You wacky kids may not have heard of Ritchie Valens, as he died before Fred Durst was a glimmer in his parents' eyes. You might of heard of one of his songs though: "La Bamba." His music lives on, and Judge Norman Short hands down a decision on this documentary / collection of his work.
Gone too soon.
Ritchie Valens represents a lot of different things to different people. For some, he was the first Latino to break into rock and roll, for some the music is what is most important, but perhaps he is most known for dying young and in the company of other rising stars of music. After a meteoric rise to stardom in only 8 months, the 17-year-old Valens got on a rented airplane with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper on Feb. 3, 1959, and crashed shortly after takeoff. At the time of his death Valens had two songs on the Billboard charts, one of them at Number 2. Now there is a DVD detailing his life with a documentary and giving us every studio master recording of Valens's career.
Few artists keep their fame past their lifetime, especially ones who were on top for so little time. Valens is one of those few. Sixteen years after "La Bamba" hit number 22 on the charts, a film of the same title was made with Lou Diamond Phillips playing Valens, and Los Lobos doing the music. This time the song hit #1 and a whole new generation of fans have listened to his music. Of course it was the level of interest of his fans that prompted the making of the film, so his popularity never truly died. For all those fans, young and old, this disc has value. Last December Ritchie Valens was accepted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so the timing for this disc couldn't be better.
First up on this disc is the documentary "The Ritchie Valens Story: Viva Ritchie!," a 95 minute series of interviews with many of his friends, family, and those who worked with him. Bob Keane of Del-Fi Records was the one who discovered a young Richie Valenzuela, and developed his records while anglicizing his last name and adding the "t" to the first. His comments, along with DJ's, musicians, and show promoters who worked with him cover the musical aspects of his career, along with plenty of personal stories. Valens' brother, sisters, and aunts talk about his childhood and their own personal side. From childhood to the plane crash and beyond this documentary goes into great detail about every aspect of his life, death, and legacy. My only complaint is that sometimes it goes into too much detail over minutiae. That is a small price to pay for getting all the information you could ask for about Valens and the music business of the era. Video and sound for the documentary are nothing to get excited about, but do the job. The interview footage varies in quality as each person was recorded separately, varying from quite sharp to soft in detail. The sound is plain Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, but is dialogue with short clips of music in the background. You can understand the voices and the words and that is all that is required.
The documentary itself wouldn't be enough to sell the DVD, however. Although Valens' career only lasted eight months, he recorded 28 songs in the studio for Del-Fi, and each of them appear on the disc as well. Most of them are remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1, though to be honest it sounds like the exact same information is going to every channel. A few are only a stereo mix, but they all sound about the same. You won't confuse the fidelity with any new recording, but this is the best it can get considering the age and technology used with the source elements. At least the noise level is very low and the sound is very clear; though it is a bit thin, and there is an occasional dropout of volume level in the songs.
For extra content there is also a scrapbook containing photos, letters, and mementos from Ritchie's life. There is also a list of websites devoted to Ritchie, and I'll give a link or two below from that list.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have virtually no complaints about this disc. Sure I'd have liked the songs to sound a little better and the documentary to be a bit more tightly focused, but these are small complaints in what really is "The Complete Ritchie Valens." It would be hard to complain about the small amount of extra content, since the whole disc could be considered extra content in some way.
If you like Ritchie Valens, then you'll surely like this disc. If you've never heard his music, you might decide to give it a rental. He was a sweet guy, with a sweet voice and a budding genius on the guitar, and I can only think of what might have been, if he and the others hadn't gotten on that plane. I've heard it said that in the song "American Pie" Don MacLean was referring to these men and the night of that crash when he sang of "the day the music died." I believe it fits.
How can I do anything except acquit this disc? Ritchie Valens had a great gift, which was taken from us too soon. Certainly his family doesn't need any judgment from me, but I'll thank them for participating in the documentary.
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