This is the 94th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
Italian punk and new wave fan Stefano Righi began recording his own music in 1980. By the time the single “Bianca Surf” came out the following year, Righi was going by the name Johnson Righeira. Soon, he had a partner in Stefano Rota, who started going by the name Michael Righeira. The two became a duo, appropriately called Righeira.
By the end of 1981, Johnson Righeira began working on a song about going to the beach. Inspired by sounds from the ’60s, he started playing around in the studio on a keyboard. He came up with the refrain “Vamos a la playa,” which is Spanish for “Let’s go to the beach.” And despite the sunny lyrics, Righeira chose to make the song apocalyptic in tone, setting the song in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion.
Righeira recorded a keyboard-heavy demo that had beeps, clicks, and other robotic sounds…
..but the final product ended up sounding more upbeat, thanks to brothers Carmelo and Michelangelo La Bionda. Having established themselves as the leaders of the emerging Italo-disco scene, the La Bionda brothers produced “Vamos a la Playa” for Righeira. Carmelo La Bionda’s reflections on the experience were included in the book “Europe’s Stars of ’80s Dance Pop: 32 International Music Legends Discuss Their Careers”:
Righeira were musically influenced by the new electronic trends and at the same time, by Italian ’60s summer songs. They were also wearing crazy but fashionable outfits in those days. My brother and I had decided to move into producing music TV shows with a modern theme, based in graphics and hip fashions. Something new for the sleepy Italian TV situation… Those were the years when Armani and Versace were becoming big stars of fashion all over the world. Someone introduced Righeira to us as singers, but we thought they might be good hosts for the show we were planning because of their look and attitude. But they were pressing to get some recordings done, so instead we sat down and wrote some stuff together. Fortunately, things went a different way from our original plan because our recordings with them became worldwide hits.
Carmelo La Bionda said he and his brother were surprised at the song’s international success, but he took pride in how “Vamos a la Playa” became a popular summer song in Italy, despite the fact that the song was written in Spanish, not Italian. Inspired by the success of “Vamos a la Playa,” Righeira and the La Bionda brothers wrote the follow-up single in Spanish as well. “No Tengo Dinero” had the same bright, splashy keyboards, and was another international hit.
The La Biondas continued to produce for Righeira for a few more years, but they eventually parted ways so that Johnson and Michael Righeira could produce their own music. In hindsight, Carmelo La Bionda said that was a mistake:
I think my brother and I knew exactly what was necessary to make their songs hits. It was always a lot of long work in the studio, changing and fine-tuning various aspects of their songs. They needed gimmicks and a very special sound. We would spend days and days and a lot of money to find very good musicians that would help to make their songs become hits.
Righeira never had another huge international hit, and thus, they are probably best known for the two Spanish language songs produced by the La Bionda brothers. It’s fair to say that of those two songs, “Vamos a la Playa” is the signature Righeira song, as it has been covered and translated by bands across the world.
The Miamis covered “Vamos a la Playa” in 1983, the same year that the original was released. This sounded so similar to the Righeira version that it’s hard to hear any difference. The more noteworthy fact about this single was that it was advertised as “featuring Lou.” That Lou would be Lou Deprijck, who produced “Ça Plane Pour Moi” and “Jet Boy, Jet Girl.”
Similarly, the 1983 “Vamos a la Playa” cover by Los João sounded like a remake of the original…
…as did the 1983 “Vamos a la Playa” cover by Novo Nuevo…
…and a version the same year by Bacardi.
German actor and singer Frank Zander recorded a variation of “Vamos a la Playa” on the TV show, “Vorsicht, Musik.” Sung entirely in German over the La Bionda’s familiar keyboards, Zander’s version was called “Hurra, Hurra Wir Leben,” which translates roughly to “Hurray, hurray, we live.” He performed the song at least twice: once, in a performance that included a talking dog puppet…
…and another time in a plaid suit and phallic-looking nose.
In 1989, B.O.S.E. remade “Vamos a la Playa” in a way reminiscent of the “Axel F” theme from “Beverly Hills Cop” and Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit.” That is, the song was layered with drum machines and robotic vocals.
In 1994, Belgian group The Sun Boys released four different versions of “Vamos a la Playa” on a single, and all four versions were dripping European house beats. There was the radio edit…
…and then the “Vamos a la Playa (BFL mix)”…
…and then the “Vamos a la Playa (FEF mix)”…
…and finally, “Vamos a la Playa (Elastic mix).”
Czech dance group Těžkej Pokondr released its own version of “Vamos a la Playa” in 1996. Written in Czech, this version was called “Včera Jsem Se Vdala.” But other than the changed language and lyrics, the song sounded pretty faithful to Righeira’s version.
With masks, screaming vocals, and crunchy guitars, Mexico’s Los Los played the part of the menacing metal band. The band’s take on “Vamos a la Playa” from its album “Viva Los Los” took the La Bionda’s riff from Righeira’s original and then turned it on its head, slowing it down and weighing it down with grinding guitars. Perhaps it’s the masks, but it’s hard to hear this sinister version and not think of a horror movie.
Mexico City musicians Jay de la Cueva, Javier Ramírez, Marcelo Lara, Iñaki Vazquez and Olallo Rubio initially started the band Moderatto in the late 90’s as a parody group and side project. But the band became immensely popular, in part because it channeled the over-the-top hair metal bands of the ’80s with a great attention to detail. If you didn’t know the band was in on the joke, you’d be tempted to hear Moderatto’s cover of “Vamos a la Playa” as a band earnestly attempting to be Ratt.
German metal band J.B.O. used to be called James Blast Orchester, but to avoid being sued by German singer James Last, the band opted to go by the abbreviation instead. The satirical band is as weird as it is heavy: the band’s album “I Don’t Like Metal, I Love It,” came from a metal remake of 10cc’s “Dreadlock Holiday.” That same album included a “Vamos a la Playa” revision called “Geh Mer Halt Zu Slayer.” Hearing the gruff singer belt “Oh, oh, oh, oh” was bizarre, but delightful.
Electropop trio quieroStar is from Chile, and yet the group has embraced the sounds and aesthetics of the European dance acts. The group’s 2009 debut album, “Amistades Pasajeras,” had elements of Italo-disco, including a trippy cover of “Vamos a la Playa.” More than a 2000s update, this cover traded in the cheeriness of the Righeira version for a darker, colder tone.
Prolific Italian ska band Statuto has more than 10 albums. The band’s 2010 album “È Già Domenica,” which peaked on the Italian charts at Number 35, included a horn-driven cover of “Vamos a la Playa” that sounded like party band’s rendition at your friend’s wedding. And I mean that in a good way.
Couldn’t you picture some drunk aunts and uncles dancing to that? Of course you could.
Italian hip-hop group Flaminio Maphia included “Vamos a la Playa” on the 2010 album, “Er Mejo.” The song kept the chorus and the La Bionda’s recognizable keyboards, but had new verses. Catchy as the song was, the video was even more memorable, as it combined elements of “Grand Theft Auto” and “Baywatch.” As one does.
Lou Bega is likely best remembered for 1999’s “Mambo No. 5.” In 2013, he released a covers album called “A Little Bit of 80s,” and this freewheeling album had a little bit of a lot of different genres. Tina Turner’s “Don’t Turn Around,” Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine,” and Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” were all fair game for this covers collection. His “Vamos a la Playa” was more Latin than Italo-disco, and that makes sense, of course. Bega’s laughs throughout the song were almost as noticeable as the bright horns.
Organización Magallón’s cover of “Vamos a la Playa” was similar to Bega’s in that it was more Latin-flavored than the European versions. But while Bega’s had the vibe of a fun night out, Organización Magallón’s sounded like the soundtrack to a movie about a silly caper gone wrong. And that was part of its charm.
Italian singer KUDA‘s “Vamos a la Playa” cover combined elements of bossa nova and jazz, coming close to sounding like elevator music or the easy listening songs played at airports early in the morning. And yet, as cheesy as that might be, KUDA’s video indicated he was in on the joke.
Spanish band Pornosurf teamed with Johnson Righeira for an exuberant, frenetic “Vamos a la Playa” cover that combined punk and surf rock. As fun as the song was, it was even more enjoyable with the video, which showed Righeira dancing round with the members of Pornosurf playing the song in what looked like a basement.
Of all these covers, some of them are more faithful than others. And some of them might even technically be covers. The versions that have been remade in different languages blur the line between covers and samples, because some of them have entirely different lyrics. In that regard, those songs might have the same relationship to Righeira’s “Vamos a la Playa” as “Ça Plane Pour Moi” and “Jet Boy, Jet Girl” have with each other: they share the same backing track and melody, but thematically and lyrically have nothing to do with each other.
The keyboards from the original version appear in many of these versions, and that makes sense to me for two reasons. First, that opening riff is catchy. That’s what makes this song an earworm. Second, that riff immediately ties it to the original, regardless the language of the cover. That springy keyboard places the song for the listener, even if the listener has no idea what’s being said.
Righeira was not the only European act to release a festive song called “Vamos A La Playa.” On its 1999 release, “Fiesta (The Album,” French Eurodance group Miranda included a peppy dance song of the same name. But other than the name, this song had no connection the Righeira song.
But Miranda’s “Vamos A La Playa” spawned its own covers, including the most notable being by Dutch singer Loona (whose real name is Marie-José van der Kolk).
Miranda was French and Loona was Dutch, and both had a hit with a song with a Spanish title.So maybe I spoke too quickly when I said the Righeira and Miranda versions of “Vamos A La Playa” had nothing in common. After all, the Righeira version was written in Spanish by some guys from Italy.