José José: Celebrating the Late Icon’s Greatest Hits
By Manuel Betancourt
The death of José José in 2019 was a colossal loss. The Mexican singer, who died at age 71, was a beloved icon whose songs about love and heartbreak had endeared him to millions of fans around the world.
Born into a family of musicians -- his father was an opera singer, his mother a classical pianist -- José Rómulo Sosa Ortiz was, perhaps, always destined for greatness. Adopting “José José” as his stage name, the singer managed to turn his love of music into a flourishing career that began in earnest in the early 1970s. Combining elements of bossa nova, bolero and jazz, the Spanish-language crooner had an unmistakable tenor that made his swoon-worthy delivery of pop song lyrics a treat. One of the biggest-selling Mexican artists of all time, he is rightfully known as the “Prince of Song.”
This century alone, he earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, lifetime achievement awards from the Latin GRAMMYs, the Billboard Awards and the Los Nuestro Awards — and even a statue in Mexico City. But his greatest achievement could just as easily be measured by the loving tributes that defined the past two decades of his life. Proving how much of an influence he’s had on generations of Latino musical artists, he’s been feted by Christian Castro (who’s recorded three tribute albums), Kalimba (who recorded Amar y Querer: Homenaje A Las Grandes Canciones) as well as artists like Molotov, Jumbo, Julieta Venegas, Natalia Lafourcade, Moderatto, Los Claxons and Carla Morrison, who contributed to the two Un Tributo (a José José) albums.
Which is all to say, there’s plenty of ways in which newer fans have found their way to the iconic singer’s impeccable musical legacy. To reduce his large of body of work to 10 representative tracks is a near-impossible task; the list below barely scratches the surface of a career that spanned decades. But it’s a great primer, whether you want to see why the “Príncipe de la Canción” so earned that nickname or if you want to relive some of his most beloved hits.
“La nave del olvido” (1970)
After his first LP, the 1969 self-titled José José, introduced him to audiences, it was this 1970 hit that began charting his rise to global superstardom. This Dino Ramos-penned tune was a global hit that not only became No. 1 in places like Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Mexico, but which got plenty of airplay in Spain, Israel, Japan and even Russia. As with many of his most well-known songs, “La nave del olvido” is a sweeping romantic ballad about (impending) heartbreak that finds the singer imploring his lover not to leave, at least not yet.
“El triste” (1970)
José José’s biggest break yet came courtesy of the second Festival de la Canción Latina, which took place in Mexico City in 1970. There, he performed “El triste,” which would become one of his most iconic songs. An immediate hit, the live performance led to a studio recording (for the same-titled LP), which established José José as one of the most prolific and successful singers of his generation.
"El Príncipe" (1976)
No list looking back at José José hits is complete without the inclusion of the one song that gave him his nickname, “El Príncipe de la Canción.” The love tune was one of the many hits the Mexican artist had during the '70s, which saw him release 13 albums, including 1976’s El Príncipe.
"Amar y Querer" (1977)
Certified gold and platinum, “Amar y Querer” was recorded at the Music Center studios in London, proving how much of an international star José José had become during his first decade as a solo artist and how meteoric his rise was.
"Gavilán o Paloma" (1977)
José José’s ability to conjure up not just the feeling of a song but its story was one of his greatest assets. This is quite clear in “Gavilán o Paloma,” which finds the singer wondering whether, in trying to come off as a hawk, he’s merely revealed himself to be a dove. It's no surprise this song became the title for the 1985 film that served as a biopic for the musician, who played himself as he chronicled his rise to fame.
"Lo pasado, pasado" (1978)
That one song was able to bring together two of Mexico’s most beloved musical icons seems near impossible. Yet the 1978 album, Lo pasado, pasado accomplished that feat twice. Juan Gabriel penned not just its title track but also “Ahora no,” giving fans of both artists a rare chance to see their two romantic sensibilities finding common ground with this melancholy ballad.
“Si me dejas ahora” (1979)
Speaking of bringing musical icons together, the following year saw the release of this Camilo Sesto-penned ballad. Like José José, the Spanish singer-songwriter was well-known for crafting soulful songs about heartbreak and this one delivers plenty on that count.
"Amor Amor" (1980)
With no signs of slowing down, the 1980s found José José further establishing himself as an all-around success. He began the decade with his 15th album, Amor Amor, which was also the very first one he produced in its entirety. The title track is a swoon-worthy ballad fitting its romantic title.
"Lo Dudo" (1983)
The 1983 album Secretos became an instant best-seller and his most successful to date. The cultural influence of its lead single, “Lo Dudo,” is most apparent in the ways it's been sampled over the years, including by DMX in “Let Me Fly” and by Akwid in “Anda Y Ve, Lo Dudo.”
“40 y 20” (1992)
If José José’s career never did again match the heights of the '70s and '80s (his battle with alcoholism, addiction, depression and the accompanying health and financial problems which addled the singer for decades), this song about a May-December romance marked a return of sorts more than two decades since he first seduced audiences worldwide.
If there ever was a tune ripe for a TikTok reappraisal! Looking at the list above, one would never have imagined that José José would ever dabble in reggaeton. Yet that’s exactly what he did in 2007 when he teamed up with his youngest daughter, Sarita Sosa, for this novelty tune whose lyrics address “Señor Internet” to thank him for his invention.