In a Nutshell
In a Nutshell
The story of "La Bamba" is one of the most infamous in all of rock and roll. Ritchie Valens, a Mexican-American teenager who grew up in Los Angeles, released his first record in August 1958. He met a tragic end in a plane crash in 1959, but despite the fact that his rock and roll career lasted less than a year, his music, including "La Bamba," paved the way for Chicano and Latin rock and roll. His first hit, "Come On Let's Go," told other young Latino musicians that they could carve out a place in rock and roll. "La Bamba" told them that they could reach mainstream audiences without abandoning their Latino roots.
It would take almost a decade, however, for other Latino musicians to follow Valens' lead. Ritchie Valens may have pointed the way for a Latin-rock fusion, but it would be years before artists like Santana and Little Joe followed.
About the Song
||Musician(s)||Ritchie Valens (vocals, guitar), Rene Hall (Danelectro bass), Buddy Clark (string bass), Carol Kaye (guitar), Earl Palmer (drums), Ernie Freeman (piano)
|Album||Originally released as a single, but included on the posthumously released Ritchie Valens|
|Writer(s)||Traditional, adapted by Ritchie Valens|
Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
If you think "Ritchie Valens" doesn't sound much like a Mexican name, well, that’s because it isn't. The famed musician's real name was Ricardo Valenzuela, but his manager and producer Bob Keane thought that he might be more successful if he changed it. Born Robert Kuhn, Keane had changed his own name when he got into music, so he was partial to the idea. Keane had also been the one to suggest that a young gospel singer named Samuel Cook change his name—though only slightly—when he began recording pop songs. Sam Cooke (http://www.shmoop.com/change-is-gonna-come/) went on to a wildly successful career, although it was also cut short by an untimely death, much like Valens’s.
As Ritchie Valens, Valenzuela became the first Mexican-American rock and roll
star and the first to turn a traditional Mexican song into a rock and roll hit. His story is an important part of the history of rock and roll. But Valens' importance goes beyond music. His life and career add to our understanding of the minority experience in America as much as literary works like Sandra Cisneros' House on Mango Street
(http://www.shmoop.com/house-on-mango-street/) and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon
On the Charts
"La Bamba" reached #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959. "La Bamba" was actually the B-side to "Donna," a song that Valens wrote for his girlfriend of the same name. "Donna" reached #2 on the charts.
When La Bamba,
the biographical film of Valens’s life, was released in 1987, the movie’s soundtrack reached #1 on the Billboard 200. The Los Lobos version of “La Bamba” which was featured in the film also hit #1 in the US, as well as in several other countries.
"La Bamba" is ranked #345 on Rolling Stone's
list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It is the only song on the list that is sung completely in a language other than English.