Marc Anthony’s Self-Titled Album Turns 20
Salsa music equals Marc Anthony and vice versa. The Nuyorican artist isn’t only one of the genre’s legends, but — thanks in large part to his self-titled album, which turns 20 today — he’s perhaps the main reference English language audiences have for Caribbean-based music. Essentially, Anthony did what his predecessors could not: bring salsa to the mainstream.
And that’s not to take diminish their accomplishments. Pioneering icons of the genre such as Héctor Lavoe, Celia Cruz and Rubén Blades brought their sounds from the Caribbean and Central America to Spanish-language radio stations internationally in the ‘70s. Similarly, the vocals and instrumentation of Nuyorican musicians Willie Colón and Tito Puente helped to solidify salsa on the mainland, popularizing the genre in the ‘60s and ‘70s. These artists inarguably paved the way for Latinx artists to thrive on a global scale.
In 1999, English-speaking listeners began to embrace Spanglish records, including Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and Enrique Iglesias’ infectious ballad “Bailamos.” This was the same year Nuyorican artist, Marc Anthony, substantiated himself as an innovator in Latinx crossover success with his self-titled album, which was his first solo LP recorded in English.
Beyond a bilingual introduction for the mainstream, Marc Anthony served as the crooner’s top 10 debut on the Billboard 200 chart and was certified as triple-platinum by the RIAA. This LP sonically transitioned him from a salsero of the people to the salsero of the world. The album’s breakthrough single, “I Need to Know,” introduced Anthony’s charismatic wordplay to English-language radio — with a seductive audiovisual to follow.
At the peak of the millennium’s U.S. Latin pop explosion, the Cory Rooney-executive produced album positioned Anthony as a superstar in both Latin American and U.S. markets.
“I thought about what was considered Latino music, but could still be wholly Americanized at the same time,” Rooney says. “Marc Anthony and I took time to form the string arrangements on the song, ‘I Need to Know.’ At the time, we elected to create with synths instead of real horns. We wanted it to [blend] Latin sounds on the English-language record.”
The song’s combination of congas, piano keys, timbales and pop cadences demonstrated to the world that exceptional music knows no language barriers.
The timeless pop sensibility of “I Need to Know” dominated commercial spaces and became a U.S. top 5 single, earning Anthony a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. In time, the Spanish-language version of the hit, “Dímelo,” garnered the award for Song of the Year at the first annual Latin Grammys ceremony.
“Marc Anthony provided Sony Music Entertainment a testament to what can be achieved,” says Ron Jaramillo, a veteran creative director in music and the art director of the 1999 breakthrough album’s design. “Before the release of the LP, I thought, ‘Since Marc Anthony is doing music, acting, and has this amazing voice . . . to me, Marc Anthony is like a Latino Frank Sinatra.’”
Another standout off the album, the accordion-backed single, “You Sang To Me,” was featured on the soundtrack to the box office smash, Runaway Bride, and also reached no. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Anthony’s achievement brought forth a collaborative masterpiece, “My Baby You,” which was co-written alongside Grammy-winning producer, Walter Afanasieff.
“Walter was like the golden goose of Sony Music Entertainment at the time,” Rooney says. “He did all of the Mariah Carey records, other big ballads, and music like that with Celine Dion, too.”
Still, what brought Anthony’s album vision full circle was capturing its artwork in his hometown.
“I knew immediately where I wanted to shoot, which was the iconic Lenox Lounge in Harlem,” says the album artwork’s photographer, Stephanie Pfriender-Stylander. “The textures of the lounge were right for Marc. Lenox Lounge is legendary for music and soul. We knew we were creating something important for the history of Marc Anthony.”
Unlike the two-minute fillers that come and go on present-day LPs, Marc Anthony is a full body of work, absent of short tracks and guest features. Each verse is thoughtfully penned, such as in heartbreak hymns like, “Am I The Only One,” “Remember Me” and “How Could I.” The Spanish translation of “She’s Been Good To Me,” titled, “Como Ella Me Quiere A Mí,” exuded traditional Puerto Rican soundscapes.
From its Spanish guitar, Robin Thicke-co-written introduction, “When I Dream at Night,” to the album’s Emilio Estefan Jr. produced salsa closer, “Da La Vuelta,” Anthony celebrated his Latinidad throughout. With more than 12 million records sold worldwide, there is no sign of assimilation throughout Anthony’s three-decade career, nor a halt of commercial triumph. Without Anthony’s representation, many American-born Latinx artists may not have been afforded lucrative opportunities to show up as themselves.
“He is a true New York native and musical genius who understands his heritage. He grew up experiencing life from both sides,” Rooney explains. Twenty years after the release of Marc Anthony, the philanthropist, entrepreneur and performer is still dominating the Top Latin Albums chart. Anthony garnered his 11th top 10 entry on the charts with the album, Opus, earlier this year. There has never been a conventional barrier powerful enough to defy his cultural longevity and dominance.
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