Among Spain’s ye-yé girls, Rosalía was perhaps the realest deal of all. However, a stint in South America at the height of her career saw her lose out to pop rival Karina for the Spanish record-buying public’s affections. And over the years even her biggest hit, the classic Chica ye-yé, has been overlooked in favour of a version by Conchita Velasco.
She was born Rosalía Garrido Muñoz in Madrid on 22 May 1944. Her mother encouraged her to sing from an early age, and at 14 Rosalía began singing in local and national radio programmes. With this experience under her belt, she then started to perform in various clubs, both in Madrid and further afield.
A win at the Aranda del Duero song festival in 1961 with Romance en Andalucía brought little reward initially. However, it started a chain of events that eventually saw Rosalía audition for the Iberofón-Zafiro label, and she signed to the company’s Tor subsidiary in 1962.
Four-track EPs were more popular than singles in Spain at that time, and Rosalía’s debut release led with Amor y rock and roll.
Although the record passed unnoticed, label bosses switched her to the main Iberofón label for subsequent releases. There, she was teamed with songwriter Augusto Algueró for her second EP, also issued in 1962.
Algueró had written for young stars such as Marisol, and would also later compose songs for Rocío Dúrcal and others. He wrote three tracks for Rosalía’s EP – Una nueva melodía, Todo and Inquietud – and would later pen her biggest hit.
Further releases followed over the next year or so, but it wasn’t until Rosalía’s eighth EP, Telstar, that she enjoyed any kind of success. As a result, she switched to the Zafiro arm of the company, where she would remain for another six years.
With her career at last on the up, she headed for the Mediterranean coast in the summer of 1963 to take part in the Benidorm song festival. Her entry, La hora, emerged the winner, and she became a familiar face on Spanish televisions performing it.
By this time, the ye-yé sound was emerging in Spain, and Rosalía was keen to move with the times. So, Dile, a version of US group The Exciters’ Tell him, which had given British singer Billie Davis a top ten hit in the UK, was issued as Rosalía’s follow up. The song had also been recorded by Karina, and much was made in the media of a rivalry between the two singers.
When the record hit big, Rosalía coupled her musical makeover with an image overhaul, bringing her look bang up to date and leaving her well placed to become Spain’s princess of pop.
The release in 1964 of Ciudad solitaria, a take on Gene McDaniels’ It’s a lonely town – a song that had been a big hit in Italy for Mina as Città vuota – completed her transformation.
Further quality releases followed, though the decision to include versions of Soeur Sourire’s Dominique, Gigliola Cinquetti’s syrupy Eurovision winner Non ho l’età (No tengo edad) and the stage tune Hello Dolly (¿Qué tal, Dolly?) on EPs confused buyers.
However, the discs included enough decent songs to keep her teenage fans interested. Highlights included a re-recording of her own La hora, which managed to outclass the original, Cada cual, El crossfire and Si yo canto (her version of Brenda Lee’s My whole world is falling down, and a big hit in France for Sylvie Vartan as Si je chante).
1965 kicked off with the single Do wah diddy diddy (another Exciters tune), with the excellent Flamenco, penned by beat combo Los Brincos, on the flip. Escucha este disco (another Sheila cover, this time of Écoute ce disque) followed soon after.
But then came the song that would prove a turning point in Rosalía’s career, Chica ye-yé. It had been performed by Conchita Velasco in the film Historias de la televisión, but somehow the lyrics didn’t quite fit the actress-cum-singer. Its writer, Augusto Algueró, knew the song needed a more modern and feisty performance to breathe life into it. Cue Rosalía – whose version became a huge hit. From then on, the singer found herself mobbed by adoring fans every time she went out. The song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics have drawn comparisons with France Gall’s Poupée de cire, poupée de son, which – whether by coincidence or not – Rosalía re-recorded as Muñeca de cera and included on the B-side of her record.
Chica ye-yé captured the moment perfectly. Ironically, however, over the course of the years, Rosalía’s version has been overlooked in favour of Conchita’s inferior one.
Two further singles, Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye (a version of a German hit by Peggy March) and Que lo pases bien, kept up the momentum for the rest of 1965.
Unusually, Rosalía had been booked to appear in a TV series in Buenos Aires in 1966, so her career in Spain was put on hold, right at its height. This left other singers to fill her shoes at home, notably her supposed arch rival Karina.
Just one single was issued in Spain that year, El folklore americano (yes, another Sheila cover). It included a version of Caterina Caselli’s Nessuno mi può giudicare, retitled Nunguno me puede juzgar, on the reverse, prompted by Rosalía’s appearance in a San Remo tribute special on Argentinean television.
1967 saw her release La carta, a take on The Box Tops’ The letter, and an excellent EP, Olvídame, all four tracks of which had been written by labelmates and former Los Brincos members Juan y Junior. She also appeared in the film ¿Quiere casarse conmigo?
In 1968, she married publicist Ernesto Ortiz and scored a hit with Un eterno amor, a version of Love Affair’s Everlasting love, which included the Bee Gees’ Words (Palabras) on the flip.
However, after Massiel won the Eurovision song contest that year, Rosalía felt that the Zafiro label lost interest in her in favour of their new star. And their decision to team her with producer Juan Caldos Calderón for 1969’s Cielo gris against her wishes proved the final straw, and she switched to Belter.
In hindsight, the move was perhaps ill advised. The ye-yé years were over, and Belter saw her as little more than an addition to their easy listening portfolio. Cuando yo bailo contigo, a song she performed at the 1969 Benidorm song festival, became her first release for the label. It was followed by Si llegara el amor (a version of Lulu’s Are you ready for love, a song from the UK national final to select a song for that year’s Eurovision song contest).
Following Spain’s two consecutive Eurovision wins, there was a great deal of interest in the contest to select the country’s entry for 1970. Sadly, Rosalía’s entry, Igual que yo, finished in last place, well behind winner Julio Iglesias, and sales proved slow. She fared better at that year’s Malaga song festival, finishing third with Amor, gracias.
She was reunited with Augusto Algueró for the gentle Alguien, which was issued as a single in 1971, and she sang on the soundtrack of the film Las Ibericas FC.
A year later, she finished second in the Viña del Mar song festival in Chile with the classy Los dos, one of her personal favourites.
However, when 1974’s Horizontes perdidos passed unnoticed and Rosalía gave birth to a son, she decided to retire from the music business.
After moving to the town of El Campello, near Alicante, she became a councillor for the centre-right People’s Party in 1995. In this role she took on responsibility for culture and was behind efforts to promote music locally.
Despite offers to return to the record studio and to appear in various films, Rosalía has opted to remain out of the public eye, preferring the public to remember her in her heyday.