On May 29, 1999, Ricky Martin’s English-language debut, Ricky Martin, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. It was a remarkable achievement for a remarkable artist who just a few months before had catapulted into mainstream consciousness thanks to his performance of “The Cup of Life” at the Grammys.
Fears that Martin’s performance may have been a fluke were allayed with an album that went from percussion-filled dance tracks like “Livin’ la Vida Loca” to smooth, unabashedly romantic ballads like “She’s All I Ever Had.” Martin coupled his release with a major arena tour, his electric live show propping up his star status even further. Beyond propelling Martin into the mainstream, Ricky Martin also effectively opened the door to the so-called “Latin Explosion.”
Within months of Ricky Martin’s release, Jennifer Lopez released On the 6, followed by albums from Shakira, Marc Anthony and Enrique Iglesias.
To celebrate this landmark album, here are all the tracks in Ricky Martin (minus the “Maria” remix, from his previous set), ranked.
11. “I Count the Minutes”: This homage to the ’80s still sounds like an homage to the ’80s, which is to say, weirdly out of place in this very smart set of songs. As strong as the songwriting is, it’s the last song most of us would associate with Ricky Martin.
10. “Spanish Eyes”: There’s a lot of good to say about this one, including its counterpoint of soulful, long melodic lines over uptempo beats and salsa descarga. But the lyrics, with references to tango, sultriness and “baila, baila,” have slipped into cliché over time.
9. “Be Careful (Cuidado con mi corazón)”: You forgot Martin had recorded a song with Madonna? So had we. The Broadway-ish elements feel out of place and the lyrics aren’t especially memorable, but this atmospheric track, with its forward-thinking production blending electronic and acoustic elements, merits a second listen. More telling, Madonna’s interest in Latin music predates Maluma. Kudos for that.
8. “Love You for a Day”: A high-energy Latin funk number punctuated by Latin percussion, piano tumbaos and horns and lengthy descargas, it’s more a celebration of Latin beats than anything else.
7. “You Stay With Me”: A slow, heart-wrenching ballad with big orchestration and vocal padding. Very ’90s, but a nice listen.
6. “I Am Made of You”: It’s so satisfying to heard Martin sing ballads. “I Am Made For You,” perhaps more than any other on this album, is vintage Martin in its sweeping, immediately hummable melodies, traces of nostalgia and rock in its use of electric guitar and drums. A beauty.
5. “Private Emotion (feat. Meja)”: Every album has an under-appreciated jewel, and this is it. Featuring Swedish singer/songwriter Meja, the harmonies in this gorgeous ballad highlight new depth in Martin’s vocals and emotional interpretation.
4. “La Copa de La Vida (The Cup of Life)”: Originally included on Martin’s 1998 album Vuelve (which won the Grammy in 1999), the World Cup track made its way into this set in the shape of the Spanglish radio edit. Not too original a move, but “The Cup” had to be here, and remains a high-octane party track.
3. “Shake Your Bon Bon”: Even with that title, this song works. Could be the superlative production — the total unexpectedness of the Middle Eastern riffs, or the mix of retro organ with Latin percussion — or Martin’s sheer sex appeal. “Shake,” the album’s third single, peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100.
2. “She’s All I Ever Had (Bella)”: The ying to the yang that is “Livin’ la Vida Loca,” the second single from Ricky Martin showcases the soulful, romantic Ricky and bears the melancholy stamp of Robi Rosa’s writing, underscored by Martin’s raspy vocals. A ballad that begins slowly with guitar accompaniment then soars in the chorus, it was co-written by Rosa with Jon Secada and George Noriega, a trio of bilingual, bicultural writers who understood Martin’s two worlds and delivered both Spanish and English versions of the track.
1. “Livin’ la Vida Loca”: Over the top, you say? Awesome, we say. Was there a person alive in 1999 whose jaw literally did not drop when they saw Ricky Martin strut and swivel in the video to the song whose title would come to exemplify an era and a lifestyle? With its surf guitar, Spanish refrain and syncopated brass intro, the first single from Martin’s English-language debut album spent five weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and, quite simply, made Ricky Martin who he is today.