How to define Julio Iglesias? Perhaps the iconic Spanish entertainer can be best summed up by the numbers. In a career spanning well over 40 years, Iglesias has recorded 80 albums, sold 300 million records, and sung in 14 languages. Now, Iglesias, who will turn 70 later this year, has been feted with the first American release of a new collection with a number in the title. 1 – Greatest Hits, already a multi-platinum seller in numerous Spanish-speaking territories, has arrived in the U.S. from Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings as a 2-CD standard edition and a 2-CD/1-DVD deluxe edition adding a 1990 concert from the Greek Theatre on DVD (88765 46961 2, 2013). It covers a wide swath of Iglesias’ impressive career over 37 tracks on its two discs, but falls short of being a definitive hits survey, as numerous tracks have been re-recorded specifically for the collection.
In his brief liner note, Iglesias writes, “This has been a unique project in my life. Being able to go back and sing songs from a time when technology hadn’t yet met the digital age.” He isn’t the first artist to re-record his classic hits, and nor will he be the last. But it’s the original tracks – well-recorded in the first place by producers including Iglesias’ longtime collaborator Ramon Arcusa – that are the most timeless here. Iglesias’ voice, circa 2011 (when the lion’s share of the re-recordings were made), is still smooth and velvety if naturally somewhat deeper. But arrangement-wise, it’s frequently “spot the difference” time with the new versions hewing closely to the style and tempo of the originals. There are no notes or essays in the thin booklet explaining why songs were selected or what changes were made; there’s not even any indication as to the provenance of each track other than the date on the copyright line. With no background or discographical information for these songs, it feels less like a career retrospective and more like a set aimed at a casual fan who won’t wonder whether “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” is the original recording or not.
Coincidental though it may be, it’s worth noting that 1 – Greatest Hits arrives on the same day as Paul Anka’s Duets, another mélange of new and old recordings. Like 1, the Anka collection (reviewed here) offers duets with Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson! Hit the jump for more on Julio!
The set is handily divided into a primarily English language disc (CD 1) and an all-Spanish language disc (CD 2). Though Iglesias has songwriting credits on a number of the Spanish tracks, he’s primarily known to English-speaking audiences as an interpretive singer. His image has always been that of a suave, dashing romantic balladeer, and nothing here contradicts that notion. He wraps his seductive, instantly recognizable pipes around classic love songs like “Crazy” (performed with saxophonist Dave Koz, from the 1994 album Crazy), “Always on My Mind” and “And I Love Her,” as well as latter-day adult contemporary staples like Albert Hammond and John Bettis’ “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” (1994, with Dolly Parton) and of course, Hammond and Hal David’s “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” (1984, with Willie Nelson).
Iglesias’ partnership with producer/songwriter Hammond (“It Never Rains in Southern California”) was particularly fruitful. In addition to “Girls” and “When You Tell Me…,” Greatest Hits also includes Iglesias’ takes on the Leo Sayer hit “When I Need You,” co-written by Hammond and Carole Bayer Sager; “99 Miles from LA,” also with Hal David lyrics; and “All of You,” the No. 2 AC/No. 19 Hot 100 single co-written with Cynthia Weil and Tony Renis, and featuring Diana Ross on co-lead vocals. (“99 Miles” and “When I Need You” have both been culled from 1990’s Starry Night, along with “And I Love Her,” “Always on My Mind” and “Vincent (Starry Starry Night).” The recording of “Always” appears to be a new one.) “All of You” and “To All the Girls” sound identical to the 1984 originals, and are credited with that date, but recognition for original co-producer Richard Perry is absent from the new collection. The easygoing, folksy nature of Hal David’s lyric to “Girls” still has the power to charm, and though “All of You” is more sonically of its time, the Iglesias/Ross duo and the big, bold melody haven’t lost their own power. Both from Iglesias’ English breakthrough 1100 Bel Air Place, they remain the pinnacle of the artist’s eighties pop successes.
Other duet partners represented here include Sting on “Fragile” and Art Garfunkel on “Let It Be Me” (both from the Crazy album) as well as Stephanie Spruill on a live “As Time Goes By” from 1983, Stevie Wonder on his own “It’s Love,” and Frank Sinatra on “Summer Wind,” from the Chairman’s 1993 Duets album. Iglesias’ ability to blend with so many distinct voices is to his considerable credit. Truth to tell, he plays a supporting role on “It’s Love.” But he acquits himself well enough joining Sinatra on the iconic Nelson Riddle orchestration of “Summer Wind” as co-produced by the recently-departed Phil Ramone with Albert Hammond. (Ramone was behind the technological wizardry that yielded Sinatra’s Duets, and he, too, is overlooked in the booklet to 1.) Garfunkel’s ethereal harmonies especially complement Iglesias on “Let It Be Me,” which is given a mariachi flavor.
Indeed, it’s clear that Iglesias is comfortable and adaptable to a variety of musical idioms; his ability to merge genres was first evident when he notched a U.K. No. 1 hit with a brassy, disco-style revival of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” in 1981. Though a re-recording, the Spanish/English track here hews closely to the joyous original. Further underlining Iglesias’ versatility, the first disc closes out with performances in Italian (“Dr Ots Sbrddi Un Po’ Di Te (Uno)),” Portuguese (“Dizem Que Os Homens Nao Devem Chorar)” and French (“La Vie Defile en Silence”).
Most of the second CD, the Spanish language portion, consists of these latter-day re-recordings. On this disc Iglesias revisits early hits such as “Un Canto a Galicia,” 1980’s Grammy-nominated “Hey” and 1981’s “De Niña a Mujer.” Even to a non-Spanish-speaking listener, Iglesias gets the romantic sentiment across in the sweetly melodic “Hey,” in which he greets an old flame. “El Amor,” a Spanish translation of a French chanson (“La Tendresse”) first recorded by Iglesias in 1975, sets a poetic rumination on the nature of love to a dramatic melody. Though lush orchestration is thankfully prominent on these songs, many lack the warmth of the originals. The arrangements veer from the near-identical to the quite different. In the latter category falls the new treatment of 1972’s “Un Canto a Galicia.” The song loses its comparatively raw, almost rock-ish rhythm for a sterile, lightly electronic beat. 1974’s “Por El Amor de Una Mujer” has also received a modernized arrangement here. Those familiar with the original recordings might appreciate the chance to hear how differently Iglesias approaches them decades later, even the ones which are relatively faithful reinterpretations. But the original recordings capture the purest essence of Iglesias on the rise to his eventual international stardom.
The Deluxe Edition includes the 1990 concert performance Starry Night: Live at the Greek, previously issued on both VHS and DVD. (There’s no information about the concert anywhere in the packaging to 1 – Greatest Hits.) This enjoyable program offers hits not on the CD portion (Hammond and Sager’s “Moonlight Lady”), more pop standards (“Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Mona Lisa”) and even some intriguing choices (Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema” and “Desafinado”). The concert is a welcome addition to the Deluxe Edition.
As an overview of Julio Iglesias’ musical career, 1 – Greatest Hits covers many of the high points, but never truly places them in context. The lack of annotation and full credits as to which talented producers and musicians played on which tracks, as well as reference to original album sources, is most unfortunate. Many listeners would doubtless have been inclined to dig deeper into the singer’s daunting catalogue with 1 as a starting point. All told, you might be glad 1 came along, but there’s still room for a more definitive account of all the many Julio Iglesias songs you’ve loved before.
You can order 1 by clicking on the album cover, above!