“Alma de Acero” by José Alfredo Jiménez, English translation of lyrics

“Soul of Steel” Lyrics
Style: Ranchera
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube

Translation:

Podrás tener mucha suerte,
Podrás andar por el mundo
Destrozando corazones.

You can have lots of luck,
You can travel the world
Destroying hearts.

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“Te Solté La Rienda” by José Alfredo Jiménez, Maná, English translation

“I Let Go of Your Rein” Lyrics
Style: Corrido, ranchera, sometimes a mariachi. This popular Mexican song is an epic “you’ll miss me, but go” breakup song.
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube (José Alfredo Jiménez, Maná, Lupillo Rivera, Vicente Fernandez, and many more)

Translation:

Se me acabó la fuerza
De mi mano izquierda.
Voy a dejarte el mundo
Para ti solita.

I lost the strength
On my left hand.
I am going to leave you the world
For your very own.

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“El Caballo Blanco” by José Alfredo Jiménez, English translation

“The White Horse” Lyrics
Style: Corrido about a white horse, but it’s really about a road trip all over Mexico on a car (romanticized as a horse).
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube, Amazon

About:

This song is about a road trip [es] that José Alfredo Jiménez took from Guadalajara (in central Mexico) to Baja California (just south of the United States southwest) on a white 1957 Chrysler. It is a good song to teach Mexican geography, since he mentions the places he passes on his journey.

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“Cuatro Caminos” by José Alfredo Jiménez, English translation of lyrics

“Four Paths”
Style: Ranchera, mariachi, forsaken love song. A song about picking your life path when you feel lost. The cuatro caminos refers to the four cardinal directions.
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube, Amazon

Translation:

Es imposible que yo te olvide.
Es imposible que yo me vaya.
Por donde quiera que voy te miro.
Ando con otra y por ti suspiro.

It is impossible for me to forget you.
It is impossible for me to leave.
Because wherever I go, I see you.
I am with another and I sigh for you.

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“Que Te Vaya Bonito” by José Alfredo Jiménez, English translation of lyrics

“May Things Go Beautifully For You”
Style: Sorrowful mariachi love song. This is a post-breakup song, with the narrator wishing his former lover nothing but good things. It sounds like he ended the relationship due to outside circumstances.
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube, Amazon. The song was also used for a 1978 Mexican film, but there is little information available online.

Translation:

Ojalá que te vaya bonito.
Ojalá que se acaben tus penas,
Que te digan que yo ya no existo,
Y conozcas personas más buenas.
..

I hope that things go beautifully for you.
I hope that your sorrows end,
That they tell you that I no longer exist,
And that you meet better people…

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“Gracias” by José Alfredo Jiménez, English translation of lyrics

“Thank You”, 1972
Style: Mariachi farewell song.
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube, Amazon.

José Alfredo Jiménez died 41 years ago on November 23, 1973.

My father is a huge fan of José Alfredo Jiménez. Once, when I was visiting home and helping him install a new music program, he started filling his playlist and found this song. He told me more about the legendary José Alfredo Jiménez, beloved and prolific singer-songwriter of Mexico. Jiménez died in 1973 of cirrhosis of the liver due to his drinking. He didn’t die sad or regretful, though. He died full of gratitude for his fans. He composed this last song, “Gracias” (Thank You) to express his love for everyone, and to let people know that he thought his life was wonderful, and that he had made peace with his upcoming death.

He picked his own epigram, arranged his own funeral, and settled his affairs. Here is an interview with José Alfredo Jiménez at the hospital. Fourteen days before his death, he left the hospital and drove to have dinner with his son, then they played dominos all night.

To this day, he is still internationally famous for his character- and story-driven lyrics. When people think of mariachi, ranchera, and corrido songs, they think of José Alfredo Jiménez.

Translation:

¿Cómo puedo pagar
Que me quieran a mí
Por todas mis canciones?

How can I repay
That you all love me
For all my songs?

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“El Coyote” by José Alfredo Jiménez, English translation of lyrics

“The Coyote”, mid-20th century
Style: Corrido with mariachi music. This is the story of an unrequited love triangle that ended in the rival’s death.
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube, Amazon

Translation:

Le pinte un cuatro al coyote, y me fui para la sierra.
El Coyote era un bandido, nacido allá por mi tierra.
Lo conocí desde niño. Fuimos juntos a la escuela.

I drew a cross over the Coyote, and I left for the sierra.
The Coyote was a bandit, born near my hometown.
I knew him since we were kids. We went to school together.

A las primeras lecciones, se sabía lo que intentaba.
Porque cantaba canciones, peleando con su guitarra.
Y aunque perdiera ilusiones, con sus ojos no lloraba.

From the first lessons, it was obvious what he intended.
Because he sang songs, fighting with his guitar,
And even if he became disillusioned, he didn’t cry with his eyes.

Aquella noche de Mayo, le gusto mi María Elena.
Pero yo llegue a caballo. Yo tenía cita con ella.

That May night, he set his sights on my Maria Elena.
But I came by horseback. I had a date with her.

(¡Sí señor! No le busques, Coyote.)

(Yes, sir! Don’t mess with him, Coyote.)

Cuando baje de la sierra, me encare con el Coyote,
Y abrazando a María Elena, le dije ya tiene nombre
Porque en la ermita sagrada, nos casó el cura del monte.

When I came down from the sierra, I came face-to-face with the Coyote,
And hugging Maria Elena, I told him she has a name now
Because in the sacred chapel, the priest on the mountain married us.

El agacho la cabeza, y se fue cobardemente.
Pero como era Coyote, se devolvió de repente.
El me buscaba la espalda, pero yo le halle la frente.

He lowered his head, and he left in a cowardly way.
But because he was a Coyote, he turned around suddenly.
He was looking for my back, but I found his front.

Coyote, Coyote altivo,
Que no respetaste amores,
Pudiendo ser buen amigo,
Te mataron tus traiciones.

Coyote, arrogant Coyote,
(You) who did not respect love,
You could have been a good friend,
(But instead) your betrayals killed you.

Translation Notes:

Le pinte un cuatro al coyote, y me fui para la sierra.

I drew a cross over the Coyote, and I left for the sierra.
I painted a four on the Coyote, and I left for the sierra. [*lit.]

The song begins by describing the Catholic hand motion for blessing another person by drawing a cross in the air, in front of their forehead. It looks almost like you are drawing the number “4” shape, although the way that I am used to seeing this hand motion, it really looks like an upside down “4”. I was taught up-down, then side-to-side.

This is not Mexican slang. It is a poetic phrase that Mexican Catholics will understand from context by recognizing the similarity of the hand movements for a number “4” and a cross. It is an interesting coincidence that “4” is an unlucky number associated with death in China, but José Alfredo Jiménez probably did not know about that. The Catholic context is more relevant.

The man nicknamed “The Coyote” is dead. The narrator of the song then goes back to tell the story of who the Coyote was and what happened.

El Coyote era un bandido, nacido allá por mi tierra.

The Coyote was a bandit, born near my hometown.
The Coyote was a bandit, born over there by my land. [*lit.]

Here mi tierra (my land, my home) likely means they come from the same geographic cluster of towns or ranches or farms. If ranches or farms, then it makes sense why they are not from the same place (thus por mi tierra, not en or de mi tierra). Kids scattered along farming communities like this tend to go to schools at whichever village is closer.

Aquella noche de Mayo, le gusto mi María Elena.

That May night, he set his sights on my Maria Elena.
That night of May, he fancied/liked my Maria Elena. [*lit.]

Y abrazando a María Elena, le dije ya tiene nombre.

And hugging Maria Elena, I told him she has a name now.

He means literally that she has a married name now, but he’s also saying “she’s mine.” Saying ya tiene nombre (lit. he/she/it has a name now) isn’t something you can only say about people. It’s also a way of saying that something has been claimed or that something belongs to someone. For example, if you bake a cake intended for someone specific, you can say that ya tiene nombre. For usage with people, you should be very careful because it may be offensive if used casually; it is a strong statement to claim someone. In this case, the singer has an established close relationship with Maria Elena (recently married) and is saying it to protect her from aggressive interest from another man.

No le busques, Coyote.

Don’t mess with him, Coyote.
Don’t look [for a fight] with him, Coyote. [*literal]
Don’t seek it out, Coyote. [*literal]

buscar (verb) = to look for; to seek

buscarle (verb) = to look for it (from someone/something); to seek it out (from someone/something)

Coyote, Coyote altivo, que no respetaste amores

Coyote, arrogant Coyote, (you) who did not respect love

Here, amor (love) is used in plural form. He is not just talking about love in general, but specific loves, i.e. the love he and his wife share for each other.

The word altivo comes from alto (tall, high).

Pudiendo ser buen amigo, / te mataron tus traiciones.

You could have been a good friend, / (but instead) your betrayals killed you.
Having the potential to be a good friend, / you were killed by your betrayals (instead). [*alt.]

The word “instead” is implied by the verb choice and conjugation.

pudiendo ser = having been able to be [having the option to be, in the past]

“La Media Vuelta” by José Alfredo Jiménez, English translation of lyrics

“About-Turn”
Style: Ranchera, heartbreak, wavering between denial and acceptance.
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube, Amazon

Translation:

Te vas porque yo quiero que te vayas.
A la hora que yo quiera te detengo.
Yo sé que mi cariño te hace falta
Porque quieras o no yo soy tu dueño.

You leave because I want you to leave.
At whatever time I want, I (can) stop you.
I know that you need my affection,
Because whether you want it or not, I am your boss.

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“El Perro Negro” by José Alfredo Jiménez, English translation

“The Black Dog” Lyrics
Style: Corrido (a storytelling style) about a loyal dog.
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube, Amazon

About:

José Alfredo Jiménez was a famous and prolific Mexican singer-songwriter. Remember his name if you are interested in the music history of Latin America or Mexican culture. His songs created a new mythology in Mexico. He sang about characters and stories. This song is about the murder of Gilberto the Brave, who was killed in his sleep by a cowardly but powerful rival. Gilberto had a loyal dog who avenged his murder. 

Translation:

Al otro lado del puente
De La Piedad, Michoacán,
Vivía Gilberto el Valiente,
Nacido en Apatzingán.

On the other side of the bridge
Of La Piedad, Michoacán,
Lived Gilberto the Brave,
Born in Apatzingán.

Siempre con un perro negro
Que era su noble guardián.

Always with a black dog
That was his noble guardian.

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“No Me Amenaces” by José Alfredo Jiménez, English translation of lyrics

“Do Not Threaten Me” Lyrics
Style: Ranchera, old heartbreak song. Poor José Alfredo is so heartbroken and the breakup is not even official yet.
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube, Amazon

Translation:

No me amenaces. No me amenaces.
Cuando estes decidida a buscar otra vida,
Pos agarra tu rumbo y vete.

Do not threaten me. Do not threaten me.
When you have decided to seek another life,
Well, take your path and go.

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“El Hijo del Pueblo” by José Alfredo Jiménez, English translation of lyrics

“The Town Son”
Composer: José Alfredo Jiménez
Style: Ranchera about poverty with dignity.
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube

Translation:

Es mi orgullo haber nacido
En el barrio más humilde,
Alejado del bullicio
(Y) de la falsa sociedad.

It is my pride to have been born
In the most humble neighborhood,
Away from the hustle and bustle
(And) from the false society.

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“Paloma Querida” by José Alfredo Jiménez, Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete; English translation of lyrics

“Beloved Dove” Lyrics
Style: Ranchera, love song. A popular old romantic song in Mexico.
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube, Amazon

Translation:

Por el día que llegaste a mi vida,
Paloma querida, me puse a brindar,
Y al sentirme un poquito tomado,
Pensando en tus labios, me dio por cantar.

For the day that you entered into my life,
Beloved dove, I began to toast,
And on feeling a little drunk,
Thinking of your lips, I was inspired to sing.

Me sentí superior a cualquiera,
Y un puño de estrellas, te quise bajar,
Pero al ver que ninguna alcanzaba, [*alt. Y al mirar]
Me dio tanta rabia que quise llorar.

I felt superior to anyone,
And a fistful of stars, I wanted to bring down for you,
But on seeing I could not reach a single one, [*alt. And on seeing]
It made me so furious that I wanted to cry.

Yo no sé lo que valga mi vida,
Pero yo te la quiero entregar, [*alt. vengo a]
Yo no sé si tu amor la reciba,
Pero yo te la vengo a dejar. [*alt. entregar]

I do not know what my life may be worth,
But I want to turn it over to you, [*alt. come to]
I do not know if your love will receive it,
But I come to leave it to you. [*alt. turn it over]

Me encontraste en un negro camino
Como un peregrino sin rumbo y sin fey
Y la luz de tus ojos divinos
Cambiaron mi suerte por dicha y placer.

You found me on a black path
Like a pilgrim aimless and faithless [*lit. Like a pilgrim without route and without faith]
And the light of your divine eyes
Changed my luck by good fortune and pleasure.

Desde entonces yo siento quererte
Con todas las fuerzas que el alma me da
Desde entonces, paloma querida,
Mi pecho he cambiado por un palomar.

Since then I feel I love you
With all the forces that my soul gives me
Since then, beloved dove,
I have exchanged my chest for a dovecote.

Yo no sé lo que valga mi vida,
Pero yo te la quiero entregar, [*alt. vengo a]
Yo no sé si tu amor la reciba,
Pero yo te la vengo a dejar. [*alt. entregar]

I do not know what my life may be worth,
But I want to turn it over to you, [*alt. come to]
I do not know if your love will receive it,
But I come to leave it to you. [*alt. turn it over]

Translation Notes:

Pensando en tus labios, me dio por cantar.

Thinking about your lips, I was inspired to sing.

darse por = to be inspired to, to be inclined to

Me dio tanta rabia que quise llorar

It made me so furious that I wanted to cry
It gave me such fury that I wanted to cry [*literal]

Con todas las fuerzas que el alma me da

With all the forces that my soul gives me
With all the forces that the soul gives me [*literally]

Spanish often uses “the” (el/la) where English would use “my” (mi).

Other Renditions:

Pedro Infante (Mexican singer and actor)


Jorge Negrete (Mexican singer and actor)


Plácido Domingo (Spanish opera singer)

“El Rey” (The King) by José Alfredo Jiménez, English translation of lyrics

“The King”
Composer: José Alfredo Jiménez
StyleRanchera very popular in Mexico. This is one of José Alfredo’s most famous songs.
Country: Mexico
Listen on YouTube: José Alfredo Jiménez (original), Vicente Fernandez, Alejandro Fernández, and now George Strait (possibly because of my translation? I don’t know, but if so, I am very honored!)

Translation:

Yo sé bien que estoy afuera
Pero el día que yo me muera
Sé que tendrás que llorar.
(Llorar y llorar, x2)

I am fully aware that I am out
But the day that I die
I know that you will have to cry.
(Cry and cry, x2)

Dirás que no me quisiste,
Pero vas a estar muy triste
Y así te vas a quedar.

You will say that you did not love me,
But you will be very sad
And that is how you will stay.

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“Tu Recuerdo y Yo” by José Alfredo Jiménez, English translation of lyrics

“Your Memory and Me”
Composer: José Alfredo Jiménez
Style: Ranchera, sad song about reminiscing at a bar about a lost love.
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube

Translation:

Estoy en el rincón de una cantina,
Oyendo una canción que yo pedí.
Me están sirviendo ahorita mi tequila,
Ya va mi pensamiento rumbo a ti.

I am in the corner of a bar,
Listening to a song I myself requested.
They are serving my tequila to me right now,
Already my thoughts are on their way to you.

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