La Bamba

Album: La Bamba Soundtrack (1987)
Charted: 1 1


  • A modest hit for Ritchie Valens in 1959, "La Bamba" is a traditional Mexican folk song popular at weddings and other celebrations. When Los Lobos recorded it for the 1987 biopic about Valens, their version became a massive hit and popularized the song with a new generation.

    Based in Los Angeles, Los Lobos formed in 1973 and released their first major-label album in 1984, which earned critical acclaim and a following for the band on the West Coast. When we spoke with their founding member Louie Perez in 2012, he explained: "The reason why we got involved in the first place is because we were asked by the Valens family if we would do this. It came from his mom and his sisters who had to give their blessing to the filmmaker and director to make this movie. They said, 'We want Los Lobos to do it.' By then we had picked up a little speed. We had a couple of critically acclaimed records, and we had a couple songs that were played on the radio, but no big hit. So for us it was doing it for them and for the legacy of this young Chicano kid who really pioneered. I mean, how bold was it back then in 1959 to take a Mexican song and make it into a rock tune, rock arrangement, and sing it in Spanish? That was pretty damn brave."
  • This was the first #1 US hit with lyrics that were entirely in Spanish.
  • Los Lobos write their own songs and cross many musical genres, so when "La Bamba" became their best-known work, it put them at risk for typecasting. "We didn't want to slick our hair back and wear puffy sleeves," said their guitarist Cesar Rosas. Making sure they followed their own path, they used the financial windfall to finance an album of traditional Mexican songs called La Pistola y el Corazón, which was released in 1988. Louie Perez explained: "How we redirected that frustration was to do something that was completely different. Different than would be expected of a band who just had a huge hit. We didn't want to chase that hit, come up with 'La Bamba #2.' So we put out a record of traditional Mexican music with a couple of original songs on it that we wrote, something we'd always wanted to do. I remember after that record was released, journalists from all over were writing how Los Lobos committed commercial suicide, and I think to some degree it was true; we threw this wrench in this machine and brought it back to what we were all about."
  • Weird Al Yankovic recorded a parody of this tune called "Lasagna," which is all about Italian food and written in a style of an Italian folk song.

Comments: 2

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn July 24th 1987, the Ritchie Valens' bio-movie "La Bamba" opened in theaters across the U.S.A. and Canada...
    A little over one month earlier on June 21st, 1987 Los Lobos' "La Bamba" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #87; and on August 23rd, 1987 it peaked at #1 (for 3 weeks) and spent a total of seven weeks on the Top 10...
    It also reached #1 in Canada, Spain, France, Ireland, New Zealand, and Sweden...
    Twenty eight years earlier in 1959 Ritchie Valen's original version of the song peaked at #22 for 1 week, and that was the position it was at on the day that he died (February 3rd, 1959)...
    In 1966 Trini Lopez covered it, his version stayed on the Top 100 for 5 weeks, peaking at #86...
    R.I.P. Richard Steven Valenzuela (1941 - 1959).
  • Rich from Portsmouth, Nhthe movie was kinda lame--maybe because I grew up hearing this original!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Intentionally AtrociousSong Writing

A selection of songs made to be terrible - some clearly achieved that goal.

Michael FrantiSongwriter Interviews

Franti tells the story behind his hit "Say Hey (I Love You)" and explains why yoga is an integral part of his lifestyle and his Soulshine tour.

Graduation SongsFact or Fiction

Have you got the smarts to know which of these graduation song stories are real?

"Stairway To Heaven" Lawsuit: A TimelineSong Writing

Untangling the events that led to the "Stairway To Heaven" lawsuit.

The Truth Is Out There: A History of Alien SongsSong Writing

The trail runs from flying saucer songs in the '50s, through Bowie, blink-182 and Katy Perry.

Early Days of MTVFact or Fiction

If you can recall the days when MTV played videos, you know that there are lots of stories to tell. See if you can spot the real ones.