10 Most Popular Salsa Songs

Photo: Paul Hawthorne / Getty Images
Ruben Blades. Photo: Paul Hawthorne / Getty Images

The following albums include some of the best Salsa music produced in history. Besides featuring some of the greatest salsa songs ever recorded, these productions are memorable works from top artists in this genre.

Whether you like salsa from Puerto Rico, New York or Colombia, this compilation touches a broad spectrum of sounds that moves between the music of pioneers like Joe Cuba and contemporary artists like Marc Anthony.

Although compilation albums may be your best shot to discover the music of these artists, I wanted to select those defining single productions that captured the best sound of their creators. Let's take a look at the top 10 Salsa albums of all time.

1. "El Raton" by Joe Cuba Sextet & Cheo Feliciano

An iconic song in Salsa music and one of the top hits from Joe Cuba, "El Raton" offers a soft piano introduction that brings an air of mystery into a melody that soon after becomes an authentic ecstasy of sounds.

The lyrics discuss wanting the rat being a "walking muleteer" and complains of how the singer "wanted a piece of cheese but the rat ate it." As one might surmise, all the references in the lyrics to cats and rats are allegorical and instead mean to imply infidelity and distrust.

A wonderful track to fully appreciate the talent of Cheo Feliciano, one of the best salsa singers of all time, "El Raton" was once featured on the soundtrack for the hit show "Narcos."

2. "Conciencia" by Gilberto Santa Rosa 

Even though modern Salsa tends to be quite different from the older classic works, there are artists who still preserve the rhythm's original flavor, one of which is Gilberto Santa Rosa.

The title literally translates to "Experience" and describes the experience of meeting the love of Santa Rosa's life for the first time, saying the girl he meets "has the magic of a moment of love."

"Conciencia," the song that transformed this Puerto Rican singer into a Salsa superstar, reflects the artist's intention to maintain the essence of salsa music. Fun fact: if you're looking for a great Latin Christmas album in the classic tradition, Santa Rosa has a great one just for the season! 

3. "P'a Bravo Yo" by Justo Betancourt

If there is a song that achieved everything salsa is all about, that song is "P'a Bravo Yo." With the marvelous voice of the Cuban singer Justo Betancourt, "P'a Bravo Yo" is an explosion from beginning to end.

The phrase "p'a bravo yo" literally translates to "to anger myself" in English, but can colloquially be understood to mean "If you want someone angry, here I am." Still, although the melody doesn't make this track sound like the title might imply it should, the screaming horns and repeated mantra of "p'a bravo yo" sure does drive home the point.

Without a doubt, "P'a Bravo Yo" one of the greatest Salsa songs in history, and an ideal track for a good Latin party.

4. "Yambeque" by La Sonora Ponceña

An institution in salsa music, La Sonora Ponceña has been shaping the sounds of the genre since the 1950s, and "Yambeque" is one of the top salsa songs this Puerto Rican band has ever produced.

The band, founded in 1954, has released several dozen albums over their 55-year career. Even today, the band plays on under the direction of founder Enrique "Quique" Lucca Caraballo's son Papo Lucca.

"Yambeque" was written to get the audience on their feet, which is especially evident in the fantastic percussion solo in the middle of it and its lyrics that describe how good people look when they're dancing to the track. You won't want to miss your chance to strut your stuff on the dance floor to this catchy little tune.

5. "Sonido Bestial" by Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz

This track from the legendary salsa duo Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz is one of the most innovative pieces ever recorded in the history of the genre — with this song, Ray and Cruz consolidated one of the most exhilarating sounds in salsa music.

Appearing on the album "El Bestial de Sonido," this track features elements of classical music that were new to salsa at the time, most notably in the piano and percussion.

Look out for the sounds of the trumpets, Richie Ray's amazing classical piano playing, and the closing percussion segment. Truly a masterpiece, "Sonido Bestial" is sure to delight salsa fans of all types.

6. "Llorarás" by Oscar D'Leon

The "Lion of Salsa" Oscar D'Leon is Venezuela's best salsa singer and one of the greatest voices of this rhythm, and his brief yet powerful "Llorarás" serves as a testament to his prowess in the genre.

The title literally translates to "You'll Cry," and despite the slightly depressing name, the song's rhythm moves swiftly and D'Leon roars his lyrics out his anguish at rejection singing, "you'll cry, you'll cry, you'll cry / like I suffered / you'll cry / nobody will understand you." 

Though "Lloraras" is a short song, its exuberant beat keeps you dancing from beginning to end.

7. "Pedro Navaja" by Ruben Blades

This single was released with the legendary album "Siembra," a musical production recorded by Willie Colon and Ruben Blades, which ended up moving to history as one of the essential albums in Latin music.

Because of its lyrics, music and overall innovation, "Pedro Navaja" has been widely considered one of the greatest Salsa songs ever recorded. In fact, Salsa critics have always referred to this single as an important step in the evolution of Salsa music.

"Pedro Navaja" is probably the best story ever told in a Salsa single and the musical progression that goes along with the lyrics is plain fantastic.

8. "Las Caras Lindas" by Ismael Rivera

Better known as "El Sonero Mayor,Ismael Rivera is considered one of the most creative singers in salsa music. His particular voice and his honest, simple way of singing allowed Rivera to create a brand around himself.

"Las Caras Lindas," a single that highlights the pride of his Afro-American roots, is by far one of his most popular salsa songs.

9. "Mi Gente" by Hector Lavoe

To many, Hector Lavoe is considered the most important salsa singer in history. His unique nasal voice and the raw emotion he incorporated into his songs made of him one of the greatest personalities in the genre.

This track, "Mi Gente," is one of his most famous hits, capturing the hearts of salsa lovers around the world. 

10. "El Menu" by El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

There is a reason why El Gran Combo is known as "The University of Salsa." Decades of great music have transformed this Puerto Rican band into one of the most beloved names in salsa.

"El Menu," an iconic track that came to represent everything El Gran Combo stands for, has been always considered one of the band's very best songs.