Nov 14

LOU BEGA – “Mambo No.5 (A Little Bit Of…)”

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#834, 4th September 1999

loubega 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.



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  1. 26
    DanH on 27 Nov 2014 #

    It was generally agreed upon that somehow Lou Bega benefitted from the Latin craze here in the U.S., even if the connections were tenuous. This song to me is similar to “Cotton Eye Joe”…I loved the hell out of it despite myself. This did coincide with my slowly finally adjusting to teenage life, at the ripe age of 15, so that might have helped.

    The Rednex comparison goes further….I actually did hear the A Little Bit of Mambo album played at a retail store around the time. Every song sounded like “Mambo #5,” as you would imagine. Definite case of one hit wonder hitting the iron 12 times in one go. The aforementioned “I Got a Girl” even started with ‘6, 7, 8, 9, 10’ in the same manner as ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5’ kicked off “Mambo #5.” That inspired me to pen a Christmas song he would do, a la “Simpsons Christmas Boogie,” all I remember was it was called “My Baby Loves Christmas Time,” and the opening line was “25, 26, 27, 28, 29/My Baby Loves Christmas Time!” Actually, I probably only got that far, had a good laugh, and called it good. Teenagers.

  2. 27
    Jimmy the Swede on 27 Nov 2014 #

    Re #10 – Erithian and I have become good buddies outside of this place and he texed me to mention he would be commenting on this record and why. Reading through his very happy little entry, I couldn’t help noticing the bit about his lads “putting down their tablets”. This expression would completely ruin the Chocs’ lovely “Put You Together Again”, as using modern technology to contact Errol would be much quicker than writing to him.

    On a far more sombre note, it has already been mentioned that this track was used to introduce Test cricket and specifically the Ashes. Tragically we wake up this morning to the news that Australian batsman Phil Hughes has died as a result of being struck on the head during a domestic match at the SCG. The young man was only 25 and would almost certainly have toured England next summer. An utterly horrid thing to happen and the lad who bowled the ball is in pieces. Truly awful.

  3. 28
    Cumbrian on 27 Nov 2014 #

    #27: A bit of a shock this one. I was far too blase about it, assuming he’d come through, basically on the grounds that I couldn’t remember the last guy who died after being struck on the head. Pretty dumb of me. It’s horrendous. Everyone concerned must be devastated.

    Another look at helmets doubtless coming but it’s difficult to see how they can provide total cover without slowing movement speed or suppleness, which would result in more people getting hit in total. Another answer is to outlaw the bouncer I guess, but I don’t know whether they will go down that route. After all, thousands of bouncers get bowled in professional cricket per year and far more runs are scored off them than people get hit, never mind get seriously injured or killed. I suspect that it will be put down to a terrible freak accident and some tinkering with the helmet will happen and that may well be it.

    Am sure Abbott – the bowler – is going to need some serious support. I can’t imagine what he is feeling now.

  4. 29
    punctum on 27 Nov 2014 #

    The Royle Family was one of the greatest of all situation comedies in that it presupposed a situation for its characters and let the comedy arise from it unforced; relieved of the need to placate a laughing track regularly, some of its most wondrous moments come from simple close study of faces, reactions, expressions, asides, and the unshatterable love between its characters despite the innate absurdity of their situation. In one of its most celebrated sequences Ricky Tomlinson and Geoffrey Hughes are redecorating the family living room in preparation for baby David’s christening. As they prepare to strip the wallpaper “Mambo No 5” comes on the radio, and to Tomlinson’s excited roar of “Array! It’s that Mambos Number Five!” they engage in an elegantly dainty dance routine, tearing down the paper in time to the song, breaking down the fourth wall and engaging in a Laurel and Hardy soft shoe shuffle to camera; Sue Johnston’s wife/mother/grandmother figure, in the kitchen, smiles benevolently, taps her toes and sways her hips gently to the good-hearted party tune.

    For this reason I am averse to being unduly critical of 1999’s great Euro package holiday/Club 18-30 homecoming hit, since Lou Bega’s systematic, grinning list of female conquests (or ideals) is only a feather’s breath away from the similar and equally questionable list which concludes Kid Creole’s “(I’m A) Wonderful Thing (Baby)” (“I thought you were talking about the ‘A’s!”). Perez Prado had, thanks to a Guinness ad campaign featuring what looked startlingly like the epileptic ghost of Ian Curtis, made number two in 1995 – six years after his passing – with “Guaglione,” and his “Mambo No 5” was subsequently cut up and reshaped for German singer David Lubega to brag with knowing innocuousness about his apparent irresistibility, combined with a sneaky jibe at contemporary mores (“The boys say they want some gin and juice/But I really don’t wanna” – a sideways swipe at Snoop). Post-war Cuban brass play table tennis – or PacMan – with Basement Jaxx-type electro swarms to form a record which, though hardly a masterpiece, is far from dislikable and certainly several thousand strata up the evolutionary chain from Jive Bunny. The other memory I have of the song is Bruce Forsyth performing it at the 2000 Royal Variety Performance, leading a dance troupe of grinning pensioners. Bless him. The trumpets! Oi’ll give it foive

  5. 30
    Rory on 27 Nov 2014 #

    Number one in Australia for eight weeks, and our highest-selling single of the year. In France it was number one for twenty weeks.

    In my household, this was the time of peak lounge: in 1998 we’d picked up several of the Ultra-Lounge and History of Space-Age Pop compilations, and by 1999 were supplementing these with the Karminsky Experience’s excellent Inflight Entertainment series and two volumes of Music for TV Dinners. We followed up over subsequent years with the Blow-Up, Easy Tempo, Easy Project and Hotel Easy series, as well as single-artist discs by Esquivel, Martin Denny, Dean Elliott, Les Baxter and, yes, Perez Prado.

    My picks of all of them would be the Karminsky Experience compilation Further Inflight Entertainment, both volumes of Music for TV Dinners, Dean Elliott’s Zounds! What Sounds!, Esquivel’s Merry Xmas From the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, the Popshopping compilation of 1960s/70s German advertising music, and the one most relevant here, the remix album ElectroLounge: Electronic Excursions in Hi-Fi Stereo. ElectroLounge, part of Capitol’s efforts to make the most of the lounge boom in the late ’90s and early ’00s, is closest in spirit to what Bega’s producers did here, although slightly more esoteric.

    Oddly, given everything else I was listening to at the time, I was never tempted to buy “Mambo No. 5” or its clone-filled parent album. I remember it being around, though not to the extent that eight weeks at number one would suggest, but maybe his singing put me off. Now, though, I don’t mind that, apart from the silly interjections of “Mambo No. 5” (looking forward to his dance cover of “Ode to Joy” with interjections of “Symphony No. 9”).

    The instrumentation is what sells it to me: it takes a fairly routine Perez Prado tune and sends it into overdrive. The synthesized intro is a great hook, and that typically millennial electronic bubbling sound around 1:30 is fun, too. Underneath it all, the Latin trumpets are as strong an invitation to the dance as ever. Twenty weeks at the top would be pushing it, but this deserved its moment in the sun. 6.

  6. 31
    flahr on 27 Nov 2014 #

    “Curmudgeons like me could wait a bit longer until someone found a better use for the song’s undeniable bonhomie.”

    Well, I love where this is going. :-)

  7. 32
    swanstep on 27 Nov 2014 #

    @rory, 30. In NZ, ‘Mambo No. 5’ did 6 non-consecutive weeks at #1 and 4 weeks in total at #2. This thing paid the mortgage for somebody… and, like ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’, it’s absurdly LOUD (I’ve never seen it mentioned in ‘Loudness wars’ discussions, but it could be – at low volumes it still sounds like it’s blowing out speakers). Not my sort of thing at all so don’t feel able to grade, but M5 obviously hit the spot for a hell a lot of punters, and as others have said, it’s light years above party-time dreck like ‘Jive Bunny’.

  8. 33
    Shiny Dave on 30 Nov 2014 #

    The “mock-Latin Benny Hill” element grates on me – how much, I’m not sure, but I suspect that it was a fairly hefty part of why this was a holiday hit.

    Of course, what made it the biggest global smash of the second half of 1999 was how Perez Prado sampling plus turn-of-the-millennium dance-pop production combined to create something that couldn’t not cut through the airwaves. Still can, and no wonder it got used (very effectively) for cricket coverage. And it’s not the most offensive number 1 to be used for that; a little bit of name-dropping casual sexism is barely a patch on the winking racism of “Dreadlock Holiday,” let’s be honest.

    (On which note, #28; apparently – I haven’t seen the delivery, nor do I intend to – Hughes was playing a hook shot, and the ball hit him on the neck as it missed the bat. I suspect the immediate impact will be that batsmen will be far less inclined to play such shots at bouncers – which, ironically, will mean we’ll see more of them as they will become more effective, particularly in one-day cricket.)

    Think I’ll give this a 6. The bunnied cover removes both the best and the worst parts of the song, and it’ll be interesting to see how everyone reacts once Tom gets there – especially as he’s foreshadowing that he’ll mark the cover higher…

  9. 34
    Ronnie on 7 Dec 2014 #

    Out of curiosity, Tom, where did you get your information about Perez Prado’s fluctuating popular acceptance? Did you read it in a book or is this all original observation? Because now I’m curious about how mambo has been received in the years since its peak.

    As it is, I understand why you were kinder to this than Bombalurina, and yet somehow I don’t, as they’re both very similar songs.

  10. 35
    Tom on 7 Dec 2014 #

    I MADE IT ALL UP. No, OK, the first part is via Wikipedia (though he did maintain an audience in Latin America, hence specifying “Western listeners”). The charity shop part is observation. The industrial music bit is a little more contentious – clearly those weren’t his primary audience even at the end of the 80s. Prado doesn’t turn up in Re/Search’s Incredibly Strange Music books, which kick-started the lounge/exotica rediscovery boom among hipsters – the ISM stuff is more interested in the kitschy and appropriative side of exotica. But he was obviously a droppable name – the Nurse With Wound* stuff I knew about and the Chusid stuff I googled. There are a few mentions of Prado on NWW tracks – a couple of their more straightforward mid-90s records (Who Can I Turn To Stereo, for instance) either sample or draw inspiration from his rhythms, and I also reckon he was a point of commonality with their collaborators Stereolab. The 90s easy listening boom is pretty much common knowledge.

    *I like mentioning NWW in Popular occasionally, because the first time I ever heard of them was in Smash Hits! It feels like returning the favour.

  11. 36
    ciaran on 14 Dec 2014 #

    It’s ubiquity in the couple of years that followed made it very hard to like and the follow up was laughable.I think I remember the old ITV teletext reviewing it said something like ‘brings new meaning to one hit wonder’.

    Had no idea of it’s association with Cricket which surprises me given the slow nature of that game but Cricket is not something thats bothered me over the years.

    The simpsons did a comic strip of Homer singing Mambo over and over whilst annoying Bart and Lisa greatly.Sums it up nicely I guess.

    It’s still one of the obvious crowd pleasers at busy weekends in bars nowadays and has endured a lot better than most other 1999 Number 1s and most of the year in general. The Mr Brightside of its time.Likable enough in a one off listen. 6

  12. 37
    flahr on 20 Dec 2014 #

    The Tom Ewing seal of non-approval has just pushed this over the million sales mark.

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