Monday, November 24, 2008

50 years ago: “La Bamba” hit the charts

La Bamba

Ritchie Valens

Writer(s): William Clauson, Ritchie Valens (see lyrics here)

First Charted: November 24, 1958

Peak: 22 US, 49 CB, 23 GR, 49 HR, 49 UK, 14 CN, 87 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 43.76 video, 106.89 streaming

La Bamba

Los Lobos

First Charted: June 27, 1987

Peak: 13 US, 12 CB, 12 GR, 12 RR, 4 AC, 11 AR, 1 CO, 12 UK, 17 CN, 17 AU, 6 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, -- UK, 3.03 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 117.29 video, 155.58 streaming

Awards (Valens):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Los Lobos):

Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“La Bamba” is a traditional folk tune which, according to Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos, the song “probably goes back 200 years.” FB It has been attributed to slaves who chanted the names of their African villages, one of which was Mamamba. That chant became the wedding song “La Bamba” when it travelled to Mexico. KL The lyrics varied greatly since performers usually improvised, but the music stayed largely the same. WK The title is presumably based on the Spanish verb “bambolear,” which means “to sway, shake, or wobble.” WK

It may have been recorded as early in 1908, but the earliest confirmed recording was in 1939 by Alvaro Hernández Ortiz, known as El Jarocho. It gained popularity in 1945 when Miguel Alemán Valdés, a Mexican presidential candidate, used it in his campaign. The Huesca brothers recorded it that year and two years later it emerged in the musical film Fiesta, performed by Los Bocheros. Subsequent versions were recorded by Swedish-American folk singer William Clauson in the early ‘50s, Cynthia Gooding in 1953, and Juanita Linda in 1956. WK

In 1958, the song was recorded by Ritchie Valens, born Richard Steven Valenzuela. His sister, Connie, said he heard the song performed at family gatherings and learned to sing it in Spanish even though he never spoke the language. FB He “adapted the time signature and added electric bass and guitar to the sound” TC to create “the first Spanish rock & roll song.” TC Sadly, he was only 17 when he was killed in a plane crash on February 3, 1959, which also took the lives of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. After his death, his song “Donna” reached #2. The flip side, “La Bamba,” peaked at #22 the day before he died.

The song became iconic, with subsequent versions recorded by Harry Belafonte, Glen Campbell, Neil Diamond, and Trini Lopez. However the most successful version was recorded by “Los Lobos, an innovative California-based band who play a wide range of music from Tex-Mex to their own original songs.” DJ Their #1 version, which was recorded for the 1987 biopic La Bamba about Valens’ life, was the first #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 by a Hispanic act. TC


First posted 3/29/2021; last updated 7/11/2023.

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