La Bamba

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Slash Records, 1987

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/18/2014

[Adapted from a review originally appearing in On The Town magazine on August 20, 1996]

Love and loss; young lives cut short; tragedy from triumph and triumph in turn from tragedy; a new generation taking up the reins from the old—these are among the basic building blocks of human drama (just ask Mr. Shakespeare). So what do they have to do with a somewhat obscure 1987 soundtrack album?

The movie La Bamba was the culmination of a decade-long effort by Latino filmmaker Luis Valdez to see a unique and remarkable rock and roll story told just right—the story of Ricardo Valenzuela, a.k.a. Ritchie Valens. Detailing Valens' tumultuous young life and meteoric rise as a high-energy rock and roll performer in 1958-59, the film follows him right up through the night he boarded the doomed plane that also carried Buddy Holly and "The Big Bopper" to their untimely deaths. It's a solidly-made, entertaining and moving piece of work—and a big part of the reason why is the tremendous soundtrack framing the entire story.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That soundtrack is anchored by next-generation Latino rockers Los Lobos' simultaneously reverent and rollicking renderings of classic Valens numbers, including the hand-clapping, foot-tapping "Come On, Let's Go," the impossibly sweet and sincere ballad "Donna" and the immortal Mexican-folk-song-with-a-V8-engine-dropped-into-it "La Bamba." Los Lobos also offer terrific takes on semi-obscure period classics like "Ooh! My Head," "Goodnight My Love," "Charlena" and "Framed," treating the dated but delightful material with so much enthusiasm and care that it becomes practically irresistible.

This tremendous energy and attention to detail carries through into remarkable covers of Buddy Holly's "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" and Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" by respective retro-enthusiasts Marshall Crenshaw and Brian Setzer (who also played these roles in the movie's concert scenes). And Bo Diddley's nasty-good version of the blues-boogie staple "Who Do You Love" would be the capper on any album.

Los Lobos and company succeeded on so many levels: in making Valens' (and Holly's, and Cochran's) music reach a new generation of listeners; in each paying skillful and completely appropriate tribute to their respective musical heroes; and in providing the superb musical underpinnings to a well-crafted movie. Their love for and pride in the story they were telling shows through over and over again. So what are you waiting for? Rent the movie, buy the soundtrack and revel in the drama—and great music—of it all.

Rating: A-

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