La Bamba, the critically acclaimed biopic of teen idol Ritchie Valens, is mandatory viewing for anyone with even the vaguest interest in the early days of rock and roll. As befitting of a movie that celebrates the life and times of Valens, the soundtrack is a collection of covers originally recorded either by Valens or his contemporaries. Los Lobos take the lead on all of the Valens covers, but there are also some excellent contributions from performers such as Bo Diddley and Marshall Crenshaw. Here’s how we rank all the songs from the La Bamba soundtrack.
12. Charlena – Los Lobos
Richie Knight and the Mid-Knights may have been the ones to popularize Charlena in the early ’60s, but Los Lobos’ excellent cover comes very close to matching the original.
11. We Belong Together – Los Lobos
We Belong Together was originally recorded by Robert & Johnny, who earned a number 12 R&B hit with it in 1958. Ritchie Valens’ version came a year later, with several different takes working their way onto his subsequent albums. Los Lobos’ cover for the La Bamba soundtrack is just one of a multitude of different versions, with everyone from The Belmonts and The Fleetwoods to Jimmy Velvit and Peaches & Herb taking it for a walk at some point or another.
10. Lonely Teardrops – Howard Huntsberry
The La Bamba soundtrack only contains a few songs sung by someone other than Los Lobos, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. First recorded by Jackie Wilson in 1958, Lonely Teardrops became something of a landmark in the history of rock and roll, with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame subsequently naming it as one of “The 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”. Howard Huntsberry, who portrays Wilson in La Bamba, does a great job on this sympathetic cover.
9. Summertime Blues – Brian Setzer
Since Eddie Cochran become the first artist to score a US top ten hit with Summertime Blues in 1958, dozens of artists have recorded it, including country singer Alan Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Rush, Bruce Springsteen, and Blue Cheer. Brian Setzer, who played Cochran in La Bamba, does an exceptional job on this take.
8. Framed – Los Lobos
Speaking about his inspiration for Framed in the book “Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography,” writer Jerry Leiber revealed “Another rap took the form of a police drama. We called it “Framed” and gave it a subtext that, despite the humor, refers to the legal brutality that impacted the black community.” First recorded by The Robins in 1954, Ritchie Valens revisited it four years later for his debut album.
7. Ooh My Head – Los Lobos
Whereas the Beatles and Big Brother and the Holding Company recorded straightforward covers of Little Richard’s Ooh! My Soul, Ritchie Valens went another way, switching up the lyrics completely and adding enough lusty teenage exuberance to take the song in an all-new direction. Los Lobos’ cover might lack some of the high kicking energy of the orginal, but it’s still a hugely enjoyable listen.
6. Goodnight My Love – Los Lobos
Since Jesse Belvin first took Goodnight My Love to the charts in 1956, it’s been covered by an army of artists, with everyone from Paul Anka and Ben E King to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Gloria Estefan putting their own distinctive spin on the classic. Even amongst the best of those covers, Los Lobos’ version holds up well.
5. Come On, Let’s Go! – Los Lobos
Come On, Let’s Go! was written by Valens and released as the first of four singles from his self-titled debut album in 1958. It was a moderate success in the charts, reaching number 42 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It’s been covered by several artists since, including Tommy Steel, who reached number 10 in the UK just a few months after Valens released the original in the US, and the McCoys, who earned a top 40 hit with their version in 1966. Los Lobos’ cover was also a hit, charting at number 18 in the UK and number 21 in the US.
4. Crying, Waiting, Hoping – Marshall Crenshaw
Considering how frequently Marshall Crenshaw was compared to Buddy Holly in the early days of his career, he was a natural fit for playing the rock and roll pioneer in La Bamba. Holly never actually got around to recording Crying, Waiting, Hoping, as Crenshaw later explained to Orlando Sentinel: “It was a demo he was working on in his apartment before he was killed in the same plane crash that took the life of the film’s subject, Ritchie Valens. It was (producer Garry Tallent’s) idea to do the song. I figured, ‘Okay, why not? I’ll do it just to humor him.’ It was his studio, after all.”
3. Donna – Los Lobos
After La Bamba, Donna is probably Valens’ best-known song. Written for his high school sweetheart Donna Ludwig and released as the A-side to La Bamba, the song became the singer’s biggest selling single, reaching number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959.
2. Who Do You Love? – Bo Diddley
If any song encapsulates Bo Diddley’s contribution to rock and roll, it’s Who Do You Love, a song that has been reinterpreted, reimagined, and re-recorded by hundreds of artists over the years, but has never lost even a fraction of its spine-tingling freshness to ubiquity. Diddley first recorded the song in 1956 but re-recorded it 30 years later for the La Bamba soundtrack.
1. La Bamba – Los Lobos
The oldest known version of La Bamba was recorded in 1938 by lvaro Hernández Ortiz under the title El Jarocho. 20 years later, Ritchie Valens came along and transformed it into a rock and roll classic. Recognized as one of the key songs that helped shape rock and roll, La Bamba has been listed as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for its cultural and historical significance. Los Lobos’ cover for the La Bamba soundtrack topped charts across the world, including in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada.