Happy 30th Anniversary to Gloria Estefan’s debut solo album Cuts Both Ways, originally released July 11, 1989.
Miami Sound Machine burst onto the music scene in the late ‘70s with their upbeat brand of latin influenced music which took the world by storm. Throughout their ten or so years in their original lineup of Gloria Estefan, her cousin Mercy Navarro (joint lead vocals), Emilio Estefan Jr. (Percussion), Enrique Garcia (Drums) and Juan Marco Avila (Bass), the band had a slew of hits with songs like “Dr. Beat,” “Conga” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” to name a few, but it wasn’t until their tenth album Let It Loose (1987) that the world was formally introduced to the band’s modified moniker: Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine.
Although Estefan had been one of the band’s founding members since its creation in 1977 and had also been their main lead vocalist (Navarro was joint lead vocalist up until and including the band’s third album Otra Vez), Let It Loose showcased the singer with top billing for the first time. The album was a triumph with hits like “1-2-3,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” and the global #1 ballad “Anything For You.” This meteoric rise gave way for Estefan to cement herself as a true superstar and look to the future as a potential solo artist, something she would embark upon just two years later.
No stranger to a ballad or even a club hit, Estefan’s inaugural solo LP Cuts Both Ways continued in the same vein as some of its predecessors’ formulas, whilst ensuring that she firmly stepped into her own spotlight. If ever a solo debut was to make its mark, this one well and truly did and this was never more evident than on the album’s lead single “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” which not only went to #1, but garnered Estefan a GRAMMY nomination too. The second single from the album, the upbeat “Get On Your Feet,” failed to achieve the same level of chart success as its precursor, and yet to this day it remains one of Estefan’s most recognizable and beloved songs worldwide, proof that her popularity has not been governed solely by chart success.
Cuts Both Ways both reaffirmed Estefan’s ability as a solo singer and also established her as a brilliant songwriter with incredible capabilities, penning seven of the album’s ten tracks. Even though the album seems to really only have two speeds; ballad and/or jam, it somehow still allows the listener to navigate through the music without feeling lost, even including a few Latin inspired tracks staying true to Estefan’s Cuban roots. In fact, “Si Voy A Perderte,” the Spanish version of “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” is one of many standout tracks on the album.
Other highlights are the deliciously upbeat, dance floor savvy “Say” (co-written by fellow Cuban/American singer Jon Secada), the epitome of what ‘80s ballads executed with pure perfection were all about in the form of “Here We Are,” and the heartbreakingly beautiful song of love lost, “Cuts Both Ways.” And whilst “Oye Mi Canto” (“Hear My Voice”) attempted to replicate the success of songs like “Conga” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” it didn’t quite hit the mark in the U.S. but charted well in Europe, growing Estefan’s fanbase substantially there and again proving her popularity independent of the charts.
Is Cuts Both Ways a feat in musical mastery? Most definitely not and that in itself is not a bad thing at all. Estefan decided to stick with a well-trodden path of what worked for her and Miami Sound Machine previously, with some slight tweaks and the introduction of legendary backing vocalists like Jon Secada and Betty Wright, ensuring the album was firmly set in her “voice.”
Some may say the album was calculated, but essentially it was this caution and a knowledge of what “works” that not only created an incredibly delicious album full of brilliance on so many levels, but it also ensured that as the ‘80s came to an end, Gloria Estefan’s reign and assertion as one of the world’s greatest pop stars was only just beginning. Not to mention that Cuts Both Ways, to this day, is one of her most successful albums as a solo artist, having sold more than 4 million copies worldwide.
Thirty years later and Cuts Both Ways still rings true to those wanting an album heavy on beautiful love ballads and a positive vibe that was firmly created in the ‘80s, and yet remains one of popular music’s timeless classics.