The last time we met Bob, I made a tantalising suggestion that his “Mambo No.5” was the superior version. This theory does not survive contact with reality. Whatever the merits of this hymn to the tools of Bob’s trade, ultimately it’s still Neil Morrissey trying to swing over a Woolworths backing, and nobody really needs to hear that.
Still, as a children’s record, “Mambo No.5” does have its clunky charms. A follow-up to “Can We Fix It?” was always a ticklish proposition, since a five minute cartoon doesn’t really need more than one theme. The solution – redecorate a song the kids know anyway with goofy builder-centric lyrics (“A little bit of tiling on the roof / A little bit of making waterproof”) and this time, give the rest of the cast something to do. Wendy, Scoop, et al show up here, babbling along in the background, and if you’re fond of Bob’s gentle world in general – which I am – they’re a warm presence, giving the song a jolly, communal vibe. For the track at its best, check the video, where everyone has a great deal of fun and you get to see a cement mixer rock a feather boa.
A Number One purely on momentum and the absence of a better alternative, “Mambo No.5” is the tide beginning to go out a phase in chart history where the buying power (or pester power) of kids was a major pop factor. The occasional children’s record hit Number One before the late 90s – we can go back as far as “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?” – but with the Teletubbies and Bob, songs for the very young showed real commercial muscle. After this, they fade into the background again, and nowadays changes in distribution look set to keep them there. Just as the transition from Five to Blue suggested, the idea of pop as a playground for tweens and below – such a big part of the millennial charts – is beginning to wane.