The song finds Martin getting wild and crazy with a seductive woman who makes him forget his troubles and live for the moment. It was written by Desmond Child and Robi Rosa. Child has written hits for many artists, including Kiss, Cher, Bon Jovi, and Aerosmith. Rosa was in the group Menudo with Martin. Child and Rosa said they were trying to write "The Millennium party song from Hell." What they came up with was a new sound of Latin pop that crossed over to the mainstream, and it was partly the result of technological breakthrough: Pro Tools digital recording. In a Songfacts interview with Desmond Child
, he explained: "We were the first to record and mix a record all what they call 'in the box,' on Pro Tools. At the beginnings of Pro Tools. We were the first to go all the way to #1 with a song that was 100% non-analog, and that fact made it into the Wall Street Journal
He continued: "One of the things about that new sound of digital, it had a kind of metallic sound, and to compensate for that metallic sound, we made it drier than Latin music had ever been, which is more like ambient dance music, where things were deconstructed and you could hear everything your friend said, instead of the kind of records that sounded as though they were in a hall or with a lot of echo or had a corny kind of Europop sound. So we changed that with Ricky. We got his voice right in everybody's face. It really worked, and from that moment on nothing has ever sounded like it used to sound."
Martin's first mainstream hit, "Livin' La Vida Loca" took off after his triumphant performance of "Cup Of Life
" at the 1999 Grammy Awards. He got a lot of media attention and expanded his fan base to an English-speaking audience eager for songs they would Zumba to 10 years later. A notable supporter was Madonna, who did a duet with Martin called "Be Careful (Cuidado Con Mi Corazón)."
Frank Sinatra died on May 14, 1998, which was around the time this song was conceived. Desmond Child told Songfacts that Sinatra's music was a strong influence on this song. Said Child: "Frank Sinatra's music was coming out of the airwaves, and we were all of a sudden into this Rat Pack idea, and also the Latin Elvis concept that we had for him. So we put that into the songs, as well - there was a swing aspect to it. So the verses were more like that, and then the choruses were all out rock anthems, with horns. Because horns had fallen out of favor, we brought horns back."
This song was everywhere in 1999, and it became a cultural landmark, with the title entering the popular lexicon. Martin had a big follow-up hit with "She's All I Ever Had," but that didn't stop Chris Rock from poking fun at Martin during the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, saying that someone needs to write Ricky another hit, since he was stretching out "Vida Loca" like turkey meat at Thanksgiving (Rock was on a roll that night - he also told Jennifer Lopez that she needed to "thank her ass" more often). "Livin' La Vida Loca" won the award for Best Dance Video.
Here's what Desmond Child told Songfacts about getting together to work with Martin: "He was an entertainer, and my friends had found him and cast him. My friend Debbie Ohanian was the first one to notice him, because she followed Latin music and Latin celebrities. She saw him - I think it was on General Hospital - and then she brought him to the attention of another close friend, Richard Jay-Alexander, and he booked him in Les Miz on Broadway.
So at this point he started having a hit that was produced and written by Robi Rosa called 'Maria,' in Spanish. And that really broke through. I saw a clip of his performance on the streets of Argentina, 100,000 people showed up and tied up Buenos Aires. I saw those clips and I said, Oh, my God, this guy could be huge!
At that point I had moved back to Miami. It was after the earthquake in '94 (in Los Angeles), and I was getting back in touch with my Latin heritage. I was going to salsa clubs to dance and I was listening to artists like Albita at a famous restaurant called Centro Vasco on 8th Street. I took Steven Tyler there one night and everything. So I started getting into all of this and then there was an artist that a friend of mine from high school, Rafael Vigil, was producing. He was the one who wrote the early Miami Sound Machine hits with Joe Galdo.
He was producing an artist named Roscoe Martinez, and I started co-producing it with them for fun, because I thought I could help him. He was really trying to get this artist to go forward. We started coming up with the sound, and I asked Robi Rosa to come in - I had already started working with Ricky. Somehow it all came together on Ricky's record. I used the same musicians from Roscoe's record and it was a stepping stone towards that sound that I think changed the course of Latin music."
The title is in Spanglish - a mixture of Spanish and English - but it's about as Spanish as Taco Bell. This was by design, as Desmond Child explained to Songfacts: "His (Martin's) manager, Angelo Medina, thought there was a market in radio stations that were doing songs that were going back and forth between English and Spanish. He said, 'Well, what if you do one song that's kind of both?' If you look at 'Livin' La Vida Loca,' there really is very little Spanish in it. But when we presented it to the record company, one of the top executives came back to me and said, 'Could you write that song in English now?' I said, 'It is in English.' And in fact, when the first ads came out, he insisted that underneath 'Livin' La Vida Loca,' in parentheses, it said, 'Livin' the Crazy Life.' We were scratching our heads, like, Come on now, anyone who has ever gone to Pollo Loco knows what the word 'loco' is.
That particular song had parts that sound like Spanish but aren't. Like, 'skin the color of mocha.' 'Mocha' is an American term - we don't say that in Spanish. But it sounded like Spanish. It took three days to work out the right combination of sounds and words. That's pretty much the longest I had ever worked on a song before. That was before I started working in theater. These days it takes me three or four days to write a proper song.
Martin did record a version with Spanish lyrics that was included on US copies of the album. The title was still "Livin' La Vida Loca."
At the end of Shrek 2
, Eddie Murphy (Donkey) and Antonio Banderas (Puss In Boots) both sing this.
Scott Baldwin - Edmonton, Canada
The singer/comedian Mark Lowry did a parody of this song called "Livin' For Deep Fried Okra," where he sings about his love for the unhealthy southern dish. Sample lyric: "I've got a premonition, my heart is about to stall."
The song's writers - Desmond Child and Robi Rosa - earned songwriting credits on the Sisqo hit Thong Song
thanks to its use of the lyrics, "she was livin' la vida loca."
The dance-leaning tune had a multi-format appeal and was the first ever to simultaneously top the three Billboard charts that cover Top 40 radio: Pop Songs, Rhythmic and Adult Pop Songs.
Paul McCartney's guitarist, Rusty Anderson, played on the song after Robi Rosa asked him to put some guitar on some sections that were blank slates. He recalled to American Songwriter
: "I was thinking more of a James Bond vibe actually. But I kinda liked the way it counter-balanced the song."
Anderson recorded his guitar work at his studio intending it to just be a demo. "I didn't have a reverb to print that I was happy with so I figured the mixer would have the perfect reverb in mixdown," he explained. "That recording turned into the single. When I heard it on the radio, I was shocked that they left it dry!"
Renegade flamenco rock rumba punk 'n roll band Gypsy Pistoleros first did a version of this song at gigs and festivals in the early 2010s. Encouraged by fan reaction, they laid down a proper recording. Released on December 17, 2021, all proceeds from Gypsy Pistoleros' boisterous cover
go to housing and homeless charity Shelter.
"Livin La Vida Loca" was entered into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2022. Said Martin: "It's a very powerful song that represents Latino pop fusion. It is an honor to be linked to this song that has an important page in the history of music, because it was part of the first album recorded digitally in its entirety, and it was also my very first production entirely done in English. Without a doubt, it's a theme for History, and I feel honored that it is getting this recognition."