1. Willie Colon / [Ruben Blades], "Siembra" (1978). Two words: "Pedro Navaja." This milestone album contains Blades' signature tune and perhaps the best-known salsa song of the era. Loosely based on "Mack the Knife," the song showcases Blades' knack for storytelling with memorable melody and swing, a narrative style that revolutionized the genre. This is the second album from this creative collaboration between the Panamanian singer-songwriter and Colon, the brash Puerto Rican bandleader and arranger. With its rousing social commentary and unconventional sound, "Siembra" set the salsa world on fire and remains one of the most original and influential works of the last half century, in any style. Also recommended: the duo's smoldering follow-up, 1981's "Canciones del Solar de los Aburridos."
4. [Celia Cruz] and Johnny Pacheco, "Celia & Johnny" (1974). This is the album that first featured Cruz after she signed with [Fania], the first and best of six collaborations between the Cuban singer and the Dominican bandleader and flutist. It was one of the biggest- selling albums of the Fania boom and remains a must-have classic. Pacheco used a tipico conjunto sound (two trumpets and a tres, the Cuban guitar) that harkened to Celia's beginnings in 1950s Havana with the Sonora Matancera. Aside from the hits "Quimbara" and "Toro Mata," the album features a tender Celia on the gorgeous bolero "Vieja Luna" (Old Moon) and a hip Celia on the romantic kiss-off "Lo Tuyo Es Mental" (Your Case Is Mental).
7. [Ismael Miranda], "Asi Se Compone un Son" (1973). This is the first solo album by singer Miranda after leaving Orquesta [Larry Harlow]; he started his own band, appropriately named Orquesta Revelacion. The title track means "this is how you compose a son," referring to the Cuban genre at the root of salsa. The recording quality is among the best Fania ever achieved. The scorching tune "Ahora Si" (Now's the Time) captured the take-no-prisoners, outta-my-way ethos of these young Turks, featuring pianist Oscar Hernandez, who went on to play with Blades and most recently with the popular Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Miranda's vocals are powerful and passionate, especially on the dramatic tango adaptation "Las Cuarentas."