As if you needed another excuse to hate Mexicans and their Latino cousins, here's another one: rock en español artists are some of the most notorious rhythm robbers on the planet.
At its best, this genre combines the rhythms of its native lands with influences from the rest of the world. At its worst, however, it's just straightforward hijacking of the grooves of a group (usually from the 1980s), hijacks that happened because they knew said bands would never pay attention and get angry, and because us Latinos are already used to pirateria to begin with.
Most Latinos will know this list, but for you gabachos who've never bothered with Latin alternative because you're afraid of listening to music in Spanish that's not the mariachi at your favorite Sunday brunch, prepare to be as flabbergasted as Artie Lange was when he realized Led Zeppelin ripped off a bunch of African-American artists for their music.
1. Los Teen Tops' “La Plaga” versus Little Richard's “Good Golly Miss Molly
This game started early–like, 1950s early. One of the first rock 'n' roll groups in Mexico, Los Teen Tops, made their name by shamelessly taking the entire song structure of “Good Golly Miss Molly”–the piano, the screamed lyrics, the bass, almost everything except the original's bawdy lyrics.
One of the members of Los Teen Tops, Enrique Guzman, would continue the rip-off game via his daughter, Alejandra Guzman, who covered her dad's rip-off in the 1980s.
2. Enanitos Verdes' “Guitarra Blancas” versus the Police's “Driven to Tears
Enanitos Verdes is one of the longer-lasting groups in rock en Español, Argentines who get little critical acclaim but sell out shows because of their easy-going arena rock. “Guitarras Blancas” is a classic, written at the end of the Dirty War, a cry by Argentina's youth for the dictatorship to let them live. If it's frenetic energy seems to sound like the Police, it's because its opening guitar rhythm…
…comes directly from the Police's “Driven to Tears.” Fast-forward to about 2:30, and you'll find a surprise!
3. Early Caifanes versus The Cure
Caifanes remain one of the titans of rock en español, but in the early days they were a blatant Cure ripoff–just look at that album cover! From the shaky lettering (aping the Cure's “Pornography“) to the ratty hair and their songs about doom and gloom, I'm surprised Robert Smith never filed a restraining order against them. Thankfully, leader Saul Hernández evolved his gloom, looking inward toward indigenous Mexico and arena rock, so his youthful days of un-originality are excused.
4. Cafe Tacuba's “Raratonga” versus Violent Femmes' “Gone Daddy Gone”
The chilangos were one of the pioneers of the genre and remain its torch bearer, because they get what rock en español was truly about–politics, desmadre, and originality. But even the maestros have the occasional slip-up–while “Raratonga” is an enjoyable bouncer, its obsession with the xylophone sounds suspiciously like…
…the obsession with the xylophone that Violent Femmes Featured on “Gone Baby Gone. But go beyond the xylophone, and listen closely to the opening bass-and-rhythm line to “Gone Baby Gone,” and compare it with “Raratonga”–interesting, no? Los tacubas have cited the group as one of their influences, but there's influence, and then there's pirateria.
5. Julieta Venegas' “Lento” versus The The's “This is the Day”
The Baja California artist first made her name for gorgeous, quirky pop–but since that didn't sell, she decided to go mainstream in 2003 with Sí, which is just about when Latin alternative began losing its relevancy. The first song on the album is “Lento,” with a nice accordion intro and a drum-machine scratchiness that sounds suspiciously like…
…the intro to The The's “This is the Day.” I didn't grow up with New Wave music, so the first time I heard this song, I assumed it was by Venegas, since it aped her sound so much–imagine my surprise when it turned out it was the other way around! On second hearing, Venegas borrows more blatantly from the drum machine, as the accordion sighs are different–but play both songs instrumentally, and try and tell the difference. Her “Hoy No Quiero” furious acoustic guitar strums also suspiciously sounds like those that the Femmes did for “Add it Up,” as well.