It’s Popular with a Latin flavour.

Lou Bega, “Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of...)”, 4 September 1999

Lou Bega’s reworking of the Perez Prado tune was 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. Part of Capitol’s efforts to make the most of the lounge boom in the late ’90s and early ’00s, the latter is closest in spirit to what Bega’s producers did here, although somewhat 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, although 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!” (I’m 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.

Vengaboys, “We’re Going to Ibiza!”, 18 September 1999

Until last night I had no idea this was a cover—I must have missed Popular’s discussion of Typically Tropical’s “Barbados” back when it happened—so only ever heard this as a Vengaboys original. Knowing its origins now makes sense of a couple of lyrical oddities (going “home” to the island; not wanting to be a bus-driver), but those didn’t stand out before because they could be read in other ways (Ibiza as the singer’s spiritual home; the bus in question being the Vengabus, parked in the long-term car-park at Venga International Airport while the driver takes a well-earned Venga break).

Although reading this as “We’re going to eat pizza!” was amusing, I always figured it was the Dutch pronunciation of the name, and liked that: it underlined something it felt worthwhile to recognise, that no Mediterranean holiday destination is the exclusive playground of the British—that in any of these places you’d encounter Germans, Dutch, Swedes, and of course the people who actually live there. Eye-beeza is Ibeeza is Ibeetha is Eivissa is Ibitser.

I’ve already written about why this frivolous but fun band meant a lot to me, and won’t repeat myself here, other than to note that I like this song, too, for the same reasons. Thinking of this all along as a Venga original, I never rated it as highly as some of the other tracks on The Party Album!, but for singalongs in proxy Vengabuses in exotic locations this was hard to beat. Logic might dictate a 5, a 4, maybe even less, but logic has nothing to do with it: hearing this takes me back to islands where the sky is blue and the beach is waiting, and that’s good enough for me. 7.

(It was all downhill after this for the Vengaboys. Most of the songs on their second album were pretty second-rate. The only ones that really do it for me are “48 Hours” and “Opus 3 in D#”, the two with flashes of the dancefloor brilliance of the album tracks from The Party Album!)

[Stop press! Out now! Just in time for a Venga Christmas! We’re going to meet Santa...]

30 November 2014 · Music