The Story of Pop: 1999 (Chapter 37)


It’s The Story of Pop: 1999. It’s our series, week by week, that tells the story of the hits from the UK charts at the dawn of a new millennium, and the artists that made them so. This week: another Latino/Mambo record, but one that happily has a story and legacy all of its own to tell…


With 20 years’ distance, we can look back on the beginning of September 1999 as an interesting time for British pop music, when the top end of the charts were dominated by a host of records with one or another things in common: a European holiday hit, with or without a Latino leaning.

The week that the Lou Bega track we met last week went to number one, it led a top 3 of Latino flavoured tracks – a first in chart history that hasn’t been replicated or bettered since. This was the record to land behind it, and had just as much of a story behind it as ‘Mambo No. 5’ had.

Comprising of Brighton based Alex Rizzo and Elliott Ireland, Shaft (not to be confused with the short lived rave group from 1991) made their name producing updated versions of samples of old classics, and they also looked to inspiration from a standard of the genre by Pérez Prado, recorded by legendary crooner Dean Martin and also by one Rosemary Clooney.

It was her version of ‘Sway’ that had formed the basis of their track, titled ‘(Mucho Mambo) Sway’, and which had garnered huge exposure from its use in a series of TV adverts for the dance and urban leaning London radio station Kiss 100. But just as demand was growing for Shaft’s reimagining of the track, they hit a small bump in the road.

Namely, the rights holders of Clooney’s version of ‘Sway’, who denied them permission to use the original sample with just a few days before it was set to hit the record shelves. Cue the hastily drafted in re-recording of the track in a soundalike version from Huddersfield born session singer Claire Vaughan, and thus crisis was averted at the eleventh hour.

The result was an instant UK #2 hit upon release, and it was still inside the top 10 for three weeks after that. They followed it up in May 2000 with another song first made famous by Rosemary Clooney in the form of their version of ‘Mambo Italiano’ (it got as high as #12), but their last single in July 2001, ‘Kiki Riri Boom’ tanked out at #62. But for now, and to this week, we remember ‘(Mucho Mambo) Sway’…

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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