The Story of Pop: 1999 (Chapter 36)

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Bringing back the sights and sounds of the UK charts as they were in the last twelve months of the 20th century, this is the weekly pop tardis we like to call The Story of Pop: 1999. This week: another big imported holiday hit – and Latino flavoured track – of that year roars to the top of the UK charts in style…

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I know it may be tough to ask you to think back on the summer so soon after it’s ended. But cast your minds back to the ATB entry we covered in June. I said we were going to be meeting more singles on this series that became successes on import first, and boy do we have our fair share of them in the next few weeks – starting with this one.

One proud tradition of UK record buyers twenty years ago was that of the novelty holiday hit. Usually encompassing a far wider reach than any of the multitude of dance tracks embraced by spaced out clubbers at Pacha and Cafe Del Mar, these records were the sound of those European summer night spots where the booze flowed freely, and the music was that bit cheesier. Think ‘Macarena’, ‘The Ketchup Song’ or ‘Saturday Night’.

And as millions would flock to Costa Del Brava or Costa Del Sol for two weeks in July or August, they’d usually come back craving to hear the songs that’d been blasting in those beach side bars and discos. Bonus points if it came with a silly dance routine that could spread like wildfire for months afterwards.

The debut single from Germany’s Lou Bega didn’t, but his reinterpretation of the old jazz dance standard ‘Mambo No. 5’ by Pérez Prado still caught the imagination of holiday makers not just from the UK but across the globe, as it became one of the key records in the throes of 1999’s Latino craze.

Licensed for a UK release by RCA/BMG, the track started it’s chart life here on imported copies of the single from mainland Europe that were so feverishly in demand it became the first single to make the top 40 on import sales alone since ‘That’s Entertainment’ by The Jam some 18 years previously, climbing as high as #33 before it’s official release.

Add in its use by Channel 4 that summer as the theme to their coverage of the Test Cricket matches, and ‘Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of…)’ roared off the shelves to debut at the top of the UK charts with all told a quarter of a million copies shifted in its first week alone. It was in its second and last week at the top exactly twenty years ago this week, but by year’s end it had done enough to be the UK’s fourth biggest seller of 1999.

When the digital age arrived, download and streams saw to it that it eventually became a million selling single, but like all good European holiday hits, Lou Bega was to forever remain a one hit wonder. A follow up single, ‘I Got A Girl’ (essentially the same song with different lyrics) was released that December, but tanked out spectacularly in the pre-Christmas rush, charting outside the top 40 at #55.

Though probably not the classiest or coolest of records we’ve encountered on this series, there’s something about ‘Mambo No.5’ that’s oddly endearing. It’s a hark back to a simpler, pre digital time on the charts when this kind of single could catch on in the hundreds of thousands with ease – which is more difficult than you would think nowadays.

Don’t forget to follow our playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 1999. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments or Tweet us, using the hashtag #StoryofPop1999.

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