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. 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. :-)

  2. 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’.

  3. 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…

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 37
    flahr on 20 Dec 2014 #

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

  8. 38
    weej on 11 Jul 2019 #

    Lou Bega does a dated EDM remix of Scatman John’s biggest hit and it’s… really good?!


  9. 39
    benson_79 on 15 Mar 2021 #

    Can confirm this was massive in Germany. Like Livin’ La Vida Loca, it was a hit over there first; I was based in Munich for the first half of 1999 and lived through both said smashes twice over when they topped the UK charts once I was back in the UK. With Ricky, I didn’t mind at all. As for Lou… sadly, once would’ve been more than enough.

  10. 40
    Gareth Parker on 24 May 2021 #

    Good fun, can’t really dislike this, so I’ll be generous and go with a 6/10.

  11. 41
    TheGerkuman on 19 Oct 2021 #

    David Lubega ‘Lou Bega’ Balemezi did pretty well out of his 5 minutes of fame. It’s just a really catchy song, and one that I refuse to dislike. And, weirdly enough, I actually seem to like it more than most.

    Though the fact my favourite version mashes it up with Megalovania from the video game Undertale probably says something about me and my tastes.

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