The year was 1994. The Miss Universe pageant was held here (launching the local career of Dayanara Torres), FHM covergirls Ritz Azul and Myrtle Sarrosa were born, and the infamous Metro Manila Film Festival scam unfolded to the outrage of movie fans. And somewhere between the celebrations and scandals, Rivermaya launched its self-titled debut album, beginning their journey to superstar status.
After 11 full length albums (with the occasional EP release in between), Rivermaya has etched their place in OPM’s deep history as one of the best bands to ever perform in this generation. Their hits have become the soundtrack to life’s most important milestones, a testament to the band's sheer talent. It is unfortunate that the original lineup had to go their separate ways (with the exception of Mark Escueta) but Rivermaya still lives on. It lives on with Rico Blanco and Bamboo Mañalac becoming two of the top acts in the music industry today. It lives on with Perf de Castro and Nathan Azarcon with the former’s (still) jaw-dropping guitar performances and the latter’s bass riffs with his band, Hijo. It lives on with the band itself, with Escueta now manning the helm and with Azarcon reportedly joining the band for their 12th studio album.
While we admit that it hasn’t been the same since Bamboo and Rico left the band, the ones who took over (Mike Elgar, Kakoy Legaspi, and Japs Sergio to name a few) have done a great job to keep the music alive. And to honor one of the biggest bands to ever hit the airwaves, here are Rivermaya’s 13 most underappreciated songs.
"Halik Sa Araw"
"Halik Sa Araw" is a rockin’ anthem penned by Rico and Perf. The latter shows of his riff making mastery right from the get go with a true headbanger. Bamboo, to no one’s surprise, does a great job with his rockstar vocal delivery. Perf rounds out the song with a face melting solo that is lacking in more recent Rivermaya releases.
This song recently made the rounds on social media due to the impromptu reunion of Rivermaya (sans Bamboo) at 19 East. We’re glad the boys played this song as it was one of the best tracks from their debut album. It’s the perfect mix of pop, rock, and alternative indicative of the tone of Rivermaya’s music.
"The Princess of Disguise"
The first track from their sophomore album, Trip, "The Princess of Disguise" did gain it’s fair share of airplay in ’96 after being featured in the Chito Roño flick, Istokwa, starring Mark Anthony Fernandez. Bamboo’s distinct vocals are on full display in this song. The amazing thing is that he sounds exactly the same now as he did twenty years ago when this song was released.
The track creates a dreamy atmosphere that makes it easy for you to get lost in the music. No amount of words can fully capture the artistry and elegance so we suggest that you grab the best pair of headphones you have and give it a listen. Trust us, you won’t regret it.
This song was easily the biggest song in their first album post-Bamboo but, being not as widely received as the hits from their previous albums, this is a truly underappreciated piece of music. It should rank up there with "Elesi" and "Hinahanap-hanap Kita" if it were not for the fact that people focused more on Bamboo’s departure from the group. That concern eventually proved unfounded as Rivermaya continued to churn out hits with Rico fronting the band. "Nerbyoso" has all the elements of a Rico Blanco hit—easy to play, relatable, and possesses a melody that sticks with you for days.
"Never Been Better"
Rico always had a knack for choosing the right notes every time as evidenced by the guitar riff starting at the 2:55 mark of "Never Been Better"—nothing fancy, just a collection of notes that hit the spot just right. The entire song is a slow affair, subdued up until it reaches its climax. The only fault we find in this song is that it isn’t longer.
When Rivermaya launched their fifth album, Free, the entire music industry didn’t know what to make of it. Here was a top tier band releasing an entire album for free. It was something unheard of back then, especially for a band of Rivermaya’s status. "Faithless" was one of the biggest tracks in Free but has been largely forgotten as the years went by. The band’s mastery of the alternative pop rock genre is on full display in this song. Anchored by Escueta’s steady drumming and accentuated by Rico’s primal screams, the track chugs along and coerces you to rock out with it.
2001 was the year when Rivermaya really started looking like a different band. Nathan Azarcon left and three new people were recruited: guitarists Elgar and Legaspi and bassist Sergio. In this live rendition of "Imposible" from the album Tuloy Ang Ligaya, Elgar and Legaspi show off their chops. And if there were any doubts that Rico could front a band, this performance definitely proved otherwise.
"Alab ng Puso"
Probably the best thing about the 2001 movie Buhay Kamao starring Robin Padilla and Rica Peralejo was its soundtrack. The movie featured Rivermaya’s inspirational anthem, "Alab ng Puso," which was definitely one of the best songs ever released by Rivermaya. The song starts out forcefully powered by drums and distorted guitars with a driving riff worthy of becoming Manny Pacquiao’s entrance tune. The track takes an unexpected turn at around the 2:09 mark, transforming into a glorious hymn that evokes so much emotion, which makes us wonder why it doesn’t get as much love as the band’s earlier hits.
"Sunday Driving" as its title implies is a laid-back cut from the band’s seventh album. With a catchy melody (and those perfect falsettos Rico hits during the chorus), it’s a song that threatens to break the replay button on your car’s stereo sytem.
"241 (My Favorite Song)"
We all know about the other numerically titled and karaoke-staple Rivermaya song, "214." But not nearly as many people know about "241," and outstanding track from Between the Stars and Waves. The instrumentation is perfectly subdued, following the song’s natural emotional progression and peaking at just the right moments, which lets the song speak to you without any unnecessary distractions. Rico also knocks it out of the park with his vocal performance, making you feel the song rather than just listening to it.
"Ligawan Stage (Nerbyoso Part 2)"
When Rivermaya released their 2008 album, Buhay, there was a lot of debate as to whether this was still Rivermaya. Rico left the band and a new vocalist was found via a reality TV search: Jason Fernandez. And while people were busy discussing the technicalities of the band’s name in relation to the band’s lineup, Rivermaya was still churning out decent songs. Take "Ligawan Stage" for example—a perfectly good pop rock song worth a listen but was unfortunately drowned out by all that non-musical talk.
The band underwent another lineup change with Sergio and Fernandez leaving the band, and Escueta vacating his seat behind his drum kit and moving up front to play guitars and handle lead vocal duties. It really seemed like the essence of Rivermaya was lost, but that didn’t stop the band from releasing excellent material. The band could have benefitted from a name change to stop being compared to the “old” Rivermaya but songs like "Malayang Magmahal" just shows that it really doesn’t matter because the new lineup is still capable of churning out radio-friendly tracks.