During a four-decade career, Marco Antonio Solís has recorded 12 albums that have reached No. 1 on Billboard‘s Top Latin Albums chart — more than any other Latin artist. In 2010, he was named Billboard‘s Latin Artist of the Decade for his chart achievements, which include 30 songs that have hit the top 10 of Hot Latin Songs.
Yet, the 56-year-old Mexican singer declares with a laugh, “If they asked me to give a songwriting class, I’d be a failure! I write from my heart. I can’t repress my emotions. I still like to write on paper, because I feel more in touch with the words. You see my scrawls, my corrections — and along the way, I find myself.”
Solís also has learned that inspiration can’t be forced. “I recently met the pope and had a chance to hear him speak,” says Solís, who wrote a song for Pope Francis. “He said, ‘We need to get tired.’ I connected with those words, which are a great truth. From exhaustion comes inspiration.”
Solís reflects on three of his best-loved songs.
Chart peak: No. 3 (Hot Latin Songs, 1987)
“This was a key track. It was born at a time of much stress and exhaustion, in a little hotel in Torreón [Mexico]. I was drained, and in the midst of that weakness, this song was born. I discovered that when we set aside our analytical brain, that’s the moment of greatest beauty. I simply let my inspiration flow at a time when I had no intention of writing a song. This song connected with the audience because it was made up of sincere, open phrases [“Just remember, nobody is perfect, and you will see/You’ll have a thousand better things, but never a love like mine”]. And ‘Tu Cárcel’ won an RIAA Diamond Award in Mexico for 1 million copies sold. Since then, I only write based on inspiration. I never force it.”
“La Venia Bendita”
Chart peak: No. 1 (Hot Latin Songs, 1997)
“I’ve never written a song faster. I did it on a plane ride between Mexico City and Cancún, and I wrote it on the napkin they gave me with my peanuts. Then I grabbed my little tape recorder and went into the bathroom to sing it. It was for my second solo album, a mariachi album. The track spent 172 weeks at No. 1 in Colombia, the second-biggest market for mariachi. It broke records. I went on a tour to Bogotá, and they made me sing it three times one night.”
“Si No Te Hubieras Ido”
Chart peak: No. 4 (Hot Latin Songs, 1999)
“I always say: It’s a blessed song. How else did it reach three generations? I wrote it in 1983. [Mexican singer] Marisela recorded it first. Then I recorded it in 1999, and new listeners thought it was new. Then [Mexican rock band] Maná recorded it in 2005, and once again, it was rediscovered. It’s a song that can be ‘dressed’ for any generation.” [Editor’s note: The song also gained prominence when it was featured in the 2001 Mexican film Y Tu Mama También, directed by Alfonso Cuarón. It also appears on the movie’s soundtrack.]
This article originally appeared in the April 30 issue of Billboard magazine.