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Valens wrote this about his girlfriend, Donna Ludwig. They were both high school students at San Fernando High, and started dating in 1957 after meeting at a party where Valens was playing. They stayed together until Valens died in the plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly on February 3, 1959. Valens won a coin toss to get a seat on the plane, beating Tommy Allsup, who was a member of Holly's band.
17-year-old Ritchie Valens recorded this in Los Angeles just a few months before his death. His first recordings came in March, 1959 and while he did make #42 in the US with "Come On, Let's Go," "Donna" was his breakout hit, entering the charts on December 15, 1958 and peaking at #2 on February 28, 1959.
According to Donna Ludwig (who later became Donna Fox), Valens told her that he was writing a song about her, but the first time she heard it was on the radio in her car. Her girlfriends went justifiably crazy and got even more excited when the DJ played it again.
The B-side of this single was "La Bamba
," a traditional Mexican song Valens' producer Bob Keane suggested. "La Bamba" charted at #22 on February 7, 1959, but became Valens' best known song in 1987 when Los Lobos recorded it for the movie La Bamba
, and it became a #1 hit in America.
A sound alike version was used in a Visa commercial where a man is getting a tattoo with the name of his girlfriend, Donna. He runs out of money and is left with a tattoo reading "Don."
This song is used in an episode of That '70s Show when Eric and Donna break up. It is playing on the radio when Eric is lying in bed all day. (thanks, David - Reno, NV)
A month after Valens died, Marty Wilde's cover of this song hit #3 in the UK.
La La Brooks of The Crystals
The lead singer on "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me," La La explains how and why Phil Spector replaced The Crystals with Darlene Love on "He's A Rebel."
One of the most successful songwriters in the business, Desmond co-wrote "Livin' La Vida Loca," "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)" and "Livin' On A Prayer."