Argentina has marked for itself a place as the home of some of the most remarkable musical talents of rock en español, whose brash imagination has continued to be a force to be reckoned with over the decades. And with the dog days of summer nearing their end, but the cool days of Autumn still not quite within reach, it just might be the prime time to reinvigorate your Spotify playlists, and what better than the loud, imaginative world of Argentine rock?
Muchacha (ojos de papel) – Almendra – 1969
Spinetta and the “muchacha,” Cristina Bustamante, during a rehearsal for Almendra, 1970
In the midst of the authoritarian government of General Juan Carlos Onganía, Almendra marked a turning point in the Argentine rock scene, becoming one of the first groups to produce serious, artistic Spanish-language songs. Spearheaded by a 19-year-old Luis Alberto Spinetta, regarded as one of the founders of Argentine rock, the album featured a mixture of psychedelic jazz-influenced virtuoso guitar technique and prophetic, other-worldly lyrics, melded together with more traditional aspects of Argentine melody, namely tango and traditional folkloric melodies.
Heavily influenced by the Beatles’ later work, the album’s opening track, “Muchacha (ojos de papel)“ is one of the most exalted songs in Argentine rock. It comes about half-enveloped in pillows and comforters, as Spinetta sweetly entreats his paper-eyed lover to stay until dawn, promising to steal a color for her while the world sleeps. Inspired by Cristina Bustamante, Spinetta’s first serious girlfriend, it’s a song filled with dreams and the amorous ache of desire and an early indication of the singular talent of “el flaco.” Spinetta would continue to helm some of the most influential bands in Argentine rock, including Pescado Rabioso, Invisible, Spinetta Jade, and Spinetta y Los Socios del Desierto. His cousin also had a crush on my mom.
La Biblia – Vox Dei – 1971
Initially singing in English under the name Mach 4, Vox Dei became convinced to sing in Spanish after Spinetta approached them following a concert, telling them he had loved their performance but that they really ought to sing in their own language. Thankfully they headed the advice and soon released Caliente in 1970. With songs like Canción para una mujer (que no está) and Presente, they had already established themselves as staples for generations of Argentines to butcher on guitar.
Vox Dei performing La nave infernal, 1973
But it was their sophomore album, La Biblia, that would define their place in rock history. Released in 1971, La Biblia followed the Christian bible from Genesis to Apocalypse through a blistering blend of psychedelic rock and the blues. One of the language’s first concept albums, La Biblia has been praised for its virtuosic musical talent and was even recommended by the Argentine Archbishop who gave it his blessing and encouraged the Argentine youth to purchase it.
Can I Just Say Charly García´s entire discography? – Charly García – 1967–present
If Charly García had just formed Sui Generis, dayenu. If Charly García had only founded Seru Giran, dayenu. If Charly García had just written “Los Dinosaurios,” dayenu. Honestly, if Charly García had just managed to survive jumping from the 9th floor of the Hotel Aconcagua into and into the pool, dayenu.
Charly García enjoying his stay at the Hotel Aconcagua, October 30th 2000
But the universe is kind, and Charly García has seemingly gone through life perpetually bored and more than a little strange, and he’s managed to do all this and more. Proving himself a musical factotum over the course of his decades-long career, making his way from the pastoral romance of Sui Generis to frenetic nervosity of “Clics Modernos,” as García howls “they won’t let me out” over the sampled groans of James Brown.
But if you need a place to start, consider “Confesiones de invierno.” In a time and place where military police would routinely beat the shit out of anyone who looked like a rocker, the titular track of Sui Generis’ sophomore album begins as a story of heartbreak – the narrator is dumped by his girlfriend for not having a job, so it goes – but quickly devolves into something more ominous. Soon, the narrator laments how “the radio confuses us all” and being beaten by the police, and fans embraced the catharsis of self-identification as García sang about the reality of living under military dictatorship.
Canción Animal – Soda Stereo – 1990
Fully Embracing the bubble gum elasticity of danceable rhythms on the band’s best-known track, “De Musica Ligera,” and with the distorted vim of guitars and the throaty grit of Gustavo Cerati’s lyrics, Canción Animal is a reverberating bash of emotions you can scream your heart out to.
The group had already marked itself as a behemoth in the 80s with albums like Signos and Nada Personal, but Canción Animal took the band to new heights and cemented its place as legends in the Latin American rock pantheon. Drawing heavily from artists like Sting and The Police, Cancion Animal’s appeal lies in its blend of surrealist romanticism and catchy melodies, raw and uninhibited.
The album ends with ‘Cae el Sol.’ A keyboard-driven ballad with big drums, the song describes the setting of the sun on Buenos Aires and the end of a relationship. But for a country emerging from a dirty war, “the sun comes out, and I can’t find you” also captures the bittersweetness of survival, surrounded by the ragged pieces of 30,000 disappeared. For Soda Stereo, the bare-knuckled zeal of their music becomes a pledge to stay alive and fight — even in the face of overwhelming violence.
Soda Stereo performing at the Velez Sarsfield stadium, 1990
By Fiona O’Reilly (she/her), is a veteran DJ and WXTJ Writes! Writer who has gifted us with one last piece. She used to run a show called “across the 8th dimension”!
WXTJ Writes! is currently being revamped and restaffed by a whole new team of writers for the fall of 2021 and beyond. Our mission is to make our website come alive with deep dives into some of our favorite music, hot takes, interviews, reviews, and much more. Always available to read here on wxtj.fm/articles.