Thursday, June 25, 2020

"La Bamba" by Los Lobos

#1 Alert!
Song#:  3175
Date:  06/27/1987
Debut:  84
Peak:  1 (3 weeks)
Weeks:  21
Genre:  Rock, Latin Rock, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The L.A. band's album How Will the Wolf Survive? did well reaching #47 thanks to solid reviews and the single "Will the Wolf Survive?" (#26 Rock/#78 Pop). They followed it up early in '87 with By the Light of the Moon. While none of its singles reached the Pop chart, it did feature the #4 Rock track "Shakin' Shakin' Shakes." While the LP was making its way to #47, the band got an opportunity to record songs for an upcoming film titled La Bamba that was to be based on the life of rock 'n' roll/Chicano rock pioneer Ritchie Valens. Early on it seemed that instead of using actual recordings from Valens and other artists of the era, the decision was made to record new versions of the songs. Apparently, the Valens family, after giving the go-ahead for the movie, requested that Los Lobos record Valens' tunes. The band agreed and recorded a batch of tracks for use in the film. A soundtrack album was culled and it included eight tracks by Los Lobos with a few other classic songs covered by artists like Marshall Crenshaw and Brian Setzer. About a month before the film was in theaters, this first single from the soundtrack was released. The updated classic struck a chord with a new, younger audience and the song ended up reaching #1 for three weeks. In turn, the soundtrack album to the film reached #1 for a two-week stay. By the fall it would be a double-platinum seller. With one song, Los Lobos went from critical darlings to mainstream stars.

ReduxReview:  This tune really surprised me. Probably a lot of other folks as well. It was kind of a left-field hit. Who knew that a remake of a rock tune that itself was a rock remake of a Mexican folk song in Spanish could top the Pop chart? It did help that the film generated a lot of buzz and did well at the box office, but still I don't think anyone expected the single to do so well. The other thing in its favor was that the tune was just dang catchy. It created a party vibe and everyone wanted to dance and drink to it. Mitchell Froom's production was meaty as well and it helped to make the song soar. Of course, Los Lobos is fantastic and I think they did justice to Valens' original classic. I really didn't latch on to Los Lobos until a few years later with their amazing 1992 album Kiko, but this stopover in soundtrack land was a major career booster that allowed them to experiment and push out some great albums over the years.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The film was based on the life of Ritchie Valens. Valens was an accomplished musician in his teens and got signed to a record deal while still in high school. His second single, 1958's "Donna," became a big #2 hit while its flip side, "La Bamba," a traditional Mexican folk song that Valens adapted into a rock tune, also charted at #22. His career was on the rise, but it was tragically cut short when he died in the same place crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper (the event known as "the day the music died"). Valens was only seventeen. The movie starred Lou Diamond Phillips as Valens. It ended up being a solid hit that was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture, Drama.  2) This was the first song in Spanish to reach #1 on the Pop chart. As of this posting date, it remains one of only three Spanish language songs to top the US Pop chart. The other two were 1996's Bayside Boys remix of "Macarena" by Los Del Rio, which spent 14 weeks at #1, and 2017's "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Bieber. That song nearly broke a long-standing record tying for most weeks at #1 (16) alongside 1995's Boyz II Men/Mariah Carey track "One Sweet Day." (That 16-week record would be broken by Lil Naz X's "Old Town Road," which spent 19 weeks at #1 in 2019.) However, "La Bamba" remains the only #1 that is completely in Spanish. The other two hits included bits of English.


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