The 20 Greatest Ranchera Singers of All Time, No. 20-11
|Pepe Aguilar: CLASS...|
*The 20 Greatest Songs of Vicente Fernández: The Complete List
Trying to explain what música ranchera is to non-Mexicans reminds me of the apocryphal quote attributed to--take your pick--Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington, when someone asked what jazz is. Ranchera isn't so much a genre as it is a sentido--a way of life, of viewing the world in all its melancholy, grandiose beauty.
It's no surprise, then, that ranchera is considered the quintessential Mexican music genre in a land with a dizzying variety of music. Ranchera embodies everything that Mexicans think of themselves when at their best--macho, romantic, backed by mariachi, dressed in splendid outfits, and stubbornly stuck in a myth of a bucolic Mexico that never truly existed. There is no corollary for it in American song--it ain't country music, it ain't Tin Pan Alley, it ain't even Western swing. It's ranchera, damnit, and here's a listicle for ustedes who don't habla to learn of the titans and for wabs to debate forever.
Criteria for this list: not just vocal ability, but whether you wrote your own songs, whether you were a pioneer or followed in the footsteps of titans, and my own biases (which will become apparent soon). One procedural note: I limited this list to artists who primarily sang rancheras throughout their career. I didn't include people who excelled at the genre, like Juan Gabriel, because I'm saving them for another list. Go ahead and hate--this is my list haha.
And now...música, maestro!
20. Tito Guizar
Guizar essentially created the ranchera genre, both in music and film, with his 1936 effort Allá en el Rancho Grande. This film set the template for all future ranchera singers: pastoral themes, elongated notes, dashing looks, lightning-quick changes between baritone and falsettos and the charro costume that's now so iconic that even hipsters like Mariachi the Bronx use it. Guizar actually had a diverse musical career, but Mexicans will always associate him with "Allá en el Rancho Grande," if only because he was able to sneak in the word calzones ("underwear" in habla), thereby making generations of Mexis giggle.
19. Alejandro Fernández
The son of ranchera icon Vicente Fernández (who'll be in part dos of this list), Alejandro represents a dying breed: the ranchera singer. Because while the genre is still beloved in Mexico, few singers nowadays devote themselves to the craft; in Alejandro's case, it's his heritage, so he's never delved into other genres or collaborations that cheapen the genre. Put this low on the list only because he's a young pup compared to the other legends here, Fernández took the best of his father's voice but with half of the bragadoccio, all of the machismo, and a bigger helping of the wussiness, making him this generation's ultimate chonis collector.
18. Amalia Mendoza
With a voice smokier than a smudge pot, Mendoza made her mark singing the songs of Mexico's greatest composers--José Alfredo Jiménez, Cuco Sánchez, Chucho Monge, and others. I personally find her crying vocals a bit overwrought, but she was one of the three great female Mexican singers in the ranchera genre along with...well, you'll meet them soon enough.