#68, "La Bamba," Los Lobos (1987)

When I was a kid, I loved movies. I mean, obviously I still love movies, but as a child I was very much taken by the romance of Hollywood. I had solid plans to move to Los Angeles after high school, aspired to be an actress, and every trip to the theater seemed like a magical, transformative experience. Ironically, my parents didn't take me very often. My parents' particular brand of pop culture censorship had very little to do with trying to protect me from content or not having time/money to take me. Rather, they didn't like watching kids movies. Or like, poor quality movies at all. 


This is completely fair if at the time annoying and contributed to my bizarre early childhood. I dare you to go back at watch the original Care Bears movie. It's not possible. My dear sweet aunt usually took me to the garbage dump movies, but my relative deprivation to all but a handful of wide releases probably contributed to my obsession with film and ALL stick out very clearly in my memory. So like while I'm still mad that I never got to see Young Einstein, the first movie I ever remember seeing in the theater was Splash. Mom took me to see Labyrinth even though I'd never heard of it or David Bowie beforehand. We saw the Abyss, Twins, and Aliens 3 (which both of us wanted to walk out of) together. And of course she took me to see La Bamba. 


Mom wanted to see it because she was a boomer and remembered the Day the Music Died firsthand. I wanted to see it because cute boys and rock n' roll. Here's a fun aside: I remember very clearly seeing the trailer for Born in East LA at that viewing. If you were sentient in 1987, you probably remember that "La Bamba" (the song) was a radio hit at the time and for me, whose exposure to current pop culture was severely limited, having access to the film and its retro-current soundtrack would probably give me some much needed credibility on the playground. It did, I was the envy of all of my friends and became the authority on La Bamba and Ritchie Valens. 


The following Christmas, Santa left me a cassette of the film's soundtrack and I all but wore it out in my cute pink Walkman. I didn't know who these Los Lobos people were. That was really fucking confusing. About half of the soundtrack included songs that were popularized by Ritchie Valens but were credited to something called Los Lobos on the album? Why?? 


If you'd ever listened to an original Valens recording, you'd know why. What a genius move on the part of the movie producers! Ritchie Valens originals are obviously well-written songs but he wasn't a great performer. Los Lobos added a much-needed pop and shine to the recordings they severely needed for a late-80s audience. Neither the movie nor the soundtrack would have been nearly as compelling. I'm listening to the original "La Bamba" as performed by Valens now and it's not as dull as I remember, but it certainly can't hold a candle to the Los Lobos version. In one of the very last scenes of the film, Ritchie is on his way to super stardom, performing in front of a packed theater, wearing a kick ass sparkly blazer and out of Lou Diamond Phillips' mouth and backing band come the sharp, dynamic sound of 1980s production and there's just no comparison. I gotta listen to Los Lobos now to cleanse my palate. I'm not a guitar solo person, but MAN, that solo in the Los Lobos recording. Phew! 


I also loved the other Los Lobos performances on the soundtrack. They improved ALL of those songs immeasurably. It's such a unique thing. For a minute I even favored "We Belong Together" over the title track. It's much better as a 50s school-dance balad than "Donna," which is way overrated. But, no, "La Bamba" solidly belongs on this list. In third grade, a classmate and I made a dance routine to "La Bamba" for the school talent show. I was a very confident child. I don't know where I got this confidence but this experience was one that knocked me down a peg. We were 100% sure we would win the whole thing, but we weren't even the best lip/sync routine by a long shot (a couple of classmates who did a less straight-faced rendition and actually brought out a real saxophone to pantomime the solo in the song received that distinction). Appropriately, the winners actually *performed* something instead of pretending to. I was still kind of confused as to why our dance routine didn't have the whole school a'buzz, but whatever. THEY were wrong. 


I've recently tried to get into Los Lobos apart from the La Bamba soundtrack but I am not there yet. Los Lobos has these improbable but strong ties to the LA Punk scene, which didn't make a lot of sense to me until they explained it in Under the Big Black Sun. Independent artists flocked together at the time and independent artists from the same community *certainly* flocked together, regardless of genre. Their non-La Bamba songs are catchy and obviously well performed but basically the only non-English language songs I've put much effort into aside from "La Bamba," "99 Luftballoons," "Ca Plane Pour Moi," and various Loi Loi songs, so it's going to be a process.