In celebration of Billboard's Greatest of All Time special package, our team of Latin experts has compiled a list of 50 seminal Spanish-language albums from the past 50 years. Our list doesn’t necessarily include the top-selling albums nor the ones that garnered most airplay, although there’s plenty of both. Instead, we looked for albums that had a lasting impact on contemporary Latin music at many levels and which continue to impact and transform the music we hear today. From Soda Stereo’s Canción Animal to Aventura’s take on bachata -- which unleashed an entire musical movement that continues to dominate today’s Latin charts -- here are 50 essential Latin albums spanning 50 years of music.
Alejandro Sanz, 'Más' (1997)
On his fifth studio album, the poetic singer-songwriter proved his unique brand of flamenco-tinged pop had crossover appeal well beyond his native Spain. To this day, no Sanz concert is complete without the sweet, familiar chords of “Corazón Partío.” It’s clear that the younger generation of Spanish singer-songwriters like Pablo Alborán were taking notes.
Armando Manzanero, 'Su piano y su música' (1968)
The diminutive Manzanero never boasted soap-star good looks or even a great voice. But he sure could write the songs. With singles like “Somos Novios” (later translated as "It's Impossible") and “Esta Tarde Vi Llover,” this album assured Manzanero and his music global immortality.
Astor Piazzolla, 'Adiós Nonio,' (1969)
Piazzolla studied classical music and jazz in New York and applied his knowledge to traditional tango. The resulting “new” tango not just broke ground by revitalizing the genre and introducing it to a new generation, but also ushered in an entire movement that included the likes of Bajo Fondo. The single “Adios Nonio,” written years earlier for his father, was used in multiple international events.
Aventura, 'The Last' (2009)
The Bronx-born bachateros may have gone their separate ways after their fifth album, but not before forever changing the tropical music landscape. They took their parents’ traditional (and they would argue, corny) guitar-laced music from the Dominican Republic and made it palatable for a new generation of Latinos, putting a refreshing bilingual, urban spin on it. It was the momentum Romeo Santos needed to launch a solo career as King of Bachata. These days, everyone is jumping on the bachata bandwagon and it’s no secret why: the genre is a chart mainstay.
Bebo Valdes & Diego El Cigala, 'Lágrimas Negras' (2003)
The unlikely pairing of Spanish flamenco singer Diego El Cigala and the once-forgotten Bebo Valdés turned out to be a perfect combination that transformed El Cigala into the Frank Sinatra of flamenco and reignited the then-octogenarian Cuban pianist’s career. It's an album that transcends time.
Buena Vista Social Club, 'Buena Vista Social Club' (1997)
History may someday show that Buena Vista Social Club did more for U.S.–Cuban relations than President Obama. As it is, the veteran musicians who brought the past and present of Cuba together and taught the world to sing “Chan Chan” will live on forever on in this spirited and seductive album that was a surprise international hit.
Café Tacvba, 'Ré' (1994)
The iconic Mexican art-rock album forever dispelled the notion that rock en español was a derivative form.
Calle 13, 'Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo' (2008)
How did Calle 13 end up winning more Latin Grammys than any group in the award’s history? Here’s how.
Carlos Vives, 'Clasicos de la Provincia' (1993)
The tropi-pop king first earned a spot in our hearts by reviving a forgotten genre -- vallenato -- and putting his own spin on the classic works of Colombia’s most revered folk artists that preceded him. Though he eventually catapulted into superstardom, Vives has never strayed from his roots.
Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco, 'Celia & Johnny' (1974)
This essential album marks the beginning of Cruz’s reign as the queen of salsa. One of the genre’s main architects, Pacheco knew better than to drown her voice out in elaborate arrangements. Instead, he let the most powerful instrument in his Fania arsenal -- Cruz’s voice -- shine atop his signature, danceable “Pacheco Groove.” Cruz always said this was one of her favorite recordings.
Charly Garcia, 'Clics Modernos' (1983)
If Clics Modernos only contained the haunting "Los Dinosaurios," which became a cry from the ashes of Argentina's devastation by the military dictatorship, it would be enough. But the album, which includes more of Garcia's best songs, would change the sound of Argentine music. Recorded in New York with Clash engineer Joe Blaney, the recording brought synthesizers and dance beats to Garcia's emotional, socially conscious piano rock.
Daddy Yankee, 'Barrio Fino' (2004)
Reggaetón was largely an underground Puerto Rican genre until Yankee broke through with Barrio Fino. The album debuted No. 1 on Top Latin Albums on July 31, 2004 and eventually spent 24 weeks at the top. Thanks to breakaway single “Gasolina,” it introduced Yankee to the mainstream market and effectively made reggaeton an international genre.
Draco Rosa, 'Vagabundo' (1996)
Moving on from his Menudo stage, Rosa became a songwriter and producer. Vagabundo represented another side of Rosa, who brought a very instrumentally diverse take on rock en español.
Elvis Crespo, 'Suavemente' (1998)
It’s the album that ignited merengue fever on a global scale – even among mainstream audiences who didn’t speak a lick of Spanish. To this day, there’s not a DJ at a Latin party -- be it a wedding or a quinceañera –- that won’t, at some point, blast the title track. And we’ll dance to it every single time.
Enrique Iglesias, 'Vivir' (1997)
Iglesias’ second Spanish studio album debuted No. 1 on Latin 50 Albums in February 1997, taking his father’s place on the chart. The set includes three No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Hot Latin Tracks and introduced the world to a new kind of Latin crooner.
Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, 'Vasos Vacios' (1993)
If you like Matador, you probably bought this album. Covering rock, rap, reggae, samba and ska, Cadillacs’ success exploded after Matador topped the charts and became a Latin American anthem.
Franco de Vita, 'Al Norte del Sur' (1988)
De Vita’s first album for CBS featured the singles “Te Amo” and “Louis” and effectively exported this Italian-influenced pop to all Latin America. With colloquial lyrics and rock-influenced instrumentation, his style broke with the crooner balladry that dominated Spanish language airwaves at the time.
Gloria Estefan, 'Mi Tierra' (1993)
Estefan has often said English is her “head” language while Spanish is the language of her heart. On this, her first full Spanish-language album, her heart aches for Cuba in the most melancholy yet beautiful way. Through son, she transports us to a magical place in the ‘50s where time stood still on her beloved island. Mi Tierra went on to win a Grammy (Gloria's first) for best tropical Latin album in 1993.
Gloria Trevi, 'Tu Angel de La Guarda' (1991)
The Mexican pop diva, known for her attention-getting performances, rose to fame in the early '90s and was often compared to Madonna due to her provocative artistic expression. Her second studio album, Tu Angel de La Guarda, secured her as an international pop star with her career-defining hit, “Pelo Suelto.”
Grupo Niche, 'Cielo de tambores' (1990)
Despite its passion for salsa, Colombia long played second fiddle in that department to Puerto Rico and Cuba. Niche transcended borders, exporting the aggressive, fast-paced salsa that would define the Colombian sound for the genre.
Hector Lavoe, 'Comedia' (1978)
Lavoe established himself as the prototype of the great sonero with Comedia and the single “El Cantante.” The bittersweet track of the melancholy singer who only puts on a happy face for the crowd was written by Ruben Blades and produced by Willie Colon. Lavoe’s life, of course, was brought to the big screen by Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez.
Irakere, 'Irakere' (1979)
Irakere’s Cuban jazz revolution was recorded on this groundbreaking album, winning a Grammy Award in 1979.
Joan Manuel Serrat, 'Mediterraneo' (1971)
Serrat’s Mediterraneo is the iconic Catalan singer-songwriter’s best-known album internationally. Songs including “Aquellas Pequeñas Cosas,” “Barquito de Papel,” and the classic title track on this tribute to Serrat’s native land and culture show why Serrat is revered as a poet-philosopher, as well as a romantic, throughout Spain and Latin America.
Joan Sebastian, 'Secreto de Amor' (2000)
Already a veteran in the industry upon its release, Mexican singer-songwriter Joan Sebastian’s Secreto de Amor became an instant essential from his repertoire, and took his ranchera-inspired music to far-flung places. The album was certified four-times platinum by the RIAA, and is his best-selling album in the U.S. The title track reached No. 3 on Hot Latin Songs in 2000.
Joaquín Sabina, '19 dias y 500 noches' (1999)
This intensely personal album has become a template for how deep a singer-songwriter can go in his lyrics, and also in style, as Sabina included rock, rap, rumba and even ranchera in this classic.
José José, 'Secretos' (1983)
Mexican crooner Jose Jose rose to international stardom on the heels of Secretos, which turned out to be his biggest career album. The set, which included hit tracks including “El Amor Acaba” and “Lagrimas,” received a Grammy nod in 1985 for best Latin pop performance.
Juan Gabriel, 'Siempre en Mi Mente' (1978)
By the time he released Siempre en Mi Mente, Juan Gabriel was already one of Mexico’s fastest-rising stars, thanks to hits like the catchy “No tengo dinero.” But Siempre en Mi Mente, with the haunting title single, heralded a new kind of songwriter whose music resonated region-wide. The track was a major hit throughout the continent and showed that Juan Gabriel was as good at penning and singing uptempo tracks as romantic ones.
Juan Luis Guerra, 'Bachata Rosa' (1990)
Everyone was dancing to maestro Juan Luis Guerra’s irresistible brand of bachata, even in corners of Latin America that were furthest away from his native Dominican Republic. The people’s poet, Guerra created an uplifting, love-themed experience from start to finish and stretched bachata’s limits by playing with merengue, salsa and Afro-Caribbean rhythms.
Juanes, 'Un Dia Normal' (2002)
Juanes’ brand of pop-rock, contagious beats and socially conscious lyrics were a huge success internationally. The set conquered the Billboard Latin Albums chart for two straight years, remaining in the top 10 for 92 weeks while single “A Dios le pido" became a Latin anthem and won five Latin Grammy awards.
Julio Iglesias, 'El Amor' (1979)
Iglesias had the look and unmatched savoir fare that redefined what the Latin crooner looked and sounded like. El Amor, with hits like “Abrázame,” “A veces tu, a veces yo,” and Spanish versions of “Sweet Caroline,” solidified him as the top-selling Latin act in the world.
Linda Ronstadt, 'Canciones de mi Padre' (1987)
Ronstadt had already established herself as a country, rock and pop star, but this collection of mariachi songs from her childhood was special in that it celebrated her Mexican-American roots. It’s not easy to sing like Lola Beltrán, but Ronstadt earned some serious ranchera cred by channeling her idol, and proved she could do it all and do it well.
Los Tigres Del Norte, 'Jefe de Jefes' (1997)
No one captures the immigrant experience quite as authentically as this norteño powerhouse band of brothers and cousins from San Jose, Calif. On this essential release, they tackled the drug trafficking epidemic with humor and realism, and gave a dignified voice to the millions of people who have come here for a chance at a better life.
Luis Miguel, 'Romance' (1991)
What’s become so formulaic in Latin music these days -- the tribute album by a contemporary artist honoring a genius of another era -- started with Romance. Already a bonafide Mexican pop idol, Miguel showed off his romantic side, covering classic boleros by Armando Manzanero (who co-produced the project). The concept was so successful that it inspired El Sol de México to follow up with three more installments.
Maná, '¿Dónde Jugarán los Niños?' (1992)
Chock-full of boozed up party anthems, power ballads, ska-punk, and even environmental activism, this sophomore effort set the little band that started in a Guadalajara garage on a path to becoming the most universal Latin pop-rock group out there -- a title they still hold to this day.
Manu Chao, 'Clandestino' (1998)
Manu Chao received international acclaim for his Latin alternative debut release Clandestino, establishing the Spanish musician as a star from the start. Influenced by reggae, salsa and punk rock, the blend of genres and cultures (not to mention spoken word) showed the scope of Latin alternative music.
Marc Anthony, 'Todo a Su Tiempo' (1995)
Marc Anthony’s second studio album, Todo A Su Tiempo, began his record-breaking career on Billboard's charts, with seven (of its nine) tracks from the set reaching No. 1 on the Tropical Airplay chart. The album launched Anthony to fame as an instant salsa superstar and it wasn’t long before he was a household name.
Marco Antonio Solís, 'Trozos de mi alma' (1999)
Solís had already trascended grupero music when he recorded Trozos de mi alma. But lead single "Si no te hubieras ido," famously immortalized in the three-way scene in the film Y tu mamá también, took his lyrical songwriting and plaintive voice to the mass market.
Mercedes Sosa, 'Homenaje a Violeta Parra' (1971)
One of Latin America’s most revered folk artists, Mercedes Sosa, released her tribute to Chilean poet Violeta Parra with her 1971 album Homenaje a Violeta Parra. The set spawned one of the adored Argentine singer’s most memorable hits, “Gracias a La Vida”.
Paco de Lucia, 'Fuente y Caudal' (1973)
One of many extraordinary albums in a body of work that can be considered groundbreaking in its entirety, Fuente y Caudal contains De Lucia’s trademark, “Entre Dos Aguas.” The album marked a milestone for De Lucia, and for the sound of what came to be known as new flamenco.
Ricardo Arjona, 'Historias' (1994)
Guatemalan singer-songwriter Ricardo Arjona defined his storytelling style with Historias, spurring four Hot Latin Songs hits from the set. Regarded as one of his best collections, the album includes timeless tracks including “Historia de Taxi,” “Senora De Las Cuatro Decadas,” and “Te Conozco.”
Ricky Martin, 'Vuelve' (1998)
Do you remember “La Copa de la Vida” (The cup of life)? The World Cup anthem, included in Vuelve, was Martin’s international calling card. “I was glad to let two million people all over the world in different cultures know who I am and what kind of music I make,” said Martin to Billboard back in 1999. Pop and dance beats never sounded so good.
Roberto Carlos, 'Un gato en la oscuridad' (1972)
Already a star in Brazil, Carlos ventured into Spanish with translated versions and connected with simple, eloquent songs and understated delivery that informed and influenced an entire generation.
Santana, 'Abraxas' (1970)
Latin rock band Santana found its niche and worldwide reach with the release of Abraxas in 1970. The blend of Latin rhythms and electric guitar licks made for unforgettable smashes including “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va” -- both Hot 100 hits. The album spent six weeks atop the Billboard 200.
Selena, 'Amor Prohibido' (1994)
The queen of Tejano took the genre to unprecedented heights with her second-to-last album, bringing mariachi, cumbia, dance-pop, flamenco and even hip-hop into the mix. It didn’t matter if you had never moved to that particular beat before — you couldn’t resist. More than 20 years after its release, Selena’s extraordinary (and forever irreplaceable) gift -- her voice -- shines through on every single track.
Shakira, 'Pies Descalzos' (1995)
It wasn’t her first album, but Shakira’s major-label debut signaled the arrival of a gifted singer-songwriter who moved to the beat of her own drum -- or in this case, the chords of her own guitar. Finally, Latin rock had found its muse. The simplicity of “Pienso en Ti” underscores the raw, emotive power of her voice, which she would one day use for so much more than music.
Silvio Rodriguez, 'Unicornio' (1982)
Rodriguez’s brand of cancion de protesta (protest songs) or socially conscious songs, came with the socialist sentiment of a Cuban beholden to the regime. But the tunes and the lyrics were so good they transcended the politics and made a whole generation listen and open up to the non-commercial.
Soda Stereo, 'Canción Animal' (1990)
The Argentine rock trio reached their artistic peak with this album, which includes “De Música Ligera,” the song that has remained an anthem for fans.
Tito Puente & Eddie Palmieri, 'Obra Maestra' (2000)
While much of the bulk of Tito Puente's greatness is in his earlier material, his collaboration with pianist Eddie Palmieri was a landmark moment in Latin jazz. Two giants in inventive mode.
Vicente Fernandez, 'El Ídolo de Mexico' (1974)
Fernandez has almost too many albums to keep track of, but 'El Ídolo de México' includes his legendary version of “El Rey” (The King), the song that made him an idol around the world.
Willie Colón & Ruben Blades, 'Siembra' (1978)
Salsa would never be the same after Willie Colon and Rubén Blades took the New York immigrant sound to a new level with their Fania Records masterpiece. Songs like “Plástico” and “Buscando Guayaba” became instant classics in all of Latin America; “Pedro Navaja” remains one of the most recognized Spanish-language songs throughout the world.