Like tons of kids the world over, one of my first memories of music was listening to the Beatles. The Red Album and The Blue Album were a permanent fixture in my father’s Saturday morning rotation, along with songs from the Carmen soundtrack and Silvio Rodríguez deep cuts. As the child of a man who was born with the revolution in his heart, John Lennon was widely celebrated in my home, to say the least. So on the 35th anniversary of his death, we’ve decided to revisit a lesser-known contribution the Beatles made to my (and countless others’) cultural edification: the 1996 compilation Tropical Tribute to the Beatles.
On the surface, an undertaking like Tropical Tribute to the Beatles might seem like an unorthodox way of honoring some of rock music’s stalwarts. But for anyone who was schooled in a world where both “Eight Days a Week” and “Carnaval” exist, it makes perfect sense (it also makes sense for Kool A.D., the self-proclaimed second Latin rapper to like the Beatles). You might expect Tropical Tribute to be a paltry, half-assed attempt to sell Beatles classics to Spanish-speaking audiences, in the vein of Putumayo records you’d hear at Starbucks. But it’s actually a tender and expertly crafted homage from the salsa, merengue, and bachata community, featuring both English-language covers and Spanish renditions of classics like “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Lady Madonna.” Standout cuts include Celia Cruz’s “O-Bla-Di, O-Bla-Da,” in which la reina refers to herself in the third person, as well as the lovelorn bachata take on “And I Love Her” from José Alberto “El Canario.”
There are four Lennon-penned covers here. Manny Manuel’s hyper-speed flip on “I Want to Hold Your Hand” makes perfect sense as a merengue; nothing can communicate the rush of falling in love quite like rapid-fire merengue pianos. The “Come Together” posse cut is as epic as one would expect, clocking in at six minutes and counting Tito Puente as its leader.
Perhaps one of the best parts of this tribute is its unapologetic spirit. Everyone from Cheo Feliciano to Celia belts with passion, at times in broken English, but no matter – the warm affection we all have for the Beatles still shines through.
When it dropped in 1996, I was just four years old, but Tropical Tribute still managed to become a household staple. Lennon fans everywhere: make sure this album makes its way to your music library. May the visionary songwriter rest in peace.