ego and made it work beautifully. The premise of the song is about a man who has found himself falling in love with a woman and how he needs to be patient to wait for the next day to see her again. Edgar Joel’s vocalizations make you feel the anticipation and excitement he feels as he waits for hours to pass by and the sun to rise.
39. Deseándote – Los Clones
The lyrics of the song revolve around the obsession of the main character’s desire to be with the love of his life in an intimate fashion. The instrumentation of the song is of the purest salsa styling, making it a great song for dancing while enjoying the sensuality of the lyrics and music.
40. Llorarás – Oscar D’León
The lyrics of “Llorarás” suggest a bit of tit-for-tat between two potential lovers. The woman in the song toys with her suitor for too long, and her suitor decides to revenge himself upon her in the same way with the additional suffering of making her cry. But did she deserve to be driven to tears? We may never know.
41. La Negra Tiene Tumbao – Celia Cruz
Celia Cruz is the godmother of salsa music and doesn’t rest when it comes to making new music. “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” is performed in her distinctive style, but she embraces the use of new rhythms and instrumentation for her song about an African woman who doesn’t stop or step aside for anything or anyone in an urban setting.