Boogaloo’s emergence in the mid-1960s energized New York City’s Latin music scene. Being largely the province of young, raw Nuyorican musicians, boogaloo’s sound was fun and inclusive – equally beholden to soul and R&B, and double entendres and dance crazes, as the mambos that were the stock and trade of traditional big band orquestas. More subversively, it represented a circumvention of hierarchies within the business. No longer were fledgling musicians required to play with established bandleaders for years honing their chops before getting the okay to start their own groups. With boogaloo, enthusiasm, DIY expression, and a catchy tune were enough.
Bronx-bred pianist Pete Rodriguez wasn’t a newbie to NYC’s Latin band circuit of the mid-’60s – having already led his group on two albums of traditional Afro-Cuban material – when he hitched his wagon to boogaloo’s nascent popularity. His first foray, 1966’s Latin Boogaloo, as its generic title suggests, didn’t particularly distinguish him within the emerging form. But all that would change with the next single, “I Like It Like That.” Built around an irresistibly slinky descending piano riff, a hybrid rhythm of R&B and mambo, and raucous group chants by school kids and band members alike, the song sounded like a party everyone was invited to. It became an immediate enormous smash. Unlike previous boogaloo hits by other artists, “I Like It Like That’s” lead vocal, courtesy of trumpeter and song co-writer Tony Pabon, was sung in English, making it both reflective of the melting pot experience of a generation of Nuyoricans born and raised Stateside, and tailor-made to crossover to non-Spanish speaking listeners.
Naturally, Rodriguez’s breakout hit remains the highlight of the accompanying album of the same name. But where the album might have gotten by surrounding its single with copycat tracks and filler, I Like It Like That packs a potent playful punch within its short but sweet seven-song program. A joyous “Soy el Rey” finds Rodriguez declaring himself boogaloo’s king, and the single’s hit B-side “Micaela” (sung in Spanish by the band’s vocalist Alberto Gonzalez) is a dedication to the song’s titular character’s inevitable surrender while dancing the boogaloo. But ultimately boogaloo is treated as just one of several styles in which Rodriguez’s group excels. Frenetic dance numbers like “Pete’s Madness,” “Si Quieres Bailar,” and “3 and 1” (the latter a homage to Latin music producer and promoter Ralph Mercado’s storied Brooklyn music venue of the same name) exemplify the tight interplay that garnered Rodriguez and crew their initial success.
By the end of the decade, boogaloo’s run was over – either, as some believe, due to collusive strong-arming by the Latin music industry’s old guard, or simply because the New York sound had evolved into what would become known as salsa. “I Like It Like That’s” appeal however, continues to thrive in cover versions and remakes through the years. Appropriately enough, in 2018, the Bronx’s own Cardi B would revisit the song with Latin music giants Bad Bunny and J Balvin as “I Like It,” introducing it to an entirely new generation. Not that the resurgence of Rodriguez’s hit 50 years later should have necessarily surprised anyone. A great party never goes out of style.