La Bamba

“La Bamba”  is a Mexican folk song, originally from the state of Veracruz, best known from a 1958 adaptation by Ritchie Valens, a top 40 hit in the U.S. charts and one of early rock and roll’s best-known songs.  Valens’ “La Bamba” infused the traditional tune with a rock drive, in part provided by session drummer Earl Palmer and session guitarist Carol Kaye, making the song accessible to a much wider record audience and earning it (and Valens) a place in rock history.  Valens’ version of “La Bamba” is ranked number 354 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  It is the only song on the list sung in a language other than English.  (More from Wikipedia)

The flip side of Donna though is the song that has really endured over the years.  Sung entirely in Spanish, “La Bamba” was just starting to become a hit as well in early 1959 and is a rocked-up version of a traditional Mexican wedding song dating from the 14th Century that is believed to have as many as 500 verses. 


Writing for the Rolling Stone Record GuideDavid McGee states:  “To get an idea of his indelible contribution to rock & roll, consider the critic Lester Bangs’ citation of [Ritchie] Valens  as the prototypical punk guitarist whose signature ‘La Bamba’ riff links Valens to a hard-edged, no-frills style of rock & roll later advanced by the Kingsmenthe Kinksthe Stoogesand the Ramones.”  The thrilling Ramones call “Hey Ho, Let’s Go” – from the opening song Blitzkrieg Bop” on their first album, Ramones – might have been lifted directly from Ritchie Valens’ Come On, Let’s Go


La Bamba” has been covered numerous times over the years; another Hispanic star, Trini Lopez had a 1966 hit with a more mellow version of the song, while Freddy Fender got on the charts with a Tex-Mex treatment.  Folk artists like the Kingston TrioJoan Baez and Harry Belafonte (among others) have also recorded the song.  In one of their early sessions together, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards played La Bamba in 1961; ironically, they were both 17 years old, the same age as Ritchie Valens when he perished on the airplane crash.  The tape of this rare recording brought $81,000. 


The 1987 film La Bamba that helped revive interest in Ritchie Valens’ music starred Lou Diamond Phillips; the Chicano rock band Los Lobos (celebrating their 40th anniversary together this year) faithfully recreated Ritchie Valens’ music in the movie. 


(June 2013/1)


*       *       *


Items:     La Bamba 


Last edited: March 22, 2021