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Come On, Let's Go - Ritchie Valens

On January 31st 1957, two aircraft, a Douglas DC-7B passenger plane and a US Airforce Northrop F-89 Scorpion Interceptor, collided mid-air and crashed into the Pacoima Junior High School playground in Los Angeles. Luckily the Douglas wasn't carrying any passengers, but the crew all died in the crash as did the pilot of the Scorpion, although the navigator escaped alive, having bailed out with his parachute. However, 3 students from the school lost their lives and another 75 suffered varying degrees of injury. A student who wasn't there that day, but would have been were not for the fact that he was attending his grandfather's funeral, was Ritchie Valens. Understandably, this led to him suffering from an intense fear of flying.

Just two years and three days later, Valens, having lost a toss for the last remaining place on Buddy Holly's hire plane, fatally took the offer of the seat from Dion of Dion and the Belmonts (see previous post ), his aversion to the freezing conditions on their tourbus proving stronger than his flying phobia.

"Come On, Let's Go" was Ritchie's's first hit, reaching number 42 on the US charts. The follow-up was the slow love song "Donna" with its 'B' side, the legendary "La Bamba". On February 3rd 1959, the day Valens died in the crash, "Donna" had reached number 3 in the charts, peaking the following week at number 2. "La Bamba" goes down in history as the first Chicano hit rock song, Chicano being the term of self identification by Mexican-origin citizens of the United States, and reached number 22 having been flipped in the aftermath of Valens' tragic death.

Valens was just 18 when he died, and seventeen when he recorded "Come On, Let's Go", just at the beginning of a musical career which promised much, as the casual exuberance and assuredness of his vocal delivery portends as well as his distinctive guitar work, here as hot and spicy as his beloved San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles.


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