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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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Comments

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  1. 1
    Cumbrian on 26 Nov 2014 #

    Hmm. I don’t associate this with office parties or any other type of “forced fun”. The principle association I have for “Mambo No 5” is that it was the theme for Channel 4’s coverage of the cricket – so it’s happy days actually. The team had been in the doldrums for some time but throughout the C4 years, the England team (at least at Test level) got better and better, mirroring in fact the more modern, less complacent coverage that the sport got after C4 took it from the BBC. All of this culminated in the glorious summer of 2005, with the regular clatter of Aussie wickets resulting in the return from the resultant ad break with a brief sting of MN5 (usually that weird “Aargh” shout that punctuates this song regularly) just as you’d begin to settle back on the sofa having been high-5ing your nearest mate. Or settling in for the morning of the Edgbaston Test on Sunday, on tenterhooks, listening to a mostly instrumental version playing on the opening credits.

    Objectively, I wouldn’t score this highly – it’s undeniably catchy but I don’t much like Bega’s voice and repeated listens would be hellish I suspect – but the Proustian rush of what I associate it with, the moments before the game sold itself out to Murdoch and the team were young, fresh and exciting, means there is fondness there. I’d maybe even give it 6 purely on those grounds. I can’t imagine this would be the case if I was associating it with holiday season office parties, mind.

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 26 Nov 2014 #

    this was a hit across Europe IIRC – I can certainly remember hearing it played seemingly incessantly on the radio when I was on holiday in Italy that year. I quite like it in small doses; it still swings and doesn’t drag on too long.

  3. 3
    Weej on 26 Nov 2014 #

    I don’t really mind this. Sure, it’s a terrible idea – take Perez Prado, jack it up with cheap “DJ” samples and piledrive it into party mode – but I can’t help admire its execution. Everything seems to slot nicely into place, the sample is allowed to breathe a little, and the extra melody is undeniably catchy. Even Lou Bega has his charms, and sounds like he’s enjoying himself without pushing into forced jolity. It’s still not something I’d choose to listen to, but it’s no worse than Livin’ La Vida Loca to my ears.

    If anyone has a minute to spare check out Lou’s follow-up single “I’ve Got A Girl” – it’s essentially the exact same song, but with a list of locations where he has girls rather than a list of the girls themselves.

  4. 4
    katstevens on 26 Nov 2014 #

    Would this have got to #1 without the PPP-soundtracked Guinness ad? I know they’re different songs but at first I couldn’t tell the difference…

  5. 5
    JLucas on 26 Nov 2014 #

    Yeah I struggle to dislike this. It was overplayed at the time, but there’s something essentially good natured about it. The lyrics aren’t exactly elevated, but they scan as harmlessly cheeky rather than lascivious.

    And yes, ‘I Got A Girl’ was hilarious. Definitely from the ‘Old Pop In An Oak’ school of shamelessly identical follow-ups.

  6. 6
    James BC on 26 Nov 2014 #

    This is great. So many great ideas, from the name-list chorus onwards, and so many little memorable moments. If you asked ten people (who like the song) what their favourite bit is, you might get ten different answers. In other words, it’s the exact opposite of, say, Doop, which was one idea done to death.

    The surprise about I Got A Girl was that it wasn’t a hit. If all the other repeat-the-trick follow-ups could be (Pop In Eye Oak got to number 12), why not that?

  7. 7
    AMZ1981 on 26 Nov 2014 #

    One could talk about the mambo influences but ultimately this is a novelty record. It still gets a blast in nightclubs today which is more than most of 1999’s chart toppers.

    A couple of notes. In one of the strange chart battles typical of the era this went head to head for the top spot with another (slightly better) mambo inspired record, Sway by Shaft. Number two for his second week was The Launch by DJ Jean, the second 1999 runner up I can’t remember at all.

    Prior to entering at number one this song spent three weeks inching its way up the top forty (40-33-31) as an import, something that a few chart toppers including the bunny but one would do over the next couple of years.

    And finally I can’t hear this song without being reminded of a cover version where the song is performed by `Bill Clinton` – I think you can still find it in on youtube.

  8. 8
    a certain sukratio on 26 Nov 2014 #

    A LITTLE BIT OF SUKRAT IN YOUR LIFE

  9. 9
    fivelongdays on 26 Nov 2014 #

    I agree with what #1 said. This song is all about Channel Four Cricket and – most specifically – the 2005 Ashes series.

    A little bit of bowling the Aussies out by tea, a little bit of KP’s 158 at the Oval, a little bit of ‘Jones! Bowden! Kasprowicz the man to go’, a little bit of ‘Yeaaahhhh nice one Shane’

    For that, it gets a six.

  10. 10
    Erithian on 26 Nov 2014 #

    Oh yeah, we’ve reached this one! I found this a lot of fun, full of energy and good humour, danceable and stylish, and it would have been one of my favourites of the year regardless of any other associations. Plus I had a good friend called Tiina (as in the Finnish spelling) who suddenly found with this and S Club Party that she was namechecked on two hit singles at once. However, what makes this a landmark, unassailable, memorable Popular entry is that this was number one when I became a dad.

    Our twin boys were born on 9/9/1999, just after 9pm, in room 9 of the delivery suite at Greenwich hospital. That seemed cosmic then, and even now, when we wish they’d put down their tablets and do the washing-up now and again, they’re still pretty cosmic. There was a gap of 55 minutes between their arrivals, and I’m afraid for most of that time I was fairly useless for my wife since I was just holding the first-born in my arms, looking down and going “wow”. Life was about to change big-time…

    Oh, and that bit about MN5 being one of the catchiest songs ever – like most “scientific” surveys of its kind, that was nonsense. They just measured which of a fairly narrow sample of 220 songs was most instantly recognisable from its opening seconds, which says nothing about how catchy the rest of it might be. No wonder Mel B going “Yo, tellyouwhatIwant” came top of that survey.

  11. 11
    glue_factory on 26 Nov 2014 #

    Did the Channel 4 use of it feature any of the singing beyound that “heeuerrgh” at the end? If not, that would explain why I also have fond memories of it soundtracking cricket, but can’t abide it when it forms part of the “latin section” (along with Vida Loca and La Bamba) at any wedding or office party I go to.

  12. 12
    chelovek na lune on 26 Nov 2014 #

    “Jennifer, Alison, Philippa, Sue,
    Deborah and Annabel too”

    “mock-Latin Benny Hill” is about right, but he does pull it off well, none the less. Fun to dance to – which is entirely the point – or as background noise – which is another point – less fun to listen to intently.

    The rival “Mucho Mambo” track at number 2 that week is rather superior, but there have been far worse novelty records (far worse novelty records comprising a cover of this song not excluded). 6

  13. 13
    mapman132 on 26 Nov 2014 #

    This got to #3 in the US despite the fact I don’t think a commercial single was released – at least this would explain how Lou Bega also got to #3 on the US album chart. A truly ridiculous single – I wondered if it was the result of a bet between record company executives that they could get mambo into the pop charts. That being said I can’t deny it’s catchy and agree with others it’s ok in small doses: 6/10.

    BTW, anyone else think it’s weird how he shouts “Mambo No.5” in random places in the song? Guess you gotta get the song title in the lyrics somehow.

  14. 14
    Mark G on 26 Nov 2014 #

    “And as I continue you know they are getting sweeter”

    So, basically, sorry Angela, you were the first one to get mentioned.

  15. 15
    Mark G on 26 Nov 2014 #

    There was a retooled version for Disney characters, wasn’t there? Also by Lou Bega, I feel sure.

  16. 16
    Tom on 26 Nov 2014 #

    #10 The Number One when I became a Dad the first time is a bit of a clunker, alas. It was second time lucky, though – the track at the top when my younger son was born is one of my favourites of the 00s.

  17. 17
    Billy Hicks on 26 Nov 2014 #

    Ten year old me made up my own version of this called ‘Mambo Number 1’ in the playground, where I replaced all the names with nursery rhyme characters. It raised some minor chuckles.

  18. 18
    Cumbrian on 26 Nov 2014 #

    #11: Nope – no vocals beyond the “heeurgh”.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRNaKp0hUg8

    At least by the time of Ashes 2005 anyway.

  19. 19
    James BC on 26 Nov 2014 #

    #12 Mucho Mambo isn’t anywhere near as good as this. It’s a one-idea dirge that I’m not sure is even actually mambo.

  20. 20
    thefatgit on 26 Nov 2014 #

    Like others have mentioned, the cricket has allowed me to remember this fondly. But when Bega is all up with straight-from-the-pencil-case lyrics, I’m not so keen. So the memory is much more enjoyable than the artefact. (6, for the Ashes).

  21. 21
    wichitalineman on 26 Nov 2014 #

    Re 13: Yes, Lou’s throwing in “Mambo number 5!” and “trumpet!” every so often are the only bits that really grate with me. But then I don’t think I’ve ever heard it a party or wedding or works do.

    It is very easy to adapt to other non-Benny Hill type lists, which means it gets stuck in my head A LOT, me being a listy kind of person.

    I didn’t like Mucho Mambo at all, though, maybe because Dean Martin’s original (another no.2) was so good, and because it was (poorly) structured as a dance record rather than the ruthless chorus-chorus-chorus of Bega’s mambo.

    I didn’t think I remembered The Launch, until I just checked youtube. OK, but it’s no Alice Deejay. It also sounds like she’s saying “get ready for the lunch”.

  22. 22
    Tom on 26 Nov 2014 #

    I approve of the way everyone who remembers it from the cricket is giving it the obvious score.

  23. 23
    Conrad on 26 Nov 2014 #

    ha! It’s avoiding long on and just clearing the ropes

  24. 24
    Cumbrian on 26 Nov 2014 #

    They’ve definitely had to go to the 3rd umpire to see whether mine cleared the rope or not.

  25. 25
    anto on 26 Nov 2014 #

    Just terrible, painful to listen to but virtually inebriated on it’s own massive confidence at becoming a smash. The video peddles a particular brand of sexism, the ‘what’s-the-matter-don’t-ladies-like-being-pretty?’ brand. Lou Bega himself reminds me of some drossy social club entertainer – This is the soundtrack to a David Brent executive shower.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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

  30. 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.

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