It's always a fun song to hear, but my favorite version of La Bamba has always been the version that Los Lobos played on the La Bamba film soundtrack (1987). Not only do they manage to capture the sound of Ritchie Valens, but the last few seconds of the song feature the band playing something that sounds more traditionally Mexican. It was this traditional sound that I loved more than anything else about the song.
I was fascinated enough to seek out the band's other albums; they came out with The Neighborhood, and then the awesome Kiko. Kiko was a mind-blowing breakthrough for a number of reasons. I loved the dark innocence of Kiko and the Lavendar Moon, and the wistfully mellow beauty of the Dream In Blue. Peace is still one of the tracks I give people when I want them to discover this band, because it showcases David Hidalgo's fantastic voice and intricate guitar skills so well.
But as much as I enjoyed these songs, I kept going back to the last few seconds of La Bamba, and wishing they'd do more songs with traditional instruments. It reminded me of the restaurant we used to go to with my grandparents on the occasional Sunday afternoon; it made my skin remember the feeling of the Phoenix sun, and I could recall that sensation of being full of exotic food, surrounded by people who loved me and the clean and nourishing smells of tortilla and dust hovering in the dry air.
This was in the days before I had internet, of course, or I would have found La Pistola y el Corazón a lot sooner than I did.
I was cruising through the stacks at the public library, and I was looking for something new. I'd heard about this new Buena Vista Social Club CD, and had wandered into the Spanish-language section to check it out, and there it was: this Los Lobos album full of traditional ballads, corridos, son, and... okay, I'll be honest: I don't know or care what you call them. These are just good songs, and a strong argument against ignoring music in other languages (how much sooner would I have found this gem if it had been sorted with the rest of Los Lobos' albums?)
The album only clocks in at 25 minutes, but it's 25 minutes of pure genius. This is a band that knows how to make beautiful sounds stick to a recording medium, and they are playing the songs that they loved when they were growing up. It's that love that comes through.
I ended up buying a copy - and that's saying something; I'm notoriously cheap. I took it with me to England when we were stationed there in 1998, and when the grey gloom got me down, I would put this album on in my E-reg Mini Cooper, and blast through the tiny villages, fields of rapeseed and rabbits, and across abandoned train tracks with golden sunshine in my heart and badly mispronounced Spanish pouring from my lips.
Needless to say, I've been happy with their more recent stuff; This Time was timeless, and I had a blast hearing favorites like Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, and Richard Thompson cover Los Lobos tracks on The Ride. Cesar Rosas's Soul Disguise was another favorite while I was in the UK.
All good stuff; but when I want to hear Los Lobos, it is La Pistola y el Corazon I reach for every time.