Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
A long, long time ago — well, sixty-one years ago, anyway – the direction and course of music was altered forever when Charles Hardin Holley, Jiles Perry Richardson, and Richard Steven Valenzuela were killed in a plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa, in the early morning hours of February 3rd. Better known as Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, these early rock and rollers were taken before they reached levels of success that most people projected for them. How significant was this loss? Well, there’s a reason February 3, 1959 is called The Day the Music Died. The music, though, lives on. What really died that day was the opportunity for these artists to influence the direction of the music they loved, going forward.
Perhaps the most acute loss that day was that of Ritchie Valens. At the time of his death, Valens was a mere 17 years of age, had been performing for less than a year, and had only a couple of hits. But he was a true pioneer, and is widely considered the first musician of Mexican descent to achieve crossover success in mainstream popular music. Despite his tragically truncated output, his influence in the field of Latino-based rock can be felt through the years, in Hispanic artist like Selena and Los Lobos; even Jimi Hendrix cited him as an influence.
One of Valens’s best-known songs is the oft-covered “Come On Let’s Go.” The question here is, which of these covers comes out on top? There are many from which to choose, some by bigger names (editor’s note: Paley Brothers & Ramones for me!), but the three selected for inclusion here all have something interesting to offer.
Old Chevy did a good job.
el jimador did it better.
Girl in a Coma did it best.
Old Chevy — Come On, Let’s Go (Ritchie Valens cover)
Old Chevy is a band from Brazil with a name that couldn’t be much more American. They’ve been playing together for ten years, and cite a wide range of influences, from smooth jazz and rockabilly to ZZ Top and the Beatles. Playing a mix of cover tunes and originals, Old Chevy features Simon Lira on guitar and vocals, accompanied by Le Bellloto on double bass and a drummer who plays standing up. (The drummer in the video appears to be a different person than their current drummer.) This version is clean and lively, and while arranged in a manner that’s faithful to the original, the double bass and stripped down drum kit lend a smoother, less treble-y sound than the original. It’s a fun cover by a talented band.
el jimador — Come On, Let’s Go (Ritchie Valens cover)
Seattle’s el jimador specializes in creating their own arrangements of classic songs that have been their own personal musical inspirations. They prefer to remain anonymous, choosing not to identify specific members. (Although if the Claymation-like Día de los Muertos figures in the video are an indication, we can guess that there are three of them.) While still under three minutes, this version is a full 45 seconds longer than the original, in large part to a long introduction that doesn’t give away the song. If you didn’t know what was coming, you’d be pleasantly surprised when they break into the first verse. Once the signing starts, the next goodie is the harmonized vocals. The musicians sing well together, with the two voices blending nicely. They forego the traditional guitar lead break to revisit the introductory lick before wrapping up the final verse.
Girl In a Coma — Come On, Let’s Go (Ritchie Valens cover)
Girl In a Coma is the (sadly) inactive all-female band from San Antonio, Texas. Sisters Nina (vocals/guitar) and Phanie Diaz (drums) joined up with a long-time friend, Jenn Alva (bass) to create quite a stir in the San Antonio (and, to some extent, national) music scene. They attracted enough attention to be signed to Blackheart Records (the label founded by Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna), and they toured as a support act for Morrissey, The Pogues, Tegan and Sara, Social Distortion, and others. While active in a number of social causes, they never saw themselves as a “political” band. An interesting parallel to Ritche Valens is that Nina and Phanie are Mexican-American, but were raised speaking English rather than Spanish, much as Valens was. They disbanded in 2018, but fortunately, we still have their music. This version is a more pop-punk rendering of the song, with lots of distortion on the guitar, outstanding vocals from Nina, and a solid foundation from the rhythm section. The tempo is fast and the energy level is high. This is a great version to play to get the party started. Let’s hope we see more from these talented musicians in some configuration sometime soon.