Mar 10

LOS LOBOS – “La Bamba”

Popular37 comments • 2,716 views

#595, 1st August 1987, video

I’m beginning to realise quite how bad I was at hearing music when I was 14. My reaction to “La Bamba” back in 1987 was to sulk, roll my eyes and dismiss it as mere necrophilia. Obviously this was missing the point that not all covers need be faithful – and even ones that seem faithful can be subtle restorations, for example by reclaiming a dead rock-and-roller for Latin pop. “La Bamba”‘s relationship to Los Lobos’ career, Valens’ original and the Latin charts has been well covered by Jonathan Bogart here and you should read that as soon as you’ve read this.

My reaction then was also missing the rather bigger point that “La Bamba” is one of the most absolutely joyful number ones of the late 80s – and one of the most generous, squeezing three different layers of delightful guitar work into as many minutes. First is the plump jangle of the verses and that biting riff riding low underneath. Then the solo – a burst of notes resolving into a gleeful skip about the rhythm – and finally the sly drift of the Spanish guitar to fade. There were, it’s interesting to note, a lot of jangling three-minute guitar pop records around in 1987, tracks which also had one eye firmly on the past: I ended up liking some of them a great deal but I’d say now that none of them are as easily playful as this.



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  1. 26
    Tom on 30 Mar 2010 #

    I think last year’s events have slightly weakened its Baby Jumpiness but we’ll see – I’ll be intrigued to see what kind of googler action we get.

    Anyway – fingers Xed – we’re back to 3 posts a week now: last week’s hiatus was purely a work bottleneck, now the Pop World Cup is being co-hosted by Steve and Tim it’s not impinging on my time at all really.

  2. 27
    xyzzzz__ on 30 Mar 2010 #

    Yeah @ that link — this version fleshes out the orig.

    Although I quite like the film, not that I’d ever have high expectations but I always have it as retread of that biopic of Buddy Holly. In the BH pic there is a FANTASTIC scene of his first major gig with the unifying the room thing.

  3. 28
    anto on 30 Mar 2010 #

    Good point about gutiars. It certainly seems like ages since we discussed a song where it was the main instrument.
    I can’t get excited about La Bamba though. It’s only a few steps from this to Steve flippin’ Wright hurling The Mavericks at us.

  4. 29
    Mark G on 31 Mar 2010 #

    I heard Steve Wright’s radio show yesterday, it was almost exactly the same as his old Radio 210 show (1976 or thereabouts), same records etc.

  5. 30
    Jimmy the Swede on 2 Apr 2010 #

    Wrighty has really come over all precious these days. The mug punter knows for a fact that in order to get anything read out in the form of a request, one has to include “love the show” or “great show” in the blurb otherwise you’re in trouble. This either indicates either insecurity or narcissism, neither lovable traits really.

    He’s still a basically good lad, though.

  6. 31
    Snif on 4 Apr 2010 #

    Two ace pieces of casting in the film were Marshall Crenshaw and Brian Setzer as Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran respectively.

  7. 32
    seekenee on 5 Sep 2012 #

    I liked this well enough at the time and I knew the Valens version from the Birdy film which i’d seen on video not long before this hit. The video of this brings to mind other 1987 fairground/summertime/big 50’s electric guitars videos by The La’s, the Bodines and, er, the Cure

  8. 33
    Cumbrian on 19 Jun 2013 #

    La Bamba was the sum total of my knowledge on Los Lobos until this last Monday when I saw them in support of Neil Young & Crazy Horse at the O2. As a consequence, I was expecting some light, fun, latin inflected pop-rock.

    What I got was an obviously technically accomplished but nevertheless lumpen bar band, bashing out a load of pretty straightforward tunes. I can’t name any of them, due to my lack of knowledge of their catalogue, but there was one tune where they did the muso-showcasing of each band members particular talents and it was all sadly predictable. I was hoping I would get something to inspire a search into their career. But I didn’t. What latin pop-rock should I be seeking out then, given I have little to no knowledge of the genre?

    They did do La Bamba though, at the end of their set. It was a different arrangement and it reminded me of nothing so much as The Stones’ tackling “Like A Rolling Stone” rather than the track that got to #1, which I still reckon is a decent, lightweight, enjoyable thrash through the original, with a nice bit of Spanish guitar at the end. I was a bit disappointed.

  9. 34
    Mark M on 11 Aug 2014 #

    Not sure anyone has mentioned this/grasped it, but the ‘bit at the end’ is the original original tune, i.e. the folk song from Vera Cruz, which I knew some time before I heard the Richie Valens song.


  10. 35
    hectorthebat on 9 Feb 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    Life (USA) – 40 Years of Rock & Roll, 5 Songs for Each Year 1952-91 (Updated 1995)
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 40
    Al Borde (USA) – The 500 Most Important Songs of Ibero-American Rock (2006) 301
    VH1 Latin America (“North”) – The 100 Greatest Songs of the 1980s (2007) 23
    Grammy Awards (USA) – Record of the Year Nominee
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 3
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – Songs of the Year 32

  11. 36
    Mark M on 19 Apr 2015 #

    Heard this on the radio this evening*, and it sounded terrific. Los Lobos are incredibly variable, to say the least, but I think at their best, they’re pretty good. You normally get some lovely guitar playing, at least (I love David Hidalgo’s work as one of Tom Waits’ all-star sidemen, too).

    But I also was thinking about the similarities bet ween the swarm of trebly strings (guitars and harps) you get in son jarocho and that in Zimbabwean guitar pop of the ’80s. Anyone else hear it? Lord Sukrat – yay or nay?

    *6 Music’s request show, doing a ‘first record you bought’ show. Lots of good stuff, esp Doug E Fresh’s The Show.

  12. 37
    sbahnhof on 4 Sep 2015 #

    Re 35 – is this song *not* listed as one of the 10,001 tracks I must download?! Did the author mention why not?

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