Monday, September 5, 2016
SHG: Richie Valens: "Donna"
Ritchie Valens: “Donna”
Entered the chart on: 12/15/1958
Peaked on: 2/23/1959
Weeks at #2: 2 weeks
Song at #1: “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price
Suddenly, this feature becomes a lot less fun, and a lot more tragic.
And I don’t mean tragic in the “so bad it’s horrible” way (Believe me, we’ll get to Paul Anka in time, and I am not looking forward to it!). I mean actual tragedy, of the “talent taken from us too soon” variety. I think the only thing that could make this hurt more would be to have Buddy Holly in the top spot.
For those of you, presumably quite young, twisting your faces in confusion, do please research Richard Valenzuela, rock music pioneer and Hispanic icon, and learn of his tragic end and what it meant to popular music. Because it was a distinct dividing line. Popular music was not the same after the plane crash that took the lives of Buddy, Richie and the Bopper.
And for the record, the B-side of this single, a piece of infectious Spanish-language rock & roll called “La Bamba,” also charted, saving poor Richie the indignity of one-hit wonder status.
How did I forget that this song is in 6/8 time? And how nice the guitar accompaniment is (is that Richie himself*?)? Listening to Richie’s plaintive voice on this song (an ode to his real-life girlfriend, Donna Ludwig, fact fans) really hammers home the tragedy of his short life. In a just world, he would have lived long enough to produce a whole slew of sweet rock ballads of this quality. But as we are well aware, this world is anything but just.
Even divorced of its backstory, there’s something extremely touching about this ballad. Richie’s voice, while on the thin side, oozes sincerity and emotion, and sells the sorrow of lost love very well. And I just can’t get over the guitar playing on this one, it’s just so sweet and arranged to perfection.
Absolutely a delight. Such a shame we were robbed of more like this.
*Yes, it is, along with Rene Hall, Irving Ashby and the legendary Carol Kaye. Is there any record she didn’t play on?