Antonio Aguilar, Ranchera Legend, Gets Giant Statue of Him Unveiled in Los Angeles; His 10 Greatest Songs!

Categories: Español Music
Councilmember Jose Huizar's Facebook page

Yesterday, a humongous statue of Mexican ranchera legend Antonio Aguilar was unveiled near Olvera Street thanks to the efforts of Los Angeles councilmember Jose Huizar, who's probably related to me somehow like Jessica Alba because he comes from the rancho in Zacatecas right between the ranchos of my parents. The location was picked because, according to legend, Aguilar slept there three nights early in his career while he was trying to make it. Whether the tale is true or not, Aguilar was the biggest star in Southern California nobody ever heard of the past 50 years.

The unveiling of the statue was met with the thunderous applause of millions of Mexicans (even if some folks couldn't get into the actual ceremony--but we'll leave that to reporters on the scene) and the quizzical shrugs of the rest of Southern California. Antonio who? Is he the one with the mustache? (no: while Aguilar did have a mustache, you're thinking of his eternal rival, Vicente Fernandez). Is he the one with the funny hat? (no: while Aguilar did where Stetsons, sombreros, and even fedoras during his career, you're thinking of conjunto norteño icon Ramón Ayala). Is he the one that all the drug cartels idolize? (no: while Aguilar did sing one of the first narcocorridos, you're thinking of Chalino Sanchez).

See, the English-language media never got Aguilar--tellingly, the only English-language media outlet that bothered to report on the statue's planned unveiling last week was the Los Angeles Times' brilliant Reed Johnson (full disclosure: he once did a nice story on me, but I thought he was brilliant ever since he did a profile on the Argentine carajos Bersuit Vergarabat years ago). Hell, not even our brilliant older sister, LA Weekly's West Coast Sound blog, bothered with a plug, leaving it to us little wabs to teach y'all a lesson.

Aguilar? Just the greatest Mexican singer of his era, one of the few that easily jumped across genres, and an underrated actor who acted in more than a couple of Hollywood roles--let's call him the Bing Crosby of Mexican music save the child abuse, mixed with the plaintive voice of Roy Rogers. Aguilar never wrote any of his songs, but the Mexican nation loved him for his humility, his legendary shows, and clean living save for the drunk songs.

Let's roll the tape on his 10 greatest tunes. Those of ustedes who know his music: feel free to include your own songs in the comments. Those of you who've never heard his stuff: listen on...

1. "Triste Recuerdo"

This is Aguilar's most famous song (it translates as "Sad Memory"), and while Aguilar originally sang it backed by mariachi, I and most of his fans much prefer it in this version, backed by the indigenous tamborazo of Zacatecas, the home state of Aguilar (and I). As the title hints, it's a song of longing, of a man who messed up his chance at true love and will never live it down. Makes for great dancing--no, it really does!

2. "Un Puño de Tierra"

One of those great existential roars of fatalism that makes being a Mexican man so much fun. The essence of the song is distilled in the title: "A Fistful of Dirt," what Aguilar says is the only thing he'll take when he dies--therefore, "ahi que darle gusto al gusto/la vida pronto se acaba" ("let's give joy to joy/life ends quickly). With the brassy bravado of banda sinaloense, Aguilar gives the Truth to his audience--downright Sartrean.

3. "Paso del Norte"

Long before Mexican musicians decided to do mash-ups of the country's distinctive regional genres, Aguilar did it in this touching song about a man migrating to los Estados Unidos to look for work. In the song, the reedy accordion signifies the borderlands, as conjunto norteño in those days would've only been listened to in those regions. One of the few songs guaranteed to make a Mexican father cry. That one and...

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