Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” Lyrics Meaning
Whereas it is said that the title of this track (“La Bamba”) cannot be translated literally, its closest translation would be a phrase akin to “The Swing”. And with that in mind, “La Bamba” is in fact a dance song. Accordingly a good part of its lyrics are dedicated to encouraging the audience to dance.
Now this isn’t one of those kinds of dance songs where the listener is given exact instructions on how to move his or her body. Rather it operates more along the lines of encouraging the recipient to get down in general.
The secondary theme of “La Bamba” is romantic in nature. In fact in the second verse, the singer is trying to, as we would say in more-modern times, kick it to a lady. And basically, what he is doing is bragging about his rank in his particular profession. Or more specifically Veracruz, the part of Mexico where this song originated, is actually a coastal city. And he is saying that more so than being a simple “sailor”, he is actual a “captain”.
And that’s pretty much it as far as the lyrical content of this song, as its wording is quite-repetitive. Or succinctly put, “La Bamba” is a dance song with a romantic undertone.
A True Classic
This is the signature song of Ritchie Valens’ (1941-1959) brief career. In fact is one of the most-famous tunes in American history. For instance, it holds the distinction of being the first track not recited in English to have been placed on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Likewise it has made it onto similar lists compiled by VH1, and also has a permanent place in the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame.
Moreover Ritchie Valens’ version broke the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. It also appeared on the UK Singles Chart and music charts in France and Belgium during its day.
Writing Credits for “La Bamba”
Ritchie Valens is the credited writer of “La Bamba”. And his rendition of the song was released by Del-Fi Records on 18 October 1958. It was also featured on his posthumous debut album, “Ritchie Valens” (1959). However, this tune did not actually originate with him. Rather it is a folk song from Mexico which was influenced by the musical styles of Spain, Africa and the indigenous peoples of Veracruz. It is traditionally associated with weddings, and the earliest recognized recording of the “La Bamba” dates back to 1939, before Valens himself was born.
But that being said, it should also be noted that, from a folk perspective, the lyrics of the song could vary from singer-to-singer.
Los Lobos’ Version of “La Bamba”
Initially Ritchie Valens was not actually credited for writing this classic. That was until 1987 when a rock band called Los Lobos dropped their own highly-successful rendition of “La Bamba”. They recorded this cover to be used for the biography of Ritchie Valens’ life, which itself was entitled “La Bamba”. The late Ritchie Valens was portrayed by one of the top actors in Hollywood around that time, Lou Diamond Phillips. So it is possible that the reason the credit for the song’s composition was given to the late Ritchie was due to general public sympathy for the singer being at its peak so to speak, as well as the song itself being more-popular in the late 1980s than it was in the first.
Interesting to note is that Los Lobos’ version, which reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, was actually the first song to do so that was sung exclusively in Spanish.