La Bamba (song)

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"La Bamba"
Single by Ritchie Valens
from the album Ritchie Valens
A-side "Donna"
Released October 18, 1958
Format 7"
Recorded 1958
Genre Rock and roll, tejano, chicano rock, rock en Español
Length 2:06
Label Del-Fi
Writer(s) Ritchie Valens
Producer(s) Bob Keane
Ritchie Valens singles chronology
"Come On, Let's Go"
"Donna" / "La Bamba"
"Fast Freight / Big Baby Blues"
"La Bamba"
Single by Los Lobos
from the album La Bamba Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
B-side "Charlena"
Released July 20, 1987
Format CD single, 7"
Recorded 1987
Genre Rock and roll, chicano rock, rock en Español
Length 2:54
Label Warner Bros.
Writer(s) Ritchie Valens
Producer(s) Los Lobos
Los Lobos singles chronology
"Come On, Let's Go"/"Ooh! My Head"
"La Bamba"
"Down on the Riverbed"

"La Bamba" (pronounced: [la ˈβamba]) 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' 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.

"La Bamba" has been covered by numerous artists, most notably by Los Lobos, whose version was the title track of the 1987 film La Bamba and reached #1 in the U.S. and UK singles charts in the same year. The music video for Los Lobos' version, directed by Sherman Halsey, won the 1988 MTV Video Music Award for Best Video from a Film.

Traditional versions[edit]

"La Bamba" is a classic example of the Son Jarocho musical style, which originated in the Mexican state of Veracruz and combines Spanish, indigenous, and African musical elements. The song is typically played on one or two arpas jarochas (harps) along with guitar relatives the jarana jarocha and the requinto jarocho.[1] Lyrics to the song vary greatly, as performers often improvise verses while performing. However, versions such as those by musical groups Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan and Los Pregoneros del Puerto have survived because of the artists' popularity. The traditional aspect of "La Bamba" lies in the tune, which remains almost the same through most versions. The name of the dance, which has no direct English translation, is presumably connected with the Spanish verb bambolear, meaning "to shake" or perhaps "to stomp".

The traditional "La Bamba" is often played during weddings in Veracruz, where the bride and groom perform the accompanying dance. Today this wedding tradition is observed less often than in the past, but the dance is still popular, perhaps through the popularity of ballet folklórico. The dance is performed displaying the newly wed couple's unity through the performance of complicated, delicate steps in unison as well as through creation of a bow from a listón, a long red ribbon, using only their feet.

The "arriba" (literally "up") part of the song suggests the nature of the dance, in which the footwork, called "zapateado", is done faster and faster as the music tempo accelerates. A repeated lyric is "Yo no soy marinero, soy capitán", meaning "I am not a sailor, I am a captain"; Veracruz is a maritime locale.

Valens' version[edit]

The traditional song inspired Ritchie Valens' rock and roll version "La Bamba" in 1958.[2] 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 (he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001). The musicians on that session were Buddy Clark: string bass, Ernie Freeman: piano, Carol Kaye: rhythm guitar, Rene Hall: Danelectro guitar (six-string baritone guitar), Earl Palmer: drums, Ritchie Valens: vocals, lead guitar.[3]

The song features a simple verse-chorus form. Valens, who was proud of his Mexican heritage, was hesitant at first to merge "La Bamba" with rock and roll but then agreed. Valens obtained the lyrics from his aunt Ernestine Reyes and learned the Spanish lyrics phonetically, as he had been raised from birth speaking English. The song ranked #98 in VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of Rock and Roll and #59 in VH1's 100 Greatest Dance Songs of Rock and Roll, both done in 2000. Valens's recording of the song was inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame.[4]

When Valens' version, covered by Los Lobos, hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1987, it made all three musicians who died in the famous plane crash on February 3, 1959 credited with writing a #1 single. Buddy Holly had songwriting credit for "That'll Be The Day" which hit the top in 1957. J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson was credited with writing "Running Bear" which Johnny Preston took to #1 in 1960.

Other versions[edit]


Ritchie Valens version[edit]

Chart (1958-1959) Peak
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[6] 49
US Billboard Hot 100[7] 22

Los Lobos version[edit]

Chart (1987-1989) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report) 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[8] 3
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[9] 2
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[10] 1
France (SNEP)[11] 1
Germany (Media Control Charts)[12] 7
Ireland (IRMA) 1
Italy (FIMI) 1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[13] 2
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[14] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[15] 4
Spain (AFYVE)[16] 1
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[17] 3
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[18] 1
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company) 1
US Billboard Hot 100 1
US Billboard Country Songs 57
US Billboard Adult Contemporary 4
US Billboard Latin Songs 1
US Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks 11

Music video[edit]

The music video for Los Lobos' version of the song was directed by Sherman Halsey, and was the winner of the 1988 MTV Video Music Award for Best Video from a Film.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Geographic - Inspiring People to Care About the Planet Since 1888". Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  2. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 14 - Big Rock Candy Mountain: Rock 'n' roll in the late fifties. [Part 4]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. 
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ "Latin GRAMMY Hall Of Fame". Latin Grammy Award. Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. 2013. Retrieved August 19, 2014. 
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco: 1974-2003. Record Research. p. 220. 
  6. ^ "ChartArchive - The Chart Archive". Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  7. ^ Richie Unterberger. "Ritchie Valens | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  8. ^ " – Los Lobos – La Bamba" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  9. ^ " – Los Lobos – La Bamba" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  10. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  11. ^ " – Los Lobos – La Bamba" (in French). Les classement single.
  12. ^ "Chartverfulgong > Los Lobos > La Bamba –" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
  13. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Los Lobos search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  14. ^ " – Los Lobos – La Bamba". Top 40 Singles.
  15. ^ " – Los Lobos – La Bamba". VG-lista.
  16. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. 
  17. ^ " – Los Lobos – La Bamba". Singles Top 60.
  18. ^ " – Los Lobos – La Bamba". Swiss Singles Chart.
Preceded by
"Who's That Girl" by Madonna
UK number one single (Los Lobos version)
July 28, 1987
Succeeded by
"I Just Can't Stop Loving You" by Michael Jackson & Siedah Garrett
Preceded by
"Who's That Girl" by Madonna
Billboard Hot 100 number one single (Los Lobos version)
August 29, 1987 - September 12, 1987
Succeeded by
"I Just Can't Stop Loving You" by Michael Jackson and Siedah Garrett
Preceded by
"Ahora Te Puedes Marchar" by Luis Miguel
Billboard Hot Latin Tracks number one single (Los Lobos version)
September 19, 1987 - October 31, 1987
Succeeded by
"Ahora Te Puedes Marchar" by Luis Miguel
Preceded by
"Joe le taxi" by Vanessa Paradis
French (SNEP) number one single (Los Lobos version)
October 17, 1987 - December 26, 1987
Succeeded by
"Étienne" by Guesch Patti
Preceded by
"Laisse parler les gens" by Jocelyne Labylle and Cheela featuring Jacob Desvarieux and Passi
Belgian (Wallonia) number-one single (Star Academy 4 version)
October 18, 2003 - November 8, 2003 (4 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Hey oh" by Tragédie