Happy Cinco de Mayo! While I am presently unaware of any 80s songs about the celebration of the Mexican Army’s triumph over the French at the Battle of Puebla on this date in 1862, I thought this fantastic cover of the popular Mexican folk song would fit the bill.
“La Bamba” was a 1958 hit for young recording artist Ritchie Valens, and though it stopped at No. 22 in the early days of the BILLBOARD Hot 100, it’s one of the earliest, best-loved and best-known songs of Rock and Roll.
In February 1959, less than 4 months after “La Bamba” was released, Ritchie Valens, along with Buddy Holly and “The Big Bopper,” died in a plane crash in Iowa, chronicled in the No. 1 1972 hit by Don McLean, “American Pie.” Ritchie Valens was just 17 years old.
Fast forward to the Summer of 1987, and a biopic about the short life of Ritchie Valens, LA BAMBA, was released. Actor Lou Diamond Phillips portrayed Valens, and the film featured some 80s musicians as well – Marshall Crenshaw played Buddy Holly, and The Stray Cats’ Brian Setzer played 50s Rockabilly legend Eddie Cochran.
The Chicano Rock / Tex-Mex / Americana band, Los Lobos (out of East Los Angeles, CA) had been releasing music since 1976, including 1985’s critically-hailed HOW WILL THE WOLF SURVIVE?, and one of 2 albums the band released in 1987, BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON, featuring “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes,” a song Bonnie Raitt covered on her new album, DIG IN DEEP.
The other album Los Lobos released in 1987 was the soundtrack to LA BAMBA, and the success of the film’s title song (a cover of Valens’ 1958 hit) caught the band – and the world – by surprise. Los Lobos’ “La Bamba” was a massive global hit, reaching No. 1 in at least 10 countries, many with extended stays at No. 1: Australia, Canada and New Zealand (7 weeks), France (11 weeks), Ireland and the U.K. (2 weeks), Italy (10 weeks), Spain (5 weeks), Switzerland (1 week), and 3 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 in August / September 1987. Here in the U.S., “La Bamba” was the 11th-biggest song of the year and the video won the 1988 MTV Video Music Award for Best Video from a Film.
Los Lobos, who experienced their biggest success with “La Bamba” and its parent album, are still going strong. The band has been around for 43 years this year, and last year released an album titled GATES OF GOLD, and were nominated for induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for the first time.
Personally, when I think of Los Lobos, songs like “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes,” “I Got Loaded,” “Kiko And The Lavender Moon” and “Will The Wolf Survive?” come to mind before “La Bamba” (or their excellent Top 30 cover of Valens’ “Come On, Let’s Go”), but I’m awful glad that, at least for a little while, the whole world got to know and love this wonderful band out of East L.A.…