In the 44 Popular years since I last brushed tuxedos with Perez Prado, his reputation among Western listeners has been on an odd, rambling journey. Knocked out of fashion with the rest of the bandleaders when musics that made more efficient use of the studio came along, he languished, his records drifting gently into charity shop and thrift store limbo. There they were embraced by a surprising new audience – the rejectionists and crate-diggers of post-industrial music. Steven Stapleton, of Nurse With Wound, was a vocal appreciator of Prado. Irwin Chusid, curator of outsider music and art, included tracks by him on his compilations of recovered exotica. From there, Prado’s Mambo recordings crossed back into the semi-mainstream, becoming mainstays of the “space age pop” compilations and easy listening club nights that sprung up in the mid-90s. And – inevitably maybe – we end up here: his music sampled, shot full of steroids and then gored by a parping German he-goat.
Whatever suavity and quiet confidence the mambos of the 40s and 50s exuded are of no interest to Lou Bega. If they were a well-tailored linen suit, he is a pair of novelty socks, and “Mambo No.5” in this life is roughly as Cuban as the Rednex were Appalachian. Bega’s retooling of the song is, of course, mightily effective – for all that his career faded away swiftly after this, he had a devilish ear for what would make an office party swing. His “Mambo No.5”, in fact, was recently determined by science to be one of the most catchy songs ever – immediately recognisable. That doesn’t inherently make it good, but it means if you’re willing to embrace that dread spectre the “party spirit” there’s fun to be had. At least there is if you’re happy to get onside with Bega’s incarnation as a sort of mock-Latin Benny Hill, rasping and chuckling his way through his list of ladies, livin’ la vida groper. And plainly, plenty were. Curmudgeons like me could wait a bit longer until someone found a better use for the song’s undeniable bonhomie.