The Rolling Stones captured the spirit and aspirations of a generation and became a template for every rock band that has emerged in their wake. The so-called ‘British Invasion’ of rock music in the US in the 1960s, made sound waves right down to the Argentine capital. Ratones Paranoico, branded the ‘Argentine stones’, were certainly no exception, but their music was more than a pale imitation.
Founded by lead singer Juan Sebastián Gutiérrez (“Juanese”) in 1984, the Ratones’ career spanned a twenty year period with a core four-piece band that included bass player, Pablo Memi, guitarist Pablo Cano and drummer Rubén Quiroga, under the aegis of cult producer Charly García. Juanese had previously played alongside Memi in the band ‘Las Puñalada Amistosa’.
Juanese, who in a 2009 Rolling Stones cover looks like a suspiciously self-styled, raven-haired Mick Jagger, cultivated a long-standing relationship with Andrew Loog Oldham, the former manager of the Stones. His influence and mentorship would cement the Ratones Paranoico’s career in the 1990s and lead to several concert performances alongside their British icon-counterparts.
“I listened to the stones since I was six or seven, but they were the only band I clung to.” Juanese once remarked. “And now we see fans coming to watch us, all with their Rolling Stones t-shirts, their absolute identification with the need for real rock ‘n roll.”
The next move was to shed their copycat image, adopting a Chicago blues beat with their debut album, ‘Los chicos quieren rock’, which features the insouciant, provocative lyrics of ‘Rock en las venas’. But the album was not initially a resounding success.
The Ratones would have to wait two years before they secured a core fan base with the 1989 album ‘Furtivos’, which included the hit single ‘Rock del Gato’.
It was during this period that Juanese made the provocative statement that their music had “nothing to do with national rock.”
“I don’t feel part of it,” he claimed. “I make rock and roll music and I am Argentine…but they’re separate.” It was under this premise, that they composed their second album, ‘Tómalo O Déjalo’, giving their fans the flippant ultimatum: ‘Take it or Leave it’.
On the back of their newfound success, they signed a contract with Sony Music in 1990 and coaxed Oldham to come to Buenos Aires to produce their next album, ‘Fieras Lunáticas’. The recording of the album, which included the hit single ‘Rock del Pedazo’ was finished in the US. Oldham’s additions include the melody of ‘Wah-Wah -(No puedo obtener) Satisfacción’.
In 1992, the Ratones opened for Keith Richards and the Guns N’ Roses at the Coca Cola Festival in Buenos Aires, and three years later on five occasions for the Rolling Stones during their tour of Argentina. Just before that period, they collaborated on the album ‘Hecho en Memphis’ with former Stones guitarist, Mick Taylor.
Juanese edited his first solo album, ‘Expreso Bongo’ in 1997, triggering rumours of the Ratones’ imminent breakup.
Nevertheless, a year later they were still performing ensemble on the porteño scene, although Fabián Quintiero briefly replaced Mimi on the bass.
In 2000, they released one of their most successful singles, ‘Para Siempre’ with Andrés Calamaro. A version dedicated to Diego Maradona was released a year later, claiming that the iconic football player was “the greatest thing there is / our religion, our identity.” It was a bizarre shift from the original version that had run “I am a rat in the city / I have no religion.”
A host of hit singles arose in quick succession in the next decade, including ‘Sigue Girando’, ‘El Balcón de Julieta’ and ‘La Fuga’, sparking off a second heyday.
Marking the Ratones twentieth anniversary, Pablo Guyot and Alfredo Toth produced a documentary of their work, entitled ‘Inyectado De Rocanrol Vivo’, filmed during several performances in 2005.
By the time their signature album, ‘Ratones Paranoicos’, was released in 2009, with the acclaimed tune, ‘No llores’, it was clear that the Ratones had finally moved away from their Stones template, embracing a more mainstream, jazzy style.
In August 2011, the band split but Juanese has continued to pursue his own solo career.
Their songs – like the catchy Vicio – continue to feature as theme tunes for TV shows, ensuring their lasting presence in the popular cultural imagination.
‘No Llores’ by the Ratones Paranoicos
Genre: Rock en Español
Dates Active: 1984-2011
Most Famous Song: El Rock del Gato
Best Lyric: “I don’t know whether to vote for Menem or De la Rua / I don’t know whether to shoot someone or stab them.”
Famous for: Making “Patria Stone” its own rock genre.
In his own words: “We don’t deal with replicas…with adopt a style with great responsibility. There were many people who always depended on the Stones, they were fixed on the sound, we were responding to this tendency and need.”
Best to listen to: At an Argentine eighties-themed party.