Thursday, 13 August 2009

1987 Los Lobos: La Bamba

Although a traditional Latin folk song 'La Bamba' in this form, of course, was originally recorded by a seventeen year old Ritchie Valens in 1958. Though it only charted in the UK by virtue of its being the B side to his 'Donna', it's fusion of traditional Mexican rhythms and American rock & roll remains a cornerstone of modern popular music.

Los Lobos's version doesn't mine the tune's heritage for further inspiration but instead sticks faithfully to the Valens arrangement, almost to a fault. I normally frown on such blatantly unimaginative covers, but this one has a note for teacher in that it was recorded for the soundtrack to Luis Valdez's biographical film of Valens' short life and is meant to be a version of Ritchie Valen's version for Lou Diamond Phillips to mime to, albeit a chunkier one in terms of the production and David Hidalgo's vocal. It's also a rockier version, one that eschews Valen's dense Mexican motifs and backing calls for a solid backbeat.

It's all good fun and it's hard to begrudge Los Lobos a little success, especially with a song they were born to play, and their own Latin gene pool ensures that the essential danceability of the tune is undiminished and shoved to the fore. Note to Madonna: this is how it's done my dear.

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