Regine Velasquez sings the love songs of our lives

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Powered by soaring trademark vocals, Regine Velasquez has sung a signature love song for every stage of her life, and provided a love soundtrack for every stage of ours. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — For a singer to reach a certain degree of legitimacy, he or she must have at least released a signature song to his or her name, enough to secure a space in pop culture. The signature song is that one recording that’s infallibly associated with the singer, his or her voice and persona deeply ingrained into the piece that no other singer can interpret it the way the “song owner" can.

But for some singers, it is almost impossible to attribute just a single signature song. Such is the case of Regine Velasquez — Asia’s songbird to her fans, and favorite muse to some of the greatest Filipino songwriters.

Just what is Regine's definitive love song? With a discography that spans more than 25 years, and a musical career that continues to influence generations of OPM patrons and songbird wannabes up to this day, Regine certainly has minted her voice in more than one trademark love song. This is because Regine Velasquez has sung a signature love song for every stage of her life, and in effect, she has provided a love soundtrack for every stage of ours.

The Regine Velasquez love song catalog is a powerful collection of songs that documented her evolution from the small-town probinsyana with a big voice and even bigger dreams (“Regine,” 1987), to the woman who has finally built both her dream career and her ideal family (“Hulog Ka Ng Langit,” 2014). We have related our own romantic intricacies and emotional vulnerabilities to her music, which speak of silly infatuations, romantic optimism, crippling heartaches, and profound longing.

While Regine ventures into other genres occasionally, it is the love songs — powered by her trademark soaring and sometimes melismatic vocals — which cemented her place in the music industry as one of the best-selling Filipino artists of all time, possessing a career longevity that transcends multiple eras and fleeting trends in pop music.

 

As a singing contest veteran from the province, Regine already established her own musical style when she recorded the 1987 emotional ballad “Kung Maibabalik Ko Lang.” The song tackled missed chances and regrets over the one that got away — a common theme in OPM love songs. Still during her promdi phase, she proved that Filipino love songs don’t have to come pre-packaged in the kundiman-rooted love ballad mold when she released her breakout hit “Urong Sulong” (1987), a move which can be compared to releasing bubblegum pop love songs with cheeky themes that catapulted teen pop acts to stardom before the turn of the new millennium. “Urong Sulong” is a light take about the jitters, excitement, and uncertainty of guessing if the object of your affection reciprocates the feeling: exactly just how young, playful love feels like. For the album “Reason Enough” (1993), Regine sang about yearning for a loved one who walked away with “Babalikang Muli.”

In 1994, Regine was in the middle of her Asian pop star phase. Her first regional album release “Listen Without Prejudice” spawned hits written and produced by her foreign collaborators. But in her follow-up album “My Love Emotion,” a Trina Belamide-penned heartbreak anthem made it to the final track list. Released to coincide with developments in her personal life (the nation was just reeling from the news of her breakup with a fellow OPM rising star), her song “You’ve Made Me Stronger” has become an iconic breakup theme that told heartbroken listeners that there’s a bright and definitely empowering side of ending an unhealthy relationship.

Because love becomes more complicated as we gain more life experiences, Regine has also brought to life a song for those who are entangled in forbidden love. In 1998, Regine’s sister Cacai Velasquez and her husband Raul Mitra penned “Linlangin Mo,” a hauntingly heart-wrenching ballad about, presumably, an extra-marital affair which the singer finds hard to end.

From the mid ‘90s to early 2000s, there was a boom in all-cover albums. Regine was among those who started this trend with her album “Retro” in 1997 and “R2K” in 1999 (There will be two volumes of “Covers” to be released later on). Regine has a knack for choosing songs which at first, may not fit her, but eventually become her own. She made “signature songs” out of covers like “Bluer Than Blue,” “On the Wings of Love,” and surprisingly, the Aerosmith classic “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing.”

In the midst of this "revival revolution,” Regine was one of the artists who tried to steer OPM back to the originals direction when she released “Reigne” (2001), an album comprised mostly of new compositions and unreleased songs. The album was conceptual, almost experimental, with Regine explaining that the songs are influenced by the music, artists, and genres that she enjoys listening to. This experiment led to her serving unpredictable songs like “To Reach You” (a melancholy ode to the lengths one can do for love), “Sa Aking Pag-iisa” (a sensual Regine singing about an unforgettable tryst), and the lyrically poetic “Dadalhin” (a song about an ephemeral promise of love).

But throughout all the years of her producing albums and singing in studios, it was during Regine’s romcom phase when she recorded some of the most memorable and tagos sa puso songs that can be in the soundtracks of anyone’s love story. Her leading lady career trajectory started in 1996 with “Wanted: Perfect Mother” where she recorded “You Are My Song,” a collaboration between Martin Nievera and Louie Ocampo that we can all file in the “I love you but I’m not sure how to deal with these feelings because I might just drive you away if I tried” category.

In the year 2000, Regine’s box-office might was in full display, with every leading actor lining up to be paired with the certified singer-actress. Her movie with Robin Padilla became the vehicle for arguably one of the best Filipino love songs ever written, “Kailangan Ko’y Ikaw.” Straightforward, earnest and lyrically simple, the words of “Kailangan Ko’y Ikaw” flowed cohesively with its velvety smooth melody (both by Ogie Alcasid) and highlighted the brilliance of Regine’s soft and restrained vocal attack that climaxed into a soaring, emotional high note.

Her streak with original movie theme songs continued in 2002 and 2003, with more Ogie Alcasid compositions: “Sa Piling Mo” “Hanggang Ngayon,” and “Pangarap Ko Ang Ibigin Ka” (fans would discover later that Ogie Alcasid, Regine’s eventual husband, has been writing these songs as his love letters to her all along). These brilliant compositions, along with “Kailangan Ko’y Ikaw” perfectly fit each other lyrically and musically, so much so that they feel like an unofficial Regine-Ogie love theme trilogy.

These are just some of the musical gems that Regine has contributed to the great Filipino songbook, and these songs will forever be part of every Filipino's journey in love. True, Regine has been known for her terrific covers of both local and foreign songs, but it’s her emotive original Filipino love songs that show her more relatable human side — the promdi who worked hard and sacrificed a lot to have it all, only to realize in the end that fame and fortune is nothing when love is lacking. Because as her songs suggest, of all our dreams, it is the dream of finding true love that is most difficult, and yet it’s the dream that, as any Filipino love song would impassionately suggest, is worth fighting for.