Mar 16

BOB THE BUILDER – “Mambo No. 5”

Popular36 comments • 5,608 views

#908, 15th September 2001

Mambo Bob 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.



  1. 1
    CriticSez on 5 Mar 2016 #

    I’m the first commenter, browsing through Popular the instant this was posted!

    This got the same rating as the previous version, which is surprising to me.

    I won’t review this yet, but THIS was the #1 on the very unfortunate day we discussed last post. Take two minute’s silence to remember those who lost their lives before listening or commenting.

  2. 2
    AMZ1981 on 5 Mar 2016 #

    In context, Bob The Builder’s second single, a follow up to a smash hit chart topper, entered at number one beating out the Supermen Lovers fine club tune Starlight. The date of that top forty rundown was 9th September 2001 and the world looked pretty much the same.

    Generally speaking TV characters who crossed over into the charts didn’t push their luck. I think Bob the Builder was relatively unique in releasing a follow up so quickly; I certainly can’t think of any comparable artist who managed two chart toppers. Of course the cover says it all; Bob was now a pop star and `his` musical career was part of the brand. A hit album followed and the success of the singles was by no means confined to the UK. As the TV series would remain popular for a few years it’s interesting that a second album (and eventual third single) wasn’t released until 2008 at which point the spotlight had moved on. We can only speculate on how a string of Bob the Builder singles might have done had they kept the momentum going.

  3. 3
    Izzy on 5 Mar 2016 #

    There actually was a third single from the gang slated for later in 2001 – Spud duetting with Wendy on a cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ – but the more sombre mood of the times meant it was quietly shelved. I understand a very limited number of advance copies were pressed, but it’s not even listed in Record Collector so I don’t think they ever saw light of day.

  4. 4
    Shiny Dave on 6 Mar 2016 #

    Tom actually hinted at this being better than Lou Bega when he met Lou Bega, rather than in the “Can We Fix It?” review!

    At that time, I said this version removes both the best and the worst features of the original, and I stand by that utterly. I want to like this more than I do, and I want to like Bega’s quite a lot less. This millennial era is peak producer-led pop though, so perhaps it’s appropriate that production has such a big impact on my take on the two versions.

    Enough to push this below the 6 I gave Bega? Probably, purely because the original was that reliant on the production in the first place, and because the sonics on this one are that obviously kit-built (no building pun intended here!) that they ruin it. Still, I’m now duly inspired to sing the Bob lyrics at karaoke at some point, and repackaging a stonking singalong hit (that the kids were bound to know anyway) with the misogyny stripped out is a feat I approve of enough that I can’t possibly mambo below a number 5.

  5. 5
    thefatgit on 6 Mar 2016 #

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve never knowingly heard this before. When I read the list for 2001, it never struck me that Bob The Builder would re-purpose the lyrics, and I thought it would be a relatively straight cover. Then I thought, well THAT can’t work. Bob’s not a wolf-whistling from the scaffolding sort of builder. Thank goodness I didn’t delve too far down that rabbit-hole *shudders*.

    Anyway, BTB’s “Mambo no. 5” is quite an unassuming piece of pre-school surrealism, which is often the best kind. I can’t really go higher than Tom’s score though, so 4 it is.

  6. 6
    lonepilgrim on 6 Mar 2016 #

    i’m never that fond of records with added party atmosphere – Barbara Ann for instance – and the animated party goers on this song merely add to the cluttered, claustrophobia. The lyrics are shoehorned into the original tune making it sound sped up and frantic.
    like TFG at 5 I had never heard this and also assumed it was a straight copy of the original. At the time this hit number 1 I was more focused on the release of Bob Dylan’s ‘Love and Theft’ which seemed more in tune with the events of that week.

  7. 7
    weej on 6 Mar 2016 #

    FWIW I do think this might be better than the original, the backing at least has a sort of cheap electronic charm that reminds me of a novelty techno track of around the time which I can’t name for some reason. Without Bob a 7, with Bob a 5 or maybe 4.

    Re: 9/11, a friend was DJing at a bar that night and played this, needless to say it did not go down well at all.

  8. 8
    AMZ1981 on 6 Mar 2016 #

    Of course when this entered at number one nobody could have known. But here is the interesting thing. The week Diana died the record that shifted the most units was The Drugs Don’t Work and for the five days that followed that (Candle In The Wind 97 being released on the Friday) that song was locked in a sales battle with George Michael’s You Have Been Loved which caught the mood well.

    Bunnying; but by contrast in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we’re going to meet one of the most offensively jolly records ever to top the charts, an all conquering disco stormer and a paean to getting stoned. It’s hard to find anything in the W/E 8/9/01 chart that might have fitted the mood but even so. The concept was out of fashion but we didn’t even have a string of musicians gathering together and belting out something inspirational to raise money for the survivors.

    There were, as Q Magazine once rightly noted, two genuinely great albums that summed up the intelligent American’s response to 9/11 (Green Day’s American Idiot and Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising) but they took about a year to appear.

    #6 What a record Love And Theft was. It was probably Dylan’s comeback record as previous returns to form owed to lot to the Daniel Lanois soundscape. Love And Theft was Bob Dylan and his band crashing through it just like in his sixties peak and it was fantastic.

  9. 9
    mapman132 on 6 Mar 2016 #

    Now might be a good time for me to rehash this comment I originally made in the CITW97 thread:

    After 9/11, US playlists weren’t affected nearly as much as UK playlists apparently were in 1997, even with the infamous Clear Channel Banned Songs list. Charts of the time show two particular songs suffering huge airplay drops and not recovering (one of which is a bunny that AMZ1981 refers to above). The two decade old track “God Bless The USA” appeared in the Top 40 out of nowhere as did Whitney’s version of the national anthem. Both disappeared the following week, only to return later as charity releases. There’s another bunny that may have debuted high due to the tragedy, but it was by an already popular singer and may have debuted high regardless. Over the following weeks, there were a few 9/11-inspired country records that appeared. Finally, “Only Time” by Enya, already in the top 40, got an airplay bump due to a newsclip remix.

    Note about American Idiot: It actually wasn’t released until 2004. 2002 would’ve been too soon for such a record, not just because 9/11 was still too raw, but also because the Iraq invasion hadn’t occurred yet. By 2004, we were more than ready for it.

  10. 10
    enitharmon on 6 Mar 2016 #

    I refer honourable populistas to the answer I gave earlier (on the previous entry, before I realised that the dating of these things is cockeyed).

  11. 11
    Chelovek na lune on 6 Mar 2016 #

    As records aimed at primary-school aged kids go, this is really pretty good. (No denying that the qualifying clause there is quite a substantial qualifier). Extra-musically, the video helps, too -not least in its friendly homage to the working mens’ club (with women in, too..)

    And doing away with the not entirely convincing boastful misogyny in Lou Bega’s version is certainly welcome, too… and it is vastly better to my ears than “Can We Fix It?”

    But still, why would you listen to it by choice? You wouldn’t, would you? (Again, as with the immediately previous no 1, I have no recollection of this at all, and, like lonepilgrim presumed it would be a straight cover…although with a little bit of thought that makes no sense) (4)

    Personally, the song that reminds me above all of this thoroughly depressing and melancholic period in Western history (also remembering the anthrax-in-the-post scares that came shortly afterwards….) was Robbie Williams’ “Eternity” – the elegiac (and autumnal) tone, more than any of its specific lyrics (although there is something potentially morbid about some of them) seemed to fit the shock and despair and disbelief of those weeks, at least better than anything poppier or pappier.

  12. 12
    Jonathan on 7 Mar 2016 #

    The comparison #8 draws between this week and 1997 I think underscores how much the landscape changed. There was a track floating around, released this week, that (whilst recorded beforehand) pledged part of its proceeds to the American Red Cross’ 9/11 fund. The Artists against AIDS version of “What’s Goin’ On?” stalled at number 6 and only lasted 4 weeks in the top 40. It may have been the quality of the song (not great) or the tacked-on connection with 9/11 (it was primarily aimed at raising money for global AIDS programmes), but I think perhaps it’s notable that the UK reaction to events in America don’t register anywhere nearly as highly on the charts. I could be wrong but I think it’ll be 2010 before a major catastrophe creates a bunny in that direct causal way?

    In any event, here’s “What’s Goin’ On?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TWJZwcKmBchttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TWJZwcKmBc

  13. 13
    Tom on 7 Mar 2016 #

    I’ll talk about 9/11 and pop more in another entry, but I think 1997 is a bit of an outlier as much as this was – Diana’s death a dramatic news event, but one with a song very much built in: played at the funeral then rush-released. There’s less space for music to fit into 9/11, and the emotions around it – shock, fear, rage, as well as the more familiar grieving and healing process – were more turbulent. It’s hard to imagine all that coalescing around a song even if there had been something suitable in the charts.

  14. 14
    weej on 7 Mar 2016 #

    Without a charity appeal or a public funeral, or a Dunblaine-style campaign to get behind for that matter, it’s hard to see how the pop charts could have reacted to 9/11.

  15. 15
    Cumbrian on 7 Mar 2016 #

    Re: 8. Musical responses to 9/11 – the one that sprang to my mind was My Chemical Romance (at least the band claimed that they formed as a direct response or similar). Bunnied, aren’t they?

  16. 16
    flahr on 7 Mar 2016 #


  17. 17
    JoeWiz on 7 Mar 2016 #

    The main song i associate with 9/11 is ‘Hero’ by Chad Kroeger. Wiki tells me it came out in March of 2002 but the tone of it felt to me like middle America’s rather droning reposte to the events of a few months previously. Obviously it was from the first (and best) Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movie – but rightly or wrongly it always makes me think of 9/11.
    And of course ‘Freedom’ by my beloved Paul McCartney.

  18. 18
    Shiny Dave on 7 Mar 2016 #

    I’m guessing the “9/11 and pop future entry” you refer to, Tom, is the song that was at number 1 when Popular began?

    Though I tend to think that the relentlessly upbeat nature of what we see next could have been a case of dancing through the pain, I’m sure you or us will discuss that soon. (One question I’ll ask right now before I forget it; did the next bunny have particularly front-loaded sales?)

  19. 19
    CriticSez on 7 Mar 2016 #

    #14, the Dunblane tribute disc is one of my highest-rated songs EVER (seeing as we’re coming up to the 20th anniversary of the atrocity)! A perfect ten for the main side, and a potentially controversial 8 for the other side (I’ve heard both).

  20. 20
    AMZ1981 on 7 Mar 2016 #

    #12 The Artist Against Aids Worldwide track wasn’t released in the UK until November. I suppose 9/11 wasn’t an event in itself as it precipitated a war in Afghanistan and another more controversial war in Iraq eighteen months later which cast its shadow over popular culture just like Vietnam did in the 70s. Let’s not forget that one of the more shameful sideshows of this week was an edition of Question Time where several members of the audience expressed anti American sentiments and jeered the US Ambassador (I think) when he tried to express his condolences to those bereaved.

    We might have had a 9/11 record if a current chart hit fitted the mood and was used repeatedly by TV to soundtrack their pictures of the aftermath, perhaps even by an artist who was happy to give the proceeds to charity. It was perhaps sheer bad (or good) luck that there was nothing really suitable in the top forty at that time.

  21. 21
    mapman132 on 7 Mar 2016 #

    I suspect 9/11 would have had much greater chart impact if both streaming and the ability to legally download almost any song you wanted had been mainstream at the time. There probably would’ve even been campaigns to get certain song(s) to #1, as we see today.

    #18 If you’re referring to the 2003 bunny that I think you’re referring to, I consider that to be less about 9/11 itself and more about the 9/11 aftermath, particularly the Iraq war and the general cultural climate in the US during those years.

  22. 22
    AMZ1981 on 8 Mar 2016 #

    #18 Obviously we’ll discuss the next bunny in due course but I’d be surprised if its sales were that front loaded as it hung around for a bit after; having a split run at number two and winding up the sixth biggest seller of the year.

  23. 23
    Andrew Farrell on 8 Mar 2016 #

    #17 – the first Spiderman movie was of course recut after 9/11 – the scene with the New Yorkers banding together to throw stuff at the Green Goblin was crowbarred in, during the window the Onion identified as “Rest of Country Temporarily Feels Deep Affection for New York”.

  24. 24
    Andrew Farrell on 8 Mar 2016 #

    #12 – There’s 112 different versions of “What’s going on”, though – the radio single (according to Wikipedia, which may well be even less reliable than usual here) is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2hPhILxez8 which adds verses from Ja Rule, Nelly (with the Bono line), Nas and Eve, but unfortunately also Fred Durst’s “Someone tell me what’s going on? / We got human beings using humans as bombs!”

    The Dupri R&B mix (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_hy8ngsq44) swaps Fred out for Lil’ Kim, and as a result works really well as a snapshot of a golden age of R&B.

  25. 25
    Tom on 8 Mar 2016 #

    Lunkhead though he is, I think Fred’s squawk of WTF-ery gets at the moment in a way more considered songs and tributes don’t.

  26. 26
    Rory on 9 Mar 2016 #

    Whatever the backing track’s merits, Neil Morrissey is never going to be my favourite vocalist, so this only rates a 3 from me. As Bob tracks go, I much prefer the lead single from his 2008 album (which coincided with my small son’s initial infatuation with the show), “Big Fish Little Fish“. That one only reached number 81 – probably because showing it to the kids on YouTube was easier than buying the single, and its many repeat YT views didn’t count towards the charts.

  27. 27
    Erithian on 15 Mar 2016 #

    “Fred’s squawk of WTF-ery” sounds almost like Trumpery these days – I can certainly hear those words in the voice of He Who Must Not Be Named.

  28. 28
    Erithian on 5 Apr 2016 #

    Like Tom, I’ve watched plenty of Bob with the kids and always enjoy a visit to his world. And as I’ve mentioned before, I’m tickled to think that Jimmy Hibbert, whom I saw a couple of times as a member of Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias, has been linked with two number one hits as a voiceover artist/writer for BTB. So I’m fond of this one, and the video is made with a lot of love and panache (I love the “B the B” music stands for Bob’s big band.)

  29. 29
    Valentin on 19 May 2016 #

    This song is a great song and I love it, I would love to see him performing in a concert, as I love concerts and gigs. Working for an events promotion company in London, I am used to seeing many concerts and events, but I really like what I see here on your blog.

    Valentin – http://jorlio.com

  30. 30
    Val Valentin on 19 May 2016 #

    This song is a great song and I love it, I would love to see him performing in a concert, as I love builders singing songs. Working for an events promotion company in London, I am used to seeing many concerts and events, but I really like what I see here on your blog.

  31. 31
    Mostro on 19 May 2016 #

    Valentin @29 ; Val Valentin @30 ;
    FWIW, I’d assumed this was just badly-placed nonsense from a blatant spammer, but apparently there *is* a Bob the Builder live stage show…! Can’t imagine it would be very fast paced, it must be murder on the stop-motion animators. (#)

    Glad to see that in addition to children’s TV characters “Valentin” is really into Afroman as well, judging by his comment on the “Because I Got High” page. (^_^)

    (#) As if to spoil this poor joke, they’ve apparently remade the new series in cheap and sterile CGI. Not that the old Bob was particularly cute, but this new incarnation comes live from the uncanny valley. Eeurrgh.

  32. 32
    Phil on 19 May 2016 #

    You’ve got to admit, that would be quite a double bill.

  33. 33
    weej on 30 Jul 2017 #

    TFW your generic spam comment lands on exactly the wrong post. But apparently there has been a Bob The Builder live show, so maybe you’ll have a chance after all, Mr Emulator

  34. 34
    weej on 30 Jul 2017 #

    Wow, just read last few comments, mind blown, the dance of the universe continues, we are but tools of the machines, etc, etc.

  35. 35
    Lee Saunders on 7 Aug 2017 #

    The first single I ever owned, to my knowledge. A present on my 4th birthday on the 19th, that I got alongside an Easy Listening Centre Kidz-Bop-style CD called ‘Cool Grooves’ (all hits from 1999), a new Bush CD player and a Tweenies cassette I later broke. Shortly enough after this, Hey Baby became my favourite song and that song, Can’t Get You Out of My Head, among others, were on the first proper TV-advertised compilation I owned, Pepsi Chart 2002. This whole era is steeped in very young nostalgia for me.

  36. 36
    Gareth Parker on 6 Jun 2021 #

    Not without charm, I think I prefer it to Bob’s previous #1. 4/10.

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