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SoundTRAX: "La Bamba"

 Lou Diamond Phillips onstage as Ritchie Valens.
Warner Bros. Records
Columbia Pictures

SoundTRAX is a dive into notable music from iconic films and TV shows every Monday-Thursday at 8:10.

It was 36 years ago today that the Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba hit theaters.

It's part of the tragic but indelible chapter in rock and roll history we all know as "The Day the Music Died," when the plane carrying Valens, Buddy Holly, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson crashed in 1959, killing all on board.

A devastating loss to be sure, but Valens was only 17 and just eight months into a career that had already spawned four charting singles. The "what might have been" element just seems particularly strong with him.

It also seems inevitable that Valens' story would eventually get the big screen treatment.

Directed by Luis Valdez and starring Lou Diamond Phillips in his breakout role, the film was a big hit— in no small part to the music.

Phillips may not have done his own singing, but a few impressive co-stars did, including Marshall Crenshaw as Buddy Holly, Brian Setzer as Eddie Cochran, and Howard Huntsberry as Jackie Wilson. Bo Diddley also garners a spot on the compilation.

But I think we all know who rules the soundtrack.

The fabulous Los Lobos were personally requested by Valens' family to be involved, so they provided the voice and music for Valens in the film. Bonus: they also cameo as a band playing in a Tijuana brothel!

The band from East L.A. covers six Valens tunes, plus two other songs from the same era previously recorded by The Sevilles and Jesse Belvin.

But for today's SoundTRAX selection, what else could it be but the title song?

In honor of the movie's 36th anniversary, it's Los Lobos with "La Bamba."

Mel is the WFPK morning host. Email Mel at mfisher@lpm.org.

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